Leon Trotsky

Stalin –
An Appraisal of the Man and his Influence

Chapter VI: War and Exile

SEEING in the street a man squatting and gesturing strangely, Leo Tolstoy decided that he was looking at a madman; on coming closer he was satisfied that the man was attending to necessary work—sharpening a knife on a stone.

Lenin was fond of citing this example. The interminable discussions, factional squabbles, splits between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, arguments and splits inside the Bolshevik faction itself, seemed to the observer on the sidelines like the activities of maniacs. But the test of events proved that these people were attending to necessary work; the struggle was waged not over scholastic subtleties, as it seemed to the dilettantes, but over the most fundamental questions of the revolutionary movement.

Because of their painstaking and precise definitions of ideas and because they drew clear political boundary lines, only Lenin and his disciples were ready to meet the new revolutionary resurgence. Hence, the uninterrupted series of successes which very quickly secured for the Pravdists dominance over the labor movement. The majority of the older generation had abandoned the struggle during the years of reaction. “Lenin has nothing but boys,” the Liquidators were wont to say contemptuously. But in that Lenin saw his Party’s great advantage. Revolution, like war, necessarily places the main part of its burden on the shoulders of youth. That socialist party which is unable to draw the “youngsters,” is hopeless.

In its secret correspondence, the tsarist police, which came face to face with the revolutionary parties, was far from niggardly with flattering admissions concerning the Bolsheviks. “During the past ten years,” wrote the Director of the Police Department in 1913, “the most energetic, courageous element, capable of tireless struggle, resistance and constant organization, have been .. . the organizations and persons concentrating around Lenin … The permanent organizational heart and soul of all Party undertakings of any importance is Lenin … The faction of Leninists is always better organized than the others, stronger in its singleness of purpose, more resourceful in propagating its ideas among the workers … When during the last two years the labor movement began to grow stronger, Lenin and his followers came closer to the workers than others, and he was the first to proclaim purely revolutionary slogans … The Bolshevik circles, nuclei and organizations are now scattered through all the cities. Permanent correspondence and contacts have been established with almost all the factory centers. The Central Committee functions almost regularly and is entirely in the hands of Lenin … In view of the aforesaid, there is nothing surprising in the fact that at the present time the assembling of the entire underground Party is proceeding around the Bolshevik organizations and that indeed the latter really are the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party.” There is almost nothing to add to this.

The correspondence of the foreign staff acquired a new optimistic tone. Krupskaya wrote to Shklovksy at the beginning of 1913: “All the contacts are somehow different than before. Somehow you feel more as if you were dealing with likeminded people … The affairs of Bolshevism are sounder than ever.” The Liquidators, who prided themselves on their realism and only yesterday derided Lenin as the head of a degenerate sect, suddenly found themselves relegated to the sidelines and isolated. From Cracow Lenin watched tirelessly for all the manifestations of the labor movement, registering and classifying all the facts that might enable him to take the pulse of the proletariat. From the painstaking calculations in Cracow of money collections for the labor press it was evident that in Petersburg 86% of the reading workers were on the side of Pravda and only 14% on the side of the Liquidators; almost the same relation of forces existed in Moscow; in the backward provinces the Liquidators were somewhat better off, but on the whole four-fifths of the advanced workers sided with Pravda . Of what value could be abstract appeals to the unity of factions and tendencies, when the correct policy counterposed to these “factions and tendencies” was able, in the course of three years, to rally around Bolshevism the preponderant majority of the advanced workers? During elections to the Fourth Duma, when not Social-Democrats but ordinary voters cast their ballots, 67% of the workers’ curiae came out for the Bolsheviks. During the conflict between the two factions of the Duma fraction in Petersburg, five thousand votes were cast for the Bolshevik deputies and only 621 for the Mensheviks. The Liquidators were utterly crushed in the capital. There was the same relation of forces in the trade union movement: of the thirteen Moscow unions, not one belonged to the Liquidators; of the twenty Petersburg unions, only four, the least proletarian and the least important, found themselves partly or entirely in the hands of the Mensheviks. At the beginning of 1914, during the elections of representatives of workers to the Petersburg sick benefit funds, the tickets of Pravda ’s nominees won completely. All the groups hostile to Bolshevism—the Liquidators, the Recallists, all sorts of Conciliators—proved utterly incapable of sinking their roots into the working class. Hence, Lenin drew his conclusions: “Only in the course of fighting against these groups can the real workers’ Social-Democratic Party be formed in Russia.”

In the spring of 1914 Emile Vandervelde, who was then President of the Second International, visited Petersburg, in order to acquaint himself on the spot with the conflict of the factions inside the working class. The opportunistic skeptic measured the arguments of the Russian barbarians by the rule of Belgian parliamentarism. The Mensheviks, he reported upon his return, wanted to organize legally and demand the right of coalition; the Bolsheviks wanted to demand the immediate proclamation of the republic and the expropriation of the land. This disagreement Vandervelde called “rather childish”. There was nothing Lenin could do but smile bitterly. Soon came developments that made possible an incontestable verification of men and ideas. The “childish” differences of opinion between the Marxists and the opportunists gradually spread throughout the world-wide labor movement.

”The war between Austria and Russia,” Lenin wrote to Gorky at the beginning of 1913, “would be a very useful thing for the revolution (throughout all of Eastern Europe), but it is hardly possible that Franz-Josef and Nicki would give us this pleasure.” Yet they did—although not until a year and a half later.

Meantime the industrial conjuncture had passed its zenith. The first underground tremors of the crisis began to be felt. But they did not stop the strike struggle. On the contrary, they invested it with a more aggressive character. Only a little more than six months prior to the outbreak of the war there were almost a million and a half strikers. The last great explosion occurred on the very eve of mobilization. On the third of July the Petersburg police was shooting into a crowd of workers. In response to an appeal by the Bolshevik Committee, the most important factories struck as a sign of protest. There were as many as two hundred thousand strikers. Meetings and demonstrations were held everywhere. Attempts were made to construct barricades. Into the welter of these events in the capital that became a miliary encampment, came the French President Poincaré for final negotiations with his crowned “friend”; and had the opportunity to peek with one eye into the laboratory of the Russian Revolution. But several days later the government took advantage of the declaration of war to wipe off the face of the earth both the labor organizations and the labor press. The first victim was Pravda . The attractive idea of the tsarist government was to stifle the revolution with a war.

The assertion of certain biographers that Stalin was the author of the “defeatist” theory, or the formula for “transforming the imperialist war into a civil war,” is pure invention and attests to the complete lack of understanding of Stalin’s intellectual and political character. Least of all was he in tune with the spirit of political innovation and theoretical daring. He never anticipated anything; he never ran ahead of anyone. Being an empiricist, he was ever afraid of a priori conclusions, preferring to measure ten times before cutting the cloth. Inside this revolutionist always lurked a conservative bureaucrat. The Second International was a powerful political machine. Stalin would never have ventured to break with it on his own initiative. The elaboration of the Bolshevik doctrine on war is in its entirety part and parcel of Lenin’s record. Stalin did not contribute to it a single word, even as he contributed nothing to the doctrine of revolution. However, in order to understand Stalin’s behavior during the years of exile, and especially during the first critical weeks after the February Revolution, as well as his subsequent break with all the principles of Bolshevism, it is necessary to outline briefly the system of views which Lenin had already elaborated at the beginning of the war and to which he had gradually converted his Party.

