Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928

Suggested by Kung Fu Zu • Takes the reader from Stalin’s birth up to his fiftieth year. Kotkin interweaves Stalin’s story with that of Tsarist Russia of the same period. An excellent read.
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42 Responses to Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I have read several biographies of Stalin and this is certainly the best. Perhaps this is because the author spends almost as many pages educating the reader on the history of Russia from the mid-nineteenth century to 1928, as he does on the young Stalin.

    As a result, the reader has a context from which to understand and judge Stalin’s life and actions. Context does not seem to be popular these days, but I find it very helpful in trying to understand people and the times they live in.

    The author lays out Stalin’s modest origins and somewhat unstable childhood which is followed by his acceptance to a well thought of religious seminary. At that seminary, Stalin’s performance was quite good, but by the end of his time there, he had lost his faith in God and found another in Marx.

    From the time he was twenty in 1899 until the October revolution in 1917, Stalin was active in anti-Tsarist activities and was an avowed revolutionary. He was constantly on the move, except for times when exiled to Siberia or other fun spots in the Russian empire. He joined the Bolshevik sect of the Russian Social Democratic Party and became a devoted Leninist. In exile during WWI, he was only able to make it to St. Petersburg in early 1917, i.e. just in time for the collapse of the Tsarist government. From that time onward, he worked tirelessly to bring about Bolshevik rule and promote Leninist policies.

    Kotkin makes clear that, contrary to what many foreign historians and scholars have claimed, Stalin was instrumental in helping bring about the October Revolution and working to keep the revolution on track for the next few years. Lenin must have found him capable and important as Lenin created the office of Party General Secretary explicitly for Stalin. Such a position did not exist in Marxist theory or literature until that time.

    One supposes that when, in 1922, he created this new office for Stalin, Lenin did not expect to be shot, have numerous strokes and finally die within a couple of years. Lenin died in January of 1924 and without his control, Stalin was able to establish a dictatorship within a dictatorship, that is, Stalin gained control over the Communist Party which controlled the country. This took a few years, but by 1928 there was little doubt that Stalin was the master of the U.S.S.R. In becoming master, Stalin pushed out every original member of the first politburo. He and Lenin were the only two who died natural deaths.

    By the end of the volume, there is no doubt that Stalin is a ruthless bastard, but it is not yet clear that he is a homicidal maniac willing to murder millions to bring about his vision of a Marxist/Leninist society. His cruelty to friends, enemies and complete strangers has not yet completely manifested itself, but the signs are certainly their if one wishes to look closely. But in 1928, he starts to unmask himself and his plans and this will lead to the insane idea to create a collective state farming system, along the lines of the nationalization of industry. Millions will die as a result and millions of others will suffer horrible deprivations.

    I have just checked out volume II of Kotkin’s biography. Like volume I, it is a long book (vol. 1 about 750 pages + indexes and footnotes vol. 2 about 900 pages + indexes and footnotes) so it may be some time before I can comment on that.

    For those who enjoy obscure history, I found it interesting that both Hitler and Stalin were artistic types. Hitler lover painting and architecture and Stalin lover poetry and music. In fact Stalin apparently wrote beautiful poetry in his youth.

    Hitler stayed the artist in temperament while Stalin became a bureaucrat.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      The author lays out Stalin’s modest origins and somewhat unstable childhood which is followed by his acceptance to a well thought of religious seminary. At that seminary, Stalin’s performance was quite good, but by the end of his time there, he had lost his faith in God and found another in Marx.

      One wonders if he was diddled as a young boy there or otherwise was abused.

      Regarding Stalin’s evolution into an even worse monster, you have to wonder if the ideology itself (Marxism/atheism) doesn’t sow the seeds for that. It’s my opinion that in our own time we can clearly see how Leftism/Cultural-Marxism turns people into cold, hard, unthinking ideological beasts.

      Most will not murder people in the millions. But there is always a percentage of sociopaths in any given population for whom these nasty ideologies are like throwing gasoline on a fire.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Early in vol. 2 Kotkin makes some interesting observation regarding Stalin’s development. Kotkin’s theme is that too many over emphasize the difficulties of Stalin’s childhood and his physical appearance which is claimed resulted in a monster.

        While a person’s childhood certainly influences his future actions, the things which happen during his adulthood are probably more important as one matures. Circumstance can have a tremendous influence on a person’s life and this is no doubt true in Stalin’s case.

        I found a quote Kotkin took from von Moltke the Elder to be very enlightening in this regard.

        Von Moltke “had conceived of strategy as improvisation, a “system of expedients,” and ability to turn unexpected developments created by others or by happenstance to one’s advantage, and Hitler turned out to be just such a master improviser………Stalin, too, was a strategist in von Moltke’s sense, a man of radical ideas able to perceived and seize opportunities that he did not always create but turned to his advantage.

        Life comes and one adjusts. Some are more successful at adjusting than others.

