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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
it is, to the best of our
knowledge, the best biography written by a non-Communist.
Stalin: Man of History
(New York: Doubleday & Co, 1979).
Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili
was born on December 21, 1879, in
Gori, Georgia. His father,
a shoemaker, came from a family
of peasant serfs. His mother,
Ekaterina Georgievna Geladze,
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,
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,
had led a strike there and 87 students had been expelled.
, 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
circles. He spent a
lot of time in a bookstore owned by a man named
radicals went there to read progressive books. In 1897, the assistant
supervisor wrote a note saying that he had caught
Literary Evolution of the Nations,
Toilers of the Sea, then
Ninety-three; in fact, a total of thirteen times
with banned books.
, 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,
joined the first
Socialist organization in Georgia, led by
who would later become famous Mensheviks. The next year,
Stalin led a study circle for workers. At the time, Stalin was already
works, as well as
In 1899, he was expelled from the Seminary. Here began his career
of professional revolutionary.
, 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
To denigrate Stalin's work, almost all bourgeois authors repeat
slanders: `(Stalin's) political horizon is restricted, his
theoretical equipment primitive .... His mind is stubbornly
empirical, and devoid of creative imagination'.
(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
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
in Leipzig. On
May 1, 1901, two thousand workers organized, for the first time, an open
demonstration in Tiflis; the police intervened violently.
in Iskra that `the event ... is of historical
importance for the entire Caucasus'.
, pp. 29--31.
During the same year, Stalin,
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.
, 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.
, 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.
, 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
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
and the Bolsheviks had little support in Transcaucasia',
, pp. 41--45.
In 1905, the leader of the Georgian Mensheviks,
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.
, p. 51.
Stalin was 26 years old when he first met
at the Bolshevik
Congress in Finland in December 1905.
, 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
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.
struggle, which took place at a time when most of the revolutionary
cells in Russia had ceased their activities.
, 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
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.
, 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
, 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
They were denounced by
agent provocateur elected to the Central Committee!
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
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.
, pp. 71--73.
At the end of 1912,
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
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,
had him arrested a fifth
time. This time, he was sent to the most remote regions of Siberia,
where he spent five years.
, 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,
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'.
, 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
publicly opposed the seizing of
power by the Bolshevik Party;
supported them. But it was Stalin who rejected
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.
, 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
, 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
No other Bolshevik leader could claim as constant or diverse activity as
Stalin. He had followed
right from the beginning, at the time
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
did his best to systematically denigrate the revolutionary past
of Stalin, and almost all bourgeois authors repeat these slanders.
`Stalin ... is the outstanding mediocrity in the party'.
My Life, p. 512.
was trying to pull the wool
over everyone's eyes, talking about `the party', because he had never belonged
to the Bolshevik Party that
forged between 1901 and 1917.
joined the Party in July 1917.
also wrote: `in routine work it was more convenient for
depend on Stalin,
.... I was not suited for
executing commissions ....
needed practical, obedient
assistants. I was unsuited to the rôle'.
, p. 477.
These sentences say nothing about Stalin, but everything about
he pinned onto
his own aristocratic and
concept of a
party: a leader surrounded by docile assistants who deal with current
Next: The `socialists' and
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Previous: The young Stalin
Fri Aug 25 09:03:42 PDT 1995