Fine work by Figes

May 16, 1997

High-profile accusations of plagiarism may make good journalists' copy but retailing the allegations made by Richard Pipes against Orlando Figes ("Plagiarise . . . only be sure to call it research", THES, May 2) does nothing to advance serious reflection on the subject.

As a historian of the Russian Revolution, familiar with the work of both scholars, I find the charges made against Figes's A People's Tragedy: the Russian Revolution, 1891-1924 astonishing. In a volume of 900 pages Pipes finds seven instances of "plagiarism' from his own work, two of which Hannah Baldock cites in her piece.

In the first, which relates to the mutiny of General Kornilov, a quick check of Figes's volume shows that Pipes is acknowledged in footnote 80 (pp.459-60), relating to the passage concerned. The other instance shows Figes making a substantially different point from the one made by Pipes, despite the similarity of phrasing, in that he denies, contra Pipes, that "nearly all the practices" of the Stalinist regime were in place by 1924. The other five instances, which she does not cite, are equally trivial, and no dispassionate reader would construe them as evidence that Figes has drawn on Pipes's opinions without attribution - the essence, surely, of plagiarism. A People's Tragedy is a remarkable achievement, and it is a pity that The THES saw fit to ventilate such baseless sniping.

Steve Smith Professor of Russian history University of Essex

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