The author's opening observations about the possible reemergence of dictatorial rule in Russia in our times is remarkably timely considering the present-day posturing of V. Putin in protest of the U.S.'s wish to place missileshields in Poland and the Czech Republic. Why is democracy so elusive in so many regions? This article goes a long way towards examining this question. At the same time Ms. Shakhireva's insightful writings provide a fascinating reassessment of the psychohistorical factors in Stalin's early life which gave rise to his reign of terror against the citizens of the U.S.S.R.
---John A. Speyrer, Webmeister, The Primal Psychotherapy Page
"After a childhood full of torture and abuse, Stalin was a character with whom most Russians
could easily identify. He was the son of an abusive, alcoholic father and a
torturing mother who all at once was an enabler with a split personality."
"'...his psychopathology justified that 'the bad were a lot worse
knew' and this is manifested by genocide; the Georgian
twenty million Soviet citizens."'
Will we soon be using the phrase "Putinism"? After all, if we take a
quick look at the headlines, totalitarian rule in Russia under
Vladimir Putin may be reemerging. Conventional social scientists in the
West see Putin's duty clearly laid out in front of him: take the earth's
largest nation, make its people and goals cohesive, and drive it toward
democracy. But is that really the goal? Perhaps the reason a smooth path
toward a free, democratic Russia seems elusive is the long held
psychogenic mode in which democracy and personal freewill is a foreign
concept with no bearing on the Russian experience. Under his KGB-trained
gaze, Putin recognizes the deep, psychological longings of his people, and
to satiate it means a strong paternal bearing, sternness, and repression if
necessary. Knowing that westerners are mostly unfamiliar with Russian
cultural psychology, he simplifies his language for a foreign audience with
ambiguous, diplomatic phrases that rebuke westerners to be patient with
Russia's unique style of burgeoning democracy. Like a nation of swaddled
children, Russians are more passive and cry less than westerners; when
beat by Mother, they are utterly resigned. Passive, sheepish following of
oppressive leaders has been the salient feature of all Russian social history.
Meanwhile, American politicians shake their fingers at Putin and voice
disapproval of what is perceived as a drift back to Soviet-style
authoritarianism. But what Americans don't know, is that Putin's grip on the
nation is Russia's manifest destiny; the inevitable reflection of Russia's
group-fantasy, a collective psychological desire to retain a strict and
punishing governance that mirrors the Russian childhood experience of many
of its citizens. Putin may indeed be the new master of Russia's
long-suffering population-reaffirming and condoning what Rancour-Laferriere
suggests are deeply-held masochistic tendencies that it feels most
comfortable with (59-65).
Putin is correct when he says that the West must respect the preference
of authoritarianism that Russians seem to display. He should know,
because he himself is the product of modern Russia's most repressive age, the
Stalinist Soviet Age-however unwitting a Stalinist he might be. And
Americans, by-and-large, do not yet understand the full ramification and
social fallout that occurs after going a round with Stalinism; a system that
finds its roots in abuse and victimization, both on personal and societal
levels. Stalin, the abandoned and abused Georgian, reached into the soul
of Mother Russia, using her own innate weaknesses against her,
capitalizing on her own history of cruelty and repression. Finally, he swaddled her
in terror, denunciation, cronyism, suspicion, prohibition of mobility, mass
alcoholism, a slave-master mentality, hyper-bureaucracy, and a national
superiority-inferiority complex so completely intertwined that it can be
bewildering to navigate altogether. Using Ivan the Terrible and Peter the
Great as role models, Stalin brought Russia back to its traditional,
terrorized roots with a vengeance.
As Victor Meladze remarks in his Journal article Beneath the Hammer, the
Soviet system that Stalin created was instrumental in deconstructing a
coherent reality (48). For Stalin and Stalinists that have come after him,
reality as recognized by individuals outside of that psychoclass has no
bearing on sentient existence. Because Stalin could not divorce himself from
his own consciousness and the entirety of his own personal evolution, he
subjected the people of the Soviet Union to a power paradigm designed
to mimic the extremes of his own childhood abuse, dysfunction, and
neurosis. His influence persists to this day. What's more, because imperial
Russians were already a part of a repressive psychoclass, his subjects could
not reflect normally on their own misery. Literally and figuratively they
justified their own sufferings at the hands of Father Stalin, whose
punishing acts were to be seen as ultimately benign.
A KARTVELIAN CONTEXT
Nigel Blundell called Stalin a kind of "Oriental Potentate." What a fitting
description for a man born in a country ruled by Muslims for centuries;
at the literal crossroads of eastern and western civilization; where Islam
and Christianity, tribalism and Classical civilization formed a delicate
weave creating an unusual race of Caucasian people technically neither
Indo-European, Persian, nor Arabic. For thousands of years, there was not
a Slav in sight. Even Stalin would later refer to himself in general terms as
an Asiatic (Kun 1).
In 1878, the year of Stalin's birth, Georgia was still a patchwork nation
delicately formed from various tribes of differing ethnic and religious
persuasions. It was a country that had been scarred and influenced by
invasions from the Persians, the Turks, and finally the Russians. The latter had
arrived at the behest of a weak Georgian nobility seeking protection from
the marauding Muslim empires to the south (Lang 37). The first of many
Georgian principalities were annexed to Russia in 1801, but a true and
complete conversion to Russian culture would be more elusive (McCauley
53). Georgia would not be considered a legitimate extension of the Empire
until the late 1800s.
Russian rule was not generally accepted. By all accounts, the Russians
were as if not more oppressive than their Muslim forbears (Curtiss 295).
According to Lang, the Russians "devoured their country.... and refused
to make any concessions to Georgians' national pride and susceptibilities"
(43). This strong-arm approach would exacerbate political hostilities and
transform the Caucasus into a hotbed of revolution.
The 1870s all across the Russian Empire were simultaneously
progressive yet primitive. Like so much of Russian history, it was a decade of sharp
contrast. The Russian feudal system had been dismantled ten years earlier
with the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, and Tsar Alexander II
continued to implement sweeping social reform (Figes 40). But as the Tsar
attempted to ameliorate class tensions there was a contrasting, growing
trend toward an unprecedented, popular revolution. Terror and violence
were becoming fashionable in certain political circles in these years, and
the Empire was increasingly unstable.
By the 1870s, the economy was feeling the strain of the Emancipation
(Figes 47). Landowners were struggling to keep economic ruin at bay, while
the new financial burdens of independence overwhelmed the newly freed
peasants who gradually turned to industry. Millions of emancipated serfs
abandoned lives as agricultural laborers for positions in factories, laying
the foundation for the impending proletarian insurgency.
In the intimate family structure of 1870s Russia, an eastern child-rearing
ethos reigned supreme. Children (and women) were to be suppressed and
terrorized at all cost. Above all, children were to obey, work, and worship.
Cruelty and ritual torture and abuse were commonplace. Babies were
routinely thrown into icy waters in wintertime, left hungry and tightly bound in
filthy swaddling clothes, unable to move, gesticulate, or express (deMause,
The Gentle Revolution). Eventually, cries were suppressed and replaced by a
pathological desperation of the psyche. In a colossal nation of impoverished,
hut-dwelling peasants, childrearing techniques continued to follow this
primitive, abusive path in which every kind of personal violation of the child was
conducted including sexual abuse, molestation, and incest; primitive modes
of inculcating children with a sense of disempowennent, victimization, and
obedience. A sense of holiness and piety was historically infused with these
acts of abuse and reinforced by religious dogma and societal structures such
as the Church and the Domostroi.1 Interestingly, it was during Stalin's reign
that childrearing techniques took on a more progressive tone for some.
