|Date & Place of Birth|| December 18, 1878|
Gori, Tiflis Governorate (Georgia), Russian Empire
|Parents|| Vissarion Dzhugashvili|
|Claimed religion|| Georgian Orthodoxy (rejected)|
|Education||Tiflis Theological Seminary, Georgia|
|Spouse|| Ekaterina Svanidze (d. 1907)|
Nadezhda Alliluyeva (d. 1937)
|Children|| Yakov Dzhugashvili|
|Date & Place of Death|| March 5, 1953|
Kuntsevo Dacha, Moscow
|Manner of Death||Complications of a stroke|
|Place of Burial||Near the Kremlin Wall, Moscow, Russia|
|Highest rank attained||n/a|
|Political party||Communist Party of the Soviet Union|
|Date of Dictatorship||By 1929|
|Wars started|| Great Purge of the Soviet Union|
World War II (as Hitler's ally)
|Number of Deaths attributed||33,000,000+|
Joseph Stalin (born Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili ; (Russian: Ио́сиф Виссарио́нович Джугашви́ли) (1878 - 1953) was the dictator of the Soviet Union and General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) from 1922 until his death. Joseph Stalin, who was a brutal proponent of atheistic communism, was greatly influenced by the work of the evolutionist Charles Darwin as were other communist leaders. During 1942 - 1943 Stalin reinstated the Russian Orthodox Church in order to boost morale while Russia was at war with Nazi Germany.
The son of a poor Georgian cobbler, Stalin was a former seminary student who joined the Communist Party when Georgia was still under the rule of the Russian Tsar. He became one of Lenin's closest allies when the Kerensky regime was overthrown by Lenin's faction in 1917. During the Russian Civil War Stalin, who chose his name from the Russian word for steel, held the city of Tsaritsen on the Volga from counter-revolutionary forces. Stalin later re-named Tsaritsen Stalingrad in honor of his victory; Stalingrad would be the site of Germany's massive defeat in World War II.
Rise to Power
Stain was tapped by the Okhrana, the Tsarist secret police, as a low-level informer shortly after he was expelled from the Tiflis seminary in 1899. Stalin then began to systematically inform on revolutionary comrades in party organizations in Tiflis, Baku, and Batum over the next few years. He acquired a highly unsavory reputation among the Social Democrats of these cities and was finally arrested for cover purposes in 1902 when suspicions about him were about to boil over. It was the Okhrana that furnished the invisible means of support for the family he acquired after 1904.
In 1917, the Commissariat of Nationalities was formed with Stalin as its Commissar (Minister). The Commissariat addressed the question of the nationalities of the Russian Empire, and helped integrate them into the Soviet Union. From 1919-1922 he was also the People's Commissar of the Workers' and Peasants' Inspection (Rabkrin, from the Russian), which was founded to be a check on the burgeoning Soviet bureaucracy.
In 1922, Lenin named Stalin General Secretary of the CPSU. In 1924 Stalin in turn created the "Secret Department," a unit of 94 of his personal functionaries that maintained special privileges as the nomenklatura, or a list of trusted individuals. He also appointed regional party secretaries who all, of course, supported Stalin. Through the Secret Department Stalin gained control of the Red Army after removing Lev Trotsky in 1925 and the OGPU (later, KGB) when its leader Felix Dzerzhinsky died in 1926. Lenin had foreseen all of this and had warned in his last testament that Stalin should be removed from General Secretary because the position's power was unlimited.
Stalin, however, did not allow this to happen. His most powerful rival, Lev Trotsky, who was the commander of the Red Army, was painted as a danger to the Revolution, because he continued to push the idea of international revolution; the "left opposition." Other Soviet leaders, like Zinoviev, leader of the Comintern, and Kaminev, the head of the Communist Party in Moscow, were painted with the same brush because they supported Trotsky and did not wish to expel him from the CPSU in 1927. Later, he accused his ally Bukharin of being a member of the "right opposition," i.e. he was in favor of a more capitalistic economic system, as seen under the New Economic Policy (NEP) of the early 1920s. Trotsky was murdered in Mexico in 1940 by Ramón Mercader in an extensive conspiracy that included underground operatives from the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). Zinoviev, Kaminev, and Bukharin were the center of the famous "show trials" of the 1930s. All were put to death.
