Stalin: Passage to Revolution

Princeton Univ. Oct. 2020. 896p. ISBN 9780691182032. $39.95. BIOG
Suny (history, Univ. of Michigan; The Soviet Experiment) concludes this biography of Joseph Stalin (1878–1953) with the October Revolution in 1917, more than 35 years before Stalin’s death. Initially, one may be wondering if readers need an additional biography of Stalin. However, this work provides an extraordinary account of elusive testimony as well as archival and interpretive material that nicely match its ambitious scope. Suny carefully blends casual episodes in Stalin’s early life with the grand narrative of the Soviet Union in early 20th-century Russia. He clearly identifies the basis of Stalin’s emergence from obscurity through the centrality of his place in 1917, dispelling the rumor that Stalin missed the revolution or that he had been a spy for the Okhrana, the Tsarist police. Historical records depict a morose and vengeful figure with a dislike of Jews and distrust of intellectuals. As Suny notes, Stalin is also a person of energy and persistence, and a “practiced performer” who, despite errors of judgment, emerges as consistently loyal to politician Vladimir Lenin. Suny explains Stalin’s place in the Revolution and his tactical, strategic, and theoretical positions in Soviet history.
VERDICT This impressively researched biography provides remarkable and reliable details on the first part of Stalin’s life, along with the many fissures among the Left Communists. An important accomplishment.
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