Nikolai Bukharin – a brief summary

On 15 March 1938, Nikolai Bukharin, one of the leading members of the post-Russian Revolution politburo, was executed.

Nikolai BukharinBorn in Moscow on 9 October 1888 to two primary school teachers, the 17-year-old Bukharin joined the workers’ cause during the Russian Revolution of 1905 and, the following year, became a member of the Bolshevik Party. Like many of his radical colleagues, he was arrested at regular intervals to the point that, in 1910, he fled into exile.

At various times he lived in Vienna, Zurich, London, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Krakow, the latter where he met Bolshevik leader, Vladimir Lenin, and began working for the party newspaper, Pravda, ‘Truth’.  In 1916, he moved to New York where he met up with another leading revolutionary, Leon Trotsky.

‘Favourite of the whole party’

Following the February Revolution of 1917 and the overthrow of the tsar, Nicholas II, Bukharin returned to Moscow and was elected to the party’s central committee. Bukharin clashed with Lenin on the latter’s decision to surrender to Germany, thus ending Russia’s involvement in the First World War, believing that the Bolsheviks could transform the conflict into a pan-European communist revolution. Lenin got his way, and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsky was duly signed in March 1918.

Bukharin was a thinker and produced several theoretical tracts, works that didn’t always meet with Lenin’s full approval. In Lenin’s Testament, in which he passed judgement on various members of his Central Committee, Lenin wrote that Bukharin was ‘rightly considered the favourite of the whole Party,’ but ‘his theoretical views can be classified as fully Marxist only with the great reserve, for there is something scholastic about him.’ (Lenin’s Testament was particularly damning of Joseph Stalin but, following Lenin’s death on 21 January 1924, was quietly suppressed).

‘Not a man, but a devil’

In 1924, Bukharin was appointed a full member of the Politburo. It was here, during the immediate post-Lenin years, that Bukharin became an unwitting pawn in Stalin’s deadly power games. Bukharin had opposed collectivization and believed agriculture was best served by encouraging the richer peasants, the kulaks, to produce more. In this he was supported by Stalin – but only in order for Stalin to marginalise then remove those he saw as threats, men such as Trotsky, Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev. Kamenev and Zinoviev soon caved in to Stalin. Trotsky, who did not, was exiled, first within the Soviet Union, then to Turkey and ultimately to Mexico where, in August 1940, he was killed by a Stalinist agent. Having defeated his opponents, Stalin then took their ideas and advocated rapid collectivization and the liquidation of the kulaks, criticizing Bukharin for holding opposite views.

Bukharin realised what Stalin was doing: ‘He [Stalin] is an unprincipled intriguer who subordinates everything to his appetite for power. At any given moment he will change his theories in order to get rid of someone.’

Continue reading

Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Stalin’s second wife – a summary

Joseph Stalin married twice. His first wife, Ekaterina Svanidze, died in December 1907, aged 22, from typhus. His second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, died, having shot herself, on 9 November 1932, aged 31.

As a two-year-old, Nadezhda, or Nadya, Alliluyeva was reputedly saved from drowning by the visiting 25-year-old Stalin. When staying in St Petersburg (later Petrograd), Stalin often lodged with the Alliluyev family. He may have had an affair with Olga Alliluyeva, Nadya’s mother and his future mother-in-law.

In March 1917, Stalin returned to Petrograd from exile to join the unrest following the February Revolution and the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II. By then Nadya was 16 and she fell for the romantic revolutionary with his sweep of jet-black hair.

Mr and Mrs Stalin

Following the October Revolution of 1917, Nadya became Stalin’s personal assistant as he embarked on his job as the People’s Commissar for Nationalities and joined him in the city of Tsaritsyn during the Russian Civil War. They married in 1919 and had two children: Vasily, born 1921, and Svetlana, born 1926. (In 1967, Svetlana was to defect to the US, became known as Lana Peters and died in Wisconsin on 22 November 2011).

