Delving into your family history can reveal many surprises, but for Russian-American author Alex Halberstadt, it meant learning about his grandfather’s experience as Joseph Stalin’s bodyguard.
As the last living member of Stalin’s security revenue, his grandfather, who lives in Ukraine, spoke of the fear of coming to work every day with the possibility you could be executed in a purge. Halberstadt also revisits Lithuania, his Jewish mother’s home, to examine the legacy of the Holocaust and the pernicious anti-Semitism that remains largely unaccounted for. And he returns to his birthplace, Moscow, where his grandmother designed homespun couture for Soviet ministers’ wives, his mother consoled dissidents at a psychiatric hospital, and his father made a dangerous living by selling black-market American records
His book, Young Heroes of the Soviet Union, is an investigation into the fragile boundary between history and biography. As Halberstadt revisits the sites of his family’s formative traumas, he uncovers a multigenerational transmission of fear, suffering, and rage. And he comes to realize something more: Nations, like people, possess formative traumas that penetrate into the most private recesses of their citizens’ lives.
Below is an AI-generated transcript complete with timecodes. This transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the podcast episode.
Scott Rank 0:12
History isn’t just a bunch of names and dates and facts. It’s the collection of all the stories throughout human history that explained how and why we got here. Welcome to the history unplugged Podcast, where we look at the forgotten, neglected, strange, and even counterfactual stories that made our world what it is. I’m your host, Scott rank.
In today’s episode and episodes in the past, I’ve looked at the topic of family history, and that’s usually involved war heroes, Holocaust survivors, or in general people who overcame incredible odds. But sometimes family history can be a lot darker. That’s the case in today’s episode because this family history directly involves Joseph Stalin. Today’s guest is Alex Halberstam. He’s the author of the book young heroes of the Soviet Union. And his grandfather was the last living bodyguard of Joseph Stalin. He protected solid for several years survived numerous purges even though he thought that he could die any day. And he had to deal with the conflict of being a patriotic Soviet, but directly saw the purges that Stalin did in the tortures and executions ordered by him and his generals and all sorts of horrific things. Alex is a Russian American author, and he went to Ukraine to talk with his grandfather about those experiences, but also talk with other family members about the trauma they experienced in the Soviet Union. He went to Lithuania, his Jewish mother’s home to look at the legacy of the Holocaust and the antisemitism there, but he also recounts experiences of his parents who are against the Soviet system in the 70s. His mother consoled dissidents at a psychiatric hospital, and his father made a living dealing in black market American records selling john Coltrane LPs for a fortune. So we talked about some of the highest levels of power in the Soviet Union in this episode, but we also dig into some really big questions, which is A nation itself can experience trauma and whether or not our lives are lived in response to events that we can identify with and we don’t remember and they begin decades before birth, how do we deal with trauma? Is the citizen somehow responsible for things that a nation did? And how do we overcome that? So a lot to unpack here. And I hope you enjoyed this discussion with Alex Halverson. Alex, welcome to the show.
Alex Halverson 2:22
Thank you, Scott. Very happy to be here.
Scott Rank 2:24
Well, you have a fascinating family history. There is a lot to unpack here. And I suppose we can begin with your understanding of what your family history was when you were growing up. So what did you understand of your family history before you took it upon yourself to dig in and actually visit your family members abroad?
