21st December – Anniversary of the birth of Comrade Stalin

At the Helm of State

At the Helm of State

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21st December – Anniversary of the birth of Comrade Stalin

‘Congratulating Stalin [on his birthday] is not a formality. Congratulating Stalin means supporting him and his cause, supporting the victory of socialism, and the way forward for mankind which he points out, it means supporting a dear friend. For the great majority of mankind today are suffering, and mankind can free itself from suffering only by the road pointed out by Stalin and with his help.’ Chairman Mao, Stalin, Friend of the Chinese People, December 20, 1939, in Selected Works, Volume 2, pp 335-336.

The 21st December has long been the day when Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries, throughout the world, have celebrated the anniversary of the birth of Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili – better known to history as Comrade Joseph Stalin.

The aim here is not to provide a biography of Comrade Stalin ( a number of biographies, memories and reminiscences more than adequately fill that gap in people’s knowledge) but to make a number of points why – 141 years after his birth and 67 years after his death – the life of this great leader of the working class deserves to be celebrated and his works and achievements studied to greater understand the difficulties of the task of achieving the Socialist revolution and the eventual construction of a Communist society.

For, by celebrating the life of Comrade Stalin, the exploited and oppressed workers and peasants of the world are, to an extent, celebrating themselves, their struggles and their desire for a better life.

How different individuals react to the life and work of Comrade Stalin is a litmus test to their political viewpoint. He is constantly vilified by capitalist and imperialist representatives, by their toadying media, by the treacherous Social Democrats of the likes of the British Labour Party, the revisionists and ‘capitalist-roaders’ who have usurped power in the erstwhile socialist countries, and the Trotskyites – who exist within the working class movement (worldwide) as a ‘Fifth Column’ to undermine and betray any chance of a successful revolution. How you see Comrade Stalin puts you into either the revolutionary or the counter-revolutionary camp.

Many of those counter-revolutionary tendencies mentioned will argue they are more concerned about the ‘excesses’ made during the construction of Socialism in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Whether those ‘excesses’ are at the level often claimed, were as a result of the intense class struggle taking place during the turbulent years after 1917 until Stalin’s death in 1953 or were caused by mistakes of judgement or policy (which did happen) is not really the point.

What Stalin, the Communist Party and the people of the Soviet Union were attempting to create was a new world order that was without the parasitical and destructive exploitative systems (culminating in capitalism) which had been causing unimaginable harm in every corner of the globe for centuries – and are still doing so till this day. All those systems have traversed the globe like the Angel of Death, leaving suffering and misery in its wake.

What Stalin was doing by establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union was to create a situation where the working class, in alliance with the poor peasantry, would be able to create the conditions where the seeds of Socialism would find fertile soil. Only a fool (and there are more than enough of them to go around) would have said that 100% of the population of the first ever Socialist State (here not forgetting the magnificent example of the Paris Commune of 1871) would immediately discard the ideological baggage of centuries of oppression and exploitation.

The first decrees penned by VI Lenin and then widely circulated on 8th November 1917 promised to fulfil the three demands that had been growing throughout Russia for more than a year – that of the end of the war, land to the peasants and food for the population in general. However, although these demands would benefit the vast majority of the population of the country there were still sizeable numbers who saw this as a threat to their own existence.

Monarchists, the large and small capitalists, the petite-bourgeoisie, the rich peasants (known as kulaks), gangsters, thieves and all those other sections of society who benefit from a capitalist society (willingly supported by the capitalist nations of the world who, ignoring their ‘differences’ of the previous four years which resulted in the slaughter of the war of 1914-1918) all joined together in an effort to strangle the nascent workers’ and peasants’ socialist state.

This led to a hugely expensive (in terms of lives and material) Civil War which the Soviets eventually won – but this did not mean that the enemy was totally defeated. Those counter-revolutionary forces changed tactics and continued to attempt to destroy the Socialist state through assassination, sabotage and various other tactics to undermine the construction of socialism.

Due to the fact that Comrade Lenin‘s life was shortened by an assassination attempt in 1918 the task of leading the country forward along the road to Socialism fell to Comrade Stalin. And he was faced with the problem of doing so in the face of numerous opposition forces within (and without) the country.

