Why Did Stalin Make Doodles of Wolves?

Re-creation of Stalin doodles based on written description
Re-creation of Stalin doodles based on written description

Do you ever doodle to pass the time in long meetings? If so, you have something in common with Joseph Stalin, who liked to draw wolves on scraps of paper and then color in the backgrounds with red. What do you think that means?

(I asked a couple of 20-somethings who said, “Who is Joseph Stalin?”)

Do you try to understand people, even notable villains? I figure if we could understand them, maybe we could stop them before they get rolling. I mean, I do bad things-can I project my badness and imagine being an industrial-scale villain? Is it just that their badness is multiplied because they have power and I do not?

Joe Stalin wasn’t your average Joe, besides which his name wasn’t Stalin; that was an alias he took and it means Man of Steel. Jusef Jughashvili was born in Georgia, a particularly rugged part of the rugged Russian empire. Acquaintances later excused some of his crude behavior because he was, after all “Asian” or a “Turk.” I guess that’s like our saying a man likes to get drunk and fight, but what can you expect; he’s Irish.

Stalin’s dad was a wife-beating drunk, and if you go in for finding psychological reasons for hideous behavior, you could start there. I do not; because few kids in that miserable situation go on to become murderers.

Stalin was quite intelligent and was probably not mentally ill, though paranoia is often suggested, as it is for most brutal dictators. But then you have to consider that lots of people really do want to kill brutal dictators.

Stalin’s first alias was Koba, after the hero of a favorite book, The Patricide, in which the knightly Koba revenged his friend by killing bad guys.

Violence was a social norm for Stalin. Besides that, by age nineteen, his mind was on fire with a revolutionary zeal to destroy an entire class of bad guys; bad guys who were oppressing people by keeping them in grinding poverty and degradation.

So what do you think the wolf doodles tell us about a man who was personally responsible for the deaths of many millions of innocent people, including many of his close comrades? It is pretty obvious what the red background symbolizes, but what about the wolves? Were they his totemic spirit animals? Did he just appreciate wildlife?

Vladimir Putin gave us a hint during a recent speech when he said, “Comrade Wolf knows whom to eat.” Western journalists were confused, but it’s actually the punch line to a Russian joke.

But it is no mystery, for Stalin told us what the wolves mean. The wolves are bloodthirsty enemies, sometimes appearing singly, usually in packs, they slip through the forest with their yellow eyes fixed on you, seeking whom they may devour.

Shortly before he died, he told Indian ambassador Shri Menon, “Peasants are smart. They know how to handle wolves. They exterminate them.” In Stalin’s worldview, as in the worldview of all mass murderers, opponents were not human, but rather predatory vermin.

I admit it. I have failed to understand Stalin. I fail to understand a father who says, when he hears his son has been captured as a POW, “I have no son.” Fortunately stopping murderous dictators does not depend on my empathetic abilities…

But I can offer Je’s First Law of Atrocity Prevention:

If a given ideology requires killing lots of people to achieve its aims, it’s a very sh**ty ideology….NeoCons





  1. Well written, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. I would like to note that Koba was also a renowned wrestler from his childhood and potentially his biological father, a revelation highlighted in Montefiore’s Young Stalin, as well as the notion Stalin likely became obsessed with wolves during his most brutal exile to the Arctic Circle in 1914, where he noted packs frequently circling his home, and he would fire shots from his rifle before using the out house to keep them at bay. During this time it was revealed one of his closest confidantes was a double agent whom he was depending on to spring him from exhile, essentially being as cruel as the wolves he witnessed there, keeping him confined. It’s scary to get into the minds of such villains, and to discover traits that draw you and present a likeness to your own thoughts from time to time.

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