Stalin: A Political Biography [2 ed.] 0195002733, 9780195002737

Exhaustive analysis of the life and career of the Soviet Union's most brutal dictator

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Stalin: A Political Biography [2 ed.]
 0195002733, 9780195002737

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OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS Oxford London Glasgow New York Toronto Melbourne Wellington Nairobi Dar es Salaam Cape Town Kuala Lumpur Singapore Jakarta Hong Kong Tokyo Delhi Bombay Calcutta Madras Karachi

First edition, Copyright 1949 by Oxford University Press, Inc. Second edition,© Oxford University Press 1966 Preface to the second edition© Isaac Deutscher 1967 First published by Oxford University Press, London, 1949 Second edition, 1966 This edition issued as an Oxford University Press paperback, 1967

printing, last digit: 29 28 27 26 25 24 23 22 21 Printed in the United States of America



PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION THis edition of Stalin appears nearly twenty years after the book was written. When I was completing it, in the summer of 1948, Stalin was still at the summit of his power, admired and feared all over the world, and surrounded by a dizzy 'cult' in his own country. And the world looked very different then. The Soviet Union was not yet a nuclear power; the victory of the Chinese revolution was still some way off; and Stalin's break with Tito had only just begun making headlines in the newspapers. I introduced my assessment of Stalin's record, in the last pages of the book, with these words: Here we suspend the story of Stalin's life and work. We are under no illusion that we can draw from it final conclusions or form, on its basis, a confident judgement of the man, of his achievements and failures. After so many climaxes and anti-climaxes, his drama seems only now to be rising to its pinnacle; and we do not know into what new perspective its last act may yet throw the preceding ones. It is this 'last act' that I now relate in a new section of the book, the Postscript on Stalin's Last Years. After 1948 the drama of my chief character did indeed rise to its final culmination, which led to the subsequent crumbling of the Stalin cult. Yet the remark with which I prefaced my assessment of Stalin's role now appears perhaps to have been somewhat over cautious: Stalin's activity and behaviour in his last years, far from throwing his previous record into any new perspective, only added a sharper outline to the perspective I had drawn, when, in the concluding passages of the book, I anticipated the so-called de-Stalinization. I am often asked whether I see no reason to revise my views in the light of the 'revelations' made by Khrushchev, Mikoyan, and others at the Twentieth Congress in 1956 and later. In truth those revelations have added nothing significant to the account I had given here of Stalin's rise ·to power, of his relationship with Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders, of his policies in the inter-war period, of his conduct of the Great Purges, and of his role in the Second World War and its aftermath. On all these crucial phases of Stalin's career my biography contains



far more abundant information than that which is even now accessible to Soviet readers. And, incidentally, my Stalin still remains a forbidden book in the U.S.S.R., China, and the countries of Eastern Europe. 1 Nor do I take all of Khrushchev's 'revelations' at their face value: I do not accept, in particular, his assertion that Stalin's role in the Second World War was virtually insignificant. This allegation was obviously meant to boost Khrushchev himself at Stalin's expense; and it does not accord with the testimonies of many reliable eye-witnesses, of Western statesmen and generals who had no reason to exaggerate Stalin's role, and of Soviet generals who have recently written on this subject in a sober and critical vein. 2 There is only one aspect of Stalin's activity which has appeared to me in a clearer light as a result of Khrushchev's disclosures-namely, the extent to which Stalin, having suppressed the Trotskyists, Zinovievists, and Bukharinists, victimized his own followers, the Stalinists. In the new section of this book I analyse the consequences of that important fact, consequences which made themselves felt most strongly in the last phase of Stalin's rule and account in some degree for the character and style of the Khrushchevite de-Stalinization. Otherwise I have seen no reason to alter my narrative or interpretation of Stalin's career. The original text of the book is reproduced here with only a few minor corrections and stylistical revisions. 11 October 1966



1 It is possible, however, that my account of one of the Great Purges, the Tukhachevsky affair, may need some revision; but if so, Khrushchev and his successors have not provided the elements necessary for such a revision, despite the fact that they have rehabilitated Tukhachevsky and cleared him of the charge that he plotted against Stalin in Germany's interest, as .Hitler's agent. In my account of the affair I emphatically refuted that accusation; but I related a version drawn from unimpeachably anti-Stalinist sources (quoted in a footnote on p. 380), according to which Tukhachevsky had indeed planned a coup against Stalin, in order to save the army and the country from the insane terror of the purges. This version may be mistaken; but Khrushchev and his successors have not revealed a single document or a single fact that would throw light on the affair and allow us to dismiss altogether the anti-Stalinist accounts which insisted on the reality of the plot. 2 I gave a detailed analysis of Khrushchev's disclosures in a essay published in 1956, and reproduced in my Ironies of History, pp. 3-17.

