Birth of a Man of Steel …for the Soviet Union

Summary: A brave freedom fighter against the Russian Tsar meets a legendary witch. She promises him that the revolution will be successful, and he will become the greatest leader who ever lived. It’s too good an offer for him to turn down, but he might regret it later. Also, see the book recommendations at the end of the post.

The Soviet Union’s Man of Steel, a man without a heart.

Statue of Stalin - Dreamstime-107877766
Statue in Gori, Georgia. ID 107877766 © Robert Khafizov | Dreamstime.

The Man of Steel – Part 1

Governate of Georgia in The Russian Empire, July 1906.

Soso dives deeper into the woods, the shouts of men and thunder of horses close behind him. Alone and armed only with a pistol, Soso is in no position to fight the imperial soldiers in hot pursuit.

He’s a wiry young man of 26 with lush black hair and rugged features, earning him the admiration of the opposite sex since he was a boy. As a Bolshevik and close accomplice of Lenin, he’s also a skilled fighter and revolutionary. But none of that will help him now. Soso leaps ankle-deep into a stream, hoping to escape into the thick canopy of trees on the other side. About halfway across, the revolver slips from his waistband and drops into the water with a splash. Soso curses and fumbles after it, but there’s no time to stop and search for the gun. He has to keep moving.

Soso races out of the stream and into the trees. He can already hear the horses splashing across the creek. Despite his best efforts, he can’t outrun them. So he does the next best thing. Soso hides in a shallow depression concealed by tall grass. Cavalry tear past him, unaware he’s stopped. One of the soldiers pauses just a few steps away. Soso freezes, not daring to move a muscle. He doesn’t even breathe. To his relief, the soldier continues after his peers.

Colorized photo of Stalin at age 23, taken 1 April 1902
Colorized Stalin at age 23 (1902).

Safe for the moment, Soso relaxes. He would like to double back the way he came before his enemies notice they passed him. Or at least his mind would like to. His body isn’t cooperating. Soso is hungry, thirsty and exhausted. He slips into a deep sleep.

Soso awakens and bolts upright. Hours have passed and the sun is setting. There’s no sign of the soldiers. Not wanting to be trapped in the wilderness at night, Soso staggers to his feet. In the chase he lost his bearings. If he can find the stream, he’ll be able to retrace his steps back to the road. He spends 20 minutes searching, but to no avail. Soso realizes he went the wrong way, wandering even deeper into the forest.

He looks up at the sun disappearing in the treetops. One of the black silhouettes doesn’t look right. It’s not a tree at all. It’s a house, a very tall one. He can see the thatch roof and a crooked chimney coughing little poofs of smoke into the darkening sky. The chance of making it home becoming less likely with each passing minute, Soso considers stopping here tonight. There’s still no sign of the soldiers, they must have given up and returned to the city. Asking for shelter for the night seems like the best option.

As he nears the house, he realizes it’s not tall, or at least not in the way he thought. It’s a simple one-room cabin. But the house is standing on two giant chicken legs.

Baba Yaga's Home - Dreamstime-53068167
ID 53068167 © Elena Schweitzer | Dreamstime.

He should reconsider the wisdom of approaching it, but the chicken-legged house feels strangely inviting. As if in confirmation of this, the front door swings open and a rickety staircase rolls out like a tongue. Soso uneasily closes the distance, stopping at the foot of the stairs. He looks over at the legs. They’re real and alive. The trunks of talons, scales, and feathers sway gently, like a living animal.

Soso ascends the stairs and steps into the house. The door slams behind him. He looks around. There’s a bed, a table and chairs, and a traditional tile stove on the far side of the room.

A woman dressed in rags is hunched in front of the stove. She turns around, and Soso finds himself face-to-face with the most hideous old hag he’s ever laid eyes on. Her skin is leathery and covered in warts. Her hair is white and straggly with a face misshapen. Her breasts are sagging almost down to her navel. All her openings smell foul, assaulting Soso’s nostrils from across the room.

She licks her lips and grins hungrily, showing a mouth full of iron teeth. Soso recognizes her.

It’s the Baba Yaga.

He can’t believe his eyes, this is impossible. The Baba Yaga is a fairy tale for children. She doesn’t exist. Yet here she is standing before him.

