Some Good Books About A Bad Man
Edvard Radzinsky, H.T. Willets (Translator)
Once, while partying with his comrades, Stalin wondered aloud whether a star in the night sky was Cassiopeia or Orion. Comrade Molotov and Comrade Kaganovich couldn’t agree on the answer, so they decided to call the planetarium. The man who answered the phone was a security officer, so he didn’t know. He promised to call them back. He then sent two other security officers in a black limousine to fetch the most well-known astronomer in Moscow. This was during the Great Terror, when Stalin had prominent scientists, writers, doctors, etc, randomly arrested in the middle of the night, then tortured, shot, or sent to the gulag. When the black limo pulled up at the first house, the astronomer, whose friend Numerov was arrested just the previous week, had a heart attack before he could answer the door. They decided to visit a second astronomer. When the second astronomer saw the black limo pull up, rather than risk torture and imprisonment, he threw himself out of the window. The third astronomer shot himself. The fourth astronomer answered “Cassiopeia” then urinated himself. By the time word got back to the party, everyone had gone to bed.
When Lenin and the Bolsheviks took power, they no idea how to run a country. They made stuff up as they went along. They commandeered a girls finishing school in Smolny, the headmistress of which kept her office next to Lenin. Stalin was randomly appointed head of the People’s Commissariat of Nationalities, his first real job in years. He sat in his office with his deputy Pestkowski and waited for phonecalls. Trotsky tried to take over the tsar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, but the employees just laughed him out the door. When Trotsky came back with a small group of armed men, the employees fled. Trotsky stole what money they left behind. When Pestkowski succeeded in stealing a portion of the cash from Trotsky, he was named head of the State Bank.
Simon Sebag Montefiore
Young Stalin’s unofficial role in the early days of the party was to rob, hold people for ransom, and extort funds for the revolution. He spent many years “expropriating funds” in oil rich Baku, a city in Azerbaijan with flame-spewing refineries and elaborate palaces built by its many oil barons. One oil baron named Musa was kidnapped by the Bolsheviks, but refused to give them money. “Of course, you can slice me up,” he said, “but then you’ll get nothing.” Stalin, who normally preferred to work in the shadows, decided to meet in private with Musa. After a 10 minute conversation, the oil baron decided to pay up. Later the same year, Musa was kidnapped by the Bolsheviks a second time. This time, he paid up immediately. Musa, like most wealthy peasants after 1917, was stripped of his fortune, but not before he received a note from Comrade Stalin that read, “Thank you for your generous contributions to the revolution.”