Stalin's Double; or, Socialist Realism

A man who looked so much like Josef Stalin
that he was hired to sit in for the Soviet dictator
at meetings and banquets has died in the southern city
of Krasnodar. He was 93. The newspaper Rabochaya Tribuna
identified the Stalin double only as Rashid and said without
explaining further that he died "several days ago."

The man closely resembled Stalin, even down to the
deep facial pockmarks which Stalin received from smallpox.
At first this made Rashid’s life difficult. He looked so much like
Stalin that he caused consternation when he tried to join the Army;
he was released almost immediately. After Stalin's death in 1953
he moved to a provincial city and shaved off his mustache and gradually
became bald. Yet even then the resemblance proved so striking that he often
received stares on the street, as if people were afraid that Stalin had gone into
hiding among them.

Later Rashid made a career as Stalin’s double. Officials
at the KGB heard of his adventures at the Army recruiting office and
eventually tracked him down. Rashid spent 2 years studying with Alexei
Dikiy, an actor who played the role of Stalin in films. But Rashid's role was to
play Stalin "live," at public functions such as banquets. (Was Dikiy jealous?
Or too busy playing Stalin in the movies to play him in real life?)
No mention is made in the obituary of the role Stalin
played in his hiring, if any, or if Rashid was ever
allowed to meet or study the man he was to impersonate.
He may have been taught to impersonate by Stalin’s first impersonator,
and by images of that impersonator on the silver screen.

There are also other doubles mentioned in the obituary,
doubles multiplying into quadruples and more. It’s not
at all clear what the total number of Stalin’s doubles actually was (were?).
Rashid never met with any other Stalin lookalikes except Dikiy,
but he told of another Stalin double who was hired to live
in the dictator's dacha outside of Moscow in the late 1940s
and 1950s when Stalin was dying. This double filled in
for Stalin for media events and other times when Stalin
had to meet government functionaries and others.

Did the doubles ever get together for a party?
cabbage fractals

Instead of having him simply inhabit Stalin's public rooms
in the dacha while the dictator was bedridden in the back rooms,
authorities built a duplicate set of public rooms in the same dacha,
so that outsiders could be fooled and Stalin's private space would not
be invaded. “There were two absolutely identical rooms, with
identical furniture, marshall's overcoats and service caps on hangers
in the foyers,” Rabochaya Tribuna reported.

Yet how could such rooms and foyers be constructed
within a dacha without making it look like a double dacha,
too big to make sense? Or would no dacha be too big
to be a dictator’s dacha?

And why would this elaborate effort be necessary?
Wouldn’t most of Stalin’s visitors have never seen
the interior of his home? And what if all this was not necessarily
done to deceive those who knew Stalin well but just to create an appearance
that everyone could pretend to take for granted, Stalin still
in charge and still well, as if by appearing so it would make it so?

Before he died, did Stalin ever wonder what his doubles’s lives were like when they weren’t playing Stalin? After Stalin died, did Rashid collect unemployment benefits?

To understand Stalin, we have to understand Stalin’s double.
But to understand the double....

In the U.S., as usual, we have come up with an improved system:
many of our recent presidents have played their own doubles and become
self-parodies on their own, without any help from hired actors
(though one president, the most proficient at such doublings,
of course was once a hired actor.)

Such developments show an American initiative that is especially commendable.

---adapted from Associated Press news reports, 6-16-91

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