Iam ready. The rest is up to you,” Stalin wrote to Lenin once he was settled in Vologda, but he wanted to make sure that henceforth he was assigned to the centre. “I want to work but I’d work only in Petersburg or Moscow. I’m free again!”
Stalin treated his own feuds with lethal seriousness, but still sneered at Lenin’s émigré rows. “Koba wrote that he can’t be bothered to bark at the Liquidators or Vperod [the factions of Krasin and Gorky respectively, both opposed to Lenin], because he’ll only mock those who are barking,” wrote one Bolshevik to his comrades in Paris—where Lenin probably heard about Stalin’s latest “immaturity.” Nonetheless, in Paris at the end of May, the Central Committee (CC) appointed a Russian Organizational Committee, with Sergo as a member and Stalin as a special travelling envoy, a promotion soon known to the Okhrana.
Sergo set off for Russia to brief the ragged Bolshevik organization on the new appointments. The Okhrana watched the Caucasian even more closely, but he was an expert dodger of police spies. In early August, he managed to slip out of Vologda and reach Petersburg on a flying visit to meet Sergo. “Sergo gave Stalin Lenin’s directive . . . and Lenin’s request that he come abroad to discuss Party activities.” Here was another minor escape, but Stalin managed to return to Vologda without the spooks even realizing he had gone.
Vologda was a metropolis compared to Solvychegodsk, with 38,000 citizens, libraries, theatres, a cathedral dating from the 1580s, a house that had belonged to Peter the Great and a grand governor’s mansion. Stalin spent a month gathering funds for a longer excursion, and he read voraciously, visiting the library seventeen times. “I’d have thought you’d been strolling some other city’s streets,” his fellow exile from Solvychegodsk, Ivan Golubev, wrote teasingly, “but I . . . learn you’ve not budged, wallowing in semi - exile conditions. That’s sad if true. So what are you going to do now? Wait? You might go insane with idleness!”
Yet Stalin seemed to be indulging the sybarite hidden within his steely ascetic for perhaps the only time in his life. His Okhrana surveillance soon divined the reason: a runaway schoolgirl who was the live - in mistress of Stalin’s fellow exile Peter Chizhikov. Aged just sixteen, she was Pelageya Onufrieva, a pupil at the Totma Gymnasium and daughter of a prosperous Solvychegodsk smallholder. She had embarked on an affair with Chizhikov when he was exiled to Totma and eloped with him to Vologda, where she met the Caucasian. Chizhikov, who had encountered Soso in prison a few years earlier, soon fell under his spell, running his errands and raising money for his next escape. He did not seem to mind when this friendship developed into a ménage à trois with Soso.
Pelageya was just a frivolous and rebellious schoolgirl, but she somehow managed to impress the Okhrana agents with her fine clothes. They code - named her “Nariadnaya”—the Well - Dressed One, or Glamourpuss. No wonder even the obsessionally ambitious and committed Stalin was happy to waste a month in her company. “I always knew him as Josef,” she recalls. The serpent literally offered Eve the forbidden fruit: “In those days one wasn’t supposed to eat in the street but there was a shady avenue lined with trees. I went there with Stalin who often invited me . . . Once we sat on a bench and he offered me the fruit: ‘Eat some. No one will see you here . . .’”
His friend Chizhikov worked during the day at the Colonial Goods Store. As soon as he left his home to go to work at 9 a.m., the spooks watched Stalin turn up and disappear inside. “We were quite happy when we were at home,” Glamourpuss recounts, “we’d read quietly. He knew I loved literature. We talked a lot about books. We used to have lunch together, walked around town for hours and visited the library and we joked a lot. I was silly but so young.” Soso, ever the teacher, lectured her on Shakespeare (including literary criticisms of The Tempest) and the paintings of the Louvre (which he must have visited during his week in Paris). Most touchingly he poured out his heart about Kato: how he had loved her, how he had wanted to shoot himself after her death, how his friends had taken away his gun and what beautiful dresses she made—and he mentioned his son Yakov. Stalin “had lots of friends. He had good taste—despite being a man,” jokes Glamourpuss. “He talked about southern landscapes, how beautiful were the gardens, how elegant the buildings. He’d often say to me, ‘I know you’d love it in the south. Come and see it for yourself . . . You’ll be treated as one of the family!’”
