|Occupations||Politician Poet Writer Revolutionary|
|Countries||Russia Russia Russia|
|A.K.A.||Ioseb Besarionis dze Dzhugashvili, Stalin, Josef Stalin, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, Joseph Vissarionovitch Stalin|
|Birth||December 9, 1879 (Gori, Gori Municipality, Shida Kartli, Georgia)|
|Death||March 5, 1953 (Kuntsevo Dacha, Fili, Moscow, Russia)|
|Residence||Narym, Turukhansk, Solvychegodsk, Novaya Uda, Irkutsk Oblast, Saint Petersburg, Baku|
|Politics||Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mesame Dasi, Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (bolshevik)|
|Education||Tbilisi Theological Seminary|
|Authority||IMDB id ISNI id Library of congress id Musicbrainz id NNDB id Openlibrary id VIAF id|
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953) was a Georgian-born Soviet revolutionary and political leader. Governing the Soviet Union as its dictator from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953, he served as General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1952 and as Premier of the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1953. Ideologically a Marxist and a Leninist, Stalin helped to formalise these ideas as Marxism–Leninism while his own policies became known as Stalinism.
Born to a poor family in Gori, Russian Empire, as a youth Stalin joined the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. He edited the party newspaper Pravda and raised funds for Vladimir Lenin's Bolshevik faction via robberies, kidnappings and protection rackets. Repeatedly arrested, he underwent several internal exiles. After the Bolsheviks gained power in the October Revolution of 1917 and established the Soviet Russian Republic, Stalin sat on the governing Politburo during the Russian Civil War and helped form the Soviet Union in 1922. Despite Lenin's objections, Stalin consolidated power and a cult of personality developed around him. During Stalin's tenure, the concept of "Socialism in One Country" became a central tenet of Soviet society and Lenin's New Economic Policy was replaced with a centralised command economy, industrialisation and collectivisation. These rapidly transformed the country from an agrarian society into an industrial power, but disrupted food production and contributed to the famine of 1933–34, particularly affecting Ukraine. Between 1934 and 1939, Stalin organised the "Great Purge", in which millions of alleged "enemies of the working class"—including senior political and military figures—were interned in prison camps, exiled or executed.
Stalin's government promoted Marxism–Leninism abroad through the Communist International and supported anti-fascist movements throughout Europe in the 1930s, particularly in the Spanish Civil War. However, in 1939 they signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, resulting in their joint invasion of Poland. Germany ended the pact by invading the Soviet Union in 1941. Despite initial setbacks, the Soviet Red Army halted the German incursion and captured Berlin in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe. The Soviet Union annexed the Baltic states and supported the establishment of pro-Soviet Marxist governments throughout Eastern Europe as well as in China, North Korea and North Vietnam. The Soviet Union and the United States emerged as the two world superpowers and a period of tensions began between the Soviet-backed Eastern Bloc and U.S.-backed Western Bloc known as the Cold War. Stalin led his country through its post-war reconstruction, during which it developed a nuclear weapon and initiated major construction and land development projects in response to another major famine. Stalin died in 1953 and was succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev, who denounced his predecessor and initiated a de-Stalinisation process throughout Soviet society.
Stalin is widely considered to be one of the most significant figures of the 20th century. Stalinism influenced Marxist–Leninist groups and governments across the world, for whom Stalin was a champion of socialism and the working class. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Stalin has retained popularity in Russia and Georgia as an effective wartime leader who established the Soviet Union as a major world power. Conversely, his autocratic government has been widely denounced for overseeing mass repressions, hundreds of thousands of executions and millions of deaths through famines and labour camps.
Stalin was born Ioseb Jughashvili in Gori on 18 December [O.S. 6 December] 1878. He was the son of Besarion Jughashvili and Ekaterina "Keke" Geladze, who had married in May 1872, and had lost two sons in infancy prior to Stalin's birth. They were ethnically Georgian and Stalin grew up speaking the Georgian language. His surname may possibly be of non-Georgian origin. His paternal grandfather was possibly of Ossetian ancestry. Gori was then part of the Russian Empire, and was home to a population of 20,000, the majority of whom were Georgian but with Armenian, Russian, and Jewish minorities. Stalin was baptised on 17 December. He earned the childhood nickname of Soso, a diminutive of Iosif (Joseph). Beso was a cobbler and in the early years of their marriage, the couple prospered. However, he did not adapt to changing footwear fashions and his business began to fail. The family soon found themselves living in poverty, moving through nine different rented rooms in ten years. Given this situation, the historian Robert Conquest later suggested that Stalin's class background was "uncertain and indeterminate".
Beso was also an alcoholic, and drunkenly beat his wife and son. To escape the abusive relationship, Keke took Stalin and moved into the house of a family friend, Father Christopher Charkviani. She worked as a house cleaner and launderer for several local families who were sympathetic to her plight. Keke was determined to send her son to school, something that none of the family had previously achieved. In late 1888, aged 10 he enrolled at the Gori Church School. This was normally reserved for the children of clergy, although Charkviani ensured that Stalin received a place. Stalin excelled academically, displaying talent in painting and drama classes, writing his own poetry, and singing as a choirboy. He got into many fights, and a childhood friend later noted that Stalin "was the best but also the naughtiest pupil" in the class. Stalin faced several severe health problems; in 1884, he contracted smallpox and was left with facial pock scars. Aged 12, he was seriously injured after being hit by a phaeton and the accident resulted in a lifelong disability to his left arm.
At his teachers' recommendation, Stalin proceeded to the Spiritual Seminary in Tiflis. He enrolled at the school in August 1894, enabled by a scholarship that allowed him to study at a reduced rate. Here he joined 600 trainee priests who boarded at the seminary. Stalin was again academically successful and gained high grades. He continued writing poetry; five of his poems were published under the pseudonym of "Soselo" in Ilia Chavchavadze's newspaper Iveria ("Georgia"). Thematically, they dealt with topics like nature, land, and patriotism. According to Stalin's biographer Simon Sebag Montefiore, they became "minor Georgian classics", and were included in various anthologies of Georgian poetry over the coming years. As he grew older, Stalin lost interest in his studies; his grades dropped, and he was repeatedly confined to a cell for his rebellious behaviour. Teachers complained that he declared himself an atheist, chatted in class and refused to doff his hat to monks.
Stalin had joined a forbidden book club active at the school and was particularly influenced by Nikolay Chernyshevsky's 1863 pro-revolutionary novel What Is To Be Done?. Another influential text was Alexander Kazbegi's The Patricide, with Stalin adopting the nickname "Koba" from that of the book's bandit protagonist. He also read Capital, the 1867 book by German sociological theorist Karl Marx. Stalin devoted himself to Marx's socio-political theory, Marxism, which was then on the rise in Georgia, one of various forms of socialism opposed to the governing Tsarist authorities. At night, he attended secret workers' meetings, and was introduced to Silibistro "Silva" Jibladze, the Marxist founder of Mesame Dasi ('Third Group'), a Georgian socialist group. In April 1899, Stalin left the seminary and never returned, although the school encouraged him to come back.
Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party: 1899–1904
In October 1899, Stalin began work as a meteorologist at a Tiflis observatory, a position that allowed him to read while on duty. Stalin gave classes in socialist theory and attracted a group of radical young men around him. He co-organised a secret mass meeting for May Day 1900, at which he successfully encouraged many of the men to take strike action. By this point, the Tsarist secret police—the Okhrana—were aware of Stalin's activities within Tiflis' revolutionary milieu. They attempted to arrest him in March 1901, but he escaped and went into hiding, living off the donations of friends and sympathisers. Remaining underground, he helped to plan a demonstration for May Day 1901, in which 3,000 marchers clashed with the authorities. He continued to evade arrest by using aliases and sleeping in different apartments. In November 1901, he was elected to the Tiflis Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), a Marxist party founded in 1898.
That month he travelled to the port city of Batumi. His militant rhetoric proved divisive among the city's Marxists, with some suspecting that he might be an agent provocateur. He found employment at the Rothschild refinery storehouse. There he helped organise two workers' strikes. After several strike leaders were arrested, he co-organised a mass public demonstration against the arrests that led to the storming of the prison; troops fired upon the demonstrators, 13 of whom were killed. Stalin organised a second mass demonstration on the day of their funeral, before being arrested in April 1902. He was initially held at Batumi Prison, and later moved to the more secure Kutaisi Prison. In mid-1903, Stalin was sentenced to three years of exile in eastern Siberia.
Stalin left Batumi in October, arriving at the small Siberian town of Novaya Uda in late November. There, he lived in the two-room house of a local peasant, sleeping in the building's larder. Stalin made several escape attempts; on the first he made it to Balagansk before returning due to frostbite. His second attempt was successful and he made it to Tiflis. Here, he co-edited a Georgian Marxist newspaper, Proletariatis Brdzola ("Proletarian Struggle"), with Philip Makharadze. His calls for a separate Georgian Marxist movement resulted in several RSDLP members calling for his expulsion, claiming that his views were contrary to Marxist internationalism. Under Mikha Tskhakaya's influence, Stalin renounced these views. During his exile, the RSDLP had split between Vladimir Lenin's Bolsheviks and Julius Martov's Mensheviks. Stalin now aligned with the Bolsheviks, growing to detest many of the Georgian Mensheviks. Although Stalin established a Bolshevik stronghold in the mining town of Chiatura, Bolshevism remained a minority force in the Menshevik-dominated Georgian revolutionary scene.
The Revolution of 1905 and its aftermath: 1905–1912
In January 1905, government troops massacred protesters in St Petersburg. Unrest soon spread across the Russian Empire in what came to be known as the Revolution of 1905. Georgia was one of the regions particularly affected. In February, Stalin was in Baku when ethnic violence broke out between Armenians and Azeris; at least 2000 were killed. Stalin publicly lambasted the "pogroms against Jews and Armenians" as being part of Tsar Nicholas II's attempts to "buttress his despicable throne". He formed a Bolshevik Battle Squad which he used to try and keep Baku's warring ethnic factions apart, also using the unrest to steal printing equipment. Amid the growing violence throughout Georgia, Stalin formed further Battle Squads, with the Mensheviks doing the same. Stalin's Squads disarmed local police and troops, raided government arsenals, and raised funds through protection rackets on large local businesses and mines. They launched attacks on the government's Cossack troops and pro-Tsarist Black Hundreds, co-ordinating some of their operations with the Menshevik militia.
In November 1905, the Georgian Bolsheviks elected Stalin as one of their delegates to a Bolshevik conference in St. Petersburg. On arrival, he met Lenin's wife Nadezhda Krupskaya, who informed them that the venue had been moved to Tammerfors in the Grand Duchy of Finland. At the conference Stalin met Lenin for the first time. Although Stalin held Lenin in deep respect, he was vocal in his disagreement with Lenin's view that the Bolsheviks should field candidates for the forthcoming election to the State Duma; Stalin saw the parliamentary process as a waste of time. In April 1906, Stalin attended the RSDLP Fourth Congress in Stockholm; this was his first trip outside the Russian Empire. At the conference, the RSDLP—then led by its Menshevik majority—agreed that it would not raise funds using armed robbery. Lenin and Stalin disagreed with this decision, and later privately discussed how they could continue the robberies for the Bolshevik cause.
Stalin married Kato Svanidze in a church ceremony at Tskhakaya in July 1906. In March 1907 she bore a son, Yakov. By that year—according to the historian Robert Service—Stalin had established himself as "Georgia's leading Bolshevik". He attended the Fifth RSDLP Congress, held in London in May–June 1907. After returning to Tiflis, Stalin organized the robbing of a large delivery of money to the Imperial Bank in June 1907. His gang ambushed the armed convoy in Yerevan Square with gunfire and home-made bombs. Around 40 people were killed, but all of his gang escaped alive.
