Stalin is widely considered to be one of the most significant figures of the 20th century. Stalinism influenced Marxist–Leninist groups and governments across the world, for whom Stalin was a champion of socialism and the working class. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Stalin has retained popularity in Russia and Georgia as a victorious wartime leader who established the Soviet Union as a major world power. Conversely, his autocratic government has been widely denounced for overseeing mass repressions, hundreds of thousands of executions, and millions of deaths through famines and labour camps.
Stalin was born Ioseb Jughashvili in Gori on 18 December [O.S. 6 December] 1878. He was the son of Besarion Jughashvili and Ekaterina "Keke" Geladze, who had married in May 1872, and had lost two sons in infancy prior to Stalin's birth. They were ethnically Georgian and Stalin grew up speaking the Georgian language. Gori was then part of the Russian Empire, and was home to a population of 20,000, the majority of whom were Georgian but with Armenian, Russian, and Jewish minorities. Stalin was baptised on 17 December. He earned the childhood nickname of Soso, a diminutive of Iosif (Joseph). Beso was a cobbler and in the early years of their marriage, the couple prospered. However, he did not adapt to changing footwear fashions and his business began to fail. The family soon found themselves living in poverty, moving through nine different rented rooms in ten years. Given this situation, the historian Robert Conquest later suggested that Stalin's class background was "uncertain and indeterminate".
Beso was also an alcoholic, and drunkenly beat his wife and son. To escape the abusive relationship, Keke took Stalin and moved into the house of a family friend, Father Christopher Charkviani. She worked as a house cleaner and launderer for several local families who were sympathetic to her plight. Keke was determined to send her son to school, something that none of the family had previously achieved. In late 1888, aged 10 he enrolled at the Gori Church School. This was normally reserved for the children of clergy, although Charkviani ensured that Stalin received a place. Stalin excelled academically, displaying talent in painting and drama classes, writing his own poetry, and singing as a choirboy. He got into many fights, and a childhood friend later noted that Stalin "was the best but also the naughtiest pupil" in the class. Stalin faced several severe health problems; in 1884, he contracted smallpox and was left with facial pock scars. Aged 12, he was seriously injured after being hit by a phaeton and the accident resulted in a lifelong disability to his left arm.
At his teachers' recommendation, Stalin proceeded to the Spiritual Seminary in Tiflis. He enrolled at the school in August 1894, enabled by a scholarship that allowed him to study at a reduced rate. Here he joined 600 trainee priests who boarded at the seminary. Stalin was again academically successful and gained high grades. He continued writing poetry; five of his poems were published under the pseudonym of "Soselo" in Ilia Chavchavadze's newspaper Iveria ("Georgia"). Thematically, they dealt with topics like nature, land, and patriotism. According to Stalin's biographer Simon Sebag Montefiore, they became "minor Georgian classics", and were included in various anthologies of Georgian poetry over the coming years. As he grew older, Stalin lost interest in his studies; his grades dropped, and he was repeatedly confined to a cell for his rebellious behaviour. Teachers complained that he declared himself an atheist, chatted in class and refused to doff his hat to monks.
Stalin had joined a forbidden book club active at the school and was particularly influenced by Nikolay Chernyshevsky's 1863 pro-revolutionary novel What Is To Be Done?. Another influential text was Alexander Kazbegi's The Patricide, with Stalin adopting the nickname "Koba" from that of the book's bandit protagonist. He also read Capital, the 1867 book by German sociological theorist Karl Marx. Stalin devoted himself to Marx's socio-political theory, Marxism, which was then on the rise in Georgia, one of various forms of socialism opposed to the governing Tsarist authorities. At night, he attended secret workers' meetings, and was introduced to Silibistro "Silva" Jibladze, the Marxist founder of Mesame Dasi ('Third Group'), a Georgian socialist group. In April 1899, Stalin left the seminary and never returned, although the school encouraged him to come back.
