The true picture of Stalin?

In 1947, even as mutual suspicions were rising, Churchill wrote to Stalin: ‘your life is not only precious to your country, which you saved, but to the friendship between Soviet Russia and the English-speaking world’. There is a significant development in reassessing the Second World War, in which Stalin played the pivotal role. Geoffrey Robert’s Stalin’s Wars is a case in point (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). And it is being undertaken by historians who are by no means Marxists or Cold War warriors (plenty of those still around – you need only look at Germany). Roberts concludes that the contemporary assessment of Stalin is far closer to the truth than what followed. Not only did Stalin defeat Hitler and ‘save the world for democracy’, but also:

To make so many mistakes and to rise from the depths of such defeat to go on to win the greatest military victory in history was a triumph beyond compare (p. 374).

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4 thoughts on “The true picture of Stalin?

  1. “As is clear by now from a number of posts on Stalin’s Wars (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here), by Geoffrey Roberts, a thorough reassessment of Stalin is underway.”

    Oh! The optimism of youth.

    I would put it differently. Over the years Stalin’s picture has been blackened so many times that the accumulated layers of filth are beginning to slide off the canvas under their own weight.

    A small number of people, including a few academic historians (of whom Geoffrey Roberts is one), are helping the process along by making positive efforts to get an objective view of some areas.

    Arch Getty is another. He has done some very important detailed work but he is extremely cautious. Understandably so, give that he is in the US.

    The academic who has gone furthest is Grover Furr. He is a tenured US historian but his field is medieval literature. If he had tried to make a career with the stuff he does on Stalin he wouldn’t have lasted five minutes.

    I remember having a chat with an established 20th European/soviet historian who works at a leading English university (no names: no pack drill). He knew my views and admitted that he had a great deal of admiration for JVS. Of course, this was not reflected in his publications.

    What we have are the materials for a reassessment, but it hasn’t happened yet.

    I am optimistic, but it is a low key, long-term optimism as befits my years.

    1. Thanks George, especially for the names – and the image. Roberts is careful, balancing his material but in the end finding that the weight of evidence points to a rather different picture of Stalin than the one that has been built up. I often find that is precisely comrades on the Left who have some need to perpetuate the image of Stalin the evil, paranoid dictator.

      Furr sounds fascinating, but of course he generates much opposition and controversy still, especially in the USA. I was interested in the fact that in Russia during the protest against Putin (organised by the communist and other left parties), images of Lenin and Stalin often appeared, side by side. Of course, much foreign media tried to paint a picture of ‘liberal’ opposition.

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