Yevgeny Viktorovich Tarle (Russian: Евгений Викторович Та́рле) (27 October [O.S. 8 November ] 1874 – 6 January 1955) was a Soviet historian and academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is known for his books about Napoleon's invasion of Russia and on the Crimean War, and many other works. Yevgeny Tarle was one of the founders of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Russia's diplomatic university.
Tarle was a historian who lived and worked both under Tsarist and Soviet regimes. He witnessed the whole period in which Joseph Stalin held power. The Stalinist era had exceedingly strict ideological pressure on scholarly research in the Soviet Union in science, together with art, literature, education, and all other domains of human culture. Thus, it was inevitable for historians to face that pressure while doing their scholarly works. The secrecy of the regime made the historical study of the Soviet Union, especially Stalin and his era difficult. In the Stalin era the Party’s total control of archives, journals, publishing houses, historians’ appointments, and so on meant that scholarship was entirely subordinate to its whims and dictates. “History was the handmaiden of ideology and politics. The leader and his intimates could manipulate the historical record as it suited them in their struggle to gain and maintain power.” When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, Tarle was a successful historian at the University of Saint Petersburg.
Tarle was born in Ukraine in a Jewish family on 8 November 1874. His father was a government official. He completed Gymnasium in Kherson in 1892 and afterward entered the University of Kiev to study history and philosophy. He was “the most distinguished student of Ivan Vasilevich Luchitski (1845-1918) of the University of Kiev.” After finishing his undergraduate education at the University of Kiev, he continued there as a graduate student in history. He defended his master’s thesis in 1901 and became a lecturer at the University of St. Petersburg in 1903. To achieve his doctoral degree, he completed a two-volume dissertation about France. His interest in France increased in time: he completed another work on the economic history of France in 1916.
Tarle was able to travel outside of Russia several times before the Revolution in 1917. He had done research in the libraries and archives of Western Europe for all his early works. He even read a paper at the World Congress of Historical Studies held in London in 1913. The number of his works prior to the Revolution amounted to 211. His most important publications before the revolution were:
- Kontinentalnaia blokada v. I: Issledovaniia po istorii promyshelennosti i vneshnei torgovli Frantsii v epokhu Napoleona [The Continental Blockade V. I: Studies in the History of French Industry and Trade under Napoleon] in 1913
- Ekonomicheskaia zhizn korolestva Italii v tsarstvovaniie Napoleona [The Economic Situation of Italy during the Napoleonic Era], which was first published in 1916 and in the following years also in French (1928) and in Italian (1950).
- Pechat’vo Frantsii pri Napoleone [The French Press under Napoleon] published in 1913
- Rabochii klass vo Frantsii v epokhu revoliutsii [The French Working Class during the Revolution] (1909–1911)
It was a great chance for a Soviet academician, who survived the Stalinist era, to travel abroad and work in foreign archives and libraries, since after 1917 it was not easy for Soviet historians to appear abroad. July 1928 was the first time Soviet historians went before the outside world at the time of the “Week of the Russian Historians” in Berlin. The second and last time that Soviet historians appeared abroad was at the “Sixth International Congress of Historians” in Oslo in September, 1928. Tarle had been proposed as a participant at the latter, but did not appear, since at the last moment he was recalled.
Tarle’s Soviet biographers did not mention his political views prior the Bolshevik Revolution; he was not a Marxist and had not participated in the revolution. “He had even held a rather negative attitude towards it at first.” Russian historical scholarship was deeply affected by the Revolution. Despite this, Tarle remained at the University of St. Petersburg and “during the 1920s he was also active in the Russian Association of Scientific Institutes for Research in the Social Sciences (RANION). However, in RAINON, “most researchers were specialists who had been trained under the old regime. The historians among them had to change their fields and study the revolutionary movement or socio-economic problems. In 1921, he became a “corresponding member” of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and a “full member” in 1927. From 1922 to 1924, with F. I Uspenski, he published a journal of general history under the title of Annually. Tarle had achieved distinction as a specialist in modern history through his book Evropa v epokhu imperializma ("Europe in the Age of Imperialism"). By the way, the 1920s witnessed the leadership of M. N. Pokrovski to the school of Marxist historians. A group of non-Marxist historians played a significant role in RANION, and also some smaller institutions such as the State Historical Museum and the Society for History and Russian Antiquates remained in their hands for as much as a decade. Under these circumstances it was possible for the leading representatives of Russian historical scholarship to continue until about 1928 as active scholars. However, they suffered some political discrimination and had difficulty in obtaining funds for publishing their works.
