Leon Trotsky

Stalin –
An Appraisal of the Man and his Influence

Chapter IV: The Period of Reaction

THE personal life of underground revolutionists was always relegated to the background, repressed. Yet it persisted. Like the palms on a Diego Rivera landscape, love struggled toward the sun from under heavy boulders. It was almost always identified with revolution. The same ideas, the same struggle, the same danger, a common isolation from the rest of the world, welded strong bonds. Couples came together in the underground, were parted by prison, and again sought each other out in exile. We know little of young Stalin’s personal life, but that little is all the more precious for the light it shed on him as a man.

”He married in 1903”, Iremashvili tells us. “His marriage, according to his lights, was a happy one. True, it was impossible to discover in his own home that equality of the sexes which he himself advocated as the basic form for marriage in the new state. But it was not in his character to share equal rights with any other person. His marriage was a happy one because his wife, who could not come up to him in general intelligence, regarded him as a demi-god and because, being a Georgian woman, she was brought up in the sacrosanct tradition which obligates the woman to serve.” Although Iremashvili considered himself a Social-Democrat, he himself subscribed almost religiously to the tradition which made the Georgian woman essentially a family slave. He ascribed to Koba’s wife the same characteristics that he had ascribed to his mother, Keke. “That truly Georgian woman … with all her heart looked after her husband’s welfare. Passing countless nights in ardent prayers, she waited for her Soso while he was busy at secret conferences. She prayed that Koba might turn away from his ideas that were displeasing to God and turn to a peaceful home life of toil and contentment.”

Not without astonishment do we learn from these lines that Koba, who had repudiated religion at thirteen, was married to a naively and profoundly religious wife. That might seem quite an ordinary case in a stable bourgeois environment, in which the husband regards himself as an agnostic or amuses himself with Masonic rites, while his wife, having consummated her latest adultery, duly kneels in the confession box before her priest. But among Russian revolutionists such matters were immeasurably more important. There was no anemic agnosticism at the core of their revolutionary philosophy, but militant atheism. How could they have any personal tolerance toward religion, which was inextricably linked to everything against which they fought at constant risk to themselves? Among working people, who married early, one might find not a few instances of the husband turning revolutionist after marriage while his wife continued to cling stubbornly to the old faith. But even that usually led to dramatic collisions. The husband would keep his new life a secret from his wife and would grow further and further away from her. In other cases, the husband would win his wife over to his own views and away from her kinsfolk. Young workers would frequently complain that it was hard for them to find girls who were free of the old superstitions. Among the student youth the choice of mates was considerably easier. There were almost no cases of a revolutionary intellectual marrying a believer. Not that there were any rules to that effect. But such things were not in keeping with the customs, the views and the feelings of these people. Koba was undoubtedly a rare exception.

It would seem that the divergence in views led to no dramatic conflict. “This man, so restless in spirit, who felt himself spied upon, under the constant surveillance of the Tsarist secret police at every step and in everything he did, could find love only in his impoverished home. Only his wife, his child and his mother were exempt from the scorn he poured on all others.” The idyllic family picture drawn by Iremashvili allows the inference that Koba was indulgently tolerant of his intimate companion’s beliefs. But since that runs counter to his tyrannical nature, which appears to be tolerance must really be moral indifference. Koba did not seek in his wife a friend capable of sharing his views or at least his ambitions. He was satisfied with a submissive and devoted woman. In his views he was a Marxist; in his feelings and spiritual needs—he was the son of the Ossetin Beso from Didi-Lilo. He required no more of his wife than his father had found in the long-suffering Keke.

Iremashvili’s chronology, which is not faultless as a rule, is more reliable in personal matters than in the field of politics. But his marriage date arouses some doubt. He gives it as 1903. Yet Koba was arrested in April, 1902, and returned from exile, in February, 1904. It is possible that the wedding took place in prison. Such cases were not rare. But it is also possible that the marriage took place only after his flight from exile at the beginning of 1904. In that event a church wedding did present certain difficulties for one of “illegal” status; yet, in view of the primitive ways of those times, especially in the Caucasus, police obstacles were not insurmountable. If Koba’s wedding took place after his exile, it can in part explain his political passivity during 1904.

Koba’s wife—we do not even know her name[1]—died in 1907; according to some accounts, of pneumonia. By that time the two Sosos were no longer on friendly terms. Iremashvili complains: “The brunt of his struggle was henceforth directed against us, his former friends. He attacked us at every meeting and discussion in the most savage and unscrupulous manner, trying to sow poison and hatred against us everywhere. If possible, he would have rooted us out with fire and sword … But the overwhelming majority of Georgian Marists remained with us. That merely enraged and incensed him all the more.” But Georgian customs proved so prepotent that political disagreement did not deter Iremashvili from visiting Koba on the occasion of his wife’s death in order to bring him words of comfort: “He was very downcast, yet he met me in a friendly manner, as in the old days. This hard man’s pale face reflected the heartfelt anguish caused by the death of his faithful life’s companion. His emotional distress … must have been very deepseated and enduring, for he was incapable of hiding it any longer from outsiders.”

[1] Ekaterina Svanidze, sister of an obscure comrade, who subsequently became President of the Soviet Bank for Foreign Trade (Vnyeshtorgbank).—C. M.


The deceased was buried in accordance with all the rules of Orthodox ritual. Her relatives insisted on it. Nor did Koba object. “When the modest procession reached the entrance to the cemetery,” Iremashvili tells us, “Koba firmly pressed my hand, pointed to the coffin and said: ’Soso, this creature softened my heart of stone; she died, and with her died—my last warm feelings for all human beings.’ He placed his right hand on his heart: ‘It is all so desolate here inside, so inexpressibly desolate!’ “ These words may seem theatrically pathetic and unnatural; yet it is not unlikely that they are true, not only because they refer to a young man overwhelmed by his first heartfelt sorrow but also because in time to come we shall rediscover in Stalin the same penchant for strained pathos, a trait not unusual among persons of harsh character. The awkward style for expressing his feelings came to him from the seminary training in homiletics.

Koba’s wife left him a little boy with fine and delicate features. In 1919-1920 he was a student at the Tiflis secondary school, where Iremashvili was an instructor. Soon after that his father transferred Yasha to Moscow. We shall meet him again in the Kremlin. That is all we know about this marriage, which in point of time (1903-1907) fits rather neatly into the framework of the First Revolution. It is no fortuitous coincidence: the rhythms of the revolutionist’s personal life were too closely intertwined for that with the rhythms of great events.

”Beginning with the day he buried his wife,” insists Iremashvili, “he lost the last vestige of human feelings. His heart filled with the inexpressibly malicious hatred his merciless father had already begun to engender in him when he was still a child. He crushed with sarcasm his less and less frequently recurring moral impulses. Ruthless with himself, he became ruthless with all people.” Such was he during the period of reaction which meantime had advanced upon the country.

The beginning of mass strikes in the second half of the ’nineties signified the approach of revolution. But the average number of strikers was even less than fifty thousand a year. In 1905 that number rose at once to two and three-quarter millions; in 1906 it came down to one million; in 1907 to three-quarters of a million, including repeat strikes. Such were the figures for the three years of the revolution. Never before had the world witnessed a similar wave of strikes! The period of reaction opened in 1908. The number of strikers fell at once to 174,000; in 1909 to 64,000; in 1910 to 50,000. But while the proletariat was rapidly closing its ranks, the peasants it had aroused not only continued but even strengthened their offensive. The ravaging of landowners’ estates became particularly widespread during the months of the First Duma’s tenure. There came a wave of soldiers’ mutinies. After the suppression of the attempted uprisings at Sveaborg and Kronstadt in July, 1906, the monarchy became bolder, introduced courts-martial, and, with the aid of the Senate, vitiated the election law. But it did not attain the requisite results. The Second Duma proved even more radical than the First.

In February, 1907, Lenin characterized the political situation of the country in the following words: “The most unrestrained, the most brazen lawlessness … The most reactionary election law in Europe. The most revolutionary body of popular representatives in Europe in the most backward country!” Hence his conclusion: “Ahead is a new, an even more menacing … revolutionary crisis.” This conclusion proved erroneous. Although the revolution was still strong enough to leave its impress on the arena of Tsarist pseudo-parliamentarism, it was already broken. Its convulsions became increasingly weaker.

The Social-Democratic party was undergoing a similar process. It continued to grow in membership. But its influence on the masses declined. A hundred Social-Democrats were no longer able to lead as many workers into the street as ten Social-Democrats had led the year before. The different aspects of a revolutionary movement, as a homogeneous historical process and generally as a development possessing survival value, are neither uniform nor harmonious in content or movement. Not only workers but even the petty bourgeois attempted to avenge their defeat by Tsarism in open battle by voting on the Left; but they were no longer capable of a new insurrection. Deprived of the apparatus of the Soviets and of direct contact with the masses, who quickly succumbed to gloomy apathy, the more active workers felt the need for a revolutionary party. Thus, this time the leftward swing of the Duma and the growth of the Social-Democracy were symptoms of the revolution’s decline, not of its rise.

No doubt, Lenin admitted such a possibility even then. But, pending final verification by experience, he continued to base his policy on a revolutionary prognosis. Such was the fundamental rule of that strategist. “The revolutionary Social-Democracy,” he wrote in October, 1906, “must be the first to take its place in the most resolute and the most direct struggle, and the last to resort to the more roundabout methods of struggle.” Under direct struggle come demonstrations, strikes, the general strike, clashes with the police, the insurrection. Under roundabout methods—the utilization of legal opportunities, including parliamentarism, for the mobilization of forces. That strategy inevitably implied the danger of resorting to militant methods after the objective conditions for the employment of such methods no longer prevailed. Yet on the scales of the revolutionary party, that tactical risk weighed immeasurably less than the strategic danger of not keeping up with developments and losing sight of a revolutionary situation.

The Fifth Congress of the Party, held in London in May, 1907, was remarkable for the number of people that attended it. In the hall of the “Socialist” Church there were 302 voting delegates (one delegate for each 500 party members), about half a hundred with advisory voices, and not a few guests. Of these, 90 were Bolsheviks and 85 Mensheviks. The national delegations formed the “center” between these two flanks. At the previous congress 13,000 Bolsheviks and 18,000 Mensheviks (one delegate for each 300 party members) were represented. During the twelvemonth between the Stockholm and the London congresses, the Russian section of the Party had increased from 31,000 to 77,000 members, i.e., two and a half times. Inevitably, the keener the factional struggle, the more inflated the figures. Yet, no doubt, the advanced workers did continue to join the Party during that year. At the same time the Left Wing grew stronger at a considerably faster rate than its opponent. In the 1905 Soviet the Mensheviks were preponderant; the Bolsheviks were a modest minority. At the beginning of 1906 the forces of both factions in St. Petersburg were approximately equal. During the interval between the First and the Second Dumas, the Bolsheviks began to get ahead. By the time of the Second Duma, they had already won complete dominance among the advanced workers. Judging by the nature of the resolutions adopted, the Stockholm Congress was Menshevik, the London Congress—Bolshevik.

This shift of the Party leftward was carefully noted by the authorities. Shortly before the Congress the Police Department explained to its local branches that “the Menshevik groups in their present state of mind do not present as serious a danger as the Bolsheviks.” In the regular report on the progress of the Congress, presented to the Police Department by one of its foreign agents, the following appraisal was included: “Among the orators who in the course of discussion spoke in defense of the extreme revolutionary point of view were Stanislav (Bolshevik), Trotsky, Pokrovsky (Bolshevik), Tyszko (Polish Social-Democrat); in defense of the opportunist point of view—Martov and Plekhanov,” (leaders of the Mensheviks). “There is clear intimation,” the Okhrana [2] agent continued, “that the Social-Democrats are turning toward revolutionary methods of struggle … Menshevism, which blossomed thanks to the Duma, declined in due time, when the Duma demonstrated its impotence, giving ample scope to Bolshevik, or rather, to extreme revolutionary tendencies.” As a matter of fact, as was already pointed out, the shift in sentiment within the proletariat was much more complicated and inconsistent. Thus, while the vanguard, buoyed by its own experiences, moved to the Left, the mass, discouraged by defeats, moved to the Right. The breath of the reaction was already hovering over the congress. “Our revolution is passing through trying times,” said Lenin at the session of May twelfth. “We need all the strength and will power, all the self-restraint and perseverance of a united proletarian party, if we are to endure in the face of the pervasive moods of disbelief, defection, apathy, submissiveness.”

[2] The Okhrana (short for Okhrannoye Otdyelyeniye, or Department of Safety) was the political secret service of the Imperial Police Department, the most important branch of the Ministry of the Interior since its founding in 188i. For fifty years prior to that its functions had been performed by the Third Section of the Imperial Court Chancery. Hence, the terms: Okhrana, Okhranka, Third Section, Political Police, Police Department are used interchangeably with reference to the tsarist state’s espionage activities directed against revolutionists. The Okhrana was divided into an External and Internal Agency on the basis of methods of espionage, the first consisting of a corps of detectives and the latter of stoolpigeons and agents provocateurs planted inside the revolutionary organizations. The Okhrana was aided in its activities against the revolutionary movement by another branch of the Police Department, the Special Corps of the Gendarmerie. In addition to branches in the important cities of Russia, the Okhrana maintained also a Foreign Agency abroad wherever Russian revolutionary émigrés congregated.—C. M.


