“If the testicles hold out, consider him acquitted by trial”


Among the gems in the archive, Brent tells us, is a cache of pornographic cartoons, idly sketched by Politburo members during their meetings. Stalin drew one graphic scene that illustrated his accompanying note: “For all the sins, past and present, hang Bryukhanov by the testicles. If the testicles hold out, consider him acquitted by trial. If they do not hold, drown him in the river.” Bryukhanov, a commissar of finances, was shot in 1938. We know a lot about Stalin now, including his fondness for musicals (he even tried his hand at lyrics). After exploring his personal library with its copious annotations, Brent concludes that Stalin was as much intellectual as brute and calls him “an idealist in the sense that he believed completely in the primacy of ideas.” Brent has a point; Stalin believed in his ideas to the death, or as he put it: “mercilessly destroy anyone who, by his deeds or his thoughts — yes, by his thoughts — ­threatens the unity of the socialist state.”

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