The first question posed by the European catastrophe was whether socialists could take upon themselves the “defense of the fatherland”. It was not a question of whether the individual socialist should carry out his duties as a soldier. There was nothing else he could do. Desertion was never a revolutionary policy. The question was whether a socialist party should support the war politically —vote from the military budget, terminate its fight against the government, agitate for “defense of the fatherland”. Lenin answered: No, it should not, it has no right to do so—not because it was war, but because it was a reactionary war, a bloody shambles brought about by slave-owners who wanted to divide the world.

The formation of national states on the continent of Europe covered an epoch which began approximately with the Great French Revolution and ended with the Versailles Peace of 1871. During that period, wars for the establishment or defense of national states, as a condition prerequisite to the development of productive forces and culture, had a progressive historical character. Revolutionists not only could, but were duty-bound, to support these national wars politically. From 1871 to 1914 European capitalism, having attained its fruition on the basis of national states, outlived itself, transforming itself into monopolistic or imperialistic capitalism. “Imperialism is that state of capitalism which, having accomplished all that it could accomplish, turns toward decline.” The cause of the decline lies in the fact that the productive forces become equally constrained by the framework of private property and by the borders of the national state. Seeking a way out, imperialism strives to divide and to redivide the world. National wars are succeeded by imperialist wars. The latter are thoroughly reactionary in character, epitomizing the historical blind alley, the stagnation, the decay of monopolistic capitalism.

Imperialism can exist only because there are backward nations on our planet, colonial and semi-colonial countries. The struggle of these oppressed peoples for national unity and independence has a twofold progressive character, since, on the one hand, it prepares favorable conditions of development for their own use, and on the other, it strikes blows at imperialism. Hence, in part, the conclusion that in a war between a civilized imperialist democratic republic and the backward barbarian monarchy of a colonial country, the socialists will be entirely on the side of the oppressed country, notwithstanding its monarchy, and against the oppressor country, notwithstanding its “democracy”.

Imperialism covers its predatory aims—the seizure of colonies, of markets, of sources of raw materials, of spheres of influence—with the ideas of “protecting peace from the aggressors,” “defense of the fatherland,” “defense of democracy,” and the like. These ideas are false to the core. “The question of whether one or another group struck the first military blow or was the first to declare war,” wrote Lenin in March, 1915, “has no significance whatever in determining the tactic of socialists. Phrases about ‘defense of the fatherland,’ about resisting the invasion of the enemy, about a war of defense, and the like, are an utter deception of the people on both sides …” As far as the proletariat is concerned, the objective historical significance of the war is the only thing that has any meaning: which class is waging it and for what aims?—and not the ruses of diplomacy, which knows how to represent the enemy in the role of the aggressor.

Equally spurious are the references of the imperialists to the interests of democracy and culture. Since the war is waged by both camps, not for the sake of defending the fatherland, democracy and culture, but for the sake of partitioning the world and for the sake of colonial enslavement, no socialist has the right to prefer one imperialist camp to another. Utterly useless would be the attempt “to say, from the point of view of the international proletariat, which nation’s defeat would be the least evil for socialism.” To sacrifice in the name of that supposedly “lesser evil” the political independence of the proletariat, is to betray the future of humanity.

The policy of “national unity” means in time of war, even more than in time of peace, the support of reaction and the eternization of imperialist barbarism. Refusal of that support, which is a socialist’s elementary duty, is, however, merely the negative or passive side of internationalism. That alone is not enough. The task of the party of the proletariat is to present “a manifold propaganda of socialist revolution, embracing the army and the theatre of war, propaganda showing the necessity to turn the guns, not against their own brothers, the hired slaves of the other countries, but against the reactionary and bourgeois governments and parties of all countries.”

But the revolutionary struggle in time of war may bring defeat to one’s own government! Lenin is not frightened by that conclusion. “In every country the struggle with one’s own government, which wages the imperialist war, must not stop short before the possibility of the defeat of that country in consequence of revolutionary agitation.” Therein is the essence of the so-called theory of “defeatism”. Unscrupulous opponents attempted to interpret this as meaning that Lenin admitted the possibility of collaboration between internationalists and foreign imperialists for the sake of victory over one’s own national reaction. As a matter of fact, what was under consideration was the general struggle of the world proletariat against world imperialism by way of the simultaneous struggle of the proletariat of each country against its own imperialism as the direct and main enemy. “From the point of view of the interests of the toiling masses and the working class of Russia,” wrote Lenin to Shlyapnikov in October, 1914, “we Russians cannot doubt in the slightest way, absolutely cannot doubt at all, that now and at once the least evil would be—the defeat of Tsarism in the present war …”

It is impossible to fight against the imperialist war with pious lamentations for peace in the manner of the pacifists. “One of the forms of fooling the working class is pacifism and the abstract preachment of peace. Under capitalism, and especially in its imperialistic stage, wars are inescapable.” Peace, concluded by the imperialists, will be a mere breathing spell before a new war. Only a revolutionary mass struggle against war and the imperialism engendered by it is capable of securing a real peace. “Without a series of revolutions the so-called democratic peace is a philistine utopia.”

The struggle against the illusions of pacifism is one of the most important elements in Lenin’s doctrine. He rejected with particular abhorrence the demand for “disarmament” as flagrantly utopian under capitalism and capable only of deflecting the attention of the workers from the need to arm themselves. “The oppressed class that does not strive to learn how to use guns and to have guns, such an oppressed class deserves to be treated as slaves.” And further: “Our slogan must be: the arming of the proletariat in order to win, to expropriate and to disarm the bourgeoisie … Only after the proletariat has disarmed the bourgeoisie can it throw all arms on the scrap heap, without playing false to its world-wide historic task …” Lenin rejects the bare slogan of “peace,” counterposing to it the slogan of “transforming imperialist war into civil war.”

Most of the leaders of labor parties found themselves during the war on the side of their own bourgeoisie. Lenin christened their tendency, “social-chauvinism”: socialism in words, chauvinism in deeds. The betrayal of internationalism did not, however, fall from the sky but was the inescapable continuation and development of the policy of reformist adjustment to the capitalist state. “The content of political ideas in opportunism and social chauvinism is one and the same: collaboration of classes instead of their struggle, repudiation of the revolutionary need to struggle, aid to ‘one’s own’ government in a difficult situation instead of utilizing those difficulties for the revolution.”

The final period of capitalist prosperity before the war (1909-1913) secured the particularly strong attachment of the proletarian upper layer to imperialism. Out of the surplus profit the bourgeoisie secured from the colonies and from the backward countries generally, fat morsels fell into the laps of the labor aristocracy and the labor bureaucracy as well. Their patriotism was thus dictated by direct self-interest in the policy of imperialism. During the war, which exposed all the social relations, “the opportunists and the chauvinists derived their tremendous power from their union with the bourgeoisie, the governments and the general staffs.” The opportunists definitely went over to the camp of the class enemy.

The intermediate, and perhaps the broadest tendency in socialism, the so- called Center (Kautsky and others), which in time of peace wavered between reformism and Marxism, became almost wholly the prisoner of the social- chauvinists under the cover of pacifist phrases. As for the masses, they were found unprepared and deceived by their own party machine which they had been building for decades. Having given the sociological and political evaluation of the labor bureaucracy of the Second International, Lenin did not stop half way. “Unity with opportunists is the unity of workers with ‘their own’ national bourgeoisie and the splitting of the international revolutionary working class.” Hence, his conclusion about the need, once and for all, to sever all contact with the social-chauvinists. “It is impossible to carry out the tasks of Socialism at the present time, it is impossible to achieve the actual international mobilization of the workers, without a resolute break with opportunism,” as well as with centrism, “that bourgeois tendency in Socialism”. The very name of the party must be changed. “Is it not better to repudiate the sullied and discredited name ’Social-Democrats’ and return to the old Marxist name of ‘Communists’?” It is high time to break with the Second International and build the Third!

