Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator
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Josef Stalin exercised supreme power in the Soviet Union from 1929 until his death in 1953. During that quarter-century, by Oleg Khlevniuk’s estimate, he caused the imprisonment and execution of no fewer than a million Soviet citizens per year. Millions more were victims of famine directly resulting from Stalin's policies. What drove him toward such ruthlessness? This essential biography, by the author most deeply familiar with the vast archives of the Soviet era, offers an unprecedented, fine-grained portrait of Stalin the man and dictator. Without mythologizing Stalin as either benevolent or an evil genius, Khlevniuk resolves numerous controversies about specific events in the dictator’s life while assembling many hundreds of previously unknown letters, memos, reports, and diaries into a comprehensive, compelling narrative of a life that altered the course of world history.
In brief, revealing prologues to each chapter, Khlevniuk takes his reader into Stalin’s favorite dacha, where the innermost circle of Soviet leadership gathered as their vozhd lay dying. Chronological chapters then illuminate major themes: Stalin’s childhood, his involvement in the Revolution and the early Bolshevik government under Lenin, his assumption of undivided power and mandate for industrialization and collectivization, the Terror, World War II, and the postwar period. At the book’s conclusion, the author presents a cogent warning against nostalgia for the Stalinist era.
unyielding. On 11 July 1941, when the Germans had reached the outskirts of Kiev, Stalin sent Ukrainian party secretary Khrushchev a telegram that read: “I warn you that if you take even one step toward pulling your troops back to the left bank of the Dnieper and fail to defend the fortified districts on the right bank of the Dnieper, you will all face brutal retribution as cowards and deserters.”52 On 16 July he signed a State Defense Committee order to defend Smolensk to the last. Any thought of
were quietly subjected to a quick review. Molotov’s wife was released from prison. Kaganovich’s brother, who had taken his own life on the eve of the war after charges of wrecking, was pronounced innocent. The Mingrelian Affair, which had cast a shadow on Beria’s reputation, was also reviewed. Many other prominent victims of political repression were set free or posthumously rehabilitated. After taking care of their own, Stalin’s heirs began to grant relative freedom to the rest of the country.
first serious conflict that we know of within the Politburo’s tightly knit opposition to Trotsky occurred during the summer of 1923. After the party congress, the successful neutralization of Lenin’s attack, and the country’s return to relative stability after the horrific famine, Politburo members regained enough peace of mind to take a vacation. In July 1923, while resting in the North Caucasus resort town of Kislovodsk, Grigory Zinoviev came up with a scheme to shift the balance of power
areas. In 1929 there were more than 1,300 such incidents, involving 244,000 participants. In January–February 1930 alone, there were approximately 1,500 incidents with 324,000 participants.18 Stalin, though undoubtedly informed of the growing unrest, did not immediately respond. He was probably confident that the wave of rebellion was simply the inevitable resistance of an “obsolete class.” By late February, however, he began to think again.19 First came a report on 26 February from Kharkov, then
built, and industrial production did increase significantly. But there was no miracle. The unachievable five-year targets were, predictably, not achieved. The actual production figures were not even close: 6.2 million metric tons of cast iron in 1932 instead of the desired 17 million; 21.4 million tons of petroleum instead of 45 million; 48,900 tractors instead of 170,000; 23,900 automobiles instead of 200,000.30 The state of consumer goods manufacturing was particularly lamentable. But the main