That repressive action is set off this week by a new study of the ways in which academic books were reviewed in Stalin’s time, a study that concludes that in many areas, especially those far from the ideas of Marxism-Leninism, book reviews in scholarly journals were overwhelmingly remarkably objective.
In a study published in Novoye literaturnoye obozreniye, Sergey Matveyev of the Moscow Higher School of Economics reports on his investigation of more than 500 book reviews in the USSR’s leading historical journals between the 1930s and the 1950s ( ).
Of these roughly 500 reviews, only a few – about two percent -- were the kind of ideological attack that could end a scholar’s career or worse, he says. Most were more objective and contained references to ideological notions only after the reviewer had summarized the work being examined and commented on it from a scholarly perspective.
The more general the periodical, the more ideological content there was in the reviews, Matveyev says. In specialist serials like Sovetskaya etnografiya, they were rare except on the occasion of significant events lie the murder of Sergey Kirov. Journals on ancient history and archaeology were remarkably free of this ideological language.
Moreover, he says, these patterns tended to hold even in the reviews of foreign scholars’ works, although they were covered less frequently and given less space than reviews of Soviet scholars and there were suggestions that scholars in the West had failed to live up to the standards Soviet scholars maintained.