вторник, 5 марта 2019 г.

Stalin by Stephen Kotkin - Stalin by Oleg Khlevniuk

New ! 04/03/2019

Josef Stalin exercised supreme power in the Soviet Union from 1929 until his death in 1953. During that quarter-century, by Oleg Khlevniuk’s estimate, he caused the imprisonment and execution of no fewer than a million Soviet citizens per year. Millions more were victims of famine directly resulting from Stalin's policies. What drove him toward such ruthlessness? This essential biography, by the author most deeply familiar with the vast archives of the Soviet era, offers an unprecedented, fine-grained portrait of Stalin the man and dictator. Without mythologizing Stalin as either benevolent or an evil genius, Khlevniuk resolves numerous controversies about specific events in the dictator’s life while assembling many hundreds of previously unknown letters, memos, reports, and diaries into a comprehensive, compelling narrative of a life that altered the course of world history.

In brief, revealing prologues to each chapter, Khlevniuk takes his reader into Stalin’s favorite dacha, where the innermost circle of Soviet leadership gathered as their vozhd lay dying. Chronological chapters then illuminate major themes: Stalin’s childhood, his involvement in the Revolution and the early Bolshevik government under Lenin, his assumption of undivided power and mandate for industrialization and collectivization, the Terror, World War II, and the postwar period. At the book’s conclusion, the author presents a cogent warning against nostalgia for the Stalinist era
For more than two decades, I have been studying this man and the causes and logic underlying his actions, which upended or utterly destroyed millions upon millions of lives. This work has been stressful and emotionally draining, but it is my vocation. Lately, the paradoxical turns of recent Russian history, the large-scale poisoning of minds with myths of an “alternative” Stalin—one whose effective stewardship is held up as a model worthy of emulation—have given my research more than scholarly relevance.
The literature on Stalin and his era is impossibly vast. Even scholars of Stalinism freely admit to not having seen the half of it. Within this vastness, serious, meticulously documented research coexists with slapdash pen-pushing carelessly cobbled together out of anecdotes, rumors, and fabrications. The two camps—historical scholarship and lowbrow (usually pro-Stalin) ramblings—rarely cross paths and have long since given up the idea of reconciling.
Scholarly biographies of Stalin have gone through the same stages as the historiography of the Soviet period overall. I have a high regard for some classics written at a time when Soviet archives were completely inaccessible. Two authors who stand out are Adam Ulam and Robert Tucker.1 Back in the 1970s, historians of the Stalin period resembled specialists in antiquity: they tended to know the few available documents and memoirs inside out and had little ability to expand their number. This dearth of documentation encouraged the painstaking study of these sources and elegant and thoughtful extrapolation. The situation was bound to change after the archival floodgates were opened in the early 1990s, and it took us some time to get our heads above water. The eventual appearance of new works informed by archival materials—including scholarly biographies of Stalin, as well as other investigations of the man and the political system—signal that historians have begun to cope with the inundation.2
The opening of the archives gave rise to a new genre of Stalin biography that one might call “the archival exposé.” It’s trailblazers include Dmitri Volkogonov, a former party loyalist who became a driving force for perestroika, and the Russian playwright Edvard Radzinsky. This genre favors personal accounts over “dry” statistics or administrative paper trails and page-turning narratives over painstaking research and historical contextualization. For many readers, the archival exposé has played an important role in shaping Stalin’s image.
One of the most successful Western authors working to feed appetites for newly available details about the Stalin era is Simon Sebag Montefiore. A notable feature of his method is the citation of a broad spectrum of sources, not only from memoirs and interviews, but also from the archives. Montefiore struck a sort of middle ground, striving to instill some scholarly discipline into the “archival exposés” genre while producing readable history capable of attracting a wider audience than more scholarly texts.3
In today’s Russia, on the other hand, Stalin’s image is primarily being shaped by pseudo-scholarly apologias. An extremely diverse array of authors, all with their own motivations, contributes to Stalinist mythology. Most of these authors blend a lack of the most elementary knowledge with a willingness to make bold assertions. Their apologias typically cite fabricated sources or shamelessly misrepresent real ones. The impact of this powerful ideological assault on readers’ minds is intensified by the circumstances of Russian life, which include rampant corruption and outrageous social iniquities. When they reject the present, people are more likely to idealize the past.
