Who was Nadezhda Alliluyeva?
Nadezhda Sergeevna Alliluyeva was a Bolshevik revolutionary and the second wife of Joseph Stalin. An air of mystery still surrounds Nadezhda’s life and her eventual death as most of the concerning documents are lost forever and the rest only contradict each other. Raised in a working-class family, she was deeply influenced by her father, a Russian revolutionary himself. In 1904, the Alliluyev family met Stalin for the first time. He later saved Nadezhda from drowning in the Caspian Sea. In the following years, the future leader of Soviet Russia grew quite close to the family. In fact, there were rumours of an affair between Stalin and Nadezhda’s mother. During his four-year exile to Siberia, Stalin regularly sent letters to the Alliluyevs, lamenting his circumstances. In 1917, after the October Revolution, Nadezhda began working as a clerk at Lenin’s office. She was subsequently assigned to Stalin. A physical relationship soon developed between them and in 1919, they were married. Two children were born of this union. However, the marriage was an unhappy one, marred by Stalin’s numerous extra-marital affairs and Nadezhda’s deteriorating mental condition. During the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the October Revolution, they had a heated argument which resulted in Nadezhda’s humiliation. The following morning, her body was found by servants in her bedroom, where she had allegedly shot herself with a pistol given to her by her brother.
Childhood & Early Life
Nadezhda was born on September 22, 1901, in Baku, Azerbaijan to Sergei Alliluyev and his wife Olga Fedorenko. Her father was a Russian railway worker who later moved to the Caucasus for work. He became an important figure in the Bolshevik revolution. Her mother, who was of German and Georgian descent, spoke Russian with a strong accent.
She was a strong-willed and independent woman. Nadezhda had two brothers, Pavel and Fyodor, and a sister, Anna.
In 1904, Joseph Stalin returned to Tiflis (now known as Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia) and became acquainted with Sergei and his family. The rumours that Olga had an affair with Stalin are quite probably true. Her relationship with her husband was strained. According to family legends, Nadezhda’s brother Pavel once witnessed his mother in a compromising position with Stalin. Furthermore, Svetlana, Nadezhda’s daughter and Olga’s granddaughter, later wrote her grandmother had a “weakness for southern men," and often said that "Russian men are boors”.
This relationship was nothing out of the ordinary as casual sexual liaisons were quite common among the revolutionaries. However, the claim that Stalin himself had fathered Nadezhda is a false one. When he met the Alliluyev family for the first time, Nadezhda was already three years old. Despite the alleged relationship and having a “soft corner” for Stalin, Olga vehemently went on to object the relationship and the subsequent marriage between Stalin and her daughter, largely because of the 22-year age difference.
Soon afterwards, while he was staying in Baku, the present capital of Azerbaijan, Stalin saved Nadezhda from drowning in the Caspian Sea. In the subsequent years, he became quite close to the entire family, often using their home as a source of assistance and refuge during his exile in 1911. In the following year, Stalin escaped to St. Petersburg and began working on converting the Bolshevik weekly newspaper, Zvezda ("Star") into a daily, Pravda ("Truth"). He was arrested in February 1913 and sentenced to four years exile in Turukhansk, a remote part of Siberia.
Stalin soon realised that escaping was near impossible this time. He grew restless and bitter about his circumstances. In his letters to Sergei and Olga, he almost sounded pitiful: “Nature in this cursed region is shamefully poor”. He urged them to send him a postcard, writing, “I'm crazy with longing for nature scenes if only on paper.”
Due to military blunders and food shortage, the Russian monarchy inexorably collapsed in February 1917 and a provisional government took the helm. The Bolsheviks, shaking off their initial surprise by the sudden turn of events, reacted swiftly and immediately. By the end of October, Vladimir Lenin, Stalin’s mentor and a friend of the Alliluyev family, had formed a new government, the Council of People's Commissars ("Sovnarkom"), with himself as its chairman.
Following the “October Revolution”, Nadezhda started working as a confidential code clerk for Lenin. She was an ardent Bolshevik, eschewing fancy dresses, cosmetics, and other trappings. Sometime later, Stalin took her as his secretary.
