Two Lost Fiancées and a Pregnant Peasant - Young Stalin

Biographies & Memoirs


When the luminary full moon
Drifts across the vault of the sky
And its light, shining out,
Begins to play on the azure horizon;

When the nightingale’s whistling song
Starts to twitter softly in the air
When the yearning of the panpipe
Glides over the mountain peak;

When the mountain spring, dammed up,
Once more sweeps the path away and gushes,
And the forest, woken by the breeze,
Begins to toss and rustle;

When the man driven out by his enemy
Again becomes worthy of his oppressed country
And when the sick man, deprived of light,
Again begins to see sun and moon;

Then I too, oppressed, find the mist of sadness
Breaks and lifts and instantly recedes;
And hopes for the good life
Unfold in my unhappy heart!

And, carried away by this hope,
I find my soul rejoicing, my heart beats peacefully;
But is this hope genuine
That has been sent to me at these times?

—SOSELO (Josef Stalin)


Two Lost Fiancées
and a Pregnant Peasant

Stalin at first pretended he had never used the name Totomiants, and insisted that he could not have committed any crimes during the 1905 Revolution because he had been in London for a year—though he admitted his escape from exile. When Lieutenant Podolsky asked him about Stefania, Soso, now thirty, admitted meeting her in Solvychegodsk, but “I never cohabited with her,” he said. Whether this was clandestine craft, caddish abandonment or chivalrous care for her reputation, he was capable of all three. But she did not deny him. Four days earlier, Stefania, aged twenty - four, had told Podolsky, “Yes, I know Djugashvili. I’m living with him.”

Three months later, the Gendarmes decided to free her, but “in view of [Stalin’s] tenacious participation in the revolutionary parties and his high position, despite all previous administrative punishments, and his two escapes from exile, I propose the extreme penalty of five years’ Siberian exile.” That was the maximum. Unfortunately, the corrupt Captain Zaitsev had just been dismissed and the new ranking officer was less flexible.

With Soso stuck in prison, his comrades procured the phlegm of a prisoner with TB and bribed a doctor to get him transferred to the prison hospital, whence he appealed to the governor of Baku with a romantic request:

In view of my diagnosed pulmonary tuberculosis . . . I humbly request Your Excellency to . . . examine my health, put me under less restraint and expedite the accomplishment of my case.

I ask Your Excellency to allow me to marry Stefania Leandrovna Petrovskaya, resident of Baku.

   29 June 1910. Petitioner Djugashvili

Stefania, now released, must have visited him in prison and received a proposal because the next day, Soso wrote again, this time calling her his “wife”: “I have learned from my wife who visited the Gendarmes Department that Your Excellency considers it necessary to deport me to Yakutsk. I do not understand such a severe measure and wonder if insufficient knowledge of my case might have led to some misunderstanding . . .”

These appeals were against revolutionary rules, but Stalin’s wheedling lies did not move Colonel Martynov, who still recommended five years. But the liberal viceroy’s office in Tiflis watered down the punishment. On 13 September, Stalin was sentenced to complete his exile in Solvychegodsk and banned for five years from the Caucasus. Though he would return again to Baku, the Tsar’s officials ironically forced Stalin to escape the periphery and concentrate on the greater stage of Russia itself.

On 31 August, the deputy prosecutor wrote to the Baku governor: “Jailed prisoner J. V. Djugashvili petitions to allow him to marry Baku resident Stefania Petrovskaya. Does Your Excellency have any objections to my allowing Djugashvili’s request?” Whether out of sloppy paperwork, bureaucratic mistake or deliberate malice, it was only on 23 September that Bailov Prison’s governor received this: “Prisoner Djugashvili is permitted to marry Stefania Petrovskaya: the prisoner is to be informed. The ceremony will be in the presence of the Governor in the Prison Church.”

When the warders brought this joyous news to Stalin’s cell, he was gone: on that very day, “23 September 1910, Josef Djugashvili was deported to Vologda Province.” By the end of October, he was back in Solvychegodsk. Not only did he not marry his fiancée and unofficial wife, he never saw her again.1

·  ·  ·

Solvychegodsk* had not improved in his absence. There were fewer exiles and the police regime under the ridiculous River Cock was tighter than ever. There was even less to do. We do not know if Stalin ever thought again about his fiancée in Baku, but he was to console himself for the dreariness of exile with another bout of skirt - chasing that led to a forgotten semi - official marriage, and an illegitimate son.

