Stalin was born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili in
Gori, on 6 December 1878. He was the son of
Vissariaon "Beso" Djugashuli and
Ekaterina "Keke" Geladze; they had married in May 1872, and had lost two sons in infancy prior to Stalin's birth. They were ethnically
Georgian and Stalin grew up speaking the
Georgian language. Gori was then part of the
Russian Empire, and was home to a population of 20,000, the majority of whom were Georgian but with Armenian, Russian, and Jewish minorities. Stalin was
baptised on 17 December. He earned the childhood nickname of Soso, a diminutive of Iosif (Joseph). Beso was a cobbler, and in the early years of their marriage, the couple prospered. However, he did not adapt to changing footwear fashions, and his business began to fail. The family soon found themselves living in poverty, moving through nine different rented rooms in ten years. Given this situation, the historian
Robert Conquest later suggested that Stalin's class background was "uncertain and indeterminate".
Stalin in 1894, at the age of 15
Beso was also an
alcoholic, and drunkenly beat his wife and son. To escape the
abusive relationship, Keke took Stalin and moved into the house of a family friend, Father Christopher Charkviani. She worked as a house cleaner and launderer for several local families who were sympathetic to her plight. Keke was determined to send her son to school, something that none of the family had previously achieved. In late 1888, when Stalin was ten, he enrolled at the Gori Church School. This was normally reserved for the children of clergy, although Charkviani ensured that Stalin received a place. Stalin excelled academically, displaying talent in painting and drama classes, writing
his own poetry, and singing as a choirboy. He got into many fights, and a childhood friend later noted that Stalin "was the best but also the naughtiest pupil" in the class. Stalin faced several severe health problems; in 1884, he contracted
smallpox and was left with facial pock scars. Aged 12, he was seriously injured after being hit by a
phaeton; the accident resulted in a lifelong disability to his left arm.
After passing his exams in July 1893, Stalin's teachers recommended him to the
Spiritual Seminary in
Tiflis. He enrolled at the school in August 1894, enabled by a
scholarship that allowed him to study at a reduced rate. Here he joined 600 trainee priests, who boarded in dormitories containing between twenty and thirty beds. Stalin was again academically successful and gained high grades. He continued writing poetry; five of his poems were published under the pseudonym of "Soselo" in
Ilia Chavchavadze's newspaper Iveria ("Georgia"). Thematically, they dealt with topics like nature, land, and patriotism. According to Stalin's biographer
Simon Sebag Montefiore, they became "minor Georgian classics", and were included in various anthologies of Georgian poetry over the coming years. As he grew older, Stalin lost interest in his studies; his grades dropped, and he was repeatedly confined to a cell for his rebellious behaviour. Teachers complained that he declared himself an
atheist, chatted in class, and refused to doff his hat to monks.
He had joined a forbidden book club active at the school, and was particularly influenced by
Nikolay Chernyshevsky's 1863 pro-revolutionary novel
What Is To Be Done?. Another influential text was
The Patricide, with Stalin adopting the nickname "Koba" from that of the book's bandit protagonist. He also read
Capital, the 1867 book by German sociological theorist
Karl Marx. Stalin devoted himself to Marx's socio-political theory,
Marxism, which was then on the rise in Georgia, one of various forms of
socialism opposed to the governing Tsarist authorities. At night, he attended secret workers' meetings, and was introduced to Silibistro "Silva" Jibladze, the Marxist founder of
Mesame Dasi ('Third Group'), a Georgian socialist group. In April 1899, Stalin left the seminary at the end of term and never returned, although the school encouraged him to come back.
Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party: 1899–1904
In October 1899, Stalin began work as a
meteorologist at a Tiflis observatory, a position that allowed him to read while on duty. Stalin had attracted a group of radical young men around him, giving classes in socialist theory. He was involved in organising a secret mass meeting for
May Day 1900, at which he successfully encouraged many of the men to take strike action. By this point, the Tsarist secret police—the
Okhrana—were aware of Stalin's activities within Tiflis' revolutionary milieu. They attempted to arrest him in March 1901, but he escaped and went into hiding, living off the donations of friends and sympathisers. Remaining underground, he helped to plan a demonstration for May Day 1901, in which 3000 marchers clashed with the authorities. He continued to evade arrest by using aliases and sleeping in a different apartment each night. In November 1901, he was elected to the Tiflis Committee of the
Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), a Marxist party founded in 1898.