Early Soviet era and exile
The first decade of the Soviet regime saw few arrests of historians among the older generation. The most important and best-known historians managed to survive and were accorded to leading positions. Until about the year 1929, the coexistence of “old” and “new” historians continued. Along with extensive changes in the Soviet society during those years, this situation came to an end in 1929, “when the communists began to take decisive steps to liquidate their “bourgeois” colleagues. In that year several leading historians were forbidden to teach and deprived of access to research facilities” and some of them, including Tarle, were arrested and sent into exile. There is no need to mention that purges were an integral part of the Soviet system. They were like waves, and each new wave engulfs some one group of the society. The wave which first engulfed an entire group of scholars took place from 1921 to 1931. During this period, the first five-year plan, “dekulakization” and collectivization were being applied and the coincidence of this with the purges was not accidental.
According to Pokrovski, there are no “real” Marxists among the “old” historians. But “naturally, as a convinced Marxist he could not foresee that two or three years later his own Marxism would be reappraised and questioned.” Pokrovski’s attack on Tarle began two years before his arrest. He was arrested in early 1930 and was held in prison in Leningrad. In August 1931, he exiled to Alma Ata. Tarle was a “pseudo-Marxist” and an “ententeophile” who attempted to “smash Marxist historical conceptions” under the cover of Marxist methodology At the time, when he was in exile, the opinion regarding him held by the representatives of the Soviet historians were unfavorable. Black quotes an essay published in 1931 written by a Soviet historian, Mokhov, entitled “Tarle the Interventionist under Vostokov’s Protection” . During the years 1928-1931, Tarle was criticized by his colleagues in many articles published in Istorik-Marksist and in Borba Klassov. The level of criticism against Tarle had increased during 1930-1931 and the critiques targeted him were accusing Tarle of “being an “interventionist” and a “traitor” destined to be the foreign minister in a restored capitalist government.”
The 1930s was the period during which increased importance was attributed to the theory “socialism in one country.” adopted as a state policy by Stalin after 1926. The Communist Party (KPSS) was changing its official line due to the events outside of Russia during that time. The theory, used by Stalin to “strangle everything that might remind one of the international character of the Russian revolution”, became popular soon after the defeat of several proletarian revolutions in countries like Germany and Hungary, which ended Bolshevik hopes for a world revolution. Following this, the Soviet Union changed the focus of its foreign policy from the Third International to trade and relations with capitalist states. This switch had immediate effects on the Soviet historians. KPSS “called historians to help meet the needs of the new situation.” Stalin wanted Soviet historians “to pay more attention to the role of individual” when writing the history. The school of Pokrovski could no more be tolerated. This was the time of developing patriotism in the Soviet Union. After Tarle returned from exile in early 1934, he got back to his academic work in Leningrad and wrote his two significant works on Napoleonic period. These were a biography of Napoleon (Napoleon) in 1936, and Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, 1812 (Nashestvie Napoleona na Rossiju: 1812 god) in 1938, which were of a great importance for estimating the change in Tarle’s interpretation of the history. While considering the changing views of him, one can also witness the comprehensive and gradually increasing shift within the society of historians at that time along with the change in the Soviet society.
Tarle’s description of the Napoleonic Empire in his 1936 book Napoleon had mostly been perceived as a study in the classic Marxist tradition. He had repeated the basic ideas of Pokrovski on the 1812 campaign and he managed to interpret Napoleon from the viewpoint of the class-struggle saying that “…the Napoleonic era is the birth of the stubborn conflict of new social and economic forces, a conflict which did not begin with Napoleon or end with him, and whose basic significance consisted in the victorious assault of the middle class against the feudal and the semi-feudal order in France and Europe.” Like Pokrovski, Tarle, in this book, treated Russian people’s patriotism and the talents of the Russian commanders as of lesser significance. However, according to Erickson, “Tarle’s interpretation differed from the more rigid economic interpretation of the Pokrovski school.” Unlike Pokrovski, Tarle brought individuals in the foreground. In his 1936 work, Napoleon was recognized as an influential figure in history. Because Stalin’s views on a particular topic had been changing in the course of time, he must adopt himself to the new lines of the official ideology of the ruling party. Therefore, Tarle had to pay attention to the “cult of personality” which was such an important aspect of Stalinist policies during his period.
