Walter G. Moss
Review of Stephen
Shadow of War: Russia and the USSR, 1941 to the Present.
Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Pp. x, 370. ISBN
Although Stephen Lovell (King's College London) deals with the
significance of World War II for later Soviet/Russian history in
chapter 1 of his new book, and aspects of it are included in many
other chapters, he makes little further attempt to tie more
than sixty years of postwar development to the wartime experiences.
In fact, the war itself was already dealt with in an earlier volume
in the Blackwell History of Russia Series. Thus, those primarily
interested in military history will not find much direct treatment
of the topic here.
What Lovell's book does present, however, is a brief summary of why
and how the "Great Patriotic War" was significant for later
Soviet/Russian history and an excellent topical treatment of that
history. Besides the introductory and concluding chapters, the other
eight deal with government reforms and reactions, the economy,
social structures, public and private spheres of life, Moscow's
relations to the rest of the country, nationality questions, and (in
two chapters) foreign affairs. Each of these main chapters also
offers some introductory treatment of the war years, but seldom any
discussion of battles or war strategy and tactics.
1 masterfully delineates the World War II's lasting
reverberations, beginning with the physical devastation--"between 24
and 27 million premature deaths," and the destruction or disabling
of "close to 32,000 industrial enterprises, 65,000 kilometers of
railway, and housing for 25 million people" (2). Then, "in 1946-7,
acute postwar scarcity, compounded by harvest failure and the
government's commitment to industrial reconstruction, brought what
turned out to be the last Soviet famine, whose death toll was at
least 1 million and possibly a good deal higher" (3). The war
inflicted other hardships within the USSR and in Eastern Europe:
changing governments, massive population movements, and shifting territorial boundaries. About 45 percent of the Soviet prewar
population found itself occupied by enemy forces for various periods
during the war. Some 3 million Soviet citizens left their country
never to return, but more than 5 million POWs or forced laborers
sent abroad did return, willingly or unwillingly. Many of them, like
other individuals and peoples suspected of collaborating with the
Nazi occupiers or otherwise being disloyal to the USSR, were sent to
Siberia or Central Asia to be resettled or forced to labor in
Stalin's vast Gulag. Some of these peoples, like the Crimean Tatars
or Chechens, had been part of the USSR before the war; others, like
many in the Baltic lands or eastern Poland, were absorbed as a
result of Soviet territorial gains during the 1939-45 period--most
of the wartime details regarding the nationalities are in chapter 7.
Also on the move from 1945 to 1948 were 8.5 million demobilized
Lovell emphasizes what the Soviet government gained as well as lost
from the war.
The war was not only destructive. It also brought the Soviet regime
new opportunities. Internally, its hand was strengthened by the
growth of Soviet patriotism and the consolidation of a loyal new
elite. Internationally, it now had a large part of Europe (and in
due course of the entire world) directly in its sights. The war also
had ideological value: it could also be interpreted by the regime
and its committed servants as the delayed culmination of the
The memory of the war was variously manipulated by succeeding rulers
(including Putin) to bolster up the regime and their own powers.
Lovell consistently makes judicious use of statistics. For example,
the information that "by summer 1943, there were 55 newspapers
published for the front in non-Russian languages" (207) says much
more than some generalization about the USSR's various
nationalities. Lovell's prose is clear, accurate, and very readable,
and the book's maps and pictures are also assets. The forty pages of
endnotes and a "Guide to Further Reading" reflect his thorough
knowledge of current Russian and English sources. This scholarly
acumen enables him to avoid mistakes sometimes made by less informed
writers. For example, he acknowledges that the Soviet leadership had
decided not to invade Poland to crush Solidarity in mid-1981,
and that Soviet threats "were a bluff" (279).
Particular strengths in the present book are the treatment of
socioeconomic and national conditions and the post-Soviet period
overall. Specific highlights are: the pages on the introduction
and development of Russian-style capitalism under Yeltsin and Putin
(96-106); the section on "Generation and Gender" (126-31); the whole
of chapter 5 on "Public and Private" spheres of life, including
family life; and the treatment of consumerism, consumer goods, and
housing (chapter 5 and passim). Chapter 7, "National Questions,"
examines not only the identity concerns of the major Soviet
nationalities, but also--in a section entitled "Being Soviet: A
Viable Identity?"--efforts to create an all-union solidarity that
would override, or at least supplement, self-identification as
Ukrainian, Chechen, Estonian, etc.
Although no chapter is dedicated expressly to culture, sports, or
major Soviet/Russian artists, composers, or writers--the names
Shostakovich, Pasternak, and Solzhenitsyn, for example, do not
appear in the index--Lovell does frequently mention films and radio
and television programming, often presenting little known facts and
insights about popular culture. For instance, from 1954 to 1991,
over two hundred Indian films appeared on Soviet screens, of which
"50 … drew audiences of more than 20 million, which made Indian [not
American] cinema the best performer among mass cultural imports"
Another example of uncommon information in the book comes in
Lovell's analysis of Soviet-era intermediary institutions between
the central government/Communist Party and individuals and their
families--places of work, local Soviets, branches of industry, etc.
"Workplaces were centers of provisioning networks and sources of
sociability…. Soviet people did not need to worry about being fired"
(155). The following is especially enlightening:
Given the inadequacies of consumer goods production across the
country as a whole, particular branches of industry made it their
business to keep their own people supplied…. Enterprises were
especially active in producing consumer gadgets that lay outside
their ostensible competence. In 1980, for example, about one-third
of all the vacuum cleaners in the Soviet Union were produced under
the auspices of the Ministry of the Aviation Industry. The defense
sector had a near-monopoly on production of television sets, radios,
and video recorders…. By the late Brezhnev era, more than 50
different enterprises were making washing machines and 36 were
making refrigerators…. Workers were obliged to "choose" the models
made available in their branch of industry (86).
Lovell's short concluding chapter puts in historical perspective the
collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and its aftermath. His claim
that "one of the most illuminating comparative frameworks to apply
to twentieth-century Russia is that of empire and decolonialization"
(316) rings true. As does his perception that Yeltsin and Putin
faced "challenges that were truly unique." They had to wrestle with
such questions as "How was the national to be detached from the
imperial? What was to be done about the Russian minority populations
outside the Russian Federation, and about the non-Russian
populations within the country? How was such an enormous and diverse
country, with a long history of imperial conquest but no experience
of genuine federalism, to govern itself?" (319) Given all these
problems, plus the simultaneous difficulties of transitioning to a
less authoritarian government and more market-driven economy, Lovell
is surely right to say "a certain amount of fudge and studied
ambiguity is the least that should be expected" (319).
In summary, Shadow of War is an astute topical approach to
Soviet/Russian history from 1941 to the beginnings of the Medvedev
presidency in 2008. Its clarity and first-rate scholarship make it
exceptionally enlightening on major socioeconomic and national
conditions and post-Soviet matters generally.
Eastern Michigan University
 Theodore Weeks, Across the Revolutionary
Divide: Russia and the USSR, 1861-1945 (Malden, MA:
 The range of the author's erudition is
apparent in his previous books: The Russian Reading
Revolution: Print Culture in the Soviet and Post-Soviet Eras
(NY: St. Martin's, 2000); Summerfolk: A History of the
Dacha, 1710-2000 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell U Pr, 2003);
Destination in Doubt: Russia since 1989 (NY:
Palgrave-Macmillan, 2006); and The Soviet Union: A Very Short
Introduction (NY: Oxford U Pr, 2009).