Book: Stalin. The Court of the Red Tsar
Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore
Publisher: Phoenix Books
Cost: Shs 26,000
Volume: 720 pages
Reviewer: Martyn Drakard
Available at Aristoc
For years it has been politically incorrect to expose the
enormous evil committed under Stalin’s regime. The
arch-villains have always been Hitler and the Nazis.
Simon Montefiore’s book sets the record straight,
relying on newly-opened archives.
Josef Stalin, the son of a violent, drunken cobbler, who
was expelled from the seminary and became a professional
revolutionary, is one of the most colourful, complex and
cruel leaders of the 20th century.
Self-controlled and reckless, Stalin was intensely sensitive,
talented, deeply ambitious, restless and lonely yet sociable
–the soul of the party- in need of privacy, an avowed
atheist who respected what he’d learnt in the seminary,
and who came to believe that the solution to every human
problem was death,- through accident, poisoning, widespread
famine, or a bullet in the back of the head. A convinced
Marxist fanatic from youth, his mission was quasi-Messianic.
A self-taught intellectual who loved and discussed classical
literature –the best read Russian leader from Catherine
the Great to Putin- he reduced complex problems to lucid
simplicity. He was a ‘people person”, capable
of profound extremes of feeling; he could be magnificently
generous and entrancingly charming. At ease with the common
people and children, he yearned to be liked. But when he
thought he’d been betrayed he would never forget,
and eventually took revenge.
Montefiore plots the development of Stalin and his Bolshevik
idealists from their almost family intimacy in the early
1920s, when naively they believed they could quickly implement
Lenin’s message of the transition of the “dictatorship
of the proletariat” to the ultimate achievement of
the Socialist state, right through to Stalin’s lonely,
Crucial stages were the suicide of his wife, Nadya; the
forcible delivery of grain from private farmers –kulaks-
to fund an industrial and military expansion to rival the
west, and the subsequent deportation and liquidation of
whole classes of people.
The resultant famine, from 1931-1933, saw millions more
die from starvation; by then the peasants had killed off
their cattle and horses to try to make a point to the rulers.
Opposition was dealt with in only one way. The blood-bath
had begun. All “enemies” and those impossible
to educate in socialism were to be slaughtered to “accelerate
the erasing of class barriers” and introduce “paradise
for the masses”. Quotas of executions had to be met
in each province. Over-zealous officials made sure they
were doubled! With the able assistance of a cynical, thoroughly
dissolute, but tireless worker, Laurent Beria, his security
chief, expectations were exceeded. And a new era of intrigue,
suspicions and ruthlessness began.
The last part deals with the super-power betrayal at Yalta
when much of east, central and south-east Europe was given
over to Soviet rule; and the succession of Khrushchev, whose
hands were already bloodied under Stalin.
The portrait of Stalin is masterly, while the description
of his debauched court is occasionally overdone. Still,
an essential book to understand how a tyrannical dictatorship,
headed by a complex character, can bring untold misery to