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Stalin and His Hangmen: An Authoritative Portrait of a Tyrant and Those Who Served Him Paperback – 31 Mar 2005
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'Portraits of successive Soviet enforcers Dzerzhinsky, Menzhinsky, Iagoda, Ezhov and Beria which possess a ghastly fascination -- Sunday Telegraph
A superb and chilling analysis of the Stalinist soul through the characters and barbarities of its hangmen -- Daily Telegraph
A thorough study of the half a dozen men who made the USSR a hell on earth for three decades -- Guardian
Stalin, like Hitler and other tyrants, won and held power because he had collaborators - hangmen. Drawing on newly released archival material, Donald Rayfield gives us a fuller and more colourful picture of Stalin's inner circle than ever before. Stalin was not the sole author of Stalinism. What motivated his chiefs of police, Feliks Dzierzynski, Viacheslav Manzhinsky, Genrikh Iagoda, Nikolai Ezhov and Lavrenti Beria? What did they want? What were their relations with the regime and its ruler? How did their upbringing and experience mould them? And how does the terror they create connect with the terror they felt? Stalin and His Hangmen reconstructs the psychological mechanism of a whole regime and what it held together. The extent of the misery caused by Stalin and his Hangmen can be compared in Europe only to that brought about by Hitler and his henchmen. But Stalin's heritage is, if possible, even worse than Hitler's. His rule enslaved three generations, not one, the horror of what he did has not yet been fully understood and his countrymen have not yet found the strenth to disavow him. All the more important, then, that this diabolical tale should be told.See all Product description
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As the catalogue of horrors unfolded, I found myself wondering if Mussolini was indeed on to something when he gleefully mused whether Stalin had secretly converted to fascism. As Rayfield memorably points out, Stalin 'was no more a communist than a Borgia pope was a Catholic'. Even so, we are shown how the moral anarchy in which Stalin could operate was created from the outset by Lenin and the Old Bolshevik leadership. And although Hitler and Stalin clearly admired each other's tactics, Rayfield is perceptive on the essential difference between Hitlerism ('a cancer on the body politic, letting the body apparently function normally until the cancer destroys it') and Stalinism ('the larva of a parasitic wasp - devouring and converting to itself the body politic that it has invaded.'
There are some fascinating and even amusing facts to relieve the horror. Those famous Cheka leather coats, for instance, (later copied by the Gestapo) were apparently the result of Dzierzynski's solicitude for the health of his underlings (the typhus louse prefers wool to leather). During the Second World War, when Stalin was forced to seek support from the hitherto persecuted Orthodox Church as a national rallying force, he ordered a censorship review of the Bible which duly found it to be completely in accord with party ideology (!) And Rayfield quotes the final meeting of the Utah Communist Party, at which it gradually dawned on the few remaining members present that they were all FBI agents.
Rayfield's final couple of pages on the current regime in Russia were prescient when written and appear even more so today, over a decade later. That Putin could have authorised a set of stamps commemorating Cheka butchers should have been a warning to us all.
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