To the Editor:

Richard Pipes is one of this country’s top specialists on pre-1917 Russia—on the basis of published work, our top historian on the subject. It is most unfortunate that he does not bring the same standards to bear when he deals with the contemporary Soviet Union, most recently in his review of my book, How the Soviet Union Is Governed [Books in Review, October 1979].

The preface to How the Soviet Union Is Governed makes it absolutely clear that the views expressed in it are mine alone and that the material drawn from Merle Fainsod’s How Russia Is Ruled has been rearranged in narrative and chronological form in the historical section at the beginning. To drive this point home, I often quoted Fainsod—as Mr. Pipes put it—“as a third party . . . a scholar with whom Hough debates and whom he even lists in the index as a person with his independent opinions.” Mr. Pipes may not like the final result—or the whole enterprise—but he cannot say that I am using Fainsod’s authority to support my own views.

Indeed, it is only Mr. Pipes’s extremely narrow view of what constitutes Soviet history—that is, the history of the labor camps—that leads him to see such a big difference between Fainsod and myself. The basic views of Lenin, the reasons for the Bolshevik victory in 1917, the relationship of Leninism and Stalinism, the importance of Stalin’s role in the Secretariat in his victory in the 1920’s, the relative importance of factional versus bureaucratic politics in the Stalin and Khrushchev periods, the relationship of Khrushchev to his top associates in the party leadership-all of these have been the subject of serious and prolonged scholarly debate, and on all I take a position quite close to Fainsod’s. Mr. Pipes may not like the fact that I find Fainsod’s estimate of hundreds of thousands of deaths in the Great Purge better than Conquest’s and others’ estimates of millions, but it is inexcusable that he claims I omit figures on the deaths when, in fact, I have a whole subsection reviewing the various estimates, including Fainsod’s.

The great strength of Mr. Pipes’s work on the Czarist period is that he has repeatedly looked at the reality inside Russia instead of simply accepting the clichés of the Russian dissidents of the day. He accepts the statements of today’s dissidents as gospel, but one would have hoped that he could be somewhat kinder toward someone who in a sense is trying to follow in his earlier footsteps. At a minimum, he might have mentioned that half of my book consists of an extremely detailed and careful effort to describe the institutions of Soviet policy-making and their interactions. A serious review would have gone beyond general smears about my “sugar-coated” views and outright falsehoods about my comparative judgments on the Soviet Union and the United States; it would have dealt with my (and Fainsod’s) views on the major debates about Soviet history and with my views of the working of Soviet institutions. The time has come to try to understand the Soviet system, not simply to react emotionally to it.

Jerry F. Hough
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina



Richard Pipes writes:

I appreciate Jerry F. Hough’s kind remarks about my expertise in pre-1917 Russian history, even though my pleasure is tempered by the suspicion that his praise is meant to set off my alleged incompetence in the field of Soviet politics. (Mr. Hough cites in his book my Formation of the Soviet Union, so he ought to be aware that my contribution to post-1917 history is not all labor camps and emotions.)

Mr. Hough protests that the views expressed in How the Soviet Union Is Governed are solely his. The unalterable fact, however, is that Fainsod’s name appears on the title page as co-author and that the book is billed as a “revised edition” of Fainsod. It is baffling, therefore, that he should deny using Fainsod’s authority to support his un-Fainsodian views. And this, after all, was the main thrust of my criticism.

I do not regard forced-labor camps as exhausting the history of the Soviet Union. But they are, in my view, the quintessential manifestation of that coercion on which the Soviet regime rests—much as Auschwitz was the central reality of the complex phenomenon known as National Socialism. Mr. Hough’s attempt to minimize the importance of Soviet forced labor is curiously reminiscent of the efforts of some recent “revisionist” historians of Nazism to rehabilitate Hitler by diverting attention from genocide to the more “positive” achievements of his reign. Similar, and just as unconvincing.

The figures which I charged Mr. Hough with omitting were not the totals of victims of the Stalinist terror but only of those victims who belonged to the Communist party.

“Falsehood” is an ugly word which Mr. Hough must have unconsciously added to his vocabulary from long immersion in Soviet writings. He would do well to be rid of it. In fact, what I have said about his “comparative judgments on the Soviet Union and the United States” can be readily verified with reference to the text of his book.

Here are some examples:

  1. The “parliamentary leaders” (!) in Lenin’s Russia in the exercise of their power resembled the parliamentary leaders in the United States and Great Britain (pp. 122-23).
  2. “Direct citizen participation in the Soviet Union has many of the same characteristics found by sophisticated Western political scientists—including major limits on the numbers of people directly involved and their effectiveness . . .” (p. 318).
  3. In the Soviet Union citizens do not carry a decisive voice in local politics, but neither do they in the United States (pp. 512-13). Soviet local government probably resembles that of New Haven (p. 512).
  4. The role of “interest groups” in the two countries is similar (pp. 534-36).
  5. Both the U.S. and USSR know pluralism (“diffusion”) in the distribution of power (pp. 545-47).
  6. In the realm of human rights, there are parallels in the vague limits imposed on the freedom of speech in both countries and in the way information reaches the citizens (pp. 278-79 and 618).
  7. Income distribution in the Soviet Union today is more egalitarian than in the United States (p. 553).

In Mr. Hough’s account, the Soviet Union is indeed quite comparable to the United States. Such divergencies as he perceives tend to be either in the Soviet Union’s favor or to be balanced by comparable flaws in the American system. Where they appear to be in America’s favor, Mr. Hough prefers to abstain from saying so on the alleged grounds of paucity of evidence on the Soviet side.

I do not accept the views (why “clichés”?) of Soviet dissidents as “gospel.” They do contribute, however, a most valuable corrective to images of the Soviet Union spun by some Western intellectuals. When educated Soviet citizens who have given proof of their commitment to truth by subjecting themselves to ostracism and persecution give us a view of their country starkly different from that proffered by an American university professor, some inner voice tells me to pay heed.

Why does Mr. Hough think that he “understands” the Soviet Union while I merely emote? I should prefer to believe that we both seek to understand. But I also believe that his effort in this direction is seriously hampered by a lack of imagination which he mistakes for scientific impartiality. It causes him to fit exotic foreign phenomena into the ready forms of sociopolitical “models” and to match everything to its (apparent) American equivalent. His pragmatism and “reasonableness” place outside the range of his vision all those aspects of the Soviet experience that really matter. A sentence like the following in his book, “The industrialization-collectivization program was not achieved without increasing resort to compulsion” (p. 166), may appear, by its understatement, impeccably unemotional and “scientific.” But when we consider how it glides over a tragedy involving tens of millions of people, we must judge it to be merely inhuman and therefore, ultimately, uncomprehending.

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