JOSEPH STALIN (DJUGASHVILI) was born on December 21, 1879, in the town of Gori, Province of Tiflis. His father, Vissarion Djugashvili, a Georgian of peasant stock from the village of Didi-Lilo in the same province, was a cobbler by trade, and later a worker at the Adelkhanov Shoe Factory in Tiflis. His mother, Ekaterina, was born of a peasant serf named Geladze, in the village of Gambareuli.
In the autumn of 1888 Stalin entered the church school in Gori, from which, in 1894, he passed to the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Tiflis.
This was a period when, with the development of industrial capitalism and the attendant growth of the working-class movement, Marxism had begun to spread widely through Russia. The St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, founded and led by Lenin, had given a powerful fillip to the Social-Democratic movement all over the country. The tide of the labour movement swept as far as Transcaucasia, where capitalism had already taken a foothold, and where, moreover, the burden of national and colonial oppression weighed heavily. An economically backward, agrarian country, where survivals of feudalism were still strong, and where numerous nationalities lived intermingled in close confusion, Transcaucasia was a typical tsarist colony.
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, capitalism had begun to develop rapidly in Transcaucasia, savagely exploiting the workers and peasants and aggravating the national and colonial yoke. Particularly rapid was the development of the mining and oil industries, the key positions in which had been seized by foreign capital. “Russian capitalism,” wrote Lenin, “drew; the Caucasus into the sphere of world commodity circulation, obliterated its local peculiarities—the remnants of ancient patriarchal isolation—and created for itself a market for its goods. A country which was thinly populated at the beginning of the post-Reform epoch, or populated by mountaineers who lived out of the course of world economy and even out of the course of history, was being transformed into a land of oil operators, wine merchants, wheat growers and tobacco growers. . . .”1 The appearance of railways and of the first industrial plants in the Caucasus was accompanied by the growth of a working class. Especially rapid was the development of the oil city of Baku, the chief industrial and working-class centre in the Caucasus.
As industrial capitalism developed, the workingclass movement grew. In the ’nineties revolutionary activities in Transcaucasia were carried on by Russian Marxists who had been exiled to that region. Soon began the propaganda of Marxism. The Tiflis Orthodox Seminary at that time was a centre from which libertarian ideas of every brand spread among the youth—from nationalist Narodism to internationalist Marxism. It was honeycombed with secret societies. The jesuitical regime that reigned in the seminary aroused in Stalin a burning sense of protest and strengthened his revolutionary sentiments. At the age of fifteen Stalin became a revolutionary.
“I joined the revolutionary movement,” Stalin told the German writer Emil Ludwig in subsequent years, “at the age of fifteen, when I became connected with certain illegal groups of Russian Marxists in Transcaucasia. These groups exerted a great influence on me and instilled in me a taste for illegal Marxian literature.”
In 1896 and 1897, Stalin conducted Marxist study circles in the seminary, and in August 1898 he formally enrolled as a member of the Tiflis branch of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. He joined the first Georgian Social-Democratic organization, known as the Messameh Dassy. This group, in the years 1893-98, performed useful work in the propagation of Marxist ideas. But it was not a homogeneous organization politically. The majority of its members shared the views of the “Legal Marxists” and inclined towards bourgeois nationalism. Stalin, together with Ketskhoveli and Tsulukidze, formed the core of a revolutionary Marxist minority in the Messameh Dassy, from which sprang the revolutionary Social-Democratic movement in Georgia.
Stalin worked hard to broaden his knowledge. He studied Capital, the Communist Manifesto and other works of Marx and Engels. He acquainted himself with Lenin’s writings against Narodism, “Legal Marxism” and “Economism.” Even at this early date Lenin’s writings made a deep impression on him. “I must meet him at all costs,” one of Stalin’s friends reports him to have said after reading an article by Tulin (Lenin).2 Stalin’s theoretical interests were extremely broad. He studied philosophy, political economy, history and natural science. He read widely in the classics. He thus trained himself to he an educated Marxist.
At this period Stalin carried on intense propaganda in workingmen’s study circles, attended illegal workers’ meetings, wrote leaflets and organized strikes. It was among the militant proletarians of Tiflis that Stalin got his first schooling in practical revolutionary work.
“I recall the year 1898,” Stalin later wrote,“3 when I was first put in charge of a study circle of workers from the railway shops. . . . It was here, among these comrades, that I received my first revolutionary baptism . . . . my first teachers were the workers of Tiflis.”
The program of the workingmen’s Marxist study circles in Tiflis was compiled by Stalin.
The seminary authorities, who kept a strict watch on “suspects,” began to get wind of Stalin’s secret revolutionary activities, and on May 29, 1899, he was expelled from the seminary for Marxist propaganda. For a time he lived by giving lessons; later (December 1899) he found employment at the Tiflis Observatory as a calculator and observer. But never for a moment did he cease his revolutionary activities.