”In London,” wrote a French biographer, “Stalin for the first time saw Trotsky. But the latter hardly noticed him. The leader of the Petersburg Soviet is not the sort of person who readily strikes up acquaintances or becomes chummy without genuine spiritual affinity.” Whether that is true or not, the fact remains that I first learned about Koba’s presence at the London Congress from Souvarine’s book and subsequently found confirmation of it in the official records. As in Stockholm, Ivanovich took part not as one of the 302 voting delegates, but as one of the 42 whose participation was only deliberative. Bolshevism was still so weak in Georgia that Koba could not muster the necessary 500 votes in all of Tiflis! “Even in Koba’s and my native town of Gori,” writes Iremashvili, “there was not a single Bolshevik”. The complete predominance of the Mensheviks in the Caucasus was attested to in the course of the Congress debates by Koba’s rival, Sha’umyan, a leading Caucasian Bolshevik and future member of the Central Committee. “The Caucasian Mensheviks,” he complained, “taking full advantage of their crushing numerical weight and official dominance in the Caucasus, do everything in their power to prevent Bolsheviks from getting elected.” In a declaration signed by the same Sha’umyan and Ivanovich, we read: “The Caucasian Menshevik organizations are composed almost entirely of the town and village petty bourgeoisie.” Of the 18,000 Caucasian members of the Party, no more than 6,000 were workers; but even most of these followed the Mensheviks.

Koba’s appointment as a mere deliberative delegate was accompanied by an incident not devoid of piquancy. When it was Lenin’s turn to preside at the Congress, he proposed adoption without discussion of a resolution by the mandate commission, which recommended the granting of deliberative participation to four delegates, including Ivanovich. The indefatigable Martov shouted from his place: “I should like to know who is being granted an advisory voice. Who are these people, where do they come from, and so forth?” To which Lenin responded: “I really don’t know, but the Congress may rely on the unanimous opinion of the mandate commission.” It is quite likely that Martov already had some secret information about the specific nature of Ivanovich’s record—we shall touch upon it more fully—and that it was precisely for this reason that Lenin hastened to dispose of the ominous hint by referring to the unanimity of the mandate commission. In any event, Martov deemed it proper to refer to “these people” as nobodies: “Who are they, where do they come from, and so forth?” while Lenin, for his part, not only did not object to this characterization but confirmed it. In 1907, Stalin was still utterly unknown, not only to the Party generally but even to the three hundred delegates of the Congress. The mandate commission’s resolution was adopted, with a considerable number of delegates not voting.

Most remarkable, however, is the fact that Koba did not even once take advantage of the deliberative voice granted to him. The Congress lasted nearly three weeks, discussions were exceedingly extensive and ample. Yet Ivanovich’s name is not listed so much as once among the numerous speakers. His signature appears only on two short statements by Caucasian Bolsheviks about their local conflicts with the Mensheviks, and even then in third place. He left no other traces of his presence at the Congress. To appreciate the full significance of that, it is necessary to know the backstage mechanics of the Congress. Each of the factions and national organizations met separately during recesses between official sessions, worked out its own line of conduct and designated its own speakers. Thus, in the course of three weeks of debates, in which all the more noticeable members of the Party took part, the Bolshevik faction did not deem it fit to entrust a single speech to Ivanovich.

Toward the end of one of the last sessions of the Congress a young Petersburg delegate spoke. All had hastily left their seats and almost no one listened to him. The speaker was obliged to mount a chair in order to attract attention. But notwithstanding these extremely unfavorable circumstances, he managed to draw an ever-growing press of delegates around him and before long the assemblage quieted down. That speech made the novice a member of the Central Committee. Ivanovich, doomed to silence, noted the young newcomer’s success —Zinoviev was only twenty-five—probably without sympathy, but hardly without envy. Not a soul paid the slightest heed to the ambitious Caucasian with his unused deliberative voice. The Bolshevik Gandurin, a rank and filer at the congress, stated in his memoirs: “During the recesses we usually surrounded one or another of the important workers, overwhelming him with questions.” Gandurin mentioned among the delegates Litvinov, Voroshilov, Tomsky, and other comparatively obscure Bolsheviks of those days. But he did not mention Stalin even once. Yet he wrote his memoirs in 1931, when it was much harder to forget Stalin than to remember him.

Among the elected members of the new Central Committee, the Bolsheviks were Myeshkovsky, Rozhkov, Teodorovich and Nogin, with Lenin, Bogdanov, Krassin, Zinoviev, Rykov, Shantser, Sammer, Leitheisen, Taratuta and A. Smirnov as alternates. The most prominent leaders of the faction were elected alternates, because persons able to work in Russia were pushed to the forefront. But Ivanovich was neither among the members nor among the alternates. It would be incorrect to seek the reason for that in the tricks of the Mensheviks: as a matter of fact, each faction elected its own candidates. Certain of the Bolsheviks on the Central Committee, like Zinoviev, Rykov, Taratuta and A. Smirnov, were of the same generation as Ivanovich and even younger in actual age.

At the final session of the Bolshevik faction, after the closing of the Congress, a secret Bolshevik Center was elected, the so-called “B. C.,” composed of fifteen members. Among them were the theoreticians and “literaries” of the time and of the future, such as Lenin, Bogdanov, Pokrovsky, Rozhkov, Zinoviev, Kamenev, as well as the most prominent organizers, such as Krassin, Rykov, Dubrovinsky, Nogin, and others. Ivanovich was not a member of that collegium either. The significance of that is perfectly obvious. Stalin could not become a member of the Central Committee without being known to the entire party. Another obstacle—let us admit for the nonce—was that the Caucasian Mensheviks were particularly hostile to him. But had he any weight and influence inside his own faction, he could not have failed to become a member of the Bolshevik Center, which badly needed an authoritative representative of the Caucasus. Ivanovich himself could not have failed to dream of a place in the “B. C.” Yet no such place was found for him.

In view of all this, why did Koba come at all to London? He could not raise his arm as a voting delegate. He proved unnecessary as a speaker. He obviously played no role whatever at the closed sessions of the Bolshevik faction. It is inconceivable that he should have to come out of mere curiosity—to listen and to look around. He must have had other tasks. Just what were they?

The Congress came to an end on May nineteenth. As early as the first of June, Premier Stolypin challenged the Duma with his demand that it immediately expel fifty-five Social-Democratic deputies and sanction the arrest of sixteen of them. Without waiting for the Duma’s authorization, the police proceeded to make arrests on the night of June second. On the third of June the Duma was prorogued, and in the course of this governmental shake-up a new election law was promulgated. Mass arrests, carefully prearranged, took place simultaneously throughout the country, with railwaymen among those taken into custody, in an effort to forestall a general strike. The attempted mutinies in the Black Sea Fleet and in a Kiev regiment ended in failure. The monarchy was triumphant. When Stolypin looked into his mirror, he saw there the image of St. George, Bearer of Victory.

The obvious disintegration of the revolution led to several new crises in the Party and in the Bolshevik faction itself, which overwhelmingly assumed the Boycottist position. This was almost an instinctive reaction against the government’s violence, but at the same time it was an attempt to cover their own impotence with a radical gesture. While relaxing after the Congress in Finland, Lenin thought the matter over in all its aspects, and came out resolutely against the boycott. His situation in his own faction became rather difficult. It is not any too easy to pass from revolutionary heydays to work-a-day dreariness. “With the exception of Lenin and Rozhkov,” wrote Martov, “all the prominent representatives of the Bolshevik faction (Bogdanov, Kamenev, Lunarcharsky, Volsky, and others) came out for the boycott.” The quotation is partly interesting in that, while it includes among the “prominent representatives” not only Lunarcharsky but even the long-forgotten Volsky, it does not mention Stalin. In 1924, when the official Moscow historical journal reproduced Martov’s testimony, it had not yet occurred to the editorial board to evince interest in how Stalin had voted.

Yet Koba was among the Boycottists. In addition to direct testimonies on that score, which, it is true, come from Mensheviks, there is a bit of indirect testimony which is the most convincing of all: not a single one of the present official historians refers with so much as a single word to Stalin’s position on elections to the Third Duma. In a pamphlet entitled “Concerning the Boycott of the Third Duma,” which was published shortly after the Revolution, and in which Lenin defended participation in balloting, it was Kamenev who voiced the Boycottists’ point of view. It has been all the easier for Koba to preserve his incognito, because it did not occur to anyone in 1907 to ask him to come out with an article. The old Bolshevik Piryeiko recalls that the Boycottists “upbraided Comrade Lenin for his Menshevism.” There is no reason to doubt that Koba, too, was not backward in his intimate circle with rather trenchant epithets in Georgian and Russian. As for Lenin, he demanded of his faction readiness and ability to face realities. “The boycott is a declaration of outright war against the old government, a direct attack against it. Barring a widespread revolutionary revival … there can be no talk of the boycott’s success.” Much later, in 1920, Lenin wrote: “It was an error … for the Bolsheviks to have boycotted the Duma in 1906.” It was an error, because after the December defeat it was impossible to expect a revolutionary attack in the near future; it was therefore senseless to spurn the Duma’s tribune for mobilizing the revolutionary ranks.

At the Party Conference which met at Finland in July, all of the nine Bolshevik delegates, with the exception of Lenin, were in favor of the boycott. Ivanovich did not take part in that conference. The Boycottists had Bogdanov as their spokesman. The affirmative resolution on the question of whether to participate in the balloting passed with the united votes of “the Mensheviks, the Bundists, the Poles, one of the Letts, and one Bolshevik,” wrote Dan. That “one Bolshevik” was Lenin. “In a small summer house Ilyich ardently defended his position,” Krupskaya recalled; “Krassin pedaled up on his bicycle, stopped at a window for a while and listened closely to Ilyich. Then, without coming into the house, he went away, thoughtful …” Krassin went away from that window for more than ten years. He returned to the Party only after the October Revolution, and even then not at once. Gradually, under the influence of new lessons, the Bolsheviks came over to Lenin’s position, although, as we shall see, not all of them. Quietly, Koba too repudiated Boycottism. His Caucasian articles and speeches in favor of the boycott have been magnanimously relegated to oblivion.

The Third Duma began its inglorious activity on the first of November. The big bourgeoisie and the landed gentry had been previously assured of a majority in it. Then began the gloomiest period in the life of “renovated Russia.” Labor organizations were dispersed, the revolutionary press was stifled, courtsmartial came in the wake of the punitive expeditions. But more frightful than the outward blows was the internal reaction. Desertion assumed a mass character. Intellectuals abandoned politics for science, art, religion, and erotic mysticism. The finishing touch on this picture was the epidemic of suicides. The transvaluation of valnes was first of all directed against the revolutionary parties and their leaders. The sharp change of mood found a bright reflection in the archives of the Police Department, where suspicious letters were censored, thus preserving the most interesting ones for history.

At Geneva Lenin received a letter from Petersburg, which read: “It is quiet both above and below, but the silence below is tainted. Under its cover such anger looms as will make men howl, for howl they must. But so far we, too, suffer the brunt of that anger …” A certain Zakharov wrote to his friend in Odessa: “We have absolutely lost faith in those whom we had so highly regarded … Think of it, at the end of 1905 Trotsky said in all seriousness that the political revolution had culminated in a grand success, and that it would be followed immediately by the beginning of the social revolution! . . And what about the wonderful tactic of armed insurrection, which the Bolsheviks had bruited about? . . Truly, I have lost all faith in our leaders and in all of the so-called revolutionary intellectuals.” Neither did the liberal and radical press spare the vanquished their sarcasm.

News dispatches from local organizations to the Party’s central organ, which was again transferred abroad, were no less eloquent in recording the revolution’s disintegration. Even in the hard-labor prisons, the heroes and heroines of uprisings and of terrorist acts turned their backs in enmity upon their own yesterdays and used such words as “party,” “comrade,” “socialism,” in no other than the ironic sense.

Desertions took place not only among the intellectuals, not only among those who were here today and gone tomorrow and to whom the movement was but a half-way house, but even among the advanced workers, who had been part and parcel of the Party for years. Religiousness, on the one hand, and drunkenness, card-playing and the like, on the other, waxed stronger than ever in the backward strata of the working class. In the upper stratum the tone was beginning to be set by individualists who strove to raise their personal, cultural, and economic status above that of the mass of their fellow-workers. The Mensheviks found their support in that thin layer of the labor aristocracy which was made up for the most part of metal workers and printers. Workers of the middle stratum, whom the revolution had accustomed to reading newspapers, displayed greater stability. But, having entered political life under the leadership of intellectuals and being suddenly left on their own, they became petrified and marked time.

Not everybody deserted. But the revolutionists who did not wish to surrender ran against insurmountable difficulties. An illegal organization needs sympathetic surroundings and constant renewal of reserves. In an atmosphere of decadence it was not only hard but virtually impossible to abide by the indispensable rules of conspiracy and maintain revolutionary contacts. “Underground work proceeded lackadaisically. During 1909 there were raids on Party printshops at Rostov-on-the-Don, Moscow, Tyumen, Petersburg …” and elsewhere; “supplies of proclamations in Petersburg, Byelostok, Moscow; the archives of the Central Committee in Petersburg. In all these arrests the Party was losing good workers.” This is recounted almost in a tone of distress by the retired Gendarme General Spiridovich.