We should remember that it wasn’t Comrade Stalin who invented the concept of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. The term was coined by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels when they realised that the only way to overcome the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie was for the workers to construct a state form that was capable of defeating capitalism. This concept was further strengthened with their analysis of the defeat of the Paris Commune during ‘Bloody Week’ at the end of May 1871.

It was from his study of the successes and failures of the Paris Commune that Comrade Lenin then developed those ideas which were to be the guiding force for the October Revolution of 1917 and which are published in his important work State and Revolution. Lenin realised that any future revolution would be doomed to failure if it failed to learn from the experiences in Paris and determined that the fate of the revolutionary workers of Russia would not be that of their international comrades who died against the wall of the Père Lachaise cemetery in 1871.

Comrade Stalin was merely following the path signposted by the great revolutionaries who had preceded him. As he was always at pains to stress he was merely a pupil of these great theoreticians. But he was the pupil who had to put their ideas into practice in a country where the workers had the power to do so for the first time ever. (And those who argue that the situation would have been different if Comrade Lenin had lived further into the 1920s have obviously never read any of Lenin’s post-October Revolution writings.)

It is for putting the dictatorship of the proletariat into practice and attempting to crush any vestige of capitalism in the Soviet Union that Comrade Stalin is so vilified. That was in the past, during the present and will be in the future as capitalism seeks to undermine the confidence of the working class that they can build a new future and to create false fears for their ever trying to do so.

Comrade Stalin learnt very early on that, as Chairman Mao was to write in 1927, ‘a revolution is not a dinner party’, Chairman Mao, Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan, p8.

As an illustration of this understanding of the revolutionary reality it’s worth referencing a short message he sent to the OGPU (the Joint State Political Directorate, i.e., the internal security forces) on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of their foundation, on 20th December 1932, where he described them as ‘the bared sword of the working class’. JV Stalin, Works, Volume 13, p160.

One of the other possible reasons for the hatred that capitalism has for Comrade Stalin was that, of all the great Marxist leaders, he was the only one who came from a background for whom revolutionary Marxism became the way out of their oppression and exploitation – became ‘the theory of the working class’.

He was born into poverty and in his early revolutionary activity he was able to establish an instant rapport with those workers with whom he came into contact. He wasn’t an intellectual who came from ‘outside’ to tell what workers had to do. He was one of them and had experienced what they were going through. This remained with him when he became the leader of the Party and the country – and was also one of the reasons he gained support within the Party when there were attempts by the Trotskyites and others, from the ‘Left’ or the ‘Right’ Oppositions, to stage a coup against the Marxist-Leninist leadership.

But, again, Comrade would have taken pride in being attacked by these odious entities. As Chairman Mao wrote in 1939;

‘To be attacked by the enemy is not a bad thing but a good thing’. Chairman Mao, Selected Works, Volume 6.

In following this previously untravelled road did Comrade Stalin make mistakes or, on occasion, lose track of what were the main issues? The answer would have to be yes – but it is very difficult to quantify it even though Chairman Mao reportedly classified Comrade Stalin’s ‘record’ as ‘70% good to 30% bad’. And it’s always easy to criticise with the benefit of hindsight. If something was done incorrectly in the past then for any criticism to be valid there would have to be a suggestion of how matters could have been handled differently.

For most of its revolutionary existence (which I consider to be between 1917 and 1953) the Soviet Union was alone, completely alone. It was barely a year old before 14 capitalist nations who had spent the previous 4 years trying to destroy one another got together to invade the new Socialist state in support of the Old Regime ‘Whites’ – a bunch of marauding murderers who acted in the same way as the invading Nazis just over twenty years later.

Having defeated the reactionary forces the construction of a Socialist society was an uphill struggle, fraught with difficulties. But many of those difficulties were overcome and, at the time of the 20th anniversary of the October Revolution the country was indistinguishable from what it had been under the yoke of Tsarism.

