The article below offers a glimpse into the early life of Stalin, shedding light on his character and experiences before he assumed leadership of the Soviet Union in 1924 and remained in power until his passing in 1953.
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Joseph Stalin’s early life spans the years from his birth on December 18, 1878 (or December 6, in Old Style), through the October Revolution on November 7, 1917 (or October 25, in American terms). Ioseb Jughashvili was raised in Gori, Georgia, and went to school there before migrating to Tiflis (today’s Tbilisi) to enroll in the Tiflis Seminary. He was born there, the son of a cobbler and a housekeeper. He adopted Marxism while attending the seminary, became a fervent admirer of Vladimir Lenin, and eventually dropped out to join the revolution.
Ioseb Jughashvili, who would later become known as Stalin, was born on December 18 in the Georgian town of Gori. His parents were Ekaterine (also known as Keke) and Besarion Jughashvili (also known as Beso). He was baptized Ioseb and given the nickname “Soso” at his baptism on December 29. He was their third kid; Mikheil and Giorgi, the previous two, having passed away when they were infants.
Besarion, Stalin’s father, was a shoemaker who once had up to 10 employees, but as Stalin grew up, his business fell into disrepair. Beso had become an expert in creating traditional Georgian footwear and did not create the increasingly popular European-style shoes. This, along with the passing of his two prior baby kids, sped up his descent into alcoholism. The family was forced to live in abject poverty. Over the course of 10 years, the couple resided in nine different leased rooms after having to vacate their house.
Besarion also started acting violently against his family. Keke took Stalin and moved into the home of a family friend, Father Christopher Charkviani, in order to leave the violent relationship. She cleaned homes and did laundry for numerous local people who understood her struggle. Stalin had a stern yet loving mother in Keke. She and her kid routinely attended church services since she was a devoted Christian. Stalin got smallpox in 1884, and the disease left him with permanent face pockmarks. The adolescent sons of Charkviani instructed Stalin in the Russian language.
Keke was resolved to do something that no one else in the family had done before: send her son to school. Despite her financial situation, Keke made sure her kid was properly attired for school, most likely with the help of family and friends. Stalin had a variety of eccentric behaviors as a youngster; for example, when he was excited, he would bounce about on one leg while loudly screaming and clicking his fingers.
Stalin had severe injuries when he was twelve years old after being struck by a phaeton. He spent many months in the hospital in Tiflis and left with a permanent left arm disability. Stalin’s sole employment experience came when his father abducted him and hired him as an apprentice cobbler at the factory.
Tiflis Seminary: 1893–1899
Stalin passed his examinations in July 1893, and his tutors suggested he enroll in the Tiflis Seminary. They leased a place in the city after Keke escorted him there. Stalin requested a scholarship so he could attend the school; he was accepted as a half-boarder and had to pay a reduced tuition of 40 roubles annually. For his mother, this was still a considerable sum, and it’s probable that family friends once again helped him out financially. In August 1894, he formally enrolled at the institution. In these residences, he joined 600 aspiring priests who shared dorms with 20–30 beds.
Despite the seminary’s encouragement for him to return, Stalin left at the end of the term in April 1899 and never came back. He had acquired a classical education throughout the years, but he was not yet eligible to become a priest. Later on, he attempted to romanticize his departure by asserting that the seminary had ejected him for his revolutionary efforts.
Early revolutionary activity: 1899–1902
Stalin then worked as a tutor for kids from the middle class, earning just a poor income. At the Tiflis Meteorological Observatory, where his old buddy Vano Ketskhoveli was already working, Stalin started his career as a meteorologist in October 1899. He was paid twenty roubles a month to work this job during the night. He could read while on duty and the job required minimal effort. This was Stalin’s “only period of sustained employment until after the October Revolution,” according to Robert Service.
Stalin was detained at Metekhi Fortress in the early weeks of 1900. Stalin was in charge of seeing to it that Beso’s taxes were paid, according to the official explanation, but it’s possible that this was just a “cryptic warning” from the police, who were aware of Stalin’s Marxist revolutionary activities. Keke arrived in Tiflis as soon as she was made aware of the arrest, and some of Stalin’s wealthy associates assisted in covering the taxes and securing his release from custody.
In an apartment on Sololaki Street, Stalin had gathered a group of radical young men around him and was teaching lessons in socialist philosophy. Around 500 workers gathered in the hills outside the city on May Day 1900 for a covert nighttime mass assembly that Stalin helped organize. There, Stalin made his first significant address in front of the general public. He urged strike action, which the Mesame Dasi opposed.
Stalin found work in the Rothschild refinery warehouse in Batumi. The warehouse where he worked was set on fire on January 4th, 1902. The company’s employees assisted in putting out the fire and insisted on receiving compensation in the form of a bonus. Stalin notified the firm of a strike when they objected. Through a series of flyers he had printed in both Georgian and Armenian, he stoked workers’ revolutionary fervor. The Rothschild corporation gave in to the strikers’ demands, which included a 30% salary increase, on February 17. Then, on February 23, they let off 389 employees they believed to be troublemakers. Stalin issued a call for another strike in reaction to this later action.
At first, Stalin was detained in Batumi Prison. He quickly rose to prominence and gained respect among inmates while maintaining connections to the outside world. His mother paid him a visit twice. Stalin was ultimately found not guilty because of a lack of evidence that linked him to the unrest in Batumi; nonetheless, he was charged with participating in revolutionary actions in Tiflis.
