What did Stalin want? As the Red Army bestrode Europe in 1945, many Western leaders believed he intended to spread communism across the world. After his death, historians began to doubt this idea, and revisionists even blamed American aggression for the Cold War.
In this forceful, often angry account of Stalin’s policies after 1941, Gellately (History/Florida State Univ.; Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe, 2007, etc.) maintains that the original fears were on the mark. Preoccupied by Stalin’s Machiavellian rise to power in the 1920s and mass murders during the 1930s terror, historians have taken refuge in history, describing Stalin as a legitimate heir to the czars, carrying on their brutal autocracy, xenophobia and obsession with national security. Gellately discounts this, emphasizing that Stalin remained a sincere Marxist-Leninist, convinced that the demise of capitalism and its replacement by the communism that the world’s workers yearned for (if educated properly) was a scientific fact. Such a glorious future justified any tactic, and the author recounts Stalin’s relentless suppression of democratic movements, persecution of opponents, mass arrests, show trials, executions and appalling ethnic cleansing as he strove with often-spectacular incompetence to achieve this glorious future. Refusing Marshall Plan aid was foolish; the East European satellites remained a chronic drain; Mao, an admirer, wisely ignored his advice; French and Italian communist leaders would have been wise to do the same.
Gellately makes a good case for his thesis, but this will be beside the point for many readers who will conclude that Stalin was simply an evil megalomaniac.