In This Review

Stalin's Genocides (Human Rights and Crimes Against Humanity)
Stalin's Genocides (Human Rights and Crimes Against Humanity)
By Norman M. Naimark
Princeton University Press, 2010, 176 pp

Naimark is not simply about, as the Russian expression goes, "calling things by their name." For him, labeling Stalin's mass killing “genocide” entails a rigorous exegesis of the concept itself -- its history, legal complexities, boundaries, and universe. In spare, sharp thrusts, Naimark makes his case, conscious that calling the extermination of "political, social, and cultural groups," as opposed to killing on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion, is controversial, not the least because the Soviet Union succeeded in removing these categories from the UN Genocide Convention of 1948. The issue is complex, and with great precision, he addresses both the key legal matter of intent and responsibility on Stalin's part and makes a refined comparison of Soviet crimes with those of the Holocaust. The plural “genocides” of the title also matters, because Naimark classifies each of the horrors in the 1930s -- dekulakization during collectivization, the Ukrainian famine of 1932–33, the Great Terror of 1937–38, and the forced deportation of nations during World War II -- as an individual genocide. This is a small book that places a large exclamation point on the most incriminatingly tragic dimension of Soviet history.