Zenon Wasyliw

Professor, History


Seminar in Soviet History





HIST-48106-01, CRN 43149

Ithaca College

Zenon V. Wasyliw, Professor, Department of History and

Coordinator, Social Studies Teacher Education                                                                                                                                                                      

Muller 427, 274-1587, wasyliw@ithaca.edu

Office Hours:

Tuesday, 2:30-3:30, Wednesday, 1:00-2:00, Thursday, 11:00-12:00 

By appointment other times and days


Stalin officially ruled the USSR from 1928 – 1953.  His impact, influence and legacy span a much wider period of time, even in the post-Soviet era.  Stalin was a member of the Bolshevik party prior to the Russian Revolution and was a presence during the revolutions of 1917 and throughout the civil war.  He became General Secretary of the Communist Party during the NEP Era of Soviet history, 1921-1928 and was also in charge of nationalities policies for the multinational USSR.  This position and his political maneuverings enabled Stalin to gain the upper-hand during the succession struggles after Lenin’s death in 1924 and to become the absolute ruler of the USSR in 1928.  He declared that it was time to build “socialism in one country” and put an end to any moderate policies and any ideas of immediate world revolution.  Stalin moved the Soviet Union to a command economy with the introduction of a five year economic plan focused on rapid industrialization and forced agricultural collectivization that took millions of lives, especially in the Ukrainian countryside.  Stalin’s economic policies left a mixed legacy on the everyday lives of Soviet citizens yet also became a model for future Marxist revolutionary states such as China, Cuba and many others as Stalin supported global revolutions at the end of World War II.  The political system Stalin established is often referred to as Stalinism.  The term Stalinism is widely interpreted but most commonly refers to Stalin’s system of absolute political control through the establishment of a personality cult buttressed by political and economic centralization under an autocratic ruler, the extensive use of propaganda, bureaucratic collectivism, a repressive secret police and brutal penal system.  Historians vary widely in their interpretations of Stalinism and the level of Stalinist control and repression. 


This seminar evaluates the dynamics of Stalinist political, intellectual, cultural, economic, international and social state policies. We will assess varied historical interpretations of the aforementioned developments and also examine Stalin’s personal biography, development and inner circle through a semester long reading of the award winning book by Montefiore, Stalin. The Court of the Red Tsar.  This upper-level history seminar emphasizes a closer examination of the era and areas under study through weekly intensive discussions of assigned readings and the completion of an extended carefully conceptualized, researched and properly cited paper. 


This seminar is a capstone experience in fulfilling the requirements of the history, social studies teaching majors and history minor.  It is offered at the senior level to students who have completed requirements of the major or minor as a culmination of a sequence of courses.  The seminar reflects and builds upon those courses and connects to the following core attributes – communication skills, competence, critical thinking, global citizenship, life long learning and personal development.  The capstone seminar meets the History Department Student Learning Outcomes through weekly critical discussions of assigned readings and a synthesizing experience of carefully researching and writing a twenty-five page paper.  Intensive seminar discussions and a critically evaluated research paper are central to the completion of the major and degree and meeting the Ithaca College Department of History Student Learning Outcome Assessment goals –

1. Attain factual knowledge

2. Identify, gather and use primary and secondary sources for historical inquiry

3. Demonstrate skills in communicating thesis-driven arguments based on evidence provided by sources, both secondary and primary

4. Demonstrate critical reading skills that recognize and analyze complexity and ambiguity in sources and historical processes

5. Demonstrate capacity for engaged, knowledgeable and competent global citizenship

6. Demonstrate desire and capacity for lifelong learning


The assigned books are available for purchase at the Ithaca College bookstore -

Fitzpatrick, Sheila.  Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times.

Getty, J. Arch. The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939.

Ginzburg, Eugenia. Journey Into the Whirlwind

Hryn, Halyna. Hunger by Design

Montefiore, Simon Sebag.  Stalin. The Court of the Red Tsar

Naimark, Norman. Stalin’s Genocides.

Sheets, Lawrence Scott. Eight Pieces of Empire

Tzouliadis, Tim. The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia.