”We have no people at all,” Krupskaya wrote in invisible ink to Odessa, at the beginning of 1909. “All are scattered in prisons and places of exile.” The gendarmes made visible the invisible text of the letter and—increased the population of the prisons. The scantiness of revolutionary ranks led unavoidably to the lowering of the Committee’s standards. Insufficiency of choice made it possible for secret agents to mount the steps of the underground hierarchy. With a snap of his finger the provocateur doomed to arrest any revolutionist who blocked his progress. Attempts to purge the organization of dubious elements immediately led to mass arrests. An atmosphere of suspicion and mutual distrust stymied all initiative. After a number of well-calculated arrests, the provocateur Kukushkin, at the beginning of 1910 became head of the Moscow district organization. “The ideal of the Okhrana is being realized,” wrote an active participant of the movement. “Secret agents are at the head of all the Moscow organizations.” The situation in Petersburg was not much better. “The leadership seemed to have been routed, there was no way of restoring it, provocation gnawed away at our vitals, organizations fell apart …” In 1909 Russia still had five or six active organizations; but even they soon sank into desuetude. Membership in the Moscow district organization, which was as high as 500 toward the end of 1908, dropped to 250 in the middle of the following year and half a year later to 150; in 1910 the organization ceased to exist.

The former Duma deputy Samoilov tells how at the beginning of 1910 the Ivanovo-Voznesensk organization, which until recently had been rather influential and active, fell apart. Right after it the trade unions faded away. Their places were taken by gangs of the Black Hundreds. The pre-revolutionary régime was being gradually restored in the textile factories, which meant the lowering of wages, severe penalties, dismissals, and the like. “The workers kept on the job bore it in silence.” Yet there could be no return to the old order. Abroad, Lenin pointed to letters from workers, who, telling of the renewed oppression and persecution by the manufacturers, would add, “Wait, 1905 will come again!”

Terror from above was supplemented by terror from below. [The fight of] the routed insurrectionists continued convulsively for a long time in the form of scattered local explosions, guerrilla raids, group and individual terrorist acts. The course of the revolution was characterized with remarkable clarity by statistics of the terror. 233 persons were assassinated in 1905; 768 in 1906; 1,231 in 1907. The number of wounded showed a somewhat different ratio, since the terrorists were learning to be better shots. The terrorist wave reached its crest in 1907. “There were days,” wrote a liberal observer, “when several big acts of terror were accompanied by as many as scores of minor attempts and assassinations of lower rank officialdom … Bomb laboratories were established in all cities, the bombs destroying some of their careless makers …” and the like. Krassin’s alchemy became strongly democratized.

On the whole, the three-year period from 1905 through 1907 is particularly notable for both terrorist acts and strikes. But what stands out is the divergence between their statistical records: while the number of strikers fell off rapidly from year to year, the number of terrorist acts mounted with equal rapidity. Clearly, individual terrorism increased as the mass movement declined. Yet terrorism could not grow stronger indefinitely. The impetus unleashed by the revolution was bound to spend itself in terrorism as it had spent itself in other spheres. Indeed, while there were 1,231 assassinations in 1907, they dropped to 400 in 1908 and to about a hundred in 1909. The growing percentage of the merely wounded indicated, moreover, that now the shooting was being done by untrained amateurs, mostly by callow youngsters.

In the Caucasus, with its romantic traditions of highway robbery and gory feuds still very much alive, guerrilla warfare found any number of fearless practitioners. More than a thousand terrorist acts of all kinds were perpetrated in Transcaucasia alone during 1905-1907, the years of the First Revolution. Fighting detachments found also a great spread of activity in the Urals, under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, and in Poland under the banner of the P. P. S. (Polish Socialist Party). On the second of August, 1906, scores of policemen and soldiers were assassinated on the streets of Warsaw and other Polish cities. According to the explanation of the leaders, the purpose of these attacks was “to bolster the revolutionary mood of the proletariat.” The leader of these leaders was Joseph Pilsudski, the future “liberator” of Poland, and its oppressor. Commenting on the Warsaw events, Lenin wrote: “We advise the numerous fighting groups of our Party to terminate their inactivity and to initiate some guerrilla operations …” “And these appeals of the Bolshevik leaders,” commented General Spiridovich, “were not without issue, despite the countermanding action of the [Menshevik] Central Committee.”

Of great moment in the sanguine encounters of the terrorists with the police was the question of money, the sinews of any war, including civil war. Prior to the Constitutional Manifesto of 1905 the revolutionary movement was financed principally by the liberal bourgeoisie and by the radical intellectuals. That was true also in the case of the Bolsheviks, whom the liberal opposition then regarded as merely somewhat bolder revolutionary democrats. But when the bourgeoisie shifted its hopes to the future Duma, it began to regard the revolutionists as an obstacle in the way of coming to terms with the monarchy. That change of front struck a powerful blow at the finances of the revolution. Lockouts and unemployment stopped the intake of money from the workers. In the meantime, the revolutionary organizations had developed large political machines with their own printshops, publishing houses, staffs of agitators, and, finally, fighting detachments in constant need of armaments. Under the circumstances, there was no way to continue financing the revolution except by securing the wherewithal by force. The initiative, as almost always, came from below. The first expropriations went off rather peacefully, quite often with a tacit understanding between the “expropriators” and the employees of the expropriated institutions. There was the story of the clerks in the Nadezhda Insurance Company reassuring the faltering expropriators with the words, “Don’t worry, comrades!” But this idyllic period did not last long. Following the bourgeoisie, the intellectuals, including the self-same bank clerks, drifted away from the revolution. Police measures became more stringent. Casualties increased on both sides. Deprived of support and sympathy, the “fighting organizations” quickly went up in smoke or just as quickly disintegrated.

A typical picture of how even the most disciplined detachments degenerated is given in his memoirs by the already-cited Samoilov, the former Duma deputy of the Ivanovo-Voznesensk textile workers. The detachment, acting originally “under the directives of the Party Center,” began to “misbehave” during the second half of 1906. When it offered the Party only a part of the money it had stolen at a factory (having killed the cashier during the act), the Party Committee refused it flatly and reprimanded the fighters. But it was already too late; they were disintegrating rapidly and soon descended to “bandit attacks of the most ordinary criminal type.” Always having large sums of money, the fighters began to preoccupy themselves with carousing, in the course of which they often fell into the hands of the police. Thus, little by little, the entire fighting detachment came to an ignominious end. “We must, however, admit,” writes Samoilov, “that in its ranks were not a few … genuinely devoted comrades who were loyal to the cause of the revolution and some with hearts as pure as crystal …”

The original purpose of the fighting organizations was to assume leadership of the rebellious masses, teaching them how to use arms and how to deliver the most telling blows at the enemy. The main, if not the only, theoretician in that field of endeavor was Lenin. After the December Insurrection was crushed, the new problem was what to do abut the fighting organizations. Lenin came to the Stockholm Congress with the draft of a resolution, which, while giving due credit to guerrilla activities as the inevitable continuation of the Decemher Insurrection and as part of the preparation for the impending major offensive against Tsarism, allowed the so-called expropriations of financial means “under the control of the Party.” But the Bolsheviks withdrew this resolution of theirs under the pressure of disagreement in their own midst. By a majority of sixty-four votes to four, with twenty not voting, the Menshevik resolution was passed, which categorically forbade “expropriations” of private persons and institutions, while tolerating the seizure of state finances only in the event that organs of revolutionary government were set up in a given locality; that is, only in direct connection with a popular uprising. The twenty-four delegates who either abstained from voting or voted against this resolution made up the Leninist irreconcilable half of the Bolshevik faction.

In the extensive printed report about the Stockholm Congress, Lenin avoided mention of the resolution concerning armed acts altogether, on the grounds that he was not present during the discussion. “Besides, it is, of course, not a question of principle.” It is hardly possible that Lenin’s absence was accidental: he simply did not want to have his hands tied. Similarly, a year later at the London Congress, Lenin, who as chairman was obliged to be present during the discussion on the question of expropriations, did not vote, in spite of violent protests from the Menshevik benches. The London resolution categorically forbade expropriations and ordered dissolution of the Party’s “fighting organizations”.

It was not, of course, a matter of abstract morality. All classes and all parties approached the problem of assassination not from the point of view of the Biblical commandment but from the vantage point of the historical interests represented. When the Pope and his cardinals blessed the arms of Franco none of the conservative statesmen suggested that they be imprisoned for inciting murders. Official moralists come out against violence when the violence in question is revolutionary. On the contrary, whoever really fights against class oppression, must perforce acknowledge revolution. Whoever acknowledges revolution, acknowledges civil war. Finally, “guerrilla warfare is an inescapable form of struggle … whenever more or less extensive intervals occur between major engagements in a civil war.” [Lenin.] From the point of view of the general principles of the class struggle, all of that was quite irrefutable. Disagreements came with the evaluation of concrete historical circumstances. When two major battles of the civil war are separated from each other by two or three months, that interval will inevitably he filled in with guerrilla blows against the enemy. But when the “intermission” is stretched out over years, guerrilla war ceases to be a preparation for a new battle and becomes instead a mere convulsion after defeat. It is, of course, not easy to determine the moment of the break.

Questions of Boycottism and of guerrilla activities were closely interrelated. It is permissible to boycott representative assemblies only in the event that the mass movement is sufficiently strong either to overthrow them or to ignore them. But when the masses are in retreat, the tactic of the boycott loses its revolutionary meaning. Lenin understood that and explained it better than others. As early as 1906 he repudiated the boycott of the Duma. After the coup of June third, 1907, he led a resolute fight against the Boycottists precisely because the high-tide had been succeeded by the ebb-tide. It was self-evident that guerrilla activities had become sheer anarchism when it was necessary to utilize even the arena of Tsarist “parliamentarism” in order to prepare the ground for the mobilization of the masses. At the crest of the civil war guerrilla activities augmented and stimulated the mass movement; in the period of reaction they attempted to replace it, but, as a matter of fact, merely embarrassed the Party and speeded its disintegration. Olminsky, one of the more noticeable of Lenin’s companions-in-arms, shed critical light on that period from the perspective of Soviet times. “Not a few of the fine youth,” he wrote, “perished on the gibbet; others degenerated; still others were disappointed in the revolution. At the same time people at large began to confound revolutionists with ordinary bandits. Later, when the revival of the revolutionary labor movement began, that revival was slowest in those cities where ‘exes’ had been most numerous. (As an example, I might name Baku and Saratov.)” Let us keep in mind the reference to Baku.

The sum total of Koba’s revolutionary activities during the years of the First Revolution seems to be so inconsiderable that willy-nilly it gives rise to the question: is it possible that this was all? In the vortex of events, which passed him by, Koba could not have failed to seek such means of action as would have enabled him to demonstrate his worth. Koba’s participation in terrorist acts and in expropriations cannot be doubted. And yet, it is hard to determine the nature of that participation.

”The chief inspirer and general supervisor … of fighting activity,” writes Spiridovich, “was Lenin himself, aided by trusted people close to him.” Who were they? The former Bolshevik Alexinsky, who with the outbreak of the war became a specialist in exposing the Bolsheviks, stated in the foreign press that inside the Central Committee was a “small committee, whose existence was hidden not only from the eyes of the Tsarist police but also from the members of the Party. That small committee, consisting of Lenin, Krassin, and a third person … was particularly concerned with the party’s finances.” By concern with finances Alexinsky means leadership in expropriations. The unnamed “third person” was the naturalist, physician, economist and philosopher Bogdanov, whom we already know. Alexinsky had no reason to be reticent about Stalin’s participation in fighting operations. He says nothing about it because he knows nothing about it. Yet during these years Alexinsky was not only very intimate with the Bolshevik Center but was also in touch with Stalin. As a general rule, that muckraker told more than he knew.

The notes to Lenin’s works state about Krassin: [He] “guided the fighting technical bureau of the Central Committee”. Krupskaya in her turn wrote: “The Party members now know about the important work which Krassin carried on at the time of the Revolution of 1905 in arming the fighters, in supervising the manufacture of explosives, and so forth. All of it was done in secrecy without any fanfare, yet a lot of energy was invested in that cause. Vladimir Ilyich knew about that work of Krassin’s more than anyone else, and from then on always prized him.” Voitinsky, who at the time of the First Revolution was a prominent Bolshevik, wrote: “I have a distinct impression that Nikitich [Krassin] was the only man in the Bolshevik organization whom Lenin regarded with genuine respect and with complete confidence.” True, Krassin concentrated his efforts principally in Petersburg. But had Koba guided in the Caucasus operations of a similar type, Krassin, Lenin and Krupskaya could not have failed to know about it. Yet Krupskaya, who, in order to prove her loyalty, tried to mention Stalin as often as possible, did not say anything at all about his role in the Party’s fighting activities.

On the third of July, 1938, the Moscow Pravda quite unexpectedly declared that “the unprecedented powerful sweep of the revolutionary movement in the Caucasus” in 1905 was connected with the “leadership of the most militant organizations of our Party, created there for the first time directly by Comrade Stalin.” But that single official assertion that Stalin had something to do with “the most militant organizations” refers to the beginning of 1905, before the question of expropriation arose; it gives no information about Koba’s actual work; finally, it is doubtful from the very nature of things, since there was no Bolshevik organization at Tiflis until the latter half of 1905.