Alex Halverson 2:45
Scott, I grew up in the country that was known then as the Soviet Union. And of course, part of the I grew up in Moscow. My maternal grandparents lived in Lithuania in a city called Vilnius and my paternal grandfather lived In Ukraine, which was all part of the Soviet Union at the time, as you probably know, the Soviet Union was a kind of ideal state, right? It was a country that wasn’t based on the idea of the ethnic character or ethnic singularity. But it was based on the idea that it was a multinational, multi-ethnic nation, much like the United States. And you know, there was always an emphasis on saying that all people were equal. Of course, even as a kid, I knew that that wasn’t really true. My mother and her family were Jewish. And, you know, in the Soviet Union, the Jews definitely were not equal. So I was always aware of that. But I think having left when I was nine, my understanding about my own family’s history was pretty, I would say, pretty foggy, you know, pretty vague. I think my parents were, and my grandparents knew better than to tell me too much about it. It was a country where speaking openly about history was not a good idea and could be punished by any number of things. The Soviet past the Stalin era. especially things like collectivization and the great terror and the Gulag were not topics that were spoken about very openly, or written about very openly and certainly not among children, certainly not in schools. I did a couple of years of an elementary school in the Soviet Union in Moscow. And, you know, the image of the country that we were presented with was a very whitewashed one, a very patriotic one. And, you know, my book takes its title from a book we had as first graders, which was a textbook for first graders across all the 11 time zones of the city union, which was called young heroes of the Soviet Union, which was essentially a book about, you know, children, usually teenagers who had committed acts of patriotism for their country for which they, you know, usually were poor, which, because of which they were put to death or had died. So it was a pretty gruesome text for a bunch of seven-year-olds, but our understanding of the Soviet Union was pretty monolithic, and I would say pretty proud of You know, there was a lot of, I would say, propaganda and inoculation that was happening at the time. And, you know, I think like a lot of Soviet kids, I was pretty patriotic, I really believed in a lot of it. And I think I was too young to really have the conversations with my parents of my friends that would have given me a more nuanced vision, a nuanced notion of the country where we lived. So to answer this is a long way of saying, my understanding of my own family history was pretty incomplete. Right? And when you started to learn about this, specifically your grandfather, who was a bodyguard of Joseph Stalin,
Scott Rank 5:42
when did you learn about that? Did the rest of your family know about it, speak about it? And then I suppose you could mention meeting him too. And that whole story?
Alex Halverson 5:53
Of course, yeah. My grandfather who was in the Sealy grew up in Ukraine. He was an outstanding cadet and military school and Beginning in the early 1930s, he attended a school for basically secret policemen in Moscow and to be essentially recruited and sent to that school was a great honor. He was the son of a farmer. So, you know, he really got there through his own excellence as a soldier and an officer. And beginning in 1932, when he graduated, he was a worker for the organization that would come to be known as the KGB, essentially, the secret police which at the time was called the NKVD, and would later be known by other acronyms. And in 1941, he was, he was made a bodyguard of Stalin, which is a job that he kept until the end of Stalin’s life in 1953. As I was growing up, you know, I had heard about this in a very kind of, I think, vague way, beginning when I when we had left the country when I was nine years old. My maternal grandparents, I think, said it to me first. He was a man who had done unmentionable things, of course, with those unmentionable things where I wouldn’t learn until quite a bit later. He and my father had not spoken since I was three months old. My father really hated my father, my grandfather was really was not what you would call today a good parent. He was fairly brutal and physically abusive.
I think in his own way, he probably tried but
having the life that he did, I think, made him made his emotional life a pretty rudimentary one, you know, as I would learn later. I met him in 2004 for the first time and it happened because my father who lives in Moscow, his son, we would have this kind of monthly telephone conversation. And one day my father said, you know, a cousin had called me and told me that my dad is still alive. And at that point, it was 2004. I don’t think I think I had assumed that my grandfather had been dead for decades. He already was, at that time, 93 years old. And so this was a real revelation to me, I had no idea that my grandfather was alive. It came as a real shock. And by that time, I had figured out a little bit more about what he had done in his life, just by the dint of being interested in history, and having read a lot about history. And having asked my father and my mother some questions about who he had been. So suddenly, I was aware that he was alive and that he was actually still quite lucid, according to this distant relative. So I decided to go to Ukraine and meet him. Mostly because I was becoming convinced that through something that he said, This man knew that With me, help me make sense of my own life and help me make sense of my own family. By that time I had been living in New York. I was a writer, I published a book. So the idea that this part of my family was out there that this man would tell me these incredible things were still alive and could potentially talk to me about it was really fascinating. So I call them on the phone, and he picked up the phone and said, I said, this is your grandson. I’d like to come to meet you. And he said I don’t have a grandson. He had, I think he had assumed he had forgotten maybe. And then his wife, Sonya came on the phone and said, we have a photo of you. If you come here, you’ll remember. And in fact, he did. And so that’s really how the story of this book begins. As I went to Ukraine to a town called Bella city really called Tunisia where he had lived in the same apartment where my father had grown up all those years ago, and we spent several weeks together, putting together the story of his life, which was very dramatic and at times really quite terrifying.
