T his 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