        I love Kotkin’s description of Marxism.

        Communism was an idea, a dream palace whose attraction derived from the seeming fusion of science and utopia.

        Marx was so important for leftism because he was the first who could give the insane belief a patina of science, having spent his whole life in the British Museum putting together a crazy theory with footnotes. The footnotes were very important for intellectuals.

        Kotkin makes another shrewd observation about why others followed Communism.

        Mass violence recruited legions ready to battle implacable enemies who stood on the wrong side of history. The purported science of Marxism-Leninism and the real-world construction of socialism, on the way toward Communism, offered ostensible answers to the biggest question: why the world had so many problems (class) and how it could be made better (class warfare), with a role for all. People’s otherwise insignificant lives became linked to building an entirely new world.”

        Things have not changed so much.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Mass violence recruited legions ready to battle implacable enemies who stood on the wrong side of history. The purported science of Marxism-Leninism and the real-world construction of socialism, on the way toward Communism, offered ostensible answers to the biggest question: why the world had so many problems (class) and how it could be made better (class warfare), with a role for all. People’s otherwise insignificant lives became linked to building an entirely new world.”

          That really is a in-a-nutshell quote. Atheism not only produces a different way of looking at the world, it requires it. It couldn’t be that Germans are better beer makers because that’s something (for whatever reason) that they take the pains to be very good at. No, it must be that they are advantaged in some way (and thus that someone else is disadvantaged, and the disparity the result of injustice).

          It’s, of course, common knowledge (at least outside of academia) that the worst beasts of atheism have often embraced Darwinism’s “survival of the fittest” in terms of a social or political policy. This is ironic because built into Darwinism is the idea of variation which has no other cause than randomness. There is no implicit need to denote differences to injustice.

          So it’s interesting to me that these two ideas have been successfully welded together and the contradictions skillfully walled off by dishonest intellectuals.

          And, indeed, things have not changed so much.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Very good observations by both of you, naturally.

          Motlke was a very good planner, and indeed the Great General Staff became famous for its contingency plans, though later they began to lapse. When World War I began, the Schlieffen Plan was the only mobilization/war plan they had, having dropped in 1913 a mobilization plan focusing on Russia.

          But it was also Moltke who said that no plan ever survives contact with the enemy. You plan, and then you hope that those plans make it feasible to make the right adjustments when the fighting starts. Moltke did. (Incidentally, I read his own account of the Franco-Prussian War, though that’s just one of the books left behind in our house.)

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    So this is Stalin before he was a total monster, which can be said to have begun with the liquidation of the kulaks in 1929. Stalin was also a high-ranking commissar in the Red Army during the Russian Civil War. Supposedly he was the commissar of the army that defeated Denikin at Tsaritsyn by attacking an extended flank — but then, this report may come from Soviet sources of doubtful accuracy.

    Other accounts say he was the commissar of Budyenny’s cavalry army in the war against Poland, which went inactive at a key moment and allowed Pilsudski to concentrate against, and defeat, Tukhachevsky’s advance on Warsaw. This has led to a suspicion that the Army purge in the later stages of the Yezhovshchina was based heavily on grudges developed there. Tukhachevsky was executed; Budyenny remained in command.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Kotkin touches upon both Stalin’s role at Tsaritsyn and in the ill-conceived attack on Poland. As I recall, Kotkin is of the opinion that Stalin’s role in both instances was positive. I believe he says Stalin advd against the foolish Polish campaign and did good work for the Reds in Tsaritsyn.

      One of the things I find interesting about Kotkin is that he clearly thinks Stalin is a monster, but does not let that cloud his judgment as to Stalin’s role in the October Revolution, defeat of the Whites in the civil war and establishment of the U.S.S.R. He points out that much of the “history” which belittles Stalin in the West was put out by Trotsky and his acolytes who had no reason to love Stalin. But Kotkin makes clear that Trotsky was not very effective after the civil war. With my apologies to Davy Crockett, an analogy is that Trotsky was Davy Crockett to Stalin’s Sam Houston. Crockett is very famous and loved, but his contribution to Texas was minimal when compared to Houston.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I checked on wikipedia, and what they report more or less matches what you report Kotkin saying. Whether or not this has anything to do with the military purges remains to be seen. Of course, motives can be difficult to ascertain.

        Hitler was a considerable admirer of Stalin, who at least at first returned that admiration, even though both opposed each other politically. Stalin had the advantage over Hitler of learning, to some extent, from his mistakes.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I am looking forward to the second volume as I have no real idea of why Stalin instigated the military purges. Given the quality of vol. 1, I figure vol. 2 will give me reasonably good answers to that question.

          I read Bullock’s “Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives” years back and seem to recall the point of Hitler’s admiration of Stalin from that and other writings.

          I think Stalin’s biggest advantages over Hitler were 1) He didn’t have a two or three front war, 2) He had the U.S.A. and U.K. as allies. The U.S.A. being especially important from the material point of view.

