Stalin had a stroke in 1953. He was in his workroom at the time. Of course he might have been saved had someone reached him in time. The problem is that he was so feared, so reviled, even disturbing him when he wanted peace was enough to qualify for an extreme punishment. Stalin was a famous man who in his youth impressed no one. He was short and had a strong Georgian accent. In the Soviet Union, as in the US, a Georgian accent was considered quite low-brow. He went from absolute abject poverty to one of the richest most powerful men in the world. He could kill a whole population with one angry word. 160 million Soviets loved him, this strong man who represented the emerging superpower. Millions more detested him because of his power, his random consuming hatreds, and moody style.
To many Stalin was a powerful deranged sociopath. His proclivity for cruelty and unpredictable paranoia eventually drove everyone away from him, so much so that when he needed help, no one would be admitted into his room. His even drove his wife Nadyia, whom he met when she was a young beauty, into another city. His cruelty is rooted, as it was in so many people, in a cruel father. Like Hitler, his father was a drunk, only Stalin’s father was a cobbler. He larruped Stalin and sometimes his mother as well. When Stalin’s father beat down his mother, often he was around to witness the terror. One battering pulverized Stalin’s left elbow. He could never bend it properly after that moment, and it permanently took a few inches off the length of his left arm.
When Stalin was a teenager, his mother really wanted him to serve in the clergy. She could see this as a way to keep him employed, and out of trouble. The Russian Orthodox Church had cache as well in the corner of Georgia where Stalin grew up. Again, like Hitler, the church had a kind of allure. Hitler loved the elegance of the old Benedictine monastery in Lambach. Perhaps it’s where both men garnered the notion that life is easier when you have worshippers.
Reading about this, it struck how similar Stalin and Hitler’s youth were.
Both Stalin and Hitler were born into families of modest means. Both of their father’s were skilled laborers who governed their households like the dictators they would one day become. Both Hitler and Stalin were moved by liturgy and the romance and ceremony of ecclesiastical proceedings. And they both had violent fathers whose predilections were exacerbated by alcoholism. And they were both deeply moved by the plight of people they saw at the bottom of the totem pole. Hitler felt the impecunious pain of an entire generation of German youth in post World War I humiliation. Stalin hated the oligarchs and the Tsars who lived like kings and queens in lavish form made possible only by the vagaries of their birth to rich bloodlines. And both Stalin and Hitler had louche affairs with younger women that they ended up marrying. Stalin married Nadezhda Sergeevna Alliluyeva, a fellow revolutionary. Hitler married Eva Braun, also an acolyte.
Hitler and Stalin both had to spend time in jail. For both of them jail was a reading vacation where they were guarded but had access to the latest writings and libraries. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf. Stalin read Das Capital.
Both created large brutal police forces that killed on his whim. Both created large fearsome armies. Both saw the apotheosis of industry and money and corporate power.
Both instinctively knew how to use power. Both were inured to cruelty from an early age.