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Making Sense of War

Making Sense of War: The Second World War and the Fate of the Bolshevik Revolution

Amir Weiner
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Making Sense of War
    Book Description:

    InMaking Sense of War,Amir Weiner reconceptualizes the entire historical experience of the Soviet Union from a new perspective, that of World War II. Breaking with the conventional interpretation that views World War II as a post-revolutionary addendum, Weiner situates this event at the crux of the development of the Soviet--not just the Stalinist--system. Through a richly detailed look at Soviet society as a whole, and at one Ukrainian region in particular, the author shows how World War II came to define the ways in which members of the political elite as well as ordinary citizens viewed the world and acted upon their beliefs and ideologies.

    The book explores the creation of the myth of the war against the historiography of modern schemes for social engineering, the Holocaust, ethnic deportations, collaboration, and postwar settlements. For communist true believers, World War II was the purgatory of the revolution, the final cleansing of Soviet society of the remaining elusive "human weeds" who intruded upon socialist harmony, and it brought the polity to the brink of communism. Those ridden with doubts turned to the war as a redemption for past wrongs of the regime, while others hoped it would be the death blow to an evil enterprise. For all, it was the Armageddon of the Bolshevik Revolution. The result of Weiner's inquiry is a bold, compelling new picture of a Soviet Union both reinforced and enfeebled by the experience of total war.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4085-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-1)
  6. Introduction: Making Sense of War
    (pp. 7-40)

    The second world war was an unprecedented cataclysm that rocked the entire European continent. It shook institutions, identities, and convictions that, until then, appeared to be solidly entrenched. This book explores the war’s impact on the ideology, beliefs, and practices of the Soviet regime and its subjects by examining the ways in which various segments of the polity strove to make sense of this traumatic event.

    The “Great Patriotic War,” as the war was heralded within the Soviet Union, transformed the Soviet polity physically and symbolically. It served to validate the original revolutionary prophecy while at the same time almost...


    • One Myth and Power: The Making of a Postwar Elite
      (pp. 43-81)

      On 24 August 1942 the readers ofPravdawere treated to a rather unusual literary event. With the war approaching a decisive moment, the leading newspaper of the country found the time and space to serialize a new play by the leading Ukrainian writer Oleksandr Korniichuk. There was, indeed, nothing ordinary about the play, entitled simplyThe Front.² Initiated by Stalin and unmistakably reflecting real-life personalities and policies, the play instantly created major political waves.³

      The Frontwas a direct attack on the way warfare was conducted by army commanders of the civil war generation, who were portrayed as those...

    • Two “Living up to the Calling of a Communist”: Purification of the Rank and File
      (pp. 82-126)

      The institutions of purge and verification were born with the Bolshevik Party itself. The quest for purity among the revolutionaries’ ranks was at the heart of the Marxist-Leninist ethos. As the self-appointed vanguard and guardian of purity of the chosen class, charged with the messianic crusade to transform society in the face of open hostility before and after taking power, the party was keen on maintaining the purity of the chosen few. And as the virus of compromise and self-doubt was deeply rooted in the souls of many members of the chosen class, the party leadership saddled itself with the...


    • Three Excising Evil
      (pp. 129-190)

      The ukrainian nationalist cause failed to materialize in the Vinnytsia region. To contemporaries, however, the virtual eradication of the nationalist presence in the region was not a foregone conclusion. At the time, several factors seemed to play into the hands of the anti-Soviet movement, powerful enough to induce Soviet authorities to lump the region together with its western counterparts, where a full-fledged civil war was already under way.

      A by-product of the annexation of the western provinces in the fall of 1939 was the proliferation of nationalist activity in the region. As the westernmost border region in pre-1939 Soviet Ukraine,...

    • Four Memory of Excision, Excisionary Memory
      (pp. 191-236)

      It comes as no surprise that the totalization of Soviet practices in the quest for purity brought to the fore the inherent tension between the biological and the sociological categorization of the enemy within, and consequently the inevitable comparison to Nazi Germany, the other totalitarian enterprise. Nowhere else was this issue exposed more clearly than in the Soviet policy toward its Jewish minority. In the wake of the war and the trauma of the Holocaust, conducted extensively on Soviet soil with the implicit and often explicit approval of the local populace, as well as a wave of popular and official...


    • Five Integral Nationalism in the Trial of War
      (pp. 239-297)

      Reflecting on the attempt of Ukrainian nationalists and Nazis to impose their ethnocentric agendas on Vinnytsia, an editor ofVinnyts’ki visti, the local wartime newspaper, noted that,

      passive dissatisfaction grew for a variety of reasons—including the inequality accorded to various nationalities: a concept entirely alien to Soviet men. In the end, everything could be reduced to “better our own,” i.e., better even the Soviets than the Germans. The people’s attitude toward theuprava[local administration] was likewise one of preferring “our own” institutions.¹

      Surely this was a remarkable assessment from a person who had done time in a Soviet...

    • Six Peasants to Soviets, Peasants to Ukrainians
      (pp. 298-363)

      In nationalist ideology the nation was embodied by a single socioethnic group: the Ukrainian peasantry. Tested by recurrent destruction inflicted by a host of foreign occupiers, the peasantry was believed to have preserved its ethnic, religious, and linguistic purity. Moreover, it was the peasantry that held the keys to victory in the cataclysmic struggle for independence. “The time has come when our entire people stands up to fight for new life and a better fate,” exclaimedSelians’ka dolia, an OUN-M journal directed solely at the peasantry.

      Success and victory will depend on you, the peasant . . . Ukraine, her...

  10. Afterword: A Soviet World without Soviet Power, a Myth of War without War
    (pp. 364-386)

    For the residents of Vinnytsia, like the rest of the Soviet population, World War II was the culmination of a chain of cataclysmic events, each one enough to warrant a lifetime of reflection. It was also their most challenging and pervasive experience, one that knew no class, ethnic, or territorial boundaries. The war visited every community, family, and individual in the Union in a manner and magnitude that tested existing commitments, loyalties, and associations. People struggled to make sense of the war and the trials it had in store for them: combat and captivity, occupation and liberation, collaboration and resistance,...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 387-410)
  12. Index
    (pp. 411-416)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 417-417)