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on 8 December 2008
We all know about Yezhov during his high-flying quick career, but there is not much information known about him before. Until this book, that is.

If, like me, you choose to write your University report on the histary of the NKVD in Stalins Russia, than you may already know much about Yezhov, and how truly terrible the purges became under his appointment; so bad that the period has been named the "Yezhovschina" - The Period of Yezhov.

The book takes us through the main events of Yezhov's career leading up to his appointment of the NKVD, from his proletariat background as a factory worker in Sant Petersburg to the position of head of NKVD. The book does not focus on the NKVD head however, but instead on the events leading up to this. The main aim of the book is to clearly understand whether the Yezhov of the 1920s, the more friendly and less-sadistic Yezhov, and the Yezhov of the 1930s, cruel, merciless and "ruling with an Iron Fist" were the 'same person', and if so, what could cause such a change in Yezhov. One thing I picked up from the book concerning this question, is that Stalins infleunce upon Yezhov is great and clear.

Filled with many transcripts and list of figures of the time, the book also provides a look on how the party was organzied before Yezhov, who swiftly re-organized comrades and had everything running more efficiently. Following Yezhov's work in the Provinces outside of Moscow to his work in the party, and the Kirov assassination, before eventually finishing on Yezhov's beginings at the NKVD, the book provides a glorious insight to the RISE of Yezhov, unlike many other books which only focus on Yezhov as the NKVD chief.

Finished with a well-rounded conclusion and illustrated with some pictures I, myself, have never seen before, the book is definatly useful and I feel that others will benefit from it the way I did. I am very thankful that I found this as it gave me an insight into Yezhov the way that books and material available in Russia would not, it comes from a clear point of view, and holds many references and notes.

If you're lucking for information on his carrer as NKVD head, I would advise you look elsewhere as this book is purely information about events leading up to this.
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on 16 March 2012
This is a well-researched contribution to Soviet studies. It traces the rise to power of Nikolai Yezhov, but it also has a vast amount of fascinating information about the infamous assassination of Politburo member Serge Kirov in December 1934.

In 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev commissioned his ally Alexander Yakovlev to try to prove Stalin's complicity in Kirov's murder. As the authors write, Yakovlev "pressed for a conclusion implicating Stalin while several of the staff researchers argued that the evidence pointed the other way. Despite the high-level political advantages of implicating Stalin in the Khrushchev and Gorbachev years, no official investigation by even the most anti-Stalin Soviet administrations had accused Stalin of the crime ... The most recent scholarly work on the Kirov assassination from a Russian scholar, based on Leningrad party and police archives, concludes that Stalin had nothing to do with the killing."

The Yakovlev Commission concluded in 1991, "no materials objectively support Stalin's participation or NKVD participation in the organisation and carrying out of Kirov's murder." It stated that only `one-sided, superficial, unverified facts, rumors and conjectures' support the allegations of Stalin's complicity. The Russian government promptly suppressed the report.

Getty and Naumov note, "Stalin's solution was to quickly take the Leningrad NKVD out of the investigation altogether ...", and, as they point out, "Of course, if Stalin had engineered the assassination through the Leningrad NKVD, the best way to organize a cover-up inquiry would have been to leave them in charge."

Kirov's assassin, Leonid Nikolaev, was arrested at once. As the authors observe, "Nikolaev began talking freely from the start. He admitted to having planned the killing for some time because he blamed Kirov for persecution of the Zinoviev group and his resulting unemployment. He said that he had initially planned the killing alone but had then talked to Kotolynov [a `former Zinoviev supporter'] and others, who at first tried to dissuade him. According to Nikolaev, they wanted to kill someone higher up, like Stalin, but they later approved his plan. Nikolaev also admitted to contacts with the Latvian consul in Leningrad, whom he correctly picked from a photo array. Supposedly the consul had funnelled money into the plot through Nikolaev."

Interrogations of Nikolaev's oppositionist friends followed, "In some cases, the accused refused to confess to belonging to any conspiracy and maintained his or her innocence ... Others admitted to belonging to a `counterrevolutionary organization' but not to knowing of Nikolaev's plans. ... Another group admitted to the full accusation: belonging to a criminal conspiracy that organized the assassination."

Grover Furr's study of the Kirov murder, due to be published in Russia in 2012, proves that Kirov's assassin, Leonid Nikolaev, was the gunman for an opposition conspiracy.
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VINE VOICEon 17 February 2011
In September 1936 Nikolai Yezhov replaced Genrikh Yagoda as head of the NKVD (the Soviet Secret Police). Yagoda had orchestrated the first Moscow trial in August 1936 at which Zinoviev and Kamenev were pronounced guilty and shot. Yezhov's reign was brief and from February 1937 to November 1938 he served as People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs. In this role Yezhov supervised the Great Purges of 1937 and 1938 which included amongst its victims the hapless Yagoda. Yezhov fabricated evidence to suggest his predecessor had intended to poison Stalin. He personally supervised the torture of Yagoda and Marshal Tukhachevsky to extract confessions. In many cases trials were perfuctionary, or not held at all, as Yezhov pursued his objectives with increasing zeal, outdone only by the Soviet's chief executioner, Vasili Blokhin.

