What made an ordinary bright Georgian lad a dedicated Marxist revolutionary and one of the leaders of the Bolshevik Party? How, if at all, did Stalin’s formative years impact on his subsequent beliefs and actions? What aspects of his personality, upbringing, education and environment shed light on the mature adult? Although much of Stalin’s boyhood, adolescence and early manhood are still shrouded in mystery and myth, we know enough to trace his development from Orthodox seminarist to revolutionary activist to Bolshevik oligarch. This elusive task of reconstruction can best be undertaken if we eschew monocausal explanations for Stalin’s unusual odyssey and accept that multi-faceted approaches — psycho-historical, socio-cultural and politico-ideological — are required to grasp the complex forging of any individual’s identity. The historian’s work is made all the harder in Stalin’s case in that he took great pains to conceal evidence about his early life and deliberately fashioned and re-fashioned his own biography and identity for political purposes helped by a legion of propagandists and sycophants. Archival sources made accessible since the collapse of the Soviet Union have added a few new ‘facts’ and nuances, but still obfuscation all too often reigns. Hence, the following pages, which contain their fair share of ‘might haves’ and ‘it appears’, should not be seen as a definitive account of Stalin’s prerevolutionary pilgrimage, but rather as a brief narrative of his early life and a critical survey of existing historiography.
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