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Conversations With Stalin (Penguin Translated Texts)

Conversations With Stalin (Penguin Translated Texts) [Kindle Edition]

Milovan Djilas , Anne Applebaum
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description

Product Description

A mesmerising, chilling close-up portrayal of Stalin from Milovan Djilas, a Communist insider - with an introduction from Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag and Iron Curtain

This extraordinarily vivid and unnerving book three meetings held with Stalin during and after the Second World War. Djilas brilliantly describes the dictator in his lair - cunning, cruel, enormously talented. Few books give as clear a sense of what made Stalin such a compelling figure and how he was able to hypnotise and terrify those around him. Djilas also describes the key members of Stalin's court: Beria, Malenkov, Zhukov, Molotov and Khruschchev. The result is a gripping account of the ruler at the height of his fame and power.

About the Author

Milovan Djilas (1911-95) was Tito's key lieutenant in the brutal partisan war against the German and Italian occupiers of Yugoslavia. His missions to Moscow aligned the Yugoslav Communist Party with the USSR, with his final mission in 1948 failing to prevent the break between Stalin and Tito. He was Vice President of Yugoslavia but became increasingly remote from a regime which he felt had betrayed the ideals of the party. His two major books, The New Class (1957) and Conversations with Stalin (1962), enraged Tito and resulted in his spending altogether some nine years in prison. His writings made him a central dissident figure during the Cold War. He continued to live in Belgrade until his death.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 627 KB
  • Print Length: 161 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B0000CLPJP
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (2 Jan 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00GED8DQ0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #302,694 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The book is a 1961 recollection of three visits to Russia, which included several meetings with Stalin in the period of 1943 to 1948, written by Milovan Djilas, a then leading Yugoslav communist. Djilas, who wrote the book inbetween two stints in jail over no longer toeing the party line, does an excellent job of combining both the rapture of the meetings from his 1940s perspective, as well as the sobering effect that both the meetings, as well as his later experiences had.

The book is perhaps not the most useful source of historical info on the period, or even of a comprehensive understanding of Stalin's character but it does form a good puzzle piece to get a 'rich picture' understanding of the Yugoslav-Soviet relationships at the time, as well as of how Moscow operated from a foreign Communist movement's point of view.

Djilas peppers the book with his impressions of leading characters of the time, from Dimitrov (Comintern & Bulgarian Communist leader), to Khruschev, Beriya, Molotov, various leading figures of the Yugoslav communist movement (Hebrang does not a good character reference get; Tito, Kardelj and Rankovic are not explicitly assessed, though) and these impressions are certainly one of the strengths of the book.

At the same time, he describes some of his disenfranchisement with the Soviet approach and the slowly developing disillusionment of many aspects of the communist ideals or more precisely, of the implementation thereoff (especially the Soviet kind).

