Joseph Stalin is known to the world as one of history’s biggest tyrants, responsible for the death of millions. But the man who was to become the supreme ruler of the Soviet Union could have chosen a very different path – the path of poetry.
Before he rose to power in the Bolshevik party, Stalin won renown in his native Georgia wielding not the sword, but the pen, writing romantic poetry that was critically acclaimed by intellectuals of the day.
Born Iosif Vissarionavich Djugashvili in the provincial Georgian town of Gori, and known by the diminutive 'Soso' to his family and friends, Stalin’s poetry appeared in 1895 in the pages of the magazine Iveria. Though he only published a handful of poems, they were well received at the time, and are still familiar to some Georgians today.
Stalin’s career as a poet was cut short when he discovered a new muse: Marxism. Stalin soon fell into the shadowy underworld of Georgian revolutionaries, and began to rise through the ranks.
On June 13, 1907, a street in Tbilisi was shaken to its foundations by the sound of bombs exploding. A wagon containing millions of roubles to be taken to the State Bank was attacked by a gang of Bolsheviks directed by Stalin. The robbers made off with the loot – one of the biggest heists in the history of the Russian Empire.
It was a tip off from a bank clerk that made the robbery possible. The story goes that the clerk gave Stalin the crucial information because he was such an admirer of Stalin’s poetry. The robbery propelled Joseph Stalin to the top of the Bolshevik party, and it’s possible that we would not have had Stalin the Tyrant, had it not been for Soso the Poet.
Stalin started writing his poetry while studying to be a priest. His mother always thought the clergy would have been the best choice for her son, but after Marxism, poetry was his true vocation.
The few poems that Stalin did publish raise one of the great ‘what ifs’ of modern history – what if the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had instead remained a humble romantic poet?
And what if Adolph Hitler had remained a humble artist?