Stalin: Passage to Revolution by Ronald Grigor Suny - review by Geoffrey Roberts

Geoffrey Roberts

A Subversive, Not a Psychopath

Stalin: Passage to Revolution


Princeton University Press 857pp £30

Joseph Stalin kept no diary, wrote no memoirs and evinced little interest in his personal background. He had nothing but disdain for would-be hagiographers among his acolytes. When Mikhail Bulgakov wrote a play about Stalin’s youth, he vetoed its production, saying that ‘all young people are alike, why write a play about the young Stalin?’

Only grudgingly did Stalin accept the utility of a biography that would feed his personality cult. When the first edition of the official Short Biography was published in 1939, he affected to have no time to read it. Although very involved in the preparation of the postwar edition, he complained of it, ‘What should the reader do after reading this biography? Get down on their knees and pray to me?’

Stalin had a particular aversion to fantastical stories about his childhood, urging the burning of a book aimed at young people because it inculcated into the consciousness of Soviet children ‘a cult of personalities, great leaders and infallible heroes’. Another bugbear was inaccurate, laudatory accounts of his early political activities

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