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quotes Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878 - 1928, litcharts Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878 - 1928, symbolism Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878 - 1928, summary shmoop Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878 - 1928, Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878 - 1928 d3d31d64 A Magnificent New Biography That Revolutionizes Our Understanding Of Stalin And His World It Has The Quality Of Myth A Poor Cobbler S Son, A Seminarian From An Oppressed Outer Province Of The Russian Empire, Reinvents Himself As A Revolutionary And Finds A Leadership Role Within A Small Group Of Marginal Zealots When The Old World Is Unexpectedly Brought Down In A Total War, The Band Seizes Control Of The Country, And The New Regime It Founds As The Vanguard Of A New World Order Is Ruthlessly Dominated From Within By The Former Seminarian Until He Stands As The Absolute Ruler Of A Vast And Terrible State Apparatus, With Dominion Over Eurasia But The Largest Country In The World Is Also A Poor And Backward One, Far Behind The Great Capitalist Countries In Industrial And Military Power, Encircled On All Sides Shortly After Seizing Total Power, Stalin Conceives Of The Largest Program Of Social Reengineering Ever Attempted The Root And Branch Uprooting And Collectivization Of Agriculture And Industry Across The Entire Soviet Union To Stand Up To The Capitalists He Will Force Into Being An Industrialized, Militarized, Collectivized Great Power Is An Act Of Will Millions Will Die, And Many Will Suffer, But Stalin Will Push Through To The End Against All Resistance And Doubts Where Did Such Power Come From We Think We Know The Story Well Remarkably, Stephen Kotkin S Epic New Biography Shows Us How Much We Still Have To Learn The Product Of A Decade Of Scrupulous And Intrepid Research, Stalin Contains A Host Of Astonishing Revelations Kotkin Gives An Intimate First Ever View Of The Bolshevik Regime S Inner Geography, Bringing To The Fore Materials From Soviet Military Intelligence And The Secret Police He Details Stalin S Invention Of A Fabricated Trial And Mass Executions As Early As , The Technique He Would Later Impose Across The Whole Country The Book Places Stalin S Momentous Decision For Collectivization Deeply Than Ever In The Tragic History Of Imperial Russia Above All, Kotkin Offers A Convincing Portrait And Explanation Of Stalin S Monstrous Power And Of Russian Power In The World Stalin Restores A Sense Of Surprise To The Way We Think About The Former Soviet Union, Revolution, Dictatorship, The Twentieth Century, And Indeed The Art Of History Itself

10 thoughts on “Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878 - 1928

  1. says:

    Closed and gregarious, vindictive and solicitous, Stalin shatters any attempt to contain him within binaries He was by inclination a despot who, when he wanted to be, was utterly charming He was an ideologue who was flexibly pragmatic He fastened obsessively on slights yet he was a precocious geostrategic thinker who was, however, prone to egregious strategic blunders Stalin was as a ruler both astute and blinkered, diligent and self defeating, cynical and true believing The cold calculation and the flights of absurd delusion were products of a single mind Stephen Kotkin, Stalin Paradoxes of PowerWhew Finishing this felt like an accomplishment Russia is big, in every way In her landmass, her characters, her tragedies, and her books Stephen Kotkin s Stalin has the ambition to match such a land of excess and extremes At 739 pages of text and 120 pages of triple columned notes in itty bitty font , this isn t the longest book I ve tackled It is far shorter, indeed, than War and Peace But this one felt long It is information dense And since it is only the first in a proposed three volume life of Iosif Jughashvili, a.k.a Stalin, it is detailed Russian history is fascinating to me, but I m a rank amateur I ve read a book on Peter the Great, a book on Catherine the Great, and maybe a half dozen or so titles about the Romanovs in general, and Nicholas II in particular Frankly, I ve never read a thing about Russian history following the Russian Revolution in 1917 In a way, grabbing Stalin is a bit like heading for Everest 29,092 feet, the apex of the world after taking a single practice hike up Hawkeye Point 1,670 feet, the apex of Iowa But go big or go home, right It is a testament to Kotkin s abilities as a writer that I not only didn t give up, but finished with a twinge of expectation for Volume II Kotkin begins his opus with Stalin s childhood in Georgia, a backwater of the Russian Empire He was a poor cobbler s son, who attended a seminary in Tiflis, and even worked for a time as a meteorologist He also became a devotee of Marx and Engels, and was drawn into the revolutionary orbit He held secret meetings, arranged strikes, and was arrested and given a free trip to Siberia One of the interesting things about the early going is how seldom Stalin is actually in it For long sections, Kotkin spends far time on the larger events going on around Stalin, than in following his step by step journey Though he doesn t come straight out and say it, I wonder if this isn t a result of their being a dearth of dependable primary sources about this portion of Stalin s life To fill in these gaps, Kotkin spins the larger story of Russia s plunge into World War I, the last days of the Tsar, and the Russian Revolution No matter how much I read about the fall of the Romanovs, it never gets old He does this very well Tolstoy digressed at length in War and Peace about the role of individuals in history Kotkin has picked up on this tension, and ably balances the large, uncontrollable forces at play, with the importance of individual action and agency within this environment In short, Lenin and Stalin did not create the conditions of revolution, but once revolution came, they certainly shaped it to their ends, and in doing so, shaped the arc of history Once the Russian Revolution ended in Civil War, and once the Bolsheviks seized absolute power for themselves, there were times when I got a bit lost Kotkin does not skimp on details, and though he is an accessible writer, he is not a hand holder There were than a few times I found myself out of my league, especially when Kotkin is describing the endless infighting among Bolsheviks There are a lot of characters passing in and out, and they all speak in the slogan ridden lexicon of Communism that is hard for outsiders to interpret I never despaired, though, because the characters here are so titanic Lenin, Trotsky, and of course, the General Secretary himself, Stalin Kotkin is meticulous in describing Stalin s assent to the heights of power, and what he did to protect and expand his burgeoning personal dictatorship.Kotkin rigidly rejects any attempts to romanticize or mythologize Stalin He also disagrees with the notion that Stalin was some kind of power hungry chameleon, willing to take any position simply to advance To the contrary, the Stalin here is a committed Leninist, and like Lenin, willing to reach that goal through pragmatism, if not ideological purity Utterly, eternally wrong, Stalin made history, rearranging the entire socioeconomic landscape of one sixth of the earth Right through mass rebellion, mass starvation, cannibalism, the destruction of the country s livestock, and unprecedented political destabilization, Stalin did not flinch Feints in the form of tactical retreats notwithstanding, he would keep going even when told to his face by officials in the inner regime that a catastrophe was unfolding full speed ahead to socialism This required extraordinary maneuvering, browbeating, and violence on his part It also required deep conviction that it had to be done Stalin was uncommonly skillful in building an awesome personal dictatorship, but also a bungler, getting fascism wrong, stumbling in foreign policy But he had will.Like I said, this is my first dive into the realm of Soviet biographies In gathering other titles to read, on Trotsky and Lenin and the like, I have definitely noted the passion that still exists about these men and their cause There are still a lot of Communist apologists for whom a certain historical interpretation is required to sustain their beliefs I can t really comment on that Well, I could, but I would be talking completely out of my my ignorance Whether or not Kotkin s is a consensus or revisionary portrait is beyond my current knowledge However, I can say with conviction that Kotkin made Stalin real for me He is an intimidating figure, a mass murderer who lacks the simplistic, annihilationist instinct of Adolf Hitler Perhaps that s why I ve avoided reading about him for so long Early on, Kotkin caught my attention by delivering this doozy of a sentence The young Stalin had a penis, and he used it In context or out, this is a great line Contextually, Kotkin was criticizing the cocksman s image of Stalin as swashbuckling bandit and lover In a larger sense, though, it stands for this point that Stalin, for all his inhumanity, was human He had a penis, among other appendages He was monstrous but not, unfortunately, a monster.

  2. says:

    Jan vankmajer, The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia, 1990 Why another book on Stalin I m no expert here and I could name a couple dozen, and the 50 pages of bibliography in the back list hundreds Why read this new book about Stalin, in contrast to these thousands of others Writing about a man like Stalin is an onerous task We all have some image of what Stalin was or what evil was, and this might explain how evil comes about A main trend in this is some crude psychoanalysis, where some childhood trauma or harsh upbringing somehow made him wholly into what he is But this makes things too easy It makes him a simple and easy caricature, where historical biographers write cackling villains, as if Stalin s webbed foot and maimed arm show he is a monster In a rare interview with foreign press, Stalin once called himself a Russified Georgian Asiatic Trotsky called him a supreme expression of mediocrity In retrospect, that makes him sound like a sore loser But these personal details are inadequate In reading history, I now recognize why people have a morbid interest in serial killers what could cause someone to do such evil as to take so many lives What could be millions of times as evil, to take away the lives of millions How do you explain someone who has seized ultimate power in the Soviet Union by 1928 and sent millions of his own loyal followers to their deaths Kotkin writes this biography with a view from Stalin s office the book first describes a political history of Russia, and secondly, Stalin s own place within that history For much of the early history of Russia, Stalin is not a player at all, and he often fades into the background Yet still there is the question of how Stalin became Stalin The book flits over Stalin s youth, and then strays into the history of Russian near the end of the 19th century There are multiple capsule biographies of Tsarist officials Stolypin, Witte, and Durnovo They all grappled with the perilous situation of autocratic imperial Russia, with a population barely literate and hardly industrialized, as it shambled through the First World War Stalin did not play much of a part in the war, as he was exiled into Siberia for his earlier petty crimes and revolutionary activities bank heists, propaganda, political assassinations but the war would make of Soviet power In terms of his personal growth, he became a true believer in revolutionary ideology, and absorbed political economy like it was water After that is the long story of the fall of the Tsar and then the Provisional Government, and the maelstrom of the Civil War That is too interesting and too complicated a story to summarize here Kotkin calls it a Dadaist Revolution, where all the battle lines and generals and governments changed by the day Mere hours and random chance shaped the fate of the war Stalin cut his teeth during the civil war It was his first taste of real power He was first assigned to the city of Tsaritsyn on the southern front His tasks were to maintain the defense of the city, and to appropriate grain for the starving cities in the north His command was harsh He imprisoned and executed any former Tsarist officers, even those in his own forces He burned down villages to control the peasants and demanded greater military command over the region But the city held, after two years of fighting, and the grain flowed The city was named after him in 1925 Stalingrad When the dust no longer falls and the Bolsheviks are what s left, Stalin makes his appearance as a main player in the new government Lenin regarded him as a capable and diligent underling Here the internal factions were split along political or ideological interpretations It s easy to lampoon theoretical infighting among academics today, but here they meant it There was the sincere belief in the total opposition to capitalism, in liberating the workers from the exploitation of their labor, but this was also contradicting circumstances rebuilding the infrastructure ruined in the war, the continual fear of foreign intervention, and the concurrent revolution of the peasant soviets in the countryside, which existed outside of the CCP s control in the big cities Kotkin investigates the finer details of political infighting, and how Stalin was able to build up personal alliances His courting of Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Secret Police, was a masterstroke He very rapidly became mentioned as a possible successor to Lenin Compare this to the fate of Leon Trotsky Trotsky was a brilliant writer and orator compare this to Stalin s merely above average speeches and excellent editorial capacity but Trotsky was someone who absolutely refused to compromise This very quickly alienated him on many issues and formed splits between him and other members of the party, which Stalin was able to use Trotsky wanted to cast himself as an equal to Lenin, whereas Stalin saw himself as a devoted student Both Lenin and Stalin were ultimate pragmatists, ready to do anything to accomplish an ideal, even go against that ideal Stalin even defers to Lenin on questions of policy where he is experienced, largely out of political expedience When Lenin died in January 1924, the Soviet Union was in a state of crisis There s a looming power struggle between Stalin and Trotsky as the two major candidates to be a successor Then Lenin s wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, produces this bombshell of a document now called Lenin s Testament which criticizes nearly every major leader in power Kotkin does something unusual here He claims that the document was likely a forgery as Lenin was already mute by the time the document was presented and the written records of Lenin s dictations appear spotty In any case, news of the document reaches the 13th Party Congress in 1924, and it s like someone threw a grenade in the meeting hall But then we turn to the familiar struggle of how Stalin defeats his opponents First Trotsky and the left opposition, then Kamenev and Zinoviev, then he smashes the right opposition with Bukharin But even then they did not see anything especially monstrous in Stalin he was just a member of the opposition, and he was a league above them in organization True, he had a gloomy personality, but he was also a determined believer, a true crusader for Marxism, one who even spoke at Lenin s funeral over the great tasks of Marxism like a catechism.The book comes to a close at Stalin s consolidation of power in 1928, and a trip to Siberia to inspect agricultural yields Then he hits upon the idea of improving the yields by increasing the size of the farms through monopolies of scale, and thus the first signs of collectivization Also in 1928, there s a trial of engineers of the Shakhty coal mines, investigating them for crimes of sabotage an omen of the show trials and purges of the late 1930s This is Stalin, in summary He is not insane, he is not an Asiatic tyrant or a bureaucratic lickspittle He is a man with fierce intellectual convictions he is unashamed to use power politics he has a taste for brutality to get the job done , he has a need to destroy internal opposition, he has a burning need to establish his nation among the other plotting great powers, he fears for his own safety after documents are convinced denying his political legitimacy In sum he is rational, terrifyingly rational, determined to use his reason to make his nation and change history, ready to refer to his creed to give him moral or intellectual strength He thinks what he is doing is necessary, to face the monumental challenges of Russia In the coda of this volume, Kotkin decides to play a little historical game What if Stalin died Was there anyone to replace him Kotkin dismisses many of the other usual competitors for their own personal or political failings Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin He finds two other candidates Alexei Rykov and Grigori Sokolnikov but they lack the support of political factions and are thus doomed In these analyses, he takes almost a Great Man view of history that in rare circumstances, an individual would change the fate of nations If Stalin had died from some car accident or disease, then the Soviet Union would have taken a different course It might have taken turns like the NEP or have collapsed entirely All this makes for a fascinating book, one which fascinates despite because of its horrific subject matter After that comes the famines and the Great Purge Even so, I d like to see how Kotkin makes this shadowy monster into a terrifying human being I look forward to it.