FROM THE INTRODUCTION (1961) I WROTE this biography thirteen to fourteen years ago as a book for the general reader rather than for the expert, and I did my best to state in it the essential facts about Stalin and his career as plainly and as non-controversially as possible. When I began planning the work, the public and the press in this country had not yet quite recovered from their war-time adulation of Stalin; when I was putting the finishing touches to it, the air-lift to Berlin roared on and Stalin was the villain of the cold war. These violent changes in the political climate did not, r think, affect my treatment of Stalin: I had never been a devotee of the Stalin cult; and the cold war was not my war. Yet shortly after publication a British critic could write that 'like its subject, the book has become the focus of an animated and at times ferocious controversy ... no biography in recent years has aroused similar interest or evoked similar passionate resentment and hostility'. I should perhaps add that most British critics received the book open-mindedly and generously-nevertheless, the 'ferocious controversy' did in fact go on for years, especially abroad, on both sides of the Atlantic. The book has been praised or blamed for the most contradictory reasons, either as a denunciation of Stalinism, or as an apologyfor it, and sometimes as both denunciation and apology. Thus, the late Moshe Pijade, Marshal Tito's friend and associate, once explained to me why the government of which he was a member refused to allow a Yugoslav edition of Stalin: 'You see,' he said, 'the trouble with your book is that it is too proSoviet for us whenever we quarrel with the Russians; and it is too anti-Soviet whenever we try to be friendly with them.' ('In any case,' he added with a twinkle in the eye, 'we cannot permit a Yugoslav edition to appear because if we did everyone would see at once from what source our great theorists have drawn most of their wisdom.') According to an old, golden rule of portrait painting, a good portrait is one which does such justice to the complexity of the human character that every viewer sees in it a different face. Something might still be said for that rule; and judged by it

961) Stalin might be said not to have done badly. Almost every critic, hostile or friendly, has found in this portrait what he has wanted to find and has read into it what he has wished to read. Few have been those who have paid attention to the full complexity of the character depicted here and to the intricacy of a portrait which shows Stalin en face as the descendant of Lenin and in profile as the descendant of Ivan the Terrible. I admit that what I have striven for in this work is old-fashioned objectivity; and I must also admit that objectivity did not come to me easily, that I had to strive for it. Nothing would have been easier for me than to produce an accusatory biography of Stalin: I had been opposed to Stalinism ever since the early nineteenthirties; I had denounced the cruelties of forcible collectivization while these were still being perpetrated (and not, as some of my critics did, twenty or twenty-five years after the event); I had been, at least since I 93 I, a stern critic of the Stalinist policy which facilitated the rise of Nazism; I exposed the mass terror, the purges, and the Moscow trials while these were staged; and so on, and so on. 1 Briefly, I had been a 'premature' anti-Stalinist; and if I had chosen to rehash all that I had written against Stalin and Stalinism in the course of nearly two decades the result would have been a book against which no one would have levelled the criticism that it was an apology for Stalin. However, the one thing I was determined not to do was to write this book from intellectual inertia. I decided to take a fresh and critical look at the subject, so familiar to me, of my study. Some critics have remarked on my 'cool and impersonal' approach to Stalin. Yet the work on this book was to me a deeply personal experience, the occasion for much silent heart-searching and for a critical review of my own political record. I had belonged to those whom Stalin had cruelly defeated; and one of the questions I had to ask myself was why he had succeeded. To answer this question the partisan had to turn into an historian, to examine dispassionately causes and effects, to view openx


' In the last years of the Stalin era people in Poland, unknown to me, still reproduced clandestinely my brochure The Moscow Trial, which I had published in Warsaw in 1936 to expose the ill-famed trial of Zinoviev and Kamenev. In doing so, they risked life and liberty; and some were in fact sentenced to many years' imprisonment. I have learned about this only recently from the President of the Polish Supreme Court who in 1956 or 1957 quashed the sentences.