The author does not hide his fascination with Stalin as a character, although it is never without reservations. The late night dinner events, filled with thrusts and parries, probing and other means used by the Soviet leadership to further their goals.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Yugoslav Socialist Meets Stalin and Loses His Faith 16 Jan 1999
By Richard R - Published on
Milovan Djilas was one of four senior members of Tito's government until his expulsion from the Yugoslav Communist party in 1954 and eventual imprisonment on political charges. He wrote "Conversations With Stalin" in 1961, between arrests. The book is a diary of Djilas' three voyages to Moscow in 1943, 44, and 48. Djilas, his memories no doubt leavened by hindsight, titles the three meetings "Raptures", "Doubts", and "Disappointments", and as these names indicate, the book chronicles his growing disillusionment with Soviet-led socialism.
Djilas was an educated man, a sophisticated thinker and a writer. So that when we read passages in the "Raptures" section such as, "My entire being quivered from the joyous anticipation of an imminent encounter with the Soviet Union", it seems clear that he was not the naïf that he makes himself out to be. Rather, given his circumstances at the time that he was writing, he was heightening the sense of his early fascination with all things Soviet so that his later disenchantment is all the more palpable.
The book fascinates with its detail. Djilas travels to Moscow as a foreign dignitary to discuss Yugoslav-Soviet policies. He must cool his heels for days before he is finally summoned to meet Stalin, and then the meetings are typically all night dinners with copious drinking and byzantine political subtext to the conversation. Stalin dominates the discussion so thoroughly that when he insists that the Netherlands was not a member of the Benelux union, nobody dares correct him. Djilas recognizes traits of greatness in Stalin, his ruthlessness and far-sightedness. He describes these not out of regard or respect, but because they are precisely the qualities which make Stalin evil. "Every crime was possible to Stalin, for there was not one he had not committed."
As doubts begin to creep in for Djilas, he records the development of his own cynicism. "In politics, more than in anything else, the beginning of everything lies in moral indignation and in doubt of the good intentions of others". His portraits of Krushchev, open-minded and clever; of Molotov, Stalin's taciturn lieutenant; Dimitrov, the powerful Bulgarian kept on Stalin's string; Beria, sinister and drunk; and a host of other prominent figures make this book required reading for those interested in the era. The descriptions of machinations surrounding Yugoslav-Albanian-Bulgarian politics and his unflattering characterization of Croatian hero Andrija Hebrang are of great interest to students of Balkan history.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From idealogy to reality 19 Sep 2002
By Glen Engel Cox - Published on
Although I read this as a requirement for one of my classes this semester (East Europe Since 1918), I found it genuinely interesting, enough that I began and finished it in the same day. Djilas was one of the top communists of Yugoslavia, and was part of the first communist foreign missions to the Soviet Union. His book treads from the opening euphoria of the promise of socialism and its new expression, including the near-worship of its manifest leader, Stalin. Then doubts begin to creep in as he is horrified by the actions of the Red Army in his homeland and the relationship that the Soviets--communist comrades--wish to compel upon the Yugoslavs. Quickly this moves to deep disappointment as he realizes that for all their propaganda, the Soviets are truly just a different embodiment of Imperialistic Russia and that the more things have changed, the more they have actually remained the same. His personal insights into the character of the Soviet leaders lend this book a feeling of pathos that goes far beyond its historicity. Here, Stalin is seen as the man that he was, and his monstrosity is only magnified under that understanding.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An idealist becomes pragmatic. 9 Oct 2006
By Kevin M Quigg - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What happens when a young idealist has to deal with the Soviet system in his relations as a foreign representative. Djilas was a Yugoslav guerrilla who was chosen as a representative to the Soviet Union. In this series of meetings over a period of six years, his idealism is washed away and he becomes more pragmatic on the Communist system. Not only does he see Stalin for what he is, but he becomes cynical of the whole system.

This is an interesting and quick read. One understands why Yugoslavia broke away from the Soviet orbit. It also shows Yugoslavia wanting to make Albania a part of its country. We now know what that would have caused. This shows an interesting perspective on the different perspectives each East European Communist government had. This book is slighty dated.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ascetic Intellectual Meets New Ruling Class 23 Jun 2003
By Acute Observer - Published on
The Foreword says that human memory rids itself of the superfluous and retains only the important, as based on later events. It adjusts past reality to fit present needs and future hopes. MD says human relationships are more important than dry facts. He used his personal experiences to describe Stalin's enigmatic personality. How many others knew Stalin as an ally, became an enemy, and lived to write about it?
Wartime events led to misunderstandings with Moscow; they didn't realize that the resistance to the German and Italian invasion and occupation went on together with a domestic revolution. The latter caused friction with Great Britain (p.8). Moscow did not comprehend the fact that the Yugoslav Partisans grew into a regular army; Russian partisans were an auxiliary to their army. Tito's policy was to first look after their army and people, as in arranging an exchange of prisoners (p.10). The next was to form a new provisional government. While acting in their own interests, they followed the lead of Moscow (p.11). Djilas says their idolatry of Stalin resulted in an irrational acceptance of "unpleasant facts" (p.12). Djilas noted that Stalin's style was colorless, meager, and a jumble of vulgar journalism and the Bible (an ex-seminarian). Perhaps their hero worship was due to their need for a hero in their struggle against foreign and domestic enemies? Stalin's prediction of war's end in 1942 may have been a threat of a separate peace if no Second Front occurred.
In 1944 a delegation was sent to Moscow (p.13). It had a balanced ticket: General Terzich, Party leader Djilas, a financial expert, atomic physicist Savich, a sculptor.Djilas had never been to Russia and was not tainted with any "factional or deviationist past". They hoped to be recognized as the provisional legal government. Yugoslavia was famous in Russia for their 1941 revolt (p.43). Djilas' article were severely edited; were they afraid of a plain language code (p.44)? Stalin's army purges removed the incompetent and promoted younger and talented men (p.50). One day Djilas was told of an important matter; once in the car he is told he will meet Stalin (p.57). Stalin was of small stature and ungainly, with the white face of an office worker (p.61). Stalin spoke Russian well, but with an accent; he had a real knowledge of political history. Stalin had a sense of humor, and was very close to Molotov. Stalin spoke of 'Russia", not the 'Soviet Union'. While Stalin did not promise to recognize the National Committee as the provisional Yugoslav government, that was his favor. Stalin agreed to give military aid, but said an air base in Italy would be needed; it was soon established (p.64). After the Red Army reached Yugoslavia supplies came by land. Stalin warned Djilas of English duplicity, using the example of General Sikorski's plane crash (p.73). This may have decided Tito's flight to Rumania in 9/21/1944.
"Life is no respecter of desires or designs, but imposes patterns which no one is capable of foreseeing" (p.104). The "cult of the personality" caused this leader to disregard the changing needs and desires or others (p.106). (Another argument for term limits?) Stalin's behavior was no different from a tsar or hereditary king; Djilas expected better. Djilas writes a flattering description of Khrushchev, who was then in power (p.119-120). "No one can take freedom from another without losing his own" (p.133). Is this a principle or just empty rhetoric?
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Drinking bouts with Stalin 16 Oct 2010
By Ashtar Command - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Milovan Djilas was a leading member of the Yugoslav Communist Party until he had a fall out with Tito and became a dissident. This book, however, is about earlier events.

