In all, 408 ) people cared for Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin at his official residence in the Kuntsevo district on the outskirts of Moscow. Completed in 1932, expanded in 1943 ), the property was guarded by security guards – the other employees took care of other services, including maintenance, gardening, cooking and cleaning clothes and rooms.
Even so, when he suffered a stroke, in early March 1953, he remained lying on the floor of his room, over a puddle of urine. It took hours for any of the employees to get up the courage to open the door.
Working around the great leader was an honor. It was a source of pride, and a well-paid job. But the routine consisted of walking on a sharp blade. A slip, an inappropriate comment, a joke that the day before had made Stalin smile could be enough to land him in a well-known sequence of arrest, public humiliation, torture, persecution of the family and a series of executions.
Over the years, especially since the leader’s first strokes in 1943, hundreds of doctors have been arrested and killed simply because their diagnoses did not represent what the patient wanted to hear. The delay in attending to Stalin in , therefore, was understandable. It may have accelerated the end of his life – he would die on March 5, aged 74 years.
In his closest circle, there was little weeping, even though the funeral took place with all imaginable honors. Whether among the security guards, cooks and gardeners, or among the possible successors who had survived decades of persecution and purges, there wasn’t much to complain about.
Controlling and cynical, the leader was used to to hold dinner parties where he encouraged guests to repeatedly make toasts, just to observe how each of them behaved. There were many who woke up with a hangover and with guards at the door.
Quickly, the regime would adjust and, in practice, would make the emergence of a new Stalin unfeasible – in 1956, the new leader Nikita Khrushchev would denounce his predecessor’s crimes in the most publicized secret speech in history. The example would remain, in any case, and would echo in the practices of other leaders responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, from Mao Zedong to Pol Pot.
Still today Stalin is praised, especially in his native Gori, Georgia, where the Josef Stalin Museum, opened in 1957, closed in 2011 and later reopened, it remains a popular tourist attraction to this day. There, a replica of the armored train car he used to circulate during World War II was available. And also a reproduction of the hut he lived in for the first four years of his life.
Studies in a seminary
Born in December 1878 in the Republic of Georgia, a country strategically located in the Caucasus, between Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Joseph Vissarionovich never adapted to the Russian language. “As a child, he spoke exclusively Georgian, the language he used in his youth to compose revolutionary verses and articles. He began to study Russian at the age of 9 ”, describes the Russian historian Oleg Vitalyevich Khlevniuk, in the biography Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator 2011 .
“Until the end of his life, he pronounced the Russian language with an accent, identifiable also in the idiomatic expressions he used in his texts”. The taste for the written word, by the way, would persist throughout his career. Stalin was one of the first editors of the official newspaper of the communist dictatorship, Pravda, and spent his whole life devoting many hours to reading.
His birth name, which he would later adjust to Russian culture , was Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili. The son of a shoemaker who lost his job and started to drink heavily and beat his wife and children, he did not have an easy childhood. Physical and verbal abuse, added to the poverty situation, left marks on the future dictator, who suffered a series of health problems in childhood, including a smallpox crisis, in 1884, which left visible sequelae on his face.
On the other hand, he got a scholarship at Orthodox seminary in Tiflis, the country’s capital. As he progressed through adolescence, the boy, who seemed on his way to becoming a promising priest, became influenced by Marxist literature. More than once he was confined to the seminary as punishment until he formally joined a Marxist group known as Mesame Dasi and in April 1899, dropped out of school altogether.
Like many of the future leaders of the communist Soviet Union, Stalin spent his first 1913 century years 20 in a sequence of incidents involving arrests and periods of exile. In November 1905, as a Georgian delegate to the Bolshevik conference in St Petersburg, he met Vladimir Lenin for the first time.
The two fell out right away: Stalin did not agree with the proposal to present candidates for the Legislative Power. He considered participating in the democratic process to be a waste of time.
