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Legacy of a Merciless Enigma : STALIN IN POWER; The Revolution From Above (1928-1941) By Robert C. Tucker (W.W. Norton and Co.: $29.25; 672 pp., illustrated) : STALIN; The Glasnost Revelations By Walter Laqueur (A Robert Stewart Book/Charles Scribner's Sons: $24.95; 332 pp.) :

December 02, 1990|Jane A. Taubman | Taubman, professor of Russian at Amherst College, is the author of "A Life Through Poetry: Marina Tsvetaeva's Lyric Diary" (Slavica)

In Russia, history is politics. Today, as Russians struggle out of the Soviet period to the next stage in their history, each step demands judgments about (to rephrase Lenin) "What is to be undone?" Slavophile nationalists like Solzhenitsyn urge a return to Russia's pre-revolutionary historical course; Westernizers of the Sakharov school want to see her become a "normal" European democracy.

Yet before they can move along either road, Walter Laqueur reminds us, Russians must exorcise the ghost of Stalin. Was Stalinism an inevitable consequence of Marxism? Of Lenin's elitist and authoritarian Bolshevism? Of the decision to force a Marxist revolution in Europe's most backward country rather than, as Marx had foreseen, in Germany or England? Of Russia's authoritarian, anti-democratic political culture? Or was Stalinism a historical accident, a factor of Stalin's own warped personality? But then how could one unbalanced individual redirect the history of a huge nation single-handedly? Were the Russians as a nation that gullible? Why was Stalin so genuinely popular? What does his legacy say about Russian political culture?

Stalin thought he was leading a backward country to a glorious future; he now stands accused as the cause of all that holds Russia back. His ruthless forced collectivization destroyed the peasantry, and with it Soviet agriculture--perhaps for good, at least for a long time to come. His frantic five-year plans left a rust-belt legacy of inefficient, antiquated industry which pollutes the "new cities" built from scratch by enthusiastic young Communists, poisoning the lives of the very grandchildren for whom they sacrificed so willingly.

Stalin's "command-administrative system" and his institutionalized paranoia left Russian society without either the private initiative or the mutual trust needed to revitalize its economy and civil life. It was Stalin, as Commissar of Nationalities, who planted the seeds of today's ethnic strife through his centralizing/Russifying policies. And his purges cut down the flower of a generation, promoting young nonentities like Brezhnev, who prolonged Russia's stagnation by 20 years.

Those important new books by senior Sovietologists reevaluate Stalin in the light of newly available information. Robert C. Tucker's "Stalin in Power" is the second part of a projected three-volume psychobiography of the tyrant. "Stalin as a Revolutionary" (1974) traced his rise through 1929, when he defeated his Politburo rivals and concentrated power in his own hands. Volume two carries the story through the first five-year plan and forced collectivization, the murder of Kirov and the intensifying purges, and the growing rapprochement with Hitler.

Tucker writes psychobiography with tact and common sense, never letting Freud get out of hand, while his narrative holds the reader in grim fascination. He diagnoses Stalin's mania as czarist rather than Oedipal. According to Stalin's internalized "hero script," he would equal Lenin's achievement by engineering a "second October," the building of socialism through rapid collectivization and industrialization.

In reality, as Tucker meticulously demonstrates, Stalin's second revolution was a betrayal of Lenin's. It took its inspiration from the czarist tradition of autocratic, centralized state-building which began with Ivan The Terrible's great-grandfather, Grand Prince Ivan III of Moscovy. "It was a return to a state-sponsored revolution from above, aimed primarily at making Russia a mighty military-industrial power able to fend for itself in an unfriendly international setting and to expand its borders as opportunity allowed."

Stalinism was "a blend of Bolshevik revolutionism with the Great Russian chauvinism that Lenin correctly perceived in him in 1922"--a Russian chauvinism that was, of course, ironic in one who was not Russian at all and who, to the end of his life, spoke with a distinct Georgian accent.

Stalin was neither the first nor the last colonial to overcompensate. His primary models were the two most autocratic "tsar-reformers" in Russian history. Though others have pointed out the importance for Stalin of Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible (obvious to anyone who has seen Eisenstein's celebrated film), Tucker draws the parallels deftly. Peter provided Stalin's model for forced industrialization. In Ivan's destruction of the powerful boyar families and promotion from below for loyalty and talent, Stalin found a model for his own purge terror. Tucker notes that he even referred to his Politburo rivals with the archaic term "grandees" ( velmozhi ). Against Bolshevik tradition, but in line with Ivan's, he sought to eradicate not only his "enemies" but their entire family line as well.

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