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READ KINDLE ⛏ Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him ⚧ Stalin did not act alone The mass executions, the mock trials, the betrayals and purges, the jailings and secret torture that ravaged the Soviet Union during the three decades of Stalin s dictatorship, were the result of a tight network of trusted henchmen and women , spies, psychopaths, and thugs At the top of this pyramid of terror sat five indispensable hangmen who presided over the various incarnations of Stalin s secret police Now, in his harrowing new book, Donald Rayfield probes the lives, the minds, the twisted careers, and the unpunished crimes of Stalin s loyal assassinsFounded by Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the Cheka the Extraordinary Commission came to life in the first years of the Russian Revolution Spreading fear in a time of chaos, the Cheka proved a perfect instrument for Stalin s ruthless consolidation of power But brutal as it was, the Cheka under Dzerzhinsky was amateurish compared to the well oiled killing machines that succeeded it Genrikh Iagoda s OGPU specialized in political assassination, propaganda, and the manipulation of foreign intellectuals Later, the NKVD recruited a new generation of torturers Starting in , terror mastermind Lavrenti Beria brought violent repression to a new height of ingenuity and sadismAs Rayfield shows, Stalin and his henchmen worked relentlessly to coerce and suborn leading Soviet intellectuals, artists, writers, lawyers, and scientists Maxim Gorky, Aleksandr Fadeev, Alexei Tolstoi, Isaak Babel, and Osip Mandelstam were all caught in Stalin s web courted, toyed with, betrayed, and then ruthlessly destroyed In bringing to light the careers, personalities, relationships, and accomplishments of Stalin s key henchmen and their most prominent victims, Rayfield creates a chilling drama of the intersection of political fanaticism, personal vulnerability, and blind lust for power spanning half a centuryThough Beria lost his power and his life after Stalin s death in , the fundamental methods of the hangmen maintained their grip into the second half of the twentieth century Indeed, Rayfield argues, the tradition of terror, far from disappearing, has emerged with renewed vitality under Vladimir Putin Written with grace, passion, and a dazzling command of the intricacies of Soviet politics and society, Stalin and the Hangmen is a devastating indictment of the individuals and ideology that kept Stalin in power Well done book about a difficult topic The author s point is that the biggest madmen of the 20th century could not and did not do all their evil alone and the story of their henchmen needs to be told Rayfield does a commendable job of pointing out how easily we were swayed by the British and American left into thinking of Stalin as a benign, occasionally misguided, idealist and how it was important for us to do so to be able to gird ourselves for the fight against fascism At times, the book g Well done book about a difficult topic The author s point is that the biggest madmen of the 20th century could not and did not do all their evil alone and the story of their henchmen needs to be told Rayfield does a commendable job of pointing out how easily we were swayed by the British and American left into thinking of Stalin as a benign, occasionally misguided, idealist and how it was important for us to do so to be able to gird ourselves for the fight against fascism At times, the book gets weighed down by its own story the specific horror and arbitrary nature of Stalinist terror is in a class by itself in quality and quantity But the portraits of Beria, Eshkov and the rest are deep and insightful.I wish the libraries and bookstores in the US would carry Rayfield s newest book on the history of Georgia I know it would take shelf space away from the Oprah book club and James Patterson, but it would be a real treat I bought Donald Rayfield s Stalin and his Hangmen six or seven years while I was studying modern Russian history in sixth form at school I never read it, though, because it was squeezed out by another book published at about the same time Stalin the Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore My present fascination with the writing of Vasily Grossman persuaded me to turn to the long neglected Raysfield for some additional background information on the nature of the Soviet state and the I bought Donald Rayfield s Stalin and his Hangmen six or seven years while I was studying modern Russian history in sixth form at school I never read it, though, because it was squeezed out by another book published at about the same time Stalin the Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore My present fascination with the writing of Vasily Grossman persuaded me to turn to the long neglected Raysfield for some additional background information on the nature of the Soviet state and the terror apparatus it spawned I m rather glad I did because this is a good book, though not a great one, a reasonably through treatment of the people and the institutions without whom Stalin could not have functioned in the way that he did.It s a set of mini biographies, or perhaps pathologies is a better expression, of Stalin himself and the successive heads of state security, appointed after the Bolshevik coup in late 1917 They are there in all of their fanaticism and depravity Imagine, if you will, some kind of reverse Darwinian progression, with successive stages of moral, sometimes physical, degeneration Imagine also a progress in inhumanity and cruelty that is a perfect echo of the progress and inhumanity of communism at large Now picture the men picture Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of Cheka, the first in a long line of sinister acronyms, and then those who came after Viacheslav Menzhinsky, Genrik Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov and Lavrenti Beria These are the principal players, though the book also features some of those spawned in their shadows, even deeper levels of ugly depravity It s also a biography of the institutions themselves and their