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Stalin's activities in 1900--1917

Here, we would like to bring out certain aspects of Stalin's life and work between 1900 and 1917, to better understand the rôle that he would play after 1922.

We consider certain parts of Stalin's life, as presented in the book, Stalin, Man of History, by Ian Grey;  it is, to the best of our knowledge, the best biography written by a non-Communist.

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Ian Grey,  Stalin: Man of History (New York: Doubleday & Co, 1979).

Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili  was born on December 21, 1879, in Gori, Georgia. His father, Vissarion,  a shoemaker, came from a family of peasant serfs. His mother, Ekaterina Georgievna Geladze,  was also the daughter of serfs. Stalin's parents, poor and illiterate, came from the ordinary people. Stalin was one of the few Bolshevik leaders who came from modest origins. All of his life, he tried to write and to speak so that he could be understood by ordinary workers.

During his five years at the Gori primary school, Josef Dzhugashvili  was noted for his intelligence and his exceptional memory. When he left in 1894, he was recommended as the `best student' for entrance in the Tiflis Seminary, the most important institution of higher learning in Georgia, as well as a center of opposition to Tsarism. In 1893, Ketskhoveli  had led a strike there and 87 students had been expelled.

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Ibid. , pp. 14--18.

Stalin was 15 years old and was in his second year at the seminary when he first came into contact with clandestine Marxist  circles. He spent a lot of time in a bookstore owned by a man named Chelidze;  young radicals went there to read progressive books. In 1897, the assistant supervisor wrote a note saying that he had caught Dzhugashvili  reading Letourneau's  Literary Evolution of the Nations, before that Victor Hugo's  Toilers of the Sea, then Hugo's  Ninety-three; in fact, a total of thirteen times with banned books.

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Grey,  op. cit. , pp. 20--21. Robert H. McNeal,  Stalin: Man and Ruler (New York: New York University Press, 1988), p. 9.

In 1897, at the age of eighteen, Dzhugashvili  joined the first Socialist organization in Georgia, led by Zhordania,  Chkheidze  and Tseretelli,  who would later become famous Mensheviks. The next year, Stalin led a study circle for workers. At the time, Stalin was already reading Plekhanov's  works, as well as Lenin's  first writings.

In 1899, he was expelled from the Seminary. Here began his career of professional revolutionary.

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Grey,  op. cit. , pp. 22--24.

Right from the start, Stalin showed great intelligence and a remarkable memory; by his own efforts, he acquired great political knowledge by reading widely.

To denigrate Stalin's work, almost all bourgeois authors repeat Trotsky's  slanders: `(Stalin's) political horizon is restricted, his theoretical equipment primitive .... His mind is stubbornly empirical, and devoid of creative imagination'.

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Leon Trotsky,  My Life (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), p. 506.

On May 1, 1900, Stalin spoke in front of an illegal gathering of 500 workers in the mountains above Tiflis. Under the portraits of Marx  and Engels,  they listened to speeches in Georgian, Russian and Armenian. During the three months that followed, strikes broke out in the factories and on the railroads of Tiflis; Stalin was one of the main instigators. Early in 1901, Stalin distributed the first issue of the clandestine newspaper Iskra, published by Lenin  in Leipzig. On May 1, 1901, two thousand workers organized, for the first time, an open demonstration in Tiflis; the police intervened violently. Lenin  wrote in Iskra that `the event ... is of historical importance for the entire Caucasus'.

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Grey,  op. cit. , pp. 29--31.

During the same year, Stalin, Ketskhoveli  and Krassin  led the radical wing of social-democracy in Georgia. They acquired a printing press, reprinted Iskra and published the first clandestine Georgian newspaper, Brdzola (Struggle). In the first issue, they defended the supra-national unity of the Party and attacked the `moderates', who called for an independent Georgian party that would be associated with the Russian party.

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Ibid. , p. 32.

