Travels with the Mysterious Valentina - Young Stalin

Biographies & Memoirs


Travels with the Mysterious Valentina

Stalin was back in Petersburg, editing Pravda and staying with Molotov and Tatiana Slavatinskaya, within days of the failed robbery. He poured out articles,* drafted the Manifesto and presided over the nomination for the Duma elections. After supervising the selection of the Bolshevik candidates in Petersburg in mid - October, he oversaw Malinovsky’s nomination in Moscow.

Soso’s life on the run was an exhausting series of “sleepless nights . . . He flitted from one place to another, crossing street after street to confuse the Okhrana, making his way through back alleys,” explains Anna Alliluyeva. “If happening to pass a workman’s café,” he “would sit there over a cup of tea until 2 a.m.,” or if noticed by a Gendarme, “he’d pretend to be tipsy and dive into a café, sitting it out until dawn with the cab - drivers amid the stench of cheap tobacco before coming to sleep in a friend’s place”—especially the Alliluyev apartment with the sensual Olga and her lively daughters. Stalin often “dropped in,” sitting on the sofa in their dining - room “looking very tired.”

The girls were always delighted to see him; their mother, Olga, looked after him. “If you feel like taking a rest, Soso,” said Olga, “go and lie on the bed. It’s no good trying to catch a nap in this bedlam. . .” Reading between the lines of Anna’s accounts, Soso still had a special relationship with Olga, at least in their devotion to the cause. When leaving their place, he would say to Olga, “Come out with me.” Olga “didn’t ask any questions. She put on her coat and went out with Stalin. Having plotted their course of action, they hired a cab and drove off. Stalin made a sign and Mother got out. He was evidently shaking the police off his tracks. Stalin continued his journey alone.”

Stalin invited Olga to the Mariinsky Theatre: “Please, Olga, let’s go to the Theatre immediately—you’ll just be in time for the opening performance.” But, just before the play, he added, “I did so want to see a play even just once, but I can’t.” Olga had to go on her own and deliver a message to a box at the Mariinsky.

On 25 October 1912, six Bolsheviks and six Mensheviks were elected to the Imperial Duma—not a bad result. Karlo Chkheidze, the Menshevik whom Stalin had outraged in Batumi in 1901, was elected Chairman of the SD faction with Malinovsky as his deputy. Among the “Bolshevik Six,” the Okhrana had managed to get two agents elected to the Duma, quite an achievement of konspiratsia. They took the Okhrana right into Lenin’s inner circle.

In Pravda, Stalin pushed for conciliation with the Mensheviks. When the Bolsheviks planned a demonstration outside the Duma, the Mensheviks persuaded them to abandon it. This alarmed Lenin, who bombarded Stalin with articles attacking his conciliatory policy. Remarkably, Stalin turned down forty - seven of Lenin’s articles. Lenin, now in Cracow, summoned Stalin and the Six. “Comrade Stalin,” remembered one of the Bolshevik Six, “immediatedly stated that the Bolshevik delegates had to visit Lenin abroad.”

On 28 October, the spooks observed Stalin visiting his friend Kavtaradze. They followed them when they went to eat in Fedorov’s restaurant, a favourite haunt, but after dinner the police agents realized that he had disappeared. They searched for Soso, but he had vanished.1

Lenin ordered Valentina Lobova, another of the liberated, capable girls of the Bolshevik generation, to accompany Stalin. She commissioned Lenin’s “foreign minister” and secret fixer Alexander Shotman to get Stalin to Cracow “with maximum speed and absolute security. This is a directive from Lenin.” Stalin “had arrived in Petersburg in the company of Valentina Lobova,” in Shotman’s tactful words, “staying in a hotel as a Persian citizen with a good Persian passport in his pocket.”

Shotman explained the covert routes to Cracow—the riskier southerly route via Abo, or the longer, safer route by foot across the Swedish border at Haparanda. Stalin chose the Abo route. Then Stalin set off with Valentina Lobova, smuggled out of Petersburg in a covered cart. They caught the train to Finland from Levashovo Station, using Russian passports. In Finland, Eino Rakhia, later Lenin’s bodyguard, delivered a Finnish passport and accompanied the couple to the Abo steam - ferry. “Two policeman verified documents . . . Although Comrade Stalin . . . did not at all resemble a Finn, everything happily went off without a hitch.” Stalin and Valentina boarded the ferry across the Baltic to Germany.

This was another of Soso’s mysterious relationships. Valentina, code - named “Comrade Vera,” was a beauty married to a Bolshevik who was yet another Okhrana mole: the Party had never been more riddled with traitors. We do not know if she was aware that her husband was a doubleagent, but she was totally trusted by Lenin. Shotman’s memoir shows that Soso (on Persian papers, name unknown) had been travelling with Valentina for some time. They first came to Helsinki, sharing a room in a guesthouse, in “late summer,” possibly September, right after his escape from Narym. Shotman implies that they were together. Travelling hundreds of miles after September 1912, they were apparently lovers, one of those little affairs between comrades thrown together on dangerous missions. When Valentina’s husband was later executed as a traitor, it must have contributed to Stalin’s growing distrust of perfidious wives.*

The pair caught the train to Cracow in Galicia, a province of the Dual Monarchy of the Habsburg Emperor - King Franz - Josef.2

Lenin adored Cracow. The Galician capital was an ancient Polish city. The sarcophagi of the Polish kings lay in the Royal Castle. And it was here that the Jagellonian University had been founded in 1364.

