“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.