Scott Rank 10:09
Well, yeah, I’m very curious about this. So what was his story when he becomes Stalin’s bodyguard, and then afterward and how does he personally express it? Is there remorse? Or does he still feel that he was part of a patriotic caused by what he did? What was that all?
Alex Halverson 10:25
That’s a really good question. It turned out that he had a really complicated story. And it was complicated because the government system under Stalin was incredibly complicated without sort of going down a huge rabbit hole. The bodyguards of Stalin reported to a man named general LASIK, who was basically almost Stalin’s chief of staff. The chief of staff is not quite it. He helped Stalin’s children do their homework. He was literally somebody who lived in Stalin’s home and was a member of his household. He was also by all accounts a man who was Not deeply bright or educated, but he was the man to whom all the bodyguards reported it and I think at the height there probably was around 500 of them. So putatively the bodyguards are part of the KGB. But Stalin didn’t trust the KGB. He didn’t trust almost anyone. So they were kind of an autonomous force. And one of the strange things that I learned as I was talking to my grandfather, is that he seemed to be very closely associated with a man named Levante Barea, who was the head of the secret police and also the head of the Gulag, the head of the prison camp system of the Soviet Union. And I couldn’t quite figure out how that worked. And it took me quite a bit of research, consultation with people like, you know, several scholars of Stalin, Simon seabag Montefiore in the UK, and Steven Kotkin, who is writing a three-volume biography of Stalin as a professor at Princeton. talking to them helped me figure out that there was a kind of tug of war between Barea and,
general philosophy, they essentially hated each other. And Vario was constantly trying to infiltrate the inner circle of Stalin’s bodyguards. And so he made a habit of befriending them and often sort of trying to draw them into his own circle, as a way of essentially getting some eyes and ears and stones, sort of, sort of, you know, stones retinue. I mean, as it happened in 1953. When Stalin died, many people think that he had been, in fact, poisoned on Joseph Lovering to various orders, and in fact, that barrier had killed him how I don’t know if that’s true. There is definitely a lot of debate about that, but You know, that barrier became the head of the Soviet Union along with Nikita Khrushchev, or I’m sorry, along with I think it was mountain cough, who, and for some months was the most powerful man in the country. He was eventually imprisoned and shot and was replaced by Nikita Khrushchev, who became the premier of the Soviet Union for the next 10 years or so. But, you know, my grandfather basically had become a kind of double agent. He told me a story about being in barriers limousine, barrier drove around in a Packard which was given to the Soviet Union by their wartime ally, the United States. It was a big black Packard limousine and he remembers being in the car while Barea abducted a young woman from the sidewalk, which is which barrier was known to do, he was kind of a womanizer and famous for abducting and raping women, and then essentially killing them. My grandfather told me, near the end of our time together about the had been part of one of these, one of these outings. And of course, he’s still, he seemed very broken up about it.
