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Richard Pipes, October 20, 2004

Richard Edgar Pipes (born July 11, 1923) is an American academic who specializes in Russian history, particularly with respect to the history of the Soviet Union. During the Cold War era he headed Team B, a team of analysts organized by the Central Intelligence Agency which analyzed the strategic capacities and goals of the Soviet military and political leadership.

His son is Middle East academic and analyst Daniel Pipes.



Richard Pipes was born in Cieszyn, Poland to an assimilated Jewish family.[1] His father was a businessman. By Pipes's own account, during his childhood and youth, he never thought about the Soviet Union; the major cultural influences on him were Polish and German culture. The Pipes family fled occupied Poland in October 1939 and arrived in the United States in July 1940, after seven months passing through Fascist Italy.[2] Pipes became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1943 while serving in the United States Army Air Corps. He was educated at Muskingum College, Cornell University and Harvard. He married Irene Eugenia Roth in 1946, and had two children with her. His son Daniel Pipes is an academic and scholar of Middle East affairs.[3][4]


Pipes taught at Harvard University from 1950 until his retirement in 1996. He was the director of Harvard's Russian Research Center from 1968 to 1973 and is now Baird Professor Emeritus of History at Harvard University. He acted as senior consultant at the Stanford Research Institute from 1973 to 1978. During the 1970s, he was an advisor to Washington Senator Henry M. Jackson. In 1981 and 1982 he served as a member of the National Security Council, holding the post of Director of East European and Soviet Affairs under President Ronald Reagan.[5] Pipes was a member of the Committee on the Present Danger from 1977 until 1992 and belongs to the Council of Foreign Relations. In the 1970s, Pipes was a leading critic of détente, which he described as "inspired by intellectual indolence and based on ignorance of one's antagonist and therefore inherently inept".[6]


Team B

Pipes was head of the 1976 Team B, composed of civilian experts and retired military officers and agreed to by then CIA director George Bush at the urging of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) as a competitive analysis exercise.[5] Team B was created as an antagonist force to a group of CIA intelligence officials, known as Team A, and argued that the National Intelligence Estimate on the Soviet Union, generated yearly by the CIA, underestimated Soviet military ambition[7] and misinterpreted Soviet strategic intentions.

One CIA employee called it "a kangaroo court of outside critics all picked from one point of view."[8] Pipes himself called Team B's evidence "soft."[5] Team B came to the conclusion that the Soviets had developed several new weapons, featuring a nuclear-armed submarine fleet that used a sonar system that didn't depend on sound and was, thus, undetectable by existing technology.[9] The information Team B produced was later claimed by some critics to be incorrect. According to Dr. Anne Cahn in 2004 (Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 1977–1980) "I would say that all of it was fantasy... if you go through most of Team B's specific allegations about weapons systems, and you just examine them one by one, they were all wrong."[10][11]

Pipes himself emphasizes the other aspects of Team B's conclusions: "We dealt with one problem only: What is the Soviet strategy for nuclear weapons? Team B was appointed to look at the evidence and to see if we could conclude that the actual Soviet strategy is different from ours. It's now demonstrated totally, completely, that it was", he said, using the example that documents in Polish archives that show the Soviets planning to use nuclear weapons in the event of war.[12] For example, in a Commentary article, he argued that the A team was subject to 'mirror-imaging' (a common problem in intelligence research and analysis) [thinking that the other side necessarily thought the same as your side]; in particular he argued that Team B showed Soviet development of high-yield, accurate MIRV'ed warheads for ICBMs was inconsistent with city-hostage principles of MAD, implying Soviet first-strike plans.[8] In 1986, Pipes said that history shows that Team B overall contributed to creating more realistic estimates.[13]

Other members of Team B included Daniel O. Graham and Thomas Wolfe. Its advisors included future Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Paul Nitze.

Writings on Russian history

Pipes has written many books on Russian history, including Russia under the Old Regime (1974), The Russian Revolution (1990) and Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime (1994), and has been a frequent and prominent interviewee in the press on the matters of Soviet history and foreign affairs. His writings also appear in Commentary, The New York Times and The Times Literary Supplement".