Objectives of the Comintern
In 1932, Sergei Ivanovich Gussev, who had served as Comintern agent and Stalin's personal representative in the United States, "commanded the Communists in the United States to take up four tasks. Two of them were the defense of the Soviet Union and the furtherance of Red conquest of China." In 1933 the notorious Gerhart Eisler "was secretly sent into the United States by Moscow to make sure these orders were carried out."  Edgar Snow wrote in his 1937 book, Red Star Over China, "The political ideology, tactical line and theoretical leadership of the Chinese Communists have been under the close guidance, if not positive direction, of the Communist International, which during the last decade has become virtually a bureau of the Russian Communist Party. In the final analysis this means that for better or worse, the policies of the Chinese Communists, like the Communists in every other country, have had to fall in line with, and usually subordinate themselves to, the broad strategic requirements of Soviet Russia, under the dictatorship of Stalin."
Catch and Overtake
In 1928 Stalin decided that the Soviet Union was not properly industrialized to enjoy a communist future, so he initiated the First Five Year Plan and the campaign to collectivize agriculture in order to "build socialism," and to "catch and overtake" the capitalist world. Stalin fanned the fires of collectivization, claiming that peasants had been hording grain and that they needed to be controlled. Under this program, rich peasants (kulaks), were exiled or killed for being enemies of the people, and peasants' land was taken in order to introduce collective farming to expedite grain appropriations. Many were called kulaks by jealous neighbors, while the peasants who remained were often the laziest and most ill suited to producing enough grain. Collectivization caused massive famine in Russia, particularly in Ukraine (see Holodomor), where Stalin ordered the Red Army to blockade certain regions and take grain by force. It is estimated that the famine of 1931-33 killed 6-7 million people, while 20 million starved.
The First Five Year Plan was a program of crash-industrialization. After World War I and the Russian Civil War Russia had an industrial capacity equal to that of its 1861 capacity. The only way for Russia to be able to break the "capitalist encirclement," Stalin declared, was to industrialize. Brigades of shock workers were formed to work faster and harder than the world had ever seen. Most of this, however, was pure propaganda, although the shock workers did set the record for concrete poured in a single shift. Compared to the capitalist world which was experiencing the Great Depression, Soviet growth was impressive. Between 1929 and 1937, 8,000 factories were constructed, average GDP growth was around 10%, and the official unemployment statistics, which included gulag detainees, was 0. In 1936, after the Second Five Year Plan, Stalin declared socialism "built." Nevertheless, the capitalist world lived better than the Soviet Union, despite the Great Depression. John Scott, an American CPUSA member and Comintern operative who was living in the Soviet Union during the Five Year Plans, notes this in his memoirs of that period "Behind the Urals." The legacy of the Five Year Plans (most of which Stalin declared "completed" in 4 years) injured the Soviet's production models, because the encouraged quantity and speed over quality. However, the planning of the 1930s enabled the Russians to defeat the Nazis in the 1940s. 
Between 1936 and 1938, Joseph Stalin launched his purges to rid the Soviet Union of "fifth columnists," or spies who were loyal to the capitalist world. During the Terror 3 million people were arrested on various and often made-up charges, while 750,000 were executed. Due to the interrogation techniques of the NKVD (later, KGB), which often were torturous, most of those arrested confessed and were sent to work camps, called the Gulag for 10 years and sometimes even 25. Here, prisoners were forced to labor in mines, to log forests, or to do construction. Few lived through their sentences.
