The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin, A Novel
Counterpoint, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, 1999, 261 pp.
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Despite its title, this is a novel, albeit one based upon true events and people.
In the book we see a man, Joseph Stalin, whose life is devoted solely to his own advancement and acquisition of power. Lord Acton's famous quote "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." could have been written to describe Joseph Stalin.
Born Joseph Dzhugashvili in the Georgian town of Gori on December 21, 1879, he rose to be one of the worst tyrants of the twentieth century with the blood of millions on his hands. His alcoholic father was away most of the time working in a shoe factory in Tiflis. Since his three older brothers had died in infancy, Joseph was raised as an only child in Gori by his mother. He was close to his mother in his youth and her dream was for him to become a priest. But he had other ideas.
While in the seminary he began slipping out and engaging in minor crime. Eventually he was expelled and became a successful small time criminal. He soon drifted into revolutionary politics, but even while expressing passion for the revolutionary cause he put his own ambitions above those of the cause . Early in his political career he was instrumental in organizing workers for a supposedly peaceful protest march. But he also infiltrated a number of hard core agitators which guaranteed a violent clash between the crowd and the Tsar's troops. He planned the route carefully and then led the crowd through the streets and into the line of fire of the troops. As the shooting started he beat a hasty retreat via an escape route he had mapped out in advance. The slaughtered innocents fueled the revolutionary fervor of the workers and Dzhugashvili advanced as a leader in the movement.
The book covers Stalin's life from a young child to the murder of his archenemy Leon Trotsky. The author has Stalin writing to defend himself against Trotsky's attacks and to give his account of events surrounding his dispute with Trotsky. But the tone is not that of one trying to make himself look good by the world's standards. Rather it is an account of a life by one who is contemptuous of moral standards. He readily admits, even brags, about his evil deeds, betrayals, the innocents he has directly or indirectly murdered and his total lack of human feeling.
Trotsky, his chief competitor for leadership of the world communist movement after Lenin's death, is the one person still living who might figure out what Stalin did and expose his act to the world. Throughout the book Stalin alternates between telling his story, worrying about what Trotsky is up to in his exile in Mexico and plotting Trotsky's death.
There are many books describing Stalin's crimes more extensively and more graphically than this book. In this book we see a man who is proud of his success in suppressing all feeling for his fellow human beings and who views everyone – comrades, allies, associates, subordinates, strangers – as mere tools to be used to advance his unquenchable lust for power. A man who has no regrets or remorse about any of his actions.
The review of this Book prepared by Chuck Nugent