Joseph Stalin died 70 years ago today, having stamped his indelible mark upon the Soviet system. Stalin’s legacy continues to haunt the post-Soviet landscape, right up to the present war with Ukraine.
Ronald Suny is the William H. Sewell Jr. Distinguished University Professor of history at the University of Michigan, emeritus professor of political science and history at the University of Chicago, and senior researcher at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics in Saint Petersburg, Russia. His most recent book is Stalin: Passage to Revolution (2020).
The war in Ukraine has overshadowed the ongoing battle between Armenia and Azerbaijan. But both conflicts show the Soviet Union is still unraveling — with devastating, bloody consequences.
When he became the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev wanted to democratize the USSR without embracing free-market capitalism and end the Cold War without enabling US domination. The world is still haunted by his inability to achieve those goals.
The Russian Revolution led to revolutionary upheaval in countries far beyond Russia. Looking at Russia’s imperial borderlands like Finland suggests that socialist struggle can look wildly different in autocratic versus parliamentary conditions.
Ronald Suny’s Stalin: Passage to Revolution traces Joseph Stalin’s trajectory from his boyhood in Georgia to the Russian Revolution in 1917. In an interview, Suny explains the specificities of the Georgian socialist movement, Stalin’s role in the revolution, and why Stalinism was “bloody, ruthless,” and “the nadir of the Soviet experiment.”
Some aspects of Stalin’s life will always remain a mystery. But a fresh look at the Soviet dictator’s formative years can help us understand the rise and fall of the system he built.
The story of the Baku Commune’s leaders, who pursued power democratically and nonviolently, belies many of the myths of the Russian Revolution.