Cold Peace: Stalin and the Soviet Ruling Circle, 1945-1953

Cold Peace: Stalin and the Soviet Ruling Circle, 1945-1953

Cold Peace: Stalin and the Soviet Ruling Circle, 1945-1953

Cold Peace: Stalin and the Soviet Ruling Circle, 1945-1953

Synopsis

Following his country's victory over Nazi Germany, Joseph Stalin was widely hailed as a great wartime leader and international statesman. Unchallenged on the domestic front, he headed one of the most powerful nations in the world. Yet, in the period from the end of World War II until his death, Stalin remained a man possessed by his fears. In order to reinforce his despotic rule in the face of old age and uncertain health, he habitually humiliated and terrorized members of his inner circle. He had their telephones bugged and even forced his deputy, Viacheslav Molotov, to betray his own spouse as a token of his allegiance. Often dismissed as paranoid and irrational, Stalin's behavior followed a clear political logic, contend Yoram Gorlizki and Oleg Khlevniuk. Stalin's consistent and overriding goal after the war was to consolidate the Soviet Union's status as a superpower and, in the face of growing decrepitude, to maintain his own hold as leader of that power. To that end, he fashioned a system of leadership that was at once patrimonial-repressive and quite modern. While maintaining informal relations based on personal loyalty at the apex of the system, in the postwar period Stalin also vested authority in committees, elevated younger specialists, and initiated key institutional innovations with lasting consequences. Close scrutiny of Stalin's relationships with his most intimate colleagues also shows how, in the teeth of periodic persecution, Stalin's deputies cultivated informal norms and mutual understandings which provided the foundations for collective rule after his death. Based on newly released archival documents, including personal correspondence, drafts of Central Committee paperwork, new memoirs, and interviews with former functionaries and the families of Politburo members, this book will appeal to all those interested in Soviet history, political history, and the lives of dictators.

Excerpt

This is a book about Stalin's relationship with his entourage in the years after World War II. It tells the story of an aging and distrustful despot who habitually picked on and humiliated his companions. Sparing no one, Stalin aimed to infect the ruling circle with the suspicions and insecurities that characterized his own mental world. Such actions seem to confirm a widespread perception of Stalin in these years as a vain, capricious, and highly unstable individual, who was bent on petty revenge and short-term personal domination. Against such a view, this book argues that Stalin's behavior after the war followed a clear political logic. This was, in part, the logic of a dictator seeking to preserve his power in conditions of old age and chronic ill health. It was also, however, the logic of a leader determined to consolidate his position as head of a separate, respected, and powerful socialist system. In order to press home his country's claims as a global power and to put it on a level economic and military footing with the West, Stalin vested authority in committees, elevated younger specialists, and initiated key institutional innovations. No matter how perverse they may have appeared, Stalin's actions did not contradict his wider political objectives. For all their high drama, Stalin's relations with his companions followed a political and administrative logic. The purpose of this book is to unravel that logic.

Stalin's relations with his companions and the evolution of high-level decision making in the postwar period must be set against the backdrop of wider domestic and international events. The devastation of World War II necessitated a massive recovery program involving the rebuilding of plant and housing stock and the demobilization and migration of millions of soldiers and civilians. It was in this context that over the winter of 1946–1947 the Soviet Union experienced the worst natural famine in over . . .

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