The Baba Yaga is an ancient figure with origins no one can quite pinpoint and also full of contradictions. She rides a giant, magical cooking mortar through the forest, pestle in one hand, broom in the other, to catch unwary travelers and eat them. The Baba Yaga is cruel and treacherous yet can be strangely helpful when she. At one moment she might try to shove a virtuous Russian girl into the stove, then the very next moment offer her a gift that saves her life.

Baba Yaga
Baba Yaga in “Vasilisa the Beautiful” by Ivan Bilibin (1900). Wikimedia Commons.

“You’re staring like you’ve seen a ghost.” The Baba Yaga cackles. “Do frail old women frighten you?”

“I’m sorry to intrude uninvited,” Soso says carefully.

“Who said you were uninvited?” She opens her stove, revealing the scorching fire inside. “Even in the summer it gets cold at night. Would you like to warm yourself?”

“I’m fine over here.”

“Then at least eat something. You must be starved.” The Baba Yaga scoops steaming broth into a wooden bowl and sets it on the table. It’s probably unwise to be rude in these circumstances, and he is starving. He goes to a chair and reluctantly sits down. Soso jumps in fright as the chair wriggles under the table by itself. “Relax and fill your stomach!” she insists.

He looks down at the bowl. It’s meat mixed with vegetables. Soso tries her soup and is surprised by how good it is. The meat is tender and well-seasoned, he wastes no time gobbling it down. The Baba Yaga brings her ladle and gives him another portion. Soso is halfway through that one as well in under a minute. She sits down across the table from him.

“I appreciate your hospitality.” He says between bites. “But there might be danger. I’m on the run from armed men. They could follow me here.”

“Those soldiers won’t be bothering you anymore.” The Baba Yaga assures him.

“They went back home?”

“No. I killed them all and turned them into soup!”

Soso stops chewing. He feels the bits of meat between his teeth. Men. He’s eating men! His stomach lurches and he spews broth across the table. The Baba Yaga doubles over and laughs at her prank.

“What do you want from me?” He demands.

“Clearly not meat.” She smirks. “I have enough of that already. I want to help you.”

“How? Are you going to eat the entire Imperial Army?”

“That would be ridiculous, even for me.”

“Then what?”

“Your little revolution,” she says. “Tell me about it.”

“We’re stirring up the proletariat against feudalism, just like Marx explained in Capital,” Soso explains. “Once we’ve awakened the class consciousness, we’ll overthrow the Tsar and establish an egalitarian, stateless society. All men and women will be equal. No more aristocrats, capitalists or landowners. Just workers standing together. Once everyone sees that our revolution will spread across the world.”

“Sounds like a fairy tale,” the Baba Yaga cackles.

“You brought me here just to insult me?”

“Not at all. Your plan just isn’t going to work. Marxism requires a fundamental change in the rules. You’re asking men to go against the instincts they’ve had since they were trading furs for sheep’s wool.”

Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin
Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin (1911). From Wikipedia Commons.

“Then what about last year?” Soso frowns indignantly.

“Oh, yes. St. Petersburg. Odessa. Battleship Potemkin. How did that work out?”

“We failed but proved how weak the tyrants are. We’ll win next time.”

“You probably will,” she agrees. “But not for the reasons you think. The people are on your side now because they hate the Tsar, not because they love Marx. Once the Tsar is gone, what then?”

“Lenin is a great leader. He’ll figure things out.”

“And yet I brought you here, and not him.”

“Why?” Soso asks. “What’s so special about me?”

“You have something I want. And I have something I can give you in return.”

“What, more man soup?”

“No.” She laughs. “A revolution that’s more successful than you could have imagined. This revolution will give birth to the mightiest nation that ever existed.”

“We’re not trying to build a nation,” Soso objects. “This is a class struggle.”

“This is something much better than a mere class struggle. This will be a nation that transcends nations. It won’t even be a nation at all. It’ll be a union. The Christian God feared mankind, so he confused men’s languages and scattered them. Your revolution will bring men back together again under one red flag.”

“And that’s exactly what I want.”

“Is it, though? I think you want more than that. And I can give it to you.”

“What?” he asks.

“The revolution isn’t enough. You never were a bystander, were you, Soso? You want to be in control.”

“Do I?”

“This is the most important moment of your life, dear,” the Baba Yaga cackles. “It’s time to be honest. Do you want power or not?”


“I thought as much. You remember from seminary school, before you were expelled that is, what Christ said about the faith of a mustard seed?”

“A man with the faith of a mustard seed can move mountains,” Soso says. “But Christianity is a bunch of nonsense. I realized that when I read Marx.”

