Book Review: Stalin, Vol. 2: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941

“Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941” by Stephen KotkinThis is the second volume in the author’s monumental projected three-volume biography of Joseph Stalin. The first volume, Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928 covers the period from Stalin’s birth through the consolidation of his sole power atop the Soviet state after the death of Lenin. The third volume, which will cover the period from the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 through the death of Stalin in 1953 has yet to be published.

As this volume begins in 1928, Stalin is securely in the supreme position of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and having over the years staffed the senior ranks of the party and the Soviet state (which the party operated like the puppet it was) with loyalists who owed their positions to him, had no serious rivals who might challenge him. (It is often claimed that Stalin was paranoid and feared a coup, but would a despot fearing for his position regularly take summer holidays, months in length, in Sochi, far from the capital?)... [Read More]

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Book Review: Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla

“Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla” by Carlos MarighellaCarlos Marighella joined the Brazilian Communist Party in 1934, abandoning his studies in civil engineering to become a full time agitator for communism. He was arrested for subversion in 1936 and, after release from prison the following year, went underground. He was recaptured in 1939 and imprisoned until 1945 as part of an amnesty of political prisoners. He successfully ran for the federal assembly in 1946 but was removed from office when the Communist party was again banned in 1948. Resuming his clandestine life, he served in several positions in the party leadership and in 1953–1954 visited China to study the Maoist theory of revolution. In 1964, after a military coup in Brazil, he was again arrested, being shot in the process. After being once again released from prison, he broke with the Communist Party and began to advocate armed revolution against the military regime, travelling to Cuba to participate in a conference of Latin American insurgent movements. In 1968, he formed his own group, the Ação Libertadora Nacional (ALN) which, in September 1969, kidnapped U.S. Ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick, who was eventually released in exchange for fifteen political prisoners. In November 1969, Marighella was killed in a police ambush, prompted by a series of robberies and kidnappings by the ALN.

In June 1969, Marighella published this short book (or pamphlet: it is just 40 pages with plenty of white space at the ends of chapters) as a guide for revolutionaries attacking Brazil’s authoritarian regime in the big cities. There is little or no discussion of the reasons for the rebellion; the work is addressed to those already committed to the struggle who seek practical advice for wreaking mayhem in the streets. Marighella has entirely bought into the Mao/Guevara theory of revolution: that the ultimate struggle must take place in the countryside, with rural peasants rising en masse against the regime. The problem with this approach was that the peasants seemed to be more interested in eking out their subsistence from the land than taking up arms in support of ideas championed by a few intellectuals in the universities and big cities. So, Marighella’s guide is addressed to those in the cities with the goal of starting the armed struggle where there were people indoctrinated in the communist ideology on which it was based. This seems to suffer from the “step two problem”. In essence, his plan is:... [Read More]

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Book Review: The Naked Communist

“The Naked Communist” by W. Cleon SkousenIn 1935 the author joined the FBI in a clerical position while attending law school at night. In 1940, after receiving his law degree, he was promoted to Special Agent and continued in that capacity for the rest of his 16 year career at the Bureau. During the postwar years, one of the FBI’s top priorities was investigating and responding to communist infiltration and subversion of the United States, a high priority of the Soviet Union. During his time at the FBI Skousen made the acquaintance of several of the FBI’s experts on communist espionage and subversion, but he perceived a lack of information, especially available to the general public, which explained communism: where did it come from, what are its philosophical underpinnings, what do communists believe, what are their goals, and how do they intend to achieve them?

In 1951, Skousen left the FBI to take a teaching position at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. In 1957, he accepted an offer to become Chief of Police in Salt Lake City, a job he held for the next three and a half years before being fired after raiding an illegal poker game in which newly-elected mayor J. Bracken Lee was a participant. During these years, Skousen continued his research on communism, mostly consulting original sources. By 1958, his book was ready for publication. After struggling to find a title, he settled on “The Naked Communist”, suggested by film producer and ardent anti-communist Cecil B. DeMille.... [Read More]

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