Stalin had now become one of the most active and prominent members in the Tiflis Social-Democratic movement. “In 1898-1900 a leading, central Social-Democratic group arose and took shape in the Tiflis organization. . . . This central Social-Democratic group did an enormous amount of revolutionary propagandist and organizational work in forming a secret Social-Democratic Party organization.”4 This group was headed by Stalin. Lenin’s League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class was the model on which the revolutionary Social-Democrats of Tiflis faithfully moulded their activities. At this period the labour movement in Tiflis, lied by the revolutionary minority of the Messameh Dassy (Stalin, Ketsklioveli and Tsulukidze), ceased to confine itself to propaganda work among a “few select” workers; political developments were urgently calling for mass agitation by means of leaflets on burning questions of the day, by lightning meetings and political demonstrations against tsardom.
These new tactics were strenuously opposed by the opportunist majority of the Messameh Dassy, who had strong leanings towards “Economism,” shunned revolutionary methods, and disapproved of the political struggle against the autocracy being waged “on the streets.” Led by Stalin, the revolutionary minority of the Messameh Dassy put up a fierce and implacable fight against the opportunists on behalf of the new tactics, the tactics of mass political agitation. In this they had the hearty support of the militant workers of Tiflis.
A prominent part in inducing the Social-Democrats of Tiflis to adopt the new methods was played by Victor Kurnatovsky, an accomplished Marxist and a staunch supporter and close colleague of Lenin’s, who did much to spread the latter’s ideas in Transcaucasia. He came to Tiflis in the summer of 1900, and at once formed close contact with the revolutionary minority of Messameh Dassy, and became an intimate friend and comrade of Stalin’s.
When Lenin’s Iskra began to appear in December 1900, Stalin accorded its policy his wholehearted support. It was at once clear to him that Lenin was to be the creator of a real Marxist Party, a leader and a teacher.
“My knowledge of Lenin’s revolutionary activities since the end of the ’nineties and especially after 1901, after the appearance of Iskra,” Stalin says, “had convinced me that in Lenin we had a man of extraordinary calibre. I did not regard him as a mere leader of the Party, but as its actual founder, for he alone understood the inner essence and urgent needs of our Party. When I compared him with the other leaders of our Party, it always seemed to me that he was head and shoulders above his colleagues—Plekhanov, Martov, Axelrod and the others; that, compared with them, Lenin was not just one of the leaders, but a leader of the highest rank, a mountain eagle, who knew no fear in the struggle, and who boldly led the Party forward along the unexplored paths of the Russian revolutionary movement.”5
Stalin conceived a boundless faith in Lenin’s revolutionary genius. He took Lenin’s path as his own. From this path he has never swerved; and when Lenin died, he confidently and courageously carried on his work.
In 1900 and 1901, in the midst of a gathering economic crisis, under the influence of the working-class movement in Russia and as a result of the activities of the Social-Democrats, a series of strikes broke out in Tiflis, spreading from factory to factory. August 1900 witnessed a big strike at the railway shops and locomotive yards, an active part in which was played by Mikhail Kalinin, who had been exiled to the Caucasus from St. Petersburg. In 1901 a May Day demonstration was held in the centre of Tiflis, organized and led by Stalin. This demonstration was hailed by Lenin’s Iskra as an event of historic importance for the. whole of the Caucasus; it was to exercise an enormous influence on the entire subsequent course of the working-class movement in the Caucasus.
Thus, guided by the revolutionary minority of the Messameh Dassy headed by Stalin, the working-class movement of Georgia passed from propaganda activities confined to narrow circles to political agitation among the masses; and in the Caucasus too there began that linking up of Socialism with the working-class movement which had been so brilliantly effected several years earlier by the St. Petersburg League of Struggle, under Lenin’s leadership.
The tsarist government was alarmed by the growing revolutionary militancy of the Transcaucasian proletariat and resorted to sterner measures of repression than ever, hoping in this way to halt the movement. On March 21, 1901, the police made a search of the observatory where Stalin worked and had his quarters. This search, and the warrant for his arrest which, as he learned, had been issued by the secret police, induced Stalin to go into hiding. From that moinent and right up to the revolution of February 1917 he lived the life, full of heroism and unflagging effort, of a professional revolutionary of the Lenin school.
The tsarist satraps were powerless to halt the growth of the revolutionary movement. In September 1901, Brdzola (Struggle), the first illegal SocialDemocratic newspaper in Georgia, started publication. Founded on the initiative of Stalin and Ketskhoveli, it consistently advocated the principles of Lenin’s Iskra. As a Marxist newspaper in Russia, Brdzola was second only to Iskra.