Nadya found life in the Kremlin suffocating. Her husband, whom she once saw as the archetypal Soviet ‘new man’, turned out to be a quarrelsome bore, often drunk and flirtatious with his colleague’s wives. A manic-depressive and prone to violent mood swings, Stalin’s colleagues thought her ‘mad’.

Chemistry student

In 1929, bored of being cooped up in the Kremlin, Nadya enrolled on a course in chemistry. She diligently went to university each morning by public transport, shunning the official limousine. Her new-found student friends, not realising who she was, told her horrific stories concerning Stalin’s collectivization policy. When she confronted her husband, accusing him of ‘butchering the people’, he reacted angrily and had her friends arrested.

Days before her death, according to her daughter, Nadya confided to a friend that ‘nothing made her happy’, least of all her children.

The Banquet

On the evening of 8 November 1932, Stalin and Nadya hosted a banquet to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the October Revolution. They often argued and this party was no different with Nadya accusing Stalin of being inconsiderate towards her. His response was to humiliate her in front of their guests by flicking cigarettes at her and addressing her ‘hey, you!’  Molotov’s wife chased after her and together they walked round the Kremlin grounds until Nadya calmed down and retired for bed.

The following morning, servants found Nadya dead – she had shot herself with a pistol given to her by her brother, Pavel Alliluyev, as a present from Berlin. (Pavel, who was there that morning and comforted his grieving brother-in-law, would die in suspicious circumstances six years later, aged 44. Most of the Alliluyev clan would suffer early deaths on the orders of Stalin. His daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, wondered whether Stalin would eventually have had her own mother arrested).

Reproach and accusations

Nadya had left a note for Stalin which, according to Svetlana, was both personal and ‘partly political’. Although she never saw it, Svetlana described it as being ‘full of reproach and accusations’. Stalin certainly took his Nadya’s death badly, believing that she had taken her own life to punish him. His anger and grief seemed genuine and he was unable to bring himself to attend her funeral or, later, visit her grave.

The public were told that Nadya Alliluyeva had died from appendicitis – as was her daughter, then aged 6. It wouldn’t have been good for Stalin’s image to have had a wife who had committed suicide. Svetlana found out the truth quite by accident a decade later.

On the day of her State funeral, Stalin muttered, ‘She went away as an enemy’.

The Savage YearsRupert Colley.

Gathered together in one collection, 60 of Rupert Colley’s history articles, The Savage Years: Tales From the 20th Century is now available.







The Day Stalin Almost Had a Breakdown

During his thirty-year rule of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin succeeded in stifling all opposition. There was never a serious threat to his leadership. But there was one occasion, at the end of June 1941, when Stalin suffered what may have been a mental breakdown. When, after three days, his colleagues came for him, he fully expected to be arrested.

But they hadn’t come to arrest him, they’d come to plead with him, begging him to return and take control. Stalin had survived and was to remain in power until his death twelve years later. But what had brought about Stalin’s temporary collapse, and why did his Politburo colleagues fail to bring to an end his murderous rule?

We doubt the veracity of your information

On 23 August 1939, the Nazis and Soviets had signed a non-aggression pact. But both sides knew it was never meant to be more than a postponement of hostilities.

In September 1940, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Foreign Minister, invited the Soviet Union to join the Tripartite Pact, an alliance of initially three Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) that was drawing more nations to its mast, including Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. In response, Stalin sent his foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, to Berlin for talks. The talks failed dismally (Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister for Propaganda, described Molotov and his companions as ‘Bolshevik subhumans’). Molotov returned empty-handed to Moscow whilst Hitler announced plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Continue reading

Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech – a summary

On 25 February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev delivered a speech to a closed session of party leaders in which he dismantled the legend of the recently-deceased Joseph Stalin and, over four hours, criticized almost every aspect of Stalin’s method of rule. The speech entitled On the Cult of the Individual and Its Consequences would become known as simply Khrushchev’s ‘Secret Speech’.

‘Why stir up the past?’