That month he travelled to the port city of
Batumi. His militant rhetoric proved divisive among the city's Marxists, with some suspecting that he might be an
agent provocateur. He gained employment at the
Rothschild refinery storehouse and there helped organise two workers' strikes. After several strike leaders were arrested, he co-organised a mass public demonstration against the arrests that led to the storming of the prison; troops fired upon the demonstrators, 13 of whom were killed. Stalin organised a second mass demonstration on the day of their funeral, before being arrested in April 1902. He was initially held at Batumi Prison, and later moved to the more secure
Kutaisi Prison. In mid-1903, Stalin was sentenced to three years of exile in eastern Siberia.
Stalin left Batumi in October, arriving at the small Siberian town of
Novaya Uda in late November. There, he lived in the two-room house of a local peasant, sleeping in the building's larder. Stalin made several escape attempts; on the first he made it to
Balagansk before returning due to
frostbite. His second attempt was successful and he made it to Tiflis. Here, he co-edited a Georgian Marxist newspaper,
Proletariatis Brdzola ("Proletarian Struggle"), with
Philip Makharadze. His calls for a separate Georgian Marxist movement resulted in several RSDLP members calling for his expulsion, claiming that his views were contrary to
Marxist internationalism. Under
Mikha Tskhakaya's influence, Stalin renounced these views. During his exile, the RSDLP had split between
Mensheviks. Stalin now aligned with the Bolsheviks, growing to detest many of the Georgian Mensheviks. Although Stalin established a Bolshevik stronghold in the mining town of
Chiatura, Bolshevism remained a minority force in the Menshevik-dominated Georgian revolutionary scene.
The Revolution of 1905 and its aftermath: 1905–1912
In January 1905, government troops
massacred protesters in
St Petersburg. Unrest soon spread across the Russian Empire in what came to be known as the
Revolution of 1905. Georgia was one of the regions particularly affected. In February, Stalin was in
Baku when ethnic violence broke out between Armenians and
Azeris; at least 2000 were killed. Stalin publicly lambasted the "pogroms against Jews and Armenians" as being part of Tsar
Nicholas II's attempts to "buttress his despicable throne". He formed a Bolshevik Battle Squad which he used to try and keep Baku's warring ethnic factions apart, also using the unrest to steal printing equipment. Amid the growing violence throughout Georgia, Stalin formed further Battle Squads, with the Mensheviks doing the same. Stalin's Squads disarmed local police and troops, raided government arsenals, and raised funds through
protection rackets on large local businesses and mines. They launched attacks on the government's
Cossack troops and pro-Tsarist
Black Hundreds, co-ordinating some of their operations with the Menshevik militia.
Stalin first met Vladimir Lenin (pictured) at a 1905 conference in Tammerfors
In November 1905, the Georgian Bolsheviks elected Stalin as one of their delegates to a Bolshevik conference in St. Petersburg. On arrival, he met Lenin's wife
Nadezhda Krupskaya, who informed them that the venue had been moved to
Tammerfors in the
Grand Duchy of Finland. At the conference Stalin met Lenin for the first time. Although Stalin held Lenin in deep respect, he was vocal in his disagreement with Lenin's view that the Bolsheviks should field candidates for the
forthcoming election to the
State Duma; Stalin saw the parliamentary process as a waste of time. In April 1906, Stalin attended the
RSDLP Fourth Congress in
Stockholm; this was his first trip outside the Russian Empire. At the conference, the RSDLP—then led by its Menshevik majority—agreed that it would not raise funds using armed robbery. Lenin and Stalin disagreed with this decision, and later privately discussed how they could continue the robberies for the Bolshevik cause.
Kato Svanidze in a church ceremony at
Tskhakaya in July 1906. In March 1907 she bore him a son,
Yakov. By that year—according to the historian
Robert Service—Stalin had established himself as "Georgia's leading Bolshevik". He attended the
Fifth RSDLP Congress, held in London in May-June 1907. After returning to Tiflis, Stalin organized the
robbing of a large delivery of money to the Imperial Bank in June 1907. His gang ambushed the armed convoy in
Yerevan Square with gunfire and homemade bombs. Around 40 people were killed, but all of his gang escaped alive.
