Leon Trotsky

Stalin –
An Appraisal of the Man and his Influence

Chapter II: “Professional revolutionist”

IN 1883, when Soso was going on his fourth year, Baku, the oil capital of the Caucasus, was connected by rail with the Black Sea port of Batum. To the backbone of its mountain ranges, the Caucasus added its backbone of railways. After the oil industry the manganese industry began to grow. In 1896, when Soso had already begun to have dreams about the name of Koba, the first strike in the railway shops of Tiflis broke out.

In the development of ideas, as in industry, the Caucasus was in the tow of Central Russia. During the second half of the ’nineties, beginning in Petersburg, the ruling tendency of the radical intelligentsia was toward Marxism. When Koba was still pining away in the fusty atmosphere of seminarist theology, the Social-Democratic movement had already managed to attain broad dimensions. A tempestuous wave of strikes was rolling over the length and breadth of the land. At first the initial hundreds, and then thousands of intellectuals and workers suffered arrest and banishment. A new chapter opened in the revolutionary movement.

In 1901, when Koba became a member of the Tiflis Committee, there were approximately forty thousand industrial workers in Transcaucasia engaged in nine thousand enterprises, without counting the artisan shops. A negligible number, considering the extent and the riches of this region, washed by two seas; yet, the corner stones of Social-Democratic propaganda were already at hand. Fountains of Baku oil, the first extractions of Chitaurian manganese, the vivifying activities of the railways, these gave an impetus, not only to the strike movement of the workers, but also to the theoretical thought of the Georgian intelligentsia. The liberal newspaper Kvali (The Furrow) recorded, in surprise rather than with hostility, the appearance on the political arena of representatives of the new movement: “Since 1893 young men representing a singular trend and advocating a unique program have been contributing to Georgian publications; they are supporters of the theory of economic materialism.” To distinguish them from the progressive nobility and the liberal bourgeoisie, which dominated the preceding decade, the Marxists were given the nickname “Mesame-dasi “, meaning “the third group”. At the head of it was Noah Jordania,[1] the future leader of the Caucasian Mensheviks and the future head of the ephemeral Georgian democracy.

[1] Noi Nikolayevich Zhordaniya (1868-1953), also known as An, Kostrov, etc., was member of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party’s Central Committee after 1907, a defensist during World War I, First President of the First Georgian Republic (1918-1921) until the invasion of his country by the Red Army, when he escaped to France.—C. M.


The petty bourgeois intellectuals of Russia, who aspired to escape the oppression of the police régime and the backwardness of that impersonal ant-heap which was the old society, were obliged to jump over the intervening stages because of the country’s extremely belated development. Protestantism and Democracy, under whose banner the revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had taken place in the West, had long ago become transformed into conservative doctrines. The semi-mendicant Caucasian Bohemians could nowise be tempted by liberal abstractions. Their hostility to the privileged classes had acquired a natural social coloration. For the impending battle ahead these intellectuals needed a fresh theory, one that had not yet been compromised. They found that in Western Socialism, in its highest scientific expression –Marxism. The point at issue was no longer equality before God or equality before the law, but economic equality. Actually, by resorting to the remote Socialist perspective, the intellectuals insured their anti-Tsarist struggle against the skepticism that threatened it prematurely in consequence of the disillusioning experiences of Western Democracy. These conditions and circumstances determined the character of Russian, and even more so of Caucasian, Marxism, which was exceedingly limited and primitive because it was adapted to the political needs of backward, provincial intellectuals. Itself lacking in theoretical realism, that Marxism nevertheless rendered a very real service to the intellectuals in that it inspired them in their struggle against Tsarism.

The critical edge of the Marxism of the ’nineties was directed first of all against jejune Populism,[2] which superstitiously feared capitalistic development, hoping to find for Russia “exceptional”, privileged historical paths. The defense of the progressive mission of capitalism became therefore the principal theme of the Marxism of the intellectuals, who not infrequently pushed into the background the program of the proletarian class struggle. In the legal press Noah Jordania preached assiduously the unity of the “nation’s” interests: in connection with that he had in mind the necessity of the union of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie against the autocracy. The idea of such a union was subsequently to become the cornerstone of Menshevik policy and in the end was to cause their ruin. Official Soviet historians continue to this very day to take cognizance of Jordania’s idea, and to present it in all sorts of ways, although it was long ago lost in the course of battle. At the same time they shut their eyes to the fact that three decades later Stalin was applying that Menshevik policy not only in China but in Spain and even in France, and under circumstances immeasurably less justifiable than those prevailing when feudal Georgia was under the heel of Tsarism.

But even in those days, Jordania’s ideas did not meet with universal recognition. In 1895, Sasha Tsulukidze,[3] who subsequently became one of the outstanding propagandists of the Left Wing, joined Mesame-dasi . He died of tuberculosis at twenty-nine, in 1905, leaving behind him a number of journalistic works which testified to his considerable Marxist training and literary talent. In 1897 the ranks of Mesame-dasi were joined by Lado Ketskhoveli[4] who, like Koba, was a former pupil of the Gori theological school and of the Tiflis seminary. He was, however, several years older than Koba and had served him as a guide during the first stages of his revolutionary career. Yenukidze recalled in 1923, when memoirists still enjoyed sufficient freedom, that “Stalin many times stressed with amazement the extraordinary talents of the late Comrade Ketskhoveli who even in those days knew how to pose questions correctly in the spirit of revolutionary Marxism.” That testimony, especially the reference to “amazement,” refutes the more recent tales that even then the leadership was Koba’s and that Tsulukidze and Ketskhoveli were merely his “assistants”. It might also he added that young Tsulukidze’s articles in their content and form rank considerably higher than anything Koba wrote two or three years later.

[2] See Glossary.

[3] Aleksandr Grigoryevich Tsulukidze (1876-1905) died June to, 1905.—C. M.

[4] Vladimir Zakharyevich Ketskfioveli (1877-1903) died August 1903, shot by his prison guard.—C. M.


Having taken his place in the Left Wing of Mesame-dasi, Ketskhoveli drew young Djugashvili into it the following year. At that time it was not a revolutionary organization, but a circle of like-minded people centering around the legal newspaper Kvali, which in 1898 passed from the hands of the liberals into the hands of the young Marxists, led by Jordania.

”In secret we frequently visited the offices of Kvali,” relates Iremashvili. “Koba went with us several times, but later made fun of the members of the editorial board.” The differences of opinion in the Marxist camp in those days, however elementary they might have been, were nevertheless quite substantial in character. The Moderate Wing did not really believe in revolution, still less that it was near, reckoning on prolonged “progress” and longing for a union with the bourgeois liberals. The Left Wing, on the other hand, sincerely hoped for a revolutionary upheaval of the masses and therefore stood for a more independent policy. In essence the Left Wing consisted of revolutionary democrats who fell into a natural opposition to the “Marxist” semi-liberals. Because of his early environment as well as his personal character, it was natural that Soso should instinctively incline toward the Left Wing. A plebeian democrat of the provincial type, armed with a rather primitive “Marxist” doctrine—it was as such that he entered the revolutionary movement, and such in essence he remained to the very end, despite the fantastic orbit of his personal fate.

The differences of opinion between the two still vaguely differentiated groups temporarily converged on the question of propaganda and agitation. Some stood for circumspect educational work among small groups; others, for leadership of strikes and for agitation by means of leaflets. When those who favored mass work won out, the subject of their differences became the content of the leaflets. The more circumspect stood for agitation on the ground of exclusively economic needs, determined to “refrain from frightening the masses”. They received from their opponents the contemptuous appellation of “Economists.” The Left Wing, on the other hand, deemed unpostponable the transition to revolutionary agitation against Tsarism. Such was Plekhanov’s position among the émigrés abroad. Such in Russia was the position of Vladimir Ulyanov and his friends. The first Social-Democratic groups arose in Tiflis,” relates one of the pioneers. “As early as 1896-1897 that city had circles in which workers were the preponderant element. These circles were at first of a purely educational character … The number of these circles constantly increased. In 1900 they already numbered several score. Each circle consisted of ten to fifteen people.” With the growth of the number of circles, their activity became bolder.

In 1898, while still a seminary student, Koba established contact with workers and joined the Social-Democratic organization. “One evening Koba and I,” recollects Iremashvili, “secretly made our way from the seminary at Mtatsminda to a small house, which stood leaning against a cliff and which belonged to a worker of the Tiflis Railway. After us, secretly arrived others from the seminary who shared our views. There also met with us a Social-Democratic labor organization of railway workers.” Stalin himself told about it in 1926 at a meeting in Tiflis:

I recall the year 1898, when the first circle of workers from the railway shops was assigned to me. I remember how in the home of Comrade Sturua, in the presence of Sylvester Dzhibladze (he was at that time one of my teachers) … and other advanced workers of Tiflis, I received lessons in practical work… . Here, in the circle of these comrades, I then received my first revolutionary baptism by fire: here, in the circle of these comrades, I then became a pupil of the revolution …

In the years 1898-1900, in the railway shops and in a number of Tiflis factories, strikes broke out with the active, and at times leading, participation of young Social-Democrats. Proclamations, printed by hand with the aid of a bootblack brush in an underground printing shop, were distributed among the workers. The movement was still developing in the spirit of “economism”. Part of the illegal work fell to Koba; exactly what part it is not easy to determine. But apparently he had already managed to become an initiate in the world of the revolutionary underground.

In 19oo Lenin, who had just then completed his Siberian exile, went abroad with the express intention of founding a revolutionary newspaper, in order, with its aid, to muster the scattered party and to switch it definitely onto the rails of revolutionary endeavor. Simultaneously an old revolutionist, the engineer Victor Kurnatovsky, who was confidentially initiated into these plans, journeyed from Siberia to Tiflis. It was he, and not Koba, as the Byzantine historians now aver, who brought the Tiflis Social-Democracy out of its “economistic” limitations and invested its activities with a more revolutionary trend.

