Stephen F. Cohen


On his book Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War

Cover Interview of July 09, 2009

In a nutshell

I begin with the fact that, along with the United States, no country was more important in the twentieth century than was the Soviet Union.  And it may also be true, as years unfold, of Russia in the twenty-first century.

Almost every major turning point in the twentieth century was affected by the Soviet Union.  The Soviet Revolution impacted on non-Western world all the way in China, on the rise of Fascism, and particularly on the outcome of World War II, which was fought mainly on the Eastern Front.  Russia lost 27 million people or more on that front.  We defeated Japan, in the Pacific.  The Soviet Union defeated Nazi Germany in Europe.

The Soviet Union, as much as any other country, defined the twentieth century.  That is why my book includes the premise that the political history in the twentieth century, not the calendar history, began with the Russian Revolution in 1917 and ended with the Soviet Union in December 1991.

My specific interpretations and conclusions are unorthodox.

The book argues that at every major turning point in Soviet history there existed, inside the Soviet political system, a real alternative.  That is, at every Soviet historical turning point, which later had an impact on world affairs, there was a road not taken.  A road represented not by some hypothetical, fictitious counter-factual, but by an actual Soviet leader or leaders, who were defeated.  Had they prevailed, the twentieth century would have been different.

We can’t understand the world in which we live today unless we understand the twentieth century.  I want to reach an educated audience who thinks about historical and political issues.  I want people to rethink what happened in Russia.  I want people to understand why Russians see many things differently from the way many of us do.  My book asks the reader to do something that is very hard for all of us: think about Russia with an open mind.