So it was amid this context of chaotic social reform, political
radicalization, and child victimization, one of the world's greatest tyrants was
born in the Transcaucasian backwater of the Russian Empire (Lang 74). The
infant Stalin epitomized the sad majority, born the son of an
emancipated serf and factory worker, all struggling to survive the restrictions of the
tsarist system and their own emotional torment.
BECOMING SOSO: 1878-1888
To this jumble of eastern cultures was born Iosif Vissarionivich
Dzhugashvili at 10 Sobornaya Street in the small peasant village of Gori,
Georgia about 100 kilometers west of Tbilisi on December 18, 1878.2 His
beginnings were less than humble and his childhood might be categorized
by westerners as purely "low class" in not only financial terms, but also
in social ones. As the only surviving offspring in a Georgian peasant
family of this era, consisting of the alcoholic Beso Dzhugashvili and the
teenaged, illiterate and recently emancipated serf Ekaterina (Keke) Geladze,
many obvious hardships can be surmised.
Life from the beginning was difficult. Considering prevalent
child-rearing techniques in the Russian Empire of this era, we can conclude
that the infant Iosif was brutally swaddled, neglected, and terrorized;
trained to unconditionally obey and submit to the will of his
authoritarian and perhaps despotic parents. As deMause writes, swaddling
lasted through the first year of the infant's life, when they were "tightly
bound and turned into excrement-soaked sausages...and prevented from
crying by having their mouths constantly plugged with dirty pacifier
bags..." (deMause, Gentle Revolution 344). Sometimes swinging like a
little sack from a secluded hook and left neglected for hours at a time,
the child was to become a passive, slavish little individual who felt no
sense of personal empowerment and derived no comfort from his
mother. Additionally, babies in the Empire of this era were routinely bathed in
icy waters and intentionally exposed to every harsh element in an effort
to harden their bodies and characters. Trauma, fear, and obedience
became the primary emotional modes of children all across the Empire,
and Stalin was no exception.
Stalin's father Vissarion (Beso) Dzhugashvili who was born in the
village of Dido Lilo in 1850 contributed to an already abusive regime (Cheser
18-49). Beso's occupation was cobbler, which in itself carried a stigma. The
Russian expression "drunk as a cobbler" had its origins in men like Beso
(Trotsky 6). He was gainfully employed and even owned his own shop
until he abandoned the family in 1885, when Stalin was seven years old
(Tucker 70). N. Kipshidze, the family doctor recounted that Beso's violent
beatings on Iosif were so cruel that one beating in which Beso hurled the
small boy to the ground left him with blood in his urine for days
(Radzinsky 24). By the time he was five years old, little Iosif had come close
to death many times. Given the infant mortality rate in the Russian
Empire at that time, it is a miracle that he survived.
Beso was not the only abuser. Keke is reported to have also beat Iosif
frequently. It was an abusive cycle-everyone being beaten, everyone
beating someone. Iosif was the least empowered in this nightmare of abuse
and alcoholism. This early exposure to intimate violence would inevitably
shape his conduct in the world at large and in personal relationships.
The economic condition of the Beso Dzhugashvili family was bleak. The
home was primitive and oppressive, even by contemporary Georgian
standards. Some biographers have called it a shack. The small rented home
could not have been more than eight square yards in size with a small
window, poor lighting, a brick floor, and a wood plank with a straw mat for
a couch (Trotsky 4). There, Keke conceived and gave birth unsuccessfully
three or four times before Iosif was born. He was her only surviving child
and she fondly called him Soso. Soso's room was the cellar in their rented
peasant hut, and as Tucker writes, "the sole furnishings were an
unpainted stool and Soso's cradle" (Trotsky 70). Soso would be the first of many
pseudonyms for young Iosif.
Keke's entire working life consisted of seamstress and laundering work
in private homes, but through this provincial and illiterate peasant woman
came the driving force and catalyst for both the great and terrible deeds,
which would shape the history of Russia.
Beso's departure was most likely the result of chronic marital problems,
domestic violence, and financial necessity. Even though Beso would
occasionally return to Gori, leaving his family in even more precarious
financial, social, and emotional circumstances. But, it was probably better
that Beso went back to Tbilisi because life under the alchoholic batterer
was terrifying for the little boy. Besos's alcoholism not only drained the
family's meager income that Keke worked hard to earn, but also inflamed
his abusive temper (Tucker 73).
Keke, who purportedly remained single for the rest of her life
maintained a duplicitous and harmful approach to mothering, or as Victor
Meladze refers to it, the torturer as liberator (49). It is reported that Stalin
respected his mother and spent much of his youth trying to please her,
although several accounts suggest that he frequently spoke ill of his
mother calling her a whore and a prostitute. It's more likely that Soso's feelings
were akin to Victor Meladze's when he suggests that some gratitude is
naturally given to the abusing mother figure that virtually controls and
contorts your life and then symbolically hands it back to you in a torturous
and pathological gesture of salvation. Stalin's schoolmates remembered
that he had contempt for nearly everyone except his mother (Smith 26).
But at her deathbed, Dr. Kipshidze recalls Stalin asked his mother, "Why
did you beat me so hard?" (Radzinsky 24).
RUSSIAN RELIGIOSITY AND RITUAL ABUSE
Keke's primary ambition for Soso was that typical of the emancipated serf.
She supremely desired his entree into the priesthood (Trotsky 9). In late
nineteenth century Russia, pursuing the priesthood was the only route for
poor ghetto kids without resources and without influential fathers. Keke
worked hard to procure whatever resources were necessary for Soso to
enter the Gori Church School.
Beso did not share in Keke's enthusiasm for a theological career for Soso.
This was by all accounts another major point of contention, which led Beso
to return briefly from Tbilisi to abduct Soso and force him into an apprenticeship in the Armenian-owned Adelkhanov shoe factory where Beso himself was working. According to Kun, the Adelkhanov factory, which specalized in processing raw leather, was the filthiest in Tiflis, a repugnant working environment with a putrid smell. The workers, including Beso, regularly showed up to work drunk and ornery, pouring all of their hate and anger onto little Soso, who was helplessly at their mercy (14). Every kind of
abuse was heaped on Soso-beatings with whips, verbal abuse, strippings,
and degradations of every kind. DeMause writes that "parents who showed
empathy toward their children were thought sinful" and that "between parents
and children there reigned a sense of slavery" (Gentle Revolution 344).
Keke managed to bring Soso back to Gori to continue his studies at the
church school. It was during these years that Soso had a series of incidents
that affected his health and appearance and impacted him throughout his
life. He had a bout of small pox at age six, which left his face permanently
scarred and disfigured (Radzinsky 29).
Between ages six and eleven he reportedly suffered a severe accident in
which he was trampled by a horse-drawn carriage. Complications resulting
from the accident left him with a crippled left arm, several inches shorter
than the right one. Lesser known deformities were a webbed left foot
(Conquest, Stalin 12) and a puny body. He was always noticeably smaller than
his peers. By adulthood, he grew to five feet five inches, to be generous.
Trotsky theorized that Stalin's natural deformities might have been related
to alcoholism, although diseases such as fetal alcohol syndrome were not yet diagnosable (6). It is also plausible that swaddling and physical abuse stunted natural growth patterns. Physical abuse could have been the truth behind his crushed and shortened arm. According to peers, of all the physical challenges, his short stature is what bothered him the most (Conquest 12).
BECOMING KOBA: 1888-1894
Until 1888, Soso is only known within the context of his family and
society. Although these factors continued to shape his character, there is
evidence to show him forming autonomy natural to young boys starting
school for the first time. An already slavish, passive and abused Soso
excelled at his studies in the Gori Church School. At this age he was still influenced by his mother's firm direction that probably put strict demands
on his educational advancement. He already knew not to question
authority. It is inconceivable that he did not have significant knowledge of,
if not faith in Christ, given that he was raised by a deeply devout mother,
and was by now living with the parish priest who most likely beat "the
truth" into him.
