Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin

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Joseph Stalin
იოსებ სტალინი
Иосиф Сталин
Joseph Stalin

In office
April 3, 1922 – March 5, 1953
Preceded by None (position created in 1922)
Succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev

In office
May 6, 1941 – March 5, 1953
Preceded by Vyacheslav Molotov
Succeeded by Georgy Malenkov

Born December 18, 1878(1878-12-18)
Gori, Georgia, Russian Empire
Died March 5, 1953 (aged 74)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, USSR
Nationality Georgian
Political party Communist Party
of the Soviet Union

Joseph Stalin (December 18, 1878March 5, 1953) (Russian: Иосиф Сталин; Georgian: იოსებ სტალინი) was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union‘s Central Committee from 1922 until his death in 1953. During that time he established the regime now known as Stalinism. As one of several Central Committee Secretariats, Stalin’s formal position was originally limited in scope, but he gradually consolidated power and became the de facto party leader and ruler of the Soviet Union[1].

Stalin launched a command economy in the Soviet Union, forced rapid industrialization of the largely rural country and collectivization of its agriculture. While the Soviet Union transformed from an agrarian economy to a major industrial powerhouse in a short span of time, millions of people died from hardships and famine that occurred as a result of the severe economic upheaval and party policies. At the end of 1930s, Stalin launched the Great Purges, a major campaign of repression against millions of people who were suspected of being a threat to the party were executed or exiled to Gulag labor camps in remote areas of Siberia or Central Asia. A number of ethnic groups in Russia were also forcibly resettled.

During Stalin’s reign, the Soviet Union played a major role in the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War (1939–1945) (more commonly known in Russia and post-Soviet republics as the Great Patriotic War). Under Stalin’s leadership, the Soviet Union went on to achieve recognition as one of just two superpowers in the post-war era, a status that lasted for nearly four decades after his death until the dissolution of the Soviet Union.





Born Ioseb Vissarionovich Jugashvili (Georgian: იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი, Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jughashvili; Russian: Ио́сиф Виссарио́нович Джугашви́ли (help·info), Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili) (December 18 [O.S. December 6] 1878[2]March 5, 1953), better known by his assumed name, Joseph Stalin (Иосиф Сталин, Iosif Stalin; stalin meaning “made of steel”[3]) Stalin became General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1922. Following the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, he prevailed in a power struggle over Leon Trotsky, who was expelled from the Communist Party and deported from the Soviet Union.

In the 1930s Stalin initiated a Purge of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which has become known as the Great Purge, an unprecedented campaign of political repression, persecution and executions that reached its peak in 1937.

Stalin’s rule had long-lasting effects on the features that characterized the Soviet state from the era of his rule to its collapse in 1991. Stalin claimed his policies were based on Marxism-Leninism. Now his political and economic system is referred to as Stalinism. Maoists, anti-revisionists and some others say he was actually the last legitimate Socialist leader in the Soviet Union’s history.

Nikolai Getman, Moving out. The Gulag Collection.

Nikolai Getman, Moving out. The Gulag Collection.[4]

Stalin replaced the New Economic Policy (NEP) of the 1920s with Five-Year Plans in 1928 and collective farming at roughly the same time. The Soviet Union was transformed from a predominantly peasant society to a major world industrial power by the end of the 1930s.[5][6][7]

Confiscations of grain and other food by the Soviet authorities under his orders contributed to a famine between 1932 and 1934, especially in the key agricultural regions of the Soviet Union, Ukraine (see Holodomor), Kazakhstan and North Caucasus that resulted in millions of deaths. Many peasants resisted collectivization and grain confiscations, but were repressed, most notably well-off peasants deemed “kulaks“.[8]

Bearing the brunt of the Nazis’ attacks (around 75% of the Wehrmacht‘s forces), the Soviet Union under Stalin made the largest and most decisive contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II (known in the USSR as the Great Patriotic War, 1941–1945). After the war, Stalin established the USSR as one of the two major superpowers in the world, a position it maintained for nearly four decades following his death in 1953.

Stalin’s rule, reinforced by a cult of personality, fought real and alleged opponents mainly through the security apparatus, such as the NKVD. Millions of people were killed through famines, executions, deportations, and in the Gulag. Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s eventual successor, denounced Stalin’s rule and the cult of personality in 1956, initiating the process of “de-Stalinization” which later became part of the Sino-Soviet Split.

Childhood and education, 1878–1899

Stalin's birth house in Gori, Georgia

Stalin’s birth house in Gori, Georgia

Joseph Stalin was born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili in Gori, Georgia to Vissarion “Beso” Dzhugashvili and Ekaterina “Keke” Geladze (he adopted the name Stalin, which is derived from the Russian stal’ (Russian: сталь) for “steel”, in 1913). Stalin’s mother Keke was born a serf. His father Beso was a cobbler who owned his own shop. He was their third child; their two previous sons died in infancy. The second and third toes of his left foot were webbed.

Initially, the Dzhugashvilis’ lives were prosperous and happy, but Stalin’s father became an alcoholic, which gradually led to his business failing and him becoming violently abusive to his wife and child. As their financial situation grew worse, Stalin’s family moved homes frequently; at least nine times in Stalin’s first ten years of life.[9]

The town where Stalin grew up was a violent and lawless place. It had only a small police force and a culture of violence that included gang-warfare, organized street brawls and wrestling tournaments (some of these were traditions inherited from Georgia’s war-torn past). Stalin took ample part in streetfighting as a child; he was not afraid to challenge opponents that were much stronger than him, getting severely beaten up on numerous occassions.[9]

At the age of 7, Stalin fell ill with smallpox and his face was badly scarred by the disease. He later had photographs retouched to make his pockmarks less apparent.

At the age of 10, Stalin began his education at the Gori Church School. His peers were mostly the sons of affluent priests, officials, and merchants. He and most of his classmates at Gori were Georgians and spoke mostly Georgian. However, at school they were forced to speak Russian (this was the policy of Tsar Alexander III). Their Russian teachers mocked the accents of their Georgian students, and regarded their language and culture as inferior. Nevertheless, he earned the respect and admiration of his teachers by being the best student in the class, earning top marks across the board. He developed a passion for learning that would stay with him for the rest of his life. He became a very good choir singer, and was often hired to sing at weddings. He also began to write poetry, something he would become very talented at in later years.[9]

Stalin’s father Beso, who had always wanted the boy to be trained as a cobbler rather than be educated, was infuriated when he was accepted into the school. In his anger he smashed the windows of the local tavern, and later attacked the town police chief. Out of compassion for Stalin’s mother, the constable did not arrest Beso, but ordered him to leave town. Beso moved to Tbilisi where he found work in a shoe factory, leaving his family behind in Gori.[9]

At around the time he started school, Stalin was struck by a horse-drawn carriage. The accident permanently damaged his left arm; this injury would later exempt him from military service in World War I.

At the age of 12, Stalin was struck yet again by a horse-drawn carriage, and much more badly this time. He was taken to hospital in Tbilisi where he spent months in care. After he recovered, his father seized the opportunity to kidnap the boy and enroll him as an apprentice cobbler at the shoe factory where he worked. When his mother, through the aid of contacts in the clergy and school staff, recovered him, his father cut off all financial support to his wife and son, leaving them to fend for themselves. Stalin returned to his school in Gori where he continued to excel.[9]

Young Stalin, circa 1894 (age 16).

Young Stalin, circa 1894 (age 16).

He graduated first in his class and in 1894, at the age of 16, he enrolled at the Georgian Orthodox Seminary of Tiflis (Tbilisi, Georgia), to which he had been awarded a scholarship. The teachers at Tiflis Seminary were even more determined to impose Russian language and culture on the Georgian students.[9] Like many of his comrades, young Stalin reacted by being drawn to Georgian patriotism. During this time he gained fame as a poet; his poems were published in several local newspapers. However, his interest for poetry began to fade as he was drawn to rebellion and revolution.

During his time at the seminary, he would read forbidden literature that included Victor Hugo novels and revolutionary (including Marxist) literature. He became an atheist in his first year.[9] He insisted his peers call him “Koba”, after the Robin Hood-like protagonist of the novel The Patricide by Alexander Kazbegi; he would continue to use this pseudonym as a revolutionary. In August 1898, he joined the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party (from which the Bolsheviks would later form).

Stalin quit the seminary in 1899 just before his final examinations. However, official biographies preferred to state that he was expelled.[10] According to the official biographies, this was done by Georgy Dolganev (hieromonk Hermogen), the seminary rector.[11] Twenty of his fellow-classmates were expelled for revolutionary activities in 1899, and forty more would be expelled in 1901.[12]

Early years as a Marxist revolutionary, 1899–1917

Stalin (or “Koba”, as he was then known), along with his sidekick “Kamo“, organized the expelled seminarians into a Marxist street gang which soon ran a protection racket in the workers’ districts of Tiflis.[13]

The information card on Joseph Stalin, from the files of the Tsarist secret police in St. Petersburg, 1912.

The information card on Joseph Stalin, from the files of the Tsarist secret police in St. Petersburg, 1912.

A number of historians believe that Stalin was a double agent for the Okhrana during this period of his life. Edward Ellis Smith argues this by citing Stalin’s suspicious ability to escape from Okhrana dragnets, travel unimpeded, and rabble-rouse full time with no apparent source of income. One such example was the raid that occurred on the night of March 21-22 1901, when most everyone of importance in the socialist-democratic movement in Tbilisi was arrested, except for Stalin, who was apparently “enjoying the balmy spring air, and in one of his to-hell-with-the-revolution moods, [which] is too impossible for serious consideration.”[14]

Following a suppressed workers’ demonstration in 1901, Stalin fled to Batumi and got work at an oil refinery owned by the Rothschild family. Organizing the workers there, Stalin was almost certainly involved in a 1901 fire at the refinery designed to intimidate the Rothschilds into giving the workers a pay raise. In 1902, after he organized a demonstration in which 7000 workers clashed with imperial troops, Stalin was sent to the city jail — while there, he organized the criminals and was soon the boss of the jail. Following his trial, Stalin was transported to the katorga in Siberia. He soon escaped, however, and was back in Tiflis by the time of the Russian Revolution (1905). During this period, Stalin and Kamo engaged in a series of illegal fundraising activities, including kidnappings and bank robberies. Stalin was sent into penal exile a second time in 1908, and again quickly escaped.[15]

Stalin in exile, 1915.

Stalin in exile, 1915.

In 1905, Stalin was still a supporter of the separate Georgian Social Democratic Party. By 1907, however, he had come to support the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, abandoning his Georgian nationalism for the more explicitly Marxist position of proletarian internationalism. Stalin sided with Vladimir Lenin‘s Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party and came to adhere to Lenin’s doctrine of democratic centralism. Stalin and Lenin both attended the Fifth Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in London in 1907.[16] This congress consolidated the supremacy of Lenin’s Bolshevik faction and debated strategy for communist revolution in Russia. Stalin never referred to his stay in London.