Stalin was very much aware of the threat from the Fascists (permitted to get to their position of strength due to the lack of purpose of the so-called ‘democratic’ capitalist states who saw the threat of Socialism/Communism as greater than that of militaristic fascism). The writings of Comrade Stalin from the 1930s clearly demonstrate that the threat to the Soviet Union from external, as well as internal, forces was very well understood. As a consequence of the need to be as fully prepared as possible and to put the threat as far into the future as could be managed – hence the 1939 Non-Aggression pact with the Hitlerites – he was always aware of the danger. That then determined domestic policy, with the collectivisation and industrialisation of the country.

Even anti-Communist anti-Fascists admit the contribution of the Soviet Union in the defeat of the Nazis in the so-called ‘Second World War’ but how effective would the Soviet Union had been without all that had developed in the politics, economy and culture from 1928 to 1941? And if Comrade Stalin is to take the blame for some of the things that happened in that period who is to take the credit?

This is where those who place so much emphasis on an individual over an extended period of time come a cropper. And if not careful they will just characterise the working class as mere pawns in a larger game rather than the movers and shakers of history since the dominance of capitalism in the economic sphere. The October Revolution wouldn’t have happened without Comrade Lenin but Lenin didn’t make the revolution. Likewise with the unique and rapid changes that occurred in, more or less, a ten year period in the late 1920s into the 1930s. Is the defeat of fascism conceivable without Comrade Stalin? Would it have happened if Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev or any of the other of the top pre-October revolution leaders of the Bolshevik Party had been at the helm?

Don’t matters have to be placed in context?

And unfortunately, tragically, those countries and regimes who subsequently criticised Stalin are no longer around to justify their stance.

When it comes to any discussion about Comrade Stalin it’s almost obligatory to talk about the so-called ‘personality cult’. That’s not because it’s important in itself, not because it has any real validity in the debate, it’s just that by repeating a lie so often and over so long a period of time it has became part of ‘Stalinist’ folklore.

The question of iconography in a Socialist society is a difficult one. Each Socialist society developed its public images and statuary in a different manner, depending upon the specific culture. And, due to adverse factors, this is a debate that is on hold for the moment as capitalism is presently in control of the public space.

One of the first decrees of the new Soviet Union was one relating to public monuments. This was dated 12th April 1918 and was signed by VI Lenin, A Lunarcharsky and JV Stalin. It decreed that all Tsarist related monuments be removed and monuments commemorating the recent (October) revolution be erected in their place.

However, over a period of time that erection of public monuments started to become slightly atrophied into the erection of statues to the great Marxist theoreticians or leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. That was probably a mistake but at the same time there’s an argument for it, as there was for the construction of the mausoleum for Lenin in Red Square in Moscow. As time went on that meant there were many thousands of public monuments to Comrade Stalin throughout the Soviet Union. A failing as it seemed to happen by default rather than design. Nonetheless what these statues are demonstrating is not just the individual but the political ideology they represent.

If we look at capitalist countries the iconography is often similar but with the same purpose – as a propaganda tool to try to sell the dominant ideology.

In Christian countries you couldn’t move before falling over a church and crosses. That changed when those buildings became too expensive to maintain and were either demolished or turned into flats. In Moslem countries you can’t move without falling over a mosque.

(In Albania, since the restoration of capitalism in the early 1990s, you can’t move for a new church (Catholic or Greek Orthodox) or a Mosque. I encountered some Albanians when I first visited the country who complained about the amount of concrete that went into the famous bunkers that existed throughout the country. The argument was that this was using concrete that could be used for houses – whether that argument was valid I have my doubts. However, in the last twenty of so years the amount of materials and general resources spent in building religious structures has far outweighed what went into a cheap form of national defence – and there’s not a dicky bird about taking resources away from other projects.)

In the United States every federal building, government office, post office, state school, etc., has a picture/s of the current President. The statue of Lincoln at the Memorial named after him in Washington DC is six metres high. There are faces of four past Presidents carved into the side of a mountain at Mount Rushmore. There are big bas reliefs of Confederate Generals in hills all over the southern states.

