Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928 (Anglais) Broché – 13 octobre 2015
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Description du produit
RUSSIA’S DOUBLE-HEADED EAGLE NESTED across a greater expanse than that of any other state, before or since. The realm came to encompass not just the palaces of St. Petersburg and the golden domes of Moscow, but Polish and Yiddish-speaking Wilno and Warsaw, the German-founded Baltic ports of Riga and Reval, the Persian and Turkic-language oases of Bukhara and Samarkand (site of Tamerlane’s tomb), and the Ainu people of Sakhalin Island near the Pacific Ocean. “Russia” encompassed the cataracts and Cossack settlements of wildly fertile Ukraine and the swamps and trappers of Siberia. It acquired borders on the Arctic and Danube, the Mongolian plateau, and Germany. The Caucasus barrier, too, was breached and folded in, bringing Russia onto the Black and Caspian seas, and giving it borders with Iran and the Ottoman empire. Imperial Russia came to resemble a religious kaleidoscope with a plenitude of Orthodox churches, mosques, synagogues, Old Believer prayer houses, Catholic cathedrals, Armenian Apostolic churches, Buddhist temples, and shaman totems. The empire’s vast territory served as a merchant’s paradise, epitomized by the slave markets on the steppes and, later, the crossroad fairs in the Volga valley. Whereas the Ottoman empire stretched over parts of three continents (Europe, Asia, and Africa), some observers in the early twentieth century imagined that the two-continent Russian imperium was neither Europe nor Asia but a third entity unto itself: Eurasia. Be that as it may, what the Venetian ambassador to the Sublime Porte (Agosto Nani) had once said of the Ottoman realm—“more a world than a state”—applied no less to Russia. Upon that world, Stalin’s rule would visit immense upheaval, hope, and grief.
Stalin’s origins, in the Caucasus market and artisan town of Gori, were exceedingly modest—his father was a cobbler, his mother, a washerwoman and seamstress—but in 1894 he entered an Eastern Orthodox theological seminary in Tiflis, the grandest city of the Caucasus, where he studied to become a priest. If in that same year a subject of the Russian empire had fallen asleep and awoken thirty years later, he or she would have been confronted by multiple shocks. By 1924 something called a telephone enabled near instantaneous communication over vast distances. Vehicles moved without horses. Humans flew in the sky. X-rays could see inside people. A new physics had dreamed up invisible electrons inside atoms, as well as the atom’s disintegration in radioactivity, and one theory stipulated that space and time were interrelated and curved. Women, some of whom were scientists, flaunted newfangled haircuts and clothes, called fashions. Novels read like streams of dreamlike consciousness, and many celebrated paintings depicted only shapes and colors. As a result of what was called the Great War (1914–18), the almighty German kaiser had been deposed and Russia’s two big neighboring nemeses, the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, had disappeared. Russia itself was mostly intact, but it was ruled by a person of notably humble origins who also hailed from the imperial borderlands. To our imaginary thirty-year Rip Van Winkle in 1924, this circumstance—a plebeian and a Georgian having assumed the mantle of the tsars—could well have been the greatest shock of all.
Revue de presse
“A masterly account... Kotkin offers the sweeping context so often missing from all but the best biographies... Stalin is a complex work... but it presents a riveting tale, one written with pace and aplomb. Kotkin has given us a textured, gripping examination of the foundational years of the man most responsible for the construction of the Soviet state in all its brutal glory.... This first volume leaves the reader longing for the story still to come.”
Richard Pipes, The New York Review of Books:
“This is a very serious biography that… is likely to well stand the test of time.”
The Wall Street Journal:
“Superb . . . Mr. Kotkin’s volume joins an impressive shelf of books on Stalin. Only Mr. Kotkin’s book approaches the highest standard of scholarly rigor and general-interest readability.”
New Statesman (UK):
“[Kotkin’s] viewpoint is godlike: all the world falls within his purview. He makes comparisons across decades and continents.... An exhilarating ride.”
Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic:
“An exceptionally ambitious biography… Kotkin builds the case for quite a different interpretation of Stalin—and for quite a few other things, too. The book’s signature achievement… is its vast scope: Kotkin has set out to write not only the definitive life of Stalin but also the definitive history of the collapse of the Russian empire and the creation of the new Soviet empire in its place.”
Robert Gellately, Times Higher Education (London):
“A brilliant portrait of a man of contradictions... In the vast literature on the Soviet Union, there is no study to rival Stephen Kotkin’s massive first instalment of a planned three-volume biography of Joseph Stalin. When it is complete, it will surely become the standard work, and I heartily recommend it.”
John Thornhill, Financial Times:
"It is a measure of Kotkin’s powers of research and explanation that Stalin’s decisions can almost always be understood within the framework of his ideology and the context of his times.... With a ferocious determination worthy of his subject, the author debunks many of the myths to have encrusted themselves around Stalin.... [A] magnificent biography. This reviewer, at least, is already impatient to read the next two volumes for their author’s mastery of detail and the swagger of his judgments.”
David Johnson, Johnson’s Russia List:
“Required reading for serious Russia-watchers... As the product of years of work and careful thought, it is for me a reminder of what it takes to get close to the truth about important and controversial subjects. And the distance and time required to do so.”
Geoffrey Roberts, Irish Examiner:
“Monumental... For Kotkin it was not Stalin’s personality that drove his politics but his politics that shaped his personality. His research, narrative and arguments are as convincing as they are exhaustive. The book is long but very readable and highly accessible to the general reader.... Magisterial.”
Donald Rayfield, Literary Review:
"Masterful... No other work on Stalin incorporates so well the preliminary information needed by the general reader, yet challenges so thoroughly the specialist's preconceptions. Kotkin has chosen illustrations, many of them little known, which reveal the crippled psyches of his dramatis personae.”
“An ambitious, massive, highly detailed work that offers fresh perspectives on the collapse of the czarist regime, the rise of the Bolsheviks, and the seemingly unlikely rise of Stalin to total power over much of the Eurasian land mass....This is an outstanding beginning to what promises to be a definitive work on the Stalin era.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred):
“Authoritative and rigorous…. Staggeringly wide in scope, this work meticulously examines the structural forces that brought down one autocratic regime and put in place another.”
“This is an epic, thoroughly researched account that presents a broad vision of Stalin, from his birth to his rise to absolute power.”
“Kotkin has been researching his magisterial biography of Stalin for a decade. Inescapably important reading.”
John Lewis Gaddis, Yale University; author of George F. Kennan: A Life, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Biography:
“In its size, sweep, sensitivity, and surprises, Stephen Kotkin’s first volume on Stalin is a monumental achievement: the early life of a man we thought we knew, set against the world—no less—that he inhabited. It’s biography on an epic scale. Only Tolstoy might have matched it.”
William Taubman, Professor of Political Science Emeritus, Amherst College; author of Khrushchev: The Man and his Era, winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Biography
“Stalin has had more than his fair share of biographies. But Stephen Kotkin’s wonderfully broad-gauged work surpasses them all in both breadth and depth, showing brilliantly how the man, the time, the place, its history, and especially Russian/Soviet political culture, combined to produce one of history’s greatest evil geniuses.”
David Halloway, Raymond A. Spruance Professor of International History, Stanford University; author of Stalin and the Bomb:
“Stephen Kotkin’s first volume on Stalin is ambitious in conception and masterly in execution. It provides a brilliant account of Stalin’s formation as a political actor up to his fateful decision to collectivize agriculture by force. Kotkin combines biography with historical analysis in a way that brings out clearly Stalin's great political talents as well as the ruthlessness with which he applied them and the impact his policies had on Russia and the world. This is a magisterial work on the grandest scale.”
Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution:
“More than any of Stalin’s previous biographers, Stephen Kotkin humanizes one of the great monsters of history, thereby making the monstrosity more comprehensible than it has been before. He does so by sticking to the facts—many of them fresh, all of them marshalled into a gripping, fine-grained story.”
The Sunday Times (London):
“Staggeringly researched, exhaustively thorough... Kotkin has no patience for the idea that Stalin... was a madman or a monster. His personality and crimes, Kotkin thinks, are only explicable in the wider contexts of Russian imperial history and Marxist theory. So this is less a conventional biography than a colossal life and times.... Hugely impressive.”
Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Guardian:
“Unlike a number of Stalin studies, this is not an etiology of evil. The author does not appear to be watching his subject narrowly for early signs of the monstrous deformations that will later emerge. He tries to look at him at various stages of his career without the benefit of too much hindsight.... [Kotkin] is an engaging interlocutor with a sharp, irreverent wit... making the book a good read as well as an original and largely convincing interpretation of Stalin that should provoke lively arguments in the field.”
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Stalin is constructed like a jigsaw puzzle. Kotkin fills in the borders and the edges first, framing his subject in the context of 19th century Imperial Russia; a Georgian with few advantages having to assert, excel and assimilate to get ahead. He hews closely to known facts, avoiding conjecture. As a result, in the first 150 pages there is surprising little Stalin in Stalin. Rather than pop psych musings that link a drunken father's abuse to mass murder, Kotkin puts his subject in the context of the time. He examines how suffocatingly autocratic Imperial Russian Society happened to be with the Orthodox Church Stalin's only potential escape route. A bright and eager adolescent idealizes his church entering the seminary only to find himself in a de facto boot camp that brooked no opposition, stifled all curiosity. The portrait of this suffocatingly conservative culture is wonderfully drawn. Here's a real life Oliver Twist asking not for more gruel but more knowledge, ideas, stimulation and being battered for his impudence.
The question becomes not why would you, but why wouldn't you want to overthrow this dessicated, putrescent crowd of toadies, leeches and mediocrities that hold you back and literally will bleed you dry. I was pleased Kotkin didn't truck with Romanov sentimentalists who distort history by linking it to an imaginary, glorious past. The author makes clear Nicky & Clan choreographed their own demise. Tsarist handmaidens such as the Orthodox Church, the nobility and elite were their own worst enemy. Like our slave owning aristocracy 50 years earlier, Russian autocrats stubbornly clung to cruel and vicious privilege. If they were ruthlessly expunged, it was a lesson learned at their knee. Disproving the claim imitation is the highest form of flattery. Occasionally it can be lethal.
There are marvelous portraits of the multitude of players that made up the Russian Revolution. A preening Kerensky--faux democrat, faux savior, faux genius. Vladimir Illych. The ruthless master of disguise who could mask his intent even more cleverly than his appearance. And who once in power, held on to it like a bulldog with a bone. The portrait of Trotsky was among my favorite. Brilliant at so many things, overconfidence and his inability to asses his opponents proved fatal. It is among these luminaries that Stalin hones his skills. The Bolshevik putsch and Lenin's brazen and full-out assault on democracy are object lessons that would never be forgotten--only improved upon.