Viola, Lynne.  The Unknown Gulag: Lost World of Stalin’s Special Settlements

Recommended but not required -

McCauley, Martin. Stalin and Stalinism.  This was assigned for the Rise and Fall of the USSR course and is helpful for background and analysis

On-line sources

“Seventeen Moments in Soviet History,” http://www.soviethistory.org (primary sources)

The Stalin Project, http://www.stalinproject.com

Stalin: http://www.stel.ru/stalin

Josef Stalin Internet Archive: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/index.htm (primary sources)

J. V. Stalin Collected Works Archive: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/decades-index.htm (primary sources)

Historical Documents: http://artsci.shuhttp://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/decades-index.htm.edu/reesp/documents

http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/mod/modsbook.asp use the Russian Revolution link

Ukrainian Famine: http://www.holodomor.org/


Gulag: http://www.gulaghistory.org

Stalinist Repression: http://www.ibiblio.org/expo/soviet.exhibit/gulag.html

Holocaust: http://www.ushmm.org

Additional links: http://www.historyhome.co.uk/europe/russia2.htm

Memorial: http://www.memo.ru/eng/

Research, Writing and Citation Guides

Benjamin, Jules.  A Student’s Guide to History – is available in hard copy and also found online at - http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/benjamin11e

Citation guide


Tips for writing history papers – Cornell University


An essay writing guide from our Canadian friends –


Chicago Manual of Style – citation guide


Internet sources citation guide



1.  “Students at Ithaca College are expected to attend all classes and they are responsible for work missed during any absence from class…Students should notify their instructor as soon as possible of any anticipated absences.” (Ithaca College Undergraduate Catalog, 2012-2013).  Because the Seminar meets only once a week, perfect attendance is expected of all students.  Everyone should complete all assignments and be prepared for seminar discussions and presentations.

2.  Seminar participants are significantly graded on their participation.  Students must arrive with a one page outline/summary of the assigned readings for the week as a guide for discussion and to assure that the assignment has been completed.    

3.  Students must review relevant primary source materials found on the website – http://www.soviethistory.org and other websites found above related to the seminar topic for the week and research papers. 

4.  Seminar participants must write a twenty five page research paper to fulfill the Department of History senior capstone requirement noted above.  Graduate and professional programs often require the submission of a significant research paper as part of the admission process.  Specific writing and research stages are carefully assigned in the Topics and Assignments section of this syllabus.  All papers must follow the University of Chicago or Turabian format.  Jules Benjamin’s A Student’s Guide to History is a very helpful source for writing research papers.  Primary source documents (translated into English) must be included. All sources must be properly documented.  Carefully read the Ithaca College Standards of Academic Conduct found at the following Student Policies link:


5.  Please check my Rise and Fall of the USSR syllabus, both hard copy and on-line for additional historical background information, sources and relevant websites – http://faculty.ithaca.edu/wasyliw/USSR

6.  We shall visit Olin Library at Cornell University to become acquainted with resources and access additional research materials.

7.  In compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disability Act, reasonable accommodation will be provided to students with documented disabilities on a case-by-case basis.  Students must register with the Office of Academic Services and provide appropriate documentation to the College before any academic adjustment will be provided.

8.  Diminished mental health (stress, depression, untreated mental illness) can interfere with optimal academic performance.  There are many potential sources of personal difficulties. Academic studies, family, friends, poor health and difficult romantic relationships can contribute to personal difficulties – and impaired academic performance.

Through the office of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), cost-free support can be obtained when personal difficulties threaten your well-being.

In the event I suspect you might benefit from additional support, I will express my concerns, my reasoning, and remind you of resources (e.g., CAPS, Health Center, Chaplains, etc.) that might be of help to you. It is not my intention to know the details of what you might be experiencing, but simply to let you know I am concerned and that help, if needed, is available.

Getting help is a smart and healthy thing to do… for yourself and for your loved ones.

9. The syllabus outline, topics and assignments are subject to change.


Seminar Date:

Jan. 28

1. Historical introduction and overview of seminar requirements.

A historical background on the Russian Revolution, Civil War and the NEP years.  Ithaca College Library visit.

Assignment for this seminar session – Review McCauley, Stalin and Stalinism and http://www.soviethistory.org for background information

Assignment for our next seminar session - Read Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Star, pp. xix-104 and

George Liber, “Korenizatsiia: Restructuring Soviet Nationality Policy in the 1920s,” Ethnic and Racial Studies (a hard copy will be distributed)

Andrij Karpenko, “Lenin’s Theory of the National Question and Its Contradictions,” The Commune


J. V. Stalin, “The National Question and Leninism,” Works


Feb. 4

2. Internationalism, nationhood and multiculturalism – linguistics and identity in the multinational USSR - Stalin, “national in form, socialist in content” as nationalities policy.  

