1917 Autumn: Soso and Nadya - Young Stalin

Biographies & Memoirs


1917 Autumn: Soso and Nadya

Stalin moved Lenin five times in three days as Kerensky hunted down the Old Man. Trotsky and Kamenev were arrested, but Lenin, escorted by Stalin, returned to the underground. The police raided the house of Lenin’s sister. Krupskaya hastened to Stalin’s and Molotov’s place on Shirokaya Street to learn where Lenin was.

On the night of 6 July, Stalin rustled Lenin to his fifth hiding - place, the Alliluyevs’ smart new apartment, at Tenth Rozhdestvenskaya Street, where they had a uniformed doorman and a maid.

“Show me all the exits and entrances,” said Lenin on arrival, even checking the attic. “We gave him Stalin’s room,” said Olga. Lenin was surprisingly cheerful, staying for four tense days. Anna Alliluyeva came home to find her apartment full of unknown, nervous people. “I immediately recognized the person to whom I was first introduced.” Lenin sat on the sofa “in his shirtsleeves, wearing a waistcoat and a light - coloured shirt with a tie.” In the “unbearably stuffy” room, Lenin cross - examined her: what had she seen on the streets?

“They are saying you’ve run off to Kronstadt and you were hiding on a minesweeper.”

“Ha - ha - ha!” laughed Lenin with “infectious gaiety.” Then he asked Stalin and the others: “What do you think, comrades?”

Lenin spent his days writing. Stalin visited daily. He quietly took the political pulse at the Taurida Palace, where he bumped into Sergo Ordzhonikidze. Both were worried that “many prominent Bolsheviks took the view that Lenin shouldn’t hide but should appear [to stand trial]. Together,” wrote Sergo, “we went to see Lenin.” The government demanded Lenin’s surrender. At the Alliluyevs’, Lenin, Stalin, Sergo, Krupskaya and Lenin’s sister Maria debated what to do.

Lenin at first favoured surrender. Stalin disagreed. He initially believed that Lenin and Zinoviev should wait and hand themselves in only when their safety could be guaranteed, but his visit to the Taurida convinced him that this was impossible. “The Junkers*want to take you to prison,” he warned, “but they’ll kill you on the way.” Stasova arrived to report that more evidence of Lenin’s treason was being published. “A strong shudder ran over his face and [Lenin] declared with the utmost determination that he would have to go to jail” to clear his name at a trial.

“Let’s say goodbye,” Lenin said to Krupskaya. “We may never see each other again.”

Stalin and Sergo were despatched back to the Taurida Palace to seek a “guarantee that Illich wouldn’t be lynched by the Junkers.” The Mensheviks, Stalin reported back, “replied that they couldn’t say what will happen.”

Stalin and Sergo were now sure that Lenin would be murdered if he surrendered. “Stalin and the others urged Illich not to appear,” says Krupskaya. “Stalin convinced him and . . . saved his life.” Stalin was right: an ex—Duma member, V. N. Polovtiev, encountered the officer assigned to arrest Lenin. “How should I deliver this gentleman, Lenin?” the officer asked. “Whole or in pieces?”

The debate went back and forth. Suddenly Sergo drew an imaginary dagger and shouted like a Georgian bandit: “I’ll slice up anyone who wants Illich to be arrested!”

That seemed to clinch it. Lenin had to be smuggled out of Petrograd: Stalin “undertook to organize Lenin’s departure.” A worker named Emelianov agreed to hide Lenin in his shack in Razliv, to the north of Petrograd.

Olga and Anna Alliluyeva bustled around their guests, making sure that Lenin and Stalin were eating properly.

“What are you feeding Stalin?” asked Lenin. “Please, Olga, you must watch him, he’s losing weight.”

Stalin meanwhile checked that Lenin was being fed properly: “Well, how’s the situation with provisions? Is Illich eating? Do the best you can for him.” Sometimes Stalin turned up with extra food.

Lenin and Stalin cautiously studied the escape plans. On 11 July, “Stalin arrived before the departure and everyone gathered in Lenin’s room to devise ways of disguising him.” Olga tried bandaging Lenin’s head, but that did not work. No one suggested drag.

“Wouldn’t it be better if I shaved,” suggested Lenin. “A moment later, Lenin sat with his face covered in soap” in front of the round shaving - mirror next to the portrait of Tolstoy in Stalin’s bedroom. Soso personally “acted as barber,” shaving off Lenin’s beard and moustache.

“It’s very good now.” Lenin admired himself in the mirror. “I look just like a Finnish peasant, and there’s hardly anyone who’ll recognize me.”