In January 1912, at the Prague Party Conference, Lenin led his Bolshevik faction out of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, founding the separate Bolshevik Party. Stalin was coopted as a member of the new Bolshevik Central Committee.

In 1913, Stalin published Marxism and the National Question, the first time he used the pseudonym “Stalin” (meaning “man of steel”). This treatise was written while he was briefly in exile in Vienna and presents an orthodox, if somewhat unoriginal, Marxist position (c.f. Lenin’s On the Right of Nations to Self-Determination (1914)).

Later in 1913, Stalin was sent into penal exile for a third time. This time he did not escape so quickly, and lived for the next four years in a small hamlet on the Yenisei River. While there he began a 2-year affair with Lidia Pereprygina, then aged 13, with whom he fathered two children.[17]

Rise to power, 1917–1927

See also: Stalin in the Russian Civil War
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In the wake of the February Revolution in February 1917 (the first phase of the Russian Revolution of 1917), Stalin was released from prison in March 1917. He moved to Saint Petersburg (which the revolutionaries renamed “Petrograd”) and, together with Lev Kamenev and Matvei Muranov, ousted Vyacheslav Molotov and Alexander Shlyapnikov as editors of Pravda, the official Bolshevik newspaper, while Lenin and much of the Bolshevik leadership were still in exile. Stalin and the new editorial board took a position in favor of supporting Alexander Kerensky‘s provisional government (Molotov and Shlyapnikov had wanted to overthrow it) and went to the extent of declining to publish Lenin’s articles arguing for the provisional government to be overthrown. However, after Lenin prevailed at the April Party conference, Stalin and the rest of the Pravda staff came on board with Lenin’s view and called for overthrowing the provisional government. At this April 1917 Party conference, Stalin was elected to the Central Committee with the third highest vote total in the party and was subsequently elected to the Politburo of the Central Committee (May 1917); he held this position for the remainder of his life.

According to many accounts, Stalin only played a minor role in the October Revolution of November 7, 1917. Adam Ulam and others have argued that each man in the Central Committee had a specific job to which he was assigned.

The following summary of Trotsky‘s Role in 1917 was given by Stalin in Pravda, November 6, 1918:

All practical work in connection with the organisation of the uprising was done under the immediate direction of Comrade Trotsky, the President of the Petrograd Soviet. It can be stated with certainty that the Party is indebted primarily and principally to Comrade Trotsky for the rapid going over of the garrison to the side of the Soviet and the efficient manner in which the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee was organised.

Note: Although this passage was quoted in Stalin’s book The October Revolution issued in 1934, it was not included in Stalin’s Works released in 1949.

Later, in 1924, Stalin himself created a myth around a so-called “Party Centre” which “directed” all practical work pertaining to the uprising, consisting of himself, Sverdlov, Dzerzhinsky, Uritsky, and Bubnov. No evidence was ever shown for the activity of this “centre”, which would, in any case, have been subordinate to the Military Revolutionary Council, headed by Trotsky.

Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, and Mikhail Kalinin meeting in 1919. All three of them were “Old Bolsheviks“; members of the Bolshevik party before the Russian Revolution of 1917.

During the Russian Civil War and Polish-Soviet War Stalin was a political commissar in the Red Army at various fronts. Stalin’s first government position was as People’s Commissar of Nationalities Affairs (1917–1923). In that position he traveled to Finland in late 1917, and promised the socialists there that the Soviet Union would aid their revolution. However, this aid was never given and the revolution in Finland was defeated.

He was also People’s Commissar of the Workers and Peasants Inspection (1919–1922), a member of the Revolutionary Military Council of the republic (1920–1923) and a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets (from 1917).

Stalin played a decisive role in engineering the 1921 Red Army invasion of Georgia following which he adopted particularly hardline, centralist policies towards Soviet Georgia, which included severe repression of all opposition within the local Communist party (e.g., Georgian Affair of 1922), not to mention any manifestations of anti-Sovietism (August Uprising of 1924).[18] It was in the Georgian affairs that Stalin first began to play his own hand.[19]

Campaign against the left and right opposition

On April 3, 1922, Stalin was made general secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), a post that he subsequently built up into the most powerful in the country. It has been claimed that he initially attempted to decline accepting the post, but was refused. This position was seen to be a minor one within the party (Stalin was sometimes referred to as “Comrade Card-Index” by fellow party members) but, when combined with personal leadership over the Orgburo and with an ally (Kaganovich) heading the organizational Registration and Distribution Department of the Central Committee, actually had potential as a power base as it allowed Stalin to fill the party with his allies. After Lenin‘s death in January 1924, Stalin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev together governed the party, placing themselves ideologically between Trotsky (on the left wing of the party) and Bukharin (on the right). During this period, Stalin abandoned the traditional Bolshevik emphasis on international revolution in favor of a policy of building “Socialism in One Country“, in contrast to Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution.

In the struggle for leadership after Lenin’s death one thing was evident; whoever ended up ruling the party had to demonstrate fealty to the memory of Lenin. Stalin did so by organizing the late leader’s funeral, after which he made a speech professing an undying loyalty to Lenin that was almost religious in nature.

Stalin’s actual relationship with Lenin, which was far more complex than Stalin’s speeches alluded, has been illuminated by a number of sources that were made available after the fall of the Soviet Union, including some from Lenin’s sister.[20][21]

Stalin first worked to undermine Trotsky, who was sick at the time, possibly by misleading him about the date of the funeral. Consequently, Trotsky, who was Lenin’s associate throughout the early days of the Soviet regime, lost considerable political support. Stalin made great deal of the fact that Trotsky had joined the Bolsheviks just before the revolution, and publicized Trotsky’s pre-revolutionary disagreements with Lenin. Another event that helped Stalin’s rise was the fact that Trotsky came out against publication of Lenin’s Testament in which he pointed out the strengths and weaknesses of Stalin and Trotsky and the other main players, and suggested that he be succeeded by a small group of people.

Joseph Stalin, cartoon by Nikolai Bukharin

Joseph Stalin, cartoon by Nikolai Bukharin

An important feature of Stalin’s rise to power is the way that he manipulated his opponents and played them off against each other. Stalin formed a “troika” of himself, Zinoviev, and Kamenev against Trotsky. When Trotsky had been eliminated, Stalin then joined Bukharin and Rykov against Zinoviev and Kamenev, emphasising their vote against the insurrection in 1917. Zinoviev and Kamenev then turned to Lenin’s widow, Krupskaya; they formed the “United Opposition” in July 1926.

In 1927 during the 15th Party Congress Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the party and Kamenev lost his seat on the Central Committee. Stalin soon turned against the “Right Opposition“, represented by his erstwhile allies, Bukharin and Rykov.

Stalin gained popular appeal from his presentation as a ‘man of the people’ from the poorer classes. The Russian people were tired from the world war and the civil war, and Stalin’s policy of concentrating in building “Socialism in One Country” was seen as an optimistic antidote to war.

Stalin took great advantage of the ban on factionalism which meant that no group could openly go against the policies of the leader of the party because that meant creation of an opposition. By 1928 (the first year of the Five-Year Plans) Stalin was supreme among the leadership, and the following year Trotsky was exiled because of his opposition. Having also outmaneuvered Bukharin’s Right Opposition and now advocating collectivization and industrialization, Stalin can be said to have exercised control over the party and the country.

However, as the popularity of other leaders such as Sergei Kirov and the so-called Ryutin Affair were to demonstrate, Stalin did not achieve absolute power until the Great Purge of 1936–1938.

Soviet secret service and intelligence

Stalin vastly increased the scope and power of the state’s secret police and intelligence agencies. Under his guiding hand, Soviet intelligence forces began to set up intelligence networks in most of the major nations of the world, including Germany (the famous Rote Kappelle spy ring), Great Britain, France, Japan, and the United States. Stalin saw no difference between espionage, communist political propaganda actions, and state-sanctioned violence, and he began to integrate all of these activities within the NKVD. Stalin made considerable use of the Communist International movement in order to infiltrate agents and to ensure that foreign Communist parties remained pro-Soviet and pro-Stalin.

One of the best early examples of Stalin’s ability to integrate secret police and foreign espionage came in 1940, when he gave approval to the secret police to have Leon Trotsky assassinated in Mexico.[22]

Stalin and changes in Soviet society, 1927–1939




The Russian Civil War and wartime communism had a devastating effect on the country’s economy. Industrial output in 1922 was 13% of that in 1914. A recovery followed under the New Economic Policy, which allowed a degree of market flexibility within the context of socialism.

Under Stalin’s direction, this was replaced by a system of centrally ordained “Five-Year Plans” in the late 1920s. These called for a highly ambitious program of state-guided crash industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture.

With seed capital unavailable because of international reaction to Communist policies, little international trade, and virtually no modern infrastructure, Stalin’s government financed industrialization both by restraining consumption on the part of ordinary Soviet citizens to ensure that capital went for re-investment into industry, and by ruthless extraction of wealth from the kulaks.

In 1933 workers’ real earnings sank to about one-tenth of the 1926 level. Common and political prisoners in labor camps were forced to do unpaid labor, and communists and Komsomol members were frequently “mobilized” for various construction projects. The Soviet Union used foreign experts, e.g. British engineer Stephen Adams, to instruct their workers and improve their manufacturing processes.

In spite of early breakdowns and failures, the first two Five-Year Plans achieved rapid industrialization from a very low economic base. While it is generally agreed that the Soviet Union achieved significant levels of economic growth under Stalin, the precise rate of growth is disputed. It is not disputed, however, that these gains were accomplished at the cost of millions of lives.

Official Soviet estimates stated the annual rate of growth at 13.9%; Russian and Western estimates gave lower figures of 5.8% and even 2.9%. Indeed, one estimate is that Soviet growth became temporarily much higher after Stalin’s death.[7] [8]

According to Robert Lewis the Five-Year Plan substantially helped to modernize the previously backward Soviet economy. New products were developed, and the scale and efficiency of existing production greatly increased. Some innovations were based on indigenous technical developments, others on imported foreign technology.[23]


Stalin’s regime moved to force collectivization of agriculture. This was intended to increase agricultural output from large-scale mechanized farms, to bring the peasantry under more direct political control, and to make tax collection more efficient. Collectivization meant drastic social changes, on a scale not seen since the abolition of serfdom in 1861, and alienation from control of the land and its produce. Collectivization also meant a drastic drop in living standards for many peasants, and it faced violent reaction among the peasantry.

In the first years of collectivization it was estimated that industrial production would rise by 200% and agricultural production by 50%[24], but these estimates were not met. Stalin blamed this unanticipated failure on kulaks (rich peasants), who resisted collectivization. (However, kulaks proper made up only 4% of the peasant population; the “kulaks” that Stalin targeted included the slightly better-off peasants who took the brunt of violence from the OGPU and the Komsomol. These peasants were about 60% of the population). Those officially defined as “kulaks,” “kulak helpers,” and later “ex-kulaks” were to be shot, placed into Gulag labor camps, or deported to remote areas of the country, depending on the charge.

