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Stalin - Psychological Make up

The Yugoslav writer and revolutionary Milovan Djilas, who had met Stalin at the end of the war had been surprised by Stalin’s physical appearance, not only his “very small stature” (Stalin was five feet four inches) but his sparse hair, blackened teeth (he feared dentists), and unhealthy “Kremlin complexion,” the result of late hours. “Not even his moustache was thick or firm,” but still Djilas was struck by Stalin’s “yellow eyes,” which gleamed with a “mixture of sternness and roguishness.”

Someone who is constantly faced with anger, violence, poverty, viciousness, etc., is probably going to adopt qualities similar to those of Stalin. His growth was somewhat physically retarded in his early years due to infections, accidents, etc. There is a historical conflict over whether Stalin went to or finished school; most sources mention that Stalin did attend school and did very well until he entered a Georgian Seminary; nonetheless, school was not a pleasant experience for Stalin. Stalin really never knew any other life than the constant chaos and violence that surrounded him: "all facets of society were lies, especially the Church and school" (Antonov, p. 234; Carlson, p. 498).

"The root of Stalin's inexhaustible cynicism is sought to be here . . . in his formative years where all parts of society seemed to treat him cruelly" so he turned his back on society and became anti social (Antonov, p. 234; Carlson, pp. 496 7). "Stalin's extreme dependence on flattery suggests a need for constant affirmation of his self ideal, and his vindictiveness toward those who threatened or slighted him hints at the fragility of his entire psychic structure" (Antonov, p. 234; Carlson pp. 496, 498, 493).

Stalin, as a youth, was dominated by his mother's devotion; Freud said that "a man who has been the indisputable favourite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror, that confidence of success that often induces real success" (Tucker, p. 76; Carlson, pp. 537 40). Stalin's relationship with his adoring mother meant that "he developed a confidence in his skills and that feeling of being a conqueror which is so often the product of intense maternal devotion" (Glad, p. 324; Davison, pp. 348, 352; Carlson pp. 533, 540).

Stalin created an idealized self image that required him to seek not only political power, but also recognition of himself as a great intellectual and social leader (Carlson, p. 493). " . . Stalin created an idealized image of himself as a defence against secret fears of being unworthy" (Glad, p. 323). " . . His claims for superiority were so extreme that he could never really believe them himself" (Antonov, p. 234; Carlson pp. 493, 498, 533 40). Stalin tried to identify with the poor, downtrodden, etc., and directed his hatred against legitimate authority. These characteristics were fused in Stalin's identification with Koba; he was supposed to be "strong, silent, cunning, vengeful, and seeking for justice for the people" (Antonov, p. 324).

In general, Stalin was always attempting to attain power, but in a way that did not benefit society; he was constantly fared with oppression and violence and thus he became a hardened person even to his own family; he had a warped sense of reality and made decisions on how to best maximize his power.

Stalin had a photographic memory. This made him a very effective spy prior to the Revolution, as it was unnecessary for him to keep written notes. At a party in Moscow during a bright spot in the war against Germany, he startled a British consular officer with his ability to recite many verses of Goethe's Faust in German, and from memory, after this same official had read a representative line of that work from a small book he was carrying in his pocket (Svandize). This memory gave Stalin a tremendous administrative throughput enabling him to create and manipulate an enormously powerful bureaucratic apparatus which his less able successors were unable to control hence one reason for the eventual but belated demise of the USSR in 1991.

Stalin had no need to win sympathies of the "electorate". Therefore, since he was not a professional chatterbox like Leo Trotsky and other fervent revolutionists, he spoke in public very seldom. For example, during the whole 1936 Stalin had only one public speech - on the draft of the new constitution, on 25 November. In 1937 Joseph Vissarionovich became more talkative, as he spoke in public three times - twice in February and March during the party plenary conference, and on 13 December at his Moscow constituency, before the elections to the Supreme Council. Yet, in 1938 he pleased his fans with only one speech: in May, during the conference of the academic staffs. In 1939 Stalin appeared at the 18th Party Congress with the report on the work of the Central Committee - and that was it. In 1940 Stalin held no public speeches at all.


