Mankind's only alternative 21   SEP.   18  
Mankind's only alternative
Welcome
MAIN  RUSSIA  WAR NERD   [SIC!]  BAR-DAK  THE VAULT  ABOUT US  RSS
 
 
EXILE BLOGS

The Fall of The eXile For all those wondering what the "Save The eXile Fundrasier" banner is all about, here it is as simply as it can be phrased: The eXile is shutting down.
June 11, 2008 in eXile Blog

War Nerd: War of the Babies in Taki's Magazine The War Nerd talks about babies, the greatest weapon of the 20th century.
May 28, 2008 in eXile Blog

Kids, Meet Your President A website for Russian kids to learn all about President Medvedev's passion for school, sports and family.
May 22, 2008 in eXile Blog

Cellphone Democracy Cam If this girl was exposed to Jeffersonian democracy...
May 20, 2008 in Face Control

More Classy B&W Dyev Photos Yet another hot Russian babe imitating the Catpower look...
May 20, 2008 in Face Control

Proof That Genetic Memory Is Real! Sure, the Ottomans shut down the Istanbul Slavic slave markets centuries ago...
May 15, 2008 in Face Control

Russia's Orthodox Church Youth Outreach Program The priest is going, "Father Sansei is very impressed with grasshopper Sasha’s...
May 15, 2008 in Face Control

More Classy B&W Club Photos w/Russian Dyevs We took the Pepsi Challenge here...
May 15, 2008 in Face Control

Blogs RSS feed

Book Review June 3, 2005
 
An Ordinary Joe
By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
 
Stalin: A Biography - by Robert Service

"Stalin: A Biography"-by Robert Service

Harvard University Press 2004

The conceptual problem that ruins this book was blurted out by a visitor whom my wife and I were showing around Moscow a couple of years ago. After hearing a guide describing the slaughter of clerics in the 1930s, the visitor shook her head and said solemnly, "That Stalin has a lot to answer for."

Which is true enough. But he can't answer for it, any more than Attila could answer for the trail of burned villages he left behind him. We want the great killers to have the mark of the beast somewhere on their preserved pelts. And they don't. They aren't monsters. Nor are they "banal," in Arendt's idiotic, endlessly misapplied cliche. They're just prime specimens of their type -- smart, ruthless, tough guys. Attila was a great steppe chieftain, no more and no less. You could put him through a thousand CAT scans, strap him down on a shrink's couch for a month, and learn nothing -- because there's nothing to learn. All that can be said of him is what Sam Elliot says of the Dude: "He's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there."

And Stalin was, self-evidently, the man for his. Service's biography collapses into the Attila paradox: writing the biography of a man who wasn't nearly big enough for the big, smoking crater he left in history.

Service seems to have a dim, intermittent sense of his problem. He chafes now and then against a Stalin-centric view of Soviet history, reminding the reader that Stalin's worldview was not idiosyncratic -- it was, in fact, the standard, shared perspective of most high-ranking Bolsheviks. Therefore Stalin's character can't explain the course of Soviet history.

But in making this point Service is essentially objecting to his own genre, the Great Man's Biography. His book is so focused intensely on Stalin that its very shape reinforces the centrality of the man himself, no matter how many times he tells you to look away from the little man with the big mustache to the bigger picture.

The conventional view is that Stalin's rise was bad luck; that if Trotskii or Bukharin had won the struggle for power after Lenin's death, the GULAG would have been smaller and cozier, at least. It's a dubious notion for all kinds of reasons. The most fundamental is one of those valid tautologies: Stalin was clearly the man most suited to win because he won. If he was also the most cruel and suspicious of the contenders, then those traits were obviously crucial to winning.

It wasn't an unlucky accident that Stalin won, and it's unlikely he was very different from the other contenders, any more than Attila was different from other Steppe chieftains. The men at the top of any hierarchy, from Bishops to real-estate developers, are pretty much alike. In fact, as Service notes, Stalin was the moderate, "democratic" voice in many crucial disputes with Trotskii. Trotskii wanted the workers' unions abolished, since the state now served their members' interests. Stalin did his best to preserve them.

Any genuinely thoughtful or compassionate Bolsheviks, like Bogdanov, had been purged or quit long before the succession struggle began. So doing psychobiography of the contenders is roughly like psychoanalyzing the first hyena to reach the wildebeest's carcasse. That's why so much of Service's admirable research into Stalin's obscure youth seems pointless. By uncovering the details of Stalin's childhood in Gori and adolescence in Tbilisi, he aims to prove that Stalin was "damaged" by his father's brutality, failure and descent into alcoholism. As if to signal his own uneasiness with this overreading of the evidence, Service usually couches it in unusually awkward, negative clauses: "That Joseph developed a gross personality disorder can hardly be denied..."


SHARE:  Del.icio.us  Digg  My Web  Facebook  Reddit

Browse author
dolan@exile.ru
 
 
FROM THE VAULT
Russia
The Myth of the Democratic Model :
Art Director
Field Guide To Moscow: Pafus Maximus :

Living There :

The Beauty of Botched Plastic Surgery :
 

 
 
 
LATEST ARTICLES

Save The eXile: The War Nerd Calls Mayday
Editorial
The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

Scanning Moscow’s Traffic Cops
Automotive Section
We’re happy to introduce a new column in which we publish Moscow’s raw radio communications, courtesy of a Russian amateur radio enthusiast. This issue, eXile readers are given a peek into the secret conversations of Moscow’s traffic police, the notorious "GAIshniki."

Eleven Years of Threats: The eXile's Incredible Journey
Feature Story By The eXile
Good Night, and Bad Luck: In a nation terrorized by its own government, one newspaper dared to fart in its face. Get out your hankies, cuz we’re taking a look back at the impossible crises we overcame.

Your Letters
[SIC!]
Russia's freedom-loving free market martyr Mikhail Khodorkovsky answers some of this week's letters, and he's got nothing but praise for President Medvedev.

Clubbing Adventures Through Time
Club Review By Dmitriy Babooshka
eXile club reviewer Babooshka takes a trip through time with the ghost of Moscow clubbing past, present and future, and true to form, gets laid in the process.

The Fortnight Spin
Bardak Calendar By Jared Lindquist
Jared comes out with yet another roundup of upcoming bardak sessions.

Your Letters
[SIC!]
Richard Gere tackles this week's letters. Now reformed, he fights for gerbil rights all around the world.

13 Toxic Talents: Hollywood’s Worst Polluters
America By Eileen Jones
Everybody complains about celebrities, but nobody does anything about them. People, it’s time to stop fretting about whether we’re a celebrity-obsessed culture—we are, we have been, we’re going to be—and instead take practical steps to clean up the celebrity-obsessed culture we’ve got...

 
 
 

    MAIN    |    RUSSIA    |    WAR NERD     |    [SIC!]    |    BAR-DAK    |    THE VAULT    |    ABOUT US    |    RSS

© "the eXile". Tel.: +7 (495) 623-3565, fax: +7 (495) 623-5442
E-mail: office@exile.ru