          I think Hitler listened to his advisors even less than Stalin, which did not turn out well for him and Germany.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Stalin also had lend-lease, which provided him with a lot of good equipment — especially motor transport.

            I also read the Bullock book. I remember being disappointed that some chart of prison camps for both countries was supposed to be included but wasn’t. But overall it was good.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    When I picked of vol. 2 of Kotkin’s Stalin biography, I also check-out Martin Cruz Smith’s “Stalin’s Ghost.” This is something like the 6th or 7th of the Arkady Renko series that started with “Gorky Park,” which I read when it first came out. Since then I have read several others of the series. Each book was worth the time I spent on it.

    Each Renko books deals with a number of different crimes, including sometimes gruesome murders. There appear to be more and less noble motivations for said crimes and the reader is led through a a confusing maze until he feels his way to the exit where, in every case, greed is the seed from which all evil grows.

    I am not sure I would rank Smith as a great writer, but he does come up with some wonderful phrases in the style of Hammett and Chandler. There is no question that his stories flow and are entertaining and easy reads. I would recommend them to any book fan.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I know we had a copy of Gorky Park, which I grouped with other books from TV/movies. Like so many of my books, I hadn’t gotten around to reading it (a natural problem when you buy books faster than you can read them) when we left. That may have been all we had by him, but of course Elizabeth and I both were devoted biblioholics. When we started merging our collections, we had 2 copies of some books, and in a few cases even 3.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I am at the early part of vol. 2 of Kotkin’s Stalin and the following quote jumped out at me.

    “We reject the concept of rule-of-law state. If a person seeking to claim the title of Marxist speaks seriously about a rule-of-law state and moreover uses the term “rule-of-law state” in connection with the Soviet state, this means he is lead by bourgeois jurists. This means he departs from Marxist-Leninist teaching on the state.”

    Lazar Kaganovich

    Sounds like a modern Dim who wants to stack the Supreme Court in order to kill the rule-of-law instead of promoting it.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Sounds like the woman Paul Douglas encountered who rejected bourgeois justice with its concept of due process of law. Later she was executed as a Trotskyist in the Yezhovshchina. Karma can be as much of a bitch as she was.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        The hatred these people harbor for themselves and others is such that it blinds them to the many negative possibilities which can sprout from their fanaticism. I sometimes wonder are they so stupid that they can’t envision their own standards (or lack thereof) and methods being used against themselves.

        In any case, these are people who simply cannot be reasoned with and must simply be defeated. You can get a glimpse of one at the Fox News website. A young dumb commie bitch screaming “Nazi, Nazi, assaulted some conservative students at Florida State. Watch the video and see what type of harpy our education is turning out. Thank God she has been booked by the police.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I often wish someone could ask her what she actually knows about the Nazis. Damn little, I suspect. It’s the transitive law of leftism: They hate Hitler and they hate Trump, so the two must be about the same.

  5. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I am well into the second vol. of Kotkin’s Stalin biography, and must tell you that it is very difficult to read. Not because the subject matter so detailed, which it is, but because it is hard to continue going through the filth that was Stalin. It is very depressing to read about this man without getting depressed. He was a thoroughly monstrous person. Not even Hitler compares to this man, who killed friends, colleagues and complete unknowns with complete abandon. And what is worse, he planned many of the murders himself and knew that his actions would put into motion many other murders which had nothing what-so-ever to do with his “declared” aims of socialism/communism.

    Hitler and Stalin make for interesting comparisons. Hitler was basically an “artist” type who did not get into details, but was able to form a movement around him because of his charisma. Stalin was a bureaucrat, who had been a community organizer and sometime prisoner before the 1917 revolution. He had held exactly one paid job for a few months before that time.

    While active in the Bolshevik party and civil war in 1920-21, he was generally unknown to people across the Russian Empire. It was Lenin, who admired his ruthlessness, who put Stalin in a position of power, controlling the party. After Lenin’s death, it was Stalin’s bureaucratic acumen, cunning and ruthlessness which gained for him total power. Admittedly, this took some years and he was helped mightily by the arrogance and stupidity of his opponents, but he got there.

    Contrary to what some believe, Stalin was truly well versed in Marxism-Leninism. He may not have been the florid theorist that Trotsky was, but he knew the details of communist orthodoxy thoroughly and was able to use them (twisting and turning them as religious texts) as well as any medieval scholastic. This enabled him to give a gloss of Marxist correctness to most of his crimes. Leftism truly is a religion.

  6. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I am a little more than a third of the way through the 2nd vol. and Kotkin has done a good job laying out the development of the Soviet Regime as well as of Stalin. He shows how millions died of starvation and disease because Stalin had a bee in his bonnet about the need to collectivize agriculture across the Soviet Union. He lays out how Stalin plans to weaken his opponents (anyone who disagrees with him or has better credentials at being an old Bolshevik) and how he moves to have them removed from positions of power and isolates them.

