Why is Stalin still such a mystery to professional historians? It's true, there's a great debate currently raging among historians about Stalin's motivations for assuming dictatorship. What were the external factors and what were the internal ones? Far from viewing Stalin monolithically as some kind of monster psychopath, most historians seem still to be wrestling with the implications of his politics and personality. I just finished reading a review of Soviet expert Oleg Khlevniuk's latest book, Master of the House: Stalin and His Inner Circle , The Yale‐Hoover Series on Stalin, Stalinism, and the Cold War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009). The reviewer, James Harris, makes the following interesting points about Khlevniuk's portrayal of Stalin's dictatorship:
"While the analysis excels in its explanation of how power came to be concentrated in Stalin's hands, it is on shakier ground when it explains why. Khlevniuk seems simply to assume that Stalin aspired to an unchallenged personal dictatorship. Of course, a study of Stalin's relations with his inner circle must explain the shift from the friendly collegiality of the late 1920s to the sycophancy that characterized the inner circle's relations with Stalin in the second half of the 1930s. On the surface of it, Khlevniuk has an open‐and‐shut case: Stalin achieved an unchallenged personal dictatorship by the late 1930s because that was his plan. Generally, what Stalin wanted, Stalin got. And yet, 'revisionists' such as Arch Getty and Gabor Rittersporn have developed and elaborated an alternative explanation across the last two decades. They have argued that Stalin and the inner circle were increasingly worried in the 1930s by evidence of hostility and resistance to their leadership at home and of the threat of invasion from abroad. Their fear came to infect relations even within the highest echelons of power. In their view, Stalin did not aspire to a personalistic dictatorship; it emerged as the relations of trust broke down, even at the highest level. Khlevniuk observes these fears, but they are hardly consequential in his analysis" (Journal of Modern History, September 2010, v. 82, no. 3, p. 766).