His time at the Gori school were some of the most formative years of
his life in terms of molding him into the peculiar, tormented, and
ruthless revolutionary he would become. Although much of this formation was
of a personal or relational nature, some of it was institutional. Trotsky
wrote, "All the vices censored by the Holy Synod, flourished in these
hotbeds of piety" (10).
Tucker writes, "the atmosphere in the Gori School in the early nineties
was rebellious" (78). At the time that Soso entered the Gori School, his
older peers in attendance at Tbilisi were breaking new revolutionary
ground. Soso was hearing stories from Tbilisi of boys like himself; boys
who had come through the rank and file of church schools who were
flexing their intellectual and ideological muscle. Former Gori students were
so rebellious that they were attacking and even murdering school officials
in Tbilisi. (Ulam, Stalin 23).
Two years into the Gori Church School, a Russian-language-only curriculum had been mandated during the massive Russification movement
in 1890. Georgian teachers were quickly replaced with Russians, and any
use of Georgian was strictly prohibited. Tucker writes, "The boys' patriotic
Georgian pride was of course only intensified by the crude effort to make
little Russians out of them. Many began to hate the Russians in the process
of learning their language" (79). Indeed, if the students could not resist the
temptation to speak in their native tongue, they were hit, forced to stand in
corners, kneel on pebbles, and generally face humiliation (Tucker 78).
Years later, there would be unsubstantiated stories of Soso's rebellion
because of this hated approach. It has also been suggested that even at a
young age, Soso was openly hostile and critical of the Gori School's "hated
Inspector Butyrski" (Trotsky 11). But as Conquest writes, if he acted out
and was punished, it did not have a long-term effect on his record or
reputation at the school (Stalin 13). If he was hostile, his grades did not reflect this attitude. He was not a prodigy, but a hard worker. Classmates
recalled that he was "always prepared for lessons...always exceptionally prepared" (Tucker 76). He showed signs of an overachiever, but had two years
more than the other boys to grasp the subject matter, which of course,
gave him a distinct advantage but contributed to an already-formed
While Soso was a student at Gori, the odd, duplicitous character of an
abused and rageful youth began to emerge. Although he loved nature, he
had no compassion for animals or humans. Frequently, he would throw
rocks at birds flying by or torment other creatures in the wild (Conquest 14).
His love for nature did not predicate a love for living things, and this trait
was well formed by the time he was ten years old. Pathology from abuse endured in his early childhood was manifested in bouts of rage and an enjoyment in the suffering of others. Lessons of repression and terror were firmly rooted in his psyche by now, only to be aggravated by the categorical
canon of the Church. His "love" for anything stemmed from a perspective
of control, whether over his classmates or nature. Even his good friend Iosif
Iremashvili wrote in his book Stalin and the Tragedy of the Georgians, "He was
a good friend so long as one submitted to his imperious will" (Tucker 72).
The Gori schoolboys, especially Soso, could not have been completely
unaware of the social circumstances surrounding them in the late '80s and
early `90s. There was always a very real reminder to Soso that he was at the
bottom of the deep class divide, within the school itself and in the larger
society. Even as the exemplary student on a scholarship from the local
parish, he was still the son of a former peasant who cleaned the homes of
the wealthy, and a drunken wife-beater who had run off to Tbilisi. Society,
the priests, and the students would not let him forget (Trotsky 9).
Soso was just educated and exposed enough to be fully aware of his
plight. This was a perfect psychological breeding ground for hostility, resentment, and radicalism especially within the injured psyche of a pre-pubescent boy. It was this reality that gave Soso a conscious understanding
of class differences. Trotsky writes, "the children of priests, petty gentry
and officials more than once made it quite clear to Joseph that he was
their social inferior...he sensed the humiliation of social inequality early in
life and poignantly" (9).
This inequality was further demonstrated when on February 13, 1892,
a fourteen-year-old Soso witnessed the public hanging of two local criminals in Gori. By all accounts, the Gori students were traipsed to the execution site where his schoolmate Peter Kapanadze remembers that they
were supposed to learn a "dread of transgression" (Radzinsky, Stalin 32).
This may have been the moment that Soso began to seriously question his
faith in God and the constructs of religion (Radzinsky, Stalin 32).
What one must consider is if Soso himself ever really possessed a
profound belief in Christ and the tenets of Orthodoxy given the tortuous and
abusive childhood he endured at the hands of his mother and father. It is
unlikely that he had the emotional tools and maturity to come to a true
understanding of spirituality while enduring physical abuse and abject
poverty in an alcoholic home. Instead, he harbored a simplistic,
one-dimensional understanding of human versus deity, of strong versus weak,
of sinful versus repentant. The Church was a symbolic and literal extension of his mother's fear network (deMause, Holocaust). He may have
believed in the Messiah, but still viewed the world through an adolescent
paradigm of control and submission; a construct that was virtually left unchallenged throughout his entire life. He had a superficial, youthful belief in ceremonial Orthodoxy as handed down from his mother and his
culture, but a sincere recognition of a personal salvation through Christ-like behavior either completely escaped him, or he consciously made the
decision to forfeit it in the midst of his own need for temporal survival.
Around 1892, and continuing between the ages of thirteen to fifteen
and until he left the Gori school, Soso's impressionable mind was exposed
to a harsh and confusing reality that demanded he steel himself against
the terrestrial world, ironically taking shelter in, and extracting knowledge
from the celestial teachings of the Church itself.
The last few years of his time at Gori, Soso indulged his appetite for
popular Georgian literature. He was remembered as an avid reader who frequented a local bookseller who also ran the Gori "lending" library on the
side. His favorite, Alexander Kazbegi, was the master of the Georgian romance novel, although all Georgian literature at that time had an epic, romantic sensibility disguising social discontent.
Kazbegi, who died in the Tbilisi insane asylum the year before Soso
went to Tbilisi, would have such a profound effect on young Soso, and
indeed change his very identity (Lang 114). The Kazbegi work that most biographers refer to in this capacity is called The Patricide although all of his
work was wildly heroic and romantic in its imagery.
Karl Meyer describes The Patricide as a romantic tale about a Caucasian
Robin Hood named Koba, who resists Russia, defends his mountain clan,
gives to the poor, scorns the Cossacks, and slaughters the traitors (4).
Tucker describes it as a story of love, intrigue and adventure loosely based
on actual events of 1845 when a Georgian mountain clan leader named
Imam Shamil came to blows with the forces of the Russian viceroy of the
Caucasus, Count Vorontsov. In the fiction, Koba the hero, defends his fellow Georgians against Russian atrocities, avenges the untimely demise of
his friends, and is at last the only surviving character (80). This synopsis
could also be used to describe Stalin during his reign, with the odd
exception of the anti-Russian angle.
Soso swiftly identified with Koba and constructed his own
hero-identity based on this character. Tucker refers to Koba as a one-dimensional figure. Dispensing provincial Georgian justice to arrogant Russians, exacting
revenge, demonstrating chivalry, cunning force, and bravery, personified
Soso's new alter ego. Appropriately, Tucker identifies the more significant
underlying theme of a Georgian / Russian class division and cultural underpinning of revenge killings (81). The hero is a simple mountain man;
the Russian villain is a wealthy tyrant. Tucker expounds on his analysis to
suggest that Koba's character fundamentally stood for a new social order,
although if so, it was not necessarily a reference to a form of democratic
socialism, as Tucker believes, but a reference to a new kind of benevolent
patriarch; a good-intentioned Mafiosi-style autocrat bred in the Caucasus.
If Soso gleaned any reference to revolution in the text, it was within the
context of Koba as a solitary, uncontested leader, a God-like figure within the Georgian clan. Stalin, as leader of the Party, would later be surrounded by his own Caucasian clan. But contrary to Kazbegi's Koba, the
older Stalin was seemingly pro-Russian and anti-Georgian-or was he?
