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The Cult of Ivan the Terrible in Stalin's Russia. .

The Cult of Ivan the Terrible in Stalin's Russia. By Maureen Perrie. Pp. xv + 255. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001. [Pounds sterling]45.

In the glasnost' years immediately following her completion of The Image of Ivan the Terrible in Russian Folklore (Cambridge University Press, 1987), Maureen Perrie was amazed to find out that it was possible for Russian democrats to discredit Stalin simply by reminding their fellow citizens of their former leader's admiration for the sixteenth-century tsar. There could be no clearer indication of how a process initiated by the counter-revolution of the 1930s had penetrated deep into the public consciousness. One of the main reasons for the association was Eisenstein's controversial film, which forms an important episode in Perrie's analysis of her discovery.

Nobody who had seen the film could easily forget the portrayal of the sixteenth-century tsar by Nikolai Cherkasov, especially Stalin himself who was said to have watched it many times. Ivan was too merciful, the leader told the actor, and spent too much time in repentance for his sins. Another, academic critic was Anna Pankratova who objected to the idealized representation of 'a people's tsar' in Part One evoked by the procession of Muscovites begging him to return to the capital. Such a vicious triangle had been there from the first: the artists; the leader aided and abetted by the party; and the historians.

In the nineteenth century, appraisals of the controversial tsar tended to be negative, the great Kliuchevskii comparing him to Samson, bringing down a huge edifice on his own head as he attempted to destroy his enemies. But at least a few analysts saw the institution of the oprichnina, lands governed directly by Ivan himself, as part of a systematic attempt to reduce the power of the boyars. After the Revolution of 1917, Soviet historiography became dominated by the Marxist M. N. Pokrovskii, who reduced the oprichnina to a class struggle between the boyars and the service landowners as the culmination of an 'agrarian revolution' and rejected the idea that the tsar's personality could have exerted any influence at all on policy-making. However, R. Iu. Vipper was able in 1922 to publish a short biography giving emphasis to the tsar as a promoter of the people's interests and his reign as a key moment in the struggle between Asiatic nomads and more settled Europeans. In the 1940s, after some revisions, Vipper's work was to be hailed as an outstanding interpretation of its subject.

A necessary preliminary was the abandonment of Pokrovskyite class-based abstractions in favour of dates, facts and heroes as components of a Soviet patriotism which evolved from 1934 onwards through the years of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the ensuing 'Great Fatherland War'. Alexander Nevskii and Peter the Great were among those rehabilitated, then manipulated, along with Ivan the Terrible. Imaginative literature accompanied the textbook. Among the early examples was a satirical science-fiction play by Mikhail Bulgakov, abandoned after party criticism in 1936, and a mostly laudatory essay by B. G. Verkhoven, a historian at Moscow University drawing on folklore, Lermontov and Rimskii-Korsakov among other sources, published in a print-run of 100,000 copies in 1939. Along with Eisenstein's film, Perrie gives special attention to two artistic representations of the 1940s. V. I. Kostylev's novel Moscow on Campaign provoked academic scorn for its 'democratism' of Muscovite society and 'modernization' of Ivan's person ality, but pleased official readers enough to see the author through to the completion of a trilogy and the award of high Soviet honours. A. N. Tolstoi's play Ivan Groznyi was not so lucky, running up against the reservation of Stalin himself that the drama fell short of depicting its hero as a state-builder and gatherer of the Russian lands.

Maureen Perrie draws with equal profit on her understanding of both sixteenth and twentieth centuries. However, she could perhaps have made more of an effort to break the sometimes claustrophobic bonds of Russian and Soviet Studies confined to one country. As she reminds us, Eisenstein's film begins with a reference to the Europe of Charles V and Philip II, Catherine de Medici and the Duke of Alba, Henry VIII and 'Bloody Mary'. She might have done more to put the tsar in the wider context of the sixteenth century, and to compare later interpretations of him to those made of, say, Elizabeth I, his contemporary and correspondent. As far as the twentieth century is concerned, Perrie refers in a footnote to Hitler's purge of Rohm and the SA as a more likely model for Stalin's purges than Ivan's oprichnina. It would have been worthwhile to add some suggestions about Hitler's admiration for Frederick Barbarossa and Frederick the Great as a possible parallel to Stalin's approval of some of his own predecessors. But without doubt the basic analogy of the book receives illuminating coverage, and the enthusiasm of the author for her subject, in spite of its harrowing nature, is all-pervasive.
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Author:Dukes, Paul
Publication:Journal of European Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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