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“”Do you remember the tsar? Well, I'm like a tsar.
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953), born Ioseb Besarionis dzе Jughashvili, was an ethnic Georgian revolutionary who schemed and murdered his way to the leadership, then consolidated total rule, of the Soviet Union, an entity that he helped to establish with other leading Bolsheviks. He is known for mass deportations, starvation, genocide, brutal totalitarianism, his personality cult, which lasts to this day, and bringing the Soviet Union into the industrial age, kicking and screaming. He was also forced to join the winning side of World War II, and he capitalized on this victory by creating the Eastern Bloc and helping to start the Cold War.
Stalin started out as a basic thug, organizing bank robberies and kidnappings for the Bolshevik cause, but he rose through the Party's ranks through the good graces of Vladimir Lenin. During the Russian Civil War, he helped organize the defense of Tsaritsyn, and the city was renamed "Stalingrad" in his honor in 1925. Stalin came to power in the Soviet Union by defeating Leon Trotsky in a power struggle, and he proceeded to institute a program of forced industrialization and agricultural collectivization called the Five-Year Plans. These policies led to a general famine in the Soviet Union between 1932 and 1933. Ever the soulless pragmatist, Stalin intentionally exacerbated the situation to inflict the Holodomor on Ukraine and to wipe out about half the population of Kazakhstan. This was done to exterminate the people Stalin viewed as most likely to be his political opposition. Stalin also eliminated internal opposition by committing the "Great Purge", with 950,000 to 1.2 million deaths; this did not include people sent to Gulags who survived. Purges contributed to the Red Army's poor performance in WWII, although that was far from the Red Army's only problem. While defeating Adolf Hitler, Stalin forced many European countries to adopt communist totalitarianism and made them into Soviet puppets. This and other factors contributed to the beginning of the Cold War.
Stalin died in 1953 of a severe stroke. A lack of medical action for a full 12 hours, ironically due to fears that he would recover and retaliate against anyone who dared to act without his orders, in addition to the antisemitic Doctors' plot campaign, contributed to his demise. There is also speculation that he may have been poisoned by NKVD/MVD head Lavrentiy Beria.
Before 1991 and the opening of the Soviet archives, historians typically estimated the death count to around 20 million of his own people, while other more recent analyses of East European archives argue he had killed a piddling 3 to 9 million, although record keeping of the era can be spotty. Current scholarly consensus typically gives a death toll of 6 to 9 million, not counting non-combatant deaths inflicted outside of Soviet borders, which would bring the figure a bit north of 10 million. On the other hand, recent research has also indicated that these killings were much more discriminate than previously believed, i.e., motivated by ethnicity or nationality. His pseudonym Stalin means "Man of Steel".[note 1] A good way to shorten one's career (or, very possibly, one's life) was to "accidentally" change the T for an R or an S.[note 2] Stalin's education was apparently of use in his further career, as he studied theology from 1895–1899.
Regardless of the persistence of his personal cult worldwide, Stalin is responsible for a gross amount of death, crimes against humanity, and general suffering, whether directly or indirectly. The latter since he inspired numerous communist regimes that have caused immense destruction in themselves. North Korea, especially, persists today. It's not for nothing that Stalin has frequently been invoked in the same breath as likes of Hitler, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot (these are among the most brutal regimes of the 20th century), as the number of deaths and atrocities under their rules are in the same order of magnitude.
Up the Power Ladder we go
Humble origins to a rebel
Born in the Georgian town of Gori, Stalin, unfortunately, had a less-than-stellar childhood, already setting him up for a severe and innate desire for revenge. His father, Besarion Jughashvili, was a shoemaker, but once this fell into decline, he fell into alcoholism and began abusing his wife, Ekaterine Geladze, and the young Joseph. Ekaterine and her son moved through nine rooms over the next decade before settling in the house of a family friend, Christopher Charkviani. Unfortunately, he contracted smallpox, a monster disease for the time, which left him permanently scarred.[note 3] Still, Stalin enrolled in school and was a very high achiever. But like any communist revolutionary, he picked up a copy of Marx's Communist Manifesto and his other works and became a liiittle too comfy with the idea of overthrowing the Russian monarchy. He was promptly expelled in 1899 for missing exams but claimed it was for Marxist propaganda.[note 4] And now, Stalin was officially a radical! Mission not accomplished.