Pipes is famous for arguing that the origins of the Soviet Union can be traced to the separate path taken by 15th century Muscovy in a Russian version of the Sonderweg thesis. In Pipes' opinion, Muscovy differed from every state in Europe in that there was no concept of private property in Muscovy, and that everything was regarded as the property of the Grand Duke/Tsar. In Pipes' view, this separate path undertaken by Russia ensured that Russia would always be an autocratic state with values fundamentally dissimilar from the values of Western civilization. Pipes has argued that this "patrimonialism" of Imperial Russia started to break down when Russian leaders attempted to modernize in the 19th century without seeking however to change the basic "patrimonial" structure of Russian society. In Pipes's opinion, this separate course undertaken by Russia over the centuries left Russia uniquely open to a communist hijacking in 1917. Pipes has strongly criticized the values of the radical intelligentsia of later Imperial Russia for what he sees as their unreasoning fanaticism and socialism, and inability to accept reality. The Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has denounced Pipes' work as "the Polish version of Russian history". Pipes, in his turn, has accused Solzhenitsyn of being an anti-Semitic Russian ultra-nationalist, who in Pipes' opinion seeks to blame the ills of Communism on the Jews rather than to admit to the Russian roots of the Soviet Union. Writing of Solzhenitsyn's novel, August 1914 in the New York Times on November 13, 1985, Pipes commented: "Every culture has its own brand of anti-Semitism. In Solzhenitsyn's case, it's not racial. It has nothing to do with blood. He's certainly not a racist; the question is fundamentally religious and cultural. He bears some resemblance to Dostoevsky, who was a fervent Christian and patriot and a rabid anti-Semite. Solzhenitsyn is unquestionably in the grip of the Russian extreme right's view of the Revolution, which is that it was the doing of the Jews".[14]

From the left, criticism of Pipes's interpretation of the events of 1917 has come from a number of social historians, such as Lynne Viola and Sheila Fitzpatrick, who contend that there were wider social movements involving workers, sailors, peasants, and soldiers at work in 1917 and that Pipes has focused too narrowly on intellectuals as causal agents. Pipes in his turn has criticized both Viola and Fitzpatrick as generalizing and implicitly as being apologists for Soviet terror. Edward Acton argued that Pipes in 1993 "ignored the work of a generation engaged in social history, and boldly reasserted the interpretation which their work had rendered implausible", had presented propositions of which all "flew in the face of the most detailed and meticulous specialist research" and that his depiction of the Soviet Union was "a mere caricature." He argued that "Pipesian" thought, like postmodernism, was an "attack on the enlightenment."[15]

Pipes has argued that the Soviet Union was an expansionist, totalitarian state bent on world conquest. He is also notable for his thesis that, contrary to many traditional histories of the USSR at the time, the "October Revolution" was, rather than a popular general uprising, a coup foisted upon the majority of the Russian population (and national minorities) by a tiny segment of the population driven by a select group of intellectuals who subsequently established a one-party dictatorship which was intolerant and repressive from the start, rather than having deviated from an initially benign course. In Pipes's view, the Russian Revolution of 1917 was a total disaster, as it allowed what he regards as the small section of the "fanatical" intelligentsia to carry out policies that in Pipes' opinion were completely unrealistic from the beginning.

Pipes is a leading advocate of the totalitarianian school that sees Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as being fundamentally similar regimes pursuing similar policies that, in fact, collaborated in a few essential respects. Citing the work of such historians as James Gregor, Henry Ashby Turner, Renzo De Felice, Karl Dietrich Bracher, Ernst Nolte and David Schoenbaum together with the work of Hermann Rauschning, Pipes, in a chapter in his book Russia Under The Bolshevik Regime, argued that there is no such thing as generic fascism, and that the Third Reich, the Soviet Union and Fascist Italy were all totalitarian regimes united by their antipathy to democracy.