In October 1899, Stalin began work as a meteorologist at a Tiflis observatory, a position that allowed him to read while on duty. Stalin gave classes in socialist theory and attracted a group of young men around him. He co-organised a secret mass meeting of workers for May Day 1900, at which he successfully encouraged many of the men to take strike action. By this point, the empire's secret police—the Okhrana—were aware of Stalin's activities within Tiflis' revolutionary milieu. They attempted to arrest him in March 1901, but he escaped and went into hiding, living off the donations of friends and sympathisers. Remaining underground, he helped to plan a demonstration for May Day 1901, in which 3,000 marchers clashed with the authorities. He continued to evade arrest by using aliases and sleeping in different apartments. In November 1901, he was elected to the Tiflis Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), a Marxist party founded in 1898.
That month he travelled to the port city of Batumi. His militant rhetoric proved divisive among the city's Marxists, with some suspecting that he might be an agent provocateur. He found employment at the Rothschild refinery storehouse. There he helped organise two workers' strikes. After several strike leaders were arrested, he co-organised a mass public demonstration against the arrests that led to the storming of the prison; troops fired upon the demonstrators, 13 of whom were killed. Stalin organised a second mass demonstration on the day of their funeral, before being arrested in April 1902. He was initially held at Batumi Prison, and later moved to the more secure Kutaisi Prison. In mid-1903, Stalin was sentenced to three years of exile in eastern Siberia.
Stalin left Batumi in October, arriving at the small Siberian town of Novaya Uda in late November. There, he lived in the two-room house of a local peasant, sleeping in the building's larder. Stalin made several escape attempts; on the first he made it to Balagansk before returning due to frostbite. His second attempt was successful and he made it to Tiflis. Here, he co-edited a Georgian Marxist newspaper, Proletariatis Brdzola ("Proletarian Struggle"), with Philip Makharadze. His calls for a separate Georgian Marxist movement resulted in several RSDLP members calling for his expulsion, claiming that his views were contrary to the ethos of Marxist internationalism. Under Mikha Tskhakaya's influence, Stalin renounced these views. During his exile, the RSDLP had split between Vladimir Lenin's Bolsheviks and Julius Martov's Mensheviks. Stalin detested many of the Mensheviks in Georgia and aligned himself with the Bolsheviks. Although Stalin established a Bolshevik stronghold in the mining town of Chiatura, Bolshevism remained a minority force in the Menshevik-dominated Georgian revolutionary scene.
In January 1905, government troops massacred protesters in St Petersburg. Unrest soon spread across the Russian Empire in what came to be known as the Revolution of 1905. Georgia was one of the regions particularly affected. In February, Stalin was in Baku when ethnic violence broke out between Armenians and Azeris; at least 2000 were killed. Stalin publicly lambasted the "pogroms against Jews and Armenians" as being part of Tsar Nicholas II's attempts to "buttress his despicable throne". He formed a Bolshevik Battle Squad which he used to try and keep Baku's warring ethnic factions apart, also using the unrest to steal printing equipment. Amid the growing violence throughout Georgia, Stalin formed further Battle Squads, with the Mensheviks doing the same. Stalin's Squads disarmed local police and troops, raided government arsenals, and raised funds through protection rackets on large local businesses and mines. They launched attacks on the government's Cossack troops and pro-Tsarist Black Hundreds, co-ordinating some of their operations with the Menshevik militia.
In November 1905, the Georgian Bolsheviks elected Stalin as one of their delegates to a Bolshevik conference in St. Petersburg. On arrival, he met Lenin's wife Nadezhda Krupskaya, who informed them that the venue had been moved to Tammerfors in the Grand Duchy of Finland. At the conference Stalin met Lenin for the first Time. Although Stalin held Lenin in deep respect, he was vocal in his disagreement with Lenin's view that the Bolsheviks should field candidates for the forthcoming election to the State Duma; Stalin saw the parliamentary process as a waste of time. In April 1906, Stalin attended the RSDLP Fourth Congress in Stockholm; this was his first trip outside the Russian Empire. At the conference, the RSDLP—then led by its Menshevik majority—agreed that it would not raise funds using armed robbery. Lenin and Stalin disagreed with this decision, and later privately discussed how they could continue the robberies for the Bolshevik cause.
Stalin married Kato Svanidze in a church ceremony at Tskhakaya in July 1906. In March 1907 she bore a son, Yakov. By that year—according to the historian Robert Service—Stalin had established himself as "Georgia's leading Bolshevik". He attended the Fifth RSDLP Congress, held in London in May–June 1907. After returning to Tiflis, Stalin organized the robbing of a large delivery of money to the Imperial Bank in June 1907. His gang ambushed the armed convoy in Yerevan Square with gunfire and home-made bombs. Around 40 people were killed, but all of his gang escaped alive.
