Joseph Stalin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search
Joseph Stalin
Office General Secretary
Term of Office: 1922-1953
Predecessor: Vladimir Lenin
Successor: Georgy Malenkov
Date of Birth: December 18, 1878
Place of Birth: Gori, Georgia
Date of Death: March 5, 1953
Place of Death: Moscow, Russia
Political party: Soviet Communist Party

(Russian, in full: Иосиф Виссарионович Сталин (Josef Vissarionovich Stalin), real name: Иосиф Виссарионович Джугашвили (Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvilli), Georgian: იოსებ ჯუღაშვილი (Ioseb Jughashvili); December 6 (OS)/December 18 (NS), 1878[1]March 5, 1953) was the leader of the Soviet Union from mid-1920s to his death in 1953 and General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922-1953), a position which had later become that of party leader.

Stalin became general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1922 and following the death of Vladimir Lenin, he prevailed over Leon Trotsky in a power struggle during the 1920s. In the 1930s Stalin eliminated effective political opposition both within the Party and among the population (see Gulag) and consolidated his authority with the Great Purge, a period of widespread arrests and executions which reached its peak in 1937, remaining in power through World War II and until his death. Stalin molded the features that characterized the new Soviet regime; his policies, based on Marxist–Leninist ideology, are often considered to represent a political and economic system called Stalinism.

Under Stalin, who replaced the New Economic Policy (NEP) of the 1920s with five year plans (introduced in 1928) and collective farming, the Soviet Union was transformed from a largely peasant society to a major world industrial power by the end of the 1930s. Since many peasants resisted collectivization, the government resorted to often violent repression against so-called "kulaks," resulting in millions of deaths.

A hard-won victory in World War II (the Great Patriotic War, 194145), made possible in part through the capacity for production that was the outcome of industrialization, laid the groundwork for the formation of the Warsaw Pact and established the USSR as one of the two major world powers, a position it maintained for nearly four decades following Stalin's death in 1953.

Stalin's cult of personality, his extreme concentration of power and the means of its execution defines him as a dictator. He was directly or indirectly responsible, via his policies, for tens of millions of deaths and unjust deportations to labour camps in the Soviet Union.

Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin's actual successor, denounced his mass repressions and cult of personality in 1956, initiating the process of "de-Stalinization". [2]


Childhood and early years

Young Joseph Dzughashvili, as represented by propaganda. For a real photo see here.
Young Joseph Dzughashvili, as represented by propaganda. For a real photo see here.

Stalin was born in Gori, Georgia, to a cobbler named Vissarion Jughashvili. His mother, Ekaterina Geladze, was born a serf. Their other three children died young; Joseph, nicknamed "Soso" (the Georgian pet name for Joseph), was effectively an only child. Vissarion Ivanovich Jughashvili was a former serf who, when freed, became a cobbler. He opened his own shop, but quickly went bankrupt, forcing him to work in a shoe factory in Tiflis (Archer 11). Rarely seeing his family and drinking heavily, Vissarion often beat his wife and small son. One of Stalin's friends from childhood wrote, "Those undeserved and fearful beatings made the boy as hard and heartless as his father." The same friend also wrote that he never saw him cry (Hoober 15). Another of his childhood friends, Iremashvili, felt that the beatings by Stalin's father gave him a hatred of authority. He also said that anyone with power over others reminded Stalin of his father's cruelty.

One of the people for whom Ekaterina did laundry and housecleaning was a Gori Jew, David Papismedov. Papismedov gave Joseph, who would help out his mother, money and books to read, and encouraged him. Decades later, Papismedov came to the Kremlin to learn what had become of little Soso. Stalin surprised his colleagues by not only receiving the elderly man, but happily chatting with him in public places.

In 1888, Stalin's father left to live in Tiflis, leaving the family without support. Rumors said he died in a drunken bar fight; however, others said they had seen him in Georgia as late as 1931. At eight years old, Soso began his education at the Gori Church School. When attending school in Gori, Soso was among a very diverse group of students. Stalin and most of his classmates were Georgian and spoke mostly Georgian. However, at school they were forced to use Russian. Even when speaking in Russian, their Russian teachers mocked Stalin and his classmates because of their Georgian accents. His peers were mostly the sons of affluent priests, officials, and merchants.

Although Stalin later sought to hide his Georgian origins, during his childhood he was fascinated by Georgian folklore. The stories he read told of Georgian mountaineers who valiantly fought for Georgian independence. Stalin's favorite hero of these stories was a legendary mountain ranger named Koba, which became his first alias as a revolutionary. He graduated first in his class and at age 14 he was awarded a scholarship to the Tiflis Theological Seminary, a Russian Orthodox institution which he attended from 1894 onward. In addition to the small stipend from the scholarship he was also paid for singing in the choir. Although his mother wanted him to be a priest (even after he had become leader of the Soviet Union), he attended seminary not because of any religious vocation, but because it was one of the few educational opportunities available as the Tsarist government of Russia was wary of establishing a university in Georgia.

Stalin in exile, 1915
Stalin in exile, 1915

Stalin's involvement with the socialist movement (or, to be more exact, that branch of it that later became the communist movement) began at the seminary. During these school years, Stalin joined a Georgian Social-Democratic organization, and began propagating Marxism. Stalin was expelled from the seminary in 1899 for these actions. He worked for a decade with the political underground in the Caucasus, experiencing repeated arrests and exile to Siberia between 1902 and 1917. He adhered to Vladimir Lenin's doctrine of a strong centralist party of professional revolutionaries. His practical experience made him useful in Lenin's Bolshevik party, gaining him a place on its Central Committee in January 1912. Some historians have argued that, during this period, Stalin was actually a Tsarist spy, who was working to infiltrate the Bolshevik party, but there are no reliable documents to substantiate this. In 1913 he adopted the name Stalin, which means "steel's man" in Russian.

