Monday, September 15, 2008

Young Stalin

Just finished Simon Sebag Montefiore's rip-roaring biography of the young Stalin - a prequel to his wonderful "Court of the Red Tsar" (about the depredations of the older Stalin). You are always looking for clues as what set of circumstances created the monster responsible for the Great Terror (1.7 million shot dead in 1937/38). He was poor but very smart, a voracious reader and a mummy's boy. His father was a violent alcoholic. He studied to be a priest and was considered one of Georgia's finest young poets. He was a tireless womaniser. He lacked a permanent home until after the Revolution - dossing down wherever he fetched up. He spent some years in exile in Siberia, fathering children and becoming a proficient hunter. In later years he preferred gardening to womanising. In every situation he found himself in he had to dominate- he was the will to power incarnate. 

But beyond all these details the character of the man emerges in his photographs - in every one you can detect the same feral glint in his eyes. You suspect that nature not nurture produced the beast.