I think the woman was about 17 or 18. And
she essentially was kidnapped and raped by Barea. And my grandfather also told me about being sent by a barrier to, to Crimea to essentially participate in the ethnic cleansing, which I think we can call the genocide of the ethnic tars, which are, it’s an ethnic Mongolian group in Russia, who were forcibly relocated from their old home and Crimea to Siberia, relocation during which 10s of thousands of them died. And so I had trouble at first God, figuring out How he could have been working for two men at once two men who seemed to have almost in some ways, mutually exclusive jobs. And it took a lot of research to figure out that it isn’t that in fact, it wasn’t so uncommon that there was all of this overlap that between these two services and my grandfather’s, you know, stories from that time were, of course, absolutely chilling, because he had talked about participating not only participating in genocide and abductions but also, you know, as a member of the KGB, during the Great terror of participating and you know, interrogations, which often ended in the person being killed, on trumped-up charges. So it made the experience of talking to him a deeply ambivalent one, you know, how does it feel to have your grandfather be essentially a war criminal? That was I think that colored a lot of my answers. interactions with Cecilia when I first met him. And I’m sure that he told me what he told me was a fraction of everything he had seen and done. And to get around to the part of your question about how he presented it, it was complicated because at first, he wasn’t very keen to talk about it. He understood that he had been on in some ways on the wrong side of history, but at the same time, it was also a position of great power, right of proximity to great power. He had gone with Stalin to the summit’s of Yeltsin to Tehran, and in Potsdam, which all happen in sequence. He recalls meeting you know, befriending at 1.1 of the secret servicemen that were traveling with FDR, and becoming afraid when he realized that it might be seen as some patriotic to consort with American secret servicemen. So he in a sense, it was a very exciting job in a very privileged job. But of course from the vantage point of today. I think he understood that a lot of it amounted essentially to torture genocide. So I think that there was kind of him trying to reconcile these different attitudes, you know, what at the time must have felt like, you know, essentially a position of great power mixed with the current understanding of his being in a position of great shame. And I think he was trying to weigh those emotions when he was talking to me. And I think it was only after his wife, Sonia insisted that he come clean that he started to become more honest with me, because at first he kind of avoided that period altogether, as though the 40s just didn’t happen. And finally, she kind of slammed her hand on the table and says, Just tell him the truth. And that’s when the story started coming.
Scott Rank 17:53
I want to dig into his work and stories from his time with Barry and Stalin, but there’s one thing that jumps out to me when you mentioned that he served Stalin from the early 1940s up till his death. And what I thought was Stalin was known for his purchase. It’s typically high-level generals and politicians so that he wouldn’t have competing factions, he could hold on to his power. But I think how does somebody managed to survive purges it’s all in simply not do that to maybe lower-level functionaries. And it was higher up or did your grandfather somehow managed to strike an effective balance so that he wouldn’t be targeted by the two men he served who were rivals. I mean, it sounds very dangerous, yet he made it through.
Alex Halverson 18:36
Well, it’s weird that you say that because as far as I know when I met my grandfather in 2004, he was Stalin’s last living bodyguard. He was 93. And it was a job, obviously, that people didn’t really live very long in. A lot of them were murdered. A lot of them officially murdered, meaning purged, some were sent to the Gulag, some were shot quite a few times. committed suicide, because I think the pressures of those jobs were unimaginable the pressures on your sort of constitution, but also the pressures on your conscience. You know, you were constantly doing things that were morally unthinkable. Most of the people purged by Stalin were innocent. And I think it was assumed that the charges leveled against them were not supposed to be real charges that No, nobody believed them to be. At least most people, I think, understood that you know, people in the late 30s in Russia were killed by quota, Moscow called the local KGB office and said, We need this many people arrested today or this week, and that’s how it was done. But to go back to your question, I think my grandfather was a person who could seem a little naive at times, which was very much not the way he really was. He was a quiet person. He was very handsome. And I think he was very good at taking orders without questioning them. He was obedient. He was efficient, but he was also quite smart as I learned, and I Think often, he tried to use that to his own advantage. I’ll give you an example. When I came back from meeting him, I went, I started to do a lot of research about this period. And I found a book of, you know, essentially a book of every member of the secret Soviet secret police who had been in any way remarkable. So, anyone who had received high orders or metals, anyone who had gone to the Communist Party conventions, anyone who had been in a position of leadership, and sure enough, I did not find my grandfather’s name anywhere on those lists. And so I asked him about it afterward in a phone call. And he said, Well, you didn’t want to stick out. You didn’t want any notoriety. You didn’t want any achievement, because essentially, it would make you a target. So in the 1930s, the secret police apparatus of the Soviet Union was purged three times meaning all the leadership was essentially shocked, imprisoned, and removed. I think the secret police were purged more than any other sector of Soviet society simply because Stalin didn’t trust them. And also they had done horrible things that killing these people would essentially erase, right, to a certain way of thinking. And so my grandfather, I think, resisting any kind of promotion resisted any kind of notoriety for during those years, which essentially, I think, allowed him to survive. And he did it consciously not through the way things turn out. But deliberately, he said, One had to keep his own counsel, then, you know, and you didn’t want to stick out. And he didn’t, you know, he was somebody who could play dumb centrally. And I think that’s what he chose to do all through the late 30s because that was a time when so many of his co-workers so many of his teachers had disappeared. I mean, he would he said he would come to work and the person would be gone, and all mention of them would be gone and they would be airbrushed from photos, and their names would be removed from official records. People just vanished. And I think he realized that this was probably that remaining in our low-level position and not making a lot of noise was probably the best way to live through that period. Which is kind of remarkable because it didn’t start out that way. My grandfather had been secretary of the console, which is the young, Young Communist League. Every University in school has it. And he was it was almost being like the class president. So he had been the secretary of the secret police academy in Moscow where he had attended University and because of that position, he was invited to a dinner in the Kremlin on 1932, celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Communist Revolution, which is a dinner where he met Stalin for the first time years before he actually would work for him. In his capacity as a bodyguard, it’s also the night that dinner was the night one Stalin’s wife was either committed suicide or was killed depending on which account you believe in. So, he had started out with all of this kind of promise of, you know, a remarkable career which never materialized because essentially, it became too dangerous to have a remarkable career in the Soviet secret police.