In November 1901, Stalin was elected to the first Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party and sent to Batum, a city half of whose population was Turkish. In February 1902, he had already organized eleven clandestine circles in the main factories of the city. On February 27, six thousand workers in the petroleum refinery marched through the city. The army opened fire, killing 15 and arresting 500.

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Ibid. , pp. 34--35.

One month later, Stalin was himself arrested, imprisoned until April 1903, then condemned to three years in Siberia. He escaped and was back in Tiflis in February 1904.

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Ibid. , p. 38.

During his stay in Siberia, Stalin wrote to a friend in Leipzig, asking him for copies of the Letter to a Comrade on our Organizational Tasks and expressing his support for Lenin's  positions. After the Congress of August 1903, the Social-Democratic Party was divided between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks; the Georgian delegates were among the latter. Stalin, who had read What is to be done?, supported the Bolsheviks without hesitation. `It was a decision demanding conviction and courage. Lenin  and the Bolsheviks had little support in Transcaucasia', wrote Grey. 

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Ibid. , pp. 41--45.

In 1905, the leader of the Georgian Mensheviks, Zhordania,  published a criticism of the Bolshevik theses that Stalin defended, thereby underscoring the importance of Stalin in the Georgian revolutionary movement. During the same year, in `Armed Uprising and Our Tactics', Stalin defended, against the Mensheviks, the necessity of armed struggle to overthrow Tsarism.

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Ibid. , p. 51.

Stalin was 26 years old when he first met Lenin  at the Bolshevik Congress in Finland in December 1905.

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Ibid. , p. 53.

Between 1905 and 1908, the Caucasus was the site of intense revolutionary activity; the police counted 1,150 `terrorist acts'. Stalin played an important rôle. In 1907--1908, Stalin led, together with Ordzhonikidze  and Voroshilov,  the secretary of the oil workers' union, a major legal struggle among the 50,000 workers in the oil industry in Baku. They attained the right to elect worker representatives, who could meet in a conference to discuss the collective agreement regarding salaries and working conditions. Lenin  hailed this struggle, which took place at a time when most of the revolutionary cells in Russia had ceased their activities.

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Ibid. , pp. 59, 64.

In March 1908, Stalin was arrested a second time and condemned to two years of exile. But in June 1909, he escaped and returned to Baku, where he found the party in crisis, the newspaper no longer being published.

Three weeks after his return, Stalin had started up publication again; in an article he argued that `it would be strange to think that organs published abroad, remote from Russian reality, could unify the work of the party'. Stalin insisted on maintaining the clandestine Party, asking for the creation of a coordinating committee within Russia and the publication of a national newspaper, also within Russia, to inform, encourage and re-establish the Party's direction. Feeling that the workers' movement was about to re-emerge, he repeated these proposals early in 1910.

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Ibid. , pp. 65--69.

But while helping prepare a general strike of the oil industry, he was arrested for a third time in March 1910, sent to Siberia, and banished for five years. In February 1912, he escaped again and came back to Baku.

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Ibid. , p. 70.

Stalin learned that at the Prague Conference, the Bolsheviks had created their independent party and that a Russian bureau, of which he was a member, had been created. On April 22, 1912, at St. Petersburg, Stalin published the first edition of the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda.

On the same day, he was arrested a fourth time, together with the editorial secretary, Molotov.  They were denounced by Malinovsky,  an agent provocateur elected to the Central Committee! Shernomazov,  who replaced Molotov  as secretary, was also a police agent. Banished for three years to Siberia, Stalin once again escaped and took up the leadership of Pravda.

Convinced of the necessity of a break with the Mensheviks, he differed with Lenin  about tactics. The Bolshevik line had to be defended, without directly attacking the Mensheviks, since the workers sought unity. Under his leadership, Pravda developed a record circulation of 80,000 copies.

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Ibid. , pp. 71--73.

At the end of 1912, Lenin  called Stalin and other leaders to Cracow to advocate his line of an immediate break with the Mensheviks, then sent Stalin to Vienna so that he could write Marxism  and the National Question. Stalin attacked `cultural-national autonomy' within the Party, denouncing it as the road to separatism and to subordination of socialism to nationalism. He defended the unity of different nationalities within one centralized Party.