In early 1937, a senior officer of the OGPU (KGB) stumbled upon a highly classified file in the old archives of the Tsarist secret police, the Okhrana. It detailed the work of one J. V. Djugashvili as an informant and agent provocateur for the Okhrana inside the Bolshevik Party before the Russian Revolution. The OGPU officer, Stein, was shocked. Djugashvili was the true name of Stalin who was now purging the Old Bolsheviks on charges of being foreign spies and counter-revolutionaries.
Stein took the file to a close friend, the head of the OGPU in the Ukraine, who went over it carefully with his trusted deputy, Zinovy Katsnelson, a cousin and close friend of Alexander Orlov. Convinced of its authenticity, they shared it with Jonah Yakir, commander of the Red Army in the Ukraine, and Stanislav Kossior, secretary of the Communist Party in the Ukraine. Alarmed by the file’s revelations, Yakir flew to Moscow and revealed its contents to Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Supreme Commander of the Red Army. They brought his deputy, Yan Gamarnik, into their confidence and decided to overthrow Stalin in a coup d’etat, denounce him and execute him.
As the coup plan was being developed, Katsnelson traveled to Paris and informed Orlov. The plot was foiled and Orlov’s fate was sealed.
The infamous show trials of former leaders of the Soviet Union occurred during this period, where they were accused of working with Trotsky or sabotaging the Soviet Union. Stalin also eviscerated the high command of the Red Army, killing 90% of the leadership. The minions of oppression were not spared either; of the NKVD's 809 officials, 43 lived through the purges. The leadership of the communist party was persecuted as well. For example, in 1934 130 members of the 139-member Central Committee were arrested. The Terror forever made Russians afraid to speak out against the government, and also made sure that no one but Stalin could ever rule the Soviet Union as effectively.
Famine of 1933
For a more detailed treatment, see Holodomor.
- "This famine was deliberately engineered by the regime of Josef Stalin 85 years ago claimed millions of lives, mostly in Ukraine but also in some other parts of the Soviet Union. It is today considered one of the worst atrocities of the Soviet regime and a terrifying act of genocide. Even so, the famine of 1933 is relatively unknown. ... Estimates of how many people died in Stalin's engineered famine of 1933 vary. But they are staggering in their scale -- between seven and 11 million people."
World War II
To avoid war with Germany, Stalin ordered the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, Molotov, to sign a non-aggression pact with Adolf Hitler, named the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, on August 19, 1939. The treaty detailed the agreement to split up Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union, give Stalin the Baltic Republics of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and to allow the Soviets to wage war on Finland, a war that ended in a humiliating Soviet defeat. Both sides, however, knew that they would eventually engage in hostilities.
It seems that Stalin anticipated this less than Hitler, who, in June of 1941 invaded the Soviet Union with the largest land army ever assembled. It consisted of 170 divisions, or 3.5 million troops. Stalin was caught off guard, and the Nazis blazed a path through the Ukraine and European Russia. Reaching Moscow in October 1941, the Nazis threatened Stalin and the entire Soviet Union with defeat. In only 6 months, the Nazis controlled one third of the Soviet economy, a total of 5% of the Earth's surface. Hitler's troops were defeated at Moscow during the winter of 1941-42 after Stalin appointed Yorky Zhukov as commander of the Red Army. A spy in the German embassy in Tokyo, Richard Sorge, informed Stalin that Japan was not going to attack Siberia, freeing thousands of winter ski-troops to move to Moscow to defeat the Nazis. It was during this time that Stalin famously invoked the name of God and allowed religious services to be conducted after 20 plus years of repression. Also, 1500 factories were evacuated and restored in Siberia and 12-15 million workers were moved east of the Urals, where Soviet production was higher than Germany's in 1942, despite Germany holding some 50% of Soviet industry.