His only significant contribution to the development of Marxist theory at this time was a treatise, written while he was briefly in exile in Vienna, Marxism and the national question. It presents an orthodox Marxist position on this important debate. This treatise may have contributed to his appointment as People's Commissar for Nationalities Affairs after the revolution (see Lenin's article On the right of nations to self-determination for comparison).

Marriage and family

Stalin's first wife was Ekaterina Svanidze, he married for just three years until her death in 1907. At her funeral, Stalin said that any warm feelings he had for people died with her, for only she could mend his heart. With her he had a son, Yakov Dzhugashvili, with whom he did not get along in later years. Yakov served in the Red Army and was captured by the Nazis. They offered to exchange him for a German General, but Stalin turned the offer down, allegedly saying "A lieutenant is not worth a General," and Yakov is said to have died running into an electric fence in the camp where he was being held. This however, is the "official report", and to this day, his cause of death is not known. Nonetheless, there are many who believe his death was a suicide.

His second wife was Nadezhda Alliluyeva, who died in 1932; she may have committed suicide by shooting herself after a quarrel with Stalin, leaving a suicide note which according to their daughter was "partly personal, partly political"[3]. "Officially", she died of an illness, but other theories claim that Stalin himself killed her. It is alleged that Stalin had said "She died an enemy," at her funeral. With her, he had two children: a son, Vassili, and a daughter, Svetlana. Vassili rose through the ranks of the Soviet Air Force, but died an alcoholic in 1962. Stalin doted on Svetlana when she was young, but she ended up defecting from the Soviet Union in 1967.

Stalin's mother died in 1937; he did not attend the funeral but instead sent a wreath. Stalin is said to have remained bitter at his mother because of her forcing him to join the Tiflis Theological Seminary, and is reputed to have called her "an old whore."

In March 2001, Russian Independent Television NTV discovered a previously unknown grandson living in Novokuznetsk. Yuri Davydov told NTV that his father had told him of his lineage, but, because the campaign against Stalin's cult of personality was in full swing at the time, he was told to keep quiet. Soviet dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn had mentioned a son being born to Stalin and his common law wife, Lida, in 1918 during his exile in northern Siberia.

Rise to power

Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin

In 1912 Stalin was co-opted to the Bolshevik Central Committee at the Prague Party Conference. In 1917 Stalin was editor of Pravda while Lenin and much of the Bolshevik leadership were in exile. Following the February Revolution, Stalin and the editorial board took a position in favor of supporting Kerensky's provisional government and, it is alleged, went to the extent of declining to publish Lenin's articles arguing for the provisional government to be overthrown. When Lenin returned from exile, he wrote the April Theses which put forward his position.

In April 1917, Stalin was elected to the Central Committee with the third highest vote total in the party and was subsequently elected to the Politburo of the Central Committee (May 1917); he held this position for the remainder of his life.

According to many accounts, Stalin only played a minor role in the revolution of November 7.Other writers such as Adam Ulam stressed that each man in the Central Committee had a job he was assigned to do.

During the Russian Civil War and Polish-Soviet War, Stalin was political commissar of the Red Army at various fronts. Stalin's first government position was as People's Commissar of Nationalities Affairs (1917–23). Also, he was People's Commissar of Workers and Peasants Inspection (191922), a member of the Revolutionary Military Council of the republic (1920–23) and a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets (from 1917).

In April 1922 Stalin became general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, a post that he subsequently built up into the most powerful in the country. This position was an unwanted one within the party (Stalin was sometimes referred to as "Comrade Card-Index" by fellow party members) but Stalin saw its potential as a power base. The position had great influence on who joined the party. This allowed him to fill the party with his allies. Stalin's accumulation of personal power increasingly alarmed the dying Lenin, and in Lenin's Testament he famously called for the removal of the "rude" Stalin, also stating that Stalin's views were too extreme and violent. However, this document was suppressed by members of the Central Committee, many of whom were also criticised by the Bolshevik leader in the testament.

After Lenin's death in January 1924, Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev together governed the party, placing themselves ideologically between Trotsky (on the left wing of the party) and Bukharin (on the right).

During this period, Stalin abandoned the traditional Bolshevik emphasis on international revolution in favor of a policy of building "Socialism in One Country", in contrast to Trotsky's theory of Permanent Revolution. Stalin would soon switch sides and join with Bukharin. Together they fought a new opposition of Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev. By 1928 (the first year of the Five-Year Plans) Stalin was supreme among the leadership, and the following year Trotsky was exiled because of his intrigues. Having also outmaneuvered Bukharin's Right Opposition and now advocating collectivization and industrialization, Stalin can be said to have exercised control over the party and the country. However, as the popularity of other leaders such as Sergei Kirov and the so-called Ryutin Affair were to demonstrate, Stalin did not achieve absolute power until the Great Purge of 193638.

Stalin and changes in Soviet society


Main article: Industrialization of the USSR.