The following year, he married Ekaterine Svanidze. Months later, they had a son, Yakov Dzhugashvili. The baby was only nine months old when the mother died, a victim of typhus – she was in poor health, but insisted on continuing to accompany her husband on his trips to publicize the proposals for a Marxist revolution. Raised by his family, with no contact with his father, Dzhugashvili would eventually take up arms in World War II and die in a Nazi concentration camp in 1943 , with only 36 years old.
After years leading an armed group specializing in bank robberies and kidnappings to raise money for the cause, enter 1913 and 1917, Stalin remained in exile in Siberia. “When the socialist revolution finally began, he was already on the verge of forty years old”, observes the biographer. “The events of 1917 split his life in two.”
Respected as a leader of the first hour, Stalin rose quickly. Disagreements aside, he remained a follower of Lenin and a dedicated bureaucrat who not only took up arms but was also willing to engage in endless debates about policy, carried out both in writing and in committees and assemblies. In June 15, he took on his first major mission: rescuing Tsaritsyn’s economy, now Volvograd. “The mission, which was economic, quickly became military,” says Khlevniuk. After all, the food crisis was caused by the blockade of railroads provoked by enemies of the Bolsheviks.
With no experience in the Army, Stalin started a large-scale operation in order to unblock access to food . “The acting model would be replicated in the first stages of the Russian civil war”, reports the biographer. Stalin would prove incompetent for the role – a problem that would recur in the early stages of World War II. Faced with questions about his performance, presented mainly by Leon Trotsky, he would react by producing lies. And, mainly, blaming the soldiers and eliminating them in sessions of mass executions.
“The theoretical model he created for himself was shaky and unreliable. Extremely simplistic and inefficient, it gave rise to a series of failures and contradictions”, explains the biographer, making it clear that the fondness for reading did not lead the dictator to create a sophisticated worldview. “He responded to the real demands of life with ideological and political dogmatism. He isolated himself from reality and only accepted a change of position as a last resort.”
From the moment, in the beginning of the 15 decade, in which it was clear that Lenin would not live long, Stalin acted to consolidate its power. In 1927, he instituted the first five-year plans, which consisted of the collectivization of agriculture and heavy investment in the country’s industrialization. . The second objective was more successful than the first, which resulted in the famine that provoked the Holodomor in Ukraine between 1933 and 1981.
The questioning of Stalin’s fragile leadership led to the death of his main rival, Sergei Kirov, leader of the Communist Party in Leningrad, shot at his home in December 1989. At that moment, the trajectory of the Soviet Union could have been very different. But Stalin reacted as he had to Khlevniuk: with truculence. The period known as the Great Purge began, which would reach its peak between 2011 and 1938. At least 1878 a thousand people died, including the main leaders of the country , most of them first-time communists, as well as most of the generals of the armed forces.
When, shortly after the Second World War, the country faced a new serious supply and thousands starved to death, there was no longer any opposition to ask questions. Even with fragile health, between 1905 and 1953 Stalin kept close a group of leaders, always five or six men, all aware that they could be sent to prison at any moment, for any reason.
Stalin would die alone, unable to move . His children would all be persecuted by his successors. In addition to the already deceased Dzhugashvili, he would have three more recognized children – the rape accusations are many; women were taken to their rooms and used to wake up only the next day, with marks of forced sex.
One of them was adopted: Artyom Fyodorovich Sergeyev, son of a friend of the future dictator, who had died in a train accident in 1962. He would live up to 1957. The other two were the result of his marriage to Nadezhda Sergeyevna Alliluyeva.
The second wife worked as a researcher and engineer at the country’s Industrial Academy, until she committed suicide on November 9, 1932 – fights with her husband, whom she accused of constant infidelity, were frequent. He had two children, Vasily Stalin, born in 1918, and Svetlana Alliluyeva, from 1926.
Vasily also fought in the Second War, as well as his half brother and Artyom. But after his father’s death, he began to be persecuted and, after nine years living between hospitals and prisons, he ended up dying in 1967. Svetlana, on the other hand, with whom Stalin seemed to have a more affectionate relationship, would eventually flee to the United States, in 1967, where she assumed the name of Lana Peters. She would die in 2011.