Leon Trotsky

Stalin –
An Appraisal of the Man and his Influence

Chapter I: Family and School

THE late Leonid Krassin, old revolutionist, eminent engineer, brilliant Soviet diplomat and, above all, intelligent human being, was the first, if I am not mistaken, to call Stalin an “Asiatic”. In saying that, he had in mind no problematical racial attributes, but rather that blending of grit, shrewdness, craftiness and cruelty which has been considered characteristic of the statesmen of Asia. Bukharin subsequently simplified the appellation, calling Stalin “Genghis Khan,” manifestly in order to draw attention to his cruelty, which has developed into brutality. Stalin himself, in conversation with a Japanese journalist, once called himself an “Asiatic,” not in the old but rather in the new sense of the word: with that personal allusion he wished to hint at the existence of common interests between the U.S.S.R. and Japan as against the imperialistic West. Contemplating the term “Asiatic” from a scientific point of view, we must admit that in this instance it is but partially correct. Geographically, the Caucasus, especially Transcaucasia, is undoubtedly a continuation of Asia. The Georgians, however, in contradistinction from the Mongolian Azerbaijanians, belong to the so-called Mediterranean, European race. Thus Stalin was not exact when he called himself an Asiatic. But geography, ethnography and anthropology are not all that matters; history looms larger.

A few spatters of the human flood that has poured for centuries from Asia into Europe have clung to the valleys and mountains of the Caucasus. Disconnected tribes and groups seemed to have frozen there in the process of their development, transforming the Caucasus into a gigantic ethnographic museum. In the course of many centuries the fate of these people remained closely bound up with that of Persia and Turkey, being thus retained in the sphere of the old Asiatic culture, which has contrived to remain static despite continual jolts from war and mutiny.

Anywhere else, on a site more traversed, that small, Georgian branch of humanity—about two and a half millions at the present time—undoubtedly would have dissolved in the crucible of history and left no trace. Protected by the Caucasian mountain range, the Georgians preserved in a comparatively pure form their ethnic physiognomy and their language, for which philology to this day seems to have difficulty in finding a proper place. Written language appeared in Georgia simultaneously with the penetration of Christianity, as early as the fourth century, six hundred years earlier than in Kievian Russia. The tenth, eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries are considered the epoch in which Georgia’s military power, and its art and literature flourished. Then followed centuries of stagnation and decay. The frequent bloody raids into the Caucasus of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane left their traces upon the national epos of Georgia. If one can believe the unfortunate Bukharin, they left their traces likewise on the character of Stalin.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Georgian Tsar acknowledged the suzerainty of Moscow, seeking protection against his traditional enemies, Turkey and Persia. He attained his immediate goal in that his life became more secure. The Tsarist government laid down the necessary strategic roads, partially renovated the cities, and established a rudimentary network of schools, primarily for the purpose of Russifying these alien subjects. Of course, in two centuries the Petersburg bureaucracy could not replace the old Asiatic barbarism with a European culture of which its own country was still in sad need.

Despite its natural wealth and supernal climate, Georgia continued to be a poor and backward country. Its semifeudal social structure was based on a low level of economic development and was therefore distinguished by the traits of Asiatic patriarchy, not excluding Asiatic cruelty. Industry was almost nonexistent. Agriculture and house-building were carried on virtually as they had been two thousand years before. Wine was pressed out with the feet and stored in large day pitchers. The cities of the Caucasus, comprising no more than one-sixth of the population, remained, like all Asia’s cities, bureaucratic, military, commercial, and only to a small extent industrial. Above the basic peasant mass rose a stratum of gentry, for the most part not rich and not generally cultured, in some instances distinguishable from the upper layers of the peasantry only by their pompous titles and affectations. Not without reason Georgia—with its tiny past “power,” its present economic stagnation, its beneficent sun, its vineyards, its irresponsibility, and its abundance of provincial hidalgos with empty pockets—has been called the Spain of the Caucasus.

The young generation of the nobility knocked at the portals of Russian universities and, breaking with the threadbare tradition of their caste, which was not taken any too seriously in Central Russia, joined sundry radical groups of Russian students. The more prosperous peasants and townsmen, ambitious to make of their sons either government officials, army officers, lawyers, or priests, followed the lead of the noble families. Wherefore Georgia acquired an excessive number of intellectuals, who, scattered in various parts of Russia, played a prominent role in all the progressive political movements and in the three revolutions.

The German writer Bodenstedt, who was director of a teachers’ institute at Tiflis in 1844, came to the conclusion that the Georgians were not only slovenly and shiftless, but less intelligent than the other Caucasians; at school they could not hold their own against the Armenians and the Tartars in the study of science, the acquisition of foreign languages and aptitude for self-expression. Citing this far too cursory opinion, Elisée Reclus expressed the altogether sound surmise that the difference might he due not to nationality but rather to social causes—the f act that the Georgian students came from backward villages while the Armenians were the children of the city bourgeoisie. Indeed, further development soon erased that educational lag. By 1892, when Joseph Djugashvili was a pupil in the second form of the parochial school, the Georgians, who made up approximately one-eighth of the population in the Caucasus, contributed virtually a fifth of all the students (the Russians—more than a half, the Armenians—about fourteen per cent, the Tartars—less than three per cent …). It seems, however, that the peculiarities of the Georgian language, one of the most ancient tools of culture, do indeed impede the acquisition of foreign languages, leaving a decided imprint on pronunciation. But it does not follow that the .Georgians are not gifted with eloquence. Like the other nations of the empire, under Tsarism they were doomed to silence. But as Russia became “Europeanized,” Georgian intellectuals produced numerous—if not first rate, at least outstanding—orators of the judiciary and later of the parliamentary rostrum. The most eloquent of the leaders of the February Revolution was perhaps the Georgian Iraklii Tseretelli. Therefore it would be unjustified to account for the absence of oratorical ability in Stalin by citing his national origin. Even in his physical type he hardly represents a happy example of his people, who are known to he the handsomest in the Caucasus.

The national character of the Georgians is usually represented as trusting, impressionable, quick-tempered, while at the same time devoid of energy and initiative. Above all, Reclus noted their gaiety, sociability and forthrightness. Stalin’s character has few of these attributes, which, indeed, are the most immediately noticeable in personal intercourse with Georgians. Georgian émigrés in Paris assured Souvarine, the author of Stalin’s French biography, that Joseph Djugashvili’s mother was not a Georgian but an Osetin and that there is an admixture of Mongolian blood in his veins. But a certain Iremashvili, whom we shall have occasion to meet again in the future, asserts that Stalin’s mother was a pure-blooded Georgian, whereas his father was an Osetin, “a coarse, uncouth person, like all the Osetins, who live in the high Caucasian mountains”. It is difficult, if not impossible, to verify these assertions. However, they are scarcely necessary for the purpose of explaining Stalin’s moral stature. In the countries of the Mediterranean Sea, in the Balkans, in Italy, in Spain, in addition to the so-called Southern type, which is characterized by a combination of lazy shiftlessness and explosive irascibility, one meets cold natures, in whom phlegm is combined with stubbornness and slyness. The first type prevails; the second augments it as an exception. It would seem as if each national group is doled out its due share of basic character elements, yet these are less happily distributed under the southern than under the northern sun. But we must not venture too far afield into the unprofitable region of national metaphysics.

