The Mystery of Stalin

Paul Wingrove examines the starkly different interpretations that seek to explain the career of Joseph Stalin, who died fifty years ago this month.

Among twentieth-century statesmen perhaps none was so self-contained, enigmatic, mysterious and unapproachable as the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. To his closest comrades-in-arms and to foreign statesmen and diplomats he was a man of few words, reticent, patient and imperturbable, pacing or smoking quietly while he worked his way through a problem. His calm, thoughtful demeanour convinced even Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill that they could work with him and, to a degree, take him at his word. In the Soviet Union and in the Communist Bloc created after First World War, by coercion or as a voluntary act of allegiance, Stalin was the wise, omniscient, certainly unchallengeable, leader. His portrait appeared everywhere; the slogans praised his genius; and the history books told only of Stalin and his unerring capacity to be right. His was the steady, purposeful hand which, however dreadful the sacrifices, would guide the masses on the arduous path to Communism.

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