  3. says:

    A REVIEW OF THE FIRST 300 PAGESThis is a brontosaurus no, a brachiosaurus of a book I have another 450 pages to go Time to pause and make a few notes SPARE A THOUGHT FOR THE FEEBLER READERThe paperback of this 949 page book of which 210 pages are notes and index is quite heavy Because of its size the printers have thoughtfully made the spine superstrong with a double layer of excellent glue so that it does not fall apart Unfortunately this means you have to grip the book firmly with both hands to stop it snapping shut all the time You would have to be King Kong to bend it open to the point where it would stay open So this poses a challenge I have tried balancing heavy weights on each page to keep it open in order to free my hands for other tasks but the book is too strong, one or another of the weighty objects was always catapulted into mid air, causing domestic chaos wherever it fell So I must report that feebler readers will have to find a different, kinder Stalin biographer This one will be too much for you.SPARE A THOUGHT FOR THE READER WHO HAS NO MAGNIFYING GLASSSecond, because of its vast size, the printers have been forced to shrink the print to a particularly teensy size If it was printed normally God alone knows how many pages long it would be You would need a wheelbarrow to move it And should you be a real Stalin freak and you wish to consult the 200 pages of notes at the back, you will need a microscope, they are printed in the type they use to get all the Bible onto the back of a postage stamp.SURPRISE IT S NOT ABOUT STALINThis surprised me, too I was constantly checking the cover, which says STALIN on it and has a photo of the dashingly handsome not yet dictator But the details of Stalin s life are really rather murky until he suddenly steps forth from the shadows into the full glare of history after 1918 So the first 300 pages of this book get by very well with only brief mentions of Stalin Maybe he did this here, maybe he went there, could be he got married and had a kid, not too sure That kind of thing Instead of stuff about Stalin we get a fantastically detailed history of the Russian revolution For the last 100 pages this book really could have been called LENIN with justification It s actually a little too geekily detailed for me, but I realise it is excellent stuff IT S ALWAYS THE STRANGE LITTLE DETAILS YOU REMEMBERStephen Kotkin allows himself to throw in a few barbed comments and humorous asides every now and then, and these are very welcome, there should have been But he lets some rather crazy stuff pass by without comment, like this bit here He is describing the non judicial execution of the family of the ex czar Nicholas Included in those up against the wall were Nicholas s four daughters Some of the daughters, whose bodies held concealed jewels that repelled the bullets, were bayoneted to pieces.I find that a very bizarre statement which calls for explanation How big does a jewel have to be before it can literally repel bullets And where do you conceal these jewels Seems that if they were well placed to repel bullets front and centre maybe, or right across your forehead they wouldn t really be concealed So even in such a huge book as this which only takes Stalin up to the year 1928 there are a few things that don t get explained.