After the heist, Stalin settled in Baku with his wife and son. There, Mensheviks confronted Stalin about the robbery and voted to expel him from the RSDLP, but he took no notice of them. In Baku, Stalin secured Bolshevik domination of the local RSDLP branch, and edited two Bolshevik newspapers, Bakinsky Proletary and Gudok ("Whistle"). In August 1907, he attended the Seventh Congress of the Second International in Stuttgard, Germany. In November 1907, his wife died of typhus, and he left his son with her family in Tiflis. In Baku he had reassembled his gang, the Outfit, which continued to attack Black Hundreds, and raised finances by running protection rackets, counterfeiting currency, and carrying out robberies. They also kidnapped the children of several wealthy figures in order to extract ransom money. In early 1908, he travelled to the Swiss city of Geneva to meet with Lenin and the prominent Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov, who exasperated him.
In March 1908, Stalin was arrested and interred in Bailov Prison, where he led the imprisoned Bolsheviks, organised discussion groups, and ordered the killing of suspected informants. He was eventually sentenced to two years exile in the village of Solvychegodsk, Vologda Province, arriving there in February 1909. In June, he escaped the village and made it to Kotlas disguised as a woman and from there to St Petersburg. In March 1910, he was arrested again, and sent back to Solvychegodsk. There he had affairs with at least two women and his landlady, Maria Kuzakova, later gave birth to his second son, Konstantin. In June 1911, Stalin was given permission to move to Vologda, where he stayed for two months. There, he had a relationship with Pelageya Onufrieva. He proceeded to St Petersburg, where he was arrested in September 1911, and sentenced to a further three-year exile in Vologda.
Editing Pravda and the Central Committee: 1912–1917
The first Bolshevik Central Committee had been elected at the Prague Conference, after which Lenin and Grigory Zinoviev invited Stalin to join it. Still in Vologda, Stalin agreed, remaining a Central Committee member for the rest of his life. Lenin believed that Stalin would be useful in helping to secure support for the Bolsheviks from the Empire's minority ethnicities. In February 1912, Stalin escaped to St Petersburg, tasked with converting the Bolshevik weekly newspaper, Zvezda ("Star") into a daily, Pravda ("Truth"). The new newspaper was launched in April 1912, although Stalin's role as editor was kept secret. In May 1912, he was arrested again and imprisoned in the Shpalerhy Prison, before being sentenced to three years exile in Siberia. In July, he arrived at the Siberian village of Narym, where he shared a room with fellow Bolshevik Yakov Sverdlov. After two months, Stalin and Sverdlov escaped back to St Petersburg.
During a brief period back in Tiflis, Stalin and the Outfit planned the ambush of a mail coach, during which most of the group—although not Stalin—were apprehended by the authorities. Stalin returned to St Petersburg, where he continued editing and writing articles for Pravda. After the October 1912 Duma elections resulted in six Bolsheviks and six Mensheviks being elected, Stalin wrote articles calling for reconciliation between the two Marxist factions, for which he was criticised by Lenin. In late 1912, he twice crossed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire to visit Lenin in Krakow, eventually bowing to Lenin's views on reunification with the Mensheviks.
In January 1913, Stalin travelled to Vienna, there focusing his attention on the 'national question' of how the Bolsheviks should deal with the Russian Empire's national and ethnic minorities. Lenin wanted to attract these groups to the Bolshevik cause by offering them the right of secession from the Russian state, but at the same time he hoped that they would remain part of a future Bolshevik-governed Russia. Stalin's finished article was titled Marxism and the National Question; Lenin was very happy with it. According to Montefiore, this was "Stalin's most famous work". The article was published under the pseudonym of "K. Stalin", a name he had been using since 1912. This name derived from the Russian language word for steel (stal), and has been translated as "Man of Steel". Stalin retained this name for the rest of his life, possibly because it had been used on the article which established his reputation among the Bolsheviks.
In February 1913, Stalin was arrested while back in St. Petersburg. He was sentenced to four years exile in Turukhansk, a remote part of Siberia from which escape was particularly difficult. In August, he arrived in the village of Monastyrskoe, although after four weeks was relocated to the hamlet of Kostino. In March 1914, concerned over a potential escape attempt, the authorities then moved Stalin to the hamlet of Kureika on the edge of the Arctic Circle. In the hamlet, Stalin had an affair with Lidia Pereprygia, who was thirteen at the time and thus a year under the legal age of consent in Tsarist Russia. Circa December 1914, Pereprygia gave birth to Stalin's child, although the infant soon died. She gave birth to another of his children, Alexander, circa April 1917. In Kureika, Stalin lived closely with the indigenous Tunguses and Ostyak, and spent much of his time fishing.
The Russian Revolution: 1917
While Stalin was in exile, Russia entered the First World War, and in October 1916 Stalin and other exiled Bolsheviks were conscripted, leaving for Monastyrkoe. They arrived in Krasnoyarsk in February 1917, where a medical examiner ruled him unfit for military service due to his crippled arm. Stalin was required to serve four more months on his exile, and he successfully requested that he be allowed to serve it in nearby Achinsk. Stalin was in the city when the February Revolution took place; uprisings broke out in Petrograd—as St Petersburg had been renamed—and the Tsar abdicated, to be replaced by a Provisional Government. In a celebratory mood, Stalin travelled by train to Petrograd in March. There, Stalin and Lev Kamenev assumed control of Pravda, and Stalin was appointed the Bolshevik representative to the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. In April, Stalin came third in the Bolshevik elections for the party's Central Committee; Lenin came first and Zinoviev came second. This reflected his senior standing in the party at the time.
The existing pseudo-government which was not elected by the people and which is not accountable to the people must be replaced by a government recognised by the people, elected by representatives of the workers, soldiers and peasants and held accountable to their representatives.
Stalin helped to organise the July Days uprising, an armed display of strength by Bolshevik supporters. After the armed demonstration was suppressed, the Provisional Government initiated a crackdown on the Bolsheviks, raiding Pravda. During this raid, Stalin smuggled Lenin out of the newspaper's office and subsequently took charge of the Bolshevik leader's safety, moving him between Petrograd safe houses before smuggling him to Razliv. In Lenin's absence, Stalin continued editing Pravda and served as acting leader of the Bolsheviks, overseeing the party's Sixth Congress, which was held covertly. Lenin began calling for the Bolsheviks to seize power by toppling the Provisional Government in a coup. Stalin and fellow senior Bolshevik Leon Trotsky both endorsed Lenin's plan of action, but it was opposed by Kamenev and other party members. Lenin returned to Petrograd and at a meeting of the Central Committee on 10 October, he secured a majority in favour of a coup.
On 24 October, police raided the Bolshevik newspaper offices, smashing machinery and presses; Stalin managed to salvage some of this equipment in order to continue his activities. In the early hours of 25 October, Stalin joined Lenin in a Central Committee meeting in the Smolny Institute, from where the Bolshevik coup—the October Revolution—was directed. Bolshevik militia seized Petrograd's electric power station, main post office, state bank, telephone exchange, and several bridges. A Bolshevik-controlled ship, the Aurora, opened fire on the Winter Palace; the Provisional Government's assembled delegates surrendered and were arrested by the Bolsheviks. Although he had been tasked with briefing the Bolshevik delegates of the Second Congress of Soviets about the developing situation, Stalin's role in the coup had not been publicly visible. Trotsky and other later Bolshevik opponents of Stalin used this as evidence that his role in the coup had been insignificant, although several historians reject this. According to the historian Oleg Khlevniuk, Stalin "filled an important role [in the October Revolution]... as a senior Bolshevik, member of the party's Central Committee, and editor of its main newspaper".
In Lenin's government
Consolidating power: 1917–1918
On 26 October, Lenin formed a new government, the Council of People's Commissars ("Sovnarkom"), which he led as Chairman. Stalin was among the Bolsheviks who backed Lenin's decision not to form a coalition with the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionary Party, although they did form a coalition government with the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. Stalin was soon part of an informal foursome leading the government, alongside Lenin, Trotsky, and Sverdlov; of these, Sverdlov was regularly absent, and died in March 1919. Stalin's office was based near to Lenin's in the Smolny Institute, and he and Trotsky were the only individuals allowed access to Lenin's study without an appointment. Although not so publicly well known as Lenin or Trotsky, Stalin's importance among the Bolsheviks grew. He co-signed Lenin's decrees shutting down hostile newspapers, and with Sverdlov chaired the sessions of the committee drafting a constitution for the new Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. He strongly supported Lenin's formation of the Cheka security service and the subsequent Red Terror that it initiated; noting that state violence had proved an effective tool for capitalist powers, he believed that it would prove the same for the Soviet government. Unlike senior Bolsheviks like Kamenev and Nikolai Bukharin, Stalin never expressed concern about the rapid growth and expansion of the Cheka and Terror.
Having dropped his editorship of Pravda, Stalin was appointed as the People's Commissar for Nationalities. In November, Stalin signed the Decree on Nationality, according ethnic and national minorities living in Russia the right of secession and self-determination. The purpose of this decree was primarily strategic, designed to woo the support of ethnic minorities for the Bolshevik cause; the Bolsheviks hoped that the minorities would not actually desire independence. That month, he travelled to Helsinki to talk with the Finnish Social-Democrats, to whom he promised independence, which was then granted in December. His department allocated funds for the establishment of presses and schools in the languages of various ethnic minorities. Socialist Revolutionaries accused Stalin of using talk of federalism and national self-determination as a front for Sovnarkom's centralising and imperialist policies.
As a result of the ongoing First World War, in which Russia was fighting the Central Powers, Lenin's government relocated from Petrograd to Moscow in March 1918. Stalin brought Nadezhda Alliluyeva with him as his secretary; he had been a longstanding friend of her parents. At some point, the couple married, although the exact date of their wedding is unknown. Lenin wanted to sign an armistice with the Central Powers regardless of the cost in territory, and was supported in this by Stalin. Stalin thought it necessary because he was unconvinced that Europe itself was on the verge of proletariat revolution, a view that irked Lenin. Lenin eventually convinced the other senior Bolsheviks of the need for a peace treaty, resulting in the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. The treaty gave vast areas of land and resources to the Central Powers and angered many in Russia; the Left Socialist Revolutionaries abandoned the coalition government over the issue.
Military Command: 1918–1921
After the Bolsheviks seized power, both right and left-wing armies rallied against them, generating the Russian Civil War. To secure access to the dwindling food supply, in May 1918 Sovnarkom sent Stalin to Tsaritsyn to take charge of food procurement in southern Russia. Eager to prove himself as a commander, once there he took control of regional military operations. He befriended two military figures, Kliment Voroshilov and Semyon Budyonny, who would form the nucleus of his military and political support base. Believing that victory was assured by numerical superiority, he sent large numbers of Red Army troops into battle against the region's anti-Bolshevik White armies, resulting in heavy losses; Lenin was concerned by this costly tactic. In Tsaritsyn, Stalin executed suspected counter-revolutionaries, sometimes without trial, and—in contravention of government orders—purged the military and food collection agencies of middle-class specialists, some of whom he also executed. His use of state violence and terror was at a greater scale than most Bolshevik leaders approved of. For instance, he ordered several villages to be torched to ensure compliance with his food procurement program.
In December 1918, Stalin was sent to Perm to lead an inquiry into how the Red Army forces based there had been decimated in an attack by Alexander Kolchak's White forces. He returned to Moscow between January and March 1919, before being assigned to the Western Front at Petrograd. When the Third Regiment defected, he ordered any captured defectors to be publicly shot. In September he was returned to the Southern Front. During the war, he proved his worth to the Central Committee, displaying decisiveness, determination, and a willingness to take on responsibility in conflict situations. At the same time, he disregarded orders and when affronted he repeatedly threatened to resign, forcing Lenin to convince him to reconsider. In November 1919, the government awarded him the Order of the Red Banner for his service in the war.
The civil war was over by the end of 1919, having resulted in a Bolshevik victory. Sovnarkom turned its attention to spreading socialist revolution abroad, to this end forming the Communist International in March 1919; Stalin was present at its inaugural ceremony. Although Stalin did not share Lenin's belief that the European proletariat were on the verge of revolution, he acknowledged that as long as it stood alone, Soviet Russia remained vulnerable. In December 1918, he had drawn up decrees recognising Soviet republics in Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, however these Communist governments had been overthrown and the Baltic countries became fully independent of Russia, an act which he regarded as illegitimate. In February 1920, Stalin was appointed to head the Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate; that same month he was also transferred to the Caucasian Front.