Let us see what Iremashvili has to say about it. Speaking with indignation about terrorist acts, “exes,” and the like, he declares: “Koba was the initiator of the crimes perpetrated by the Bolsheviks in Georgia, which played into the hands of the reaction.” After his wife’s death, when Koba lost “the last remnant of human feelings,” he became “a passionate defender and organizer … of the vicious systematic murder of princes, priests and bourgeois.” We already had occasion to be convinced that Iremashvili’s testimony becomes less reliable the further it strays from personal experiences to politics, and from childhood and youth to the more mature years. Political ties between these friends of youthful days terminated at the beginning of the First Revolution. It was only by accident that on the seventeenth of October, on the day the Constitutional Manifesto was published, Iremashvili saw in the streets of Tiflis—only saw, but did not hear—how Koba, hanging onto an iron street lamp (on that day everybody climbed up street lamps), was haranguing a crowd. Being a Menshevik, Iremashvili could find out about Koba’s terroristic activity only secondhand or thirdhand. This testimony is therefore obviously unreliable. Iremashvili cites two examples: the famous Tiflis expropriation of 1907, which we shall have occasion to discuss later, and the killing of the popular Georgian writer, Prince Chavchavadze. With reference to the expropriation, which he placed erroneously in 1905, Iremashvili remarks: “Koba was able to deceive the police on that occasion, too; it did not even have sufficient evidence to suspect his initiative in that cruel attempt. But that time the Social-Democratic Party of Georgia expelled Koba officially …” Not the slightest proof of Stalin’s having anything to do with the assassination of Prince Chavchavadze is adduced by Iremashvili, who limits himself to the meaningless observation: “Indirectly Koba likewise was in favor of murder. He was the instigator of all the crimes, that agitator seething with hatred.” Iremashvili’s recollections in this part are interesting only insofar as they shed light on Koba’s reputation among his political opponents.

The well-informed author of an article in a German newspaper (Volksstime, Mannheim, September 2nd, 1932), most likely a Georgian Menshevik, emphasizes that both friends and enemies considerably exaggerated Koba’s terroristic adventures. “It is true that Stalin possessed exceptional ability and inclination for organizing attacks of that kind … However, in such affairs he usually performed the work of organizer, inspirer, supervisor, but not of direct participant.” Certain biographers are therefore quite incorrect in representing him as “running around with bombs and revolvers and carrying out the wildest sort of adventures.” The story of Koba’s alleged participation in the assassination of the Tiflis military dictator, General Gryaznov on January 17, 1906, appears to be that sort of invention. “That affair was executed in accordance with the decision of the Social-Democratic Party of Georgia (Mensheviks) through Party terrorists especially designated for that purpose. Stalin, like all other Bolsheviks, had no influence in Georgia and did not take part either directly or indirectly in that affair.” This testimony of the anonymous author deserves consideration. Yet in its positive aspect, it is virtually meaningless: acknowledging in Stalin “exceptional aptitude and inclination” for expropriations and assassinations, it does not support that characterization with any data.

The old Georgian Bolshevik terrorist Kote Tsintsadze, a conscientious and reliable witness, states that Stalin, dissatisfied with the backwardness of the Mensheviks in the matter of the attempt to assassinate General Gryaznov, invited Kotè to help him organize for that purpose a fighting detachment of their own. However, the Mensheviks soon managed to carry out this task themselves. The same Kotè recollects that in 1906 it occurred to him alone to organize a fighting detachment of Bolsheviks for the purpose of robbing state treasuries. “Our prominent comrades, especially Koba-Stalin, approved of my initiative.” This testimony is doubly interesting: in the first place, it shows that Tsintsadze regarded Koba as a “prominent comrade”—that is, as a focal leader; in the second place, it leaves us free to draw the conclusion that in these matters Koba did not go beyond approving the initiative of others .[3]

[3] In 1931 Koté Tsintsadze died in exile, imposed by the “prominent comrade Koba-Stalin.”—L. T.


Against the direct resistance of the Menshevik Central Committee, but with the active co-operation of Lenin, the fighting groups of the Party managed to convoke a conference of their own at Tammerfors in November, 1906. Among the leading participants of that conference were revolutionists who subsequently played either an important or noticeable role in the Party; such as, Krassin, Yaroslavsky, Zemlyachka, Lalayants, Trilisser, and others. Stalin is not among them, although at the time he was at liberty in Tiflis. It might be supposed that he preferred not to risk putting in an appearance at the conference because of conspiratorial considerations. Yet Krassin, who was then at the head of the Party’s fighting activities and who because of his renown was subject to greater risk than anyone else, played a leading role at that conference.

On the eighteenth of March, 1918—that is, a few months after the founding of the Soviet régime—the Menshevik leader, Julius Martov, wrote in his Moscow newspaper: “That the Caucasian Bolsheviks attached themselves to all sorts of daring enterprises of an expropriatory kind should he well known to the same citizen Stalin, who in his time was expelled from his Party organization for having something to do with expropriation.” Stalin deemed it necessary to have Martov brought before the judgment of the revolutionary tribunal: “Never in my life,” he told the court and the crowded courtroom, “was I placed on trial before my Party organization or expelled. This is a vicious libel.” But Stalin said nothing about expropriations. “With accusations like Martov’s, one has a right to come out only with documents in hand. But it is dishonorable to throw mud on the basis of rumors, without having any facts.” Wherein is the political source of Stalin’s indignation? It was no secret that the Bolsheviks as a whole were involved in expropriations: Lenin openly defended expropriation in the press. On the other hand, expulsion from a Menshevik organization could scarcely be regarded by a Bolshevik as a shameful circumstance, especially ten years later. Stalin, therefore, could not have had any impelling motives for denying Martov’s “accusations,” had they corresponded to actuality. Besides, to challenge a clever and resourceful opponent to come into court under these conditions meant to risk giving him the chance to try him. Does it mean, then, that Martov’s accusations were false? Generally speaking, Martov, carried away by his journalistic temperament and his detestation of the Bolsheviks, had more than once overstepped the pale within which the indubitable nobility of his nature should have confined him. However, in this instance the point at issue was the trial. Martov remained quite categorical in his affirmation. He demanded that certain witnesses be subpoenaed: “First of all, the well-known Georgian Social-Democratic public figure, Isidor Ramishvili, who was the chairman of the revolutionary court which determined Stalin’s participation in expropriating the steamship Nicholas I in Baku; Noah Jordania; the Bolshevik Sha’umyan, and other members of the Transcaucasian district committee of 1937-1908. In the second place, a group of witnesses headed by Gukovsky, the present Commissar of Finance, under whose chairmanship was tried the case of the attempted assassination of the worker Zharinov, who, before the Party organization, had exposed the Baku committee and its leader, Stalin, as being connected with an expropriation.” In his reply, Stalin said nothing either about the expropriation of the steamship or about the attempt to assassinate Zharinov, at the same time insisting: “I was never tried; if Martov says so, he is a vicious libeller.”

In the strictly legal sense of the word, it was impossible to expel “expropriators,” since they had themselves prudently resigned from the Party beforehand. But it was possible to pose the question of whether to accept them back in the organization. Direct expulsion could be meted out only to those instigators who remained in the ranks of the Party. But there were apparently no direct incriminations of Koba. It is therefore possible that to a certain extent Martov was right when he affirmed that Koba had been expelled: “in principle” it was so. But Stalin was also right: individually he had never been tried. It was not easy for the tribunal to make head or tail of this, especially in the absence of witnesses. Stalin objected to their being subpoenaed, pleading the difficulty and the unreliability of communications with the Caucasus in those crucial days. The revolutionary tribunal did not delve into the essentials of the case, declaring that libel was not under its jurisdiction, but sentenced Martov to “social censure” for insulting the Soviet government (”the government of Lenin and Trotsky,” as the report of the trial in the Menshevik publication proclaimed it ironically). It is impossible not to pause with apprehension at the mention of the attempt on the life of the worker Zharinov for his protest against expropriations. Although we know nothing at all about that episode, it throws off an ominous reflection into the future.

In 1925 the Menshevik Dan wrote that expropriators like Ordzhonikidze and Stalin in the Caucasus provided the Bolshevik faction with the wherewithal; but this is merely a repetition of what Martov had said, and undoubtedly on the basis of the same sources. No one informs us of anything concrete. Yet there was no lack of attempts to raise the curtain over that romantic period in Koba’s life. With the ingratiating legerity characteristic of him, Emil Ludwig asked Stalin during their conversation in the Kremlin to tell him “anything” about the adventures of his youth, such as, for example, the robbing of a bank. In reply, Stalin gave his inquiring interlocutor a pamphlet biography in which presumably “everything” was told; but there was not a word in it about robberies.

Stalin himself has never, anywhere, said anything at all, not so much as a word, about his fighting adventures. It is hard to say why. He was never distinguished by autobiographical modesty. What he deems inconvenient to tell, others do by his orders. Beginning with his dizzying rise, he might have been motivated by consideration of governmental “prestige.” But in the first years after the October Revolution such considerations were quite foreign to him. The former fighters contributed nothing about it in print during that period when Stalin was not yet the inspirer and the controller of historical reminiscences. His reputation as organizer of fighting activities does not find support in any other documents: neither in police records nor in the depositions of traitors and turncoats. True, Stalin has a firm grip on the police records. But if the gendarme archives contained in them any concrete data about Djugashvili as an expropriator, the punishments to which he had been subjected would have been immeasurably more stringent than they were.

Of alf the hypotheses, only one has some verisimilitude. “Stalin does not refer and does not allow others to refer to terroristic acts which in one way or another are connected with his name,” writes Souvarine, “otherwise, it would inevitably have been apparent that others took part in these acts while he merely supervised them from afar.” At the same time it is quite possible—and this is consonant with Koba’s character—that with the aid of understatements and emphases, wherever it was necessary, he circumspectly ascribed to himself those achievements which as a matter of fact he had no right to claim as his own. It was impossible to check up on him under the conditions of underground conspiracy. Hence, the absence of his further interest in disclosures of details. On the other hand, the actual participants in expropriations and persons close to him do not mention Koba in their reminiscences, only because they have nothing to say. Others did the fighting; Stalin supervised them from afar.

Concerning the London Congress Ivanovich wrote the following in his illegal Baku newspaper:

Of the Menshevik resolutions, only the resolution on guerrilla activities was passed, and that only accidentally: the Bolsheviks did not take up the challenge on that occasion, or rather, they did not wish to carry the fight to the bitter end, simply from the desire to give the Mensheviks at least one chance to be glad about something.

The explanation is astounding, because of its absurdity; “to give the Mensheviks a chance to be glad”—such philanthropic solicitude did not figure among Lenin’s political habits. As a matter of fact, the Bolsheviks “did not take up the challenge” only because on that question they had against them not only the Mensheviks, the Bundists and the Lefts, but also their closest allies, the Poles. Moreover, there were very sharp disagreements among the Bolsheviks themselves on the question of expropriations. Yet it would be erroneous to assume that the author of the article had simply talked too much without any ulterior motives. As a matter of fact, he found it necessary to derogate the restrictive decision of the Congress in the eyes of the fighters. That, of course, does not render the explanation itself any the less senseless. Yet such is Stalin’s way: whenever he wants to camouflage his purpose, he does not hesitate to resort to the crudest tricks. And not infrequently the very obvious crudity of his arguments does just that, freeing him from the necessity to seek more profound motives. A conscientious Party member would have merely shrugged his shoulders in chagrin after reading how Lenin had failed to take up the challenge in order to “give the Mensheviks something to be glad about,” but the simple fighter gladly agreed that the “quite accidental” restriction against expropriations need not be taken seriously. For the next fighting operation that was sufficient.

At ten forty-five in the morning on the twelfth of June [19071, in the Erivan Square of Tiflis, an exceptionally daring armed attack took place on a convoy of Cossacks that accompanied an equipage transporting a bag of money. The course of the operation was calculated with the precision of clockwork. Several bombs of exceptional strength were thrown in a set rotation. There were numerous revolver shots. The bag of money (341,000 rubles) vanished with the revolutionists. Not a single one of the fighters was caught by the police. Three members of the convoy were left dead on the spot; about fifty persons were wounded, most of them slightly. The chief organizer of the enterprise, protected by an officer’s uniform, sauntered about the square, observing all the movements of the convoy and of the fighters and at the same time, by means of clever remarks, keeping the public away from the scene of the pending attack, so that there would he no unnecessary victims. At a critical moment, when it might seem that alf was lost, the pseudo-officer took hold of the bag of money with amazing self possession and temporarily hid it in a couch belonging to the director of the observatory, the same one in which the youthful Koba had at one time worked as a bookkeeper. This leader was the Armenian fighter Petrosyan, who bore the alias Kamo .

Having come to Tiflis at the end of the preceding century, he fell into the hands of propagandists, among them Koba. Knowing almost no Russian, Petrosyan once asked Koba again: “Kamo [instead of komu, meaning: to whom ] shall I take this?” Koba began to laugh at him: “Hey, you—kamo, kamo! …” From that indelicate jest was born a revolutionary alias which became historical. So Kamo’s widow, Medvedeva, tells us. She says nothing more about the relations of these two people. But she does tell about the touching attachment of Kamo for Lenin, whom he visited for the first time in 1906 in Finland. “That fearless fighter of limitless audacity and unbreakable will power,” writes Krupskaya, “was at the same time an exceedingly sensitive person, somewhat naive, and a tender comrade. He was passionately attached to Ilyich, Krassin and Bogdanov … He made friends with my mother, told her about his aunt and about his sisters. Kamo often went from Finland to Petersburg, always taking his weapons with him, and each time, with special care, mother would tie his revolvers on his back.” This is all the more remarkable because Krupskaya’s mother was the widow of a Tsarist official and did not renounce religion until she was quite old.