The county town of Gori is picturesquely situated on the banks of the Kura River, seventy-six kilometers from Tiflis along the Transcaucasian Railway. One of the oldest of Georgia’s cities, Gori has an intensely dramatic history. Tradition has it that it was founded in the twelfth century by Armenians seeking refuge from the Turks. Thereafter the little town was subjected to repeated raids, for by that time the Armenians were already a commercial and urban class notable for such great wealth that they were a tempting prey. Like all Asiatic cities, Gori grew little by little, gradually drawing into its walls settlers from Georgian and Tartar villages. At about the time the shoemaker Vissarion Djugashvili migrated there from his native village of Didi-Lilo, the little town had a mixed population of approximately six thousand, several churches, many stores and more inns for the peasantry of the adjacent regions, a teachers’ seminary with a Tartar department, a preparatory classical school for girls and a junior high school.

Serfdom was abolished in the Tiflis Government only fourteen years prior to the birth of Joseph, the future General Secretary [of the Communist Party Central Committee]. Social relations and customs still reflected its effects. It is doubtful that his parents could read and write. True, five Georgian language daily newspapers were published in Transcaucasia, but their total circulation was less than four thousand. The Life of the peasantry still lay outside history.

Shapeless streets, widely scattered houses, fruit orchards—these gave Gori the appearance of a rambling village. The houses of the city poor, at any rate, were scarcely distinguishable from peasant dwellings. The Djugashvilis occupied an old adobe but with brick corners and a sand-covered roof which freely admitted the wind and the rain. D. Gogokhiya, a former classmate of Joseph’s, describing the family dwelling, writes: “Their room was no more than eight square yards and was located next to the kitchen. The entrance was directly from the court yard into the room, without a single step. The floor was laid with brick. The small window let in scarcely any light. The furnishings of the room consisted of a small table, a stool, and a wide couch, something like a plank-bed, covered with a chilopya—a straw mat.” To this was later added his mother’s old and noisy sewing machine.

No authentic documents have yet been published about the Djugashvili family and Joseph’s childhood. Nor could they be numerous. The cultural level of their milieu was so primitive that Life went unrecorded and flowed on almost without leaving any trace. Only after Stalin himself was more than fifty years old did reminiscences of his father’s family begin to appear. They were usually secondhand, written either by embittered and not always conscientious enemies, or by forced “friends,” at the initiative—one might almost say, by order—of official commissions on Party history, and therefore, for the most part, they are exercises on an assigned theme. It would be, of course, too simple to seek the truth along the diagonal between the two distortions. However, putting the two in juxtaposition, weighing on the one hand the reticences and on the other, the exaggerations, critically evaluating the inherent thread of the narrative itself in the light of future developments, it is possible to approximate the truth. Without seeking to paint artificially complete pictures, as I proceed, I shall endeavor to present to the reader the elements of those source materials on which rest either my surmises or my conclusions.

Most profuse in details are the reminiscences of the aforementioned [Joseph] Iremashvili, published in 1932 in the German language at Berlin, under the title, “Stalin und die Tragödie Georgiens “. Since their author is a former Menshevik who subsequently became something in the nature of a National Socialist, his political record as such does not inspire great confidence. It is, nevertheless, impossible to ignore his essay. Many of its gages are so patently convincing that they leave no room for doubt. Even incidents which seem doubtful at first glance, find direct or indirect confirmation in official reminiscences published several years later. It might not be amiss for me to add that certain of the guesses I had made on the basis of intentional silences or evasive expressions in Soviet publications found their confirmation in Iremashvili’s book, which I had the opportunity to read only at the very last moment. It would be an error to assume that as an exile and a political enemy Iremashvili tries to belittle Stalin’s figure or to paint it all black. Quite the contrary: he recounts Stalin’s abilities almost triumphantly, and with obvious exaggerations; he recognizes Stalin’s readiness to make personal sacrifices for his ideals; he repeatedly emphasizes Stalin’s attachment to his mother and sketches Stalin’s first marriage in most affecting strokes. A more probing examination of this former Tiflis high school teacher’s reminiscences produced the impression of a document composed of various layers. The foundation is undoubtedly made up of the remote recollections of childhood. But that basic layer has been subjected to the inevitable retrospective elaboration by memory and fantasy under the influence of Stalin’s latter-day fate and the author’s own political views. To that must be added the presence in the reminiscences of dubious, although in their essence, unimportant, details which should be ascribed to a failing rather frequent among a certain kind of memoirist—an endeavor to invest their presentation with “artistic” finish and completeness. Thus forewarned, I deem it quite proper, as I proceed, to lean upon Iremashvili’s reminiscences.

The earlier biographical references invariably speak of Stalin as the son of a peasant from the village of Didi-Lilo. Stalin for the first time referred to himself as a workingman’s son only in 1926. But this contradiction is more apparent than real: like most of Russia’s workers, Djugashvili the father continued to be listed in his passport as a peasant. However, that does not exhaust the difficulties. The father is invariably called: “worker of Alikhanov’s shoe factory in Tiflis”. Yet the family lived at Gori, not in the capital of the Caucasus. Does it mean, then, that the father lived apart from the family? Such a supposition might be justified, had the family remained in the village. It is most unlikely that the family and its provider would live in different towns. Besides, Gogokhiya, Joseph’s comrade at the theological school, who lived in the same yard with him, as well as Iremashvili, who frequently visited him, both say outright that Vissarion worked nearby, on Sobornaya Street, in an adobe with a leaky roof. We therefore surmise that the father’s employment at Tiflis was temporary, probably while the family still lived in the village. At Gori, however, Vissarion Djugashvili no longer worked in a shoe factory—there were no factories in the county seat—but as an independent petty tradesman. The intentional lack of clarity on that point is dictated undoubtedly by the desire not to weaken the impression of Stalin’s “proletarian” heritage.

Like most Georgian women Ekaterina Djugashvili became a mother when still quite young. The first three children died in infancy. On the twenty-first of December, 1879, when her fourth child was born, she was scarcely twenty years old. Joseph was in his seventh year when he fell ill with smallpox. Its traces remained for the rest of his life as witness of his plebeian origin and environment. To his pockmarks, Stalin’s French biographer, Souvarine, adds cachexia of the left arm, which, in addition to the two toes grown together, according to his information, should serve as proof of alcoholic heredity on his father’s side. Generally speaking, shoemakers, at least in Central Russia, were so notorious as drunkards that “drunk as a shoemaker” became a by-word. It is hard to tell how near the truth are the speculations on heredity communicated to Souvarine by “various persons,” most likely Menshevik émigrés. In the enumeration of Joseph Djugashvili’s “distinctive marks” by Tsarist gendarmes, a withered arm was not listed, but the adhering toes were recorded once, in 1903, by Colonel Shabelsky. It is not impossible that, prior to publication, the gendarmerie documents, like all others, had been subjected to an insufficiently thorough purge by the censor. It is impossible not to remark, however, that in later years Stalin was wont to wear a warm glove on his left hand, even at sessions of the Politburo. Rheumatism was the generally accepted reason for that. But after all, these secondary physical characteristics, whether real or imaginary, are in themselves scarcely of passing interest. It is far more important to try to assay the true character of his parents and the atmosphere of his family.