In Britain there are statues of the monarchy (i.e., the most vicious and powerful thugs and gangsters of their time) throughout the country, together with those individuals who had made their ‘fortunes’ out of the rape, theft and exploitation of peoples throughout the world, mainly in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

A similar situation will exist in other capitalist-imperialist countries and has been for many centuries. It’s only in recent times, especially in the last year, that the existence of some of these monuments and their existence is being challenged – mainly as more people become aware of the issues surrounding Trans-Atlantic slavery. That’s all well and good but there still will remain statues/buildings/streets named after those who became wealthy at the ‘legitimate’ trade of capitalism, those factory, mill and mine owners who sucked the blood from men, women and children in the expanding industrial centres throughout Britain.

This just goes to demonstrate that what goes on the streets is complex and fits in with the situation of a particular country at a particular stage of its development.

I, personally, favour the approach adopted by the Albanians which are documented in the monuments as part of the Albanian Lapidar Survey, conducted in the last ten years.

So we should put the ‘cult of the personality’ into context.

These are all important matters and should be studied and investigated by revolutionaries but in order to learn and not to denigrate Comrade Stalin – one of the greatest champions the workers and peasants of the world have ever had.

Long live the memory of Comrade Stalin!

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May 9th 1945 – Victory Day in the Soviet Union (Russia)

The triumph of the Conquering People - Mikhail Khmelko

The triumph of the Conquering People

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May 9th – Victory Day in the Soviet Union (Russia)

Whilst much of western Europe commemorate May 8th as the official end of the Second World War in the Soviet Union the date for the end of the Great Patriotic War was, and has been since 1945, May 9th. After the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 the celebrations have been sporadic but in recent years Putin has realised there’s political capital to be made out of the event and it has now become a major affair, especially in Moscow, and under normal circumstances there would have been hundreds of thousands of Moscovites, covering four generations, on the streets today. It was only in the middle of April, when the covid-19 outbreak started to really take hold in Russia, that the planned parade was cancelled.

Soviet Troops - Berlin - 9th May 1945

Soviet Troops – Berlin – 9th May 1945

Why the difference in the end of the same war?

When the defeat of the Nazi forces was only a matter of time the Fascist leadership after the death of Hitler started to play a bit of a game – deadly for those needlessly killed in the last 6 or 7 days of the conflict.

The Red Army was coming from the east like a steamroller, destroying everything in its path. The British/American et al were making equally fast progress from the west. By the beginning of May it wasn’t a matter of when the Fascists had to surrender it became to whom – and when. The Fascists knew they would be able to get the best deal for themselves if they negotiated with the allies coming from the west – after all British and American capitalism wasn’t that far removed from German Fascism. They knew they would get short shrift from the Soviets.

The Soviet flag flies above the Brandenberg Gate, Berlin

The Soviet flag flies above the Brandenberg Gate, Berlin

Somehow (and I don’t know if anyone ever discovered exactly how this was allowed to happen – the documents coming into German hands during the Ardennes Offensive – also called the Battle of the Bulge which came to an end in January 1945) the Fascists got hold of a map that had been drawn up which showed how Germany would be divided between the allies. With that knowledge Karl Dönitz’s, Hitler’s ‘appointed successor’, main task was to let the war drag on for as long as possible so as many Fascists as possible could escape into those sectors that would be under the control of the British, American or French forces.

To get an idea of Dönitz’s ideology a couple of quotes from national radio broadcasts in the early part of May 1945.

On 1st May, just after the broadcast of the news of Hitler’s death, Dönitz added the following;

‘My first task is to save Germany from destruction by the advancing Bolshevik enemy. It is to serve this purpose alone that the military struggle continues.’

For ‘Germany’ read as many as possible Nazis and Hitlerites.

A public broadcast, so these words and intentions would have been known by all the Allies’ commanders. Added to this Dönitz had never made a secret of his sympathies, being a staunch supporter of Hitler (so much so that even the normally paranoid and suspicious ‘Führer’ had designated him ‘heir apparent’), anti-Communist and anti-Semite.

(To show how correct the new Fascist leader was in his approach to surrender he was only given a 10 year prison sentence at the Nuremberg Trials (arguing the ‘just obeying orders’ defence) – then surviving till 1980 – whilst of those sent to negotiate with the western allies one (von Friedeburg) committed suicide and two (Jodl and Keitel) were hung.)

