In the conclusion of Hiroaki Kuromiya’s 1991 short biography of Stalin, he tells us what might be all we need to know of Stalin’s worldview: first, Stalin underlined the following passage in Trotsky’s 1920 Terrorism and Communism, “If human life in general is sacred and inviolable, we must deny ourselves not only the use of terror, not only war, but also revolution itself.” Stalin emphasized the importance of this passage with the exclamatory marginal comment, Right!; and second, as a kind of bookend, in 1952, near the end of his life, Stalin told his secret police chief, who he suspected was reluctant to use terror, “You want to keep your hands clean, do you? You can’t. Have you forgotten Lenin ordered Fanny Kaplan to be shot?…If you’re going to be squeamish, I’ll smash your face in.”
Is Joseph Stalin more complicated than that? This is the man who with forced collectivization, dekulakization, famine, and the Great Terror, not to mention the millions of bodies thrown into the pit of World War II, was responsible for the deaths of untold tens of millions of the very people said to have won a new world by Revolution in 1917. Was he a “good Marxist,” a Leninist, a moral monster, all of these? Hitler called him “half beast, half giant” and clearly saw a kind of reflection there. Kuromiya asserts that Stalin was a deeply singular personality with only one idea, political power at whatever cost.
Hiroaki Kuromiya is a professor of History at Indiana University who has written several books on Stalin and his effect on Russia and the world. These include The Voices of the Dead: Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s; Freedom and Terror in the Donbas: A Ukrainian-Russian Borderland, 1870s-1990s; Stalin’s Industrial Revolution: Politics and Workers, 1928-1932; And the short biography titled, Stalin.
The Past Is Uncertain: The Russian Revolution (Part One)
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