Stalin did a lot of work in Russia, becoming an avid follower of Vladimir Lenin and one of his closest associates. Stalin kept getting exiled to Siberia but just kept coming back. Then the February and October Revolutions happened...
Stalin was in exile as Russia entered World War One. The February Revolution began when uprisings broke out in Petrograd, ending with the Tsardom being overthrown. Stalin headed to Petrograd by train in March to celebrate the victory with other Bolsheviks. From here, the Bolsheviks fought for absolute control,[note 5] to which end Stalin would help organize the July Days uprising. The Provisional Government suppressed the demonstration, was understandably terrified of the Bolsheviks, and initiated a crackdown, raiding Pravda, the primary propaganda outlet of the Bolshevik faction. Ever eager to keep favor with Lenin and seek power, Stalin moved Lenin between safe houses before smuggling him to Razliv, then temporarily serving as an acting leader while Lenin was absent. Lenin called for a coup of the provisional government through letters and also had Stalin's support. While all of this happened, the provisional government did nothing and probably should have paid attention to the very real possibility of a coup. We all know what happened next. The October Revolution began and the Bolsheviks took control of the government in a near-bloodless coup. While many pro-Trotskyists/anti-Stalinists have denied Stalin had much to do with the October Revolution,[note 6] keep in mind that he was the editor of the main newspaper of the Bolsheviks, served as acting leader, organized part of the July Days failed coup beforehand, and was a significant moral force for the Bolsheviks by this point. So, he definitely had some role, even if indirect. Regardless, the Bolsheviks were in charge from here on out, courtesy of the provisional government deciding not to do anything in advance.
Stalin led the government in a foursome in all but name, with Lenin, Trotsky, and Yakov Sverdlov, but this would become a Trinity when Sverdlov died in March 1919. The Russian Civil War broke out in 1918 when both the right and left allied to take out the Bolsheviks. Stalin was commander throughout the period, and the Bolsheviks emerged victorious in 1919. Currently, "Cousin" Joe celebrated, but this time, he ordered the Red Army to take control of Georgia, then Turkestan, among numerous other acts of meddling. Apparently, Stalin claimed that each ethnic group should have the right to "self-expression". Either way, Stalin continued his usual duties as Lenin's right hand, even as personal differences arose. Then Lenin died, and the world turned upside down.
Claiming and consolidating power
It's worth noting before further reading that a document titled "Lenin's testament" has a post-script in which he says Stalin should be removed for being too rude. He further explains that he thinks Stalin should be replaced by someone more loyal and polite. The question of whether this is, in fact, Lenin or an impersonator is still debated among historians. Opponents of the authenticity argue that Lenin's wife, who Stalin had previously berated, was the one who wrote this in an attempt to humiliate Stalin. Most historians agree, however, that this is Lenin's authentic writing.
Stalin was clearly very sad about Lenin's death... so sad, in fact, that he ignored Lenin's post-mortem requests and placed his corpse on permanent display in a mausoleum in Moscow's Red Square. From here, motivated by paranoia and/or a lust for absolute control, Stalin got to work molding an image around himself and his dear friend Lenin, giving as many speeches as possible, and renaming Petrograd to "Leningrad". This was before he was the total ruler. To get there, he had one opponent: Leon Trotsky, someone he now fiercely despised. After a fierce struggle, Stalin removed him from the Central Committee, exiled him to Kazakhstan, and later deported him. Fast forward a decade, Trotsky, who was now in Mexico City, somehow had an ice pick lodged in his head. Either way, when Trotsky was out of his sight, Stalin began to mold the largest personality cult in the history of the Earth around him, "the dear comrade". Indeed, Stalin was utterly incompetent at running a country, but he was terrifyingly good at creating an image for himself. He would rename Tsaritsyn to Stalingrad, among many, many other examples of his name plastered everywhere to enrich his image. By the time this was done, Stalin had amassed literally infinite power in the Soviet Union, repressing any and all dissent by assassinating or gulag-ing anyone who challenged him while suppressing his sociopathic mass murder with "praise and love for the dear comrade Stalin". While Vyacheslav Molotov was technically the head of government, this did not matter. Stalin's dictatorship was rivaled by nobody at the time, and it would spew out into many, many offshoots of totalitarian communist hell, some of which would grow to be even worse than his regime.
