Why are people so interested in Stalin’s personality?

He’s a man often seen as a paranoiac, a crazy man, who was able to control the biggest country in the world. How could such a large country be in the thrall of one individual? Now it’s true that Stalin was pathological I think. When one looks at the archival material you see this increasingly suspicious individual who was perfectly happy to succumb to conspiracy theories, who mistrusted friends, colleagues, even his intimate family; many of his in-laws ended up in the gulag too. So yes he was a very difficult, very problematic personality. But it’s obviously far too simple just to ascribe all the events in the Soviet Union to one individual and it would not have been possible for a man who was merely a ‘madman’ to run this country and to control it. So clearly, Stalin had abilities and capacities and ideas that spoke to his times and generation as well as a difficult personality.

Dr Judith Devlin

In a podcast for the History podcast series Dr Judith Devlin (UCD) explores the reasons why people are so interested in Stalin’s personality. Dr Devlin lectures in Russian history in the School of History & Archives UCD and is the author of Slavophiles and Commissars: Enemies of Democracy in Modern Russia (Macmillan) and The Rise of the Russian Democrats: Causes and Consequences of the Elite Revolution (Elgar).

Why are people so interested in Stalin’s personality?

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Image: Josef Stalin. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R80329 / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de], via Wikimedia Commons