This is a book not simply about Stalin -- who does not appear in narrative form until ch. 2 (about 20% in), but more generally deals with both the legal and the moral problems connected with the notion of 'genocide' per se. Since the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide, genocide has been defined as mass murder directed against ethnic, national, racial, and religious groups -- and has excluded (though not explicitly) the mass extermination of social and political groups, which were "after all" the chief targets of Stalin -- an exclusion that was (Naimark shows) a direct result of Soviet pressure and intervention in the drafting of the relevant UN committees in the late 1940's.
The general trend of postwar scholarship has been to view the Nazi Holocaust as sui generis, and as being fundamentally distinct from Maoist or Stalinist crimes (since Stalin and Mao, so the theory goes, were motivated by ideological -- that is, by intelligible…, rationally intelligible considerations). Naimark, by contrast, is a political conservative* who wishes to include Stalin under the category of "genocidaire" -- the avowed purpose being to allow for the explanation of Communist genocides (Stalinist Russia, Mao's China, Pol Pot's Cambodia) which do not -- and by design (see above) fit under the classic definition.
* Naimark has connections with Robert Conquest, the American Enterprise Institute, and considers himself to be working in 'Totalitarian' studies. This last is a 'term of art' for those scholars, generally political conservatives, who seek to associate Stalin with Hitlerism, while maintaining the ideological distinction of Left and Right, under the more general rubric of Totalitarianism.
There is a discussion of this general approach in Kershaw's fundamental book:
And an example of it in Burleigh's:
The Left, by contrast -- when they have not simply followed Molotov and apologized for Stalinism (see below) -- have dealt with the Hitler/Stalin issue by asserting that "Socialism for One Nation" is essentially fascism (i.e., national socialism). Serge sneers at this Stalinist phrase in just this fashion in the Case of Comrade Tulayev. It is also the view, in part, of Bullock's Hitler and Stalin:
(http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/782319.Hitler_and_Stalin), a stunning book. There is also a good discussion (finally) of the difference between Hitlerism and Stalinism, with an emphasis on the organization of power -- a superb discussion, in fact -- in Burrin:
Burrin's point, as I recall -- or one of them -- is that while Hitler (in his capacity as Chancellor) allowed the Party to get swallowed up by the State; Stalin, governing as General Party Secretary -- the spider at the center of the web --, allowed the State to get swallowed whole by the Party.
At any rate, though Naimark is a conservative, the book does not reek of that ideological edge as do the books of Conquest, and I found much of his basic argument quite persuasive.
Ch. 1 is dedicated to the methodological issue outlined above. But it is not simply a methodological matter, since these questions form the basis of legal definitions that have now been used in the international courts (at the Hague and elsewhere) with respect to events in Bosnia and Rwanda. The material here is dry and not of great interest for the general reader (i.e., me). (The topic is then taken up again, however, from a more historical angle, in ch. 7.)
The good stuff -- and it's really good - starts with chapter 2.
After a fascinating (brief) chapter on Stalin's psychology and personality -- and seizure of power…, ch 3 takes up dekulakization and shows (while tracing its history) convincingly that it was, indeed, genocidal. First, it was carried out on a broad scale; secondly, Kulaks were persecuted as 'families', not as individuals…, and the taint was hereditary; third, dehumanization and broad stereotyping (collectively characterized as cockeroaches, filth, apes, to be eliminated, etc…; "We will make soap out of the Kulaks!"); fourth, mass executions (again, of entire families); etc.
Ch. 6, on the Great Terror, is also very good - though lamentably brief.
In general, the author seems to have an firm grasp of both the literature and the documentary evidence of the period, and he writes with poignancy. For me -- it was an excellent introduction.
Here is an except from Wikipedia on the Purge of Zinoviev and Kamenev in the Trial of the 16:
After the murder of Sergei Kirov on December 1, 1934, which started Stalin's Great Purges, Zinoviev, Kamenev, and their closest associates were once again expelled from the Communist Party and arrested in December 1934. They were tried in January 1935 and were forced to admit "moral complicity" in Kirov's assassination. Zinoviev was sentenced to 10 years in prison and his supporters to various prison terms.
In August 1936, after months of careful preparations and rehearsals in Soviet secret police prisons, Zinoviev, Kamenev, and 14 others, mostly Old Bolsheviks, were put on trial again. This time, the charges included forming a terrorist organization that supposedly killed Kirov and tried to kill Stalin and other leaders of the Soviet government. This Trial of the Sixteen (or the trial of the "Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Center") was the first Moscow Show Trial and set the stage for subsequent show trials where Old Bolsheviks confessed to increasingly elaborate and monstrous crimes, including espionage, poisoning, sabotage, and so on. Zinoviev and the other defendants were found guilty on August 24, 1936.
Prior to the trial, Zinoviev and Kamenev had agreed to plead guilty to the false charges on the condition that they not be executed, a condition that Stalin accepted, stating "that goes without saying." Nonetheless, a few hours after the conviction, Stalin ordered their execution for that night. Shortly after midnight, on the morning of August 25, Zinoviev and Kamenev were executed by shooting.
Accounts of Zinoviev's execution vary, with some having him beg and plead for his life, prompting a more stoic Kamenev to tell Zinoviev to quiet down and die with dignity. Regardless, Zinoviev put up such resistance against the guards that, instead of taking him to the appointed execution room, the guards took him into a nearby cell and shot him there.
After Kamenev's execution, his relatives suffered a similar fate. Kamenev's second son, Yu. L. Kamenev, was executed on 30 January 1938, at the age of 17. His eldest son, air force officer A.L. Kamenev, was executed on 15 July 1939, at the age of 33. His first wife, Olga, was shot on 11 September 1941 on Stalin's orders, in the Medvedev forest outside Oryol, together with Christian Rakovsky, Maria Spiridonova and 160 other prominent political prisoners. Only his youngest son, Vladimir Glebov, survived Stalin's prisons and labor camps.
Of course, while one finds these narratives pitiful, one must note that it was precisely Zinoviev and Kamenev who supported Stalin and who help to secure his ascent after the death of Lenin.
Reading the Wiki articles on Molotov and Beria and the events around Stalin's death -- the speculation is that Stalin was actually murdered by Beria --, the last days of Stalin -- the absolute dysfunction of the entire governing apparatus in his wake -- resembles the situation after the deaths of Mao -- and Hitler… much like a political Hiroshima.
At any rate, from 1917-1953, in Russia…, history was certainly playing itself out as tragedy…, and not as farce.