INDEX» Childhood and Early Life» Stalin and the Russian Revolution» Stalin and the Russian Civil War» Stalin and the Polish-Soviet War» Stalin Rises to Power» Consolidation of Power and Stalinism» Five-Year Plans» Stalin and the World War II» Death and the Ensuing Controversies
Did you know?
Apart from being a famous political figure, Stalin was also a poet. He wrote several poems that spoke of his political viewpoints and ambitions.
One of the most prominent dictators of the world, Joseph Stalin ruled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or the Soviet Union for about 30 long years, until he died. By the end of his life and reign, the Soviet Union had become an important industrial country in the world, second only to the United States. He is also credited for making the USSR, a nuclear power. However, despite all the advancements which happened under his rule, he is often condemned widely due to various reasons. Many consider him as a tyrant, and even today, he continues to remain one of the most controversial figures the world over. Let us delve into some interesting facts about Stalin, and try to figure the man out.
Childhood and Early Life▶
Born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili
in the town of Gori located in present-day Georgia, Joseph Stalin was the son of a housekeeper mother and a cobbler father.▶
The year of his birth is somewhat controversial. While, according to the church records, he was born on 18 December 1878, Stalin himself is known to change his birth year to one year later i.e., 1879, after he came to power. From then on, 1879, rather than 1878, has been widely accepted as the year of his birth. So, his established birth date is 18 December 1879.▶
According to sources, he had a troubled childhood. For one, he suffered from a lot of health problems.
- He had two adjoined toes on his left foot, right from his birth.
- At seven, he suffered a bout of smallpox that left permanent scars on his face.
- When he was twelve years of age, he met with an accident that involved a horse-drawn carriage. This accident caused a permanent injury to his left arm, rendering it stiffer and shorter than his right arm.
As if all this was not enough, both Stalin and his mother were the victims of severe domestic violence. His father, who was an alcoholic, subjected the two to severe physical abuse.▶
In 1888, Stalin's mother, much against her husband's wishes, managed to obtain a place for him in the local church to study to become a priest. On knowing this, his father went on a public rampage, assaulting the local police chief, owing to which he was expelled from Gori. Stalin and his mother were left alone, as his father left the family behind and went elsewhere, never to return.▶
At the end of the 19th century, Joseph and this mother had to experience poverty that most peasants had to endure in Russia in those days. According to sources, despite being a good student at school, Stalin was expelled, owing to his inability to pay his tuition fees.▶
At sixteen, he was influenced by Marxism and joined the Bolsheviks, a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, in 1903. Later, he went on to become one of their chief operatives in Caucasus.▶
At this time, Stalin took part in and led numerous anti-government marches and demonstrations. One of the most notable of these was the one during the 1905 Russian Revolution, when thousands of demonstrators marched on the Winter Palace on 9 January, 1905. This day is now known to the world as the Bloody Sunday
, as more than 1,000 demonstrators were shot dead by the palace guards.▶
Apart from the anti-Tsar, anti-government activities mentioned above, Stalin was also part of several anti-social activities in his early years. In the Georgian region of the Russian Empire, Stalin organized and carried out several bank, robberies, kidnappings, and extortion rackets. He was also involved in the establishment of various paramilitary forces in the region. This was his way of raising funds for the party.▶
These acts of Stalin, brought him to the notice of the Russian Secret Police of the time, who arrested him on several occasions, and also detained him to Siberia. According to sources, Stalin was also conscripted during his last exile, by the Russian army, to fight in the World War I. However, owing to his deformed left arm, he was rendered unfit for the task.
Stalin and the Russian Revolution▶
On March 12, 1917, Stalin returned to St. Petersburg, from his last exile in Siberia. Lev Kamenev also accompanied him.▶
By this time, Stalin was already a senior leader of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, owing to which, he himself and Kamenev took over the leadership of the Russian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Party.▶
At that time, Pravda
, a political newspaper, was the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and Stalin, very strongly and firmly voiced his opinions through it.▶
It was the time of World War I, and Russian forces were caught in the ongoing conflict with the enemy German and Austrian forces. Through Pravda
, Stalin and his companions emphasized on the point of ending the war altogether, rather than negotiating with the enemies. ▶
He urged the soldiers and workers to come out in the open, and participate in mass demonstrations, in order to force the then Kerensky provisional government to make efforts to put an immediate end to the war. With this move, Stalin became a well-known name amongst the Russians.▶
Around the same time, Lenin returned to Russia from his 10-year-long exile in Switzerland. Jointly with him, Stalin attended the Communist Party conference in April 1917, and was elected to the Bolshevik Central Committee.▶
In October 1917, the Bolshevik Central Committee passed the resolution for the insurrection of the Kerensky provisional government, with was brought about in 1917. This was, what we know today, as the famous October Revolution, in which the Winter Palace was stormed by the demonstrators, and the Kerensky Cabinet was arrested.