The two-stage progress of collectivization—interrupted for a year by Stalin’s famous editorial, “Dizzy with success” (Pravda, March 2, 1930), and “Reply to Collective Farm Comrades” (Pravda, April 3, 1930)—is a prime example of his capacity for tactical political withdrawal followed by intensification of initial strategies.

Many historians assert that the disruption caused by collectivization was largely responsible for major famines.

The 1932–1933 famine in Ukraine and the Kuban regions has been termed the Holodomor (Ukrainian: Голодомор).

Entering Gulag (a leaf from Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya's notebook)

Entering Gulag (a leaf from Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya‘s notebook)

According to 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; he was convinced that the Ukrainian peasants had hidden grain away, and strictly enforced draconian new collective-farm theft laws in response.[25][26]

Other historians hold 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.[27]

Famine affected other parts of the USSR. The death toll from famine in the Soviet Union at this time is estimated at between five and ten million people. The worst crop failure of late tsarist Russia, in 1892, had caused 375,000 to 400,000 deaths.)[28]

Soviet and other historians have argued that the rapid collectivization of agriculture was necessary in order to achieve an equally rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union and ultimately win World War II. This is disputed by other historians; Alec Nove claims that the Soviet Union industrialized in spite of, rather than because of, its collectivized agriculture.


Main articles: Science and technology in the Soviet Union, Suppressed research in the Soviet Union, Lysenkoism

Science in the Soviet Union was under strict ideological control by Stalin and his government, along with art and literature. There was significant progress in “ideologically safe” domains, owing to the free Soviet education system and state-financed research. However, in several cases the consequences of ideological pressure were dramatic—the most notable examples being the “bourgeois pseudosciencesgenetics and cybernetics.

In the late 40’s, some areas of physics, especially quantum mechanics but also special and general relativity, were also criticized on grounds of “idealism“. Soviet physicists, such as K. V. Nikolskij and D. Blokhintzev, developed a version of the statistical interpretation of quantum mechanics, which was seen as more adhering to the principles of dialectical materialism.[29][30] However, although initially planned,[31] this process did not go as far as defining an “ideologically correct” version of physics and purging those scientists who refused to conform to it, because this was recognized as potentially too harmful to the Soviet nuclear program.

Linguistics was the only area of Soviet academic thought to which Stalin personally and directly contributed. At the beginning of Stalin’s rule, the dominant figure in Soviet linguistics was Nikolai Yakovlevich Marr, who argued that language is a class construction and that language structure is determined by the economic structure of society. Stalin, who had previously written about language policy as People’s Commissar for Nationalities, read a letter by Arnold Chikobava criticizing the theory. He “summoned Chikobava to a dinner that lasted from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. taking notes diligently.”[32] In this way he grasped enough of the underlying issues to coherently oppose this simplistic Marxist formalism, ending Marr’s ideological dominance over Soviet linguistics. Stalin’s principal work discussing linguistics is a small essay, “Marxism and Linguistic Questions.”[33]

Although no great theoretical contributions or insights came from it, neither were there any apparent errors in Stalin’s understanding of linguistics; his influence arguably relieved Soviet linguistics from the sort of ideologically driven theory that dominated genetics.

Scientific research was hindered by the fact that many scientists were sent to labor camps (including Lev Landau, later a Nobel Prize winner, who spent a year in prison in 1938–1939) or executed (e.g. Lev Shubnikov, shot in 1937). They were persecuted for their dissident views, not for their research. Nevertheless, much progress was made under Stalin in some areas of science and technology. It laid the ground for the famous achievements of Soviet science in the 1950s, such as the development of the BESM-1 computer in 1953 and the launching of Sputnik in 1957.

Indeed, many politicians in the United States expressed a fear, after the “Sputnik crisis,” that their country had been eclipsed by the Soviet Union in science and in public education.

Social services

Main article: Soviet democracy

Under the Soviet government people benefited from some social liberalization. Girls were given an adequate, equal education and women had equal rights in employment[34], improving lives for women and families. Stalinist development also contributed to advances in health care, which significantly increased the lifespan and quality of life of the typical Soviet citizen[35]. Stalin’s policies granted the Soviet people universal access to healthcare and education, effectively creating the first generation free from the fear of typhus, cholera, and malaria [36]. The occurrences of these diseases dropped to record low numbers, increasing life spans by decades [37].

Soviet women under Stalin were the first generation of women able to give birth in the safety of a hospital, with access to prenatal care [38]. Education was also an example of an increase in standard of living after economic development. The generation born during Stalin’s rule was the first near-universally literate generation. Millions benefitted from mass literacy campaigns in the 1930s, and from workers training schemes[39]. Engineers were sent abroad to learn industrial technology, and hundreds of foreign engineers were brought to Russia on contract [40]. Transport links were improved and many new railways built. Workers who exceeded their quotas, Stakhanovites, received many incentives for their work [41]; they could afford to buy the goods that were mass-produced by the rapidly expanding Soviet economy.

The increase in demand due to industrialization and the decrease in the workforce due to World War II and repressions generated a major expansion in job opportunities for the survivors, especially for women [42].


Main article: Socialist Realism

Stalin propaganda poster, reading: “Beloved Stalin—a fortune of the nation!”

Although born in Georgia, Stalin became a Russian nationalist and significantly promoted Russian history, language, and Russian national heroes, particularly during the 1930s and 1940s. He held the Russians up as the elder brothers of the non-Russian minorities.[43]

During Stalin’s reign the official and long-lived style of Socialist Realism was established for painting, sculpture, music, drama and literature. Previously fashionable “revolutionary” expressionism, abstract art, and avant-garde experimentation were discouraged or denounced as “formalism“. Careers were made and broken, some more than once. Famous figures were repressed, and many persecuted, tortured and executed, both “revolutionaries” (among them Isaac Babel, Vsevolod Meyerhold) and “non-conformists” (for example, Osip Mandelstam).

A minority, both representing the “Soviet man” (e.g. Arkady Gaidar) and remnants of the older pre-revolutionary Russia (e.g. Konstantin Stanislavski), thrived. A number of émigrés returned to the Soviet Union, among them Alexei Tolstoi in 1925, Alexander Kuprin in 1936, and Alexander Vertinsky in 1943.

Poet Anna Akhmatova was subjected to several cycles of suppression and rehabilitation, but was never herself arrested. Her first husband, poet Nikolai Gumilev, was shot in 1921, and her son, historian Lev Gumilev, spent two decades in a gulag.

The degree of Stalin’s personal involvement in general, and in specific instances, has been the subject of discussion. His name was as constantly invoked during his reign in discussions of culture as in just about everything else; in several famous cases his opinion was final.

Stalin’s occasional beneficence showed itself in strange ways. For example, Mikhail Bulgakov was driven to poverty and despair; yet, after a personal appeal to Stalin, he was allowed to continue working. His play, The Days of the Turbines, with its sympathetic treatment of an anti-Bolshevik family caught up in the Civil War, was finally staged, apparently also on Stalin’s intervention, and began a decades-long uninterrupted run at the Moscow Arts Theater.

Some insights into Stalin’s political and esthetic thinking might perhaps be gleaned by reading his favorite novel, Pharaoh, by the Polish writer Bolesław Prus, a historical novel on mechanisms of political power. Similarities have been pointed out between this novel and Sergei Eisenstein‘s film, Ivan the Terrible, produced under Stalin’s tutelage.

In architecture, a Stalinist Empire Style (basically, updated neoclassicism on a very large scale, exemplified by the Seven Sisters of Moscow) replaced the constructivism of the 1920s.

Stalin’s rule had a largely disruptive effect on the many indigenous cultures within the Soviet Union. The politics of the Korenization and forced development of “Cultures National by Form, Socialist by their substance” was arguably beneficial to later generations of indigenous cultures in allowing them to integrate more easily into Russian society.

The attempted unification of cultures in Stalin’s later period was very harmful. Political repressions and purges were even more devastating to indigenous cultures than on urban ones as the cultural elites were smaller. The traditional lives of many peoples in the Siberian, Central Asian and Caucasian provinces was upset and large populations were displaced and scattered in order to prevent nationalist uprisings.

The Moskva Hotel in Moscow was said to have been built with mismatched side wings because Stalin had mistakenly signed off both of the proposals submitted, and the architects had been too afraid to clarify the matter. (The hotel had actually been built by two independent teams of architects with differing ideas.)


A caricature of “Stalin a great friend of religion”, when churches were allowed to be opened during World War II.

Stalin’s role in the fortunes of the Russian Orthodox Church is complex. Continuous persecution in the 1930s resulted in its near-extinction: by 1939, active parishes numbered in the low hundreds (down from 54,000 in 1917), many churches had been leveled, and tens of thousands of priests, monks and nuns were persecuted and killed. Over 100,000 were shot during the purges of 1937–1938.[44][45] During World War II, the Church was allowed a revival as a patriotic organization, after the NKVD had recruited the new metropolitan, the first after the revolution, as a secret agent. Thousands of parishes were reactivated until a further round of suppression in Khrushchev‘s time.

The Russian Orthodox Church Synod’s recognition of the Soviet government and of Stalin personally led to a schism with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. An Act of Canonical Communion was signed on the May 17, 2007, followed immediately by a full restoration of communion with the Moscow Patriarchate; there remain some issues not fully healed to the present day.

Just days before Stalin’s death, certain religious sects were outlawed and persecuted.

Many religions popular in the ethnic regions of the Soviet Union including the Roman Catholic Church, Uniats, Baptists, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, etc. underwent ordeals similar to the Orthodox churches in other parts: thousands of monks were persecuted, and hundreds of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, sacred monuments, monasteries and other religious buildings were razed.

Purges and deportations

The purges

Main article: Great Purge
Beria's letter to Politburo Stalin's resolution The Politburo's decision
Left: Beria’s January 1940 letter to Stalin, asking permission to execute 346 “enemies of the CPSU and of the Soviet authorities” who conducted “counter-revolutionary, right-Trotskyite plotting and spying activities.”
Middle: Stalin’s handwriting: “за” (support).
Right: The Politburo’s decision is signed by Secretary Stalin.

Stalin, as head of the Politburo, consolidated near-absolute power in the 1930s with a Great Purge of the party, justified as an attempt to expel ‘opportunists’ and ‘counter-revolutionary infiltrators’. Those targeted by the purge were often expelled from the party, however more severe measures ranged from banishment to the Gulag labor camps, to execution after trials held by NKVD troikas.

The Purges commenced after the assassination of Sergei Kirov, the popular leader of the party in Leningrad. Kirov was very close to Stalin and his assassination sent chills through the Bolshevik party. Publicly Stalin merely reacted to this assassination by tightening security by seeking out alleged spies and counter-revolutionaries, but in effect he was removing those who might have threatened Stalin’s leadership. This process then transformed itself into extensive purges.