After the heist, Stalin settled in Baku with his wife and son. There, Mensheviks confronted Stalin about the robbery and voted to expel him from the RSDLP, but he took no notice of them. In Baku, Stalin secured Bolshevik domination of the local RSDLP branch, and edited two Bolshevik newspapers, Bakinsky Proletary and Gudok ("Whistle"). In August 1907, he attended the Seventh Congress of the Second International in Stuttgard, Germany. In November 1907, his wife died of typhus, and he left his son with her family in Tiflis. In Baku he had reassembled his gang, the Outfit, which continued to attack Black Hundreds, and raised finances by running protection rackets, counterfeiting currency, and carrying out robberies. They also kidnapped the children of several wealthy figures in order to extract ransom money. In early 1908, he travelled to the Swiss city of Geneva to meet with Lenin and the prominent Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov, who exasperated him.
In March 1908, Stalin was arrested and interred in Bailov Prison, where he led the imprisoned Bolsheviks, organised discussion groups, and ordered the killing of suspected informants. He was eventually sentenced to two years exile in the village of Solvychegodsk, Vologda Province, arriving there in February 1909. In June, he escaped the village and made it to Kotlas disguised as a woman and from there to St Petersburg. In March 1910, he was arrested again, and sent back to Solvychegodsk. There he had affairs with at least two women and his landlady, Maria Kuzakova, later gave birth to his second son, Konstantin. In June 1911, Stalin was given permission to move to Vologda, where he stayed for two months. There, he had a relationship with Pelageya Onufrieva. He proceeded to St Petersburg, where he was arrested in September 1911, and sentenced to a further three-year exile in Vologda.
The first Bolshevik Central Committee had been elected at the Prague Conference, after which Lenin and Grigory Zinoviev invited Stalin to join it. Still in Vologda, Stalin agreed, remaining a Central Committee member for the rest of his life. Lenin believed that Stalin would be useful in helping to secure support for the Bolsheviks from the Empire's minority ethnicities. In February 1912, Stalin escaped to St Petersburg, tasked with converting the Bolshevik weekly newspaper, Zvezda ("Star") into a daily, Pravda ("Truth"). The new newspaper was launched in April 1912, although Stalin's role as editor was kept secret. In May 1912, he was arrested again and imprisoned in the Shpalerhy Prison, before being sentenced to three years exile in Siberia. In July, he arrived at the Siberian village of Narym, where he shared a room with fellow Bolshevik Yakov Sverdlov. After two months, Stalin and Sverdlov escaped back to St Petersburg.
During a brief period back in Tiflis, Stalin and the Outfit planned the ambush of a mail coach, during which most of the group—although not Stalin—were apprehended by the authorities. Stalin returned to St Petersburg, where he continued editing and writing articles for Pravda. After the October 1912 Duma elections resulted in six Bolsheviks and six Mensheviks being elected, Stalin wrote articles calling for reconciliation between the two Marxist factions, for which he was criticised by Lenin. In late 1912, he twice crossed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire to visit Lenin in Krakow, eventually bowing to Lenin's opposition to reunification with the Mensheviks.
In January 1913, Stalin travelled to Vienna, there focusing his attention on the 'national question' of how the Bolsheviks should deal with the Russian Empire's national and ethnic minorities. Lenin wanted to attract these groups to the Bolshevik cause by offering them the right of secession from the Russian state, but at the same time he hoped that they would remain part of a future Bolshevik-governed Russia. Stalin's finished article was titled Marxism and the National Question; Lenin was very happy with it. According to Montefiore, this was "Stalin's most famous work". The article was published under the pseudonym of "K. Stalin", a name he had been using since 1912. This name derived from the Russian language word for steel (stal), and has been translated as "Man of Steel". Stalin retained this name for the rest of his life, possibly because it had been used on the article which established his reputation among the Bolsheviks.