Scott Rank 23:27
Something that I’ve seen in terms of getting into the detailed lives of politicians and other people is that bodyguards probably have the best insider information of anyone with presidential biographies in the United States. There are always references from bodyguards because they see the president when their guard is down. Eventually, a bodyguard might seem like wallpaper and you would say unguarded comments. So did you have insight into barian Stalin and have personal recollections of what They were like,
Alex Halverson 24:01
yeah, I asked him that question, of course, because it’s a really good question and it’s, you know, something people generally want to know about. He told me that he would Stalin, he said that he, you know, he said Stalin spoke to him maybe three or four times. He told me that one of his Jobs was Stalin would post banquets to the Kremlin. And usually, people drank vodka because vodka was what you drank. In the Soviet Union. At that time, there was also some wine from Georgia. And one of the things that people generally toasted with vodka, and one of the things that Stalin likes to do is he was like watching people drink while drinking water himself. You know, vodka doesn’t look much different than water. So Stalin was like to see people get drunk because he believed that made the more honest while staying sober himself and my grandfather stood sort of Against the wall at these banquets and there was inevitably moment he said, When somebody would raise, you know, raise a toast to Stalin’s health. And because the tables were quite long, they would sometimes get up and try to approach the horn physically too, you know, pronounce the toast, and his job was to essentially intercept this person who was probably already, maybe a little bit in the bag, and sort of guide them back to their seat. Because, you know, you weren’t allowed to approach someone physically. So, you know, and my grandfather remarked that he thought that Stalin always pretended like he didn’t notice this was happening, but he thought he knew that Stalin really enjoyed the show force he really liked. When this happened, he said that Stalin took Real pleasure and you know, watching this, watching him do this. But generally, though, he said that he would really admire Stalin as a person, he said, If he was modest and comported himself modestly and he was often concerned about people around him, he would. He said that the first time he spoke to him, he said, Are you getting your salary? You know, he wanted to know that people were okay. He really I think my grandfather in a way really looked up to him. He, he thought he was, you know, a great leader. I mean, certainly, at the time, that he was his bodyguard, I think he has his he told me that he thought that he was actually a really admirable person who was you know, modest and listened and, you know, was not quick to anger. Of course, you know, it’s hard to square that with what we know about Stalin from history right? So
it’s an interesting perspective
it’s interesting to remember that during this time, a lot of people really looked at Stalin almost as an as a demigod, you know, that this is not Like, this is not like a leader in a Western democracy. This was sort of the absolute leader who had, you know, taking the country through incredible calamities, some of which of course, were calamities of his own making collectivization, the great terror. You know, years of hunger and famine, of course, World War Two. So I think people really did a lot of Russians and a lot of Soviet citizens really did see Stalin as an almost godlike figure. You know, so I’m not surprised that my grandfather in a way maybe shared in that a little bit with very I think he hated barrier. He told me that he did because he said the barrier was the smartest at the mall. But and barrier really was, I think, a person of rare. maliciousness. I mean, he was somebody who was Was he, in some ways incredibly cunning and very smart. But also somebody who, you know, was the architect of, of the terror was in the architect of the Gulag, and kind of the person who carried out a lot of what we now know as, as the purchase. And somebody who personally took great pleasure in causing people pain, you know, there’s a story from, you know, history books where Barry is brought up from Georgia. He’s he, I think he was a deputy head of the Georgian Communist Party and sometime in the late 30s. You know, he’s, he’s known Stalin from before. They’re both Georgians, and he, he comes to Moscow. He’s now you know, has this new job as the head of the secret police so he invites his former boss from Georgia to Moscow. But this whole family, this is former This is the head of the former head of the Georgian Communist Party.
