The Secret Policeman’s Ball: Betrayal in Drag - Young Stalin

Biographies & Memoirs


The Secret Policeman’s Ball:
Betrayal in Drag

Ireturned to Cracow to show Lenin,” Stalin recounted. “Two days later, Lenin invited me over and I noticed the manuscript lying open on the desk. He asked me to sit next to him.”

Lenin was impressed. “Is it you who really wrote this?” he asked Stalin, a little patronizingly.

“Yes, Comrade Lenin, I wrote it. Did I get something wrong?” “No, on the contrary, it’s really splendid!”

Lenin was determined to publish the piece as policy. “The article is very good!” he told Kamenev. “It’s a fighting issue and we won’t surrender one iota of our principled opposition to the Bundist trash!” In a letter to Gorky, he acclaimed Stalin as his “wonderful Georgian.”

Soso published the article in March 1913 under his new byline “K. Stalin,” the second time he had used it. It had been evolving since 1910 when he started signing articles as “K.St.,” then “K. Safin” and “K. Solin.”

The conspiratorial life required a roster of aliases, often chosen at random. Ulyanov may have taken “Lenin” from the Siberian river Lena, but he used 160 aliases altogether. He kept “Lenin” because it happened to be his byline on the article, “What Is to Be Done?,” made his name. Similarly Soso used “Stalin” when he published the article on nationalities that made his reputation, which was one reason that it stuck. If he had not been such a self - obsessed melodramatist, he might have been known to history as “Vasiliev” or “Ivanovich.”

Its other attraction was the vague similarity to “Lenin” itself, but Stalin also fashioned aliases out of the names of his women: it is plausible that his girlfriend Ludmilla Stal helped inspire this one. He would never have admitted it. “My comrades gave me the name,” he smugly told an interviewer. “They thought it suited me.” Molotov knew this was not true, saying, “That’s what he called himself.” But this flint - hearted “industrial name,” meaning Man of Steel, did suit his character—and was a symbol of everthing a Bolshevik should be.*

The name was Russian, though he never ceased to be Caucasian, combining the Georgian “Koba” with the Slavic “Stalin” (though his friends still called him “Soso”). Henceforth he adopted what the historian Robert Service calls a “bi - national persona.” After 1917, he became quadri - national: Georgian by nationality, Russian by loyalty, internationalist by ideology, Soviet by citizenship.

It started as a byline—and ended as an empire and a religion. When he was dictator, Stalin shouted at his feckless son Vasily for exploiting their surname: “You’re not Stalin and I’m not Stalin! Stalin is Soviet power!”

By mid - February 1913, the newly minted “Koba Stalin” was back in Petersburg, where the Bolsheviks, betrayed at every turn by Malinovsky, were on the run.1

“It’s a total Bacchanalia of arrests, searches and raids,” Stalin reported to the Troyanovskys in a letter opened by the Okhrana. He added that he had not forgotten his promise to six - year - old Galina: “I’ll send the chocolate to Galochka.”

Stalin, now empowered by Lenin, but beleaguered by vigorous Okhrana action, did not even try to hide. He stayed on Shpalernaya Street in the town centre at the apartment of Duma deputies Badaev and Samoilov, attending meetings at the home of their fellow deputy Petrovsky. Stalin sighs, in another letter, “There aren’t any competent people. I can hardly keep up with everything.”

His first challenge was to defend his parliamentary star, Malinovsky, from a shocking accusation. An article identified Malinovsky as an Okhrana spy. Since the article was signed “Ts,” the Bolsheviks believed that the libeller was a Menshevik, Martov (real name Tsederbaum), or his brother - in - law Fyodor Dan. “The Bolshevik Vasiliev [Stalin] came to my apartment (he was known as ‘Ioska Koriavyi’ [Joe Pox]) trying to stop the rumours about Malinovsky,” said Fyodor Dan. Joe Pox warned Dan’s wife, Lidia, that she would regret it if the Mensheviks tried to smear Malinovsky.

Yet, thanks to Malinovsky, Stalin’s every move was now monitored by the Imperial Police director himself. On 10 February, Sverdlov was arrested, betrayed by Malinovsky. Now Stalin decided to appoint his Baku comrade Shaumian as Pravda’s editor, but Malinovsky persuaded Lenin that the Armenian would be too conciliatory, like Stalin himself. Lenin backed Malinovsky’s candidate, Chernomazov, who, as Stalin had divined back in Baku, was another Okhrana double - agent.

