Young Stalin

A picture of a Soviet soldier in the sky above Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall, Berlin.

Two quotes I found interesting from Young Stalin, by Simon Sebag Montefiore:

Stalin attended a wild party given by Alyosha Svanidze.  They were drinking cocktails of melon juice and brandy, and got wildly drunk.  Yet Soso (Stalin) lay on a sofa on the verandah reading silently, making notes.  So they started to look for him: ‘Where is he?’

‘Soso’s reading,’ replied Alyosha Svanidze.

‘What are you reading?’ his friends asked mockingly.

‘Napoleon Bonaparte’s Memoirs,’ Soso replied.  ‘It’s amazing what mistakes he made.  I’m making a note of them!’  The intoxicated gentry had hysterics at this autodidactic cobbler’s son whom they now nicknamed the ‘Kunkula’ (Staggerer), for his hasty and awkward gait.  But the serious revolutionaries, such as Stalin, Lado and Prince Sasha, were not wasting their time on cocktails.


The authorities erred seriously when they allowed their revolutionaries to study in prison.  These obsessive autodidacts studied hard there, none more so than Stalin, whose cellmate says, “He spent the whole day reading and writing…His prison day had a strict routine, he woke early in the morning, did morning exercises, then studied German and read economic literature.  He never rested and he liked to recommend comrades what books to read…’  Another prisoner said that Stalin made ‘prison into a university’.  He called it his ‘second school’.

In many ways, his education reminds me of that of Malcolm X:

“…until I left that prison, in every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading in my bunk. You couldn’t have gotten me out of a book with a wedge…ten guards and the warden couldn’t have torn me out of those books…I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life.”

And I, as someone with a university education and access to virtually unlimited books and information, have no excuse but to continue my own education.  If anything, it’s time to increase my efforts.


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