STALIN: Man of History by Ian Grey

STALIN: Man of History

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The title gives it away; how can you knock a ""man of history""? Grey, author of biographies of Peter and Catherine (the ""Greats""), has a weakness for tyrants with historical missions to perform. In Stalin's case it's industrialization, and if the peasants are smashed and opposition is suppressed in the process--well, that's history! Although he eschews ""parentage, environment, and childhood"" as biographical keys, Grey perceives an early rebelliousness in Stalin's youth which, coupled with his never fully repressed Orthodox seminarial training, winds up accounting for a lot. Almost alone among Bolshevik leaders, Stalin was not an intellectual, and Grey shares a great deal of his subject's resentment of intellectuals--he is particularly hard on Trotsky, Lenin, and Bukharin, often to a foolish extent (Stalin, who had his former colleagues murdered and drove his wife to suicide, is pronounced ""a more normal human being than Lenin""). Discounting the classic biographies by Isaac Deutscher and Boris Souvarine because they are ""Trotskyist,"" and apparently ignorant of the recent work of Moshe Lewin, Grey commits many interpretive blunders. To him, Lenin's ""last testament"" warning of Stalin's ruthlessness was merely a ""personal vendetta,"" and, far more importantly, Stalin's collectivization drive was motivated by a historical awareness of Russian backwardness and a vision of a strong Russia. Grey completely misses the use of the purges as a means of deflecting popular opposition to Stalin's rule, and the dictator's manipulation of popular anti-intellectualism and anti-Semitism to legitimate the bloodletting. Although he documents Stalin's erratic wartime behavior, Grey credits him with single-handedly defeating the Germans and makes nothing of the postwar purges in the USSR and eastern Europe. Altogether, Grey mistakes demagogy for leadership and megalomania for historical mission. He should stick to Tsars.

Pub Date: June 22nd, 1979
Publisher: Doubleday