Why did Stalin have 2 birthdays?

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Several versions claim to answer this question. We go over the most curious of them.

Joseph Stalin is probably the only 20th century head of state whose exact date of birth has not yet been determined. The official birthday, December 21, 1879, was, of course, known to every Soviet person.

The date had become canon in 1929, when the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of Joseph Stalin. The 60th anniversary in 1939 was not formally celebrated, but the newspapers were nevertheless full of congratulations and praise. The furore reached its peak in 1949, when Stalin's 70th birthday was celebrated with lavish gifts, foreign delegations, a gala meeting at the Bolshoi Theater and other essential attributes of the leader’s immense vanity.

Did Stalin really change his birthday himself?

Stalin during the celebration of his 70th birthday

In 1990, ‘Izvestiya TsKKPSS’ ("News of the CPSU Central Committee") published a report, stating that the metric book of the Assumption Church in the town of Gori, Georgia, contains the record of the peasant Vissarion Ivanovich and Ekaterina Gavrilovna Dzhugashvili having a son, Iosif, on December 6, 1878. (December 18, according to the New Style). The discrepancy with the official date is one year and three days!

The same date of birth (December 6, 1878) can be found in Iosif Dzhugashvili’s graduation certificate from Gori Theological College, and in the notice of the St. Petersburg Governor's Gendarmerie Department in 1911 on Stalin’s political stance. Moreover, in 1920, Stalin personally filled in a questionnaire, handed to him by the Swedish newspaper ‘Folkets Dagblad Politiken’ ("Daily People's Political Newspaper"). Here, the date of birth is also 1878.

The metric book of the Assumption Church in Gori, stating that Stalin was born on December 6, O.S.

‘Izvestiya’ claimed that in 1922, Stalin personally edited biographical information about himself, which his secretary Ivan Tovstukha then sent to the historians of the Communist Party for reference, labeling them “biographical information – personally reviewed and corrected by Stalin.” Stalin’s date of birth in that note is 1879 – the same date he used in all Party documents as a delegate since 1921.

Was it a clerical error, or a bit of occultism?

Georgy Gurdjieff

The first version that comes to mind is that Stalin reduced his age by a year so he would not be drafted into the army. However, it is known that Stalin was an only child, and after his father's early death, he remained his mother's sole breadwinner, which exempted him from military service. Therefore, he wouldn’t have had to change the year of his birth, at least on account of that.

Changing the date of birth was also common practice for Russian revolutionaries. When, in 1910, Iosif Dzhugashvili was arrested in Baku as a member of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, and exiled to Siberia for five years, his official record had listed the year of birth as 1880. However, as we have shown, Stalin began to change his year of birth consciously only much later, in the 1920s, when he was one of the leaders of the country and no one could prosecute him. Therefore, that version also doesn’t hold much water.

If we assume that the change of the date occurred because of some error in the documents, it is still inexplicable why Stalin wrote “1878” in the 1920 questionnaire for the Swedish newspaper, and, in 1922, changed the year to 1879 in his biographical notes.

Alexander Bourdonsky, Stalin's grandson

Stalin's grandson Alexander Burdonsky in a 2007 interview with the Ukrainian publication ‘Gordon's Boulevard’ spoke about the legend that Stalin was allegedly the son of Nikolai Przewalski: "I do not think this is true. Rather, it's about something else. Stalin was fond of the doctrine of the religious mystic Georgy Gurdjieff, which implies that a person should hide their real origin and even wrap the date of his birth in some kind of shroud.” The legend of Przewalski, of course, poured water on this mill.

No reliable information has survived on personal contacts between Stalin and Georgy Gurdjieff, except that they both studied at the same Tbilisi Spiritual Seminary, and it’s unclear if their stay there had coincided. Meanwhile, Gurdjieff's exact date of birth is also unknown; there are several versions.

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