Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization

Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization

University of California|1995|$40
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This study is the first of its kind: a street-level account of what Stalinism meant to the masses of ordinary people who built and lived it.  The book returns ideology and geopolitics, or the outside world, to the study of the Soviet socialism.  Kotkin was, effectively, the first Russian-speaking American in nearly half a century to be allowed into Magnitogorsk, a city built in response to Stalin’s decision to force-transform a predominantly agricultural country into a “country of metal.” With unique access to previously untapped archives and interviews, he forges a vivid and compelling account of this violent, non-capitalist modernization.  He argues that Stalinism offered itself as a utopia, a new civilization based on the elimination of capitalism.  He depicts a whole range of life: from the blast furnace workers who operated the enormous coking coal and steel plants and the families who struggled inventively with shortages of every kind to the political bosses who despite their loyalty were arrested, confessed to crimes they did not commit, and were executed. Magnetic Mountain signals the beginning of a new stage in the writing of Soviet political history.


“This book is a masterpiece. Rich in documentary research, compelling in its narrative, and stimulating in its interpretations, Magnetic Mountain offers as nuanced and well-reasoned an analysis of Stalinism as I have ever read. . . His reconstructions of center-periphery politics and the terror constitute the most satisfying local studies of these phenomena in print. In short, this book constitutes one of the most valuable studies of Stalin's Russia ever written. It is sure to become a classic.”

– Gary Marker, Slavonic and East European Review


“Kotkin’s careful portrayal of the physical form of this model of Stalinist socialism is un-forgettable.”

– R.W. Davies, Russian Review


“Kotkin attempts to move beyond debates over totalitarianism, the roles of Lenin and Stalin, the degree of social support for the regime, and the other stale categories and problems of Soviet historiography to a multilayered examination of power and daily life based on the dynamics of society, culture, and language. Learning to speak and think and be Bolshevik is what constitutes Stalinist "civilization." Kotkin builds this claim upon massive research in a wide array of sources. He has a feel for reading the social text, for interpreting the sources, and for finding policy agendas and judging their consequences at various layers of the new urban society of Magnitogorsk. . .  After Kotkin it is no longer possible to offer the evil Stalin or other monodimensional explanations (internal bureaucratic wars, center-periphery conflicts) as sufficient explanation for the purges, or for that matter much else in Soviet history.”

– Daniel Orlovsky, International Labor and Working Class History