Richard Pipes, in a supposedly "off-the-record" interview, told Reuters in March 1981 that "Soviet leaders would have to choose between peacefully changing their Communist system in the direction followed by the West or going to war. There is no other alternative and it could go either way… Détente is dead." Pipes also stated in the interview that Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher of West Germany was susceptible to pressure from the Soviets. It was learned independently that Pipes was the official who spoke to Reuters. This potentially jeopardized Pipes's job. The White House and the "incensed" State Department issued statements repudiating Pipes's statements.[16] But with President Reagan's backing,[citation needed] Pipes stayed on for a full two years, after which he returned to Harvard because his leave of absence had expired.

In 1992, Pipes was an expert witness in the Russian Constitutional Court's trial of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.


The writings of Richard Pipes have provoked controversy in the scholarly community.[17][18][19][20][21][22][23]

Ronald Grigor Suny believes that Pipes’s book on the Russian Revolution disregards major arguments of those who had written on the revolution for the previous twenty-five years and that Pipes places himself above the professional discourse. Pipes’s book lacks analysis, for the text is a detailed narrative of selective episodes, Suny writes.

Diane Koenker writes that Pipes's work is compromised by numerous errors and methodological flaws. She observes that Pipes uses sources extremely selectively. She concludes that the debate on Russian history is not well served by Pipes’s methodologically flawed polemic masquerading as historical scholarship.

But Ronald Hingley, an Oxford specialist on Russia, wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "no single volume known to me even begins to cater so adequately to those who want to discover... what really happened in Russia in and around 1917." The review in the Wall Street Journal described the book as a "monumental study... of absorbing interest [by] the distinguished historian of modern Russia... Lucidly written, unsurpassed in detail and comprehensiveness." The book was translated into several languages, including Russian (two editions).


Pipes has an extensive list of honors, including: Honorary Consul of the Republic of Georgia, Foreign Member of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, Commander's Cross of Merit of the Republic of Poland, Honorary DHL at Adelphi College, Honorary LLD at Muskingum College, Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Silesia and Szczecin University, Annual Spring Lecturer of the Norwegian Nobel Peace Institute, Walter Channing Cabot Fellow of Harvard University, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, [[Guggenheim Fellow](twice), Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies and recipient of the George Louis Beer Prize of the American Historical Association.[24] He received one of the 2007 National Humanities Medals[25][26] and in 2009 he was awarded both the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation [27] and the Brigham-Kanner Prize by the William & Mary Law School.[28]


  • The Formation of the Soviet Union, Communism and Nationalism, 1917-1923 (1954)
  • The Russian Intelligentsia (1961)
  • Social Democracy and the St. Petersburg Labor Movement, 1885-1897 (1963)
  • Struve, Liberal on the Left (1970)
  • Russia Under the Old Regime (1974)
  • Soviet Strategy in Europe (1976)
  • Struve, Liberal on the Right, 1905-1944 (1980)
  • U.S.-Soviet Relations in the Era of Détente: a Tragedy of Errors (1981)
  • Survival is Not Enough: Soviet Realities and America's Future (1984)
  • Russia Observed: Collected Essays on Russian and Soviet History (1989)
  • The Russian Revolution (1990)
  • Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime: 1919-1924 (1993)
  • Communism, the Vanished Specter (1994)
  • A Concise History of the Russian Revolution (1995)
  • The Three "Whys" of the Russian Revolution (1995)
  • The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive (1996)
  • Property and Freedom (1999)
  • Communism: A History (2001)
  • Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger (2003)
  • The Degaev Affair: Terror and Treason in Tsarist Russia (2003)
  • Russian Conservatism and Its Critics (2006)
  • The Trial of Vera Z. (2010)


