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Joseph Stalin

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Josif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (December 21, 1879 - March 5, 1953), better known as Joseph Stalin (Iosef Stalin in an alternative transliteration) was the second leader of the Soviet Union. He was also known as Koba (also Georgian folk hero; see: Koba[?]). The name Stalin (derived from combining Russian stal, "steel" with Lenin) originally was a conspiratorial nickname; however, it stuck to him and he continued to call himself Stalin after the Russian Revolution. Stalin is also reported to have used at least a dozen other names for the purpose of secret communications, but for obvious reasons most of them remain unknown.

Stalin is widely regarded as one of history's worst tyrants, responsible for massive repression of his people, and millions of deaths. However, many Russians, especially elderly Russians, see Stalin as a national hero and a great leader.

Table of contents

Childhood and early years

Born in Gori[?], Georgia to illiterate peasant parents (who had been serfs at birth), his harsh spirit has been blamed on severe beatings by his father, inspiring vengeful feelings towards anyone in a position to wield power over him (perhaps also a reason he became a revolutionary). His mother set him on a path to become a priest, and he studied Russian Orthodox Christianity until he was nearly twenty.

His involvement with the socialist movement began at seminary school, from which he was expelled in 1899. From there on he worked for a decade with the political underground in the Caucasus. He soon followed Vladimir Lenin's ideology of centralism and a strong party of "professional revolutionaries". His practical experience made him useful in Lenin's Bolshevik party leading up to the 1917 October Revolution (in which he played no direct part).

Rise to power

Stalin spent his first years after the revolution secretly building his post as general secretary into the most powerful one in the communist party. After Lenin's death in 1924, a triumvirate of Stalin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev governed between Trotsky (on the left wing of the party) and Bukharin (on the right wing of the party). Soon after, Stalin switched sides and joined with Bukharin. Together, they fought a new opposition of Trotsky, Kamenev, and Zinoviev. By 1928 (the first year of the Five-Year Plans) Stalin's supremacy was complete. From this year, he could be said to have exercised control over the party and the country (although the formalities were not complete until the Great Purges of 1936-1938).

The final stage of Stalin's rise to power was the ordered assassination of Trotsky in Mexico in 1940, where he had lived since 1936 (he was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1929.). Indeed, after Trotsky's death only two members of the "Old Bolsheviks" (Lenin's Politburo) remained - Stalin himself and his foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov.

Stalin and Changes in Soviet Society

Stalin replaced Lenin's market socialist New Economic Policy with a Five-Year Plan, which called for a highly ambitious program of state guided crash industrialization, and collectivization of agriculture. In spite of early breakdowns and failures, the first Five-Year Plan achieved rapid industrialisation from a very low economic base. Russia, generally ranked as the poorest nation in Europe before 1914, now became industrialized at a phenomenal rate, far surpassing Germany's pace of industrialization in the 19th century and Japan's earlier in the 20th. With no seed capital, little foreign trade, and barely any modern industry to start with, Stalin financed the Soviet Union's industrial revolution in much the same way that Russia's leaders had always financed things: by a ruthless extraction of wealth from the peasants, often to the point of starvation.

Stalin's regime placed heavy emphasis on the provision of basic medical services. Campaigns were carried out against typhus, cholera, and malaria; the number of doctors was increased as rapidly as facilities and training would permit; and death and infant mortality rates steadily decreased. Education was also dramatically expanded, with many more Russians learning to read and write, and higher education expanded.

The theory behind collectivisation was that it would replace the small-scale un-mechanised and inefficient farms, that were then commonplace in the Soviet Union, with large-scale mechanised farms that would produce food far more efficiently.

Stalin had a vast personality cult based around himself.

Stalin's regime moved to force collectivisation of agriculture. Theoretically landless peasants were to be the biggest beneficiaries from collectivisation, it promised an opportunity to take an equal share in the labour, and in its rewards. For those with property, however, collectivisation meant giving it up to the collective farms and selling most of the food that they produced at artificially low prices (set by the state) with only the bare minimum left for themselves.

Collectivisation meant the destruction up of a centuries old way of life, and also a drastic drop in living standards for most peasants, as the food they produced was effectively commandeered with little compensation by the state. Collectivisation faced widespread and often violent resistance from the peasantry.

In an attempt to overcome this resistance. Between 1929 and 1933 Stalin's regime assembled shock brigades[?], who used indescriminate violence against the peasantry, to force them to enroll into collective farms. In response to this many peasants preferred to destroy their animals rather than give them over to collective farms, which produced a major drop in food production.

Stalin blamed this drop in food production on Kulaks (rich peasants) who he believed were capitalistic parasites who were organising resistance to collectivisation. He ordered all Kulags to be either shot or transported to Gulag prison camps. In reality however, the term "Kulak" was a loose term to describe anyone who opposed collectivisation, which included many poor peasants. Many millions of people lost their lives during this anti-kulag campaign.

Most historians agree that the disruption caused by collectivization, was largely responsible for major "man-made famines" in 1932-33, particularly in Ukraine, responsible for up to 5 million deaths.


