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21 November 2018

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Master of the House

Oleg Khlevniuk's new work focuses on the tip of the Soviet iceberg, on the Politburo in the 1930s - the crucial point when Stalin was cementing his grip on power, when the political system slid from oligarchy into dictatorship. It is a masterful, extremely readable tome (bias alert: the book's translator is Nora Favorov, a regular translator for Russian Life and Chtenia) that debunks theories about moderate vs. conservative factionalism during this period, and uses access to previously closed archives to provide incomparable insight into Kremlin court politics. Khlevniuk shows that the top leaders did not have entrenched ideological differences that crystallized into factions (i.e. conservatives and liberals), but that their policy differences depended in larger part on which institutions they headed and represented. In addition, he shows that the Soviet Union was a true dictatorship by this era, that "there is no sign of a single important decision taken in the 1930s that did not belong to Stalin and certainly no sign of any that were taken against his will."

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Jan/Feb 2009