„Üks võimsamaid relvi võitluses kodanlise natsionalismi vastu on kindlasti eesti ajalugu…“. Eesti vabariigi perioodi uurimisest Eesti NSV Teaduste Akadeemia ajaloo instituudis aastatel 1946–1950


  • Tõnu Tannberg




Estonian history, sovietisation of historical science, history of science, periodization, political campaigns, loss of independent statehood, repression of intellectuals



Abstract: On the study of the period of the Republic of Estonia at the Estonian SSR Academy of Sciences Institute of History in 1946–1950

A decision adopted on 30 October 1944 in Moscow by the Orgburo of the Central Committee of the Communist (Bolshevist) Party of the Soviet Union (hereinafter C(B)PSU CC) launched an extensive process of sovietisation in the Estonian SSR. The ‘great struggle’ against so-called bourgeois nationalism began, and one of its thrusts was aimed at vilifying the pre-war Republic of Estonia and rooting it out of society’s consciousness. History started playing an important role in this ‘struggle’. This was already stressed at the Estonian Communist (Bolshevist) Party (hereinafter EC(B)P) CC plenary meeting held in early December of 1944, where Moscow’s decision was discussed along with the first measures for launching the sovietisation of society. At the meeting, a programmatic speech was given by Hans Kruus, the founder of historical science focusing on the Estonian nation, who began to serve the Soviet regime in the ‘June coup’ of 1940. In 1944, Kruus was a close associate of Nikolai Karotamm, the leader of the Estonian SSR at that time, and he led the sovietisation of historical science, and more broadly of the whole system of scientific and academic research in Estonia.

Hans Kruus formulated the aims and tasks of historical science in Soviet society and also considered it necessary to study the period of independent statehood. He understood perfectly that the assessment from Marxist positions of the legacy of the era of independence was essential for educating the ‘new Soviet man’, but also for making the Soviet regime as palatable as possible for society. For this reason, Karotamm and his ‘team’ paid a great deal of attention to involving writers, scientists and other people known in society to a greater or lesser extent in carrying out the sovietisation process. Kruus stressed the need to eliminate the ‘remnants of misconceptions’ left by the ‘era of bourgeois Estonia’, but this did not mean casting the era of independent statehood into the trash bin of history. The task of historical science was to give the ‘bourgeois Estonian state’ Soviet content.

One of the first practical tasks in sovietising historical science was to work out a Marxist periodisation for Estonian history, which was supposed to be founded on the theory of social-economic formations. Artur Vassar was the historian who dealt the most with questions of periodisation, completing his system by 1947. Additionally, Abe Liebman, the head of the Chair of History at the Estonian republic’s EC(B)P CC Communist Party School, and Gustav Naan, who at that time was studying at the C(B)PSU CC Higher Communist Party School in Moscow, worked out their own periodisation system. These two competing systems were combined into a single unified system through the mediation of Ivan Käbin, the EC(B)P CC Propaganda and Agitation Secretary, and it was published in the magazine Eesti Bolševik[Estonian Bolshevik] in September of 1948. The publication of the Soviet periodisation system in 1948 was an important landmark in the sovietisation of historical science, since the main periods of Estonian history based on social-economic formations were introduced to the public for the first time. Although this periodisation system was later refined and expanded, it remained the basis for future historical works and provided the framework for the study of history in the Estonian SSR for many years to come.

Naturally, the aim of the regime was also to sovietise the organisation of science. The central undertaking in this process was the founding of the Estonian SSR Academy of Sciences in 1946. Here as well, the key figure was Hans Kruus, who became the Academy’s first president and a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union. Various academic institutes began operating as sub-institutions of the Academy of Sciences. These institutes had the leading role in academic research, unlike institutions of higher education, which were expected to prepare students for research and academic degrees and not to contribute to research as their primary task. The Estonian SSR Academy of Sciences Institute of History (directed by Richard Kleis) became the central research institution for historical science (together with archaeology and art history).

The compilation of Marxist survey works on Estonian history, which were also supposed to provide a complete overview of the period of the independent Republic of Estonia, became the primary task of the Institute of History. Its primary aim at that time was to write an Estonian history textbook, but the undertaking failed. Thereafter plans were made to produce a two-volume Lühike Eesti ajalugu [Brief History of Estonia]. The manuscript for the first volume was ready to be printed by the end of 1949. The institute also started compiling a new three-volume Soviet-style general treatment of Estonian history. The manuscript for the first volume was supposed to be completed in 1948, the second volume in 1950 and the third volume in 1951. Hans Kruus was the executive editor of both publications.

In studying the period of the independent Republic of Estonia, chief attention had to be paid to the labour movement, though initially there were also more substantial studies of the period of independent statehood planned in the Institute of History. Namely, Hans Kruus planned to write the book Eesti kodanlik riik 1918–1920 [The Estonian Bourgeois State 1918–1920], which was supposed to provide a ‘general popular-style overview of the class nature of the bourgeois Estonian state, its economic foundations, the struggles between cliques that developed in it, and foreign policy’. After a few years, Kruus abandoned this theme and set a new objective for himself to write the book Kodanliku Eesti välispoliitika 1918–1940 [The Foreign Policy of Bourgeois Estonia 1918–1940]. Yet even this undertaking did not come to fruition since the political conditions had already been significantly altered by the end of the 1940s. The campaign against so-called bourgeois nationalism was picking up steam and it did not leave those who went along with the Soviet regime in 1940 untouched. From late 1949, Hans Kruus became the primary target of this campaign, which led to his expulsion from the Communist Party, the dismissal from the posts of Minister of Foreign Affairs and President of the Academy of Sciences, and eventually to his arrest in October of 1950.

The organisation of historical research disintegrated with the fall of Kruus, and most of the projects connected to his name were cancelled. His stigmatisation as a ‘bourgeois nationalist’ led to the more substantial themes concerning the period of the independent Republic of Estonia being squeezed out of the work plans for the Estonian SSR Academy of Sciences institutes by 1950. One of the main points in the accusations levelled against Kruus became the reprimand that ‘having taken it upon himself to study the bourgeois dictatorship’, he actually did not do anything to launch this research, but rather organised ‘the work in the Estonian SSR Academy of Sciences Institute of History in such a way as to prevent the study of this period in the future as well’. The entire era of independent statehood was turned into a marginal period of research. A few narrow themes were permitted in its research, such as the labour movement, the activities of the Communists, agrarian conditions, and opposition to the Soviet Union in foreign policy. The negative attitude towards the independent Republic of Estonia achieved its apogee in the first Soviet, more precisely Stalinist, a general survey of Estonian history published in 1952.


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Author Biography

Tõnu Tannberg

(b. 1961) is Professor of Estonian History, Institute of History and Archaeology, University of Tartu




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