On the 12th, Stalin and Alliluyev escorted Lenin to Primorsky Station for his disappearing act: he hid at Razliv before moving to a barn in Finland. Travelling back and forth, Stalin became his main contact with Petrograd. “One of my sons used to bring Stalin to the shack [where Lenin was hiding] by boat,” remembered Emelianov.

In a barrage of articles, Stalin denounced Kerensky’s “new Dreyfus Affair,” the “vile calumnies against the Leader of our Party,” and the “pen pirates of the venal press.” He specially mocked the Menshevik “blind fools” for acting as patsies. Kerensky, he wrote, would drown them “like flies in milk.”

Hand over the Bolsheviks? he had the Mensheviks asking Kerensky in a rare example of Stalinist satire. “At your service, Messieurs the Intelligence Service.” Disarm the Revolution? “With the greatest of pleasure, Messieurs Landowners and Capitalists.”

Stalin acted as Bolshevik leader—and moved house: it was to change his life.1

“No one’s watching the building,” Olga Alliluyeva reassured him when he dropped in one day. “You’d better live with us, rest and sleep properly.”

Stalin moved out of Molotov’s apartment and into the Alliluyevs’. The rooms were airy, light and comfortable; the kitchen, the bathroom, even the shower, were modern and state of the art; the maid, living in a tiny room, cooked the meals. Stalin took Fyodor’s bedroom (formerly Lenin’s), which boasted a real bed, a round mirror on a wooden shaving - table, an ornate desk and a portrait of Lord Byron. At breakfast next day, he said he had not slept so well for a long time.

Soso was often alone with Olga. Sergei ran his power station; Nadya was on summer holiday in Moscow; Anna worked for the Party. Olga looked after him: she bought him a new suit. He asked her to sew in some thermal pads, two high vertical velvet collars and buttons up to the neck because his sore throat made a collar and tie uncomfortable.*

Soso’s life remained chaotic: he would buy his food on the way home—a loaf of bread and some fish or sausage from a street kiosk. He worked tirelessly editing Pravda, writing so much at his desk with a golden bear standing on the pen set that he developed calluses on his fingers. Sometimes he came home, sometimes not, once sufficiently exhausted to fall asleep in bed with a lit pipe, almost burning the place down.

In late July, he moved out again during the Sixth Congress, covertly held in a monastic building on Sampsonevsky Boulevard, in case of a police crackdown.2 As acting leader, Stalin gave the main report, exhorting the 300 delegates to concentrate on the future: “We must be prepared for anything.” After delivering another report “on the political situation,” he insisted that Russia create her own revolution and stop believing “that only Europe can show us the way,” a precurser of his famous slogan, “Socialism in One Country.” Stalin’s second report was probably written by Lenin or at least drafted with him, but his real partner in rebuilding the Party was Sverdlov, with whom he was finally reconciled.

“The report of Comrade Stalin has fully illuminated the activity of the CC,” declared Sverdlov. “There remains for me to limit myself to the narrow sphere of the CC’s organizational activity.”

Stalin was chosen chief editor of the Party press and member of the Constituent Assembly, but when the Cental Committee was elected he appeared below Kamenev and Trotsky. The Bolsheviks were still at a low ebb, but Stalin predicted that the Provisional Government’s “peaceful period is over. Times will be turbulent, crisis will follow crisis.”3

He returned to the Alliluyevs’. Nadya’s summer holidays were over. She came home, ready for school.

That summer, Stalin lay low with the two sisters in the Alliluyev apartment, where he became the life and soul of the party. “Sometimes Soso did not come for days,” writes Anna Alliluyeva. Then he suddenly arrived in the middle of the night to find the girls asleep, and bounded into their room. They were living in intimate proximity: Stalin’s bedroom and Nadya’s were linked by a door. From his bed or desk, he could see her dressing - table.

“What? Are you in bed already?” he roused the girls. “Get up you sleepy - heads! I’ve bought you roach and bread!” The girls jumped up and skipped into Soso’s bedroom, which “immediately became carefree and noisy. Stalin cracked jokes and caricatured all the persons he met that day, sometimes in a kindly way, sometimes maliciously.”

The autodidact seminarist and the well - educated teenagers discussed literature. He was playful and funny with their friends. He entertained them with stories of his adventures in exile, of Tishka the Siberian dog. He read them his favourite books—Pushkin, Gorky and Chekhov, particularly the latter’s stories “The Chameleon” and “Unter Prisibeev,” but he especially adored “Dushenka,” which he “knew off by heart.” He would often talk about women. “She’s a real Dushenka,” he would say of feather - headed women who lived only for their lovers with no independent existence. He teased their servant, the country girl Panya, and he gave them all nicknames. “When he was in a particularly good mood,” says Anna, “he addressed us as ‘Yepifani - Mitrofani,’” a joke on the name of his landlord in exile. “Well, Yepifani, what’s new?” he greeted the girls. “Oh you’re a Mitrofani, you are!” Sometimes he called them “Tishka,” after the dog.

