Yale University Press 2009. ISBN 978-0300110661
|This book has a similar feel to
History of the Gulag: From Collectivization to the Great Terror (Annals of Communism)"
being meticulously document based, and without particularly trying to interpret or
hypothesize the factual evidence that he collects.
Khlevniuk is content to select from the voluminous records in an even handed way and let the documents speak for themselves. This has to be an advantage with his archival work being recognized in other books covering the same subject (eg. Robert Service's "Stalin: A Biography" and Donald Rayfield's "Stalin and His Hangmen: An Authoritative Portrait of a Tyrant and Those Who Served Him" - both very good).
Stalin appears as a tricky scheming liar who was also thuggish ("We'll knock your teeth in.....", "Go f... your mother", "You're next"), spending weeks reading torture confessions, fabricating evidence, crying victimization, betraying colleagues and showing a complete lack of ethics or humanity.
It was Lenin who brought him into the Bolshevik leadership precisely for these qualities (he wanted an "enforcer") with the theme of the book being the way he went from a ridiculed outsider among a group of international Bolshevik Jewish revolutionaries to their administrator, to ally of one or the other, until after 20 years he became their executioner under absolute dictatorship and the disappearance of every trace of collegiate government.
An interesting aspect of the book is the way that Khlevniuk shows how hardworking Stalin was throughout his "career". If you can actually call him a "manager" he was very "hands on" keeping a meticulous record of information from the earliest days. Lenin's heirs laughed about the Donkey Bureaucrat and Trotsky holidayed in the Crimea while Stalin tapped their telephones and built loyalties to himself after the death of Lenin. The book shows that this tendency only grew over time until under his eventual dictatorship no major decision could be taken without his agreement, (top)
|usually working through his
chairmanship of the Bureau of the Council of People's Commissars.
The author shows that the suggested splits in the Party in the 1930's and
theories about independent power groups are not at all supported by the evidence. All
Russians from the Politburo downwards clearly lived in fear of Stalin as a matter of life
and death, and the most that one could say was that the heads of different ministries
would compete with each other for resources (ie. to produce some results).