And authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation...and it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast should speak, and to cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. —Revelation 13:7, 15It happened far away and decades ago, yet the repercussions are all around us today. While we are continually reminded of the crimes of Hitler, those of Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, alias Stalin, are forgotten or unknown by many today. And yet Stalin ruled much longer and killed more of his own people than had died in all of Russia's wars put together. Edvard Radzinky's masterful biography is therefore a must-read. To quote from Publishers Weekly:
If My requests are not granted, Russia will spread her errors throughout the world raising up wars and persecutions against the Church, the good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated. —Our Lady of Fatima, July 13, 1917
Russian historian and playwright Radzinsky, whose bestselling The Last Tsar chronicled the assassination of the Romanov royal family, has produced a vivid, astonishingly intimate biography of Joseph Stalin. By drawing heavily on previously unavailable primary-source documents in recently opened party, state and KGB archives, he portrays the Soviet dictator as even more sadistic and methodically demoniacal than Western historians had supposed. Pointing to the young revolutionary's repeated escapes and trips abroad, Radzinsky builds an intriguing circumstantial case that Stalin was a double agent working for both the Bolshevik cause and the czarist secret police. He documents how Lenin recruited Stalin into terrorist violence and used him to tame and crush dissidence within the party ranks. Through interviews with Stalin's granddaughter and with the niece of Nadezhda Alliluyeva, the dictator's wife, Radzinsky pieces together the violent quarrel between Stalin and his wife that led to her suicide weeks before she was to have major surgery. Using oral testimonies, the author deduces that Stalin's murderous anti-Semitic campaign of 1953, whose goal was the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews to Siberia and Kazakhstan, was a prelude to his plan to launch a third world war. Radzinsky also tracked down one of Stalin's bodyguards, Peter Lozgachev, whose testimony that Stalin's guards deliberately denied him medical attention and left him to die adds weight to the author's hypothesis that Stalin was eliminated by close aide Lavrenti Beria (who reportedly boasted, "I took him out") as part of a conspiracy to avert nuclear Armageddon. Stalin died in 1953, aged 74 by standard sources, although Radzinsky maintains he was a year older.One of the first things that struck me about the biography was how Stalin deliberately wove a veil of mystery around his past. Not that he had anything to be ashamed of in his childhood, other than the fact that his family was poor and his father was an abusive alcoholic. Nevertheless, he spread the rumor that his mother had been a prostitute, quite contrary to the truth. Stalin's mother was an impoverished but devout lady who took in washing and prayed for her son to become a priest. She saved her money so that she could send her son to the Orthodox Seminary. Why did he deliberately manufacture layer upon layer of rumor and falsehood about himself? Perhaps it enhanced his mystique as the great hero, the superman, who came out of nowhere, as well as to inexorably break with his Christian past.
It was while studying at the seminary, surrounding by the most beautiful liturgical ceremonies in the world, that Stalin fell in with revolutionaries, lost his faith, and became a terrorist. The power of free will is a frightening but unalterable reality. He killed thousands of people while still in his twenties and was arrested several times but never executed. Radzinsky makes a strong case for Stalin as double agent, betraying other revolutionaries to the tsarist government. The betrayal of his fellows became a deeply ingrained personality trait from which millions of Russians would suffer in the years to come.
Radzinsky carefully traces Stalin's rise to power. As a dictator, his hero was Ivan the Terrible, whom he sought to imitate in his ruling methods. In his zeal to force Communism on the Russian people, Stalin used every form of terror and torture, including mass starvation. Of course, religion was persecuted and churches were closed and/or destroyed. As shown in the film Burnt by the Sun (1994), the Revolution turned upon its own children during the Great Purge of the 1930's, in which Stalin sought to "purge" or annihilate any potential rivals, including the "old guard" Bolsheviks of 1917. The book places a great deal of focus on the Great Purge, since the author has had access to information in the Soviet archives previously not available to the public. The number of deaths is worse than I ever imagined. Throughout Russia, husbands reported on wives and children on their parents; entire families were sent to the gulags if they were fortunate enough to escape being tortured and shot. Stalin engaged in a similar purge after World War II, in which he annihilated the officers who had made the victory possible. His thirst for blood seemed never to be sated.
Since volumes have already been written about Stalin's role in World War II, and his interactions with other world leaders, Radzinsky did not spend too many chapters on it. It is odd how Stalin, who thought in terms of chess while everyone else played checkers, refused to believe that Hitler was going to attack Russia, in spite of receiving intelligence to the contrary. Stalin thought that the Soviet Union and Germany would be conquering the world together, which is how world socialism would be established. It was entirely out of character for Stalin to be taken in by Hitler but he was; it was the Russian people who paid the price with millions of casualties. In order to rally the people, Stalin allowed the churches to reopen and the holy icons to be venerated by those who knew that only God could deliver them.
The most frustrating chapter was the one on the Yalta Conference and the other post-war diplomatic disasters in which Stalin triumphed, hands down. I think Churchill and De Gaulle were the only ones who had an inkling as to what kind of monster they were dealing with; Roosevelt and Truman had not a clue. Of course, those who paid for the naivety of Western leaders were the already brutalized citizens of several Eastern European nations which were handed over to the Soviets to learn all about Stalin's ideas of freedom and democracy. The gulags and prisons were kept busy for decades.
By the early 50's, Stalin was planning World War III and the final annihilation of the Jews. The plan was supposed to launch on March 5, 1953, which ended up being the day Stalin died. His death, like other aspects of his life, is shrouded in secrets. Radzinsky's claim that Stalin was assassinated cannot be overruled. However it happened, his death saved many lives. I cannot help thinking of all the rosaries that were being said in the free world at that time for peace and for the conversion of Russia. After reading Stalin's biography, Our Lady's request to Pray for Russia has infinitely more meaning for me. It is hard for us to imagine the amount of suffering that went on for seventy years of Communism in a country as vast as Russia. No one really knows how many souls experienced untimely deaths. Every aspect of life was turned upside down and perverted by Marxism; every human relationship was placed under strain. Religion was erased or marginalized as the Communists tried to destroy all manifestations of faith. Being a missionary religion in itself, Communism, according to Stalin's plan, has indeed spread throughout the world. With thorough scholarship and careful sifting of data, Radzinsky's Stalin exposes the apocalyptic nature of the events through which many of us have already lived. Let the past not be forgotten, lest it be repeated.