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Stalin's Guerrillas: Soviet Partisans in World War II.

Stalin's Guerrillas: Soviet Partisans in World War II. By Kenneth Slepyan. (Lawrence, Kans.: University Press of Kansas, 2006. Pp. xi, 409. $34.95.)

The title of this study is the key to the author's intention. In Stalin's Guerrillas, the author focuses on the struggle between the Soviet regime and those fighting behind German lines over who would control and, more importantly, who would define the identity of the partizan. In place of the usual focus on military operations, Kenneth Slepyan provides a political history of a movement largely outside the physical control of the Stalinist regime and yet determined to retain its Soviet credentials. The anchor of this story is clearly Panteleimon Kondrat'evich Ponomarenko, the Belarussian Party chief who headed the central staff of the partisan movement from Moscow throughout most of its existence, here shown mediating between the various interests involved, including Stalin; the party; the army; and, not least, the partisans themselves. Slepyan argues rather convincingly that the partisan movement was central to the process of reasserting a Soviet presence in territories conquered by the Germans and also to reestablishing Soviet rule once these territories were retaken.

Slepyan's research base is impressive, ranging from Soviet archives and contemporary press accounts to memoirs written by partisans and novels based on their experiences. The organization of the book, especially in the repetitiveness of the early chapters, betrays its origin as a University of Michigan doctoral thesis, but the final chapter, entitled "The Imagined Stalinist Community," is a stunningly original examination of partisan self-identity.

There are also issues of proportion that arise. The extensive material on partisan relations with Jews fleeing Nazi horrors is both interesting and appalling--the Soviet and partisan distrust of Jews could itself be murderous. But as a case in how Soviet national identity was redefined during World War II, Jews and Tatars, who get the most attention here, are hard to accept as typical. Also underplayed are the various non-Soviet resistance movements, most notable in the western borderlands annexed by the Soviets in 1939 and 1940. Slepyan mentions competition with separatist bands, and even with self-defense units protecting peasant villages from both sides, but gives no sense of the scale of resistance movements outside Soviet control. In the Ukraine, Moldavia, and the Baltic States, these movements would seriously resist the reimposition of Soviet control at the end of the war, and to some extent it was against them that the partisans defined themselves during the war.

On another Ukrainian-centered issue, Slepyan goes into great detail on the 1943 campaign to attract those tainted by collaboration with the Germans to the partisan movement, part of Moscow's desire to use the shift in momentum on the battlefield to build a broad popular uprising against the retreating enemy. Presumably all these "redefectors" were either shot or sent to the gulag at the end of the war, but on this issue the book offers no more than hints. But this cannot detract from a solid study and, through defining the political nature and achievement of the Soviet partisan movement, Slepyan makes a serious contribution to the debate on how the Stalinist regime both survived and was changed by the Second World War.

John R. Braun

Portland State University
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Author:Braun, John R.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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