Shortly before the Tiflis expropriation, Kamo again visited the staff in Finland. Medvedeva writes: “Disguised as an officer, Kamo went to Finland, called on Lenin, and with arms and explosives returned to Tiflis.” The journey took place either on the eve of the London Congress or immediately after it. The bombs came from Krassin’s laboratory. A chemist by education, Leonid, when still a student, dreamed of bombs the size of a nut. The year 1905 gave him an opportunity to extend his research in that direction. True, he never succeeded in making one of those ideal dimensions, but the laboratories under his supervision produced bombs of great devastating force. This was not the first time that the fighters tested them on a square in Tiflis.

After the expropriation Kamo appeared in Berlin. There he was arrested upon the denunciation of the provocateur Zhitomirsky, who occupied a prominent place in the foreign organization of the Bolsheviks. During the arrest the Prussian police seized his suitcase, in which presumably bombs and revolvers were discovered. According to the information of the Mensheviks (the investigation was conducted by the future diplomat Chicherin), Kamo’s dynamite was intended for an attack on the banking house of Mendelssohn in Berlin. “That is not true,” declares the well-informed Bolshevik Pyatnitsky, “the dynamite was prepared for the Caucasus.” Let us leave the destination of the dynamite an open question. Kamo remained in a German prison more than a year and a half, continuously simulating violent insanity upon the advice of Krassin. As an incurable madman he was surrendered to Russia, and spent another year and a half in Metekh Castle in Tiflis, subjected to the most trying tests. Declared finally hopelessly insane, Kamo was transferred to a psychiatric hospital, from which he escaped. “After that, illegally, hiding in the hold of a ship, he went to Paris to have a talk with Ilyich.” That was in 1911. Kamo suffered frightfully because of the split that occurred between Lenin on the one hand, Bogdanov and Krassin on the other. “He was ardently attached to all three,” Krupskaya repeats. Then follows an idyll: Kamo asked that almonds be brought to him, sat in the kitchen, which was also the dining room, ate almonds, as in his native Caucasus, and related the story of the frightful years, told how he simulated madness and how he had tamed a swallow while in prison. “Ilyich listened to him, and he was poignantly sorry for this recklessly audacious man, who was childish and naive and warm-hearted and ready for the greatest exploits, and who after his escape did not know what exactly to do.”

Again arrested in Russia, Kamo was condemned to death. The manifesto issued in 1913, on the occasion of the three hundredth anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, brought an unexpected commutation to lifelong hard labor in place of the gibbet. Four years later the February Revolution brought him unexpected liberation. The October Revolution brought power to the Bolsheviks. But it threw Kamo out of his rut. He was like a mighty fish flung out on the shore. During the civil war I tried to interest him in guerrilla warfare in the enemy’s rear, but work on the battlefield was apparently not to his liking. Besides, the frightful years he had endured had not passed without taking their toll. Kamo was stifling. He had not risked his and other people’s lives scores of times, in order to become a prosperous official. Kotè Tsintsadze, another legendary figure, died of tuberculosis in Stalin’s exile. A similar end would undoubtedly have been Kamo’s lot had he not been accidentally run over and killed by an automobile on one of the streets of Tiflis in the summer of 1922. Most likely a member of the new bureaucracy sat in that automobile. Kamo was wending his way through the darkness on a modest bicycle: he had not made a brilliant career. The very way he perished is symbolic.

Apropos of Kamo, Souvarine writes with unwarranted superciliousness about “the anachronistic mysticism” which is incompatible with the rationalism of the advanced countries. As a matter of fact, only a few traits of the revolutionary type, which is far from being no longer of any use in the countries of “Western civilization,” had found a limited expression in Kamo. Insufficiency of the revolutionary spirit in the labor movement of Europe has already brought about the triumph of Fascism in a number of countries in which “anachronistic mysticism” —this is where the word is apt!—finds its most disgusting expression. The struggle against the iron tyranny of Fascism will undoubtedly bring out among the revolutionary fighters of the West all those traits which in Kamo so astonish the skeptical Philistine. In his “Iron Heel” Jack London foretold a whole epoch of American Kamos in the service of Socialism. The historical process is far more complex than a superficial rationalist would wish to believe it.

In Party circles, Koba’s personal participation in the Tiflis expropriation has long ago been regarded as indubitable. The former Soviet diplomat Bessedovsky, who had heard various tales in second and third rate bureaucratic salons, tells that Stalin, “in accordance with Lenin’s instruction” did not take a direct part in the expropriations but that he himself had presumably “later bragged that it was he who had worked out the plan of action to its minutest detail and that the first bomb was thrown by him from the roof of the house of Prince Sumbatov.” It is hard to tell whether Stalin had actually bragged about his participation or whether Bessedovsky is merely bragging about his information. In any event, during the Soviet epoch Stalin never confirmed or denied these rumors. Evidently he was not at all opposed to having the tragic romanticism of expropriations connected with his name in the consciousness of the youth. In 1932 I still had no doubt about Stalin’s leading role in the armed attack on Erivan Square and referred to it incidentally in one of my articles. However, a closer study of the circumstances of those days compels me to revise my view of the traditional version.

In the chronology attached to the twelfth volume of Lenin’s Works, under the date of June 12, 1907, we read: “Tiflis expropriation (341,000 rubles), organized by Kamo-Petrosyan.” And that is all. In an anthology dedicated to Krassin, in which much is said about the famous illegal printshop in the Caucasus and about the Party’s military activities, Stalin is not mentioned even once. An old militant, well informed about the activities of that period writes: “The plans for all the expropriations organized by the latter [Kamo], at the Kvirili and Dushet chancelleries and at Erivan Square, were made and considered by him jointly with Nikitich [Krassin].” Not a word about Stalin. Another former militant states: “Such expropriations as the one in Tiflis and elsewhere were carried out under the direct leadership of Leonid Borissovich [Krassin].” Again nothing about Stalin. Nor is Stalin mentioned even once in Bibineishvili’s book, which recites all the minutiae concerning the preparations and performance of the expropriations. It undoubtedly follows from these omissions that Koba was not in direct contact with the members of the detachments, did not instruct them, consequently was not the organizer of the act in the real sense of the word, let alone a direct participant.

The Congress in London came to an end on April twenty-seventh.[4] The expropriation in Tiflis occurred on June twelfth [25th n.s.], a month and a half later. Stalin had too little time left between his return from abroad and the day of the expropriation to supervise the preparation of such a complicated enterprise. It is more likely that the fighters had been selected and had been drawn together in the course of several preceding reckless adventures. Possibly they marked time, pending the Congress’s decision. Some of them might have had doubts as to how Lenin would look upon expropriations. The fighters were waiting for the signal. Stalin might have brought them that signal. But did his participation go beyond that?

[4] The London Congress was held from May 13 to June 1 (April 30 to May 19, o. s.), 5907. Hence, there was even less than a month and a half from the time it came to an end and the Tiflis expropriation.—C. M.


We know virtually nothing about the relations of Kamo and Koba. Kamo was inclined to attach himself to people. Yet no one speaks of his attachment to Koba. The reticence about their relations leads one to think that there was no attachment; that, rather, there were conflicts. The source of that might have been Koba’s attempts to boss Kamo or to ascribe to himself what he had no right to claim. Bibineishvili tells in his book on Kamo that “a mysterious stranger” appeared in Georgia after it had become Soviet, and under false pretenses took possession of Kamo’s correspondence and of other valuable material. Who needed them and for what purpose? The documents, as well as the man who absconded with them, disappeared without a trace. Would it be too hasty to presume that through one of his agents Stalin had snatched from Kamo certain evidence which for one reason or another he found disturbing? That does not exclude, of course, the possibility of close collaboration between them in June, 1907. Neither is there anything to restrain us from conceding that the relationship between the two might have become worse after the Tiflis “affair,” in which Koba might have been Kamo’s adviser in working out the final details. Moreover, the adviser might have fostered abroad a highly colored version of his own role. After all, it is easier to ascribe to one’s self the leadership of an expropriation than the leadership of the October Revolution. Yet Stalin will not hesitate to do even the latter.

Barbusse states that in 1907 Koba went to Berlin and remained there for a certain time “for conversations with Lenin.” What sort of conversations the author does not know. The text of Barbusse’s book consists mostly of errors. But the reference to the Berlin journey commands our attention all the more, because in the dialogue with Ludwig, Stalin also refers to his having been in Berlin in 1907. If Lenin journeyed especially for that meeting to the capital of Germany, then in any event it was not for the sake of theoretical “conversations.” The meeting might have taken place either directly before, or more likely, immediately after, the Congress, and almost undoubtedly was devoted to the impending expropriation, the means of forwarding the money, and the like. Why did these negotiations take place in Berlin and not in London? It is quite likely that Lenin might have deemed it careless to meet with Ivanovich in London, where he was in full sight of the other delegates and of numerous tsarist and other spies attracted by the Congress. It is also possible that a third person, who had nothing to do with the Congress, was supposed to participate in these conferences.

From Berlin Koba returned to Tiflis, but a short time after moved to Baku, from where, according to Barbusse, “he again went abroad for a meeting with Lenin.” One of the trusted Caucasians (Barbusse was in the Caucasus and while there wrote down a number of stories arranged for him by Beriya) apparently said something about Stalin’s two meetings with Lenin abroad, in order to emphasize their close relationship. The chronology of these meetings is very significant: one precedes the expropriation and the other directly follows it. That sufficiently determines their purpose. The second meeting was in all likelihood concerned with the problem: to continue or to stop?

Iremashvili writes: “The friendship of Koba-Stalin with Lenin began with that.” The word “friendship” is patently a misnomer. The distance separating these two men precluded personal friendship. But it would seem that just about that time they did begin to know each other. If the assumption is warranted that Lenin had previously made arrangements with Koba about plans for the Tiflis expropriation, then it was quite natural for him to have been filled with admiration for the man he regarded as the organizer of that coup. It is likely that upon reading the telegram about the seizure of the booty without a single loss of life by the revolutionists, Lenin exclaimed to himself, or he might have told Krupskaya, “Splendid Georgian!” These are the words we shall find in one of his letters to Gorky. Enthusiasm for people who showed resoluteness, or were simply successful in carrying out an operation assigned to them, was highly characteristic of Lenin to the very end of his life. Above all, he prized men of action. Basing his judgment of Koba on the latter’s vaunted record in the Caucasian expropriations, Lenin apparently came to regard him as a person capable of seeing things through or of leading others unflinchingly. He made up his mind that the “splendid Georgian” would be useful.

The Tiflis booty brought no good. The entire sum consisted of five-hundred ruble notes. It was impossible to circulate currency of such large denomination. After the adverse publicity received by the unfortunate skirmish in Erivan Square, it was senseless to try to exchange these bills at any Russian bank. The operation was transferred abroad. But the provocateur Zhitomirsky, who warned the police about it betimes, participated in the organization of the exchange operations. The future Commissar of Foreign Affairs Litvinov was arrested while attempting to exchange them in Paris. Olga Ravich, who subsequently became Zinoviev’s wife, fell into the hands of the police at Stockholm. The future People’s Commissar of Public Health Semashko was arrested at Geneva, apparently by accident. “I was one of those Bolsheviks,” he wrote, “who at the time was on principle opposed to expropriations.” The mishaps connected with the exchange considerably increased the number of such Bolsheviks. “The average Swiss,” says Krupskaya, “was scared to death. All they talked about was the Russian expropriators. They talked about it with horror at the hoarding house where Ilyich and I took our meals.” It is noteworthy that Olga Ravich, as well as Semashko, disappeared during the recent Soviet “purges.”

The Tiflis expropriation could in no way be regarded as a guerrilla clash between two battles in a civil war. Lenin could not help but see that the insurrection had been shoved ahead into the hazy future. As far as he was concerned, the problem consisted this time only of a simple attempt to assure financial means to the Party at the expense of the enemy, for the impending period of uncertainty. Lenin could not resist the temptation, took advantage of a favorable opportunity, of a happy “exception”. In that sense, one must say outright that the idea of the Tiflis expropriation contained in it a goodly element of adventurism, which, as a rule, was foreign to Lenin’s politics. The case with Stalin was different. Broad historical considerations had little value in his eyes. The resolution of the London Congress was only an irksome scrap of paper, to be nullified by means of a crude trick. Success would justify the risk. Souvarine argues that it is not fair to shift responsibility from the leader of the faction to a secondary figure. There is no question here of shifting responsibility. At the time, the majority of the Bolshevik faction was opposed to Lenin on the question of expropriations. The Bolsheviks, in direct contact with the fighting detachments, had extremely convincing observations of their own, which Lenin, again an emigrant, did not have. Without corrections from below, the leader of the greatest genius is bound to make crude errors. The fact remains that Stalin was not among those who understood the inadmissibility of guerrilla actions under conditions of revolutionary retreat. And that was no accident. To him the Party was first of all a machine. The machine required financial means in order to exist. The financial means could be obtained with the aid of another machine, independent of life and of the struggle of the masses. There Stalin was in his own element.