Glamourpuss was cheeky and intelligent. Stalin was attracted to strong women, but ultimately preferred submissive housekeepers or teenagers. He undoubtedly enjoyed adolescent and teenage girls, a taste that later was to get him into serious trouble with the police. Even though the rules in Tsarist Russia were much laxer than they are today, particularly far away from the capital, this must reveal, at least, a need to dominate and control on Stalin’s part. But it was not an obsession—some of his girlfriends were older than him.
Pelageya seemed to have understood the Caucasian better than most. She was probably the only person in his life to have teased him about his strangeness; he opened up to her. Even this most thin - skinned and touchy of men enjoyed Glamourpuss’s mischief. He nicknamed her “Polya;” she called him “Oddball Osip.”
“It was a long hot summer,” she reminisces, but when it was over she felt “she would never see him again.” One senses that Stalin had women in every town at this point. He told Glamourpuss that he was engaged to another girl in St. Petersburg, later writing to her: “You know I travelled to St. Petersburg to get married, but finally I ended up in prison . . .” If Oddball Osip had another woman, Polya the Glamourpuss, at the centre of a ménage à trois, could hardly complain. But who was the woman in Petersburg?
Glamourpuss “always knew he was going to leave. I wanted to see him off but he wouldn’t let me, saying he was being followed.” But “just before he left, he came over that morning” for a tender parting.
“I want to give you this as a present,” he said, handing her a book, “to remember me by. It’ll interest you.”
“It certainly will,” said Glamourpuss.
“Give me something to remember you by,” asked Oddball Osip.
She gave him as a keepsake the cross that hung around her neck, but he would not take it. Instead he accepted the chain and “hung it on his watch.” She asked for a photograph of him, but Stalin, about to plunge again into his secret life, refused: “No one photographs me. Only in prison by force. One day, I’ll send you my photograph, but for now, it would just get you into trouble.”
The book he gave her was A Study of Western Literature by Kogan, a special present from an autodidactic bibliophile, dedicated:
To clever, fiery Polya
From Oddball Osip*
They never met again but he kept writing. His letters, reported Pelageya, “were always very witty—he knew how to be funny even in the difficult moments of life.” But when he was exiled in 1913, “I lost contact with him for ever.”
However delightful the Glamourpuss, Oddball Osip could linger no longer. At 3:45 p.m. on 6 September 1911, the Okhrana spies reported that, accompanied by Chizhikov, “the Caucasian arrived at the station with two pieces of luggage—a little trunk and a bundle, apparently of bedclothes, and boarded the train for Petersburg.” The spooks noticed that Stalin twice checked all the carriages, pretending to miss his tails.
“Djugashvili went by train Number Three under observation of agent Ilchykov,” the Vologda Okhrana telegraphed Petersburg. “I ask you to meet him. Captain Popel.” Yet Soso outwitted the reception party at the station: when he arrived at 8:40 p.m., he had shaken off the agents.
“The provincial,” sneers the snobbish Trotsky, “arrived in the territory of the capital.” Stalin first searched for Sergei Alliluyev, but he was not home. So he just strolled up and down Nevsky Prospect until he bumped into Silva Todria, his Georgian printing expert.
Just before Stalin’s arrival, Stolypin, the Russian Premier, was assassinated right in front of the Emperor’s box at the theatre in Kiev. The assassin was a rogue secret - police informer, who again personified the dangers of konspiratsia. The victim was the last great statesman of the Russian Empire.
“Dangerous times,” Todria warned Soso. “After Stolypin’s murder, the police are everywhere. Concierges check all papers.”
“Let’s find a boarding - house near by,” suggested Soso. The boarding - house “Russia” accepted his Chizhikov passport.
At the Alliluyev home, the doorbell rang. “I was very happy to see our friend Silva Todria,” writes Anna, “but he wasn’t alone. Behind him stood a thin man named Soso in a black coat and fedora.” They asked for Sergei Alliluyev, but he was not home—so they waited. Soso read the newspapers. When Alliluyev got home, they peered out of the window: the police spies had picked up his trail when he collected his luggage. Now they watched the street.
Alliluyev called in his daughters, Anna and Nadya: “Go outside into the courtyard and see if there are two spooks in bowler hats.” The excited girls spotted one agent in the courtyard, another in the street and two more at the corner.
Stalin returned for the night to the Russia guesthouse. At 7: 50 a.m. on 9 September, there was a banging on his door.