Following earlier clashes between Polish and Russian troops, the Polish–Soviet War broke out in the spring of 1920. Stalin was moved to Ukraine, on the Southwest Front. The Red Army forced the Polish troops back into Poland. Lenin believed that the Polish proletariat would rise up to support the Russians against their own government. Stalin had cautioned against this; he believed that nationalism would lead the Polish working-classes to support their government's war effort. He also believed that the Red Army was ill-prepared to conduct an offensive war and that it would give White Armies a chance to resurface in Crimea, potentially reigniting the civil war. Stalin lost the argument, after which he accepted Lenin's decision and supported it. Along the Southwest Front, he became determined to conquer Lwów; in focusing on this goal he disobeyed orders to transfer his troops to assist Mikhail Tukhachevsky's forces. In August, the Poles repulsed the Russian advance and Stalin returned to Moscow. A peace treaty between the two countries was signed, for which Stalin blamed Trotsky. Stalin felt resentful and under-appreciated; he was angry at how the war had been conducted and in September demanded demission from the military, which was granted. At the 9th Bolshevik Conference, Stalin was accused of insubordination and military incompetence during the war with Poland, with Trotsky accusing him of making "strategic mistakes".
Lenin's final years: 1921–1922
Stalin believed that each nation and ethnic group should have the right to self-expression, facilitating this through "autonomous republics" within the Russian state in which ethnic minorities could oversee various regional affairs. Some Communists accused him of bending too much to "petit-bourgeois" nationalisms, while others accused him of remaining too Russocentric by seeking to maintain these nations within the Russian state. Stalin's native Caucasus posed a particular problem due to its highly multi-cultural mix. Stalin opposed the idea of separate Georgian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani autonomous republics, arguing that it would lead to ethnic oppression; instead he called for the formation of a Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. The Georgian Communist Party opposed the idea, resulting in the Georgian Affair. In the summer of 1921, he returned to the southern Caucasus, there calling on Georgian Communists to avoid the chauvinistic Georgian nationalism which he believed marginalised the Abkhazian, Ossetian, and Adjarian minorities. On this trip, Stalin met with his son Yakov, and brought him back to Moscow with them; Nadya had given birth to another of Stalin's sons, Vasily, in March 1921.
After the civil war, workers' strikes and peasant uprisings broke out across Russia, largely in opposition to Sovnarkom's food requisitioning project; as an antidote, Lenin introduced a level of market-oriented reform as the New Economic Policy (NEP). There was also internal turmoil in the Communist Party, as Trotsky led a faction calling for the abolition of trade unions; Lenin opposed this and Stalin helped him to drum up support against Trotsky's position. Stalin also agreed to supervise the Department of Agitation and Propaganda in the Central Committee Secretariat. At the 11th Party Congress in 1922, Lenin nominated Stalin as the party's new General Secretary. Although concerns were expressed that adopting this new post on top of his others would give him too much power and would overstretch his workload, he was appointed to the position. For Lenin, it was advantageous to have one of his allies in a post crucial for the maintenance of his policies.
In May 1922, Lenin had a massive stroke and was partially paralysed. Residing at his Gorki dacha, Lenin's main connection to Sovnarkom was through Stalin, who was a regular visitor. Lenin twice asked Stalin to procure poison so that he may commit suicide, but Stalin never did so. Despite this comradeship, Lenin disliked what he referred to as Stalin's "Asiatic" manner, and told his sister Maria that Stalin was "not intelligent". Lenin and Stalin argued on the issue of foreign trade; Lenin believed that the Soviet state should have a monopoly on foreign trade, but Stalin supported Grigori Sokolnikov's view that doing so was impractical at that stage. Another disagreement came over the Georgian Affair, with Lenin backing the Georgian Central Committee's desire for a Georgian Soviet Republic over Stalin's idea of a Transcaucasian one.
They also disagreed on the nature of the Soviet state. Lenin called for the country to be renamed the "Union of Soviet Republics of Europe and Asia", reflecting his desire for expansion across the two continents. Stalin believed that this would result in growing independence sentiment, instead arguing that ethnic minorities would be content as "autonomous republics" within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Lenin accused Stalin of "Great Russian chauvinism"; Stalin accused Lenin of "national liberalism". A compromise was reached, in which the country would be renamed the "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" (USSR). The USSR's formation was ratified in December 1922; although officially a federal system, all major decisions were taken by the Politburo in Moscow. Their differences were not just based on policy but also became personal; Lenin was particularly angered when Stalin was rude to Krupskaya during a telephone conversation. In the final weeks of his life, Lenin dictated increasingly disparaging notes on Stalin that became his testament. He criticized Stalin's rude manners and excessive power, suggesting that Stalin should be removed from the position of General Secretary.
Rise to power
Succeeding Lenin: 1924–1927
Lenin died in January 1924. Stalin took charge of the funeral and was one of its pallbearers; against the wishes of Lenin's widow, the Politburo embalmed his corpse and placed it within a mausoleum. It was incorporated into a growing personality cult devoted to Lenin, with Petrograd being renamed "Leningrad" that year. To bolster his image as a devoted Leninist, Stalin was eager to present himself as a theorist, giving nine lectures at Sverdlov University on the "Foundations of Leninism"; it was later published as a concise overview of Lenin's ideas. At the following 13th Party Congress, Lenin's Testament was read out to senior figures. Embarrassed, Stalin offered his resignation as General Secretary; this act of humility saved him and he was retained in the position. In his private life, he was dividing his time between his Kremlin apartment and his Zubalova dacha. His wife had given birth to a daughter, Svetlana, in February 1926.
Stalin saw Trotsky as the main obstacle to his rise to power, and while Lenin had been ill he had forged an anti-Trotsky alliance with Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev. Although Zinoviev had expressed concerned about Stalin's growing authority, he rallied behind him at the 13th Congress as a counterweight to Trotsky, who now led a party faction known as the Left Opposition. The Left Opposition believed that too many concession to capitalism had been made with the NEP; Stalin was deemed a "rightist" in the party for his support of the policy. Stalin built up a retinue of his supporters in the Central Committee, while the Left Opposition were gradually removed from their positions of influence. He was supported in this by Bukharin, who like Stalin believed that the Left Opposition's views would plunge the Soviet Union into instability.
In the autumn of 1924, Stalin also removed Kamenev and Zinoviev's supporters from key positions. In 1925, Kamenev and Zinoviev moved into open opposition of Stalin and Bukharin. They attacked one another at the 14th Party Congress, where Stalin accused Kamenev and Zinoviev of reintroducing factionalism—and thus instability—into the party. In the summer of 1926, Kamenev and Zinoviev joined with the Trotskyites to form the United Opposition against Stalin; in October they agreed to stop factional activity under threat of expulsion, and later publicly recanted their views under Stalin's command. The factionalist arguments continued, with Stalin threatening to resign in both December 1926 and December 1927. In October 1927, Zinoviev and Trotsky were removed from the Central Committee; the latter was sent to Kazakhstan and later exiled from the country in 1929. Some of those United Opposition members who were repentant were later rehabilitated and allowed to return to government. Stalin meanwhile ensured that his supporters ran the various state institutions. Stalin had established himself as the party's supreme leader, although was not the head of government, a task he entrusted to key ally Vyacheslav Molotov. Other important supporters on the Politburo were Voroshilov, Lazar Kaganovich, and Sergo Ordzhonikidze.
In 1924, Georgian nationalists seeking independence launched the August Uprising; it was suppressed by the Red Army. In April 1925, Tsaritsyn was renamed Stalingrad. In 1926, Stalin published On Questions of Leninism. It was in this book that he introduced the concept of "Socialism in One Country", which he claimed was an orthodox Leninist perspective. It nevertheless clashed with established Bolshevik views that socialism could not be established in one country but could only be achieved globally through the process of world revolution. In 1927, there was some argument in the party over the USSR's relationship to the situation in China. Stalin had called for the Communist Party of China to ally itself with the Kuomintang nationalists, viewing a Communist-Kuomintang alliance as the best bulwark against Japanese imperial expansionism in eastern Asia. However, Chiang quickly reversed the tables in the Shanghai massacre of 1927 by massacring the membership of the Communist Party in Shanghai midway through the Northern Expedition.
Dekulakisation, collectivisation, and industrialisation: 1927–1931
This is what our obligations before the workers and peasants of the USSR dictate to us.
By the latter half of the 1920s, the Soviet Union was still lagging behind the industrial development of Western countries, and Stalin's government feared military attack from Japan, France, or the United Kingdom. Many Bolsheviks, including in Komsomol, OGPU, and the Red Army were eager to be rid of the NEP and its market-oriented approach, desiring a push towards socialism. There were concerns about a growing sector of society—the 'kulaks' and the Nepmen—who had profited from the policy and become wealthier than other citizens. There had also been a shortfall of grain supplies; 1927 produced only 70% of grain produced in 1926. At this point, Stalin turned against the NEP, putting him on a course to the "left" even of Trotsky or Zinoviev.
In early 1928 he travelled to Novosibirsk, there ordering the arrest of kulaks and the confiscation of their grain, much of which he brought back to Moscow with him in February. At his command, grain procurement squads surfaced across Western Siberia and the Urals, with violence breaking out between these squads and the peasantry. Stalin announced that both kulaks and the "middle peasants" must be coerced into releasing their harvest. Bukharin and several other members of the Central Committee were angry that they had not been consulted about this measure, which they deemed rash. In January 1930, the Politburo approved a measure to liquidate the existence of the kulaks as a class; they were rounded up and exiled either elsewhere in their own regions, to other parts of the country, or to concentration camps. Large numbers died during the journey. By July 1930, over 320,000 households had been affected by the dekulakisation policy.
In 1929, the Politburo announced the mass collectivisation of agriculture. Stalin stipulated that kulaks would be barred from joining these collectives. Although officially voluntary, many peasants joined the collectives out of fear they would face the fate of the kulaks; others joined amid intimidation and violence from party loyalists. By 1932, about 62% of households involved in agriculture were part of collectives, and by 1936 this had risen to 90%. Many of the peasants who had been collectivised resented the loss of their private farmland, and productivity slumped. Famine broke out in many areas, with the Politburo frequently ordering the distribution of emergency food relief to these regions. Armed peasant uprisings against dekulakisation and collectivisation broke out in Ukraine, northern Caucuses, southern Russia, and central Asia, reaching their apex in March 1930; these were repressed by the Red Army. Stalin responded to the uprisings with an article insisting that collectivisation was voluntary and blaming any violence and other excesses on local officials. Bukharin expressed concerns about these policies; he regarded them as a return to Lenin's old "war communism" policy and believed that it would fail. However, by the summer of 1928 he was unable to rally sufficient support in the party to oppose the reforms. In November 1929 he was removed from the Politburo.
In 1928, the first Five Year Plan was launched, its main focus being on boosting heavy industry but with a secondary emphasis on improving urban living standards. The plan was finished a year ahead of schedule, in 1932. The USSR underwent a massive economic transformation. New mines were opened, new cities like Magnitogorsk constructed, and work on the White Sea-Baltic Canal begun. Millions of peasants moved to the cities and became proletariat, although urban house building could not keep up with the demand. Large debts were accrued while purchasing foreign-made machinery. Many of the major construction projects, including the White Sea-Baltic Canal and the Moscow Metro, were constructed largely through forced labour. Stalin's message was that socialism was being established in the USSR while capitalism was crumbling amid the Wall Street crash. His speeches and articles reflected his utopian vision of the Soviet Union rising to unparalleled heights of human development, creating a "new Soviet person".
Cultural and foreign policy
In 1928, Stalin declared that as socialism developed, so the class war would intensify between the proletariat and their enemies. He warned of a "danger from the right", including in the Communist Party itself. The first major show trial in the USSR took place in 1928, when several middle-class "industrial specialists" were accused of sabotage and convicted in what was known as the Shakhty Trial. From 1929 to 1930, a series of further show trials were held to intimidate opposition: these included the Industrial Party Trial, Menshevik Trial, and Metro-Vickers Trial. Nationalism among the ethnic minorities was suppressed, with Stalin aware that the ethnic Russian majority may have concerns about being ruled by a Georgian. To this end, he promoted ethnic Russians throughout the state hierarchy and made the Russian language compulsory throughout schools and offices, albeit to be used in tandem with local languages in areas with non-Russian majorities.