The consequences of this tragic adventure, which rounded out an entire phase of Party life, were rather serious. The fight over the Tiflis expropriation poisoned relations inside the Party and inside the Bolshevik faction itself for a long time to come. From then on, Lenin changed front and came out more resolutely than ever against the tactic of expropriations, which for a time became the heritage of the “Left” Wing among the Bolsheviks. For the last time the Tiflis “affair” was officially reviewed by the Party Central Committee in January, 1910, upon the insistence of the Mensheviks. The resolution sharply condemned expropriation as an inadmissible violation of Party discipline, while conceding that rendering harm to the labor movement was not the intention of the participants, who had been “guided solely by a faulty understanding of Party interests”. No one was expelled. No one was mentioned by name. Koba was thus amnestied along with others, as one who had been guided by “a faulty understanding of Party interests”.

In the meantime, the disintegration of revolutionary organizations proceeded apace. As early as October, 1907, the Menshevik “literary” Potressov wrote to Axelrod: “We are undergoing complete disintegration and utter demoralization … There is not only no organization, but not even the elements for it. And this non-existence is even extolled as a principle …” This extolling of disintegration as a principle soon became the task of most leaders of Menshevism, including Potressov himself. They declared the illegal Party liquidated once and for all, and the aim to restore it—a reactionary utopia. Martov insisted that it was precisely “scandalous incidents like the exchange of the Tiflis currency” which forced “the most devoted parties and the most active elements of the working class” to shun all contact with an illegal political machine. The Mensheviks, now known as the Liquidators, saw in the frightful development of provocation another convincing argument in favor of the “necessity” to forsake the mephitic underground. Entrenching themselves in trade unions, educational clubs and insurance societies, they carried on their work as cultural propagandists, not as revolutionists. To safeguard their jobs in the legal organizations, the officials from among the workers began to resort to protective coloration. They avoided the strike struggle, so as not to compromise the scarcely tolerated trade unions. In practice, legality at any price meant outright repudiation of revolutionary methods.

The Liquidators were in the forefront during the most desolate years. “They suffered less from police persecution,” writes Olminsky. “They had many of the writers, a good part of the lecturers and on the whole most of the intellectuals. They were the cocks of the walk and they crowed about it.” The attempts of the Bolshevik faction, whose ranks were thinning every hour, to preserve its illegal machine were dashed at each turn against hostile circumstances. Bolshevism seemed definitely doomed. “All of present-day development,” wrote Martov, “renders the formation of any kind of durable party-sect a pathetic reactionary utopia.” In that fundamental prognosis Martov and, with him, Russian Menshevism, made a cruel mistake. The perspectives and the slogans of the Liquidators proved to be the reactionary utopia. There was no place for an open labor party in the Third of June régime. Even the party of the liberals was refused registration. “The Liquidators have shaken off the illegal party,” wrote Lenin, “but they have not carried out the obligation to found a legal one either.” Precisely because Bolshevism remained loyal to the tasks of the revolution in the period of its decline and degradation, it prepared its unprecedented blossoming in the years of the revolution’s new resurgence.

Meantime, at the opposite pole to the Liquidators, in the left wing of the Bolshevik faction, an extremist group formed, which stubbornly refused to recognize the altered situation and continued to defend the tactic of direct action. After the elections, the differences of opinion that arose on the question of boycotting the Duma led to the formation of the Recallist faction, which called for the recall of the Social-Democratic deputies from the Duma. The Recallists were undoubtedly the symmetrical supplement of the Liquidators. While the Mensheviks, always and everywhere, even under the irresistible pressure of revolution, deemed it necessary to participate in any “parliament,” even a purely fortuitous one patterned by the Tsar, the Recallists[5] thought that by boycotting the parliament established in consequence of the defeat of the revolution, they would be able to evoke new mass pressure. Since electrical discharges are accompanied by thunderclaps, the “irreconcilables” attempted to evoke electrical discharges by means of artificial thunderclaps.

[5] See Glossary.


The period of dynamite laboratories still exerted its powerful influence upon Krassin. That shrewd and sensible man joined for a time the sect of Recallists, in order to abandon the Revolution altogether for years to come. Bogdanov, another of Lenin’s closest collaborators in the secret Bolshevik trinity, likewise moved to the Left. With the break-up of this secret triumvirate the old top leadership of Bolshevism fell apart. But Lenin did not budge. In the summer of 1907 the majority of the faction was for the boycott. By the spring of 1908 the Recallists were already a minority in Petersburg and Moscow. Lenin’s preponderance was made obvious beyond doubt. Koba speedily took that into account. His unfortunate experience with the agrarian program, when he had come out openly against Lenin, made him more circumspect. Noiselessly and unobtrusively, he reneged on his fellow-boycotters. From then on his regular behavior at each turn was to keep out of sight and keep quiet while changing his stand.

The continued splintering of the Party into petty groups, which waged ruthless battles in a vacuum, aroused in sundry factions a longing for reconciliation, for agreement, for unity at any price. It was precisely at that period that another aspect of “Trotskyism” came to the forefront: not the theory of permanent revolution, but “reconciliation” of the Party. That will have to he discussed, however briefly, so as to facilitate understanding of the subsequent conflict between Stalinism and Trotskyism. In 1904—that is, from the moment differences of opinion arose as to the nature of the liberal bourgeoisie—I broke with the Minority of the Second Congress [The Mensheviks] and during the ensuing thirteen years belonged to no faction. My position on the intra-party conflict came down to this: as long as the revolutionary intellectuals were dominant among the Bolsheviks as well as among the Mensheviks and as long as both factions did not venture beyond the bourgeois democratic revolution, there was no justification for a split between them; in the new revolution, under the pressure of the laboring masses, both factions would in any case he compelled to assume an identical revolutionary position, as they did in 1905. Certain critics of Bolshevism to this day regard my old conciliationism as the voice of wisdom. Yet its profound erroneousness had been long ago demonstrated both in theory and practice. A simple conciliation of factions is possible only along some sort of “middle” line. But where is the guaranty that this artificially drawn diagonal line will coincide with the needs of objective development? The task of scientific politics is to deduce a program and a tactic from an analysis of the struggle of classes, not from the [ever-shifting] parallelogram of such secondary and transitory forces as political factions. True, the position of the reaction was such that it cramped the political activity of the entire Party within extremely narrow limits. At the time, it might have seemed that the differences of opinion were unimportant and artificially inflated by the émigré leaders. Yet it was precisely during the period of reaction that the revolutionary party was unable to train its cadres without a major perspective. The preparation for tomorrow was a most important element in the policy of today. The policy of conciliation thrived on the hope that the course of events itself would prompt the necessary tactic. But that fatalistic optimism meant in practice not only repudiation of factional struggle but of the very idea of a party, because, if “the course of events” is capable of directly dictating to the masses the correct policy, what is the use of any special unification of the proletarian vanguard, the working out of a program, the choice of leaders, the training in a spirit of discipline?

Later, in 1911, Lenin observed that conciliationism was indissolubly connected with the very essence of the Party’s historical task during the years of counter-revolution. “A number of Social-Democrats,” he wrote, “in that period sank into conciliationism, proceeding from the most varied motives . Most consistently of all was Conciliationism expressed by Trotsky, about the only one who tried to provide a theoretical foundation for that policy.” Just because in those years conciliationism became epidemic, Lenin saw in it the greatest menace to the development of a revolutionary party. He was well aware of the fact that the Conciliators claimed “the most varied motives,” opportunistic as well as revolutionary. But in his crusade against that dangerous tendency he felt he had the right not to make any distinction between its subjective sources. On the contrary, he attacked with redoubled ferocity those Conciliators whose basic positions were closest to Bolshevism. Avoiding public conflict with the Conciliationist wing of the Bolshevik faction itself, Lenin chose to direct his polemics against “Trotskyism,” especially since I, as has already been said, attempted to provide a “theoretical foundation” for Conciliationism. Quotations from that violent polemic were later to render Stalin a service for which they were certainly not intended.

Lenin’s work during the years of reaction—minute and painstaking in its detail, audacious in its sweep of thought—will always offer a great lesson in revolutionary training. “We learned at the time of revolution,” wrote Lenin in July, 1909, “ ‘to talk French,’ i.e., … to arouse the energy and the sweep of direct mass struggle. We must now, at the time of stagnancy, reaction, disintegration, learn ’to speak German,’ i.e., act slowly … conquering inch by inch.” The leader of the Mensheviks, Martov, wrote in 1911: “That which two or three years ago the leaders of the open movement [i.e., the Liquidators] acknowledged only in principle—the necessity to build the Party ‘in German’— … is now everywhere acknowledged as the task to the practical realization of which it is high time to set to work.” Although both Lenin and Martov had apparently begun “to speak German,” as a matter of fact, they talked different languages. For Martov, “to speak German” meant to adapt himself to the Russian semi-absolutism in the hope of gradually “Europeanizing” it. For Lenin, the same expression meant: to utilize with the aid of the illegal party the meager legal possibilities of preparing a new revolution. As the subsequent opportunistic degeneration of the German Social-Democracy demonstrated, the Mensheviks more truly reflected the spirit of “the German language” in politics. But Lenin understood much more correctly the objective course of development in Germany as well as in Russia: the epoch of peaceful reform was being superseded by the epoch of catastrophes.

As for Koba, he knew neither French nor German. Yet all his inclinations drew him toward Lenin’s position. Koba did not seek the open arena, like the orators and journalists of Menshevism, because the open arena exposed his weak rather than his strong attributes. He needed above all a centralized machine. But under the conditions of a counter-revolutionary régime that machine could be only illegal. Although Koba lacked historical perspective, he was more than amply endowed with perseverance. During the years of reaction he was not one of the tens of thousands who deserted the Party, but one of the very few hundreds who, despite everything, remained loyal to it.

Soon after the London Congress both young Zinoviev, who was elected to the Central Committee, and young Kamenev, who became a member of the Bolshevik Center, became émigrés. Koba remained in Russia. Subsequently he credited that to himself as an extraordinary achievement. As a matter of fact, it was nothing of the kind. The selection of place and nature of work depended to a very minor extent on the choice of the individual in question. Had the Central Committee seen in Koba a young theoretician and publicist capable of rising to higher things abroad, he undoubtedly would have been ordered to emigrate and he would have had neither the chance nor the desire to decline. But no one called him abroad. From the time the top leadership of the Party became aware of him, he was looked upon as a “practico,” i.e., as a rank and file revolutionist, useful primarily for local organizational activity. And Koba himself, who had tested his own abilities at the congresses in Tammerfors, Stockholm and London, was hardly inclined to join the émigrés, among whom he would have been relegated to third place. Later, after Lenin’s death, necessity was transformed into virtue, and the very word “émigré” came to sound on the lips of the new bureaucracy pretty much as it had sounded on the lips of the conservatives of the Tsarist epoch.

Resuming his exile, Lenin felt, according to his own words, as if he were stepping into his grave. “We here are frightfully cut off from everything now …,” he wrote from Paris in the autumn of 1909. “These years have actually been hellishly difficult …” In the Russian bourgeois press there began to appear disparaging articles about the emigration, which presumably epitomized the defeated revolution repudiated by cultivated circles. In 1912, Lenin replied to these libels in the Petersburg newspaper of the Bolsheviks: “Yes, there is much that is hard to bear in the émigré environment … There is more want and poverty here than elsewhere. Especially high among us is the percentage of suicides …” However, “only here and nowhere else have been posed and considered the most important fundamental questions of the entire Russian democracy during the years of confusion and interregnum.” The leading ideas of the Revolution of 1917 were being prepared in the course of the wearisome and exhausting battles of the émigré groups. In that work Koba took no part at all.

From the autumn of 1907 until March, 1908, Koba carried on revolutionary activity in Baku. It is impossible to establish the date of his removal there. He may have left Tiflis at the very moment that Kamo was loading his last bomb; circumspection was the dominant aspect of Koba’s courage. Baku, city of many diverse races, which at the beginning of the century had already a population of more than a hundred thousand, continued to grow rapidly, drawing into the oil industry masses of Azerbaijan Tatars. The Tsarist authorities replied, not without some success, to the revolutionary movement of 1905, by instigating the Tatars against the more advanced Armenians. However, the revolution took hold even of the backward Azerbaijanians. Belatedly, as far as the rest of the country was concerned, they participated en masse in the strikes of 1907.

In the “Black City” Koba spent about eight months, from which should be deducted the time he took for his journey to Berlin. “Under the leadership of Comrade Stalin,” wrote the not too inventive Beriya, “the Baku Bolshevik organization grew up, gained strength and was tempered during its struggle against the Mensheviks.” Koba was sent to regions where the opponents were particularly strong. “Under the leadership of Comrade Stalin, the Bolsheviks broke the influence of the Mensheviks and the Essars,” and so forth. We learn little more from Alliluyev. The gathering of Bolshevik forces after the havoc wrought by the police occurred, according to him, “under the direct leadership and with the active participation of Comrade Stalin … His organizational talent, genuine revolutionary enthusiasm, inexhaustible energy, firm will and Bolshevik persistence …” and the like. Unfortunately, the reminiscences of Stalin’s father-in-law were written in 1937. The formula: “under the direct leadership and with the active participation” faultlessly betrays the Beriya trademark. The Essar Vereshchak, who was active in Baku at the same time and observed Koba with the eyes of a political opponent, recognizes in him exceptional organizational talent but completely denies him any personal influence among the workers. “His personality,” he writes, “produced a bad first impression. Koba took that into account as well. He never spoke openly at mass meetings … Koba’s presence in this or that labor district was always a secret matter, and one could guess at it only by the enlivened activity of the Bolsheviks.” This is more like the truth. We shall have occasion to meet Vereshchak again.