There are two different versions for the background of Kirov’s murder. According to the first, Stalin, fearing that he might be next in line to be assassinated, decided to initiate purges instead of passively wait. According to the second version, Stalin saw Kirov as a dangerous competitor for top-spot in the Soviet Union and decided to kill Kirov himself.

In the 1930s, Stalin apparently became increasingly worried about Kirov’s growing popularity. At the 1934 Party Congress where the vote for the new Central Committee was held, Kirov received only three negative votes, the fewest of any candidate, while Stalin received 292 negative votes, the highest of any candidate. Kirov was a close friend with Sergo Ordzhonikidze, and together they formed a moderate bloc to Stalin in the Politburo. Later in 1934, Stalin asked Kirov to work for him in Moscow. One theory suggests that Stalin did this in order to keep a closer eye on Kirov, this despite of the supposed fact that Stalin entirely controlled the NKVD. Kirov refused, however, and according to the same theory he became a competitor in Stalin’s eyes.

On December 1, 1934, Kirov was killed by Leonid Nikolaev (also seen spelled as Nikolayev) in the Smolny Institute Leningrad. Kirov had arrived at the Smolny to work in his office, and, apparently leaving his bodyguard downstairs, headed to the upper floors, where the officials had their rooms. Nikolayev emerged from a bathroom and followed Kirov towards his office, shooting him in the back of the neck. Officially Stalin claimed that Nikolayev was part of a larger conspiracy led by Leon Trotsky against the Soviet government. This resulted in the arrest and execution of Lev Kamenev, Grigory Zinoviev, and fourteen others in 1936. The death of Kirov ignited the great purge where supporters of Trotsky and other suspected enemies of the state were arrested. It has been speculated that Stalin was the man who ordered the murder of Kirov, and that the shooting was carried out with the help of the NKVD. However, although most historians believe that this second version of why and how Kirov was killed is more likely, it has so far not been unambiguously proven as right and it is still disputed by some.

Several trials known as the Moscow Trials were held, but the procedures were replicated throughout the country. There were four key trials during this period: the Trial of the Sixteen (August 1936); Trial of the Seventeen (January 1937); the trial of Red Army generals, including Marshal Tukhachevsky (June 1937); and finally the Trial of the Twenty One (including Bukharin) in March 1938.

Most notably in the case of alleged Nazi collaborator Tukhachevsky, many military leaders were convicted of treason. The shakeup in command may have cost the Soviet Union dearly during the German invasion of 22 June 1941, and its aftermath.

The repression of so many formerly high-ranking revolutionaries and party members led Leon Trotsky to claim that a “river of blood” separated Stalin’s regime from that of Lenin. Solzhenitsyn alleges that Stalin drew inspiration from Lenin’s regime with the presence of labor camps and the executions of political opponents that occurred during the Russian Civil War. Trotsky’s August 1940 assassination in Mexico, where he had lived in exile since January 1937, eliminated the last of Stalin’s opponents among the former Party leadership. Only three members of the “Old Bolsheviks” (Lenin’s Politburo) now remained—Stalin himself, “the all-Union Chieftain” (всесоюзный староста) Mikhail Kalinin, and Chairman of Sovnarkom Vyacheslav Molotov.

Nikolai Yezhov, the young man strolling with Stalin to his right in this photo from the 1930s, was shot in 1940. Following his death, he was edited out of the photo by Soviet censors [9]. Such retouching was a common occurrence during Stalin’s reign.

No segment of society was left untouched during the purges. Article 58 of the legal code, listing prohibited “anti-Soviet activities”, was applied in the broadest manner. Initially, the execution lists for the enemies of the people were confirmed by the Politburo.

Over time the procedure was greatly simplified and delegated down the line of command. People would inform on others arbitrarily, to attempt to redeem themselves, or to gain small retributions. The flimsiest pretexts were often enough to brand someone an “Enemy of the People,” starting the cycle of public persecution and abuse, often proceeding to interrogation, torture and deportation, if not death. Nadezhda Mandelstam, the widow of the poet Osip Mandelstam and one of the key memoirists of the Purges, recalls being shouted at by Akhmatova: “Don’t you understand? They are arresting people for nothing now?” The Russian word troika gained a new meaning: a quick, simplified trial by a committee of three subordinated to NKVD.

Towards the end of the purge, the Politburo relieved NKVD head Nikolai Yezhov, from his position for overzealousness. He was subsequently executed. Some historians such as Amy Knight and Robert Conquest postulate that Stalin had Yezhov and his predecessor, Genrikh Yagoda, removed in order to deflect blame from himself.

In parallel with the purges, efforts were made to rewrite the history in Soviet textbooks and other propaganda materials. Notable people executed by NKVD were removed from the texts and photographs as though they never existed. Gradually, the history of revolution was transformed to a story about just two key characters: Lenin and Stalin.

In light of revelations from the Soviet archives, historians now estimate that nearly 700,000 people were executed in the course of the terror,[46] with the great mass of victims being ordinary peasants and workers.[47]

It is worth noting that 2007 tours of Stalin’s Museum in Gori, Georgia reference the purges only in passing. “Sure, during the process of collectivization, some mistakes were made” is the official line at the museum. No other references to mortalities are made during the tour, and when asked about actual fatalities, the estimate of 25,000 is given.

Ukrainian famine

KGB documents located in Kiev purportedly demonstrate how the Ukrainian famine (Holodomor) (1932–1933) was artificially engineered,[48] and that while some areas of the Soviet Union affected by the famine were sent humanitarian aid, Ukraine was systematically denied such assistance.[49] Also, the famine was accompanied by a devastating purge of the Ukrainian intelligentsia and the Ukrainian Communist party itself.[50] One document is an order from Moscow to shoot people who steal food. It is signed by Stalin in red ink.[48] According to Professor Donald Rayfield, within a year 6,000 had been executed and tens of thousands imprisoned.[51]

Most modern scholars agree that the famine was caused by the policies of the government of the Soviet Union under Stalin, rather than by natural reasons. The Holodomor is sometimes referred to as the Ukrainian Genocide,[52][53][54][55] implying that the Holodomor was engineered by the Soviets, specifically targeting the Ukrainian people to destroy the Ukrainian nation as a political factor and social entity.[56] 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, according to which the Soviet-era forced famine was an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people.[57]


Meeting in a prison cell

Meeting in a prison cell

Shortly before, during and immediately after World War II, Stalin conducted a series of deportations on a huge scale which profoundly affected the ethnic map of the Soviet Union. It is estimated that between 1941 and 1949 nearly 3.3 million[58] were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. Separatism, resistance to Soviet rule and collaboration with the invading Germans were cited as the official reasons for the deportations, rightly or wrongly. Historian Allan Bullock explains:

Many no doubt had collaborated with the occupying forces … but many had done so not out of disloyalty but from the instinct to survive when abandoned to their fate by the retreating Soviet armies. The individual circumstances were of no interest to Stalin … After the brief Nazi occupation of the Caucasus was over … the entire population of five of the small highland peoples of the North Caucasus, as well as the Crimean Tatars — more than a million souls — (were deported) without notice or any opportunity to take their possessions. There were certainly collaborators among these peoples, but most of those had fled with the Germans. The majority of those left were old folk, women, and children; their men were away fighting at the front, where the Chechens and Ingushes alone produced thirty-six Heroes of the Soviet Union.[59]

During Stalin’s rule the following ethnic groups were deported completely or partially: Ukrainians, Poles, Koreans, Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, Meskhetian Turks, Finns, Bulgarians, Greeks, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and Jews. Large numbers of Kulaks, regardless of their nationality, were resettled to Siberia and Central Asia. Deportations took place in appalling conditions, often by cattle truck, and hundreds of thousands of deportees died en route.[60] Those who survived were forced to work without pay in the labour camps. Many of the deportees died of hunger or other conditions.

In February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev condemned the deportations as a violation of Leninist principles, and reversed most of them, although it was not until as late as 1991 that the Tatars, Meskhs and Volga Germans were allowed to return en masse to their homelands. The deportations had a profound effect on the peoples of the Soviet Union. The memory of the deportations played a major part in the separatist movements in the Baltic States, Tatarstan and Chechnya, even today.

Number of victims

Early researchers attempting to tally the number of people killed under Stalin’s regime were forced to rely largely upon anecdotal evidence. Their estimates ranged from a low of 3 million to as high as 60 million.[61][62] When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 however, evidence from the Soviet archives finally became available. The archives record that about 800,000 prisoners were executed (for either political or criminal offences) under Stalin, while about 1.7 million died in the GULAG and some 389,000 perished during kulak forced resettlement — a total of about 3 million victims.

Debate continues, however,[63] since some historians believe the archival figures to be unreliable.[64][65] For example, some argue that the many suspects tortured to death while in “investigative custody” were likely not counted amongst the executed.[66][67] Also, there are certain categories of victim which it is generally agreed were carelessly recorded by the Soviets — such as the victims of ethnic deportations, or of German population transfer in the aftermath of WWII.

Thus while some archival researchers have estimated the number of victims of Stalin’s repressions to be no more than about 4 million in total,[68][69][70] others believe the number to be considerably higher, with a “middle estimate” of 40 million.[71] Russian writer Vadim Erlikman,[72] 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 historians have also included the 6 to 8 million victims of the 1932–1933 famine as victims of repression.[73][74][75] This categorization is controversial however, as historians differ as to whether the famine was a deliberate part of the campaign of repression against kulaks or simply an unintended consequence of the struggle over forced collectivization. (See also: Droughts and famines in Russia and the USSR).

Regardless, it appears that a minimum of around 10 million surplus deaths (4 million by repression and 6 million from famine) are attributable to the regime, with a number of recent books suggesting a likely total of around 20 million.[76][77][78][79][80] Adding 6–8 million famine victims to Erlikman’s estimates above, for example, would yield a total of between 15 and 17 million victims. Pioneering researcher Robert Conquest, meanwhile, has revised his original estimate of up to 30 million victims down to 20 million.[81] Others, however, continue to maintain that their earlier much higher estimates are correct.[82]

World War II, 1939–1945

Molotov and Stalin, 1944.

Molotov and Stalin, 1944.

After the failure of Soviet and Franco-British talks on a mutual defense pact in Moscow, Stalin began to negotiate a non-aggression pact with Hitler’s Nazi Germany. There is a version that in his speech on August 19, 1939, Stalin prepared his comrades for the great turn in Soviet policy, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany. According to a controversial Russian author living in the UK, Viktor Suvorov, Stalin expressed in the speech an expectation that the war would be the best opportunity to weaken both the Western nations and Nazi Germany, and make Germany suitable for “Sovietization”. Whether this speech was ever delivered to the public and what its content was is still debated.

Officially a non-aggression treaty only, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had a secret annex according to which Central Europe was divided into the two powers’ respective spheres of influence. The USSR was promised an eastern part of Poland, primarily populated with Ukrainians and Belarusians in case of its dissolution, as long as Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland were recognized as parts of the Soviet sphere of influence. Another clause of the treaty was that Bessarabia, then part of Romania, was to be joined to the Moldovan ASSR, and become the Moldovan SSR under control of Moscow.