The first thing that strikes the eye is the fact that the officially collected reminiscences hardly mention Vissarion, passing him by in almost total silence, while at the same time dwelling sympathetically on Ekaterina’s hard Life of drudgery. “Joseph’s mother earned very little,” relates Gogokhiya, “working as a washerwoman or baking bread in the homes of Gori’s well-to-do inhabitants. She had to pay a ruble and a half a month for her room. But she was not always able to save that ruble and a half.” We thus learn that the responsibility of paying rent for their home rested with the mother, not the father. Furthermore, “The poverty and the mother’s hard life of toil left their imprint on Joseph’s character … “—as if his father were not a part of the family. Only later, in passing, the author inserts this sentence: “Joseph’s father, Vissarion, spent the entire day in work, stitching and repairing footwear.” However, the father’s work is not mentioned in connection with the family’s home life or its problems of making a living. The impression is thus created that the father is mentioned at all only in order to fill a gap.

Glurdzhidze, another classmate at the theological school, ignores the father altogether when he writes that Joseph’s mother “earned her living by cutting, sewing or laundering underwear”. These reticences, which are not accidental, deserve all the more attention because the customs of the people did not assign the leading role in the family to the woman. On the contrary, according to Old’ Georgian traditions, exceedingly persistent among the conservative mountaineers, woman was relegated to the position of a household slavery, was scarcely ever admitted into the august presence of her lord and master, had no voice in family affairs, and did not so much as dare to punish her own son. Even at church mothers, wives and sisters were placed behind fathers, husbands and brothers. The fact that the authors of the reminiscences place the mother where normally the father should be cannot be interpreted otherwise than as a desire to avoid characterizing Vissarion Djugashvili altogether. The old Russian encyclopedia, commenting on the extreme abstinence of Georgians in the matter of food, adds: “There is scarcely another people in the world that drink as much wine as the Georgians”. True, after moving to Gori, Vissarion could hardly have maintained his own vineyard. But to make up for that, the city had dukhans on every comer, and in them vodka successfully competed with wine.

On that score Iremashvili’s evidence is especially convincing. Like the other memoirists, but antedating them by five years, he is warmly sympathetic in his characterization of Ekaterina, who evinced great love for her only son and friendliness for his mates in play and in school. A true Georgian woman, Keke, as she was generally called, was profoundly religious. Her life of toil was one uninterrupted service: to God, to husband and to her son. Her eyesight became weak in consequence of constant sewing in a half-dark dwelling, so she began to wear eye-glasses early in life. But then any Georgian matron past thirty was regarded as almost an old woman. Her neighbors treated her with all the greater sympathy because her Life had turned out to be so very hard. According to Iremashvili, the head of the family, Bezo (Vissarion) was a person of stern disposition as well as a heartless dipsomaniac. He drank up most of his meager earnings. That was why the responsibility for rent and for the support of the family fell as a double burden on the mother. In helpless grief Keke observed Bezo, by mistreating his son, “drive out of his heart the love of God and people, and fill him with aversion for his own father”. “Undeserved, frightful beatings made the boy as grim and heartless as was his father.” In bitterness Joseph began to brood over the eternal mysteries of life. He did not grieve over the premature death of his father; he merely felt freer. Iremashvili infers that when still quite young, the boy began to extend his smoldering enmity and thirst for vengeance against his father to all those who had, or could have, any power at all over him. “Since youth the carrying out of vengeful plots became for him the goal that dominated all his efforts.” Granting these words are based on retrospective judgments, they still retain the full force of their significance.

In 1930, when she was already seventy-one, Ekaterina, who then lived in the unpretentious rooms of a servant at what was formerly the palace of the Viceroy in Tiflis, replying to the questions of journalists, said through an interpreter: “Soso (Joseph) was always a good boy … I never had occasion to punish him. He studied hard, always reading or discussing, trying to understand everything … Soso was my only son. Of course, he was precious to me … His father Vissarion wanted to make of Soso a good shoemaker. But his father died when Soso was eleven years old … I did not want him to be a shoemaker. I wanted only one thing—that he should become a priest.” Souvarine, it is true, collected quite different information among Georgians in Paris: “They knew Soso when he was already hard, unfeeling, treating his mother without respect, and in support of their reminiscences they cite ‘ticklish facts.’ “ The biographer himself remarks, however, that his information came from Stalin’s political enemies. In that set, too, circulate not a few legends, only in reverse. Iremashvili, on the contrary, speaks with great persistence of Soso’s warm attachment for his mother. Indeed, the boy could have had no other feelings for the family’s benefactress and his protectress against his father.

The German writer Emil Ludwig, our epoch’s court portrait painter, found at the Kremlin another occasion for applying his method of asking leading questions, in which moderate psychological insight is combined with political wariness. Are you fond of nature, Signore Mussolini? What do you think of Schopenhauer, Doctor Masaryk? Do you believe in a better future, Mister Roosevelt? During some such verbal inquisition Stalin, ill at ease in the presence of the celebrated foreigner, assiduously drew little flowers and boats with a colored pencil. So, at any rate, recounts Ludwig. On the withered arm of Wilhelm Hohenzollern this writer had constructed a psychoanalytic biography of the former Kaiser, which old man Freud regarded with ironic perplexity. Ludwig did not notice Stalin’s withered arm, nor did he notice, needless to say, the adhering toes. Nonetheless he attempted to deduce the revolutionary career of the master at the Kremlin from the beatings administered to him in childhood by his father. After familiarizing oneself with Iremashvili’s memoirs it is not difficult to understand where Ludwig got his idea. “What made you a rebel? Did it perhaps come to pass because your parents treated you badly?” It would be rather imprudent to ascribe to these words any documentary value, and not only because Stalin’s affirmations and negations, as we shall have frequent occasions to see, are prone to change with the greatest of ease. In an analogous situation anyone else might have acted similarly. In any event, one cannot blame Stalin for having refused to complain in public of his father who had been dead a long time. One is rather surprised by the deferential writer’s lack of delicacy.

Family trials were not however the only factor to mold the boy’s harsh, willful and vengeful personality. The far broader influences of social environment furthered the same quality. One of Stalin’s biographers relates how from time to time the Most Illustrious Prince Amilakhviri would ride up on a spirited horse to the poor home of the shoemaker to have his boots repaired, which had just been torn at the hunt, and how the shoemaker’s son, a great shock of hair over his low forehead, pierced the Prince with eyes of hate, clenching his childish fists. By itself, that picturesque scene belongs, we think, in the realm of fantasy. However, the contrast between the poverty surrounding him and the relative sumptuousness of the last of the Georgian feudal lords could not help but make a sharp and lasting impression on the consciousness of the boy.

The situation of the city population itself was not much better. High above the lower classes rose the county officialdom, which ruled the city in the name of the Tsar and his Caucasian Viceroy, Prince Golitsyn, a sinister satrap who was universally and deservedly hated. The landowners and the Armenian merchants were in league with the county authorities. Despite its general low level, and partly in consequence of it, the basic plebeian mass of the population was itself divided by barriers of caste. Each one who ever so slightly rose above his fellow, guarded his rank vigilantly. The Didi-Lilo peasant’s distrust of the city was transformed at Gori into the hostile attitude of the poor artisan toward the more prosperous families for whom Keke was obliged to sew and to wash. No less crudely did the social gradations assert themselves in school, where the children of priests, petty gentry and officials more than once made it quite clear to Joseph that he was their social inferior. As is evident from Gogokhiya’s stories, the shoemaker’s son first sensed the humiliation of social inequality early in life and poignantly. “He did not like to call on people who lived prosperously. Despite the fact that I visited him several times a day, he very rarely came to see me, because my uncle lived richly, according to the standards of those days.” Such were the first sources of a social protest, as yet instinctive, which, in the atmosphere of the country’s political ferment, would later transform the seminary student into a revolutionist.