That was where the difference of opinion, which only two or three months before the war had seemed “childish” to Emile Vandervelde. The President of the Second International had meantime himself become a patriotic minister of his king.

The Bolshevik Party was the most revolutionary—indeed, the only revolutionary—section of the Second International. Yet even the Bolshevik Party did not at once find its way in the labyrinth of the war. As a general rule, the confusion was most pervasive and lasted longest among the Party’s higher-ups, who came in direct contact with bourgeois public opinion. The Bolshevik Duma fraction at once made a sharp right turn by joining the Mensheviks in an equivocal declaration. True, the document proclaimed in the Duma on July twenty-sixth kept its skirts clear of “false patriotism under the cover of which the ruling classes waged their predatory policy,” but at the same time promised that the proletariat “would defend the cultural weal of the people against all encroachments, no matter where they came from, whether from within or from without.” Under the subterfuge of “defending culture,” the fraction was assuming a patriotic position.

Lenin’s theses on the war did not reach Petersburg until the beginning of September. The reception accorded them by the Party was far from one of general approbation. Most of the objections were to Lenin’s slogan of “defeatism,” which, according to Shlyapnikov, aroused “perplexity”. The Duma fraction, which was then led by Kamenev, again tried to smooth down the sharp edges of Lenin’s formulations. It was the same story in Moscow and in the provinces. “The war caught the ‘Leninists’ unprepared,” testifies the Moscow Okhrana, “and for a long time … they could not agree on their attitude toward the war …” The Moscow Bolsheviks wrote in code by way of Stockholm for transmission to Lenin that “notwithstanding all respect for him, his advice to sell the house [the slogan of ‘defeatism] has not struck a responsive chord.” In Saratov, according to the local leader Antonov, “the workers of the Bolshevik, Menshevik and Essar tendencies did not agree with the defeatist position. More than that … they were (with rare exception) decided defensists.” Among the advanced workers the situation was more favorable. At Petersburg factories inscriptions appeared, reading: “If Russia wins, we’ll not be better off, we’ll be oppressed more than ever.” And Samoilov wrote: “The Ivanovo-Voznesensk comrades sensed, with the class instinct of proletarians, what was … the right road and definitely took to it as early as the very first months of the war.”

However, only a very few individuals managed to formulate their opinions. Sweeping arrests blotted out the Social-Democratic organizations. The smashing of the press scattered the workers. All the more important, therefore, became the role of the Duma fraction. Recovering from the first siege of panic, the Bolshevik deputies began to develop important illegal activities. But they were arrested as early as the fourth of November. The chief evidence against them consisted of the documents of the party staff abroad. The authorities charged the arrested deputies with treason. During the preliminary investigation Kamenev and all the deputies, with the single exception of Muranov, repudiated Lenin’s theses. At the trial, which took place on the tenth of February, the defendants maintained the same line. Kamenev’s declaration that the documents with which he was confronted “decidedly contradict his own views on the current war” was not dictated only by concern for his own safety; essentially, it expressed the negative attitude of the entire Party upper layer toward defeatism. To Lenin’s great indignation, the purely defensist tactics of the defendants extremely weakened the agitational effectiveness of the trial. The legal defense could have proceeded hand in hand with a political offensive. But Kamenev, who was a clever and well-educated politician, was not born to meet extraordinary situations. The attorneys, for their part, did whatever they could. Repudiating the charge of treason, one of them, Pereverzev, prophesied at the trial that the loyalty of the labor deputies to their class will be forever preserved in the memory of future generations; whereas their weaknesses—lack of preparation, dependence on their intellectual advisers, and the like—”all of that will fall away, like an empty shell, together with the libelous charge of treason.”

By virtue of one of those sadistic jests which history never tires of perpetrating, it fell to none other than Pereverzev in his capacity as Minister of Justice in Kerensky’s government, to charge all the Bolshevik leaders with treason to the state and espionage, doing so with the aid of cynical forgeries to which even the Tsarist prosecutor would never have resorted. Only Stalin’s prosecutor, Vishinsky, outdid in that respect the democratic Minister of Justice.

Notwithstanding the equivocal behavior of the defendants, the very fact of the trial of the labor deputies delivered a smashing blow to the myth of “civil peace” and aroused the stratum of workers that had gone through the revolutionary school. “About 40,000 workers bought Pravda,” wrote Lenin in March, 1915, “many more read it. .. . It is impossible to destroy that layer. It lives … It alone stands up among the popular masses, and in the very heart of them, as the propagator of the internationalism of the toilers, the exploited, the oppressed.” The awakening of the masses began soon, but its influence made its way slowly to the outside. Being subject to military service, the workers were tied hand and foot. Every violation of discipline threatened them with immediate evacuation to the front, accompanied by a special police notation that was tantamount to a death sentence. This was particularly effective in Petersburg, where surveillance was doubly severe.

Meantime, the defeats of the Tsarist army pursued their course. The hypnosis of patriotism and the hypnosis of fear gradually relaxed. During the second half of 1915 sporadic strikes broke out, occasioned by high prices in the Moscow textile region, but they were not developed. The masses were dissatisfied, but they kept their peace. In May, 1916, scattered disturbances among recruits flared up in the provinces. Food riots began in the south, and at once spread to Kronstadt, the fortress that guarded the approaches to the capital. Finally, toward the end of December, came Petrograd’s turn. The political strike involved as many as two hundred thousand workers at once, with the unquestionable participation of the Bolshevik organizations. The ice was broken. In February began a series of stormy strikes and disturbances, which developed rapidly into an uprising and culminated when the capital’s garrison went over to the side of the workers. “The German course of development,” on which the liberals and the Mensheviks relied, did not materialize. As a matter of fact, the Germans themselves soon drifted away from the so-called German way … In distant exile Stalin was fated to find out about the triumph of the insurrection and the Tsar’s abdication.

Over the approximately thirty thousand square miles of the Turukhansk Region, located in the northern part of Yeniseisk Province, was scattered a population of approximately ten thousand souls, Russians and aliens. The small settlements of two to ten, rarely more, houses were hundreds of miles apart. Since winter endures here for fully eight months, agriculture is non-existent. The inhabitants fish and hunt, for there is an abundance of both fish and game. Stalin reached that inhospitable region in the middle of 1913 and found Sverdlov already there. Soon Alliluyev received a letter, in which Stalin urged him to hurry Deputy Badayev about forwarding the money sent by Lenin from abroad … “Stalin explained in detail that he needed the money in a hurry, so as to provide himself with the necessary food supplies, kerosene and other things before the approach of the harsh arctic winter.”

On the twenty-fifth of August, the Police Department warned the Yeniseisk gendarmerie about the possibility of an attempt to escape by the exiles Sverdlov and Djugashvili. On the eighteenth of December the Department requested by telegraph that the Governor of Yeniseisk undertake measures to forestall the escape. In January the Department telegraphed the Yeniseisk gendarmerie that Sverdlov and Djugashvili, in addition to the hundred rubles previously received, were to receive another fifty rubles toward the organization of their escape. In March the agents of the Okhrana had even heard that Sverdlov had been seen in Moscow. The Governor of Yeniseisk hastened to report that both exiles “are present in person and that measures to forestall their escape have been undertaken.” In vain did Stalin write to Alliluyev that the money was sent by Lenin presumably for kerosene and other such necessities: the Department knew firsthand—that is, from Malinovsky himself—that an escape was being prepared.

