Stephen Shenfield, 72


PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Stephen David Shenfield (Schmuel David), of Providence, passed away unexpectedly April 27, 2023, at The Miriam Hospital. He was the husband of Ai Hoa Han, with whom he shared 40 years of marriage.

Born in the United Kingdom in 1950, Stephen is a son of the late Dr. Leonard Shenfield and Cicely Shine.

As well as being a loving husband and father, Stephen was a lifelong activist, contributing to causes including prison reform, environmentalism and economic justice, in both his personal life and his career.

Stephen began his career as a statistician for the British government and became a graduate student in 1979 in the Centre of Russian and East European Studies (CREES) at the University of Birmingham. He then earned a Ph.D. in Soviet Studies and Economics from the University of Birmingham (UK).

He first developed an interest in Slavic, East European and Eurasian studies as a small child when his grandmother told him stories about growing up in the former Soviet Union before the revolution. His interest was heightened in the 1970s when his family discovered and visited relatives still living in Russia. This trip solidified his desire to understand the functioning of diverse economic systems.

Stephen’s involvement in the movement for nuclear disarmament, as well as serving as an interpreter and assistant to the Soviet reformer Fyodor Burlatsky during his visit to Britain in 1983, led to his authorship of  “The Nuclear Predicament: Explorations in Soviet Ideology”  (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987) –the first book-length analysis of Gorbachev’s “new thinking” to appear in print.

From 1984 to 1991, throughout the period of perestroika and post-Soviet transition, Stephen was one of a group of Soviet studies people who brought out 19 issues of the journal Détente, which played a unique role as a channel of communication between Soviet reformers and the interested Western public. He was also on the journal’s editorial board.

In 1989 Stephen came to the United States to live in the Summit neighborhood in Providence with his wife and children in order to take up a position at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies. In the 1990s his research and teaching at Brown focused on international relations among the post-Soviet states. During this period, he authored “Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, Movements” (M.E. Sharpe, 2001).

Since 2000, Stephen worked as a freelance researcher and translator. He initiated and produced the Research and Analytical Supplement to Johnson’s Russia List. He participated in preparing the definitive three-volume edition of the memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev, published by Pennsylvania State University Press and edited by his son Sergei who was his colleague at Brown. He also translated Russian academic texts for the translation journals published by M.E. Sharpe and now by Taylor & Francis.

In 2006 Stephen rejoined the World Socialist Movement (WSM) by becoming a member of the World Socialist Party of the United States (WSPUS). Since then, many of his articles have appeared (under his old pen name of Stefan) in The Socialist Standard (monthly journal of the SPGB) and World Socialist Review (occasional journal of the WSPUS).  

In 2016 he published an e-book on Amazon Kindle, “Stories of a Soviet Studier: My Experiences in Russia.” One of the projects he was working on was a book on the life and work of Colonel Viktor Girshfeld, another Soviet reformer with whom Stephen had collaborated. Through this work, Stephen wanted Girshfeld’s contribution to ending the Cold War to be preserved in the historical record.

In addition to his wife, Stephen is survived by his two children, Kian Xie and his wife, Jennifer, of Uxbridge, Massachusetts, and Meili Shenfield of Providence; one sister Rosemary Kemp and her husband, Robert, of the United Kingdom and two nephews, Aaron and his wife, Julia, and Matthew Kemp.

Donations in his honor may be made to Critical Resistance, an organization focusing on prison reform:

obituary, Stephen Shenfield