“Let me sleep!” shouted Soso, always the nocturnal creature. The police burst in and arrested him, finding maps, photographs, letters, a German phrasebook (suggesting he was hoping to travel to Lenin’s imminent Prague Conference) and the passport of Chizhikov, who had thus lent Stalin not just his girlfriend but his name too.1
Locking him up in the Petersburg House of Detention to await sentence, the Okhrana took charge of the Caucasian, keeping him for three weeks, neither informing the local police department nor handing him over to the Gendarmes. Probably they were making the usual attempt to turn him into a double - agent, but on 2 October they eventually informed the Petersburg Gendarmerie, whose Colonel Sobelev thereupon recommended exile “to eastern Siberia . . . for five years.”
The Interior Minister, A. A. Makarov, reduced the sentence to three years. Stalin was allowed to suggest Vologda as his place of residence and to travel by his own means, instead of in a cluster of convicts. The physical description on his file was so inconsistent it might have belonged to another man. Was this just another case of the Tsarist regime’s lenient muddle? Had palms been greased in 16 Fontanka or at the Interior Ministry? Did Stalin make some duplicitous deal or was the Okhrana hoping he would unconsciously lead them to his comrades? We do not know—but, the moment he was released with his travel - pass back to Vologdan exile, he slipped his Okhrana tails and disappeared for ten days into the streets of Petersburg, technically escaping again.
He met up with his friends Sergo and Spandarian. “In December 1911, Stalin was hiding from the police on Petersburgskaya Storona in the apartment of the Tsimakov family,” says Vera Shveitzer, Spandarian’s chief mistress, “and we went to see him. He lived in a cold room in a wooden glass - roofed house in a courtyard.” They got an exuberant reception: Stalin “ran up to us and took our hands and dragged us into the room, roaring with laughter; we laughed back.”
“You know how to enjoy yourselves,” he said.
“Yes, we’ll dance to celebrate your release!” answered Spandarian.
Sergo and Spandarian were about to travel to Lenin’s Prague Conference, which marked the formal birth of the Bolshevik Party—and the divorce from the Mensheviks. Stalin had been invited but, after his new sentence, he was unable to go. Sergo and Spandarian took his messages to Lenin. “There was a small meeting in my apartment,” recalls Shveitzer, attended by the three Caucasians. Sergo gave Stalin fifty roubles. On the run, “Stalin spent every night in a different place.”
On Christmas Day, he was back in Vologda. He walked the streets in black coat and fedora looking for lodgings. His new landlord was a retired Gendarme who “didn’t like Josef Vissarionovich”—for paternal as well as political reasons. The old Gendarme and his wife had a divorced daughter named Maria Bogoslovskaya with three young children and a sixteen - year - old maid named Sophia Kryukova. Soso lived on a little bed behind the curtain next to the stove in the kitchen, but he evidently entered into another affair with the divorcee Maria. Even though she wrote her memoirs in 1936, when nothing explicit could be recorded about the private foibles of the Leader, Sophia the maid implies that the exile and the divorcee had a relationship. “He and Maria often used to argue and she used to cry. They shouted and were almost at each other’s throats. During their rows, the names of other women could often be heard.”
Stalin flirted with the maid while fending off the jealous Gendarme’s daughter. “Once after a public holiday,” says Sophia the maid, “I noticed Josef Vissarionovich was watching me from behind the curtain. I had long black hair and wore an attractive dress with a long skirt of flowered Japanese cloth.”
“That dress really suits you,” said Stalin. “In my homeland, Georgia, girls your age wear dresses like that.” Sophia was sensible in 1936 not to reveal how well she knew Stalin, but they obviously spent some time together because she introduced him to her boozy father, who embarrassed her.
“Don’t worry,” Stalin comforted her, “my father was a drunkard too. Mother brought me up.” He clearly enjoyed showing off about his education and foreign languages. When he read Zvezda (the Bolshevik Star) and foreign newspapers, he impressed her by translating passages into Russian. “It really made me laugh,” she recalls.