On September 1, 1939, the German invasion of Poland started World War II. Stalin decided to intervene, and on September 17 the Red Army entered eastern Poland and occupied the territory assigned to it by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Stalin (in background to the right) looks on as Molotov signs the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, August 24, 1939.

Stalin (in background to the right) looks on as Molotov signs the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, August 24, 1939.

In November 1939, Stalin sent troops over the Finnish border, provoking a war of aggression, and probably intended to annex Finland into the Soviet Union, as he had already done in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. But the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland proved to be far more difficult than Stalin and the Red Army were prepared for, and the Soviets sustained surprisingly high casualties. By some estimates, the Soviet Union lost as many as 391,800 lives in this four-month war against Finland alone, or more than the United States suffered in all of World War Two against Germany and Japan (1941–1945). The Soviets finally agreed on an interim peace in March, 1940, but only succeeded in annexing the eastern region of Karelia (10% of Finnish territory), a classic example of a Pyrrhic victory. Finland remains an independent country to the present day, but the Red Armies’ serious problems had been revealed to the rest of the world, including Germany.

On March 5, 1940, the Soviet leadership approved an order of execution for more than 25,700 Polish “nationalist, educators and counterrevolutionary” activists in the parts of the Ukraine and Belarus republics that had been annexed from Poland. This event has become known as the Katyn Massacre.[83]

In June 1941, Hitler broke the pact and invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, thus beginning the Great Patriotic War. Although expecting war with Germany, Stalin may not have expected an invasion to come so soon—and the Soviet Union was relatively unprepared for this invasion. An alternative theory suggested by Viktor Suvorov claims that Stalin had made aggressive preparations from the late 1930s on and was about to invade Germany in summer 1941. Thus, he believes Hitler only managed to forestall Stalin and the German invasion was in essence a pre-emptive strike. This theory was supported by Igor Bunich, Mikhail Meltyukhov (see Stalin’s Missed Chance) and Edvard Radzinsky (see Stalin: The First In-Depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia’s Secret Archives). Most Western historians reject this thesis, though.

In the diary of General Fedor von Boch, it is also mentioned that the Abwehr fully expected a Soviet attack against German forces in Poland no later than 1942. Such speculations are difficult to substantiate, however, as information on the Soviet Army from 1939 to 1941 remains classified, but it is known that the Soviets had received some warnings of the German invasion through their foreign intelligence agents, such as Richard Sorge.

Even though Stalin received intelligence warnings of a German attack,[84] he sought to avoid any obvious defensive preparation which might further provoke the Germans, in the hope of buying time to modernize and strengthen his military forces. 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.[5]

The Germans initially made huge advances, capturing and killing millions of Soviet troops. The Soviet Red Army put up fierce resistance during the war’s early stages. Even so, they were plagued by an ineffective defense doctrine against the well-trained and experienced German forces, despite quite modern equipment, such as first heavy tank in the world, the KV-1.

Stalin feared that Hitler would use disgruntled Soviet citizens to fight his regime, particularly people imprisoned in the Gulags. He thus ordered the NKVD to take care of the situation. They responded by murdering around one hundred thousand political prisoners throughout the western parts of the Soviet Union, with methods that included bayoneting people to death and tossing grenades into crowded cells.[85] Many others were simply deported east.[86][87][88]

Hitler’s experts had expected eight weeks of war, and early indications appeared to support their predictions. However, the invading German forces were eventually driven back in December 1941 near Moscow.

Stalin met in several conferences with Churchill and/or Roosevelt in Moscow, Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam to plan military strategy (Truman taking the place of the deceased Roosevelt).

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.”[89]

His shortcomings as strategist are frequently noted regarding massive Soviet loss of life and early Soviet defeats. An example of it is the summer offensive of 1942, which led to even more losses by the Red Army and recapture of initiative by the Germans. Stalin eventually recognized his lack of know-how and relied on his professional generals to conduct the war.

Clement Attlee, Harry Truman and Joseph Stalin at the Potsdam Conference, July 1945

Clement Attlee, Harry Truman and Joseph Stalin at the Potsdam Conference, July 1945

Yet Stalin did rapidly move Soviet industrial production east of the Volga River, far from Luftwaffe-reach, to sustain the Red Army‘s war machine with astonishing success. Additionally, Stalin was well aware that other European armies had utterly disintegrated when faced with Nazi military efficacy and responded effectively by subjecting his army to galvanizing terror and unrevolutionary, nationalist appeals to patriotism. He also appealed to the Russian Orthodox church and images of national Russian heroes. On November 6, 1941, Stalin addressed the whole nation of the Soviet Union for the second time (the first time was earlier that year on July 2).

According to Stalin’s Order No. 227 of July 27, 1942, any commander or commissar of a regiment, battalion or army, who allowed retreat without permission from above was subject to military tribunal. The Soviet soldiers who surrendered were declared traitors; however most of those who survived the brutality of German captivity were mobilized again as they were freed. Between 5% and 10% of them were sent to Gulag (As “traitors of Homeland”. Soviet Criminal Code, §58, clause 1B: criminal conviction — 10 or later 25 years of labor camp plus 5 years without “citizen rights”).

Time magazine (1943-01-04). Time had previously named Stalin Man of the Year for the year 1939.

Time magazine (194301-04). Time had previously named Stalin Man of the Year for the year 1939.

In the war’s opening stages, the retreating Red Army also sought to deny resources to the enemy through a scorched earth policy of destroying the infrastructure and food supplies of areas before the Germans could seize them. This, along with abuse by German troops, caused starvation and suffering among the civilian population that were left behind.

According to recent figures, of an estimated four million POWs taken by the Russians, including Germans, Japanese, Hungarians, Romanians and others, some 580,000 never returned, presumably victims of privation or the Gulags, compared with 3.5 million Soviet POW that died in German camps out of the 5.6 million taken.[90]

Returning Soviet soldiers who had surrendered were viewed with suspicion and some were killed. According to historian Alan Bullock:

The huge number of Russian troops taken prisoner in the first eighteen months of the war convinced Stalin that many of them must have been traitors who had deserted at the first opportunity. Any soldier who had been a prisoner was henceforth suspect … All such, whether generals, officers, or ordinary soldiers, were sent to special concentration camps where the NKVD investigated them … Twenty percent were sentenced to death or twenty-five years in camps; only 15 to 20 percent were allowed to return to their homes. The remainder were condemned to shorter sentences (five to ten years), to exile in Siberia, and forced labor — or were killed or died on the way home.[91]

Post-war era, 1945–1953

Stalin and Zhukov on the tribune of Lenin's Mausoleum.

Stalin and Zhukov on the tribune of Lenin’s Mausoleum.

Domestically, Stalin was seen as a great wartime leader who had led the Soviets to victory against the Nazis. His early cooperation with Hitlerism was forgotten. That cooperation included helping the German Army violate the Versailles Treaty limitations with training in the Soviet Union, the notorious Molotov-von Ribbentrop treaty which partitioned Poland (giving Soviet Union what is now Belarus), and granted the Soviet Union a free hand in Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, and Soviet trade with Hitler to counteract the expected French and British trade blockades.

By the end of the 1940s, Russian patriotism increased due to successful propaganda efforts. For instance, some inventions and scientific discoveries were claimed by Russian propaganda. Examples include the boiler, reclaimed by father and son Cherepanovs; the electric bulb, by Yablochkov and Lodygin; the radio, by Popov; and the airplane, by Mozhaysky. Stalin’s internal repressive policies continued (including in newly acquired territories), but never reached the extremes of the 1930s, in part because the smarter party functionaries had learned caution.

Internationally, Stalin viewed Soviet consolidation of power as a necessary step to protect the USSR by surrounding it with countries with friendly governments like the variety seen in Finland, to act as a cordon sanitaire (buffer) against possible invaders, while the “West” sought a similar buffer against communist expansion. These competing policies led to an admirable stability, where successful Soviet aggression would depend on enthusiastic cooperation by the satellite nations.

He had hoped that the American withdrawal and demobilization would lead to increased communist influence, especially in Europe. Each side might view the other’s defensive actions as destabilizing provocations and these security dilemmas frayed relations between the Soviet Union and its former World War II western allies and led to a prolonged period of tension and distrust between East and West known as the Cold War (see also Iron curtain).

The Red Army ended World War II occupying much of the territory that had been formerly held by the Axis countries:

In Asia, the Red Army had overrun Manchuria in the last month of the war and then also occupied Korea above the 38th parallel north. Mao Zedong‘s Communist Party of China, though receptive to minimal Soviet support, defeated the pro-Western and heavily American-assisted Chinese Nationalist Party in the Chinese Civil War.

Stalin and Mao Zedong on Chinese Postage stamp

Stalin and Mao Zedong on Chinese Postage stamp

A meeting between Stalin and Mao Zedong after the CPC's 1949 victory over the KMT in the Chinese Civil War.

A meeting between Stalin and Mao Zedong after the CPC‘s 1949 victory over the KMT in the Chinese Civil War.

The Communists controlled mainland China while the Nationalists held a rump state on the island of Formosa (now Taiwan). The Soviet Union soon after recognized Mao’s People’s Republic of China, which it regarded as a new ally. The People’s Republic claimed Taiwan, though it had never held authority there.

Diplomatic relations reached a high point with the signing of the 1950 Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance. Both countries provided military support to a new friendly state in North Korea. After various border conflicts, war broke out with U.S.-allied South Korea in 1950, starting the Korean War.

In Europe, there were Soviet occupation zones in Germany and Austria. Hungary and Poland were under practical military occupation. From 1946–1948 coalition governments comprising communists were elected in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria and homegrown communist movements rose to power in Yugoslavia and Albania.

These nations became known as the “Communist Bloc.” Britain and the United States supported the anti-communists in the Greek Civil War and suspected the Soviets of supporting the Greek communists although Stalin refrained from getting involved in Greece, dismissing the movement as premature. Albania remained an ally of the Soviet Union, but Yugoslavia broke with the USSR in 1948. Greece, Italy and France received enormous support from the population, which were at the very least friendly towards Moscow.

Both Superpowers viewed Germany as key. In retaliation to the Western formation of Trizonia, Stalin determined to take action.

Armed with intelligence from the British agent Donald Duart Maclean and other British and American espionage agents, Stalin was well aware that the United States had not proceeded with mass production of atomic weapons, indeed, had not even assembled any after the last was used at Nagasaki. Large numbers would have been needed to destroy Soviet or Communist land forces either in Europe or the Far East. He therefore ordered a blockade of West Berlin, which was under British, French, and U.S. occupation, to test the Western powers.

The Berlin Blockade failed due to the unexpected massive aerial resupply campaign carried out by the Western powers known as the Berlin Airlift. In 1949, Stalin conceded defeat and ended the blockade. After West Germany was formed by the union of the three Western occupation zones, the Soviets declared East Germany a separate country in 1949, ruled by the communists.

