POLICIES OF THE DICTATORS
The impact the totalitarian dictators had on the world is all the more remarkable considering their humble beginnings. Only Lenin came from a cultivated family, and he was also the only one who had earned an advanced degree. In earlier and more stable times it is highly unlikely that the dictators would have gained anything like the prominence they eventually achieved. Ironically, they were all beneficiaries of the democratic atmosphere of post–World War I Europe; monarchs and diplomats were in disgrace and the recently enfranchised masses were eager to accept the leadership of one of their own. Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler all recognized this mood and made a virtue of a necessity by boasting of their humble origins.
In the department of modest beginnings, Joseph Stalin outdid his counterparts. Born and raised in poverty, he died the most powerful and feared man in the world. Stalin’s nationality was also the most ambiguous of the dictators. He was born in the town of Gori in the Caucasian state of Georgia and did not start learning Russian until he was eight or nine. He never lost his Georgian accent and occasionally mumbled Russian case endings because he was unsure of their accuracy. Nevertheless, he was anything but proGeorgian, often treating his native land with brutality and contempt. On the other hand, Stalin never felt himself fully Russian either. His class background was equally ambiguous. He was neither a worker nor an intellectual.
Little is known about Stalin’s childhood in large part because as dictator Stalin destroyed all the papers that could have shed