Among the most horrendous crimes perpetrated by Stalin were the famines that struck the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine and southern Russia - otherwise known as the Holodomor. Stalin may have been motivated by antipathy toward Ukrainians and contempt for the peasantry, but he was also engaged in stinting the entire population to extract resources necessary for rapid industrialization. It was likely a bitter amalgamation of all the above circumstances; in his infinite, deluded wisdom, Stalin declared kulaks (the designation that was, in reality, for any farmer who wasn't piss poor like most of the USSR) an enemy of the state. Said kulaks were then driven off their land, deported to freezing Siberia, or shipped to the gulag. Shockingly, many of the agricultural regions were starving and agricultural production took a nosedive, which hit Ukraine especially hard. But do not assume Stalin was done yet, oh no. He then proceeded to sign an order to stop Ukrainians from fleeing starving villages. This was on top of deporting Ukrainians back to impoverished villages to starve, literally quarantining them to death, and the extreme anti-Ukrainian racism which permeated the Soviet Union's higher-ups. Stalin has rightfully been accused of purposefully causing one of the worst famines of modern times, with competitors including Winston Churchill's Great Bengal Famine of 1943 and Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward, which both had similarly nasty body counts.
The Soviet Union continued to deny this until its breakup, but the number of people denying it has dwindled along with Soviet foreign aid. The United Nations issued a joint resolution in 2003, signed by 26 countries, to the effect that the famine was a deliberate political act. In 2008, the European Parliament recognized the Holodomor as a crime against humanity, citing the United Nations Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Ukraine has considered formally accusing Russia of attempted genocide since it blatantly seemed that Stalin was trying to starve many of them to death. In 2010, a Ukrainian court conducted a posthumous trial of Stalin and many other CPSU brass, finding them guilty of genocide.
World War II
In 1939, shortly before Nazi Germany invaded Poland and the resulting outbreak of the Second World War, Stalin entered a non-aggression agreement with Adolf Hitler, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (named after the statesmen who led the negotiations), in which Stalin promised not to interfere in Hitler's plans for Europe and Hitler not to interfere with the Soviet Union. The pact included a secret protocol, provisionally carving up Finland, Poland, the Baltic states, Romania, and other central European countries into Nazi and Soviet "spheres of influence" so that both countries could profit from the upcoming conflict. In the early days of the war, Nazi-Soviet relations remained cordial, with Stalin even considering joining the Axis. However, relations soon cooled, and the pact ultimately broke down when Hitler welched on the deal by invading the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.
Stalin's forced-march approach to industrialization strengthened Soviet military-industrial capabilities. However, his consolidation of power weakened the military leadership, having had many of his best generals and spies arrested and executed immediately before the war and some 25,000 officers purged from the Red Army. Stalin was deeply paranoid and apparently more concerned about the Red Army's loyalty to him than their effectiveness as a professional military force. As with Hitler, Stalin's personal involvement in military decisions proved disastrous. Many Soviet armies, totaling several million men, were surrounded and destroyed at the outset of the war because they were forbidden from retreating. However, unlike Hitler, Stalin learned to trust his generals as time went by and granted them more leeway, which gave them the room to transform the Red Army into a formidable fighting machine. Between the Russian winter, Russian mud, Hitler's incompetence, Russians' fortitude, generous amounts of lend-lease from the US and Britain, and the industrial capacity established under Russian communism, the Soviet Union managed to survive. It ultimately proved instrumental in the defeat of Hitler's Germany.