The external, public persona of Stalin during his reign was one of
rejection of, or indifference to the plight of the Georgians, but it is more likely that he retained a personal, eternal allegiance to his homeland. His private life was full of reminiscences of Georgia. He spoke Georgian almost
exclusively in his later years, surrounded himself with Georgian comrades,
and favored Georgian wine and women. In fact, it was not his Georgian
language, but his Russian that began to deteriorate in later years
(Conquest, Stalin 2). Soso Dzhugashvili was not remembered as a boy longing to emigrate to Russia or become Russian. He was not a Russophile. It's
doubtful that he had a sudden, magical conversion to Russification after
years of resentment toward Russian hegemony and oppression in his
beloved country. Until now biographers have portrayed Stalin as
absolutely Russified. This article contends that, in fact, he detested Russia and
set out to use its resources, destroy it's people, and control it's destiny in a
show of total contempt for the country that he ruled.
Tucker argues that Stalin was able to justify changing his national identity after the fall of the "old Russia" (143). The tenets of Marxism espoused,
"workers have no country" (Ulam, Stalin 17). Indeed, Marxism allowed
Koba to identify with the new Marxist Russia that was emerging under the
tutelage of his other hero, Lenin. In homage to these ideals, Soso now demanded to be called Koba. Throughout his life, close friends would know
him as such, even after he adopted the moniker of Stalin, meaning Man of
Steel, in 1917.
The newly christened, fifteen-year-old Koba, finished the Gori Church
School with honors in July of 1894, the same year that Alexander III died
and Nicholas II ascended to the throne.
BECOMING STALIN: 1894-1898
In the autumn of 1894, fourteen-year-old Koba Dzhugashvili entered the
Tiflis Theological Seminary on a partial scholarship, but not without great
humility and pleading (Kun 23). Without money of his own, only his
outstanding performance at Gori helped to win him a spot at the country's
premier institution of "higher learning." The privileged students who attended the Tbilisi seminary would continue their education in Moscow,
St. Petersburg, or Kyiv. This was the place to be and quite an achievement
for the poor, puny kid from the Gori slums. There were few comforts or
amenities, and the boys lived intimately in one large room. The school's
Russian rector Father Hermogenes was despised at the seminary and
renounced by students as a "Jesuitical inquisitor" (Smith 31).
The school inspector, the physical challenges, the narrow curriculum,
Russification, and the social structure among the pupils within this institution heavily influenced a young man already vulnerable and damaged.
Koba spent a total of eleven of his most impressionable years immersed
in Orthodox institutions; six at Gori, and another five at Tbilisi. The years
before were spent under the tutelage of a fanatically Orthodox mother.
One cannot seriously understand the path of Stalin's development without
examining his relationship with the church and the institution itself as it
was in the nineteenth century.
Just like the familial structure, the church presented duplicitous,
simultaneous lessons of cruelty and indulgence, staunch faith and
hypocrisy, an escape route and a prison. It was not an institution of pure
conviction. Stalin's personality was a product of this institutional
contradiction, which would later fit the very spirit of the revolution, "nobility
and baseness, virtue and criminality, love and hate" (Dmytryshyn 15).
The Tbilisi Seminary, for all intents and purposes, was a Russian institution except for the few Georgians on staff who constantly ingratiated
themselves to higher officials (Tucker 78). By all accounts, Inspector
Abashidze, shadowed by the equally sinister Father Dimitry, was a hyper-suspicious tyrant, subjecting the students to random searches, chronic spying, continual threats of expulsion, blatant patronizing, and almost total
isolation from the outside world. These same tactics were employed by
most parents of the era and then later under Stalin.
Trotsky commented that Abashidze "was the most sinister and
detestable person in the seminary" (14). One student referred to Abashidze as
a "degenerate and a fanatic" (Smith 32). His preferred method of
punishment for even slight infractions was the "dark room." The dark room was
an isolation cell, which enforces the notion that most institutions of the
age were abusive in nature and more like penal colonies than places of
More than an exercise in learning, it was a lesson in survival within the
walls of the seminary. Exposed to every cruelty including hunger, only the
strong would survive. The seminary and all that it represented had been
presented to Koba as the ultimate aspiration. It introduced him to a dictatorial style of governance. Both the priests and his mother promoted the
doctrines that proved the seminary system virtuous and uplifting.
Koba's academic record was more than satisfactory during his first three
years of study. It isn't until 1898, when Abashidze assumed the position
of Inspector that Koba's rebellious streak began to slowly override his usual
rationale. Even then, the worst breach of conduct is the reading of
forbidden material. In an incident in 1896, Inspector Hermogenes recorded
that Dzhugashvili had read Hugo's Toilers of the Sea and Ninety-Three and
recommends a "lengthy confinement to the cell" (Tucker 86). By 1897,
Koba had been caught thirteen times with "outside" books (Tucker 86). But
only nine other times for minor, typical infractions such as "chatting in
class, late for morning tea, and once took off his cap in the classroom only
after being warned" (Kun 28). However, the fine was severe. Giggling in
church meant a prolonged period in the dark cell.
The Church's dark cell naturally evolved from the infant's swaddling
clothes where a sense of helplessness and obedience was learned through isolation and psychotic trauma. In the tight confines of the dark cell, Koba's
faith, if not already ruined at Gori, was faltering in practice, if not internally.
The Tbilisi curriculum, typical for seminaries of the era, was porous.
The core of Koba's knowledge came from his own self-study, a view
supported by most biographers. His later, inflexible viewpoints supported by
good argumentation, did point to an ardent reader, someone who had been
self-taught, which produced a kind of misguided, intellectual arrogance. By
candlelight, in little bits in pieces, Koba would swallow new knowledge and
information, but he was unable to internalize it in a classical, interactive
setting the way that formally educated students usually do.
Finally, there was the secret study group of young Marxists who would
discuss and analyze forbidden literature. In this way, Koba's adolescent
mind internalized knowledge in an elementary fashion without
developing true critical thinking skills. His contemporaries would sense that he
was "loosely" educated. This was the direct result of the seminary's closed
intellectual environment. Within the socialist study group, Georgian nationalism was still a prevailing thought. Koba was still in the throes of
anti-Russian sentiment, so any socialist themes introduced to him were interpreted as a means for Georgian liberation.
A NEW FAITH
The Tbilisi seminary was a prime example of a faith fallen into apostasy. It
was an institution founded on God's principles, a God who had granted
free will to all men. But now, the seminary was handled as a prison, with
all free will abolished, and a Georgian seminary ruled by Russians. This
hypocrisy did not escape an intense Koba, and was probably the
foundation for Stalin's recognition that earthly power comes from depriving men
As late as 1892, Soso believed in the principles of the Atonement, through
which earthly punishment allows for eternal salvation (Conquest, Stalin 13).
Therefore one can be sure that Koba arrived in Tbilisi with a firm belief in an
existence beyond the earthly realm. It begs the question: Did Stalin intentionally sacrifice his own salvation in order to create the Soviet Union? Was this his driving, frantic motivation for industrialization, a socialist utopia?
Did his mother's swaddling bandages, his father's abuses, and Abashidze's
solitary confinement cell resolve his belief in or rejection of God?
Tbilisi was a bizarre institution producing Georgian priests and atheist
killers. Embracing atheism meant rejecting faith in a veiled world beyond
the earth. Marxists needed belief in something palpable and empirical.