The Red Army went on the offensive after the defense of Moscow, but soon the Nazis gained the advantage and pushed to Stalingrad. More than one million troops fought on each side in urban combat. Hitler refused to allow surrender, and eventually the Nazis were encircled and routed. After turning the tide of war in Stalingrad, the 1943 Kursk tank battle was decisive in pushing the Nazis from European Russia. In two years, the Red Army pushed the Nazis all the way back to Berlin. Stalin used his control of Eastern Europe to extract concessions from President Roosevelt at Allied conferences, including control over the region. Winston Churchill warned against this very control, for he greatly feared Soviet hegemony in Europe. Victorious, Stalin named himself Generalissimo and became more popular than ever in the Soviet Union and more dangerous than ever to the capitalist world.
Over the course of World War II, around 25 million Russians died. Twenty million were in the armed services. The total number of 25 million reflects half of the worldwide losses of human life during World War II. The population did not recover until 1956. Many Soviet POWs, like famous writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, were sent to the Gulag after the war because they had fallen into German hands, and were accused of being spies. This swelled the prison camps by the thousands.
Post-War Period and Death
Similar to the 1930s, Stalin undertook a harsh campaign of industrialization, which hurt the Soviets as much as it helped them rebuild. Money was devalued to one-tenth of its previous value, 2 million German and Japanese POWs were forced to stay in the Soviet Union and rebuild the country, and 10% of investment from 1945-46 was from looted machinery. The crops produced by household plots were collected by the government to sell, and a famine in 1947 caused by drought and Soviet single-crop farming killed 2 million. The recovery was built on the Soviet subjects.
After World War II, Stalin's cult of personality emerged as the dominant force of Soviet life. He was credited as the savior of the Soviet Union and the architect of victory, though it was really General Zhukov who was responsible for most of this. The communist youth group, the Komsomol, devoted songs to "the Father of All Nations" or "the Driver of the Locomotive of History." Party membership increased by one million people between 1945 and 1953. Books quoted Stalin as an expert in communism, while he was often photographed surrounded by children to make him seem friendlier. This all served to form a deep, personal connection with Stalin for many Soviets. Indeed, he was loved by the Soviets. When he died in 1953 an anxious mob at his viewing crushed and trampled some mourners to death. Dissidents like Sakharov, the man forced in a prison to build the Soviet atom bomb, cried upon hearing that Stalin had died, despite their intense hatred of him. Despite his terror, he had convinced millions that he was their father.
Following a stroke on March 1, 1953, Stalin died on March 5 after a period of declining performance. Between 1949 and 1952 Stalin increasingly took vacations and met with the Politburo less and less. When he died a short power struggle ensued, one which led to the execution of KGB head Beria as a spy. Eventually Khrushchev became the General Secretary of the CPSU and denounced Stalin's repressive tactics, his purges, gulags, and his cult of personality in the Secret Speech at the 20th Party Congress of 1956. Gulags were dismantled and the political climate was slightly less tense, but Soviet oppression still continued. The period following Stalin's rule is called the "thaw," the start of life again after a long winter.
"The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic." ~ to Churchill, 1945.
- Louis F. Budenz, The Techniques of Communism, (Chicago: Henry Regnery and Company, 1954), pp. 162-163.
- Red Star Over China by Edgar Snow, New York, 1937, pg. 374.
- Suvorov, Viktor. Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War?// (Viking Press/Hamish Hamilton; 1990) ISBN 0241126223.
- Stalin's Starvation of Ukraine – Seventy Years Later, World Still Largely Unaware Of Tragedy, By Askold Krushelnycky, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Prague, 8 April 2003.
Though this isn't footnoted, it is culled from the following sources:
Hosking, Geoffrey. The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union from Within. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.
Kotkin, Stephen. Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as Civilization. Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 1995.
Scott, John. Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia’s City of Steel. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1989.
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Isaevich, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956; an experiment in literary investigation, Translated from the Russian by Thomas P. Whitney, Publisher New York, Harper & Row (1974-78), 1st Edition, pg. 67n.