Stalin knew no one at the small frontier - town, but he was an expert at the art of riding the random. He walked the streets until a Polish cobbler asked him: “You’re a stranger?”
“My father was a cobbler in Georgia,” replied Stalin, knowing that the Georgians and Poles shared the chains of Russia’s Prison of Nations. “I must cross the border.” The Pole offered to take him, accepting no payment. Telling this story after the Revolution, Stalin paused, “as if trying to peer into the past,” then added: “I’d like to know where that man is now and what happened to him. What a pity I forgot his name and can’t trace him.” Like many of those who helped Stalin in his youth, the cobbler may well have wished he had buried the Georgian in the forests between empires. Stalin never mentioned that he had a companion at the time, Valentina Lobova.
Across the border in Polish Galicia, Stalin was desperate to get to Lenin, but “I was terribly hungry.” He went into the station restaurant in Trzebinia, where he soon made a mockery of himself. He summoned the Polish waiter in Russian. “The waiter carted around lots of food,” but Stalin was ignored until he lost his temper: “This is scandalous! Everyone else has been served except me!” The Pole did not serve his soup; Stalin had to fetch it himself. “In my fury, I threw the plate on the floor, flung a rouble at the waiter, and flew out!” He was ravenous by the time he reached the Lenins.
We’d hardly greeted each other when I burst out,
“Lenin, give me something to eat at once. I’m half - dead. I’ve had nothing to eat since yesterday evening.”
“Why didn’t you eat at Trzebinia? There’s a good restaurant there.”
“The Poles wouldn’t give me anything to eat,” said Stalin.
“What a fool you are, Stalin!” laughed Lenin. “Didn’t you know Poles regard Russian as the language of oppression?”1
Lenin must have wondered at this blindness—or “greater Russian chauvinism”—in his supposed “expert” on nationalities, but Stalin would adopt a deeply Russian hostility to any sort of Polish independence.*
The two men bonded as never before. “They met me in such a hospitable manner,” Stalin reported in old age. “He [Lenin] wouldn’t let me go anywhere, he persuaded me to stay with his family; I had breakfast, lunch and supper there. I broke the established rule only twice: I warned Krupskaya that I’d be out for dinner and visited the old parts of Cracow where there were lots of cafés.” Stalin’s favourite restaurant was Hawelka, which still stands on the central Market Square. When Stalin dined out, Lenin was concerned.
“Listen, old chap, that’s twice you’ve dined out—aren’t we treating you right?”
“No, Comrade, I’m delighted with everything, but I feel uneasy that you provide everything.”
“But you’re our guest,” insisted Lenin. “How was dinner in your restaurant?”
“The food was fine but the beer was excellent.”
“Ah, now I understand,” answered Lenin. “You miss your beer. Now you’ll have beer at home too,” and “he asked his mother - in - law to provide two or three bottles of beer for the guest every day.” Stalin was again touched by Lenin’s solicitude.
“Illich was very nervous about Pravda,” recalls Krupskaya. Lenin was actually exasperated with Stalin’s conciliatory editorials. “Stalin was also nervous. They were planning how to adjust matters.” Lenin mulled over his dual problems of asserting control overPravda, creating a nationalities policy and promoting his valued henchman. He needed a Bolshevik expert on nationalities who was not Russian—and certainly not Jewish. Three years earlier, he had hailed Stalin as more of an expert on nationality than Jordania. Here was a solution that would kill two birds with one stone.
Lenin proposed that, instead of returning to Petersburg, Stalin stay on to write an essay laying out their new Bolshevik nationalities policy. Stalin accepted.
Around 28 December 1912, Lenin, Stalin and Zinoviev were joined by Malinovsky and two other Duma deputies, Stalin’s friend Valentina Lobova and a wealthy Bolshevik couple who lived in Vienna, Alexander and Elena Troyanovsky, along with their child’s Latvian nanny. “Koba didn’t speak very loudly” but “in a deliberate measured manner . . . with indisputable logic,” recalls the nineteen - year - old nanny, Olga Veiland. “Sometimes he went through to the other room so he could pace up and down listening to the speeches.”
Stalin still resisted Lenin, who was now vociferously backed by Malinovsky—for the most dubious reasons. Lenin and the Okhrana shared their opposition to any SD reunification. Thus the secret police ordered Malinovsky to push this hard line, while Stalin still argued he could convert a few Mensheviks. He hoped Lenin would see that “it was better to co - operate and postpone hardline politics for a while.” Besides, the Duma Six needed a real leader: himself, no doubt.
“There’s an insufferable atmosphere here,” Stalin grumbled in a letter to Petersburg. “Everyone’s impossibly busy, goddamned busy, [but] my situation isn’t actually too bad.” He then wrote an almost loving letter to his old friend Kamenev: “I give you an Eskimo kiss on the nose. The Devil take me! I miss you—I swear it like a dog! There’s no one, absolutely no one to have a heart - to - heart conversation with, damn you. Can’t you somehow make it over here to Cracow?”
Yet Stalin did make a new friend in Cracow: Malinovsky. The convicted rapist and Okhrana traitor, two years older than Stalin, was now enjoying a lavish Okhrana salary of 8,000 roubles per annum—more than the director of Imperial Police, who got only 7,000.
“He was lively, resourceful, handsome,” remembered Molotov, “and he looked a bit like Tito.” Henceforth Stalin wrote to him warmly, sending love to “Stefania and the kids.” Malinovsky slyly denounced other Bolsheviks as traitors to distract attention from himself, but the pressure of a double life was beginning to drive him to breakdown.
At the last meeting on New Year’s Eve 1912, Stalin caved in to Lenin. “All decisions are being accepted unanimously,” enthused Lenin to Kamenev. “A huge success.” But Stalin’s retreat was far from bitter. The meeting, as Malinovsky reported to his Okhrana paymasters, reestablished the Bolshevik machine: a Foreign Bureau (Lenin and Zinoviev with Krupskaya as Secretary) alongside a Russian Bureau, dominated by Stalin and Sverdlov, now Pravda’s chief editor, with Valentina Lobova as secretary.* Stalin was moved from Pravda yet emerged as the senior Bolshevik in Russia (salary: sixty roubles a month), on a prestigious mission to play the theoretician. Stalin was writing hard on the nationalities question, Lenin making suggestions. Stalin sent off his first draft to Petersburg.
Afterwards, Lenin and the Bolsheviks went out to the theatre to celebrate the New Year, “but the play was very bad,” recalls Olga Veiland. “Vladimir Illich walked out with his wife.” Lenin, Stalin and the others saw in the New Year 1913 in a private room at a restaurant. When she was an old lady, Veiland confided that Stalin had started to become flirtatious. “Lenin seemed very cheerful, joking and laughing. He started singing and even joined in the games we were playing.”2
Soon afterwards, Stalin arrived at the apartment of the Troyanovskys in a frozen Vienna, shrouded in snow. Lenin called them “good people . . . They have money!” Alexander Troyanovsky was a handsome young nobleman and army officer: his service in the Russo - Japanese War had converted him to Marxism and now he edited and funded Prosveshchenie (Enlightenment)—which was to publish Soso’s essay. Fluent in German and English, he lived with his beautiful noble - born wife, Elena Rozmirovich, in a large, comfortable apartment at 30 Schönbrunnerschloss Strasse, † the boulevard along which the old Emperor Franz - Josef travelled back and forth every day from his residence at the Schönbrunn Palace to his office at the Hofburg.
The antique, bewhiskered Habsburg Kaiser, who had reigned since 1848, travelled in a gilded carriage drawn by eight white horses, manned by postilions decked out in black - and - white - trimmed uniforms and white perukes, escorted by Hungarian horsemen with yellow - and - black panther furs over their shoulders. Stalin would not have been able to miss this vision of obsolescent magnificence—and he was not the only future dictator to see it: the cast of twentieth - century titans in Vienna that January 1913 belongs in a Tom Stoppard play.* In a men’s dosshouse on Meldemannstrasse, in Brigettenau, another world from Stalin’s somewhat grander address, lived a young Austrian who was a failed artist: Adolf Hitler, aged twenty - three.