As a high ranking Communist, Djilas visited the Soviet Union several times, conversing with Stalin in person. Their relations went from amicable to strained, due in large part to the deteriorating relations between Moscow and Yugoslavia. In 1948, Yugoslavia became the first Communist nation to break all ties with the Soviet Union.

Djilas book is titled "Conversations with Stalin", and does indeed concentrate on the actual meetings he and other Yugoslav leaders had with Stalin. Other Soviet leaders are also mentioned: Molotov, Malenkov, Khrushchev and the despicable Beria. The Bulgarian Communist leader Dimitrov plays a supporting role.

While the book does contain political reflections, its primary interest lies in the author's impressions of Stalin as a person. Somewhat surprisingly, Djilas reveals relatively little sensational information. The only time Stalin shows his true colours is when he defends Soviet soldiers who rape women and plunder civilians. Otherwise Stalin comes across as an energetic, domineering and realistic politician, with a somewhat cynical sense of humour. Of course, he expects the East European satellites to tow the Soviet line, refers to the Soviet Union as "Russia" and has a big problem with Jews. Interestingly, Stalin often took positions to the "right" of the Yugoslav Communists, fearing that they were introducing socialism too quickly in the liberated areas, and insisting on a compromise with the monarchists.

A large part of the book consists of descriptions of Stalin's dinners with the Soviet top brass, dinners that would last all night and usually degenerate into drinking bouts. Interestingly, Stalin drank relatively little. (According to some sources, Khrushchev would later claim that Stalin had been an alcoholic, but apparently that's not true.) The same cannot be said of his colleagues in the party leadership. Djilas depicts himself and the other Yugoslavs as strict puritans, who avoided heavy drinking for moral reasons, and warned each other about prostitutes. Djilas claims that the Soviet secret service at one point tried to "honey trap" him. Apparently, the NKVD regularly carried out interrogation-like conversations with foreign Communists in order to get them to inform on each other. When that didn't help, using prostitutes as bait became an alternative way to incriminate foreign visitors.

Djilas' Yugoslav nationalism shines through on several points in the narrative. He constantly depicts the Yugoslav leaders as puritans with a high revolutionary morality. In a later book on Tito, he paints a somewhat different picture! Djilas plays down the fact that the Soviet Army liberated Belgrade from the Nazis, this too in line with Yugoslav propaganda. He also supports the idea of a Yugoslav-Albanian federation, portraying it as voluntary from the Albanian side. Ironically, Djilas then reports a conversation with Stalin at which the latter cynically said: "So, you want to swallow Albania?" Khrushchev and the Ukrainian capital of Kiev are depicted in a positive light.

Occasionally, the book reveals humorous information. The first time Djilas visted Stalin he offered him some gifts from Yugoslavia, including a cheap pair of sandals and a home-made rifle. The Russian leader took no offense. The author describes the bizarre antics of the Panslavic Committee, a useless propaganda organ holding meetings in a Baroque palace somewhere in Moscow. There is also a description of a formal reception in the Ukraine, at which Communist officials had to tolerate the presence of an Orthodox bishop, this because Stalin had rehabilitated the Orthodox Church. Djilas also reveals that Stalin's book against Trotsky and Bukharin, "On the opposition", had been withdrawn from public circulation, since it contained too many quotes from his defeated opponents!

"Conversations with Stalin" isn't the most interesting book around, but if you are obsessed about peeping into the private life of a dictator, I suppose you might find this exposé of Old Joe throwing a party of some interest.
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