This is an
Simon seabag Montefiore’s book about Stalin. And he gives this man a tour of Lubyanka, which is the great KGB prison in the center of Moscow. And during this tour, he locks this guy and his wife in one cell and puts their teenage son in the cell opposite. So they can see and has his guards beat this son, their son to death while they’re watching, and then he throws a, you know, poisonous snake into their cell and leaves. That’s the kind of man he was. That’s, you know, he was really, I think you can honestly say that he was a sadist, you know, somebody who truly enjoyed inflicting harm and pain on people. And I think my grandfather said I hated him more than anyone. It was the worst of them. And also the smartest you know, so I think Barry was, I think, I think Yes, I think he endured being a wood barrier, but I think he also probably played along because he understood that it was important to, to his survival to, to play along and to be various in the various corner to essentially
cultivate various favor.
And strangely enough, when I said what happened after Stalin died, my grandfather said, Well, I was ordered to be a guard in a penal in a labor camp in a prison camp in Siberia. Now, of course, after Stalin dies, all of the guards all the bodyguards associated with him are either arrested shot or sent to work in the Gulag in such an Adela Alou as a memoir, this is Stalin’s daughter. I’m sorry. So Atlanta, It was meant more in the digital was from other. She writes that when it is announced that Stalin has died to the bodyguards kill themselves because they think to understand what’s coming.
You know, and
I think there’s a wide perception that there will be a purge. And in fact, there was. And I said, well, so why didn’t you end up going working in this labor camp? And he said, Well, I went to my grandfather says, I went to bury, and I asked him to amend that order. And I asked them to send me back to my hometown in Ukraine, so I could take care of my elderly parents, which is, in fact, what happened, because that’s where my, you know, my grandpa, my father was five at the time, and he packed him and his family bought a train and they went to Ukraine. They had one day to leave. They had to literally leave in 24 hours. So so so we know that this happened. And I said, Well, how did you first of all, how did you get a conversation with the most powerful man in the country, which at that point barrier was, and how did you get him to amend his own order? Right? I mean, somehow he did. So clearly, they were close. And he was, you know, clearly had spent a lot of time in a circle. And that story kind of convinced me that my grandfather wasn’t naive or slow that he was, in fact, actually quite smart and quite cunning. Because he saved his own life. You know, being a guard in the prison camp in the Soviet Union was not that different from being a prisoner in that prison camp, right? Because you’re still living in wooden barracks in the middle of permafrost, right? It’s not It’s not that big, you know, a garden a prison. It’s really like living in the same kind of wasteland, the frozen wasteland with the rest of the population of the labor camp, so
Scott, I have to be honest, I mean, there are a lot of things about my grandfather’s life that I will never know. Because, you know, I think he chose to share with me some of the highlights or lowlights or whatever you might want to call them. But it’s an interesting glimpse into that period.
Scott Rank 33:16
For sure. Right. And I want to take this story to the rest of your family that’s in Moscow and then elsewhere. One last thing with Stalin, though I’m really curious about because when you mentioned your grandfather had an admiration of his controlled character, but then Barry seems like a sadist. There are different types of totalitarian rulers. And some of them really do seem like say this, like Ed Amin and Uganda who had goon squads and torture chambers and personally used machetes to hack off limbs of people before they were gutted and killed. But then you have other totalitarians who almost have an innocence about them, and they believe that what they’re doing is for a righteous cause, even though they seem on the outside evil ridiculous like a subpar Murat Niyazov and Turkmenistan statue that revolved to face the sun. And in a weird way, he doesn’t seem like he’s a cynic. He really does seem to believe what he’s doing is helping Turkmenistan and what do you think Stalin was? Do you think he had sadistic tendencies or in his mind? Was there a way that having triggered famines and gulags and other things was really for the best of Russia in the world?