    Interestingly, Kotkin makes a good case that Stalin had nothing to do with Kirov’s assassination, but after it happened Stalin’s paranoia grew and he saw the chance to attack “enemies.” Apparently, a conversation between three washer women, who worked in the Kremlin, was the spark which caused the arrest of hundreds and executions of many. The “wreckers and Trotskyites” were everywhere, in Stalin’s mind, or at least he let his underlings act on such thoughts.

    Kotkin pauses to summarize the state of things in the first half of 1936. Below are some of his very acute observations regarding the state of affairs in the U.S.S.R. at that time.

    Looked at soberly, Stalin’s anticapitalist experiment resembled a vast camp of deliberately deprived workers., indentured farmers, and slave laborers toiling for the benefit of an unacknowledged elite. But the Soviet Union was a fairy tale. Unrelenting optimism spread alongside famine, arrests, deportations, executions, camps, censorship, sealed borders.

    Many Soviet inhabitants-especially, but not only, the young-craved a transcendent purpose….But the cause offered the possibility of belonging. Many embraced violence and cruelty as unavoidable in bringing about a new world, and they keenly soaked up the propaganda. To manage contradictions and conscience, they had the transcendent truth of Marxism-Leninism…

    I am sure the reader can detect characteristics which one can still see today in some of our leftists. They are also willing to crack a few eggs in order to make the ideal leftist omelet.

    In the buildup to the Great Terror, Stalin had kept the Soviet Union in a constant state of fear. Fear of foreign invasion and fear of traitors to the U.S.S.R. and the Revolution. I would also say there must have been a deep seated fear that things could go wrong again. Things such as famine, fear of a general internal insecurity. This was a population ready and probably expecting something bad to happen. But things had improved economically and calmed down internally. Kotkin writes,

    Nonetheless, the Soviet population was unprepared for what struck the country during its hour of triumph beginning in 1936. Even by Stalinist standards, the carnage would be breathtaking. The peak year for Soviet executions-20,201 of them-had been 1930, during dekulakization. In the three years from 1934 to 1936, a time that included mass reprisals for the Kirov murder, the NKVD reported arresting 529,434 people, including 290,479 for counterrevolutionary crimes, and executing 4,402 of them. But for the two years 1937 and 1938, the NKVD would report 1,575,259 arrests, 87 percent of them for political offenses, and 681,692 executions. …Because an untold number of people sentenced to incarceration were actually executed, and many others died during interrogation or transit and fell outside of execution tabulations, the total who perished directly at the hands of the Soviet secret police in 1937-38 was likely closer to 830,000.

    For those who might say that Stalin and his regime did what dictators do, Kotkin makes a very interesting comparison;

    In Nazi Germany, Hitler went after the Jews (less that 1% of the population), Communists, and Social Democrats, but in the USSR Stalin savaged his own loyal elites across the board. To be sure, the greater number of victims were ordinary Soviet people, but what regime liquidates colossal numbers of loyal officials? Could Hitler-had he been so inclined-have compelled the imprisonment or execution of huge swaths of Nazi factory and farm bosses, as well as almost all Nazi provincial Gauleiters and their staffs, several times over? Could he have executed the personnel of Nazi central ministries, thousands of his Wehrmacht officers-including almost his entire high command-as well as the Reich’s diplomatic corps and its espionage agents, its celebrated cultural figures, and the leadership of Nazi parties throughout the world (had such parties existed)? Could Hitler also have decimated the Gestapo even while it was carrying out a mass bloodletting? And could the German people have been told, and would the German people have found plausible, that almost everyone who had come to power with the Nazi revolution turned out to be a foreign agent and saboteur? Even among ideological dictatorships, Communism stands out.

    Communism stands out.

    That is something which we should not forget. As I have written before,

    http://www.stubbornthings.org/violence-is-inherent-to-the-left/

    violence is inherent in leftist thought because it is based on a fairy tale and has no basis in reality/human nature. The pursuit of leftist policies to their illogical ends, cannot help but end in massive violence.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Very interesting points. The numbers look rather similar to those in The Road to Terror. Hitler did some purging of the SA leadership, but it was nothing on Stalin’s scale.

      Incidentally, Stalin ended the first Five-Year-Plan after 4 years, putting up signs saying “2 + 2 = 5”. I suspect Orwell knew about this.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Incidentally, Stalin ended the first Five-Year-Plan after 4 years, putting up signs saying “2 + 2 = 5”. I suspect Orwell knew about this.

        Kotkin mentions this somewhere in the book.

        Kotkin also mentions the Night of the Long Knives and its aftermath.

        Stalin was very impressed with Hitler’s actions against the S.A. and “exclaimed, “What a guy,” to his inner circle” according to Mikoyan.

        But as Kotkin points out,

        the Night of the Long Knives was the only violent regime purge of Hitler’s rule. The Fuehrer had agreed to dispatch Roehm only under pressure from Goering, Himmler, and Heydrich…For all the sensation, a mere eighty-five known people were summarily executed without legal proceedings, and just fifty of them even belonged to the S.A.

