Stalin Showed that a Single Individual’s Decisions Can Matter

(p. C29) . . . , [Stephen Kotkin] is not shy about assailing what he regards as false interpretations by other historians. His Stalin is not a disciple who deviates from Lenin; he is Lenin’s true disciple, in pitiless class warfare, in the inability to compromise, and, above all, in unshakable ideological conviction.
. . .
There is little equivocation in Mr. Kotkin’s judgments. Scholars who argue collectivization was necessary to force Russian peasants into a modern state are “dead wrong.” The conclusion by the British historian E. H. Carr that Stalin was a product of circumstances, and not the other way around, is “utterly, eternally wrong.” On the contrary, it is one of Mr. Kotkin’s major theses that Stalin “reveals how, on extremely rare occasions, a single individual’s decisions can radically transform an entire country’s political and socioeconomic structures, with global repercussions.” Or, as he puts it in a more graphic passage: “The Bolshevik putsch could have been prevented by a pair of bullets” — one for Lenin and one for Stalin.
. . .
This reader, for one, still hopes for more evidence that Stalin was indeed singular, a historical malignancy, and not a product of circumstances of the kind that might already be shaping the next chapter of Russian history. And that only whets the appetite for the next installment, in which Stalin decides to starve Russia almost to death to bring peasants under state control. That, Mr. Kotkin has already declared, was an assault on the peasantry for which there was no political or social logic, and that only Stalin could have done. It is a testament to Mr. Kotkin’s skill that even after almost a thousand pages, one wants more.

For the full review, see:
SERGE SCHMEMANN. “From Czarist Rubble, a Russian Autocrat Rises.” The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 8, 2015): C29.
(Note: ellipses, and book author’s name in brackets, added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 8, 2015.)

The book under review is:
Kotkin, Stephen. Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928. New York: Penguin Press, 2014.

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