Tarle’s scholarly work during his post-exile period is the subject of much controversy. In any case, his western colleagues were facing less pressure from their governments in their scholarly work. This is why they do not always realize the real working conditions of their Soviet counterparts. A. Roland, while praising Tarle of being a renowned authority on the Napoleonic era and having clearly understood the epoch of the Napoleonic wars, accuses him however of having refracted the impact of the French revolution through the person of Napoleon.
In Tarle’s 1936 work Napoleon, the Battle of Borodino was not termed a victory. Again, the resistance to Napoleon was “never a popular, national war.” He states in his book that “there was no mass participation by the peasantry in the guerilla bands and in their activities, and their part in the campaign was strictly limited.” According to Tarle, “… it is clear that if the Spanish guerilla warfare might justifiably be called a national war, it would be impossible to apply this term to any Russian movement in the war of 1812.” Tarle supported his interpretation by “denying that the peasants fought against the French and describing the burning of Smolensk and Moscow as systematic acts of the Russian army in retreat.” Naturally, Tarle also gave references to Lenin’s words on Napoleon in his book. Tarle’s biography of Napoleon, according to Black, was accepted as “the final word in the analysis of the 1812 campaign” when it was first published in 1936. However, his interpretation met severe criticism. The same year brought a “radical” change in the Soviet historiography: a critical approach toward the 1812 campaign was no longer permitted . At this point was Tarle subject to strong criticism among the society of historians all around the world. Émigré historians in the United States and historians in Europe wrote about Tarle soon after he completed a second book on the same theme in his profession in the history. He prepared his new work in a comparatively shorter time and published it in 1938 under the title Nashestive Napoleona na Rossiyu, 1812 ("Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, 1812"). This book was translated into English and published in Great Britain in 1942.
In his new book, Tarle mixed the Marxist ideology and Russian nationalism. In other words, this version of 1938 had a socialist face with a patriotic spirit in it. This time, the war of 1812 was not unexceptional like other wars of Napoleon. The war with Russia was “more frankly imperialistic than any other of Napoleon’s wars; it was more directly dictated by the interests of the French upper-middle class.” The “principal theme of Tarle’s new work was his glorification of the heroism exhibited by the Russian people and the wise conduct of the campaign by the Russian commanders in general and by Kutuzov in particular.” In his work of 1938, strong emphasis was placed on Russian patriotism. One can observe the changing mind of Tarle by reading the additives into the conception of the same topic such as “… it was the resistance of the Russian people which defeated [Napoleon].” or “[The Russian people]’s will to victory with the true heroism that despises all phrases…” The number of this examples can be increased. In any case, he presented different interpretations than his earlier book.
When comparing Tarle’s two works on Napoleon with the considerable changes in the latter, one has good reasons for expecting from Tarle to indicate the discovery of some new sources and materials which led him to this re-evaluation of the war of 1812 or it can simply be thought that anything would be possible during the “reign” of Stalin. The Stalinist idea that the nation is above class can clearly be observed from Tarle’s new approach. As Roland appropriately stated in his article, “the importance of Tarle’s books lies not in Tarle himself, or in his descent into falsification of history, it lies in the light it throws on Stalinism.” If this was the case accepted by the historians and by Marxists, it can be said that the high degree of the criticism faced by Tarle is nonsense. One might infer from the critiques of Tarle and his contemporary colleagues in Soviet Union that at the target of the critiques there are not the historians or academicians but Stalin himself.
Post-World War II
After World War II had ended, there are new trends in the policy of the Soviet Union which again conflicted Tarle’s interpretation of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia. In the post-war period, Tarle’s 1938 book was subjected to severe and intemperate criticism as Soviet historical writing was affected by the “theory of the counteroffensive”. According to Erickson, the two important trends conflicting with the views of Tarle were “the campaign against the ‘cosmopolitanism’ … and Stalin’s glorification of himself as a military genius.” The significant event here was the publication of Stalin’s letter to Colonel Razin in February 1947.