Kurnatovsky had begun his revolutionary activity with the terroristic Narodnaya Volya (”People’s Will”) party. At the time of his third exile, toward the end of the century, he, who was already a Marxist, became very friendly with Lenin and his circle. The newspaper Iskra (The Spark), founded abroad by Lenin, whose adherents began to be known as Iskrovites, had in the person of Kurnatovsky its principal representative in the Caucasus. Old Tiflis workers recall: “On the occasion of any arguments and discussions all the comrades turned to Kurnatovsky. His conclusions and judgments were always accepted without argument.” From that testimony one gathers the significance for the Caucasus of this tireless and inflexible revolutionist, whose personal fate was composed of two elements: the heroic and the tragic.

In 1900, undoubtedly upon Kurnatovsky’s initiative, the Tiflis Committee of the Social-Democratic Party was established. It was composed entirely of intellectuals. Koba, who evidently fell soon after, like many others, under Kurnatovsky’s spell, was not yet a member of that committee which, incidentally, did not long survive. From May through August, a wave of strikes affected Tiflis business establishments; among the strikers of the railroad shops are listed the locksmith Kalinin, the future President of the Soviet Republic, and another Russian worker, Alliluyev, Stalin’s future father-in-law.

In the meantime, in the North, upon the initiative of university students, a cycle of street demonstrations hegan. A large First of May demonstration at Kharkov in 190o brought to its feet a majority of the city’s workers and aroused an echo of amazement and exultation throughout the country. Other cities followed suit. “The Social-Democracy understood,” wrote the Gendarme General Spiridovich, “the tremendous agitational significance of going forth into the street. From then on it took upon itself the initiative for demonstrations, attracting to them an ever greater number of workers. Not infrequently the street demonstrations grew out of strikes.” Tiflis did not remain quiet for long. The First of May celebration—let us not forget that the old calendar still reigned in Russia—was marked on April 22, 1901, by a street demonstration in the heart of the city, in which nearly two thousand people took part. At the time of the encounter with the police and the Cossacks, fourteen were wounded and more than fifty of the rioters arrested. Iskra did not neglect to notice the important symptomatic significance of the Tiflis demonstration: “From that day on an open revolutionary movement began in the Caucasus.”

Kurnatovsky, who was in charge of the preparatory work, had been arrested on the night of March the twenty-second, a month before the demonstration. That same night a search was made in the observatory where Koba was employed; but he was not caught because he was away at the time. The gendarme administration resolved “… to locate the aforementioned Joseph Djugashvili and to question the accused.” Thus Koba passed to the “status of illegality” and became a “professional revolutionist” for a long time to come. He was then twenty-two years old. There still remained sixteen years before the victory would be won.

Having escaped arrest, Koba spent the next few weeks in hiding at Tiflis, and so managed to take part in the May Day demonstration. Beriya states that categorically, adding, as always, that Stalin “personally” led it. Unfortunately, Beriya is not to be trusted. In this case, however, there is also the testimony of Iremashvili, who, it is true, was at that time not in Tiflis but in Gori where he had become a teacher. “Koba, as one of the leaders who were being sought,” he says, “managed to hide by leaving the market square as he was on the verge of arrest … He fled to his home town of Gori. He could not live in his mother’s lodgings, because that was the first place where he would be sought. He therefore had to hide even in Gori. Secretly, during the hours of the night, he frequently visited me at my lodgings.”

The Tiflis demonstration made an exceedingly strong impression on Koba. “Not without alarm” Iremashvili had noticed that it was precisely the bloody outcome of the clash that had inspired his friend. “The movement was to grow strong in a life and death struggle: in the opinion of Koba the bloody struggle was to bring the quickest decision.” Iremashvili did not guess that his friend was merely repeating the preachings of Iskra .

From Gori Koba evidently again returned illegally to Tiflis, for according to the information of the gendarme administration, “in the Autumn of 1901 Djugashvili was elected to the Tiflis Committee … participated in two sessions of that committee, and toward the end of 1901 was assigned to propaganda activity in Batum …” Since the gendarmes were not inclined toward any “trend” other than the catching of revolutionists, and were, thanks to the internal agency, usually well informed, we can consider it established that in 1898-1901, Koba did not play the leading role in Tiflis which has been ascribed to him in recent years; until the fall of 1901 he was not even a member of his local committee, but was merely one of the propagandists, that is, a leader of circles.

Toward the end of 1901, Koba moved from Tiflis to Batum on the shores of the Black Sea, close to the Turkish border. This move can be explained on the grounds of double necessity—to hide from the eyes of the Tiflis police and to introduce revolutionary propaganda in the provinces. Menshevik publications, however, give another reason. According to them, from the very first days of his activities in workers’ circles Djugashvili attracted attention to himself by his intrigues against Dzhibladze, the principal leader of the Tiflis organization. In spite of warnings, he continued to spread slander “for the purpose of undermining the true and recognized representatives of the movement and in order to obtain a leading position.” Placed on trial before a Party court, Koba was found guilty of slander unbecoming a comrade and unanimously expelled from the organization. There is hardly any possibility of verifying that story, which comes, we must not forget, from Stalin’s bitterest opponents. The documents of the Tiflis gendarme administration—at any rate, those that have been published to date—say nothing at all about Joseph Djugashvili’s expulsion from the Party, and on the contrary, speak of his assignment to Batum “for propaganda”. We might therefore set aside the Menshevik version without further ado if other testimony did not indicate that his removal to Batum was the result of some unpleasantness.

One of the first and most conscientious historians of the labor movement in the Caucasus was T. Arkomed, whose book was published in Geneva in 191o. In it, he tells about the bitter conflict that broke out in the Tiflis organization in the autumn of 1901 over the question of inducting into the committee elected representatives of the workers: “Against it spoke a certain young, indiscriminately ‘energetic,’ and in all matters intelligent comrade, who, pleading conspirative considerations, the lack of preparation and the lack of class consciousness among the workers, came out against admitting workers into the committee. Turning to the workers, he ended his speech with the words: ‘Here they flatter the workers; I ask you, are there among you even one or two workers fit for the committee? Tell the truth, placing your hand on your heart!’” The workers, however, did not listen to the orator and voted to include their representatives on the committee. Arkomed did not mention the name of that “indiscriminately energetic” young man, for in those days circumstances did not permit the disclosure of narres. In 1923, when this book was republished by the Soviet publishing house, that name remained undisclosed, and, we are prone to think, not through oversight. The book itself, however, contains a valuable indirect clue. “The aforementioned young comrade,” Arkomed continues, “transferred his activity from Tiflis to Batum, from where the Tiflis workers received information about his unseemly behavior, his hostile and disorganizing agitation against the Tiflis organization and its workers.” According to this author, the hostile behavior was dictated not by motives based on principle, but “by personal caprice and the striving for absolute power.” All of this is similar to what we have heard from Iremashvili concerning the squabble in the seminary circle. The “young man” closely resembles Koba. There can be no doubt that the reference was to him, since numerous reminiscences attest that he was the only one of the Tiflis Committee who went to Batum in November, 1901. It is therefore probable that the change in his sphere of activity was made because Tiflis became too hot to hold him. If not actually “expelled,” he may have been removed merely to make the atmosphere of Tiflis healthier. From that, in turn, follows Koba’s “incorrect attitude” toward the Tiflis organisation and the subsequent rumors about his expulsion. Let us note at the same time the cause of the conflict: Koba was protecting “the apparat “ [political machine] against pressure from below.

Batum, which at the beginning of the century had a population of nearly thirty thousand, was a significant industrial center in the Caucasus, according to the scale of those days. The number of workers in the factories reached almost eleven thousand. The working day, as was quite customary then, exceeded fourteen hours, at wretched pay. It is no wonder then that the proletariat was in the highest degree responsive to revolutionary propaganda. As in Tiflis, Koba did not have to begin from scratch: illegal circles had been inexistence at Batum since 1896. Co-operating with the worker Kandelyaki, Koba extended the network of these circles. At a New Year’s Eve party they united to form a single organization, which however was not granted the prerogatives of a committee and remained dependent upon Tiflis. This evidently was one of the causes of the new friction to which Arkomed alluded. Koba, as a rule, could not endure anyone in authority over him.

At the beginning of 1902 the Batum organization managed to establish an illegal printshop, a very primitive one, which was located at Koba’s lodgings. This direct violation of the rules of conspiracy was undoubtedly due to the dearth of material resources. “A crowded little room dimly lighted with a kerosene lamp. At a small round table Stalin sits and writes. To one side of him is the printing press, at which several typesetters are busy. The type is laid out in match and cigarette boxes and on pieces of paper. Stalin frequently hands over to the typesetters what has just been written.” That is how one of the participants of the organization recalls the scene. It must be added that the text of the proclamation was approximately on the same level as the technique of printing. Somewhat later, with the co-operation of the Armenian revolutionist Kamo, something like a printing press, a cash register and type were brought in from Tiflis. The print shop widened and became more efficient. The literary level of the proclamations remained the same. But that did not detract from their influence.

On February the twenty-fifth, 1902, the management of Rotschild’s kerosene plant posted a notice which proclaimed the dismissal of 389 workers. In reply a strike broke out on the twenty-seventh. The disturbance affected other factories as well. There were clashes with strike-breakers. The police chief asked the governor to help him with troops. On the seventh of March the police arrested 32 workers. The following morning almost 400 workers of the Rotschild plant gathered at the prison, demanding either the release of those under arrest or the arrest of all the others. The police moved all of them into deportation barracks. At that time the feeling of solidarity was welding the laboring masses of Russia doser together, and this new unity asserted itself in a new way each time in the most desolate corners of the country; the revolution was only three years off … The very next day, on the ninth of March, a bigger demonstration took place. The barracks were approached, according to the indictment, by “a huge crowd of workers, with leaders at their head, marching in well-formed ranks, with song, noise and whistling.” There were nearly two thousand people in that crowd. The workers Khimiryants and Gogoberidze, as spokesmen, demanded that the military authorities either liberate the imprisoned ones or arrest all. The crowd, as the court later acknowledged, was “in a peaceful mood and unarmed”. The authorities managed, however, to bring it out of its peaceful mood. The workers responded to the attempt of the soldiers to clear the square with their rifle butts by throwing stones. The troops began to shoot, killing 14 and wounding 54. The occurrence stirred the entire country: in the beginning of the century human nerves reacted with far greater sensitiveness to mass slaughter than they do now.