  4. says:

    I do not follow debates among academic professional historians Nonetheless I suspect that the first volume of Kotkin s biography of Stalin must be generating a torrent of comment among specialists who care about such topics.It seems to me that in volume one Kotkin has already managed to demolish Robert Tucker s biography altogether as well as the biographical narratives of scores of others, whom I designate name callers, liberals and right wingers only too eager to abandon historical analysis in order to furnish the materials of Cold War propaganda I have long thought that the world doesn t need another biographer of Stalin who believes that he has exhausted the subject through seemingly endless and ultimately boring iterations of such words as monster, monstrous, fiend, fiendish, ghoul, sociopath, psychopath, etc., etc None of this sanctimonious outrage illuminates Stalin s project nor his historical significance None of this foaming at the mouth answers the So What question My impression is that Kotkin seeks to establish a new framework for the biographical historical analysis of Stalin and his life s work, now that the Cold War has receded sufficiently into the past maybe to allow revision to proceed Kotkin s framework includes three categories Stalin as state builder, Stalin as modernizer, Stalin as strategist leader, who seeks to preserve the Revolution above all , the USSR and to enhance Soviet power in an altogether hostile geopolitical environment.It is also notable, and indicative of his intentions, that Kotkin s volume is immense It contains 739 pages of text printed in rather small font and 175 pages of scholarly apparatus in even smaller font He is, in fact, starting all over again by giving us a square one biography a point of departure for all related biographical projects in the future I find this approach appealing and indispensable One result is that we have several hundred pages of historical narrative in which Stalin appears not at all or appears as a negligible actor at the fringes of everything And then ever so gradually Kotkin shows us Stalin s relentless accumulation of power and prominence through agencies and offices that others, especially Lenin, created specifically for Stalin Stalin did not seize power He used the means handed to him thrust upon him very effectively His assent to personal dictatorship was a result of twenty years unremitting drudgery, and Kotkin tells us about every event and milestone in Stalin s promotion from non entity to Leader And he assesses these events and milestone by applying one element or another of his analytical framework and in this way he gives us an account that merits serious consideration as the product of rigorous and systematic thought.Unfortunately when, to my mind, it mattered most, Kotkin abandons his framework and thereby betrays his project.The last two chapters of volume one deal with Stalin s very first effort to build socialism in the USSR the decision to collectivize agriculture once he had sufficient and nearly undisputed power within the party apparatus and Soviet government to decide and to implement his decisions But rather than to interpret these pivotal events of central importance in 20th century history from the perspective of his analytical framework, in a chapter entitled If Stalin Had Died Kotkins gives us such stuff as The Soviet Union, like imperial Russia, faced an imperative to modernize in order to survive in the brutally unsentimental international order, but market systems have been shown to be fully compatible with fast paced industrialization, including peasant countries Forced wholesale collectivization only seemed necessary within the straitjacket of Communist ideology and its repudiation of capitalism p 725 And on and on.So much to notice, but I will make two points Counter factual speculations do not constitute historical analysis worth reading Stalin died in 1953 if I remember correctly He did not die in 1928, so I see no point in retailing that shop worn and tiresome nonsense in answer to a question that has no answer Was Stalin Necessary The last resort of the name callers.Notice how Kotkin s language changes in the passage I quoted market systems have been shown The passive voice a dead giveaway, as if market systems animate themselves, are independent actors, which they most decidedly are not The straitjacket of Communist ideology Straightjacket There we are Stalin as obsessive sociopath, psychopath But the fact is that Bolsheviks Lenin led the Russian Revolution of November 1917 Lenin did not find bourgeois liberalism persuasive Nor did he admire the achievements of capitalism and the societies that expressed relations of capitalist production and markets For real Stalin was a disciple of Lenin Therefore he did not could not act from any other perspective One may as well regret that the transmigration of souls did not enable Woodrow Wilson to take possession of Stalin in 1928.I am extremely disappointed But there s still volume 2 and 3, one hopes And in vol 2 I would love to read a sensible analysis of Stalin s decisions of 1928 that includes a discussion of Stalin s understanding of the state of geopolitical conditions at the time the Decider decided Stalin seems to have feared that world war loomed, given the war scare of 1827 1928, and that the Red Army was not ready in any way to defend the USSR in war on any scale, that the continuing existence of the USSR, and importantly, of the Revolution, was at stake in the results of his decision making I suspect that he understood that national survival and the survival of the Revolution considered in a global geopolitical context absolutely demanded that debate end, that the complete transformation of Soviet society and the Soviet economy proceed at whatever pace and cost this transformation required One final comment Kotkin s framework is perilously similar to the categories that Soviet historians have applied and, for all I know, that Russian historians apply now in considering Stalin s regime And even if their approach is correct or at least defensible I wonder if Kotkin has the will and the stamina to endure all the name calling that most certainly will ensue once Western academics and the folks a Fox News smell blood Does Kotkin possess even a twinge of Stalin s strength of conviction