Their reward would be on earth, not in the heavens, which was a great absolution allowing for "any means necessary" in achieving the Marxist
dream. The Tiflis seminary, in all of its Christian consecration was a den of
damnation; a coven for men who could disregard their conscience. This
would have been the common thread of thought among many of Koba's
classmates. Did Koba analyze the situation on a deeper, more philosophical level than his colleagues allowing him a certain unrestricted ruthlessness in his rise to the top? If so, he must have been more introspective
than historians give him credit for.
When Stalin constructed his regime, he modeled it on his childhood
experiences and his seminarian training. He instituted a system of spying,
cruelty, censorship, the "dark room", and a total loss of free agency-the
nation was swaddled. He had not forgotten the efficacy of fear and terror.
Could he have felt that what he witnessed at home and in the seminary
was the superior system? Most researchers approach Stalin's behaviors as a
direct result of his Marxist indoctrination. It would be appropriate to also
note that many of the programs and behaviors that he implemented both
personally and politically were related to his subconscious childhood training and latent admiration of the system he was unable or unwilling to
obey as a young man.
The Tbilisi students had come for an education, an improvement, and
a salvation. But instead, they found the same class struggles, autocracy,
and fear that they had endured on the outside. It was a perfect situation
for the creation of what Schwarz calls the revolutionary bomb (2).
Like his parents before him, Koba wanted the power of the Gods to
transform men. Did Koba speak to God of his plans in the darkness of the isolation
cell? Without doubt, Koba's mind and body suffered during these extended
periods of deprivation and loneliness. He too probably hoped to take control over his own mortal weakness, searching for a resurrection of his own.
Even the wealthier students created the flammable core of the
mini-revolution that was happening inside of the seminary walls. They were swept
up in the synergy of discontent. For the poorer students like Koba, to be
expelled meant going back to the slums, the fields, the mines, and the shoe
factories that they had worked so hard to escape. Once in, they had no
other choice but to accept whatever abuse and injustice was heaped on
them. Marxism gave him the endorsement he needed to empower himself.
What they all wanted, in one way or another, was what Plekhanov
called the ideal social order in his work The Development of the Monist View of
History (45). Plekhanov's primary contemplation was dialectics and
materialism, or Marxian Psychology (Kornilov 243).
Anarchist material from the Narodniki3 came first to the school in the
early '70s. Radzinsky captures it perfectly when he writes, "...protest
against an unjust society, the promise of a Kingdom of Righteousness and
the enthronement of a new Messiah (the World Proletariat)-all these
ideas seemed to coincide with those implanted by their religious
upbringing (Stalin 36).
Indeed all bodies of knowledge, especially traditional theological
understanding of good versus evil, do seem to conform to the same Hegelian
principle of the innate contradictory nature of existence, upon which
Marx formed his socialist theory. Hegel, whose work was widely read in
the seminary, introduced a logic to Koba that he readily understood.
Koba's favorite subjects in school were logic and history so Hegelian scientific thought appealed to his native way of thinking.
Koba's own life was the epitome of the dialectical experience. It was precisely his inferior, tortured, and abused background evolving into religious
training and the seminary experience that represented the new synthesis. In
turn, the contradiction of ecclesiastical thought within the larger scheme of
tumultuous tsarist Russia was quickly becoming another opposing force
that had to be reconciled. Koba internalized these concepts with an
uncommon intensity and superimposed them onto his own experience.
Koba greedily swallowed philosophies that seemed to match his own life
experience and justify his internal hatred for authority and society (Smith
34). At an age where young, white men today become skinheads and blame
society's ills on the race war, Koba and his peers became Marxists and
blamed society's ills on the class war. His new Bible became the Manifesto.
Koba's exposure to Sergei Nechaev's nihilist pamphlet Catechism of a
Revolutionist, also appears to have been very influential. Nechaev's nihilist
Catechism was an inflammatory and violent action plan. It was especially
seductive for introspective boys coming of age, full of hormones and
aggression, coming to an awareness of their naturally powerful place in society based on their youth, masculinity, and anger. An entry in Litvinov's
journal written between 1928-1931 recounts, "Strange man, this Koba, a
mixture of Marxism with the most blatant blend of Nechayevism...Ilich4
resorted to such methods, but never against comrades in the Party. Koba
will not hesitate, I often think of the future" (161).
Conversely, Koba's Orthodox Bible was not offering a quick fix to
society's or his own injustices. Eternal salvation and heavenly bliss was of little importance if in the meantime there could be a new Garden of Eden
created on earth by men and for men, in which all are equal and where
economics, the most sinful of all human motivations, is rendered
impotent and inconsequential.
When Marx and Engels stated that the modern family was based on
"capital and private gain," he could point the finger at the specific social ill that had diseased his family and placed him at a disadvantage. He saw in
Marx's words his own childhood, "The bourgeois family is based on capital,
on private gain. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians" (Schwarz 23). Koba was
in his comfort zone. He had come from the proletarian nothing, still had
nothing, had no possibility to own anything in the future, and was
probably happy to hear that there was a scientific reason for it. When Inspector
Abashidze confronted Koba for the last time before his expulsion in May
of 1899, he appeared to have consciously and deliberately embraced the
tenets of Nechaev's pamphlet. He seems to have harvested an internal
strength and daring quality. He no longer had fear of the school or the
system and became openly defiant-the swaddled becomes the swaddler.
Koba alienated friends and revealed an extraordinary ability to detach.
He was finding it difficult to maintain a sense of humor, and was now
rejecting his traditional studies in favor of Marxist meetings at the Tbilisi
railway workshop. He no longer had the need to abide by social protocol.
He was argumentative, defensive, self-righteous, unrelenting, and rigid in
his own views. Smith agrees that Koba bypassed the entire collective
spirit of Marxism. He had a divisive nature and caused so much contention
in the socialist study group that it soon collapsed from infighting.
Solidarity, even amid his Georgian comrades, was missing from young
Koba's agenda. And even though many of his classmates would also go on
to become revolutionaries in some fashion, none of them were able to
reach the heights of ruthlessness and frigidity that Koba did. His childhood
friend Iremashvili recalls "with his supercilious and poisonous cynicism,
he injected personal squabbles into the society of his friends." According
to an article by Semen Verschak in 1928, Koba had admitted to
denouncing several of his classmates to the authorities for subversive activity
(Smith 67). This unabashed divisiveness and betrayal was evident of what
most biographers see as an opportunistic and callous personality fully
developed by his middle years at the seminary.
Koba's indifference was palpable. His hero-worship was evolving from
simple identification with literary figures to living revolutionaries like the
remote, inaccessible V.I. Lenin. For Koba, it was not enough to worship his
idols. He wanted to equal or exceed them. Sitting idly by in the seminary
organizing secret study circles was insufficient, and thus began his
proactive involvement in the Tbilisi worker circles. By 1898, Koba joined the
Georgian socialist group, Mesame Dasi making his conversion to the
revolutionary cause complete. By 1899, he was unabashedly showing a thirst
for power so abrasive that a few accounts of it have survived the entire
course of Soviet history.
At the age of twenty, Koba voluntarily resigned his post in the seminary,
sending a half-hearted letter to the rector asking to be excused from exams.
Burning his academic bridges, he had no prospects of continuing to the
university. There was no self-assessment or hesitation. Koba had already
become a deviant and was mentally prepared for the consequences,
whatever they might be. In 1899, he took a job at the Tbilisi Observatory, a
known haven for radicals, dissidents, and revolutionaries. For the world's
greatest proletarian, it was his first and only job and lasted only three
months. In one of Communism's greatest ironies, Koba never lifted a
finger for manual labor; his job at the observatory was strictly clerical.