The Russian Civil War had had a devastating effect on the country's economy. Industrial output in 1922 was 13% of that in 1914. Under Stalin's direction, the New Economic Policy, which allowed a degree of market flexibility within the context of socialism, was replaced by a system of centrally ordained Five-Year Plans in the late 1920s. These called for a highly ambitious program of state-guided crash industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture. In spite of early breakdowns and failures, the first two Five-Year Plans achieved rapid industrialization from a very low economic base. The Soviet Union, generally ranked as the poorest nation in Europe in 1922, now 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's government financed industrialization by both restraining consumption on the part of ordinary Soviet citizens, to ensure that capital went for re-investment into industry, and by ruthless extraction of wealth from the peasantry. In 1933, worker's real earnings sank to about one-tenth of the 1926 level. There was also use of the almost free labor of prisoners in forced-labor camps and the frequent "mobilization" of communists and Komsomol members for various construction projects.


Main article: Collectivization in the USSR

Joseph Stalin.
Joseph Stalin.

Stalin's regime moved to force collectivization of agriculture. This was in order to increase agricultural output from large-scale mechanized farms, to bring the peasantry under more direct political control, to make tax collection more efficient, and to provide workers for Gulags.

Collectivization meant drastic social changes, on a scale not seen since the abolition of serfdom in 1861, and alienation from control of the land and its produce. Collectivization also meant a drastic drop in living standards for many peasants, and it faced widespread and often violent resistance among the peasantry.

In the first years of collectivization, it was estimated that industrial and agricultural production would rise by 200% and 50%[4], respectively; however, agricultural production actually dropped. Stalin blamed this unexpected drop on kulaks (rich peasants), who resisted collectivization. Therefore those defined as "kulaks," "kulak helpers" and later "ex-kulaks" were to be shot, placed into Gulag labor camps, or deported to remote areas of the country, depending on the charge.

The two-stage progress of collectivization — interrupted for a year by Stalin's famous editorial, "Dizzy with success" (Pravda, March 2, 1930) — is a prime example of his capacity for tactical retreats.

Many historians agree that the disruption caused by forced collectivization was largely responsible for major famines which caused up to 5 million deaths in 1932–33, particularly in Ukraine and the lower Volga region. (Chairman Mao Zedong of China would trigger a similar famine in 1958 to 1960 with his Great Leap Forward.)

Not only rich peasants were killed. The Black Book of Communism documents that all grains were taken from areas that did not meet targets, including the next year's seed grain. It also documents that peasants were forced to remain in the starving areas, sales of train tickets were stopped, and the State Political Directorate set up barriers to prevent people from leaving the starving areas (p. 164). The Soviet Union exported grain while millions of Soviet citizens were starving to death (p. 167). Similar detailed references can be found here [5].


Main article: Research in the Soviet Union.

Science in the Soviet Union was under strict ideological control, along with art, literature and everything else. On the positive side, there was significant progress in "ideologically safe" domains due to the free Soviet education system and state-financed research. However, in several cases the consequences of ideological pressure were dramatic, the most notable examples being the "bourgeois pseudosciences," genetics and cybernetics.

In the late 1940s there were also attempts to suppress special and general relativity, as well as quantum mechanics, on grounds of "idealism." However, top Soviet physicists made it clear that without using these theories, they would be unable to create a nuclear bomb.

Linguistics was the only area of Soviet academic thought to which Stalin personally and directly contributed. At the beginning of Stalin's rule, the dominant figure in Soviet linguistics was Nikolai Yakovievich Marr, who argued that language is a class construction and that language structure is determined by the economic structure of society. Stalin, who had previously written about language policy as People's Commissar for Nationalities, felt he grasped enough of the underlying issues to coherently oppose this simplistic Marxist formalism, ending Marr's ideological dominance over Soviet linguistics. Stalin's principal work discussing linguistics is a small essay, Marxism and Linguistic Questions [6]. Although no great theoretical contributions or insights came from it, neither were there any apparent errors in Stalin's understanding of linguistics; his influence arguably relieved Soviet linguistics from the sort of ideologically driven theory that dominated genetics.

Scientific research in nearly all areas was hindered by the fact that many scientists were sent to labor camps (including Lev Landau, later a Nobel Prize winner, who spent a year in prison in 193839) or executed (e.g. Lev Shubnikov, shot in 1937). They were persecuted for their (real or imaginary) dissident views, and seldom for "politically incorrect" research.

Nevertheless, great progress was made under Stalin in some areas of science and technology. It laid the ground for the famous achievements of Soviet science in the 1950s, such as the development of the BESM-1 computer in 1953 and the launching of Sputnik in 1957. Indeed, many politicians in the United States began to fear, after the "Sputnik crisis," that their country had been eclipsed by the Soviet Union in science and in public education.

Social services

A Soviet postal stamp circa 1950, the "Peace will prevail over war" series. The poster reads: "Thank you, dear Stalin, for our happy childhood." The word "родной" (translated "dear") is normally reserved for close relatives.
A Soviet postal stamp circa 1950, the "Peace will prevail over war" series. The poster reads: "Thank you, dear Stalin, for our happy childhood." The word "родной" (translated "dear") is normally reserved for close relatives.

Stalin's government placed heavy emphasis on the provision of free 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 declined. Education in primary schools continued to be free and was expanded, with many more Soviet citizens learning to read and write, and higher education also expanded. Stalin was the only ruler in the history of Russia and Soviet Union who established fees for secondary education in public schools. With the industrialization and heavy human losses due to the World War II and repressions the generation that survived under Stalin saw a major expansion in job opportunities, especially for women.