In February 1913, Stalin was arrested while back in St. Petersburg. He was sentenced to four years exile in Turukhansk, a remote part of Siberia from which escape was particularly difficult. In August, he arrived in the village of Monastyrskoe, although after four weeks was relocated to the hamlet of Kostino. In March 1914, concerned over a potential escape attempt, the authorities then moved Stalin to the hamlet of Kureika on the edge of the Arctic Circle. In the hamlet, Stalin had an affair with Lidia Pereprygia, who was thirteen at the time and thus a year under the legal age of consent in Tsarist Russia. Circa December 1914, Pereprygia gave birth to Stalin's child, although the infant soon died. She gave birth to another of his children, Alexander, circa April 1917. In Kureika, Stalin lived closely with the indigenous Tunguses and Ostyak, and spent much of his time fishing.
While Stalin was in exile, Russia entered the First World War, and in October 1916 Stalin and other exiled Bolsheviks were conscripted into the Russian Army, leaving for Monastyrkoe. They arrived in Krasnoyarsk in February 1917, where a medical examiner ruled him unfit for military service due to his crippled arm. Stalin was required to serve four more months on his exile, and he successfully requested that he be allowed to serve it in nearby Achinsk. Stalin was in the city when the February Revolution took place; uprisings broke out in Petrograd—as St Petersburg had been renamed—and Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, to be replaced by a Provisional Government. In a celebratory mood, Stalin travelled by train to Petrograd in March. There, Stalin and fellow Bolshevik Lev Kamenev assumed control of Pravda, and Stalin was appointed the Bolshevik representative to the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, an influential council of the city's workers. In April, Stalin came third in the Bolshevik elections for the party's Central Committee; Lenin came first and Zinoviev came second. This reflected his senior standing in the party at the time.
Stalin helped to organise the July Days uprising, an armed display of strength by Bolshevik supporters. After the armed demonstration was suppressed, the Provisional Government initiated a crackdown on the Bolsheviks, raiding Pravda. During this raid, Stalin smuggled Lenin out of the newspaper's office and subsequently took charge of the Bolshevik leader's safety, moving him between Petrograd safe houses before smuggling him to Razliv. In Lenin's absence, Stalin continued editing Pravda and served as acting leader of the Bolsheviks, overseeing the party's Sixth Congress, which was held covertly. Lenin began calling for the Bolsheviks to seize power by toppling the Provisional Government in a coup. Stalin and fellow senior Bolshevik Leon Trotsky both endorsed Lenin's plan of action, but it was opposed by Kamenev and other party members. Lenin returned to Petrograd and at a meeting of the Central Committee on 10 October, he secured a majority in favour of a coup.
On 24 October, police raided the Bolshevik newspaper offices, smashing machinery and presses; Stalin managed to salvage some of this equipment in order to continue his activities. In the early hours of 25 October, Stalin joined Lenin in a Central Committee meeting in the Smolny Institute, from where the Bolshevik coup—the October Revolution—was directed. Bolshevik militia seized Petrograd's electric power station, main post office, state bank, telephone exchange, and several bridges. A Bolshevik-controlled ship, the Aurora, opened fire on the Winter Palace; the Provisional Government's assembled delegates surrendered and were arrested by the Bolsheviks. Although he had been tasked with briefing the Bolshevik delegates of the Second Congress of Soviets about the developing situation, Stalin's role in the coup had not been publicly visible. Trotsky and other later Bolshevik opponents of Stalin used this as evidence that his role in the coup had been insignificant, although several historians reject this. According to the historian Oleg Khlevniuk, Stalin "filled an important role [in the October Revolution]... as a senior Bolshevik, member of the party's Central Committee, and editor of its main newspaper".
On 26 October, Lenin formed a new government, the Council of People's Commissars ("Sovnarkom"), which he led as Chairman. Stalin was among the Bolsheviks who backed Lenin's decision not to form a coalition with the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionary Party, although they did form a coalition government with the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. Stalin was soon part of an informal foursome leading the government, alongside Lenin, Trotsky, and Sverdlov; of these, Sverdlov was regularly absent, and died in March 1919. Stalin's office was based near to Lenin's in the Smolny Institute, and he and Trotsky were the only individuals allowed access to Lenin's study without an appointment. Although not so publicly well known as Lenin or Trotsky, Stalin's importance among the Bolsheviks grew. He co-signed Lenin's decrees shutting down hostile newspapers, and with Sverdlov chaired the sessions of the committee drafting a constitution for the new Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. He strongly supported Lenin's formation of the Cheka security service and the subsequent Red Terror that it initiated; noting that state violence had proved an effective tool for capitalist powers, he believed that it would prove the same for the Soviet government. Unlike senior Bolsheviks like Kamenev and Nikolai Bukharin, Stalin never expressed concern about the rapid growth and expansion of the Cheka and Terror.