He talked politics with Sergei and the girls: they were members of the Bolshevik family. Nadya was so proud to be a Bolshevik that she was teased about it at school. Her godfather Yenukidze, Kalinin, Sergo and Sverdlov were already like uncles. Lenin had hidden in their home.

In September, recounts Anna, “Stalin brought home a Caucasian comrade . . . squarely built with smooth black hair and a pale lustreless face . . . who shook hands with us all shyly, smiling with his large kind eyes.” “This is Kamo,” said Stalin. “Listen to him—he’s got plenty of interesting stories!” The girls were rapt: “This was Kamo,” who regaled them with “his half - fantastical life.” The psychopathic daredevil had been in Kharkov Prison for five years, released by the Revolution. He had planned to escape, like the Count of Monte Cristo, as a dead man in a coffin until he discovered that the jailers smashed the skulls of every cadaver taken out of the prison with a hammer—just in case. “Kamo spoke a lot about Stalin and then his calm, quiet voice became exalted.” Kamo had come to Petrograd looking for a new mission, but his connection with the Alliluyevs would lead to tragedy.

The day after Nadya returned, she started to clean the apartment, shoving around the chairs so loudly that Stalin, working on some article, stormed out of his room. “What’s happening here?” asked Soso. “What’s all the commotion? Oh it’s you! Now I can see that a real housewife has got down to work!”

“What’s up? Is that a bad thing?” retorted the highly strung teenager.

“Definitely not,” answered an amused Soso. “It’s a good thing! Bring some order, go ahead . . . Just show the rest of them!”

Nadya the schoolgirl was, observed her sister, Anna, “very vivacious, open, spontaneous and high spirited.” Yet her upbringing in this nomadic and bohemian family, disrupted by constant visitors and by her mother’s promiscuity, had caused her to develop a serious and puritanical streak, a craving for order and security.

“Papa and Mama are muddling along as usual,” Nadya wrote to a friend. She came to despise her mother’s dependence on fleeting sexual affairs. “We children are grown up,” she wrote a little later, “and want to do and think what we please. The fact is she [Olga] has no life of her own and she’s still a healthy young woman. So I’ve had to take over the housework.” Perhaps she regarded her mother as a “Dushenka” like the heroine of Chekhov’s story.

Gradually, in the course of that long, eventful summer, Stalin and Nadya became closer: she already admired him as the family’s Georgian friend and Bolshevik hero. “They spent the whole summer of 1917 shut together in one apartment. Sometimes alone,” says Nadya’s niece, Kira Alliluyeva. “Nadya saw the romantic revolutionary in Josef. And my mother said he was very attractive. Of course Nadya fell in love with him.” He nicknamed her “Tatka;” she called him Soso, or Josef.

Stalin, only child of a driven single mother, must have missed the laughter, playfulness and flirtation of family life. He had enjoyed this in exile, and it was now a decade since his marriage to Kato Svanidze. He had always liked the sort of girl who could cook, tidy and look after him like Kato—and his mother. Indeed, the Svanidzes said that Stalin fell for Nadya because she reminded him of Kato.

“Slowly Stalin fell in love with her,” says Kira Alliluyeva. “A real love match.” Soso could have been her father—his enemies would claim he actually was. The dates do not fit, but Nadya must have known that Soso had probably had an affair with her oversexed mother in the past. Was there competition between mother and daughter for their Georgian lodger?

“Olga always had a soft spot for Stalin,” wrote Nadya’s and Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana. But Olga “disapproved” of Nadya’s relationship, “doing her best to talk her out of it and calling her ‘silly fool.’ She could never accept that alliance.” Was it because she knew Soso’s nature or because she had had an affair with him herself—or both? However, “silly fool” Nadya was already in love with Soso. A few months later, she proudly told a confidante: “I’ve lost so much weight people say I must be in love.”

Stalin later talked about how he chose Nadya over her elder sister: “Anna was somewhat pedantic and tiresomely talkative,” while Nadya was “mature for her age in her thinking” and “stood with both feet on the ground. She understood him better.” He was right about Anna, who was to irritate him for the rest of his life, but he had missed something about Nadya.