Joseph Stalin had died three years earlier, on 5 March 1953. In late 1955, Nikita Khrushchev had been mulling over the idea of ‘investigating Stalin’s activities’ for some months. It was a momentous prospect – Stalin had ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist for the best part of three decades; he had taken the nation to victory over the fascist Germans; and his legacy was still everywhere to be seen.

Stalin with Molotov and VoroshilovKhrushchev’s colleagues were aghast at his proposal, especially the ones who had served in senior positions under Stalin, men like Kliment Voroshilov and Stalin’s foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov (both pictured here with Stalin). These were men with blood on their hands, who, under Stalin’s orders, had facilitated and organised the liquidation of tens or hundreds of thousands of their countrymen and women. Not surprisingly they asked, ‘Why stir up the past?’

And Khrushchev himself was far from blameless, having been the regional boss in the Ukraine during the mid-1930s, a time of mass terror, liquidations and deportations. But, as Khrushchev pointed out, ‘if we don’t tell the truth at the Congress, we’ll be forced to tell the truth some time in the future. And then we won’t be the people making the speeches; no, then we’ll be the people under investigation.’

Khrushchev ordered a report on Stalin and his activities. The investigative team, headed by one Comrade Pospelov, spent months shifting through huge amounts of files and paperwork. Khrushchev knew what he wanted to say – that Vladimir Lenin, the first Bolshevik leader, had used terror but had employed it in an legitimate manner – against class enemies and to safeguard the progress of the October Revolution; whereas, as his successor, Joseph Stalin had misused his power, employing terror in an arbitrary and illegitimate manner. Pospelov’s report, when finally it came, provided him with the ammunition.

Our greatest friend Continue reading

Vasily Stalin – a brief biography

On 21 March 1921, Joseph Stalin’s second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, gave birth to Yasily Stalin, or Vasily Dzhugashvili. Their second child, Svetlana, was born five years later. On 9 November 1932, Nadezhda, suffering from depression, shot herself. Naturally, her death affected both children who, from then on, were brought up by a succession of nannies and security guards but it seemed to particularly disturb the 11-year-old Vasily.

Vasily StalinSpoilt boy

At the age of 17, Vasily joined an aviation school, despite only obtaining poor grades. His father’s aides had to ensure his entry. Stalin once described Vasily as a ‘spoilt boy of average abilities, a little savage… and not always truthful,’ and advised his son’s teachers to be stricter with him.

Once enrolled in the school, Vasily used his name to obtain privileges usually reserved for the most senior members. Stalin, on hearing of his son’s abuses, ordered an immediate end to his special treatment.

As a young man, Vasily continually used his name to further his career, to obtain perks and seduce women. It was a trait that his father deplored. Vasily drank to excess and, again exploiting the family name, denounced anyone he disliked or barred his way. Amazingly, he managed to graduate as a pilot. Continually drunk, he would commandeer planes and fly them while inebriated. Vasily was married twice but never managed to curtail his womanising.


Continue reading

Yakov Stalin – a brief biography

Born 18 March 1907, Yakov Stalin (or Dzhugashvili) was the son of Joseph Stalin and Stalin’s first wife, Ekaterina Svanidze. Stalin certainly didn’t harbour particularly warm feelings for his son. Deprived of his father’s affections and upset by a failed romance, Yakov, or Yasha as Stalin called him, once tried to shoot himself. As he lay bleeding, his father scathingly remarked, ‘He can’t even shoot straight’.

Yakov StalinYakov Stalin joined the Red Army at the outbreak of war in the East in June 1941, serving as a lieutenant in the artillery. On the first day of the war, his father told him to ‘Go and fight’.

Peace loving and gentle

His half-sister, Svetlana Alliluyeva, the daughter of Stalin and his second wife, Nadezhda, claimed in her book, Twenty Letters to a Friend, that Yakov never ‘took any advantage [as a soldier]; never made even the slightest attempt to avoid danger… Since my father, moreover, hadn’t any use for him and everybody knew it, no one in the higher echelons of the army gave him special treatment.’ Yakov, according to Svetlana, was ‘peace-loving, gentle and extremely quiet.’ But he wasn’t fond of his half brother Vasily (Svetlana’s brother) and disliked his ‘penchant for profanity’, and once turned on Vasily with his fists ‘like a lion’.