The lowest layer of the petty bourgeoisie knows but two high careers for its gifted or only sons: those of civil servant or priest. Hitler’s mother dreamed of a pastor’s career for her son. The same fond hope was Ekaterina Djugashvili’s some ten years earlier, in an even more modest milieu. The dream itself —to see her son in priestly robes—indicates incidentally how little the family of the shoemaker Bezo was permeated with the “proletarian spirit”. A better future was conceived, not in consequence of the class struggle, but as the result of breaking with one’s class.

The Orthodox priesthood, despite its low social rank and cultural level, belonged to the hierarchy of the privileged in that it was free of compulsory military service, the head tax, and … the whip. Only the abolition of serfdom gave the peasants access to the ranks of the priesthood, that privilege being conditioned, however, by a police limitation: in order to be appointed to a church position, a peasant’s son had to have the special dispensation of the governor.

The future priests were educated in scores of seminaries, the preparatory step for which were theological schools. By their rating in the government system of education, the seminaries approximated the middle schools, with this difference, that in them lay studies were supposed to be no more than a slender pillar for theology! In old Russia the well-known boorsy were notorious for the horrifying savagery of their customs, medieval pedagogy and the law of the fist, not to mention dirt, cold, and hunger. All the vices censured by Holy Scripture flourished in these hotbeds of piety. The writer Pomyalovsky found a permanent place in Russian literature as the ruthlessly veracious author of “Theological School Sketches” [Ocherki Boorsy –1862]. One cannot but quote at this juncture the words Pomyalovsky’s biographer used with reference to Pomyalovsky himself: “that period of his school life developed in him mistrust, dissimulation, animosity, and hatred for his environment”. True, the reforms of Alexander the Second’s reign brought about certain improvements even in the mustiest region of ecclesiastical education. Nonetheless, as late as the last decade of the last century the theological schools, especially in remote Transcaucasia, remained the darkest blots on the “cultural” map of Russia.

The Tsarist government long ago, and not without bloodshed, broke the independence of the Georgian Church, subjecting it to the Petersburg Synod. But hostility toward the Russifiers continued to smolder among the lower ranks of the Georgian clergy. The enslavement of their church shook the traditional religiousness of the Georgians and prepared the ground for the influence of the Social-Democracy, not only in the city but in the village as well. The fustian atmosphere of the theological schools was even more marked, for they were designed not only to Russify their charges but to prepare them for the role of the church’s police of the soul. A spirit of sharp hostility permeated the intercourse between teachers and pupils. Instruction was carried on in Russian; Georgian was taught only twice a week, and was not infrequently slighted, as the language of an inferior race.

In 1890, evidently soon after his father’s death, the eleven-year old Soso, carrying a calico school-bag under his arm, entered the theological school. According to his schoolmates, the boy evinced a great urge for learning his catechism and his prayers. Gogokhiya remarks that, thanks to “his extraordinary memory,” Soso remembered his lessons from the words of his teacher and had no need to review them. As a matter of fact, Stalin’s memory—at least, his memory for theories—is quite mediocre. But all the same, in order to remember in the class room it was necessary to excel in attentiveness. At that time the sacerdotal order was no doubt Soso’s own crowning ambition. Determination stimulated both aptitude and memory. Another school comrade, Kapanadze, testifies that throughout the thirteen years of tutelage and throughout the later thirty-five years of activity as a teacher he never had occasion once “to meet such a gifted and able pupil” as Joseph Djugashvili. Yet even Iremashvili, who wrote his book not in Tiflis but in Berlin, maintains that Soso was the best pupil in the theological school. In other testimonies there are, however, substantial shadings. “During the first years, in the preparatory grades,” relates Glurdzhidze, “Joseph studied superbly, and with time, as he disclosed increasingly brilliant abilities, he became one of the best pupils.” In that article, which bears all the earmarks of a panegyric ordered from above, occurrence of the circumspect expression “one of the best” indicates too obviously that Joseph was not the best, was not superior to the entire class, was not an extraordinary pupil. Identical in nature are the recollections of another schoolmate, Elisabedashvili. Joseph, says he, “was one of the most indigent and one of the most gifted”. In other words, not the most gifted. We are thus constrained to the surmise that either his scholastic standing varied in the various grades or that certain of the memoirists, belonging themselves to the rear-guard of learning, were poor at picking the best pupils.

Without being definite as to Joseph’s exact rating in his class, Gogokhiya states that in development and knowledge he ranked “much higher than his schoolmates”. Soso read everything available in the school library, including Georgian and Russian classics, which were, of course, carefully sifted by the authorities. After his graduation examinations Joseph was rewarded with a certificate of merit, “which in those days was an extraordinary achievement, because his father was not a clergyman and plied the shoemaking trade”. Truly a remarkable touch!

On the whole the memoirs written in Tiflis about “the Leader’s youthful years” are rather insipid. “Soso would pull us into the chorus, and in his ringing, pleasant voice would lead us in the beloved national songs.” When playing ball, “Joseph knew how to select the best players, and for that reason our group always won.” “Joseph learned to draw splendidly”. But not a single one of these attributes developed into a talent: Joseph became neither a singer nor a sportsman nor an artist. Even less convincing sound reports like these: “Joseph Djugashvili was remarkable for his great modesty, and he was a kind, sensitive comrade.”—”He never let anyone feel his superiority”, and the like. If all of that is true, then one is forced to conclude that with the years Joseph became transformed into his opposite.

Iremashvili’s recollections are incomparably more vivid and closer to the truth. He draws his namesake as a lanky, sinewy, freckled boy, extraordinarily persistent, uncommunicative and willful, who could always obtain the goal he had set before him, be it a matter of bossing his playmates, throwing rocks or scaling cliffs. Although Soso was decidedly a passionate lover of nature, he had no sympathy for its living creatures. Compassion for people or for animals was foreign to him. “I never saw him weeping.”—”Soso had only a sarcastic sneer for the joys and sorrows of his fellows.” All of that may have been slightly polished in memory, like a rock in a torrent; it has not been invented.

Iremashvili commits one indubitable error when he ascribes to Joseph rebellious behavior as far back as the Gori school. Soso was presumably subjected to almost daily punishments as the leader of schoolboy protests; particularly, hooting against “the hated Inspector Butyrski”. Yet the authors of official memoirs, this time without any premeditated purpose, portray Joseph as an exemplary pupil even in behavior all through those years. “Usually he was serious, persistent,” writes Gogokhiya, “did not like pranks and mischief. After his schoolwork he hurried home, and he was always seen poring over a book”. According to the same Gogokhiya, the school paid Joseph a monthly stipend, which would have been quite impossible had there been any lack of respectfulness toward his superiors and above all toward “the hated Inspector Butyrski”. All the other memoirists place the inception of Joseph’s rebellious moods at the time of his Tiflis seminary days. But even then no one states anything about his participation in stormy protests. The explanation for Iremashvili’s lapses of memory, as well as for those of certain others, with reference to the place and time of individual occurrences, lies evidently in the fact that all the participants regarded the Tiflis seminary as the direct continuation of the theological school. It is more difficult to account for the fact that no one except Iremashvili mentions the hooting under Joseph’s leadership. Is that a simple aberration of memory? Or did Joseph play in certain “concerts” a concealed role, of which only a few were informed? That would not be at all at variance with the character of the future conspirator.