What was Koba’s role in that demonstration? It is not easy to say. Soviet compilers are torn between contradictory problems: to ascribe to Stalin participation in the greatest possible number of revolutionary events, and at the same time to expand as much as possible the terms of his imprisonment and exile. Court artists have been known, in portraying two concurrent events, to represent Stalin at one and the same moment as a hero of the streets and a prison martyr. On April twenty-seventh, 1937, the official Moscow Izvestiya published the photograph of a painting by the artist E. Khutsishvili, portraying Stalin as organizer of the strike of the Tiflis railroad workers in 1902. The next day the editorial board was compelled to apologize for the error. “From the biography of Comrade Stalin,” its statement proclaimed, “it is known that he … from February, 1902, until the end of 1903 was in the Batum and Kutais prisons. Therefore, Comrade Stalin could not have been the organizer of the strike at Tbilisi (Tiflis) in 1902. Asked about that, Comrade Stalin declared that portraying him as the organizer of the railway strike at Tbilisi in 1902, from the point of view of historical truth, is a complete misunderstanding, since at that time he was in prison in Batum.” But if it is true that Stalin was in prison from February, then “from the point of view of historical truth” he could not have led the Batum demonstration, which occurred in March. However, on that occasion not only did the assiduous artist err badly, but likewise the Izvestiya editorial board, despite its reference to the primary source. Koba was, as a matter of fact, arrested not in February, but in March. He could not have led the Tiflis strike, not because he was in prison but because he was on the shores of the Black Sea. There is still the possibility that he participated in the Batum events. It remains only to discover the nature of this participation.

Stalin’s French biographer, Barbusse, who wrote to the Kremlin’s dictation, asserts that Koba took his place at the head of the Batum demonstration “as a target”. That flattering phrase contradicts not only the evidence of the police records but the very nature of Stalin, who never and nowhere took his place as a target (which, by the way, is not at all necessary). The publishing house of the Central Committee, which is directly under Stalin’s orders, in 1937 devoted an entire volume to the Batum demonstration, or rather, to Stalin’s part in it. However, the 240 handsome pages complicated the question even more, because the dictated “reminiscences” are at complete variance with the partial accounts previously published. “Comrade Soso was constantly on the scene of action and guided the central strike committee,” Todria writes obligingly. “Comrade Soso was always with us,” affirms Gogoberidze. The old Batum worker Darakhvelidze says that Soso was “in the midst of the tempestuous sea of workers, directly leading the movement; he personally led out of the mob the worker G. Kalandadze, who was wounded in the arm during the shooting, and took him home.” The leader could scarcely have abandoned his post in order to rescue one wounded man; the duties of a stretcher hearer could have heen discharged by any rank and file participant of the demonstration. None of the other authors, and they number twenty-six, mentioned that dubious episode. But in the final reckoning that is a mere detail. The tales concerning Koba as the direct leader of the demonstration are more conclusively refuted by the circumstance that the demonstration, as became only too clear in court, took place without any leadership whatever. Despite the insistence of the prosecutor, the Tsarist court admitted that even the workers Gogoberidze and Khimiryants, who actually marched at the head of the crowd, were only rank and file participants of the procession. The name of Djugashvili, despite the great number of defendants and witnesses, was not so much as mentioned throughout the court trial. The legend thus collapses of itself. Koba’s participation in the Batum events was apparently of an obscure character.

After the demonstration Koba, according to Beriya, carried through “tremendous” work, writing proclamations, organizing their printing and distribution, transforming the funeral procession in honor of the victims of the ninth of March into “a grandiose political demonstration,” and the like. Unfortunately, these prescribed exaggerations are not supported by anything at all. At that time Koba was being sought by the police and could hardly have displayed “tremendous” activity in a small town where, according to the same writer, he had previously played a prominent role before the eyes of the demonstrating crowd, the police, the troops and observers in the street. On the night of April fifth, during a session of the leading party group, Koba was arrested along with other collaborators and lodged in prison. Wearisome days began. Many of them.

Published documents disclose at this juncture an exceedingly interesting episode. Three days after Koba’s arrest, during the regular meeting between the prisoners and their visitors, someone threw two notes out of a window into the prison yard, reckoning that one of the visitors might pick them up and take them to their indicated destination. One of these notes contained a request to look up the school teacher Soso Iremashvili at Gori and to tell him that “Soso Djugashvili has been arrested and asks him immediately to inform his mother about it, so that in case the gendarme should ask her When did thy son leave Gori?’ she would say, ‘All summer and winter until the fifteenth of March he was here.’ “ The second note addressed to the teacher Elisabedashvili, touched upon the need to continue revolutionary activities. Both scraps of paper were intercepted by the prison guards, and the gendarme cavalry captain Djakeli without much difficulty reached the conclusion that the author was Djugashvili and that he had “played a prominent role in the labor troubles at Batum”. Djakeli immediately sent to the chief of the Tiflis gendarme administration a demand to search Iremashvili’s lodgings, to question Djugashvili’s mother and also to search and arrest Elisabedashvili. About the consequences of these operations the documents say nothing.

It is with relief that we greet on the pages of an official publication a name already familiar to us: Soso Iremashvili. True, Beriya had already mentioned him among the members of the seminary circle, but he said very little about the relationship of the two Sosos. However, the nature of one of the notes intercepted by the police is incontestable proof that the author of the reminiscences to which we have already referred more than once was actually on intimate terms with Koba. It is to him, his childhood friend, that the man under arrest entrusts his instruction to his mother. It likewise confirms the fact that Iremashvili also enjoyed the confidence of Keke, who, as he tells us, called him in childhood her “second Soso.” The note dispels the last doubts concerning the credibility of his very valuable reminiscences, which are entirely ignored by Soviet historians. The instructions which Koba as confirmed by his own depositions during the interrogation, attempted to transmit to his mother, were intended to deceive the gendarmes as to the time of his arrival in Baku and thus to keep him out of the impending trial. There is no reason, of course, to see anything prejudicial in that attempt. The deception of gendarmes was a rule in that very serious game which was called revolutionary conspiracy. However one cannot help pausing with amazement at the carelessness with which Koba subjected two of his comrades to danger. The purely political aspect of his act merits no less attention. It would be natural to expect a revolutionist who had helped to prepare a demonstration that had ended so tragically to desire to share the prisoners’ dock with the rank and file workers. Not for sentimental considerations, but in order to shed political light on the events and to condemn the behavior of the authorities—that is, in order to utilize the tribune of the courtroom for purposes of revolutionary propaganda. Such opportunities were not any too frequent! The absence of such desire in Koba can be explained only by the narrowness of his outlook. It is quite evident that he did not understand the political significance of the demonstration and that his chief aim was to escape its consequences.

The very plot to deceive the gendarmes would not have been feasible, we might say, if Koba had actually led the street procession and had been marching at the head of the crowd, had offered himself as a “target”. In that event scores of witnesses would inevitably have identified him. Koba could have stayed out of the trial only if his participation in the demonstration had remained secret, anonymous. Actually, only one police constable, Chkhiknadze, testified at the preliminary investigation that he had seen Djugashvili “in the crowd” before the prison. But the testimony of a single policeman could not carry any great weight as evidence. At any rate, despite that testimony and the interception of Koba’s own notes, he was not indicted in the case of the demonstration. The trial was held a year later and lasted nine days. The political direction of the court arguments was relegated entirely to the tender mercies of liberal lawyers. They did indeed obtain minimum punishments for the twenty-one defendants, but only at the price of lessening the revolutionary significance of the Batum events.

The police constable who made the arrests of the Batum organization’s leaders characterized Koba in his report as one “who had been expelled from the theological seminary, living in Batum without written documents or definite occupation and without lodgings of his own, the Gori denizen Joseph Djugashvili.” The reference to expulsion from the seminary is not documentary in character, for a simple constable could have no archives at his disposal, and was apparently repeating rumors in his written report; far more significant is the reference to the f act that Koba had no passport, no definite occupation nor place of residence: the three typical characteristics of the revolutionary troglodyte.

In the old and neglected provincial prisons of Batum, Kutais, and again Batum, Koba spent more than a year and a half. In those days that was the customary period of imprisonment while awaiting investigation and banishment. The régime of the prisons, as of the country as a whole, combined barbarism with paternalism. Peaceable and even familiar relations with the prison administration would be suddenly terminated by stormy protests, when the prisoners would bang their boots against the doors of their cells, shout, whistle, break up the dishes and the furniture. After the storm subsided there would again be a lull. Lolua tells briefly about one such explosion in the Kutais prison—of course, “upon the initiative and under the leadership of Stalin.” There is no reason for doubting that Koba played a prominent part in prison conflicts and that in contacts with the prison administration he knew how to defend himself and others.

”He established an orderly routine in his prison life,” Kalandadze wrote thirty-five years later. “He rose early in the morning, exercised, then set to studying the German language and economic literature … He liked to share with his comrades his impressions of the books he had just read …” It is not at all difficult to imagine a list of those books: popular compositions on natural science; a bit from Darwin; Lippert’s “History of Culture;” perhaps Buckle and Draper in translations of the ’seventies; the “Biographies of Great Men” in Pavlenkov’s edition; the economic teachings of Marx, as expounded by the Russian professor Sieber; something or other on the history of Russia; Beltov’s famous book on historical materialism (under this pseudonym the émigré Plekhanov appeared in legal literature); finally, the weighty investigation of the development of Russian capitalism, published in 1899, written by the exile V. Ulyanov, the future N. Lenin, under his legal pseudonym of V. Ilyin. All of those were there, more or less. In the theoretical knowledge of the young revolutionist there were, of course, great gaps. Yet he seemed to be not badly armed against the teachings of the Church, the arguments of Liberalism and especially the prejudices of Populism.