Stalin and the Russian Civil War▶
After Stalin and his companions succeeded in the insurrection of the the Kerensky Cabinet, he was appointed as the People's Commissar for Nationalities' Affairs
Almost immediately after this, the Civil War broke out in Russia. This was basically a conflict between Russia's communist forces, represented by the Red Army
, and the anti-Bolshevik forces, represented by the South Russian volunteer army, known as the White Army
On 23 October 1917, Lenin formulated the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
, commonly known as the Politburo
, comprising six members apart from himself. Stalin and Trotsky were among them.▶
In 1918, when Lenin sent Stalin to the city of Tasritsyn (present-day Volgograd), he entered into an alliance with the military officers, Kliment Voroshilov and Semyon Budyonny, and made sure that the military was on his side.▶
Having done this, sky seemed to be the limit for Stalin. He then went on take many individual decisions, even without taking anybody's consent. Moreover, he also openly challenged and dismissed many decisions taken by Trotsky.▶
Owing to the orders of Stalin, numerous counter-revolutionaries and former Tsarist officers in the Red Army were killed, and a lot of villages were burnt down.▶
Towards the end of the Civil War, in May 1919, numerous people attempted to flee from the Western front, owing to the ongoing violence. Stalin declared all these people as traitors, and had them publicly executed.▶
The Civil War ended in 1917, the Red Army emerged victorious at the end. This victory elevated Stalin's spirits, and he went on to become one of the important of political figures in the world in the years to come.
Stalin and the Polish-Soviet War▶
After the Russian Civil War was virtually over in 1919, another trouble came towards the Soviet Union. Poland attacked Ukraine, thus, beginning the Polish-Soviet War.▶
Though the Bolshevik troops succeeded in pushing the Polish army back to Poland, Stalin, the then commander of the southern front of the Bolshevik army, was not satisfied.▶
He aimed to invade and conquer the Ukrainian city of Lviv, which was then held by Poland. However, Lenin and Trotsky were opposed to this, as they wanted the city of Warsaw instead.▶
When Trotsky's forces attacked Warsaw in the famous Battle of Warsaw
in August 1920, he wanted Stalin to redirect his forces to the city. However, Stalin refused to budge, and continued to fight in Lviv.▶
The result was obvious, with the forces divided between the two cities, both the battles were lost, and Stalin was entirely blamed for this loss.▶
Owing to the opposition that Stalin had to face after losing the battle, he resigned his military command. However, he had to face constant criticisms from his "rival" Trotsky.
Stalin Rises to Power▶
In 1921, Stalin ordered to Red Army to invade Georgia, thus consequently leading to the Georgian Affair of 1922
. This move was against Lenin's policy, and so it created a rift between the political relations of the two leaders.▶
Nevertheless, Lenin still trusted Stalin, and thought that he was a loyal ally. So, when he faced huge differences of opinions with Trotsky and others leaders, he decided to give more powers to Stalin.▶
With the aid of Stalin's old friend Kamenev, Lenin got him appointed as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
in 1922. This post made Stalin extremely powerful, and he appointed some of his own friends and allies to important government positions.▶
However, this relationship between Lenin and Stalin was not to last long. When in 1922, Lenin suffered a stroke and took a semi-retirement from his political career, he had a quarrel with Stalin, who visited him often.▶
Issues went to such a extreme extent that Lenin wrote in a disparaging way about Stalin-his political views, his rudeness, his over-ambitiousness, and his hunger for power. In these notes, Lenin had also suggested that Stalin should no longer be the General Secretary. These notes, later, became part of Lenin's Testament
On 21 January 1924, Lenin passed away. The death of Lenin gave rise to the seemingly never-ending power struggle in the Soviet Union. However, at the end Stalin overcame his rivals and assumed complete power.
