The Hebrew Scriptures paint a clear portrait in the book of Proverbs that promise wisdom for the prudent and suffering for the foolish: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20, ESV). Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili, the man whom the world recognizes as Joseph Stalin chose the latter path; indeed, he paid no attention to the Old Testament wisdom. Rather, chose the way of rebellious autonomy and self-centeredness as he surrounded himself with thugs and robbers, not to mention his friendship with the evil henchmen, Vladimir Lenin.
Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Monteriore is a book that stands alone. Indeed, it is totally unique. For instead of chronicling the Great Terror that was spearheaded by Stalin (like most books do), Monteriore begins with Stalin’s birth and traces the path of wickedness which culminates in the Revolution (October, 1917). Several features make Young Stalin a noteworthy book, most of which have to do with Stalin’s biographical data.
Stalin’s Unmistakable Leadership Ability
The leadership ability in Stalin emerged early in his days as a young man. He had a powerful magnetism that drew people his direction and in most cases paid dividends that Stalin gladly cashed. His was a lure that attracted a wide variety of people, including women – but especially people who were on ruinous paths, similar to his own.
Stalin’s leadership ability was seen in his ability to motivate people to action. Clearly, he stirred people up – even as a young man. Later in life, he would stir the masses. One friend reports, “Soso was a philosophical conspirator from the start …” The author adds, “The secret police and the workers regarded this ex-seminarist as an ‘intellectual …'” Stalin used his leadership ability to his own ends and was proud of his manipulative ways.
Stalin intellectually ability was remarkable to be sure. While he was ultimately expelled from Seminary, his keen mind gave him the wherewithal to synthesize concepts, understand difficult subject matter, and write compelling poetry.
Stalin had an uncanny ability to read people. One friend admits, “He could look at someone and see right through them.” The author refers to numerous instances where Stalin recognized a traitor – and in most cases, anyone who betrayed Stalin paid with his or her life.
It should come as no surprise that Stalin’s ego was usually out of control and reckless. The author notes, “Stalin’s character, damaged yet gifted, was qualified for, and fatally attracted to, such pitiless predations. Afterwards, the machine of repression, the flint-hearted, paranoid psychology of perpetual conspiracy and the taste for extreme bloody solutions to all challenges, were not just ascendant but glamorized, institutionalized and raised to an amoral Bolshevik faith with messianic fervor.” Any man who has at least 60 nicknames or aliases must be committed to narcissism at some level. The Scripture speaks clearly to anyone who is committed to selfishness and pride: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, ESV).
Stalin’s Black Heart
Even as a young man, Stalin showed signs of unmitigated evil and a heart that was hell-bent on depravity. The author admits this throughout: Stalin was a “creature of covert but boundless extremism … and malevolent darkness …” Before the Great Terror ever fell on Eastern Europe, the heart of Stalin proved to be a bubbling cauldron of depravity and wickedness. The author reports, “This most un-Christian of gentlemen had moved far from Christianity.” The robberies, extortions, and violence are just the tip of the iceberg for this Georgian rebel. For instance, Stalin commented, “My greatest pleasure is to choose one’s victim, prepare one’s plans minutely, slake an implacable vengeance, and then go to bed. There’s nothing sweeter in the world.” With a heart that was black with sin, the man of Steele would help usher in a period of unmistakable evil in a few short years.
Young Stalin is a carefully researched book; it is filled with details about the megalomaniac we know as Joseph Stalin. It is a vivid reminder that leadership ability and intellect can be used for good or evil. Stalin, like Lenin used his magnetism for malevolent purposes. He used his sharp intellect as a tool to manipulate the masses. Even the young Stalin had blood on his hands – both figuratively and literally. But as history would reveal, the bloodshed would reach epic proportions. For soon the Red Tsar would dominate Eastern Europe with an iron fist and a cold-stone heart. One man was about to shred the fabric of a nation and wreak havoc on millions of innocent people.
One is reminded that ideas have consequences. In the case of Stalin, who left his mark on history as a murderous tyrant, his ideas led to the slaughter of millions, economic disaster, political tyranny – all the result of a worldview that banked on dialectical materialism – rooted in dogmatic commitment to atheism. Charles Darwin and Karl Marx continue to spew forth their godlessness from the grave.
Monteriore captures the nature of the nefarious partnership between two wicked men as the schemed together just days before the October revolution of 1917: “… These scruffy, diminutive figures (Lenin and Stalin), 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 rule the imperium, between them, for the next thirty-six years.”