“It was bad living in Solvychegodsk,” recalls a fellow exile named Serafima Khoroshenina, then aged about twenty - two, a well - educated teacher’s daughter from Perm Province. “The police surveillance was bearable but the exiles aren’t alive—they’ve actually died. Everyone lives inside themselves . . . with nothing to say. There wasn’t even common entertainment so the exiles drowned their sorrows in drink.” She might have added that the other main pastime, after feuding with other exiles and hitting the bottle, was fornication. After the Second World War when the Soviet dictator was discussing a diplomatic sex scandal with the British Ambassador, Stalin laughed knowingly that “such questions arise from boredom.”

He first stayed with the Grigorov family. While he was there, he started an affair with the young teacher Serafima Khoroshenina. They moved in together, staying in a single room in the house of a young widow, Maria Kuzakova.

Stalin was not the only one who found sexual adventure as a consolation. He spent much time with a flamboyant Menshevik in a white suit named Lezhnev, “who had been deported to this backwater from Vologda Town because he had seduced the Town Prosecutor’s wife,” according to their fellow exile Ivan Golubev. “He used to tell us about his Vologda adventures and it was impossible not to fall about with laughter—Stalin almost died laughing!”

However much he was carousing in the Kuzakova household, Soso’s mind was elsewhere. Always green - fingered, he started to plant pine trees. And he read frantically, history books and more novels including those by Tolstoy, whose politics he loathed but whose literature he admired. But he was soon ready to escape, bored to tears and desperate to get news of developments from Lenin.

On 10 December, a letter arrived from the Bolshevik Centre. Stalin replied, sending “warm greetings to Lenin,” whom he backed as “the only correct” one against the “Liquidationist trash” and “Trotsky’s base lack of principle . . . Lenin’s a shrewd fellow who knows a thing or two.” But “the immediate task, which will stand no delay, is to organize a central [Russian] group which would command all illegal, semi - legal and legal work . . . Call it whatever you like. It doesn’t matter. Yet it’s as urgent as the bread of life itself. It would begin the Party’s revival.” As for himself, “I have six months left to serve. After that I’m at your service,” but “if the need is urgent, I can weigh my anchor immediately . . .” He was ready to escape—but needed the funds.

Faced with the SD meltdown inside Russia, Lenin tried one last time to reunite with the Mensheviks. Stalin, half - Conciliator, half - Leninist, approved. When the wooing came to naught, Lenin returned to his natural state of exuberant feuding.

“Dressed in a beaverskin hat,” Soso presided over secret meetings of the seven exiles in a dovecote. He was “often very cheerful, laughing and singing in his magical mountain voice,” recalled Ivan Golubev, “but he despised toadies.” Once, he revealed a truth about himself: “We must remain illegal until the Revolution because going legal would mean turning into a normal person.” Stalin had no wish to be a “normal person.” In normal life, his peculiarities would have been intolerable, but in the revolutionary underground (and later the idiosyncratic, paranoiac and conspiratorial Soviet leadership), they were virtues of a “Knight of the Grail.”

“I’m suffocating here without active work, literally suffocating,” he wrote on 24 January 1911, in another letter to a Moscow comrade, whom he hailed: “A Caucasian Soso is writing to you—remember me from Baku and Tiflis in 1904.” The tedium was tormenting him. He talked constantly about escape. Seething about the factional time - wasting of the feuding émigrés, he vented his disdain for both sides, even Lenin: “Everybody heard about the storm in a teacup abroad: the bloc of Lenin - Plekhanov on one hand and the bloc of Trotsky - Martov - Bogdanov on the other. As far as I know, the workers favour the first bloc but generally they disdain those abroad . . .”

Stalin’s outburst soon reached Lenin in exile: he was displeased. At the time, Lenin was holding a Party school at Longjumeau near Paris, and had invited Sergo to study there. Sergo talked up his ally Stalin. One day, Lenin and Sergo were strolling the boulevards.