In the course of the ’nineties the theories of Marxism won their victory over the theories of Populism, a victory which found support in the successes of capitalism and in the growth of the labor movement. However, the strikes and demonstrations of the workers stimulated the awakening of the village, which, in turn, led to a revival of Populist ideology among the city intelligentsia. Thus, at the beginning of the century there began to develop rather rapidly that hybrid revolutionary tendency which took a bit from Marxism, repudiated the romantic terms (”Land and Freedom”) and “Zemlya Volya “ (”The Will of the People”) and gave itself the more European title, “Party of Socialists-Revolutionists” Narodnaya Volya [the S-R (Essar) Party]. The fight against “Economism” was fundamentally finished in the Winter of 1902-1903. The ideas of Iskra found too convincing a confirmation in the successes of political agitation and street demonstrations. Beginning with 1902, Iskra devoted more and more of its space to attacks against the eclectic program of the Socialists-Revolutionists and against the methods of individual terror, which they preached. The passionate polemic between “the gray-haired” and the “gray”[5] penetrated all corners of the land, including, of course, the prisons as well. On more than one occasion Koba was obliged to cross swords with his new opponents; it is credible that he did so with sufficient success: Iskra provided him with excellent arguments.

Since Koba was not indicted and placed on trial in the case of the demonstration, his judicial examination was conducted by the gendarmes. The methods of secret investigation, as well as the prison régime, differed considerably in different parts of the country. At the capital the gendarmes were more cultured and more circumspect; in the provinces they were cruder. In the Caucasus, with its archaic customs and colonial social relations, the gendarmes resorted to the crudest forms of violence, especially when dealing with untutored, inexperienced and weak-willed victims.

Pressure, threats, terrorization, torments, falsifying the depositions of witnesses, the subornation of false witnesses, the concoction and inflation of cases, ascribing decisive and absolute significance to the hearsay reports of secret agents—such were the special features of the method pursued by the gendarmes in disposing of cases.

Arkomed, who wrote the above lines, states that the gendarme Lavrov was wont to resort to inquisitorial methods in securing “confessions” he knew beforehand to be false. These police proceedings must have left a lasting impression on Stalin, for thirty years later he was to apply Captain Lavrov’s methods on a colossal scale. From the prison reminiscences of Lolua we learn, by the way, that “Comrade Soso did not like to address his comrades by using vy,” saying that the Tsar’s servitors used vy in addressing revolutionists when sending them to the gallows. As a matter of fact, the use of ty was customary in revolutionary circles, especially in the Caucasus. A few decades later Koba was to send to the gallows not a few of his old comrades with whom, unlike the “Tsar’s servitors,” he had been on terms of ty6 since their early years. But that is still quite far off.

[5] In Russian “gray-haired” is sedoy and “gray” sery. The etymon of each word consists of its consonants, which are initials, the s d in SeDoy standing for Social-Democrat and the s r in SeRy for Socialist-Revolutionist.—C. M.

[6] In Russian, as in French and in many other languages, vy, the second person plural, literally the equivalent of the English you, is used in polite intercourse; whereas, ty, the second person singular, literally the equivalent of the English thou, is used either affectionately with intimates, or as a mark of superiority when addressing servants, animals and inferiors generally.—C. M.


It is surprising that the records of Koba’s police examinations pertaining to that first arrest, as well as all the records pertaining to his subsequent arrests, have not yet been published. As a rule, the Iskra organization demanded that its members refuse to testify. Revolutionists usually wrote: “I have been a Social-Democrat by conviction for a long time; I repudiate and deny the accusations against me; I refuse to give testimony or to take part in any secret investigation.” Only at a trial in open court, to which the authorities resorted however only in exceptional circumstances, did the Iskrovites come out with their banner unfurled. The refusal to give testimony, which was quite justified from the point of view of the Party’s interests as a whole, in certain cases made the situation of the arrested person rather difficult. In April, 1902, Koba, as we have seen, attempted to establish his alibi by a ruse for which others were obliged to suffer. It may be supposed that on other occasions as well he relied more on his own cunning than on the standard behavior obligatory for all. Consequently, the entire series of his police depositions present, we should think, not a very attractive—at any rate, not a “heroic”—record. That is the only possible explanation why the records of Stalin’s police examinations are still unpublished.

The preponderant majority of revolutionists were subjected to punishment by the so-called “administrative order”. On the basis of the reports of local gendarmes, the “Special Conference” at Petersburg, composed of four high-ranking officials from the Ministries of the Interior and Justice, brought out verdicts without the presence of the accused, and these verdicts were confirmed by the Minister of the Interior. On July 25, 1903, the Tiflis Governor received from the capital a verdict of that sort, ordering him to banish sixteen political prisoners to Eastern Siberia under the direct surveillance of the police. The names were listed as was customary according to the gravity of offense or the offender’s culpability, and their specific place of exile in Siberia was correspondingly better or worse. The first two places in that list are occupied by Kurnatovsky and Franchesky, who were sentenced to four years. Fourteen other persons were banished for three years, the first place here being filled by Sylvester Dzhibladze, who is already known to us. Joseph Djugashvili occupies the eleventh place on that list. The gendarme authorities did not yet regard him among the important revolutionists.

In November Koba, with other exiles, was sent from Batum Prison to the Government of Irkutsk. Transported from one halting place for convicts to the next, their journey lasted nearly three months. In the meantime the revolution was seething, and everyone was trying to escape as soon as possible. By the beginning of 1904 the exile system had become a sieve. In most cases it was not very difficult to escape; each province had its own secret “centers,” which provided forged passports, money, addresses. Koba remained in the village of Novaya Uda not more than a month, i.e., precisely the time necessary to look around, find the indispensable contacts, and work out a plan of action. Alliluyev, the father of Stalin’s second wife, states that during his first attempt to escape, Koba froze his face and ears and was obliged to return to acquire warmer clothing. A strong Siberian troika, driven by a reliable coachman, raced him quickly over the snow-laden highway to the nearest railway station. The return journey through the Urals took not three months, but about a week.

It is pertinent here, and only fair, to complete the story of the engineer Kurnatovsky, who really inspired the revolutionary movement at Tiflis at the beginning of the century. After two years in the military prison, he was banished to the Yakut Region, from which escapes were immeasurably more difficult than from the Irkutsk Government. At Yakutsk, on the road, Kurnatovsky participated in the armed resistance of the exiles against the outrages of the authorities, and was sentenced by the court to twelve years at hard labor. Amnestied in the fall of 1905, he reached Chita, which was then deluged with combatants of the Russo-Japanese War. There he became chairman of the Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Cossaks’ Deputies—the head of the so-called “Chita Republic”. At the beginning of 1906 Kurnatovsky was again arrested and sentenced to death. General Rennenkampt, the pacifier of Siberia, carried the condemned man in his train so that he might witness with his own eyes the executions of workers at every railway station. Because of the new liberal tendency in connection with elections to the First Duma, his death sentence was commuted to life-long banishment to Siberia. Kurnatovsky managed to escape from Nerchinsk to Japan. From there he went to Australia, where he was in great need, worked as a lumberjack and strained himself. Ill, with inflammation in his ears, he somehow managed to make his way to Paris. “An exceptionally difficult lot,” relates Krupskaya, “finally undermined him. In the autumn of 1910, after his arrival, Ilyitch and I called on him at the hospital.” Two years later, when Lenin and Krupskaya were already living at Cracow, Kurnatovsky died. On the shoulders of the Kurnatovskies and over their corpses the revolution marched forward.

The revolution marched forward. The first generation of the Russian Social-Democracy, headed by Plekhanov, started its critical and propagandistic activity at the beginning of the ’eighties. The pioneers were counted singly; later, by tens. The second generation, which Lenin led—he was fourteen years younger than Plekhanov—entered the political arena at the beginning of the ’nineties. Social-Democrats were counted by hundreds. The third generation, composed of people some ten years younger than Lenin, enlisted in the revolutionary struggle at the end of the past and the beginning of the present century. To that generation, which was already numbered by thousands, belonged Stalin, Rykov, Zinoviev, Kamenev, the author of this book and others.

In March, 1898, at the provincial town of Minsk, the representatives of nine local committees convened and founded the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party. All the participants were promptly arrested. It is hardly possible that the resolutions of the Congress were received very soon in Tiflis, where the seminary student Djugashvili contemplated joining the Social-Democracy. The Minsk congress, prepared by Lenin’s coevals, merely proclaimed the Party, but did not yet create it. One strong blow by the Tsarist police proved sufficient to demolish the weak party contacts for a long time to come. In the course of the next few years the movement, which was preponderantly economic in character, sank its roots locally. The young Social-Democrats usually carried out their activities on the home ground until subjected to arrest and banishment. Such a thing as Party workers traveling from one city to another was an exception. Transition to illegal status, for the purpose of eluding arrest, was almost never practiced; they had neither the experience nor the technical means nor the necessary contacts for that.

Beginning with 1900, “Iskra “ began to build a centralized organization. Without question the leader of that period was Lenin, who rightfully pushed into the background “the old people” headed by Plekhanov. Party construction found its support in the incomparably broader sweep of the labor movement, which roused the new revolutionary generation, considerably more numerous than the one from which Lenin himself had emerged. The immediate task of Iskra was to select from among the local workers the persons of greatest stamina and to use them in the creation of a central apparatus capable of guiding the revolutionary struggle of the entire country. The number of Iskra adherents was considerable, and it was constantly growing. But the number of genuine Iskrovites, of trusted agents of the foreign center, was of necessity limited: it did not exceed twenty to thirty persons. Most characteristic of the Iskrovite was his severance from his own city, his own Government, his own province, for the sake of building the party. In the Iskra dictionary “localism” was a synonym for backwardness, narrowness, almost for retrogression. “Welded into a compact conspirative group of professional revolutionists,” wrote the Gendarme General Spiridovich, “they traveled from place to place wherever there were party committees, established contacts with their members, delivered illegal literature to them, helped to establish printshops and garnered the information needed by the Iskra . They penetrated into local committees, carried on their propaganda against ‘Economism,’ eliminated their ideological opponents and in this way subjected the committees to their influence.” The retired gendarme gives here a sufficiently correct characterization of the Iskrovites. They were members of a wandering order, above the local organizations which they regarded as an arena for the exercise of their influence.

