Joseph Stalin Led a Life of Crime Before Becoming Russia’s Leader

Rare Historical Photos

When one mentions Joseph Stalin, it is impossible not to think of the monstrous crimes against humanity he committed during his role as the supreme leader of the Soviet Union. After the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, Stalin consolidated his power in the most brutal ways imaginable. Before WWII even began, many millions died from political purges and intentional starvation.

But he was no mere mass murderer, indiscriminately butchering those getting in the way of his grandiose plans for a workers paradise – he was much more. He was an aspiring priest, before he became a radical atheist. He was a romantic poet, before he became a criminal. And as a criminal, he excelled at extortion, kidnapping, assassination, arson, bank robbery, and straightforward thuggery for the sake of Marxist revolution, all before becoming Europe’s greatest mass-murder, dwarfing even the otherwise incomparable Adolf Hitler.

The crimes Stalin committed before becoming known to the world as the leader of the Soviet Union are not nearly as well known as the ones committed after he ascended to his grand position, but they are just as fascinating, in an indecent sort of way. During his earlier years, Stalin subsisted as an unemployed hoodlum often living off the kindness of friends and strangers when not imprisoned for his unceasing criminal activities.

Though much of his early years are still shrouded in mystery, we do know a great deal about the audacious and elaborate crime he committed before the Bolshevik Revolution made him infamous.

A mug shot of Stalin after an arrest in Baku, Azerbaijan 1910.

In 1907, ten years before the revolution, Stalin, then still known by his real name, Joseph Jughashvili, and an assortment of other communist revolutionaries organized a daring bank robbery in the Russian city of Tiflis. While others in the group were busy making grenades and smuggling them into the city, Stalin convinced a civil servant, enamored by his earlier poetry, to provide secret schedules stating the exact time in which a stagecoach filled with millions of dollars in today’s money, was to travel from a post office to a government bank.

This was the convoy’s most vulnerable moment, and the opportunity Stalin and his thugs used to steal the cash they needed for their revolutionary agitations. It was not going to be easy, however, as the stagecoach was seriously protected by two armed guards riding inside, a carriage full of armed soldiers riding behind, and a fierce collection of mounted Cossack warriors surrounding the convoy on all sides. This robbery was not to be bloodless.