Soviet flag flies over the Reichstag, Berlin, May 1945

Soviet flag flies over the Reichstag, Berlin, May 1945

After the end of hostilities he wasn’t arrested in Flensburg (almost in Denmark), by British forces, until 23rd May. Why it took so long demonstrates the attitude of the western allies to the Nazis especially as, on the day the unconditional surrender was signed, he had made the following broadcast.

‘Comrades, we have been set back as thousand years in our history. Land that was German for a thousand years has now fallen into Russian hands … [but] despite today’s military breakdown, our people are unlike the Germany of 1918. They have not been split asunder. Whether we want to create another form of National Socialism or whether we conform to the life imposed upon us by the enemy, we should make sure that the unity given to us by National Socialism is maintained under all circumstances.’

But back to the machinations of the Nazis, in efforts to save as many of their kind as possible, and the collaboration in this by the top commanders of both the British and American armed forces. By Montgomery sticking to protocol (and sending the Fascist envoys to Eisenhower – the Allied Supreme Commander) and then Eisenhower giving the Nazis an extra 48 hours before borders were closed) an untold number of war criminals were allowed to escape to and then later prosper in the parts of the country controlled by the western allies. Although not breaking the letter of the agreement with the Soviets it certainly went against the spirit of those agreements. But then what do you expect?

After all the time wasting, game playing and vacillation the first unconditional surrender was signed in Rheims on 7th May. However, there was a very large and angry Red Army coming in from the east and on Stalin‘s insistence any final capitulation had to be signed in the presence of the Commander of the Red Army in Germany, Marshal Zhukov.

That unconditional surrender was signed just before midnight Central European Time on 8th May – which was already 9th May in Moscow – hence the difference in dates.

Celebrations in Moscow

News of the surrender was broadcast over the radio at around 02.00 Soviet time and people congregated in Red Square soon after. Although you rarely see pictures of the reaction to news of the end of the Great Patriotic War by the citizens of the Soviet Union Red Square was as full that day as Trafalgar Square in London or Time Square in New York.

For Motherland, for Stalin - 9th May 1945

For Motherland, for Stalin – 9th May 1945

Red Square - 9th May 1945

Red Square – 9th May 1945

Red Square - 9th May 1945

Red Square – 9th May 1945

I have read reference to, but haven’t been able to confirm it or seen photographic proof, that there was a simple ceremony later in the day of the 9th when captured standards of the Nazi army were thrown down on to the ground in front of the Lenin Mausoleum with Soviet leaders on the podium. This did happen, but the only time I know for certain when it did was during the Victory Parade which took place on 24th June 1945.

Early on the day of the 9th May, Comrade Stalin issued the following Order of the Day;

ORDER OF THE DAY, No. 369, OF MAY 9, 1945,

Addressed to the Red Army and Navy

ON May 8, 1945, in Berlin, representatives of the German High Command signed the instrument of unconditional surrender of the German armed forces.

The Great Patriotic War which the Soviet people waged against the German-fascist invaders is victoriously concluded. Germany is utterly routed.

Comrades, Red Army men, Red Navy men, sergeants, petty officers, officers of the army and navy, generals, admirals and marshals, I congratulate you upon the victorious termination of the Great Patriotic War.

To mark complete victory over Germany, to-day, May 9, the day of victory, at 22.00 hours (Moscow time), the capital of our Motherland, Moscow, on behalf of the Motherland, shall salute the gallant troops of the Red Army, the ships and units of the Navy, which have won this brilliant victory, by firing thirty artillery salvoes from one thousand guns.

Eternal glory to the heroes who fell in the fighting for the freedom and independence of our Motherland!

Long live the victorious Red Army and Navy!

J. STALIN

Supreme Commander-in-Chief, Marshal of the Soviet Union

Moscow

[30 salvoes from a thousand guns – that’s quite a firework display!]

The end of the Great Patriotic War celebrated in Moscow's Red Square, May 9, 1945

The end of the Great Patriotic War celebrated in Moscow’s Red Square, May 9, 1945

Joseph Stalin’s Victory Speech

Broadcast from Moscow at 20.00 hours (Moscow time) on May 9, 1945

COMRADES! Men and women compatriots!