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Marriage to Stalin
Stalin had been married before. In 1906, he married Ketevan "Kato" Svanidze, the daughter of a teacher and minor Georgian noble. She bore him a son, Yakov Dzhugashvili, before dying 18 months later due to an illness, which was either typhus or tuberculosis.
Stalin also had several sexual relationships after Kato’s death and before his marriage to Nadezhda. He fathered at least three children during this period. Konstantin Kuzakov (1911-1996) was born to Maria Kuzakova, his landlady during the 1911 exile in Solvychegodsk. In addition, he had two children with Lidia Pereprygia, who was just 13 years old when Stalin met her in 1914 in Serbia.
Nadezhda served him with unquestioning loyalty in the following months and travelled with him as he set out on his work as the People’s Commissar for Nationalities. She accompanied him to the city of Tsaritsyn during the Russian Civil War. They soon became lovers and were married in 1919.
She gave birth to her first child, a son whom they named Vasily, on March 21, 1921. Her daughter, Svetlana, was born on February 28, 1926.
In the subsequent years, she started to find her life in the Kremlin to be suffocating. Her relationship with her husband became turbulent. The man whom she had once believed to be the archetypal Soviet “new man”, revealed himself to be a quarrelsome bore. He was often drunk, openly flirted with the wives of his colleagues, and even had affairs with a few.
In the late 1920s, she was chronically depressed and prone to violent mood swings.
In 1929, to free herself from the boredom she had become accustomed to in Kremlin, Nadezhda enrolled in a chemistry course. Each morning, she attended her classes by commuting via public transport, refusing to take the state limousine. She made several friends at the class and they, never realising who she was, told her about the disastrous effects of Stalin’s collectivization policy. She was so horrified that she confronted Stalin about this and accused him of butchering his people. In response, he threw her friends into jail.
A few days before her death, Nadezhda revealed to a friend that “nothing made her happy”, least of all her children.
On the evening of November 8, 1932, Stalin and Nadezhda organised a banquet in the Kremlin to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the October revolution. By then, they had come to resent each other and would often argue in front of others. That day was no different. Nadezhda claimed that he was being inconsiderate towards her. In response, Stalin started flicking cigarettes at her and addressed her as “Hey, you.” Humiliated, Nadezhda left the hall with Polina Zhemchuzhina, Vyacheslav Molotov’s wife, in tow. They briefly walked together in the Kremlin grounds before Nadezhda retired to her room.
Her body was discovered by servants the following morning. She had reportedly killed herself with the pistol her brother, Pavel Alliluyev, had given her as a gift. The official story was that she died of appendicitis. Svetlana, who was six years old then, was told the same but learned the truth ten years later. There are speculations that Stalin had murdered his wife. However, there is no proof of that.
Unlike most Bolsheviks, who were usually laid to rest in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, Nadezhda was buried on November 11, 1932, in Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow, which was generally used for artists, writers, and nobility.
After Nadezhda’s death, Pavel came to the Kremlin to comfort his brother-in-law. He would die six years later, aged 44, under suspicious circumstances. Most of the Alliluyev clan would perish in the coming years, reportedly on Stalin’s orders. Svetlana wondered whether her father would have arrested her mother if she had been alive.
Nadezhda left a note for her husband. Svetlana, although she never saw it herself, stated that it was full of “reproach and accusations”, a scathing commentary on Stalin’s political ambitions as well as personality. Stalin genuinely seemed distraught by his wife’s death. He was heard saying that she killed herself to punish him. He did not attend her funeral nor did he visit her grave until later.
Stalin’s son, Vasily, served in the Red Air Force during the World War II and after his father’s death, was arrested for revealing classified information to foreign diplomats. He died at 40 on March 19, 1962, due to chronic alcoholism. Svetlana defected to the US in 1967, married four times, and published her memoir ‘Twenty Letters to a Friend’ in 1967.
She was granted British citizenship in 1992 and passed away on November 22, 2011 from complications arising from colon cancer.
In the 1992 HBO telefilm ‘Stalin’, Nadezhda was portrayed by English actress Julia Ormond.