In This Review
Stalin's Letters to Molotov

Stalin's Letters to Molotov

Edited by Lars T. Lih, Oleg V. Naumov, and Oleg V. Khlevniuk

Yale University Press, 1995, 276 pp.

Slowly and much less completely than Russia's new leaders promised, the Russian archives are revealing their Soviet secrets. This is the second in a planned series of 18 volumes to be published by Yale University Press bringing key documents to an English-reading audience. It consists of a passel of private letters primarily from 1925 through 1930 that Stalin wrote to Vyacheslav Molotov, his confidant and ally, which Molotov turned over to the archives in 1969. These personal and confidential letters refine the image of Stalin's leadership skills, coarseness, and brutality and shed light on key events such as the inner party struggles and Soviet actions during the Kuomintang's bloody ascent in China.

Most of the 79 letters Molotov presented to the Central Party Archive, out of what was evidently a much larger collection, are published here. Molotov, however, remained an admirer and supporter of Stalin for the remainder of his life, and the bulk of the letters from 1931 to 1936 and those missing entirely from 1928 doubtless represent, as the Russian experts who edited the letters for this volume surmise, Molotov's attempt to cleanse the record of his master's most degraded thoughts and acts.

In this case Molotov is the censor, but the letters refer to a number of key foreign policy decisions, the documents for which were placed in the so-called Special File and recently transferred to the Soviet, now Russian, Presidential Archive. Contemporary Russian leaders have been in no hurry to release these invaluable historical items, and what they have released has principally served their own political and foreign policy agendas. Because their reluctance seems to be deepening, the Yale series is likely to suffer from important gaps that go beyond those created by documents long ago destroyed.

Still, in this volume the publisher has done very well by the documents at hand. They are skillfully introduced by Lih, a U.S. specialist on this period, and accompanied by extremely helpful and often elaborate annotations provided by the two Russian collaborators and their colleagues.