Stalin and His Hangmen

Stalin and His Hangmen : An Authoritative Portrait of a Tyrant and Those Who Served Him

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Stalin, like Hitler and other tyrants, won and held power because he had collaborators - hangmen. Drawing on newly released archival material, Donald Rayfield gives us a fuller and more colourful picture of Stalin's inner circle than ever before. Stalin was not the sole author of Stalinism. What motivated his chiefs of police, Feliks Dzierzynski, Viacheslav Manzhinsky, Genrikh Iagoda, Nikolai Ezhov and Lavrenti Beria? What did they want? What were their relations with the regime and its ruler? How did their upbringing and experience mould them? And how does the terror they create connect with the terror they felt? Stalin and His Hangmen reconstructs the psychological mechanism of a whole regime and what it held together. The extent of the misery caused by Stalin and his Hangmen can be compared in Europe only to that brought about by Hitler and his henchmen. But Stalin's heritage is, if possible, even worse than Hitler's. His rule enslaved three generations, not one, the horror of what he did has not yet been fully understood and his countrymen have not yet found the strenth to disavow him. All the more important, then, that this diabolical tale should be told.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 592 pages
  • 129 x 198 x 36mm | 440g
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Illustrations, ports.
  • 0141003758
  • 9780141003757
  • 425,473

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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 assassins.
Founded by Feliks Dzierzynski, 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 Dzierzynski 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 1938, terror mastermind Lavrenti Beria brought violent repression to a new height of ingenuity and sadism.
As 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 henchmenand 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 century.
Though Beria lost his power-and his life-after Stalin's death in 1953, 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. "From the Hardcover edition.
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About Donald Rayfield

Donald Rayfield is Professor of Russian and Georgian at Queen Mary College, University of London. He is the author of a number of books including The Literature of Georgia: A History and Anton Chekhov: A Life.
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255 ratings
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