THE TIME OF STALIN: Portrait of a Tyranny by Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko

THE TIME OF STALIN: Portrait of a Tyranny

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Of the many Russian denunciations of Stalinism in recent years, some, like Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago and Medvedev's Let History Judge, have added substance to the work done in the West; but others, in a cathartic release of pain and hatred, have merely added to the venomous polemics that were once the province of Cold War western scholarship. Antonov-Ovseyenko's ""portrait of a tyranny"" falls into the latter category. Like many of his compatriots, he has reason to be outraged: his father was a Bolshevik leader--one of those in the forefront of the triumphant assault on the Winter Palace--who later died in Stalin's camps; and Antonov-Ovseyenko spent years in those camps himself. Since his release in 1950, he has been a historian. Here, he culls information from many sources to substantiate charges that no one questions any longer, such as Stalin's complicity in the murder of rival party leader Kirov. But most of Antonov-Ovseyenko's assessments take a form similar to these remarks on Stalin's character: ""There was animal cunning and craftiness. Overpowering insolence. And cynicism, absolute cynicism. Also contempt for the individual and for the human race. And refined cruelty. Without these qualities he would never have succeeded in becoming sole ruler."" Two hundred pages later--without offering any explanations for the Stalinist phenomenon other than Lenin's mistaken theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat--A-O is still fixated on his subject's character: ""Stalin's sly and lazy brain never produced a single beneficial idea."" The only break comes at the end when A-O describes the continuing strands of Stalinism and the vilification that still accompanies references to his officially ""rehabilitated"" father. Otherwise, marginal.

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 1981
Publisher: Harper & Row