Koba took no part in that responsible work. He was first a Tiflis Social-Democrat, then a Batum Social-Democrat—in other words, a revolutionist in a small, local way. The contact of the Caucasus with “Iskra “ and with Central Russia was through Krassin, Kurnatovsky and others. The entire work of unifying the local committees and groups into a centralized party was accomplished without Koba. That circumstance—which is established beyond the shadow of a doubt on the basis of the correspondence of those days, memoirs and other documents—is very important in the estimation of Stalin’s political development; he moved forward slowly, uncertainly, groping his way.

In June, 1900, Krassin, in his capacity as a prominent young engineer, arrived to assume a responsible post in Baku. “No less intensive,” writes Krassin, “was the activity in a different sphere; namely, underground Social-Democratic work in Baku itself, as well as throughout the Caucasus—in Tiflis, Kutais, Batum, whither I journey from time to time to maintain contact with the local organizations there”. Krassin remained in Baku until 1904. Hampered by his official position, he could not participate directly in the work of the masses. The workers were not aware of his actual role and later even attempted to insist that he be removed as manager at the electric station. Krassin dealt only with the tops of the organization; he was the leader of the local leaders. Among the revolutionists with whom he had occasion to come directly in contact he mentions the brothers Yenukidze, Lado Ketskhoveli, Alliluyev, Shelgunov, Halperin and others. It is noteworthy that the one man who carried on the leading work in the Caucasus from 1900 to 1904 does not mention Stalin even once. No less significant is the fact that as late as 1927 this pretermission passed entirely unnoticed, and Krassin’s autobiography was printed by Gosizdat (the State Publishing House) without any annotations or corrections. Similarly, no place whatever is accorded to Stalin in the reminiscences of other Bolsheviks who were in any way connected with the movement in the Caucasus during those years. This is true, of course, only of reminiscences written prior to the beginning of the official revision of Party history, i.e., not later than 1929.

In February, 1902, there was supposed to take place in Kiev a conclave of the Iskrovites who were agents of the foreign center. “To that conference,” writes Pyatnitsky, “came representatives from all parts of Russia”. Discovering that they were under surveillance, they began to leave the city hastily in various directions. However, all of them were caught, some in Kiev, some en route. Several months later they made the famous jail break from the Kiev prison. Koba, who at that time worked in Batum, was not invited to the Kiev meeting, and undoubtedly knew nothing about it.

Koba’s political provincialism is most instructively exemplified by his relations with the foreign center, or rather, by the absence of any relations at all with it. Beginning with the middle of the past century, the émigrés continued almost invariably to play the dominant role in the Russian revolutionary movement. What with constant arrests, exiles and executions in Tsarist Russia, the haunts of these émigrés, who were the most outstanding theoreticians, publicists and organizers, were the only continuously active sectors of the movement and hence by the nature of things laid their imprint upon it. The editorial board of the Iskra became unquestionably at the beginning of the century the center of the Social-Democracy. From there emanated not only the political slogans but also the practical directions. Every revolutionist passionately desired as soon as possible to spend some time abroad, to see and to hear the leaders, to verify the correctness of his own views, to establish permanent contact with Iskra and, through it, with the underground workers in Russia itself. V. Kozhevnikova, who at one time was close to Lenin in connection with work abroad, tells how “from exile and on the road to exile there began a general fight abroad to the editorial office of Iskra … and then again to Russia for active work.” The young workingman Nogin—to take one example out of a hundred —in April, 1903, fled from exile to go abroad, “in order to catch up with life,” as he wrote to one of his friends, “in order to read and learn”. A few months later he returned illegally to Russia as an Iskra agent. All of the ten participants of the aforementioned Kiev jail break, among them the future Soviet diplomat Litvinov, soon found themselves abroad. One after another they subsequently returned to Russia, to prepare the congress of the party. Concerning these and other trusted agents, Krupskaya writes in her reminiscences, “Iskra carried on active correspondence with all of them. Vladimir Ilyich looked through every letter. We knew in minute detail which Iskra agent did what, and discussed with them each phase of their entire activity; we re-established broken contacts, informed them of arrests and the like.” Among these agents were coevals of Lenin as well as of Stalin. But as yet, Koba was not included among that upper layer of revolutionists, the disseminators of centralism, the builders of a unified party. He remained a “local worker,” a Caucasian, and a congenital provincial.

In July, 1903, the Party congress prepared by Iskra finally convened in Brussels. Under pressure from Tsarist diplomats and the Belgian police subservient to them, it was obliged to transfer its deliberations to London. The congress adopted the program worked out by Plekhanov, and passed resolutions on tactics; but when it came to organizational questions, unexpected differences of opinion suddenly arose among the Iskrovites themselves, who dominated the congress. Both sides, including the “hard” ones, headed by Lenin and the “soft” ones, headed by Martov, at first supposed that the differences were not fundamental. All the more amazing therefore was the sharp clash of these differences. The party, which had but recently been unified, suddenly found itself on the verge of a split.

”As far back as 1903, while sitting in prison, and having learned through comrades returning from the Second Congress about the very serious differences of opinions between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, Stalin resolutely joined the Bolsheviks.” So runs a biography, written at the dictation of Stalin himself, which is in the nature of an instruction to Party historians. It would be, however, most incautious to regard that instruction with any excess of confidence. At the congress which led to the split were three Caucasian delegates. With which one of these did Koba meet, and how precisely did he meet him, being at that time in solitary confinement? How and in what way did he express his solidarity with the Bolsheviks? The only confirmation of this version of Stalin’s comes from Iremashvili. “Koba, who had always been an enthusiastic partisan of Leninist violent methods,” he writes, “immediately, of course, took his place on the side of Bolshevism and became its most passionate defender and leader in Georgia.” However, that testimony, its categorical character notwithstanding, is flagrantly anachronous. Prior to the congress no one, including Lenin himself, had ever advocated “Leninist violent methods” as opposed to the methods of those members of the editorial board who were the future leaders of Menshevism. At the congress itself the arguments were not concerned with revolutionary methods; tactical differences of opinion had not yet arisen. Iremashvili is obviously in error, and no wonder: throughout 1903 Koba was in prison, so Iremashvili could not have had any direct impressions of him. In general, although his psychological observations and reminiscences of actual incidents are quite convincing and almost always confirmable, his political observations are less reliable. It would seem that he lacked both the instinct and the background requisite for an understanding of the evolution of the warring revolutionary tendencies; in that sphere he presents us with retrospective guesses, dictated by his own latter-day views.

The wrangle at the Second Congress flared up, as a matter of fact, over the question of party membership; whether it should include only those who were members of the illegal organization, or anyone who systematically participated in the revolutionary struggle under the leadership of local committees. At the time of the discussion Lenin said: “I do not deem the difference of opinion among us so substantial that the life or death of our party is dependent on it. We are far from perishing because of a bad clause in our party regulations.” Toward the end of the congress there was also argument over the question of the personnel of the editorial board of Iskra and of the Central Committee; and never once did the differences of opinion spread beyond those narrow limits. Lenin attempted to obtain sharp and explicit boundaries for the Party, a compact composition of the editorial board and severe discipline. Martov and his friends preferred a looser organization, more on the order of a family circle. However, both sides were still merely feeling their way and, despite the sharpness of the conflict, no one yet thought these differences of opinion “most serious.” According to Lenin’s pointed observation of a later day, the struggle at the congress was in the nature of an “anticipation”.

Lunarcharsky, the first Soviet leader in the field of education, wrote subsequently:

The greatest difficulty in that struggle consisted in this, that the Second Congress, having split the Party, had not yet plumbed the really profound differences between the Martovists on the one hand and the Leninists on the other. These differences still seemed to turn on the one paragraph of the party statutes and the personnel of the editorial board. Many were embarrassed by the insignificance of the reason that led to the split.

Pyatnitsky, later a prominent official of the Comintern, but at that time a young workman, writes in his reminiscences: “I could not understand why petty differences kept us from working together”. The engineer Krzhizhanovsky, who was very close to Lenin in those years, and later the head of the State Planning Commission, recalls, “To me personally, the thought about Comrade Martov’s opportunism seemed particularly far-fetched.” There is a lot of such testimony. From Petersburg, from Moscow, from the provinces came protests and wails. No one wanted to acknowledge the split which transpired at the congress among the Iskrovites. The parting of the ways took place in the course of the following period, slowly, with inevitable shifts to one side and the other. Not infrequently the first Bolsheviks and Mensheviks continued to work peaceably together.

In the Caucasus, because of its backward social and political development, what had occurred at the Congress was understood even less than anywhere else. True, all three of the Caucasian delegates, in the heat of passion, joined the majority in London. But it is significant that all three subsequently became Mensheviks: Topuridze deserted the Majority[7] by the end of the Congress itself; Zurabov and Knunyants came over to the Mensheviks in the course of the next few years. The famous Caucasian illegal printshop, in which Bolshevik sympathies predominated, continued in 1904 to reprint the Menshevik Iskra, which formally remained the central organ of the Party. “Our differences of opinion,” write Yenukidze, “were absolutely not reflected in our work”. Only after the Third Congress of the Party, i.e., not earlier than the middle of 1905, did the printshop pass into the hands of the Bolshevik Central Committee. There is therefore no reason whatever to credit the assertion that Koba, sitting in an out-of-the-way prison, had at once estimated the differences as “most serious.” Anticipation was never his strong suit. And it would hardly be possible to censure a young revolutionist even less circumspect and suspicious, had he then departed for Siberia without taking a stand on the struggle within the Party.

From Siberia Koba returned directly to Tiflis; that f act cannot help but evoke amazement. Fugitives who were in the least conspicuous seldom returned to their native haunts, where they could too easily be observed by the ever-vigilant police, especially when that place was not Petersburg or Moscow but a small provincial city like Tiflis. But the young Djugashvili had not yet severed his Caucasian umbilical cord; Georgian still remained almost exclusively the language of his propaganda. Moreover, he did not feel himself to be a focus for police attention. He had not yet made up his mind to try his talents in Central Russia. He was unknown abroad, nor did he try to go there. It would seem also that a more personal reason kept him in Tiflis: if Iremashvili is not confused in his” chronology, Koba was already married at that time. During his imprisonment and exile he had left his young wife behind him at Tiflis.