Lenin, Krupskaya, and her mother shared an apartment at 49 Lubomirski Road with CC member Zinoviev, his wife and son, Stepan. Lenin and Zinoviev formed the Party’s Foreign Bureau with Krupskaya as Secretary. Cracow crackled with political intrigue, and reminded Lenin of home. “Unlike exile in Paris or Switzerland,” said Krupskaya, “there was a close connection with Russia”—4,000 of its 150,000 inhabitants were exiles from the Russian Empire, mainly Poles. “Illich liked Cracow very much. It was almost Russia.”

Lenin enjoyed himself ice - skating, while Krupskaya did the shopping in the ancient Jewish Quarter, where prices were lower. “Illich praised the Polish sourmilk and corn whisky.” He played hide - and - seek with Zinoviev’s son under the furniture. “Stop interfering, we’re playing,” he would say, dismissing interruptions—but he was eagerly awaiting Stalin and the Six.

Arriving in the first week of November, Stalin met up with the Lenins, sleeping on the sofa in their kitchen. Stalin, Malinovsky and another Duma deputy, Muranov, were charmed and berated by Lenin, who vigorously argued against any reunion or conciliation with the Mensheviks: his Bolsheviks had to remain a separate party.

Lenin may have been a highly educated nobleman but, with simple joviality and iron will, he was adept at handling tough men of action. He welcomed Stalin and put him at his ease: food brought them closer. Krupskaya served sausagey “German” food, which Stalin suffered for two days but then could not resist saying to Lenin: “I’m hungry—I crave shashlik!” Lenin agreed, “Me too, I’m ravenous, but I’m afraid of offending Nadya. Have you got money? Come on, let’s go eat somewhere . . .” Yet they disagreed on tactics. It was one of the many occasions when Lenin was more hard - line than Stalin, who grumbled that “Illich recommends a hardline policy for the Six, a policy of threatening the majority of the faction [Mensheviks] but Illich will give way . . .”

After ten days, Stalin returned to Petersburg, probably on apolupaska pass, that allowed families with relatives over the border to cross back and forth. He thought Lenin clumsily out of touch and remained an obstinate Conciliator; Lenin considered removing Stalin from Pravda. 3 When the new Duma convened, Malinovsky read out a manifesto, probably written by Stalin, that was friendly to their estranged Menshevik brethren. In defiance of Lenin, Stalin even secretly met up with Jordania and Jibladze, those long - standing Menshevik enemies.*

Lenin bombarded Stalin with demands for another trip to Cracow to discuss the national question—and the Pravda problem. First Krupskaya tried to lure Stalin to Cracow to save him from arrest: “Kick Vasiliev [Stalin] out as soon as possible, otherwise we won’t save him. We need him and he’s already done his main job.” Stalin wriggled out of the trip, citing his health.

“To K.St. Dear friend,” Krupskaya wrote to Stalin, on 9/22 December, for the first time using an abbreviation of his new name, Koba Stalin. “It seems you aren’t planning to come here . . . If so, we protest against your decision . . . We absolutely insist on your visit here . . . regardless of your health. We demand your presence categorically. You have no right to act differently.” Stalin prepared his trip, again with Lobova. Lenin and Krupskaya were delighted: “We hope Vasia [Stalin] and Vera [Valentina] are coming soon with the children [the Duma Six].”

On 15 December, the Duma broke for Christmas.4 Stalin and Valentina left for Cracow,* probably taking the most direct but riskier route. On the train westwards, two passengers were reading aloud from a nationalist newspaper. “Why do you read such rubbish!” Stalin shouted at them. He and Valentina disembarked at a Polish frontier - town on the Russian - Austrian border and prepared to cross on foot—like smugglers.

This was to be Stalin’s longest ever trip abroad—and would bring him to Vienna, that crossroads of civilization, on the eve of the Great War.

* His articles are revealing of his cynical view of diplomacy (he paraphrases Talleyrand) and his belief in doublespeak (long before Orwell coined the word): “When bourgeois diplomats prepare for war, they shout loudly about ‘peace.’ A diplomat’s words must contradict his deeds—otherwise what sort of diplomat is he? Fine words are a mask to conceal shady deeds. A sincere diplomat is like dry water. Or wooden iron.”

* Her husband, journalist Alexander Lobov, was shot in 1918 as an Okhrana agent. She was cleared but died of TB in 1924. Shotman, who remained close to Lenin into the 1920s, was executed by Stalin in 1939.

* This tryst with the arch - heretics would be concealed during the Soviet era.

* There has been much debate about Stalin’s two journeys to Cracow: he himself told many stories about crossing the border. (The old tyrant told the story about the border - crossing and Lenin and the food to his favourite youngster, Yuri Zhdanov.) Was he just lying? In his personal anecdotes, he tended to exaggerate more than totally invent his stories, especially about such a well - known trip. When he lied outright, he did not tell the lie himself, simply inserting it into the information of his propagandists. Thus he probably used that route at least once. Shotman says he arranged the first trip; the other sources are mixed up about the two trips. So this author believes that the meetings with Shotman concerned the first trip for which there was plenty of time to plan. For the second trip, for which there was no such time, Stalin and Valentina probably took the risk of crossing the border by a smugglers’ path.

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