Having dropped his editorship of Pravda, Stalin was appointed as the People's Commissar for Nationalities. In November, Stalin signed the Decree on Nationality, according ethnic and national minorities living in Russia the right of secession and self-determination. The purpose of this decree was primarily strategic, designed to woo the support of ethnic minorities for the Bolshevik cause; the Bolsheviks hoped that the minorities would not actually desire independence. That month, he travelled to Helsinki to talk with the Finnish Social-Democrats, to whom he promised independence, which was then granted in December. His department allocated funds for the establishment of presses and schools in the languages of various ethnic minorities. Socialist Revolutionaries accused Stalin of using talk of federalism and national self-determination as a front for Sovnarkom's centralising and imperialist policies.
As a result of the ongoing First World War, in which Russia was fighting the Central Powers, Lenin's government relocated from Petrograd to Moscow in March 1918. Stalin brought Nadezhda Alliluyeva with him as his secretary; he had been a longstanding friend of her parents. At some point, the couple married, although the exact date of their wedding is unknown. Lenin wanted to sign an armistice with the Central Powers regardless of the cost in territory, and was supported in this by Stalin. Stalin thought it necessary because he was unconvinced that Europe itself was on the verge of proletariat revolution, a view that irked Lenin. Lenin eventually convinced the other senior Bolsheviks of the need for a peace treaty, resulting in the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. The treaty gave vast areas of land and resources to the Central Powers and angered many in Russia; the Left Socialist Revolutionaries abandoned the coalition government over the issue.
After the Bolsheviks seized power, both right and left-wing armies rallied against them, generating the Russian Civil War. To secure access to the dwindling food supply, in May 1918 Sovnarkom sent Stalin to Tsaritsyn to take charge of food procurement in Southern Russia. Eager to prove himself as a commander, once there he took control of regional military operations. He befriended two military figures, Kliment Voroshilov and Semyon Budyonny, who would form the nucleus of his military and political support base. Believing that victory was assured by numerical superiority, he sent large numbers of Red Army troops into battle against the region's anti-Bolshevik White armies, resulting in heavy losses; Lenin was concerned by this costly tactic. In Tsaritsyn, Stalin executed suspected counter-revolutionaries, sometimes without trial, and—in contravention of government orders—purged the military and food collection agencies of middle-class specialists, some of whom he also executed. His use of state violence and terror was at a greater scale than most Bolshevik leaders approved of. For instance, he ordered several villages to be torched to ensure compliance with his food procurement program.
In December 1918, Stalin was sent to Perm to lead an inquiry into how the Red Army forces based there had been decimated in an attack by Alexander Kolchak's White forces. He returned to Moscow between January and March 1919, before being assigned to the Western Front at Petrograd. When the Third Regiment defected, he ordered any captured defectors to be publicly shot. In September he was returned to the Southern Front. During the war, he proved his worth to the Central Committee, displaying decisiveness, determination, and a willingness to take on responsibility in conflict situations. At the same time, he disregarded orders and when affronted he repeatedly threatened to resign, forcing Lenin to convince him to reconsider. In November 1919, the government awarded him the Order of the Red Banner for his service in the war.
The civil war was over by the end of 1919, having resulted in a Bolshevik victory. Sovnarkom turned its attention to spreading proletarian revolution abroad, to this end forming the Communist International in March 1919; Stalin was present at its inaugural ceremony. Although Stalin did not share Lenin's belief that the European proletariat were on the verge of revolution, he acknowledged that as long as it stood alone, Soviet Russia remained vulnerable. In December 1918, he had drawn up decrees recognising Marxist-governed Soviet republics in Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, however these Marxist governments had been overthrown and the Baltic countries became fully independent of Russia, an act which he regarded as illegitimate. In February 1920, Stalin was appointed to head the Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate; that same month he was also transferred to the Caucasian Front.