Apologists for Stalin no longer try, as they once did, to deny the crimes of his regime. Instead they resort to more subtle rewritings of history. In their version of events, lower-level officials, such as secret police chiefs and the secretaries of regional party committees, supposedly hiding their actions from Stalin, instigated mass repression. The most cynical Stalinists take a different tack, claiming that the Terror was just and that the millions destroyed on Stalin’s orders really were “enemies of the people.”
Many Russian Stalinists find it convenient to draw on theories developed by various Western historians: that the Terror developed spontaneously, that Stalin was not deeply involved in it, and that he was a far more “ordinary” political leader than usually thought. It is certainly not my intention to accuse my Western colleagues of fomenting re-Stalinization. They bear no more responsibility for Russia’s contemporary political battles than Marx did for the Bolshevik revolution. Still, we should be aware that our words can have bizarre reverberations.
One variety of apologia widely cultivated in Russia’s intellectual and political soil is the relatively moderate idea of “modernizing Stalinism.” While this ideology formally acknowledges the Terror’s countless victims and the high price paid for the “great leap” strategy, it sees Stalinism as an organic and unavoidable means of addressing the need to modernize and prepare for war. Within these postulates we can detect prejudices deeply rooted in the Russian social consciousness: that the interests of the state take absolute priority, that the individual is insignificant, that the flow of history is governed by higher-order laws. According to this paradigm, Stalin was the expression of an objective historical need. His methods were regrettable but necessary and effective. Furthermore, it is inevitable that the flywheel of history will become spattered with blood.
It would be wrong to deny that the “long waves” of Russian history helped shape the path toward Bolshevism and Stalinism. A strong state with authoritarian traditions, feeble private property and civil society institutions, and the colossal reach of a colonizing power that enabled, among other things, the creation of the Gulag Archipelago, all paved the way toward the Stalinist system. But elevating these factors to some sort of “Russian destiny” leads to the dead-end theory of “inevitable Stalinism.” Adherents of this theory have little interest in specific facts and prefer to recycle Stalinist interpretations of Soviet history, sometimes with a fresh twist, more often without. They adamantly dismiss questions about the price paid for transformations and military victories, alternative development paths, and the role of the dictator. They close their eyes to the fact that Stalin himself, when he brought matters to a state of crisis and ruin, was occasionally forced to soften his policies, thereby demonstrating that even within the framework of Stalinism there were multiple paths toward industrialization. They do not even try to explain how the executions of seven hundred thousand people in 1937–1938 alone, ordered by Stalin, served the goals of modernization. Overall, the theory of modernizing Stalinism makes no serious attempt to ascertain how effective the Stalinist system was or to evaluate Stalin’s own role in the development of the USSR from the 1920s to the early 1950s.
Reducing history to historical imperative is the least creative way of presenting the past. Historians are compelled to deal not with simple schemes and political conjecture but with concrete facts. Working with documents, they cannot avoid noticing the intricate dance between objective factors and personalities or between pattern and random occurrence. In a dictatorship, the role of the dictator’s personal predilections, prejudices, and obsessions is greatly magnified. What better medium than biography to unravel this complex tangle of problems?
Biography is a unique genre of research that can, at one extreme, be reduced to the minutia of historical context or, at the other, be bloated with novelistic details of human behavior. Context without soul and soul without context—these are the main pitfalls confronting the biographer. Navigating them was a challenge for me. In the end, I understood that it was simply not possible to squeeze into this book even a passing reference to every significant episode or aspect of the Stalin period. I was compelled to choose which phenomena and tendencies most deserved inclusion, selecting the facts and events that seemed to characterize Stalin, his time, and the system that bears his name with the greatest clarity and vividness. This selectivity was all the more necessary given the appearance, over the past twenty years, of so many new sources shedding light on Stalin and his period. These sources should be briefly identified.
