American Food Aid May Have Prevented “the Collapse of the Soviet State”

(p. A15) Between 1921 and 1923, the United States, acting through Herbert Hoover’s American Relief Administration, supplied food and other aid to more than 10 million people caught up in the famine—created by war, revolution and the Bolshevik assault on the peasantry—then raging in the former Russian empire. The ARA operated, Mr. Smith tells us, “across a million square miles of territory in what was the largest humanitarian operation in history.”

Suspicious of, and embarrassed by, assistance from such a politically inconvenient source, the Kremlin accepted the ARA’s help only grudgingly and, once the crisis was over, “began to erase the memory of American charity,” Mr. Smith writes.

. . .

Mr. Smith argues that the ARA may “quite possibly” have prevented “the collapse of the Soviet state.” Did the decades of communist atrocity that followed cast a shadow over what was a very grand American gesture?

. . .

The ARA departed after the worst was past, but famine returned to the U.S.S.R. less than a decade later, a consequence of collectivization transformed, in Ukraine, to genocide. Millions died, but there were no calls for assistance from the Kremlin—only denials.

For the full story, see:

Andrew Stuttaford. “Feeding The Enemy.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 17, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 16, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Russian Job’ Review: Feeding the Enemy.”)

The book under review, is:

Smith, Douglas. The Russian Job: The Forgotten Story of How America Saved the Soviet Union from Ruin. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019.

Global Warming Makes Magadan Less Bleak

(p. A4) MAGADAN, Russia — Like many young people in Magadan, a frigid northern Russian city more than 3,600 miles from Moscow, Dinat Yur is fed up with living in a place where winters drag on for six months and the average annual temperature is below freezing.

“I really dream of leaving this place,” said Mr. Yur, a 29-year-old cook. “I can’t wait.”

Born and raised in a city proud of its resilience against climatic and all other odds, Mr. Yur has for the moment found his calling in a defiantly contrarian occupation for a place so cold: He makes ice cream.

. . .

Aside from its bleak weather and even bleaker history, Magadan is, if truth be told, no worse — and in some respects better — than many provincial Russian towns. It has the same crumbling concrete apartment blocks, the same colonnaded theater building, the same central square formerly named after Lenin and the same street slogans celebrating victory in the Great Patriotic War, as Russia refers to World War II.

It also has three movie houses, two indoor public swimming pools, a well-deserved reputation for camaraderie and a huge new Orthodox cathedral with glittering golden domes, an indispensable feature of urban planning in the age of President Vladimir V. Putin.

Another plus is climate change, which is making winters somewhat milder. It did not start snowing heavily this year until late November [2019].

For the full story, see:

Andrew Higgins. “RUSSIA DISPATCH; Raising Fists and Hearts to Communism.” The New York Times (Wednesday, January 1, 2020): A4.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 31, 2019, and has the title “RUSSIA DISPATCH; It’s 50 Below. The Past Is a Horror Show. You’d Dream of Escaping Too.” The online version says that the title of the print edition is “Where a Summery Swirl Just Isn’t Enough to Escape the Chill,” but the title of my National Edition print version was “RUSSIA DISPATCH; Despite Ice Cream, Dreaming of Escaping From Frigid Town.”)

Stalin’s “Despotism in Mass Bloodshed”

(p. A13) In the aftermath of Lenin’s death in January 1924, Joseph Stalin—already secretary-general of the Communist Party—emerged as the outright leader of the Soviet Union. “Right through 1927,” Stephen Kotkin notes, Stalin “had not appeared to be a sociopath in the eyes of those who worked most closely with him.” But by 1929-30, he “was exhibiting an intense dark side.” Mr. Kotkin’s “Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941,” the second volume of a planned three-volume biography, tracks the Soviet leader’s transformation during these crucial years. “Impatient with dictatorship,” Mr. Kotkin says, Stalin set out to forge “a despotism in mass bloodshed.”

The three central episodes of Mr. Kotkin’s narrative, all from the 1930s, are indeed violent and catastrophic, if in different ways: the forced collectivization of Soviet agriculture; the atrocities of the Great Terror, when Stalin “arrested and murdered immense numbers of loyal people”; and the rise of Adolf Hitler, the man who would become Stalin’s ally and then, as Mr. Kotkin puts it, his “principal nemesis.” In each case, as Mr. Kotkin shows, Stalin’s personal character—a combination of ruthlessness and paranoia—played a key role in the unfolding of events.

For the full review, see:

Joshua Rubenstein. “BOOKSHELF; The Turn to Tyranny; We may never know what degree of personal obsession, political calculation and ideological zeal drove Stalin to kill and persecute so many.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 31, 2017, and has the same title “BOOKSHELF; Review: The Turn to Tyranny; We may never know what degree of personal obsession, political calculation and ideological zeal drove Stalin to kill and persecute so many.”)

