Joseph Stalin

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin
Иосиф Виссарионович Сталин (Russian)
იოსებ სტალინი (Georgian)
Stalin Full Image.jpg
Joseph Stalin in an authorised image taken in 1937 and used for state publicity purposes
General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
In office
3 April 1922 – 16 October 1952
Preceded byVyacheslav Molotov
(as Responsible Secretary)
Succeeded byGeorgy Malenkov (de facto)[b]
Chairman of the Council of Ministers
of the Soviet Union
In office
6 May 1941 – 5 March 1953
First DeputiesNikolai Voznesensky
Vyacheslav Molotov
Nikolai Bulganin
Preceded byVyacheslav Molotov
Succeeded byGeorgy Malenkov
Personal details
Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili[a]

18 December [O.S. 6] 1878
Gori, Tiflis Governorate, Caucasus Viceroyalty, Russian Empire
Died5 March 1953(1953-03-05) (aged 74)
Kuntsevo Dacha, Kuntsevo, Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Resting placeLenin's Mausoleum, Moscow (9 March 1953 – 31 October 1961)
Kremlin Wall Necropolis, Moscow (from 31 October 1961)
Political partyCommunist Party of the Soviet Union
Spouse(s)Ekaterine Svanidze
Nadezhda Alliluyeva
ChildrenYakov Dzhugashvili
Vasily Dzhugashvili
Svetlana Alliluyeva
ParentsBesarion Jughashvili and Ekaterine Geladze
CabinetStalin I–II
Military service
AllegianceSoviet Union
Branch/serviceSoviet Armed Forces
Years of service1918–20
RankMarshal of the Soviet Union (1943–45)
CommandsSouthern Front (1918–20) (commissar)
Southwestern Front (1920) (commissar)
Soviet Armed Forces (1941–53) (Supreme Commander)
Battles/warsAllied Intervention in the Russian Civil War
Polish-Soviet War
Winter War
World War II
AwardsHero of the Soviet Union
Order of the Red Banner (4)
Order of Lenin (3)
Order of Victory (2)
Order of Sukhbaatar (2)
Order of Suvorov First Class
Order of the Red Star First Class
Order of the White Lion

  • a Despite abolishing the office of General Secretary in 1952, Stalin continued to exercise its powers as the Secretariat's highest-ranking member.
  • b After Stalin's death, Malenkov temporarily emerged as the highest-ranking member of the Secretariat.

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin[b] (born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili;[a] 18 December [O.S. 6 December] 1878[1] – 5 March 1953) was a Georgian revolutionary and Soviet politician who led the Soviet Union from the mid–1920s until 1953 as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1952) and Premier (1941–1953). Despite initially governing the Soviet Union as part of a collective leadership, he eventually consolidated power to become the country’s de facto dictator by the 1930s. A communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin formalised these ideas as Marxism–Leninism, while his own policies are known as Stalinism.

Born to a poor family in Gori in the Russian Empire (now Georgia), Stalin joined the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party as a youth. He edited the party's 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 seized power during the 1917 October Revolution and created a one-party state under Lenin's newly renamed Communist Party, Stalin joined its governing Politburo. Serving in the Russian Civil War before overseeing the Soviet Union's establishment in 1922, Stalin assumed leadership over the country following Lenin's 1924 death. Under Stalin, "Socialism in One Country" became a central tenet of the party's dogma. Through the Five-Year Plans, the country underwent agricultural collectivisation and rapid industrialisation, creating a centralised command economy. This led to significant disruptions in food production that contributed to the famine of 1932–33. To eradicate accused "enemies of the working class", Stalin instituted the "Great Purge", in which over a million were imprisoned and at least 700,000 executed between 1934 and 1939. By 1937, he had complete personal control over the party and state.