The authors set out to examine the accuracy of traditional accounts of Yezhov's career. These had painted him as "a dimwitted and obedient tool" who was discarded when his usefulness had ended. This view they suggest "looks backward from his two-year career as police chief and sees nothing." They challenge this interpretation calling Yezhov "an intelligent, hardworking and ideologically committed official" rather than a robot. Their argument is that Yezhov never changed his personality and his actions were those typical of the post-Old Bolshevik age of recruitment. Although Yezhov knew the charges drummed up for the trials were false he convinced himself they were true. When eventually he was purged, he blamed himself for failing to purge enough of the Soviet Union's enemies he believed were trying to overthrow Bolshevism.

The standard view of Yezhov is that he was spotted early on by Stalin who could see his usefulness in supporting the regime against its enemies. The authors claim that Yezhov succeeded by mastering the rules of the Soviet game. To succeed Yezov safely negotiated his way through the inter-personal relationships that characterised power politics in Soviet Russia. He worked at various levels in the Party building up personal contacts, selecting personnel and negotiating disputes. They contend that Yezhov was "not an amoral careerist" but someone who took ideology seriously. "When he had time to read, he read Lenin." Although he is often characterised as having personal charm, he was unable to shake off the image of the "poisoned dwarf" owing to his diminutive stature. In time, of course, it didn't matter as his images were removed from official photographs after his execution.

The recent opening of Soviet archives has enabled scholars to fill in some of the gaps in the life of Yezhov prior to the Great Purges. However, as the authors acknowledge, such material should not be read uncritically for two reasons. Firstly, the Bolsheviks had a utilitarian view of truth which they defined as that which served the Party's interests and should be evaluated in that light. Secondly, Soviet archival material was written for internal consumption and use, not for historical accuracy. In addition, Soviet archivists acknowledged that some material was removed from Yezhov's file. Nontheless the authors contend it is possible to abstract the truth of what happened from the myth that was preserved. In addition, the author only rely on literary sources from people who knew about or worked with Yezhov. They conclude that "we have a good picture of his official life but precious few glimpses into his inner personality."

Yezhov had worked himself into a position of trust with Stalin to the extent that the Soviet leader authorised Yezhov to supervise the investigation into Kirov's death in 1934. There was a general assumption that Stalin was behind the murder of Kirov who he saw as a potential rival, although the authors consider the absence of written evidence makes it impossible to come to a definitive conclusion. However, Stalin did instruct Yevhov to pursue a line aimed at blaming Zinovievists. This could have been to deflect incriminating evidence against himself or because he had nothing to hide. The notion that Stalin did not plan the Purges is mistaken. Although the Leningrad NKVD expelled over 10,000 people from the city (of whom one tenth were shot as traitors), its leadership were fired for incompetence and 157 security officers purged out of a total of 978 . Yevhov took the opportunity to smear Yagoda with the faults of the Leningrad organisation, thus undermining his position. He suggested a tightening up of recruitment procedures and warned the Party of the existence of low level oppositionists. He chipped away at Yagoda's position eventually convincing Stalin to remove Yagoda for not discovering "Trotskyite" treason sooner and replace him with Yezhov.

According to the authors Yazhov was the Party's leading expert on cadres and his appointment to replace Yagoda was, in many respects, a matter of selecting the most suitably qualified candidate for the job. This overlooks Stalin's willingness to allow Yezhov to undermine Yagoda and, in due time, to allow Beria to undermine Yezhov. Revisionists have sought characterise the Great Purges as a revolution from below opening up opportunities for a generation whose progress had been blocked. The authoritarian model of understanding the Soviet Union under Stalinism is the most productive means of understanding the regime. In 1938 Yezhov's wife committed suicide after coming under suspicion "for talking too much about politics with her guests." Virtually all those guests and their friends were arrested and executed at the same time as Yezhov.

The ideological impulse that subdued the individual and sanctified the State had little to do with personal ambition. "They did not think that what they were doing was evil; they thought they were fighting evil." They did so because they denied their individual capacity to think outside the ruling ideology. They condemned everyone not as committed to the State ideology as objectively opposing the historical mission of socialism and the Bolshevik revolution. They were wrong and millions paid for it with their lives. Five stars.
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on 20 February 2012
Once again J Arch Getty and O Naumov are going to rattle cages about the great purges and the misrepresentation of Stalin and the Bolsheviks during the period of 1930-1939. Once more the archives demonstrate that Stalin was correct and the anti-communist elements and fifth column - from Trotsky to Khrushchev - were wrong. Interesting that the man - Yezhov - portrayed as some manic blood sucking monster never was denounced as an 'enemy of the people' and his family survived to old age without reference to a camp or threat. Suggest you read 'Khrushchev Lied' by Grover Furr as accompanying document.
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on 17 February 2015
Adequate, but a fuller picture is now needed.
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on 15 January 2016
Intriguing and shocking
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