I'm writing a story and need information on the Russian communist rule because I'm writing a book about a government much like that of communist Russia, specifically focused on a police state government like USSR. My question is in order to understand USSR police state and the steps to get their, like Naomi Wolf's book "The E,nd of America", where should I start to understand communism time wise? Someone said 1850 right before the Russian revolution. Is early Russian and Slavic heritage history needed to understand communist rule under Stalin and Lenin?

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    Not sure you are being well-served when you are relying on Naomi Wolf for figuring out America... – Felix Goldberg Feb 6 '13 at 9:50
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    Your question is quite localized; as stated, it can have no value to anyone other than you. Stack Exchange works best when the Q&A creates answers that can serve many people. Could you rephrase the question to be less about you and more about history? – MCW Feb 6 '13 at 10:17
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    I am afraid you may be laboring under the illusion that there is a small discrete set of books that is sufficient to understand X (X may be a country, an ideology, whatever). Unfortunately, there is no such set. – Felix Goldberg Feb 6 '13 at 12:35
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    Beware of lots of propaganda on both sides. For instance, I'd argue about the USSR being consistently a "police state". – astabada Feb 6 '13 at 13:33
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    @astabada - that depends on your definition of "police state". – DVK Feb 6 '13 at 14:43

No, it is not needed. I think you better should read the history of Marxism and about the Great French Revolution. If you want to deepen in history, you can start from the Commune of Rome (1144).


For me at least, this question may be re-phrased thus: To what extent were the contours of the Communist regime in Russia determined by Russian national peculiarities?

Scholars like Richard Pipes hold that the Soviet regime was a development of some sort of immanent Russian matrix. Here is a wiki summary:

Pipes is known for arguing that the origins of the Soviet Union can be traced to the separate path taken by 15th century Muscovy, in a Russian version of the Sonderweg thesis. In Pipes' opinion, Muscovy differed from every state in Europe in that it had no concept of private property, and that everything was regarded as the property of the Grand Duke/Tsar. In Pipes' view, this separate path undertaken by Russia (possibly under Mongol influence) ensured that Russia would be an autocratic state with values fundamentally dissimilar from those of Western civilization. Pipes has argued that this "patrimonialism" of Imperial Russia started to break down when Russian leaders attempted to modernize in the 19th century, without seeking to change the basic "patrimonial" structure of Russian society.

There are also more nuanced versions of this argument. However, it is far from universally accepted and I personally am not quite convinced by it for this reason: other Communist regimes like in China or Cambodia have acted similarly, without the "immanent Russian matrix" so there must be more (or less!) to it. In fact, just by reading 1984 you can learn most of what you need about how any police state works (of course, 1984 is what in science one would call an "ideal case" - a model that real states only approximate to some degree, and thank God for that!).

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    Popper would argue it all started with Plato ... :) – Drux Feb 6 '13 at 12:59
  • @Drux: LOL. I actually only read the second volume, where he indicts Hegel. :) – Felix Goldberg Feb 6 '13 at 13:02
  • Yep, I also read that Popper actually respected Plato and Marx (just not the respective -isms), but not Hegel :) – Drux Feb 6 '13 at 13:06
  • @Drux: It makes sense for me. He more or less turned me off Hegel forever. – Felix Goldberg Feb 6 '13 at 13:14
  • Possibly you could also take a look at this question: history.stackexchange.com/questions/2354/… Regarding the book of "1984" I do not recommend making any conclusions on this book: it depicts a very untypical "police state". I cannot imagine anything close to it is reality (especially the quick-changing the propaganda and universally-accepted double-think). I think, it is a very artificial fictitious construction. – Anixx Feb 6 '13 at 13:46

There is a strain of historical thought that some of the features of Russian/Soviet state are strongly influenced by Mongol conquest and rule by the Horde.

So if you agree with that line of thought, you need to go back to 13th century.

  • Hmmm (thinking) ... Lenin returned from Switzerland, so maybe the Swiss, of all people, are to blame ... (oh well :) – Drux Feb 6 '13 at 16:31
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    @Drux - IIRC, it was a popular conspiracy in Russia/USSR that Lenin's return was facilitated by Germans to help them in the war. – DVK Feb 6 '13 at 16:43
  • Hmmm ... but they thought it to us as fact in school ... just confirmed that Orlando Figes (reference above) also reports it (i.e. the German, not the Swiss, connection :) as fact (p. 385) ... could still be wrong, although chances are perhaps slim now – Drux Feb 6 '13 at 18:07
  • @Drux can you please clarify what they thought in the school - something about Lenin or the idea that Russians have totalitarian(or slave) mentality due to Mongol blood/rule? – Anixx Feb 6 '13 at 21:48
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    @Anixx to quote Figes: "The Russian exiles made contact with the German authorities, who quickly saw the advantage of letting the Bolsheviks … go back to Russia to stir up discord there … They even helped to finance [Bolshevik] activities … The train [which brought Lenin back to Russia] was 'sealed' in the sense that no inspections of passports or luggage were carried out by the Germans on the way." Clear enough? – Drux Feb 6 '13 at 22:04

I would say that Russian Communism can be explained by the autocracy of the later Czars, Peter the Great, or even Ivan the Terrible. That is, with regard to the idea of centralized authority and the "command and control" methods of these rulers.

The Okrana, or Russian secret police goes back to the Tsarist rulers of the 19th century. Ivan the Terrible created the streltsy, or "Guards" arm, that doubled as police.

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