By Harvey Blume
If you want to get a glimpse of a Joseph Stalin you likely had never conceived of before, just turn to the mug shot taken of him by Tsarist police in 1912 or some of the other photos in Sebag Montefiore fascinating, radically revisionist new biography Young Stalin.
This Stalin is no repulsively pock-marked yellow-eyed dwarf — as Leon Trotsky, who enacted enduring literary revenge on the man who exiled and executed him, described his foe. Nor does he remotely resemble the dull-witted bureaucrat of Trotskyite lore, a man who sat out the 1905 Revolution, for example, pushing papers in an office. (He was tossing grenades at the time).
No, the Stalin emerging from Montefiore’s pages is not in the least bit dull or bureaucratic. (Montefiore deals with the monster he became and was becoming in his much-praised 2004 bio, Stalin: In the Court of the Red Tsar). Young Stalin is debonair and violent; a gang leader, a published poet and acclaimed singer, a brawler and a bank robber. He’s a smart, schooled stud muffin, Charles Bukowski plus dynamite and dialectics.
He’s way cool
He’s such a brute.
Forget Trotsky — young Stalin is sexy, the Che of his day in a way.
He’s much more vital and dangerous than Trotsky — haughty and condescending, according to Montefiore, who bases his account on archives that have only recently become available — would allow.
Young Stalin was Lenin’s go to guy. Today, insofar as there is a left, or anything like it, young Stalin — the disciplined, romantic, charismatic, desperado — exerts the same allure.
Have you fallen for him lately?