Culture and religion

It was during Stalin's reign that the official and long-lived style of Socialist Realism was established for painting, sculpture, music, drama and literature. Previously fashionable "revolutionary" expressionism, abstract art, and avant-garde experimentation were discouraged or denounced as "formalism."

Careers were made and broken, some more than once. Famous figures were not only repressed, but often persecuted, tortured and executed, both "revolutionaries" (among them Isaac Babel, Vsevolod Meyerhold) and "non-conformists" (for example, Osip Mandelstam). A minority, both representing the "Soviet man" (Arkady Gaidar) and remnants of the older pre-revolutionary Russia (Konstantin Stanislavski), thrived. A number of former emigrés returned to the Soviet Union, among them Alexei Tolstoi in 1925, Alexander Kuprin in 1936, and Alexander Vertinsky in 1943. It is of note that Anna Akhmatova was subjected to several cycles of suppression and rehabilitation, but was never herself arrested, although her first husband, poet Nikolai Gumilev, had been shot in 1921, and her son, historian Lev Gumilev, spent two decades in the Gulag.

The degree of Stalin's personal involvement in general and specific developments has been assessed variously. His name, however, was constantly invoked during his reign in discussions of culture as in just about everything else; and in several famous cases, his opinion was final.

Stalin's occasional beneficence showed itself in strange ways. For example, Mikhail Bulgakov was driven to poverty and despair; yet, after a personal appeal to Stalin, he was allowed to continue working. His play, The Days of the Turbines, with its sympathetic treatment of an anti-Bolshevik family caught up in the Civil War, was finally staged, apparently also on Stalin's intervention, and began a decades-long uninterrupted run at the Moscow Arts Theater. Bulgakov was relatively fortunate - in the vast majority of cases, appeals had litle effect and the slightest displeasure caused to others or guilt by any association was tantamount to a harsh sentence, if not death.

Some insights into Stalin's political and esthetic thinking might perhaps be gleaned by reading his favorite novel, Pharaoh, by the Polish writer Bolesław Prus, a historical novel on mechanisms of political power. Similarities have been pointed out between this novel and Sergei Eisenstein's film, Ivan the Terrible, produced under Stalin's tutelage.

In architecture, a Stalinist Empire Style (basically, updated neoclassicism on a very large scale, exemplified by the seven skyscrapers of Moscow) replaced the constructivism of the 1920s. An amusing anecdote has it that the Moskva Hotel in Moscow was built with mismatched side wings because Stalin had mistakenly signed off on both of the two proposals submitted, and the architects had been too afraid to clarify the matter. (This was actually just a joke: the hotel had been built by two independent teams of architects that had different visions of how the hotel should look.)

Stalin's role in the fortunes of the Russian Orthodox Church is complex. Continuous persecution in the 1930s resulted in its near-extinction: by 1939, active parishes numbered in the low hundreds (down from 54,000 in 1917), many churches had been levelled, and tens of thousands of priests, monks and nuns were dead or imprisoned. During World War II, however, the Church was allowed a partial revival, as a patriotic organization: thousands of parishes were reactivated, until a further round of suppression in Khrushchev's time. The Church Synod's recognition of the Soviet government and of Stalin personally led to a schism with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia that remains not fully healed to the present day. Just days before Stalin's death, certain religious sects were outlawed and persecuted.

Purges and deportations

The purges

Main article: Great Purge

Beria's January 1940 letter to Stalin, asking permission to execute 346 "enemies of the CPSU and of the Soviet authorities" who conducted "counter-revolutionary, right-Trotskyite plotting and spying activities." Stalin's handwriting: "за" (affirmative). The Politburo's decision is signed by Secretary Stalin.

Stalin, as head of the Politburo, consolidated near-absolute power in the 1930s that started with a Great Purge of his political and ideological opponents (real or merely suspected), culminating not only in the extermination of the majority of the original Bolshevik Central Committee, and of over half of the largely pliant delegates of the 17th Party Congress in January 1934, but also of huge swathes of the population. Measures ranged from imprisonment in Gulag labor camps to execution after a show trial or summary trial by NKVD troikas. Some argue that a motive for the purge was a feeling that the Party needed to be unified in the face of anticipated conflict with Nazi Germany; others believe that it was motivated only by Stalin's desire to consolidate his own power.

Several trials known as the Moscow Trials were held, but the procedures were replicated throughout the country. There were four key trials during this period: the Trial of the Sixteen (August 1936); Trial of the Seventeen (January 1937); the trial of Red Army generals, including Marshal Tukhachevsky (June 1937); and finally the Trial of the Twenty One (including Bukharin) in March 1938.

Trotsky's August 1940 assassination in Mexico, where he had lived in exile since 1936, eliminated the last of Stalin's opponents among the former Party leadership. Only three members of the "Old Bolsheviks" (Lenin's Politburo) now remained in Politburo —Stalin himself, "the all-Union Chieftain" (всесоюзный староста) Mikhail Kalinin, and Chairman of Sovnarkom Vyacheslav Molotov. The repression of so many formerly high-ranking revolutionaries and party members led Leon Trotsky to claim that a "river of blood" separated Stalin's regime from that of Lenin. However, it has been argued that Stalin only continued the political repressions that had started under Lenin's regime, such as labor camps and express executions of political opponents.