A PSYCHOHISTORICAL ANALYSIS
It should be argued that the ideal demonstration of emotional health is a
display of prosocial behavior including altruism and empathy. Ideal
human development must include the maturation and development of
emotion with cognition (Lewis 54). Simply, from a western perspective
infused with Freudian psychoanalytic ideals, it is better to love than to hate,
to preserve than to destroy. Russia stands in contrast to this philosophy. As
a nation, its history is evidence of a deep-seated ethos of repression that
has given rise to its own brand of greatness, usually born of and suffused
with subjugation. Stalin as well defied the western altruistic model and
rose to world prominence to inflict tormented development on twentieth
century civilization, especially over the eastern half of the globe. Because
Russia was already fertile with infanticidal and abandoning psychogenic
modes, Stalin's usurpation of power was predictable as he himself was a
product of an abusing psychoclass. The further reinforcement of a duality
psychosis he received in the seminary gave him all the rational and
philosophical justification he felt entitled to on his quest for power.
Stalin learned at the hands of his mother, father, and church, that if one
loves, one must transform. In order to transform, it is sometimes necessary to first punish, demoralize, or even destroy. Like whipping or torturing the "selfish" Russian child, Russia herself should be cleansed of its bad
self enemies. When little abused Soso grew into the patriarchal Stalin,
little resistance to his genocidal cleansing existed on a mass scale. In fact,
Stalin was not Russia's only transformer. Ivan the Terrible and Peter the
Great relied on terror tactics to advance Russian society. As
Rancour-Laferriere suggests, Russian society has historically embraced a masochistic collective trait (59-65). Western historians are often perplexed by a Russia that finds pleasure and identity in its own repression and abuse, the survival of which merits great, unspoken pride and elevation of the
awe-inspiring leader who wields the punishing hand.
Like all forms of abusive systems, Stalinism was and is at the crux, an
emotional issue. Emotional health develops during the childhood within
the family, and everyday negative events, abuses, or stressors, mediate the
effects of major life events on psychological outcomes (Cummings 131).
Cummings correctly summarizes that we are innately drawn to
questioning the relationship between life-span changes and the subsequent ways
in which behavior and emotion is modified (3). Despite his obvious
emotional inadequacies and damaged psyche, Stalin's behavior and coping skills
brought him to the pinnacle of power. After a childhood full of torture and
abuse, Stalin was a character whom most Russians could easily identify with.
He was the son of an abusive, alcoholic father and a torturing mother who
all at once was an enabler with a split personality. She was the ruthless
abuser, and later the indulgent provider; an ineffective, martyring type who
saw little Soso as her own appendage whose life work it was to live out her
own unrequited hopes and dreams. Stalin's relationship with his mother was
extreme even in the pre-Revolutionary Russian psychoclass. Keke was a
toxic, exaggerated version of the one-dimensional, war-mongering Killer
Mommy. Her lethal nature was enhanced as she wrapped religion and Christ
around the abuse and torture she inflicted on little Soso. Not only was he
to be emotionally disoriented and psychologically twisted by this mix of
beiefs, but she encouraged him to embrace the dysfunction and rise within
its ranks through the Church. Stalin did not find his psychological center
until he adopted revolutionary tenets that justified his rage.
Stalin's later beliefs and behavior that he acquired in order to survive,
dovetailed perfectly with the values of a largely peasant-based Mother
Russia that believed in hierarchy, paternalism, and self-torture of its own
children and culture. He may or may not have reflected realistically on his
own childhood, but through the application of Cummings' two models
of coping, we can analyze the relationship between formative influences
and his subsequent internal coping processes (4). In the ego psychology
model, coping is viewed as an aspect of personality in which the subject
acquires defense mechanisms according to his maturity (Cummings 4).
Stalin's life was an extended version of his emotionally stunted view of the
world developed in his youth. According to Cummings:
Koba's behavior fits Cummings' model perfectly; a student who in his
last year missed several weeks of school to a mysterious "lung disease"
(hypochondriasis), who wreaked havoc among his peers and friends
(passive-aggressive), fantasized about his role of grandeur as the great Koba
(fantasy projection), and finally, verbally castigated the seminary
administration which resulted in expulsion in his last few months (acting out).
These were the only methods by which he could manage the stressful,
external world. It could certainly be argued that anyone at this level of emotional immaturity would be unable to make rational, adult decisions.
In the second contextual model, the subject forms coping skills on a
case-to-case basis, determining through cognitive appraisal of the
relationship or situation how best to effectively deal. Cummings suggests that the subject adopts an approach from the self-centered point of view, asking, "What do I have at stake in this encounter? And what can I do?" (5).
This approach requires an extensive degree of introspection, emotional
maturity, and a broader concern for the actual context of the people and
relationships around him. Stalin was self-centered and measured his
actions by potential personal gain. However, the second question in the
model again betrays Stalin's abnormally contrary approach. The basis for
the model rests on the necessity of the subject to actually feel
emotionally connected to the situation and sense a fear of loss.
Loss was a key theme in Stalin's early life. Historians prefer to sterilize
his personality and reduce him to scientific tones so as not to sound like
Stalin sympathizers. But in more humanistic terms, he was a latchkey kid
from the ghetto, living in poverty in a violent, abusive, and alcoholic
home. Later, at his mother's abusive coercion, he was artificially inserted
into a privileged circumstance that he could only retain through fantasy.
He was on the social periphery and became acutely aware of his innate
disadvantage. It was a state of confusion and a constant sense of loss, but he
finally resigned to his natural plight when he realized he would never fit in
with the popovichi,5 the nobility, or the priests.
His damaged psyche perpetuated defense mechanisms leading to not
only further personal loss, but the continued and prolonged terror and
repression of the Russian people. Although loss and deprivation for Stalin
was "normal" it did not curb his natural human need to form emotional
defenses for survival. But sadly, his adolescent pathways had brought him
to a time of complete separation, within what Du Preez calls the
ideological accelerator (105).
Years of abuse, morality-themed studies, and ecclesiastical training kept
him firmly rooted in the need to separate the world into two spheres: good
and evil. The paternal voice in his head kept him reminded of the need
to punish and cleanse. By the time Koba formally rejected theological
notions of virtue by leaving the seminary, he defined utopia not as Marxist
socialism, but as a world following him on his own search for social
purity within the rapidly changing political atmosphere of the tsarist Empire. As Collins and DuPreez contend:
The highest or most mature group of these mechanisms consists of adaptive
processes such as sublimation, altruism, suppression, and humor. The next
lower group consists of neurotic mechanisms, including intellectualization,
repression, reaction formation, displacement, and dissociation. Next are the
immature mechanisms, including fantasy, projection, hypochondriasis,
passive-aggressive behavior, and acting out. Finally the least mature are the psychotic mechanisms, including denial of external reality, distortion, and delusional projection (4).
As a boy, he sought the perfection of heaven. As an adolescent, he abandoned heaven in preference for social perfection. Fresh from the realization
that his mother's religion had failed him, he abandoned Christ and went
into the world to install the new fundamentalist, socialist faith. Orthodoxy
was not only highly influential to Koba's development, but exaggerated the
abusive foundations of Stalinism. As Ann and Barry Ulanov write,
The right and the assumed capacity to define utopia and separate the good
from the bad are the crucial properties of the complete ideological
accelerator. The most complete separation is always moral, as is the most perfected system of terror. The ideological accelerator is always a moral accelerator, finally splitting the world into two hostile camps. Now we can see where the
ideological accelerator leads: it leads to utopia. In more ambitious times, it leads to heaven. (105)
As a young revolutionary, Stalin referred to his "whore of a mother",
his religious training and his time at church school as major influences.
He translated his psychosis into ideological play. He cunningly harvested
his personal feelings and magnified them into a macrocosmic version
known as revolution. According to Collins and DuPreez, psychological
events become social events, and with Koba, this was beginning already
in the seminary (106).
Adolescent insecurity was transformed ideologically into social
catastrophe, fear and anger spurred a search for a social cause, which in nineteenth century Georgia was oppression, unemployment, and Russian
chauvinism. Youthful interest was funneled to political thought, Marxism,
socialism, and forbidden literature. More interest caused excitement and
agitation. Excitement meant humiliating those responsible for injustices.
