Eastern Europe

Different, but at the same time somewhat similar – that was how Russia seemed to the West for many centuries. The similarities derived from a common Christian tradition; the differences concerned economic, social, and political aspects. The Russian intelligentsia was fascinated by the West but was unwilling to fully embrace this tradition. Both parts of Europe acted as counterpoints, attracting and repelling one another.

Posthumus is likely to have thought along the same lines and, like his contemporaries in the West, to have been fascinated by the great Russian writers from the nineteenth century and especially by the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and their consequences. These reinforced the bipolar mindset, both within the labour movement, which had to embrace or reject communism, and between the new Soviet Union and the old Europe, which remained the scene of ongoing turbulence. The authoritarian domestic changes under Stalin further heightened the tensions. The precarious states that emerged between Germany and Russia after the First World War largely became Soviet satellites following the Second World War. In the Cold War, the contrast seemed insurmountable between two ‘Empires of Evil,’ which used their nuclear arsenal to keep each other in check. Interpretation of the past was an important factor.

The IISH has made efforts to document Russian history from the outset. Opportunities to this end arose precisely from the polarization, because the Soviet potentates alienated their subjects in many different ways. Two Mensheviks exiled from Russia, Boris Nikolaevsky and Boris Sapir, for example, were pivotal prior to the war in gathering archives from all leftist movements persecuted by Stalin. These included both most pre-revolutionary socialist movements and his subsequent opponents in the Communist Party, especially Lev Trotsky.