In February, 1914, Sverdlov wrote to his sister: “Joseph Djugashvili and I are being transferred a hundred versts [nearly seventy miles] north—eighty versts [nearly fifty-five miles] north of the Arctic Circle. The surveillance is stronger. We have been separated from mail delivery, which reaches us once a month through a ‘walker’ who is frequently late. Actually, we have no more than eight to nine mail deliveries a year …” The new place assigned to them was the forsaken settlement of Kureika. But that was not enough. “Because he received money, Djugashvili has been deprived of his allowance for four months. Both he and I need money. But you cannot send it in our names.” By sequestering the allowance, the police helped the Tsarist budget and lessened the chances of escape.

In his first letter from Kureika Sverdlov clearly described the manner of his joint life with Stalin. “My arrangements in the new place are considerably worse. For one thing, I no longer live alone in the room. There are two of us. With me is the Georgian Djugashvili, an old acquaintance, for we had already met elsewhere in exile. He is a good chap, but too much of an individualist in everyday life, while I believe in at least a semblance of order. That’s why I am nervous at times. But that is not so important. Much worse is the fact that there is no seclusion from our landlord’s family. Our room is next to theirs, and has no separate entrance. They have children. Naturally, the youngsters spend many hours with us. Sometimes they are in the way. Besides, grown-ups from the village drop in. They come, sit down, keep quiet for half an hour and suddenly rise: ‘Well, I’ve got to go, good-bye!’ No sooner do they leave when someone else comes in, and it’s the same thing all over again. They come, as if in spite, at the very best time for study, in the evening. That’s understandable: in the daytime they work. We had to part with our former arrangements and plan our day differently. We had to give up the habit of poring over a book until long after midnight. There is absolutely no kerosene. We use candles. Since that provides too little light for my eyes, I do all my studying in the daytime now. As a matter of fact, I don’t study very much. We have virtually no books …” Thus lived the future President of the Soviet Republic and the future dictator of the Soviet Union.

What interests us most in that letter is the restrained characterization of Stalin as “a good chap, but too much of an individualist.” The first part of the testimonial has the obvious aim of softening the second part. “An individualist in everyday life” meant in this case a man who, being obliged to live side by side with another person, did not take into consideration either the latter’s habits or interests. “A semblance of order,” on which Sverdlov insisted unsuccessfully, called for a certain voluntary self-limitation in the interests of one’s roommate. Sverdlov was by nature a considerate person. Samoilov testified that he was “a fine comrade” in personal relations. There was not a shadow of considerateness in Stalin’s nature. Moreover, there may have been a goodly measure of vengeance in his behavior: let us not forget that it was Sverdlov who had been commissioned to liquidate the very editorial staff of Pravda on which Stalin had relied for support against Lenin. Stalin never forgave such things; he never forgave anything. The publication of Sverdlov’s entire Turukhansk correspondence, promised in 1924, never took place; apparently, it contained the history of the subsequent sharpening of relations.

Schweitzer—the wife of Spandaryan, the third member of the Central Committee who journeyed to Kureika on the eve of the war, after Sverdlov had already had himself transferred from there—tells that in Stalin’s room “the table was piled with books and large packages of newspapers, while on a rope in the corner hung various tackle, fishing and hunting, of his own making.” Evidently, Sverdlov’s complaint about the insufficiency of books had led to action: friends added to the Kureika library. The tackle “of his own making” could not, of course, have been a rifle and firearm supplies. It consisted of nets for fish and traps for rabbits and other such game. Subsequently Stalin became neither a marksman nor a hunter, in the sporting sense of the word. Indeed, judging by general appearances, it is easier to imagine him placing traps at night than firing a gun at a bird in flight.

The Socialist-Revolutionary Karganov, who subsequently became an opera singer, places his meeting with Stalin in the Turukhansk exile in 1911 instead of 1913; in such cases chronological errors are usual. Among other things, Karganov tells how Stalin, coming out in defense of a criminal in exile called Tchaika [Sea-gull], who had robbed a peasant, argued that Tchaika could not be condemned, that Tchaika should be brought over to their side, that people of that sort were needed for the forthcoming struggle. We have already heard from Vereshchak about Koba’s partiality for criminals. On one occasion, in the course of an argument, Stalin had presumably revealed himself as an anti- Semite, resorting to coarse Georgian expressions against the Jews. Violating the traditions of the political exiles, if one is to believe Karganov, he entered into friendly relations with a police constable, the Osetin Kibirov. Replying to the reproaches of his comrades, Stalin declared that such friendly relations would not deter him, when necessary, from doing away with the constable as a political enemy. According to the same Karganov, Stalin astonished the exiles “by his complete lack of principles, his slyness and exceptional cruelty .. . Even in trifles his extraordinary ambition showed itself.” It is hard to decide at what point in this tale truth ends and invention begins. But on the whole, Karganov’s story is quite closely reminiscent of Vereshchak’s observations in the Baku prison.

For postal and other connections Kureika depended on the village Monastyrskoye, from where the threads led to Yeniseisk and beyond into Krasnoyarsk. The former exile Gaven, now among the missing, tells us that the Yeniseisk commune was in touch with political life, underground as well as lawful. It carried on correspondence with the other regions of exile as well as with Krasnoyarsk, which in its turn had contacts with the Petersburg and Moscow committees of the Bolsheviks and provided the exiles with underground documents. Even in the Arctic Circle people managed to live on party interests, divided into groups, argued until they were hoarse and sometimes to the point of fierce hatred. However, the exiles began to differ on principles only in the middle of 1914, after the arrival in the Turukhansk region of the third member of the Central Committee, the zealous Spandaryan.

As for Stalin, he kept aloof. According to Shumyatsky, “Stalin … withdrew inside himself. Preoccupied with hunting and fishing, he lived in almost complete solitude … He had practically no need for intercourse with people, and only once in a while would go to visit his friend Suren Spandaryan at the village of Monastyrskoye, returning several days later to his anchorite’s cave. He was sparing with his disjointed remarks on this or that question, whenever he happened to be at gatherings arranged by the exiles.” These lines, softened and embellished in one of the subsequent versions (even the “cave” for some reason became a “laboratory”), must be understood to mean that Stalin terminated personal relations with the majority of the exiles and avoided them. No wonder that his relations with Sverdlov were likewise severed: under the monotonous condition of exile even more adaptable persons than he were not able to avoid quarrels.

”The moral atmosphere …” Sverdlov wrote discreetly in one of his letters that happened to be published, “is not especially favorable … A number of encounters (personal conflicts), possible only under the conditions of prison and exile, their pettiness notwithstanding, have had a pretty strong effect on my nerves …” Because of such “encounters,” Sverdlov secured his transfer to another settlement. Two other Bolsheviks hastened to abandon Kureika: Goloshchekin and Medvedev, who are now likewise among the missing. Choleric, rude, consumed by ambition, Stalin was not easy to get along with.