No segment of society was left untouched during the purges. Article 58 of the legal code, listing prohibited "anti-Soviet activities", was applied in the broadest manner. Initially, the execution lists for the enemies of the people were confirmed by the Politburo. Over time the procedure was greatly simplified and delegated down the line of command. People would inform on others arbitrarily, to attempt to redeem themselves, or to gain small retributions. The flimsiest pretexts were often enough to brand someone an "Enemy of the People", starting the cycle of public persecution and abuse, often proceeding to interrogation, torture and deportation, if not death. Nadezhda Mandelstam, the widow of the poet Osip Mandelstam and one of the key memoirists of the Purges, recalls being shouted at by Akhmatova, also a famous Russian poet: "Don't you understand? They are arresting people for nothing now?" The Russian word troika gained a new meaning: a quick, simplified trial by a committee of three subordinated to NKVD. Towards the end of the purge, the Politburo relieved NKVD head Nikolai Yezhov, from his position for overzealousness. He was subsequently executed. Some historians such as Amy Knight and Robert Conquest postulate that Stalin had Yezhov and his predecessor, Yagoda, removed in order to deflect blame from himself.


Main article: Population transfer in the Soviet Union

Shortly before, during and immediately after World War II, Stalin conducted a series of deportations on a huge scale which profoundly affected the ethnic map of the Soviet Union. Over 1.5 million people were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. Separatism, resistance to Soviet rule and collaboration with the invading Germans were cited as the main official reasons for the deportations.

The following ethnic groups were deported completely or partially: Poles, Koreans, Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, Meskhetian Turks, Finns, Bulgarians, Greeks, Armenians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians. Large numbers of Kulaks, regardless of their nationality, were resettled to Siberia and Central Asia.

In February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev condemned the deportations as a violation of Leninist principles, and reversed most of them, although it was not until as late as 1991 that the Tatars, Meskhs and Volga Germans were allowed to return en masse to their homelands. The deportations had a profound effect on the peoples of the Soviet Union. The memory of the deportations played a major part in the separatist movements in the Baltic republics, Tatarstan and Chechnya.

Death toll

About one million people were shot during the periods 1935–38, 1942 and 194550 and millions of people were transported to Gulag labor camps. In Georgia about 80,000 people were shot during 1921, 1923–24, 1935–38, 1942 and 1945-50, and more than 100,000 people were transported to Gulag camps.

On March 5, 1940, Stalin himself and other Soviet leaders signed the order to execute 25,700 Polish intelligentsia including 14,700 Polish POWs. It became known as Katyn massacre. See massacre of prisoners.

It is generally agreed by historians that if famines, prison and labor camp mortality, and state terrorism (deportations and political purges) are taken into account, Stalin and his colleagues were directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions. How many millions died under Stalin is greatly disputed. Although no official figures have been released by the Soviet or Russian governments, most estimates put the figure between 10 and 50 million. Comparison of the 192637 census results suggests 5–10 million deaths in excess of what would be normal in the period, mostly through famine in 193134. The 1926 census shows the population of the Soviet Union at 147 million and in 1937 another census found a population of between 162 and 163 million. This was 14 million less than the projected population value and was suppressed as a "wrecker's census" with the census takers severely punished. A census was taken again in 1939, but its published figure of 170 million has been generally attributed directly to the decision of Stalin[7] (see also Demographics of the Soviet Union). Note that the figure of 14 million does not have to imply 14 million additional deaths, since as many as 3 million may be births that never took place due to reduced fertility and choice.

Since "the margin of error" with regard to the number of Stalin's victims is virtually impossible to narrow down to a universally accepted figure, various historians have come up with extremely varying estimates of the number of victims, with the most likely figure of 20 million.

A quote popularly attributed to Stalin is "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic." (possibly said in response to Churchill at the Potsdam Conference in 1945).

World War II

After declining Franco-British missions to Moscow in hopes that the USSR would enter a treaty of Polish defense with them, Stalin began to negotiate a non-aggression pact with Hitler's Germany. In his speech on August 19, 1939, Stalin prepared his comrades for the great turn in Soviet policy, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany. Officially a non-aggression treaty only, it had a 'secret' annex according to which Central Europe was divided into the two powers' respective spheres of influence. The exact motivations behind this pact are disputed, but it appears that neither side expected it to last very long.

On September 1, 1939, the German invasion of Poland started World War II. According to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact [popularly known as the Hitler-Stalin Pact], Eastern Poland was in the Soviet sphere of influence. Hence, Stalin decided to intervene and on September 17 the Red Army invaded Poland as well. Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to modify the spheres of influences slightly and Poland was divided between these two states.

It is too rarely acknowledged that Stalin, in the light of these facts, bears the responsibility, together with Hitler, for starting World War II. It is at least possible that Hitler would not even have felt free to invade Poland, thus risking war with France and Britain, without Stalin's agreement to permit it. Thus the sympathy toward the Soviet Union as Hitler's greatest-suffering victim is at least partially misplaced, and this heinous mass murderer, Stalin, is partially responsible for the tens of millions of deaths in World War II, including of his own countrymen.

According to the 'secret' annex of the pact, the Soviets were promised a slice of Poland, the annexation of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, and an undisturbed military advance on Finland, which the Soviets acted on almost immediately. In November, 1939, Stalin sent troops over the Finnish border provoking war. The Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland proved to be more difficult than Stalin and the Red Army was prepared for, and the Soviets sustained high casualties. The Soviets finally prevailed in March, 1940, but their inferior army had been revealed to the rest of the world, including Germany.

