Stalin… the “bookworm” who suppressed the writers of his time

“Stalin’s Library” is a book recently published by Yale University

The eminent academic, Professor Jeffrey Roberts, explores the books read by the most famous dictator of the twentieth century, Joseph Stalin (1878 – 1953), and how he read the books contained in his library or those he borrowed from other comrades, and what he learned from them, after Roberts fought in The Russian archives, and the result of the research was a book recently published by Yale University in the United States, entitled “Stalin’s Library,” in which he revealed that Stalin was a “reading worm” from his youth until he assumed the position of General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party for three decades. But did this passion for reading books bring him closer to the writers themselves, and did he respect freedom of speech? This is the information available to the British academic, who is a recognized world reference on Stalin, and on the history of Soviet military and foreign policy in general.

“Stalin Library” published by Yale University

For decades after his death in 1953, the sporadic sources available to scholars on Joseph Stalin’s life made his character an enigma. Was he simply the brutal tyrant portrayed by the subsequent General Secretary, Nikita Khrushchev, in his secret speech to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956? Or was he mediocre, as his rival Leon Trotsky portrayed him in his “Biography of Stalin” published after the Soviet dictator arranged to assassinate his opponent in Mexico in 1940?

It is curious to know, now nearly seventy years after his death, and through this deep research and diligent collection of evidence from documents, that Stalin, “a firm believer in the great potential of words,” and a voracious reader from an early age, devoured the classics of European literature along with Legal texts of the socialist movement. He was educated at a seminary, but found his true standard in the radical bookshops of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Stalin’s belief in the power of words was due to the simple reason that reading books changed his life and led him to revolutionary underground action in Tsarist Russia.

This hunger for the word led him to read his whole life, setting himself a reading rate of 200 to 500 pages per day. Books were scattered about him everywhere, in his office in the Kremlin, in his residence, and in his vacation home on the Black Sea. According to the documents about his death of a stroke, it happened while he was in his library on March 5, 1953, amid piles of books on his desk and on tables, most of them containing comments on their margins in his handwriting, with pens of green, blue and red colors. According to the documents, he left about 25,000 books, surprisingly diverse, and commented on many of them in the margins of the book while reading it, or underlining some words and sentences or around a certain paragraph, revealing his own thoughts, feelings and beliefs, especially since he did not record his opinions. The diary does not release any book. In addition to his greed in possession of books, some of which were purchases and others as gifts, he also borrowed from others. The Soviet poet, Damian Bedney, complained that Stalin left traces of his fat-tainted fingerprints on the books he borrowed from.

While Stalin’s mother tongue was Georgian, almost all the books in his library were in Russian, written by the great majority, by Bolsheviks or other socialists. In the 1920s, Stalin’s readings focused, for the most part, on the writings of his rivals to succeed Lenin in the party leadership, notably Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, and Nikolai Bukharin. All three died in the partisan purges, while Leon Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico in 1940, but all of their books remained on the shelves of Stalin’s library ready to be read.

History was of constant interest to Stalin, especially Russian history, fascinated by the comparisons between his rule and that of Peter the Great (1672-1725), one of Russia’s most important czars in terms of power and reform, and the rule of Ivan the Terrible (the first to crown himself tsar in Russia and the atrocities of the sixth century ten).

The most memorable book in Stalin’s collection, Jeffrey Roberts says, is The History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire by his favorite historian, Robert Vipper, a specialist in ancient history, who also wrote an autobiography of Ivan the Terrible.

Outside of the history books, Stalin devoted much time to reading about science, linguistics, philosophy, and political economy. After World War II, he intervened in Soviet discussions of genetics, socialist economics, and linguistic theory. The most famous of these interventions was his endorsement of Trofim Lysenko, a Soviet botanist who argued that genetics could be influenced by environmental factors. However, Stalin particularly mocked Lysenko’s view, that every science has a “class character”, commenting in the margins: “Ha-ha-ha-ha…And mathematics? And Darwinism?”