First, because of the opening of the state archives after the collapse of the Soviet Union, historians now may consult original firsthand documents, whereas in the past they were forced to whittle layers of distortion from official publications. A good example is the works and speeches of Stalin himself. Most were published during the leader’s lifetime, but we now have the ability to work with the originals and compare what was actually said with edited versions. Furthermore, the body of Stalin’s published speeches can now be supplemented with those that did not appear in print. Among the most important documents are papers generated by governmental bodies that Stalin himself chaired, such as the protocols and stenographic records of Politburo meetings and wartime State Defense Committee decrees. These dry bureaucratic documents are tremendously important in understanding Stalin’s personality and life. They took up a huge portion of the dictator’s time and were the tools by which he exercised power. Many resolutions bear traces of his heavy editorial hand.
By themselves, of course, the orders issued under Stalin paint only a partial picture. Why were they adopted? What were the logic and motives behind his directives? Much more revealing is Stalin’s intermittent correspondence with his Politburo colleagues, conducted primarily when he was away on vacation and requiring letters to steer the actions of his fellow leaders back in Moscow. This correspondence was most prolific in the 1920s and the first half of the 1930s, before Russia had any reliable telephone service. It is a marvelous example of how sluggish technological progress can be a historian’s friend. After the war, telephone communication became more reliable, and Stalin, now securely at the pinnacle of power, felt less need for detailed correspondence with subordinates. Curt directives sufficed. Despite their fragmentary nature, Stalin’s letters constitute an important documentary whole and make for fascinating reading. They represent the most candid testaments he has left to posterity.4
Historians have been able to glean a great deal of important information from the logs of visitors to Stalin’s Kremlin office.5 These logs recorded visitors’ names and the times they entered and left the office and thus shed light on how Stalin conducted business. Comparing them with other sources (such as memoirs or the protocols of Politburo meetings) offers important clues to the circumstances surrounding the adoption of various resolutions. Still, like his correspondence, these logs reflect only a portion of Stalin’s activity. In addition to his Kremlin office, he occasionally worked in his office at Central Committee headquarters on Staraia Square and received visitors in his Kremlin apartment, as well as at his numerous dachas outside Moscow and in the south. Although we know that the service responsible for protecting Soviet leaders kept records of visits to Stalin’s Kremlin apartment, researchers have yet to be given access to this archive.6 There appears to be no sign of analogous records for the Central Committee office or the dachas.
The visitor logs were kept by Stalin’s secretariat and security team. It seems likely that these services also kept, for their own purposes, records of Stalin’s movements, as well as accounts by security personnel of what happened during their shifts. It goes without saying that these materials would be of tremendous value to Stalin’s biographers. At this point, there is no solid evidence that such records exist.
Stalin’s correspondence and the log of visitors to his Kremlin office are both part of his personal archive, which was compiled under his direct supervision and apparently with an eye toward history. Many documents in this collection feature the notations “my archive” or “personal archive.” An important addition to the personal archive is an assortment of materials about Stalin gathered from various repositories. This assortment, which includes books from Stalin’s library with notations by him, was concentrated in the Central Party Archive. Today both sets of materials have been brought together in the Stalin Collection of the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History (RGASPI, successor to the Central Party Archive, which comprises the bulk of its holdings),7 a key source of knowledge about Stalin now used extensively by historians.
Yet despite its importance, the Stalin Collection has serious deficiencies. It offers only limited insights into Stalin’s modi vivendi and operandi. Its primary shortcoming is the absence of much of the vast array of papers that made their way to Stalin’s desk on a daily basis. These include thousands upon thousands of letters, statistical compilations, diplomatic dispatches, and reports and memoranda from the various branches of state security. The lack of access to these documents hinders historians in their effort to develop a thorough understanding of how well informed Stalin was, what he knew about a given question, and thus the logic of his actions. The documents that would enable such insights have not been lost. They reside in the Presidential Archive of the Russian Federation (APRF, the former Politburo Archive), organized into “thematic” folders.8 While working on this book, I was able to examine a few of them. For the time being, the Presidential Archive does not accommodate systematic scholarly study. However, the very fact that these folders exist encourages hope. The history of Russia suggests that sooner or later the archive will open.