Stalin originally supported the creation of Israel in 1948. The USSR was one of the first nations to recognize the new country.[92] Golda Meir came to Moscow as the first Israeli Ambassador to the USSR that year. But he later changed his mind and came out against Israel.

Contrary to America’s policy which restrained armament (limited equipment was provided for infantry and police forces) to South Korea, Stalin also extensively armed Kim Il Sung‘s North Korean army and air forces with military equipment (to include T-34/85 tanks) and “advisors” far in excess of that required for defensive purposes) in order to facilitate Kim’s (a former Soviet Officer) aim to conquer the rest of the Korean peninsula. Soviet pilots flew Soviet aircraft from Chinese bases against United Nations aircraft defending South Korea. Post cold war research in Soviet Archives reveal that the Korean War was begun by Kim Il-sung with the express permission of Stalin, though this is widely disputed by North Korea.

In Stalin’s last year of life, one of his last major foreign policy initiatives was the 1952 Stalin Note for German reunification and Superpower disengagement from Central Europe, but Britain, France, and the United States viewed this with suspicion and rejected the offer.

Stalin as theorist

Main article: Stalinism

Stalin made few contributions to Communist (or, more specifically, Marxist-Leninist) theory. The contributions he made were accepted and upheld by all Soviet political scientists during his rule.

Among Stalin’s contributions were his “Marxism and the National Question”, a work praised by Lenin; his “Trotskyism or Leninism”, which was a factor in the “liquidation of Trotskyism as an ideological trend” within the CPSU(B).

Stalin’s Collected Works (in 13 volumes) was released in 1949. A subsequent 16 volume American Edition appeared, in which one volume consisted of the book “History of the CPSU(B) Short Course”, although when released in 1938 this book was credited to a commission of the Central Committee.

In 1933, Stalin put forward the theory of aggravation of the class struggle along with the development of socialism, arguing that the further the country would move forward, the more acute forms of struggle will be used by the doomed remnants of exploiter classes in their last desperate efforts — and that, therefore, political repression was necessary.

In 1936, Stalin announced that the society of the Soviet Union consisted of two non-antagonistic classes: workers and kolkhoz peasantry. These corresponded to the two different forms of property over the means of production that existed in the Soviet Union: state property (for the workers) and collective property (for the peasantry). In addition to these, Stalin distinguished the stratum of intelligentsia. The concept of “non-antagonistic classes” was entirely new to Leninist theory.

Stalin and his supporters have highlighted the notion that socialism can be built and consolidated by a country as underdeveloped as Russia during the 1920s. Indeed this might be the only means in which it could be built in a hostile environment.[93]


Stalin's body lying in state in the House of Trade Unions in Moscow.

Stalin’s body lying in state in the House of Trade Unions in Moscow.

On March 1, 1953, Purim, after an all-night dinner in his residence in Krylatskoye some 15 km west of Moscow centre with interior minister Lavrentiy Beria and future premiers Georgy Malenkov, Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin did not emerge from his room, having probably suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body.

Although his guards thought that it was odd for him not to rise at his usual time, they were under orders not to disturb him. He was discovered lying on the floor of his room only at about 10pm in the evening. Lavrentiy Beria was informed and arrived a few hours afterwards, and the doctors arrived only in the early morning of March, 2nd. Stalin died four days later, on March 5, 1953, at the age of 74, and was embalmed on March 9. His daughter Svetlana recalls the scene as she stood by his death bed: “He suddenly opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance. Then something incomprehensible and awesome happened. He suddenly lifted his left hand as though he were pointing to something above and bringing down a curse upon all of us. The next moment after a final effort the spirit wrenched itself free of the flesh.” Officially, the cause of death was listed as a cerebral hemorrhage.

Assigned at the time to a U.S. Air Force Security Service unit at Landsberg, Germany as a morse code decoder on Russian Army transmissions, Johnny Cash was the first American to discover that Stalin had died.[94] Stalin’s body was preserved in Lenin’s Mausoleum until October 31, 1961, when his body was removed from the Mausoleum and buried next to the Kremlin walls as part of the process of de-Stalinization.

Stalin's Grave by the Kremlin Wall Necropolis

Stalin’s Grave by the Kremlin Wall Necropolis

It has been suggested that Stalin was assassinated. The ex-Communist exile Avtorkhanov argued this point as early as 1975. The political memoirs of Vyacheslav Molotov, published in 1993, claimed that Beria had boasted to Molotov that he poisoned Stalin: “I took him out.”

Khrushchev wrote in his memoirs that Beria had, immediately after the stroke, gone about “spewing hatred against [Stalin] and mocking him”, and then, when Stalin showed signs of consciousness, dropped to his knees and kissed his hand. When Stalin fell unconscious again, Beria immediately stood and spat.

In 2003, a joint group of Russian and American historians announced their view that Stalin ingested warfarin, a powerful rat poison that inhibits coagulation of the blood and so predisposes the victim to hemorrhagic stroke (cerebral hemorrhage). Since it is flavorless, warfarin is a plausible weapon of murder. The facts surrounding Stalin’s death will probably never be known with certainty.[95]

His demise arrived at a convenient time for 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. Whether or not Beria or another usurper was directly responsible for his death, it is true that the Politburo did not summon medical attention for Stalin for more than a day after he was found.

Stalin's death mask in Gori, Georgia

Stalin’s death mask in Gori, Georgia

N.B. Radzinsky in Stalin: The First In-Depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents From Russia’s Secret Archives notes that while Stalin was preparing Beria’s downfall, he first had his head of security killed and thereby allowed Beria to interfere with the bodyguard arrangements for “the Boss”. The head of security on that night gave the guards the never before heard order, allegedly from the Boss, that they were not required that night and they could go to bed. Next morning there was no activity from the Boss’s room. This was extremely convenient since the purge — which had already started against the Jewish doctors, was scheduled to start reaching the current Politburo members including Beria and Khrushchev, not to mention the already deposed Molotov. According to Radzinsky, this was also the resumption of the Terror in order to ensure absolute obedience of the nation in anticipation of a planned apocalypse. Apparently Stalin intended to use his lead in the development of a hydrogen bomb to his advantage by engineering a conflict with the west. This, he thought, could be achieved by building on the show trials of “the Jewish doctors” and embracing an anti-semitic expulsion of “the Jews” to Siberia.

Marriages and family

Stalin’s first wife, Ekaterina Svanidze, died in 1907, only four years after their marriage. At her funeral, Stalin allegedly said that any warm feelings he had for people died with her, for only she could melt his ‘stony heart’. They had a son together, Yakov Dzhugashvili, with whom Stalin did not get along in later years.

Vasiliy and Svetlana.

Stalin with his children: Vasiliy and Svetlana.

His son finally shot himself because of Stalin’s harshness toward him, but survived. After this, Stalin said “He can’t even shoot straight”. Yakov served in the Red Army during World War II and was captured by the Germans. They offered to exchange him for Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, who had surrendered after Stalingrad, but Stalin turned the offer down, allegedly saying “A lieutenant is not worth a general”; others credit him with saying “I have no son,” to this offer. Afterwards, Yakov is said to have committed suicide, running into an electric fence[96] in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he was being held.[97]

Stalin had a son, Vasiliy, and a daughter, Svetlana, with his second wife Nadezhda Alliluyeva. She died in 1932, officially of illness. She may have committed suicide by shooting herself after a quarrel with Stalin, leaving a suicide note which according to their daughter was “partly personal, partly political”.[98] According to A&E Biography, there is also a belief among some Russians that Stalin himself murdered his wife after the quarrel, which apparently took place at a dinner in which Stalin tauntingly flicked cigarettes across the table at her. Historians also claim that her death ultimately “severed his [Stalin’s] link from reality.” [99]

Stalin and Nadezhda Alliluyeva.

Stalin and Nadezhda Alliluyeva.

Vasiliy rose through the ranks of the Soviet air force, officially dying of alcoholism in 1962; however, this is still in question. He distinguished himself in World War II as a capable airman. Svetlana emigrated to the United States in 1967.

In his book The Wolf of the Kremlin Stuart Kahan claimed that Stalin was secretly married to a third wife named Rosa Kaganovich, allegedly the sister of Lazar Kaganovich, a Soviet politician. However, the claim is unproven and many have disputed it, including the Kaganovich family, who deny that “Rosa” and Stalin ever met, and even state that Kaganovich’s sister wasn’t named Rosa. Kahan also claimed that both Lazar and Rosa were responsible for the death of Stalin (by poisoning), however this (as well as most of the remainder of Kahan’s assertions) were dismissed as fabrication by the Statement of the Kaganovich Family.

In March 2001 Russian Independent Television NTV discovered a previously unknown grandson living in Novokuznetsk. Yuri Davydov told NTV that his father had told him of his lineage, but, because the campaign against Stalin’s cult of personality was in full swing at the time, he was told to keep quiet. The Soviet dissident writer, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, had mentioned a son being born to Stalin and his common-law wife Lida in 1918, during Stalin’s exile in northern Siberia.

Religious beliefs

Stalin’s beliefs are complicated and sometimes contradictory. As the historians Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov noted, he received his education at Theological Seminary at Tiflis (Tbilisi), where his mother sent him to become a priest, but he became a closet atheist.[100] Zubok and Pleshakov further noted, “Many would later note, however, that his works were influenced by a distinctly Biblical style” and “his atheism remained rooted in some vague idea of a God of nature.”[101]

Regarding one famous claim about evolution, historians doubt one later Soviet claim that he read The Origin of Species at the age of thirteen while still at Gori, and told a fellow pupil that it proved the nonexistence of God. The story fails on several obvious accounts, including Stalin’s remaining religious, even pious, for some years longer.[102] In fact Professor of Religion Hector Avalos noted, “Stalin, in fact, had a complex relationship with religious institutions in the Soviet Union.”[103]

Historian Edvard Radzinsky used recently discovered secret archives and noted a story that changed Stalin’s attitude toward religion.[104] The story in which Ilya, Metropolitan of the Lebanon Mountains, claimed to receive a sign from heaven that “The churches and monasteries must be reopened throughout the country. Priests must be brought back from imprisonment, Leningrad must not be surrendered, but the sacred icon of Our Lady of Kazan should be carried around the city boundary, taken on to Moscow, where a service should be held, and thence to Stalingrad [Tsaritsyn].”[105] Shortly thereafter, Stalin’s attitude changed and “Whatever the reason, after his mysterious retreat, he began making his peace with God. Something happened which no historians has yet written about. On his orders many priests were brought back to the camps. In Leningrad, besieged by the Germans and gradually dying of hunger, the inhabitants were astounded, and uplifted, to see wonder-working icon Our Lady of Kazan brought out into the streets and borne in procession.”[106] Radzinsky asked, “Had he seen the light? Had fear made him run to his Father? Had the Marxist God-Man simply decided to exploit belief in God? Or was it all of these things at once?.”[107]

During the Second World War Stalin reopened the Churches. One reason could be to motivate the majority of the population who had Christian beliefs. Then by changing the official policy of the party and the state towards religion yet another tool, the Church and its clergymen, would be to his disposal in mobilizing the war effort.