Nazi Officers Interrogating Yakov StalinOn 16 July, within a month of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Yakov was captured and taken prisoner (pictured). Stalin considered all prisoners as traitors to the motherland and those that surrendered he demonised as ‘malicious deserters’. ‘There are no prisoners of war,’ he once said, ‘only traitors to their homeland’.

Certainly Yakov, by all accounts, felt that he had failed his father. Under interrogation, he admitted that he had tried to shoot himself. His father probably would have preferred it if he had.

Stick your bayonets in the earth

Continue reading

The Death of Stalin – a summary

Joseph Stalin died 5 March 1953, aged 73, a victim of his own power. So frightened were his staff, that having suffered a stroke he was left to fester for hours before anyone plucked up the courage to check on him.

“I don’t even trust myself.”

In his latter years Stalin’s health had deteriorated and towards the end of 1952 he suffered several blackouts and losses of memory. His sense of paranoia had reached absurd proportions. “I’m finished”, he said in his final days, “I don’t even trust myself.”

Stalin was almost nocturnal, often going to bed in the early hours, obliging his Politburo colleagues to do likewise, and rising around noon. But on 1 March 1953, there was no sign of life all day at the great man’s dacha. His personal staff although increasingly concerned were too fearful to check up on him. Finally, at 11 p.m. they did.

They found Stalin lying on the floor, unconscious and his pyjama bottoms soaked in urine. They rang Lavrenty Beria, Stalin’s Chief of Police, who arrived and bellowed at the staff, “Can’t you see Comrade Stalin is deeply asleep. Get out of here and don’t wake him up.”

But Stalin had suffered a severe stroke. Finally, next morning, on Beria’s orders, a team of doctors arrived, but by then Stalin had been left unattended for twelve hours since the stroke.

“Extremely serious.”

Stalin had become distrusting of doctors and had had most of his personal physicians arrested. So the doctors now on the scene examined their patient in extreme nervousness. They asked Beria’s permission before proceeding with each part of the examination, even asking authorization to unbutton Stalin’s shirt. They wrote a detailed report, summarising, “The patient’s condition is extremely serious.”

Continue reading

Svetlana Alliluyeva (Lana Peters), Stalin’s Daughter – a brief biography

22 November 2011 saw the death of Lana Peters in Wisconsin. To those who came into contact with her, she was simply a lonesome frail 85-year-old with a rather strange accent.  But she was, in fact, once known by the name of Svetlana Stalin and she was the daughter of Joseph Stalin.

Peters’ arrival in the US in 1967 gave the West a huge propaganda coup – the defection of Stalin’s own daughter was the ultimate proof of how terrible life was behind the Iron Curtain. She had even been prepared to leave behind her two adult children, aged 22 and 17, in the Soviet Union.

‘I have come here to seek self-expression’

In her first US press conference, in 1967, she acknowledged the father’s monstrous rule but insisted that the blame for the murder of millions of Soviet citizens could not be laid purely on one man – it was the regime and its ideology. ‘I have come here to seek the self-expression that has been denied me for so long in Russia,’ she said. Shortly afterwards, she wrote Twenty Letters To A Friend, which went on to become a bestseller. A follow-up autobiography, Only One Year, sold equally well. With time she became more critical of her past – she publicly burnt her Soviet passport and accused her father of being ‘a moral and spiritual monster’.

In 1970, she married Wes Peters. Peters’ first wife had died in a car crash. She was also called Svetlana and her mother, the widow of the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, saw in Alliluyeva a divine substitution for her deceased daughter. Under her urging, her new Svetlana and Peters married. They had one child, Olga, and although fond of each other, Svetlana Peters felt too suffocated by her husband’s former mother-in-law’s domineering presence and the marriage ended within three years.