The teenager was, in her way, as neurotic, damaged and dark as he, perhaps darker. Nadya’s strictness appealed to Stalin, but it would later clash disastrously with his own bedouin informality and wilful egotism. Worse, her sincere intensity masked the family’s mental instability, a bipolar disorder that would ultimately make her anything but the placid homemaker. “But he got a taste of her difficult character,” says Kira Alliluyeva. “She answered back and even put him in his place.” The defiance of this pretty, devoted schoolgirl with the flashing Gypsy eyes must have then seemed attractive to Stalin. But ultimately theirs would be a fatal and ill - fated combination.

We do not know exactly when they became lovers. They became a public couple ten months later. But the relationship probably started at this time.4

The Bolsheviks were on the verge of a surprising recovery: its architect was not Lenin or Stalin, but a right - wing would - be military dictator. Kerensky promoted a new Commander - in - Chief, General Lavr Kornilov, a Siberian Cossack with slanting Tartar eyes, a shaven pate and a winged moustache, who emerged as a potential Russian “man on a white horse” to purge Petrograd of Bolsheviks and restore order. But Kornilov was as vain as Kerensky—he had a special bodyguard of scarlet - clad, sabre - rattling Turkomans—and not as clever: he was said to have “the heart of a lion, the brains of a sheep.” Nonetheless Kornilov seemed the man of the moment, and he started reading books on Napoleon, always a bad sign in men of the moment.

Kerensky tried to regain the momentum, holding an all - party Moscow conference, away from the turbulent capital. “Petrograd,” wrote Stalin in one of his religious metaphors, “is dangerous; they flee from it . . . like the devil from holy water.” He was right: in Moscow, the General stole Kerensky’s limelight. But the two men agreed that Kornilov should march frontline troops to Petrograd to restore order. Then Kerensky, who also fancied himself as the Russian Bonaparte, suspected the General of planning a coup. There was a dangerous surplus of Napoleons. Kerensky dismissed the General, who decided to march on Petrograd anyway.

The capital waited anxiously. Kerensky, appointing himself Commander - in - Chief, found he was without military support and was forced to rely on the Soviet, which remobilized the Bolshevik Red Guards. The General was arrested, but the Cabinet fell apart. Kerensky thereupon anointed himself the dictator of a five - man Directory. He had survived but, like Mikhail Gorbachev after the August coup of 1991, as a busted flush. Sustained by cocaine and morphia, he reigned, but no longer ruled, from the splendour of Alexander III’s suite in the Winter Palace.

“We have at last a ‘new’ (brand new!) five - man Government,” joked Stalin on 3 September, “chosen by Kerensky, endorsed by Kerensky, responsible to Kerensky.” Bolshevik strength surged in the factories, and among soldiers and Kronstadt sailors. “The army that rose against Kornilov,” wrote Trotsky, “was the army - to - be of the October Revolution.”5

Stalin’s short reign as Bolshevik leader revealed the overbearing arrogance that had always been his trademark. The Central Committee brought the Military Organization under firm control. Stalin rudely appropriated their funds and took over their newspaperSoldat in an “unprincipled style, violating the most elementary principles of party democracy.” They appealed to the Central Committee. In an early description of Stalinism, they criticized his “outright system of persecution and repression of an extremely strange character.” Stalin hauled the Military Organization before a Party trial.* His allies Sverdlov and Dzerzhinsky cleared up his mess.6 But Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev now reemerged from hiding and prison. On 4 September, Trotsky joined Stalin on the Central Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets and on Pravda. Stalin was again overshadowed. The limelight belonged to Trotsky.

Stalin often bumped into his old Menshevik acquaintance David Sagirashvili in the corridors of the Smolny Instituted. When Sagirashvili accused him of propagating anti - Menshevik lies in his Pravda, “he would grin in a seemingly good - natured way” and explain, in a pre - Orwellian dictum, that a “lie always has a stronger effect than the truth. The main thing is to obtain one’s objective.” As Stalin later told Molotov, “Truth is protected by a battalion of lies.”

At last, both the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets fell into Lenin’s hands, but the Bolsheviks were still divided on what to do next. It was Lenin, by sheer force of will, who drove them to the October Revolution: sometimes one individual does change the course of history. Yet Kamenev now threatened to reroute history himself—the mild Bolshevik offered a completely different path. On 14 September, he began trying to negotiate a coalition with the Mensheviks and SRs at the Democratic State Conference in the Alexandrinsky Theatre.

The Old Man, hiding in Helsinki, was appalled and frustrated. On 15 September, he sent the Central Committee a letter ordering them to seize power on behalf of the Bolsheviks alone.