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mindedly the adversary's motives, and to see and admit the adversary's strength where strength there was. The political fighter cannot allow himself to be too severely restricted by a deterministic view of the situation in which he acts, if only because some of the elements of that situation, and some of the chances, are as yet unknown and even undetermined; and because he can never be quite sure what will be the impact of his own action on any given situation. The historian, on the other hand, cannot help being a determinist, or behaving as one if he is not: he has not done his job fully unless he has shown causes and effects so closely and naturally interwoven in the texture of events that no gap is left, unless, that is, he has demon· strated the inevitability of the historic process with which he is concerned. The partisan deals with fluid circumstances: on all sides men still exercise conflicting wills, marshal forces, use weapons, and achieve or reverse decisions. The historian deals with fixed and irreversible patterns of events: all weapons have already been fired; all wills have been spent; all decisions have been achieved; and what is irreversible has assumed the aspect of the inevitable. This, the approach from the historian's angle, accounts for the much-debated undertone of inevitability that runs through this book. As a partisan I had repudiated many of the deeds of my chief character which as a biographer I demonstrate to have been inevitable. The contradiction, however, is more apparent than real. In both my capacities I have argued from the same philosophical-political premisses, but from different and partly conflicting angles. The objections to my method have been obvious enough. When I published Stalin, not all the situations narrated in it had receded into history and become irreversible. It was still possible to expect, as leading Western statesmen and commentators did, that, for example, Soviet power would be 'rolled back' from Eastern Europe, the industrial advance of the Soviet Union would be brought to a standstill by a failure of planned economy, and so on. By treating as irreversible the post-war revolutions in Eastern Europe, which at the time of my writing were still in progress, and by taking for granted the continued industrial ascendancy of the U.S.S.R. at a time, just after the war, when that country was still half in ruins, I admittedly

(1961) ventured into the field of political judgements and predictions from which many an historian would have shied off. I trust that after so many years readers will forgive me this offence, and that in judging my explicit and implicit predictions they will consider whether these have or have not stood the test of time. Another criticism, which may still be repeated, is that by showing Stalin's triumphs to have been inevitable I have after all justified his record. The criticism implies that reasonable men are or should always be reconciled to the inevitable. I do not accept this implication. Some of the proudest moments in man's history are those when he struggles against the inevitable; and this his struggle, too, is inevitable. The philosopher who claims that 'what is real is reasonable' also maintains that 'what is reasonable is real'. History runs its course on various levels, superficial and deep, of reality and necessity. The generation of Russian revolutionaries which perished in resisting Stalin's autocracy represented not less than he did an historic necessity, but one of a different kind. And I may perhaps remind critics that, having demonstrated the 'inevitability of Stalinism' and dwelt on its positive as well as negative aspects, I concluded my study, nearly eight years before Khrushchev's famous revelations about Stalin, with this emphatic forecast of the 'inevitability' of de-Stalinization: ' ... history may yet have to cleanse and reshape Stalin's work as sternly as it once cleansed and reshaped the work of the English Revolution after Cromwell and of the French after N apoleon.' 1



1 How some critics received this forecast can be seen in the following passages from Franz Borkenau's very long essay on Stalin published, as a special feature, in periodicals appearing in various countries under the auspices of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (Der Monat, Preuves, and others): 'Deutscher's perspective is utterly false . . . . Napoleon's person could be detached from the destinies of France; and the achievements of the revolution and of the Napoleonic period were indeed preserved. But it is more than doubtful whether Russia's destiny can be separated from Stalinism, even if Stalin were ever to die a natural death. The inner law of the Stalinist terror drives Stalin's Russia, not less, even if more slowly, than the law of the Nazi terror drove Hitler's Germany, to conflict with the world and thereby to total catastrophe not only for the terroristic regime, but also for the nation ruled by it.... The danger of Deutscher's book is that in place of this grave and anxious prospect it puts another one which is more normal and reassuring. According to Deutscher's conception there is nothing terrible to fear because in the main the terrors arc already in the past. To this conception we oppose the opinion that the revolution of the twentieth century shows parallels to earlier revolutions only in its opening phase, but that later it ushers in a regime of terror without end, of hostility


