Scary blue pencil of lifelong editor and leader of Soviet Union in the mid 20th century, Joseph Stalin

Scary blue pencil of lifelong editor and leader of Soviet Union in the mid 20th century Joseph Stalin

Photo story (From left to right): (1) Lenin and Stalin in 1920 (2) Stalin had signed in blue pencil a mass death sentence to execute some 25,700 Polish prisoners by shooting in Katyn camp

He was a Marxist, a fervent follower of Lenin, a Bolshevik revolutionary who took part in Russian Revolution of 1917, an editor with a blue pencil, leader of Soviet Union from 1924 until his death on 5th March 1953. Joseph Stalin was born in Georgia on 18th December 1878. His father was a cobbler and mother was a housekeeper. His Georgian name Jugashvili meant steel which was ‘stal’ in Russian, hence the adaptation of the name Stalin. Renowned independent publisher in New York, Melville House reported on Joseph Stalin’s lifelong lesser known role as an editor.

Stalin was unable to pay his School Seminary fees before his final exams and was officially expelled in 1899. He discovered writings of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin soon afterwards and decided to become a Marxist revolutionary. Stalin became a full time outlaw and revolutionary after being marked by Russian secret police. He became one of the chief Bolsheviks operatives in the Caucasia in 1903. He was spreading propaganda, organizing paramilitaries, raising cash through bank robberies, extortion and kidnapping and escaping from exiles. Besides these activities he started renewed efforts to salvage the struggling Marxist movement. So he started publishing editorials in 1912 in Russian political newspaper Pravda that was associated with the Russian Federation Communist Party.

Lenin admired Stalin’s editing and Lenin’s one of the avid followers was Stalin. However, Stalin was ready to oppose the leader he admired and as more like a cruel editor he rejected 47 of Lenin’s articles submitted to Pravda. Stalin was summoned twice to Poland by angry Lenin to argue policy and during the second summon at the end of 1912 he was removed from his position as the editor in chief of Pravda. But Stalin was made a senior leader of the Bolshevik Party Bureau. Lenin also asked him to write an easy on the Bolshevik position on the national minorities. In March 1913, Stalin’s completed easy ‘Marxism & the National Question’ was published. In 1938, he completely rewrote the manifesto and history of Communist party ‘Short Course on History of All Union Bosheviks Communist Party’.

Soviet historian Mikhail Gefter studied a 1940 manuscript about first German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck edited by Stalin and came to conclusion that Stalin was a serious and ruthless editor. The manuscript was from 1940 when Nazi Germany and Soviet Union had an alliance. Gefter was looking for clues of the cruel man editing but he said that he found ‘reasonable editing pointing to a good taste & understanding of history’. A surprising change was also made by Stalin in the end. The author concluded with a warning to Germans lest they attack Russia. Stalin cut this line. When the author objected saying that the warning was the sole purpose of the book, Stalin said ‘Why are you scaring the Germans? Let them try’. Indeed the Germans tried, costing over 30 million lives, two third of them Soviets and their allies in eastern front. But in the end, the glory was Stalin’s.

Back then and even today, the editor used a color pencil to hover over manuscripts and wrote corrections over it. Stalin used a blue pencil because in Stalin’s day the blue color was not visible when photographed. He always seemed to have with him a blue pencil. Editing was a passion for Stalin. On the papers of party manifesto, speeches of top ranked party officials or on memoranda, traces of Stalin’s blue pencil could be seen. He encircled Stalingrad from west on a large map in Kremlin with his blue pencil during the German siege of the city in 1942-1943. The border of Poland was redrawn in blue by him in summer 1944. Winston Churchill watched him making a large tick to indicate his approval of percentage amount in the division of Europe into Western and Soviet influence.

Stalin’s blue pencil also scrawled over list of people and sealed their fates with words like ‘Execute everyone’. He applied his scary pencil on list of people imprisoned by KGB’s predecessor NKVD. He had signed in blue pencil another mass death sentence, a recommendation to his secret Police Chief Beria to execute some 25,700 Polish prisoners by shooting in Katyn camp. Soviets had blamed the massacre on the Nazis but Stalin and some other peoples signature in blue pencil was found on Beria’s letter. Stalin also used his blue pencil to deface 19 nude drawings by 19th century Russian painters.

Due to heavy smoking, the dangerous editor Stalin suffered from atherosclerosis and died of heart attack on 5th March 1953.

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE