Stalin by Ronald Grigor Suny is not a hatchet-job on Stalin like many other works by liberal scholars. Based on documents in Soviet archives made available after the Soviet collapse, this is a surprisingly even-handed account of the Soviet leader’s pre-Russian Revolution political life. There is little of the ruthlessness that is said to have been his trademark in the 1920’s and 1930’s. What emerges is the portrait of a professional revolutionary alternating between underground organizing and exile in Siberia.
No wonder Lenin was so taken by him, since he seemed to be the personification of the ideal professional revolutionary he sketched out in “What is to Be Done?”
Stalin worshipped Lenin but he was also no uncritical follower. He may not have been a theorist at the level of Bukharin and Trotsky, but, a Georgian in national origin, he was the Bolsheviks’ expert on the national question, which even Lenin recognized.
Stalin’s post-1917 career was marked by one controversy after another, but there is little in his pre-1917 political persona that determined his later political trajectory except perhaps his abiding faith in Lenin’s vision and political methodology. I look forward to Suny’s post-1917 biography of Stalin. It is refreshing to read a book that is not determined from the get-go to paint Stalin as a monster, a psychotic, or a ruthless power-hungry murderer.