Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator
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.
who undoubtedly wrote the order himself, was exceptionally harsh: “Panic-mongers and cowards must be exterminated on the spot.” Commanders “who retreat from battle positions without an order from above [are] traitors against the Motherland.” He demanded that commanders be put on trial, starting with army commanders who sanctioned unauthorized retreat. The order provided for the creation of penalty battalions and companies, the ranks of which would be filled by people arrested for violating the
desperately needed to be rebuilt. The Nazis had exterminated millions of Soviet civilians, especially Jews. Many towns and villages were completely depopulated.110 A 1 July 1944 letter to Stalin from the head of Belarus offers a glimpse of the state of territories that had been under German occupation: “There are 800 people left in Vitebsk; before the war there were 211,000.… Zhlobin has been completely destroyed. There is a small number of wooden buildings and the frames of three stone ones.
a policy of relaxing international tensions and reducing the burden of the arms race. By July 1953 a decision was made to conclude a truce in Korea. Stalin’s death brought an end to the USSR’s ruinous military buildup, including the creation of armadas of bombers. The country could not endure the strains of the arms race and demanded the reforms that Stalin had refused to give it. THE INVETERATE CONSERVATIVE Military spending was not the only reason for a ballooning government budget during
registration were taken into account, this ratio grew even worse. The quality of housing was also low. Only 46 percent of state-owned residential space came equipped with running water, 41 percent with sewage hookups, 26 percent with central heating, 3 percent with hot water, and 13 percent with a bathtub.23 Even these figures reflected the higher standards found in major cities, chiefly the two capitals. A striking indicator of the housing crisis was the prevalence of urban “barracks”—flimsy
World War I and the February Revolution. Of the 16 million people within the Russian Empire and Soviet Russia who demographers estimate died of wounds, hunger, or disease during 1914–1922, at least half (8 million) perished during the three years of the Civil War. Another 2 million fled the country. The horrific famine of 1921–1922, largely a by-product of the Civil War, took some 5 million lives. By comparison, “only” slightly more than 2 million Russians were killed in World War I