“Sergo, do you recognize the phrase ‘storm in a teacup’?”

“Vladimir Illich,” replied Sergo, knowing that Lenin had somehow heard of Stalin’s letter, “Koba’s our friend. A lot of things connect us.”

“I know,” said Lenin. “I also remember him well. But the Revolution’s not yet won. Its interests must come before personal likes and dislikes. You say Koba’s our comrade as if you mean he’s a Bolshevik and won’t let us down. But do you close your eyes to inconsistency? Such nihilistic jokes. . . reveal Koba’s immaturity as a Marxist.”

Lenin fired a shot across Stalin’s bows, but soon forgave “Soso of the Caucasus.” Soon afterwards, the Menshevik Uratadze told Lenin about Stalin’s expulsion in Baku. “It’s not worth ascribing too much significance to such things,” answered Lenin, laughing it off. That prompted Uratadze to sneak to him about Stalin’s brutal outrages. “That,” said Lenin, “is exactly the sort of person I need.”

The escape funds—seventy roubles—arrived in Solvychegodsk, but they were almost instantly stolen from Stalin. The money was telegraphed to an exiled student in Vologda named Ivanian. It was usual to despatch such funds to a third party because otherwise exiles lost their allowances. But there was always the risk of theft.

In late January to mid - February, Stalin invented a medical appointment in order to get to the provincial capital, planning to drop by Ivanian’s place, collect the money and catch the train to Petersburg. But the student had other ideas. When Stalin reached Vologda, Ivanian moved him to the house of another exile, Count Alexei Dorrer. First, however, according to Stalin, “Ivanian didn’t pass me the money but just showed me the telegram about sending it (with various words obliterated . . .). He himself couldn’t explain either the ‘loss’ of the money or the missing words in the telegram.”

Soso, according to some accounts, nonetheless took the train to Petersburg, undeterred by the lost money. After walking around all day exhausted, he noticed a pharmacy bearing the Georgian name Lordkipanidze, staggered inside and confessed he was an escapee. The Georgian took pity on his compatriot, hiding and feeding him. Stalin was always amazed how complete strangers helped him.

But a fuming Stalin had to return to Solvychegodsk—and he never forgot Ivanian, “guffawing about the ‘bandit who stole the money and when I met the rascal after the Revolution, he had the nerve to ask me for help.’” If Ivanian really did steal Stalin’s money, it was an act of astonishing courage—and folly. Still protesting his innocence, he was shot in 1937.*

“I also used to hit the bottle,” Serafima Khoroshenina writes laconically. Perhaps it was the drinking - bout to recover from this frustrating interlude that led Stalin to formalize his relations with her. Some time before 23 February, he and Serafima Khoroshenina registered as cohabiting partners, a sort of civil marriage (because only religious marriage existed in the Orthodox Empire). It is an alliance entirely lost or omitted from Stalin’s biography.

The couple were not to enjoy their blissful honeymoon for long. “On 23 February, by order of the Governor of Vologda Province, Serafima Khoroshenina was despatched to serve her time in Nikolsk.” Such were the caprices of Tsarist Autocracy—she was not even given time to bid goodbye to her partner. But she left Stalin a farewell note. To paraphrase Wilde: to lose one fiancée almost on the day of the wedding may be regarded as a misfortune but to lose a new “wife” a week afterwards looks like carelessness. Merry word had spread of this sudden alliance, regarded as a semi - marriage, because a Bolshevik named A. P. Smirnov cheekily probed him in a letter that inquired: “I’ve heard you got married again.”

No sooner was Serafima out of his bed than his landlady, Maria Kuzakova, took her place. “He was a very polite lodger,” she recalls. “Quiet and gentle. Always in his black fedora and autumn coat. He spent most of his time at home reading and writing, and I could hear the floor creaking at night because he liked to pace as he worked.” One day she asked him his age.

“Guess,” he said.


“No, I’m twenty - nine,” he laughed. Kuzakova, whose husband had been killed in the Russo - Japanese War, had three marauding children. “Sometimes they made such an unbearable rumpus that he’d open the door smiling and he’d sing with them.” It is hard to believe Soso was that good - tempered, but Maria became devoted to him, listening to his stories of the seminary.