Stalin usually came home late at night and was visited only by a tall dark man, possibly Shaumian or Yakov Sverdlov, a rising young Bolshevik. He met up again with his cuckolded friend Chizhikov. Their ménage à trois was not resuscitated because Glamourpuss had gone back to school. But she was on his mind. On arrival, he sent an erotic postcard of Aphrodite to his teenage Venus in Totma: “Well, fiery Polya, I’m stuck in Vologda and hugging your ‘dear’ ‘nice’ Petenka [Chizhikov]. So drink the health of your famous Oddball Osip.”*
Romancing the landlord’s daughter and her maid, Stalin was killing time while awaiting developments in Prague. There, the Conference of just eighteen delegates, a sign of how much the Party had shrunk, chose the first true Bolshevik Central Committee. Sergo and Spandarian were elected, but the rising star was a stirring, working - class orator named Roman Malinovsky. Lenin was thrilled by this genuine proletarian talent. “He makes an excellent impression,” he exulted; “the soil is rich!” Malinovsky looked the part: “tall, strongly built and dressed almost fashionably” with “thick reddish hair and yellow eyes,” his pockmarks gave him “a fierce expression as if he’d been through fire.” But he had one serious drawback: when arrested some time earlier and convicted of rape and burglary, he was recruited by the Okhrana and code - named “Portnoi” (the Tailor). He was their highest - paid agent.
At the first Central Committee, Lenin and Zinoviev proposed the co - option of Stalin.* He had gained a new importance for Lenin as a nationalities expert. Lenin now recognized that Stalin was one of the few Bolsheviks who shared his keenness to formulate policies that would win followers amongst the non - Russian peoples of the Empire, but without promising them independence. The Tailor dutifully reported to his Okhrana paymasters that Stalin, Spandarian and Sergo “were elected to the Russian Bureau to be paid 50 roubles monthly wages.” Unlike the Okhrana, Stalin took some time to find out about Prague and wrote to Krupskaya to learn more. “I got a letter from Ivanovich [Stalin’s Party code name],” Krupskaya told Sergo, but “it’s immediately obvious he’s terribly cut off from everything, head in the clouds . . . What a pity he couldn’t attend the Conference.” In a coded letter, Stalin begged Shveitzer for news of Prague.
The isolation was about to end. Sergo was already on his way to Vologda.
On 18 February 1912, the Vologda police spies reported that the Caucasian met “an unknown man”—surely Sergo—who announced his promotion to the Central Committee, the highest organ of the Party, a status he would hold for the rest of his life, and handed over his salary, secret addresses and codes. It was probably now that Stalin agreed with Krupskaya, chief code maker as well as Lenin’s wife, to use Gorky’s poem “Oltenian Legend,” as their code. His handwritten copy of the poem survives.
Meanwhile Lenin, back in Paris, panicked at the lack of news: “There’s no word of Ivanovich. What’s happened to him? Where is he now? How is he?” Sergo finally reported to Lenin that he had met Soso: “I made a final agreement with him. He is satisfied.”
It was time to disappear again. Whenever he wanted to vanish from Vologda, Soso bribed the local police with five gold roubles and, according to Vera Shveitzer, escaped five times.
His landlady, Gavrilova, found him packing. “Are you going away?”
He hesitated: “Yes I am.”
She said she would have to inform the police.
“Could you do it tomorrow?” he asked. She agreed.
At 2 a.m. on 29 February, his tails reported him boarding the train for Moscow without permission. But first he received a last letter from his schoolgirl. He bought another sensual postcard, showing a sculpture of a couple wildly kissing and wrote this to Glamourpuss:
I got your letter today . . . Don’t write to the old address since none of us are there any more . . . I owe you a kiss for the kiss, passed on to me by Peter. Let me kiss you now. I’m not simply sending a kiss but am kiiissssing you passionately (it’s not worth kissing any other way),
So, on the last night of February 1912, Stalin surreptitiously caught the train, via Moscow, to the capital. Lenin’s new CC member was on the road.2
* In 1944, the secret police confiscated her copy of this book along with postcards from Stalin. See the Epilogue.
* His other, considerably less glamorous correspondent there was a stolid and bespectacled Bolshevik of just twenty - two who had been in exile in Solvychegodsk just before him. His name was Vyacheslav Scriabin, later “Molotov,” who became his longtime political henchman. Molotov heard that Stalin was known as the “Caucasian Lenin.” He was musical and could play the violin and mandolin. He earned one rouble a day by playing mandolin for rich merchants and their molls in the local restaurant and in the new cinema there. Stalin regarded this as beneath him as a Bolshevik. Later he taunted Molotov, “You performed for drunk merchants—they smeared your face in mustard!” Scriabin did not adopt his “industrial name” Molotov until 1914. At this time he was called Ryabin, Zvanov, Mikhailov and V.M., though the Okhrana called him “the Runner” because he walked so fast.
* Stalin’s associates from Tiflis and Baku, Kalinin and Shaumian, were elected candidate CC members—substitutes if full members were arrested. Elena Stasova became Secretary of the Russian Bureau.