In late July and early August of 1903, an event took place in Europe that would ultimately enter the annals of history, but which at the time attracted no attention beyond certain members of Russia’s secret police. Nobody else was the slightest bit concerned that a group of revolutionaries, presumably dissatisfied with the situation in their home country, had gathered first in Brussels and later (after the Belgian police took an interest in them) in London, a well-known safe haven for political émigrés. The revolutionaries called themselves Social Democrats, and they professed adherence to the teachings of Karl Marx, although each understood these teachings in his or her own way. Their meetings featured long and heated debates over the correct interpretation of Marxist ideas.
In 1903, nobody had heard of Vladimir Ulyanov (already going by the pseudonym Lenin) or Lev Trotsky, and few at the meeting took note of the small-statured and pock-marked Caucasian Joseph Jughashvili, who had chosen the imposing alias Stalin (“Steely”).
All of these men, who were to have such a profound impact on the course of twentieth century history, were present at the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, which was convened to discuss how to best structure their organization. Generations of Soviet students would later be forced to cram the seemingly pointless details of these discussions into their distracted brains, as they were considered an important part of the required course, the History of the CPSU. But perhaps these details were not so pointless after all, as they did indeed foretell much of what lay in store.
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