Stalin consolidated near-absolute power afterwards with the Great Purges against his suspected political and ideological opponents, most notably the old cadres and the rank and file of the Bolshevik Party. Measures used against them ranged from imprisonment in work camps (Gulags) to assassination (such as that of Leon Trotsky and possibly Sergei Kirov). The period between 1936-1937 is often called the Great Terror[?] when thousands of people even suspected of opposing Stalin's regime were killed or imprisoned. Stalin is reputed to have personally signed 40,000 death warrants of suspected political opponents.

During this period, the practice of mass arrest, torture, and imprisonment or execution without trial, of anyone suspected by the secret police of opposing Stalin's regime became commonplace. By the KGB's own estimates, 681,692 people were shot during 1937-38 (although many historians think that this was an undercount), and millions of people were transported to Gulag work camps.

Several show trials were held in Moscow, to serve as examples for the trials that local courts were expected to carry out elsewere in the country. There were four key trials from 1936 to 1938, The Trial of the Sixteen was the first (December 1936); then the Trial of the Seventeen (January 1937); then the trial of Red Army generals, including Marshal Tukhachevsky (June 1937); and finally the Trial of the Twenty One (including Bukharin) in March 1938.

It is believed by most historians that with the purges, famines, state terrorism, labor camps, and forced migrations, Stalin was responsible for the deaths of millions. How many millons that died under Stalin is greatly disputed. Although no official figures have been released by the Soviet or Russian government, most estimates put the figure at between eight and twenty million. The most extreme estimates put the figure as high as 50 million.

World War II

In 1939 Stalin agreed to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany which divided Eastern Europe between the two powers. In 1941, however, Hitler broke the pact and invaded the Soviet Union (see Operation Barbarossa). Stalin had not expected this and the Soviet Union was largely unprepared for this invasion. The Nazis initially made huge advances, and many experienced generals in the Red Army had been killed during the purges. This had a negative effect on Russia's ability to organise defences. Under Stalin's leadership the Soviet Red Army put up fierce resistance, but were largely ineffective against the better-equipped and trained advancing Nazi forces. The Red Army had some success in slowing the German advance by following a scorched earth strategy in which retreating Soviet troops destroyed the infrastructure and food supplies of areas before the Germans could seize them. Unfortunately, this, along with abuse by German troops, caused starvation and suffering among the civilian population that was left behind.

Stalin was, up to this point, very wary of the Germans, and would not permit his armies even to assume defensive positions for fear of sending the wrong signals to Hitler. Up to the final moment, and the invasion by the Germans, he held out hope that the Molotov-Rippentrop Pact would buy him time to modernize and strengthen his military forces (recently weakened by purges).

Under Stalin, the Soviets bore the brunt of World War II and the West did not open up a second front in Europe until D-Day. Approximately 21 million Soviets, among them 7 million civilians, were killed in "Operation Barbarossa", the invasion of the Soviet Union by Germany. Civilians were rounded up and burned or shot in many cities conquered by the Nazis. The Nazis considered the Slavs to be "sub-human" so many feel that this was ethnically targeted mass murder, or genocide.

Soviet casualties in the war were estimated at 22 million (13% of the population). There was, then, a huge shortage of men of the fighting-age generation in Russia. As a result, to this day, World War II is remembered very vividly in Russia, and May 9, Victory Day, is one of its biggest national holidays.

Many elderly Russians are nostalgic for the Stalin era.

Post-war era

Following World War II Stalin's regime installed friendly Communist satellite governments in the countries that the Soviet army had occupied, including Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria. These countries would eventually form the Warsaw Pact or "Communinist Bloc". Stalin saw this as a necessary step to protect the Soviet Union, and ensure that it was surrounded by countries with freindly "puppet" governments, to act as a "buffer" against any future invaders.

But this action convinced many in the west that the Soviet Union intended to spread communism across the world. The relations between the Soviet Union and its former World War II western allies soon broke down, and gave way to a prolonged period of tension and distrust between east and west known as the Cold War.

At home Stalin presented himself as a great wartime leader who had lead the USSR to victory against the Germans. Internally his repressive policies continued, but never reached the extremes of the 1930s.

On March 1, 1953, after an all-night dinner with secret police chief Lavrenti Beria[?], immediate successor Georgi Malenkov[?], future premier Nikita Khrushchev, and Nikolai Bulganin[?], Stalin collapsed. He died four days later, on March 5, 1953, at the age of 73. Officially, the cause of death was listed as a cerebral hemorrhage[?]. The political memoirs of Vyacheslav Molotov, published in 1993, claimed Beria had boasted to Molotov that he poisoned Stalin.

Policies and accomplishments

Under Stalin the Soviet Union was industrialized to the point that by the time of World War II the Soviet industrial-military complex was able to help resist the German invasion. Unfortunately, this had been achieved at a staggering cost in human lives.

Related Topics

ANOTHER VIEW OF STALIN http://www.plp.org/books/Stalin/book

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