Stalin's government promoted Marxism–Leninism abroad through the Communist International and supported European anti-fascist movements during the 1930s, particularly in the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, it signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, resulting in the Soviet invasion of Poland. Germany ended the pact by invading the Soviet Union in 1941. Despite initial setbacks, the Soviet Red Army repelled the German incursion and captured Berlin in 1945, ending World War II in Europe. The Soviets annexed the Baltic states and helped establish Soviet-aligned governments throughout Central and Eastern Europe, China, and North Korea. The Soviet Union and the United States emerged from the war as global superpowers. Tensions arose between the Soviet-backed Eastern Bloc and U.S.-backed Western Bloc which became known as the Cold War. Stalin led his country through the post-war reconstruction, during which it developed a nuclear weapon in 1949. In these years, the country experienced another major famine and an anti-semitic campaign peaking in the doctors' plot. After Stalin's death in 1953 he was eventually succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev, who denounced his predecessor and initiated the de-Stalinisation of Soviet society.

Widely considered one of the 20th century's most significant figures, Stalin was the subject of a pervasive personality cult within the international Marxist–Leninist movement which revered him as a champion of the working class and socialism. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Stalin has retained popularity in Russia and Georgia as a victorious wartime leader who established the Soviet Union as a major world power. Conversely, his totalitarian government has been widely condemned for overseeing mass repressions, ethnic cleansing, deportations, hundreds of thousands of executions, and famines which killed millions.

Early life

Childhood to young adulthood: 1878–1899

Stalin was born in the Georgian town of Gori,[2] then part of the Russian Empire and home to a mix of Georgian, Armenian, Russian, and Jewish communities.[3] He was born on 18 December [O.S. 6 Dec] 1878,[4][c] and baptised on 29 December.[6] His parents, Besarion Jughashvili and Ekaterine Geladze,[7] were ethnically Georgian, and Stalin grew up speaking the Georgian language.[8] He was their only child to survive past infancy,[9] and was nicknamed "Soso", a diminutive of "Ioseb".[10]

Stalin in 1894, aged about 15

Besarion was a shoemaker and owned his own workshop;[11] it was initially a financial success, but later fell into decline.[12] The family found itself living in poverty,[13] moving through nine different rented rooms during ten years.[14] Besarion became an alcoholic,[15] and drunkenly beat his wife and son.[16] To escape, Keke took Stalin and moved into the house of a family friend, Father Christopher Charkviani.[17] She worked as a house cleaner and launderer, and was determined to send her son to school.[18] In late 1888, Stalin enrolled at the Gori Church School, a place secured by Charkviani.[19] Although he got into many fights,[20] Stalin excelled academically,[21] displaying talent in painting and drama classes,[22] writing his own poetry,[23] and singing as a choirboy.[24] Stalin faced several severe health problems; an 1884 smallpox infection left him with facial pock scars,[25] and aged 12, he was seriously injured after being hit by a phaeton, which was the likely cause of a lifelong disability to his left arm.[26]

In 1894 Stalin began his studies at the Tiflis Spiritual Seminary (pictured here in the 1870s).

In August 1894, Stalin enrolled in the Spiritual Seminary in Tiflis, enabled by a scholarship that allowed him to study at a reduced rate.[27] Here he joined 600 trainee priests who boarded at the institution.[28] Stalin was again academically successful and gained high grades.[29] He continued writing poetry; five of his poems were published under the pseudonym of "Soselo" in Ilia Chavchavadze's newspaper Iveria ('Georgia').[30] Thematically, they dealt with topics like nature, land, and patriotism.[31] According to Stalin's biographer Simon Sebag Montefiore they became "minor Georgian classics",[32] and were included in various anthologies of Georgian poetry over the coming years.[32] As he grew older, Stalin lost interest in his studies, his grades dropped,[33] and he was repeatedly confined to a cell for his rebellious behaviour.[34] Teachers complained that he declared himself an atheist, chatted in class and refused to doff his hat to monks.[35]

Stalin joined a forbidden book club at the school;[36] he was particularly influenced by Nikolay Chernyshevsky's 1863 pro-revolutionary novel What Is To Be Done?[37] Another influential text was Alexander Kazbegi's The Patricide, with Stalin adopting the nickname "Koba" from that of the book's bandit protagonist.[38] He also read Capital, the 1867 book by German sociological theorist Karl Marx.[39] Stalin devoted himself to Marx's socio-political theory, Marxism,[40] which was then on the rise in Georgia, one of various forms of socialism opposed to the empire's governing Tsarist authorities.[41] At night, he attended secret workers' meetings,[42] and was introduced to Silibistro "Silva" Jibladze, the Marxist founder of Mesame Dasi ('Third Group'), a Georgian socialist group.[43] Stalin left the seminary in April 1899 and never returned.[44]

Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party: 1899–1904

A mugshot of Stalin made in 1911 by the Tsarist secret police.