By February 1913, Malinovsky had betrayed the whole CC in Russia, except Stalin and the ineffectual Petrovsky. The Okhrana were determined to stop any SD reunion: Stalin the Conciliator was next.

On Saturday night, 23 February, Bolshevik sympathizers held a fund - raising concert and masquerade ball at the Kalashnikov Exchange, hardly Stalin’s usual scene. But the Alliluyev girls were excited about it. Stalin and their maths tutor, Kavtaradze, talked about going.

That afternoon, Stalin visited Malinovsky. The double - agent demanded he come to the ball. Stalin—as he later told Tatiana Slavatinskaya—refused, saying, “He wasn’t in the mood and didn’t have the right clothes. But Malinovsky kept insisting,” even reassuring him about security. The dapper traitor opened his dandyish wardrobe to Stalin, producing a stiff collar, dress shirt and silk cravat which he tied around Stalin’s neck.

Malinovsky had come almost directly from a meeting with his Okhrana controller, Imperial Police director Beletsky, probably promising to deliver Stalin.

“Vasily [Stalin] and I went to the party,” wrote his mistress, Tatiana Slavatinskaya, “and the party was nice.” Stalin, in his fancy cravat, sat at a table with the Bolshevik Duma deputies. “I was really surprised to see . . . our dear Georgian boy . . . at such a crowded party,” Demian Bedny, a proletarian bard, who in the 1920s became one of Stalin’s closest courtiers, informed Lenin afterwards. “It was really impudent to go there—was it the devil’s work or some fool who invited him? I told him, ‘You won’t escape.’” Bedny hinted that there was a traitor in their midst.

At about midnight, plainclothed Okhrana officers, backed by Gendarmes, took up positions at the back of the concert hall where the guests sat at tables. “Stalin was actually chatting to Malinovsky himself,” noticed Tatiana, when “he spotted that he was being followed.”

The detectives approached Stalin’s table and asked his name. He denied he was Djugashvili. Comrades stood up around him and tried to smuggle him to safety behind the stage. “He went into the artists’ dressing - room,” says Slavatinskaya, “and asked them to get me.” Once again, Stalin resorted to dressing up in drag, but he managed to tell Tatiana that he had “visited Malinovsky before the party and been followed from there.” Stalin was made up and decked out in a long dress. As he was being led out through the dressing room, a secret policeman spotted his big shoes (and surely his moustache). The policeman “seized him with a yell.”

“Djugashvili, we’ve finally got you!”

“I’m not Djugashvili. My name is Ivanov,” replied Stalin.

“Tell those stories to y’grandmother!”

It was over.

“Two plain - clothed agents asked him to go with them. All was done quietly. The ball went on.” Malinovsky hurried “after Comrade Stalin ‘protesting’ his arrest and promising to take measures to free him . . .”

Lenin innocently wrote to the traitor to “discuss how to forestall more arrests.” Lenin and Krupskaya fretted that “Vasily” (Stalin) must be “well protected.” It was too late: “Why is there no news of Vasily? What has happened to him? We’re worried.”

Stalin’s arrest was regarded as enough of a success for Police Director Beletsky to inform Interior Minister Maklakov himself, who on 7 June 1913 confirmed the Special Committee’s recommendation: J. V. Djugashvili was condemned to four years in Turukhansk, an obscure Siberian realm of frozen twilights, forgotten by civilization.2

* “Solin” and “Safin,” the earlier versions of his new name, may have been typos because sol means “salt” in Russian: “Man of Salt” does not quite have the metallic sheen of the final version. When they were typesetting Zvezda in April 1912, says Vera Shveitzer, “The editorial board once changed the signature arbitrarily. The next day when J. V. Stalin opened Zvezda and saw the signature ‘Solin,’ he smiled: ‘I don’t like meaningless borrowed bylines.’” He returned to “K.St.” until January 1913. Stalin was not the only “industrial name”: Rosenfeld became “Kamenev”—Man of Stone (though he remained much too fluffy for the moniker); and Scriabin became “Molotov”—Hammer Man. There was also a fashion for taking aliases from jailers: Bronstein borrowed the name “Trotsky” from one of his prison warders. Contrary to many claims in Western biographies, “Stalin” is not a Russianization of Djugashvili: Djuga does not mean “iron” or “steel” in either Georgian or Ossetian.

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