Is truth nothing more than a convention of power, or can truthful historical accounts resist the gravity of politics? Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union sought to master history itself. The Soviet Union was a Marxist state, whose leaders proclaimed themselves to be scientists of history. National Socialism was an apocalyptic vision of total transformation, to be realized by men who believed that will and race could slough off the burden of the past. The twelve years of Nazi and the seventy-four years of Soviet power certainly weigh heavily on our ability to evaluate the world. Many people believe...
Without a history built and defended upon an entirely different foundation, we will find that Hitler and Stalin continue to define their own works for us. What might that basis be? Although this study involves military, political, economic, social, cultural, and intellectual history, its three fundamental methods are simple: insistence that no past event is beyond historical understanding or beyond the reach of historical inquiry; reflection upon the possibility of alternative choices and acceptance of the irreducible reality of choice in human affairs; and orderly chronological attention to all...
Yet attention to any single persecuted group, no matter how well executed as history, will fail as an account of what happened in Europe between 1933 and 1945. Perfect knowledge of the Ukrainian past will not produce the causes of the famine. Following the history of Poland is not the best way to understand why so many Poles were killed in the Great Terror. No amount of knowledge of Belarusian history can make sense of the prisoner-of-war camps and the anti-partisan campaigns that killed so many Belarusians. A description of Jewish life can include the Holocaust, but not explain it.
Marx had assumed that revolution would come first to the industrial world, and had devoted only sporadic attention to the peasant question and the national question. Now the peasants of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus and the nomads of Central Asia would have to somehow be induced to build socialism for a working class that was concentrated in Russian-speaking cities. The Bolsheviks had to transform the preindustrial society that they had inherited in order to build the industrial society which history had not yet brought; only then could they alter that industrial society so that it favored workers.