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Joseph Stalin

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Joseph Stalin
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Dictator of the USSR (1879-1953)


Joseph Stalin, who was originally named Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, was born on December 21st, 1879 in the Caucasian town of Gori, Georgia. His father took to drink and died in 1890 from wounds recieved in fights. His mother, Yekaterina, a illeriterate pesant girl, kept the family together by doing housework and and nursing her son. He suffered sicknesses such as smallpox and septicemia, which left his left arm slightly disabled.

His mother was deeply religious and intent on sending her son to train to become a priest, where he might rise to a higher level in society. He was enrolled in the local Orthodox Parochial School in Gori in 1888. Thee, he won a free scholarship in 1894 to an Orthodox seminary in Tiflis. There, he succumed to the radicalism traditional among the students of the school. He even joined a secret group called Mesame Dasi, which espoused Georgian nationalism. Then, he was expelled from the seminary in May of 1899 right before he was about to graduate. From there, he tried to tutor, then tried clerical work at the Tiflis Observatory. He abandoned this job when he was about to be arrested. Eventally, he rejected his church training, but it left a mark on his style, which was towards the liturgical and was a character of dry, categorical assertion.

After quiting the job of the clergyman, he joined the Social Democratic party of Georgia in 1901 and did revolutionary work, organizing strikes and demonstration. He wrote and lived under pseudonyms, his favorites being "Koba" (a name of a Georgian folk hero meaning "Indomitable") and after 1913, "Stalin" (Man of Steel) His articles started to appear in the periodical "Brdzola" (The Struggle). He gotten arrested for the first time on April 18, 1902 and was exiled to Siberia in 1903, which he escaped and reappeared in Tiflis in 1904. (He experienced this many times more prior to 1917)

Later, Dzhugashvili, shown a interest in practical problems and party organization. He joined a handful of Socialists who backed Bolshevism, Lenin's conception of a highly disciplined, conspiratorial Socialist party came to be called, and he wrote about Lenin's views in the press. He wasn't sufficently prominent yet, so he couldn't attend the founding meeting of the Bolshevik organization or the third national congress of the Social Democratic party in 1905.

In June of 1904, he married a peasant girl named Yekaterina Svanidze. It was a happy marriage, but ended on April 10th, 1907 when she died. She left to him a son, Yakov (Jacob).

By this time, Dzhugashvili was already living the life of a provincial revolutionary. The Russian revolution of 1905 marked his enternace into the national movement. He served as a party organizer in Tiflis and was a coeditor of the Caucasian Worker's Newssheet. His articles were starting to be easily identible with their style and defence of Bolshevism. He even organized robberies for funds for the Bolsheviks. In 1907, he moved to Baku, where exploited workers in the oil industry were providing the Bolsheviks with support, more than anybody in all of Caucasus. For the next four years, Dzhugashvili switched between revolutinary activities and time in exile in northern Russia. He entered the national scene serving as a delegate from the Caucasus to the conference of Bolsheviks in Finland in December of 1905 and to the congresses of Russian Social Democratic party in Stockholm in 1906; London in 1907.

In December 1911, Dzhugashvili was exiled to Vologda this time. In January of 1912, Lenin and his followers met in Prague and elected a new central committee. Dzhugashvili was not elected, but Lenin personally co-opted him into it and appointed him one of the leaders for underground work. In March of that same year, Dshugashvili was able to escape from exile and arrived in St. Petersburg. He set up a newspaper of the Bolsheviks, called Pravada. He attended meetings in Cracow and then joined Lenin in Vienna in January-February 1913 in order to write "Marxism and the National Problem", embodying the Bolsheviks' stand on minority races. On March 7th, he was arrested again and deported to Siberia.

In exile, he adopted the name Stalin, or "Man of Steel". He felt that it was good for his image. He stayed there until 1917, spending his time fishing and hunting.

Chaos came to Russia on March 15th, 1917 after the Czar's abdication. Stalin returned to Russia about 10 days later, where he joined the editorial board of Pravada, which was headed by Lev Kamenev. Being a senior party member, he held a national conference of Bolshevik delegates where he urged cautious cooperation with the government. He was elected one of nine to the central committee.


After Lenin returned to Russia, Stalin reverted to the need to overthrow the government, withdrawal from war and social revolution. However, he was very modest in playing the role in the revolutionary drama. He continued to be an editor of Pravada, organized Lenin's temporary exile and chaired the sixth Bolshevik party congress. He backed Lenin in the party debates in September and October, which urged Bolshevik seizure of power. Stalin didn't really do anything with the preparation or the prosecution of the insurrection.


The new regime, which was established on November 7th, 1917, gave Stalin the job of a minister for nationalities. (This was a minor cabinet post) He held this job for the next five years. In this job, he issued decrees, handled the minority nationalities, and helped with the first Soviet constitutions of 1918 and 1924. He also served a variety of positions after the outbreak of civil war in June of 1918, such as Politcal Commissar and Inspector General. With another man, Grigori Ordzhonikidze, he initiated, in February of 1921 a reconquest of independent Georgia. Not only did it lead to a lifelong absorption in military affairs, but it also led to a rivalry with the commissar for war, Trotsky.