A human desire to "join" transformed into rallies and activities in the Tiflis workers circles. Psychological impression morphed into social violence and movements as a show of strength.
Later, an emotional desire for respect turned into political ambition.
Finally, he shifted from abused, "bad" child who must heed the warning of
Mother, to abusing, "liberator" father of Mother Russia, whose children
need torturing, cleansing, and punishment. Like his categorical mother,
his primitive good-versus-bad psychology split the world into two forces,
which requires "serious action against enemies of the state" (106). Finally,
his psychopathology justified that "the bad were a lot worse than one
knew" and this is manifested by genocide; the Georgian who kills
twenty million Soviet citizens.
Stalin's genocidal tendency was the ultimate result of what Giannangelo
calls "systemic emotional rape" (27). Case histories show a steady pattern
of abusive upbringings resulting in neurological impairment and the
inability to develop an appreciation for themselves or the lives of others.
This prevents the subject from understanding intimacy or possessing any
level of self-esteem. In general, the behavioral development of the
psychopathic killer follows a basic pattern of disregard for and violation of the
rights of others, occurring from at least the age of fifteen and indicated by
failure to conform to social norms, deceitfulness such as the use of aliases,
irritability and aggressiveness, repeated failure to sustain work or honor
financial obligation, and lack of remorse by rationalizing having hurt
someone else (Giannangelo 10). As deMause illustrated, genocide is a
reenactment on a national scale of the cleansing of the "bad self"; a fulfillment
of the parental inner voice admonishing us to purify ourselves so that the
Motherland will love us once again (deMause, Holocaust). Stalin was
well-suited to engineer such a terror; finding religious purity in the act of sanitizing Mother Russia; of identifying and eliminating enemies of the
state-those freethinkers who would defile and disobey the vozhd,6 his
will, and his mother's desires.
Stalin's famous callousness and lack of empathy has rarely been
examined in psychohistorical terms. If there is one trait that seems to plague
dictators and the people under them, it is this glaring lack of empathy.
Connee Bush's recent research on empathy concludes that there is a
definite relationship between empathy and prosocial behavior and that
"emotional tone and family structure were found to be the most predictive variables" (1). Psychohistorians would agree with Bush's assertion that
empathetic arousal training, or putting oneself in the emotional place of
another, begins in infancy-or before. When the child learns within his
own intimate surroundings a pattern of emotional disconnectedness, he is
much more likely to have a low self-image, anti-social behavior, and a lack
of concern for others.
Although some exceptional people develop a more acute empathy for
others as a direct result of their abusive background, this was not the case
with Stalin. Stalin fit the textbook analysis of low empathy, as Omdahl calls
it, taken to the extreme (14). But this lack of empathy had its roots in
abuse and alcoholism, another heinous form of emotional abuse; in an
inferiority complex so large that it turned into a God-complex. Stalin's lack
of prosocial behavior mirrored his abusing, bullying parents who saw
themselves positively (Marano 50). It should be noted that in all the
biographies, Koba was remembered as a hostile, aggressive youth; a bully
oblivious to the fact that his classmates did not look favorably on him.
And finally, abuse and alcoholism in the family leads to issues of control
and domination in which the subject develops an unhealthy attachment
style (Beesely, Stoltenberg 24). The child in the abusive, alcoholic home
must navigate the family landscape through constant monitoring of
danger levels and through implementation of disarming techniques. For
survival, the subject must always be ready to employ survival tools and this
leads to an obsessive need for the control of others. This leads to
hypersensitization and plummeting self-esteem, a breeding ground for "the need
for control, denial, rationalization, and compulsivity" (1).
The child of the alcoholic home seeks to form attachment with the
alcoholic parent in a search for identity and security. As Beesley writes:
The function of religion for the human psyche is to offer true or false
containment for primordial experience. In true containment, religion gives primordial experience a place and a state of being in which it finds itself at ease with us and we find ourselves at ease with it. In false containment, religion
gives it another way, religion may block a certain level of experience in the
psyche by segregating it from what has been called reality-Freud's reality
principle---Or religion may function to provide a protected containment for
that kind of experience. (25)
Stalinism was a system of mass control, something familiar to Russians
since infancy. Control, whether on a personal or national scale inevitably
leads to difficulties with intimacy and trust. To maintain control, the
psyche resorts to paranoia, attempting to detect threat before it exists.
Paranoia and control lead to bullying. As Dan Olweus said, "Bullying
violates fundamental democratic principles" (Marano 53). Koba had been a
bully since his youth in Gori, and Stalin would bully the entire nation. As
The child's sense of self is distorted in an effort to maintain the attachment
to the alcoholic parent... the child endeavors to mediate the family chaos
by attempting to control himself or herself and others...The failure of the alcoholic caregiver to respond interferes with the child's creation of a secure
representational model of self in relation to others; a model of insecurity that
is transported into adulthood. (1)
Koba was what Marano calls a reactive bully, sometimes the bully,
sometimes the one being bullied, but always perceiving provocation (Marano
50). Koba's father was also a bully. Bullying is tantamount to oppression of
others, a swift and brutal manner to silence and diminish the target. It
follows that oppression would become the chief trait in Stalinism. The dread
and fear he felt in his own home was later inflicted on the nation. As
Conquest writes, "Fear by night, and a feverish effort by day to pretend
enthusiasm for a system of lies, was the permanent condition of the Soviet
citizen" (Conquest, Great Terror 278).
When Stalin came to power with an antisocial personality, lack of
empathy, and barely-contained rage, the result was oppression psychosis in the
nation (Miller 32). Miller defines this as persistent and exaggerated mental
states, which are characteristically produced under conditions where one
group dominates another (32), or in this case, one man, Stalin, dominates
the group. But psychohistorians know it more accurately as the natural
byproduct of the collective group-fantasy in which the subconscious belief
system must be acted out. As Harvey Schwartz correctly summarizes,
"Severely dissociative patients are prone to the kind of destructive
reenactments that turn those who engage with them into unwitting partners
in re-creating the dynamics of their original abusive systems" (5).
Like Stalin, the Soviet Union herself would develop a dichotomous
personality and harbor both a national inferiority complex (Wiarda 144), and
a national search for superiority, stocked mostly by a new kind of "docile
citizen" (Diuk and Karatnycky 3) starved to total submission, but sustained
Young Stalin was terribly abused both physically and emotionally. As
a young and innocent child, survival depended on navigating the horrors
of beatings, alcoholism, abandonment, physical deformities, and
poverty, which created a series of psychoses and inferiority complexes. Later, his
psychosis was exaggerated by the "Three Rs": religion, Russification, and
radicalism, which conversely created his quest for superiority.
In Stalin (psyche) and Stalinism (group fantasy), psychohistory can
facilitate an understanding of personalities emerging to positions of power,
especially in countries affected by previous brushes with Stalinism. This
does not mean that Vladimir Putin will emerge as a murderous tyrant, but
it does help in explaining why it is a difficult task (if not impossible) for
him to fully implement western-style democracy, and why his dictatorial
tendencies are largely supported not only his own country but others
within the Russian sphere of influence like Belarus and Ukraine. It is fair to
conclude that regardless of Putin the inner man, Russia herself may be
calling on him to be the next abusing father-figure; the next vozhd to lead
them through their great collective quest for self-repression and absolutism
in the tradition of Stalin.