Soso and Adolf shared one of the sights of Vienna: Hitler’s best friend Kubizek recalls, “We often saw the old Emperor when he rode in his carriage from Schönbrunn to the Hofburg.” But both future dictators were unmoved, even disdainful: Stalin never mentioned it and “Adolf did not make much ado of it for he wasn’t interested in the Emperor, just the state which he represented.”
In Vienna, both Hitler and Stalin were obsessed, in different ways, with race. In this city of antiquated courtiers, Jewish intellectuals and racist rabble - rousers, cafés, beer halls and palaces, only 8.6 percent were actually Jews but their cultural influence, personified by Freud, Mahler, Wittgenstein, Buber and Schnitzler, was much greater. Hitler was formulating the anti - Semitic völkische theories of racial supremacy that, as Führer, he would impose on his European empire; while Stalin, researching his nationalities article, was shaping a new idea for an internationalist empire with a central authority behind an autonomous façade, the prototype of the Soviet Union. Almost thirty years later, their ideological and state structures were to clash in the most savage conflict of human history.
The Jews did not fit into either of their visions. They repelled and titillated Hitler but irritated and confounded Stalin, who attacked their “mystical” nature. Too much of a race for Hitler, they were not enough of a nation for Stalin.
But the two nascent dictators shared a Viennese pastime: both liked to walk in the park around Franz - Josef’s Schönbrunn Palace, close to where Stalin stayed. Even when they became allies in the 1939 Molotov—Ribbentrop Pact, they never met. Those walks were probably the closest they ever came.
“Those few weeks that Comrade Stalin spent with us were devoted entirely to the national question,” says the Troyanovskys’ nanny, Olga Veiland. “He involved everyone around him. Some analysed Otto Bauer, others Karl Kautsky.” Despite intermittent study, Stalin could not read German, so the nanny helped—as did another young Bolshevik whom he met now for the first time: Nikolai Bukharin, an intellectual pixie with sparkling eyes and a goatee beard. “Bukharin came to our apartment every day,” says Olga Veiland, “as Stalin lived there too.” While Stalin flirted hopefully with the nanny, she preferred the witty, puckish Bukharin. Besides, it was her job to clean Stalin’s shirts and underwear, which, she complained after his death, was something of a challenge.
Stalin and Bukharin got on well. Stalin would write to him from exile, the start of an alliance that culminated in a political partnership in the late 1920s. But Soso came, suffocatingly, to adore and, fatally, to envy Bukharin. The friendship that began in Vienna ended in the 1930s with a bullet in Bukharin’s head.
“I was sitting at the table beside the samovar in the apartment of Skobelev. . . in the ancient capital of the Habsburgs,” reports Trotsky, also living in Vienna, “when suddenly the door opened with a knock and an unknown man entered. He was short . . . thin . . . his greyish - brown skin covered in pockmarks . . . I saw nothing in his eyes that resembled friendliness.” It was Stalin, who “stopped at the samovar and made himself a cup of tea. Then as silently as he had come, he left, leaving a very depressing but unusual impression on me. Or perhaps later events cast a shadow over our first meeting.”
Stalin already despised Trotsky, whom he had called a “noisy phoney champion with fake muscles.” He never changed his view. Trotsky, for his part, was chilled by Stalin’s yellow eyes: they “glinted with malice.”
Stalin’s stay with Troyanovsky was a revelation—it was his first and last experience ofcivilized European living, as he himself admitted. He lived in the room that overlooked the street and “worked there for entire days.” At dusk, he would stroll around Schönbrunn Park with the Troyanovskys. At dinner, he sometimes talked about his past, reminiscing about Lado Ketskhoveli and how he was shot in prison. He was characteristically morose. “Hello, my friend,” he wrote to Malinovsky, now back in Petersburg. “So far I’m living in Vienna and writing some rubbish. See you soon.” But he improved. “Shy and solitary at first,” says Olga Veiland, “he became more relaxed and fun.” He did not feel uneasy with Troyanovsky’s genteel style. On the contrary, he remained fond of him throughout his life.
