Fitzpatrick (History/Univ. of Sydney; A Spy in the Archives: A Memoir of Cold War Russia, 2013, etc.) puts faces to the names of Stalin’s “cabinet,” examining their histories, families, and devotion to the dictator.
The social and political lives of the members of “Stalin’s team” were permanently intertwined with his, including the required drunken all-nighters. Aside from Vyacheslav Molotov, few are familiar to Westerners, which will leave some readers trying to figure out who’s who. None were highly educated or especially talented, and they were certainly not cosmopolitan intellectuals like the exiled Trotsky, Stalin’s enduring bugbear. Stalin followed a policy of “dosage”: divide and rule, fostering distrust, competition, and intrigue among his team. They were dedicated to the revolution and to Stalin, and they devoted their lives to both. The five-year plan of 1927 called for industrialization but provided no funding. Pushing grain exports was the team’s answer, but the newly collectivized farms could barely sustain the populace. Famine was the logical result, and Stalin blamed local party secretaries. The difficulty of the rebuilding seemed to be easing just as Stalin’s friend Sergei Kirov was assassinated in 1934, an event that set off the great purges. At this point, Stalin’s paranoia took over, and Russia’s best and brightest were eliminated: between 1935 and 1940, almost 2 million were arrested for anti-Soviet activity, and 688,503 were shot. No one was exempt; even Stalin’s family members were arrested for careless talk. World War II was the impetus for the ministers to gather and form a State Defense Committee, a cautious cooperation they eventually turned to their advantage. Throughout the book, Fitzpatrick presumes readers are up to date on the era; those who aren’t may be confused regarding some of the chronology and relationships among the author’s subjects.
Not a history or a biography but rather a well-researched study of the social and political lives of the men who supported, encouraged, and abetted Stalin. Prior knowledge of 20th-century Soviet history is a must.