Alex Halverson 34:25
That’s a really deep question. Stalin was not a zealot. He was a profoundly smart man. I mean, he was a man who was personally involved in censoring art, for example, we know that he would redline manuscripts by novelists and playwrights, he would give Eisenstein edits on his films. You know, he was somebody who really was you know, he had gone to Divinity School, he was not an ignoramus. He was somebody who was quite interested in culture and religion. In terms of your question, though, it’s interesting. Certainly, he was Bolshevik I mean, he was somebody who was involved in Bolshevism before the Soviet Union. He had been exiled a number of times for his activities and his acts of terrorism, as they were called them against SAR. And certainly, his relationship with his inner circle with the other kind of old-line Bolsheviks before 1932 when his wife dies, we’re certainly collegial. I mean, it’s really in the early 30s, the death of his wife that things start to become very different. I’ll start to curdle. And the tenor of paranoia starts to overtake the Soviet government, which is not to say that things before that were in any way rosy. It’s just that I think Stalin was a believer in the communist cause. But I think he was also someone who’s sort of personal greed for power, whose considerable paranoia, really, I think, in some ways, worked his ideology. Not to say that I mean the ideology itself. Was filing from the beginning, even in the times of Lenin and Trotsky, the Soviet Union was, you know, a country that, you know, use violence and used a sort of what we now called acts of terrorism to achieve its goals. But I think, of course, Stalin took it to levels that were unprecedented, where, you know, he committed, you know, mass genocide against, essentially his own people, you know, unlike Adolf Hitler, who, you know, committed genocide on a mass scale against, you know, persecuted groups. Stalin targeted mostly citizens of the Soviet Union, which makes it kind of in a way more confounding, right. But I think and I think I think to try to pull apart the strands of where his ideology and that it where his paranoia began, is really difficult. I mean, it was certainly a cult of personality. He Certainly a dictator. In the purest sense, he was the absolute ruler of the country. He certainly used methods that have been emulated by many other dictators to maintain power, which is, you know, accusing members of his own government of espionage and, you know, the insurrection of having show trials and executing them. Certainly, he understood a lot about how terror worked about how fear worked about instilling, you know, this kind of climate of secrecy and terror, first on his own government and then on the entire country, you know, I mean, the instruments of terror are essentially carried out by ordinary citizens, you know, that no government can maintain control over the citizenry all the time. And so, you know, eventually, this became, this became the thing we call the great terror And the purchase was essentially carried out by ordinary citizens in the Soviet Union who, you know, informed them their neighbors in form sometimes in their family members, on their co-workers, you know, he transformed the country into this kind of paranoid Madhouse where people were, you know, arrested in the night on fictional charges, because they had been denounced by somebody where, you know, arrests were happening by quota, not due to probable cause, or evidence. I mean, it’s really one of them I think Stalin is really one of the great mysteries of the 20th century. You know, as a psych I mean, there have been many psychological profiles we’ve written some quite good.
But I think I think teasing apart
what made him tick in terms of, you know, what, whether, you know, whether he was an ideologue or whether he was a kind of personal paranoiac or kinda sadist. I think it’s very difficult. I think. I don’t know if there is an answer to your question that would be satisfactory. I think he was a mix of the two. He wasn’t purely in it for, you know, for the sadism, he was clearly somebody who believed in the mission of communism. And in the, you know, in the sort of, I think he, in some ways really believed in the project, the Soviet project, but at the same time, he also inflicted on unimaginable horror on the Soviet Union and on the people of that country that lasted for decades. So I guess, I guess I don’t have a satisfactory answer for you. I think it’s, it’s kind of a part of that is just the work of historical deduction. You know. He was a complex person, you know, and probably one of the most diabolical figures in human history. So I don’t know how to answer your question better than that.
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