Bullies, for the most part, are different from you and me. Studies reliably
show that they have a distinctive cognitive makeup-a hostile
attributional bias, a kind of paranoia. They perpetually attribute hostile intentions to
others. The trouble is, they perceive provocation where it does not exist. That
comes to justify their aggressive behavior. Say someone bumps them and
they drop a book, bullies don't see it as an accident; they see it as a call to
arms. These children act aggressively because they process social information
inaccurately. They endorse revenge. (1)
Stephanie Cheser Shakhirev is an adjunct instructor of Russian History at
Sul Ross State University and also serves as the Director of Savory Software
Solutions and AlamoDining.Com. Stephanie has lived in La Vendee, France,
Bavaria, Germany and most recently spent a considerable amount of time in
Fluent in two languages, Stephanie graduated with
honors from the University of New Hampshire and earned her Masters degree
from California State University in the Humanities where her dissertation
work focused on Stalinism and psychohistorical perspectives of Soviet
Russia. Her most recent article published in the Journal of
Psychohistory, "Swaddled Nation: Modern Mother Russia and a Psychohistorical
Reassesment of Stalin" evolved out of a paper she presented called
"Predicting the Vozhd: A Psychohistorical Analysis of Young Stalin" to the
International Psychohistorical Association's 2006 conference at New York
When she's not doing laundry, cooking, running a software firm,
or teaching, she's slowly trying to write a historical novel about
Hieromartyr Hermogenes, the Tsar's confessor and a martyr of the Bolshevik
revolution. She lives in Texas with her husband Alexei, and their son. For
contact information and bio, visit www.russianportal.org. Follow the "instructor" link. She can be reached at
Stephanie Shakhireva's article, Swaddled Nation: Modern Mother Russia and a Psychologival Reassessment of Stalin, appeared in the Summer, 2007 issue of The Journal of Psychohistory. Re-printed with permission.
- Beesley, Denise and Cal Stoltenberg. "Control, Attachment Style and Relationship
Satisfaction Among Adult Children of Alcoholics." Journal of Mental Health
Counseling. 24: (2002).
- Browning, Don S. Generative Man: Psychoanalytic Perspectives. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973.
- Bush, Connee A., Ronald L. Mullis, and Ann K. Mullis. "Differences in Empathy Between
Offender and Nonoffender Youth." Journal of Youth and Adolescence 29.4 (2000): 467. 8 September 2003.
- Cheser, Stephanie. A Pschohistorical Study of Young Stalin from 1878-1899. Carson: California State University Press, 2004.
- Conquest, Robert. Stalin: Breaker of Nations. New York: Penguin, 1991.
- Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties. London: MacMillan, 1968.
- Cummings, E. Mark, et al. "7 Children's Coping with Angry Environments: A Process-Oriented Approach." Life-Span Developmental Psychology: Perspectives on Stress and Coping. Eds. E. Mark Cummings, Anita L. Greene, and Katherine H. Karraker. Hillsdale, N): Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991. 131-147.
- Curtiss, John Shelton. Essays in Russian and Soviet History. New York: Columbia University Press, 1963.
- Deutsher, Isaac. Stalin: A Political Biography. London: Oxford University Press, 1966.
- DeMause, Lloyd. "The Childhood Origins of the Holocaust." A speech given at
Klagenfurt University, Austria. September 28, 2005.
- DeMause, Lloyd. "The Gentle Revolution: Childhood Origins of Soviet and East
European Democratic Movements." The Journal of Psychohistory. 17(4): 1990.
- DeMause, Lloyd. Foundations of Psychohistory. New York: Creative Roots, 1982.
- Diuk, Nadia and Adrian Karatnycky. New Nations Rising: The Fall of the Soviets and the
Challenge of Independence. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1993.
- Dmytryshyn, Basil. U.S.S.R.: A Concise History. New York: Scribner's, 1965.
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- Figes, Orlando. A People's Tragedy: A History of the Russian Revolution. NewYork: Vicking, 1996
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- Herington, C.J. Prometheus Bound. Trans. James Scully. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
- Justice, Blair and Rita Justice. The Abusing Family. New York: Perseus Publishing, 1990.
- Kun, Miklos. Stalin: An Unknown Portrait. Budapest: Central European University, 2003.
- Lang, David Marshall. A Modern History of Soviet Georgia. New York: Grove Press, 1962.
- Lewis, Michael. "What do we mean when we say emotional development?" Emotions in Ideal Human Development. Eds. Leonard Cirillo, Bernard Kaplan, and Seymour Wapner. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1989. 53-75.
- Litvinov, Maxim. Notes for a Journal. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1955.
- Marano, Hara Estroff. "Big, Bad, Bully." Psychology Today. 28: (1995): 50.
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- McCauley, Martin. The Emergence of the Modern Russian State 1855-1891. Totowa: Barnes and Noble Books, 1988.
- Meladze, Victor. "Beneath the Hammer." The Journal of Psychohistory. 27(1): 1999.
- Meyer, Karl E. "Icebergs in the Caucasus".
World Policy Journal 18 (2001) World Policy Journal. 18 (2001)
- Miller, Herbert Adolphus. Races, Nations, and Classes: The Psychology of Domination and Freedom. Ed. Edward Cary Hayes. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1924.
- Mothersead, Philip K. "Attachment, Family Dysfunction, Parental Alcoholism, and Interpersonal Distress in Late Adolescence: A Structural Model." Journal of Counseling Psychology 45.2 (1998): 196-203.
Psychology 45.2 (1998): 196-203.
- Nechaev, Sergei. Catechism of a Revolutionist. C. 1869.
Psychology 45.2 (1998): 196-203.
- Plekhanov, G. Development of the Monist View of History. Moscow: Foreign Languages Pub. House, 1956.
- Radzinsky, Edvard. Stalin. New York: Doubleday, 1996.
- Rancour-Laferriere, Daniel. "Russians React to the Idea of Russian Masochism." The Journal of Psychohistory. 27(1): 1999.
- Ramirez, Michael. Putin Cartoon. Investors. Com/Cartoons. Found in IBD December 8, 2006. Page 11.
- Rigby, T.H., ed. Great Lives Observed: Stalin. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1996.
- Schwarz, Fred. The Three Faces of Revolution. Washington: Prospect House, 1972.
- Seton-Watson, Hugh. The Russian Empire, 1801-1917. Oxford: Oxford University, 1990.
- Smith, Edward Ellis. The Young Stalin: The Early Years of an Elusive Revolutionary. Ontario: Ambassador Books, 1967.
- Stalin, Joseph V. Dialectical and Historical Materialism." Problems with Leninism. 1938. From Marx to Mao.
- Stalin, Joseph V. The October Revolution: A Collection of Articles and Speeches. New York: International Publishers, 1934.
- Trotsky, Leon. Stalin: An Appraisal of the Man and His Influence. New York: Stein and Day, 1946.
- Tucker, Robert C. Stalin as Revolutionary, 1879-1929: A Study in History and Personality. New York: W.W. Norton, 1973.
- Ulam, Adam. Stalin: The Man and His Era. Boston: Beacon Press, 1987.
- Ulanov, Ann and Barry Ulanov. Religion and the Unconscious. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975.
- Wiarda, Howard J. "Political Culture and the Attraction of Marxism-Leninism: National
Inferiority Complexes as an Explanatory Factor." World Affairs 151.3 (1989): 143-149.
- The 16th century Russian household rules handbook of the 15th and 16th centuries.
It is patriarchal in nature and typically condones the beating of women and
children and other tyrannical behaviors.
- See thorough research regarding dates in A Psychohistorical Study of Young Stalin from
1878-1899 page 20, by Stephanie Starr Cheser (Shakhirev).
- Russian word for Populists. Narodniki were one of the first formidable Anarchist/terrorist groups in the nineteenth century Russian Empire.
- Lenin's nickname, derived from his middle name-Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov (Lenin).
- The children of priests. Priests were considered part of the lower nobility in pre-Revolutionary Russia.
- The omnipotent, authoritarian father figure of the nation.