The most tempting sources for biographers are always diaries and memoirs. These contain the sorts of three-dimensional treatments of people and events that are hard to extract from official paperwork. Such firsthand accounts permit biographers to fill their works with attention-grabbing details, but historians are well aware of these sources’ liabilities. Memoirists, even candid ones, are rarely disinterested, and they often muddle events and dates or simply lie. These perils are compounded in memoirs from the Soviet era. As far as we know, no member of Stalin’s inner circle kept a diary, depriving us of the kind of detailed source that Goebbels’s famous diaries provided to Hitler’s biographers. The situation with memoirs is not much better. Only two people close to Stalin left detailed reminiscences: Nikita Khrushchev and Anastas Mikoyan.9 While these memoirs represent major contributions, both men were silent on important topics (such as their participation in the mass repression), and there was much that they simply did not know. Within Stalin’s inner circle there was a strict rule: each man was privy only to information that he needed for the effective fulfillment of his duties. In the case of Mikoyan, some elements of his memoirs were distorted by his son, who prepared the manuscript for publication. He arbitrarily and without the customary disclosures simply inserted his own additions and revisions into the dictated text, supposedly based on subsequent accounts shared by his father.10
We also have memoirs by Soviet and foreign officials and other prominent figures who had some—usually extremely limited—interaction with Stalin. These works make a minor contribution to what we know about his life. In additional, many memoirs (for example by Red Army marshals) were published during the Soviet era and were therefore subjected to censorship (including self-censorship). After the fall of the USSR, many other people whose paths had crossed with Stalin’s spoke up. Freedom sparked a flood of memoirs from the children and relatives of Stalin-era leaders.11 This “children’s literature,” as the Russian historian Elena Zubkova so aptly labeled the genre, was mainly motivated by commerce and a passion for self-justification, and the results are indeed juvenile.12 Many relatives of Stalin and his comrades concocted fairy tales and cock-and-bull stories, blending personal impressions with fantasy. Naive pronouncements on politics serve to show that these offspring had only the faintest idea of what their fathers were up to. Third-hand information, rumors, and gossip abound. The primary factor detracting from the potential value of this literature is that Stalin’s underlings were obsessed with maintaining strict secrecy. They lived with unrelenting secret police surveillance and the constant fear of being provoked into a politically fatal slip of the tongue. It is difficult to imagine what could have compelled them to be candid within their own families. The price was too high.
In this book I have been restrained in my use of memoirs, even though many contain fascinating descriptions and anecdotes readers would certainly find of interest. Guided by the most basic rules of source verification, I have made every effort to compare memoir accounts with other materials, archival materials first and foremost. On one hand, memoirs that generally held up to scrutiny were given greater credence. On the other hand, numerous errors and flagrant fabrications were treated as clear signs of unreliability, even if some claims could not be proved false through other sources. Certain memoirs were put on my personal blacklist. While I do not condemn others for citing these works, I will never do so.
When all is said and done, however, a historian endeavoring to write a biography of Stalin is in a relatively good position. The abundance of archival documents and evidence offers opportunities for prolonged, intensive, and (one can hope) fruitful work. Significant lacunae and the inaccessibility of many materials are frustrating impediments; nevertheless, it is now possible to write a genuinely new biography of Stalin insofar as newly accessible archival material has forced changes in our understanding of both the man and his era.
I would like to add a few final words about the size and structure of this biography. Restraints in the former have inspired innovations in the latter. Exhaustive details had to be forsaken. References and notes had to be kept to a minimum, so priority has been given to the attribution of quotes, numbers, and facts. By no means all of the worthy works of my colleagues have been mentioned, for which I offer them my apologies. Such economies leave me ambivalent. I regret the omission of many telling facts and quotes, but I am glad for the reader. I know how it feels to gaze wistfully at stacks of fat tomes that will never be conquered.