In June 1941, Hitler broke the pact and invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. Stalin had not expected this — or at the very least, he had not expected an invasion to come so soon — and the Soviet Union was largely unprepared for this invasion. Until the last moment, Stalin had sought to avoid any obvious defensive preparation which might provoke German attack, in the hope of buying time to modernise and strengthen his military forces. Even after the attack commenced, Stalin appeared unwilling to accept the fact and, according to some historians, was too stunned to react appropriately for a number of days. A controversial theory put forward by Viktor Suvorov asserts that Stalin had been preparing an invasion of Germany while neglecting preparations for defensive warfare, which left Soviet forces vulnerable despite their heavy concentration near the border. Such speculations are difficult to substantiate, as information on the Soviet Army from 1939 to 1941 remains classified, but it is known that the Soviets had advanced and detailed warnings of the German invasion through their extensive foreign intelligence agents, such as Richard Sorge.

The Nazis initially made huge advances, capturing and killing millions of Soviet troops. The 193738 execution of many of the Red Army's experienced generals had a severely debilitating effect on the ability of the USSR to organize defences. Hitler's experts had expected eight weeks of war, and early indications evidenced their prescience.

Time Magazine, January 4, 1943.  Time had  named Stalin Man of the Year the first time for the year 1939.
Time Magazine, January 4, 1943. Time had named Stalin Man of the Year the first time for the year 1939.

In response on November 6, 1941, Stalin addressed the Soviet Union for only the second time during his three-decade rule (the first time was earlier that year on July 2). He claimed that although 350,000 troops had been killed by German attacks, the Germans had lost 4.5 million soldiers (an inflated figure) and that Soviet victory was near. The Soviet Red Army did put up fierce resistance, but during the war's early stages was largely ineffective against the better-equipped and trained German forces, until the invaders were halted and then driven back in December 1941 in front of Moscow. Stalin then worked with independent-minded Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov to orchestrate the decisive German defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad.

Stalin met in several conferences with Churchill and/or Roosevelt in Moscow, Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam to plan military strategy. His shortcomings as strategist are frequently noted regarding massive Soviet loss of life and early Soviet defeats. (In his autobiography Khrushchev claimed that Stalin tried to conduct tactical decisions using a world globe.) Yet Stalin did rapidly move Soviet industrial production east of the Volga river, far from Luftwaffe-reach, to sustain the Red Army's war machine with astonishing success. Additionally, Stalin was well aware that other European armies had utterly disintegrated when faced with Nazi military efficacy and responded effectively by subjecting his army to galvanizing terror and unrevolutionary patriotism.

Stalin's Order No. 227 of July 27, 1942 illustrates the ruthlessness with which he sought to stiffen army resolve: all those who retreated or otherwise left their positions without orders to do so were to be summarily shot. Other orders declared that the families of those who surrendered were subject to NKVD terror. Barrier forces of SMERSH were soon set up behind advances to machine-gun anyone who retreated. The surrendering Soviet troops of the first years of Barbarossa were sent to the Gulag after their release from POW camps.

In the war's opening stages, the retreating Red Army also sought to deny resources to the enemy through a scorched earth policy of destroying the infrastructure and food supplies of areas before the Germans could seize them. Unfortunately, this, along with abuse by German troops, caused inconceivable starvation and suffering among the civilian population that were left behind.

The Soviet Union bore the brunt of civilian and military losses in World War II. Approximately 7 million Red Army personnel and 20 million civilians died. The Nazis considered Slavs to be "sub-human," and many people believe the Nazis killed Slavs as an ethnically targeted genocide. This concept of Slavic inferiority was also the reason why Hitler did not accept into his army many Russians who wanted to fight the Stalinist regime until 1944, when the war was lost for Germany. In the Soviet Union, World War II left a huge deficit of men of the wartime fighting-age generation. To this day the war is remembered very vividly in Russia, Belarus, and other parts of the former Soviet Union as the Great Patriotic War, and May 9, Victory Day, is one of Russia's biggest national holidays.

 A meeting between Stalin and Mao Zedong after the CCP's 1949 victory over the KMT in the Chinese Civil War
A meeting between Stalin and Mao Zedong after the CCP's 1949 victory over the KMT in the Chinese Civil War

Post-war era

Following World War II, the Red Army occupied much of the territory that had been formerly held by the Axis countries: there were Soviet occupation zones in Germany and Austria. Hungary and Poland were under practical military occupation, despite the fact that the latter was formally an Allied country. Soviet-friendly governments were established in Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and homegrown communist regimes existed in Yugoslavia and Albania. Finland retained formal independence, but was politically isolated and economically dependent on the Soviet Union. Greece, Italy and France were under the strong influence of local communist parties, which were at the very least friendly towards Moscow. Stalin hoped that the withdrawal of the Americans from Europe would lead to Soviet hegemony over the whole continent. The foundation of Trizonia and American help for the anti-communist side in the Greek Civil War changed the situation. East Germany was proclaimed a separate country in 1949, ruled by German communists. Moreover, Stalin made a decision to switch to direct control over his satellites in Central Europe: all of the countries were to be ruled by local communist parties that tried to implement the Soviet template locally.

In 1948 this decision led to the establishment of Stalinist governments in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, later called the "Communist Bloc". Communist Albania remained an ally, but Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito broke with the USSR. Stalin viewed Soviet consolidation of power in the region as a necessary step to protect the USSR by surrounding it with countries with friendly governments, to act as a buffer against possible invaders.