Stalin had a fierce temper, but "had a long memory and exceptional patience" (Uralov, p. 79). Stalin could wait for years, remember, and then seek harsh, merciless revenge on those who crossed him: "Lenin died before he could deal with Stalin, and Trotsky the friend of the Georgian Nationalists was no longer there to defend them from Stalin's wrath. Stalin waited ten years, then sent Beria who liquidated all the Georgian Bolsheviks whom he had formerly accused of nationalist tendencies" (Uralov, p. 79).

There is a general consensus among historians that Stalin had a strong, often violent temper, but he was able to hold it back and then release it when it was beneficial for him to do so. Much of Stalin's violent temper stems from his childhood where violence and poverty dominated: "an individual's character is formed, of course, in early childhood, in the first years of life. What did little Stalin experience in his family, in his preschool years, and at school? Beatings, cruelty, rudeness, and constant humiliation" (Antonov, p. 232).

His father, and even mother, beat him unmercifully for no apparent reasons; "most of all Stalin hated his father, but gradually this hatred expanded until it included all fathers, all other men" (Payne, The Rise and Fall of Stalin, p. 34). Perhaps this statement by Payne best explains why Stalin so ruthlessly purged Soviet society. Tucker expanded on this by suggesting that "the alien force that his father represented had somehow been internalised within him" (Tucker, p. 75).

Stalin became hardened and indifferent to cruelty; he was determined not to surrender and became very cynical towards those around him. However, Khrushchev differed somewhat from most historians in his picture of Stalin; he thought Stalin was ruthless, but at times, he could be "patient and sympathetic" a great political skill to possess (Khrushchev, Khruschchev Remembers, p. 55).

Stalin's reversions to sympathy seem to have been more for his self image than for the general good. "The Stalinist system was able to develop because Stalin was greedy for power and to establish his power, he eliminated first all of this adversaries, then seized by a mad lust for blood he struck at the whole Soviet people" (d'Encausse, Stalin: Order Through Terror, p. 27).


In general, Stalin seems to have had two lives in terms of his courage: while he was young, a revolutionary, Stalin was involved in some street fighting and other daring acts; but as he grew older, Stalin became quite petrified, almost in a constant state of fear, verging on paranoia.

Deutscher claimed that Stalin never, or rarely engaged in violent conflict himself; as Koba he "acted as sort of a liaison officer between the Caucasian Bolshevik Bureau and the fighting squads. In this capacity he was never directly engaged in the raids . . . his technique of dissimulation was so perfect that this role of his was never detected by the eyes of the Party" (Deutscher, Stalin: A Political Biography, pp. 87 88).

Some historians agree that Stalin's seemingly bravado acts during WWII were really fronts designed to hide his true cowardly nature. Khrushchev remembered Stalin saying "this is the end [Germany's invasion of the USSR] . . . everything that Lenin created has been lost forever" (Antonvov, p. 243). Khrushchev was surprised by what he saw of Stalin at the beginning of the war: "in a word, Stalin trembled with fear" (Brumberg, Russia Under Khrushchev, p. 11).

The view that Stalin had a psychological collapse during the early days of the Nazi invasion of the USSR are contradicted by the post glasnost publication of the Kremlin logbook kept by his receptionist. This log shows that he received an intense stream of visitors who had to sign in, on June 21 and June 22,1941 (Sudoplatov, p. 433). [However this log can also be a revisionist forgery.]

During the war, Stalin surrounded himself with the best weaponry in Moscow and was rarely seen. The general consensus of Stalin during the war was that he showed little physical courage and he panicked in times of danger. However his nephew, Svanidze reports that for relaxation Stalin was fond of hunting wild boar while armed only with a spear. [Presumably the bodyguards who followed him were armed with rifles.]


Stalin seemed to have great stamina; during the war years, Stalin delegated very little authority to others; once Russian armies began to effectively slow the German advance, Stalin gained confidence and became more involved in the war effort, until he was making all of the decisions. He was 61 years of age when the war broke out and thereafter virtually worked (with infrequent respites) for 16 to 18 hours a day, 7 days a week for the duration of the war.

