Pulitzer Prize-finalist Stephen Kotkin has written the definitive biography of Joseph Stalin, from collectivization and the Great Terror to the conflict with Hitler's Germany that is the signal event of modern world history In 1929, Joseph Stalin, having already achieved dictatorial power over the vast Soviet Empire, formally ordered the systematic conversion of the world’s largest peasant economy into “socialist modernity,” otherwise known as collectivization, regardless of the cost. What it cost, and what Stalin ruthlessly enacted, transformed the country and its ruler in profound and enduring ways. Building and running a dictatorship, with life and death power over hundreds of millions, made Stalin into the uncanny figure he became. Stephen Kotkin’s Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941 is the story of how a political system forged an unparalleled personality and vice versa. The wholesale collectivization of some 120 million peasants necessitated levels of coercion that were extreme even for Russia, and the resulting mass starvation elicited criticism inside the party even from those Communists committed to the eradication of capitalism. But Stalin did not flinch. By 1934, when the Soviet Union had stabilized and socialism had been implanted in the countryside, praise for his stunning anti-capitalist success came from all quarters. Stalin, however, never forgave and never forgot, with shocking consequences as he strove to consolidate the state with a brand new elite of young strivers like himself. Stalin’s obsessions drove him to execute nearly a million people, including the military leadership, diplomatic and intelligence officials, and innumerable leading lights in culture. While Stalin revived a great power, building a formidable industrialized military, the Soviet Union was effectively alone and surrounded by perceived enemies. The quest for security would bring Soviet Communism to a shocking and improbable pact with Nazi Germany. But that bargain would not unfold as envisioned. The lives of Stalin and Hitler, and the fates of their respective dictatorships, drew ever closer to collision, as the world hung in the balance. Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941 is a history of the world during the build-up to its most fateful hour, from the vantage point of Stalin’s seat of power. It is a landmark achievement in the annals of historical scholarship, and in the art of biography.
There are some figures in modern history who stand out not just for their amoral conduct but their cruelty. This book explores the life of the notorious Beria, Stalin’s henchman. The first part provides an outline of the turbulent history of Russia from 1900 to 1953, in order to set the background from which Beria emerged. The second section presents a biography of Beria from his youth, his early education, and his obsequious behaviour towards Stalin to his rise to be the head of the NKVD (KGB) and later to be amongst the most senior leaders of the Communist structure in the USSR. He was responsible for the deaths of millions (and for organising the Katyń massacre), infamous for murdering colleagues, and a sexual predator, and became the most feared man in the USSR next to Stalin. The third and fourth parts move away from history and biography to moral philosophy, in order to understand from where such evil conduct arises. The question of free-will is explored in the light of human insight, and these sections also discuss the most recent scientific claims concerning human behaviour, as well as the factors which influence people in decision making.
This book studies the way in which the top leadership in the Soviet Union changed over time from 1917 until the collapse of the country in 1991. Its principal focus is the tension between individual leadership and collective rule, and it charts how this played out over the life of the regime. The strategies used by the most prominent leader in each period – Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev – to acquire and retain power are counterposed to the strategies used by the other oligarchs to protect themselves and sustain their positions. This is analyzed against the backdrop of the emergence of norms designed to structure oligarch politics. The book will appeal to students and scholars interested in the fields of political leadership, Soviet politics and Soviet history.
R. W. Davies, Mark Harrison, Oleg Khlevniuk and Stephen G. Wheatcroft
Russia is an exceptional country, the biggest in the world. It is both European and exotic, powerful and weak, brilliant and flawed. Why are we so afraid of it? Time and again, we judge Russia by unique standards. We have usually assumed that it possesses higher levels of cunning, malevolence and brutality. Yet the country has more often than not been a crucial ally, not least against Napoleon and in the two world wars. We admire its music and its writers. We lavish praise on the Russian soul. And still we think of Russia as a unique menace. What is it about this extraordinary country that consistently provokes such excessive responses? And why is this so dangerous? Ranging from the earliest times to the present, Mark B. Smith's remarkable new book is a history of this 'Russia Anxiety'. Whether ally or enemy, superpower or failing state, Russia grips our imagination and fuels our fears unlike any other country. This book shows how history itself offers a clearer view and a better future.
A SUNDAY TIMES HISTORY BOOK OF THE YEAR 2017 'A brilliant, compelling, propulsively written, magnificent tour de force' Simon Sebag Montefiore, Evening Standard 'The second volume of what will surely rank as one of the greatest historical achievements of our age ... The War and Peace of history: a book you fear you will never finish, but just cannot put down' Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times Well before 1929, Stalin had achieved dictatorial power over the Soviet empire, but now he decided that the largest peasant economy in the world would be transformed into socialist modernity, whatever it took. What it took, and what Stalin managed to force through, transformed the country and its ruler in profound and enduring ways. Rather than a tale of a deformed or paranoid personality creating a political system, this is a story of a political system shaping a personality. Building and running a dictatorship, with power of life or death over hundreds of millions, in conditions of capitalist self-encirclement, made Stalin the person he became. Wholesale collectivization of agriculture, some 120 million peasants, necessitated levels of coercion that were extreme even for Russia, but Stalin did not flinch; the resulting mass starvation and death elicited criticism inside the party even from those Communists committed to the eradication of capitalism. By 1934, when the situation had stabilized and socialism had been built in the countryside too, the internal praise came for his uncanny success in anticapitalist terms. But Stalin never forgot and never forgave, with bloody consequences as he strove to consolidate the state with a brand new elite. Stalin had revived a great power with a formidable industrialized military. But the Soviet Union was effectively alone, with no allies and enemies perceived everywhere. The quest to find security would bring Soviet Communism into an improbable pact with Nazi Germany. But that bargain did not work out as envisioned. The lives of Stalin and Hitler, and the fates of their respective countries, drew ever closer to collision. Stalin: Waiting for Hitler: 1929-1941 is, like its predecessor Stalin: Paradoxes of Power: 1878-1928, nothing less than a history of the world from Stalin's desk. It is also, like its predecessor, a landmark achievement in the annals of the biographer's art. Kotkin's portrait captures the vast structures moving global events, and the intimate details of decision-making.
The all-encompassing mass culture we know today had its beginnings in the years between the wars, with its main avenue being the reproduction and circulation of images via media such as posters and movies. The totalitarian movement of that time succeeded in making radical use of these new opportunities for the consistent transformation of culture, even to the point of instrumentalizing traditional media such as painting and sculpture. The centrally organized Soviet mass culture of the Stalin period is an excellent example of such a highly effective propaganda machine. Starting with late realistic works by Kazimir Malevich, this book presents a macrocosm of Soviet art in the Stalin era -- still little-known in the West -- as a unified aesthetic phenomenon transcending individual media. Later works of Sots Art, which view the aesthetics of a totalitarian regime more critically, provide a running visual commentary. The works by contemporary Russian artists such as Erik Bulatov, Ilya Kabakov, and Komar & Melamid mark the chasm that separates us from this art today both aesthetically and politically. Book jacket.