The great day of victory over Germany has come. Fascist Germany, forced to her knees by the Red Army and the troops of our Allies, has acknowledged herself defeated and declared unconditional surrender.

On May 7 the preliminary protocol on surrender was signed in the city of Rheims. On May 8 representatives of the German High Command, in the presence of representatives of the Supreme Command of the Allied troops and the Supreme Command of the Soviet Troops, signed in Berlin the final act of surrender, the execution of which began at 24.00 hours on May 8.

Being aware of the wolfish habits of the German ringleaders, who regard treaties and agreements as empty scraps of paper, we have no reason to trust their words. However, this morning, in pursuance of the act of surrender, the German troops began to lay down their arms and surrender to our troops en masse. This is no longer an empty scrap of paper. This is actual surrender of Germany’s armed forces. True, one group of German troops in the area of Czechoslovakia is still evading surrender. But I trust that the Red Army will be able to bring it to its senses.

Now we can state with full justification that the historic day of the final defeat of Germany, the day of the great victory of our people over German imperialism has come.

The great sacrifices we made in the name of the freedom and independence of our Motherland, the incalculable privations and sufferings experienced by our people in the course of the war, the intense work in the rear and at the front, placed on the altar of the Motherland, have not been in vain, and have been crowned by complete victory over the enemy. The age-long struggle of the Slav peoples for their existence and their independence has ended in victory over the German invaders and German tyranny.

Henceforth the great banner of the freedom of the peoples and peace among peoples will fly over Europe.

Three years ago Hitler declared for all to hear that his aims included the dismemberment of the Soviet Union and the wresting from it of the Caucasus, the Ukraine, Byelorussia, the Baltic lands and other areas. He declared bluntly; ‘We will destroy Russia so that she will never be able to rise again.’ This was three years ago. However, Hitler’s crazy ideas were not fated to come true-the progress of the war scattered them to the winds. In actual fact the direct opposite of the Hitlerites’ ravings has taken place. Germany is utterly defeated. The German troops are surrendering. The Soviet Union is celebrating Victory, although it does not intend either to dismember or to destroy Germany.

Comrades! The Great Patriotic War has ended in our complete victory. The period of war in Europe is over. The period of peaceful development has begun.

I congratulate you upon victory, my dear men and women compatriots!

Glory to our heroic Red Army, which upheld the independence of our Motherland and won victory over the enemy!

Glory to our great people, the people victorious!

Eternal glory to the heroes who fell in the struggle against the enemy and gave their lives for the freedom and happiness of our people!

[Personally I would have liked Comrade Stalin to have added;

Long Live Socialism,

Long Live Marxism-Leninism.]

Soviet Victory Parade

Soviet Victory Parade

Victory Parade, 24th June 1945

The Moscow Victory Parade of 1945 was a held by the Soviet army (with a small squad from the Polish army) after the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War. It took place in the Soviet capital, mostly centring around a military parade through Red Square. The parade took place on a rainy June 24, 1945, and it was during this parade that the Nazi standards were definitely thrown on the ground in front of the Lenin Mausoleum, with Stalin and other Soviet leaders of the podium.

The fate of Nazism

The fate of Nazism

Some of these standards were, for many years, inside a huge glass case on the floor of one of the rooms of the Revolution Museum in Moscow, close to the then Pravda offices and the Mayakovsky Metro station.

After 1991 this museum went through a number of changes and has little to merit a visit today (or at least it didn’t at the end of 2017). I understand that some (or all) of these standards are currently in the Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow. If or how they are displayed would be interesting. When I saw them in the early 1970s I liked the idea they were in a jumble (thought well organsiaed jumble) on the floor – as they were at the Victory Parade in 1945. ‘Trophies of war’ are often displayed in the way they would have been when in the hands of their original producers – that was not the fate for the Nazi symbols in the Soviet Union.

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Joseph Stalin’s private bath house, Tskaltubo

Spring No. 6

Spring No. 6

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Joseph Stalin’s private bath house, Tskaltubo

Joseph Stalin, the General Secretary of Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, used to return to his home state of Georgia (in the Caucasus) to enjoy the benefits of the spa waters of the town of Tskaltubo – which was also a popular health resort for hundreds of thousands of Soviet workers and peasants – but if he was making this very long journey then surely he was returning to a site where he could enjoy the benefits on offer in the height of luxury, no?