The editorial in its first issue (September 1901) was written by Stalin. Entitled “From the Editors,” it defined the aims and objects of the newspaper. Stalin wrote: “The Georgian Social-Democratic newspaper must provide plain answers to all questions connected with the labour movement, explain questions of principle, explain theoretically the role the working class plays in the struggle, and throw the light of scientific Socialism upon every phenomenon the workers encounter.”6
The paper, Stalin said, must lead the labour movement, it must keep in close contact with the working masses, be in a position to influence them and act as their intellectual and guiding centre.
The following issue of Brdzola (November-December) contained an important article by Stalin, “The Russian Social-Democratic Party and Its Immediate Tasks.” In it Stalin stressed the necessity of linking up scientific Socialism with the spontaneous working-class movement and the role of the working class as the leader of the movement for democratic emancipation; he called for the foundation of an independent political party of the proletariat.
Leaflets in the languages of the various nationalities of Transcaucasia were also published on a wide scale. “Every district in Tiflis has been inundated with splendidly written leaflets in Russian, Georgian and Armenian,” wrote Lenin’s Iskra on September 15, 1902, in reference to the activities of the Tiflis Social-Democrats.”7 Lado Ketskhoveli, Stalin’s close colleague, organized a Committee of the Leninist Iskra trend in Baku and set up a secret printing plant there. On November 11. 1901, at a conference of the Tiflis Social-Democratic organization, a Tiflis Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. was elected, one of whose members was Stalin. But Stalin did not stay in Tiflis long. At the end of November, on the instructions of the Tiflis Committee, he went to Batum, the third largest proletarian centre in the Caucasus (Baku was the first and Tiflis the second), to form a Social-Democratic organization there.
In Batum, Stalin at once flung himself into revolutionary work: he established contact with politically-advanced workers, formed Social-Democratic study circles, some of which he conducted himself, set up a secret printing plant, wrote, printed and distributed stirring leaflets, directed the struggle of the workers at the Rothschild and Mantashev plants, and organized revolutionary propaganda in the countryside. He formed a Social-Democratic Party organization in Batum and a Batum Committee of the R.S.D.L.P., and led several strikes. He organized and directed the famous political demonstration of the Batum workers on March 9, 1902, himself marching at the head of the columns, thus giving a practical example of the combination of strikes with political demonstrations.
Thus, in this period a strong Leninist Iskra-ist organization grew up in Transcaucasia, carrying on a determined and implacable struggle against opportunism. Its chief organizer and leader was Stalin, who was already known among the Batum workers as the “workers’ teacher.” This organization was founded on the sound principles of proletarian internationalism, uniting, as it did, proletarian militants of different nationalities—Georgians, Armenians, Azerbaijanians and Russians. In later days, Lenin time and again cited the Transcaucasian Party organization as a model of proletarian internationalism.
The rising militancy of the Batum workers was a cause of serious uneasiness to the government. Police sleuths scoured the city, looking for the “ring-leaders.” On April 5, 1902, Stalin was arrested. But even while in prison (first in Batum, then in Kutais—a jail notorious for the severity of its regime, to which he was transferred on April 19, 1903—and then back again in Batum), Stalin’s contacts with revolutionary activities were not interrupted.
In the early part of March 1903 the Caucasian Social-Democratic organizations held their first congress, at which a Caucasian Union of the R.S.D.L.P. was set up. Although in confinement, Stalin was elected to the Committee of the Caucasian Union. It was while in prison that Stalin learned from delegates returned from the Second Party Congress of the profound dissension between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. He took his stand without hesitation on the side of Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
In the autumn of 1903, Stalin was banished for three years to Novaya Uda, a village in the Balagan District, Province of Irkutsk, Eastern Siberia. He arrived there on November 27, 1903. While in exile he received a letter from Lenin.
“I first became acquainted with Lenin in 1903,” Stalin subsequently related. “True, it was not a personal acquaintance; it was maintained by correspondence. But it made an indelible impression upon me, one which has never left me throughout all my work in the Party. I was in exile in Siberia -at the time. . . . Lenin’s note was comparatively short, but it contained a bold and fearless criticism of the practical work of our Party, and a remarkably clear and concise account of the entire plan of work of the Party in the immediate future.”8
Stalin did not stay in exile long. He, was impatient to be back at liberty, to set to work to carry out Lenin’s plan for the building of a Bolshevik Party. On January 5, 1904, he escaped from exile, and in February 1904 he was back again in the Caucasus, first in Batum, and then in Tiflis.
1. V. I. Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 378, Moscow, 1934.
2. V. I. Lenin, A Brief Sketch of his Life and Activities. p. 25, Moscow, 1942.
3. Pravda, No. 136, June 16, 1926.
4. L. Beria, On the History of the Bolshevik Organizations in Transcaucasia, p. 20, Moscow, 1939.
5. Stalin on Lenin, p. 40, Moscow, 1946.
6. J. Stalin, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. I, p. 9, Moscow, 1946.
7. Iskra No. 25. September 15. 1902.
8. Stalin on Lenin, pp. 40-41, Moscow, 1946.
Next: Chapter II