Another aspect of the book that I hope will facilitate reading, in addition to its modest size, is its structure. A conventional chapter-section chronology did not lend itself to presenting the two interdependent strata of Stalin’s biography: the sequence of his life events and the most salient features of his personality and dictatorship. This difficulty gave rise to the idea of two alternating narratives, a sort of textual matryoshka or Russian nesting doll. One conceptual chain examines Stalin’s personality and system of rule against the backdrop of his final days. The other, more conventionally chronological, follows the main stages of his biography in sequence. As a result, the book can be read in two ways. Readers can trust my arrangement and follow the page order, or they can take one stratum at a time. I have tried to make both methods equally convenient.


Dictators lend themselves to caricature. We label them sociopaths, paranoiacs or just victims of bad childhoods. We flatten them in order to explain our own times. Saddam Hussein is Hitler; Vladimir Putin is Peter the Great; Donald Trump is Mussolini. Sometimes, we are told, they simply defy explanation. In a 1939 radio address, Winston Churchill conceded defeat in his efforts to understand Stalin’s Soviet Union. “It is,” Churchill said, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
Stephen Kotkin demolishes such simplicities in his monumental “Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941,” the second part of a projected three-volume biography of the Soviet leader whose reign of cruelty stretched from the mid-1920s to his death in 1953. Drawing on an astonishing array of sources, Kotkin paints a richly variegated portrait, delving into Stalin’s peculiar personality even while situating him within the trajectories of Soviet history and totalitarianism more generally.

Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928 - Amazon

Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941-  Amazon 


STALIN’S REGIME HAD REPRODUCED a deep-set pattern in Russian history—a country that considered itself a providential power with a special mission in the world, but that substantially lagged the other great powers to the west, a circumstance that time and again induced Russian rulers to turn to the state for a forced modernization to overcome or at least manage the power asymmetry. This urgent quest for a strong state had culminated, once more, in personal rule. Under Stalin’s regime, both the apocalyptic bloodshed and the state’s capacity to summon resources and popular involvement intensified, a consequence of the violent mass era that slightly predated but was blown open by the First World War, the heady promises of Marxism-Leninism, and Stalin’s personal qualities. His despotic power derived not just from his control over the formidable levers of Leninist dictatorship, which he built, but from the ideology, which he shaped. His regime proved able to define the terms of public thought and individual identity, and he proved able to personify passions and dreams, to realize and represent a socialist modernity and Soviet might. With single-sentence telegrams or brief phone calls, he could spur the clunky Soviet party-state machinery into action, invoking discipline and intimidation, to be sure, but also emotionally galvanizing young functionaries who felt close personal ties to him, and millions more who would never come close to meeting him in person. Stalin was a student of historical forces, and of people, and his rule enabled those who came from nothing to feel world historically significant.
Stalin’s regime was not merely a statist modernization, but a purported transcendence of private property and markets, of class antagonisms and existential alienation, a renewal of the social whole rent by the bourgeoisie, a quest for social justice on a global scale. In worldview and practice it was a conspiracy that perceived conspiracy everywhere and in everything, gaslighting itself. In administration it constituted a crusade for planning and control that generated a proliferation of improvised illegalities, a drive for order, and a system in which propaganda and myths about the “system” were the most systematized part. Amid the cultivated opacity and patent falsehoods, even most high officials were reduced to Kremlinology (rumors, parsing of “signals”). The fanatical hypercentralization was often self-defeating as well, but the cult of the party’s and especially Stalin’s infallibility proved to be the most dangerous flaw of his fallible rule. The superhuman resolve that he had demonstrated in launching and carrying through collectivization was, it turned out, accompanied by a surprising brittleness, which was exposed in his reaction to the criticism that the violent upheaval and famine sparked. Stalin became haunted not by the peasants’ horrors under collectivization but by the party criticism of him regarding those horrors, which would become the dark spur of his mass murders in the wanton terror, made possible by Bolshevism but driven by him. The pandemonium of widespread accusations of treason that he fomented reflected not reality or even potential threats, but his own demons. The flip side—his fantasies of a cleansing cadre renewal via promotion of new people—did little to quell his anxieties, partly because of their glaring difficulty assimilating the Short Coursehe produced expressly for them.
