wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Young Stalin

Many tycoons and middle-class professionals were sympathetic contributors to the Bolsheviks. Berta Nussimbaum, wife of an oil baron and mother of the writer Essad Bey, was a Bolshevik sympathizer. 'My mother,' Essad Bey says, 'financed Stalin's illicit communist press with her diamonds.' It remains astonishing how the Rothschilds and other oil barons, among the richest tycoons in Europe, funded the Bolsheviks who would ultimately destroy their interests. Alliluyev remembered these Rothschild contributions.

The Rothschild managing directing David Landau, regularly contributed to Bolshevik funds, as recorded by the Okhrana—whose agents noted how when Stalin was running the Baku Party, a Bolshevik clerk in one of the oil companies 'was not active in operations but concentrated on collecting donations and got money from Landau of the Rothschilds.' It is likely that Landau met Stalin personally. Another Rothschild executive, Dr Felix Somary a banker with the Austrian branch of the family and later a distinguished academic, claims he was sent to Baku to settle a strike. He paid Stalin the money. The strike ended.

Stalin regularly met another top businessman, Alexander Mancho, managing director of the Shibaev and Bibi-Eibat oil companies. 'We often got money from Mancho for our organization,' recalls Ivan Vatsek, one of Stalin's henchmen. 'In such cases, Comrade Stalin came to me. Comrade Stalin also knew him well.' Mancho was either a committed sympathizer, or Stalin was blackmailing him, because the businessman coughed up cash on request at even the shortest notice.

Stalin was also running protection-rackets and kidnappings. Many tycoons paid if they did not wish their oilfields to catch fire or 'accidents' to befall their families. It is hard to differentiate donations from protection-money, because the felonies Stalin now unleashed on them included 'robberies, assaults, extortion of rich families, and kidnapping their children on the streets of Baku in broad daylight and then demanding ransom in the name of some "revolutionary committee,"' states Sagirashvili, who knew him in Baku. The 'kidnapping of children was a routine matter at the time,' recalls Essad Bey, who as a boy never went out without a phalanx of three kochi bodyguards and a 'fourth servant, mounted and armed, who rode behind me.'

Baku folklore claims that Stalin's most profitable kidnapping was that of Musa Nageyev, the tenth richest oil baron, a notoriously stingy ex-peasant who so admired the Palazzo Cantarini in Venice that he built his own (bigger) copy—the majestic Venetian-Gothic Ismailiye Palace (now the Academy of Sciences). Nageyev was actually kidnapped twice, but his own accounts of these traumas were confused and murky. Neither case was ever solved, but Bolshevik involvement was suspected. Years later, Nageyev's granddaughter, Jilar-Khanum, claimed that Stalin jokingly sent the oil baron thanks for his generous contributions to the Bolsheviks.

It was said that the millionaires like Nageyev were keen to pay up after a 'ten-minute conversation' with Stalin. This was probably thanks to his system of printing special forms that read:
The Bolshevik Committee
proposes that your firm
should pay — roubles.
The form was delivered to oil companies and the cash was collected by Soso's Technical Assistant—'a very tall man who was known as 'Stalin's bodyguard,' visibly packing a pistol. Nobody refused to pay.'

The Bolshevik boss befriended organized crime in Baku, their operations and those of the Mauserists often overlapping. One gang controlled access to some wasteland in the Black City section. Stalin 'made an agreement with the gang only to let through Bolsheviks, not Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks had special passwords.' In Russia's wildest city, both sides used violence: the oil tycoons employed Chechen ruffians as oilfield guards. One of the richest oil barons, Murtuza Mukhtarov, who resided in Baku's biggest palace based on a French Gothic chateau, ordered his kochis to kill the young Stalin. Soso was badly beaten up by Chechens, probably on Mukhtarov's orders.

Stalin's secrecy was so absolute that the Mauserist Bokov said, 'It was sometimes so conspiratorial that we didn't even know where he was for six months! He had no permanent address and we only knew him as 'Koba.' If he had an appointment he never turned up on time; he turned up either a day early or a day later. He never changed his clothes, so he looked like an unemployed person.' Soso's comrades noticed that he was different from the usual passionate Caucasian. 'Sentiment was foreign to him,' says one. 'No matter how much he loved a fellow, he'd never forgive him even the tiniest spoiling of a Party matter—he'd skin him alive.'

So again he succeeded in raising money and guns, but with him there was always a human cost. The traditional Bolsheviks like Alexinsky and Zemliachka were 'very indignant at these expropriations' and killings. 'Stalin blamed one member for provocation. There was no definite evidence, but that person was forced out of the city, "judged," condemned to death and shot.'

Stalin prided himself on being what he called a praktik, a practical hardman, an expert on what he called 'black work,' rather than a chatty intelligent, but his gift was for being both. Lenin soon heard a storm of complaints about Stalin's banditry but by now, writes Vulikh, Stalin 'was the true boss in the Caucasus' with 'a lot of supporters devoted to him who respected him as the second person in the Party after Lenin. Among the intelligentsia, he was less loved, but everybody recognized that he was the most energetic and indispensable person.'

Soso had an 'electrical effect' on his followers, of whom he took good care. He had a talent for political friendship that played a major role in his rise to power. His roommate from Stockholm, Voroshilov, the eager, fair-haired and dandyish lathe-turner. joined him in Baku but fell ill. 'He visited me every evening,' said Voroshilov. 'We joked a lot. He asked if I liked poetry and recited a whole Nekrasov poem by heart. Then we sang together. He really had a good voice and fine ear.' 'Poetry and music', Stalin told Voroshilov, 'elevate the spirit!' When Alliluyev was arrested again, he worried about his family, so once released he came to consult Soso, who insisted he had to leave, giving him cash to move to Moscow. 'Take the money, you've children, you must look after them.'