In This Review

Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev
Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev
By Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov
Harvard University Press, 1996, 338 pp

Old enough to have experienced an elder generation's way of thought, young enough to have had their own irreverent, quizzical view in the regime's dying days, these two former colleagues from the Moscow-based Institute of USA and Canada have passionately reconstructed the world as it looked to Soviet leaders from Stalin to Khrushchev during the decisive years 1945-62. The result is the most significant addition to the literature on Soviet foreign policy to have appeared since the end of the Cold War. Theirs is not a complete history of events but concentrates instead on the calculations of Stalin and the other principals at critical turning points. They consider the decision to impose Soviet-style regimes in Eastern Europe, the 1948 Berlin crisis, the events leading to the Korean War, and the outset of the Soviet encounter with communist China and the early phases of the split. Finally, they examine the mid-1950s, when the leadership was exhilarated by the country's growing technological prowess and stirred by the radicalization of Third World regimes, but was struggling to adjust to the chastening impact of nuclear weapons.

In most un-Marxist fashion, they construct their book around personalities -- Stalin, Khrushchev, the gray, severe Vyacheslav Molotov, his driven counterpart, Andrei Zhdanov, and, in passing, secret police chief Lavrenty Beria and Georgy Malenkov, the man Khrushchev outmaneuvered as Stalin's successor. They have scoured the Soviet archives and memoirs, measured the revelations of these materials against existing accounts, and added interviews with survivors who worked with or near the principals. Such inside sources, while marked by their own pitfalls and gaps, put many Soviet actions in a different light. They also lend substantial support to the authors' core thesis: yes, Stalin and his successors were aggressive, power-seeking imperialists that the West had reason to fear and resist, but they were also genuinely captured by the lingering revolutionary urges of the past, which the West never quite fathomed.