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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Book review: Darwin's influence on Stalin

From Michael Burleigh's review of Montefiore's Young Stalin:
Djugashvili was a ragamuffin who escaped the violent rages of his father by leading one of the town's violent street gangs. He was also bright and gifted at acting, poetry and singing, talents that led to his enrolment aged 15 at the seminary in Tiflis. Various patrons helped out Keke, Stalin's impoverished seamstress mother.

An early reading of Darwin apparently corroded his religious beliefs, which were rapidly replaced by Marxism. Most of Djugashvili's energies went into petty power struggles with an autocratic priest nicknamed 'Black Spot'. In 1899 Djugashvili was expelled, and he started the one and only legitimate job of his youth when he joined the Tiflis Meteorological Observatory, a cover for his burgeoning activities as a revolutionary agitator in the manner described by Dostoevsky in The Devils. Djugashvili began to dress the part; beard, long greasy hair, a black satin blouse and dirty shoes.

Today, I was just rereading Richard Weikart's From Darwin to Hitler, and was struck by the number of Germans at the turn of the twentieth century who had a similar experience. He and Montefiore might like to compare notes.


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