Joseph Stalin's Rise to Power: Facts More Intriguing Than Fiction

UH Professor Personalizes Stalin’s Crimes in New Book Based on Soviet Archives

More than 57 years after the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, scholars continue to uncover long-hidden truths about his rise to absolute power and the reign of "Great Terror" that took more than a million lives and exiled many millions more.

University of Houston (UH) professor Paul Gregory, Cullen Distinguished Chair of Economics, has researched previously top-secret Soviet archives to better understand the early development of totalitarian regimes and further define the true history of the Soviet political-economic system. His work has culminated in the recently published book, "Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin's Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina."


UH professor Paul R. Gregory, Cullen Distinguished Chair of Economics, and author of a book about the complexities of living in the Stalin era.

The book's narrative is based on now-public Soviet documents, including some of the millions of microfilmed pages in the Hoover Institution archives, a Stanford University think tank. Gregory also studied historical archives of the Soviet state and party in Moscow and Berlin. The result is the story of the marriage of the well-known economist and Soviet founding father Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina, the daughter of his best friend and 26 years younger than he.

Following Vladimir Lenin's death in 1924, Bukharin was an ally of Stalin but, as the book graphically outlines, he would ultimately become Stalin's last opposition. The two clashed after they defeated Leon Trotsky. Bukharin's vision of the world's first social state, which advocated a more humane form of socialism in Russia, differed with Stalin's version of a totalitarian state. His opposition to Stalin drew him into the current of the "Great Terror," where more than a million of the dictator's enemies perished from 1936 - 1938 through execution and labor camp imprisonment. The book graphically tells the story of his and Anna's losing struggle, as Bukharin is accused of espionage and plots to kill Stalin. Bukharin's finest moment came at his public trial in March of 1938 when he renounced his confession and showed the whole trial to be a sham. He was shot three days later.


Gregory mined the Hoover Institution's archives to research his book.

"I saw I could write a history of the power struggle that followed Lenin's death and culminated in Stalin's dictatorship by focusing on the story of one couple. The reader learns much more about Stalin from this perspective than from a biography of him. I felt that at a time when Stalin's popularity is growing in Russia, it was time to personalize his crimes," Gregory said.

Bukharin was arrested, tortured, implicated in fictitious crimes during a "show" trial, and executed.  In his book, Gregory notes that foreign journalists, from publications such as The New York Times, New Republic and The Nation, assumed they were watching a legitimate judicial proceeding. Bukharin's wife, Anna Larina, spent 20 years in the Gulag and Siberian exile. She was reunited with their son, now 20 years old in 1956. Together they succeeded in clearing Bukharin's  name in 1988. In 1991 the Communist Party and U.S.S.R. dissolved.  In 1992, shortly before her death, Anna received Nikolai's farewell letter written fifty years earlier on the eve of his execution.

Gregory's years of research lead him to conclude that, in a setting of a one-party rule, power struggles will be won by the most ruthless contender. In such communist systems, the most ruthless dictators like Stalin invariably rise to the top. The Soviet Union, with its archives open, is history's best documented totalitarian regime. Gregory says we should apply this knowledge to understanding contemporary totalitarian regimes, which are closed to the outside world.

Radio Free Europe

Ross Johnson, curator of the Radio Free Europe Collection for the Hoover Institution, examines the Russian archive digital copies with Gregory.

Gregory is the Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen distinguished professor in economics at the University of Houston, a Hoover Institution research fellow at Stanford University, and a research professor at the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin. He is the author and co-author of 12 books and many articles on economic history, the Soviet economy, transition economies, comparative economics and economic demography. He earned a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University.

Gregory's current research on Soviet dictatorship and repression is supported by the National Science Foundation, the Hoover Institution, and a grant from the University of Houston under its small grants program.



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