Back in the USSR Continue reading

Ekaterina Dzhugashvili – Stalin’s mother

Joseph Stalin’s mother, Ekaterina Dzhugashvili, born 5 February 1858, married at the age of fourteen. Her first two children, both boys, died within their first year. Her third child, Joseph Dzhugashvili, was born 18 December 1878, and although struck by a bout of smallpox, he survived. History would remember him better as Joseph Stalin.

‘A sensitive child’

Ekaterina Dzhugashvili

Ekaterina Dzhugashvili, known as Keke, dictated her  memories in 1935, two years before her death. The transcript was stored by the Georgian archive of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and was only released in 2007 on the specific request of British author, Simon Sebag Montefiore, who, at the time, was writing his second biography of Stalin, Young Stalin.

She called her son ‘Soso’, Georgian for ‘Little Joey’: “My Soso was a very sensitive child,” she wrote.

Seeing her son’s survival as a gift from God, Keke was determined to see Soso enter church school to train to become a priest, fighting off, often physically, her husband’s insistence that he become a cobbler. “Mummy,” said the young Soso, “what if, when we arrive in the city, father finds me and forces me to become a shoemaker? I want to study. I’d rather kill myself than become a cobbler.” “I kissed him,” wrote his mother, “and wiped away his tears. Nobody will stop you studying, nobody is going to take you away from me.”

Having freed herself from her violent husband, Ekaterina Dzhugashvili moved from one accommodation to another picking up work where she could.

Like a tsar

In later life, Stalin arranged for his mother to move into a large mansion in Tiflis, capital of Georgia (now Tbilisi), but a woman of humble needs, she felt uncomfortable with such luxury and confined herself to one small room.

She turned down his requests to visit him in Moscow and Stalin, never fond of travelling, visited her only rarely. She once asked her son, ‘Joseph, what exactly are you now?’ He replied, ‘do you remember the Tsar? Well, I’m like a tsar.’ ‘You’d have done better to have been a priest,’ she said in response. When he asked her why she had beaten him so much as a child, she shrugged and said, ‘it’s why you’ve turned out so well.’

She wrote a short book about her ‘dear son’, still available today.

Ekaterina Dzhugashvili died 4 June 1937, aged 79. Stalin upset Georgian tradition and sensibilities by not attending her funeral, sending Laventry Beria, at the time Stalin’s man in Georgia, in his stead.

Claim MBtERupert Colley

Claim your free copy of Rupert’s novel, My Brother the Enemy

The Birth of Joseph Stalin

On 18 December 1878, in the town of Gori, Georgia, was born one history’s greatest tyrants, Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, better known to history by his adopted name – Stalin, ‘man of steel’. For reasons that remain a mystery, Joseph Stalin always maintained he was born on 21 December 1879 and it was this date that was celebrated throughout his life. The change of date may possibly be to do with Stalin’s attempts to confuse and evade the tsar’s secret police.

Birth of StalinJoseph Stalin’s father, Vissarion Dzhugashvili, known as Basu, was a shoemaker. An alcoholic, he spent much of his time in Tiflis (now Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, 50 miles east of Gori) producing shoes for the Russian army. On his drunken and increasingly rare appearances at home, he would beat his wife and son. (Pictured is Stalin, aged 15, in 1894).

‘Like a Tsar’

Stalin’s mother, Ekaterina, or ‘Keke’, also meted out punishment on her son but generally was protective of her ‘Soso’ (Georgian for ‘Little Joey’), especially on account that her first two children, both boys, had died in infancy. Stalin only learnt to speak Russian when aged about nine but never lost his strong Georgian accent.

In later life, Stalin arranged for his mother to move into a large mansion in Tiflis but a woman of humble needs, she felt uncomfortable with such luxury and confined herself to one small room. She turned down her son’s requests to visit him in Moscow and Stalin, never fond of travelling, visited her only rarely. She once asked her son, ‘Joseph, what exactly are you now? He replied, ‘Do you remember the tsar? Well, I’m like a tsar.’ ‘You’d have done better to have been a priest,’ she said in response.

Continue reading