The government's anti-religious campaign was also re-intensified, with increased funding given to the League of Militant Atheists. Religious figures, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Buddhist, faced persecution. Many religious buildings were demolished, most notably Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, destroyed in 1931 to make way for the (never completed) Palace of the Soviets. Religion continued to hold an influence over much of the population; in the 1937 census, 57% of respondents identified as religious. Stalin desired a "cultural revolution" to reflect the changes in Soviet society, entailing both the creation of a culture for the "masses" and the wider dissemination of what had previously been elite culture. He oversaw the proliferation of schools, newspapers, and libraries, as well as the advancement of literacy and numeracy. He personally wooed several prominent writers, namely Maxim Gorky, Mikhail Sholokhov, and Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy. He also expressed patronage for scientists whose research fitted within his preconceived interpretation of Marxism; he for instance endorsed the research of agrobiologist Trofim Lysenko despite the fact that it was rejected by the majority of his scientific peers as pseudo-scientific.
Throughout the 1920s and beyond, Stalin placed a high priority on foreign policy. Through the Communist International, Stalin's government exerted a strong influence over communist parties elsewhere in the world. Initially, Stalin left the running of the Communist International largely to Bukharin. At Comintern's Sixth Congress in July 1928, Stalin informed delegates that the main threat to socialism came not from the right but from non-Marxist socialists and social democrats, whom he called "social fascists"; Stalin recognised that the social democrats were the Marxist-Leninists' main rivals for working class support. This concerned Bukharin, who was particularly nervous regarding the growth of fascism and the far right across Europe. After Bukharin's departure, Stalin placed Comintern under the administration of Dmitry Manuilsky and Osip Piatnitsky. Stalin personally met with a range of Western visitors, including George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells, both of whom later described being impressed with him.
Stalin faced problems in his family life. In 1929, his son Yakov unsuccessfully attempted suicide; his failure earned Stalin's contempt. His relationship with Nadya was also strained amid their arguments and her mental health problems. In November 1931, after a group dinner in the Kremlin in which Stalin flirted with other women, Nadya shot herself. Publicly, it was claimed that Nadya died of appendicitis; Stalin also concealed the real cause of death from his children. Stalin's friends noted that he underwent a significant change following her suicide, becoming emotionally harder.
Famine and the Great Terror: 1932–1939
Within the Soviet Union, there was widespread civic disgruntlement against Stalin's government. Social unrest, previously restricted largely to the countryside, was increasingly evident in urban areas, prompting Stalin to ease on some of his economic policies in 1932. In May 1932, he introduced a system of kolkhoz markets where peasants could trade their surplus produce. At the same time, penal sanctions became more severe; at Stalin's instigation, in August 1932 a measure was introduced meaning that the theft of even a handful of grain could be a capital offense. The second Five-Year Plan had its production quotas reduced from that of the first, with the main emphasis now being on improving living conditions. It therefore emphasised the expansion of housing space and the production of consumer goods. Like its predecessor, this Plan was repeatedly amended to meet changing situations; there was for instance an increasing emphasis placed on armament production after Adolf Hitler became German Chancellor in 1933.
Such policies nevertheless failed to stop the famine which peaked in the winter of 1932–33. Between five and seven million people died; many resorted to cannibalising the dead to survive. Worst affected were Ukraine and the North Caucuses, although the famine also impacted Kazakhstan and several Russian provinces. The 1932 harvest had been a poor one, and had followed several years in which lower productivity had resulted in a gradual decline in output. Stalin blamed the famine on hostile elements and wreckers within the peasantry. According to British historian Alan Bullock, "the total Soviet grain crop was no worse than that of 1931 ... it was not a crop failure but the excessive demands of the state, ruthlessly enforced, that cost the lives of as many as five million Ukrainian peasants." Stalin refused to release large grain reserves that could have alleviated the famine, while continuing to export grain, and he strictly enforced new draconian anti-theft laws on the collective farm. Other historians hold the view that it was largely the insufficient harvests of 1931 and 1932 caused by a variety of natural disasters that resulted in famine, with the successful harvest of 1933 ending the famine. The Ukrainian famine is sometimes referred to as the Ukrainian Genocide, implying it was engineered by the Soviet government, specifically targeting the Ukrainian people to destroy the Ukrainian nation as a political factor and social entity. The existence of the famine was denied to foreign observers.
Over the court of 1935–36, Stalin oversaw the elaboration of a new constitution. This constitution espoused various liberalising features, including the introduction of secret ballots during elections. Introducing this constitution, he declared that "socialism, which is the first phase of communism, has basically been achieved in this country". In 1938, The History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), colloquially known as the Short Course, was released. The historian Robert Conquest later referred to it as the "central text of Stalinism". A number of authorised Stalin biographies were also published, although Stalin generally wanted to be portrayed as the embodiment of the Communist Party rather than have his life story explored. During the later 1930s, Stalin placed limits on the personality cult developing around him, and sought to portray himself with humility, for instance through the use of self-deprecating humour. This was perhaps for pragmatic reasons, recognising that an appearance of modesty would make him more appealing. By 1938, Stalin's inner circle had gained a degree of stability, containing the personalities who would remain there until Stalin's death.
Seeking improved relations with other countries, in 1934 the Soviet Union secured membership of the League of Nations, of which it had previously been excluded. Stalin initiated confidential communications with Hitler in October 1933, shortly after the latter came to power in Germany. Stalin admired Hitler, particularly the latter's manoeuvres to remove rivals within the Nazi Party in the Night of the Long Knives. Recognising the threat posed by the rise of fascism, the Soviet government sought to establish better links with the liberal democracies of Western Europe; in May 1935, they signed a treaty of mutual assistance with France and Czechoslovakia. At the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International, held in July-August 1935, the Soviet government endorsed the idea that Marxist-Leninists should unite with other socialists as part of a popular front against fascism. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, the Soviets sent 648 aircraft and 407 tanks to the left-wing Republican faction; these were accompanied by 3000 Soviet troops and 42,000 members of the International Brigades set up by the Communist International. Germany and Fascist Italy backed the Nationalist faction, which was ultimately victorious in March 1939.
The Great Terror
Regarding state repressions, Stalin often provided conflicting signals. In May 1933, he ordered the release of many criminals convicted of minor offenses from the overcrowded prisons and ordered the security services not to enact further mass arrests and deportations. In September 1934, he ordered the Politburo to establish a commission to investigate any false imprisonments; however, that same month he called for the execution of workers at the Stalin Metallurgical Factory accused of spying for Japan. This began to change in December 1934, when the prominent Communist Sergey Kirov was murdered. The killing was followed by an intensification of state repression; Stalin issued a decree establishing NKVD troikas which could mete out rulings without involving the courts. In 1936, Nikolai Yezhov became head of the NKVD and oversaw this intensification. Stalin instigated this intensification of repression, which was rooted in his own psychological compulsions and the logic of the system he had created, one which prioritised security above other considerations. He feared being ousted, being particularly concerned at how right-wing forces had been able to successfully mobilize against the leftist Spanish government.
Stalin orchestrated the arrest of many of his former opponents in the Communist Party: denounced as Western-backed mercenaries, many were imprisoned or sent to internal exile. The first of the Moscow Trials took place in August 1936; Kamenev and Zinoviev were among those accused of plotting assassinations, found guilty in a show trial, and executed. The second Moscow Show Trial took place in January 1937, and the third in March 1938, in which Bukharin and Rykov were accused of involvement in the alleged Trotskyite-Zinovievite terrorist plot and sentenced to death. There were mass expulsions from the party, with Stalin commanding foreign communist parties to also purge themselves of anti-Stalinist elements. These purges replaced most of the party's old guard with younger officials who did not remember a time before Stalin's leadership and who were regarded as more personally loyal to him. Party functionaries readily carried out their commands and sought to ingratiate themselves with Stalin to avoid becoming the victim of the purge.
The repressions further intensified in December 1936, and remained at a high level until November 1938, a period known as the Great Purge. By the latter part of 1937, the purges had moved beyond the party and were affecting the wider population. In May, this was followed by the arrest of most members of the military Supreme Command and mass arrests throughout the military, often on fabricated charges. In July 1937, the Politburo ordered a purge of "anti-Soviet elements" in society, something affecting whole social categories, including Bolsheviks who had opposed Stalin, former Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, priests, former soldiers in the White Army, and common criminals.
That month, Stalin and NKVD chief Nikolai Yezhov signed Order No. 00447, listing 268,950 people for arrest, of whom 193,000 were to be sentenced to forced labour and 75,950 executed. He also initiated "national operations", forms of ethnic cleansing in which members of various non-Soviet ethnic groups—among them Poles, Germans, Latvians, Finns, Greeks, Koreans, and Chinese—were exiled either internally or externally. Just as the de-kulakisation policy had sought to rid rural areas of anti-government forces, so Stalin sought to do the same in the cities and towns. In 1935, the NKVD was ordered to expel suspected counter-revolutionaries, particularly those who had been aristocrats, landlords, or businesspeople before the October Revolution. In the early months of 1935, over 11,000 people were expelled from Leningrad, to live in isolated rural areas.
Thereafter, several trials known as the Moscow Trials were held, but the procedures were replicated throughout the country. Article 58 of the legal code, which listed prohibited anti-Soviet activities as counterrevolutionary crime, was applied in the broadest manner. With the exception of Vladimir Milyutin (who died in prison in 1937) and Joseph Stalin himself, all of the members of Lenin's original cabinet who had not succumbed to death from natural causes before the purge were executed or assassinated. The purges even claimed Stalin's brothers-in-law Alexander Svanidze and Stanislav Redens. During the 1930s and 1940s, NKVD groups assassinated defectors and opponents of the Soviet government abroad; in August 1940, Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico, eliminating the last of Stalin's opponents among the former Party leadership. Present estimates suggest that nearly 700,000 people (353,074 in 1937 and 328,612 in 1938) were executed during this period, with the great mass of victims being "ordinary" Soviet citizens. Many of the executed were interred in mass graves, with some of the major killing and burial sites being Bykivnia, Kurapaty and Butovo.
The Great Terror ended when Yezhov was removed as the head of the NKVD, to be replaced by Lavrentiy Beria. Yezhov was arrested in April 1939 and executed in 1940.
World War II
Pact with Hitler: 1939
As a Marxist-Leninist, Stalin believed in an inevitable clash between competing capitalist countries and thus expected a Second World War, but sought to keep the Soviet Union out of it. As Nazi Germany annexed Austria and then part of Czechoslovakia in 1938, Stalin recognised that this war was looming. Stalin hoped that if war broke out between Germany on the one hand and France and the UK on the other then they would all wear each other down, leaving the Soviets a dominant force. In May 1939, Germany began negotiations with the Soviets over Poland, suggesting that the country be divided between the two powers. The Soviet government saw acquiescing to this idea as a chance for peace, at least temporarily, while at the same time gaining territorial expansion. In August 1939, the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, negotiated by Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. A week later, Germany invaded Poland, sparking the UK and France to declare war on it.
On 17 September, the Red Army entered Poland, officially to restore order amid the collapse of the Polish state; this explanation was also designed so as not to anger the UK and France. Stalin then suggested a territorial exchange with Germany, giving them the ethnic Polish-dominated areas of Lublin Province and part of Warsaw Province, and in return receiving Lithuania; Stalin had desired the reintegration of the three Baltic states into the Soviet Union. This was agreed in 28 September. A German–Soviet Frontier Treaty was signed shortly after, in Stalin's presence. German-Soviet trade agreements completely undermined the British blockade of Germany.
Meanwhile, in the east of the country, Soviet troops first clashed with the Japanese army at Nomonham in May 1939.
After Stalin declared that he was going to "solve the Baltic problem", by June 1940, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were merged into the Soviet Union, after repressions and actions therein brought about the deaths of over 160,000 citizens of these states. After facing stiff resistance in an invasion of Finland, an interim peace was entered, granting the Soviet Union the eastern region of Karelia (10% of Finnish territory).
