The Moscow News, No 18, 2007. 13/01/08
The Origin of Tyrant Species
Can parents raise their son as a new Stalin? When, and why, is the striving for power and destruction born?
Boris Bim-Bad, D.Sc. (Pedagogy), academician of the Russian Academy of Education (RAE), is interviewed by MN’s Svetlana Kirillova
Stalin carefully concealed facts relating to his childhood and early youth. Why? Was he afraid that someone could use that information to bring up another Stalin?
An interesting idea, that. Indeed, a newborn infant is material for forming any sort of personality - a benefactor of mankind or a killer or even a super-killer. The methods of rearing an evil person have been thoroughly studied since antiquity. If someone ventures to write a book or a manual, How To Raise a Killer, it will work without fail. For instance, in the 18th century, the inhabitants of Parisian suburbs were terrorized by the notorious Cornu gang. Future gang-members were brought up in a peculiar manner: As children, they were given severed human heads to play with. Stalin’s case, though, was very different.
He was a problem child in a troubled family. Admittedly, the intellectual level of the Djugashvili family was not of the kind to form a future dictator.
Indeed, the Djugashvili family was, by our present-day standards, an extremely troubled one. Stalin’s father, shoemaker Beso Djugashvili, drank heavily and beat his wife and son. His mother, Yekaterina Geladze, in many ways an outstanding woman, also beat Soso, and later on, when her son grew up a little, she would beat her drunken husband. A troubled family, however, can make a child into an idol. But young Stalin was the only sign of divine blessing in his parents’ marriage (there were no other surviving children in the Djugashvili family). His parents vied with each other for Soso’s heart and soul. His father saw him as a shoemaker while his mother believed in her son’s special calling. The child, who was subject to beatings and humiliation, became aware of himself as the chosen one. As a result, he developed profound contempt for his own social and cultural milieu.
Subsequently that grew into contempt for all people.
So his devout and selfless mother played a destructive role in young Stalin’s formation?
Yekaterina Geladze was both a typical and atypical mother at the same time. Any mother does her best to help her child make his way up in the world, and this is perfectly normal. But Stalin’s mother was obsessed with the idea. She went to great lengths to pay for Soso’s tuition. Say, when instruction at the seminary where she had placed her son was switched to Russian (until then it was in Georgian), she hired a Russian tutor for Soso. But Yekaterina could not (or did not want to) calculate the consequences of her action. The best way of bringing up a child is by personal example. If you believe that education and culture is the supreme value, you should aspire to these pinnacles yourself.
Yet Stalin’s mother, while demanding academic excellence from her son, could not even read. Her grandchildren could not talk to her as she had not learned any Russian.
She was a religious woman. Yet, while preaching Christian humility and mercy, she would beat her husband and son. Later on, when Stalin met her, he remembered only one thing about his childhood: "You beat me." To which the dictator’s mother replied: "That’s why you have grown up to be such a good man." The gap between what adults preach and what they actually do leads children to believe that hypocrisy is the norm. Young Joseph grew up in an atmosphere of hypocrisy, and he practiced it for the rest of his life. Remember how later on the leader of nations would thrash his son, Yakov, for smoking - without taking his own pipe out of his mouth.
What makes you think that already as a teenager Stalin had serious psychological problems?
According to eyewitness accounts, even then Stalin’s abnormal behavior was striking. Repetitive action, such as running up and down a hill or throwing pebbles for hours, excessive introspection, a tendency to shut himself off from the outside world, and contempt for this world - all of these are classic symptoms of autism. Today a boy like that would be sent to a psychiatrist, who would most likely place him in a mental hospital.
Autistic children have a proclivity to reading avidly. The novel Fratricide, by Alexander Kazbegi, that young Djugashvili liked so much, abounds in cruel details. The hero’s name - Koba - eventually became the leader’s party alias. Do you think that novel became a lesson and practical guide for Joseph Djugashvili in his future life?
Talented books produce a far greater impression on a child than does the environment. A child is anxious to choose a role model. A child needs a literary hero to identify with. We could talk forever about how not only killers but also great benefactors of mankind are formed. In either case we should also talk about the books they read. Not surprisingly, young Soso, who already hated people, found both his book and an ideal to emulate - the gangster Koba.
Soso Djugashvili was one of the best students at the seminary. He received a religious education but did not become better, more spiritual. Why?
If a religious education comes too early or too late, when a person’s soul is already crippled, it can have devastating consequences. This, however, is true of any education. Take the relationship between Alexander the Great and his great teacher, Aristotle. Alexander was selective toward Aristotle’s encyclopedic mind, developing a profound hostility for some of the philosopher’s ideas. Aristotle feared for his life. He had good reason for that. Many a teacher has been killed by his pupil. Not because the teachers were bad but because a pupil will take only what he needs from his teacher.
Soso’s childhood and youth are not too different from the early years of thousands of our contemporaries. Now what made him Stalin?
Stalin as a character and personality is remarkably uninteresting and ordinary. His is a very mediocre figure. It was a unique confluence of circumstances that made him Stalin. Even his disease - paranoia - was fairly common. It does not take a great psychiatrist, such as Bekhterev, to identify a very sick person in Stalin. The Brockhaus-Efron encyclopedia, in an article on paranoia, lists all symptoms of the disease. There are very few nations in the world who have not succumbed to the temptation of following a blind guide endowed with limitless, overflowing energy. Unfortunately, people easily fall for charisma. They do not know or do not want to know that this is the energy of a madman. A normal person cannot have such energy.
Many parents, just as in the Djugashvili family, go out of their way to lead their children beyond their social circle. Would it be right to say that such children belong to an at-risk category?
Whether a child will develop as a despot or super-killer is predicated on a great number of circumstances. Not every person who receives such an ugly, warped guideline in his childhood will necessarily become a curse unto himself as well as others. It is important to remember that when parents want their children to get on in life, they want them to be "as good as others." Yet this is an impossible task: There will always be someone who will be better than you. And this is a source of suffering and even maniacal ideas. Perhaps the best remedy against this is to be happy with your life. It is far more important to be in harmony with the outside world than to succeed at all costs. Yet it takes time and patience to learn this skill.