The biographers obviously exaggerate when they say that this time an escape was physically impossible, although undoubtedly it was bound to involve serious difficulties. Stalin’s preceding escapes were not escapes in the true sense of the word, but simply unlawful departures from places of exile. To get away from Solvychegodsk, Vologda, even Narym, involved no great effort, once one decided to dispense with his “legality.” The Turukhansk Region was quite different: there one had to effect a rather difficult passage by deer or dogs, or by boat in the summertime, or by carefully hiding under the boards of a ship’s hold, provided the captain of the ship was friendly toward political exiles; in a word, the Turukhansk exile intent on escape incurred serious risks. But that these difficulties were not insurmountable was best of all demonstrated by the fact that during those years several persons did manage to escape from the Turukhansk exile. True, after the Police Department learned about their plan of escape, Sverdlov and Stalin were placed under special surveillance. But the Arctic “guards,” notoriously lazy and easily tempted by wine, had never deterred others from running away. The Turukhansk exiles enjoyed a sufficient latitude of movement for that. “Stalin often came down to the village of Monastyrskoye,” wrote Schweitzer, “where the exiles were wont to foregather. To do that, he employed illegal as well as every legal subterfuge.” The surveillance could not have been very active in the limitless Northern wastelands. Throughout the first year Stalin seemed to have been getting his bearings and taking preparatory steps rather unhurriedly: he was cautious. But in July of the following year the war broke out. The dangers of illegal existence under the conditions of a war-time régime were added to the physical and political difficulties of an escape. It was precisely that heightened risk that kept Stalin from escaping, as it deterred many others.

”This time,” writes Schweitzer, “Stalin decided to remain in exile. There he continued his work on the national question, finished the second part of his book.” Shumyatsky, too, mentions Stalin’s work on that subject. Stalin actually did write an article on the national question during the first months of exile: with regard to that we have the categorical testimony of Alliluyev. “The same year (1913), at the beginning of winter,” he writes, “I received a second letter from Stalin … An article on the national question which Stalin asked me to forward abroad to Lenin was enclosed in the envelope.” The essay could not have been very extensive if it could have been included in a letter envelope. But what became of that article? Throughout all of 1913 Lenin continued to develop and define the national program. He could not have failed to pounce greedily on Stalin’s new effort. Silence about the fate of the article simply testifies that it was considered inadequate for publication. His endeavor to pursue independently the line of the thought suggested to him at Cracow had apparently sidetracked Stalin onto the wrong road, so that Lenin found it impossible to revise the article. Only thus may be explained the astounding fact that during the ensuing three and a half years of exile the offended Stalin made no further effort to appear in the Bolshevik press.

In exile, as in prison, great events seem particularly incredible. According to Shumyatsky, “news of the war stunned our public, some of whom took utterly false notes …” “Defensist tendencies were strong among the exiles, everybody was disoriented,” writes Gaven. No wonder: even in Petersburg, recently renamed Petrograd, revolutionists were disoriented. “But Stalin’s authority among the Bolsheviks was so great,” declares Schweitzer, “that his very first letter to the exiles put an end to all doubts and steadied the vacillators.” What became of that letter? Such documents were copied as they passed from hand to hand, circulating throughout the colonies of exiles. All of the copies could not have been lost: those that fell into the hands of the police should have been found in its archives. If Stalin’s historical “letter” is not available, it is only because it was never written. Despite all its triteness, Schweitzer’s testimonial is a tragic human document. She wrote her memoirs in 1937, a quarter of a century after the events, as a compulsory assignment. The political contribution she had been forced to ascribe to Stalin belonged, as a matter of fact, although on a more modest scale, to her husband, the untamable Spandaryan, who died in exile in 1916. Of course, Schweitzer knows well enough what really happened. But the mechanism of falsification works automatically.

Closer to facts are the memoirs of Shumyatsky, published some thirteen years before Schweitzer’s article. Shumyatsky ascribed the leading role in the struggle with the patriots to Spandaryan. “He was one of the first to assume an unyielding position of ‘defeatism,’ and at the rare gatherings of the comrades sarcastically upbraided the social-patriots …” Even in the much later edition Shumyatsky, characterizing the general confusion of ideas, preserved the phrase: “The late Spandaryan saw the matter clearly and distinctly …..The others, apparently, saw the matter less clearly. True, Shumyatsky, who never visited Kureika, hastens to add that “Stalin, being completely isolated in his cave, without any vacillation at once assumed a defeatist line,” and that Stalin’s letters “supported Suren in his fight against his opponents”. But the credibility of that insertion, which attempts to insure for Stalin second place among the “defeatists,” is weakened considerably by Shumyatsky himself. “Only toward the end of 1914 and at the beginning of 1915,” he writes further, “after Stalin had managed to visit in Monastyr and support Spandaryan, did the latter cease to be subjected to the attacks of the opposition groups.” Had Stalin assumed his internationalist position openly only after meeting with Spandaryan rather than at the beginning of the war? In his attempt to mask Stalin’s prolonged silence, but, as a matter of fact, thereby underscoring it more than ever, Shumyatsky eliminated from the new edition all reference to the fact that Stalin’s visit to Monastyrskoye occurred “only at the end of 1914 and at the beginning of 1915”. As a matter of fact, the journey took place at the end of February, 1915, when, thanks to the experience of seven months of the war, not only the vacillators but even many active “patriots” had managed to recover from the opiate. As a matter of fact, it could not have been otherwise. The leading Bolsheviks of Petersburg, Moscow, and the provinces met Lenin’s theses with perplexity and alarm. Not one of them accepted them as they were. There was therefore not the slightest reason for expecting that Stalin’s slow and conservative mind would independently reach the conclusions which meant a complete upheaval in the labor movement.

Throughout his term of exile only two documents became known in which Stalin’s position on the war found reflection: these were a personal letter of his to Lenin and his signature to a collective declaration of the Bolshevik group. The personal letter, written on the twenty-seventh of February from the village of Monastyrskoye, is Stalin’s first and apparently only communication to Lenin throughout the war. We quote it in its entirety:

My greetings to you, dear Ilyich, warm, warm greetings. Greetings to Zinoviev, greetings to Nadezhda Konstantinovna.[1] How are you, how is your health? I live, as before, chew my bread, completing half of my term. It is rather dull, but it can’t be helped. But how are things with you? It must be much livelier where you are … I read recently Kropotkin’s[2] articles—the old fool must have completely lost his mind. I also read a short article by Plekhanov in Ryech[3]—an incorrigible old gossip. Ekh-mah! And the Liquidators with their deputy-agents of the Free Economic Society? There’s no one to beat them, the devil take me! Is it possible that they will get away with it and go unpunished? Make us happy and let us know that in the near future a newspaper will appear that will lash them across their mugs, and do it regularly, and without getting tired. If it should occur to you to write, do so to the address: Turukhan Territory, Yeniseisk Province, Village Monastyrskoye, for Suren Spandaryan. Your Koba. Timofeyi [Spandaryan] asks that his sour greetings be conveyed to Guesde,[4] Sembat[5] and Vandervelde[6] on their glorious—ha-ha—post of ministers.

[1] Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife.—C. M.

[2] Prince Peter Alexeyevich Kropotkin (1842-1921) Russian Anarchist, scientist, historian, critic, social philosopher, who lived in exile in London at the time.—C. M.

[3] Ryech, daily newspaper of the Kadets (Constitutional Democrats), a bourgeois liberal party.—C. M.

[4] Jules Basile Guesde (1845-1922), ex-Left-Wing leader of French Socialist Party, was Minister Without Portfolio (August, 1914-October, 1915).

[5] Marcel Sembat (1862-1922), French reformist Socialist politician, Minister of Public Works (1914-1916).—C. M.

[6] Emile Vandervelde (1866-1938), Belgian reformist Socialist, chairman of the International Socialist Bureau, Minister of State during World War I, held various cabinet posts. —C. M.