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Stalin appears in this edition as it was published originally, without change. If I were to write the book anew, I would probably do it in somewhat different style. But however differently in detail or with whatever shifts of emphasis I would now tell the story, it is, I think, better on balance to publish it as it stands. The fact that the book has over so many years been the object of so wide and animated a controversy has probably made of the original text something of a document with which even its author should not tamper. And, on the whole, I do stand by the interpretation of Stalin and Stalinism given here. This biography was originally conceived as part of a trilogy including also Lives of Lenin and Trotsky. My work on the trilogy is still in progress; but two volumes of a study of Trotsky, The Prophet Armed and The Prophet Unarmed, have already appeared; and the third should soon be completed. 1 It is inherent in the design of such a work that certain strands of narrative and interpretation should remain only half-developed in one part of the trilogy, and that they should be taken up, expanded, and brought to the fore in another. And so, although Stalin is a self-contained work, which has been and still can be read independently, knowledge of the other parts of the trilogy would give readers a far more comprehensive idea of the subject matter of this study. I. D. 24 April I 96 I towards everything human, of horrors which carry no remedy, and which can be cured only jeffo et igni.' Borkenau was the leading light of a school of thought which for over a decade was unfortunately extremely influential in Western 'sovietology'. 1 Since this Introduction was written, the third volume, Th£ Proph£t Outcast, has been published.

PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION Tms narrative of Stalin's life ends somewhat indefinitely with the years 1945-6. This is as far as the biographer can at present carry his story. No documentary evidence is available on which a description of Stalin's role in the last two or three years could be based. I hope, however, that the closing chapters of this book do shed some light upon Stalin in the aftermath of war. A very short time ago it would have been almost impossible to carry the story beyond 1938 or 1939. Fortunately, however, the rectntly published official documents and the war memoirs of western ministers and generals have eased my task, but no comparable documents or war memoirs have been published in Russia. The writer who tries to consider the pros and cons of Stalin's case finds on one side the evidence of Messrs. Churchill, Hull, Byrnes, Harry L. Hopkins's White House Papers, and others. . On the other he finds almost nothing, except a few coloured fragments of semi-official disclosures contained, strangely enough, in scripts for Russian films, such as Virta's Stalingradskaya Bitva, for this has been the only channel so far through which the Soviet leaders have chosen to convey to their people an infinitesimal part of the inner story of those great years. Clio, the Muse of History, has failed to obtain admittance to the Kremlin. It is, indeed, a sad paradox that the nation which bore the greatest and the most heroic sacrifice in the Second World War should be the one that is allowed to know least about its diplomatic, military, and political background. Western writers and memoirists, as is only natural, tell their tale from their own peculiar national and political standpoints, and I hope that in using their evidence I have made sufficient allowance for inevitable bias. But the very diversity of outlook and judgement in those writings is in itself a means of assessing their relative trustworthiness; and it is surprising to find how great has been their consonance so far on the crucial facts and even the details that are relevant to an account of Stalin's' role. I have, in addition, tried to fill part of the gap in the documentary evidence by drawing upon private impressions and accounts-



relating to this as well as to other periods of Stalin's careergiven to me by statesmen, diplomats, and politicians of many nationalities and conflicting political views whose activities have at one time or another brought them into touch with Stalin. To these men, whose names I cannot mention, I gratefully acknowledge my debt. I make no apology for calling this work a political biography. I admit that I am inclined to study the politics rather than the private affairs of public men. And altogether apart from this, it is impossible to narrate the private life of Stalin, since only one private letter of his has yet come to light, and this in the confiscated book by A. S. Alliluyeva, his sister-in-law. 1 Nearly all biographers who have been tempted to delve into this aspect of Stalin's life have had little ofreal interest to say, or have had to be content with unverifiable gossip. Even so shrewd an observer and so notable a writer as Trotsky, who sat with Stalin in the Politbureau for nearly ten years, was no exception to this rule. As to the early and middle periods of Stalin's career, it is not the scarcity of documentary evidence but its abundance and contradictoriness that have troubled the biographer. Stalin's life-story is like an enormous palimpsest, where many scripts are superimposed upon one another, each script dating from a different period, each written by a different hand, each giving a different version of events. Even the scripts in Stalin's own handwriting contradict each other glaringly. I trust that the reader of this book will find in it an explanation of this bizarre circumstance. For more than twenty years I have watched the progress of this palimpsest and now I have examined it again, script after script, and compared, checked, and cross-checked the conflicting versions. Here I have set out my findings. I have tried to avoid encumbering this narrative unduly with an account of the involved processes of comparative analysis by which I have arrived at my conclusions. This, I am certain, would have wearied the reader beyond measure. Students and experts, however, will find the necessary clues in my footnotes, where references to sources hostile and friendly to Stalin frequently appear side by side. 1 This letter is quoted on page 128. One cannot, of course, regard as private the few letters published for the first time in Stalin's Sochinenya in the last two yean, for these he wrote, as a rule, ex offeio.



