Book Review: Stalin-Waiting for Hitler

The Book ‘Stalin-Waiting for Hitler’ is written by Stephen Kotkin who is a Professor of History at Princeton.

This Book is the second of a multi-volume series on Stalin and covers the period between 1929-1941.The review of the first book can be found here

The Book takes off from 1929 and covers some of the most turbulent periods of Russian history right up to Hitler’s invasion of Russia in 1941.

The Book brings into stark relief the indomitable will, cunning and hyper suspicious paranoia of Stalin.

Stalin was determined to make the Soviet Union a powerful and advanced nation, irrespective of the cost either in human lives or money.

With that goal in mind, he pushed many policies which resulted in the deaths of millions.

One policy of his was collective farming..here farmers/peasants had to give up their individual plots to the state. The state would then use mechanization,modern techniques etc to drive more efficient farming in these collective plots and drive up productivity. As the peasants revolted, Stalin had the dissenters shot and sent to the Gulag (slave camps). Famine resulted in the Soviet Union resulting in widespread hunger,deprivation and even cannibalism.

What is interesting is what Stalin did with the grain he collected. He exported it to Germany and other Western states in return for machinery,technology , blueprints for factories etc. His primary focus was on the armaments industry. It’s incredible to think now but nearly all of technology and machine tools for the Soviet Union’s tanks, naval carriers, aircrafts etc were supplied by Germany,USA etc  in exchange for grain,oil,manganese,phosphates and other commodities.

The Book also covers one of the darkest chapters in Russian history-Stalin’s purge from 1936-38. In this “Red Terror”, hundred of thousands of innocent people were shot and executed under various pretexts of being spies,rightists,Trotskyites, “wreckers”, “kulaks” etc. This resulted in the deaths of 90% of the Red Army’s officers, most of its managers, top party functionaries,intelligence officers,writers, musicians  etc

The Book then leads on the Second World War and the various games various countries played to protect their own self interests.I found the material on the Finland-Soviet Union War of 1939-1940 (Winter War) particularly fascinating.

Some takeaways from the Book which I found interesting and relevant to us in India in the current context:

  • Stalin emphasised on having your own armaments industry capable of producing guns,tanks,aircraft etc. India cannot be a power of any sort if it does not have a strong domestic armaments industry.
  • Demography matters.Stalin moved entire populations from one part of Soviet Union to the other as he feared they will betray the country if invaded to its enemies based on common ethnicity/religion etc (For e.g, he moved the ethnic Soviet Poles from Ukraine to Kazakhstan and ethnic Soviet Koreans away from Soviet Far East)
  • No country, be it capitalist or communist, wants to give an inch of land to its neighbours. This was true in 1930s and it is true now.So wars can happen even for small and insignificant pieces of territory
  • For any country to be successful, it is very important to have a top class intelligence agency.Stalin used to know what was happening in Hitler’s Chancellery better than most German officers
  • Leaders of great powers can take decisions which can impact,destroy and end lives thousands of miles away .Even current conflicts like Syria, Iraq, Libya etc are testimony to that. As such,one should keep an eye on geo-political developments…they are more important than you think.

I would strongly recommend this Book only if you are interested in Stalin or World War II or a very serious history buff.Not meant for everyone.

 

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