After the heist, Stalin settled with his wife and son in Baku. There, Mensheviks confronted Stalin about the robbery and voted to expel him from the RSDLP, but he took no notice of them. In Baku, Stalin secured Bolshevik domination of the local RSDLP branch, and edited two Bolshevik newspapers, Bakinsky Proletary and Gudok ("Whistle"). In August 1907, he attended the
Seventh Congress of the
Second International in
Stuttgard, Germany. In November 1907, his wife died of
typhus, and he left his son with her family in Tiflis. In Baku he had reassembled his gang, the Outfit, which continued to attack Black Hundreds, and raised finances by running protection rackets, counterfeiting currency, and carrying out robberies. They also kidnapped the children of several wealthy figures in order to extract ransom money. In early 1908, he travelled to the Swiss city of
Geneva to meet with Lenin and the prominent Russian Marxist
Georgi Plekhanov, who exasperated him.
In March 1908, Stalin was arrested and interred in Bailov Prison, where he led the imprisoned Bolsheviks, organised discussion groups, and ordered the killing of suspected informants. He was eventually sentenced to two years exile in the village of
Vologda Province, arriving there in February 1909. In June, he escaped the village and made it to
Kotlas disguised as a woman, and from there to St Petersburg. In March 1910, he was arrested again, and sent back to Solvychegodsk. There he had affairs with at least two women; his landlady, Maria Kuzakova, later gave birth to his second son,
Konstantin. In June 1911, Stalin was given permission to move to Vologda, where he stayed for two months. There, he had a relationship with Pelageya Onufrieva. He proceeded to St Petersburg, where he was arrested in September 1911, and sentenced to a further three year exile in Vologda.
Editing Pravda and the Central Committee: 1912–1914
The first Bolshevik Central Committee had been elected at the
Prague Conference, after which Lenin and
Grigory Zinoviev invited Stalin to join it. Still in Vologda, Stalin agreed, remaining a Central Committee member for the rest of his life. Lenin believed that Stalin would be useful in helping to secure support for the Bolsheviks from the Empire's minority ethnicities. In February 1912, Stalin escaped to St Petersburg, tasked with converting the Bolshevik weekly newspaper, Zvezda ("Star") into a daily,
Pravda ("Truth"). The new newspaper was launched in April 1912, although Stalin's role as editor was kept secret. In May 1912, he was arrested again and imprisoned in the
Shpalerhy Prison; in July he was sentenced to three years exile in Siberia. In July he arrived at the Siberian village of
Narym, where he shared a room with fellow Bolshevik
Yakov Sverdlov. After two months, Stalin and Sverdlov escaped and returned to St Petersburg.
Stalin returned to Tiflis, where the Outfit planned the ambush of a mail coach, in which most of them were arrested. Stalin returned to St Petersburg, where he continued editing and writing articles for Pravda. After the
October 1912 Duma elections resulted in six Bolsheviks and six Mensheviks being elected, Stalin wrote articles calling for reconciliation between the two Marxist factions, for which he was criticised by Lenin. In late 1912, he twice crossed into the
Austro-Hungarian Empire to visit Lenin in
Krakow, eventually bowing to Lenin's views on reunification with the Mensheviks. In January 1913, Stalin travelled to
Vienna, there focusing his attention on the 'national question' of how the Bolsheviks should deal with the Russian Empire's national and ethnic minorities. Lenin wanted to attract these groups to the Bolshevik cause by offering them the right of secession from the Russian state; at the same time, he hoped that they would remain part of a future Bolshevik-governed Russia. Stalin's finished article was titled
Marxism and the National Question; Lenin was very happy with it. According to Montefiore, this was "Stalin's most famous work".
In 1911, he met his future second wife,
Nadezhda Alliluyeva, during one of his many escapes from Siberia. Sometime between 1910 and 1912, he began using the alias "Stalin" in his writings.
World War I: 1914–1917
WWI, upon his exile in Siberia, Stalin was conscripted into the Russian Army but his damaged left arm disqualified him for service. He had to travel to Achinsk, only 100 km from the Trans-Siberian Railway for his medical exam, and was allowed to stay there after the army rejected him.