After this campaign, actions were taken to bolster the Soviet military, modify training and improve propaganda efforts in the Soviet military. In June 1940, the Soviet annexation of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina was directed, this formerly Romanian territory becoming part of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. But in annexing northern Bukovina, the Soviet Union had gone beyond the agreed limits of the secret protocol.
After the Tripartite Pact was signed by Axis Powers Germany, Japan and Italy, in October 1940, Stalin traded letters with Ribbentrop, with Stalin writing about entering an agreement regarding a "permanent basis" for their "mutual interests." After a conference in Berlin between Hitler, Molotov and Ribbentrop, Germany presented Molotov with a proposed written agreement for Axis entry. On 25 November, Stalin responded with a proposed written agreement for Axis entry which was never answered by Germany. Shortly thereafter, Hitler issued a secret directive on the eventual attempts to invade the Soviet Union. In an effort to demonstrate peaceful intentions toward Germany, on 13 April 1941, Stalin oversaw the signing of a neutrality pact with Axis power Japan.
On 6 May, Stalin replaced Molotov as Premier of the Soviet Union. Although Stalin had been the de facto head of government for a decade and a half, he had concluded relations with Nazi Germany had deteriorated to such an extent that he needed to deal with the problem as de jure head of government as well.
Hitler breaks the pact
In the early morning of 22 June 1941, Adolf Hitler broke the pact by implementing Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union that began the war on the Eastern Front. Already in autumn 1940 Stalin received a warning from the Dutch Communist Party, via the network of the Red Orchestra, that Hitler was preparing for a winter war by allowing the construction of thousands of snow landing gears for the Junkers Ju 52 transport planes. Although Stalin had received warnings from spies like Richard Sorge, Stalin's top spy in Imperial Japan, and his own Red Army generals, he felt that Germany would not attack the Soviet Union until Germany had defeated Britain. In the initial hours after the German attack commenced, Stalin hesitated, wanting to ensure that the German attack was sanctioned by Hitler, rather than the unauthorized action of a rogue general.
Accounts by Nikita Khrushchev and Anastas Mikoyan claim that, after the invasion, Stalin retreated to his dacha in despair for several days and did not participate in leadership decisions. However, documentary evidence of orders given by Stalin contradicts these accounts, leading some historians to speculate that Khrushchev's account is inaccurate. By the end of 1941, the Soviet military had suffered 4.3 million casualties and German forces had advanced 1,050 miles (1,690 kilometers).
After the brief Nazi occupation of the Caucasus, the entire population of five of the small highland peoples and the Crimean Tatars – more than a million people in total – were deported without notice or any opportunity to take their possessions.
Soviets stop the Germans
In September 1941, Stalin told British diplomats that he wanted two agreements: (1) a mutual assistance/aid pact and (2) a recognition that, after the war, the Soviet Union would gain the territories in countries that it had taken pursuant to its division of Eastern Europe with Hitler in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. The British agreed to assistance but refused to agree upon the territorial gains, which Stalin accepted months later as the military situation deteriorated somewhat in mid-1942. By December 1941, Hitler's troops had advanced to within 20 miles (30 km) of the Kremlin in Moscow. On 5 December, the Soviets launched a counteroffensive, pushing German troops back 40–50 miles (60–80 km) from Moscow.
In 1942, Hitler shifted his primary goal from an immediate victory in the East, to the more long-term goal of securing the southern Soviet Union to conquer oil fields vital to a long-term German war effort. In July 1942, Hitler praised the efficiency of the Soviet military industry and Stalin:
Stalin, too, must command our unconditional respect. In his own way he is one hell of a fellow! (German: ein genialer Kerl) He knows his models, Genghiz Khan and the others, very well, and the scope of his industrial planning is exceeded only by our own Four Year Plan.
While Red Army generals saw evidence that Hitler would shift efforts south, Stalin considered this to be a flanking campaign in efforts to take Moscow.
Stalin was annoyed that people in Western countries called him "Uncle Joe", regarding it as undignified.
Soviet push to Germany
By November 1942, the Soviets had begun to repulse the important German strategic southern campaign and, although there were 2.5 million Soviet casualties in that effort, it permitted the Soviets to take the offensive for most of the rest of the war on the Eastern Front.
Germany attempted an encirclement attack at Kursk, which was successfully repulsed by the Soviets. Kursk marked the beginning of a period where Stalin became more willing to listen to the advice of his generals. By the end of 1943, the Soviets occupied half of the territory taken by the Germans from 1941 to 1942. Soviet military industrial output also had increased substantially from late 1941 to early 1943 after Stalin had moved factories well to the East of the front, safe from German invasion and air attack.
In November 1943, Stalin met with Churchill and Roosevelt in Tehran. The parties later agreed that Britain and America would launch a cross-channel invasion of France in May 1944, along with a separate invasion of southern France. Stalin insisted that, after the war, the Soviet Union should incorporate the portions of Poland it occupied pursuant to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Germany, which Churchill opposed.
In 1944, the Soviet Union made significant advances across Eastern Europe toward Germany, including Operation Bagration, a massive offensive in the Byelorussian SSR against the German Army Group Centre.
By April 1945, Nazi Germany faced its last days with 1.9 million German soldiers in the East fighting 6.4 million Red Army soldiers while 1 million German soldiers in the West battled 4 million Western Allied soldiers. While initial talk existed of a race to Berlin by the Allies, after Stalin successfully lobbied for Eastern Germany to fall within the Soviet "sphere of influence" at Yalta, no plans were made by the Western Allies to seize the city by a ground operation.
On 30 April, Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide, after which Soviet forces found their remains, which had been burned at Hitler's directive. German forces surrendered a few days later.
Fending off the German invasion and pressing to victory in the East required a tremendous sacrifice by the Soviet Union. Soviet military casualties totalled approximately 35 million (official figures 28.2 million) with approximately 14.7 million killed, missing or captured (official figures 11.285 million). Although figures vary, the Soviet civilian death toll probably reached 20 million. One in four Soviets was killed or wounded. Some 1,710 towns and 70,000 villages were destroyed. Thereafter, Stalin was at times referred to as one of the most influential men in human history.
At the Tehran and Yalta conferences, Stalin agreed to enter the war against Japan after Germany's defeat. On 5 April 1945, the Soviet Government officially denounced the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact. Then at the Potsdam conference in June 1945, the Soviet Union reaffirmed its agreement to declare war on Japan and did so on and on 8 August, three months after Germany's surrender. The next day, in between the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviet army invaded Japanese occupied Manchuria and quickly defeated the Kwantung Army. These events led to the Japanese surrender and the complete end of World War II. The Soviets annexed Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands, which were promised to them by the Allies and Stalin had planned to invade Hokkaido but abandoned the project after strong American protest. Stalin was irritated that Allies gave him little to no influence in Occupied Japan.
Human rights abuses
After taking around 300,000 Polish prisoners in late 1939 and early 1940, 25,700 Polish POWs were executed on 5 March 1940, pursuant to a note to Stalin from Lavrenty Beria, in what became known as the Katyn massacre. While Stalin personally told a Polish general that they'd "lost track" of the officers in Manchuria, Polish railroad workers found the mass grave after the 1941 Nazi invasion. The massacre became a source of political controversy, with the Soviets eventually claiming that Germany committed the executions when the Soviet Union retook Poland in 1944. The Soviets did not admit their responsibility for the massacre until 1990.
Stalin introduced controversial military orders, such as Order No. 270 in August 1941, requiring superiors to shoot deserters on the spot while their family members were subject to arrest. Thereafter, Stalin also conducted a purge of several military commanders who were shot for "cowardice" without a trial. Stalin issued Order No. 227 in July 1942, which directed that commanders who permitted retreat without permission would be subject to a military tribunal, and it also directed that soldiers who were guilty of disciplinary procedures would be forced into "penal battalions", which were sent to the most dangerous sections of the front lines. From 1942 to 1945, 427,910 soldiers were assigned to penal battalions. The order also directed that "blocking detachments" should shoot fleeing and panicked troops at the rear.
In June 1941, weeks after the German invasion began, Stalin also directed the employment of a scorched earth policy of destroying the infrastructure and food supplies of areas before the Germans could seize them, and he also directed that partisans were to be set up in evacuated areas. He also ordered the NKVD to murder around one hundred thousand political prisoners in areas where the Wehrmacht approached, while others were deported east.
After the capture of Berlin, Soviet troops reportedly raped anywhere from tens of thousands to two million women, and 50,000 during and after the occupation of Budapest. Many of these women died or committed suicide as a result of rape. In former Axis countries, such as Germany, Romania and Hungary, Red Army officers generally viewed cities, villages and farms as being open to pillaging and looting.
In the Soviet Occupation Zone of post-war Germany, the Soviets set up ten NKVD-run "special camps" subordinate to the gulag. These "special camps" were former Stalags, prisons, or Nazi concentration camps such as Sachsenhausen (special camp number 7) and Buchenwald (special camp number 2). According to German government estimates, "65,000 people died in those Soviet-run camps or in transportation to them."
According to recent figures, of an estimated four million POWs taken by the Soviets, including Germans, Japanese, Hungarians, Romanians and others, some 580,000 never returned, presumably victims of privation or the Gulags. German estimates put the actual death toll of German POWs in the USSR at about 1 million, they maintain that among those reported as missing were men who actually died as POWs. Soviet POWs and forced laborers who survived German captivity were sent to special "transit" or "filtration" camps to determine which were potential traitors.
Of the approximately 4 million to be repatriated 2,660,013 were civilians and 1,539,475 were former POWs. Of the total, 2,427,906 were sent home and 801,152 were reconscripted into the armed forces. 608,095 were enrolled in the work battalions of the defense ministry. 272,867 were transferred to the authority of the NKVD for punishment, which meant a transfer to the Gulag system. 89,468 remained in the transit camps as reception personnel until the repatriation process was finally wound up in the early 1950s.
Allied conferences on post-war Europe
Stalin met in several conferences with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (and later Clement Attlee) and/or U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (and later Harry Truman) to plan military strategy and, later, to discuss Europe's postwar reorganization. Very early conferences, such as that with British diplomats in Moscow in 1941 and with Churchill and American diplomats in Moscow in 1942, focused mostly upon war planning and supply, though some preliminary postwar reorganization discussion also occurred. In 1943, Stalin met with Churchill and Roosevelt in the Tehran Conference. In 1944, Stalin met with Churchill in the Moscow Conference. Beginning in late 1944, the Red Army occupied much of Eastern Europe during these conferences and the discussions shifted to a more intense focus on the reorganization of postwar Europe.
In February 1945, at the conference at Yalta, Stalin demanded a Soviet sphere of political influence in Eastern Europe. Stalin eventually was convinced by Churchill and Roosevelt not to dismember Germany. Stalin also stated that the Polish government-in-exile demands for self-rule were not negotiable, such that the Soviet Union would keep the territory of eastern Poland they had already taken by invasion with German consent in 1939, and wanted the pro-Soviet Polish government installed. After resistance by Churchill and Roosevelt, Stalin promised a re-organization of the current Communist puppet government on a broader democratic basis in Poland. He stated the new government's primary task would be to prepare elections.
The parties at Yalta further agreed that the countries of liberated Europe and former Axis satellites would be allowed to "create democratic institutions of their own choice", pursuant to "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live." The parties also agreed to help those countries form interim governments "pledged to the earliest possible establishment through free elections" and "facilitate where necessary the holding of such elections." After the re-organization of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland, the parties agreed that the new party shall "be pledged to the holding of free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot." One month after Yalta, the Soviet NKVD arrested 16 Polish leaders wishing to participate in provisional government negotiations, for alleged "crimes" and "diversions", which drew protest from the West. The fraudulent Polish elections, held in January 1947 resulted in Poland's official transformation to undemocratic communist state by 1949.
At the Potsdam Conference from July to August 1945, though Germany had surrendered months earlier, instead of withdrawing Soviet forces from Eastern European countries, Stalin had not moved those forces. At the beginning of the conference, Stalin repeated previous promises to Churchill that he would refrain from a "Sovietization" of Eastern Europe. Stalin pushed for reparations from Germany without regard to the base minimum supply for German citizens' survival, which worried Truman and Churchill who thought that Germany would become a financial burden for Western powers.
