Josef Stalin's Nightmare

by Bertrand Russell


Stalin, after copious draughts of vodka mixed with red pepper, had fallen asleep in his chair. Molotov, Malenkov, and Beria, with fingers to their lips, warned off intrusive domestics who might interfere with the great man's repose. While they guarded him, he had a dream, and what he dreamt was as follows:

The Third World War had been fought and lost. He was a captive in the hands of the Western Allies. But they, having observed that the Nuremberg trials generated sympathy for the Nazis, decided this time to adopt a different plan: Stalin was handed over to a committee of eminent Quakers, who contended that even he, by the power of love, could be led to repentance and to the life of a decent citizen.

It was realized that until their spiritual work had been completed the windows of his room must be barred lest he should be guilty of a rash act, and he must not be allowed access to knives lest in a fit of fury he should attach those engaged in his regeneration. He was housed comfortably in two rooms of an old country house, but the doors were locked, except during the one hour of every day when, in the company of four muscular Quakers, he was taken for a brisk walk during which he was encouraged to admire the beauties of nature and enjoy the song of the lark. During the rest of the day he was allowed to read and write, but he was not allowed any literature that might be considered inflammatory. He was given the Bible, Pilgrim's Progress, and Uncle Tom's Cabin. And sometimes for a treat he was allowed the novels of Charlotte M. Yonge. He was allowed no tobacco, no alcohol, and no red pepper. Cocoa he might have at any hour of the day and night, since the most eminent of his guardians were purveyors of that innocent beverage. Tea and coffee were permitted in moderation, but not in such quantities or at such time as might interfere with a wholesome night's repose.

During one hour of every morning and one hour of every evening the grave men to whose care he had been entrusted explained the principles of Christian charity and the happiness that might yet be his if he would but acknowledge their wisdom. The task of reasoning with him fell especially upon the three men who were accounted wisest among those who hoped to make him see the light. These were the Mr. Tobias Toogood, Mr. Samuel Swete, and Mr. Wilabraham Weldon.

He had been acquainted with these men in the days of his greatness. Not long before the outbreak of the Third World War they had journeyed to Moscow to plead with him and endeavor to convince him of the error of his ways. They had talked to him of universal benevolence and Christian love. They had spoken in glowing terms of the joys of meekness, and had tried to persuade him that there is more happiness in being loved than in being feared. For a little while he had listened with a patience produced by astonishment, and then he had burst out at them. "What do you gentleman know of the joys of life?" he had stormed. "How little you understand of the intoxicating delight of dominating a whole nation by terror, knowing that almost all desire your death and that none can compass it, knowing that your enemies throughout the world are engaged in futile attempts to guess your secret thoughts, knowing that your power will survive the extermination not only of your enemies but of your friends. No, gentlemen, the way of life you offer does not attract me. Go back to your pettifogging pursuit of profit gilded with a pretense of piety, but leave me to my more heroic way of life."

The Quakers, baffled for the moment, went home to wait for a better opportunity. Stalin, fallen and in their power, might, they now hoped, show himself more amenable. Strange to say, he still proved stubborn. They were men who had had much practice with juvenile delinquents, unraveling their complexes and leading them by gentle persuasion to the belief that honesty is the best policy.

"Mr. Stalin," said Tobias Toogood, "we hope that you now realize the unwisdom of the way of life to which you have hitherto adhered. I shall say nothing of the ruin you have brought upon the world, for that, you will assure me, leaves you cold. But consider what you have brought upon yourself. You have fallen from your high estate to the condition of a humble prisoner, owing what comforts you retain to the fact that gaolers do not accept your maxims. The fierce joys of which you spoke when we visited you in the days of your greatness can no longer be yours. But if you could break down the barrier of pride, if you could repent, if you could learn to find happiness in the happiness of others, there might yet be for you some purpose and some tolerable contentment during the remainder of your days."

At this point Stalin leapt to his feet and exclaimed: "Hell take you, you sniveling hypocrite. I understand nothing of what you say, except that you are on top and I am at your mercy, and that you have found a way of insulting my misfortunes more galling and more humiliating than any I invented in my purges."

"Oh, Mr. Stalin," said Mr. Swete, "how can you be so unjust and so unkind? Can you not see that we have none but the most benevolent intentions towards you? Can you not see that we wish to save your soul, and that we deplore the violence and hatred that you promoted among your enemies as among your friends? We have no wish to humiliate you, and could you but appreciate earthly greatness at no more than its true worth, you would see that it is an escape from humiliation that we are offering you."

"This is really too much," shouted Stalin. "When I was a boy, I put up with talk like this in my Georgian seminary, but it is not the sort of talk to which a grown man can listen with patience. I wish I believed in Hell, that I might look forward to the pleasures of seeing your blandness dissipated by scorching flames."

"Oh fie, my dear Stalin!" said Mr. Weldon. "Pray do not excite yourself, for it is only by calmness that you will learn to see the wisdom of what we are trying to show you."

Before Stalin could retort, Mr. Toogood once again intervened: "I am sure, Mr. Stalin," he said, "that a man of your great intelligence cannot forever remain blind to the truth, but at the moment you are overwrought, and I suggest that a soothing cup of cocoa might be better for you than the unduly stimulating tea you have been drinking."

At this moment Stalin could no longer contain himself. He took the teapot and hurled it at Mr. Toogood's head. The scalding liquid poured down his face, but he only said, "There, there, Mr. Stalin, that is no argument." In a paroxysm of rage Stalin awoke. For a moment the rage continued and vented itself upon Molotov, Malenkov, and Beria, who trembled and turned pale. But as the clouds of sleep cleared away, his rage evaporated, and he found contentment in a deep draught of vodka and red pepper.