The reminiscences of Bolsheviks written prior to the totalitarian era gives the first place in the Baku organization not to Koba but to Sha’umyan[6] and Dzhaparidze,[7] two exceptional revolutionists killed by the English during their occupation of Transcaucasia, on September 20, 1918. “Of the old comrades in Baku,” writes Sha’umyan’s biographer Karimyan, “Comrades A. Yenukidze, Koba (Stalin), Timofei (Spandaryan), Alyosha (Dzhaparidze) were then active. The Bolshevik organization … had a broad base for activity in the trade union of the oil industry workers. The actual organizer and secretary of all the trade union work was Alyosha (Dzhaparidze).” Yenukidze is mentioned ahead of Koba; the principal role is assigned to Dzhaparidze. Further: “Both of them (Sha’umyan and Dzhaparidze) were the most beloved leaders of the Baku proletariat.” It had not yet occurred to Karinyan, who was writing in 1924, to name Koba among “the most beloved leaders.”

[6] Stepan Grigoryevich Sha’umyan (1878-1918). –C. M.

[7] Prokofii Aprasionovich Dzhaparidze (1880-1918).—C. M.


The Baku Bolshevik Stopani tells how in 1907 he became absorbed in trade union work, “the most burning task for the Baku of those days.” The trade union was under the leadership of the Bolsheviks. In the union “a prominent role was played by the irreplaceable Alyosha Dzhaparidze and a lesser role by Comrade Koba (Djugashvili), who gave most of his strength primarily to party work, of which he was in charge …” Of what this “Party work” consisted, apart from “the most burning task” of leading the trade unions, Stopani does not specify. But he does contribute a very interesting casual remark about disagreements among the Baku Bolsheviks. All of them agreed on the need of organizationally “consolidating” the Party’s influence in the trade unions, but “with reference to the degree and form of that consolidation there were also disagreements among ourselves: we had our own ‘Left’ (Koba-Stalin) and ‘Right’ (Alyosha Dzhaparidze and others, including myself); the disagreements were not on fundamentals but with reference to the tactics or the methods of establishing that contact.” Stopani’s deliberately vague words—Stalin was then already very powerful—enable us faultlessly to imagine the actual disposition of figures. Due to the belated wave of the strike movement, the trade union had become of foremost importance. The leaders of the union naturally proved to be those who knew how to talk with the masses and how to lead them: Dzhaparidze and Sha’umyan. Again pushed into second place, Koba entrenched himself in the underground committee. The Party’s struggle to win influence in the trade union meant to Koba that the leaders of the masses, Dzhaparidze and Sha’umyan, should submit to his bossing. In the fight for this sort of “consolidation” of his own personal power, Koba, as is evident from Stopani’s words, roused against himself all the leading Bolsheviks. The activity of the masses was not favorable to the plans of the underhanded schemer.

Exceptionally bitter became the rivalry between Koba and Sha’umyan. Matters reached such a pass that after Sha’umyan’s arrest, according to the testimony of the Georgian Mensheviks, the workers suspected Koba of having renounced his rival to the police, and demanded that he be tried by a party court. Their campaign was terminated only by Koba’s own arrest. It is unlikely that the accusers had definite proofs. Their suspicion might have been aroused by any nutuber of circumstantial coincidences. Suffice it, though, that Koba’s Party comrades thought him capable of turning informer, when motivated by thwarted ambition. Such things have never been told about anyone else!

Concerning the financing of the Baku Committee at the time of Koba’s participation in it, there is circumstantial but far from indubitable evidence concerning armed “expropriation;” financial tributes imposed on industrialists under the threat of death or of firing their oil wells; the fabrication and circulation of counterfeit currency, and the like. It is hard to decide whether these deeds, which actually took place, were imputed to Koba’s initiative as far back as those remote years or whether the greater part of them were first connected with his name considerably later. In any event, Koba’s participation in such risky enterprises could not have been direct; otherwise, it would have been inevitably revealed. In all likelihood, he guided the militant operations, as he had tried to guide the trade union, from the sidelines. It is noteworthy in this connection that very little is known about the Baku period of Koba’s life. The most insignificant episodes are recorded whenever they tend to enhance the “Leader’s” fame, yet his revolutionary activity is referred to only in the most general phrases. The amount of suppression is hardly accidental.

The Essar Vereshchak, while still quite young, landed in 1909 in the so-called Ba’ilov Prison of Baku, where he spent three and a half years. Koba, who was arrested on March twenty-fifth, spent a half a year in that prison, left it to go into exile, spent nine months there, returned illegally to Baku, was again arrested in March, 1910, and was again imprisoned there, side by side with Vereshchak, for nearly six months. In 1912 the prison buddies met again at Narym, in Siberia. Finally, after the February Revolution, Vereshchak, then a delegate from the Tiflis garrison, met his old acquaintance at the First Congress of Soviets in Petrograd.

After the rise of Stalin’s political star, Vereshchak gave a detailed account of their joint prison life in the émigré press. Perhaps not everything in his story is reliable and not all of his judgments are convincing. Thus, Vereshchak asserts, no doubt on the basis of hearsay, that Koba had himself acknowledged that “for revolutionary reasons” he had betrayed certain of his seminary comrades; the unlikelihood of that tale has already been indicated. The Populist author’s discussions of Koba’s Marxism are extremely naive. But Vereshchak had the invaluable advantage of observing Koba in an environment where, willy-nilly, the habits and conditions of cultured coexistence atrophy. Intended for four hundred inmates, the Baku prison held at the time more than fifteen hundred. The prisoners slept in the overcrowded cells, in the corridors, on the steps of stairways. There could have been no isolation of any kind under such conditions of overcrowding. Alf the doors, except those of the punitive cells, were wide open. Criminals and politicals moved freely about from cell to cell, from building to building, and in the yard. “It was impossible to sit or to lie down without stepping on someone’s toes.” In such circumstances people saw each other, and many saw themselves, in quite unexpected lights. Even cold and reserved persons disclosed traits of character which under ordinary conditions they managed to keep hidden.

”Koba was an extremely one-sided person,” writes Vereshchak. “He had no general principles and no adequate educational background. By his very nature he had always been a person of little culture, a crude person. All this in him was combined with a peculiarly studied slyness, which at first obscured from the view of even the most observing person the other traits hidden behind it.” By “general principles” the author seems to imply moral principles: as a Populist he was an adherent of the school of “ethical” socialism. Vereshchak was surprised by Koba’s stamina. A cruel game was played in that prison, the purpose of which was by hook or crook to drive one’s opponent frantic: this was called “chasing into a bubble.” “It was never possible to drive Koba off his balance …” states Vereshchak, “nothing would get his goat …”

That game was quite innocent by comparison with the game the authorities played. Among the imprisoned were persons more or less recently sentenced to death who hourly awaited the culmination of their fate. The condemned ate and slept with the others. Before the eyes of the prisoners, they were led out at night and hanged in the prison yard, so that in the cells “were heard the cries and moans of the hanged.” All the prisoners suffered from the nervous strain. “Koba slept soundly,” says Vereshchak, “or calmly studied Esperanto (he was convinced that Esperanto was the international language of the future).” It would be silly to think that Koba was indifferent to the executions. But he had strong nerves. He did not feel for others as for himself. Nerves like that were in themselves an important asset.

Despite the chaos, the hangings, the party and personal conflicts, the Baku prison was an important revolutionary school. Koba stood out among the Marxist leaders. He did not participate in person to person discussions, preferring public forums, a sure sign that in education and experience Koba was superior to the majority of his fellow-prisoners. “Koba’s outward appearance and his polemical coarseness made his presentation always unpleasant. His speeches were devoid of wit; in form they were a dry and formal exposition.” Vereshchak recalls a certain “agrarian discussion,” when Koba’s comrade Ordzhonikidze, “struck the face of the co-reporter, the Essar Ilya Kartsevadze, for which he was cruelly beaten up by the other Essars.” This is no invention: the very ardent Ordzhonikidze preserved his predilection for physical arguments even when he became a prominent Soviet dignitary. Once Lenin even proposed expelling him from the party for that.

Vereshchak was astonished by the “mechanical memory” of Koba, whose little head “with its undeveloped forehead” presumably contained all of Marx’s “Capital”. “Marxism was his element, in it he was unconquerable … He knew how to substantiate anything with the appropriate formulae from Marx. This man made a strong impression on young party people unenlightened in politics.” Vereshchak himself was among the “unenlightened”. To this young Populist, brought up on homespun Russian belletristic sociology, Koba’s Marxist baggage must have seemed exceedingly imposing. As a matter of fact, it was modest enough. Koba had neither theoretical curiosity nor perseverance in study nor discipline of thought. It is hardly correct to speak of his “mechanical memory”. It is narrow, empirical, utilitarian, but, despite the seminary training, not in the least mechanical. It is a peasant memory, devoid of sweep and synthesis, but firm and tenacious, especially in rancor. It is not at all true that Koba’s head was full of ready quotations for all the occasions of life. Koba was never a bookworm or a scholastic. Through Plekhanov and Lenin he culled from Marxism the most elementary statements on the class struggle and on the subordinate significance of ideas in relation to material factors. Although he over-simplified these propositions, he was nevertheless able to apply them with success against the Populists, even as a person with the crudest sort of revolver is able to fight successfully against a man with a boomerang. But on the whole Koba remained essentially indifferent to the Marxist doctrine.

During his confinement in the prisons of Batum and Kutais, as we remember, Koba attempted to probe the mysteries of the German language: at the time the influence of the German Social-Democracy on the Russian one was exceedingly great. Yet Koba was even less successful in learning Marx’s language than his doctrine. In the Baku prison he began to study Esperanto as “the language of the future”. That touch most instructively exposes the quality of Koba’s intellectual equipment, which in the sphere of learning always sought the line of least resistance. Although he spent eight years in prison and exile, he never managed to learn a single foreign language, not excluding his ill-starred Esperanto.

As a general rule, political prisoners tried not to associate with criminals. Koba, on the contrary, “could be always seen in the society of ruffians, blackmailers, and” among the mauserist robbers.” He felt himself on an equal footing with them. “He was always impressed by people of real ’business.’ And he looked upon politics as a ‘business’ which one should know how to ‘do’ and how to ‘outdo.”’ This is a very apt observation. But this very observation refutes better than anything else the remarks about his “mechanical memory,” filled with ready-made quotations. The company of people with higher intellectual interests than his own was irksome to Koba. In the Politburo[8] of Lenin’s day he almost always sat silent, morose and irritable. Conversely, he became more sociable, more even tempered and more human among people of primitive mentality who were unrestrained by any predilection for brains. During the civil war, when certain sections of the army, usually the cavalry branches, became unruly and went in for violence and roistering, Lenin was wont to say, “Hadn’t we better send Stalin there? He knows how to talk with people of that kind.”

Koba was not the initiator of prison protests and demonstrations, but he always supported the initiators. “That made him a good comrade in the eyes of the prison public.” This observation, too, is apt. Koba was never, in anything or anywhere, an initiator. But he was quite capable of utilizing the initiative of others, of pushing the initiators ahead, and of retaining for himself freedom of choice. That does not mean that Koba was devoid of courage; he merely preferred to spend it economically. The prison régime was a mixture of laxity and cruelty. The inmates enjoyed considerable freedom inside the prison walls. But whenever a certain elusive pale was transgressed, the administration resorted to military force. Vereshchak tells how in 1909 (obviously, he means 1908), on the first day of Easter, a company of the Salyan Regiment beat up all the political prisoners, without exception, forcing them to run the gauntlet. “Koba walked, his head unbowed, under the blows of rifle butts, a book in his hands. And when the free-for-all was let loose, Koba forced the doors of his cell with a slop bucket, ignoring the threat of bayonets.” That self-contained man—true, on rare occasions—was capable of blinding rage.

[8] See Glossary.


The Moscow “historian” Yaroslavsky restates Vereshchak, as follows: “Stalin ran the gauntlet of soldiers, reading Marx …” Marx’s name is dragged in here for the same reason that a rose appears in the hands of the Virgin Mary. All of Soviet historiography is made up of such roses. Koba holding “Marx” under rifle butts has become the subject of Soviet scholarship, prose and poetry. Yet such behavior was in no way exceptional. Prison beatings, just like prison heroism, were the order of the day. Pyatnitsky tells how after his arrest at Wilno in 1902, the police proposed to send him, then still quite a young worker, to the district police officer, who was notorious for his beatings, in order to force testimony from him. But the elder policeman replied: “He won’t say anything there, either. He belongs to the Iskra organization.” Even in those early days the revolutionists of Lenin’s school had the reputation of being unyielding. In order to ascertain that Kamo had actually lost his sensitivity, as alleged, physicians pushed pins under his fingernails, and only because Kamo had adamantly endured such tests for a number of years was he finally declared hopelessly insane. What then is the weight of a few rifle butt blows, by comparison with that? There is no basis for underestimating Koba’s courage, but it must be confined within the limits of its time and place.

