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Book description

This pioneering monograph – a Foreign Affairs Best Book of the Year – asks how a socialist society, ostensibly committed to Marxist ideals of internationalism and global class struggle, reconciled itself to notions of patriotism, homeland, Russian ethnocentrism, and the glorification of war. Through the lens of the myth and remembrance of victory in World War II, arguably the central defining event of the Soviet epoch, the book shows that while state historical narratives reinforced a sense of Russian primacy and Russian dominated ethnic hierarchy, the story of the war enabled an alternative, supra-ethnic source of belonging, which subsumed Russian and non-Russian loyalties alike to the Soviet whole. The tension and competition between Russocentric and 'internationalist' conceptions of victory, which burst into the open during the late 1980s, reflected a wider struggle over the nature of patriotic identity in a multiethnic society that continues to reverberate in the post-Soviet space. The book sheds new light on long standing questions linked to the politics of remembrance and provides a crucial historical context for the patriotic revival of the war's memory in Russia today.


‘The Soviet Myth of World War II represents a major new study of Soviet ideology and commemorative culture during the postwar era. Combining extensive archival research with insightful analysis, Jonathan Brunstedt highlights the place of pan-Soviet and internationalist appeals in war commemoration. His book stands as an important corrective to the idea that Soviet leaders were Russian nationalists.’

David L. Hoffmann - author of The Stalinist Era

‘Jonathan Brunstedt takes us deep into the myth that developed about Soviet victory in World War II and how it provoked intense, often contradictory debates about the nature of patriotism in the USSR. The Soviet Myth of World War II is insightful, deeply researched, and an important work for understanding the nature of postwar Soviet life.’

Stephen Norris - author of A War of Images

‘A meticulously researched and beautifully written contribution to debates about national identity and commemoration in the Soviet Union. Using a wide range of textual and archival evidence, Brunstedt ably charts five decades of tensions about whether to use the myth of World War II to foster a Soviet multi-ethnic patriotism or to promote an imperial Russo-centric narrative.’

Karen Petrone - author of The Great War in Russian Memory

‘As today’s Kremlin struggles to navigate between strident Russian nationalism and its multinational polity, while urgently promoting a World War II-centered patriotism, The Soviet Myth of World War II - a truly compelling book that provides a deep historical context for current ideological battles - could hardly be more timely!’

Nina Tumarkin - author of The Living and the Dead

‘This work is an imposing intellectual force in Soviet studies. The source base is remarkable … [It’s] an amalgam of social history, political history, cultural history, and, above all, a history of memory … This work is a towering academic achievement that puts forth imposing evidence and a convincing thesis. Brunstedt is thorough in his research, and he offers up a compelling and original argument to Soviet and Slavic studies, particularly with his contention regarding the divergent nature of the two ideologies in question. This work is recommended to specialists in Soviet and Eastern European studies. And given the … ‘timely’ nature of this work, it would not at all be surprising to see this caliber of work come to the forefront of many academic communities as geopolitical questions begin to surface in parts of the former Soviet Union.’

Christopher Bishop Source: H-War

‘The book is a major contribution to our understanding of ideology, Russian nationalism, and the Soviet political elite in the comparatively less-studied late Soviet period. Brunstedt convincingly demonstrates the presence of competing paradigms. Moreover, his nuanced analysis of the political debates shaping the war myth’s content reveals how public sentiment confined ideological choices … Likewise, his study showcases the varieties of Russian nationalism percolating in the postwar period, drawing our attention to the fracturing of interests between the party, groupings of intellectuals, and the public in a manner that encourages further inquiry … This is a masterful overview of the intricacies of ideological negotiation, as well as the advantages and perils of deriving legitimacy through memory of war.’

Erina Megowan Source: The Russian Review

‘[A] tour de force of historical analysis … The Soviet Myth of World War II is a highly valuable addition to the historiography of the Soviet Union, providing much-needed nuance to our understanding of the victory myth. Outside of Soviet studies, the book will also be of interest to scholars of memory politics and imperial governance. One can only hope that scholars will take Brunstedt’s sophisticated examination of the different strands of the victory myth into the post-1991 era.’

Dmitry Halavach Source: Europe-Asia Studies Review

‘The guiding myth of victory in the Great Patriotic War, argues Jonathan Brunstedt in this impressive monograph, was designed to cement Soviet national identity and reinforce citizens’ loyalty to the communist system from 1945 until the Soviet collapse.’

Angela Stent Source: Survival Review

‘This is a welcome contribution on a timely subject about the myth of Russia’s role in WWII.’

W. B. Whisenhunt Source: Choice Review

‘Drawing on an array of archival and published primary sources and applying meticulous textual analysis, The Soviet Myth of World War II is an impressive feat of historical scholarship. This is a book that demands but also rewards close reading. At a time when the Russian state is reviving the Soviet victory myth and marshalling nationalist sentiment to justify its brutal war in Ukraine, Jonathan Brunstedt has provided a vital road map to recent ideological trends. His work should find an audience not only among specialists in Soviet history and commemorative culture, but also anyone hoping to understand why the war’s memory remains so powerful in the present.’

Alexander McConnell Source: The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review

‘The Soviet Myth of World War II. Patriotic Memory and the Russian Question in the USSR offers great insights into the complexity of creating the myth of World War II as a crucial unifying factor in the USSR and for the emergence of a Soviet identity. … The book is an essential foundation for future research on the development of the Soviet cult of World War II and its continuation in the newly established countries that gained their independence after the collapse of communism.’

Olha Martyniuk Source: H-Soz-Kult (2023), (

‘Clearly and effectively dissecting a wide range of archival and ideological sources relating to memory policy, Brunstedt shows that during the war and late Stalinism, the leader and his ideologues alternated between or sometimes combined the two strands of the war myth. During de-Stalinization, however, the Russocentric strand became associated with Stalin’s excesses … It is refreshing to see such a tightly argued, seriously researched academic monograph … In light of Brunstedt’s work, we can see more clearly how the broader struggle between reform and counter-reform, westernizers and Russophiles, anti-Stalinists and neo-Stalinists not only survived but intensified after 1991 and 2000.’

Michael David-Fox Source: Slavic Review (2023)

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