After the victory, Russia held many German soldiers in prisoner-of-war camps. The conditions in these camps were horrible, but they still had it better than the ordinary Russian civilians, as explained below. Additionally, after NKVD evaluation, 226,127 returning Soviet POWs were thrown into gulags as Stalin felt they could no longer be trusted.
Things Stalin "gave" to the world
Stalinism, Uncle Joe's legacy to the world, features a ruthless approach to communism that relies heavily on the following:
- an all-powerful supreme leader aided by a large body of secret police who "encourage" neighbors to inform on neighbors
- purges of any potential adversaries to the supreme leader (with emphasis on the comrades who helped him achieve his position in the first place)
- the imprisonment and murder of intellectuals and homosexuals (see Soviet penal code article 121)
- the occasional mass murder of entire portions of the population.
- mass famines
- mass deportations of ethnic groups, such as the Chechens, Ingush, Poles, Karachays, Tatars, Kalmyks, Ingrians, and Volga Germans.
- antisemitism (see Doctors' Plot)
Stalinism also covers the particular approach to economic development which Stalin pursued during his rule. It relies on complete state control and central planning of all economic activity and tries to achieve rapid development of heavy industry. The Soviet Union saw rapid industrial growth during the first five-year-plans, but this came at a hefty price: the necessary capital had to be squeezed out of an agrarian society, adding to the misery of Soviet peasants. Forced collectivization and resistance to it resulted in millions of deaths and a massive drop in Soviet agricultural production, which led to the famines of the 1930s. In the short term, Stalinism gave the Soviet Union the industrial resources that allowed it to triumph in the anticipated conflict with Germany. Despite the incredible devastation of World War II, it also permitted the Soviet Union to pose as the other great power in the Cold War and to lead the United States through much of the Space Race. Nevertheless, in the long run, its failure to facilitate the rapid information exchange necessary for competing with post-industrial Western societies in the later 20th century doomed it.
Stalinism breaks notably from orthodox Marxism and Trotskyism because it adheres to the theory of Socialism in One Country. Stalin first proposed this notion in late 1924 in the second edition of Foundations of Leninism, and the idea received fierce criticism from Trotsky and Zinoviev. The theory, further elaborated by Nikolai Bukharin in 1925, essentially holds that—because of the defeat of all the other socialist revolutions around Europe—the Soviet Union should strengthen itself internally. Trots and Orthodox Marxists view their struggle as an international struggle toward socialism and communism.
Being a complete bigot
While the jury is still out on whether the Holodomor was caused by extreme incompetence or anti-Ukrainian sentiments, one clear example of his racism was the Armenian genocide. His predecessor Lenin had literally saved the Armenians from genocide from the Ottoman Empire remnants when he was dictator, one of the few feathers in his cap. Unfortunately, due to his paranoia and Georgian racism (the Armenian Church was a subversive force during this time), Stalin turned his back on them.[note 7] Not that this would be the last time he fucked over the Armenians, as in 1947, he initiated a ridiculous annexation scheme from Turkey while using Armenian sovereignty as bait. When that failed, Stalin shipped them all to the gulag. He also deported Volga Germans — there's a reason you've never heard of those people — to Siberia and Chechens to Kazakhstan after Hitler's invasion based only on ethnicity. Other examples of mass deportation are the deportations of Greeks, Iranians, Meskhetians, Turks, Karachays, and Dashnaks from the Georgian and Armenian SSRs to the Uzbek, Russian, and Kazakh SSRs, the deportation of Romanian-Germans, Germans, Romanians, Estonians, Latvians, Ukrainian-Poles and Lithuanians to Siberia and the deportation of Koreans, Japanese and Chinese. Even to his own kind, the Georgians, he was cruel. A tankie in action: someone equally racist towards everyone!
Stalin re-criminalized homosexuality in 1933, sending the "criminals" guilty of "bourgeois degeneracy" into gulags. These victims of systemic homophobia were often physically and emotionally abused by the guards in those camps, which is not very progressive despite what Stalinists and their apologists claim to the contrary.
