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The Catholic Historical Review 90.1 (2004) 154-155
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Stalin's Holy War: Religion, Nationalism, and Alliance Politics, 1941-1945. By Steven Merritt Miner. (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press. 2003. Pp. 407. $55.00.)
Steven Merritt Miner, professor of history in Ohio University, has written a penetrating book on the complex and profound role of religion, especially Russian Orthodoxy, in the policies of Stalin's government during World War II. Using a variety of archival sources, including the newly opened Russian archives and recently published documents from those archives, Miner examines religion's role in nationalism, Soviet politics, diplomacy, state security, Nazi-Soviet relations, and Western-Soviet ties. He shows how Stalin became aware of the usefulness of religion, how he used religion to wage a "holy war" to reassimilate the peoples in the Nazi-occupied Soviet west and to strengthen his hand againstWestern groups and institutions (Vatican, Polish government-in-exile, Baltic peoples, and Christian believers, especially Latin and Uniate Catholics), which opposed his annexations of the western borderlands and his expansion into Eastern Europe, and how he sold the "holy war" to British and American public opinion. In virtually every chapter Miner offers up new information and sharp and cogent analysis. He shows the constant interaction between domestic and foreign policy, and the crucial importance of religion, from its impact on nationalism to its effect on Western public opinion, in understanding Soviet society. He also shows how Western media and reporters supported Soviet policies, and how the Soviets infiltrated, manipulated, controlled, or influenced such stalwart institutions [End Page 154] as the British Broadcasting Corporation and the hierarchy of the Anglican Church.
Miner proves both with logic and documents that the principal purpose of Stalin's volte-face on religious policy in 1943, when he allowed a Russian patriarch to be named, was to help control the western borderlands. To be sure, Stalin also had his eye on his Western allies when he allowed the restoration of the patriarchate, but the primary purpose was to reassimilate the disaffected Soviet citizens, who had lived under German occupation, and to ease the expansion of Soviet influence among the heavily religious populations of Eastern Europe. In other words, Stalin supported a limited revival of Orthodoxy for security and political purposes, not unlike the tsars in practice, but quite different from the tsars in intention in that he was not an Orthodox leader but was simply manipulating the Church as a temporary policy to facilitate the absorption of the western borderlands, where religion was quite important and the memory of Stalinism in all of its violence and terror quite pronounced. Stalin never abandoned his opposition to religion and his belief in Marxism-Leninism, and after the war he and his successors again persecuted religion. Miner shows that the religious issue was at the heart of Soviet domestic and international concerns during World War II and after. His examination sheds light on the origins of the Cold War and of the Soviet Union's implosion in 1991. He is also able to refute some revisionist scholars, who argue that Stalin was not really an ideologue, but a "Red Tsar" or a practitioner of realpolitik.
Texas State University—San Marcos