“Christianity may or may not be true, but that part is. You are that man. You’ll be able to move mountains. You’ll be the greatest leader who ever lived. There won’t be anything you cannot do. There will be no enemy you can’t defeat, no army that you can’t crush. You’ll be invincible. You’ll be a man of steel.”

“All that sounds very appealing. But what do you want in return?”

“I want your heart. Give me your heart, and everything you’ve ever dreamed of, everything you’ve ever wanted, and so much more will come true.”

“But how am I supposed to be a leader if I’m dead? I can’t live without my heart. I would just fall over.”

“You won’t.”

“So I’ll just be walking around without a heart? That’s silly.”

“Silly or not, that’s the pact I’m offering you. Take it or leave it.”

“What are you going to do with my heart?” Soso scoffs. “Eat it?”

“There’ll be a day when you understand.”

“This is all very difficult to believe.” He’s skeptical.

“So is a house on chicken legs. Do you agree or not?”

As absurd as all this is, it’s too tempting for Soso to turn down. “Fine. You can have my heart.”

“It’s done then!” The Baba Yaga claps her gnarly hands.

“So how am I going to become this man of steel?” Soso asks. “Are you going to give me a talking doll or a glowing skull?”

“You atheists claim to be men of science but are so dismissive of the supernatural even when it’s right in front of your nose. No, there won’t be any dolls or skulls. Just some advice.”

“I’m listening.”

“Look to the past. The stories people of our country told over the fire for millennia, even before the missionaries arrived. The ancient folklore that I’m a part of, but people stopped believing in. Bring back those stories. Give people legends. Give people heroes. If you can do that, there’ll be nothing they can’t do. They’ll be just as invincible as you.”

“That’s all there is to it?”

“So little faith! I’ve made you invincible. Go forward without fear. You’ll never fail again. Any plan, any battle, no matter how unlikely or hopeless it seems, just do it. Move mountains. You’re not drawing that power from God. You are a God. The man of steel!”

The whole house jumps up. Its chicken legs are moving. Soso’s bowl slides off the table and clatters to the floor.

“That doesn’t make any sense.” He braces himself to avoid toppling over.

“It will eventually.” The Baba Yaga snaps her fingers.

◇ ◇ ◇ ◇ ◇ ◇ ◇ ◇

Soso wakes up. He’s back in the ditch. It’s morning and the birds are singing. His neck aches from sleeping in an odd position on the hard ground. But at least he’s not tired anymore. Or hungry. That’s odd, but he’s not going to think about that one too hard. What a strange dream! It was so vivid. Almost like it was real.

He hears the stream up ahead. But there’s something odd. Soso finds a path of broken shrubs and upturned earth, like a large object was dragged through it. His brain conjures up a fantastical image.

A mass of screaming men and horses fleeing in terror. The Baba Yaga rides toward them in her mortar, dragging a broom behind it. The soldiers’ weapons are useless and the witch is too fast. She howls in delight as she tears them all apart.

But it’s too ridiculous and Soso banishes the silly thought from his head. By the time he leaves the forest, his strange dream has already faded away, as all dreams do.

Tiflis is Georgia’s largest city, home to the local governate and the Bolshevik rebels opposing them. But there’s something here just as important to Soso as the revolution.

Though it’s still early, the streets are filling with people. Soso can walk in the open without fear. He’s a criminal, but not one famous enough to be recognized on sight. As far as any policeman would know, Soso is just another ordinary citizen.

He arrives home. Soso lives with Alexander, a companion from seminary school and fellow Bolshevik. Alexander resides directly beside the military district. His three older sisters work as seamstresses for the wives of the wealthiest noblemen of the city. That’s what makes his house perfect as a headquarters for the Bolsheviks. No one would even think of searching that place for enemies. No one would imagine the police chief’s wife having her dress measured one room, while a gang of rebels conspires in the room down the hall.

Soso enters and climbs the stairs. It’s still early and he doesn’t expect anyone to be up yet. Maria, one of Alexander’s sisters, is awake and greets him from the balcony. “You’re back.” She crosses her arms. “After being gone all night. Were you out robbing people again?”

“It’s not robbery,” he explains. “We’re expropriating capital from the bourgeoisie to fund the rise of the proletariat.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Sorry to have worried you. It must be a relief to see me back safe.”

“If something had befallen you that would have been a tragedy to be sure.”