        Hitler was also pressured heavily by the Reichswehr generals, who still reported to Hindenburg, to do something about the SA. It has long been said that the fulfillment of the deal between the Reichswehr and Hitler prepared the way for Hitler to take full control of the country.

        Stalin would get rid of 85 people before breakfast.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Another incident Orwell may have heard came on June 22, 1941, when an American Communist was haranguing a crowd against US violations of neutrality against Germany. Then in mid-speech he learned about Barbarossa. Instead of holding his breath and making no comment, he simply switched to haranguing the crowd against Hitler as if he hadn’t been doing the opposite moments earlier.

  7. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I am almost at the end of vol. 2, just days before the Wehrmacht invades the Soviet Union. Here are a few points I found interesting.

    Kotkin states that Hitler’s bailing Mussolini out in Greece had nothing to do with the decision to delay Barbarossa from May 15 to mid June. According to Kotkin, Hitler announced this delay before Greece was invaded. Apparently, the delay had to do with a lack of materials needed for the invasion and the logistics of getting everything in position for the invasion. This was new to me.

    It is amazing how much information Stalin had about the invasion. This came from well placed spies in the German government, including people in the diplomatic service and some close to the military. Richard Sorge in Japan sent out voluminous amounts of information from Tokyo, which he received from naive’ friends in the German embassy in Tokyo.

    The Soviets had also broken the codes of Japan and other countries thus could read their communications. Incredibly, the Soviets had broken into the German embassy in Moscow, photographed the contents of the ambassador’s safe and installed hidden microphones in the building. It seems they had done similar things in other embassies.

    Despite all of this information, Stalin was skeptical. It would appear his conspiratorial mindset kept him from seeing things as they actually were. Instead, he saw double-agents, misinformation and propaganda where truth was being reported. He also didn’t believe Hitler was crazy enough to start a two-front war, given the results of WWI.

    Of course, Hitler’s calculation was different. Firstly, it seems nobody in the German High Command had any respect for the Soviet Armed Forces. They were looking at something like a 2-3 month campaign. (Interestingly, the Japanese ambassador to the USSR, wrote to Tokyo that Germany could not defeat the USSR in 2-3 months and might end in up in a drawn out war.) Secondly, and here I think Kotkin shows more understanding of the times than many, Hitler knew that the USA was sitting by just waiting to get into the war on the side of Great Britain. He saw the USA combined with G.B. as almost unbeatable. As such, he could not leave an adversarial Soviet Union at his back, especially before it became too powerful militarily. He needed those raw materials without having to give away the farm to Stalin.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I hadn’t known about the Soviet break-in at the German embassy, but that doesn’t really surprise me. Other countries have done this, including the US, so one would expect Stalin to do it as well.

      One of the many books I read on the subject discussed the German deployment to the east showed that they weren’t ready before some time in mid-June. Hitler probably could have attacked before June 22, and even a week would have been a significant gain. He needed all the sunlight he could get.

      Other versions of this argue that the problem wasn’t the invasion of Greece, but the addition of the invasion of Yugoslavia. Many factors may have been involved. For example, the railway transport needed to support the Balkans campaign may have interfered with the speed of the deployment to the east.

      I think your analysis of Hitler’s motives is fairly accurate, but one can never ignore his overall plans for Lebensraum. Ideology was often as important as military practicality, and sometimes even more so.

  8. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I think your analysis of Hitler’s motives is fairly accurate, but one can never ignore his overall plans for Lebensraum. Ideology was often as important as military practicality, and sometimes even more so.

    Contrary to what many seemed to believe at the time, ideology was Hitler’s primary motivator. He laid his thoughts out in Mein Kampf, and stayed true to his goals. Germany was and is a poor country, raw materials-wise, so Lebensraum made perfect sense in a world where access to raw materials (or lack thereof) determined a nation’s ability to grow.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Germany wasn’t as poor in resources as the Nazis claimed. It was richer by itself than France, Italy, Japan, or Britain. The problem was that it didn’t have a large empire to supply additional resources, as Britain, Japan, and Russia especially did. It had surpluses of coal and potash (and once Austria was included, magnesite), as well as near-sufficiency in zinc. They also had good supplies of salt, flourspar, and (via Austria) graphite, perhaps enough for self-sufficiency, as well as a large but not sufficient amount of lead. Not to mention uranium, which at this point wasn’t a strategic mineral.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Germany wasn’t as poor in resources as the Nazis claimed.

        But it was lacking in oil and food stuffs. Interestingly, Hitler had great admiration for the Dutch as farmers.

        Importantly, as you mention, Germany did not have the overseas empire from which to draw wealth. The question of empire and economics was a big discussion from the late 1800s until the end of the colonial era.