In addition to reparations, Stalin pushed for "war booty", which would permit the Soviet Union to directly seize property from conquered nations without quantitative or qualitative limitation, and a clause was added permitting this to occur with some limitations. By July 1945, Stalin's troops effectively controlled the Baltic States, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania, and refugees were fleeing out of these countries fearing a Communist take-over. The western allies, and especially Churchill, were suspicious of the motives of Stalin, who had already installed communist governments in the central European countries under his influence.
In these conferences, his first appearances on the world stage, Stalin proved to be a formidable negotiator. Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary noted: "Marshal Stalin as a negotiator was the toughest proposition of all. Indeed, after something like thirty years' experience of international conferences of one kind and another, if I had to pick a team for going into a conference room, Stalin would be my first choice. Of course the man was ruthless and of course he knew his purpose. He never wasted a word. He never stormed, he was seldom even irritated."
Post-war era, 1945–1953
The USSR also experienced a major famine from 1946 to 1947. The conditions were caused by drought, the effects of which were exacerbated by the devastation caused by World War II. British economist Michael Ellman argues that it could have been prevented if the government had not mismanaged its grain reserves. The famine cost an estimated 1 to 1.5 million lives as well as secondary population losses due to reduced fertility.
The Eastern Bloc
After Soviet forces remained in Eastern and Central European countries, with the beginnings of communist puppet regimes in those countries, Churchill referred to the region as being behind an "Iron Curtain" of control from Moscow.
In Soviet-controlled East Germany, the major task of the ruling communist party in Germany was to channel Soviet orders down to both the administrative apparatus and the other bloc parties pretending that these were initiatives of its own, with deviations potentially leading to reprimands, imprisonment, torture and even death. Property and industry were nationalized.
While Stalin had promised at the Yalta Conference that free elections would be held in Poland, after an election failure in "3 times YES" elections, vote rigging was employed to win a majority in the carefully controlled poll. Following the forged referendum, the Polish economy started to become nationalized.
In Hungary, when the Soviets installed a communist government, Mátyás Rákosi, who described himself as "Stalin's best Hungarian disciple" and "Stalin's best pupil", took power. Rákosi employed "salami tactics", slicing up opponents of communism in Hungary like pieces of salami, to battle the initial postwar political majority ready to establish a democracy. Rákosi employed Stalinist political and economic programs, and was dubbed the "bald murderer" for establishing one of the harshest dictatorships in Europe. Approximately 350,000 Hungarian officials and intellectuals were purged from 1948 to 1956.
During World War II, in Bulgaria, the Red Army crossed the border and created the conditions for a communist coup d'état on the following night. The Soviet military commander in Sofia assumed supreme authority, and the communists whom he instructed, including Kimon Georgiev, took full control of domestic politics.
In 1949, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania founded the Comecon in accordance with Stalin's desire to enforce Soviet domination of the lesser states of Central Europe and to mollify some states that had expressed interest in the Marshall Plan, and which were now, increasingly, cut off from their traditional markets and suppliers in Western Europe. Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland had remained interested in Marshall aid despite the requirements for a convertible currency and market economies. In July 1947, Stalin ordered these communist-dominated governments to pull out of the Paris Conference on the European Recovery Programme. This has been described as "the moment of truth" in the post–World War II division of Europe.
The North Korean Army struck in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, 25 June 1950, crossing the 38th parallel behind a firestorm of artillery, beginning their invasion of South Korea. During the Korean War, Soviet pilots flew Soviet aircraft from Chinese bases against United Nations aircraft defending South Korea. Post-Cold War research in Soviet Archives has revealed that the Korean War was begun by Kim Il-sung with the express permission of Stalin.
Stalin originally supported the creation of Israel in 1948. The USSR was one of the first nations to recognize the new country.
Falsifiers of History
In 1948, Stalin personally edited and rewrote by hand sections of the Cold War book Falsifiers of History. Falsifiers was published in response to the documents made public in Nazi-Soviet Relations, 1939–1941: Documents from the Archives of The German Foreign Office, which included the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and other secret German-Soviet relations documents. Falsifiers originally appeared as a series of articles in Pravda in February 1948, and was subsequently published in numerous languages and distributed worldwide.
The book did not attempt to directly counter or deal with the documents published in Nazi-Soviet Relations and rather, focused upon Western culpability for the outbreak of war in 1939. It argues that "Western powers" aided Nazi rearmament and aggression, including that American bankers and industrialists provided capital for the growth of German war industries, while deliberately encouraging Hitler to expand eastward. It depicted the Soviet Union as striving to negotiate a collective security against Hitler, while being thwarted by double-dealing Anglo-French appeasers who, despite appearances, had no intention of a Soviet alliance and were secretly negotiating with Berlin. It casts the Munich agreement, not just as Anglo-French short-sightedness or cowardice, but as a "secret" agreement that was "a highly important phase in their policy aimed at goading the Hitlerite aggressors against the Soviet Union." The book also included the claim that, during the Pact's operation, Stalin rejected Hitler's offer to share in a division of the world, without mentioning the Soviet offers to join the Axis. Historical studies, official accounts, memoirs and textbooks published in the Soviet Union used that depiction of events until the Soviet Union's dissolution.
The "Doctors' plot" was a plot outlined by Stalin and Soviet officials in 1952 and 1953 whereby several doctors (over half of whom were Jewish) allegedly attempted to kill Soviet officials. The prevailing opinion of many scholars outside the Soviet Union is that Stalin intended to use the resulting doctors' trial to launch a massive party purge. The plot is also viewed by many historians as an antisemitic provocation. It followed on the heels of the 1952 show trials of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and the secret execution of thirteen members on Stalin's orders in the Night of the Murdered Poets.
Thereafter, in a December Politburo session, Stalin announced that "Every Jewish nationalist is the agent of the American intelligence service. Jewish nationalists think that their nation was saved by the United States (there you can become rich, bourgeois, etc.). They think they're indebted to the Americans. Among doctors, there are many Jewish nationalists." To mobilize the Soviet people for his campaign, Stalin ordered TASS and Pravda to issue stories along with Stalin's alleged uncovering of a "Doctors Plot" to assassinate top Soviet leaders, including Stalin, in order to set the stage for show trials.
The next month, Pravda published stories with text regarding the purported "Jewish bourgeois-nationalist" plotters. After Stalin's death, Nikita Khrushchev made the claim that Stalin hinted that he should incite anti-Semitism in the Ukraine, allegedly telling him that "the good workers at the factory should be given clubs so they can beat the hell out of those Jews." Stalin also ordered falsely accused physicians to be tortured "to death". Regarding the origins of the plot, people who knew Stalin, such as Khrushchev, suggest that Stalin had long harbored negative sentiments toward Jews, and anti-Semitic trends in the Kremlin's policies were further fueled by the struggle against Leon Trotsky. In 1946, Stalin allegedly said privately that "every Jew is a potential spy." At the end of January 1953, Stalin's personal physician Miron Vovsi (cousin of Solomon Mikhoels, who was assassinated in 1948 at the orders of Stalin) was arrested within the frame of the plot. Vovsi was released by Beria after Stalin's death in 1953, as was his son-in-law, the composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg.
Some historians have argued that Stalin was also planning to send millions of Jews to four large newly built labor camps in Western Russia using a "Deportation Commission" that would purportedly act to save Soviet Jews from an enraged Soviet population after the Doctors Plot trials. Others argue that any charge of an alleged mass deportation lacks specific documentary evidence. Regardless of whether a plot to deport Jews was planned, in his "Secret Speech" in 1956, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev stated that the Doctors Plot was "fabricated ... set up by Stalin", that Stalin told the judge to beat confessions from the defendants and had told Politburo members "You are blind like young kittens. What will happen without me? The country will perish because you do not know how to recognize enemies."
Death and funeral: 1953
Stalin's health deteriorated towards the end of World War II. He suffered from atherosclerosis from his heavy smoking, a mild stroke around the time of the Victory Parade, and a severe heart attack in October 1945. On 1 March 1953, Stalin's staff found him unconscious in his bedroom, having urinated down himself. He had suffered a burst blood vessel in the brain; He was moved onto a couch and remained there for three days. He was hand-fed using a spoon, given various medicines and injections, and leeches were applied to him. Svetlana and Vasily were called to the dacha on 2 March; the latter was drunk and angrily shouted at the doctors, resulting in him being sent home. Stalin died on 5 March 1953. According to Svetlana, it had been "a difficult and terrible death".
The political memoirs of Vyacheslav Molotov, published in 1993, claimed that Beria had boasted to Molotov that he poisoned Stalin: "I took him out." Stomach hemorrhage is usually not caused by high blood pressure, but is, along with stroke, consistent with overdose of warfarin, a colourless, tasteless, anticoagulant drug.
Stalin's autopsy, conducted by the Soviet Ministry of Health in March 1953 but not released until 2011, confirmed the cause of death as stroke resulting from high blood pressure, and that hypertension had also caused cardiac hemorrhage (not usually caused by high blood pressure) and gastrointestinal hemorrhage as well. In 2011, Miguel A. Faria, President of Mercer University School of Medicine, retired clinical professor of neurosurgery and adjunct professor of medical history, interpreted the autopsy's composition as the examiners' desire to demonstrate for posterity that they had fulfilled their professional duties as best they could by mentioning the non-cerebral hemorrhages. At the same time they would have provided themselves political cover by purposely attributing the hemorrhages to hypertension instead of poisoning by warfarin. Faria noted that when the autopsy was performed, "Stalin was worshipped as a demigod, and his assassination would have been unacceptable to the Russian populace." He also notes that Stalin experienced renal hemorrhages during his death, which is unlikely to be caused by high blood pressure.
In March, Stalin's corpse lay in state in Moscow's House of Unions for three days. Crowds were such that a crush killed around 100 people. The subsequent funeral involved the body being laid to rest in Lenin's Mausoleum in Red Square on 9 March. That month featured a surge in arrests for "anti-Soviet agitation" as those celebrating Stalin's death came to police attention. On 31 October 1961 his body was removed from the mausoleum and buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis next to the Kremlin walls as part of the process of de-Stalinization.
The Chinese government instituted a period of official mourning for Stalin's death. Mao ordered the flag be flown at half-mast, and banned recreation for three days; he also eulogized Stalin in an article "as a great leader, a Marxist theorist, and a friend of China". On 9 March, the country observed a five-minute period of silence in Stalin's memory.
His demise arrived at a convenient time for Lavrentiy Beria and others, who feared being swept away in yet another purge. It is believed that Stalin felt Beria's power was too great and threatened his own. In March, Georgi Malenkov denounced the Stalin personality cult. The doctors who had been imprisoned were released and the anti-Semitic purges ceased.
After Stalin's death a power struggle for his vacant position took place between the following eight senior members of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union listed according to the order of precedence presented formally on 5 March 1953: Georgy Malenkov, Lavrentiy Beria, Vyacheslav Molotov, Klim Voroshilov, Nikita Khrushchev, Nikolai Bulganin, Lazar Kaganovich, Anastas Mikoyan. The struggle lasted until 1958 and in September of that year, Khrushchev was elected Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Prime Minister, replacing Bulganin who had been elected to the post in March.
In 1956, Khruschev gave his "Secret Speech", On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences, delivered to a closed session of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for the cult of personality surrounding him, and his government for "violations of socialist legality".
In February 1956, Khrushchev condemned the deportations as a violation of Leninism and reversed some of them, although it was not until 1991 that Tatars, Meskhetians and Volga Germans were allowed to return en masse to their territories. The memory of the deportations has played a major part in the separatist movements in the Baltic states, Tatarstan and Chechnya.
