Young Stalin

Youngstalin Fraser Newham reviews Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Young Stalin, in Asia Times Online:

Stalin and Trotsky fall out early on, and in general Montefiore nicely brings out the patterns and vagaries of life as a young revolutionary. Particularly memorable are his descriptions of those long periods of exile many of them experienced from time to time, shipped upriver to the far west where it was hoped they could cause less trouble.

Conditions in these exile settlements were incredibly lax; decades later aging revolutionaries would reminisce about their times in the distant wilds, days spent reading, drinking and, far from family and moral restraints, engaged in more than a little sex. There were no fences or walls around these villages, and “escape” was all part of the game – at one point, in preparation for one such walk out, Stalin even wrote back to his mum in Georgia asking if she could send him some extra clothes.

He was exiled on at least four separate occasions; this included in the years leading up to 1917 a four-year banishment to one of the wildest corners of Siberia, inhabited largely nomadic Tungus tribesmen. Stalin took local clothes, travelled by sled and, like the locals, lived on a diet of fish and reindeer. It was an experience which he later claimed as formative, central to his steely being.

“He became the solitary hunter,” Montefiore tells us, “a role that suited his self-image as a man on a sacred mission, riding out into the snows with a rifle for company, but no attachments except his faith … For the rest of his life he regaled Politburo grandees with tales of his Siberian adventures. Even when he ruled Russia he was still that solitary hunter.”