Stalin, Vol II: Waiting for Hitler, 1928–1941 by Stephen Kotkin - review by Donald Rayfield

Donald Rayfield

A Dictator’s Progress

Stalin, Vol II: Waiting for Hitler, 1928–1941


Allen Lane 1,154pp £35 order from our bookshop

In the thousand or so pages Stephen Kotkin devotes to the central period of Stalin’s career, when he destroyed Soviet society and then tried to resurrect it in his own image, when he rid himself of enemies, real or imaginary, and prepared (or failed to prepare) for an apocalyptic war, the reader will find everything that is covered in two to three hundred pages in most of the recent biographies of Stalin by Russian, British and American scholars. In the last fifteen years, Russian archives have become harder to access and have acquired relatively little that is new, so the size of this volume is only partly due to new research: Kotkin has looked at fifty-five microfilms of declassified documents first used by Dmitri Volkogonov over twenty years ago but neglected by subsequent researchers for material on Stalin’s relationship with the armed forces and security services; he has diligently used peripheral sources overlooked by others, such as OGPU records for Khabarovsk in Russia’s far east. Mostly, however, the size of this second volume of his biography of Stalin, as with the first instalment, is due to Kotkin’s one-stop-shop approach, surveying and summarising all world history in the course of his narrative. 

In this volume, unlike the last, Stalin is ever-present and every known detail, from his most trivial interactions with Soviet citizens to his showdowns with most of the surviving Leninists, is dealt with. There are several lengthy digressions, which often show Kotkin at his best. They include a detailed look

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