  1. ^ Pipes, Richard. Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger. 2006, page 14-5
  2. ^ Romano, Sergio (2005). Memorie di un conservatore. TEA. p. 180. ISBN 88-304-2128-6. 
    *"Notes on Professor Richard Pipes". Retrieved January 28, 2006. 
  3. ^ Norton, Anne. Leo Strauss and the politics of American empire. 2005, page 93
  4. ^ Steven M. Chermak, Frankie Y. Bailey, Michelle Brown. Media representations of September 11. 2003, page 22
  5. ^ a b c Press, Eyal (May 2004). "Neocon man: Daniel Pipes has made his name inveighing against an academy overrun by political extremists but he is nothing if not extreme in his own views.". The Nation. Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
  6. ^ Bogle, Lori Lyn "Pipes, Richard" page 922.
  7. ^ Betts, Richard K. and Mahnken, Thomas G. Paradoxes of Strategic Intelligence: Essays in Honor of Michael I. Handel. 2003, page 68.
  8. ^ a b "The Hard Liner: Harvard historian Richard Pipes shaped the Reagan administration's aggressive approach to the Soviet Union.". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2006-07-30. 
  9. ^ "Anatomy of a Neo-Conservative White House". Canadian Dimension 39 (03): 46. May 1, 2005. 
  10. ^ Goodman, Melvin A. (November 19, 2004). "Righting the CIA". The Baltimore Sun. 
  11. ^ Hartmann, Thom (December 7 2004). "Hyping Terror For Fun, Profit - And Power". 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Team B: The Reality Behind the Myth". Commentary Magazine. Retrieved 2006-07-30. 
  14. ^ Thomas, D.M. Alexander Solzhenitsyn St. Martin's Press, New York, New York, United States of America, 1998 ISBN 0-312-18036-5 page 490.
  15. ^ Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution, 1914-1921 "The Revolution and its historians" pp.12-15ed. Edward Acton, Vladimir Cherniaev, William Rosenberg. Indiana University Press
  16. ^ Author Unknown (March 19, 1981). "U.S. Repudiates a Hard-Line Aide". New York Times: A8. 
    *Shribman, David (October 21, 1981). "Security Adviser Ousted for a Talk Hinting at War". New York Times: Section A; Page 1, Column 2. ; Author Unknown (November 2, 1981). "The Rogue General". Newsweek. 
  17. ^ Walter C. Clemens, Jr, Slavic Review, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Spring, 1983), pp. 117-118
  18. ^ Raymond L. Garthoff, Foreign Affairs, May 1995, pg. 197
  19. ^ Rabinowitch, A. 'Richard Pipes's Lenin', Russian Review Vol. 57 (1998), No. 1, pp. 110-113
  20. ^ Peter Kenez, The Prosecution of Soviet History, Volume 2, Russian Review, vol. 54, APril 1995
  21. ^ The Prosecution of Soviet History: A Critique of Richard Pipes' The Russian Revolution The Russian Review, vol. 50, 1991, pp. 345-51
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Twelve FAS Faculty Members to Retire". Harvard Gazette Archives. Retrieved 2006-07-30. 
  25. ^ "6 Academics Receive National Honors in Arts and Humanities" Chronicle of Higher Education Nov. 16, 2007 summary
  26. ^ "Humanities Medals Awarded by President Bush. Recipients honored for outstanding cultural contributions"
  27. ^ VOCMF Photo Gallery
  28. ^ NNEH News Archive

Further reading

  • Bogle, Lori Lyn "Pipes, Richard" pages 922-923 from The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing edited by Kelly Boyd, Volume 2, London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishing, 1999.
  • Kenez, Peter "The Prosecution of Soviet History: A Critique of Richard Pipes' The Russian Revolution" pages 345-351 from Russian Review, Volume 50, 1991.
  • Malia, Martin Edward "The Hunt for the True October" pages 21–28 from Commentary, Volume 92, 1991.
  • Somin, Ilya "Riddles, Mysteries, and Enigmas: Unanswered Questions of Communism's Collapse" pages 84–88 from Policy Review, Volume 70, 1994.
  • Stent, Angela "Review of U.S-Soviet Relations in the Era of Détente" pages 91–92 from Russian Review, Volume 41, 1982.
  • Szeftel, Marc "Two Negative Apraisals of Russian Pre-Revolutionary Development" pages 74–87 from Canadian-American Slavic Studies, 1980.


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