STALIN: A Political Biography by Isaac Deutscher
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STALIN: A Political Biography

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A brilliant, and although based on twenty years of study and research into Soviet affairs of which Stalin is an inseparable part, this is still a very absorbing portrait of one of the great men of our time. This book (and by comparison the Fischer, Duranty, Trotsky seem like surface impressions- personal, partisan, unverified) is necessarily- as subtitled- a political biography, since almost nothing is known of Stalin's intimate life. But what Deutscher intends by that definition is that his book is an analysis of Stalin's political achievements. And even these involve many complexities, many contradictions, since Stalin's life is ""like an enormous palimpsest, where many scripts are superimposed upon one another, each script dating from a different period, each written by a different hand, each giving a different version of events"". One sees something of the man, enigmatic, colourless, distrustful of words, and with ""all the severity of Tsarist and Bolshevik Russia"". But the chief concern is with his career which is first subordinate, then a dominant directive in the course of Soviet history. The background, from what little is known, from childhood on; the early revolutionary activities; the path to power and its accumulation in Stalin's hands; the heritage of Leninism- ""socialism in one Country"" which he continued and fulfilled, but which he was to extend as with the second, Stalinist revolution, international ideals were joined with national sentiment, and the socialism in one country ramified to include international demands and implications. And these two policies, the nationalist and the revolutionary, clashed on crucial points. Stalin however did not make ""a clear-cut choice between the two; he pursued both lines simultaneously; but whereas the nationalist one predominated during the war, the revolutionary one was to gain momentum after the war"". And in these later chapters there is an examination of this redirection of his foreign policy, from its first search for collective security before the war, through the war and Teheran, Yalta, Potsdam; to the impenetrable iron curtain of which he as the chief architect and which gave him the protection he needed at home and abroad; and finally the dangerous dilemma Russia and America face today as the two systems militate against each other, invalidating the concept of peaceful co-existence. A portrait which bears a certain detached admiration rather than animus, here Stalin is not classed with Hitler among the tyrants who left a record of worthlessness and futility. But creative as well as destructive, he takes his place with Robespierre, Cromwell and Napoleon, who also rode to power on the back of a revolution, mastered it, and carried it beyond its original intentions and the confines of one country.

Pub Date: Sept. 29th, 1949
Publisher: Oxford