        An interesting number which Kotkin mentions is that just before the German invasion, the Soviet Union had twice the number of tractors that the rest of Europe had, yet only a third of the number which existed in the USA.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I once read that one of the major concerns the Soviets had with the German attempt to seize the Caucasus oil was fuel for their agricultural machines, needed after the heavy loss of livestock during collectivization.

  9. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I have finally finished vol. 2 of Kotkin’s Stalin biography. Tome truly describes this book. With indexes and notes it is 1150 large pages with small print. And while it is not for everyone, for those interested in Stalin and his times, the book is a wonderful mine of information.

    As in the first volume, Kotkin lays out Stalin’s biography while also giving a good history of what was happening in the world during the same period.

    The two most important areas covered in the book would be The Terror and why/how Stalin was fooled by Hitler and the Nazi’s by their attack on the Soviet Union. The answers to both questions are interesting.

    Kotkin points out that Stalin was a malevolent character and certainly got rid of many who might be rivals, but such things were only secondary as to why he brought about the deaths of millions and particularly why he destroyed the leadership of both the Party and Military. Kotkin clearly states that the seed from which this cruelty and destruction sprang was the fact that Stalin was a Marxist-Leninist. He viewed the world through the eyes of a true believer and saw himself as acting as an agent of history. As I see it, Stalin was a precursor to Mao and the Cultural Revolution. Stalin was out to make the new Soviet Man and old people could not be changed, or would not change and became corrupt or soft with age. They might even disagree with him. We might say they gained wisdom through experience. This was damning in Stalin’s eyes.

    Such infected material was not suitable for New Soviet Man. So Stalin set about getting rid of not only those who might threaten his power, but hundreds of thousands of those he did not know who were experienced thus contaminated and unable to be used as the clay necessary to form the new Communist State. In his manevolence, Stalin got rid of experts across the board, from military to mining, to industry, etc. etc. And he replaced these with young people who had never known another system as adults. It wasn’t important whether or not they had expertise. What was important was that they had right thoughts. Stalin helped this thinking along with his “Short Course: The History of the All-Union Communist Party” which he helped write and edit for the party cadre.

    Here are some numbers on just how devastating the Terror was.

    Almost half the positions on the Central Committee’s highest officials had been appointed 1937-1939. That means about 15,000 were executed or imprisoned or, if lucky, just fired.

    Over 2/3rds of party secretaries of counties were appointed 1937-1939.

    293 of 333 regional party bosses had been appointed mainly during 1937-1939. Only six were older than 45, 91 percent were between 26-40.

    In the railways, 2,245 of 2,968 senior posts had been in their positions for 1 year as of Nov 1938.

    The average age in the NKVD upper ranks fell from about 43 to 35 between 1937 and 1939.

    85 percent of Red Army officers were under 35.

    Kotkin writes, “There people, inexperienced and young, were by and large graduates of technical education. A mass of graduates (even greater numbers would now follow) helped make possible the extermination of their predecessors.”

    That being said, the per capita grain production in 1940 was less than in 1914. But the Soviet Union did excel in one area of production, alcohol. In 1932, the USSR produced 96.5 million gallons of alcohol. By around 1938-39 that had increased to 250 million gallons. “By 1940, the Soviet Union had more shops selling alcohol that selling meat, vegetables, and fruit combined.”

    Again, Stalin was a devout Marxist. One of the main planks of “The Communist Manifesto” was the “equal liability of all to labour.” Our modern leftist seem to have forgotten this point. Not so Stalin. Absenteeism was rampant in the USSR. Some 10% (3 million) of the workforce would be investigated for absenteeism and job changing, in 1940. Nearly 500,000 were sentenced to prison for four months and the balance were sentenced to “forced labour” at their regular jobs, i.e. their salaries were docked.

    I think it is pretty clear that Stalin was just one, but a most fanatical one, of a long line of leftist which continues to our times. They believe human beings are infinitely malleable and such who are not are disposable. Any amount of damage they may do to society or individuals is of little import to these scoundrels who are always willing to cure society by putting way, breaking or killing off the undesirables.

  10. Timothy Lane says:

    Donald Kingsbury wrote an interesting novel called The Moon Goddess and the Sun which takes an interesting look at Russia. It includes a form of role-playing game in which the character is a Russian lordling reporting to his Mongol khan — the idea being to see how that links to later Russian character traits.

    And it has a game exported to Russia which involves playing the Soviet Union in the Stalin era. And if you get rid of Stalin soon enough, you can conquer Europe. That’s how much damage he did to a potential economic as well as military superpower.

  11. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    And if you get rid of Stalin soon enough, you can conquer Europe. That’s how much damage he did to a potential economic as well as military superpower.

    I agree and have long thought that, in many ways, we were luckythe Soviet Union and Red China were ruled by such megalomaniacs as Stalin and Mao. I am convinced Red China would be much further along economically had it not been ruled by the Red Emperor for over thirty years.

