Richard Pipes, Historian of Russia and Reagan Aide, Dies at 94Richard Pipes in his study in Cambridge, Mass., in 1959. He spent his entire academic career at Harvard.
Richard Pipes, the author of a monumental, sharply polemical series of historical works on Russia, the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik regime, and a top adviser to the Reagan administration on Soviet and Eastern European policy, died on Thursday at a nursing home near his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 94.
His son Daniel confirmed the death.
Professor Pipes, who spent his entire academic career at Harvard, took his place in the front rank of Russian historians with the publication of “Russia Under the Old Regime” in 1974. But he achieved much wider renown as a public intellectual deeply skeptical about the American policy of détente with the Soviet Union.
In 1976, he led a group of military and foreign-policy experts, known as Team B, in an ultimately pessimistic analysis of the Soviet Union’s military strategy and foreign policy and the threats they posed to the United States.
The group’s report, commissioned by the Central Intelligence Agency as a counterweight to an analysis that had been generated by the C.I.A.’s own experts — Team A — helped galvanize conservative opposition to arms-control talks and accommodation with the Soviet Union. And it set the stage for Ronald Reagan’s policy of challenging Soviet foreign policy and seeking to undermine its hold over Eastern Europe.
While writing ambitious histories of the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik regime, Professor Pipes continued his campaign for a tougher foreign policy toward the Soviet Union in the late 1970s as a member of the neoconservative Committee on the Present Danger and as director of Eastern European and Soviet affairs for President Reagan’s National Security Council.
Despite this public role, he regarded himself, first and foremost, as a historian of Russian history, politics and culture — a field in which he performed with great distinction. A forceful, stylish writer with a sweeping view of history, Professor Pipes covered nearly 600 years of the Russian past in “Russia Under the Old Regime,” abandoning chronology and treating his subject by themes, such as the peasantry, the church, the machinery of state and the intelligentsia.
One of his most original contributions was to locate many of Russia’s woes in its failure to evolve beyond its status as a patrimonial state, a term he borrowed from the German sociologist Max Weber to characterize Russian absolutism, in which the czar not only ruled but also owned his domain and its inhabitants, nullifying the concepts of private property and individual freedom.
With “The Russian Revolution” (1990), Professor Pipes mounted a frontal assault on many of the premises and long-held convictions of mainstream Western specialists on the Bolshevik seizure of power. That book, which began with the simple Russian epigram “To the victims,” took a prosecutorial stance toward the Bolsheviks and their leader, Vladimir Lenin, who still commanded a certain respect and sympathy among Western historians.
Professor Pipes, a moralist shaped by his experiences as a Jew who had fled the Nazi occupation of Poland, would have none of it. He presented the Bolshevik Party as a conspiratorial, deeply unpopular clique rather than the spearhead of a mass movement. He shed new and harsh light on the Bolshevik campaign against the peasantry, which, he argued, Lenin had sought to destroy as a reactionary class. He also accused Lenin of laying the foundation of the terrorist state that his successor, Joseph Stalin, perfected.
“I felt and feel to this day that I have been spared not to waste my life on self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement but to spread a moral message by showing, using examples from history, how evil ideas lead to evil consequences,” Professor Pipes wrote in a memoir. “Since scholars have written enough on the Holocaust, I thought it my mission to demonstrate this truth using the example of communism.”
The British historian Ronald Hingley wroteof “The Russian Revolution” in The New York Times Book Review that “no single volume known to me even begins to cater so adequately to those who want to work through 842 intellectually challenging pages in order to discover what really happened to Russia in and around 1917.”
Other reviewers found Professor Pipes intemperate and, on occasion, blinded by his zeal to redress moral wrongs.
William G. Rosenberg, writing in The Nation, praised Professor Pipes’s “remarkable intellectual range, crystalline style and capacity to muster an extraordinary mass of evidential detail” but complained of “scholarship distorted by passion.”
“Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime,” which was published in 1994 and covered the period from the Russian Civil War to the death of Lenin in 1924, also met with a divided response.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, Professor Pipes emerged as an esteemed Western historian in Russia — a novel experience for a man who had been reviled by Soviet historians throughout his career.
By this time, he had long been prominent as a leading critic of détente and arms-control talks with the Soviet Union, and a loathed figure on the left. “Those who called me a cold warrior apparently expected me to cringe,” he wrote in “Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger” (2003). “In fact, I accepted the title proudly.”