Wednesday, September 15, 2021

‘Modern Historical Scholarship is Leading Russia to Collapse,’ Gerasimov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 14 – Almost everyone agrees that history is important, and many see the problems in this or that narrative to be ones that can be addressed by challenging the falsification of this or that issue, Grigory Gerasimov says. But in fact, the problems are much deeper because they are rooted in the theories which lie behind various histories.

            Those must be challenged and replaced, the historian who works with the Tula Arms Museum says, because if the problem is not seen in that way, “we will finally lose sovereignty over our own past and a country deprived of a positive past is condemned to dissolution” (

            Earlier this summer, Vladimir Putin created an Inter-Agency Commission for Historical Enlightenment. It is important that that body recognize just how serious a problem it must address, the historian says. Russia needs a historical science which will give the country a positive image of its past so that it will have a future.

            The reason that Russians have chosen versions of their national history which are among the worst possible to imagine is not the ill-will of Russian historians, he argues. Rather it is because “our new histories are constructed on Western liberal historical conceptions” involving modernization and democratization.

            Such theories are European centered, “and in any of them, the history of Russia will be bad and negative.” Instead of recognizing this danger and turning away from it, Russian historians have used such theories, which arose during the cold war, to write histories of Russia that are inevitably ugly and even repulsive.

            “In post-Soviet historical science not a single original pan-historical theory has been developed and therefore our historians use Western ones.” The most popular of these is “the liberal theory of modernization,” a theory that was developed as an alternative to Marxism and to the Soviet Russian state.

            “By its destructive power, the theory of modernization significantly exceeds any of the destructive ideologies prohibited in Russia,” Gerasimov says. “Contemporary liberals in pursuit of the realization of the ideas of freedom and democracy are ready to destroy the country, spark civil war, and deprive it of any historical prospects.”

            They did this in Russia twice in the 20th century. It is important that they not be allowed to do so a third time. But that means overcoming the debates among communist, liberal and monarchist historians, each of whom has a favored period and each of which views the rest of Russian history in a negative light.

            For the communists, everything before 1917 and after 1991 was bad; for the liberals, the only good period was the 1990s; and for the monarchists, nothing has been good since 1917.  All three, Gerasimov suggests, are “bad for contemporary society and state because they are based on theories on the basis of which no positive history of the Russian state can be written.”

            Tragically, he says, “contemporary domestic historians and philosophers not only are not working over a theory of a positive history of Russia but do not even recognize this problem, considering it to be anti-scientific.” Many former Soviet republics have come up with positive histories but not Russia; and that is limiting Russia’s influence still more.

            “The main problem of present-day historical science consists in its theoretical weakness: our historians were formed by Western historical schools and on their conceptions of history, they cannot write a positive history” of their country. If this problem isn’t addressed and soon, Gerasimov says, Russia won’t just lose its past but its future as well.

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