The moment of Joseph’s break with the faith of his fathers remains uncertain. According to the same Iremashvili, Soso, together with two other schoolboys, gladly sang in the village church during summer vacations, although even then—that is, in the higher grades of the school—religion was already something he had outgrown. Glurdzhidze recalls in his turn that the thirteen-year old Joseph told him once: “You know, they are deceiving us. There is no God …” In reply to the amazed cry of his interlocutor, Joseph suggested that he read a book from which it was evident that “the talk of God is empty chatter”. What book was that? “Darwin. You must read it.” The reference to Darwin ends a shade of the incredible to the episode. A thirteen-year old boy in a backward town could hardly have read Darwin and derived atheistic convictions from him. According to his own words, Stalin took to the road of revolutionary ideas at the age of fifteen; hence, when already in Tiflis. True, he could have broken with religion earlier. But it is equally possible that Glurdzhidze, who likewise left the theological school for the seminary, erred in his dates, anticipating by a few years. To repudiate God, in whose name the cruelties against the schoolboys were perpetrated, was undoubtedly not difficult. At any rate, the inner strength necessary for that was rewarded when the instructors and the authorities as a whole had the moral ground snatched from under their feet. From then on they could not perpetrate violence merely because they were stronger. Soso’s expressive formula, “they are deceiving us,” sheds a bright light on his inward world, irrespective of where and when the conversation took place, whether at Gori, or a year or two later, at Tiflis.

As to the time of Joseph’s matriculation at the seminary, various official publications offer the choice of three dates: 1892, 1893 and 1894. How long was he in the seminary? Six years, answers “The Communist’s Calendar.” Five, states the biographical sketch written by Stalin’s secretary. Four years, asserts his former schoolmate, Gogokhiya. The memorial shingle on the building of the former seminary states, as it is possible to decipher from a photograph, that the “Great Stalin” studied in these walls from the first of September, 1894, to the twenty-first of July, 1899; consequently, five years. Is it possible that the official biography avoids that last date, because it presents the seminary student Djugashvili as too overgrown? At any rate, we prefer to rely on the memorial shingle, because its dates are based in all likelihood upon the documents of the seminary itself.

The certificate of good conduct from the Gori school in his satchel, the fifteen-year old Joseph found himself for the first time in the autumn of 1894 in the big city that could not have failed to astound his imagination, Tiflis, the ancient capital of Georgian kings. It will be no exaggeration to say that the half-Asiatic, half-European city laid an impress on young Joseph that remained for the rest of his life. In the course of its history of almost 1,500 years Tiflis fell many times into the power of its enemies, was demolished fifteen times, on several occasions razed to its very foundations. The Arabs, the Turks and the Persians, who smashed their way in, left a profound impression upon the architecture and the customs of the people, and the traces of that influence have been preserved to this day. European sections developed after the Russian conquest of Georgia, when the former capital became the provincial seat and the administrative center of the Transcaucasian Region. Tiflis numbered more than 150,000 inhabitants the year Joseph entered the seminary. The Russians, who composed one-fourth of that number, were either exiled religious dissenters, rather numerous in Transcaucasia, or the military and civil servants. Trade and industry were concentrated in the hands of the Armenians, since ancient days and the most numerous (38%) and the most prosperous sector of the population. The Georgians, who were connected with the village and who, like the Russians, formed approximately one-fourth of the population, provided the lower layer of artisans, traders, petty civil servants and officers. “Alongside of streets which hear a contemporary European character …” states a description of the city published in 1901, “.. . nests a labyrinth of narrow, crooked and dirty, purely Asiatic lanes, squarelets and bazaars, framed by open stalls of the Eastern type, by stands, coffee houses, barber shops, and filled with a clamorous throng of porters, water carriers, errand boys, horsemen, lines of pack mules and donkeys, caravans of camels, and the like.” The absence of a sewage disposal system, insufficiency of water, the torrid summers, the caustic and infiltrating dust of the streets, kerosene lighting in the center of the city and the absence of any light at all in the outlying streets—such were features of Transcaucasia’s administrative and cultural center at the turn of the century.

”We were admitted into a four-storey house,” relates Gogokhiya, who arrived there together with Joseph, “into the huge rooms of our dormitory, which held from twenty to thirty people. This building was the Tiflis Theological Seminary.” Thanks to his successful graduation from the theological school at Gori, Joseph Djugashvili was admitted to the seminary, with everything provided, including clothes, shoes and textbooks, a circumstance that would have been utterly impossible, it must be reiterated, had he revealed himself as a rebel. Who knows, perhaps the authorities had high hopes that he might become an ornament of the Georgian Church? As in preparatory school, instruction was in Russian. Most of the instructors were Russians by nationality and Russifiers by duty. Georgians were admitted to teaching only in the event that they exhibited double zeal. The rector was a Russian, the monk Hermogenes; the inspector, a Georgian, the monk Abashidze, the most sinister and detestable person in the seminary. Iremashvili, who has not only given the first but also the most complete information about the seminary, recalls

Life in school was sad and monotonous. Locked in day and night within barrack walls, we felt like prisoners who must spend years there, without being guilty of anything. All of us were despondent and sullen. Stifled by the rooms and corridors that cut us off from the outer world, youthful joy almost never asserted itself. When, from time to time, youthful temperament did break through, it was immediately suppressed by the monks and monitors. The Tsarist inspection of schools forbade us the reading of Georgian literature and newspapers… . They feared our becoming inspired with ideas of our country’s freedom and independence, and the infection of our young souls with the new teachings of socialism. Even the few literary works the lay authorities allowed us to read were forbidden to us by the church authorities because we were future priests. The works of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgeniev and other classics remained inaccessible to us.

The days in the seminary passed as in a prison or in a barracks. School life began at seven o’clock in the morning. Prayers, tea drinking, classes. Again prayers. Instruction, with recesses, until two o’clock in the afternoon. Prayers. Dinner. Poor and insufficient food. Permission to leave the walls of the seminary prison was granted only for the interval between the hours of three and five. After that the gates were locked. Roll-call. At eight o’clock, tea. Preparation of lessons. At ten o’clock—after more prayers—all went to their cots. “We felt trapped in a stone gaol,” confirms Gogokhiya. During Sunday and holiday services the students stood on their feet for three or four hours at a stretch, always on one and the same stone slab of the church floor, shifting from one numb foot to the other, under the gaze of the monks who watched them incessantly. “Even the most pious should have unlearned to pray under the influence of the interminable service. Behind devout grimaces we hid our thought from the monks on duty.”