Cult of personality

Roses for Stalin (1949), painting by Boris Vladimirski.

Roses for Stalin (1949), painting by Boris Vladimirski.

Stalin created a cult of personality in the Soviet Union around both himself and Lenin. The embalming of the Soviet founder in Lenin’s Mausoleum was performed over the objection of Lenin’s widow, Nadezhda Krupskaya. Stalin became the focus of massive adoration and even worship.

Numerous towns, villages and cities were renamed after the Soviet leader (see List of places named after Stalin) and the Stalin Prize and Stalin Peace Prize were named in his honor. He accepted grandiloquent titles (e.g. “Coryphaeus of Science,” “Father of Nations,” “Brilliant Genius of Humanity,” “Great Architect of Communism,” “Gardener of Human Happiness,” and others), and helped rewrite Soviet history to provide himself a more significant role in the revolution. At the same time, according to Khrushchev, he insisted that he be remembered for “the extraordinary modesty characteristic of truly great people.”

Many statues and monuments were erected to glorify Stalin but all of them distorted Stalin’s true build. Going by these monuments and statues it would be easy to assume that Stalin was a tall and well built man not unlike Tsar Alexander III. This was not the case however; photographic evidence suggests he was between 5 ft 5 in and 5 ft 6 in (165–168 cm)[10]. His physical stature was exaggerated in all portraits and statues to avoid any image of weakness that could harm his cult of personality.

Trotsky criticized the cult of personality built around Stalin as being against the values of socialism and Bolshevism, in that it exalted the individual above the party and class and it disallowed criticism of Stalin. The personality cult reached new levels during the Great Patriotic War, with Stalin’s name even being included in the new Soviet national anthem. The reference was later removed during the process of De-Stalinization.

Stalin became the focus of a body of literature encompassing poetry as well as music, paintings and film. Artists and writers vied with each other in fawning devotion, crediting Stalin with almost god-like qualities, and suggesting he single-handedly won the Second World War.

It is debatable as to how much Stalin relished the cult surrounding him. The Finnish communist Tuominen records a sarcastic toast proposed by Stalin at a New Year Party in 1935:

Comrades! I want to propose a toast to our patriarch, life and sun, liberator of nations, architect of socialism [he rattled off all the appellations applied to him in those days] — Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, and I hope this is the first and last speech made to that genius this evening.[108]

In recent years, support of Stalin has resurged. Millions of Russians, exasperated with the downfall of the economy and political instability after the breakup of the Soviet Union, want Stalin back. A recent controversial poll revealed that over thirty-five percent of Russians would vote for Stalin if he were still alive.[109] This is seen by some as a return of Stalin’s cult. In Krasnoyarsk, it has been decided to rebuild a communist-era memorial complex dedicated to Josef Stalin.[110] Also, a new statue of Stalin is to be erected in Moscow, “returning his once-ubiquitous image to the streets after an absence of four decades, a top city official said yesterday”, as reported by The Scotsman.[111]

Policies and accomplishments

Grutas Park is home to a monument of Stalin, originally set up in Vilnius.

Grutas Park is home to a monument of Stalin, originally set up in Vilnius.

Monument to Stalin in Gori, Georgia.

Monument to Stalin in Gori, Georgia.

Under Stalin’s rule the Soviet Union was transformed from an agricultural nation into a global superpower, although at the cost of millions of lives. The USSR’s industrialization was successful in that the country was able to defend against and eventually defeat the Axis invasion in World War II, though at an enormous cost in human life; and in 1957, four years after Stalin’s death, to put into orbit the first ever artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. However, libertarian historian Robert Conquest and other Westerners claim that the USSR was bound for industrialization, and that its speed along this course was not necessarily improved by Bolshevik influence. It has also been argued that Stalin was partially responsible for the initial military disasters and enormous human casualties during WWII, because Stalin eliminated many military officers during the purges, and especially the most senior ones, and rejected the massive amounts of intelligence warning of the German attack.[112]

While Stalin’s social and economic policies laid the foundations for the USSR’s emergence as a superpower, the harshness with which he conducted Soviet affairs was subsequently repudiated by his successors in the Communist Party leadership, notably in the denunciation of Stalinism by Nikita Khrushchev in February 1956. In his “Secret Speech”, On the Personality Cult and its Consequences, delivered to a closed session of the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for his cult of personality, and his regime for “violation of Leninist norms of legality”.

However, his immediate successors preserved major elements of Stalin’s rule, including the political monopoly of the Communist Party presiding over a command economy and a security service able to suppress dissent. The large-scale purges of Stalin’s era were never repeated, but political repression continued, albeit on a lesser scale.

Other names

His first name is also transliterated as Iosif. His original surname, ჯუღაშვილი, is also transliterated as Jugashvili or Jughashvili. The Russian transliteration is Джугашвили, which is in turn transliterated into English as Dzhugashvili and Djugashvili; -შვილი (-shvili) is a Georgian suffix meaning “child” or “son”.

There are several etymologies of the ჯუღა (jugha) root. In one version, it is the Ossetian for “rubbish”; the surname Jugayev is common among Ossetians, and before the revolution the names in South Ossetia were traditionally written with the Georgian suffix, especially among Christianized Ossetians. In a second version, the name derives from the village of Jugaani in Kakhetia, eastern Georgia.

An article in the newspaper Pravda in 1988 claimed that the word derives from the Old Georgian for “steel” which might be the reason for his adoption of the name Stalin. Сталин (Stalin) is derived from combining the Russian сталь (stal), “steel”, with the possessive suffix -ин (-in), a formula used by many other Bolsheviks, including Lenin.

It has also been said that, originally, “Stalin” was a conspiratorial nickname which stuck with him.

Like other Bolsheviks, he became commonly known by one of his revolutionary noms de guerre, of which Stalin was only the most prominent. He was also known as Koba, a Robin Hood-like brigand from the 1883 novel The Patricide by Alexander Kazbegi.[113]

Stalin is also reported to have used at least a dozen other names for the purpose of secret communications. Most of them remain unknown.

Directly following World War II, as the Soviets were negotiating with the Allies, Stalin often sent directions to Molotov as Druzhkov. Among his other nicknames and aliases were Ivanovich, Soso or Sosso (mainly his boyhood name), David, Nizharadze or Nijeradze, and Chizhikov.

Stalin was nicknamed “Uncle Joe” by the Western media.[114]

Stalin in the arts

  • Animal FarmGeorge Orwell‘s novel, a history of the Soviet Union from the revolution to the Tehran Conference told through allegory; Stalin served as the direct basis for the character Napoleon.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four — another work by George Orwell, that was inspired by Stalin’s propaganda; the moustached Big Brother is commonly considered to have been inspired by the Soviet dictator.
  • The First CircleAlexander Solzhenitsyn‘s novel where Stalin is depicted as vain and vengeful, remembering with pleasure the torture of a rival, and dreaming of one day becoming emperor of the world.
  • The Autobiography of Joseph StalinRichard Lourie‘s novel published in 1999 which portrays Stalin’ rise to power from his own point of view. Set in the 1930s amid the show trials, with an abiding obsession with Trotsky: “Leon Trotksy is trying to kill me. He has every right and reason” is the opening sentence of the novel.
  • ArchangelRobert Harris‘s novel (1998) about the secret son of Stalin.
  • Histeria! episode “The Russian Revolution” — Stalin is featured in a sitcom parody sketch where he sends the KGB to arrest anyone who upsets “his little buddy”, Froggo.
  • Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’ — a song written by Willie Johnson and first recorded in 1943 by the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet. It praises Stalin and the Soviet people in their efforts against the Nazis in World War II.
  • Children of the Revolution — Stalin is depicted as having an illegitimate Australian son who leads a “revolution” in his homeland.
  • Gogol Bordello‘s song Stalin Vs. Mussolini (from the album Voi-La Intruder is a humorous satirical fiction dealing with the regimes of both dictators.

