EDWARD CRANKSHAW IS DEAD AT 75
By WOLFGANG SAXON
Published: December 4, 1984
Edward Crankshaw, one of the most respected authors on the Soviet Union and chronicler of the Hapsburgs, died last Thursday in his native Britain after what was described as a ''long and painful illness.'' He was 75 years old and lived in Hawkhurst, in rural Kent.
His death was reported Sunday in The Observer, the British weekly for which he kept watch on the Soviet scene starting in 1947. Mr. Crankshaw, who spurned the label of ''Kremlinologist,'' was regarded as Britain's premier journalistic expert on Soviet politics.
The author of about 20 books, including three novels, Mr. Crankshaw contribued a steady flow of prefaces, essays and articles to publications in Britain and the United States, including The New York Times. In addition, he commented on Soviet affairs for the BBC.
Difficult to place politically, Mr. Crankshaw reluctantly became a Soviet specialist when The Observer asked him to take the assignment after World War II, part of which he had spent in Moscow. One of the conclusions he had reached was that Kremlin policies must be seen as something that did not start with the Bolshevik takeover in 1917, but had ancient roots. He Avoided Speculation
Thus, Mr. Crankshaw avoided speculations about absences from the Kremlin wall at anniversary parades. Instead, his basic impressions had been formed when the Russians were fighting for survival, and he took heart from Stalin's evocations of historical ''Holy Russia.''
His political testament came in a preface written this year to a selection from his writings, ''Putting Up With the Russians.''
As a conservative dedicated to the survival of European civilization, he rejected the harsh tones adopted by President Reagan and his supporters, accusing them of trying to turn the Soviet Union into a pariah. Mr. Crankshaw viewed detente with some skepticism, but he insisted on the need for co- existence.
He was the author of ''Russia Without Stalin'' in 1956, regarding the changes in everyday life in the post- Stalin era. He also wrote ''Khrushchev's Russia'' (1960) and ''Khrushchev: A Career,'' published six years later.
He then wrote the introduction for ''Khrushchev Remembers,'' a rich compilation of comments, speeches, conversations and interviews by Nikita I. Khruschev, the Kremlin leader who denounced the Stalinist terror. 'Khrushchev Himself'
Mr. Crankshaw, who also contributed copious footnotes and commentary to the Khrushchev book, helped defend the book against doubters. He said that by ''style and content'' the words were ''Khrushchev himself, quite unmistakably speaking.'' His faith in the book's authenticity has come to be shared by most others since its publication in 1970.
Though ailing for many years, Mr. Crankshaw, a slight and courtly man, continued to write even in bed whenever he was unable to move about.
His last volume published in this country was ''Bismarck'' in 1982. Writing in The New York Times Book Review, George L. Mosse called the book ''a cautionary tale about political and military power'' that sees Bismarck's ''apparent success as a failure because the Iron Chancellor exalted the amoral concept of politics into a principle.''
Edward Crankshaw was born on Jan. 3, 1909, in rural Essex. As a boy, he often visited the London magistrate's court where his father, Arthur, worked as chief clerk. He attended Bishop's Stortford College but left early - hence his claim to having been largely self- taught.
Instead, Mr. Crankshaw went to the Continent to travel, and he lived in Vienna, becoming fluent in German. His Austrian years turned out to be formative ones for his mind as he watched democracy crumble in the new Austrian republic. They also instilled him with a passion for literature and music.
From Europe, he wrote for British publications subjects ranging from twelve-tone music to books, art and the theater. But he gave up journalism to write ''Joseph Conrad: Some Aspects of the Art of the Novel,'' a study of Conrad's methods and the novelist's art in general. Another book, ''Vienna: The Image of a Culture in Decline,'' appeared in 1938. Posted to Moscow in '41
In 1936, Mr. Crankshaw was commissioned into Britain's Territorial Army. In 1941, he was posted to Moscow as an intelligence officer, and he did all he could to understand the Russians, their history, national character and government.
Having also traveled on the periphery of the Soviet Union, he was asked by The Observer to return to journalism as its Russian expert. His early books on the subject were ''Britain and Russia'' (1945), ''Russia and the Russians'' (1947) and ''Russia by Daylight'' (1951).
A well-received history was The Shadow of the Winter Palace: The Drift to Revolution, 1825-1917
which appeared in 1976. Other well-received books were ''The Fall of the House of Hapsburg'' (1963) and ''The Hapsburgs'' (1971).
Of Mr. Crankshaw's ''Maria Theresa'' (1969), Thomas Lask wrote in his review in The New York Times, ''Mr. Crankshaw has managed in what is a model of compression and judicious selection to rescue Maria Theresa from the history books and to turn a monument into a warm and appealing woman.''
Mr. Crankshaw is survived by his wife, the former Clare Chesterton Carr.