[7] See Glossary.


The war with Japan, which began in January, 1904, at first weakened the labor movement, but gave it unprecedented momentum by the end of that year. The military defeats of Tsarism quickly dispelled the patriotic moods which had at first affected liberal and partly student circles. Defeatism, although with a varying coefficient, increasingly overcame, not only the revolutionary masses, but even the oppositionist bourgeoisie. Despite all of that, the Social-Democracy, before the great upheaval which was impending, lived through months of stagnation and internal ailment. The differences between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, overtaxing because as yet indeterminate, little by little began to seep through the cramped confines of the Party headquarters and subsequently encompassed the entire field of revolutionary strategy.

”Stalin’s work during the period of 1904-1905 passed under the flag of fierce struggle against Menshevism,” states his official biographer. “Literally on his own shoulders he bore the brunt of the entire struggle with the Mensheviks in the Caucasus, beginning in 1904 and ending with 1908,” writes Yenukidze in his newly-revised reminiscences. Beriya affirms that after his flight from exile Stalin “organized and directed the struggle against the Mensheviks, who after the Second Congress of the Party, during Comrade Stalin’s absence, became particularly active.” These authors want to prove too much. If one were to accept on faith the statement that as early as 1901-1903 Stalin was already playing a leading role in the Caucasian Social-Democracy, that he had joined the Bolsheviks as early as 1903, and, beginning with February, 1904, had already begun his struggle against Menshevism, then one must pause with amazement before the fact that all these efforts had yielded such pitiful results: on the eve of the revolution of 1905 Georgian Bolsheviks were literally counted singly. Beriya’s reference to the fact that the Mensheviks became particularly active “during Stalin’s absence” sounds almost like irony. Petty bourgeois Georgia, including Tiflis, remained the fortress of Menshevism for a score of years quite irrespective of anyone’s presence or absence. In the revolution of 1905 the Georgian workers and peasants followed indivisibly behind the Menshevik faction; in all the four Dumas[8] Georgia was invariably represented by Mensheviks; in the February Revolution of 1917 Georgian Menshevism provided all of Russia with leaders of national caliber—Tseretelli, Chkheidze and others. Finally, even after the establishment of the Soviet Government in Georgia, Menshevism continued to exert considerable influence, which was subsequently expressed in the uprising of 1924. “All of Georgia must be plowed under!” that was how Stalin summarized the lessons of the Georgian uprising at the session of the Political Bureau in the autumn of 1924, i.e., twenty years after he had “opened a fierce struggle against Menshevism”. It would therefore be more correct and more just to Stalin not to exaggerate Koba’s role during the first years of the century.

[8] The first two Dumas were elected in accordance with the election law of December 24 (it o.s.) 1905, the First Duma sitting from May 10 (April 27 o.s.) to July 22 (9 o.s.), 1906, and the Second Duma from March 5 (February 20 o.s.) to June 15 (2 o.s.), 1907. The last two Dumas were elected in accordance with the more restrictive election law of June 16 (3 o.s.), 1907. The Third Duma sat throughout its allotted term, from November 14 (1 o.s.), 1907 to June 22 (9 o.s.), 1912, and the Fourth Duma very nearly so, from November 28 (15 o.s.). 1912 to March 10 (February 25), 1917.—C. M.


Koba returned from exile as a member of the Caucasian Committee, to which he had been elected in absentio, during his tenure in prison, at a conference of the Transcaucasian organizations. It is possible that at the beginning of 1904 a majority of the Committee members, eight in all, was already sympathetic to the Majority of the London Congress; but that alone is no indication of Koba’s own sympathies. The local Caucasian organizations obviously tended in the direction of the Mensheviks. The conciliationist Central Committee of the Party, under the leadership of Krassin, was at the time opposed to Lenin. Iskra was entirely in the hands of the Mensheviks. Under these conditions the Caucasian Committee, with its Bolshevik sympathies, seemed suspended in mid-air. Yet Koba preferred to have firm ground under his feet. He prized the apparatus more than the idea.

Official information about Koba’s activities in 1904 is exceedingly sketchy and unreliable. It remains unknown whether he carried on any activity in Tiflis, and if he did, the nature of his work. It is hardly possible that a fugitive from Siberia could have shown himself in workers’ circles, where many knew him. It is likely that precisely for that reason Koba moved to Baku as early as June. Concerning his activity there we are informed in the stereotyped phrases: “he directed the struggle of the Baku Bolsheviks,” “he exposed the Mensheviks”. Not a single fact, not a single specific recollection! If Koba wrote anything at all during those months, it is being withheld from publication, and probably not through mere oversight.

On the other hand, the belated attempts to represent Stalin as the founder of the Baku Social-Democracy are based on nothing at all. The first workers’ circles in the smoky and gloomy city poisoned by the Tartar-Armenian feud appeared as early as 1896. The basis for a more complete organization was laid three years later by Abel Yenukidze and several workmen expelled from Moscow. At the very beginning of the century, the very same Yenukidze, in collaboration with Lado Ketskhoveli, organized the Baku Committee, which was Iskrovite in sympathies. Due to the efforts of the Yenukidze brothers, who were closely connected with Krassin, a large underground printshop was established at Baku in 1903. It played an important part in laying the groundwork for the First Revolution. In that very printshop Bolsheviks and Mensheviks worked together in the friendliest fashion until the middle of 1905. When the aged Abel Yenukidze, for many years Secretary of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union, lost favor with Stalin, he was compelled in 1935 to revise his recollections of 1923 anew, substituting for well-established facts mere assertions about the inspiring and leading role of Soso in the Caucasus and particularly in Baku. His submission did not save Yenukidze from his doom. Neither did it add a single vivid stroke to Stalin’s biography.

When Koba first appeared on the Baku horizon in June, 1904, the local Social-Democratic organization had to its credit a record of eight years of revolutionary activity. The “Black City” had played a particularly important part in the labor movement during the preceding years. The Spring had brought to Baku a general strike that unleashed an avalanche of strikes and demonstrations throughout the South of Russia. Vera Zasulitch was the first to appraise those developments as the beginning of the Revolution. Due to the more proletarian character of Baku, especially by comparison with Tiflis, the Bolsheviks managed to secure there an earlier and a more stable foothold than elsewhere in the Caucasus. The same Makharadze, who had used the Tiflis term “kinto” with reference to Stalin, states that in the autumn of 190ยข there was created in Baku, “under the direct leadership of Soso, a special organization for revolutionary work among the backward oil industry workers, Tartars, Azerbaijanians, and Persians.” That testimony might evoke less doubt if Makharadze had made it in the first edition of his memoirs and not ten years later, when under the whip of Beriya he again rewrote the entire history of the Caucasian Social-Democracy. The process of his step-by-step approach to the official “truth” was supplemented by his castigation of each preceding edition of his book in its turn as a spawn of the Evil Spirit and its withdrawal from circulation.

Upon return from Siberia, Koba undoubtedly met Kamenev, who was born in Tiflis[9] and who was one of the first of Lenin’s young followers there. It is possible that it was Kamenev, recently returned from abroad, who had helped to convert Koba to Bolshevism. But Kamenev’s name was expunged from the history of the Party a few years before Kamenev himself was shot on a fantastic charge. In any event, the real history of Caucasian Bolshevism began, not with Koba’s return from exile, but in the autumn of 1904. That date is established in various connections even by official authors wherever they are not obliged to refer specifically to Stalin. In November, 1904, a Bolshevik conference convened at Tiflis, composed of fifteen delegates from local Caucasian organizations, for the most part insignificant groups. It passed a resolution in favor of convoking a new Party congress. That act was an outright declaration of war, not only against the Mensheviks but also against the conciliationist Central Committee. Had Koba participated in that first conference of the Caucasian Bolsheviks, Beriya and the other historians would not have failed to report that the conference had been held “at the initiative and under the leadership of Comrade Stalin”. Utter silence on that score means that Koba, who was at the time in the Caucasus, did not participate in the conference. In other words, not a single Bolshevik organization sent him as a delegate. The conference elected a Bureau. Koba did not become a member of that important body. All of that would have been inconceivable had he enjoyed a position of any prominence at all among Caucasian Bolsheviks.

[9] Lev Borisovich Kamenev was born in Moscow July 31 (18 o.s.), 1883. However, he was connected with Tiflis off and on for about ten years. In 5896 he moved with his family to Tiflis, where his father found employment with the Transcaucasian Railway, and young L. B. transferred from the Wilno Gimnasia (high school) to the Second Tiflis Gimnasia, from which he was graduated in 1901. During his last couple of years in the Tiflis gimnasia young Kamenev had been so active as a Marxist that upon graduation he was debarred from ma triculating at any Russian university or engineering school. After petitioning the then Minister of Public Instruction Bogolepov, he was finally granted permission to matriculate in the Faculty of Jurisprudence of Moscow University, where he continued to “misbehave” and landed first in the Butyrki and then in the Taganka prisons. He was denied the right to return to the university and was sent back to Tiflis under police surveillance. In Tiflis as an active Iskrist he taught a circle of railway workers and another of shoemakers until the autumn of 1902, when he went to Paris. There he met many of the leaders of the Iskra group, and wrote articles on the student movement for Iskra . Several months later Lenin carne to Paris from London to deliver a lecture. Kamenev met him, fell under his spell, and when Lenin moved from London to Geneva young Kamenev moved from Paris to Geneva. There he studied Marxism under Lenin’s guidance and made his debut as an orator in a debate with Martov, who at the time was traveling through Europe on Kamenev’s passport. In Paris Kamenev met Trotsky’s sister, Olga, who later became his wife. Immediately after the Second Congress of the Party Lenin sent Kamenev back to Tiflis as a Bolshevik organizer. There he also took part in organizing a strike on the Transcaucasian Railway. He had to leave Tiflis again after a police raid on his apartment, January 18-19, 1904. After five months’ imprisonment in Moscow, he was sent back to Tiflis on July 28, 1904. There he remained, except for organizational tours, until the spring of 1905; when he went to London as delegate to the Third Congress.—C. M.