As a rule the spirit of piety went hand and glove with the spirit of police repression. Inspector Abashidze, hostile and suspicious, observed the boarders, their train of thought, their manner of spending their time. More than once when the pupils returned to their rooms from dinner, they would find fresh evidence of a raid perpetrated during their absence. Not infrequently the monks searched the seminary students themselves. Punishment was meted out in the form of crude upbraiding, the dark cell, which was seldom vacant, low marks for deportment, which threatened the collapse of all hopes, and finally, expulsion from the holy of holies. Those who were physically weak left the seminary for the graveyard. Hard and thorny was the path of salvation!

The methods of seminary pedagogy had everything that the Jesuits had invented to curb the children’s souls, but in a more primitive, a cruder and therefore a less effective form. But the main thing was that the situation in the country was hardly conducive to the spirit of humility. In almost all of the sixty seminaries of Russia there were undergraduates who, most frequently under the influence of university students, rejected their priestly robes even before they had time to put them on, who were filled with contempt for theological scholasticism, read didactic novels, radical Russian journalism and popular expositions of Darwin and Marx. In the Tiflis seminary the revolutionary ferment, nurtured by nationalistic and general political sources, already enjoyed a certain tradition. In the past it had broken through in the form of sharp conflicts with teachers, openly expressed indignation, even the killing of a rector. Ten years prior to Stalin’s matriculation at the seminary Sylvester Dzhibladze had struck his teacher for a slighting reference to the Georgian language. Dzhibladze subsequently became a founder of the Social-Democratic movement in the Caucasus and one of Joseph Djugashvili’s teachers.

In 1885 Tiflis saw the appearance of its first socialist circles, in which the graduates of the seminary at once took the leading place. Alongside of Sylvester Dzhibladze we meet here Noah Jordania, the future leader of the Georgian Mensheviks, Nicholas Chkheidze, the future Deputy of the Duma and Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet during the month of the February Revolution of 1917, and a number of others who were destined to play a notable role in the political movement of the Caucasus and of the entire country. Marxism in Russia was still passing through its intelligentsia stage. In the Caucasus the Theological Seminary became the principal hearth of Marxist infection simply because there was no university at Tiflis. In backward, non-industrial districts, like Georgia, Marxism was accepted in a particularly abstract, not to say scholastic form. The seminarists had at least some training in the use of logical deductions. But at the base of the turn toward Marxism lay, of course, the profound social and national dissatisfaction of the people, which compelled the young Bohemians to seek the way out along the revolutionary road.

Joseph did not have occasion to lay new roads in Tiflis, notwithstanding the attempts of the Soviet Plutarchs to present the matter in this light. The blow Dzhibladze struck was still reverberating within the seminary walls. The former seminarists were already leading the left wing of public opinion, nor did they lose contact with their step-mother, the seminary. Sufficient was any occasion, a personal encounter, a mere push, for the dissatisfied, embittered, proud youth, who needed merely a formula in order to find himself, to drift naturally into the revolutionary track. The first stage along this road had to be a break with religion. If it is possible that from Gori the boy had brought with him remnants of faith, surely they were forthwith dispelled at the seminary. Henceforth Joseph decidedly lost all taste for theology.

”His ambition,” writes Iremashvili, “reached such heights that he was away ahead of us in his achievements”. If that is true, it applies only to a very brief period. Glurdzhidze remarks that of the studies in the seminary curriculum, “Joseph liked civil history and logic,” occupying himself with the other subjects only sufficiently to pass his examinations. Having grown cold toward Holy Scriptures, he became interested in lay literature, natural science and social problems. He was aided by students in the advanced classes. “Having found out about the capable and inquiring Joseph Djugashvili, they began to converse with him and to supply him with magazines and books,” relates Gogokhiya. “The book was Joseph’s inseparable friend, and he did not part with it even while eating,” testifies Glurdzhidze. In general, avidity for reading was the distinguishing characteristic during those years of burgeoning. After the final check-up at night, the monks having put out the lamps, the young conspirators would produce their hidden candles and by their flickering flames would immerse themselves in books. Joseph, who had spent many sleepless nights poring over his books, began to look ill and in need of sleep. “When he began to cough,” relates Iremashvili, “I would take his hooks away from him and put out his candle, more than once.” Glurdzhidze recalls how, in stealth, the seminary students would swallow Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Shelley, Lippert’s “History of Culture,” the Russian radical publicist Pisarev … “At times we read in church, during service, hiding in the pews.”

At that time the writings of Georgian national literature made the strongest impression upon Soso. Iremashvili describes the first explosions of the revolutionary temperament, in which an idealism still fresh combined with the sudden awakening of ambition. “Soso and I,” recalls Iremashvili, “frequently talked about the tragic fate of Georgia. We were enraptured by the works of the poet Shota Rustaveli …” Soso’s model became Koba, the hero of the romance “Nunu” by the Georgian author of “Kazbek”. In their fight against the Tsarist authorities the oppressed mountaineers, because of betrayal, suffer defeat and lose their last remnants of freedom, while the leader of the rebellion sacrifices everything, even his life, for the sake of his country and his wife, Nunu. From then on Koba “became a divinity for Soso … He wanted to become another Koba, a fighter and a hero, as renowned as ‘Koba’ himself . ..” Joseph called himself by the name of the leader of the mountaineers, and did not want to be called by any other name. “His face shone with pride and joy when we called him Koba. Soso preserved that name for many years, and it became likewise his first pseudonym when he began to write and propagandize for the party … Even now everybody in Georgia calls him Koba or Koba-Stalin .” Concerning young Joseph’s enthusiasm for the national problem of Georgia, official biographers say nothing at all. In their writings Stalin appears at once as a finished Marxist. Nonetheless, it is not hard to understand that in the naive “Marxism” of that first period, nebulous ideas of Socialism lived on in peace with the nationalistic romanticism of “Koba”.

In the course of that year, according to Gogokhiya, Joseph developed and matured to such an extent that in his second year he began to lead a group of comrades at the seminary. If Beriya,[1] the most official of the historians, is to be believed, “in 1896-1897 Stalin led two Marxist circles at the Tiflis Theological Seminary.” Stalin himself was never led by anyone. Much more probable is Iremashvili’s story. Ten seminarists among them Soso Djugashvili, organized, according to him, a secret socialist circle. “The oldest undergraduate, Devdariyani, elected leader, undertook his task in all seriousness.” He worked out, or rather received from his inspirers outside the walls of the seminary, a program according to which the members of the circle had to train themselves within six years into accomplished Social-Democratic leaders. The program began with Cosmogony and finished with a Communist society. At the secret meetings .of the circle papers were read, accompanied by a heated exchange of opinions. Matters were not limited, Gogokhiya assures us, to oral propaganda. Joseph “founded and edited” in the Georgian language a manuscript journal which appeared twice a month and circulated from hand to hand. The wideawake Inspector Abashidze once found on Joseph’s person “a notebook with an article for our manuscript magazine”. Similar publications, irrespective of their contents, were strictly forbidden, not only in theological, but even in lay institutions of education. Since the result of Abashidze’s discovery was only a “warning” and a bad mark in behavior, we are bound to conclude that the magazine was rather innocuous. It is noteworthy that the very thoroughgoing Iremashvili says nothing at all about that magazine.

