Stalin: A Biography
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Overthrowing the conventional image of Stalin as an uneducated political administrator inexplicably transformed into a pathological killer, Robert Service reveals a more complex and fascinating story behind this notorious twentieth-century figure. Drawing on unexplored archives and personal testimonies gathered from across Russia and Georgia, this is the first full-scale biography of the Soviet dictator in twenty years.
Service describes in unprecedented detail the first half of Stalin's life--his childhood in Georgia as the son of a violent, drunkard father and a devoted mother; his education and religious training; and his political activity as a young revolutionary. No mere messenger for Lenin, Stalin was a prominent activist long before the Russian Revolution. Equally compelling is the depiction of Stalin as Soviet leader. Service recasts the image of Stalin as unimpeded despot; his control was not limitless. And his conviction that enemies surrounded him was not entirely unfounded.
Stalin was not just a vengeful dictator but also a man fascinated by ideas and a voracious reader of Marxist doctrine and Russian and Georgian literature as well as an internationalist committed to seeing Russia assume a powerful role on the world stage. In examining the multidimensional legacy of Stalin, Service helps explain why later would-be reformers--such as Khrushchev and Gorbachev--found the Stalinist legacy surprisingly hard to dislodge.
Rather than diminishing the horrors of Stalinism, this is an account all the more disturbing for presenting a believable human portrait. Service's lifetime engagement with Soviet Russia has resulted in the most comprehensive and compelling portrayal of Stalin to date.
the leading proponent of state terror in the Civil War, failed to detect Stalin’s potential to apply terror-rule still more deeply in peacetime. The Testament of 1922–3 was limited to an effort to deprive Stalin of his most important administrative post.10 Files on the Georgian Affair were brought out for Lenin to examine. He had made up his mind about the verdict: Stalin and his associates were guilty of Great Russian chauvinism even though Stalin, Ordzhonikidze and Dzierżyń ski themselves were
of hurt diminished but did not disappear. The internal strains of the troika irked him: he knew that Zinoviev and Kamenev looked down on him and that, given a chance, they would ditch him. His health, too, was poor. Feeling humiliated, Stalin followed his usual course: he requested release from his duties. In a letter to the Central Committee on 19 August 1924 he pleaded that ‘honourable and sincere’ work with Zinoviev and Kamenev was no longer possible. What he needed, he claimed, was a period
self-assertion. There were few ways to alter the fundamental situation short of demolishing the legacy of the October Revolution. At the very least the USSR would have had to reintroduce the market economy and recognise the debts owed by Russian governments before October 1917. Nothing about Stalin suggested that he would contemplate such a step. Accused by Trotski of betraying the October Revolution, he indeed distorted and eliminated much of Lenin’s legacy. But a Leninist of a sort he remained
throughout the mid-1930s. Mao continued to wriggle away from the Comintern line. No foreign communist party leader before the Second World War displayed such contumacy (as Stalin regarded it). Mao’s men hated the policy of alliance with Chiang and wanted to free themselves from it as soon as they could. Yet when Chiang was captured by an independent Chinese warlord, they found themselves compelled to send Zhou Enlai to secure his release. They had to do this or else face losing crucial military
beginning of the 1950s Stalin’s grip on world affairs was weaker than in previous years. The Korean War was raging and, with Soviet pilots and military equipment involved, was capable of spiralling into a Third World War. The Chinese People’s Republic complicated everything by urging Stalin to fight to the bitter end; Mao Tse-tung by his behaviour showed he could be just as independent of Moscow as Tito – and the stakes of China’s foreign adventures were very high indeed. Stalin could not even