This book is intended as the first instalment of a biographical trilogy to be continued and completed with a Life of Lenin and a study of Trotsky in Exile. The main study of pre-I917 Bolshevism and the history of such ideas as the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Soviets, the 'proletarian vanguard', and so on, must have their place in the biography of Lenin. In the present volume the growth and evolution of these ideas have been sketched only in so far as was necessary for an understanding of the chief character. The major part of Stalin deals, of course, with the outlook of Bolshevism since the revolution and the civil war. I gratefully acknowledge my debt to friends and colleagues. Thanks are due in particular to Mr. Donald Tyerman and Miss Barbara Ward for constant and friendly encouragement and advice; to Professor E. H. Carr for expert critical comment; and to Mr. D. M. Davin and members of the editorial staff of the Oxford University Press for their infinitely patient scrutiny of my manuscript and most valuable stylistical suggestions. Mr. Jon Kimche very kindly helped me with books and documents. I alone, however, bear responsibility for the views expressed in the book and for its shortcomings. More than to anyone else I am indebted to my wife, whose devoted assistance has made this work possible and whose critical sense has contributed to the shaping of every paragraph in it. I. D.
















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Childhood and Youth Stalin's parents: Vissarion Djugashvili and Ekaterina Gheladze.-The birth ( 1879), childhood, and schooldays of Joseph Djugashvili (afterwards Stalin) at Gori in Georgia (Caucasus).-Influence of Georgian folk-lore.-Russians and Georgians. -Stalin at the Theological Seminary, Tiflis, 18g4--g.-The Georgian struggle against Russification.-As 'Soselo' (Little Joe), Stalin publishes verses in 1895.Clandestine reading.-Joins Messame Dassy (The Third Group) in 1898.-Industrial revolt in the Caucasus.-Stalin's apprenticeship as Socialist lecturer.-His expulsion from the seminary.-The stigmas of serfdom. PERHAPS in 1875, perhaps a year or two before, a young Caucasian, Vissarion lvanovich (son of Ivan) Djugashvili, set out from the village Didi-Lilo, near Tiflis, the capital of the Caucasus, to settle in the little Georgian county town of Gori. There he started a small shoemaker's business. Vissarion Djugashvili was the son of Georgian peasants who only ten years before had still been serfs. He himself had been born a chattel slave to some Georgian landlord. Had he remained so for the rest of his life, he would never have been free to leave his native village and become an independent artisan. Certainly none of his forefathers could have done anything of the sort. They had been tied to the soil, and at best they could pass only from the hands of one landlord to those of another. Even in the years of Vissarion's childhood Georgian newspapers still carried advertisements in which landlords offered for sale or sought to purchase, say, '500 or l,ooo acres of land with 50 or 150 souls'. The trade in chattel slaves had often been fraudulent; and in the archives of Georgian courts, cases were recorded in which the same peasant family had been sold to three or more buyers simultaneously. 1 Vissarion, then, must have left his village in a mood of hopeful elation. He had become a free man, and now as an independent artisan he hoped to achieve some prosperity. In Gori he married a girl of similar humble origin-Ekaterina, the 1 F. Makharadze, 'Gruzya v XIX veke' in Trudy Pervoi Vsesoyuvwi Ko'!ferentsii lstorikov-Marksistov, vol. i, p. 488.



