Rating: 5 out of 5
Of the two, the coterie of Stalin is virtually unknown as compared with Hitler’s entourage. This book illuminates these close friends & colleagues of Stalin. Some names might be remembered but most will be quickly forgotten after reading this book. The likes of Malenkov, Zhdanov, Beria & Molotov feature prominently towards the end of Stalin’s life.
Despite their high status & closeness to Stalin himself, the sycophantic nature of their relationship meant that Stalin was the supreme power, the marionette operator. Unlike Hitler who left the details of execution to his subordinates, Stalin increasingly initiated campaigns such as the Doctors’ & the Jewish Conspiracies. This attention to detail grew in his dotage probably due to the fact of increasing paranoia as his physical power ebbed aways.
In spite of being in Stalin’s inner circle, they were no safer nor less likely to be summarily denounced by Stalin & executed. A case in point is Molotov whose wife Polina was a Jewish. Due to abstaining in a vote whether she should be denounced & incarcerated in the Gulags for five years, Molotov was forced to make a grovelling apology at a meeting of the Central Committee for not voting for her denouncement; her nefarious crime was be friendly with certain Zionist Jews.
Stalin’s sadism is shown in numerous examples where he forces his subordinates to be become inebriated on pain of being tortured in the notorious Lubianka Prison. Threats of excruciatingly punishment were used as a method of tormenting his subordinates. Having known Stalin for years, they readily comprehended his capacity to action those threats.
Of his three children, Svetlana was the only one with sufficient chutzpah to speak openly to her father. Both his sons were disappointments but for different reasons. Yakov was captured by the Germans during WW2 & ultimately dying at their hands. As he was no supposed to have been captured, Stalin never forgave him. Like all the other Russian POWs, they were distrusted & persecuted forever. In spite of mediocre ability, Vasily was appointed an air force general but due to alcoholism & incompetence, he had to be side-lined.
Stalin was diabolical. He would be utterly charming to an associate at a party knowing full well that he had already signed the death warrant of the unsuspecting individual.
Personally I found the final years of Stalin’s life to be of more interest as I found a lot of the earlier years quite banal.
This is a landmark work which has only now been able to peel back the veil on the inner circle due to the available of newly released source material. It will forever be the gold standard in understanding Stalin’s relationship with his minions.