Victor Taratuta, who was at the conference as a delegate from Batum and who was subsequently a member of the Party’s Central Committee, gives us a fairly definite and unquestionable hint as to who was then the leader among the Bolsheviks in the Caucasus. “At the Caucasus regional conference, which took place at the end of 1904 or at the beginning of 1905,” he writes, “… I first met also Comrade Kamenev, Lev Borisovich, in his capacity as leader of the Caucasian Bolshevik organisations. At that regional conference Comrade Kamenev was elected traveling propagandist and was to canvass the country far and wide in order to agitate for the convocation of a new Party congress. At the same time he was delegated to visit the committees of the entire country and to establish contact with our foreign centers of those days.” This authoritative witness does not say a word about Koba’s participation in that activity.

Under those circumstances there naturally could not have been any reason at all for including Koba in the general Russian center of the Bolsheviks, the “Bureau of the Committees of the Majority,” composed of seventeen members, which was formed for the purpose of convoking the congress. Kamenev became a member of that Bureau as the representative of the Caucasus. Among the others on the list of the Bureau members who subsequently became famous Soviet leaders we find the names of Rykov and Litvinov. It might not be amiss to add that Kamenev and Rykov were two or three years younger than Stalin. On the whole the Bureau was composed of representatives of the “third” generation.

Koba came to Baku for the second time in December, 1904, that is, soon after the Tiflis Bolshevik Conference had taken place. On the eve of his arrival a general strike broke out in the oil fields and factories, catching all of Russia by surprise. The Party’s organizations manifestly had not yet learned to understand the nature of the insurrectionary mood of the masses, which was aggravated by the first year of the war. The Baku strike directly preceded the famous Bloody Sunday in Petersburg, the tragic march of the workers under the leadership of the priest Gapon to the Winter Palace on January twenty-second, 1905. One of the “memoirs” fabricated in 1935 vaguely mentions that Stalin led the strike committee in Baku and that everything transpired under his leadership. But according to the same author, Koba arrived in Baku after the strike had begun and remained in the city only ten days in all. As a matter of fact, he came on a special assignment, which probably had something to do with preparations for the congress. By that time he might have made his choice in favor of Bolshevism.

Stalin himself attempted to set back the date of his joining the Bolsheviks. Not satisfied with the statement that he had become a Bolshevik before his release from prison, he declared in 1924, at the memorial evening of the Kremlin cadets, that he had first established contact with Lenin as far back as the time of his first exile:

I first met Comrade Lenin in 1903. True, it was not a person to person meeting, but by correspondence, in the course of an exchange of letters. Yet it left me with an indelible impression that remained with me throughout the entire tenure of my work in the Party. At that time I was in Siberia, in exile. Familiarity with Comrade Lenin’s revolutionary activity at the beginning of the ’nineties, and especially since 1901, after the appearance of “Iskra,” led me to the conviction that in Comrade Lenin we had an extraordinary man. I did not regard him then as only a leader of the Party, but as its actual creator, for he alone understood our Party’s inner substance and its urgent needs. When I compared him with the other leaders of our Party, it always seemed to me that Comrade Lenin’s companions-in-arms—Plekhanov, Martov, Axelrod, and others—ranked a whole head lower than Comrade Lenin, that by comparison with them, Lenin was not only one of the leaders, but a leader of the highest type, a mountain eagle who knew no fear in the fight and who boldly led the Party forward over the unexplored paths of the Russian revolutionary movement. That impression sank so deep into my soul that I felt the necessity to write about it to one of my close friends, who was at the time in emigration, requesting a reply from him. Sometime later, when I was already in exile in Siberia –that was toward the end of 1903-1 received an exultant answer from my friend and simple yet profoundly pregnant letter from Comrade Lenin, to whom it would seem my friend had shown my letter. Comrade Lenin’s little letter was comparatively brief, but it subjected the practices of our Party to bold and fearless criticism and gave a remarkably clear and cogent exposition of the entire plan of the Party’s work for the impending period. Only Lenin could write a letter about the most complicated matters so simply and clearly, so cogently and boldly that each phrase did not so much speak as shout. That simple and audacious letter strengthened my conviction that in Lenin we had the mountain eagle of our Party. I cannot forgive myself that due to the habits of an old underground worker, I burned Comrade Lenin’s letter along with many other letters. My acquaintance with Comrade Lenin began at that time.

The chronology of that story, so typical of Stalin because of its psychological and stylistic primitiveness, is not all that is wrong with it. Koba did not reach his place of exile until January, 1904; consequently he could not have received the alleged letter there in 1903. Furthermore, it is not at all clear where and just how he wrote “to one of my closest friends” abroad, since prior to his banishment to Siberia he had been in prison for a year and a half. Exiled persons never knew ahead of time to what place they would be banished; hence, Koba could not have communicated his Siberian address in advance to his friend abroad, and certainly there was no time for a letter from exile and a reply from abroad in the course of the one month Koba spent in exile. According to Stalin’s own version, Lenin’s letter was not of a personal but of a programmatic character. Copies of that type of letter were invariably sent out by Krupskaya to a number of addresses, while the original was kept in the Party archives abroad. It is most unlikely that in this one instance an exception was made for the sake of an unknown young Caucasian. Yet the archives do not contain the original of that letter, the copy of which Koba burned “due to the habits of an old underground worker” (he was at the time exactly twenty-four years old). But most amazing is the fact that Stalin says nothing at all about his reply to Lenin. Having received a letter from the leader whom he admittedly venerated as a demigod, it stands to reason that Koba would have answered him at once. Yet Stalin is silent about that—and not by accident: the archives of Lenin and Krupskaya do not contain Koba’s reply. Of course, it might have been intercepted by the police. But in that event the copy would have been preserved in the files of the police department and would have been reproduced in the Soviet press years ago. But that relationship would not have been limited to one letter. A young Social-Democrat could not have failed to regard permanent contact with the leader of his Party, with its “mountain eagle,” as most precious to him. As for Lenin, he regarded every contact with Russia as precious and meticulously replied to every letter. Yet no correspondence between Lenin and Koba has come to light in the course of recent years. Everything in this tale evokes perplexity—everything except its purpose.

The year 1904 was perhaps the most difficult in Lenin’s Life, barring the last years of his illness. Without desiring it and without foreseeing it, he broke with all the prominent leaders of the Russian Social-Democracy and for a long time thereafter could find no one capable of replacing his former companions-in-arms. Bolshevik literary men were recruited slowly and with great effort. Nor were they up to the par of the Iskra editors. Lyadov, one of the most active Bolsheviks in those days, who in 1904 was with Lenin at Geneva, recalled twenty years later: “Olminsky came, Vorovsky came, Bogdanov came … we awaited the coming of Lunacharsky, for whom Bogdanov vouched that immediately upon arrival he would join us.” These men were returning from exile. Their reputations preceded them. They were expected. But when mobilizing the editorial staff of the factional newspaper no one suggested Koba as a possibility. Yet nowadays he is portrayed as a prominent Bolshevik leader of that period. The first issue of the newspaper Vperyod [Forward] was finally published in December twenty-second at Geneva. Koba had nothing whatever to do with that momentous event in the life of his faction. He did not so much as get in touch with the editors. The newspaper contains neither his articles nor his news reports. That would have been unthinkable had he been a leader of the Caucasian Bolsheviks at the time.

Finally, there is direct and documentary testimony in support of the conclusion we made on the basis of circumstantial evidence. In an extensive and 50 exceedingly interesting statement on Joseph Djugashvili written in 1911 by the chief of the Tiflis Secret Police Department, Karpov, we read:

He has been active in the Social-Democratic organization since 19o2, at first as a Menshevik and later as a Bolshevik.

Karpov’s report is the only document known to us which states explicitly that during a certain period after the split Stalin was a Menshevik. The Tiflis newspaper Zarya Vostoka which was careless enough to have published that document in its issue of December twenty-third, 1925, either did not think of offering, or could not offer, any explanations whatsoever. No doubt the editor was later cruelly punished for that blunder. It is most significant that even Stalin did not find it convenient to refute that statement. Not a single one of the official biographers or historians of the Party ever again referred to that important document, while at the same time scores of insignificant bits of paper were reproduced, requoted and rephotographed without end. Let us suppose for the moment that the Tiflis gendarmerie, which in any event should have been best informed on that score, had given incorrect information. Then immediately the supplementary question arises: how was such an error possible? Had Koba actually been at the head of the Caucasian Bolsheviks, the Secret Police Department could not have failed to know it. It could have committed such a crude error in political characterization only with reference to some green neophyte or some third-rate figure, but never with reference to a “leader”. Thus, the one document which fortuitously found its way into print demolishes in one fell swoop the official myth reared with such great effort. And how many more such documents are being preserved in fireproof vaults, or, on the contrary, are solicitously relegated to the flames!

It may seem that we have wasted altogether too much time and effort, in order to establish a very modest conclusion. Is it not really all the same whether Koba joined the Bolsheviks in the middle of 1903 or on the eve of 1905? Yet that modest conclusion, apart from the f act that incidentally it discloses to us the mechanics of Kremlin historiography and iconography, has very significant bearing on the proper understanding of Stalin’s political personality. The majority of those who have written about him accept his transition to Bolshevism as something inherent in his character, sel f-evident, natural. Yet such a view is definitely one-sided. True, firmness and resoluteness predetermine a person to the acceptance of the methods of Bolshevism. Yet these characteristics in themselves are not decisive. There were any number of persons of firm character among Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionists. On the other hand, weak people were not so very rare among the Bolsheviks. Psychology and character are not all that there is to the nature of Bolshevism, which, above all, is a philosophy of history and a political conception. Under certain historical conditions workers are pushed onto the path of Bolshevism by the entire pattern of their social circumstances. That happens almost regardless of the hardness or softness of individual characters. An intellectual needed exceptional political intuition and theoretical imagination, unusual faith in the dialectic historical process and in the revolutionary attributes of the working class, in order seriously and firmly to tie his fate to the Bolshevik Party in the days when Bolshevism was no more than a historical anticipation. The preponderant majority of intellectuals who joined Bolshevism in the period of its revolutionary rise abandoned it in subsequent years. It was more difficult for Koba to join, but it was likewise more difficult for him to break with it, because he had neither theoretical imagination nor historical intuition nor the gift of foresight, just as, on the other hand, he was devoid of light-mindedness. His intellect always remained immeasurably inferior to his will. In a complex situation, when confronted with new considerations, Koba prefers to bide his time, to keep his peace, or to retreat. In all those instances when it is necessary for him to choose between the idea and the political machine, he invariably inclines toward machine. The program must first of all create its bureaucracy before Koba can have any respect for it. Lack of confidence in the masses, as well as in individuals, is the basis of his nature. His empiricism always compels him to choose the path of least resistance. That is why, as a rule, at all the great turning points of history this near-sighted revolutionist assumes an opportunist position, which brings him exceedingly close to the Mensheviks and on occasion places him to the right of them. At the same time he invariably is inclined to favor the most resolute actions in solving the problems he has mastered. Under all conditions well-organized violence seems to him the shortest distance between two points. Here an analogy begs to he drawn. The Russian terrorists were in essence petty bourgeois democrats, yet they were extremely resolute and audacious. Marxists were wont to refer to them as “liberals with a bomb”. Stalin has always been what he remains to this day—a politician of the golden mean who does not hesitate to resort to the most extreme measures. Strategically he is an opportunist; tactically he is a “revolutionist”. He is a kind of opportunist with a bomb.