Consolidation of Power and Stalinism▶
After assuming complete power, Stalin applied various ways to maintain his firm grip on the Soviet union. He ordered and conducted several campaigns in order to consolidate his power on the land.▶
Stalin issued controversial military orders like 'shoot deserters, while the family members are arrested' and 'shoot for cowardice without a trial'.▶
The 'Great Terror' or 'Great Purge' launched by Joseph Stalin was announced as a campaign to get rid of corruption and treachery from Soviet society, but it is a well-known fact that the step was taken in the direction of doing away with opposition. More than a million people were killed during this period.▶
After the Second World War came to an end in 1945, Stalin influenced the formation of communist governments in many parts of Eastern Europe.▶
Stalin used his secret police and intelligence networks in major world nations. The latter was called the Rote Kapelle
spy ring, and it operated within Great Britain, the United States, France, and Japan.▶
Stalin started a Communist International Movement
to infiltrate other countries, in order to ensure that the Communist parties set up in these foreign countries remained pro-Stalin.▶
Stalin created a cult of personality in the Soviet Union. Numerous cities and villages across the Soviet Union were renamed after Stalin (and even Lenin), which made him even more popular and powerful.▶
Owing to his popularity, several awards were also named after him. These included the Stalin Prize
and the Stalin Peace Prize
. Apart from this, numerous statues of Stalin were erected throughout the Soviet Union.▶
Various pompous titles were also given to him, which included Father of Nations
, Coryphaeus of Science
, and Great Architect of Communism
Stalin's name was included in the National Anthem, and he was made the focus of literature, music, and film.
The Soviet Union was highly devastated by the various conflicts and wars, which were going on in the territory, especially by the Russian Civil War.▶
Stalin and his associates designed five-year plans for the rapid industrialization of Russia, in order to overcome the Great Depression. He also launched economic rejuvenation to take care of a period full of disrupted food production and unemployment.▶
Stalin imposed collectivization of agriculture to deal with the shortage of food crops, post the World War II. This, however, led to a severe famine in Ukraine. Though the crop output was the same in the first year of collectivization as in the year before, up to 400,000 people died in 1932-33. This famine is known as Holodomor
, which means 'to starve someone'.▶
Stalin's government also took up the task of financing large-scale industrialization to generate employment and improve manufacturing processes. However, with great anti-communist sentiment in the western world, finances were meager, and hence industrialization was funded by limiting the consumption by the common people, and also by ruthlessly extracting wealth from the Ukrainian peasant-heads.▶
Despite several international criticisms, it has been noted that the five-year plans did help to a great extent to build a solid economic base in the Soviet Union.
Stalin and the World War II▶
He signed the non-aggression pact with the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler
in 1939, something that the Allies did not expect or appreciate, during World War II. The resulting Soviet invasion of Poland, Bukovina, Finland, and the Baltic was only a part of the territorial expansion scheme.▶
Germany, however, violated the pact, with three divisions of 3 million men and 3400 tanks launching the Operation Barbarossa
and attacking the Soviet Union. The first few months of the war were disastrous for the Soviet Union as the Germans made steady progress towards Moscow.▶
Stalin gave instructions to the withdrawing Red Army to destroy anything that could be of use to the enemy. This proved to be a masterstroke, as the advancing German army found it extremely hard to find food, and maintain an increasingly weary army in the severe Russian winter.▶
Stalin believed it was vitally important to attack the enemy as often as possible, and hence he ordered the troops to either retaliate or face death. This fierce fighting spirit and harsh weather conditions took a toll on the Germans, and they eventually began to retreat.
Death and the Ensuing Controversies▶
Stalin served as the member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
until the day of his death viz., 5 March 1953.▶
He had already suffered a severe heart attack in the October of 1945. According to the official reports, he died due to a massive stroke of cerebral hemorrhage. However, there are several controversies relating to the actual reason of his death. Some of them are as under:
- On March 1, 1953, Stalin did not emerge from his room, after dinner. He suffered paralysis of the right side of his body.
- He had ingested a strong rat poison called Warfarin. The poison, supposedly, is responsible for coagulation of blood and the subsequent cerebral hemorrhage.
However, the facts on Stalin's death continue to be viewed with a lot of uncertainty.
It did not take the Soviet Union long to realize the extent of Stalin's wrongdoings, cruelty, and despotism. Though he steered the nation through the war and initiated the space and nuclear programs, when Nikita Khrushchev took over the Soviet Union in 1953, he started a policy of "de-Stalinization". Today, views and opinions about Stalin in Russia and its neighboring nations remain mixed, with some viewing him as a tyrant, while some others as a capable leader.