The book under review is:

Kotkin, Stephen. Stalin: Volume 2: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941. New York: Penguin Press, 2017.

“Advanced” Russian Robot Praised on Russian Government TV Had Human Inside

(p. A11) MOSCOW — Russian state television hailed it as “one of the most advanced robots,” showing a tall, white android dancing clumsily to a catchy tune. It seemed so human.
There was a good reason:It was just a man in a robot costume.
In the television report, the robot, called Boris, spoke slowly with a very synthetic voice.
“I know mathematics well, but I also want to know how to draw and write music!” Boris said in a report broadcast on Tuesday [December 11, 2018] by the state-owned Rossiya-24 news channel. His eyes flashed mysteriously.
Boris danced in front of a crowd of children, who had gathered at a youth forum designed to help them choose their future professions.
“It is quite possible one of them could dedicate their lives to robotics,” the journalist Arseny Kondratiev said in his report. “At the forum, they had the opportunity to see one of the most advanced robots.”

For the full story, see:

Ivan Nechepurenko. “‘Look, Kids: It’s a Robot. But Wait! It’s Alive!.” The New York Times (Friday, Dec. 14, 2018): A11.

(Note: bracketed date added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 13, 2018, and has the title “A Talking, Dancing Robot? No, It Was Just a Man in a Suit.”)

Chernobyl Was Due to “Bureaucratic Incompetence,” Not Due to Technology

(p. C6) Dr. Medvedev’s study of Lysenko was not approved for official publication in the Soviet Union, but samizdat, or clandestine, copies circulated among the intelligentsia. In 1969, the book was translated into English and published as “The Rise and Fall of T.D. Lysenko.”
Dr. Medvedev was fired from his job at an agricultural research laboratory, and within a few months was summoned to a meeting with a psychiatrist, on the pretext of discussing the behavior of his teenage son. Instead, Dr. Medvedev was taken to a holding cell, where he managed to pick the lock and walk away.
Soon afterward, on May 29, 1970, as Dr. Medvedev recounted in his book “A Question of Madness,” he was confronted at his home by two psychiatrists accompanied by several police officers.
“‘If you refuse to talk to us,’ one of the psychiatrists told Dr. Medvedev, ‘then we will be obliged to draw the appropriate conclusions . . . And how do you feel yourself, Zhores Aleksandrovich?’
“I answered that I felt marvelous.
“‘But if you feel so marvelous, then why do you think we have turned up here today?’
“‘Obviously, you must answer that question yourself,’ I replied. “A police major arrived. “‘ And who on earth might you be?’ Dr. Medvedev asked. ‘I didn’t invite you here.’ ”
“He protested, to no avail, that the homes of Soviet citizens were considered private and inviolable to the forces of the state.
“‘Get to your feet!” the police major ordered Dr. Medvedev. ‘I order you to get to your feet!’ ”
Two lower-ranking officers, twisted Dr. Medvedev’s arms behind his back, forced him out of his house and into an ambulance. He was driven to a psychiatric hospital.
The preliminary diagnosis was “severe mental illness dangerous to the public,” and Dr. Medvedev was repeatedly warned to stop his “publicist activities.”
Meanwhile, his brother, Sakharov and other activists for greater openness in the Soviet system sent telegrams and published open letters calling for Dr. Medvedev’s release. One of his friends, the novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, then still living in the Soviet Union, condemned Dr. Medvedev’s detention with a bold and blistering statement.
“The incarceration of freethinking healthy people in madhouses is spiritual murder,” he said. “It is a fiendish and prolonged torture . . . These crimes will never be forgotten, and all those who take part in them will be condemned endlessly, while they live and after they’re dead.
“It is shortsighted to think that you can live constantly relying on force alone, constantly scorning the objections of conscience.”
Solzhenitsyn received the Nobel Prize for Literature later that year.
. . .
In 1990, Dr. Medvedev wrote an account of the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, which he considered inevitable, with the Soviet Union’s history of scientific and bureaucratic incompetence.
“In the end, I was surprised at how poorly designed the reactor actually was,” he told the New York Times in 1990. “I wanted to write this book not only to show the real scale of this particular catastrophe, but also to demolish a few more secrets and deliberate misconceptions.”

For the full obituary, see:
SCHUDEL, Matt. “‘Scientist exposed agricultural fraud and Soviet incompetence.” The Washington Post (Sunday, Sept. 6, 2018): C6.
(Note: ellipses between paragraphs, added; ellipses internal to paragraphs, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 4, 2018, and has the title “‘James Mirrlees, Whose Tax Model Earned a Nobel, Dies at 82.”)

The books by Zhores Medvedev that were mentioned above, are:
Medvedev, Zhores A. The Rise and Fall of T. D. Lysenko. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.
Medvedev, Zhores A., and Roy A. Medvedev. A Question of Madness: Repression by Psychiatry in the Soviet Union. London: Mcmillan London Ltd., 1971.
Medvedev, Zhores A. The Legacy of Chernobyl. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1990.