River Cock, perhaps discovering his near escape, intensified his searches of Stalin’s room, which infuriated Kuzakova. The police knocked on the windows in the middle of the night. This woke the children, who sobbed while Stalin watched with absolute calm. They confiscated some letters from Serafima, including her farewell note, but he continued to meet up for picnics and parties to discuss politics with the other exiles. This irked Zivilev, but Stalin got his revenge. “Once, among the promenading public,” remembers Golubev, “Stalin gave him such a dressing - down that he became terrified of bumping into Stalin, who used to joke that he hardly saw him.” Indeed Kuzakova says, “I’d never seen the police so afraid of one man.”

Stalin was now so close to the end of his two - year sentence that there was no point in escaping, however much he was “suffocating.” He was bored enough to attend the local theatre, for which he was fined twenty - five kopecks. Presumably, Maria Kuzakova was another consolation. By the time he left, it seems she was pregnant with his child. According to her family, she told him she was expecting. He claimed he could not marry but promised to send money, which of course he never did.

On 25 May, River Cock arrested Stalin for attending a meeting of other revolutionaries, sentencing him to three days in the local jail. But Soso had survived his full term. When he was released on 26 June, he never even returned to bid goodbye to his pregnant landlady. “She came home and found her tenant and his stuff gone and only the rent on the table under a napkin.” This was the reason that locals were discouraged from having affairs with exiles: they tended to leave suddenly.*

On 6 July 1911, Soso travelled by steamer down the river to Kotlas and thence to Vologda, where he was ordered to reside for two months. He was under Okhrana surveillance from the moment he settled at various addresses in Vologda. Now the police spies gave him a new code name—“the Caucasian.”

His prolific skirt - chasing was not over. Under the eyes of the Okhrana’s spooks, the Caucasian passed the time in the seduction of a saucy schoolgirl who was the mistress of one of his comrades. When it suited him, he borrowed both the man’s girlfriend and his passport.2

* Stalin’s presence as an exile would return to haunt this region. In 1940, he ordered the construction of a giant steel - mill in Cherepovets because he remembered it from his Solvychegodsk exile, even though it was totally unsuitable: the nearest iron - ore and coal deposits were over 1,000 miles away. But his advisers were too frightened to tell him. The Second World War delayed construction, but building started in 1949. Due to its inconvenient location, it is still known as “Stalin’s Belch.”

* In the early 1920s, Ivanian had the misfortune to literally bump into Stalin in Moscow and he apparently did ask for his help. On 7 June 1926, when he was already the dominant Soviet leader, Stalin was consulted on Ivanian, then an official with the Commissariat of Internal Trade. “In response to your inquiry, I notify you of the following facts that you need to know,” Stalin wrote in his characteristic numbered paragraphs. Point Six concluded: “Later after I went abroad, I received all the Central Committee documents proving that 70 roubles had been sent to me . . . [and] the money was not lost but received by the addressee in Vologda.” Ivanian was expelled from the Party but reinstated after Old Bolsheviks interceded for him. When Stalin unleashed the Terror, the Transcaucasian boss and secret policeman Beria pursued him. Ivanian wrote desperately to the dictator: “I still declare I had nothing to do with the 70 roubles . . . Please help clear my name.” He was ironically exiled back to Vologda, then transported to Tiflis and executed.

* The son, Constantine, was born after Stalin’s departure. Kuzakova left memoirs during the dictatorship that naturally did not contain a confession of their affair., but on balance, it seems that the baby was Stalin’s son. The dates on the birth certificate do not tally, but, as with Yakov Djugashvili and indeed Stalin’s own movable birthday, such documents were often pre - dated or forward - dated. Such events were in any case registered very casually in those days, especially in tiny villages far from Petersburg. Soso made no attempt to meet the child, but, unusually, the boy was later brought to Moscow, given a favoured job in the Central Committee apparat, and protected. He had an interesting career. Given the mother’s insistence, Stalin’s acquiescence in the child’s later career, and his wife Nadya Alliluyeva’s knowledge of the affair, it seems probable the dictator knew Constantine was his son. See the Epilogue.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!