daughter of the serf George Gheladze, of the village of Gambareuelli. Like many another daughter of poor peasants, she may have moved to the town to become a maidservant to an Armenian or Russian middle-class family. (The middle classes in the Caucasus were Russian, Armenian, or Jewish. There was almost no Georgian bourgeoisie yet-Georgians were either gentry or serfs.) When sh,e married Vissarion Djugashvili, Ekaterina was only fifteen years old. Such early marriages were not rare in a country where human beings mature as rapidly as the grapes under a semi-tropical sun. The couple took a poor dwelling at the outskirts of Gori, the rent of which was one and a half roubles (roughly two shillings) a month. It consisted of only a kitchen and one other room. That room, covering not more than five square yards, was dim, for little light came through its one small window. Its door opened straight into a drab courtyard, from which mud and water would pour in on rainy days, since the floor of the dwelling was on a level with the courtyard and not separated from it by any steps. The floor was of bare brick, and a small table, a stool, a sofa, a plank-bed covered with a straw mattress were all the family's furniture. 1 The abode of the Djugashvilis, transformed into a museum, is now shown to crowds of tourists who visit the place. So is Vissarion Djugashvili's tiny workshop, with its old rickety chair, hammer, and lasts. It was in that dark, one-and-a-half-rouble dwelling that Ekaterina gave birth to three children in the years from I875 to I878. All three died soon after birth. Ekaterina was hardly twenty when on 2I December 1879 she gave birth to a fourth child. By a freak of fortune this child was to grow into a healthy, wiry, and self-willed boy. At baptism he was given the name of Joseph; and so the local Greek Orthodox priest, who acted as registrar, recorded the appearance in this world of Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili, later to become famous under the name of Joseph Stalin. About his early childhood very little is known. At the age of six or seven he fell ill with smallpox; and his face remained pockmarked. He fell ill for a second time when a blood infection 1

E. Yaroslavsky, lAndmo.rks in tlu Life of Stalin, p. 7.

CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH 3 developed out of an ulcer on his left hand. He was to recollect later that he was near death. 'I don't know', he was to tell A. S. Alliluyeva, his sister-in-law, 'what saved me then, my strong constitution or the ointment of a village quack.' When he recovered he could not easily bend his left arm at the elbow. Because of this slight infirmity, the future Generalissimo was to be declared unfit for military service in 1g16. 1 He grew up amid the squalor and poverty into which he had been born. Vissarion Djugashvili made an attempt to climb up to the ranks of the lower middle class but was unsuccessful. His shoemaker's business did not earn him a living; and so his wife 'had to slave day and night to make ends meet ... and was obliged to go out to work as a washerwoman'. 2 Even the oneand-a-half-rouble rent for their dwelling was paid from her earnings. From this, some of Stalin's biographers deduce that Vissarion Djugashvili must have been spending on vodka the little money he did earn, a conclusion for which there is some basis in the reminiscences of Stalin's schoolmates. 3 Drunkenness was indeed something like a shoemaker's occupational disease-the saying 'drunk as a cobbler' recurs in most eastern European languages. Vissarion, it is further claimed, was cruel to his wife and child. 'Undeserved and frightful beatings', writes lremashvili, a friend of Stalin's childhood, 'made the boy as grim and heartless as was his father.' His defences against his father's heartlessness were distrust, alertness, evasion, dissimulation, and endurance. Life was to teach him, early, lessons-and some ruses de guem-that would be useful later on. This portrait of a drunkard and bully does not perhaps do full justice to Vissarion Djugashvili. He must have had better qualities as well, a spirit of enterprise and curiosity about the world. Otherwise he, the son of serfs, would hardly have exchanged the sluggish life of his native village for the uncertainties of urban existence. In eastern Europe the 'cobbler-philosopher' is as proverbial as is the 'drunken cobbler'. Both bywords describe occupational propensities which often go together. It was probably from his father that Stalin inherited a reflective mind,· and

' A. S. Alliluyeva, Vospominanya, p. 167. • E. Yaroslavsky, op. cit., p. 7. 3 L. Trotsky, Stalin, pp. 6-7.

4 STALIN: A POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY he has himself unwittingly given us a clue to the inner conflict which made his father grow sulky, bitter, and cruel to his family. Unsuccessful as an independent artisan, Vissarion left the town of Gori and his family, and went to Tiflis where he became a worker in the shoe factory of one Adelkhanov. His new position apparently humiliated him: his ambition had been to be his own master, and now he exchanged chattel-slavery for wageslavery. He struggled against his lot as long as he could, even though he had ceased to be the family's breadwinner. Hence, probably, came his irritability and his outbursts. In one of his early pamphlets, Stalin illustrated a point of Marxian theory by the experience of his own father: 'Imagine', he wrote, 'a shoemaker who had a tiny workshop, but could not stand the competition of big businesses. That shoemaker closed his workshop and hired himself, say, to Adelkhanov, at the Tiflis shoe factory. He came to Adelkhanov's factory not to remain a worker for ever but to save some money, to lay aside a small capital and then to reopen his own workshop. As you see, the position of that shoemaker is alread:J that of a proletarian, but his consciousness is not yet proletarian, but petty-bourgeois through and through.' 1 There can be no doubt which shoemaker served the writer as the illustration for his thesis. The tiny workshop, the bad luck in business, even the name of the employer, all were part of Vissarion's story. What had warped Vissarion's mind was the conflict between his social position and his 'pettybourgeois' ambition. Vissarion did not succeed in 'laying aside a small capital' and reopening his workshop. He died at Tiflis in I 890, when his son was eleven years old. His death probably made no difference to the material condition of his family, for the widowed washerwoman was accustomed to earn her and her son's livelihood. In Joseph's mind, later, the image of the deceased man became blurred-he hardly ever mentioned his father. Recollection of the 'heartless beatings' may, of course, account for Stalin's and his official biographers' extreme reticence about Vissarion. 2 Much more is known about Ekaterina Djugashvili. There 1 J. Stalin, Sochinmya, vol. i, pp. 314-15. • In the memoirs of the Alliluyevs, which contain much information about Stalin's and his mother's personal life, his father is never mentioned.