“You would miss me.” He passes Maria and heads to one of the bedroom doors.

“Like a toothache.”

He cracks open the door and slips inside. The sound makes Kato stir in her bed. Trying not to wake her, Soso takes off his shoes and jacket by the writing desk.

At 21, Kato is the youngest girl of the family and the most delightful. Despite Soso’s efforts at stealth, her oval face pokes up from under the sheets. “Why were you gone for so long?” she asks groggily. “I could hardly sleep.”

“I ran into some trouble.”

“Any exciting adventures?”

“Nothing romantic like that.” He finds the passport in his jacket. “Me and the outfit tried to hold up a fat rich couple on the highway, but things went wrong and we had to run away.”

“How about another poem?”

“It’s hard to think up sonnets when you’re hiding in a ditch trying not to be shot.” Soso lights the passport on fire and drops it into an ashtray.

“You’re changing your name again?”

“I’m overdue for a name change.” He rifles through a pile of passports in the desk and settles on one. Koba, that’s as good a last name as any.

“Come to bed,” Kato groans. “I’ve been lonely.”

He joins her under the covers and she snuggles into his arms. Kato is as warm and soft as always.

“I have something exciting to share with you,” she announces.

“You do?”

“Yes!” Kato nods excitedly but hesitates to elaborate further.

“Eh? What is it then?”

“You’re going to be a father.” She waits for a reaction.

“We’re going to have to get married then.” Soso shrugs.

“Not just for appearance’s sake, I hope?”

“How could I not want to marry you?”

“We have to do it in a church,” Kato says. “That won’t bother you, will it? Even if you don’t believe in all that?”

“If that makes you happy, then of course it doesn’t bother me.”

“How will we find a priest?”

“I’m sure your brother and I can track someone down from school who can do the honors without drawing attention. But you can’t change your passport.”

“Passports aren’t what make a marriage real. After you’ve won, we won’t have to hide anymore.”

Soto doesn’t respond. He’s deep in thought.

“Is something on your mind?” Kato asks.

“Maybe. You liked all the stories I told you right from the beginning. I confess I might have been trying to impress you.”

“I never would have imagined! You don’t have to try. You’re the most wonderful man in existence to me.”

“But what if I wasn’t so exciting?” Soso asks. “What if I wasn’t a heroic revolutionary? What if I was a shoemaker?”

“Like your father? But I thought you hated him.”

“I do. He was drunk and a wife-beater. Nothing wrong with the trade, though. You wouldn’t bore of me?”

“Oh, Soso, I would stay with you no matter what you did. But what got you thinking about that?”


“The people’s revolution is so important to you!” she insists. “Don’t lose interest in it on my account.”

“I wouldn’t. It was just a silly thought.”

Less than a week later, Kato gets her wish. Soso marries her in the presence of a handful of friends. It’s too dangerous to conduct the wedding with anything less than absolute secrecy. Soso can’t even invite his own mother. The little gathering in the dead of night pleases Kato the same as a grand ceremony would.

As the lovers affirm their wedding vows before the priest, Kato looks the happiest she’s ever been in her life. Soso stoops down and gives his new wife a kiss, making her shiver with excitement. She’s dreamed of this moment for so long, but never had the nerve to suggest the idea too forcefully. Now it’s happening!

“This is the happiest day of my life!” Kato coos in his ear. “And it’s only going to get better!”

Soso glances at the tiny audience. He sees the Baba Yaga sitting in the back pew. She grins at him and her iron teeth shimmer in the flickering candlelight.

Return next Sunday for part two.


Critiques welcomed, but will be moderated.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are either works of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2020. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any matter without permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. This copyright overrides this website’s Creative Commons license.

Ian Michael

Author’s afterword

I hope you will continue to enjoy my regularly posted stories on Sundays. Also, the release of the print and Kindle editions of Ultra Violence: Tales from Venus will be announced soon. I also encourage everyone to follow my Facebook and Twitter pages for updates on my books.

About the author

See Ian Michael’s bio. Contact him at LinkedInTwitter, or Facebook. See his other articles on the FM website …

For More Information

Ideas! For some holiday shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see other posts about Russia.

Books about a giant of the 20th century

These are just a few of the many biographies of Stalin. Since his personal records disappeared and the most interested archives are held by the KGB (no public access), we will know the full story of Stalin sometime between the distant future and never.