This action reversed the hopes of the West that Eastern Europe would be friendly to the West and form a cordon sanitaire (buffer) against Communism. It confirmed the fears of many in the West that the Soviet Union still intended to spread communism across the world. The fear and suspicion was further amplified in 1949 when Mao Zedong's Chinese Communist Party defeated the pro-Western Chinese Nationalist Party in the Chinese Civil War. The Soviet Union immediately recognized the People's Republic of China, which it regarded as a new ally. 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. (See also Iron curtain.)

Meanwhile, relations between Russia and China were at the highest point of the century, with the signing of the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance.

At home, Stalin presented himself as a great wartime leader who had led the USSR to victory against the Nazis. By the end of 1940s, Russian nationalism increased. For instance, some inventions and scientific discoveries were reclaimed by ethnic Russian researchers. Examples include the boiler engine, reclaimed by father and son Cherepanovs; the electric bulb, by Yablochkov and Lodygin; the radio, by Popov; and the airplane, by Mozhaysky.

Stalin's internal repressive policies continued and intensified (including in newly acquired territories), but never reached the extremes of the 1930s.

According to some witness accounts, the anti-Semitic campaigns of 1948-1953 (see Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, rootless cosmopolitan, doctors' plot) were only the precursors of greater repression to come, but if such plans did indeed exist, Stalin died before he could implement them.

Stalin as theorist

Stalin made very few contributions to Communist (or, more specifically, Marxist-Leninist) theory, but the contributions he did make were to be accepted and upheld by all Soviet political scientists during his rule.

In 1936, Stalin announced that the society of the Soviet Union consisted of two non-antagonistic classes: workers and kolkhoz peasantry. These corresponded to the two different forms of property over the means of production that existed in the Soviet Union: state property (for the workers) and collective property (for the peasantry). In addition to these, Stalin distinguished the stratum of intelligentsia. The concept of non-antagonistic classes was entirely new to Leninist theory.

Stalin and his supporters, in his own time and since, have highlighted the notion that socialism can be built and consolidated in just one country, even one as underdeveloped as Russia was during the 1920s, and indeed that this might be the only means in which it could be built in a hostile environment.[8]


According to Khrushchev's autobiography, Stalin frequently engaged in all night partying, with his aides, after which he would sleep all day and expect them to stay up and run the country. On March 1, 1953, after an all-night dinner with interior minister Lavrenty Beria and future premiers Georgi Malenkov, Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin collapsed in his room, having probably suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body. Although his guards thought it odd that he did not rise at his usual time the next day they were under orders not to disturb him and he was not discovered until that evening. He died four days later, on March 5, 1953, at the age of 74, and was buried on March 9. Officially, the cause of death was listed as a cerebral hemorrhage. His body was preserved in Lenin's Mausoleum until October 31, 1961, when destalinisation was taking place in the Soviet Union. Stalin's body was then buried by the Kremlin walls.

It has been suggested that Stalin was murdered. The ex-Communist exile Avtorkhanov argued this point as early as 1975. The political memoirs of Vyacheslav Molotov, published in 1993, claimed Beria had boasted to Molotov that he poisoned Stalin: "I took him out." In 2003, a joint group of Russian and American historians announced their view that Stalin ingested warfarin, a powerful rat poison that thins the blood vessels and causes strokes and hemorrhages. Since it is flavorless, warfarin is a plausible murder weapon. But the facts of Stalin's death will probably never be known with certainty. His demise, however, arrived at a convenient time for Beria and others, scheduled to be swept away in another Stalin purge. Whether or not Beria or others were directly responsible for his death it is true that the politburo did not summon medical attention for him for more than a day after he had been found.

Cult of personality

Stalin is well known for having created a cult of personality in the Soviet Union around both himself and Lenin. The embalming of the Soviet founder in Lenin's Mausoleum was done over the objection of Lenin's widow, Nadezhda Krupskaya. Stalin became the focus of massive adoration and even worship. Numerous towns, villages and cities were renamed after the Soviet leader (see List of places named after Stalin) and the Stalin Prize and Stalin Peace Prize were named in his honor. The dictator relished grandiloquent titles (e.g. "Coryphaeus of Science," "Father of Nations," "Brilliant Genius of Humanity," "Great Architect of Communism," "Gardener of Human Happiness"), and helped rewrite Soviet history to provide himself a more significant role in the revolution, meanwhile insisting that he be remembered for "the extraordinary modesty characteristic of truly great people."

Trotsky criticized the cult of personality Stalin built as being against the values of socialism and Bolshevism by exalting the individual above the party and class and making criticism of Stalin unacceptable. The personality cult reached new levels during the Great Patriotic War with Stalin's name even being included in the new Soviet national anthem. Stalin became the focus of a body of literature including poetry as well as music, paintings and film.

O great Stalin, O leader of the peoples,
Thou who brought man to birth.
Thou who fructifies the earth,
Thou who restorest to centuries,
Thou who makest bloom the spring,
Thou who makest vibrate the musical chords...
Thou, splendor of my spring, O thou,
Sun reflected by millions of hearts.
(A. O. Avdienko)

In recent years, Stalin's cult of personality has resurged. Millions of Russians, exasperated with the downfall of the economy and instability after the breakup of the Soviet Union, want Stalin back. A recent poll revealed that over twenty-five percent of Russians would vote for Stalin if he were still alive, and the number of people who want a leader like Stalin continues to grow.

