A New Face in the Snakepit (3)

III- Stalin sent the boy Yakov to Georgia with his maternal grandparents, and over the next few years devoted himself to the party and to his work with Timowitz. Lenin, reluctant to leave his European exile, put him in charge of recruiting new cells and instill in them his murderous intent and his peerless capacity for wreaking havoc. By 1912, many of the agents he had trained had been mysteriously caught by policemen tipped by Timowitz’s department, but Stalin was made a member of the two-dozen-strong party central committee, a body where infighting and betrayal – mostly conducted through long, meandering letters crammed with Marxist theory – were the opium of the revolution’s vanguard.
After war broke in the summer of 1914, Stalin remained faithful to his tasks, even as he found them more and more taxing: every Russian city, Saint Petersburg included, teemed with soldiers, and the relative tolerance previously enjoyed by socialist and anarchist agitators turned into absolute repression. Some of Stalin’s comrades were surprised to find themselves in front of firing squads after captured, instead of inside cold trains to Siberia; potential recruits were scared away by such harsh measures, or drafted into the poorly supplied armies facing the Germans and the Austrians on the western borders.
Most of the remaining Socialist leaders in Russia fled to the few neutral countries still standing: Sweden, Turkey, Switzerland, Spain. Some took the offers extended by the enemy, and settled comfortably in Berlin and Vienna, while the Central Powers tried to come up with a suitable plan to wreck the Russian war effort. By early 1915, the war was going badly for every contender, and Timowitz grew bolder with ambition and the secret wish of winning the war all by himself – he told Stalin about a master plan crafted in the higher echelons of the Russian government: he would be sent to Vienna, in order to better gauge the intentions of the Socialist traitors and their loathful Teutonic masters. He would remain an exile until he was recalled to Russia. In the meantime, Timowitz would continue his steady rise in the ranks.
When Stalin arrived in Vienna a few months later, Lenin was happy to meet his old lackey and have one more listener for his meditations on the future shape of the first Socialist society. Since he disliked heavy drinking and had no German, Stalin decided to write a book to kill time; since he was member of a national minority within the Russian empire, he decided to write it on the issue of future Socialist policies for national minorities in the future Socialist state, in accordance with Lenin’s thoughts. When finished, the book stroke him as a piece of science fiction, though in style as plodding and dull as if written by Lenin himself. He wouldn’t want too many people to read that book, in any case.
It was during that time in Vienna that Stalin lost touch with Timowitz: he sent some vaguely encrypted letters to the arranged destination, through a complicated channel that included a mule, a lame postman and exchanges of code in Georgian language. He received no response, and then the channel was cut when the crude Russian spy network was found and destroyed by the Austrian authorities. For a few weeks, Stalin thought he had been discovered, and slept with a loaded gun under his pillow, a detail that Lenin admired very much. One day, he thought he was being followed: he saw a smiling blond man in a cafe; and then the same smiling blond man in another cafe. The man stared at him in a curious manner, as if he knew all his secrets; or maybe he just was a pederast in search for a rough tumble with a jumpy-looking foreigner. Stalin never knew, and decided that, if the Austrians had found about his double play, they had decided to let him loose and see whether that resulted in any gain.
There was no gain for the Austrians, because Stalin never had any further contact with Timowitz, or any hypothetical, remaining Russian spy in Vienna. In late 1916, Lenin ordered him back to Russia: even at that distance from Saint Petersburg and the smoky fronts of the war, he smelled blood.

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About David Roman

Communicator. I tweet @dromanber.
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