Demons and Devil's Advocates: Problems in Historical Writing on the Stalin Era
If it is true to say that English-language scholarship on the USSR on the whole prefers facts to theories, it is something of an event when one of its journals publishes, in a single issue, five articles on the merits of a 'new trend' in the historiography of Stalin's Russia in the 1930s, which are couched in such general terms as to render any particular points of factual evidence almost irrelevant. Although well-mannered, the debate betrays signs of a keenly-felt division between American specialists on Soviet history. It contests issues which arise from the pre-factual and post-factual phases of historical writing, i.e., the a priori ideas that shape research topics and weave findings into readable versions of reality. The purpose of this paper is to summarise the debate and reflect further on the following three problem areas: the ascription of normal phenomena to the Stalin period; the attribution of responsibility for Stalinist crimes; and the presence of dogmatic thought in the historiography of the period.