One of the best biographies of this man is Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy by Dmitri Volkogonov (General of the Soviet Army, head of the Institute of Military History ), edited and translated by Harold Shukman (1991). Written from the perspective of a Soviet insider, essential to understand Stalin. It breaks with the steriotypes, presenting Stalin as “both a real person, capable of emotional reactions and contradictions, and, more surprisingly, a real intellectual who remained a serious, wide-ranging reader all his life.” See the review in the London Review of Books.

Stalin: Breaker of Nations by Robert Conquest (1991). One of the major western historians of the early Soviet Union, Conquest was widely condemned by western historians. Walter Laqueur’s review in the London Review of Books describes what came next.

“Then glasnost came, Conquest’s writings were published in the Soviet Union; alone perhaps among Western writers, he became a cultural hero both to the Russian liberals and to the conservatives, to both Russian and Ukrainian nationalists. It now appears that his estimate of the victims of the purges were moderate by comparison with those of Soviet writers. Furthermore, the totalitarian model dismissed by Western revisionists as hopelessly flawed, the product of anti-Soviet hysteria, has been avidly embraced by Russian writers and became the prevailing mode of thought in the Soviet Union. All this was more than a little embarrassing, and criticism of Conquest among the Western fraternity of Sovietologists has lately been muted.”

Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore (2007). He describes the young Stalin in a depth seldom described. As Sheila Fitzpatrick says in her review in the London Review of Books

“Montefiore’s new book on the young Stalin seems to want us to think in terms of a whole new level of charm and charisma, the charm ‘feline’ and occasionally ‘leonine’, powerfully felt by men and women, the yellow/honey-brown eyes often described as ‘burning’. This new Stalin has physical grace (despite the limp and the webbed feet) and a ‘detached magnetism’. He is a Caucasian, exotic and mysterious, as a man of secrets should be; a romantic poet of some achievement; a natural actor, who could win anybody over when he was in the mood.

“A man of affairs in all senses (women throng the pages of Young Stalin), this Stalin is a dangerous man with connections to the criminal world that added to his glamour in the eyes of well-born revolutionary intellectuals like Lenin and Krasin. ‘The underground was his natural habitat, through which he moved with elusively feline grace – and menace.’”

"Young Stalin" by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Young Stalin
Stalin: Breaker of Nations
Stalin: Breaker of Nations

28 thoughts on “Birth of a Man of Steel …for the Soviet Union”

  1. No one has ever heard anything about Stalin that did not come from a source (who) was in constant fear of being killed by Stalin … until the day he died. That includes all contemparaneous Soviet histories of WW2..

    1. I don’t necessarily buy that argument. Humans have repeatedly shown throughout history that they desire an identity. They want to be part of something great, and are willing to make incredible personal sacrifices to have that identity.

      When speaking to people, it is important to be mindful of their economic background. Talking to Russians is much like talking to an American. People from educated white collar backgrounds are often contemptuous of patriotism and national identity. But that is not necessarily indicative of the population’s feelings as a whole.

      Take Afghanistan for example. The Taliban’s popularity is growing, especially among young people. In the UK, young white women convert to Islam at a higher rate than any other ethnic group. Why? Because people are willing to sacrifice comfort and even freedom in exchange for an identity and purpose in life.

      Look at America. Trump promised to “make America great again” and his critics laughed at him. But he won. He lost the popular vote in a few liberal coastal states. But in the heartland of America, he beat Hillary almost unanimously.

      Why? Because people value national identity. Not so different from Russia, many Americans feel like we lost something. We used to be a great country, but are now a weak, fragmented one. The media and social elites repeatedly tell us that America is bad and we should all feel ashamed. It can hardly be surprising that a man, even a shady NYC business mogul, who promises to change that would enjoy a lot of support.

      So far, Trump has been unaffected by every disaster. I could be wrong, but I predict coronavirus won’t hurt him either. Why? Because that isnt the reason people voted for him.

      Liberals cheered when American farmers suffered in the trade war with China. They thought farmers would abandon Trump. They were wrong. Many farmers did the opposite and said they would continue supporting Teump no matter how bad things got. That’s an attitude no white collar, ivy league liberal can ever understand. The farmer is PROUD to be a part of the economic stand off between the USA and China. The media thought sacrifice would make the farmer lose heart. In reality, it did the opposite. The farmer feels like hes “doing his part” to win the trade war and male America great again.

      1. Ian,

        Re: your point about the elites and heartland.

