The ‘Introduction’ sets out the issues to consider when studying Soviet history. A chronological approach to the Soviet Union gives a definite narrative shape to Soviet history, but this VSI uses a thematic approach to explain the workings of a society, economy and political system unlike our own. It adopts a thematic approach, and aims to defamiliarize the object of inquiry. Deciding on a periodization for the Revolution has intellectual and moral consequences. Newly accessible archives have provided more evidence, but paradigms for study have been changed by the end of the Cold War. To understand the Soviet Union, it is necessary to recognize the paradoxes of Soviet rule.