In October 1899, Stalin began work as a meteorologist at a Tiflis observatory.[45] He attracted a group of supporters through his classes in socialist theory,[46] and co-organised a secret workers' mass meeting for May Day 1900,[47] at which he successfully encouraged many of the men to take strike action.[48] By this point, the empire's secret police — the Okhrana — were aware of Stalin's activities within Tiflis' revolutionary milieu.[48] They attempted to arrest him in March 1901, but he escaped and went into hiding,[49] living off the donations of friends and sympathisers.[50] Remaining underground, he helped plan a demonstration for May Day 1901, in which 3,000 marchers clashed with the authorities.[51] He continued to evade arrest by using aliases and sleeping in different apartments.[52] In November 1901, he was elected to the Tiflis Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), a Marxist party founded in 1898.[53]

That month, Stalin travelled to the port city of Batumi.[54] His militant rhetoric proved divisive among the city's Marxists, some of whom suspected that he might be an agent provocateur working for the government.[55] He found employment at the Rothschild refinery storehouse, where he co-organised twice workers' strikes.[56] After several strike leaders were arrested, he co-organised a mass public demonstration which led to the storming of the prison; troops fired upon the demonstrators, 13 of whom were killed.[57] Stalin organised a second mass demonstration on the day of their funeral,[58] before being arrested in April 1902.[59] Held first in Batumi Prison,[60] and then Kutaisi Prison,[61] in mid-1903 Stalin was sentenced to three years of exile in eastern Siberia.[62]

Stalin left Batumi in October, arriving at the small Siberian town of Novaya Uda in late November.[63] There, he lived in a two-room peasant's house, sleeping in the building's larder.[64] He made two escape attempts; on the first he made it to Balagansk before returning due to frostbite.[65] His second attempt was successful and he made it to Tiflis.[66] There, he co-edited a Georgian Marxist newspaper, Proletariatis Brdzola ("Proletarian Struggle"), with Philip Makharadze.[67] He called for the Georgian Marxist movement to split off from its Russian counterpart, resulting in several RSDLP members accusing him of holding views contrary to the ethos of Marxist internationalism and calling for his expulsion from the party; he soon recanted his opinions.[68] During his exile, the RSDLP had split between Vladimir Lenin's "Bolsheviks" and Julius Martov's "Mensheviks".[69] Stalin detested many of the Mensheviks in Georgia and aligned himself with the Bolsheviks.[70] Although Stalin established a Bolshevik stronghold in the mining town of Chiatura,[71] Bolshevism remained a minority force in the Menshevik-dominated Georgian revolutionary scene.[72]

Revolution of 1905 and its aftermath: 1905–1912

In January 1905, government troops massacred protesters in Saint Petersburg. Unrest soon spread across the Russian Empire in what came to be known as the Revolution of 1905.[73] Georgia was particularly affected.[74] Stalin was in Baku in February when ethnic violence broke out between Armenians and Azeris; at least 2,000 were killed.[75] He publicly lambasted the "pogroms against Jews and Armenians" as being part of Tsar Nicholas II's attempts to "buttress his despicable throne".[76] Stalin formed a Bolshevik Battle Squad which he used to try to keep Baku's warring ethnic factions apart; he also used the unrest as a cover for stealing printing equipment.[76] Amid the growing violence throughout Georgia he formed further Battle Squads, with the Mensheviks doing the same.[77] Stalin's Squads disarmed local police and troops,[78] raided government arsenals,[79] and raised funds through protection rackets on large local businesses and mines.[80] They launched attacks on the government's Cossack troops and pro-Tsarist Black Hundreds,[81] co-ordinating some of their operations with the Menshevik militia.[82]

Stalin first met Vladimir Lenin (pictured) at a 1905 conference in Tampere. Lenin became "Stalin's indispensable mentor".[83]