        A famous reaction and somewhat typical reaction by one of Britan’s elites to Churchill’s “we will fight them on the beaches” speech was something like “Winston gave a nice little patriotic speech last night.” These were the people eager to strike a deal with Hitler.

        In 1932 FDR was also dismissed by America’s elites.

        “I could be wrong, but I predict coronavirus won’t hurt him either.”

        American’s have a history of mercilessly condemning leaders who show weakness during a crisis. As Trump has, in spades.

      2. Saying that coronavirus isnt a big deal may work for him, provided that there arent any huge outbreaks.

        Right now perception of the threat is tribal. The left is hysterical, conservatives mostly agree with Trump that it is overblown.

        The left COULD make this an effective attack on Trump, but have no message discipline. They want to bash Trump’s slow response… but it is much more exciting to leftists to whine about racism and open borders.

        Trump giving stimulus to people unemployed due to economic shut down could keep people happy… that’s no doubt the reason Pelosi has suddenly become a fiscal conservative and vowed to oppose ANY aid to people out of work.

        Trump is truly blessed to have enemies this stupid.

  2. Also, nearly all the Old Bolsheviks died in the Purge, leaving Stalin conveniently the lone survivor

  3. General Shtemenko, Chief of Operations, Soviet Army General Staff in ’45, briefed him daily on the status & ops of each of the 70 Corps-sized units at the front, and noted that he retained it.

    Averill Harriman, financier & global man of affairs, who watched each of the Big Three work, called him the best informed & most effective decisionmaker of them, noting that he dominated their discussions by his prodigious grasp of a vast body of information.

    General Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, watched at Yalta as he did the railroad math in front of everyone to find out whether or not two Fronts & a Tank Army could be transported from Europe to the Far East in 3 months for the invasion of Manchuria, then held by the Imperial Japanese Army. He had the planning factors at his fingertips. When he came up with “Da.” Brook concluded “He has a military mind of the highest calibre.” Earlier at Tehran, he had methodically & systematically cornered Churchill into setting a date & naming a commander for Operation OVERLORD, which Churchill did not want to do then.

    Montgomery of Alamein visited Moscow postwar, and noted that he didn’t put a foot wrong in their strategical discussions.

    The westerners who worked with him on the critical strategic issues of the war all came away deeply impressed with his intelligence and formidable abilities.

    1. Stalin was without a doubt a brilliant man, he didn’t win the power struggle following Lenin’s death by accident.

      He deservedly has a bad reputation for the purge and disregard for loss of life in the holdomor. That said, he never acted irrationally. He successfully continued industrialization, and fixed the rampant social problems and population decline following the civil war

      1. 1) The Societ economy and people mobilized to a much greater extent than anyone else… compared to the UK, which never really mobilized at all, even when faced with starvation.

        2) Stalin took a large calculated risk by emptying the eastern garrisons to Moscow, correctly assuming the Japanese wouldnt be a threat. Also shows how utterly useless Imperial Japan was as an ally, and never contributed anything even remotely useful to the Axis war effort, besides fucking around in China and dragging the USA into the fight.

        3) a lot of people fetishize the Wehrmacht, but Operation Barbarossa was pretty inept from day 1

        4) The idea that Stalin was caught by surprise is mostly a myth. He modernized the Soviet army, but wasnt quite finished in time for Hitler to invade. The Germans didnt know about the T-34, and Hitler stated he probably wouldnt have invaded at all if he realized how many tanks Stalin had.

        5) People are quick to point out the fispeoportionate Soviet casualties… but they were fighting Germany’s best units with all the accumulated combat experience up to that point… all that was left on the Western front were the dredges, and the Allies still suffered higher casualties. The Soviet Deep Battle concept was proper maneuver warfare… nobody on the Western front besides Patton understood maneuver warfare at all.

        It’s also worth noting that the French civilians were very excited for the Allied liberation… so they could steal and/or illicitly buy gasoline and supplies from crooked guards and supply units. That’s the major reason Patton and Bradley were constantly running out of fuel. Which is embarrassing and would have been lethal on the Eastern front.

  4. My assessment from everything I’ve read is that Stalin left the USSR in a good position, and could have quite easily grown and succeeded up to the present day.

    Spectacularly incompetent leadership for 30+ years starting with Kruschev and ending in Gorbachev is what ruined it. Almost everything they did was the opposite of Stalin’s policies… turns out they weren’t smarter than him like they thought.