By inclination, Stalin was a Russian nationalist in the imperial sense, and anti-Western, the core impulse of long-standing Russian-Eurasian political culture. Initially, the ambitious Soviet version of the quest to match the West in order to preserve Russia’s anti-Western identity had increased the country’s dependency on the superior West. But after wholesale technology transfer, Stalin’s regime went on, at high cost and low efficiency, to develop sophisticated military and related industry to a degree unprecedented for even a military-first country. Geopolitically, however, whereas tsarist Russia had concluded foreign alliances for its security, the Soviet Union sought or could manage only nonaggression pacts. The country’s self-isolation became ever more extreme. One flanking power, Japan, had spurred Stalin’s no-holds-barred militarization, and after years of timid responses, he had finally decided to rebuff the challenge of this island power by flaunting the USSR’s better-armed and better-commanded land forces in a border war. The other flanking power, Germany, presented an incalculably greater challenge, given the geography, Germany’s military strength on land, and the special qualities of its ruler. Stalin insisted on calling fascism “reactionary,” a supposed way for the bourgeoisie to preserve the old world.91 But Hitler turned out to be someone neither Marx nor Lenin had prepared Stalin for.
A lifelong Germanophile, Stalin appears to have been mesmerized by the might and daring of Germany’s parallel totalitarian regime. For a time, he recovered his personal and political equilibrium in his miraculous Pact with Hitler, which deflected the German war machine, delivered a bounty of German machine tools, enabled the reconquest and Sovietization of tsarist borderlands, and reinserted the USSR into the role of arbitrating world affairs. Hitler had whetted and, reluctantly, abetted Stalin’s own appetites. But far earlier than the despot imagined, his ability to extract profit from the immense danger posed by Hitler to Europe and beyond had run its course. This generated unbearable tension in Stalin’s life and rule, yet he stubbornly refused to come to grips with the new realities, and not solely out of greed for German technology. Despite his insight into the human psyche, and demonic shrewdness, Stalin was blinkered by ideology and idées fixes. Churchill controlled not a single division on the Soviet frontier, yet Stalin remained absolutely obsessed with British imperialism, railing against the Versailles order long after Hitler had shredded it. He also obsessed over supposed secret British negotiations behind his back with Hitler.92

For Hitler, the 1939 Pact with the USSR was nothing more than what the 1918 Brest-Litovsk Treaty with Germany had been for Lenin: a distasteful necessity, which, with luck, would not endure very long. Lenin’s luck had been delivered by imperial Germany’s idiotic precipitation of American entry into the First World War; Hitler’s came from his own audacity and the mistakes of his slow-to-react, divided foreign adversaries. The alliance system had not caused the First World War, but the absence of alliances helped cause the Second. A debate continues over the possibility of a genuine Western-Soviet military alliance to deter and, if necessary, defeat Germany in the 1930s, including the logistical difficulties for any combined military action posed by recalcitrant Poland and Romania. But logistics can always be managed when the will is there. Sir Stafford Cripps, the maladroit, well-intentioned British ambassador, grasped that German-Soviet relations were precarious, but he could bring neither his own government nor the Soviet Union anywhere near a British-Soviet rapprochement. Given the profundity of mutual distrust between London and Moscow, only an unequivocal perception by both of the urgency of state survival could have made a bilateral alliance possible, and even then, only for a time. Of course, survival was precisely what was at stake.
Hitler’s racial, Social Darwinist, zero-sum understanding of geopolitics meant that both the USSR and Great Britain would have to be annihilated in order for Germany to realize its master race destiny. To be sure, in the immediate term, he thought in terms of domination of the European continent (Grossmacht), which required Lebensraum in the east. But in the longer term, he foresaw domination of the world (Weltmacht), which would require a blue-water fleet, bases rimming the Atlantic, and a colonial empire in the tropics for raw materials. That was incompatible with the continued existence of the British empire, at least in its present form. Hitler thus put himself in front of a stark choice of either agreeing to deepen the Pact with Stalin, to take on Britain now, which meant conceding at least a partial Soviet sphere in the Balkans and on the Black Sea—on top of the Soviet sphere in the Baltics—or, alternately, freeing himself from the infuriating dependency on Moscow to take on Britain later. In the end, military circumstances helped determine the sequencing: Hitler did not possess the air or naval capabilities or the depth of resources to prevail militarily over island Britain; he did command the land-based wherewithal to attempt to smash the USSR.
