“The Boss,” as he was called by those under him, Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili was born in Gori, Georgia, in the Russian Empire in 1878. His father, “Besso,” became a drunk, and beat his wife, “Keke,” and son. They moved a lot, and finally Besso abandoned Keke and Iosif. Keke, born a serf, was a tough, but righteous and religiously pious woman; she also beat her son. Keke wanted her son to be a priest.
Gori was a rough and poor town. Street gangs and crime were common, and Iosif, small but wiry, was known to participate in the fighting. Nevertheless, Iosif was a good student. The Russian language was required in the Russian empire, and Iosif learned it, but always had a Georgian accent. Education was by rote and corporal punishment was rampant; one teacher rapping the students’ knuckles if their eyes wandered. Iosif won a scholarship to Seminary at the age of 16. The seminary was very Spartan, dogmatic, and severe corporal and psychological punishment was normal.
In the seminary, he discovered revolutionary material, including Darwin and Marx, destroying his belief in religion. “They are lying to us,” he said to a fellow student. Living a double life, one secret, at night, he got involved in Georgian revolutionary activities. He had chosen the name “Koba,” a Russian, fictional Robin Hood-like character. There, quite a few other students became revolutionaries from that Seminary at that time. Ioseph was dismissed for not taking an exam just before graduating, maybe because he couldn’t pay the rapidly rising fees. He had become a revolutionary, joining an organization that later became the violent part of the Communist party, the Bolsheviks. It was a life of safe houses, forged documents, and secrecy. Koba was brilliant at organizing workers and also mixing with criminal elements. He collected and directed “enforcers” like Kamo, a brutal, violent, sociopath. While in prison, he became the boss of the prisoners: he was inured to physical punishment.
Sent to Baku by the revolutionary committee, Koba ordered the murders of many Black Hundreds (right-wing supporters of the Tsar), and conducted protection rackets and ransom kidnappings against the oil tycoons of Baku. He also operated counterfeiting operations and robberies. He befriended the criminal gangs; Koba’s gangsterism upset the Bolshevik and Menshevik intelligentsia, but he was too influential with Lenin and indispensable to be opposed. As a revolutionary in Tsarist times, he was arrested eight times and escaped seven times, before the Russian Revolution in 1917; but he changed the facts after he was General Secretary, obscuring one of his arrests. It was suspected by some of his fellow Bolsheviks that Koba was a double-agent, a provocateur, for he seemed to go to-and-fro without any visible support, without difficulty, and was not arrested with everybody else in a particular Tsarist roundup. Koba, most likely known by Lenin as a double-agent, played the game well, with internal party members sometimes sacrificed for the cause. No doubt Koba used this policy for his own purposes also. At one point, when complaints were getting serious, he was arrested, and rumors were dropped for the time being. Continue reading