The Past Imprisoned by Donald Rayfield

Donald Rayfield

The Past Imprisoned


So many British and American historians write books (many not just good, but seminal) about twentieth-century Russia that readers must assume that these historians have fed on a cornucopia of information and are illuminated by blinding rays of insight. Certainly, from 1917 to 1989 Soviet publications gave few truthful statistics or accounts of events; archival access was restricted to a few Soviet citizens who would be silent about what they saw. The flood of memoirs, minutes of meetings, case files, etc that burst out in the early 1990s was intoxicating but also indigestible.

Russians, starting with the military historian Dmitri Volkogonov, were the first to enjoy relatively untrammelled access. They were (and still are) too overwhelmed by the mass of material, apart from its horrible revelations, to produce magisterial surveys of seventy years of Soviet history. Their success, often aided by

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