Michael David-Fox

Michael David-Fox is professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and the Department of History, Georgetown University. He is the author of Crossing Borders: Modernity, Ideology, and Culture in Russia and the Soviet Union; Showcasing the Great Experiment: Cultural Diplomacy and Western Visitors to the Soviet Union, 1921–1941; and Revolution of the Mind: Higher Learning among the Bolsheviks, 1918–1929. David-Fox is also coeditor of Fascination and Enmity: Russia and Germany as Entangled Histories, 1914–1945 and The Holocaust in the East: Local Perpetrators and Soviet Responses.

The Soviet Gulag

Evidence, Interpretation, and Comparison

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent archival revolution, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s famous “literary investigation” The Gulag Archipelago was the most authoritative overview of the Stalinist system of camps. But modern research is developing a much more thorough and nuanced understanding of the Gulag. There is a greater awareness of the wide variety of camps, many not isolated in far-off Siberia; prisoners often intermingled with local populations. The forced labor system was not completely distinct from the “free” labor of ordinary Soviet citizens, as convicts and non-prisoners often worked side-by-side. Nor was the Gulag unique when viewed in a global historical context.

Still, the scale and scope of the Soviet Gulag was unprecedented. Intrinsic to Stalinist modernization, the Gulag was tasked with the construction of massive public works, scientific and engineering projects, and such mundane work as road repairs. Along with the collectivization of agriculture, the Soviet economy (including its military exertions in World War II) was in large part dependent on compulsory labor. The camp system took on an outsized economic significance, and the vast numbers of people taken in by zealous secret police were meant to fulfill material, not just political, goals. While the Soviet system lacked the explicitly dedicated extermination camps of its Nazi counterpart, it did systematically extract work from inmates to the verge of death then cynically “released” them to reduce officially reported mortality rates.

In an original turn, the book offers a detailed consideration of the Gulag in the context of the similar camps and systems of internment. Chapters are devoted to the juxtaposition of nineteenth-century British concentration camps in Africa and India, the Tsarist-era system of exile in Siberia, Chinese and North Korean reeducation camps, the post-Soviet penal system in the Russian Federation, and of course the infamous camp system of Nazi Germany. This not only reveals the close relatives, antecedents, and descendants of the Soviet Gulag—it shines a light on a frighteningly widespread feature of late modernity.

Overall, The Soviet Gulag offers fascinating new interpretations of the interrelationship and importance of the Gulag to the larger Soviet political and economic system, and how they were in fact parts of the same entity.

Crossing Borders

Modernity, Ideology, and Culture in Russia and the Soviet Union

Crossing Borders deconstructs contemporary theories of Soviet history from the revolution through the Stalin period, and offers new interpretations based on a transnational perspective. To Michael David-Fox, Soviet history was shaped by interactions across its borders. By reexamining conceptions of modernity, ideology, and cultural transformation, he challenges the polarizing camps of Soviet exceptionalism and shared modernity and instead strives for a theoretical and empirical middle ground as the basis for a creative and richly textured analysis.
Discussions of Soviet modernity have tended to see the Soviet state either as an archaic holdover from the Russian past, or as merely another form of conventional modernity. David-Fox instead considers the Soviet Union in its own light—as a seismic shift from tsarist society that attracted influential visitors from the pacifist Left to the fascist Right. By reassembling Russian legacies, as he shows, the Soviet system evolved into a complex “intelligentsia-statist” form that introduced an array of novel agendas and practices, many embodied in the unique structures of the party-state. Crossing Borders demonstrates the need for a new interpretation of the Russian-Soviet historical trajectory—one that strikes a balance between the particular and the universal.

The Holocaust in the East

Local Perpetrators and Soviet Responses

Silence has many causes: shame, embarrassment, ignorance, a desire to protect. The silence that has surrounded the atrocities committed against the Jewish population of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during World War II is particularly remarkable given the scholarly and popular interest in the war. It, too, has many causes—of which antisemitism, the most striking, is only one. When, on July 10, 1941, in the wake of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, local residents enflamed by Nazi propaganda murdered the entire Jewish population of Jedwabne, Poland, the ferocity of the attack horrified their fellow Poles. The denial of Polish involvement in the massacre lasted for decades.

Since its founding, the journal Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History has led the way in exploring the East European and Soviet experience of the Holocaust. This volume combines revised articles from the journal and previously unpublished pieces to highlight the complex interactions of prejudice, power, and publicity. It offers a probing examination of the complicity of local populations in the mass murder of Jews perpetrated in areas such as Poland, Ukraine, Bessarabia, and northern Bukovina and analyzes Soviet responses to the Holocaust.

Based on Soviet commission reports, news media, and other archives, the contributors examine the factors that led certain local residents to participate in the extermination of their Jewish neighbors; the interaction of Nazi occupation regimes with various sectors of the local population; the ambiguities of Soviet press coverage, which at times reported and at times suppressed information about persecution specifically directed at the Jews; the extraordinary Soviet efforts to document and prosecute Nazi crimes and the way in which the Soviet state’s agenda informed that effort; and the lingering effects of silence about the true impact of the Holocaust on public memory and state responses.

Fascination and Enmity

Russia and Germany as Entangled Histories, 1914–1945

Russia and Germany have had a long history of significant cultural, political, and economic exchange. Despite these beneficial interactions, stereotypes of the alien Other persisted. Germans perceived Russia as a vast frontier with unlimited potential, yet infused with an “Asianness” that explained its backwardness and despotic leadership. Russians admired German advances in science, government, and philosophy, but saw their people as lifeless and obsessed with order.

Fascination and Enmity presents an original transnational history of the two nations during the critical era of the world wars. By examining the mutual perceptions and misperceptions within each country, the contributors reveal the psyche of the Russian-German dynamic and its use as a powerful political and cultural tool.

Through accounts of fellow travelers, POWs, war correspondents, soldiers on the front, propagandists, revolutionaries, the Comintern, and wartime and postwar occupations, the contributors analyze the kinetics of the Russian-German exchange and the perceptions drawn from these encounters. The result is a highly engaging chronicle of the complex entanglements of two world powers through the great wars of the twentieth century.