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  • The Stalinist SelfThe Case of Ioseb Jughashvili (1898–1907)
  • Erik van Ree (bio)

This article explores the sense of self exhibited by Ioseb ("Soso") Jughashvili, Stalin in statu nascendi, during the 1898–1907 period, when he served the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP) as an activist mainly based in Tiflis. Taken in its most abstract form, the self is part of the human condition. People of all cultures and times are aware of their separate existence. Our minds do not telepathically merge with that of our neighbors. On a more concrete level, though, senses of the self vary widely from one cultural context to another.1 The present article explores the young Stalin's self-identification in its sociological aspect, by focusing on the question of the social classes with which he identified. I argue that he not only obviously identified himself as an intelligent but also throughout the period under discussion here continued to assign the leading role in the party committees to the intelligenty. In acting as a strong defender of the intelligentsia section of the party, Jughashvili was inspired by a particular form of Enlightenment discourse that centered on the primacy of knowledge, science, and consciousness and remained characteristic of him even as Soviet dictator. [End Page 257]

At the danger of simplifying often subtle analyses, two schools on this question can be distinguished. On the one hand, Lev Davidovich Trotskii treats the young Stalin as a "'committeeman' par excellence," disinclined to promote workers to leading positions.2 Isaac Deutscher's Jughashvili belonged to the "semi-nomad fringe of déclassés" of the intelligentsia. Despite the sense of closeness to the workers that he brought along from his humble background, he nurtured an attitude of "sceptical distrust" toward them.3 Ronald Suny's treatment of Soso as a "consistent defender of the party's prerogatives over those of the labour organisations" can be placed in this tradition.4 On the other hand, a revisionist chord has been struck recently. Robert Himmer argues that Soso took great pride in his own lower-class origins, claimed a proletarian status for himself, and hoped to see the intelligentsia segment of the party replaced by workers.5 Alfred Rieber's analysis of Soso's synthetic Georgian–Russian identity included a "presentation of self as a proletarian." Jughashvili's claim to be a proletarian would mainly be evinced by his identification with "the tendency of 'proletarian steadfastness' (Bolshevik) as opposed to the tendency of 'the intelligentsia to vacillate' (Menshevism)."6

Himmer's and Rieber's suggestion that Jughashvili associated himself with the allegedly proletarian values to the point of creating a proletarian self-presentation seems out of proportion. Whatever he may have written about the proletarian virtues, I know of no occasion that Soso was claiming a proletarian status for himself.7 As a former student of the Tiflis Seminary, he was perceived by his comrades as an intelligent, and so he was invariably described in police informers' reports. [End Page 258]

The work of social historians confirms that it would be unlikely for Jughashvili to have claimed a proletarian status for himself. Revolutionary intellectuals served as a cultural "role model" for workers in the social-democratic movement.8 Reginald Zelnik traces this pattern back to the 1870s, when the idea arose that a worker "might be shaped by intelligenty into a new kind of person, resembling themselves … a worker-intelligent." Fluid "crossover identities" were not uncommon in the movement, but students tended only to flirt with the externalities of proletarian life.9 Strikingly, the many workers who were dissatisfied with intelligentsia dominance of the RSDWP believed they could manage on their own only when they felt they had achieved an intelligentsia status of their own. An intelligent presenting himself as a worker would have struck others as odd.

His actions and writings suggest that Jughashvili identified himself with an existing discourse in which members of the intelligentsia were seen as the agents of Enlightenment and teachers of socialist consciousness. In the Russian revolutionary tradition, "intelligentsia" referred not strictly to the educated class but to those committed to expedite history's march from darkness to light through the spread...


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