Huh, some of what you wrote about Beria contradicts what I’ve read; in particular I read that Beria and Stalin had grown to dislike each other in the last years of Stalin’s life, so much so that Beria is thought to have possibly played a role in Stalin’s death (either preventing Stalin for being treated for his stroke, or even arranging Stalin’s poisoning) and Stalin is thought to have been preparing to eliminate Beria. E.g. Simon Sebag-Montefiore, author of The Court of the Red Tsar, believes this, and reports that no sooner was Stalin definitely dead than Beria began denouncing him vehemently.
Of course, Beria was unbelievably evil himself; not just in his leadership of the NKVD, but also in certain personal crimes of his.
As for WWI’s causes, I will have to disagree with you and Lenin. If it were just a family spat amongst monarchs, how to explain Republican France’s involvement, or the general popularity of the war in the early days in virtually every nation? And Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicholas II were not only cousins but good friends; as late as August 1st, they were exchanging telegrams and trying to prevent the war through personal negotiation. [In a really weird touch, because they’d known each other since childhood, they addressed each other as “Willy” and “Nicky”.]
It is with the gravest concern that I hear of the impression which the action of Austria against Serbia is creating in…wwi.lib.byu.edu
So while we can blame the monarchs for not being competent or lucky enough to avoid the war (at one weird point, Kaiser Wilhelm II goes on holiday and remains incommunicado long enough for the situation to deteriorate sharply by the time he gets back, and at another weird point, a key ambassador suffers a heart attack just as an agreement is about to be reached), I don’t think we can blame them for sparking it. Democratic nations would probably not have been able to escape such a trap either; the whole theory of European peace rested on the “balance of power” maintained by competing sets of alliances that were closely matched and so would theoretically avoid war (an early version of MAD, I guess). But Germany’s rapid rise was throwing things out of whack, scaring the Hell out of Britain and France, and the intricate alliance system meant that as soon as a spark was lit, the whole of Europe would be swallowed.
Anyway, thanks for educating me on how the USSR looked to the ordinary citizen. Do you know of any good sources for further reading on the topic?