In November 1905, the Georgian Bolsheviks elected Stalin as one of their delegates to a Bolshevik conference in Saint Petersburg.[84] On arrival, he met Lenin's wife Nadezhda Krupskaya, who informed him that the venue had been moved to Tampere in the Grand Duchy of Finland.[85] At the conference Stalin met Lenin for the first time.[86] 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.[87] In April 1906, Stalin attended the RSDLP Fourth Congress in Stockholm; this was his first trip outside the Russian Empire.[88] At the conference, the RSDLP—then led by its Menshevik majority—agreed that it would not raise funds using armed robbery.[89] Lenin and Stalin disagreed with this decision,[90] and later privately discussed how they could continue the robberies for the Bolshevik cause.[91]

Stalin married Kato Svanidze in a church ceremony at Senaki in July 1906.[92] In March 1907 she bore a son, Yakov.[93] By that year—according to the historian Robert Service—Stalin had established himself as "Georgia's leading Bolshevik".[94] He attended the Fifth RSDLP Congress, held in London in May–June 1907.[95] After returning to Tiflis, Stalin organised 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.[96] After the heist, Stalin settled in Baku with his wife and son.[97] There, Mensheviks confronted Stalin about the robbery and voted to expel him from the RSDLP, but he took no notice of them.[98]

In Baku, Stalin secured Bolshevik domination of the local RSDLP branch,[99] and edited two Bolshevik newspapers, Bakinsky Proletary and Gudok ("Whistle").[100] In August 1907, he attended the Seventh Congress of the Second International—an international socialist organisation—in Stuttgart, Germany.[101] In November 1907, his wife died of typhus,[102] and he left his son with her family in Tiflis.[103] In Baku he had reassembled his gang, the Outfit,[104] which continued to attack Black Hundreds and raised finances by running protection rackets, counterfeiting currency, and carrying out robberies.[105] They also kidnapped the children of several wealthy figures to extract ransom money.[106] In early 1908, he travelled to the Swiss city of Geneva to meet with Lenin and the prominent Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov, although the latter exasperated him.[107]

In March 1908, Stalin was arrested and interned in Bailov Prison in Baku[108] There, he led the imprisoned Bolsheviks, organised discussion groups, and ordered the killing of suspected informants.[109] He was eventually sentenced to two years exile in the village of Solvychegodsk, Vologda Province, arriving there in February 1909.[110] In June, he escaped the village and made it to Kotlas disguised as a woman and from there to Saint Petersburg.[111] In March 1910, he was arrested again, and sent back to Solvychegodsk.[112] There he had affairs with at least two women; his landlady, Maria Kuzakova, who later gave birth to his second son, Konstantin.[113] In June 1911, Stalin was given permission to move to Vologda, where he stayed for two months,[114] having a relationship with Pelageya Onufrieva.[115] He escaped to Saint Petersburg,[116] where he was arrested in September 1911, and sentenced to a further three-year exile in Vologda.[117]

Rise to the Central Committee and editorship of Pravda: 1912–1917

The first issue of Pravda, the Bolshevik newspaper of which Stalin was editor

While Stalin was in exile, 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.[118] Lenin believed that Stalin, as a Georgian, would help secure support for the Bolsheviks from the Empire's minority ethnicities.[119] In February 1912, Stalin again escaped to Saint Petersburg,[120] tasked with converting the Bolshevik weekly newspaper, Zvezda ("Star") into a daily, Pravda ("Truth").[121] The new newspaper was launched in April 1912,[122] although Stalin's role as editor was kept secret.[122]

In May 1912, he was arrested again and imprisoned in the Shpalerhy Prison, before being sentenced to three years exile in Siberia.[123] In July, he arrived at the Siberian village of Narym,[124] where he shared a room with fellow Bolshevik Yakov Sverdlov.[125] After two months, Stalin and Sverdlov escaped back to Saint Petersburg.[126] 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.[127] Stalin returned to Saint Petersburg, where he continued editing and writing articles for Pravda.[128]