Stalin wasn’t keen on air travel (from what I’ve been able to learn he only ever flew on two occasions, to the Tehran Conference and back in November/December 1943) and usually travelled by train – probably in a carriage similar to the one that is currently sitting outside the Stalin Museum in Gori. To make that journey to the spa town of Tskaltubo in western Georgia, therefore, was quite an investment in time and effort. Even today the journey takes at least two days and nights so there must have been something special awaiting him in Spring No 6 – the finest of all the spa buildings in the resort.

Spring No 6 is one of the few that are functioning in the town now. (Springs No 1 and No 3 are also functioning as of 2019 but they are much more modest structures.) However, the renovation of Spring No 6 has destroyed much of the original decoration from the time of its construction – apart from the main entrance portico and the entrance hall. In fact although very smart and clean the facilities that present day visitors use are somewhat sterile and lack any of the decoration I’ve seen in some of the ruined structures that are in and around Tskaltubo’s Central Park.

One area that has not undergone total renovation (there has been a replacement of the exterior windows as part of the general clean up of the building and also some work has begin on the ventilation system) is the room that I was directed to when I asked ‘Which was Stalin’s private bathhouse?’

I was directed to a woman who was sitting at a desk at the far end of the long, ground floor corridor that goes off to the right of the main entrance hall, running parallel to the frontage of the building. She had been asked to direct me to this special location.

It was with a feeling of suppressed excitement as I walked down the corridor. What was I going to see? What little hidden gem seen by relatively few people from western Europe (and many more from the east) was about to reveal itself to me? Surely the leader of the USSR, the country that had defeated the fascist Hitlerite beast only a few years before would be revelling in glory and have a private bathhouse rivalling those of the Roman Emperors?

Stalin was a megalomaniac and monster (according to the fascists he defeated, the capitalists and imperialist whose rule and control of the life of billions of people he constantly challenged, and those trotskyites, revisionist and social democrats whose lying and duplicity he spent much of his life uncovering and crushing with the necessary force) so what I was about to enter would be a grand arena, decorated in a manner paying homage to the Generalissimo.

According to the fascists, imperialists, revisionists and other anti-Communists Stalin would have surrounded himself with memories of his past actions – such as the destruction of the traitors, splitters, wreckers, renegades and fifth-columnists in the Soviet Union, the the late 1930s, before the imminent war against Hitlerite Germany.

Surely in the tiles on the floors and the walls there would be the severed heads of those internal enemies; Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev and other Party members who sought to undermine the iron unity of the Marxist-Leninist Party and colluded with the enemies of the Soviet people; Tukhachevsky who saw the Red Army as just another, more modern, army of Tsarism; the kulaks who sabotaged production in the countryisde and did everything they could to prevent the transformation of the agricutural economy through collectivisation; and the external enemies, especially the Hitlerite fascists.

And I was really interested in what sort of desk would be located in the bath house. Every picture (photo or painting) I’ve ever seen of Joe sitting and writing at a desk has had the caption ‘Stalin signs yet another death warrant.’ This was even when closer analysis of the actual document said ‘Dear Mr Milkman, no milk today’. I have never seen a semi-naked Joe doing this but if he spent so much time in such activities then he wouldn’t have wanted to have wasted time when he was up to his chest in warm spa water. So a desk which could have held stacks of pre-printed death warrants, a bunch of pens and gallons of ink would have to have been part of the architects remit.

My heart started to beat faster as I approached the woman sitting at her table at the end of the corridor. She didn’t speak but indicated a door way just behind her, on her left. I walked the handful of metres to the door and realised it was an ante-room.

But what an ante-room. If was about twice the size of my bathroom – and I live in a modest flat. How could this room cope with the large entourage that would have accompanied Comrade Stalin on his journeys. There was a window to the outside, in one corner was a single leather covered armchair but apart from that the room was devoid of any decoration – but with a parquet floor in a fairly reasonably condition.

