“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is statistics” is one of the famous sayings of the dictator who ruled Russia for nearly 30 years.
Joseph Stalin was unquestionably the mightiest of all the dictators that the world endured in the 20th century. Succeeding Lenin, Young Stalin took over a state that was still recovering from the ravages of WWI, 3 years of civil war, and 6 years of communist depredations. On Stalin’s direction, the Russian Red Army killed 3 million farmers in their own country. Between 1930 and 1933, six million people died of starvation due to his authoritarian agricultural policies. He killed over 80% of his party workers and Russian army officers whose loyalty he suspected. Stalin is thought to have directly or indirectly caused more than 20 million fatalities.
He was the one who defeated Hitler and dictated to Russia during WWII. It is said that he was so cold-blooded and heartless that when the German army arrested his son Jacob, Stalin turned down the German offer of barbing Jacob with the imprisoned German soldiers. Soviet Russia emerged as the second superpower of the world under his leadership. Cruelty, heartlessness, inhumanity, revolt against authority, and all he did during his rule an essential parts of history.
Here, the intent is to provide a thorough account of his early years up until the 1920s. Perhaps less was spoken about this than about his time in power.
Young Stalin’s Early Life
Stalin’s father, Vissarian Dzhugashvili, worked in a shoe factory in Tiflis, later on, shifted to Gori, a small provincial town of Georgia, and married a girl named Katrina in 1874. Iosif Vissarianovich Stalin was his first child, born in December 1878 in Gori. But Stalin’s father was not on good terms with his mother, a laundress.
When Vissarian accused his wife of adultery, infidelity, and having a secret liaison with a priest by the name of Koba, Stalin was given the moniker “Koba”. Vissarian started drinking, behaving rudely with his wife and son, and used to beat Stalin severely, calling him a bastard. All this was deadly traumatic for Stalin. In 1887, his face was left pockmarked by the spread of smallpox in the region.
Iosif Stalin’s mother wanted to make him a priest and enrolled him in Gori’s Preparatory Ecclesiastic School in 1888, but his father opposed it. Rebuking his wife, Vissarian said, “You want my son to be a priest ?”. That was the day Stalin threw a knife at his father, defending his mother.
Vissarian made Stalin work in the factory and tortured him physically and mentally. His arm injury turned severe, leaving his left arm shorter than the right one. After being reported to the police by his wife, Vissarian was put in jail.
Again after getting enrolled in 1890 and then graduating from Ecclesiastical School in 1894, he was admitted to Tiflis Orthodox Seminary by his mother, where he was a good student till his 3rd year in the institution.
Meanwhile, he started studying and preaching the ideas of Victor Hugo, who was considered a subversive author by the Seminary. He had also joined the Young Socialist Circle to study Marxism. Until his career at the Seminary, the germs of rebellion against authority, treachery, and plotting had nourished his personality. He had been inciting the students against the teachers and in favor of the Young Socialist Circle by smuggling illegal pamphlets and inflammatory leaflets into their dormitories. He became disrespectful to his teachers and authorities of the Seminary.
Young Stalin’s Rebellious Journey
Along with 45 other students, he was dismissed from the Seminary on May 29, 1899. One of his classmates calls, “His opinions abruptly and drastically changed. He did not tolerate criticism of his views. The search for truth did not interest him. He would defend his views which he previously condemned.”
Stalin went to Tiflis, where he met Lado, his senior at Seminary, and Kamo, an underworld presser. They invoked protests of workers of industries against the government in Tiflis and Batum, as Stalin was already part of the Social Democratic Party. He befooled the Orkhana secret police as he pretended to work for it as an informer. He was ousted from the Social Democratic party in 1901 for some ill wills on his part. In Batum, Stalin was also part of the Batum underworld band that did armed robberies and became their cashier.
Young Stalin’s Political journey
In 1903, Social Democratic Party split into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. The same year, Stalin came to know about Lenin through Kamenov. Lenin headed the Bolshevik fraction. A renowned Bolshevik faction member named Kamenov was detained by Batum police in 1904 according to information provided by Stalin. Stalin gained a higher position in the party and funded it through his armed robberies.
Between 1903 and 1913, he was sent to Siberian jails 7 times in different cases. These included, leading demonstrations, underworld activities, and conspiracies, but every time he would run away from the jail. That was when he was given the name Stalin which means “man of steel .” He also got married when he escaped a third time from jail in 1904.
In 1912, the Bolshevik fraction emerged as a new Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Lenin made Stalin a member of the new party’s Central Committee. But the following year in 1913, he was jailed in Siberia for the next four years. In 1917 he escaped from jail. That was the year of the Russian revolution when the Communist Party grasped the Russian government under Lenin’s leadership.
Lenin appointed Stalin as the secretary general of the party. After a couple of months, Lenin became bedridden due to a brain hemorrhage and passed away within the next two years.
The most exciting thing was that Lenin had become critical of Stalin’s dictatorial thoughts during the last days of his life. Los Angeles Times reported on the 27th of February, 1988, that Lenin had mentioned in his secret document to remove Stalin from the office of the secretary-general. Still, Stalin happened to get that secret document before anyone else and did not let it reach the relevant persons’ hands.
A Nasty Dictator?
After Lenin’s death, Stalin and Leon Trotsky, the head of the Red Army, were to succeed him. Trotsky did not have that much popularity in the Central Committee. By plotting against him, Stalin first expelled him from the party in 1926 and then turned him out of the Soviet Union in 1929. After expelling Trotsky from the party, Stalin became all in all and emerged as a nasty dictator. He announced the nationalization of the agricultural lands of the Soviet Union and consolidated them to make larger agricultural farms. The government would keep 90% of the production, and 10% would go to farmers.
It was a callous decision that was even against the spirit of Communism, resulting in massive riots and protests of farmers against the government. The farmers killed their cattle, concealed their yields in the graves, and refused to give them to the government. Stalin had become unstoppable. He waged war against the big landowners and farmers, called “Kulaks.” On his command, the Red Army killed 3 million farmers in its own country. Many farmers were sent to Siberian jails and forced labor camps called “Gulags,” where anyone would hardly survive
Young Stalin; A People’s Hero?
His father’s unbalanced, harsh, bitter, abusive, repressive, and turbulent treatment presumably left his personality blemished and stained. The seeds of rebellion had already been sown in his mind. His traumatic childhood life had imprints on his character that could not be washed out later. He grew up as a rebellious, treacherous, and insurgent boy who mastered incitation and bullying before joining the revolutionary communist group.
Young Stalin would always despise authority, whether in society or at school and seminaries. He was ambitious for authority and would like to do the things that suited his taste, irrespective of the fear of authorities, traditions, or other social barriers.
It was unimaginable at that time what would have become of him when he reached 40. The Soviet Union needed a leader who was both rebellious and intrigue, which was unexpected. The 1930s and later saw the gradual unveiling of Stalin’s harsh, savage, and butcherous side, which resulted in the deaths of more than 20 million people. However, he managed to make the Soviet Union the world’s second superpower. More than 50% of Russians today perceive him as their hero.
The Author is currently doing Bachelors in English from Quaid i Azam University, Islamabad.