Stalin’s Odd Hobby: A Despot’s Sense of Humor

Stalin, the Man of Steel.

Stalin, the Man of Steel.

It takes a certain type of person to be an iron-fisted dictator. A lack of empathy, a thirst for power, and a healthy dose of paranoia are all prerequisites for any self respecting megalomaniacal leader. Joseph Stalin had all of these traits and more. His despotic reign over the Soviet Union lasted for about three decades, and his policies were responsible for the deaths of millions of people. He built the Soviet Union into a superpower to rival the United States.

Since he occupied such an important spot in modern history, he’s going to show up on this site quite a bit. But the two articles linked were not about the man himself. In recent years, as more and more Soviet secrets come out of long locked archives, aspects of Stalin’s personal life have come to light. One of the oddest bits about the Man of Steel to be revealed was his penchant for writing crude comments on reproductions of nude male sketches by 19th century Russian artists.


Crude humor from a hard man

So far, nineteen paintings with Stalin’s distinctive scrawl have been found. One sketch depicted a naked man with his back to the audience, standing against a wall and reaching down apparently toward his genitals. Stalin wrote: “You need to work, not wank. Time for re-education.” The dictator drew a red triangle over the genitals of one nude sketch, while on another he drew a blue cross over a man’s chest. On another sketch, one of a man scratching his head while standing over a naked woman, Stalin wrote: “Idiot! Did you forget what to do?”

Not all of the comments were sophomoric in nature though. Next to a picture of a thoughtful looking fellow, Stalin wrote: “One thinking fool is worse than 10 enemies.” He also wrote rants toward fellow Party members –both living and dead–who apparently resembled the nude men in the sketches. One oddly wistful statement said: “Radek, you ginger bastard, if you hadn’t pissed into the wind, if you hadn’t been so bad, you’d still be alive.” Karl Radek took part in the Russian Revolution. He disagreed with Stalin one too many times and he found himself expelled from the Party, but he was readmitted in the 1930s and helped draft Stalin’s constitution in 1936. However more disagreements led Stalin to have Radek sentenced to ten years hard labor in the infamous Gulag system. He was murdered before he could make it to prison.


What does it reveal about Stalin, the man?

Scholars studying the pictures and the dictator’s comments are divided as to what they tell about Stalin, the man. Some believe that it shows a latent homophobia or perhaps a repressed homosexual inclination. It’s pretty tough to tell whether a person is homosexual or not just from a bunch of comments on paintings, even if said paintings were of naked men. It was common during Party meetings for officials to pass crude notes to one another. Perhaps the scribblings had nothing to do with homosexuality and began as a sort of private joke for the dictator himself, an outgrowth of the old Communist habit.

Perhaps most telling though is the profound loneliness that Stalin’s comments evoke. He could have written the comments as a way to entertain himself, a joke no one else would ever see. One could imagine the dictator alone in his office, chuckling to himself as he scribbled all over the artwork of yesteryear. A sad picture, if the man in it weren’t a mass murdering psychopath.



Osborn, Andrew. “Josef Stalin defaced drawings with rude comments.” December 18, 2009. The Telegraph. April 4, 2014. <>

Walker, Shaun. “Stalin’s crude side laid bare.” December 19, 2009. The Independent. April 4, 2014. <>


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