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Customer Review

26 August 2011
The son of `Stalin's evil genius' tries in these memoirs to whitewash his father from his responsibility in the terrible fate of the USSR population under Stalin, by presenting the latter as `Satan incarnate' and his father as a (would-be) reformer. Thereby, however, he gives a revealing insight into the core of the soviet oligarchy, together with outspoken portraits of its main members, their tactics and deadly intrigues, as well as an `unofficial' characterization of the Party and the USSR economy.

Lavrenti Beria
As F. Thom states in her introduction, L. Beria was `a combination of an insatiable libido, ruthless ambition and unspeakable cruelty'.
After being co-responsible for the fate of millions of victims (executions, deportations, concentration camps, famine), the liberation of one million of Gulag inmates or the stopping of the jamming of Western broadcasts after Stalin's death outweigh in no way his evil doings.
L. Beria wanted a more efficient economy free from the Party tutelage (`All we have is a Gosplan, a sewer incapable of even assembling statistics'). But, that was a part of his master plan for becoming the new Tsar: break the influence of the Party by shunting its power to the State bureaucracy and the secret services.
For his son, L. Beria simply wanted to free the soviet people from feudalism. Under Stalin, three-quarters of the people were firmly bound to their collective farms.

As a person, Stalin was `Satan incarnate' taking a wicked pleasure in destroying whatever resisted him.
Nationally, he left the USSR on the verge on collapse and insurrection just before WW II, with a ruined peasantry, an exterminated elite and intelligentsia and a devastated arms industry.
Internationally, Stalin never wanted peaceful existence. For him, democratic States were incapable of a rapid and concerted reaction because they needed the support of public opinion. With his atom bomb, he was convinced that the USSR would achieve world dominance.

The Party
For L. Beria, `the Party had become a superstructure that accomplished nothing concrete, yet controlled and involved itself in everything without being responsible for anything.'
The members of the Politburo were nothing more than a bunch of opportunists and blackmailers. At the highest level, `there were only two exits - one straight into the other world, the other one into prison until they sent you into the other world.'

The USSR, its population and communism
These memoirs stress astonishingly a big USSR nationality problem: the struggle of the populations of the republics against `Russian chauvinism'. For S. Beria, communism was only a pretext for the interfering of Russia in the affairs of other countries and ideology was a mere instrument for claiming hegemony.
The USSR economy was pure State capitalism where people were exploited in an incredible degree and where the State grabbed absolutely everything.
Overall, those in power didn't give a damn for the fate of their citizens. More, these citizens were so terrorized that they even were afraid of their own shadow.

This book, with essential annotations and corrections by Françoise Thom, is a kind of hagiography of one of the masters of the USSR with very dirty hands. A must read for all those interested in the history of the Left.
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3.3 out of 5 stars