Floating Nuclear Power Plants May Be Cheaper, Greener, and Safer

(p. B5) MURMANSK, Russia — Along the shore of Kola Bay in the far northwest of Russia lie bases for the country’s nuclear submarines and icebreakers. Low, rocky hills descend to an industrial waterfront of docks, cranes and railway tracks. Out on the bay, submarines have for decades stalked the azure waters, traveling between their port and the ocean depths.
Here, Russia is conducting an experiment with nuclear power, one that backers say is a leading-edge feat of engineering but that critics call reckless.
The country is unveiling a floating nuclear power plant.
Tied to a wharf in the city of Murmansk, the Akademik Lomonosov rocks gently in the waves. The buoyant facility, made of two miniature reactors of a type used previously on submarines, is for now the only one of its kind.
Moscow, while leading the trend, is far from alone in seeing potential in floating nuclear plants. Two state-backed companies in China are building such facilities, (p. B5) and American scientists have drawn up plans of their own. Proponents say they are cheaper, greener and, perhaps counterintuitively, safer. They envision a future when nuclear power stations bob off the coasts of major cities around the world.
“They are light-years ahead of us,” Jacopo Buongiorno, a professor of nuclear engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said of the Russian floating power program.
Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear company, has exported nuclear technology for years, selling plants in China, India and a host of developing nations. But smaller reactors effectively placed on floats can be assembled more quickly, be put in a wider range of locations and respond more nimbly to fluctuating supply on power grids that increasingly rely on wind and solar.
The Russian design involves using submarine-style reactors loaded onto vessels, with a hatch near the bow to plug them into local electrical grids. The reactors will generate a combined 70 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power about 70,000 typical American homes. Rosatom plans to serially produce such floating nuclear plants, and is exploring various business plans, including retaining ownership of the reactors while selling the electricity they generate.

For the full story, see:
Andrew E. Kramer. “Drifting toward the Future.” The New York Times (Monday, Aug. 27, 2018): B1 & B5.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 26, 2018, and has the title “The Nuclear Power Plant of the Future May Be Floating Near Russia.” The online version says that the title of the New York edition version was “Rocking the Nuclear Boat.”)

Lenin “Sought to Destroy” Russian Peasants

(p. B14) A forceful, stylish writer with a sweeping view of history, Professor Pipes covered nearly 600 years of the Russian past in “Russia Under the Old Regime,” abandoning chronology and treating his subject by themes, such as the peasantry, the church, the machinery of state and the intelligentsia.
One of his most original contributions was to locate many of Russia’s woes in its failure to evolve beyond its status as a patrimonial state, a term he borrowed from the German sociologist Max Weber to characterize Russian absolutism, in which the czar not only ruled but also owned his domain and its inhabitants, nullifying the concepts of private property and individual freedom.
With “The Russian Revolution” (1990), Professor Pipes mounted a frontal assault on many of the premises and long-held convictions of mainstream Western specialists on the Bolshevik seizure of power. That book, which began with the simple Russian epigraph “To the victims,” took a prosecutorial stance toward the Bolsheviks and their leader, Vladimir Lenin, who still commanded a certain respect and sympathy among Western historians.
Professor Pipes, a moralist shaped by his experiences as a Jew who had fled the Nazi occupation of Poland, would have none of it. He presented the Bolshevik Party as a conspiratorial, deeply unpopular clique rather than the spearhead of a mass movement. He shed new and harsh light on the Bolshevik campaign against the peasantry, which, he argued, Lenin had sought to destroy as a reactionary class. He also accused Lenin of laying the foundation of the terrorist state that his successor, Joseph Stalin, perfected.
“I felt and feel to this day that I have been spared not to waste my life on self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement but to spread a moral message by showing, using examples from history, how evil ideas lead to evil consequences,” Professor Pipes wrote in a memoir. “Since scholars have written enough on the Holocaust, I thought it my mission to demonstrate this truth using the example of communism.”
. . .
In “The Russian Revolution,” he wrote:
“The Russian Revolution was made neither by the forces of nature nor by anonymous masses but by identifiable men pursuing their own advantages. Although it has spontaneous aspects, in the main it was the result of deliberate action. As such it is very properly subject to value judgment.”

For the full obituary, see:
William Grimes. “Richard Pipes, Historian Of Russia and Adviser To Reagan, Dies at 94.” The New York Times (Friday, May 18, 2018): B14.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 17, 2018, and has the title “Richard Pipes, Historian of Russia and Reagan Aide, Dies at 94.”)

The early Pipes book, mentioned above, is:
Pipes, Richard. Russia under the Old Regime. revised 2nd ed. London, England: Penguin Books, 1997 [1st ed. 1974].

The later Pipes book, mentioned above, is:
Pipes, Richard. The Russian Revolution. revised 2nd ed. New York: Knopf, 1990.