The Justice Minister proposed that Stalin receive a three-year exile in eastern Siberia on July 9, 1903. In October, Stalin set off on his voyage east, boarding a prison steamer at the port of Batumi and sailing via Novorossiysk and Rostov to Irkutsk. He then traveled to Novaya Uda on foot and via coach, arriving at the little town on November 26.
Stalin attempted to flee Novaya Uda on several occasions. He succeeded in reaching Balagansk on his first try, but he was forced to turn around because of frostbite on his face. He managed to flee Siberia and get back to Tiflis on his second attempt. The Russo-Japanese War broke out when he was in the city. Stalin once more resided at the houses of several acquaintances while in Tiflis, where he also frequented a Lev Kamenev-led Marxist group.
The Revolution of 1905: 1905–1907
Bloody Sunday refers to a protester massacre that happened in St. Petersburg in January 1905. What became known as the Revolution of 1905 began as unrest in one part of the Russian Empire and quickly expanded. Georgia was one of the areas that was heavily impacted, along with Poland. Stalin was in Baku in February during a wave of interethnic rioting that resulted in at least 2,000 deaths between Armenians and Azeris. Stalin established the Outfit, a criminal organization that engaged in armed robberies, racketeering, killings, the purchase of weapons, and the transportation of children. Stalin, according to Montefiore, socialized with the hitmen “Kamo and Tsintsadze” but gave orders in writing to the other members of the Outfit through his bodyguard.
In response to the escalating violence, both the Mensheviks and Stalin established their own armed Red Battle Squads. These armed revolutionary organizations disarmed local law enforcement and military forces and obtained additional weapons by plundering government arsenals. They obtained money by operating a protection ring targeting local miners and major corporations. Attacks were made by Stalin’s militia against the Black Hundreds and Cossack forces of the government.
The Georgian Bolsheviks chose Stalin and two other individuals to represent them in a Bolshevik conference that would take place in St. Petersburg on November 26, 1905. Early in December, Stalin traveled by rail under the identity “Ivanovitch” and met Nadezhda Krupskaya, the wife of Lenin, who informed him that the location had been changed to Tammerfors in the Grand Duchy of Finland. Stalin and Lenin first spoke to one another at the summit.
Stalin had been residing at the Alliluyev family’s apartment in the heart of Tiflis for a while. He gradually became romantically involved with Kato Svanidze, one of the members of this family. In July 1906, they got married;
According to Robert Service, Stalin had become “Georgia’s leading Bolshevik” by 1907. Stalin traveled through St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and Copenhagen to the Fifth RSDLP Congress, which was held in London in May–June 1907.
Final exile: 1913–1917
Stalin was back in St. Petersburg in February 1913. At the time, the Okhrana was taking action against the Bolsheviks by detaining prominent individuals. At a masquerade event the Bolsheviks hosted at the Kalashnikov Exchange as a fundraiser, Stalin himself was detained.
In March 1914, the authorities sent Stalin and Sverdlov to the hamlet of Kureika, on the outskirts of the Arctic Circle, out of worry for any escape attempt. As roommates, the two Bolsheviks there in the izba of the Taraseeva family irritated one another. In the hamlet, Stalin, then about 35 years old, began dating Lidia Pereprygina, who was 14 at the time. Lidia later became pregnant with Stalin’s kid.
Between the February and October revolutions
During the February Revolution, which saw protests break out in Petrograd (now known as St. Petersburg), the Tsar abdicated, and a Provisional Government took his place, Stalin was in Achinsk. Kamenev and Stalin rode the train to Petrograd in March. There, Stalin and Kamenev stated their willingness to support the new government on a temporary basis and approved of Russia’s continued participation in the First World War as long as it was solely defensive. Lenin, who was still living in self-imposed exile in Europe, believed that the Bolsheviks should support a cease-fire and oppose the Provisional Government.
Stalin participated in the preparation of a Bolshevik supporter’s armed protest. He indirectly encouraged the armed supporters who carried out the July Days rebellion by telling their commanders that “you comrades know best,” although not doing so directly. Following the suppression of the armed protest, the Provisional Government launched a campaign against the Bolsheviks, raiding Pravda. Stalin seized control of the Bolshevik leader’s safety after smuggling him out of the newspaper’s office during this raid. He then moved him to five safe homes over the course of three days. Stalin then oversaw Lenin’s escape from Petrograd and transportation to Razliv. He personally moved into the Alliluyeva household after leaving the apartment he shared with Molotov.
As acting head of the Bolsheviks during Lenin’s absence, he oversaw the clandestine Sixth Congress of the party while continuing to edit Pravda. Stalin was chosen at the Congress to be the head editor of the whole Bolshevik press and to be a member of the constituent assembly. Lenin began urging the Bolsheviks to overthrow the Provisional Government in a coup in order to gain power. Lenin’s strategy was supported by both Stalin and Trotsky, but it was rejected by Kamenev and other Bolsheviks. Lenin arrived back in Petrograd, where he won a majority for a coup at a Central Committee meeting on October 10. Lenin and Stalin attended a Central Committee meeting in the Smolny Institute early on October 25, when the Bolshevik uprising known as the October Revolution was being orchestrated.
Who Financed the Bolshevik Revolution?
The Bolshevik Revolution actually was financed by wealthy financiers in London and New York. Lenin and Trotsky were on the closest of terms with these moneyed interests both before and after the Revolution. Those hidden liaisons have continued to this day and occasionally pop to the surface when we discover a David Rockefeller holding confidential meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev in the absence of government sponsorship or diplomatic purpose.