You mightn’t think there is anything much to say by now about Stalin, but this proves not to be the case. A few years ago, the gifted young historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore published a biography with all sorts of revealing details harvested from the ex-Soviet archives. Then he went on to write Young Stalin, an account of the formation of this criminal psychopath. It has always been puzzling that Russians were so terrorized that they never stood up to Stalin, but this book reveals what an unusual character Stalin was from the beginning, so ruthless and so indifferent to others that he had no qualms about killing.
A paperback edition is now out, and the BBC interviewed Sebag about it. (Full disclosure: everyone who knows him calls him Sebag, including me because I am a good friend of his.) He’d learnt Russian and Georgian for his researches, and made a point of visiting every one of the fifteen or so palaces or residences that Stalin has appropriated for himself. Fifteen, and he the leader of a movement renouncing property! Five or six of these were in Abkhazia, a beautiful part of his native Georgia. Sebag made a point of visiting every single one of them. An official, he explained in the interview, told him that nobody had previously ever been so thorough. Oh yes, there was this Arab who had checked all the palaces out, and his name was Saddam Hussein. That’s another truly revealing detail. We know that Saddam revered Stalin, and tried to model himself on the master gangster, even in living conditions, as it turns out. And what a difference it would have made to so many millions of people if Stalin had not died comfortably in his bed in one of the many residences he had purloined from his subjects, but instead been hanged on a scaffold like his Arab pupil.