Stalin read in a variety of ways. Some of the books he read from cover to cover, others he was just browsing. Sometimes he starts reading a book and loses interest in it after a few pages, or he jumps from introduction to conclusion.

Drawing on his extensive research in Russian archives, Roberts tells the story of the creation, fragmentation, and revival of Stalin’s personal library. The central feature of the detached building built for Stalin between 1933 and 1934 was a 30-square-meter library, with four large bookcases, each with shelves deep enough to accommodate two rows of books. Stalin’s collection was so large that many books were stored in this building, and then what he needed from them were brought in at his request.

Being a true believer in communist ideology, Stalin was a fanatic, hated his enemies (bourgeoisie, big farmers, capitalists, imperialists, reactionaries, counter-revolutionaries and traitors), but hated their ideas even more. After Khrushchev’s condemnation of Stalin in 1956, plans to preserve the library in the country house were abandoned, and his books (which included volumes on child psychology, sports, religion, syphilis, and hypnosis, as well as works by writers such as Turgenev and Dostoevsky), became scattered A comprehensive study of what he enjoyed reading.

Many academics before him, says Roberts, scoured the remnants of Stalin’s group, hoping to glimpse the true nature of this dictator, or find “the key to the character who made his rule so brutal.” Roberts found no evidence, but suggested, “By following the way Stalin read books, we can glimpse the world through his eyes. We may not get into his soul, but we have to wear his glasses.”

Not satisfied with his passion for reading, Stalin insisted that his family and colleagues should read books. He gave his adopted son a copy of Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”, published in 1719, with the dedication of his desire “to grow up to be a conscious, steadfast and intrepid Bolshevik”. He gave his daughter a brief history of the Communist Party, and ordered her to read it. Svetlana, who (later escaped to the West), said: “Writing tires me so much.” Sergo, the son of Stalin’s security commissar, Lavrentiy Beria, claimed that when the Soviet leader was visiting someone from his inner circle, he would approach his library and begin turning over books, to check for signs that they had already been read.

Stalin found in his books solace and intellectual nourishment, but consolation neither saved his morals nor made him with a conscience shouted, he killed his rivals in the party, and inflicted punishment on many Soviet citizens. According to the Russian journalist and writer Vitaly Shintalinsky, in his book “The KGB’s Literary Archive”, approximately 1,500 writers died during the period of the “Great Purge” (1936-1938). Joseph Stalin’s campaign, to consolidate his power and impose it on the party and the nation; The purges were also designed to remove the remaining influence of Leon Trotsky and other political rivals within the party.

Impressed by writers and writers, Stalin told the 1934 Soviet Writers Conference that while civil engineers were needed to build socialism, the country also required “engineers of the human spirit”. However, the nationalization of the publishing industry was one of the first decisions of the Bolsheviks after they seized power in Russia in 1917. Realizing the possibility of using words against the Soviet regime, they established an advanced censorship system to control the production of newspapers and magazines, publishing houses and printing presses. However, Stalin exempted himself from this censorship, and his private library contained many banned volumes, some of which belonged to his enemies.

Stalin neither kept his diaries nor wrote memoirs, so these manuscripts and the footnotes within them are now invested with more importance than they deserve. Roberts cautions against this, such as Stalin underlining a sentence attributed to Genghis Khan: “The death of the vanquished is necessary for the peace of mind of the victors,” or assuming that the invented word “teacher,” on the cover of a play about Ivan the Terrible, means that Stalin was looking at this tyrant over He is a role model. Roberts, who is a professor of history at the Irish College of Cork, said at the Dublin History Festival on September 25, 2016, that the saying attributed to Stalin, to the effect that “one death is a tragedy… as for a million is a statistic”, is in fact. fabricated.

But the attribution “picks up an essential feature of Stalin.” He lived educated in a world of words, ideas and texts. And in this world, there was an abundance of abstraction, little human empathy and an awakening of conscience. It was easy for him to make and justify harsh decisions that affect the fate of millions. Books helped him isolate him from the human realities that accompanied his violent pursuit of the utopia.