The official theoretical organ of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Bolshevik published an article written by Kozhukhov in 1951. Tarle was accused by Kozhukhov of having made use of foreign sources to the detriment of those of Russian origin, of having emphasized the passive character of Kutuzov’s maneuvers and of having claimed that Kutuzov was continuing the tactics of the Barclay de Tolly. In addition, Tarle is attacked for having failed to evaluate the Battle of Borodino as a clear-cut Russian victory, for having stated that Moscow was burned by the Russians themselves and for having assigned too much significance to the expanses of Russia, cold and hunger as factors in the defeat of the French army. According to Kozhukhov, Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, 1812 showed the influence of bourgeois historiography. Tarle had not been sufficiently critical of “aristocratic-bourgeois” historians and had distorted the history of the “Fatherland War.” In 1951, Tarle replied in Bolshevik magazine to Kozhukhov’s criticism stating that he had already begun work on a new book on the Napoleonic period which would contain different interpretations than his earlier works. Tarle wrote “In light of the recent victory over Nazis, it was no longer possible to view Russian history, especially military history, in the same way. Valuable new materials and “chiefly Stalin’s enormously significant and illuminating judgment, published in 1947”, had obliged Soviet historians to correct their errors and revise their interpretations of the war of 1812.”
Among Tarle’s works, another point which drew attention in the society of historians was his interpretation of Crimean War. Hitler’s aggression against the Soviet Union during the World War II led new “myths” to come into existence, one of which was the “myth of Sevastopol”. The re-emergence of this myth was of special significance for the war effort, since Sevastopol was again besieged in 1941-1942 by the Germans, “and the defenders of the city again displayed true heroism.” The new wave of Sevastopol veneration came in 1955 with the memory of the one hundredth anniversary of the Crimean war and Sevastopol defense. A lot of books and hundreds of articles on the history of the Sevastopol siege in 1854-1855 were published between 1945 and 1960.
Tarle began working on the history of the Crimean War in the late 1930s, as Soviet relations with Britain and France were deteriorating. He was given access to otherwise inaccessible Russian archives for his work. That permission would obviously have a price: Tarle was writing the history with a strong obedience to Stalin’s foreign policy line. Not surprisingly, the first volume, published in 1941, was awarded the Stalin Prize. The second volume appeared in 1943. His general approach to the history of the Crimean War is a “mixture of criticism of the imperialistic character of the war and glorification of the Russian people.” The standard Soviet approach to the Sevastopol siege had been written by the “official historian of the Stalin era.” Tarle became one of the most influential figures in the historical front. His complete work was entitled “The City of Russian Glory: Sevastopol in 1854-1855”, and was published in 1954 by the publishing house of the USSR Defense Ministry. The book was based on the two-volume study about the Crimean war, written by Tarle earlier. Tarle compares the siege of 1854-1855 to the defense of Sevastopol in 1941-1942 while attacking Washington, Hitlerism and West Germany. The Crimean War was presented by Tarle to the public as a war launched by the western states “against our Motherland.” According to Tarle, in 1854-1855 the defenders of Sevastopol not only fought for the city, but also defended “the annexations, made by the Russian state and the Russian people in the times of Peter I and during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”
Eugene Viktorovich Tarle died in 6 January 1955 in Moscow. He died before he was able to fulfill his intention of writing a new book on the war of 1812, though he came further into line with the theory of the “counteroffensive” in an article published in 1952. He was one of the founders of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. According to Hetnal, no other Soviet historian received so much attention as Tarle did both at home and abroad. Foreign historians have been fascinated by Tarle. The professor of Polish origin, Wiktor Weintraub wrote an article devoted to him. Italian historian Franco Venturi also wrote an interesting article about Tarle. They were followed by Edgar Hösch and others; Tarle’s writings had also been evaluated by Anatole Mazour. Another comprehensive work on Tarle was completed by Stanisław Wiśniewski, a Polish historian from Lublin. He stressed that Tarle’s writings were of unequal value. The wide range of Tarle’s interests, even within the Napoleonic field, the speed with which he worked, as well as the political situation in which he worked after 1936 and other reasons account for his shortcomings.
- Napoleon's Invasion of Russia, 1812 (New York, Oxford University Press, 1942, 1971; (originally published in Russian in 1938).
- Gorod russkoi slavy. Sevastopol v 1854–1855 gg. (Moscow: Voennoe izdatelstvo Ministerstva oborony Soiuza SSR, 1954.
- Krymskaia voina, 2 vols. (Moscow and Leningrad, 1950)
- Nakhimov. Moscow, 1948.
- Erickson, Ann K. "E.V. Tarle: The Career of a Historian under the Soviet Regime", American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. 19, No. 2. (Apr., 1960), pp. 202–216.