Ekaterina Dzhugashvili – Stalin’s mother

Joseph Stalin’s mother, Ekaterina Dzhugashvili, born 5 February 1858, married at the age of fourteen. Her first two children, both boys, died within their first year. Her third child, Joseph Dzhugashvili, was born 18 December 1878, and although struck by a bout of smallpox, he survived. History would remember him better as Joseph Stalin.

‘A sensitive child’

Ekaterina Dzhugashvili

Ekaterina Dzhugashvili, known as Keke, dictated her  memories in 1935, two years before her death. The transcript was stored by the Georgian archive of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and was only released in 2007 on the specific request of British author, Simon Sebag Montefiore, who, at the time, was writing his second biography of Stalin, Young Stalin.

She called her son ‘Soso’, Georgian for ‘Little Joey’: “My Soso was a very sensitive child,” she wrote.

Seeing her son’s survival as a gift from God, Keke was determined to see Soso enter church school to train to become a priest, fighting off, often physically, her husband’s insistence that he become a cobbler. “Mummy,” said the young Soso, “what if, when we arrive in the city, father finds me and forces me to become a shoemaker? I want to study. I’d rather kill myself than become a cobbler.” “I kissed him,” wrote his mother, “and wiped away his tears. Nobody will stop you studying, nobody is going to take you away from me.”

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The Death of Vladimir Lenin

On 21 January 1924, Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, died aged only 53, having suffered three severe strokes.

‘Today I shot at Lenin’

Death of LeninOn 30 August 1918, Vladimir Lenin survived an assassination attempt. His would-be killer, 28-year-old Fanny Kaplan, a Socialist Revolutionary, shot at him three times, hitting Lenin twice – in the jaw and the neck. Interrogated by the Cheka, the state’s secret police, Kaplan said, ‘Today I shot at Lenin. I did it on my own. I will not say from whom I obtained my revolver. I will give no details.’ She was executed on 3 September. Lenin survived but was weakened by his injuries which, less than six years later, contributed to his early death.

One of the bullets fired into Lenin by Kaplan was only removed in April 1922. The effect of his wounds, together with the strains of revolution, civil war, uprisings and forging a new country, took its toll on Lenin. His workload as head of state was enormous and in latter years he suffered increasingly from fatigue and headaches. He suffered his first stroke in May 1922 which deprived him of speech and impeded his movement. Six months later he returned to work, albeit on a lighter schedule.

Lenin’s Testament

In December 1922, while recuperating, Lenin wrote his ‘Testament’, in which he proposed changes to the structure of the party’s Central Committee and commented on its individual members, including Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin. His most severe criticism was reserved for Joseph Stalin whom he had in April 1922 appointed the party’s General Secretary. Lenin was regretting his haste, questioning the amount of authority placed in Stalin’s hands. Continue reading

Lenin’s Testament – a summary

In December 1922, while recovering from a stroke, Bolshevik party leader, Vladimir Lenin, wrote his 600-word ‘Testament’ in which he proposed changes to the structure of the party’s Central Committee and commented on its individual members, comments that caused turmoil within the party leadership following his death in January 1924.

LeninLenin began his Testament with his concerns over the open antagonism between Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, fearing that their hatred of each other would cause a split within the Centre Committee: ‘Relations between them make up the greater part of the danger of a split,’ he wrote. He suggested doubling the membership from 50 to 100.


But it is Lenin’s judgements on individual members of the Centre Committee that make his Testament such a fascinating document. Leon Trotsky, for example, is described as ‘distinguished not only by outstanding ability. He is personally perhaps the most capable man in the present C.C., but he has displayed excessive self-assurance and shown excessive preoccupation with the purely administrative side of the work.’


Of Nikolai Bukharin, Lenin wrote, he is ‘rightly considered the favorite of the whole Party, but his theoretical views can be classified as fully Marxist only with the great reserve, for there is something scholastic about him.’


There’s also mention of Georgy Pyatakov who is, in Lenin’s words, ‘unquestionably a man of outstanding will and outstanding ability, but shows far too much zeal for administrating and the administrative side of the work to be relied upon in a serious political matter.’

Kamenev and Zinoviev

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Grigori Rasputin – a summary

When Prince Felix Yusupov offered his guest, Grigori Rasputin, refreshments at his palace in St Petersburg on the evening of 29 December 1916, the glass of red wine and his favourite cakes were laced with enough poison to kill five men. Rasputin, however, seemed totally unaffected as he gulped back the wine and wolfed down the cakes.

RasputinDespairing, Yusupov shot Rasputin in the back and then, satisfied, left to join his fellow conspirators. Returning a little later to check on the body, Rasputin sat up and lunged at the prince. The prince’s friends came to his rescue, shooting the ‘mad monk’ a further three times, once in the forehead. But still refusing to die, Rasputin’s attackers resorted to clubbing him senseless then wrapping his body in a blue rug and throwing him in the icy waters of the River Neva.

