We know that Joseph Stalin was a ruthless tyrant, deciding the fate of millions of people. We know he liked to torment his victims with fear, playing with them like cats play with mice. He enjoyed briefly giving his victims some hope of life and then taking it away, to have them killed. We know that his favorite thing was revenge – thoroughly planned and carefully executed.
But what else do we know about him as a person? About his sense of humor? What made him laugh? What kind of jokes he himself would make?
Stalin’s sense of humor
In 2009 a collection of old drawings surfaced. These were reproductions of sketches of male nudes drawn by the renown 19th-century Russian painters. Some of them were by Vasily Surikov, some by Valentin Serov – 19 altogether. These had probably been brought to Stalin’s desk in order to get approval for publishing.
And what did Stalin do? Stalin, who did not like the drawings, grabbed his blue pencil and began jotting down his thoughts. These ranged from witty aphorisms to gross remarks on his comrades to crude sexual talk. The dictator was being funny.
Here are the drawings with Stalin’s comments on them. With unchanged language, where possible. They give us a great insight of what was going on in the dictator’s head and how he saw the world.
“(Dirty talk in Georgian language). You need to work, not wank. Time for re-education. J. Stalin”
“Life model with right hand on his head (back view)” by Alexander Ivanov (1806-1858)
“Why are you so thin, Mikhail Ivanovich? Do some work. Onanism is no work. Try Marxism! Hehe! J. Stalin”
“Sitting life model” by Valentin Serov (1865-1911)
“Idiot!!! You’ve completely forgotten what to do”
“Life models” by Valentin Serov (1865-1911)
“Don’t sit on stones with your naked ass! Go join Komsomol and Rabfak (Workers’ University). Someone give this guy underpants. J. Stalin Hehehe!”
“Sitting life model (juvenile)” by Valentin Serov (1865-1911)
“One thinking fool is worse than 10 enemies. J. Stalin”
Sketch of nude male by Alexander Ivanov (1806-1858)
“Radek, you ginger bastard, if you hadn’t pissed into the wind, if you hadn’t been so bad, you’d still be alive”
Stalin here refers to Karl Radek, a fellow revolutionary and the author of the Soviet constitution who was arrested, tortured and eventually shot by the orders of Stalin in 1939. Some experts believe that Stalin was somehow troubled by the guilt of having ordered the executions of his fellow comrades, some believe the sketches to be proof of Stalin’s homosexual impulses, but most probably they are wrong.
“Some people suggested this series might show Stalin had homosexual inclinations, but to me it emphasises how alone this man was. You get a real sense of how solitary and isolated he felt.”
– Viktor Turshchatov, a Russian journalist
True or not true, here we have a wonderful opportunity to look inside the great dictator’s mind and let us not forget that sense of humor says a lot about who the person really is.