was little to distinguish her from the great mass of her contemporaries, of whom a Russian poet said: Fate has had three ordeals in store, The first is to be married to a slave; The second, to be mother to the slave's son; The third, to obey the slave until death. And all these terrible ordeals Beset the woman of the Russian land.

Ekaterina possessed the infinite patience and submissiveness of the eastern peasant woman. She endured her lot with fortitude, bearing no grudge against her husband. She devoted all her tenderness to her only surviving son. She was deeply religious; in her trials she found her only consolation in church. She was also illiterate. Only in her old age was she to learn to read, and so prove herself worthy of her famous son. All who knew her agreed in admiration of her 'quiet, restrained dignity, which comes to people after a long life spent in worries, the bitterness of which has not warped her character' . 1 Babushka Keke (Grandma Kate) remained a modest peasant woman even after her son's ascendancy. When for a time she stayed with him in the Kremlin she longed to go back to her more familiar surroundings in the sunny Caucasus, and back she went. Yet, in her own half-comic but moving way, she tried to live up to the role of the great man's mother. Alliluyeva relates how at Borzhom, the Caucasian spa, she once met old Mrs. Djugashvili, dressed heavily and solemnly in black despite unbearable heat. Asked why she was so uncomfortably dressed, the old woman replied: 'I have to. . . . Don't you see, everybody around here knows who I am.' 2 It was a truly heroic decision on Ekaterina's part to send her son, at the age of nine, to the ecclesiastical school at Gori. It was not rare for children of poor parents to become shoemakers' or carpenters' apprentices at this age, but that was not the career Ekaterina wished for her son, even though it might have eased her own lot. She wanted her Soso 3 to succeed where Vissarion had failed, and to rise above the humble standing of his parents. In her bolder flights of fancy she no doubt saw him 1


A. S. Alliluyeva, Vospominanya, p. 81. • Ibid., p. 82. Soso is the Georgian for Joe. Soselo is a more diminutive form.



as the parish priest respectfully greeted by the neighbours. The prospect was dazzling--only a few years before, ecclesiastical schools were still closed to children of peasant estate. Soso attended the Gori school for five years, from I888 till I893. Usually he was one of the best or even the best pupil in his form. Teachers and schoolmates alike quickly noticed that the poor pockmarked boy had a quite extraordinary memory and learned his lessons almost without effort. They also noticed a streak of self-assertiveness, an eagerness to outshine others that waxed the keener the more Soso grew aware that most of his schoolmates came from wealthier homes than his, and that some of them, also aware of the difference, looked down on him. Nevertheless, he had the advantage in the classroom, where he could recite his lessons with greater ease than the pampered offspring of wine or wheat merchants; while in the playground he excelled them so much in agility and daring that they let themselves be bossed and ordered about by the shoemaker's boy. It was in this obscure parish school that the future Stalin had his first taste of class differences and class hatred. There, too, he had his first glimpse of a problem that was to keep him preoccupied in his mature years-the problem of national minorities. Georgian was the Djugashvilis' native tongue. Ekaterina knew no Russian at all; and it is doubtful whether her husband had as much as a smattering of it. At school most lessons were taught in Russian-the curriculum provided for only a few lessons in Georgian every week. Soso absorbed the alien language with the ease natural to his age. But out of school and at home he went on talking Georgian. The native tongue of some of his classmates may have been Armenian, or Turkish, or some Caucasian dialect. At school all the vernaculars were silenced, and Russian reigned supreme. This policy of Russification, enforced by the Government, caused bitterness. Even boys in their early teens staged school strikes and other demonstrations in defence of their native tongue. In the seventies, school riots were frequent in Georgia: Russian teachers were assailed and beaten up and pupils set fire to schools. 1 In the years when Djugashvili attended the Gori school there was no such turbulence, but there must have been much simmering resentment. 1 Istorya Klasovoi Borby v Zakavkazi, vol. i, Appendix, pp. B9--9·

7 Among the early influences in his life, nature and the tradition and folk-lore of his native town played their part. Gori lies at a point where three fertile wheat- and vine-growing valleys meet. The cliffs outside the town, the banks of the river Kura and two other rivers, the walls of an old Byzantine fortress, and the fields between the tortuous little streets in the town itself, which was half-village and half-town, all offered the boy plenty of space for playing freely and escaping from the drabness of the parental home. Nature itself made some amends to the young slum-dweller for the dullness and stuffiness of his home. The country-side abounded in animals, birds, plants, andfruitnot for nothing was it believed that this had been the land of the Golden Fleece. These healthy surroundings contributed to the strong physical constitution of the future Stalin. The country-side was also proverbially rich in romance and legend. Alexander the Great and Genghiz Khan had fought there. Tales of Persian and Turkish invasions were found in the schoolbooks. Folk-song and story told of the famous Caucasian brigands. In folk-lore, these brigands were often national or popular heroes: Georgian noblemen who fought against the Russian Tsars, or leaders of serfs, people's avengers, with big and tender hearts for the poor and downtrodden and sly hatred for the rich. Their hiding-places were in the snow-capped peaks and in caves in the cliffs from which they would swoop down to the roads to trap and destroy their enemies. All this folklore was not far from the facts. The land around Gori was even in those days infested by highwaymen. There were multitudes of impoverished Georgian petty gentry around, who had no defined social standing and no regular incomes but still lived mentally in a fading world of clans and feuds. They would often engage in fanciful forays against one another or against other people who happened to hurt their pride or otherwise incur their enmity. The whole land would then resound with stories of the raids, exploits that bordered on banditry yet were not without romantic appeal. These local Robin Hoods offered examples that the boys 'playing brigands' in the cliffs and fields of Gori must have been eager to imitate. The five school years at Gori were thus not altogether unhappy for young Djugashvili. But already there began to grow in him an awareness of the social and national inequalities that CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH



was to make of him the rebel and revolutionary of later years. It is impossible to say just how strong was this awareness. Official Soviet biographers and memoirists claim that already at Gori their hero had read Darwin and become an atheist. One may doubt whether he could have read Darwin at so early an age. But he may have acquired a vague notion of the new theory from popular summaries, and his mind may have turned against religion. The fact of his precocious mental development is established, for in I 895, only a year after he had left the Gori school, he was already publishing verses in a leading Georgian periodical. He must have tried his hand at verse-writing while at Gori. His official biographers also claim that it was there that he first acquainted himself with Marxian ideas. This seems highly improbable: by that time Marxism had won only a few converts at Tiflis, the capital of Transcaucasia, and its influence could hardly yet have spread to the Gori school.1 Stalin's apologists are only too ready to project his 'Marxist-Leninist' orthodoxy almost into his childhood. Subsequent events seem to warrant no more than the following hypothesis: young Djugashvili left the Gori school in a mood of some rebelliousness, in which protest against social injustice mingled with semiromantic Georgian patriotism. While in the upper forms, he had been much more impressed by the nostalgic nationalism of Georgian poetry than by any sociological ideas. 'In the upper classes of the Gori school', writes one ofhis school-fellows, Vano Ketskhoveli, 'we became acquainted with Georgian literature, but we had no mentor to guide our development and give a definite direction to our thoughts. Chavchavadze's poem "Kako the Robber" made a deep impression on us. Kazbegi's heroes awakened in our youthful hearts a love for our country, and each of us, on leaving school, was inspired with an eagerness to serve his country. But none of us had a clear idea what form this service should take.' 2 Since Djugashvili was careful to conceal his rebellious sentiments from his teachers they regarded him as an exemplary pupil and helped him to the next stage of his career. 1 L. Berya, On the Histmy ef the Bolshevik Organizations in Transcaucasia, p. 1 1 ; F. Makharadze, lstmya Rabochevo Dvi.