This is the kind of book I
would have given my right arm for as a student. My classmates and I read a
basic text on Stalin's infamous structure to promote communism, that is, the
Comintern. We read collections of documents, but they were dry and boring and
we often had no idea how they fit into the main narrative. There was a certain
artificiality about the whole process.
Alexander Dallin, a household
name among those in the West who have studied the USSR and Russia, has teamed
up with F. I. Firsov, former head of the Comintern Research Group at the
Russian State Archive of Social and Political History in Moscow, to change
this situation-at least with regard to the evolution of the Comintern. Seldom
have I seen a collection of documents for which the editors have taken such
care not only to translate accurately but to include the marginalia as well.
Here, for example, Stalin's marginal comments are carefully translated. The
editors not only indicate which passages were underlined by the sender but
also illuminate the underlining done by the reader or by someone else who
looked over the documents. This helps give life to the documents.
The collection will interest
a variety of audiences. Students in upper-division or graduate courses on the
Comintern or the USSR in the 1930s and early 1940s will find it indispensable.
When combined with a good textbook it will help students understand their
subject. Specialists primarily interested in the life of Georgi Dimitrov or
Stalin will go to the original texts, but other scholars wishing to look at
the period through translated documents will want to keep a copy of this book
One of the more surprising
bits of information that I found in reading the book is that Stalin's and
Hitler's leadership styles may have been more alike than we realized. Those
who study Hitler know that he often ruled by giving ambiguous orders, open to
various interpretations, and then letting his subordinates fight it out among
themselves. That gave him operating room; those below him were unsure of what
the boss wanted, and he always had the option of claiming to have meant
something else. These letters give the impression that Stalin's behavior was
If there is any weakness in
the book it is the short introductions and conclusions that the authors
provide. I would have appreciated a few more pages devoted to a description of
the period under study, for the sake of students.
In the end, however, I have
nothing but praise for the book. It fills a gap in the literature and does so
in a way that even the casual history buff will find interesting.