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Sat May 29, 2021, 06:58 PM

After 4 months of on and off reading, I finally finished reading Volkogonov's "Stalin."

I read it from cover to cover, close to 600 pages.

It was, of course, given that Dmitri Volkogonov was a Soviet Colonel-General in charge of psychological warfare, translated from the Russian. I have compared translations with originals in French and in German, and I'm aware that to the extent that a translation is beautiful, it is bound to be somewhat (at least) inaccurate.

The final two chapters, as translated (or perhaps even as written) are as beautiful as they are warnings. I was inspired to read this book about Stalinism and what Khrushchev appropriately called "the cult of personality" because our own government is being destroyed by just such a cult.

Stalin may have been defeated, but Stalin was defeated only by history, after he was dead. In a better world, he would have been defeated while still alive.

To be perfectly honest, I seldom read any book from cover to cover; at any given time I've got four or five books in process, usually one or two technical books, one or two histories, and generally a biography. Somewhere hopping from book to book, few of them are completely read.

I made a point though of reading this book from cover to cover, since our Democracy is under attack and perhaps will die, because everything touched by "the former guy" dies. It's refreshingly novel and different than much that might one read of Stalin and his era.

Perhaps there is someone today in the White Supremacy Party that will become as apostate as Volkogonov.

Some Soviet Propaganda leeches through, since Volkogonov's apostasy against his Stalinist and Leninist origins did not completely erase them, particularly grating was his rationalization of the subversion of the Baltic States in 1940, for one example, but he does an excellent job in exploring what Stalin may have been trying to accomplish in signing the pact with Hitler that led to the destruction of Poland in 1941.

There were a lot of names in this insightful book; it was hard to keep up with the heroes who became villains and villains who became heroes, the latter far fewer than the latter. I did however greatly respect what he wrote of Khrushchev's "finest hour" at the 20th Party Congress in 1956, and learned a lot about how and why he did it.

I was alive, albeit as a child, when the Cuban Missile Crisis took place, and the propaganda of the time made Khrushchev out to be some kind of demon and John F. Kennedy as some kind of heroic figure. The real history of both of these men is far more complex.

(By way of full disclosure, I personally regard JFK as my least favorite Democratic President of the 20th century, with the possible exception of the racist Woodrow Wilson, although Wilson can be allowed some ambiguity. Neither of these Democratic Presidents deserve to be held in the same category as an FDR, a Truman, a Johnson, or for that matter Clinton and even Carter.)

It's not going to be for everyone's taste, but I would think that a serious historian of European communism could do far worse than reading Volkogonov. I plan to read his "Lenin," - which I took out of the library but never got around to reading - as well as his "Trotsky" which my sons managed to dig up and buy for me as a Christmas present.

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Reply After 4 months of on and off reading, I finally finished reading Volkogonov's "Stalin." (Original post)
NNadir May 29 OP
brush May 29 #1
NNadir May 29 #2
brush May 29 #3
NNadir May 29 #5
empedocles May 29 #4
msfiddlestix May 29 #6
NNadir May 30 #7
msfiddlestix May 30 #8
Hekate May 30 #9

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat May 29, 2021, 07:51 PM

1. How does the book cover Beria, the purges and both...

Stalin's and Hitler's pacts/mistakes in WWll, since neither trusted each other.

IMO Hitler's were the most damaging for his armies.

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Response to brush (Reply #1)

Sat May 29, 2021, 08:22 PM

2. He pulls no punches about who Beria was, but notes that had Stalin lived...

...Beria was going down, much as Beria's predecessors did. Volkogonov is rightfully appalled by Yezhov and Yagoda, predecessors to Beria.

The most interesting part of the book is how Stalin rose to power with the willing assistance of Zinoviev and Kamanev, both of whom Stalin later had executed, in defeating Trotsky. He indicates that neither Trotsky - whose methods Stalin assumed - nor Lenin, had he lived, differed in their approach to rule by terror.

Volkogonov is of the opinion that the 1939 Pact with Hitler was really a matter of buying for time, since he had decimated the high command of the Soviet Army in the late 1930's purges.

He indicates that Stalin was initially terrified and shocked when the war came two years earlier than he expected. He argues that Stalin was quite prepared to sacrifice large tracts of land in exchange for peace with Hitler, at least in the earliest phases of the war.

