This is an excerpt from a review of his autobiography written by Daniel Salbstein. Although written ten years ago, it tells us a lot about what's going on in Russia now.
Here again is Pipe's approach to history. "As far back as I remember I felt that the reality we perceive with our senses is merely a veneer behind which lies concealed ultimate reality - my studies were always driven by the compulsion to seek out the 'real' behind the apparent". Again "It is hard to convey the thrill that comes upon the historian when he feels he has succeeded in making the inchoate clear and the meaningless meaningful. For me it has always been an experience akin to the artistic".
Pipes is emphatically not a team player. "I cannot conceive collaborating with someone on an article or book. I am always more interested in wisdom than knowledge". He never felt obligated to accommodate his own work to the consensus. He abhorred "group think". Hence he is a 'non belonger'.
Visiting the USSR for the first time in 1957 he was appalled by what he saw: the drabness, the decay, the poverty of the people and the Russian vranyo "a peculiar and pervasive form of lying because it need not serve any ulterior purpose: it is a feat of the imagination, an escape from reality which is why Russians rarely feel embarrassed when found out".
"A memorable incident illustrating this feature of Soviet life occurred on one of my subsequent trips". He had entered a streetcar in Leningrad. Mixed in with his Soviet coins was a Kennedy half dollar. The woman selling tickets had spotted it and asked "Are you American?" When Pipes confirmed that he was, she pointed out various landmarks, loudly extolling the beauties of her city, and urging Pipes as a Russian speaker to re-settle there with his family. When the streetcar stopped passengers poured in and out. Taking advantage of the temporary commotion, the woman, her facial expression suddenly transformed from falsely amiable to genuinely anxious asked Pipes in an urgent whisper "We live like dogs, don't we? Tell me, please". It was a shattering experience, a momentary falling of the mask that Soviet citizens habitually wore. The more Pipes learned about communism, whether from personal experience or reading, the more he came to despise it.
In his classic book "The Formation of the Soviet Union: Nationalism and Communism 1917-1924" Pipes claims that Russia was not a multinational state but an Empire. Lenin had argued before 1917 that economic interests overrode nationalism and would prevent the disintegration of the tsarist empire; or that in its updated version other empires would dissolve but not the Soviet empire. Pipes noting how the Bolsheviks eventually re-conquered the nations that had broken loose after 1917 knew that if ever central authority were to weaken again the empire would fall apart- which it did in 1991.
Of the Russians Pipes, often accused of Russophobia, writes: "Russians are an intensely personal people who have never succeeded in translating their warm human feelings into the impersonal relations required for the effective functioning of social and political institutions. Hence they require a 'strong hand' to regulate their public lives, vertical controls to substitute for the missing horizontal bonds, so well developed in western societies… I have no sympathy for Russian nationalism and anti-westernism which provide a convenient bond between authority and the uneducated masses… In the USA I have the highest respect for its public life but much less for its culture". Even at Harvard he found many of the students deracine.
Pipes, who in 1968 began a five year term as Director of the Russian Research Center at Harvard, admits that his histories of the Russian Revolution were too uncompromisingly hostile to the intellectual left in Russia and Western Europe.
Source: Vixi—Memoirs of a Non-Belonger by Richard Pipes, Yale University Press, 2004. Review by Daniel Salbstein - read the whole thing, it's definitely worth the time!