Stalin in 1915

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.[129] In late 1912, he twice crossed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire to visit Lenin in Kraków,[130] eventually bowing to Lenin's opposition to reunification with the Mensheviks.[131] In January 1913 Stalin travelled to Vienna,[132] there focusing on the 'national question' of how the Bolsheviks should deal with the Russian Empire's national and ethnic minorities.[133] 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 hoped they would remain part of a future Bolshevik-governed Russia.[134] Stalin's finished article was titled Marxism and the National Question;[135] Lenin was very happy with it.[136] According to Montefiore, this was "Stalin's most famous work".[134] The article was published under the pseudonym of "K. Stalin",[136] a name he had been using since 1912.[137] Derived from the Russian word for steel (stal),[138] this has been translated as "Man of Steel";[139] Stalin may have intended it to imitate Lenin's pseudonym.[140] 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.[141]

In February 1913, Stalin was arrested while back in Saint Petersburg.[142] He was sentenced to four years exile in Turukhansk, a remote part of Siberia from which escape was particularly difficult.[143] In August, he arrived in the village of Monastyrskoe, although after four weeks was relocated to the hamlet of Kostino.[144] In March 1914, concerned over a potential escape attempt, the authorities moved Stalin to the hamlet of Kureika on the edge of the Arctic Circle.[145] In the hamlet, Stalin had a relationship with Lidia Pereprygia, who was thirteen at the time and thus a year under the legal age of consent in Tsarist Russia.[146] In or about December 1914, Pereprygia gave birth to Stalin's child, although the infant soon died.[147] She gave birth to another of his children, Alexander, circa April 1917.[148] In Kureika, Stalin lived closely with the indigenous Tunguses and Ostyak,[149] and spent much of his time fishing.[150]

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 into the Russian Army, leaving for Monastyrskoe.[151] They arrived in Krasnoyarsk in February 1917,[152] where a medical examiner ruled Stalin unfit for military service due to his crippled arm.[153] Stalin was required to serve four more months on his exile, and he successfully requested that he serve it in nearby Achinsk.[154] Stalin was in the city when the February Revolution took place; uprisings broke out in Petrograd—as Saint Petersburg had been renamed—and Tsar Nicholas II abdicated to escape being violently overthrown. The Russian Empire became a de facto republic, headed by a Provisional Government dominated by liberals.[155] In a celebratory mood, Stalin travelled by train to Petrograd in March.[156] There, Stalin and fellow Bolshevik Lev Kamenev assumed control of Pravda,[157] and Stalin was appointed the Bolshevik representative to the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, an influential council of the city's workers.[158] In April, Stalin came third in the Bolshevik elections for the party's Central Committee; Lenin came first and Zinoviev came second.[159] This reflected his senior standing in the party at the time.[160]

The existing government of landlords and capitalists must be replaced by a new government, a government of workers and peasants.
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's editorial in Pravda, October 1917[161]

Stalin helped organise the July Days uprising, an armed display of strength by Bolshevik supporters.[162] After the demonstration was suppressed, the Provisional Government initiated a crackdown on the Bolsheviks, raiding Pravda.[163] During this raid, Stalin smuggled Lenin out of the newspaper's office and took charge of the Bolshevik leader's safety, moving him between Petrograd safe houses before smuggling him to Razliv.[164] 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.[165] Lenin began calling for the Bolsheviks to seize power by toppling the Provisional Government in a coup d'état. Stalin and fellow senior Bolshevik Leon Trotsky both endorsed Lenin's plan of action, but it was initially opposed by Kamenev and other party members.[166] Lenin returned to Petrograd and secured a majority in favour of a coup at a meeting of the Central Committee on 10 October.[167]

On 24 October, police raided the Bolshevik newspaper offices, smashing machinery and presses; Stalin salvaged some of this equipment to continue his activities.[168] 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.[169] Bolshevik militia seized Petrograd's electric power station, main post office, state bank, telephone exchange, and several bridges.[170] 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.[171] 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.[172] Trotsky and other later Bolshevik opponents of Stalin used this as evidence that his role in the coup had been insignificant, although later historians reject this.[173] 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";[174] the historian Stephen Kotkin similarly noted that Stalin had been "in the thick of events" in the build-up to the coup.[175]