Little Galina Troyanovskaya was a spirited child who got on well with Stalin. “She loved being in adult company,” and Stalin played with her, promising to bring her “mountains of green chocolate from the Caucasus.” He “used to laugh very loudly” when she did not believe him. But she often teased him back: “You’re always talking about the nations!” she groused. Stalin bought the child sweets in Schönbrunn Park. Once he made a bet with her mother that if they both called to Galina, she would go to Stalin for the sweets. They tested his theory: Galina ran to Soso, confirming his cynical view of human nature.*
Stalin now asked Malinovsky to return the first draft of his article so he could revise it, adding, “Tell me 1. How is Pravda? 2. How is your faction? 3. How is the group doing? . . . Yours Vasily.” He rewrote the article before he left Vienna forever.†
Lenin awaited him in Cracow; betrayal lurked in Petersburg.3
* Stalin told this story to Stanislaw Kot, the Polish Ambassador, at a Kremlin banquet in December 1941.
* Stalin’s friend from Tiflis, Kalinin, was not promoted to the CC because he was temporarily suspected of being an Okhrana double - agent: the Bolsheviks, even while being betrayed by Malinovsky at the very heart of the Party, suspected an innocent comrade.
† Now a boarding - house, the Pension Schönbrunn, which unusually still bears the blue plaque put up in 1949 that reads: J.V. STALIN RESIDED IN THIS HOUSE DURING JANUARY 1913. HE WROTE HIS IMPORTANT WORK “MARXISM AND THE NATIONAL QUESTION” HERE.
* Josip Broz, the future Marshal Tito, was also working there as a mechanic.
* In the incestuous world of Bolshevism, Elena later divorced Troyanovsky and then had an affair with Malinovsky the traitor (according to Malinovsky). She married the Bolshevik grandee Nikolai Krylenko, a member of Lenin’s first government, later Commander - in - Chief of the Red Army, then Procurator - General, finally a brutal People’s Commissar for Justice who was himself shot in the Great Terror. Fortunately Krylenko left Elena in the late 1920s, which probably saved her life, for she survived the Terror, working quietly in the archives, dying naturally in 1953. The Troyanovskys’ daughter Galina married another Bolshevik magnate, Valerian Kuibyshev, Stalinist Politburo member, womanizer and drinker who ill treated her. Stalin said he would have intervened if he had known of Kuibyshev’s drunken promiscuity. Kuibyshev’s suspicious death from alcoholism in 1935 suited Stalin. The nanny Olga Veiland became a Party and Comintern apparatchik, retiring young and surviving into old age. The destiny of Troyanovsky—even though he turned against the Bolsheviks—was very different: see the Epilogue.
† Marxism and the National Question was Stalin’s most famous work: he himself never stopped editing it during his long life. It was an answer to the Austrian socialists who proposed what Lenin called “an Austrian federation within the Party.” As ever, Lenin was being practical and farsighted, as well as ideological. He feared that the Jewish Bundists or Georgian Mensheviks, who advocated variations on cultural autonomy or even national separatism, would make the Party and ultimately the Russian Empire ungovernable under Bolshevism. He needed a theory that offered the ideal of autonomy and the right of secession without necessarily having to grant either. Lenin and Stalin agreed that nothing should stand in the way of a centralized state. Stalin defined the nation as a “historically formed, stable community of people, united by community of language, territory, economic life and psychological make - up.” On the Jews, Stalin asked: “What sort of nation is a Jewish nation which consists of Georgian, Dagestani, Russian and American Jews who don’t understand each other, inhabit different parts of the globe . . . and never act together in peace or war? They’re being assimilated” for they have “no stable and large stratum associated with the land . . .” He attacked “Austro - Marxism” and national autonomy, but in the Caucasus accepted “regional autonomy.” The right of secession was offered (in theory) but should not be taken. This paper was not beautifully written, but it had a sort of subtlety that turned into a reality when Stalin created the web of republics that became the USSR. It remains relevant because the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 allowed the full republics such as Ukraine, Estonia and Georgia to become independent but not the autonomous republics such as Chechnya.