Saturday, May 22, 2010

Book Review: Court of the Red Tsar

Looking at my blog, I cannot believe I forgot to post a book review of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. I have posted on this blog how I believe Hitler was crazy but Stalin was just an asshole. This book drives that point home. Stalin was not just a mad dictator with blood lusts and dementia. He was not a technocrat who manipulated the Party to attain full control before Lenin and Trotsky could stop him. He was a human being like you or me, just a giant asshole of a human being. Montefiore's book illustrates his human side, his hypocrisy, his odd control over a country of 200 million, and his destruction of anyone who could remotely be a threat.

The book starts with the suicide of Stalin's wife. There were rumors of Stalin shooting her. The author does not support that view, and the suicide marks the turn of Stalin from a tough dictator to a horrible despot. In reality, especially after reading other books, the infrastructure of oppression, torture and terror were established; Stalin just turned up the heat. The author takes time to showcase not just the well known periods of terror and Stalin's brutal reign, but small anecdotes from interviews and private papers that show his twisted and sometimes human side. Odd stories illuminate his character like Stalin visiting an old comrade that he had imprisoned for years terribly drunk and saying to him while chuckling "remember that time you tried to kill me?" The old friend says "yes i went to prison for it', which is a lie since it was a false charge. Maybe the small story of a simple blue checkmark sparing one old friend out of 50 on a page meant for the camps shows how involved he was. The horribly cruelty he posessed when he remarked to his trusted aide for decades "how did such an ugly man like you get such a lovely wife" and then sending her to die in the Gulag afterwards. He was an evil asshole in charge of an evil empire. He held grudges forever, and had a crazy memory for any slight. He was not a robotic technocrat, which is how he was portrayed in another book I read about him. If you made the worst person you knew autocrat of the USA, they would act much like he did at the head of his secret police state. All his flaws, insecurities and mental problems became the pain of his citizens.

The book is a wonderful collection of research on newly revealed Soviet material and extensive interviews. The author focuses on Stalin and his court of losers who became leaders of that horrible police state. This is not a book about the plight of kulaks and peasants. Yes, the author discusses the horrible measures used against them, but this is not that type of history book, it is a biography. There is a discussion of the possibility that Stalin was a double or triple agent in the pre-Revolution days. This has been mentioned elsewhere, but there is a possibility that Stalin was an agent for the Tsars police in exchange for release while he was a young Bolshevik. In the early days of the Revolution, the Tsar's police HQ files were burned and destroyed ASAP. I wonder why... The author probes into the lives of those Stalin would show favor to, cultivate, push up the ladder, and then the turn, and how Stalin would send them off the to Gulag or worse, make them confess to insanely dumb political crimes in show trials. There is one who mentions how odd it is that so many people confess to trying to kill Stalin, yet no one ever does it. Hmmm.

If one were looking for a great biography to read or had an interest in the Communist experiment, this is definitely a great option to pick up. This is 700 pages in length, but it is a swift read. You really will not want to put it down. Many people find it so easy to denounce him and his actions, and I would take it a step further and denounce those who gave him cover. Yes, there was manipulation by the Soviet leadership and state run media to fool foreigners who visited, but things did not add up. There were active cover ups by foreigners like Walter Duranty, and there were political officials and foreign service members who would turn a blind eye to the horrors of Soviet Russia. Everything that has been said about Hitler and Nazi Germany, can be said about Stalin and Soviet Russia. Sadly, the pain of the Russian people is not given as much attention. Perhaps Stalin was able to get away with it and have so many people look the other way because he was just normal enough, just charismatic enough and just too small & fatherly to be considered a murdering maniac like Hitler.

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