This letter, obviously influenced by conversations with Spandaryan, offers essentially very little for an evaluation of Stalin’s political position. The aged Kropotkin, theoretician of pure anarchy, became a rabid chauvinist at the beginning of the war. Plekhanov, whom even the Mensheviks completely repudiated, did not cut any better figure. Vandervelde, Guesde and Sembat were too exposed a target in their role of bourgeois ministers. Stalin’s letter does not contain the slightest hint of the new problems which at the time dominated the thoughts of revolutionary Marxists. The attitude toward pacifism, the slogans of “defeatism” and of “transforming the imperialist war into the civil war,” the problem of forming a new international—these were then the pivotal points of innumerable debates. Lenin’s ideas were far from popular. What would have been more natural than for Stalin to suggest to Lenin his agreement with him, if that agreement were a fact? If one is to believe Schweitzer, it was here, at Monastyrskoye, that Stalin first became acquainted with Lenin’s theses. “It is hard to express,” she writes in the style of Beriya, “with what feeling of joy, confidence and triumph Stalin read Lenin’s theses, which confirmed his own thoughts …” Why then did he not drop a single hint about those theses in his letter? Had he worked independently over the problems of the new International, he could not have refrained from sharing at least a few words with his teacher about his own conclusions or from consulting him about some of the most trying questions. But there is no evidence of that. Stalin assimilated from Lenin’s ideas those which suited his own outlook. The rest seemed to him the dubious music of the future, if not a foreign “tempest in a teapot”. It was with these views that he subsequently came to the February Revolution [of March. 1917].

The letter from Monastyrskoye, poor in content, with its artificial tone of jaunty bravado (”the devil take me,” “ha-ha” and the like), reveals a lot more than its author intended to reveal. “It is rather dull, but that can’t be helped.” A man capable of living an intense intellectual life does not write like that. “If it should occur to you to write, do so to the address of …” A man who really values an exchange of theoretical thoughts, does not write like that. The letter bears the characteristic threefold stamp: slyness, stupidity and vulgarity. No systematic correspondence with Lenin developed throughout his four years of exile, despite the importance Lenin attached to contacts with likeminded people and his penchant for keeping up a correspondence.

In the autumn of 1915 Lenin asked the émigré Karpinsky: “ I have a great favor to ask: find out … the surname of ‘Koba’ ( Joseph Dj …?? we forgot). Very important!!” Karpinsky replied: “Joseph Djugashvili”. What was it about: a new money order, or a letter? The need to make inquiry about his surname certainly shows that there was no constant correspondence.

The other document which bears Stalin’s signature is an address by a group of exiles to the editorial board of a legal journal devoted to workers’ insurance:

Voprosy Strakhovaniya [7] should also devote all its diligence and endeavor to the cause of insuring the working class of our country with ideas against the thoroughly corrupting anti-proletarian preachments of Messrs. Potressovs, Levitskies, and Plekhanovs, which run radically counter to the principles of internationalism.

[7] Although ostensibly devoted to workers’ insurance, Voprosy Strakhovaniya [Insurance Problems], founded October 29, 1913, as an outgrowth of Pravda ’s insurance department discussed general politics as well, and, after Pravda ’s suppression by the tsarist authorities during the war, published articles on the dangerous war question.—C. M.


This was undoubtedly a declaration against social patriotism, but, again, strictly within the limits of ideas common not only among Bolsheviks but even among Left-Wing Mensheviks. The letter, which, judging from the style, must have been written by Kamenev, was dated March 12, 1916—that is, at a time when revolutionary pressure had already gained considerable impetus while patriotic pressure had largely relaxed.

Kamenev and the convicted deputies arrived for their exile at Turukhansk in the summer of 1915. The deputies’ behavior at the trial continued to be a source of great controversy among Party members. About eighteen Bolsheviks, including four members of the Central Committee—Spandaryan, Sverdlov, Stalin and Kamenev—came together at Monastryskoye. Petrovsky delivered a report on the trial and Kamenev supplemented it. The participants of the discussion, relates Samoilov, “pointed to the mistakes we had made at the trial: Spandaryan did it particularly sharply, all the others expressing themselves more indulgently.” Samoilov does not mention at all Stalin’s participation in the discussion. But then Spandaryan’s widow was forced to ascribe to Stalin what had actually been done by her husband. “After the discussion,” continued, Samoilov, “a resolution was passed which, on the whole, approved … … the behaviour of the fraction at the trial.” Such indulgence was very far from the irreconcilability of Lenin, who publicly castigated Kamenev’s behavior as “unworthy of a revolutionary Social-Democrat.” At Lenin’s request, Shklovsky, from Berne, wrote to Samoilov, at Monastyrskoye, in roundabout terms: “I am very glad that you have no desire to quarrel with my family, yet how many unpleasantnesses he (Kamenev) caused us (and not he alone) … Any man can make a mistake or do something foolish, but he must rectify his mistake at least through a public apology, if he and his friends have any regard for my honor and the honor of my kinsmen.” Samoilov explains that the words “my family” and “my kinsmen” must be understood as “the Party Central Committee”. The letter was in the nature of an ultimatum. However, neither. Kamenev nor the deputies made the declaration Lenin demanded of them. And there is no reason for assuming Stalin’s support of that demand, although Shklovsky’s letter was received at Monastyrskoye just before the conference.

Stalin’s tolerance of the deputies’ behavior was essentially a discreet expression of solidarity. In the face of a trial pregnant with dire consequences, Lenin’s sharpened formulae must have seemed doubly out of place: what is the sense of making sacrifices for something you regard as a mistake? In the past Stalin himself had not displayed any inclination to use the prisoners’ dock as a revolutionary tribune: while the trial of the Baku demonstrators was pending, he had resorted to rather dubious tricks in order to set himself apart from the other defendants. He judged Kamenev’s tactic at the trial as a stratagem rather than as an opportunity for political agitation. Anyway, he remained an intimate friend of Kamenev’s throughout their term of exile and during’ the revolution. They stand together on the group photograph taken in Monastyrskoye. Twelve years would pass before Stalin, not as a matter of principle, merely as a weapon in the struggle for personal power, would bring out Kamenev’s behavior at the trial as a dire accusation against him. However, the tone of Shklovsky’s letter should have intimated to Stalin that the issue was far more crucial than he had supposed and that he could no longer continue marking time. It was precisely because he understood this that he wrote the above-cited letter to Lenin; its free and easy form was intended to cover up his unwillingness to commit himself politically.

In 1915 Lenin tried to publish in Moscow a legal Marxist anthology, in order to express at least in an undertone the Bolshevik Party’s views on the war. The anthology was held up by the censor, but the articles were preserved and were published after the revolution. Besides Lenin, we find among the authors the literary Stepanov, Olminsky (whom we already know), the comparatively recent Bolshevik Milutin, the Conciliator Nogin, all émigrés. We also find there an article entitled, “On the Split of the German Social-Democracy,” by Sverdlov. But there was no contribution to this anthology by Stalin, who lived under the same conditions of exile as Sverdlov. That might be explained either by Stalin’s apprehension that he would not be in tune with the others or by his annoyance at his failure to place his article on nationalities: touchiness and capriciousness were just as much a part of him as cautiousness.

