Man and Movement Overturn the Natural Order of Things

Stalin“He was a self-creation. A man who invents his name, birthday, nationality, education and his entire past, in order to change history and play the role of leader, is likely to end up in a mental institution, unless he embraces, by will, luck and skill, the movement and moment that can overturn the natural order of things. Stalin was such a man. The movement was the Bolshevik Party; his moment, the decay of the Russian monarchy. After Stalin’s death, it was fashionable to regard him as an aberration but this was to rewrite history as crudely as Stalin did himself. Stalin’s success was not an accident. No one alive was more suited to the conspiratorial intrigues, theoretical runes, murderous dogmatism and inhuman sternness of Lenin’s Party. It is hard to find a better synthesis between a man and a movement than the ideal marriage between Stalin and Bolshevism: he was a mirror of its virtues and faults.”

Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Montefiore, which is a long, excellent biography I am working my way through.

Last August, while eating dumplings at the Beijing beer gardens, I was talking to a couple people about Russia and China. I was the least informed at the table about both Stalin and Mao and that limited my ability to talk about either country’s history. I ordered biographies of each. Next time I’ll be a little less ignorant.

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Here are my lessons and impressions from China based on my most recent trip. Here is what modern Russians and Chinese have in common, based on my travels to Russia a couple years ago.

9 Responses to Man and Movement Overturn the Natural Order of Things

  1. Devin Reams says:

    Though nearly a decade older, Stalin by Radzinskii is my favorite biography (of anyone) to-date.

  2. Jude says:

    Read about Lenin while you’re at it. And an irrelevant map you might like: link to mcwetboy.net

  3. Nicholas MacDonald says:

    Which bio of Mao are you reading?

  4. Ben Casnocha says:

    "Mao: The Unknown Story" by Chang

  5. Kevin Burke says:

    I read this crazy story about Vladimir Putin yesterday night – apparently the Russian government orchestrated the 1999 bombings, instead of Chechen rebels

    link to kavkazcenter.com

  6. ElamBend says:

    Kevin,
    I’m not totally discounting that theory, but keep in mind the website you linked to is a pro-Chechen website. (KavKaz is another name for the Caucus Area). That conflict is marked by atrocities on both sides.

  7. ElamBend says:

    I was wondering the same thing. That one is a good one.
    We tend to over-emphasize our focus on Hitler and under emphasize out focus on Mao and Stalin. No fair reading of the 20th century can ignore the latter two. The whole triumvirate’s influence on that sad century is depressing. The fact that only one of them died an unnatural death is an sad injustice.

  8. Nicholas MacDonald says:

    I read about a hundred pages and put that one down… the style was too reverse-propagandistic. Chang seemed to want to label everything Mao ever did, even his actions as a young man, as indication that he was nothing but evil through and through.

    I still haven’t found a “balanced” bio of Mao (though, admittedly, I haven’t looked very hard), but all seem to be slanted either to “whitewashing”, or, in Chang’s case, “blackwashing”. Good objective bios of Zhou Enlai, on the other hand, seem to be easier to come by…

  9. Mar says:

    What drove the Russian and Chinese people into the despaired poverty that they had to climb out of? I claim that it was the oppressive and corrupt totalitarian states who ruled under the guise of communism while robbing the masses of all that they owned. The dictatorships of old never had the people best interests at heart, and I would argue, the current governments are still centered and invested around nearly all-powerful oligarchies. The current groups in power want to give the people neither freedoms nor money, unlike us Americans who tend to have both. I will argue that the “fat wallets” that the Chinese and Russians are now experiencing are due to a shift towards greater freedoms and liberties and away from a life of fear of secret police, collectivization, and mass purges.

    Mr. Casnocha, you mentioned that people in China will always pick a “fat wallet” over freedoms, (not freedom, I might add) and [I might also add, “Is this bribery?”] I will argue that in contemporary China it is not the denial of freedoms that is allowing for “fat wallets” but it was actually the introduction of freedoms into communist China that “has already reduced the number of Chinese living in absolute poverty from 600 million to 200 million” (Kishore Mahbubani).

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