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Stalin from 1952 Soviet poster.Josef Stalin

oviet leader Josef Dzhugashvili "Stalin" (1879-1953) was a brutal Dictator of the Soviet Union from the 1920's to his death in 1953. He was considered one of the most ruthless leaders in history.

He was the longtime ruler who more than any other individual molded the features that characterized the Soviet regime and shaped the direction of Europe following the end of World War II in 1945.

He was born on December 21, 1879 in Gori, Georgia. His parents were both Georgian peasants. Although neither of them spoke Russian, Stalin was forced to learn it because it was the language of instruction at the Gori church school that he attended in 1888-94. He was the best student in the school and earned a full scholarship to the Tbilisi Theological Seminary.

While he studied the priesthood, Stalin read forbidden literature, including Karl Marx's "Das Kapital", and soon converted to a new orthodoxy: Russian Marxism. Before graduation he quit the seminary to become a full-time revolutionary.

Stalin began his career in the Social-Democratic party in 1899 as a propagandist among Tbilisi railroad workers. The police caught up with him in 1902. Arrested in Batum, he spent more than a year in prison before being exiled to Siberia, from which he escaped in 1904.
Vivat to the great union of the brotherly nations of the USSR. Lenin, Stalin, happy citizens... Soviet poster, 1936.Between 1902 and 1913 Stalin was arrested eight times; he was exiled seven times and escaped six times. The government contained him only once; his last exile in 1913 lasted until 1917. He adopted the pseudonym Stalin, meaning "a man of steel" during this time. By taking on a Russian name, it was a way of disassociating himself with his Georgian heritage. Stalin had a disrespect and hatred for the weak, and Georgia had always been occupied by another nation, meaning that it was weak for never being able to be independent.

On his return from Siberia in 1904 Stalin married Ekaterina Svanidze. His first wife, not only had the same first name as his mother, but she resembled her in appearance as well. Soon after son Yakov's birth, Ekaterina became ill and died in 1909.

Soviet poster.A second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, whom he married in 1919, committed suicide in 1932.

In the last years of czarist Russia (1905-17) Stalin was more of an up-and-coming follower than a leader. He always supported the Bolshevik faction of the party, but his contribution was practical, not theoretical. Thus, in 1907 he helped organize a bank holdup in Tbilisi "to expropriate" funds. Lenin raised him into the upper reaches of the party in 1912 by co-opting him into the Bolsheviks' Central Committee.

As the Bolsheviks' expert on nationalism, Stalin was Lenin's choice to head the Commissariat for Nationality Affairs. As Stalin converted this organizational base into a source of political power, he came into conflict with Lenin on several minor issues.

Before his death, Lenin came to regard the flaws in Stalin's personality and conduct as political liabilities. In his political "testament" Lenin doubted whether the party's general secretary would use his great power with sufficient caution. He also attacked Stalin as being "too rude" and called for his removal. Luck and adroit maneuvering enabled Stalin to suppress Lenin's testament. By skillful manipulation and clever sloganeering, but especially by interpreting Lenin's precepts to a new generation coming of age in the 1920s, Stalin bested all his rivals. By his 50th birthday (1929), Stalin had cemented his position as Lenin's recognized successor and entrenched his power as sole leader of the Soviet Union.

After the 1924 death of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin vied for power. Victorious over Trotsky at the end of the
1920s, Stalin carried out massive industrialization efforts, the collectivization of agriculture, and extensive
purges of the party and military. His policies directly resulted in the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens.

Soviet poster -
Soviet poster - "Thank you dear Stalin for a Happy Childhood!"

In the mid-1930s Stalin launched a major campaign of political terror. The purges, arrests, and deportations to labor camps touched virtually every family. Former rivals Zinovyev, Kamenev, and Bukharin admitted to crimes against the state in show trials and were sentenced to death. Untold numbers of party, industry, and military leaders disappeared during the "Great Terror," making way for a rising generation that included such leaders as Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev. Fear instilled by a political secret police formed an essential part of the system called Stalinism.

"We are for peace. Stalin." Soviet poster from 1952.

Stalin.In part because the purges stripped the military of its leadership, the Soviet Union suffered greatly in World War II. Stalin personally directed the war against Nazi Germany. By rallying the people, and by his willingness to make great human sacrifices, he turned the tide against the Germans, notably at the Battle of Stalingrad. Stalin participated in the Allies' meetings at Tehran (1943), Yalta (1945), and Potsdam (1945), where he obtained recognition of a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, and after the war he extended Communist domination over most of the countries liberated by the Soviet armies. His single-minded determination to prevent yet another devastating assault on the USSR from the West had much to do with the growth of the cold war.

In his last years, increasingly paranoid and physically weak, Stalin apparently was about to start another purge.

In January 1953 he ordered the arrest of many Moscow doctors, mostly Jews, charging them with medical assassinations. The so-called Doctors' Plot seemed to herald a return to the 1930s, but Stalin's sudden death on March 5, 1953, in Moscow forestalled another bloodbath.

Since the end of his era, Stalin's time in power has been furiously debated and his motives have been extremely controversial.

Stalin sacrificed friends and family to power. He was not a very affectionate man and revolutionary traits hardened him even more. He had four simple rules of success in life to achieve desired end men must be discarded when they are no longer useful, alienators are made to be broken, any method is justified if it helps to achieve the ultimate goal and, ideas have no existence under the chariot of power. At the funeral of his first wife, Stalin commented that any warm feelings he had for people died along with her, for she was the only person who was able to melt his heart.

At his death in 1953, Joseph Stalin joined Lenin in the vault of the Mausoleum, but in 1961, Stalin's body was removed and buried simply next to the Kremlin wall next to other Communist leaders.

Soviet poster.Within a few weeks of Stalin's death, the Soviet leaders began a campaign to whittle down Stalin's reputation, which culminated in a devastating attack by Nikita Khrushchev at the 20th party congress in February 1956. By that time virtually every country in the Communist bloc was in turmoil.

Stalin's method of personal rule was replaced by group rule and more orderly processes of government, the terror apparatus was largely dismantled, the economy was notably modernized, and foreign policy was conducted with much greater diplomatic initiative and flexibility. But the Soviet leadership continued to cling tenaciously to the authoritarian system of party supremacy that shapes every aspect of life in the Soviet Union and to Soviet dominance over the Communist countries on its western borders.


More about Stalin on, on, Stalin Reference Archive, Daily Life in Stalin's Russia, Stalin-Era Research and Archives (in English)

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