Shumyatsky states that Stalin was called to the colors while in exile, apparently in 1916, when the older ages were being mobilized (Stalin was then going on thirty-seven), but was not inducted into the army because of his unbending left arm. Patiently he bided his time beyond the Arctic Circle, fishing, setting his traps for rabbits, reading and possibly also writing. “It is rather dull, but it can’t be helped.” A recluse, taciturn, choleric, he was far from the central figure among the exiles. “Clearer than many others,” writes Shumyatsky, a Stalin adherent, “in the memory of the Turukhanites is the monumental figure of Suren Spandaryan … the intransigent revolutionary Marxist and magnificent organizer.” Spandaryan reached Turukhansk on the eve of the war, a year later than Stalin. “ ‘What peace and quiet here!’ “ he was wont to remark sarcastically. “ ‘Everybody agrees with everybody else on everything—the Essars, the Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks, the Anarchists … Don’t you know that the Petersburg proletariat is listening to the voice of the exiles? ……Suren was the first to assume an anti-patriotic position and made everybody listen to him. But in personal influence on his comrades Sverdlov held first place. “Lively and sociable,” an extrovert constitutionally incapable of being self-centered, Sverdlov always rallied the others, gathered important news and circulated through the various colonies of exiles, and organized an exiles’ co-operative, besides conducting systematic observations at the meteorological station. The relations between Spandaryan and Sverdlov came to be strained. The exiles grouped themselves around these two figures. Although both groups fought together against the administration, rivalry “for spheres of influence,” as Shumyatsky puts it, never stopped. It is not easy to ascertain today that struggle’s basis in principles. Antagonistic to Sverdlov, Stalin supported Spandaryan discreetly and at arm’s length.

In the first edition of his memoirs Shumyatsky wrote: “The administration of the region realized that Suren Spandaryan was the most active of the revolutionists and regarded him as their leader.” In a subsequent edition this sentence was stretched to include two persons: Sverdlov as well as Spandaryan. Constable Kibirov, with whom Stalin had presumably established friendly relations, had established a prying surveillance of Spandaryan and Sverdlov, considering them “the ringleaders of all the exiles”. Losing for a time the official thread, Shumyatsky entirely forgot to mention Stalin in that connection. The reason is not hard to understand. The general level of the Turukhansk exiles was considerably above the average. Here were held simultaneously the men who constituted the essential nucleus of the Russian center: Kamenev, Stalin, Spandaryan, Sverdlov, Goloshchekin, and several other prominent Bolsheviks. There was no official Party machine in exile and it was impossible to lead anonymously, pulling the strings behind the scenes. Everyone was in full view of the others. Slyness, firmness and persistence were not enough to win these thoroughly experienced people: one had to be cultured, an independent thinker and a skilled debater. Spandaryan, apparently, was distinguished for the superior daring of his thinking, Kamenev for his broader scholarship and greater catholicity of views, Sverdlov for his greater receptivity, initiative and flexibility. It was for that reason that Stalin “became self-centered,” content with monosyllabic remarks, which Shumyatsky thought of describing as “pointed” only in a later edition of his composition.

Did Stalin study in exile and what did he study? He had long passed the age when one is satisfied with aimless and random reading. He could advance only by studying specific questions, taking notes, trying to formulate his own ideas in writing. Yet apart from the reference to his article on the national question, no one has anything to say about Stalin’s intellectual life during those four years. Sverdlov, who was in no sense a theoretician or a literary, wrote five articles during those years, translated from foreign languages, contributed regularly to the Siberian press. “In that way my affairs are not in bad shape,” he wrote in an optimistic tone to one of his friends. After the death of Ordzhonikidze, who had absolutely no predilection for theory, his wife wrote about her late husband’s prison years: “He studied and read without end. Long excerpts from what he had read during that period were preserved in the thick oilcloth- bound copybook issued to Sergo by the prison authorities.” Every revolutionist brought out from prison and exile such oilcloth-bound copybooks. True, much was lost during escapes and searches. But from his last exile Stalin could have brought out anything he liked and under the best of conditions, and in the years to come it was not he who was subjected to searches but, on the contrary, he who subjected others to them. Yet it is useless to seek any traces of his intellectual life throughout that entire period of solitude and leisure. For four years—the years of the revolutionary movement’s resurgence in Russia, of the World War, of the international Social-Democracy’s collapse, of a vehement struggle of ideas in Socialism, of laying the groundwork for the new International—it is impossible that throughout that entire period Stalin did not take pen in hand. Yet in all that he then wrote there does not seem to be even a single line that could have been used to enhance his latter-day reputation. The years of war, the years of paving the way for the October Revolution are a blank space in the history of Stalin’s ideas.

Revolutionary internationalism found its finished expression under the pen of the “émigré” Lenin. The arena of a single country, moreover, of backward Russia, was too limited to permit the proper evaluation of a world-wide perspective. Just as the émigré Marx needed London, which was in his day the hub of capitalism, in order to integrate German philosophy and the French Revolution with English economics, so Lenin had to be during the war at the focal point of European and world events, in order to draw the decisive revolutionary inferences from the premises of Marxism. Manuilsky, the official leader of the Communist International after Bukharin and preceding Dimitrov, wrote in 1922: “… Sotsial-Demokrat [The Social-Democrat], published in Switzerland by Lenin and Zinoviev, and the Paris Golos [The Voice] (Nashe Slovo [Our Word] ), published by Trotsky, will be to the future historian of the Third International the basic fragments out of which was forged the new revolutionary ideology of the international proletariat.” It is cheerfully conceded that Manuilsky overestimated Trotsky’s role. However, he did not even have a pretext for naming Stalin. But then, years later he would do his utmost to rectify that omission.

Tranquilized by the monotonous rhythms of the snowy waste, the exiles were far from expecting the events that transpired in February [March], 1917. All of them were caught by surprise, notwithstanding that they always lived by their faith in the inevitability of revolution. “At first,” writes Samoilov, “we seemed to have suddenly forgotten our differences of opinion … Political disagreements and mutual antipathies seemed suddenly to have vanished …” That interesting confession is confirmed by all the publications, speeches and practical steps of that time. The barriers between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, between the Internationalists and the Patriots, fell down. The whole country was flooded with buoyant but nearsighted and verbose conciliationism. People floundered in the welter of heroic phrases, the principal element of the February Revolution, especially during its first weeks. Groups of exiles started from all the ends of Siberia, merged into one stream and flowed westward in an atmosphere of exultant intoxication.

At one of the meetings in Siberia, Kamenev, who sat in the praesidium together with Liberals, Populists and Mensheviks, as it was later told, joined in signing a telegram which greeted the Grand Duke Michael Romanov on the occasion of his presumably magnanimous but, as a matter of fact, cowardly renunciation of the throne, pending the decision of the Constituent Assembly. It is not impossible that Kamenev, sodden with sentimentality, thought it best not to worry his colleagues in the praesidium with a disrespectful refusal. In the great confusion of those days no one paid the slightest heed to that, and Stalin, whom no one even thought of including in the praesidium, did not protest against Kamenev’s fall from grace until a pitiless struggle began between them.

The first great point on the way, which contained a considerable number of workers, was Krasnoyarsk. Here a Soviet of deputies was already in existence. The local Bolsheviks, who were members of the general organization together with the Mensheviks, awaited directives from the leaders who were traveling through. Caught entirely by the wave of unification, these leaders did not even require the establishment of an independent Bolshevik organization. What was the use? The Bolsheviks, like the Mensheviks, stood for supporting the provisional government which was headed by the Liberal Prince Lvov. Differences of opinion were also voided on the question of the war: it was necessary to defend Revolutionary Russia! In such a mood Stalin, Kamenev and others were proceeding toward Petrograd. “The path along the railroad,” recalls Samoilov, was “extraordinary and tumultuous, a mass of welcoming demonstrations, meetings and the like.” At most stations the exiles were met by the exultant populace with military bands playing the Marseillaise[8]: the day of the Internationale had not yet dawned. At the larger railway stations there were gala banquets. The amnestied had to “talk, talk without end”. Many lost their voices, became ill from fatigue, refused to leave their cars; “but even in the cars we were not left in peace.”