The subsequent autopsy found that Rasputin had died by drowning, implying he had survived the huge dose of poison, four bullets, and the severe clubbing. Prince Yusupov and his pro-monarchist friends believed they were acting in the best interests of the monarchy.

At least, this is the story that has filtered down through the decades.

The Russian people will be cursed

Rasputin had a sense of his coming demise, warning the tsar, Nicholas II, weeks before his death:

‘I shall depart this life before January first. If one of your relatives causes my death, then none of your children will remain alive for more than two years. And if they do, they will beg for death as they will see the defeat of Russia, see the Antichrist coming, plague, poverty, destroyed churches, and desecrated sanctuaries where everyone is dead. The Russian tsar, you will be killed by the Russian people and the people will be cursed and will serve as the devil’s weapon killing each other everywhere.’

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Birth of Stalin

On 18 December 1878, in the town of Gori, Georgia, was born one history’s greatest tyrants, Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, better known to history by his adopted name – Stalin, ‘man of steel’. For reasons that remain a mystery, Joseph Stalin always maintained he was born on 21 December 1879 and it was this date that was celebrated throughout his life. The change of date may possibly be to do with Stalin’s attempts to confuse and evade the tsar’s secret police.

Birth of StalinJoseph Stalin’s father, Vissarion Dzhugashvili, known as Basu, was a shoemaker. An alcoholic, he spent much of his time in Tiflis (now Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, 50 miles east of Gori) producing shoes for the Russian army. On his drunken and increasingly rare appearances at home, he would beat his wife and son. (Pictured is Stalin, aged 15, in 1894).

‘Like a Tsar’

Stalin’s mother, Ekaterina, or ‘Keke’, also meted out punishment on her son but generally was protective of her ‘Soso’ (Georgian for ‘Little Joey’), especially on account that her first two children, both boys, had died in infancy. Stalin only learnt to speak Russian when aged about nine but never lost his strong Georgian accent.

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Ekaterina Svanidze – Stalin’s first wife

Alexander Svanidze, an old school friend of Stalin’s and a fellow revolutionary, introduced the 28-year-old Joseph Stalin to his sister, Ekaterina Svanidze. Nicknamed Kato, Ekaterina was born in Georgia on 2 April 1885. Respecting her devoutness, Stalin put aside his atheism and the couple were married in an Orthodox church in Tiflis (now Tbilisi), capital of Georgia, in 1906.

Together they had a son, Yakov, born 18 March 1907, but with Stalin away so much, inciting unrest, his wife and son saw little of their wandering revolutionary. Ekaterina Svanidze was struck by typhus and died, possibly in Stalin’s arms, on 5 December 1907. She was twenty-two.

‘My last warm feelings for humanity’

Her death greatly affected Stalin and he later claimed that, beside his mother, also called Ekaterina, Kato was the only women he had loved. At her funeral, which, again, Stalin allowed to take place in an Orthodox church, he reputedly said, ‘This creature softened my heart of stone. She’s died and with her have died my last warm feelings for humanity.’

He ignored his son, who was brought up by the Svanidzes. Alexander Svanidze was, according to Svetlana Alliluyeva, Stalin’s daughter from his second marriage, a ‘splendid character’. But it didn’t save him.

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The October Revolution – a summary

A summary of the October Revolution of 1917.

The Russian tsar, Nicholas II, had been disposed following the February Revolution of 1917 to be replaced by a provisional government, headed by Alexander Kerensky, and aided and hampered in equal measure by the various councils of workers, or ‘soviets’. These soviets comprised of representatives of various socialist parties, including the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. The relatively obscure Bolshevik party, headed by the charismatic Vladimir Lenin, may have preached ‘All power to the Soviets’, but their real aim was for one-party rule.

‘History will not forgive revolutionaries for procrastinating’

The provisional government’s grip on power was tenuous and Lenin (pictured), sensing the time was ripe for a takeover, urged immediate action. On 6 November 1917, he wrote:

The situation is critical in the extreme. It is absolutely clear that to delay the insurrection now will be inevitably fatal. I exhort my comrades with all my heart and strength to realize that everything now hangs by a thread, that we are being confronted by problems that cannot be solved by conferences and congresses but exclusively by the people, the masses, by the struggle of the armed masses. We must at all costs, this very evening, this very night, arrest the Government… We must not wait! We will lose everything! History will not forgive revolutionaries for procrastinating when they can be victorious today, while they risk losing much, in fact, everything, tomorrow.’

