Uncommon Knowledge: Why Does Joseph Stalin Matter?

 

“Joseph Stalin, Soviet dictator, creator of great power, and destroyer of tens of millions of lives …” Thus begins part one of this episode of Uncommon Knowledge, which dives into the biography of Joseph Stalin. This episode’s guest, Stephen Kotkin, author of Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941, examines the political career of Joseph Stalin in the years leading up to World War II, his domination over the Soviet Union, and the terror he inspired by the Great Purge from 1936–38.

“Why does Joseph Stalin matter?” is a key question for Kotkin, as he explains the history of the Soviet Union and Stalin’s enduring impact on his country and the world. Kotkin argues that Stalin is the “gold standard for dictatorships” in regard to the amount of power he managed to obtain and wield throughout his lifetime. Stalin stands out because not only was he able to build a massive amount of military power, he managed to stay in power for three decades, much longer than any comparable dictator.

Recorded on January 25, 2018.

There are 7 comments.

  1. Member

    Thank you for a wonderful interview. I have read Mr. Conquest’s books, and now I will purchase Stephen Kotkin’s books as well. Books like this can provide a great education if one is not getting that education in a classroom. I’ll be looking forward to the second episode of this interview.

    • #1
    • June 7, 2018 at 3:48 pm
    • Like
  2. Member

    Great interview. I loved how Kotkin would go out on a limb, I would then be saying “but what about . . .” and then he would fill in the material. Looking forward to Part 2. Will be interested if he mentions class backgrounds of those who were caught up in the Great Terror and whether he will mention how and why Stalin shifted gears in 1938 and put the blame on the NKVD.

    • #2
    • June 7, 2018 at 4:36 pm
    • Like
  3. Member

    You point to the importance Stalin placed on the confessions. At a certain point, one would have to call Stalin an incompetent leader. How could he trust all these people who turned out to be traitors (realizing that most of the crimes were imaginary). Eventually people were cowed and the illogic of Stalin’s accusations against people was irrelevant.

    The wonder is that none of Stalin’s guards killed him. I realize that his NKVD chiefs were implicated in the crimes such that they were unlikely to survive Stalin (see what happened to Beria). But it’s still surprising that no one around him had enough of a grudge to take him out. I guess you can always hope that you’ll be the exception who survives.

    • #3
    • June 7, 2018 at 9:41 pm
    • Like
  4. Member

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    You point to the importance Stalin placed on the confessions. At a certain point, one would have to call Stalin an incompetent leader. How could he trust all these people who turned out to be traitors (realizing that most of the crimes were imaginary). Eventually people were cowed and the illogic of Stalin’s accusations against people was irrelevant.

    The wonder is that none of Stalin’s guards killed him. I realize that his NKVD chiefs were implicated in the crimes such that they were unlikely to survive Stalin (see what happened to Beria). But it’s still surprising that no one around him had enough of a grudge to take him out. I guess you can always hope that you’ll be the exception who survives.

    You don’t understand the mentality and it is important to understand the mentality if you want to understand these people.

    You can watch the 2-part interview Peter Robinson does on volume 1 of the Stalin biography with Stephen Kotkin here 

    Part 1

    Part 2

    He very much gets to the belief system of these old communists. And Stalin was an old communist as well. Kotkin deals with Lenin’s health but the two relevant facts he doesn’t mention is that Lenin’s father had the same health problems at the same age and died of a stroke and Lenin was carrying around a bullet from an assassination attempt that almost was successful.

    If you want more and a different angle from the standpoint of the children of those who were repressed, read Orlando Figes the Whisperers 

    Then there is an anatomy of the trials that were held against the NKVD officers who were carrying out the Great Terror (I hate the name because in many ways it’s untrue, i.e., the terror was pretty unrelenting from 1929 until 1953. There was a blip in 1936-1938 and it swept up party people, but for ordinary people it was not worse a terror than other times) Gulag Boss (written by Fyodor Vasilevich Mochulsky) and Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial by Lynn Viola. Her books are great!

    And from the day-to-day of the Soviet elite during the period there is the House on the Embankment, where the top party people had their apartments. (The book is called The House of Government by Yuri Slezkine, but the building itself was known as the House on the Embankment and overlooked the Kremlin.)

    • #4
    • June 8, 2018 at 5:28 am
    • Like
  5. Member

    @peterrobinson Thanks for a great interview! If I could be so bold, any idea when we can expect part two?

    • #5
    • June 23, 2018 at 10:11 pm
    • Like
  6. Admin

    TRibbey (View Comment):

    @peterrobinson Thanks for a great interview! If I could be so bold, any idea when we can expect part two?

    This week. 

    • #6
    • June 24, 2018 at 5:38 am
    • 1 like
  7. Member

    Blue Yeti (View Comment):

    TRibbey (View Comment):

    @peterrobinson Thanks for a great interview! If I could be so bold, any idea when we can expect part two?

    This week.

    @blueyeti Awesome, thank you!

    • #7
    • June 24, 2018 at 8:37 am
    • Like