by Norman M. Naimark
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011. Pp. ix, 163.
Notes, index. $16.95 paper. ISBN: 0691152381
A volume in Princeton’s series “Human Rights and Crimes against Humanity”, Stalin’s Genocides takes a look at the Soviet dictator’s use of mass slaughter in pursuit of total mastery of the USSR, the Soviet Bloc, and the world communist movement, one which puts the dictator squarely at the center of events.
As such, this is a useful overview of one of the most horrific bloodlettings in all history. But there’s more, for Prof. Naimark (Stanford), author of The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945-1949 and Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe, among others, uses Stalin’s crimes as a lens with which to examine the nature and, indeed, the very meaning, of the idea of “genocide.” This has more than just historical significance, since mass slaughter is still with us. Thus, for example, Naimark notes that while paper definitions of genocide tend to deal with the killing of ethnic, cultural, or religious groups, a great deal of mass killing has been targeted at political or social groups, a matter that has implications for policy makers, jurists, and historians.
This makes Stalin’s Genocides of importance not just for students of modern Russian and European history, but also for those interested in very contemporary questions of international law and human rights.