[1] Lavrentii Pavlovich Beriya (1899- ), People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs, head of the political police of the Soviet Union, was for many years head of the G.P.U. of Georgia. Hitherto known only as a ruthless Chekist, he acquired sudden fame as an historian after the publication of his lecture, “On the Question of the History of Bolshevik Organizations in Trans-Caucasia,” originally delivered to the Communist Party activists of Tiflis at two sessions, July 21 and 22, 1935. In those lectures he created a romantic early revolutionary career for Stalin. Today Beriya is one of Stalins most trusted lieutenants.—C. M.


In the seminary Joseph must have sensed his poverty even more sharply than in preparatory school. “… He had no money,” Gogokhiya mentions by the way, “while we received from our parents packages and pin money. During the two hours allowed for sojourning outside the school walls, Joseph could not afford any of the things accessible to the sons of the more privileged families. All the more unbridled were his dreams and plans of the future and more marked the effect on his instincts in dealing with his schoolmates.

”As boy and youth,” testifies Iremashvili, “he was a good friend to those who submitted to his domineering will”. But only to those. The more imperative was self-restraint in the presence of his preceptors, the more freely did his despotism assert itself in the circle of his comrades. The secret circle, fenced off from the entire world, became the natural arena on which Joseph tried his strength and the endurance of others. “He deemed it something unnatural,” writes Iremashvili, “that any other fellow-student might he a leader and organizer of the group .. . since he read the greater part of the papers”. Whoever dared to refute him or even to attempt to explain something to him, immediately evoked his “merciless enmity”. Joseph knew how to persecute and how to avenge himself. He knew how to strike at weak spots. Under such circumstances the initial solidarity of the circle could not long endure. In his struggle for mastery, Koba, “with his supercilious and poisonous cynicism, injected personal squabbles into the society of his friends”. These complaints about his “poisonous cynicism,” his rudeness and his vengefulness, occur many, many times during Koba’s life.

In the rather fantastic biography written by Essad-Bey it is told that presumably prior to his seminary days young Joseph led a vagabond life in Tiflis in the company of “kintos”—heroes of the street, fast talkers, singers and hooligans—and that from them he acquired his crude ways and his virtuosity at swearing. All of that is quite obvious invention. From the theological school Joseph went directly to the seminary, so that there was no interval left for vagabondage. But the point is that the nickname “kinto” does not occupy the last place in the Caucasian dictionary. It signifies a clever schemer, a cynic, a person capable of the lowest sort of conniving. In the autumn of 1923 I first heard that appellation with reference to Stalin from the lips of the old Georgian Bolshevik Philip Makharadze. Is it not possible that this sobriquet had been acquired by Joseph in his more youthful years and gave birth to the legend concerning the street chapter of his life?

The same biographer speaks of the “heavy fist,” with the aid of which Joseph Djugashvili presumably assured himself of his triumph on the occasions when peaceful means proved ill-suited. That too is hard to believe. Risky “direct action” was never a part of Stalin’s character, in all likelihood not even in those remote years. He preferred and knew how to find others to do the actual fighting, himself remaining in the shadows if not altogether behind the curtains. “What brought him adherents,” states Iremashvili, “was fear of his crude anger and his vicious mockery. His partisans surrendered to his leadership, because they felt secure under his power … Only such human types as were quite poor spiritually and inclined to fights could become his friends …” The inevitable results were not far behind. Some members of the circle left, others took less and less interest in the discussions. “Two groups, for and against Koba, formed in the course of a few years; the struggle for a cause developed into a disgusting personal squabble …” This was the first big “squabble” on Joseph’s path of life, but it was not the last. Many of them were ahead.

It is impossible not to tell here, although considerably anticipating, how Stalin, already the General Secretary of the Communist Party, having painted at one of the sessions of the Central Committee a depressing picture of the personal intrigues and squabbles which were developing in the various local committees of the Party, quite unexpectedly added: “but these squabbles have also their positive side, because they lead to the monolithicism of leadership”. His hearers looked at each other in surprise; the orator continued his report undisturbed. The essence of that “monolithicism” even in his youthful years was not always identical with the idea. Says Iremashvili: “His concern was not with finding and determining the truth; he would contend against or defend that which he had previously affirmed or condemned. Victory and triumph were much more precious to him.”

It is impossible to ascertain the nature of Joseph’s views in those days, since they left no traces in writing. According to Soso Iremashvili, his namesake stood for the most forcible actions and for “the dictatorship of the minority”. The participation of a purposeful imagination in the work of memory is quite obvious here: at the end of the past century the very question of “dictatorship” did not yet exist. “Koba’s extreme views did not take form,” continues Iremashvili, “in consequence of ‘objective study,’ but came as the natural product of his personal will to power and of his merciless ambition, which dominated him physically and spiritually.” Behind the undoubted prejudice in the judgments of the former Menshevik one must know how to find the kernel of truth. In Stalin’s spiritual life, the personal, practical aim always stood above the theoretical truth, and the will played an immeasurably greater part than the intellect.

Iremashvili makes one more psychological observation, which, although it contains a measure of retrospective evaluation, still remains extremely pertinent: Joseph “saw everywhere and in everything only the negative, the bad side, and had no faith at all in men’s idealistic motives or attributes”. This point of view, which had already revealed itself during his youth, when the entire world is usually still covered with the film of idealism, was in the future to run through Joseph’s entire life as its leit-motif. Precisely because of that, Stalin, despite the other prominent traits of his character, was to remain in the background during periods of historical progress, when the finest qualities of selflessness and heroism awaken among the masses. Inversely, his cynical disbelief in men and his special ability to appeal to the worst in their nature were to find ample scope during the epoch of reaction, which crystallizes egoism and perfidy.

Joseph Djugashvili not only did not become a priest, as his mother had dreamed, but he did not even receive the certificate that could have opened for him the doors to certain provincial universities. As to how that happened and why, there are several versions, which cannot he readily reconciled. In reminiscences written in 1929, with obvious intent to eradicate the unfavorable impression of the reminiscences written by him in 1923, Abel Yenukidze states that at the seminary Joseph began to read secret books of harmful tendency. His offense did not escape the attention of the Inspector and hence the dangerous pupil “flew out of the seminary”. The official Caucasian historian Beriya informs us that Stalin was “expelled for unreliability”. There is, of course, nothing unlikely in that; similar expulsions were not infrequent. What does seem strange is that so far the seminary documents on that subject have not been published. That they have not been destroyed by fire and have not been lost in the maelstrom of the revolutionary years is apparent at least from the previously mentioned memorial shingle and even more so from the complete silence as to their fate. Are the documents being kept from publication because they contain inauspicious facts or because they refute certain legends of latter-day origin?

Most frequently one finds the assertion that Djugashvili was expelled for leading a Social-Democratic circle. His former classmate at the seminary, Elisabedashvili, not a very reliable witness, informs us that in the Social-Democratic circles, “organized by direction and under the leadership of Stalin,” there were “a hundred to one hundred twenty” seminarists. Had this referred to the years 1905-1906, when all the waters had overflowed their banks and all the authorities were in utter bewilderment, this might have been believed. But for the year 1899 that figure is utterly fantastic. Had the organization numbered as many members as that, the affairs could not have been limited to mere expulsion: the intervention of the gendarmes would have been quite unavoidable. Joseph nevertheless not only was not immediately arrested, but remained at liberty for nearly three years after leaving the seminary. Therefore, the version that the Social-Democratic circles were the cause of his expulsion has to be definitely rejected.

