- Category: About
- Published on 03 April 2012
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Welcome. I hope you will find the writings offered here interesting and thought-provoking – here and there, perhaps even entertaining. You will find political analysis, social and cultural commentary, contributions to historical debates, reminiscences, academic papers, and old and new literary works. The site brings together things I have written at different periods of my life and for different purposes. I shall also be featuring occasional guest contributors.
A little personal background will help explain the particular mix of topics on this site. I am from an Anglo-Jewish family of East European origin and grew up in North London in the 1950s and 1960s. I was concerned with questions of religion and society from an early age. In my early teens, after much confusion, I decided to reject religion. I also became very hostile to all kinds of nationalism. At the age of 16 I joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain, attracted by the vision of a new society presented by the SPGB and its companion parties and groups in the World Socialist Movement (WSM).
After studying mathematics and statistics, I worked for a number of years in the Government Statistical Service, a section of Britain’s civil service. Then in 1979 I entered the field of Soviet Studies at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Russian and East European Studies (CREES). There I continued my study of Russian (I had already learned some as a child from my grandmother) and took some other courses. One that especially broadened my outlook was a course on comparative economic systems taught by Dr. Philip Hanson. My research in Soviet Studies initially focused on Soviet statistical practices: my Ph.D. was on the methods used in the Soviet Family Budget Survey.
At this stage of my life, I belonged to no political party and did not have very definite political convictions. I hoped to contribute to society by means of objective scholarship rather than political activism. However, I was very concerned about the nuclear arms race and became involved in the nuclear disarmament movement (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, European Nuclear Disarmament, later a group called Just Defence).
In 1983 I acted as an assistant to the then-influential Soviet journalist and political scientist Fyodor Burlatsky when he visited the University of Birmingham. My interaction with him gave me new insights into Soviet politics, setting me on a trail that led to my writing what was probably the first substantial analysis of Gorbachev’s “new thinking”: The Nuclear Predicament: Explorations in Soviet Ideology (Routledge and Royal Institute for International Affairs, 1987). It is out of print now, but still available on Amazon.
From 1984 to 1991 – that is, throughout the period of perestroika and post-Soviet transition – I was one of a group of Soviet Studies people who brought out the journal Détente. We produced 19 issues in all; the editor was Jeff Gleisner of the University of Leeds. Détente played a unique role as a channel of communication between Soviet reformers and the interested Western public. I intend to preserve some of the contents in the Archives section of this site.
In 1989 I moved with my wife and two young children to Providence, Rhode Island in the United States to take up a post on the faculty of Brown University. I taught in the International Relations Program and took part in research projects at the (now defunct) Center for Foreign Policy Development and then at the Watson Institute for International Studies. This helps explain why there are so many articles here on international relations.
Things that I saw and heard on my visits to Russia in the early 1990s led me to take seriously the parallels between post-Soviet Russia and Weimar Germany. This concern inspired research that culminated in my second book, Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, Movements, published in 2001 by M.E. Sharpe. Only the hardback version is now available from the publishers, but the paperback version can still be obtained from Amazon.
Apart from my two books, I have written quite a few shorter works for publication as articles in various periodicals, book chapters and specialized reports. Many of these are now difficult to track down. Perhaps I will be able to place some of them on this site.
Since the turn of the millennium, I have been a freelance translator and researcher. For a number of years I produced the Research and Analytical Supplement (RAS) to Johnson’s Russia List, an e-mail listing that David Johnson circulates to people throughout the world with an interest in Russia. Under Archives you will find the series of special issues of the RAS JRL, devoted to a range of topics from science in Russia and tuberculosis in the post-Soviet region to Chechnya and children's rights.
In 2006 I rejoined the WSM by becoming a member of the World Socialist Party of the United States (WSPUS). Since then numerous articles of mine have appeared (under my old pen name of Stefan) in The Socialist Standard (monthly journal of the SPGB) and World Socialist Review (occasional journal of the WSPUS) and on the website of the WSPUS. Many of them are reproduced on this site.
In this connection I should make a couple of things clear. First, although I am again a member of the WSM, I do not represent the WSM or the WSPUS in any way. Other members will not necessarily agree with opinions expressed on this site, which is a purely personal initiative. Second, although one of my aims in creating this site is to help develop and spread socialist ideas, I do not seek to promote the specific organizations to which I belong. I do not regard the WSM as the sole bearer of socialist ideas in the world, and indeed there is a great deal that a person can do for socialism without joining any organization at all.
One useful contribution to the development of socialist ideas is The Libertarian Communist, a journal edited by Ray Carr in SW England. I plan to make the issues of this journal available on this site.
My continuing interest in the West Caucasus is reflected in occasional contributions to two sites established by my good friend Metin Sonmez: http://www.CircassianWorld.com and http://www.AbkhazWorld.com. I would like to express my gratitude to Metin for designing this site for me.
Although most of the writings on this site are by me, I do intend now and then to feature important articles by guest contributors. Look out for them!
Any text from this site can be reproduced for non-profit purposes, provided that it is reproduced unchanged in its entirety and its source is fully indicated (that is, both this site and the original source if different). Texts can be reproduced for profit or in truncated form only with my consent.
Stephen D. Shenfield, May 2012