Because of the prison conditions, Vereshchak had no difficulty in observing a certain trait of Stalin’s, which enabled him to remain unknown for such a long time: “That was his ability quietly to incite others while he himself remained on the sidelines.” Then follow two examples. On one occasion a young Georgian was being beaten up in the corridor of the “political” building. The evil word “provocateur” resounded through the building. Only the soldiers on guard were able to stop the chastisement. His bloody body was removed on a stretcher to the city hospital. Was he a provocateur? And if so, why was he not killed? “In Báilov prison provocateurs, when proved to be such, were usually killed,” Vereshchak remarks in passing. “No one knew anything or could make head or tail of it, and only a long time later we learned that the rumor had originated with Koba.” It was never found out whether the man who had been beaten up was actually a provocateur. Might he have been simply one of the workers who was opposed to expropriations or who accused Koba of having denounced Sha’umyan?

Another instance. On the steps of the stairway which led into the “political” building a certain prisoner known as “the Greek” stabbed a young worker who had but recently been brought to the prison. The Greek himself regarded the man he had killed as a stoolpigeon, although he had never before met him at any time. This sanguine incident, which naturally aroused the entire prison, remained a mystery for a long time. Finally, the Greek began to intimate that he evidently had been “misled” for no good reason: the misinformation had come from Koba.

Caucasians are easily aroused and easily resort to the knife. The cool and calculating Koba, who knew the language and the customs of these people, found it easy to set one against another. In both instances it was undoubtedly a matter of vengeance. The instigator did not need to have the victims know who was responsible for their mishap. Koba is not inclined to share his feelings, not even the joy of vengeance. He prefers to enjoy it alone, by himself. Both episodes, sordid though they are, do not seem unlikely; subsequent events invest them with inherent verisimilitude … In Báilov Prison the preparation of future events went on. Koba acquired experience, Koba grew strong, Koba matured. The gray figure of the former seminarist with pock marks on his face cast an ever more sinister shadow.

Vereshchak further mentions, this time obviously on the basis of hearsay, Koba’s various risky enterprises during his activities at Baku: the organization of counterfeiters, the robbing of state treasuries, and the like. “He was never tried in court for any of these affairs, although the counterfeiters and the expropriators were in prison together with him.” If they had known of his role, someone among them would inevitably have betrayed him. “The ability to achieve his purpose quietly by making use of others, while at the same time remaining unnoticed himself, made Koba a sly schemer who did not spurn any means and who avoided public accounting and responsibility.”

We thus learn more about Koba’s life in prison than about his activities outside. But in both places he remained true to himself. Between discussions with the Populists and small talk with holdup men, he did not forget about his revolutionary organization. Beriya informs us that from prison Koba managed to establish regular contact with the Baku Committee. That was quite possible: where there was no isolation of politicals from the criminals and of the politicals from each other, it was impossible to remain cut off from the outside. One of the issues of the illegal newspaper was entirely prepared in prison. The pulse of the revolution, although considerably weakened, continued to beat. The prison may not have stimulated Koba’s interest in theories, but neither did it break his fighting spirit.

On the twentieth of September Koba was sent to Solvychegodsk, in the northern part of Vologda Province. This was privileged banishment: only for two years; not in Siberia, but in European Russia; not in a village, but in a small town of two thousand inhabitants, with fine opportunities for escape. It is thus obvious that the gendarmes did not have even moderately weighty evidence against Koba. In view of the extremely low cost of living in those remote borderlands, it was not hard for exiles to get along on the few rubles a month the government allotted them; for their extra needs they received aid from friends and from the revolutionary Red Cross. How Koba spent his nine months in Solvychegodsk, what he did, what he studied, we do not know. No documents have been published: neither his essays, nor his diaries, nor his letters. In the local police “case of Joseph Djugashvili,” under the heading “behavior,” is recorded: “rude, impudent, disrespectful to superiors”. “Disrespectfulness” was a trait common to all revolutionists; “rudeness” was his individual trait.

In the spring of 1909 Alliluyev, who was already in Petersburg, received a letter fom Koba, then in exile, asking him for his address. “At the end of that summer of the same year Stalin escaped from exile to Petersburg, where I met him accidentally on one of the streets in the Lityeiny district.” It so happened that Stalin did not find Alliluyev at his home nor at his place of work, and was obliged to wander through the streets for a long time without any place of shelter. “When I met him accidentally on the street, he was extremely tired.” Alliluyev arranged for Koba to stay at the home of a janitor of one of the guard regiments who was a sympathizer of the revolution. “Here Stalin lived quietly for a while, saw some of the members of the Bolshevik fraction of the Third Duma, and later proceeded southward, to Baku.”

Again to Baku! He could hardly have been drawn there by local patriotism. It would be more accurate to suppose that Koba was not known in Petersburg, that the deputies of the Duma did not display any interest in him, that no one asked him to remain or offered the aid which was so indispensable to an illegal resident. “Returning to Baku, he again undertook energetically to strengthen further the Bolshevik organizations … In October, 1909, he came to Tiflis, organized and directed the fight of the Tiflis Bolshevik organization against the Menshevik-Liquidators.” The reader, no doubt, recognizes Beriya’s style.

In the illegal press Koba published several articles, interesting only because they were written by the future Stalin. Owing to the absence of anything more noteworthy, exceptional significance is nowadays accorded to the correspondence written by Koba in December, 1909, for the Party’s foreign newspaper. Contrasting the active industrial center of Baku to Tiflis, stagnant with civil servants, storekeepers and artisans, his “Letter From The Caucasus” quite correctly explains the dominance of the Mensheviks at Tiflis in terms of its social structure. Then follows a polemic against the perennial leader of Georgian Social-Democracy, Jordania, who again proclaimed the need “to unite the forces of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.” The workers must renounce their policy of irreconcilability because, Jordania argued, “the weaker the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the more victorious will be the bourgeoisie …” Koba counterposed to that the directly contrary proposition: “The more the revolution will rely on the class struggle of the proletariat, which will lead the village poor against the landlords and the liberal bourgeoisie, the more complete will be the victory of the revolution.” All of this was quite right in essence, but did not contain a single new word; beginning with the spring of 1905 such polemics were reiterated a countless number of times. If this correspondence had any value for Lenin, it was not because of the sophomoric reproduction of his own thought, but because it was a living voice from Russia at a time when the majority of such voices had died down. However, in 1937, this “Letter From The Caucasus” was proclaimed “the classic example of Leninist-Stalinist tactics.” “In our writings and in all of our teachings,” writes one such panegyrist, “not enough light has been shed on this article, extraordinary in its profundity, wealth of implications, and historical significance.” The most generous thing to do is to disregard it.

”In March and April, 1910, it was finally possible,” the same historian (a certain Rabichev) informs us, “to create a Russian collegium of the Central Committee. Stalin was on the staff of that collegium. However, before that collegium got down to work, it was arrested.” If this is true, then Koba, at least formally, joined the staff of the Central Committee in 1910. An important milestone in his biography! But it is not true. Fifteen years prior to Rabichev, the old Bolshevik Germanov (Frumkin) related the following: “At the conference between the writer of these lines and Nogin it was decided to propose that the Central Committee confirm the following list of five as the Russian section of the Central Committee: Nogin, Dubrovinsky, Malinovsky, Stalin, and Milyutin.” Thus, under consideration was not a decision of the Central Committee, but merely the project of two Bolsheviks. “Stalin was personally known to both of us,” continues Germanov, “as one of the best and most active of Baku workers. Nogin went to Baku to talk things over with him; but for a number of reasons, Stalin could not assume the duties of a Central Committee member.” Germanov does not state the exact reason for the difficulty. Nogin himself wrote about his journey to Baku two years later, as follows “… in the deep underground was Stalin (Koba), well known in the Caucasus in those days and forced to hide in the Balakhana oil fields.” It follows from Nogin’s account that he did not even see Koba.

The reticence about the reasons why Stalin could not enter the Russian collegium of the Central Committee suggests some interesting deductions. 1910 was the period of the most complete degeneration of the movement and of the most widespread flood of conciliatory tendencies. In January, a plenum of the Central Committee was held in Paris, at which the Conciliators gained a very unstable victory. It was decided to restore the Central Committee in Russia with the participation of the Liquidators. Nogin and Germanov were Bolshevik Conciliators. The revival of the “Russian” collegium—that is, of the one acting illegally in Russia—was Nogin’s task. Owing to the absence of prominent figures, several attempts were made to draw in the provincials. Among them was Koba, whom Nogin and Germanov knew as “one of the best of the Baku workers.” However, nothing came of that idea. The well-informed author of the German article to which we have already referred states that although “the official Bolshevik biographers attempt to present [his] expropriations and expulsion from the Party as never having happened … nevertheless, the Bolsheviks themselves hesitated to place Koba in any noticeable post of leadership.” It may be safely assumed that the reason for the failure of Nogin’s mission was Koba’s recent participation in “militant activities”. The Paris plenum had branded the expropriators as persons guided by “a faulty understanding of party interests”. Fighting for legality, the Mensheviks could in no wise consent to collaboration with an outright leader of expropriations. Nogin came to understand that, it would seem, only in the course of his negotiations with leading Mensheviks in the Caucasus. No collegium with Koba on it was set up. Note that of the two Conciliators whose protegé Stalin was, Germanov is among those missing without a trace; as for Nogin, only his premature death in 1924 saved him from the fate of Rykov, Tomsky, Germanov and other of his closest friends.

Koba’s activity in Baku was undoubtedly more successful than in Tiflis, irrespective of whether he played a primary, secondary or tertiary role. But the idea that the Baku organization was the only unconquerable fortress of Bolshevism belongs to the realm of myths. At the end of 1911 Lenin himself accidentally laid the foundation for that myth by listing the Baku organization alongside of the Kiev organization as among “the model and progressive for Russia in 1910 and 1911”—that is, for the years of the Party’s complete disintegration and the beginning of its revival. “The Baku organization existed without interruption during the difficult years of reaction and played a most active part in all the manifestations of the labor movement,” states one of the footnotes to the fifteenth volume of Lenin’s works. Both of these judgments, which are nowadays closely connected with Koba’s activities, have proved to be completely erroneous upon investigation. As a matter of fact, after its resurgence, Baku passed through the same stages of decline as the other industrial centers of the country—true, somewhat belatedly, but even more drastically.

Stopani writes in his memoirs: “Beginning with 1910, Party and trade union life in Baku died down completely.” Here and there remnants of trade unions still continued to exist for some time, but even they did so with the Mensheviks playing the preponderant role. “Soon Bolshevik activity virtually died down, thanks to constant failures due to arrest, lack of active workers and general chaos.” The situation was still worse in 1911. Ordzhonikidze, who visited Baku in March, 1912, when the tide was again beginning to rise noticeably throughout the country, wrote abroad: “Yesterday I managed finally to get together a few workingmen … There is no organization, i.e., of the local center; therefore, we had to be content with private conferences …” These two testimonials are sufficient. Let us recall in addition the testimony of Olminsky, which has already been cited, that “revival was slowest in those cities where ‘exes’ had been most numerous (as an example, I might name Baku and Saratov).” Lenin’s mistake in estimating the Baku organization is an ordinary instance of the error of an exile who is obliged to judge from afar on the basis of partial or unreliable information, among which might have been the excessively optimistic intelligence supplied by Koba himself.

The general picture thus drawn is clear enough. Koba did not take an active part in the trade union movement, which at that time was the principal arena of struggle (Karinyan, Stopani) . He did not speak at workers’ meetings (Vereshchak), but sat in “deep underground” (Nogin). He could not “for a number of reasons” enter the Russian collegium of the Central Committee (Germanov). In Baku “exes” had been more numerous than elsewhere (Olminsky) and so were acts of individual terror (Vereshchak). To Koba was ascribed direct leadership of the Baku “militant activities” (Vereshchak, Martov and others). Such activity undoubtedly demanded departure from the masses into the “deep underground”. For some time the existence of the illegal organization was artificially sustained by means of monetary plunder. Hence all the stronger was the impact of the reaction and all the more belated the beginning of the revival. That conclusion is not only of biographical but likewise of theoretical significance, for it helps to shed light on certain general laws of the mass movement.

On the twenty-fourth of March, 1910, the gendarme Captain Martynov stated that he had arrested Joseph Djugashvili, known under the alias of “Koba,” a member of the Baku Committee, “a most active Party worker who occupied a leading position” (granting that the document had not been corrected by Beriya’s hand). In connection with that arrest, another gendarme reported in line of duty: “in view of the persistent participation” of Djugashvili in revolutionary activity and his “two escapes,” he, Captain Galimbatovsky, “would suggest that the highest measure of punishment be invoked”. But one need not suppose that the reference was to execution: “the highest measure of punishment” by administrative order meant exile to the remote places of Siberia for a term of five years.

Meantime Koba was in the Baku prison, already well known to him. The political situation of the country and the prison regime had undergone profound changes in the course of the intervening year and a half. 1910 was dawning. Reaction was triumphing all along the line. Not only the mass movement, but even the expropriations, the terror, the acts of individual despair struck a new low. The prison became stricter and calmer. There was not even any talk of collective discussion. Koba had sufficient leisure to study Esperanto, if he had not become disillusioned with the language of the future. On the twenty-seventh of August, by order of the Governor-General of the Caucasus, Djugashvili was forbidden to live in Transcaucasia for the duration of the next five years. But the recommendations of Captain Galimbatovsky, who apparently was unable to present any serious charges, fell on deaf ears in Petersburg: Koba was again sent away to Vologda Province to complete his unfinished two-year term of exile. The Petersburg authorities quite obviously did not yet regard Joseph Djugashvili as a serious menace.

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Last updated on: 7 September 2009