Sakwa, Richard 1953–

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Sakwa, Richard 1953–

PERSONAL: Born August 22, 1953 in Norwich, England; son of Zenon and Andree (Dumar) Sakwa; married, November 4, 1981; wife's name, Roza T.; children: Peter, George. Education: London School of Economics, B.A., 1975; University of Birmingham, Ph.D., 1984.

ADDRESSES: Office—University of Kent at Canterbury, Department of Politics and International Relations, Rutherford College, Room N4.W2, Canterbury, CT2 7NX England. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: University of Essex, lecturer, 1985–86; University of Kent at Canterbury, reader, 1987–96, professor of Russian and European politics, 1996–. University of CaliforniaSanta Cruz, visiting assistant professor, 1986–87. Worked at Mir Science and Technology Publishing House, Moscow, Russia.

AWARDS, HONORS: British Council scholarship, Moscow State University, 1979–80.


Soviet Communists in Power: A Study of Moscow during the Civil War, 1918–21, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1988.

Soviet Politics: An Introduction, Routledge (New York, NY), 1989, 2nd edition published as Soviet Politics in Perspective, Routledge (New York, NY), 1998.

Gorbachev and His Reforms, 1985–1990 Prentice-Hall (New York, NY), 1991.

(Editor) The Struggle for Russia: Power and Change in the Democratic Revolution, Ruslan Khasbulatov, Routledge (New York, NY), 1993.

Russian Politics and Society, Routledge (New York, NY), 1993, 3rd edition, Routledge (New York, NY), 2002.

(Editor) The Experience of Democratization in Eastern Europe: Selected Papers from the Fifth World Congress of Central and East European Studies, Warsaw, 1995, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Postcommunism, Open University Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1999.

The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917–1991, Routledge (New York, NY), 1999.

Russia's Crisis and Yeltsin's Leadership, University of Tampere, International School of Social Sciences (Tampere, Finland), 1999.

(Editor, with Anne Stevens) Contemporary Europe, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.

(Editor, with Bruno Coppieters) Contextualizing Secession: Normative Studies in Comparative Perspective, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2003.

Putin: Russia's Choice, Routledge (New York, NY), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: A professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent, Richard Sakwa is an expert on Soviet and Russian affairs and how they affect European politics. Sakwa's research interests include "problems of democratic development in Russia, the nature of post-communism, and the global challenges facing the former communist countries," noted a biographer on the Standing Group on International Relations Web site.

Russian Politics and Society presents a detailed summary of major events and themes in Russian politics in the three years prior to 1995. Sakwa covers topics such as the collapse of communism; the political systems that emerged in the wake of the collapse to replace communism; the effects on the Russian economy; and the place of Russian foreign policy in a world where communism is no longer a major political system. Sakwa provides analysis and commentary as well as comparison with other major political upheavals in Latin America, Weimar Germany, and a number of post-fascist societies. Catherine Merridale, writing in Journal of European Studies, remarked on the book's comprehensiveness but found its scope to be both a strength and a weakness, "for although attractively organized and clearly written, for the most part it is not an easy book to read, and there is not enough time between breathless narratives for the author to reflect on the meaning of what he has presented," she remarked. Still, "it is an ambitious and wide-ranging survey, and its findings are informed and intelligent," though likely to be short-lived as the Russian political climate continues to change.

Soviet Politics in Perspective "is one of the most complete and accessible introductions to Soviet politics," commented Tom Casier in Europe-Asia Studies. A revised edition of the earlier Soviet Politics: An Introduction, Sakwa reframes his narrative as an analysis of Soviet politics in perspective, with the advantage of time and distance adding to the fabric of his exploration. In addition to a historical overview of the Soviet Union, Sakwa also offers thematic material on Soviet government, politics, and policies. A new section looks closely at nearly seventy years of Soviet politics and searches for reasons that the Soviet system collapsed so spectacularly and with such finality. His comprehensive overview of facts is tempered with critical analysis of the ways in which other scholars have interpreted Soviet politics. In doing so, he offers a "personal, usually balanced interpretation" and his readers enjoy the benefits of "a sort of menu of approaches which characterised Soviet studies, without excluding a personal touch altogether," Casier observed. The book is "unmatched in that it offers an enormous amount of data presented in a comprehensive, analytically brilliant and often thought-provoking way," Casier remarked. "In other words, Sakwa manages not to lose the thread of the story in the flood of information."

In Postcommunism, Sakwa presents historical and descriptive information on communism and its fall, but provides "primarily a theoretical analysis of postcommunism," wrote Leslie Holmes in Europe-Asia Studies. Sakwa argues for two primary meanings for post-communism; one, the literal aspect of social, economic, and political situations in countries that were once under communist rule; and two, the more abstract use of the notion of post-communism as "a shorthand term for the world beyond the Cold War," Holmes observed. Sakwa finds that a major characteristic of post-communist society is "coming to terms with the communist past," Holmes noted. He compares the after-communist societies with other systems that emerged following the collapse or end of major political systems, such as post-colonialism and post-fascist systems. He looks at the history of communist ideas and the reality of the experience of communism, and identifies "the many profound ambiguities and implications of post-communism," Holmes stated. In the end, Sakwa sees post-communism as embodying a "fundamental choicelessness," and finds potential difficulty for post-communist societies in the "gap between formal and substantive democracy," Holmes wrote. "This is a serious, polemical, passionate and disquieting book," Holmes commented, with complex arguments and sophisticated conclusions.

The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917–1991 contains a comprehensive history of the Soviet Union, from its early days to its collapse in 1991. The book offers a thorough context for communism's timeline through original documents, readings, and commentaries. "The greatest challenge in such an approach lies in the selection of the sources. When dealing with so vast a subject as the history of the Soviet Union, it is a formidable challenge indeed and Sakwa accomplishes it brilliantly," commented Donald Senese in Canadian Journal of History. Sakwa "displays an impressive mastery of the documentary evidence of several generations of Russia's history, and his selections are informed by a dispassionate and judicious outlook on its triumphs and failures," Senese remarked. The sources range from early correspondence with Marx asking about the prospects for socialism in Russia, to Gorbachev's 1991 resignation speech. Sakwa also offers detailed coverage of Lenin and Leninism. The struggle of communist leadership to apply "Leninist theories and operational techniques to the changing realities of Russia, the problems posed by its multinational empire, and its growing influence in the world" is a fundamental aspect of Soviet history, Senese stated.



Canadian Journal of History, December, 2001, review of The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917–1991, p. 565.

Contemporary Review, September, 2002, "New and Noteworthy," review of Russian Politics and Society, p. 183; September, 2004, review of Putin: Russia's Choice, p. 185.

Europe-Asia Studies, June, 1999, Tom Casier, review of Soviet Politics in Perspective, p. 710; March, 2000, Leslie Holmes, review of Postcommunism, p. 371; June, 2000, John S. Dryzek, review of The Experience of Democratization in Eastern Europe: Selected Papers from the Fifth World Congress of Central and East European Studies, Warsaw, 1995, p. 762.

Journal of European Studies, June, 1995, Catherine Merridale, review of Russian Politics and Society, p. 231.

New Statesman, March 15, 2004, Rachel Polonsky, review of Putin: Russia's Choice, p. 48.


NATFHE: The University and College Lecturers' Union Web site, (December 17, 2004), Clive Tempest, review of The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917–1991.

Standing Group on International Relations Web site, (December 17, 2004), "Richard Sakwa."