At the height of the Great Terror in 1937, Joseph Stalin took a break from the purges to edit a new textbook on the history of the USSR. Published shortly thereafter, the Short History of the USSR amounted to an ideological sea change. Stalin had literally rewritten Russo-Soviet History, breaking with two decades of Bolshevik propaganda that styled the 1917 Revolution as the start of a new era. In its place, he established a thousand-year pedigree for the Soviet state that stretched back through the Russian empire and Muscovy to the very dawn of Slavic civilization. Appearing in million-copy print runs through 1955, the Short History transformed how a generation of Soviet citizens were to understand the past, not only in public school and adult indoctrination courses, but on the printed page, the theatrical stage, and the silver screen.
Stalin's Usable Past supplies a critical edition of the Short History that both analyzes the text and places it in historical context. By highlighting Stalin's precise redactions and embellishments, historian David Brandenberger reveals the scope of Stalin's personal involvement in the textbook's development, documenting in unprecedented detail his plans for the transformation of Soviet society's historical imagination.
About the author
David Brandenberger is professor of history at the University of Richmond.
"The fact that Stalin temporarily set aside execution lists to edit a textbook illustrates the importance he attached to the writing of history. Thanks to this critical edition, expertly compiled by David Brandenberger, we can now see Stalin's personal interventions in what would become the country's official history textbook until his death."
—David L. Hoffmann, author of The Stalinist Era
"In the Stalinist USSR of the 1930s, the dictator decided that the country needed a new, multinational, Marxist history to inspire the people and legitimize his regime. David Brandenberger's magisterial work demonstrates how writing about the past became a battlefield between official versions of the national myth."
—Ronald Grigor Suny, author of Stalin: Passage to Revolution