[8] The Marseillaise was the battle-hymn common to all opponents of tsarist autocracy, in the patriotic and republican tradition of the Great French Revolution; whereas, the Internationale (written by Eugene Pottier in 1871) was confined exclusively to Socialists, champions of a new social order predicated on the self-liberation of all toilers throughout the world, irrespective of race or nationality, from exploitation and oppression.—C. M.


Stalin did not lose his voice, for he made no speeches. There were many other, more skilled orators, among them the puny Sverdlov with his powerful bass. Stalin remained on the sidelines, sullen, alarmed by the flood of nature at springtide and, as always, malevolent. He was again being elbowed out of the way by persons of far smaller caliber. He had already established a record of well-nigh a score of years of revolutionary activity, intersected by unavoidable arrests and resumed after escapes. Almost ten years had passed since Koba had abandoned “the stagnant morass” of Tiflis for industrial Baku. He had worked in the capital of the oil industry for nearly eight months, he had spent nearly six months in the Baku prison, nearly nine months in the Vologda exile. A month of underground activity was paid for with two months of punishment. After escaping he had again worked in the underground for nearly nine months, spent about six months in prison, stayed nine months in exile—a somewhat more favorable ratio. At the end of exile—less than two months of illegal work, nearly three months of prison, nearly two months in Vologda province: two and a half months of punishment for one month of activity. Again two months of underground, nearly four months of prison and exile. Another escape. More than half a year of revolutionary activity, then—prison and exile, this time until the February Revolution; that is, lasting four years. On the whole, of the nineteen years of his participation in the revolutionary movement, he spent two and three quarters years in prison, five and three quarters years in exile. That was not a bad proportion; most professional revolutionists spent much longer periods in prison.

During those nineteen years Stalin did not emerge as a figure of either primary or even secondary rank. He was unknown. Referring in 1911 to Koba’s intercepted letter from Solvychegodsk to Moscow, the chief of the Tiflis Okhrana wrote a detailed report on Joseph Djugashvili that contained neither notable facts nor striking features, barring perhaps the mention that “Soso,” alias “Koba” had begun his career as a Menshevik. At the same time, referring to Gurgen (Tskhakaya), who was mentioned incidentally in the same letter, the gendarme remarked that the latter “has long been one of the important revolutionists …..According to this record, Gurgen was arrested “together with the famous revolutionist Bogdan Knuniants.” The latter was not only a fellow-Georgian but the same age as Koba. As for the “fame” of Djugashvili himself, there is not even the remotest suggestion of it.

Two years later, characterizing in detail the structure of the Bolshevik Party and its general staff, the Director of the Police Department remarked in passing that Sverdlov and “a certain Joseph Djugashvili” had been inducted by co-optation into the Bureau of the Central Committee. The expression, “a certain” indicates that Djugashvili’s name did not yet mean anything to the Chief of Police in 1913, notwithstanding such a source of information as Malinovsky. Until recently, Stalin’s revolutionary biography up to March, 1917, was quite unremarkable. Scores of professional revolutionists, if not hundreds, had done the same sort of work as he, some better, others worse. Industrious Moscow researchers have figured out that during the three years, 1906-1909, Koba wrote sixty-seven appeals and newspaper articles, or less than two a month. Not one of these articles, which were no more than a mere rehash of other people’s ideas for his Caucasian readers, was ever translated from the Georgian language or reprinted in the leading organs of the party or the faction. There is no article by Stalin or any reference to him in any list of contributors to the Petersburg, Moscow or foreign publications of that period, legal or illegal, newspapers, magazines, or anthologies. He continued to be regarded not as a Marxist writer, but as a small-time propagandist and organizer.

In 1912, when his articles began to appear more or less regularly in the Bolshevik press of Petersburg, Koba gave himself the pseudonym Stalin, taking it from the word for steel, just as Rosenfeld before him had taken the pseudonym Kamenev from the word for stone: it was fashionable among young Bolsheviks to choose hard pseudonyms. Articles under Stalin’s signature do not arrest anyone’s attention: they are devoid of personality, barring crudity of exposition. Beyond the narrow circle of leading Bolsheviks, no one knew who the author of the articles was, and hardly anyone wondered about it. In January, 1913, Lenin wrote in a carefully considered note on Bolshevism for the famous Rubakin bibliographic reference book: “The principal Bolshevik writers are: G. Zinoviev, V. Ilyin,[9] Yu. Kamenev,[10] P. Orlovsky, and others.” It could not have occurred to Lenin to name Stalin among the “principal writers” of Bolshevism, although at that very time he was abroad and at work on his “nationality” article.

[9] Lenin.—C. M.

[10] L. B. Kamenev.—C. M.


Pyatnitsky, who was uninterruptedly connected with the entire history of the Party, with its foreign staff as well as with its underground agency in Russia, with the literary men as well as with the illegal transporters,[11] in his careful and on the whole conscientious memoirs, embracing the period 1896-1917, discusses all more or less prominent Bolsheviks but never once mentions Stalin; that name is not included even in the index at the end of the book. This fact deserves all the more attention because Pyatnitsky was far from hostile to Stalin; on the contrary, he remains to this day in the second rank of his entourage. In a large anthology of materials of the Moscow Okhrana, which covers the history of Bolshevism from 1903 to 1917, Stalin is mentioned three times: with reference to his co-optation into the Central Committee, with reference to his appointment to the Bureau of the Central Committee, and with reference to his participation in the Cracow Conference. There is nothing there about his work, not a word of evaluation, no mention of a single distinguishing individual trait.

[11] See Glossary.


Stalin emerges for the first time within range of police vision, as within range of party vision, not as a personality but as a member of the Bolshevik Center. In the gendarme reports, as in the revolutionary memoirs, he is never mentioned personally as a leader, as an initiator, as a writer in connection with his own ideas or actions, but always as part of the Party machine—as member of the local Committee, as member of the Central Committee, as one of the contributors to a newspaper, as one of many others in a list of names, and then never in the first place. It was no accident that he found himself on the Central Committee considerably later than others of his age, and not through election but by way of co-optation.

This telegram from Perm was sent to Lenin in Switzerland: “Fraternal greetings. Leaving today for Petrograd. Kamenev, Muranov, Stalin.” The thought of sending the telegram was, of course, Kamenev’s. Stalin signed last. That trinity felt itself bound by ties of solidarity. The amnesty had liberated the best forces of the Party and Stalin thought with trepidation of the revolutionary capital. He needed Kamenev’s relative popularity and Muranov’s title of deputy. Thus the three of them together arrived in a Petrograd shaken by revolution. “His name,” writes Ch. Windecke, one of his German biographers, “was at that time known only in narrow Party circles. He was not greeted like Lenin was a month later … by an inspired crowd of the people with red banners and music. He was not greeted, as two months later Trotsky, hurrying from America, had been, by a deputation which rode out to greet him halfway and which carried him on its shoulders. He arrived without a sound and without any noise, and sat down to work … Outside the borders of Russia no one had any idea of his existence.”

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Last updated on: 7 September 2009