Master of the House: Stalin and His Inner Circle

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Master of the House: Stalin and His Inner Circle
By Oleg V. Khlevniuk
Yale University Press, 2009
344 pp. $38.00

No one knows the story that the Soviet archives tell of Stalin's rise better than Khlevniuk. He has toiled over these materials longer and more extensively than anyone else. Even after Stalin defeated Leon Trotsky and the "left opposition" (Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev), and even after he destroyed the leading figures on the right (Nikolai Bukharin and Aleksei Rykov), he moved in carefully calibrated stages to consolidate his power. With an exquisite sense of timing and proportion, Stalin first ensured his primacy within the oligarchy and then slowly freed himself from any shred of the oligarchs' remaining influence, until nothing checked his sway. His power came to fruition with the mass purges of 1936-37, which, as this book stresses, Stalin ordered and guided in every essential respect. The drama in the account is the absence of drama: Khlevniuk finds no evidence that after 1929 political cleavages were decisive in permitting Stalin's rise to power. Nor does he find evidence that Stalin bears the responsibility for the mysterious deaths of two key political personalities -- Sergei Kirov and Grigory Ordzhonikidze -- a responsibility usually assigned to him.

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