evolution, from Cheka, to GPU, to OGPU, to NKVD, to MGB, to the FSB of today These awful acronyms both display and hide so much They are the cords in a binding wrapped ever closer around the body of Russia, tighter and tighter, as freedom was squeezed to death The awfulness was there right from the beginning in the system created by Lenin Stalin simply made it even worse, with the aid of his various hangmen.I knewabout some of the men featured in this book than others, quite a lot about Dzerzhinsky, who, if he had survived, would almost certainly have gone the same way as Yagoda and Yezhov, men who supped too close to the devil, and nothing at all about Menzhinsky I thought of Yezhov, who presided over the hysteria of 1937 and 1938, which we now know as the Great Terror, as the individual with most blood on his hands, but the weight is heaviest on Menzhinsky, head of the OGPU at the time of forced collectivisation and a state induced famine that lead to the death of millions There is genocide here, ethnic cleansing before the world had ever heard of ethnic cleansing The urban terror, the Yezhovchina, of 1937 to 1938 was bad, but the rural terror of 1930 to 1933 was even worse Rayfield tells his story well, scholarly but with a strong seasoning of passion, though I do have serious reservations over some of hisdubious judgements In Murdering the Old Guard, section six of the book, he says that Stalin was noa communist than a Borgia pope was a Catholic That s a rather odd contention because the Borgia pope I assume he is thinking of Alexander VI was a Catholic, just as Stalin was a communist The difference is the one was an aberration of a system of belief and the other its most refined expression More seriously, I think his analysis of Stalin s relations with Hitler both weak and seriously inaccurate at points, showing that his grasp of the twists in Soviet foreign and ideological policy is not quite as strong as it should be The conclusion, though, is superb As he says, it is a paradox that Russia s two greatest novelists Dostoevsky and Tolstoy in all their work insisted that only by full confession could the crimes of the past be absolved and life become endurable again yet today s Russian state refuses to abjure Stalin and his henchmen Hardly surprising when that same state is run by a man who is by career and choice, as the author puts it, a successor to Yagoda and Beria, a state where..the FSB has taken, in alliance with bandits and extortioners, the commanding heights of the country s government and economic riches, and goes on lying to, and when expedient murdering, it s citizens How much worse the situation seems to have become since I bought this book, how much Russia moves in an ever downward spiral, crushed under the weight of its unrequited history Until the story is told in full, and until the world community insist tat the legacy of Stalin is fully accounted for and expiated, Russia will remain spiritually sick, haunted by the ghosts of Stalin and his hangmen and, worse, by nightmares of their resurrection Leopold von Ranke once said that an historian should write well, but not too well and Rayfield almost falls into this latter category Moreover, there is no attempt to hide his absolute contempt for Stalin he does not refrain from using moral adjectives and so his book gains readability, but looses a touch of objectivity Hence, the missing star.That said, this is an outstanding book readable, intense, clearly authoritative Rayfield is fluent in Russian and Georgian, and appears to ha Leopold von Ranke once said that an historian should write well, but not too well and Rayfield almost falls into this latter category Moreover, there is no attempt to hide his absolute contempt for Stalin he does not refrain from using moral adjectives and so his book gains readability, but looses a touch of objectivity Hence, the missing star.That said, this is an outstanding book readable, intense, clearly authoritative Rayfield is fluent in Russian and Georgian, and appears to have a full grasp of primary sources.The book is structured as a largely chronological account first of Stalin, and then of the various and successive heads of the OGPU NKVD etc This gives Rayfield a chance to proceed historically, while at the same time presents mini biographies of ALL the principal actors from Lenin to Khruschiev There is thus a great deal on Dzierzynski Rayfield uses unconvential spellings , Menzhinsky, Orjonikidze, Iagoda, Ezhov, and Beria, on the Collectivization and the famines, on the great purges, the show trials, the Great Terror, and so forth putting all into clear focus He also covers all the other figures in some depth, from Lenin and Krupskaia to Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Molotov, the murders of men like Babel and Mandalstam, Katyn, and much, much else.And his portrait of Stalin is, to say the least, both balanced and utterly convincing and chilling.The one real surprise is his account of the radical and rapid thaw that Beria oversaw in the 100 days after Stalin s death For Rayfield, Beria who was undoubtedly blood thirsty and lecherous found a germ of humanity and quickly moved to implement it He was then murdered by Khruschiev and Molotov and the others because he was moving to liberalize too quickly I don t know if this interpretation, found at the end of the book, will withstand scrutiny On the other hand, he does allow that Khruschiev also eventually found a bit of humanity within himself Putin is then placed right in the grand tradition of other NKVD luminaries minus the alleged and late blooming humanity of Beria I have tended to find long books on Stalin and his regime a bit dull perhaps because they are such drab and unfeeling creatures but this one, under 500 pages serves as an excellent account, and an excellent introductory account, of the entire period.4.5 stars and highly recommended This a well written and well researched book based on the most recently opened Soviet archives, that reveals in great detail not only what a monstrous regime Stalin s was, but also how much its existance played into the rise of Fascism and Nazism in Europe.