Upon his return to St. Petersburg, Malinovsky  had him arrested a fifth time. This time, he was sent to the most remote regions of Siberia, where he spent five years.

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Ibid. , pp. 75--79.

It was only after the February 1917 Revolution that Stalin was able to return to St. Petersburg, where he was elected to the Presidium of the Russian Bureau, taking up once again the leadership of Pravda. In April 1917, at the Party Conference, he received the third largest number of votes for the Central Committee. During the month of July, when Pravda was closed by the Provisional Government and several Bolshevik leaders were arrested, Lenin  had to hide in Finland; Stalin led the Party. In August, at the Sixth Congress, he read the report in the name of the Central Committee; the political line was unanimously adopted by 267 delegates, with four abstentions. Stalin declared: `the possibility is not excluded that Russia will be the country that blazes the trail to socialism .... It is necessary to give up the outgrown idea that Europe alone can show us the way'.

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Ibid. , pp. 88--96.

At the time of the October 25 insurrection, Stalin was part of a military revolutionary `center', consisting of five members of the Central Committee. Kamenev  and Zinoviev  publicly opposed the seizing of power by the Bolshevik Party; Rykov,  Nogin,  Lunacharsky  and Miliutin  supported them. But it was Stalin who rejected Lenin's  proposal to expel Kamenev  and Zinoviev  from the Party. After the revolution, these `Right Bolsheviks' insisted on a coalition government with the Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionaries. Once again threatened with expulsion, they toed the line.

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Ibid. , pp. 97--98.

Stalin became the first People's Commissar for Nationality Affairs. Quickly grasping that the international bourgeoisie was supporting the local bourgeoisies among national minorities, Stalin wrote: `the right of self-determination (was the right) not of the bourgeoisie but of the toiling masses of a given nation. The principle of self-determination ought to be used as a means in the struggle for socialism, and it ought to be subordinated to the principles of socialism'.

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Ibid. , pp. 103--104.

Between 1901 and 1917, right from the beginning of the Bolshevik Party until the October Revolution, Stalin was a major supporter of Lenin's  line. No other Bolshevik leader could claim as constant or diverse activity as Stalin. He had followed Lenin  right from the beginning, at the time when Lenin  only had a small number of adherents among the socialist intellectuals. Unlike most of the other Bolshevik leaders, Stalin was constantly in contact with Russian reality and with activists within Russia. He knew these militants, having met them in open and clandestine struggles, in prisons and in Siberia. Stalin was very competent, having led armed struggle in the Caucasus as well as clandestine struggles; he had led union struggles and edited legal and illegal newspapers; he had led the legal and parliamentary struggle and knew the national minorities as well as the Russian people.

Trotsky  did his best to systematically denigrate the revolutionary past of Stalin, and almost all bourgeois authors repeat these slanders. Trotsky  declared:

`Stalin ... is the outstanding mediocrity in the party'.

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Trotsky,  My Life, p. 512.

Trotsky  was trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes, talking about `the party', because he had never belonged to the Bolshevik Party that Lenin,  Zinoviev,  Stalin, Sverdlov  and others forged between 1901 and 1917. Trotsky  joined the Party in July 1917.

Trotsky  also wrote: `in routine work it was more convenient for Lenin  to depend on Stalin, Zinoviev  or Kamenev  .... I was not suited for executing commissions .... Lenin  needed practical, obedient assistants. I was unsuited to the rôle'.

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Ibid. , p. 477.

These sentences say nothing about Stalin, but everything about Trotsky:  he pinned onto Lenin  his own aristocratic and Bonapartist  concept of a party: a leader surrounded by docile assistants who deal with current affairs!



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Next: The `socialists' and Up: The young Stalin Previous: The young Stalin



Fri Aug 25 09:03:42 PDT 1995