Marxism was the guiding philosophy throughout Stalin's adult life. According to Montefiore, Marxism held a "quasi-religious" value for Stalin. During his early life, Marxism blended with Georgian nationalism as a core component of his outlook. In 1917, he wrote that "there is dogmatic Marxism and there is creative Marxism. I stand on the ground of the latter". Volkogonov however believed that Stalin's Marxism was shaped by his "dogmatic turn of mind", something that Volkogonov suggested had been instilled in the Soviet leader during his education in religious institutions. According to scholar Robert Service, Stalin's "few innovations in ideology were crude, dubious developments of Marxism". Some of these derived from political expediency rather than any sincere intellectual commitment. Stalin referred to himself as a praktic, meaning that he was more of a practical revolutionary than a theoretician.
As a Marxist, Stalin believed in an inevitable class war between the world's working and middle classes. He believed that the working classes would prove successful in this struggle and would establish a dictatorship of the proletariat. He also believed that this proletarian state would need to introduce repressive measures to ensure the full crushing of the propertied classes, and thus the class war would intensify with the advance of socialism. The new state would then be able to ensure that all citizens had access to work, food, shelter, healthcare, and education, with the wastefulness of capitalism eliminated by a new, standardised economic system.
Stalin claimed to be a loyal Leninist. Nevertheless, he was—according to Service—"not a blindly obedient Leninist". Stalin respected Lenin, but not uncritically, and spoke out when he believed that Lenin was wrong. During the period of his revolutionary activity, Stalin regarded some of Lenin's views and actions as being the self-indulgent activities of a spoiled émigré, deeming them counterproductive for those Bolshevik activists based within the Russian Empire itself. After the October Revolution, they continued to have differences. Whereas Lenin believed that all countries across Europe and Asia would readily unite as a single state following proletariat revolution, Stalin argued that national pride would prevent this, and that different socialist states would have to be formed; in his view, a country like Germany would not readily submit to being part of a Russian-dominated federal state. Stalin biographer Oleg Khlevniuk nevertheless believed that the pair developed a "strong bond" over the years, and after Lenin's death, Stalin relied heavily on Lenin's writings—far more so than those of Marx and Engels—to guide him in the affairs of state.
Stalin adopted the Leninist view on the need for a revolutionary vanguard who could lead the proletariat rather than being led by them. He also believed that the Soviet peoples needed a strong, central figure—akin to a Tsar—whom they could rally around. He read about, and admired, two Tsars in particular: Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great.
Stalin viewed nations as contingent entities which were formed by capitalism and could merge into others. Ultimately he believed that all nations would merge into a single, global human community. In his work, he stated that "the right of secession" should be offered to the ethnic-minorities of the Russian Empire, but that they should not be encouraged to take that option. He was of the view that if they became fully autonomous, then they would end up being controlled by the most reactionary elements of their community; as an example he cited the largely illiterate Tatars, whom he claimed would end up dominated by their mullahs. Khlevniuk therefore argued that Stalin reconciled Marxism with imperialism. According to Service, Stalin's Marxism was imbued with a great deal of Russian nationalism. However, according to Montefiore, Stalin's embrace of the Russian nation was pragmatic, as the Russians were the core of the population of the USSR; it was not a rejection of his Georgian origins. Stalin's push for Soviet westward expansion into eastern Europe resulted in accusations of Russian imperialism.
Stalin avoided using the term "Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism" although allowed others to do so. Stalinism was a development of Leninism.
The Stalinist blend of Russian nationalism, Marxism, and state atheism was—according to Service—"so idiosyncratic a compilation as to be virtually [Stalin's] own invention".
Personal life and characteristics
In adulthood, Stalin measured 5 feet 4 inches (1.63 m) tall. To give the impression that he was taller, he wore stacked shoes, and stood on a small wooden platform during parades. His mustached face was pock-marked from smallpox during childhood. He was born with a webbed left foot, and his left arm had been permanently injured in childhood which left it shorter than his right and lacking in flexibility, which was probably the result of when he was aged 12 he was hit by a horse-drawn carriage. During his youth, he usually wore a red satin shirt, grey coat, and red fedora, or alternately a traditional Georgian chokha and white hood. At the time he grew his hair long and often had a beard. His cultivation of a scruffy appearance deliberately sought to reject middle-class aesthetic values. After the summer of 1918 until his death he took to wearing military-style clothing, in particular long black boots and a light-coloured collarless tunics, and also carried a gun.
Stalin was ethnically Georgian, and had grown up speaking the Georgian language, only learning Russian when aged eight or nine. Stalin remained proud of his Georgian identity and culture, and throughout his life, he retained his Georgian accent when speaking Russian. According to Montefiore, his adoption of Russian culture has been exaggerated, and he was profoundly Georgian in his lifestyle and personality, spending much of his final years in his homeland. Montefiore was of the view that "after 1917, he became quadri-national: Georgian by nationality, Russian by loyalty, internationalist by ideology, Soviet by citizenship." Service stated that Stalin "would never be Russian", could not credibly pass as one and contrary to what has been previously suggested, he never really tried to be one. Stalin was described as "Asiatic" by his colleagues, and told a Japanese journalist, "I am not a European man, but an Asian, a Russified Georgian".
Stalin's (Russian: Ио́сиф Виссарио́нович Ста́лин, pronounced [ˈjɵsʲɪf vʲɪsɐˈrʲɵnəvʲɪtɕ ˈstalʲɪn]) original Georgian name is transliterated as "Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili" (Georgian: იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი [iɔsɛb bɛsɑriɔnis dzɛ dʒuɣɑʃvili]). The Russian transliteration of his name Ио́сиф Виссарио́нович Джугашви́ли is in turn transliterated to English as "Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili". Like other Bolsheviks, he became commonly known by one of his revolutionary noms de guerre, of which "Stalin" was only the last. "Stalin" is based on the Russian word сталь stal, meaning "steel", and the name as a whole is supposed to mean "man of steel". Prior nicknames included "Koba", "Soselo", "Ivanov" and many others.
Stalin had a soft voice, and when speaking Russian he did so slowly, carefully choosing his phrasing. Although he avoided doing so in public, in private Stalin used coarse language. Described as a poor orator, according to Volkogonov, Stalin's speaking style was "simple and clear, without flights of fancy, catchy phrases or platform histrionics". He rarely spoke before large audiences, and preferred to express himself in written form. His writing style was similar, being characterised by its simplicity, clarity, and conciseness.
Trotsky and several other Soviet figures promoted the idea that Stalin was a mediocrity. This idea gained widespread acceptance outside the Soviet Union but was misleading. According to Montefiore, "it is clear from hostile and friendly witnesses alike that Stalin was always exceptional, even from childhood". Stalin had a complex mind. He had a great deal of self-control, and rarely raised his voice in anger, although as his health declined in later life he became increasingly unpredictable and bad tempered. A hard worker, he displayed a keen desire to learn, and had an excellent memory. When in power, he scrutinised many details of Soviet life, from film scripts to architectural plans and military hardware. He was a capable actor who could play many different roles to different audiences; he often lied or sought to deceive others as to his motivates and aims. He judged others according to their inner strength, practicality, and cleverness. Despite his short temper and tough-talking attitude, he could be very charming; when relaxed, he cracked jokes and mimicked others.
Stalin was ruthless, temperamentally cruel, and had a propensity for violence excessive even among the Bolsheviks. He lacked compassion, something which Volkogonov suggested might have been accentuated by his many years spent in prison and exile, although he was capable of acts of kindness to strangers, even amid the Great Terror. Service stated that Stalin "derived deep satisfaction" from degrading and humiliating people, and that he "delighted" in keeping even close associates in a state of "unrelieved fear". He was capable of self-righteous indignation, and was both resentful, and vengeful, holding onto grievances against others for many years. He was also suspicious and conspiratorial, prone to believing that people were plotting against him and that there were vast international conspiracies behind acts of dissent. According to Montefiore, Stalin's "Messiah-complex led him to believe that anyone opposed to him was an enemy of the cause". Montefiore thought that Stalin's brutality marked him out as a "natural extremist"; Service suggested that he had a paranoid or sociopathic personality disorder, with this "dangerously damaged" personality supplying "the high-octane fuel for the journey to the Great Terror". By the period of glasnost and perestroika, Soviet psychologists were openly debating whether Stalin had been insane.
Stalin admired artistic talent, and protected several Soviet writers, such as Mikhail Bulgakov, even when their work was regarded as harmful to his regime. He enjoyed listening to music, owning around 2,700 albums. His taste in music and theatre was conservative, favouring classical drama, opera, and ballet over what he dismissed as experimental "formalism". He was a voracious reader, with a library of over 20,000 books. Little of this was fiction, although he knew passages from the work of Alexander Pushkin and Nikolay Nekrasov by heart and could also recite Walt Whitman. He spent much time in the Kremlin cinema, where he enjoyed watching films with other high-ranking officials late at night. Stalin enjoyed drinking, and would often force those around him to join in, preferring Georgian wine over Russian vodka. As an infant, Stalin had displayed a love of flowers, and later in life he became a keen gardener. His dacha in the Moscow suburb of Volynskoe was surrounded by a 50-acre park, with Stalin devoting much attention to its agricultural activities. Stalin was also an accomplished billiards player.
Stalin disliked travel, and was afraid of flying. As leader of the USSR, he rarely left Moscow, unless to go to his dacha or on holiday. In 1934, his new dacha was built: the Kuntsevo Dacha. Beside his suite in the Kremlin, Stalin had numerous domiciles. In 1919, he started with a country house near Usovo, he added dachas at Zuvalova and Kuntsevo (Blizhny dacha built by Miron Merzhanov). Before World War II he added the Lipki estate and Semyonovskaya and had at least four dachas in the south by 1937, including one near Sochi. A luxury villa near Gagri was given to him by Beria. In Abkhazia he maintained a mountain retreat. After the war he added dachas at Novy Afon, near Sukhumi, in the Valdai Hills, and at Lake Mitsa. Another estate was near Zelyony Myss on the Black Sea. All these dachas, estates, and palaces were staffed, well-furnished and equipped, kept safe by security forces, and were mainly used privately, rarely for diplomatic purposes. After 1932, he favoured Abkhazia as a holiday destination, being a friend of its leader, Nestor Lakoba.
Relationships and family
Friendship was important to Stalin, and he used it to gain and maintain power. After he came to power, Stalin and the other members of the ruling team, Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Anastas Mikoyan, Klim Voroshilov, Andrei Andreev, Sergei Kirov, Valerian Kuibyshev, Sergo Ordzhonikidze, Mikhail Kalinin, Andrei Zhdanov, Khrushchev, Georgy Malenkov, Lavrenty Beria, Stanislav Kosior, Vlas Chubar, Pavel Postyshev, and Nikolai Voznesensky socialized mainly with each other. In the early years most of them had young children and Stalin's wife Nadezhda Alliluyeva was alive. Later, after World War II, as Stalin became more suspicious of his colleagues, his relationships with other members of the ruling group, now older men, became more forced.
Stalin was sociable and enjoyed a joke. While head of the Soviet Union he remained in contact with many of his old friends in Georgia, sending them letters and gifts of money. According to Montefiore, Stalin "rarely seems to have been without a girlfriend". He was sexually promiscuous, although rarely talked about his sex life. Montefiore noted that Stalin's favoured types were "young, malleable teenagers or buxom peasant women", who would be supportive and unchallenging toward him. According to Service, Stalin "regarded women as a resource for sexual gratification and domestic comfort".
Stalin married his first wife Ekaterina Svanidze in 1906. According to Montefiore, theirs was "a true love match"; Volkogonov suggested that she was "probably the one human being he had really loved". They had a son Yakov, who often frustrated and annoyed Stalin. Yakov had a daughter, Galina, before joining the Red Army and fighting in the Second World War. He was captured by the German Army and then committed suicide. Stalin's second wife was Nadezhda Alliluyeva; theirs was not an easy relationship, and they often rowed. They had two biological children—a son, Vasiliy, and a daughter, Svetlana—and adopted another son, Artyom Sergeev, in 1921. Stalin adored his daughter and had an affectionate relationship with her; he was also very fond of Artyom. During his marriage to Nadezhda, Stalin had affairs with many other women, most of whom were fellow revolutionaries or their wives. Nadezdha suspected that this was the case, and committed suicide in 1932.