Entrance to Stalin's private bath house

Entrance to Stalin’s private bath house

To the right another door led to a room with tiling on the walls and the floors. I took two steps to the door and had my first view of Comrade Stalin’s private bathhouse.

My first reaction was shock and surprise. I uttered a few words, I think audibly.

‘They’re taking the piss.’

In front of me was a tiny space – considering the size of the building. My first view was towards the corner of the room with two large windows at 90º to each other. I looked to my right thinking the main body of the room was there. All I saw was a tiled wall.

The room was about 6 metres square, with a high ceiling and with the walls covered in blue and cream ceramic tiles (some missing). There was some decoration on the walls but this was of a simple, geometric design. There was a walk way around the room which was covered in small square tiles that were set in simple geometric patterns, in places starting to come loose. In the centre of the room was a sunken bath, about 4 or so metres square. At one corner there were fours steps down to the pool with a tubular steel handrail on the left side. Around the edge of the pool were tiled covered concrete benches. There was no sign of a desk at all. But most shocking of all was the decoration at the bottom of the pool.

Stalin's jelly fish

Stalin’s jelly fish

In place of the images I had expected there was a mosaic of cartoon like jelly fish – with anthropomorphic characteristics. Four of these giant jelly fish were half out of the water and seemed to be about to attack a very strange creature (possibly representing a crab but if so it’s missing a couple of legs) which is sitting on a round patch of sand. In the water are cartoon fish and a huge number of starfish.

There were signs of renovation of the space, which seemed to have stalled. The only new work that had been completed was the replacement of the large windows – this would have taken place so as not to spoil the look of the facade of the building from the park. If the present owners follow their past practice then the jelly fish will go – that would be a shame.

The knowledge then crept up on me. This wasn’t a room built especially for one of the greatest leaders of the working class of all time – this was a children’s paddling pool.

But it was also Uncle Joe’s private pool. He is recorded as having been there some time in 1951. The search is on for photographic evidence.

Just goes to show that you have to be careful what you wish for. You will almost always end up being disappointed.

Location

Spring No. 6 is in the northern part of Tskaltubo’s Central Park, about a ten minute walk from the present day market in the centre of town.

GPS

42.3223

42.5989

How to get to Tskaltubo

Marshrutka number 30 leaves from its terminus on the western side of the Red Bridge, which crosses the Rioni River beside the main Kutaisi market. Closer to the market is the stop for a number of buses but you walk through that area (passing a cheap out door bar on the right) to cross the red painted iron bridge. The marshrutka will be on the left once on the other side. They leave roughly every 20 minutes. Cost GEL 1.20 (not the GEL 2 as in some guide books – although some of the drivers will take the GEL 2 and say nothing although others are honest). The price will be on a piece of paper somewhere, normally at the front of the vehicle.

Journey takes about 30 minutes to get to the centre of Tskaltubo. Once you cross the railway track (after 20 or so minutes) you are at the bottom end of Central Park. The marshrutka then follows Rustaveli Street on the eastern edge of the park passing the railway station and information office, the Municipality, Court and Police buildings, and then the entrance to the huge (now luxury 5 star) Tskaltubo Spa Resort all on the right. (The marshrutka takes the same route when going back to Kutaisi and can just be flagged down anywhere along this road.)

When you get to the northern edge of the park the road widens out and after passing the Sports Palace on the left and the now being renovated (although seemed stalled to me) huge Shakhtar Sanatorium on the right the marshrutka heads up to the main market. Get off when the bus turns right at the corner by the ugly, modern Sataplia Hotel. This is where you would look for another marshrutka if you wanted to go to the Prometheus Cave.

To get to Central Park go back along Tseretseli Street (not the road you came up), pass the mural of the telecommunication workers on your left and head down to a very wide road junction. Cross this wide expanse of tarmac towards an arch and at the open space at the top end of the park head south and pass by the right hand side of Spring No. 3. Continue south until you reach the white, side wall of Spring No. 6. The entrance is on the west side of the building.

Alternatively (if arriving by marshrutka) you could get off at the main entrance to the Tskaltubo Spa Resort and walk towards the back of Spring No. 6 through the park.

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