  12. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    The order for Barbarossa was given at 13:00hrs June 21, 1941. The code word from the German High Command to officers in the field was “Dortmund.” The attack would commence at 3:00hrs on June 22,1941.

    Kotkin gives a good description of what was happening at that time.

    “Hitler received Admiral Raeder, Generals Keitel and Jodl and Albert Speer, then having already written a few days before to Romania’s Antonescu, who was responsible for Germany’s critical southern flank in the invasion, he composed explanatory letters for Italy’s Mussolini, Finland’s Rytl and Hungary’s Horthy. Hitler’s adjutant, Nicolaus von Below, noticed that he was ‘increasingly nervous and restless. The Fuhrer talked a lot, walked up and down; he seemed impatient, waiting for something.’ In his residence in the Old Reich Chancellery, Hitler did not sleep for the second straight night. He took a meal in the dining room. He listened to Les Preludes, the symphonic poem by Franz Liszt. He phoned to summon Goebbels, who had just finished rewatching “Gone With the Wind.” The two walked up and down Hitler’s drawing room for quite a while, finalizing the timing and content of the Fuhrer’s war proclamation for the next day, about the ‘salvation of Europe’ and the intolerable danger of waiting any longer.”

    The invasion was the culmination of years of thought by Hitler. The actual campaign was the result of months of planning and positioning of men and materials. Note that on the night of the invasion, there was little for Hitler to do. Everything had been organized and put into motion. All he could do was wait.

    On the other side, only after months of warnings (On June 7th, the Brits had even given the Soviets the Luftwaffe’s Order of Battle which they got from the Polish Enigma machine) did Stalin finally give his commanders permission to mobilize for full-scale war with his Directive No. 1. Unfortunately, he gave this directive at 10:20 p.m. June 21, 1941. Timoshenko and Zhukov then left Stalin’s office to send out the order. It was too late.

    Even if every commander had received the order, it would have been impossible to mobilize an army of something like 4 million men spread across a line from Finland to the Black Sea.

    In the event, many commanders did not receive the order as German forces, in Soviet uniforms, had already crossed the border and cut communications lines. Since it was a Saturday night, many commanders were away from their troops or watching various performances which were being put on for the troops. The Soviet Army was caught in a horrible position.

    Those who think that Hitler did not understand what he was doing would be wrong. He had once told one of his private secretaries, “The beginning of every war is like opening the door into a dark room. One never knows what is hidden in the darkness.”

    The world was about to find out.

    Here is a clip of the music Hitler listened to on that fateful night.

    https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=les+preludes&docid=608026952181090059&mid=B3A1BE126186F3131E4BB3A1BE126186F3131E4B&view=detail&FORM=VIRE

    • Timothy Lane says:

      “When Barbarossa commences, the world will hold its breath and make no comment.” I don’t think that was actually correct (Churchill was quick, as usual, to comment on it), but it’s still a neat quote.

      I don’t think I ever recall reading anything about what Hitler did the night before the invasion. (Interesting phrasing. In a sense, this was the night before anti-Christmas. Even the timing was almost exactly 6 months off.) I’m surprised he didn’t tell the Finns at the same time as he told the Romanians. Hungary, by way of its annexation of the Carpatho-Ukraine and the Soviet annexation of eastern Galicia etc., also already bordered on the Soviet Union.

      Halder in his diary mentioned a Soviet unit asking, “We are under attack. What shall we do?” The response was, “You must be insane. And why is your message not in code?” This apparently happened with other German attacks — until the attack on Kursk, where the Soviets were ready and even pre-emptively bombarded the German assault positions.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Here are some revealing numbers regarding what Stalin did to the Red Army by his purges.

        Of about 144,000 officers in the Red Army,

        about 33,000 were removed from command, of these

        about 7,000 were executed.

        Of the 767 top officers, between 5-600 were executed or imprisoned.

        90% of highest ranking officers were executed or imprisoned. This included 3 of 5 marshals, 13 of 15 army commanders (equal to 3 and 4 star generals), 8 of 9 admirals, 50 of 57 army corps commanders, 154 of 186 division commanders, 16 of 16 army commissars and 25 of 28 army corps commissars.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          The survivors tended to be Stalin associates, many of them from his own service as a commissar, either in the defense of Tsaritsyn from Denikin (which bore resemblances to the defense of Stalingrad, as Tsaritsyn was renamed) or later in Budyenny’s First Cavalry Army. (The commander at the decisive Battle of Warsaw was Marshal Tukhachevsky, who blamed disobedience by Budyenny, perhaps unfairly.)

          Some purge victims, such as Rokossovsky, were rehabilitated after the invasion before Stalin got around to executing them.

        • Patrick Tarzwell says:

          So you are saying he was not completely brutal. In all of those numbers he only killed off all of the members of the Army Commissars, he only killed most of the others. Isn’t that kind of like the difference between a comedy and a tragedy from Shakespeare’s plays?