The October Revolution in Petrograd (modern day St Petersburg) on 7 November 1917 (25 October, Old Style) was not, in fact, the first socialist uprising within the Russian empire. Two days before, Jaan Anvelt, an Estonian Bolshevik, led a successful uprising in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

‘The Dustbin of History’

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Nadezhda Alliluyeva, wife of Stalin

Joseph Stalin married twice. His first wife, Ekaterina Svanidze, died in December 1907, aged 22, from typhus. His second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, died, having shot herself, on 9 November 1932, aged 31.

As a two-year-old, Nadezhda, or Nadya, Alliluyeva was reputedly saved from drowning by the visiting 25-year-old Stalin. When staying in St Petersburg (later Petrograd), Stalin often lodged with the Alliluyev family. He may have had an affair with Olga Alliluyeva, Nadya’s mother and his future mother-in-law.

In March 1917, Stalin returned to Petrograd from exile to join the unrest following the February Revolution and the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II. By then Nadya was 16 and she fell for the romantic revolutionary with his sweep of jet-black hair.

Mr and Mrs Stalin

Following the October Revolution of 1917, Nadya became Stalin’s personal assistant as he embarked on his job as the People’s Commissar for Nationalities and joined him in the city of Tsaritsyn during the Russian Civil War. They married in 1919 and had two children: Vasily, born 1921, and Svetlana, born 1926. (In 1967, Svetlana was to defect to the US, became known as Lana Peters and died in Wisconsin on 22 November 2011).

Nadya found life in the Kremlin suffocating. Her husband, whom she once saw as the archetypal Soviet ‘new man’, turned out to be a quarrelsome bore, often drunk and flirtatious with his colleague’s wives. A manic-depressive and prone to violent mood swings, Stalin’s colleagues thought her ‘mad’.

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Leon Trotsky – a summary

Born Lev Bronshtein on 7 November 1879 in the village of Yanovka in the Ukraine, Leon Trotsky, the son of a prosperous Jewish farmer, became involved in politics from a young age. Arrested in 1898, Trotsky was exiled to Siberia where he married and had two daughters, both of whom predeceased him. In 1902, he escaped exile using a forged passport bearing the name Trotsky, the name, he later claimed, of a prison guard he had met in Odessa. He made his way to London where, for the first time, he met Vladimir Lenin and joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Following the split of the RSDLP, Trotsky’s loyalty floated between the two factions, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, often repudiating any party ties and holding a stance of non-allegiance. He opposed Lenin on many issues, a stance that was later held against him.

Following the outbreak of disturbances throughout Russia in 1905, Leon Trotsky arrived in St Petersburg and there joined its council of workers, or ‘Soviet’, becoming its chair until its forced break-up by tsarist troops in December. Trotsky, along with other leaders, was arrested and again sentenced to exile in Siberia. But en route, he escaped and made his way to London before settling in Vienna where he founded and wrote a newspaper for Russia’s workers, Pravda, ‘Truth’, earning the nickname, ‘the Pen’, for his writing. With the outbreak of war in 1914, Trotsky, as a Russian, was forced to leave Austria. He lived in Paris until, expelled for his anti-war writings, he emigrated to Spain and then New York, arriving in January 1917.


Trotsky returned to Russia and Petrograd (as St Petersburg was now known) in March 1917 and became, in effect, Lenin’s second-in-command as the Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional Government and set up a new socialist order. (Trotsky turned 38 the day of the October Revolution.)

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Joseph Stalin – a summary

It is said that no person in history has had such a direct impact on the lives of so many as Joseph Stalin had during his lifetime. Born Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili in the small town of Gori in Georgia, Stalin’s date of birth was the 18 December 1878 but for reasons that remain a mystery, Stalin always maintained he was born on 21 December 1879 and it is this date that was celebrated throughout his life.

His parents had had three sons, all of whom died during infancy. At the age of seven, Stalin contracted smallpox. Although he survived it left his face pockmarked, something that he was always self-conscious about. A childhood accident left his left arm shorter than his right and an accident involving a horse-drawn carriage hospitalized the young Stalin for months.

Stalin’s father, a cobbler, became alcoholic and increasingly abusive towards both his wife and son. Brought up speaking Georgian, Stalin only learnt to speak Russian when aged about nine but he never lost his strong Georgian accent. His mother, a deeply religious woman, enrolled her son into a church school. He graduated to the Tiflis Theological Seminary where, instead of reading his set theological texts, he secretly read the works of Karl Marx. In 1898, Stalin joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party and the following year was expelled from the seminary for trying to convert his classmates to Marxism, although his mother claimed he left due to ill-health. For a while he worked as a clerk at the Tiflis Meteorological Observatory while becoming involved in organising strikes, writing articles for socialist newspapers and making revolutionary speeches. During this time he adopted the revolutionary name of Koba.

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