That issue is presented much more cautiously by Gogokhiya, who as a rule tries not to stray too far from the groundwork of facts. “Joseph stopped paying attention to his lessons,” he writes, “studied for no more than passing marks, so as to pass the examinations. The ferocious monk Abashidze guessed why the talented, well-developed Djugashvili, who possessed an incredibly rich memory, studied only for passing marks … and succeeded in obtaining a decision to expel him from the seminary.” As to what the monk had “guessed,” only more guesses are possible. From Gogokhiya’s words the conclusion is inevitable that Joseph was expelled from the seminary for failure in his studies, which was the result of his break with theological super-wisdom. The same conclusion might be drawn from Kapanadze’s story about the “break” which occurred at the time he studied in the Tiflis seminary: “he was no longer the assiduous pupil he had been before”. It is noteworthy that Kapanadze, Glurdzhidze and Elisabedashvili entirely avoid the question of Joseph’s expulsion from the seminary.

But most astounding of all is the circumstance that Stalin’s mother in the last period of her Life, when official historians and journalists began to take an interest in her, categorically denied the very fact of expulsion. At the time he entered the seminary the fifteen year old boy was remarkable, according to her words, for his glowing health, but close application to his studies exhausted him to such an extent that physicians feared tuberculosis. Ekaterina added that her son did not want to leave the seminary and that she “took” him against his will. That does not sound very likely. Ill health might have called for a temporary interruption of studies, but not for a complete break with the school, not for a mother’s complete repudiation of so alluring a career for her son. Also, in the year 1899 Joseph was already twenty years old, he was not distinguished by submissiveness, and it is hardly possible that his mother could have disposed of his fate so easily. Finally, after leaving the seminary, Joseph did not return to Gori and place himself under his mother’s wing, which would have been the most natural thing in the event of illness, but remained in Tiflis, without occupation and without means. Old Keke did not tell the whole truth when she talked with the journalists. It might be supposed that at the time his mother had regarded her son’s expulsion as a dire disgrace to herself, and since the event took place in Tiflis, she had assured her neighbors at Gori that her son had not been expelled but had voluntarily left the seminary because of the state of his health. To the old woman, moreover, it must have seemed that it was unbecoming for “the leader” of the State to have been expelled from school in his youth. It is hardly necessary to seek other, more recondite, reasons for the persistence with which Keke repeated, “he was not expelled, I took him out myself”.

But perhaps Joseph was not actually subjected to expulsion in the precise sense of the word. Such a version, perhaps the most likely, is given by Iremashvili. According to him, the seminary authorities, having become disappointed in their expectations, began to treat Joseph with ever-increasing disfavor and to find fault constantly. “It so developed that Koba, who was convinced of the fruitlessness of any earnest study, gradually became the worst pupil in the seminary. He would reply to the reproachful remarks of his teachers with his poisonous and contemptuous leer.” The certificate which the school authorities gave him for passing from the sixth to the last form was so bad that Koba himself decided to leave the seminary the year before graduation. Taking into consideration that explanation, it at once becomes clear why Yenukidze wrote “flew out of the seminary,” avoiding the more precise expressions, “was expelled,” or, “left the seminary”; why most of his schoolmates say nothing at all about that significant moment of Joseph’s seminary life; why no documents are published; why, finally, his mother felt she had the right to say that her son had not been expelled, although she herself gave the episode a different coloring, transferring responsibility from her son to herself. From the point of view of Stalin’s personal characterization or his political biography, the details of his break with the seminary have scarcely any significance. But they are not a bad illustration of the difficulties which totalitarian historiography places in the way of research even on such subsidiary questions.

Joseph entered the preparatory theological school at the age of eleven, in 1890, passed four years later into the seminary, and abandoned it in 1899, thus remaining altogether in the ecclesiastical schools for nine years. Georgians mature early. Joseph left the seminary a grown man, “without diploma,” writes Gogokhiya, “but with definite, firm views on life”. The nine year period of theological studies could not fail to have left a profound influence on his character, on the manner of his thought, and on his style, which form an essential part of personality.

The language of the family and of their milieu was Georgian. His mother, even in her old age, did not know Russian. The situation could scarcely have been otherwise with his father. The boy studied Russian speech only in school, where again the majority of the pupils were Georgians. The spirit of the Russian language, its free nature, its inherent rhythm, Joseph never acquired. Moreover he was called upon to study the foreign language, which was to take the place of his native tongue, in the stilted atmosphere of a theological school. He imbibed the turns of Russian speech together with the formulae of churchly scholasticism. He learned the speech itself, not as a natural and inseparable spiritual organ for the expression of his own feelings and thoughts, but as an artificial and external instrument for transmitting a foreign and hated mysticism. In later li fe he was even less able to become intimate with or to assimilate the language, to use it precisely or to ennoble it, because he habitually employed words to camouflage thought and feeling rather than to express them. Consequently, Russian always remained for him not only a language half-foreign and makeshift, but, far worse for his consciousness, conventional and strained.

It is not hard to understand that from the moment Joseph inwardly broke with religion the study of homiletics and liturgy became insufferable to him. What is hard to understand is how he was able to lead a double life for such a long time. If we are to credit the tale that at the early age of thirteen Soso had counterposed Darwin to the Bible, we must conclude that from then on for seven whole years he patiently studied theology, although with diminishing eagerness. Stalin himself placed the inception of his revolutionary Wettanschauung at the fifteenth or sixteenth year of his life. It is quite possible that he turned away from religion two or three years before he turned toward socialism. But even if we were to allow that both changes occurred simultaneously, we shall see that the young atheist in the course of five whole years continued to explore the mysteries of Orthodoxy.

True, in Tsarist educational Institutions many free-thinking youths were obliged to lead a double life. But that has reference principally to universities, where the régime nevertheless was distinguished by considerable freedom and where official hypocrisy was reduced to a ritualistic minimum. In the middle schools this divergence was more difficult to endure, but it usually lasted only a year or two, when the youth saw ahead of him the doors of the university, with its relative academic freedom. The situation of young Djugashvili was extraordinary. He did not study in a lay educational institution, where the pupils were under surveillance only part of the day and where the so-called “Religion” was actually one of the secondary subjects; but in a closed educational institution, where all of his life was subjected to the demands of the church and where his every step was taken before the eyes of the monks. In order to endure this régime for seven or even five years, extraordinary cautiousness and an exceptional aptitude for dissimulation were needed. During the years of his sojourn in the seminary no one noticed any kind of open protest by him, any bold act of indignation. Joseph laughed at his teachers behind their backs, but he was never impudent to their faces. He did not slap any chauvinistic pedagogue, as Dzhibladze had done; the most he did was to retort “with a contemptuous leer”. His hostility was reserved, underhanded, watchful. The seminarist Pomyalovsky during his life as a pupil was, as we heard, inoculated with “suspiciousness, secretiveness, enmity and hatred for the surrounding milieu”. Almost the same attitude, but even more pointed, Iremashvili states, was characteristic of Koba: “In 1899 he Id t the seminary, taking with him a vicious, ferocious enmity against the school administration, against the bourgeoisie, against everything that existed in the country and embodied Tsarism. Hatred against all authority.”

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Last updated on: 7 September 2009