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Young Stalin

Young Stalin

March 26, 2019 9:08 pmComments are Disabled

I just finished Young Stalin by Montefiore and if you haven’t read it yet, definitely do so. It’s a thorough biography of Stalin before he was Stalin, from his birth all the way through to the Russian Revolution of 1917, a profile that covers many episodes about which, according to the author, have never been published.

Two ideas struck me from reading this book.

First, though it is a fact of history that political Marxism is violent, I never realized how inherently violent it was from the beginning, at least in the case of Russia. I had always assumed that communism becomes violent over time as its utopianism comes into contact with reality. The narrative traditionally holds figures like Lenin in great esteem as visionaries who unfortunately strayed from their ideals as they grew more powerful, or alternatively, had their ideals corrupted by others. This book–and I’m sure any similar examination of the rise of Marxism in Russia–puts those ideas to rest. Stalin rose to prominence as a terrorist (at least that’s what we would call him today), organizing violent underground Marxist gangs, extortion rackets, murder plots, bank robberies, piracy, and more to raise funds for the party and overthrow the Tsarist government. Lenin, for his part, actively supported and committed acts of terror against the state for which he was wanted and eventually exiled; upon returning, he fomented violent revolution against the provisional government until taking over Russia. The Bolsheviks of Stalin’s Georgia, including the overpraised Trotsky, were indeed idealists, but their ideals were steeped in, and required, blood.

The second thing that stood out was the history of the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, the latter of whom ended up being largely purged in years of civil war. However, long before any form of socialism had taken hold in Russia, as early as 1905 the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were already at each other’s throats. What’s fascinating to me is the fact that such an embattled minority, who largely agreed on the need to overthrow the Tsarist regime and replace it with a socialist republic modeled on the theories of Marx, spent so much effort fighting each other, conflicts resulting in much violence and even murder in the Caucasus where Stalin was cutting his teeth. It seems crazy to me that there should be two Marxist revolutionary factions before either party had any power. It reminded me so much of today’s Democratic Party that spends so much time battling over insignificant differences in opinion with each other rather than unifying to fight their common enemy. I wonder if there’s something inherent to leftist politics in particular that creates intraparty conflict and a need to signal more purity than the rest of the field?

In any event, I found the book replete with historical and modern lessons, and a great primer in the origin of the murderous disaster that was the Soviet Union.

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