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Larry E. Holmes

Jun 3, 2021

Revising the Revolution

The Unmaking of Russia's Official History of 1917

Indiana University Press 2021

The clash between scholarship and politics—between truth and propaganda— had always been a conflict of great importance. In the 1920s the Commission for the Collection, Study, and Publication of Materials on the October Revolution and History of the Communist Party (Istpart, in abbreviated Russian) was formed. Istpart’s historians were tasked with preserving the documentary record, compiling memoirs, and upholding ideological conformism within the national narrative of the 1917 revolution. In Revising the Revolution: The Unmaking of Russia's Official History of 1917 (Indiana UP, 2021), Larry E. Holmes focuses on the work of Istpart’s main office in Moscow and of its branch in Viatka. Istpart initially hoped to abide by the demands of both scholarship and politics when formulating the principles of historical research and when writing about the 1917 revolution. In that effort, Istpart in Moscow and its affiliate in Viatka acted sometimes in concert but often in conflict. Istpart’s initial faith in a symbiosis of scholarship and politics eroded, slowly at first, then rapidly. However, they quickly realized that the party rejected any version of history that suggested nonideological or nonpolitical sources of truth. By 1928, Istpart had largely abandoned its mission to promote scholarly work on the 1917 revolution and instead advanced the party's master narrative.

Revising the Revolution explores the battle for the Russian national narrative and the ways in which history can be used to centralize power. This book addresses two issues of relevance to today’s Russian Federation. Once again the center’s politicians demand of professional historians a useful and not necessarily objective rendition of the past. Yet this authoritarian state with its power-vertical, as Vladimir Putin likes to call it, cannot always get its way without resistance from below. As recent events in Ekaterinburg and Khabarovsk indicate, people in Russia’s provinces, as in Viatka earlier in Istpart’s history, act on their own interests and, in the case of officials, in the interests of the institutions and the region they represent.

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Samantha Lomb

Samantha Lomb is a lecturer at Vyatka State University in Kirov, Russia.

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