“History will not forgive us if we do not assume power now!” wrote Lenin. But Kamenev and Zinoviev feared losing everything. It was April all over again: they were not the only ones who thought Lenin was wildly misguided. “We were aghast!” admitted Bukharin. At the ensuing CC, attended by Trotsky, Kamenev, Sverdlov and Shaumian, up from the Caucasus, Stalin backed Lenin and proposed that the letter be distributed secretly to key Party organizations. The Central Committee refused by a vote of six to four, an extraordinary result just a month before the October Revolution that reveals the popularity of Kamenev’s way. Yet the two ultra - radicals, Stalin and Trotsky, seeing no need for any Menshevik alliance, supported Lenin. At the CC on 21 September, Stalin and Trotsky demanded a boycott of the coming pre - parliament, where Kamenev hoped to continue his coalition - building, but they were again decisively defeated. Lenin ranted that Kamenev and Zinoviev were “miserable traitors!”

On 25 September, the Bolsheviks took control of the Soviet Executive Committee. Trotsky, returning as Soviet chairman after thirteen years of arrest, exile and emigration, started to assert Soviet command of the military. He and his Inter - Borough Party had only just joined the Bolsheviks but, while Lenin remained in hiding, Trotsky continued to perform nightly at the packed Cirque Moderne.

Lenin bombarded Kamenev and the Bolsheviks with a barrage of articles and secret letters, arguing that time was short, with Kerensky starting another crackdown, and that the second Congress of Soviets had been summoned to Petrograd. Thus they must seize power first—or they would have to share power in a coalition, “and cover themselves with eternal shame and destroy themselves as a Party!”

Lenin secretly moved back from Finland to hide in the comfortable apartment of Margarita Fofanova in Vyborg, whence he continued to spew forth his radical bile. “The success of the Russian and world revolutions just depends on two or three days’ fighting,” he declared, fearing that Kamenev’s view could prevail. “Better to die a man than let the enemy pass!” When the Central Committee recoiled, he submitted his resignation. These letters were “written with extraordinary force,” wrote Bukharin, “and threatened us with all sorts of punishments.” In his brilliant rage, Lenin was beginning to sound almost deranged. Indeed Stalin, editor of the Party newspaper Rabochii Put (Workers’ Way), actually censored Lenin’s more outrageous ravings, publishing instead an earlier, more moderate piece.

Sometimes the ranting prophet broke free of his confinement. “One morning just before the October Revolution,” recalls Anna Alliluyeva, “there was a ring at the door. I saw a smallish man dressed in a black overcoat and a Finnish cap on the threshold.”

“Is Stalin at home?” he asked politely.

“Good Lord, you look just like a Finn, Vladimir Illich,” Anna exclaimed to Lenin. “After a brief conversation, Stalin and he left together . . .”

Just days later, these scruffy, diminutive figures, who now walked the streets of Petrograd disguised and unrecognized, seized the Russian Empire. They formed the world’s first Marxist government, remained at the peak of the state for the rest of their days, sacrificed millions of lives at the pitiless altar of their utopian ideology, and ruled the imperium, between them, for the next thirty - six years.7

* Just as the police were known as pharaohs so any military officers were nicknamed “Junkers” after the Prussian noble military class.

Emelianov was arrested in the Great Terror. Krupskaya supposedly interceded on his behalf and he, along with his entire family, was kept in confinement until Stalin’s death.

* Thus Stalin designed his first semi - military tunic, a look probably copied from Kerensky, who now regarded himself as a Russian Napoleon: the vain Premier already lived in his own military uniform, boots and tunic despite having no military experience whatsoever. Stalin would wear this tunic for the rest of his life, often with a worker’s cap. Lenin had now ceased to wear his Homburg hat and favoured workers’ brimmed caps. In the Civil War, the so - called Party tunic, leather cap, coat, boots and Mauser became almost the Bolshevik uniform and symbolized the military nature of the Bolshevik.

* That summer, the other intriguing Party scandal was that Kamenev was accused of having been an Okhrana agent: the Central Committee asked Stalin to inform the Soviet Executive Committee. There was an investigation. Kamenev was cleared on 30 August.

After its humiliation in the July Days, the Soviet was moved out of the Taurida Palace into another neo - classical edifice next door, the Smolny Institute, built by Catherine the Great as a boarding - school for noble girls, where all the parties, including the Bolsheviks, now set up their offices. It was from the Smolny that Zinoviev and then, after his downfall in 1926, Sergei Kirov, a young protégé of Stalin’s, ruled Leningrad. Here, in 1934, Kirov was assassinated, a crime which, whether or not it was organized by Stalin, provided the excuse for the Great Terror. During the Siege of Leningrad, the city was ruled from the Smolny. Today, it houses the office of the mayor of St. Petersburg.

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