Joseph Stalin was born Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili on December 18, 1878, or December 6, 1878, according to the Old Style Julian calendar (although he later invented a new birth date for himself: December 21, 1879), in the small town of Gori, Georgia, then part of the Russian empire.
Stalin grew up poor and an only child. His father was a shoemaker and alcoholic who beat his son, and his mother was a laundress.
As a boy, Stalin contracted smallpox, which left him with lifelong facial scars.
s a teen, he earned a scholarship to attend a seminary in the nearby city of Tblisi and study for the priesthood in the Georgian Orthodox Church. While there he began secretly reading the work of German social philosopher and “Communist Manifesto” author Karl Marx, becoming interested in the revolutionary movement against the Russian monarchy.
After leaving school, Stalin became an underground political agitator, taking part in labor demonstrations and strikes. He adopted the name Koba, after a fictional Georgian outlaw-hero, and joined the more militant wing of the Marxist Social Democratic movement, the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin. Stalin also became involved in various criminal activities, including bank heists, the proceeds from which were used to help fund the Bolshevik Party. He was arrested multiple times between 1902 and 1913, and subjected to imprisonment and exile in Siberia.