A commitment to a prolonged contest for supremacy with Britain, which Hitler expected to be aided more and more by the vast resources of the United States, made quick annihilation of the Soviet Union an absolutely necessary prelude.93 Moreover, even though Hitler and the German high command knew the Soviet Union was not poised to attack, the invasion amounted to a preventive war all the same in his logic, for the Soviet Union was only getting stronger, and might itself attack at a time it deemed more advantageous. And so, while pushing Japan to attack British positions in East Asia, he had offered the British government a version of the pact he had concluded with Stalin, in order to violate the latter, and he seemed dumbfounded that the British government did not accept.94 The Nazi leader had grasped his foe’s imperial mind-set, and he was sincere when promising that, in exchange for a free hand on the continent, he would keep Britain’s empire intact for now (its destruction, in any case, would redound to others besides Germany in the short term). He continued to hold out hope that Britain, patently weak militarily on land and therefore unable to defeat him, would see “reason.” But Hitler had failed to grasp Britain’s long-standing preference for a balance of power on the continent.95 He did, however, perceive far more common interest between London and Moscow than either of them saw themselves.
During the all-out preparations for blitzkrieg against the USSR, Hitler continued to order that resources be devoted to preparing for a long naval and air war against the UK and the United States. May–June 1941 was the blackest period yet for Britain: its ships were being sunk and its cities bombed, while its position in the Balkans had been lost to Nazi domination. After German paratroopers had captured Crete, in late May 1941, the British position seemed grievously imperiled. Eleven days before the scheduled launch of the Soviet invasion, Hitler had dictated a draft of Directive No. 32, “Preparations for the Time After Barbarossa.” It envisioned subdivision and exploitation of Soviet territories, as well as a pincer movement against the Suez Canal and British Near East positions via Bulgaria-Turkey, the Caucasus, and Iran-Iraq-Syria; the conquest of Gibraltar, northwest Africa, and the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic islands, to eliminate the British in the Mediterranean; the building of coastal bases in West and possibly East Africa; and the creation of a German base in Afghanistan for seizing British India.96 Had Hitler thrown all his might into this “peripheral strategy” rather than invading the USSR, Britain might not have survived.97 The war with the Soviet Union would have gone ahead at some point, but with Britain knocked out of the picture. There would have been no British beachhead to assist an eventual U.S.-led Allied landing in Western Europe.98

HITLER, ONE SCHOLAR HAS REMINDED US, cannot be explained in terms of his social origins or his early life and influences, a point that is no less applicable to Stalin.99 The greatest shaper of Stalin’s being was the building and running of a dictatorship, whereby he assumed responsibility for Russia’s power in the world. In the name of socialism, Stalin, pacing in his Kremlin office, had grown accustomed to moving millions of peasants, workers—whole nations—across a sixth of the earth, on his own initiative, often consulting no one. But his world had become intensely constricted. Hitler had cornered the Soviet despot in his own Little Corner.
Stalin’s dealings with Hitler differed from British appeasement in that he tried significant deterrence as well as accommodation, and he took as much as he gave. But Stalin’s policy resembled British appeasement in that he was driven by a blinding desire to avoid war at all costs. He displayed strength of capabilities but not of will. Neither his fearsome resolve nor his supreme cunning—which had enabled him to vanquish his rivals and spiritually crush his inner circle—were in evidence in 1941. He shrank from trying to preempt Hitler militarily and failed to preempt him diplomatically.100 In the end, however, the question of who most miscalculated is not a simple one. “Of all the men who can lay claim to having paved the way to the new Reich,” meaning his Reich, Hitler liked to say, “one figure stands in awe-inspiring solitude: Bismarck.”101 Bismarck, of course, had built his chancellorship on avoiding conflict with Russia. When the bust of Bismarck was transferred from the old German Chancellery to Hitler’s new Nazi Chancellery, it had broken off at the neck. A replica was hastily made, aged by soaking in cold tea. The omen of Bismarck’s broken neck was kept from the Führer.102

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