Shortlist year: 2016

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: Melbourne University Press


Drawing on extensive original research, Sheila Fitzpatrick provides the first in-depth account of Stalin's dedicated comrades-in-arms, who not only worked closely with their leader, but constituted his social circle. Key team members were Stalin's number-two man, Molotov, the military leader Voroshilov, the charismatic and entrepreneurial Ordzhonikidze, the wily security chief Beria, and the deceptively simple Khrushchev, who finally disbanded the team in 1957 to become sole leader of the Soviet Union.

About the author

Sheila Fitzpatrick

Sheila Fitzpatrick is a Professor in the Department of History at the University of Sydney, and Emerita Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. Born and educated in Australia, Fitzpatrick moved in the early 1970s to the United States, where she made her career as a Soviet historian. Author of The Russian Revolution and Everyday Stalinism, she is considered a founder in the field of Soviet history.

Judges’ comments

In her introduction to On Stalin's Team, Sheila Fitzpatrick refers to Josef Stalin's fear that one day a spy would sneak into his milieu and observe him up close. She writes: 'I am that spy'. She challenges the traditional view (largely sourced to Leon Trotsky) that Stalin was a second-rate dictator overwhelmingly dominating a third-rate gang of collaborators.

In Fitzpatrick's view, no matter how brutally Stalin treated his henchmen, sometimes having them murdered, he depended on them and their competence as much as they depended on him. That is why on his death in March 1953 the Stalinist system basically endured. 'That's the big surprise,' she writes, 'at the end of this book, and I hope scholars will take note and re-examine their assumptions about late Stalinism accordingly.'

On Stalin's Team is a major contribution to Australian Sovietology.