Communism, socialism, and populism
'It's Not Rocket Science': Nuclear Disasters in and beyond the Soviet Union—An Interview with Kate Brown
Interviews | November 8, 2019

'It's Not Rocket Science': Nuclear Disasters in and beyond the Soviet Union—An Interview with Kate Brown

"About 50 deaths." This was the long-standing consensus held by scientists and worldwide audiences on the death toll caused by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. "Was this really so?" asked Kate Brown, a historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as she started to investigate the oft-overlooked social and environmental hazards in the communities affected by the world's infamous nuclear catastrophe. Her latest book, Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future, departs from the consensus and has sparked a global discussion on both the contemporary consequences and history of nuclear energy exploitation in and beyond the former Soviet Union.

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Elites Connecting Eastern and Western Europe: An Interview with Dina Gusejnova
Interviews | April 3, 2019

Elites Connecting Eastern and Western Europe: An Interview with Dina Gusejnova

Dina Gusejnova, a lecturer in Modern history at the University of Sheffield, looks into this unstable period through the eyes of German-speaking liberal intellectuals who belonged to the old and new nobility of Germany, Austria, and Russia. In her book, European Elites and Ideas of Empire, 1917-1957 (Cambridge University Press, 2016) she analyses how these German-speaking intellectuals used their old networks to call for a new Europe. This fascinating book provides a transnational history of the idea of Europe, linking histories of Germany and Russia, which are usually told separately, through the eyes of a cosmopolitan network of authors. We discussed the place of the old nobility in the new world order, transnational approaches to history, the importance of bridging isolated national historiographies, and the changing patterns of historical research in the last decade.

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Populism in History: An Interview with Federico Finchelstein
Interviews | July 24, 2018

Populism in History: An Interview with Federico Finchelstein

In his book, From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017) Federico Finchelstein provides the reader with an understanding of many of the most important theories of populism and how these theories stack up in the face of the 'messiness' of the global historical record. This hybrid intellectual-political history demonstrates how fascism and populism are connected but not the same, and why this matters for understanding the world today. In doing so, Finchelstein shows why we cannot afford not to have historians engage in contemporary political conversations.

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Echoes of Weimar in American Cold War Politics: An Interview with Daniel Bessner
Interviews | May 30, 2018

Echoes of Weimar in American Cold War Politics: An Interview with Daniel Bessner

In Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Rise of the Defense Intellectual , Daniel Bessner tells the story of a previously little-known German sociologist who changed the way we think about the role of intellectuals in American public policy-making. Speier worked as a lecturer at the Hochschule für Politik, a college of worker's education. With the rise of Nazism, Speier's infatuation with Marxist theory, socialism, and the people waned. Democracy, after all, had put Hitler in charge. When Speier moved to America, he brought the trauma of the crisis of Weimar with him. This crisis was the result of excessive trust placed in an inherently untrustworthy demos. He consequently advocated expert governance as an alternative to broad-based popular rule. To defend democracy against both Nazis and Soviets, Speier argued, the United States had to become more authoritarian. His story traces the rise of the American "defense intellectual" as well as the emergence of what has come to be known as the U.S. "military-intellectual complex."

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Dissecting Hindutva: A Conversation with Jyotirmaya Sharma
Interviews | June 30, 2017

Dissecting Hindutva: A Conversation with Jyotirmaya Sharma

Until recently, many scholars assumed that nationalism would taper off and that the hold of religion would slacken. Both of these assumptions have been vehemently disproven in the Indian context. The tumultuous relationship between Muslims and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) has to do with Hindutva. Though BJP came into existence only in 1980, its intellectual and doctrinal antecedents can be traced back to the nineteenth century. The intellectual history of the Hindutva ideologies forms the focus for the eclectic and prescient oeuvre of Jyotirmaya Sharma, professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad, India. Sharma historicizes the actualization of a bunch of inchoate and exclusionary ideas into the most politically successful undertaking in modern history—the Hindu nationalist project and, by extension, the BJP.

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Soviet Socialism with Chinese Characterisics? Understanding the Collapse of the Soviet Economy with Christopher Miller
Interviews | June 1, 2017

Soviet Socialism with Chinese Characterisics? Understanding the Collapse of the Soviet Economy with Christopher Miller

Could things have gone differently? Could the Soviets have reformed their economy into something along the lines of the Chinese success story? Could there have been a Soviet Tiananmen Square scenario that would have prevented Boris Yeltsin from coming to power, and thus averted what Vladimir Putin dubs the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century"? It's a huge question—one that Christopher Miller (the Associate Director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy at Yale) takes on in his recent book The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR.

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Wartime Ghosts and Souls in Transit: Placing Soviet History in a Global Context with Franziska Exeler
Interviews | April 9, 2015

Wartime Ghosts and Souls in Transit: Placing Soviet History in a Global Context with Franziska Exeler

Even at a time of a supposed turn towards more global history, our perspectives of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union remain dogged by an insistence on the inescapability of regional specificities. Not least among these are the names for these places themselves – Eastern Europe, itself a relatively recent moniker, cuts off places that once tallied among the richest in all of geographical Europe, like Prague, from a "real Europe" of Paris, London, and Rome, as if "Eastern Europe" itself has a specific, idiosyncratic but common character in a way not true of "Western Europe." Even if the process of EU expansion and economic integration has rendered formerly ridiculed "Polacks" into Europeans, the same courtesy is not always extended to Ukrainians or Belarusians. As recent Western discourse over the Russian annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine shows, commentators are eager to ethnicize and classify "Russian-speakers" from "Ukrainian-speakers," as if the place is explainable only through reference to ethnicity and identity.

Obviously, the experience of both the Cold War and, for countries further east, membership in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, matters greatly for the present and future of countries like Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and, not least, Russia. But to acknowledge the importance of local specifics or the Soviet heritage is not to admit to its monolithic mattering for the direction of those societies. Kiev and Warsaw as much as Singapore and London can be interrogated with the same array of questions, and with the same comparativist's gaze, that seemingly "more global" sites might invite.

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The Sino-Soviet Split and the Left as Global History: An Interview with Jeremy Friedman
Interviews | November 17, 2014

The Sino-Soviet Split and the Left as Global History: An Interview with Jeremy Friedman

The Sino-Soviet Split, as it is called in English and Russian ("Sino-Soviet Hostility" in Chinese – zhōng sū jiāo'è), had ramifications that went far beyond the oceans of red dye spilled by the Mercator projections. As country after country "the Third World" gained independence, the Soviets and the Chinese were among the few major powers that offered compelling developmental – and historical narratives – to fledgling nations. But what would the meaning of Revolution be in a decolonizing world? Was Revolution really about anti-capitalism, as the Soviets argued? Or was the real essence of Revolution opposition to empire, as their Chinese rivals put forward? How did the Chinese challenge affect the Soviet outreach to the Third World, and vice-versa? And what was the effect of the Sino-Soviet Split on the intellectual repertoire of a global Left?

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Excavating "The Last Empire": Discussing Soviet History and Global History with Serhii Plokhii
Interviews | September 28, 2014

Excavating "The Last Empire": Discussing Soviet History and Global History with Serhii Plokhii

Why did the Soviet Union collapse? Since the USSR formally ceased to exist on December 26, scores of books have been written on the Soviet dissolution, an event that resulted in the creation of fifteen new states across Eurasia and that current Russian President Vladimir Putin famously called "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the twentieth century. In his new book, The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union, Harvard professor Serhii Plokhii offers a definitive account of the end of the Soviet state.

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