See also



  1. ^ Bullock, p. 548, “both dictators”.
    Ulam, p. xiv, “the dictator not only deprived”.
    Davies, Harris, p.108, “Stalin as dictator”.
    Mawdsley, p. 1, “effectively a dictator”.
    Overy, p. 17, “and, later, as dictator”
  2. ^ Although there is an inconsistency among published sources about Stalin’s year and date of birth, Iosif Dzhugashvili is found in the records of the Uspensky Church in Gori, Georgia as born on December 18 (Old Style: December 6) 1878. This birth date is maintained in his School Leaving Certificate, his extensive tsarist Russia police file, a police arrest record from 18 April 1902 which gave his age as 23 years, and all other surviving pre-revolution documents. Stalin himself listed December 18, 1878 in a curriculum vitae as late as 1921, in his own handwriting. However, after his coming to power in 1922, the date was changed to December 21, 1879 (December 9, Old Style), and that was the day his birthday was celebrated in the Soviet Union. Russian playwright Edvard Radzinsky argues in his book Stalin that he changed the year to 1879 to have a nation-wide birthday celebration of his 50th birthday. He could not do it in 1928 because his rule was not absolute enough. [1]
  3. ^ Halfin, Igal. Terror in My Soul: Communist autobiographies on trial, p. 15.[2]
  4. ^ The Jamestown Foundation, Nikolai Getman, The Gulag Collection: Paintings of Nikolai Getman.
  5. ^ a b Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, Knopf, 2004 (ISBN 1-4000-4230-5).
  6. ^ Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet Effort: 1941–1945, ISBN 0-14-027169-4.
  7. ^ Richard Overy, The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, ISBN 0-393-02030-4.
  8. ^ The Black Book of Communism
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Simon Sebag Montefiore. Young Stalin. 2007. ISBN 978-0-297-85068-7
  10. ^ See Service’s biography below
  11. ^ Biography of Dolganev (Russian)
  12. ^ Figes, Orlando (November 2007). “Rise of a Gangster“. New York Review of Books LIV (17): pp. 36–38. ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved on November 11, 2007.
  13. ^ Figes, Orlando (November 2007). “Rise of a Gangster“. New York Review of Books LIV (17): pp. 36–38. ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved on November 11, 2007.
  14. ^ Smith, Edward Ellis.The Young Stalin. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1967. pg 77.
  15. ^ Figes, Orlando (November 2007). “Rise of a Gangster“. New York Review of Books LIV (17): pp. 36–38. ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved on November 11, 2007.
  16. ^ Luxury beckons for East End’s house of history
  17. ^ Montefiore, Simon Sebag (200705-11), “Stalin and his lover aged 13“, The Daily Mail, <>. Retrieved on 200801-03
  18. ^ Knight, Ami W. (1991), Beria and the Cult of Stalin: Rewriting Transcaucasian Party History. Soviet Studies, Vol. 43, No. 4, pp. 749–763.
  19. ^ Shanin, Teodor (July 1989), Ethnicity in the Soviet Union: Analytical Perceptions and Political Strategies. Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 31, No. 3, pp. 409–424.
  20. ^ Stalin’s relationship with Lenin.
  21. ^ Joseph Stalin (January 30 1924). On The Death Of Lenin. Pravda magazine. Retrieved on May 9, 2007.
  22. ^ Soviet Readers Finally Told Moscow Had Trotsky Slain. Published in the New York Times on January 5, 1989. Accessed October 4, 2007.
  23. ^ Robert Lewis. The Economic Transformation of the Soviet Union, ed. Mark Harrison, RW Davies, S.G Wheatcroft, p. 188
  24. ^ The rise of Stalin: AD1921–1924. History of Russia. HistoryWorld. Retrieved on 200604-03.
  25. ^ Alan Bullock, p. 269
  26. ^
  27. ^,%20Natural%20Disaster%20and%20Human%20Actions.pdf
  28. ^ Overpopulation.Com » The Soviet Famines of 1921 and 1932-3
  29. ^ Oliver Freire Jr. ‘Marxism and the Quantum Controversy: Responding to Max Jammer’s Question
  30. ^ Péter Szegedi ‘Cold War and Interpretations in Quantum Mechanics
  31. ^ Ethan Pollock, Stalin and the Soviet Science Wars, Princeton University Press, 2006; introduction available online at [3]
  32. ^ Montefiore. p.638, Phoenix, Reprinted paperback.
  33. ^ Joseph V. Stalin (1950-06-20). “Concerning Marxism in Linguistics”, Pravda. Available online as Marxism and Problems of Linguistics including other articles and letters published (also in Pravda) soon after February 8 and July 4, 1950.
  34. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, Knopf, 2004 (ISBN 1-4000-4230-5)
  35. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, Knopf, 2004 (ISBN 1-4000-4230-5)
  36. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, Knopf, 2004 (ISBN 1-4000-4230-5)
  37. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, Knopf, 2004 (ISBN 1-4000-4230-5)
  38. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, Knopf, 2004 (ISBN 1-4000-4230-5)
  39. ^ Acton, Edward, Russia, The Tsarist and Soviet Legacy, Longmann Group Ltd (1995) ISBN 0-582-08922-0
  40. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, Knopf, 2004 (ISBN 1-4000-4230-5)
  41. ^ Acton, Edward, Russia, The Tsarist and Soviet Legacy, Longmann Group Ltd (1995) ISBN 0-582-08922-0
  42. ^ Acton, Edward, Russia, The Tsarist and Soviet Legacy, Longmann Group Ltd (1995) ISBN 0-582-08922-0
  43. ^ Russia. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 14, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: [4].
  44. ^ Alexander N. Yakovlev: A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia (Yale University Press, 2002), pg 165
  45. ^ Richard Pipes: Communism: A History (Modern Library Chronicles, 2001), pg. 66
  46. ^ Barry McLoughlin and Kevin McDermott (eds).Stalin’s Terror: High Politics and Mass Repression in the Soviet Union. Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. ISBN 1403901198 p. 141
  47. ^ Barry McLoughlin and Kevin McDermott (eds).Stalin’s Terror: High Politics and Mass Repression in the Soviet Union. Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. ISBN 1403901198 p. 6
  48. ^ a b Legacy of famine divides Ukraine BBC, 24 November 2006
  49. ^ SBU documents show that Moscow singled out Ukraine in famine5 Kanal: First News Channel of Ukraine, 22.11.2006
  50. ^ Revelations from the Russian Archives: UKRAINIAN FAMINE Library of Congress
  51. ^ Donald Rayfield. Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him. Random House, 2004. p. 193
  52. ^ U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine, “Findings of the Commission on the Ukraine Famine” [5], Report to Congress, Washington, D.C., April 19, 1988
  53. ^ US House of Representatives Authorizes Construction of Ukrainian Genocide Monument
  54. ^ Statement by Pope John Paul II on the 70th anniversary of the Famine
  55. ^ HR356 “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the man-made famine that occurred in Ukraine in 1932–1933”, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., October 21, 2003
  56. ^ Yaroslav Bilinsky (1999). “Was the Ukrainian Famine of 1932–1933 Genocide?“. Journal of Genocide Research 1 (2): 147–156.
  57. ^ Lisova, Natasha. “Ukraine Recognize Famine As Genocide“, Associated Press, 28.11.2006. 
  58. ^ [6]
  59. ^ Alan Bullock, pp. 904–905
  60. ^ Philip Boobbyer. The Stalin Era
  61. ^ Twentieth Century Atlas – Death Tolls
  62. ^ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956, 1973–1976 ISBN 0-8133-3289-3
  63. ^
  64. ^ Anne Applebaum. Gulag : A History 2004 ISBN 1-4000-3409-4
  65. ^ Robert Gellately. Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe. Knopf, 2007 ISBN 1400040051 p. 584: “Anne Applebaum is right to insist that the statistics ‘can never fully describe what happened.’ They do suggest, however, the massive scope of the repression and killing.”
  66. ^ Robert Gellately. Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe. Knopf, 2007. ISBN 1400040051 p. 256
  67. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. Knopf, 2004. ISBN 1400042305 p. 246
  68. ^ Getty, Rittersporn, Zemskov. Victims of the Soviet Penal System in the Pre-war Years: A First Approach on the Basis of Archival Evidence
  69. ^
  70. ^
  71. ^ The Wall Street Journal, “An Overdue Memorial”, June 23, 2007, flatly states “The middle estimate of Stalin’s victims is 40 million.”
  72. ^ Vadim Erlikman. Poteri narodonaseleniia v XX veke: spravochnik. Moscow 2004. ISBN 5-93165-107-1
  73. ^
  74. ^ R. W. Davies, Stephen G. Wheatcroft: The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931–1933 (The Industrialization of Soviet Russia), 2004 ISBN 0-333-31107-8
  75. ^ Andreev, EM, et al, Naselenie Sovetskogo Soiuza, 1922–1991. Moscow, Nauka, 1993. ISBN 5-02-013479-1
  76. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. p. 649: “Perhaps 20 million had been killed; 28 million deported, of whom 18 million had slaved in the Gulags.”
  77. ^ Dmitri Volkogonov. Autopsy for an Empire: The Seven Leaders Who Built the Soviet Regime. p. 139: “Between 1929 and 1953 the state created by Lenin and set in motion by Stalin deprived 21.5 million Soviet citizens of their lives.”
  78. ^ Alexander N. Yakovlev. A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia., Yale University Press, 2002, p. 234: “My own many years and experience in the rehabilitation of victims of political terror allow me to assert that the number of people in the USSR who were killed for political motives or who died in prisons and camps during the entire period of Soviet power totaled 20 to 25 million. And unquestionably one must add those who died of famine — more than 5.5 million during the civil war and more than 5 million during the 1930s.”
  79. ^ Robert Gellately. Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe. Knopf, 2007 ISBN 1400040051 p. 584: “More recent estimations of the Soviet-on-Soviet killing have been more ‘modest’ and range between ten and twenty million.”
  80. ^ Stéphane Courtois. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror Repression. Harvard University Press, 1999. p. 4: “U.S.S.R.: 20 million deaths”
  81. ^ Robert Conquest. The Great Terror: A Reassessment, Oxford University Press, 1991 (ISBN 0-19-507132-8).
  82. ^ Regimes murdering over 10 million people
  83. ^
  84. ^ Stalin’s Intelligence – New York Times
  85. ^ Robert Gellately. Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe. Knopf, 2007 ISBN 1400040051 p. 391
  86. ^ Anne Applebaum. Gulag: A History, Doubleday, 2003 (ISBN 0-7679-0056-1)
  87. ^ Richard Rhodes (2002). Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-40900-9.  pp. 46–47
  88. ^ Allen Paul. Katyn: Stalin’s Massacre and the Seeds of Polish Resurrection, Naval Institute Press, 1996, (ISBN 1-55750-670-1), p. 155
  89. ^ Anthony Eden (1965). Memoirs: The Reckoning.
  90. ^ Richard Overy The Dictators Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia p.568–569
  91. ^ Alan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, Vintage; Reprint edition, 1993 (ISBN 0-679-72994-1), p. 905
  92. ^ See, e.g., Brown, Philip Marshall. “The Recognition of Israel”, American Journal of International Law, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Jul., 1948), p. 620.
  93. ^ Joseph V.Stalin. “Voprosy leninizma”, 2nd ed., Moscow, p. 589; (1951) “Istoricheskij materializm”, ed. by F. B. Konstantinov, Moscow, p. 402; P. Calvert (1982). “The Concept of Class”, New York, pp. 144–145.
  94. ^ Mr. Smarty Pants Knows. The Auston Chronicle (March 4,2005). Retrieved on 200801-16.
  95. ^ Jonathan Brent, Vladimir Naumov. Stalin’s Last Crime: The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors, 1948–1953. HarperCollins, 2003. ISBN 0-06-019524-X.
  96. ^ The last days of Lieutenant Jakov Stalin Colin Simpson and John Shirley, Sunday Times 24th Jan. 1980
  97. ^ NYT: Ex-Death Camp Tells Story of Nazi + Soviet Horrors
  98. ^ Koba the Dread, p. 133, ISBN 0-7868-6876-7; Stalin: The Man and His Era, p. 354, ISBN 0-8070-7001-7, in a footnote he quotes the press announcement as speaking of her “sudden death”; he also cites pp. 103–105 of his daughter’s book, Twenty Letters to a Friend, the Russian edition, New York, 1967.
  99. ^ YouTube – Joseph Stalin Biography 1 of 2
  100. ^ Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev by Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov, page 4
  101. ^ Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev by Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov, page 4
  102. ^ Stalin: Breaker of Nations. by Robert Conquest, page 20
  103. ^ Fighting Words: The Origins Of Religious Violence. by Hector Avalos, page 325
  104. ^ Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia’s Secret Archives. by Edvard Radzinsky, pages 472 and 473.
  105. ^ Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia’s Secret Archives. by Edvard Radzinsky, pages 472 and 473.
  106. ^ Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia’s Secret Archives. by Edvard Radzinsky, pages 472 and 473.
  107. ^ Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia’s Secret Archives. by Edvard Radzinsky, pages 472 and 473.
  108. ^ Arvo Tuominen. The Bells of the Kremlin, p. 162.
  109. ^ Modern Poll — Votes for Stalin
  110. ^ Siberian tourist chiefs revive Stalin memorial | Independent, The (London)
  111. ^ The Scotsman: Stalin back in favour as new statue goes up in Moscow. 20 January 2005
  112. ^ Yakovlev, Alexander; Anthony Austin (2004). A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. 
  113. ^ Rayfield, p.18.
  114. ^The human monster,” page 4. O’Hehir, A. May 5, 2005.

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