Journal of Cold War Studies 2.1 (2000) 143-145
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The Stalin Years:
The Soviet Union, 1929-1953
Evan Mawdsley, The Stalin Years: The Soviet Union, 1929-1953. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998. 162 pp.
This book sets out to reexamine a topic of great historical importance, which has recently been illuminated by the opening of long-closed archives in Russia. Evan Mawdsley seeks to offer a broad overview of Stalinism by integrating recent scholarship into the mainstream of classical interpretations. This approach potentially could have worked well in summarizing scholarly debates and offering novel conclusions. But in the end, the book promises far more than it can possibly deliver, especially given its size and scope.
No doubt Mawdsley's book will appeal to readers who want a brief analysis of the Stalin era that combines a summary of previous accounts with snippets of new revelations. The Stalin Years contains seven chapters that cover a range of the most important aspects of Stalinism, from cultural and economic questions to the nature of the Great Purges, followed by an appendix of selected primary documents and a bibliographic essay. Mawdsley deserves credit for a balanced presentation and a logical development of the main issues. Some of his analysis is quite good, particularly his assessment of human and material losses during World War II, which is part of his discussion of military issues in chapter 6. The treatment of nationality problems in chapter 5, including the deportation of minority peoples in the 1940s and the annexation of western borderlands after the Nazi-Soviet Pact, is credible and succinct. Other parts, such as a section on collectivization and the peasantry in chapter 3, are revealing and insightful. [End Page 143]
Most important, the appendix is very effective in illustrating key periods of Soviet history through primary documentation. Excerpts from some of Stalin's speeches referring to "socialism in one country," the "cultural revolution," and "socialist realism" may be novel for the general reader, while others such as an "operational order" from the chief of the Internal Affairs Commissariat, Nikolai Ezhov, which helped precipitate the Great Purges, as well as correspondence between Stalin, the North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, and the Chinese leader Mao Zedong on the eve of the Korean War, will certainly pique the curiosity of the specialist. Also of interest are selected reminiscences of Vyacheslav Molotov regarding his continued justification of the Stalin terror into the early 1980s, and an uneasy conversation within the Politburo in the mid-1980s on Stalin's legacy and the rehabilitation of Molotov, Georgii Malenkov, and Lazar Kaganovich. Such primary references are valuable to include in any work aimed at a fairly disparate audience.
At the same time, the records highlighted in the appendix too often fail to inform the text itself. This book misses many of the archival revelations that have begun to revolutionize the field of Soviet studies. For example, the final chapter on Stalinist repression rehashes many old arguments about the assassination of Sergei Kirov and the ensuing Great Terror, without adequately taking account of several new studies that have revised our understanding of the 1930s in the Soviet Union. In other places as well, the documentation is weak. Many of the footnotes refer to the standard analyses of Robert Tucker, Robert Conquest, and J. Arch Getty, whose arguments are likely to be familiar to even casual readers, while ignoring recent path-breaking research by Russian and Western scholars. For a work that purports to be a "penetrating and up-to-date account of one of the most dramatic aspects of twentieth-century history" (the description on the back cover), such omissions are a glaring weakness. Instead of a "penetrating and up-to-date account," Mawdsley provides an often desultory and unnecessarily guarded summary of previous interpretations. Some of the essential archival findings of recent years are never broached at all, and the bibliographic essay is incomplete.
On a more technical level, this work is seriously marred by scores of typographical errors, misprints, and punctuation mistakes. Although a...