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It is hard for anyone who has grown up in fortunate circumstances in the West to grasp on a gut level the full horror of the Soviet Union under Stalin. This book lays bare in excruciating detail the workings of an unscrupulous leader who was crude, vicious, vile and ruthless. Unfortunately, he was also clever and resourceful enough to achieve near absolute power in the Soviet Union by 1938. Stalin and those he advanced in the Communist Party knew no bounds. He ordered the murders of former close associates; directed his secret police to extract false confessions from prisoners by torture in order to persecute them in “show trials” or to justify their summary execution after review by a corrupted kangaroo court. On a broader scale his program in the early ‘30s to collectivize agriculture led to massive famines, terrorist shootings and deportations that caused the deaths of millions. Later in the ‘30s the arbitrary arrests and forced confessions of his purges and campaigns against so-called “diversionists, spies, and Trotskyites” led to prison and death for further millions in the now infamous “archipelago” of labor camps.
The aim in all this was two-fold: eliminate all possible rivals to Stalin for supreme power in the Soviet Union and to force the public into compliance with directives from above through a regime of terror. Apparently, Stalin as well as others in the top echelons of the Bolshevik Party justified these methods to themselves, at least in part, as necessary for the greater good of moving society toward the ideal state envisioned by Marxist-Leninist theory. A criminal clique with vast political power who can justify their murders and cruelties by means of an extremist creed that squelches all qualms of conscience or moral restraint is a dangerous and fearful prospect. That certainly was the case in the Soviet Union from the 1930’s until Stalin’s death in 1953.
That said, this book reads more like an encyclopedia or a catalogue of crimes rather than a vivid account of individual horror stories. It does a good job of describing and documenting the overall scope of the horrors perpetrated by the Stalin regime and to some extent continued by his successors. It is not, however, great literature in the sense of graphically depicting life under these regimes. “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” does that far better.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
It's easy to dismiss cold war mindset as "unreasoning paranoia" on the part of Mr. and Mrs. Middle America and opportunistic politicians like Joe McCarthy, but there was a reason why every President from Truman through Reagan regarded the Soviet Union with great suspicion, and that was its own demonstrated cruelty to its own people. Stalin's successors, to their credit, did much to dismantle the terror machine that Stalin and Lenin built, but its shadow still looms over the Russians today.
26 of 29 people found this review helpful