  5. says:

    Unfortunately I have not been able to really concentrate or delve too deeply into this book because I have a huge editing job that has occupied a lot of my time But I am so delighted because I have been looking for a definitive biography of Joseph Stalin for several years The author is obviously steeped in Russian history He gives a detailed background on the peoples and politics of Russia which is really helpful in providing a real perspective of Stalin s thinking and motives for a lot of his behavior This is really such a fascinating story I was so engrossed I actually spilled an entire cup of coffee onto page twenty three I missed my mouth Pages twenty, twenty one, twenty two and twenty three are completely ruined The text it totally illegible So I must pay the lovely Library for the book I just hope I get to keep the book forever.I did finally finish this incredibly wonderful book I don t know a lot about Stephen Kotkin but the depth of his understanding and the research on this book was absolutely fantastic This is a thorough, insightful and definitive book about Joseph Stalin and the world during his time It was totally satisfying Highly recommended to anyone interested in history and the people who influenced geopolitics.

  6. says:

    This is killing my reading groove this year so I m throwing in the towel at 80% I ve been spoiled by historical writers like Erik Larson and Ron Chernow who turn facts into stories that come alive This reads like an undergraduate term paper Solid facts boring as hell.I wish the writing was as fascinating as the material Stalin was an interesting dude Anyone who travels with nothing but clothes, books, and a typewriter I can dig it Of course, the murder and pedophilia were somewhat less admirable qualities But then the mummification of Lenin was weird and worth reading about.So yeah, mixed feelings on my end and I d like to read of this stuff as long as it s written by someone else.As for now, I have horror novels and comic books waiting so this shit needs to be flushed.

  7. says:

    Leon Trotsky, after being expelled from the Communist Party in 1928, and finding himself in an increasingly desperate exile, shaped the perception of his old rival through his prolific writing Trotsky established the image of Stalin as a sinister mediocrity, who nonetheless outmaneuvered Trotsky through his utter lack of scruples In truth, as Kotkin shows, Stalin was an autodidact, a people person with surpassing organizational abilities a mammoth appetite for work, and a strategic mind, combined with an unscrupulousness that recalled his master teacher, Lenin The reality is simply that Trotsky was outclassed at every turn by an exceptionally canny and highly intelligent rival Kotkin explodes many other myths in this superlative volume, but none enduring that the one that Trotsky created.

  8. says:

    I learned about this book from Anne Applebaum s excellent article in The Atlantic it s the first volume of a planned trilogy, which has all the potential to become the definite work on Stalin You can read Applebaum s article here

  9. says:

    An accomplished poet, a pious divinity student, a highly cultured autodidact with broad intellectual interests and an expert knowledge of classical music a bank robber, an extortionist, a meteorologist, a union organiser, factory worker, an agitator, and an oil rig operator It was said that his voice, in the church choir, could bring hardened men to tears A political theorist a prolific, if unoriginal, polemicist an escaped convict times than I could count , a father of innumerable illegitimate children each with a different woman , an effective military leader, a loyal follower a flexible strategist who felt no compunction about taking up the position of a rival he had assassinated, on idealogical grounds, the day before A doting and loving husband first marriage , a chauvinistic and despotic husband second marriage , a negligent and hard hearted father an irresistible charmer and, most of all, a ruthless political manipulator who outclassed his counterparts, both inside and outside his movement, in every encounter but one Oh, and let s not forget a convincing candidate for the title of the world s worst mass murderer Stalin was only one of his nicknames But he preferred it over both Pockmarked Pavel and Oddball Osip Ironically, his slide into paranoia and his pretensions to infallibility only manifested after his leadership position had already become unquestioned.