Many critics of the regime refuse to see any good in their character or programs. Kotkin is not so dismissive of Sverdlov, Trotsky, Lenin and Stalin, pointing out that among them they spent decades in prison and being hounded when out of it simply for hating the Imperial regime. When the Romanov's fell only the Bolsheviks had the courage and will to oppose Russia continuation in the ruinous Great War that was devastating millions. Though one can certainly fault Trotsky for mucking up a reasonable peace settlement with Germany, Stalin and Lenin early and often spoke of the need to relieve Russia's misery. To paraphrase another great biography: "Let Us Now Praise (briefly) Famous Monsters." Kotkin is unafraid to say they were courageous and at times
prescient in their observations and planning. It is brave of him to do so--there will be a coterie of critics who like the truth varnished to suit politics
While giving praise where it is do he also notes what an unlikely gang of thugs and lugheads they happened to be. To gain control of the country's finances they basically robbed banks and shook down the rich. With absolutely no financial experience but a pressing need to manage the debt incurred by the Great War and Tsar, they simply cancelled the debt, welching on Russia's IOUs. In solving one problem it created a multitude of others that would haunt the Soviet people for generations. Amidst it all was Stalin: doggedly, determinedly carving a place for himself. Sverdlev's genius organization; Lenin's brazen, obdurate insistence on his way; Trotsky the master of presentation, if not negotiation ((Brest-Litovsk). But it is Stalin, who understood the importance of getting close and staying close to the center of power. It is Stalin who is left standing to take advantage of the truism: Power abhors a vacuum. Revolutions provide a multitude of vacuums that need filling.
It is something of a small miracle Kotkin can track the score of times in 1918 alone Bolshevism and Lenin were nearly undone. It is during these seeming unending crises that whatever decency and humanity once propelled Bolsheviks unravels and the movement loses its soul. Ironically, he survives because an opponent like Maria Spiridonova, who had him in the palm of her hand, proves too decent to summarily execute an adversary. It is not a mistake Lenin or his most apt pupil would make. After surviving a number of near escapes Lenin makes an even more appalling deal with Imperial Germany and the die is cast. From the end of 1918 on, policy is whatever perpetuates the dictatorship. The medicine had become worse than the disease it was supposed to cure. The 'survival at any cost' strategy of Lenin explains so much about his successor, waiting in the wings.
While Stalin deserves all the lavish praise that most certainly will be heaped upon it, it is not without its challenges. The dictator and the period may be Kotkin's life's passion, but it isn't mine. Occasionally it reminds one of the expression, "too much of a good thing." Yes at times my eyes glazed over at the detail and the thought of yet another Party Congress. And while Stalin's role in bringing or keeping Transcaucasia in the Soviet fold is interesting, consolidating power is never as dramatic as seizing it. But that is a small quibble and happily these moments that lag are brief. One important contribution Kotkin makes is to show conclusively it was Lenin's support and approval that put Stalin in the catbird seat. Stalin's elevation as General Secretary (among other promotions) coincided with Lenin's realization he would soon be dead. Vladimir Illych's choice of successor if not formerly designated, was perfectly clear.
The support however was not without checks: Lenin attempts to use Trotsky as a balance. Trotsky's refusal to be one of VI's chess pieces proved another colossal blunder by a man who proved again and again there is a big difference between intelligent and smart. Kotkin doubts Lenin's Testament was actually dictated by him though he acknowledges he may well have had second thoughts about his decision. He posits Lenin's wife "found" misgivings in an effort to check Stalin's increasingly unfettered power. Stalin survives the challenge brushing Trotsky aside in the process but it is here that Kotkin marks the beginnings of the legendary paranoia and mistrust that would characterize the dictator for decades. By then end of the first volume we seem to have gone 180 degrees. The idealistic autodidact has spent a lifetime "marinated in ideology", seeing threats to the Revolution (which is synonymous with himself) everywhere. The need to protect it hatches the catastrophically deadly idea of forced collectivization which results in perhaps as many as 5 million starving to death.
The author has an energetic and colorful style of writing that is also the hallmark of great biography. His prose are as engaging but not as purple as Robert Caro's and like that master of narrative Kotkin beautifully manages the trick of keeping one eye on "the great men" and the other on those who are served or screwed over by their deeds. Many reviews will describe Stalin as scholarly, and with a bibliography and notes 350 pages long that is irrefutable. It is however, the very best sort. Gripping, entertaining, and informative throughout, Stalin is a marvelous achievement. A monumental man and monumental events are brought vividly to life proving once again the Faulkner adage: "the past is never dead. It's not even past." Thanks to Stephen Kotkin it isn't.
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