On March 24, 1919, Stalin had gotten married a second time, to a 16-year-old daughter of an old revolutionary friend. This woman, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, bore him two children: Vasili (1919) and Svetlana (1925).


Stalin joined Lenin, Kamenev, Trotsky and Krestinsky in March of 1919 on the newly formed inner directorate of the party, the Politburo. Stalin dealt with the party affairs and occupied the party posts. He headed the Workers and Peasants’ Inspectorate which investigated every official in the country; in 1921 the Orgburo which appointed and dismissed party members, and from 1922, the whole party itself, in the created post of secretary general. He was in a powerful position that helped him after Lenin’s death in 1924. Along with Kamenev and Zinoviev, Stalin ousts Trotsky, who was supposed to be Lenin’s successor, and then managed to oust Kamenev and Zinoviev themselves.


The civil war that happened recently had a tremendous effect on the new regime. It established a harsh repression of opponents of this regime, destruction of the freedom of expression and speech and the growth of centralized party bureaucracy that dominated the government. In 1921, Lenin and the party suppressed criticism within the party against bureaucration and centralism, and crushed revolts by the common, working people, coupling these extremes with a retreat on the economic and social front. The Soviet’s revolutionary age was over, and between the years of 1921 to 1928 the regime turned into the task of running the country from day to day.


Stalin rose to power, maybe because he embraced this more than any of this colleagues. Even Trotsky, who was brilliant in the days of turmoil wasn’t fit for the job in the office, the calculation and compromises. Stalin, who is emotional, vain and having a vindictive temper, was so good at his job of administrator that he gave off a humble air, dressed simply, was calm, efficient and was fatherly. These appealed to everybody, his colleagues, the public, and the new generation of party functionaries.


Stalin was extremely careful to back popular solutions to controversial problems that were debated in the 20’s, including Lenin’s principles of one-party government and party unity, normal diplomatic relations and moderate policies of Soviet industry and agriculture. His theory of “socialism in one country” which enabled the possibility of building a Communist system in one country, was completely different from Marxist internationalism. People liked it, however, because people wanted some stability after years of chaos. He always was a person who implemented the will of the majority. He eventually had complete power by 1928.


At the end of that year, he and his men struck out on some policies that were designed to return Russia into a modern state. He launched forth industrialization and collectivization. The series of social and economic measures included the establishment of terrible five-year economic plans, the execution of thousands of peasants and forced entrance of the rest into “collective farms, nationalization of all industry and commerce, regulation of all financial instruments for capital accumulation by the government regardless of the people’s impoverishment and the centralization of all social activity” Leaders such as Bukharin and Tomsky urged more realistic procedures, but ended up kicked out of office. Even though many people died, Stalin still held on to this program, resisting immense criticism and executions.


The tension with this movement produced dissatisfaction that could’ve led to a secret movement with the party to replace Stalin with a man named Sergei Kirov, a secretary of the central committee in Leningrad. He was murdered in December of 1934 and created a time of terror that lasted until 1939 and was marked by the execution of the entire political and military elite and the incarceration in labor camps with millions of Soviet citizens. This is the time where Stalin became a true dictator over the country.


This establishment of totalitarian political control was bunched together with retrenchment in the economic realm, where Stalin instituted methods of industrial management, a system of differential prices and pay, reestablishing traditional procedures in the armed forces, general guidelines in the arts and sciences and reviving of the family as the basic social unit.


When Germany and Japan were growing more powerful and became a threat, Stalin reverted to traditional forms of foreign policy, seeking alliances with the powerful countries in Europe. In August of 1939, he signed a bilateral nonaggression treaty with Hitler, called the Nazi-Soviet Pact.


When the Germans attacked the Soviets in June of 1941, Stalin personally took command of the Soviet’s forces. With help from the war cabinet, he made all the major decisions throughout the war. He chased after victory with skill, determination and courage by staying on in the Kremlin when Hitler’s army stood at the gates of Moscow, arranging for lend-lease from the West, selecting more excellent commanders and developed military strategies, which proved effective at Stalingrad and Kursk. He brought up the morale of his people by their traditional religious and patriotic sentiments and conducted the diplomacy from the Teheran conference to Potsdam. Victory wouldn’t have been achieved without patriotism, the skill of the military, the efforts of the Allies and the huge mistake that Hitler made. (Fighting a two-front war)



After the war was over, Stalin and his men restored the pre-war system, molded the countries that they required into their image and placed them under Moscow’s control. Soviet leaders were convinced that Russia was very vulnerable with their devastated economy and unreliable people in the newly acquired territories.


The country eventually recovered around 1950, and Stalin tried to purge the old leadership; to restore his initiative in making policies. Before this purge started, he died of a brain hemorrhage on March 5th, 1953.


Cartoon Stalin
Stalin from the cartoon "The Tick"