Stalin was a man of action, and his contributions to Marxism as political theory were slight. Here is an example of his work:
“”But the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the power of the proletariat in one country still does not mean that the complete victory of socialism has been ensured. After consolidating its power and taking the peasantry in tow, the proletariat of the victorious country can and must build up a socialist society. But does this mean that it will thereby achieve the complete and final victory of socialism, i.e., does it mean that with the forces of only one country it can finally consolidate socialism and fully guarantee that country against intervention and, consequently, also against restoration? No, it does not. For this the victory of the revolution in at least several countries is needed. Therefore the development and support of revolution in other countries is an essential task of the victorious revolution. Therefore, the revolution in the victorious country must regard itself not as a self-sufficient entity but as an aid, as a means of hastening the victory of the proletariat in other countries.
He was also known for his poetry during his youth, which was written in Georgian. A selection was published under the pseudonym Soselo in the Georgian newspaper Iveria ("Georgia") in 1895, some of which were later reprinted in anthologies of Georgian poetry. His poetry was published anonymously, and he never publicly acknowledged it. He was apparently not fond of it in his later years, as when he learned that his secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria secretly hired translators to create a Russian edition of Stalin's poems, he ordered them to stop their work immediately.
While initially an Eastern Orthodox Christian who dreamed of entering the priesthood, Stalin lost faith after reading Darwin and Marx's works. In the minds of certain people, this somehow "proves" that all atheists are potential mass murderers[note 8] (which is known as the association fallacy). By the same token, one could say that all Christians must be evil because Adolf Hitler maintained strategic alliances with Roman Catholicism, casually disregarding the numerous positive contributions Christians such as Martin Luther King[note 9] have made to the world. Stalin also went to Russian Orthodox seminary school before becoming a communist, but they rarely condemn seminaries using the same "logic". Stalin's atheism and contempt for the Church were perhaps most accurately illustrated by his bold statement: "Fuck the Pope. How many divisions does he have, anyway?". That said, he allowed the Russian Orthodox Church to function openly again during World War II to induce fighting spirit and nationalism in the Russians, although he shut the churches down immediately after the war ended. Aside from that, religion was generally discouraged under Stalin's regime in favor of worshiping Stalin himself and the almighty Soviet imperial cult.
Death and influence
Communism in the West and Stalin
Once upon a time, most communist parties in the West were openly Stalinist. After Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin, many fell apart under internal dissension.
In 1940, the United States passed the Smith Act, leading to the indictment of approximately 215 people, including alleged communists (alongside fascists and anarchists). In 1957, however, the United States Supreme Court reversed many prosecutions under this act as unconstitutional, and the actual statute has been amended several times.
Following a common trend in which a certain portion of the population waxes nostalgic for the reign of a dictator ("when Mussolini was in charge, the trains ran on time"), there are many people in Russia who say (quite publicly!) that Russia needs to "bring back Comrade Stalin!". This is while they already have Putin to kick them around.
Bizarrely enough, there are at least two English-language neo-Stalinist parties on Earth, the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). They have an adorable YouTube channel.
- Russian Civil War
- Stalin apologetics
- Vladimir Lenin - His predecessor, enabled his rule via communism.
- Leon Trotsky - Stalin’s archenemy and one of his harshest critics. The USSR would totally work if I was in power I swear!
- George Orwell - Another fierce critic of Stalin. His books Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four were inspired by the Soviet Union under Stalin.
- Mao Zedong - Another communist strongman, who, like Stalin and Lenin, starved his country dry.
- Enver Hoxha - Tried to follow Stalin to a T.
- Kim Il-sung - Dictator of North Korea. Combined Stalinist policies with his socialist ideology Juche.
- Adolf Hitler - One of Stalin’s many enemies, despite leading similar lives. Both led totalitarian dictatorships with massive personality cults surrounding them.
- Dzhugash can mean "steel" in Georgian, hence Dzhugashvili as "son of steel".