  10. says:

    This book is not solely about Stalin Stalin is simply the medium This book is Kotkin s final thesis on late 19th century Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union Its Kotkin s definitive say on Russian historiography and it expresses his worldview ideology which is classically liberal He is against all dictatorships apart from the dictatorship of liberal democracy Did I read this book in three days Of course not, how could I What I read was the interesting features and controversies of Stalin s early life before 1917 and his consolidation of power Kotkin spends the first 400 pages not only dealing with Stalin s early life but mostly explaining the geopolitics and history of Russia before and during World War One Most of the latter I had already read so I skimmed through a lot of that He gets right to the geopolitics of Stalin s birth in the 1870 s Bismarck s reunification of Germany, America s early imperialism, and the Meji Restoration in Japan Those events were indeed major ruptures in history He also touches on Stalin s Iosif Jughashvili s early life without getting ridiculously Freudian about it The stories about his early life were much intellectually enriching than the rest of the book How he adopted the name Koba , his early life in a seminary, his parents relationship, his becoming a Marxist, and his engagement in secret meetings with early Marxists in Georgia was fascinating As it turns out he wasn t as crazy as Ivan the Terrible in his childhood who was known for ripping birds wings off and throwing animals from the top of buildings and nothing about his childhood explains his insanity as an adult Kotkin rightly compares him to Napoleon Stalin, a Georgian on the borderlands of the Russian Empire, was the least likely person to end up in front of the levers of control with reach and power than any Tsar before him Napoleon, a Corsican who hadn t much of a chance to succeed under the French Empire, was also highly unlikely to ever end up as the dictator and eventual emperor of France As Kotkin rightly pointed out, it took the world crashing down around them for them to gain power Stalin is much comparable to Napoleon than the traditional Stalin Hitler comparison Due mostly to his own worldview, Kotkin still holds the false belief that World War One wouldn t have happened had Archduke Ferdinand not been assassinated He has to hold this belief because if he actually dealt with the problems that Lenin points out in Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism then he would have to admit that Lenin was right and this would contradict his points on Lenin being an idiot His view that Lenin could assert that he was willing to sacrifice millions for what now, thanks to imperialist war, looked than ever like a just cause peace and social justice 151 is just plain wrong and doesn t cite this claim Kotkin believes that if horrific things are happening in capitalist countries because it creates conditions for revolution then he still does not understand Marxism nor its ideological outgrowths Leninism, Trotskyism, ect In dealing with Archduke Ferdinand s assassination Kotkin does an amazing job laying out how it took place and how most of the assassins screwed up earlier that day in trying to kill the Archduke He also does an excellent job laying out Princip s the guy who, according to Kotkin, started World War One life and his many failures but held history in his hand when he shot the Archduke Kotkin even goes so far as to write If Princip had quit and gone home after he and his accomplices botched the assassination, or the Archduke s driver had known the revised plan to visit the hospital, world war might have been averted 149 Kotkin, who does an excellent job laying out the intricate familial politics between the many monarchies in Europe and their implications, could not grasp that the world war was the product of the ruptures of capitalist development and colonialism Another product of his liberalism For any biographer to make an outrageous claim without citing such a claim is irresponsible at not only an academic level for an esteemed Princeton professor but irresponsible for a college student When he claims that Stalin impregnated a thirteen year old girl and then abandoned her all while in exile in Siberia during World War One without any evidence or citations is at least irresponsible See page 155.Kotkin had referred to the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917 as a seizure of power in his book Magnetic Mountain but chooses to refer to it as a coup d tat in this book 227 Why the shift in language His thesis has not changed completely since that book in that he still views Stalinism as the revolution but the question remains Some short notes before I conclude 1 after having read about Baron Roman Von Ungern Sternburg I was pleased to see this insane monster of a human being appear in this book when discussing how Mongolia became a satellite state of the Soviet Union 2 I agree with Kotkin that the Bolsheviks were great state builders rather than great revolutionaries 3 Stalin did not understand fascism, neither did Trotsky 4 He correctly reverses Trotsky s point that Stalin did not create the apparatus The apparatus created him 424 No, Stalin created the apparatus and made it into a well oiled machine In Stalin, Kotkin found his medium for making declarations about the historiography of Modern Russia and to make his worldview clear Kotkin is an intellectual of his time, assimilated and the type that knows how to de radicalize Foucault s post structuralism in favor of liberalism He declares Foucault for liberalism the way Yanis Varoufakis declares Marx for liberalism Let this book be a reason why Marxists should take up the role of writing our own histories rather than letting liberals write our history Of all the Russianists who have written about Stalin, this book is by far the most well researched and shows Kotkin s wit Still better than most even if its structurally flawed by Kotkin s ideology.

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