Eventually Stalin recovered, and the truth is that the Soviet Union had far more to do with Hitler's defeat than either the Americans or the British. He also makes clear that Stalin had no concern whatsoever about how many of his soldiers were killed, that anyone who had been taken prisoner and then escaped or was recaptured was sent to the Gulag, and that the Soviet victory was unnecessarily costly.

There is a marvelous and quite sardonic account of how people had to "find" (that is invent) heroics from the war for Brezhnev and the now forgotten Chernenko, pretending that they were major figures.

Again, I recommend this book. It has flaws, but it widens one's perspective by quite a bit.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #2)

Sat May 29, 2021, 08:36 PM

3. Interesting that the writer thinks both Trotsky and Lenin...

would've approached governing the same way as Stalin...with an iron fist?

The Soviets certainly did considerable damage to Hitler's armies and weakened them for the Americans and Brits (also Hitler's mistake in calling off his armies at Dunkirk when he could've captured the whole British expeditionary force.

And wasn't there a third guy after Khrushchev besides Brezhnev and the now forgotten Chernenko?

Sounds very engrossing. I may have to go to Amazon and get the book.

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Response to brush (Reply #3)

Sat May 29, 2021, 08:49 PM

5. You're thinking of Andropov. He was the immediate successor to Brezhnev.

Brezhnev had a stroke in 1975, and was largely incapacitated for a period of time. Andropov and Gromyko were actually effectively playing a huge role in running the Soviet Union until Brezhnev's death in 1982.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #2)

Sat May 29, 2021, 08:37 PM

4. TY

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat May 29, 2021, 09:12 PM

6. Thank you for sharing

I haven't attempted to read this history, though it isn't because I'm not interested.

I did borrow from the Library a couple of books I was very eager to read once it was available at the Library, one was "The Twilight of Democracy" by Anne Applebaum and the other was Masha Gessen's "The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, intending also to pick up Timothy Snyder's "On Tyranny" ...

Applebaum's and Gessen's books were borrowed at the same time just days before the Covid shutdown...and there they sat on my bedside cabinet unread, day after day, week after week just collecting dust. Actually I first started to read Applebaum's but had to put down fairly quickly. I realized I couldn't read the details of history which in some ways seem to resemble things I was seeing in front of my eyes in real time.

I have been living in a psychic state of panic. I feel like we are all involved in a psychological experiment and I don't quite to know how to shake it off. I'm not a "drinker" or drug user.. but I use my music to substitute for it. Practicing almost from the moment I wake up in the morning. Invariably though, i will take a break and go to my chromebook, and check in DU, just in case, maybe the monsters have all been disappeared, maybe arrested and now behind bars. Each time I'm reminded those possibilities are pure fantasy and it's never going to happen.

I worry not for myself, I'm old as dirt, but my grandchildren and their future, what kind of future will be for them.

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Response to msfiddlestix (Reply #6)

Sun May 30, 2021, 09:11 AM

7. Thank you for caring about the generations beyond your own.

As for the present, it is true we have long taken our democracy too much for granted, and it is under the most dire threat since the American Civil War, but it's not all over.

I hold a high opinion of the rising generation, even if I hold a low opinion of my own, and I have faith in the future that will come after I am gone.

While it is true that Volkogonov's worst fears about a relapse of Russia into totalitarianism have come to pass, and that Putin has executed a brilliant assault on the United States using racists, Russia has no history of democracy. We do.

Be safe, be well, and be as calm as possible. We are turning the world over to what I expect will be a great generation.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #7)

Sun May 30, 2021, 09:34 AM

8. I will try to take your inspiring optimism to heart

And yes, the younger generation shows a certain level of awareness and fierce determination which may just be enough to carry us through these dark times, with our support and collaborative efforts.

Their optimism and creativity is a force to be reckoned with as well. I see it especially in my soon to be 13 year old granddaughter. I smile a little to myself when I recall her activism at an early age of 8, canvassing door to door to elect a local school board member. and later for Black Lives Matter rally at Lake Merritt in Oakland, Ca. It's in the family, but she is an eager player in all of it. The environment, Socio-Justice issues, and LGBQ etc..


We didn't get it done, but maybe with we achieve enough to get us through to the next generation, may the forces be with us.



P.S. Didn't mean to be such a downer. My heart just aches for it all, and I don't recall feeling so overwhelmed as I do now these past few years and especially after a Presidential victory... never felt so much fear and angst for the present.

So Courage is my motto for today. !

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sun May 30, 2021, 02:26 PM

9. Thank you for this post

KnR

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