During this period, he slept very little with no apparent loss of wits; possibly his long periods of exile in Siberia helped him to develop a great stamina; also as a child, he had to rely on himself most of the time, developing independence (loner) and stamina. "Many allied visitors who called at the Kremlin during the war were astonished to see on how many issues, great and small, military, political, or diplomatic, Stalin personally took the final decision . . . thus he went on, day after day, throughout the four years o£ hostilities a prodigy of patience, tenacity, and vigilance, almost omnipresent" (Deutscher, p. 467).

Stalin felt that the strength of will was all important: "I believe in only one thing the power of the human will" (Medvedev, Let History Judge, p. 324). Stalin had an incurable lust for power and to attain this he developed a superhuman strength of will: "I am a gradualist" (Medvedev, p. 324). Stalin's great stamina and strong will allowed him to become the almighty despot that he was.


Most historians today believe that Stalin was suffering from paranoia, but Antonov disagrees: he states "this would be attributing all of his crimes, which cost millions of lives, to mental illness; would a mentally unbalanced person have been able to hamstring all his political rivals and build such a model apparatus of power? No, Stalin was unquestionably of sound mind... Neither schizophrenia nor paranoia has any hold over such malicious natures. But his boundless ambition might seem maniacal to an outsider" (Antonov, p. 254).

Yet Robert Tucker feels that Stalin, if not a paranoid man, was at least a psychopath, who had fears about his intellectual shortcomings and strong dependence on others as evidenced in his extreme need for flattery and his fear of being alone (also noted by Khrushchev). Stalin felt that all his public support was self orchestrated and not real affection, so he was extremely defensive towards all others worrying about plots, assassinations, etc.

He felt that even those closest to him disliked his actions and presence (which was actually the case). Stalin's reaction to this hatred was to use violence as a psychopath would: "Defence was his exclusive concern and he guarded it fiercely. If anyone else expressed the slightest interest or curiosity about this or that new weapon, Stalin immediately became jealous and suspicious" (Brumberg, p.11).

Stalin was aware that the party was unpopular and he himself unpopular as party leader; because of this, "thousands of men were employed to protect him; he was very cautious, he used decoy cars and had guards at every portion of his daily route" (Payee, p. 385). Stalin always feared assassination plots and he never walked the streets of Moscow be it alone or with guards.

"Stalin feared private meetings between any of his colleagues, and immediately put them under suspicion; he always carried a revolver around in his coat pocket. He may have felt inferior as political leader since he often dealt with very able persons. He took control of his protection, looking over maps, tracings, etc., and then executed these ways of avoiding bullets" (Payee, p. 385).

Stalin may have been paranoid and even a psychopath, but not necessarily suffering from any major mental illness; Stalin may have committed atrocious crimes, but they were done by someone who carefully calculated his chances for survival and power, and then executed these plans.


In general, Stalin was from the Georgian tradition, but tried to disassociate himself from his roots to be accepted on the national scene of Russian politics. In true Georgian tradition men were dominant in the family, women not treated very well, and children encouraged to follow in the footsteps of their fathers; also, men were fiercely proud and quite willing to fight for their own or family's honor. The Georgians felt that the Russian people did not understand them; general impressions of the Georgians were that they were trusting, impressionable, quick tempered, and devoid of energy and initiative.

These descriptions of Georgian males accurately cover much of Stalin's personality; as much as Stalin denied his Georgian heritage and customs, he was undeniably from this region of the Soviet Union. In his youth, Stalin assumed a Georgian trait of telling anecdotes and even became somewhat of a prankster and joker (albeit very crude); he also had the Georgian traits of stubbornness and revenge. Stalin would be caught conversing in Georgian, even though he knew this was not permitted at his Imperialist school, hence he would be beaten by his teachers (Antonov, p. 234).

Yet Stalin wanted to disassociate himself from his Georgian heritage. "With his association in the greater Russian Party (through Lenin) he would be freed from his earlier identification with a weak, Georgian tradition" (Glad, p. 325). As Koba, Stalin began to disassociate himself with the Georgians: "Stalin's cold and arrogant personality caused his fellow revolutionaries in Georgia to dislike him (as Koba he was quite un Georgian); one fellow Georgian revolutionary recalled "he just cannot take a joke anymore . . . strange Georgian doesn't understand jokes . . . he replies with fists to the most innocent . . ." (Glad, p. 325).

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Page last modified: 08-12-2017 12:40:04 ZULU