Soon after his departure from the seminary Koba became something in the nature of a bookkeeper at the Tiflis Observatory. Despite its “miserly salary,” he liked his job, Iremashvili informs us, because it left him a lot of free time for revolutionary activity. “He was least of all concerned with his personal welfare. He made no demands on life, regarding them as incompatible with Socialist principles. He had sufficient integrity to make sacrifices for his ideal.” Koba was true to that vow of poverty which was taken unostentatiously and without any ado by all the young people who went into the revolutionary underground. Besides, unlike many others who took that vow, he had not been accustomed to comforts since childhood. “I visited him several times in his small, squalid, poorly furnished room on Mikhailovskaya Street,” relates the irreplaceable second Soso. “Every day Koba wore a simple black Russian blouse and the red necktie that was then characteristic of all Social-Democrats. In the winter he wore an old brown cape over it. As headgear he knew only the Russian peak cap. Although when Koba left the seminary he was far from friendly with most of the young seminary Marxists, they would nevertheless make up a collection from time to time in order to help him out of his dire needs.” Barbusse informs us that in 1900, that is, a year after his departure from the seminary, Joseph found himself entirely without means: “His comrades made it possible for him to obtain food.” Police documents indicate that Koba remained in the service of the observatory until March, 1901, when he was obliged to go into hiding. His job, as we have heard, scarcely gave him a living. “… His income did not make it possible for him to dress adequately,” continues Iremashvili. “Yet it is also true that he did not make any effort to keep his clothes at least clean and in order. He could never be seen otherwise than in a dirty blouse and in an unpolished pair of shoes. He detested from the bottom of his heart everything that reminded him of the bourgeois.” The dirty blouse, the unpolished boots, the tousled hair were likewise generally characteristic of all young revolutionists, especially in the provinces.

Passing in March, 1901, to illegal status, Koba became a professional revolutionist. From then on he had no name because he had many names. At various periods, and upon occasions at one and the same time, he was called, “David”, “Koba”, “Nizheradze”, “Chizhikov”, “Ivanovich”, “Stalin”. Similarly the gendarmes invested him with their nicknames. The most persistent of these was “Ryaboi”, which alluded to his pock-marked face. Henceforth Koba would revert to legal status only in prison and in exile, that is, between each two periods of underground.

”He never lacked singleness of purpose”, Yenukidze wrote about the young Stalin in his corrected memoirs. “All of his actions, encounters, friendships were directed toward a definite objective … Stalin never sought personal popularity,” he adds, and there limited his circle of contacts “to the advanced workers and to professional revolutionists”. The purpose of that refrain, repeated in many official memoirs, is to explain why until his very accession to power Stalin remained unknown to the nation’s masses and even to the general membership of the Party. It is untrue, however, that he presumably did not seek popularity. He sought it greedily, but he could not find it. From the first, the absence of popularity rankled in his heart. It was precisely his inability to win fame by a frontal attack that drove this forceful personality into devious and crooked ways.

Since early youth Koba had sought power over people, who for the most part seemed to him weaker than himself. Yet he was neither wiser nor more educated nor more eloquent than others. He did not possess a single one of those attributes which attract sympathy. But he was richer than others in cold persistence and practical common sense. He did not yield to impulses: rather, he knew how to subject them to his calculations. That characteristic had already shown itself when he was a schoolboy. “Usually Joseph replied to questions unhurriedly,” writes Glurdzhidze. “Whenever his answer was in all its aspects well founded, he would reply; if not, he would procrastinate with his answer for a more or less brief period of time.” Quite apart from the exaggeration concerning his answer having been “in all its aspects well founded,” these words contain mention of the one rather vital trait of the young Stalin that gave him an important advantage among the young revolutionists, who for the most part were big-hearted, precipitate, and naive.

Even in that early period Koba did not hesitate to set his opponents against each other, to slander them, and to carry on intrigues against every one who in any way seemed superior to him or who seemed a hindrance to his path. The moral unscrupulousness of the young Stalin generated an atmosphere of suspicion and of sinister rumors about him. Much of which he was not guilty was beginning to be ascribed to him. The Socialist-Revolutionist Vereshchak, who came in close contact with Stalin in prison, related in the émigré press in 1928 how, presumably after Joseph Djugashvili had been expelled from the seminary, the director received from him a denunciation of a former comrade in his revolutionary group. When Joseph was obliged to give an account of himself in this affair before the Tiflis organization, he presumably not only admitted that he had been the author of the denunciation, but even deemed it something in his favor: instead of becoming transformed into priests and teachers, those expelled would be forced to become, according to his alleged reckoning, revolutionists. This entire episode, pounced upon by certain gullible biographers, bears the obvious brand of invention. A revolutionary organization can maintain its existence only through ruthless strictness in regard to anything at all which in the slightest way smacks of denunciation, provocation, or betrayal. The smallest indulgence in that sphere spells the beginning of gangrene for it. Had Soso been proven capable of resorting to such means, compounded of one-third Machiavelli to two-thirds Judas, it is altogether inadmissible that the Party would have tolerated him in its ranks after that. Iremashvili, who at the time belonged to the same seminarist circle as Koba, knows nothing at all about that episode. He himself succeeded in graduating from the seminary and became a teacher. Yet it is no mere accident that so vicious an invention is connected with Stalin’s name. Nothing of the kind was ever rumored about any of the other old revolutionists.

Souvarine, who wrote the best documented of Stalin’s biographies, attempts to deduce his moral personality from his membership in the ominous order of “professional revolutionists”. In this instance, as in many others, Souvarine’s generalizations are most superficial. A professional revolutionist is a person who completely dedicates himself to the labor movement under conditions of illegality and forced conspiracy. Not everyone is capable of that, and certainly, in any event, not the worst kind of person. The labor movement of the civilized world knows numerous professional officials and professional politicians; the preponderant majority of that caste is noted for its conservatism, egotism and narrow-mindedness, living not for the movement, but at its expense. By comparison with the average labor bureaucrat of Europe or America, the average professional revolutionist of Russia cut an incomparably more attractive figure.

The youth of the revolutionary generation coincided with the youth of the labor movement. It was the epoch of people between the ages of eighteen and thirty. Revolutionists above that age were few in number and seemed old men. The movement was as yet utterly devoid of careerism, lived on its faith in the future and on its spirit of self-sacrifice. There were as yet no routine, no set formulae, no theatrical gestures, no ready-made oratorical tricks. The struggle was by nature full of pathos, shy and awkward. The very words “committee,” “party” were as yet new, with an aura of vernal freshness, and rang in young ears as a disquieting and alluring melody. Whoever joined an organization knew that prison followed by exile awaited him within the next few months. The measure of ambition was to last as long as possible on the job prior to arrest; to hold oneself steadfast when facing the gendarmes; to ease, as far as possible, the plight of one’s comrades; to read, while in prison, as many books as possible; to escape as soon as possible from exile abroad; to acquire wisdom there; and then return to revolutionary activity in Russia.

The professional revolutionists believed what they taught. They could have had no other incentive for taking to the road to Calvary. Solidarity under persecution was no empty word, and it was augmented by contempt for cowardice and desertion. “Turning over in my mind the mass of comrades with whom I had occasion to meet,” writes Eugenia Levitskaya concerning the Odessa underground of 1901-1907, “I cannot recall a single reprehensible, contemptible act, a single deception or lie. There was friction. There were factional differences of opinion. But no more than that. Somehow everyone looked after himself morally, became better and more gentle in that friendly family.” Odessa was not, of course, an exception. The young men and young women who devoted themselves entirely to the revolutionary movement, without demanding anything in return, were not the worst representatives of their generation. The order of “professional revolutionists” cannot suffer by comparison with any other social group.

Joseph Djugashvili was a member of that order and shared many of its traits; many, but not all. He saw the purpose of his life in overthrowing the powers that be. Hatred of them was immeasurably more active in his soul than love for the oppressed. Prison, exile, sacrifices, privations did not frighten him. He knew how to look danger straight in the eye. At the same time he was keenly sensitive about such of his traits as his slowness of intellect, lack of talent. the general colorlessness of his physical and moral countenance. His overweening ambition was tinged with envy and ill will. His pertinacity marched hand in hand with vindictiveness. The jaundiced glint of his eyes impelled sensitive people to take notice. As far back as his schooldays he displayed an aptitude for noting the weaknesses of people and for harping upon them pitilessly. The Caucasian environment proved most favorable for nurturing these basic attributes of his nature. Without being swept off his feet while in the midst of enthusiasts, without catching fire while in the midst of those who were easily inflamed yet quick to cool down, he learned early in life to prize the advantages of icy grit, of circumspection and especially of astuteness, which in his case became subtly transformed into wiliness. Special historical circumstances were to invest these essentially secondary attributes with primary significance.

return return return return return

Last updated on: 7 September 2009