  13. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    One feeble claim leftists hold on to is that Communism is international and class based, that race has nothing to do with it. Thus all races are treated equally, its just the non-laboring classes which are eliminated.

    Why it is more moral to kill someone because they are middle-class than to kill them because they are a different race has never been properly explained to me. I guess I am just dull.

    But I think it might be enlightening to see that such Communist spoutings claiming their love for all races is lying blather. Here are a few examples of Stalin’s (aka no. 1) love for all races.

    During the purges the following happened;

    1. The entire population of ethnic Koreans in the Soviet Far East were deported to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan where they would dig holes for “housing.” This would come to 185,000 people.

    2. 144,000 Soviet Poles were arrested and 110,000 executed. That was nearly half of all non-Russians killed. There were a total of 636,000 ethnic Poles in the USSR.

    3. 55,000 ethnic Germans were arrested and 42,000 executed. German citizens were also rounded up. An interesting side-note is that Stalin killed more of the German Communist Party’s Politburo than Hitler did.

    Sticking with the quota system of murder, Lithuanians and Latvians were also rounded up simply for being one or the other. An example of how arbitrary the Purge could be is shown by a conversation between Yezhovand one of his deputies. When told by his deputy that there were about 5,000 Latvians in Smolensk and about 450-500 might be arrested, Yezhov countered with “Drivel, I’ll discuss it with the Central Committee and we’ll have to spill the blood of Latvians-arrest not fewer than 1,500-2,000. They are all nationalists.”

    Yes sir, Stalin and his Communists were truly a fun loving bunch.

    The only potentially positive thing which came out of Stalin’s Purges is that he got rid of a boat-load of other communists and leftist radicals.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      A late friend from Bloomington, Indiana (Aija Beldavs) once told how she saved her mother’s life — she was busy being born when the NKVD came for Aija’s father, thus enabling them to escape the roundup.

      Robert Conquest, in his book on the Terror Famine, noted that the Kazakhs were nearly exterminated. The word is related to the word for Cossack, another group victimized by Stalin. (The Germans had a Cossack cavalry corps during Wold War II. After the war, those who were unable to commit suicide were turned over to Stalin as part of Operation Keelhaul.)

      Stalin also purged other ethnic groups during World War II over their suspect loyalty, including the Crimea Tartars, the Kalmyks, and the Chechens.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        In the years 1937-38, the average number of arrests per day was 2,200. The average number of executions per day was 1,000.

        Of the members of the original Politburo, only Lenin and Stalin died natural deaths.

        Of the 38 highest officials in the Moscow Provincial Party Organization, 3 survived, 2 of whom were Kaganovich and Khurshchev.

        Kotkin writes that “Stalin deliberately murdered almost all his comrades in arms, including those he had been genuinely fond of, such as Bukharin.”

        Stalin wrote, “The essence is not in individuals but in ideas, in the theoretical tendency.”

        I find this a perfect summation of what leftists are about. “The theoretical tendency.”

        Somewhere, Kotkin calls Stalin a “manevolent pedagogue” and I think that is correct. Another professor who had an idea of how things should be regardless of experience. I suspect one of the big reasons for the Terror was that Stalin had some warped sense/understanding that those who did not have a socialist education were a danger to the Party and the future. Only those who had, from childhood, been educated under the Soviet System would be able to take the country forward. But there were too many old leaders and functionaries keeping the young cadre from moving up and perfecting the socialist state. These old people, even if they were often sincere, simply had to be pushed out of power. And of course, since they had not been brought up in the Soviet System, the loyalty of many was naturally in question. Stalin clearly thought, “better safe than sorry” and swept out the gold with the trash. Unavoidable but necessary.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          A malevolent pedagogue. Interesting thought. Bakunin, who could be much smarter than his anarchism would have led us to believe, referred to bolshevism as a pedantocracy.

  14. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    In the last pages of vol. II, Kotkin does a very nice summary of how the USSR and Stalin had come to the situation as it was on June 22, 1941. Here are a few quotes.

    “Stalin’s dealings with Hitler differed from British appeasement in that he tried significant deterrence as well as accommodation, and he took as much as he gave. But Stalin’s policy resembled British appeasement in that he was driven by a blinding desire to avoid war at all costs. …

    Stalin was a student of historical forces, and of people, and his rule enabled those who came from nothing to feel world historically significant. …

    Stalin insisted on calling fascism “reactionary,” a supposed way for the bourgeoisie to preserve the old world. But Hitler turned out to be someone neither Marx nor Lenin had prepared Stalin for.”

    I will return “Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941” to my local library and anxiously await Kotkin’s third volume of his Stalin biography.

  15. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    There are several good videos with professor Kotkin discussing his Stalin biolgraphies. A couple are interviews on “Uncommon Knowledge” the Hoover Institute’s vehicle. Another one is a talk he gives at the Wilson Institute (I blv that is the name)

    The guy looks and sounds like an educated Joe Pesci.

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