The Stalinist Revolution - a historical review of the rise of Stalin into power, the Five Year Plan and the evolution of Stalinism.  Discussion of Montefiore

Assignment: Read Viola, The Unknown Gulag

Montefiore, pp. 105-150

Feb. 11

3. The Stalinist policy of agricultural collectivization – resistance, results and consequences – Was agricultural collectivization a necessary component of Stalinism? Discussion of Viola and Montefiore

Assignment: Read Hryn, Hunger by Design

Begin reading Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism               

Read Montefiore, pp. 151-198

Feb. 18

4. Stalin’s inner circle, collectivization, nationalities policies and the Ukrainian and Kazakhstan Famines - the realities of collectivization and the rise of political terror. War against the village?

Continue discussion of the Viola and Montefiore books and discuss the Hryn book.

Selection and presentation of research topics and theses

Assignment - Finish reading Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism…

Feb. 25

Everyday life beyond the gulags and collective farms – did Stalinist domestic policies offer any benefits to Soviet citizens in urban social, economic and cultural life - discussion of Everyday Stalinism

Progress reports on research projects

Assignment - Read Getty, The Road To Terror

Prepare for our next seminar a thesis, paragraph summary, outline and initial bibliography for the research paper.

March 4

6. What do historical sources tell us and might there still be missing pieces in assessing the past? Discussion of The Road to Terror and related primary source documents.

Research paper thesis, paragraph summary outline and initial bibliography are due

Assignment - Read Tzouliadis, The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia, pp. 1-172.

Read Montefiore, pp. 201-267


7. Assignment - Finish reading Tsouliadis

Read Montefiore, pp. 271-366

Compile an extended research paper bibliography and begin a rough draft of

your research paper.  Write at least ten pages.

March 18

8. What were U.S. connections with Stalinism? How did Americans view Stalin and the USSR? Discussion of Tsouliadis and the Montefiore assigned section

Assignment: Finish reading Tsouliadis,

Read Montefiore, pp. 271-366

March 25

9. Finish discussion of Tsouliadis and continue discussion of Montefiore

Research paper bibliography and rough draft is due along with research paper progress reports.  Continue writing and revising rough drafts.

Assignment – Read Ginzburg, Journey into the Whirlwind

Read Montefiore, pp. 369-497

April 1

10. Political purges and the Gulag – a personal journey of tragedy and survival.  How valuable are historical novels in assessing the past and constructing memory, discussion of Ginzburg 

and continue discussion of Montefiore

Assignment – Read Naimark, Stalin’s Genocides

April 8

11.  Did Stalin commit genocide and can comparisons be made with Hitler’s Nazi Germany

Discussion of Naimark and continued discussion of the Ginzburg and Montefiore books,

Submission of research paper rough draft - scheduling of individual meetings

April 15

12.  The Second World War and post-war Soviet – US relations and the evolution of the Cold War and related themes in the Montefiore book.

Cold War: “Cold War International History Project”


Cold War Studies at Harvard University: http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~hpcws

A Resource Guide to the Cold War


Presentation and discussion of research papers

Assignment – Finish reading the Montefiore book, pp. 501-672

Begin reading Sheets, Eight Pieces of Empire

Complete a rough draft of your research paper with proper citations included

April 22

13. What role do biographies or focused studies of individual leaders play in assessing the Stalinist past?  Stalin’s last years and an appraisal of Stalinism and Stalin’s legacy based on the Montefiore biography

Discussion of Montefiore 

Begin Research Paper Presentations and Discussions

Assignment – Finish reading Sheets, Eight Pieces of Empire

Assignment - Complete final draft of research paper.

April 29

13. Let History Judge - Victims, Perpetrators, Memory and Narrative.  The construction of memory:  how are Stalin and Stalinism remembered? Discussion of Sheets, Eight Pieces of Empire

Assignment - Complete Research Papers.

Finish reading the Montefiore book, pp. 501-672

May 6

15. Extended Research Paper Presentations and Discussions

May 7-13

16. Final Examination Week

Submission and discussion of fully completed research paper during officially designated examination time.