- Writers or typesetters could die for one misplaced letter, as Andrei Tarkovsky's film Mirror suggests unforgettably. Substituting one consonant made Stalin "pisser" (ssalin) or "shitter" (sralin), Stalingrad could be set to read "Stalin is a reptile" or "Stalin is a bastard" (Stalin gad). Printing okotilsia, meaning "Lenin gave birth to kittens" (which was not possible even for such a cat-lover as him) instead of "Lenin went hunting" (okhotilsia) was punishable. (Donald Rayfield, Stalin And His Hangman). A. I. Solzhenitsyn, in Gulag Archipelago, relates that a poster in a bookkeeping office reading "Life has become happier, comrades, life has become more joyful — Stalin" was modified by the addition of an a to Stalin's name, causing it to read "...more joyful — for Stalin." The entire bookkeeping office was arrested and dispatched to a gulag.
- The immediate question might be "Why can't I see the scars in photos?". Well, Stalin went to extensive lengths to ensure said scars would not be presented in photos of him, including the photo at the top of this page. It doesn't need to be cited either that Stalin would have anybody shot for presenting an unflattering photo of him. But you can find that and more odd Stalin facts here.
- Why, of course!
- Really sitting big on that "equality for all" communism talked about...
- Weird. As if Stalin being significant is a good thing. Let's forget about all the people Stalin later killed, of course!
- Nevertheless, one of the most durable politicians of the Soviet Union was the Armenian.Anastas Mikoyan, who survived no matter what because of his intelligence and incredible adaptability. And yes, Mikoyan also introduced ice-cream to the Soviet Union.
- As are any humans which survive to an age where they could handle a weapon properly.
- Definitely not to be confused with Martin Luther, another type of human entirely.
- To his mother in the 1930's as quoted in Young Stalin (2007) by Simon Sebag Montefiore.
- Joseph Stalin § Early life
- Mccauley, Martin (2013). Stalin and Stalinism (3 ed.). Routledge. ISBN 978-1317863687.
- Five-Year Plans. Britannica.
- See the Wikipedia article on Soviet famine of 1932–33.
- Holodomor (Ukraine). World Without Genocide.
- Another Soviet Genocide – Kazakhstan, 1932-1933 — Coming Back To Haunt Moscow – OpEd. Eurasia Review.
- Soviet Repression Statistics: Some Comments by Michael Ellman (2002) Europe-Asia Studies 54(7):151–1172. doi:0.1080/0966813022000017177.
- Stalin Attacks the Red Army. HistoryNet.
- Lavrentiy Beria § Stalin's death
- See the Wikipedia article on Calculating the number of Stalin's victims.
- Hitler vs. Stalin: Who Was Worse?, New York Review of Books.
- Stalin: Breaker of Nations by Robert Conquest, page 10-12
- Joseph Stalin biography. HISTORY
- See the Wikipedia article on Early life of Joseph Stalin.
- Stalin: A biography by Robert Service, page 117
- Stalin: Breaker of Nations by Robert Conquest, page 65
- The October Revolution. alpha history
- Russian Revolution. Britannica
- Stalin: A biography by Robert Service, page 202
- Inside Lenin’s Mausoleum And The Best-Preserved Corpse On Earth. All That's Interesting.
- Saint Petersburg and all it's names right here.
- Leon Trotsky. BIOGRAPHY
- How Joseph Stalin Starved Millions in the Ukrainian Famine. HISTORY
- Joint Statement on Holodomor, Wikisource.
- Resolution of 23 October 2008 on the commemoration of the Holodomor, European Parliament.
- Paul Kennedy. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. New York: Random House (1987).
- "The proletariat can and must build the socialist society in one country." 
- Joseph Stalin. 1939. Foundations of Leninism. New York: International Publishers. pp. 45-46.
- Montefiore, Simon Sebag, Young Stalin, London: Phoenix, 2008, pp. 53-66.
- Before the terror by Simon Sebag Montefiore (18 May 2007) The Guardian.
- Said sarcastically to Pierre Laval when asked about the proposal of bringing the Pope to participate in the Allies War Conferences, which were discussing the fate of post-war Europe; as quoted in The Second World War (1948) by Winston Churchill. According to Wikiquote.
- PatriotDEMs The "Red" Dunhams of Washington State 1956
- Proletarian TV