According to Edvard Radzinsky he also had a long-term relationship with his housekeeper Valentina Istomina, beginning in 1934. Stalin had at least two illegitimate children. One of these, Constantin Kuzakova, later taught philosophy at the Leningrad Military Mechanical Institute, but never met his father. The other, Alexander, was the son of Lidia Pereprygia; he was raised as the son of a peasant fisherman and the Soviet authorities made him swear never to reveal that Stalin was his biological father.
The historian Robert Conquest stated that Stalin, "perhaps more than any other [person,] determined the course of the twentieth century".
Stalin strengthened and stabilised the Soviet Union. Service suggested that without Stalin's leadership the Soviet Union might have collapsed long before 1991. By the time of his death, the country had been transformed into a world power and industrial colossus, with a literate population.
Various biographers have described him as a dictator, an autocrat, or accused him of Caesarism, and in both the Soviet Union and elsewhere he came to be portrayed as an "Oriental despot". The biographer Dmitri Volkogonov characterised him as "one of the most powerful figures in human history", while Service noted that by the late 1930s, Stalin "had come closer to personal despotism than almost any monarch in history". Service however cautioned against the conventional portrayal of Stalin as an "unimpeded despot", noting that "powerful though he was, his powers were not limitless". Rather, his personal rule depended on his willingness to conserve the Soviet structure that he had inherited. Khlevniuk noted that at various points, particularly when Stalin was old and frail, there were "periodic manifestations" in which the party oligarchy threatened his autocratic control. Stalin denied to foreign visitors that he was a dictator, stating that those who labelled him such did not understand the Soviet governance structure.
Stalin was repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism; Conquest for instance stated that although Stalin had Jewish associates, he promoted anti-Semitism. Service noted that during his lifetime, Stalin "would be the friend, associate or leader of countless individual Jews". He has also been described as a terrorist for his revolutionary activities in Georgia.
A vast literature devoted to Stalin has been produced; it is so substantial that even specialists could not read it all. During Stalin's lifetime, his approved biographies were largely hagiographic in content. Stalin ensured that these works gave very little attention to his early life, particularly because he did not wish to emphasise his Georgian origins in a state numerically dominated by Russians. A large number of Stalin biographies have been published since his death. Until the 1980s, these relied largely on the same sources of information as each other. Under the administration of Mikhail Gorbachev a number of previously classified files on Lenin's life were made available to historians, with the rest being released after the fall of the Soviet Union. Much new information on Stalin's early life came with the post-Soviet opening of archives, particularly in Georgia. This resulted in a flood of new research. Conquest expressed the view that during the period of glasnost initiated by Gorbachev, Stalin and Stalinism became "one of the most urgent and vital issues on the public agenda".
Leninists remain divided in their views on Stalin. Some view him as the authentic successor to Lenin, who continued and developed his legacy, while others believe that Stalin betrayed Lenin's ideas by deviating from them.
Calculating the number of victims
According to the historian Robert Service, Stalin was "one of the most notorious figures in history", one who ordered "the systematic killing of people on a massive scale". Khlevniuk stated that Stalin's actions "upended or utterly destroyed literally millions upon millions of lives". Service regarded the Georgian as "one of the twentieth century's outstanding politicians". Montefiore regarded Stalin as "that rare combination: both 'intellectual' and killer", a man who was "the ultimate politician" and "the most elusive and fascinating of the twentieth-century titans". Montefiore suggested that Stalin was ultimately responsible for the deaths of between 20 and 25 million people, with Khlevniuk stating that at least 60 million people faced some form of repression or discrimination under Stalin's regime. Official records show that 800,000 were shot in the Soviet Union between 1930 and 1952, although a larger number died during torture or as a result of poor conditions in labour camps. Many more died as a result of famines and starvation; between 5 and 7 million died during the 1932–33 famine.
According to official Soviet estimates, more than 14 million people passed through the Gulag from 1929 to 1953, with a further 7 to 8 million being deported and exiled to remote areas of the Soviet Union (including entire nationalities in several cases).
Before the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, researchers who attempted to count the number of people killed during the period of Stalin produced estimates ranging from 3 to 60 million. After the Soviet Union dissolved, evidence from the Soviet archives also became available, containing official records of 799,455 executions (1921–1953), around 1.7 million deaths in the Gulag and some 390,000 deaths during kulak forced resettlement – with a total of about 2.9 million officially recorded victims in these categories.
The official Soviet archival records do not contain comprehensive figures for some categories of victims, such as those of ethnic deportations or of German population transfers in the aftermath of World War II. Eric D. Weitz wrote, "By 1948, according to Nicolas Werth, the mortality rate of the 600,000 people deported from the Caucasus between 1943 and 1944 had reached 25%." Other notable exclusions from NKVD data on repression deaths include the Katyn massacre, other executions in the newly occupied areas, and the mass shooting of Red Army personnel (deserters and so-called deserters) in 1941. The Soviets executed 158,000 soldiers for desertion during the war, and the "blocking detachments" of the NKVD shot thousands more. Also, the official statistics on Gulag mortality exclude deaths of prisoners taking place shortly after their release but which resulted from treatment in the camps. Some historians also believe that the official archival figures of the categories that were recorded by Soviet authorities are unreliable and incomplete. In addition to failures regarding comprehensive recordings, as one additional example, Canadian historian Robert Gellately and British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore argue that the many suspects beaten and tortured to death while in "investigative custody" were likely not to have been counted amongst the executed.
Historians working after the Soviet Union's dissolution have estimated victim totals ranging from approximately 4 million to nearly 10 million, not including those who died in famines. Russian writer Vadim Erlikman, for example, makes the following estimates: executions, 1.5 million; gulags, 5 million; deportations, 1.7 million out of 7.5 million deported; and POWs and German civilians, 1 million – a total of about 9 million victims of repression.
Some have also included the deaths of 6 to 8 million people in the 1932–1933 famine among the victims of repression during the period of Stalin. This categorization is controversial however, as historians differ as to whether the famine in Ukraine was created as a deliberate part of the campaign of repression against kulaks and others, was an unintended consequence of the struggle over forced collectivization or was simply primarily a result of natural factors.
Accordingly, if famine victims are included, a minimum of around 10 million deaths—6 million from famine and 4 million from other causes—are attributable to the period, with a number of recent historians suggesting a likely total of around 20 million, citing much higher victim totals from executions, Gulag camps, deportations and other causes. Adding 6–8 million famine victims to Erlikman's estimates above, for example, would yield a total of between 15 and 17 million victims. English-American researcher Robert Conquest, meanwhile, has revised his original estimate of up to 30 million victims down to 20 million. In his most recent edition of The Great Terror (2007), Conquest states that while exact numbers may never be known with complete certainty, at least 15 million people were either executed or worked to death in the camps. Rudolph Rummel maintains that the earlier higher victim total estimates are correct, although he includes those killed by the government of the Soviet Union in other Eastern European countries as well. Some of these estimates rely in part on demographic losses as American historian Richard Pipes noted: "Censuses revealed that between 1932 and 1939—that is, after collectivization but before World War II—the population decreased by 9 to 10 million people." and Conquest explained how he arrived at his estimate: "I suggest about eleven million by the beginning of 1937, and about three million over the period 1937–38, making fourteen million. The eleven-odd million is readily deduced from the undisputed population deficit shown in the suppressed census of January 1937, of fifteen to sixteen million, by making reasonable assumptions about how this was divided between birth deficit and deaths." American historian Timothy D. Snyder has assessed the evolution of research on the numbers as follows:
Today, after two decades of access to Eastern European archives, and thanks to the work of German, Russian, Israeli, and other scholars, we can resolve the question of numbers. The total number of noncombatants killed by the Germans—about 11 million—is roughly what we had thought. The total number of civilians killed by the Soviets, however, is considerably less than we had believed. We know now that the Germans killed more people than the Soviets did.[...] All in all, the Germans deliberately killed about 11 million noncombatants, a figure that rises to more than 12 million if foreseeable deaths from deportation, hunger, and sentences in concentration camps are included. For the Soviets during the Stalin period, the analogous figures are approximately six million and nine million. These figures are of course subject to revision, but it is very unlikely that the consensus will change again as radically as it has since the opening of Eastern European archives in the 1990s.
In the Soviet Union and its successor states
Although Khrushchev initiated a de-Stalinisation process across the Soviet Union, he was removed from power in 1964 and replace by Leonid Brezhnev. There followed a level of re-Stalinisation in Soviet society. In 1969 and again in 1979, plans were proposed for a full rehabilitation of Stalin's legacy; both were defeated by complaints both domestically and from foreign Communist parties.
Stalin remains a revered figure among many Russian nationalists, who feel nostalgic about the Soviet victory in World War II against Nazi Germany. Across much of the former Soviet Union, Stalin is closely associated with Soviet victory in the conflict, and is admired as a wartime leader even by those who reject his repressions. In a 2006 survey, over 35% of Russians stated that they would vote for Stalin. In a 2007 poll, 54% of Russian youth stated that Stalin did more good than bad and 46% disagreed with the statement that Stalin was a "cruel tyrant". In the 2008 Name of Russia television show, Stalin was voted as the third most notable personality in Russian history. A 2017 poll revealed that Stalin's popularity reached a 16-year high among the Russian population, with 46% expressing a favourable view of him. At the same time, there was a growth in pro-Stalinist literature in Russia, much of which relies upon the misrepresentation or fabrication of source material. In this literature, Stalin's repressions are regarded either as a necessary measure to defeat "enemies of the people" or the result of lower-level officials acting without Stalin's knowledge.
In a 2012 opinion survey commissioned by the Carnegie Endowment, 38% of Armenians agreed with the statement, “Our people will always have need of a leader like Stalin, who will come and restore order.” 68% of Georgians called Stalin a “wise leader.” A 2013 survey by Tbilisi University found that 45% of Georgians expressed "a positive attitude to Stalin". Many Georgians resent criticism of Stalin, the most famous figure from their nation's modern history.
In a poll taken by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology in February 2013, 37% of all Ukrainians had "a negative attitude to the figure of Stalin" and 22% "a positive [one]". Positive attitudes prevailed in East Ukraine (36%) and South Ukraine (27%) and negative attitudes in West Ukraine (64%) and Central Ukraine (39%). In the age group 18–29, 16% had positive feelings towards Stalin. In early 2010 a Ukrainian court posthumously convicted Stalin of genocide against the Ukrainian nation during the Soviet famine of 1932–1933. In the spring of 2010 a new monument in honor of Stalin was erected in Zaporizhia. In late December 2010 the statue had his head cut off by unidentified vandals and the following New Year's Eve it was completely destroyed in an explosion. In a Kiev International Institute of Sociology poll taken in February 2016, 38% of all respondents had a negative attitude to Stalin, 26% had a neutral one and 17% had a positive (19% refused to answer).
In January 2010 a Ukrainian court found Josef Stalin, Lazar Kaganovich, Stanislav Kosior and other leaders of the former Soviet Union guilty of genocide by "organizing mass famine in Ukraine in 1932–1933." However, the court "dropped criminal proceedings over the suspects' deaths". While historians continue to disagree whether the policies that led to Holodomor fall under the legal definition of genocide, twenty-six countries have officially recognized the Holodomor as such. On 28 November 2006, the Ukrainian Parliament approved a bill declaring the Soviet-era forced famine an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. Michael Ellman believes that Ukrainians were victims of genocide in 1932–33 according to a more relaxed definition that is favoured by some specialists in the field of genocide studies. He asserts that Soviet policies greatly exacerbated the famine's death toll. Although 1.8 million tonnes of grain were exported during the height of the starvation, enough to feed 5 million people for one year, Ellman believes that the use of torture and execution to extract grain under the Law of Spikelets, the use of force to prevent starving peasants from fleeing the worst-affected areas and the refusal to import grain or secure international humanitarian aid to alleviate conditions led to human suffering in the Ukraine. Ellman claims that Stalin intended to use the starvation as a cheap and efficient means (as opposed to deportations and shootings) to kill off those deemed to be "counterrevolutionaries," "idlers," and "thieves," but not to annihilate the Ukrainian peasantry as a whole. Ellman also claims that, while this was not the only Soviet genocide (e.g., the Polish operation of the NKVD), it was the worst in terms of mass casualties.