Many elderly Russians are nostalgic for the Stalin era.
Many elderly Russians are nostalgic for the Stalin era.

Policies and accomplishments

Overall, under Stalin's rule the Soviet Union was transformed from an agricultural nation to a global superpower. The USSR's industrialisation was successful in that the country was able to defend against and eventually defeat the Axis invasion in World War II though at an enormous cost of human lives. However, many have also argued that Stalin was partially responsible for the initial military disasters and enormous human causalities during WWII, because Stalin eliminated many of the military officers during the purges, especially the most senior ones, and ignored the massive amount of information warning of the German attack [9].

While Stalin's social and economic policies laid the foundations for the USSR's emergence as a superpower, the harshness in which he conducted Soviet affairs was subsequently repudiated by his successors in the Communist Party leadership, notably the denunciation of Stalinism by Nikita Khrushchev in February 1956. In his "Secret Speech", "On the Personality Cult and its Consequences", delivered to a closed session of the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for his cult of personality and his regime for "violation of Leninist norms of legality". However, his immediate successors continued to follow the basic principles of Stalin's rule — the political monopoly of the Communist Party presiding over a command economy and a security service able to suppress dissent. On the other hand the large-scale purges were never repeated.

Stalin was ranked #66 on Michael H. Hart's list of the most influential figures in history.

Other names

His first name is also transliterated as Josif. His original surname, ჯუღაშვილი (Jughashvili), is also transliterated as Jugashvili. The Russian transliteration is Джугашвили, which is in turn transliterated into English as Dzhugashvili and Djugashvili. –შვილი (–shvili) is a Georgian suffix meaning "child" or "son".

There are several etymologies of the ჯუღა (jugha) root. In one version, it is the Ossetian for "rubbish"; the name Jugayev is common among Ossetians, and before the revolution the names in South Ossetia were traditionally written with the Georgian suffix, especially among Christianized Ossetians. In a second version, the name derives from the village of Jugaani in Kakhetia, eastern Georgia. An article in the newspaper Pravda in 1988 claimed that the word derives from the Old Georgian for "steel," which might be the reason for his adoption of the name Stalin. Сталин (Stalin) is derived from combining the Russian сталь (stal), "steel," with the possessive suffix –ин (–in), a formula used by many other Bolsheviks, including Lenin and Bukharin.

Also like other Bolsheviks, he became commonly known by one of his revolutionary noms de guerre, of which Stalin was only the most prominent. He was also known as Koba (after a Georgian folk hero, a Robin Hood-like brigand); and he is 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. Directly following World War II, as the Soviets were negotiating with the Allies over many matters, Stalin often sent directions to Molotov as Druzhkov. Among his other nicknames and aliases were Ivanovich, Soso or Sosso (mainly his boyhood name), David, Nizharadze or Nijeradze, and Chizhikov.

In addition, Stalin was nicknamed "Uncle Joe" by Western media. When told of this nickname by Franklin D. Roosevelt, he almost walked out of the Yalta Conference.

Stalin in media

  • Robert Steadman: Symphony No. 2: The Death of Stalin tells of the astonishing events surrounding the death and funeral of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The piece was commissioned by Nottingham Youth Orchestra and was premiered by them, conducted by Derek Williams, at the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, in March 2003 - the 50th anniversary of Stalin's death.
  • Stalin - A 1992 Hollywood movie.
  • The Inner Circle - A 1991 Hollywood movie.


  1. ^  Joseph Dzhugashvili is listed in the records of the Uspensky church in Gori, Georgia as born on December 18 (Old Style: December 6) 1878. This birth date is maintained in his School Leaving Certificate, his extensive tzarist Russia police file, and all other surviving pre-revolution documents. Stalin himself listed December 18, 1878 in a curriculum vitae as late as 1920, in his own handwriting. However after his coming to power in 1922 the date inexplicably changes to December 21, 1879 (December 9, Old Style), and that was the day his birthday was celebrated in the Soviet Union.
  2. ^  From
  3. ^  Excerpts from Nikita Khrushchev's speech "On the Personality Cult and its Consequences" can be read online (Internet Modern History Sourcebook) at [10].
  4. ^  page 133, Koba the Dread, ISBN 0786868767; page 354, Stalin: The Man and His Era, ISBN 0807070017, In a footnote he quotes the press announcement as speaking of her "sudden death"; he also cites pages 103–5 of his daughter's book, Twenty Letters to a Friend, the Russian edition, New York, 1967
  5. ^  Concerning Marxism in Linguistics, J.V. Stalin, Pravda, 1950-06-20, available online as Marxism and Problems of Linguistics including other articles and letters published (also in Pravda) soon after on 1950-07-04 and 1950-08-02.
  6. ^  Revisionists vs. Anti Soviets, Hugo S. Cunningham, 1999 & 2001, retrieved 2005-02-03 from
  7. ^  Stalin, "Voprosy leninizma", 2nd ed., Moscow, p. 589 "Istoricheskij materializm", ed. by F. B. Konstantinov, Moscow 1951, p. 402; P. Calvert, "The Concept of Class", New York 1982, pp. 144–145

Further reading

Related articles

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

Preceded by:
Vladimir Lenin
General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party
Succeeded by:
Georgy Malenkov
Preceded by:
Vyacheslav Molotov
Premier of the Soviet Union

Personal tools