Biographical sketches of six major personalities of the Stalin era, three of whom are still alive--intended by dissident historian Medvedev to show what qualities were required for political survival. The six: Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, Military Commissar between the wars; Anastas Mikoyan, one-time Minister of Foreign Trade and formal head of government under Khrushchev; Mikhail Suslov, party ideologist until his death in 1982; V. M. Molotov, former Foreign Minister; Lazar Kaganovich, once Stalin's main troubleshooter and a central figure in the 1936-38 party purges; and Georgy Malenkov, Stalin's heir-apparent and the man who was briefly in charge after the dictator's death in 1953. The last three survive but are almost unknown to the younger generation. What they all share, aside from modest roots (only Molotov was born into a moderately well-off family), is a notable lack of creativity. Voroshilov, for example, rose to the top of the Defense Commissariat--though never a professional soldier, and notoriously lacking in intellectual gifts--while important tacticians like M. N. Tukhachevsky died in the purges. When German tanks invaded the country, he was still singing the praises of cavalry units. His saving grace was unquestioning loyalty to Stalin--though Stalin eventually had to remove him from important commands and began to lose confidence in him. Voroshilov, who had encouraged his own personality cult as a military leader, was made formal head of state after Stalin died, a post he relinquished in 1962 (to Leonid Brezhnev). Malenkov presents a problem, Medvedev says, because it is difficult to separate him from Stalin--he simply went around doing his leader's bidding. Yet Medvedev maintains that Malenkov was always in the wings during Stalin's terror, and bears important responsibility for it. All here stand condemned, indeed, for their roles in the purges--though Kaganovich was particularly culpable as Moscow party chief. Molotov takes the prize, though, for going along with a Politburo decision to arrest his wife as a Zionist spy during the 1948-49 repression aimed at Jews. It was he, in fact, who informed her of the decision--explaining his acquiescence by saying, ""they produced all those convincing documents."" Perhaps because of the personalities involved, the figures remain greyish. The catalogue of crimes still prevails and Medvedev's chapters don't get us much closer to understanding why.