    The economic recession in the late 80s was inconsequential compared to the massive catastrophes the USSR survived in the 20s-40s. Emptying Gulags and trying to reverse central planning were probably two or the absolutely dumbest ideas that they could have possibly done, with predictable results

    1. “My assessment from everything I’ve read is that Stalin left the USSR in a good position”

      He did, for the renewed war with Germany he feared in 15-20 years time. He wanted to preserve collaborative relations with the US, to deal with that possible threat.

      He didn’t anticipate a Cold War with the maritime Anglosphere, which is what he got.

      Michael MccGuire below was a Royal Navy intelligence officer, eventually Chief of the Soviet section of RN Intelligence.

      Michael MccGwire

      The Genesis of Soviet Threat Perceptions

      Executive Summary

      It is an axiom of Western politics that the actions of the Soviet Union created the cold war. So entrenched is this judgment that it carries a corollary with it: Soviet leaders must realize that the resistance of the West–the practice and philosophy of containment–is an inevitable result of their commitment to expansionism. It is difficult in Western perspective to imagine that Soviet leaders could seriously doubt this understanding of the past, however firmly the Soviets may deny it for the sake of public justification.

      The historical record suggests, however, that the Soviet Union neither intended nor anticipated the intense rivalry that developed. In the wake of World War II, Stalin saw a resurgent Germany in fifteen to twenty years time as the principal threat to Russia, and he sought to preserve a collaborative relationship with the United States as a means of containing the threat. It was not until 1947-48 that he acknowledged belatedly and reluctantly that the primary threat was an ideologically hostile coalition led by the Anglo-Saxon powers.

      This evolution of Soviet perspectives very likely has strong contemporary resonance. In 1969 the Soviets again committed themselves to a policy of collaborating with the United States and in 1983 they apparently concluded that such a policy was not feasible. Whether they have also acknowledged, as Stalin did, that the United States poses an imminent danger and whether they will in some measure repeat Stalin’s highly belligerent reactions are questions of major significance, and they require cool-headed assessment. However firmly we may reject the ultimate validity of Soviet perspectives, it is distinctly dangerous to misperceive what they in fact are.

  5. Imagine if EVERY maximum security prison in the USA was emptied, and several million violent gang members dumped into the population all at once. That’s essentially what happened with the Gulags, only on a much larger scale. The Gulags were sad and repressive, but it turns out that a lot of those people were there for a good reason… and living in a Gulag for decades doesn’t turn someone into a model citizen who should be returned to society.

  6. FDR constantly praised Stalin as a war leader. Heck, Time Magazine put him on the cover twice as Man of the Year. The Allies had compelling reasons to flatter him, starting with the fact that they had gone all in with him to form an alliance against the Nazis.
    As for the situation within the Soviet System, no commentary was honest until primary sources became available after 1991.
    I spent time in the eastern block countries before 1989. Only a lunatic or a fanatic would want to have preserved that system or to return to the reality of what it was. “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” The level of fear that ordinary people felt towards the State was off the charts compared to anything westerners have had experience with.

  7. It’s a fascinating story, full of meaningful golden sentences, wild imagination, and a rounded sense of wholeness that I can read over and over and wait for the next chapter.

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  18. Interesting first chapter. I await the next!
    That said, I see you’re working with a dearth of information about the early years of Stalin, of which must be guessed. My husband is originally from Chiatura. You must learn about Chiatura, Chiatura Mine, the German Krupp family, W. Averell Harriman, the Chiatura railroad, in order to understand the full, messy picture.
    It may or may not involve Baba Yaga, who I regard as an accessible literary device, but judging from my readings of George Papashvilly and George Gurdijieff, would not have actually appeared in Soso’s consciousness in 1906.
    The story is much, much stranger than you’ll imagine, and it will take the likes of a forensic accountant to deal with it all. Eventually Baldwin Locomotive would be selling the Soviets steam engines and the actual relatives of Upton Sinclair’s fictional Lanny Budd would be selling planes to the Nazis.
    Take a trip to greater Philadelphia when the COVID situation settles a bit. Truth is stranger than fiction, but fiction may be the only way to understand things well. As you settle into this journey, you’ll certainly know more than Mr. Pompeo, who tries “the dog ate my homework” ruse on the reporters who quizzed him about his field trip to Georgia this week. (transcript is in the State Department’s online record, nice and transparent)

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