Following earlier clashes between Polish and Russian troops, the Polish–Soviet War broke out in the spring of 1920. Stalin was moved to Ukraine, on the Southwest Front. The Red Army forced the Polish troops back into Poland. Lenin believed that the Polish proletariat would rise up to support the Russians against Józef Piłsudski's Polish government. Stalin had cautioned against this; he believed that nationalism would lead the Polish working-classes to support their government's war effort. He also believed that the Red Army was ill-prepared to conduct an offensive war and that it would give White Armies a chance to resurface in Crimea, potentially reigniting the civil war. Stalin lost the argument, after which he accepted Lenin's decision and supported it. Along the Southwest Front, he became determined to conquer Lwów; in focusing on this goal he disobeyed orders to transfer his troops to assist Mikhail Tukhachevsky's forces. In August, the Poles repulsed the Russian advance and Stalin returned to Moscow. A peace treaty between the two countries was signed, for which Stalin blamed Trotsky. Stalin felt resentful and under-appreciated; he was angry at how the war had been conducted and in September demanded demission from the military, which was granted. At the 9th Bolshevik Conference, Stalin was accused of insubordination and military incompetence during the war with Poland, with Trotsky accusing him of making "strategic mistakes".
Stalin believed that each nation and ethnic group should have the right to self-expression, facilitating this through "autonomous republics" within the Russian state in which ethnic minorities could oversee various regional affairs. Some Communists accused him of bending too much to "petit-bourgeois" nationalisms, while others accused him of remaining too Russocentric by seeking to maintain these nations within the Russian state. Stalin's native Caucasus posed a particular problem due to its highly multi-cultural mix. Stalin opposed the idea of separate Georgian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani autonomous republics, arguing that these would likely oppress the many minorities within their territory; instead he called for the formation of a Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. The Georgian Communist Party opposed the idea, resulting in the Georgian Affair. In the summer of 1921, he returned to the southern Caucasus, there calling on Georgian Communists to avoid the chauvinistic Georgian nationalism which he believed marginalised the Abkhazian, Ossetian, and Adjarian minorities. On this trip, Stalin met with his son Yakov, and brought him back to Moscow with them; Nadya had given birth to another of Stalin's sons, Vasily, in March 1921.
After the civil war, workers' strikes and peasant uprisings broke out across Russia, largely in opposition to Sovnarkom's food requisitioning project; as an antidote, Lenin introduced a level of market-oriented reform as the New Economic Policy (NEP). There was also internal turmoil in the Communist Party, as Trotsky led a faction calling for the abolition of trade unions; Lenin opposed this and Stalin helped him to drum up support against Trotsky's position. Stalin also agreed to supervise the Department of Agitation and Propaganda in the Central Committee Secretariat. At the 11th Party Congress in 1922, Lenin nominated Stalin as the party's new General Secretary. Although concerns were expressed that adopting this new post on top of his others would both overstretch his workload and give him too much power, Stalin was appointed to the position. For Lenin, it was advantageous to have one of his allies in a post crucial for the maintenance of his policies.
In May 1922, Lenin had a massive stroke and was partially paralysed. Residing at his Gorki dacha, Lenin's main connection to Sovnarkom was through Stalin, who was a regular visitor. Lenin twice asked Stalin to procure poison so that he may commit suicide, but Stalin never did so. Despite this comradeship, Lenin disliked what he referred to as Stalin's "Asiatic" manner, and told his sister Maria that Stalin was "not intelligent". Lenin and Stalin argued on the issue of foreign trade; Lenin believed that the Soviet state should have a monopoly on foreign trade, but Stalin supported Grigori Sokolnikov's view that doing so was impractical at that stage. Another disagreement came over the Georgian Affair, with Lenin backing the Georgian Central Committee's desire for a Georgian Soviet Republic over Stalin's idea of a Transcaucasian one.
They also disagreed on the nature of the Soviet state. Lenin called for the country to be renamed the "Union of Soviet Republics of Europe and Asia", reflecting his desire for expansion across the two continents. Stalin believed that this would encourage independence sentiment among non-Russians, instead arguing that ethnic minorities would be content as "autonomous republics" within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Lenin accused Stalin of "Great Russian chauvinism"; Stalin accused Lenin of "national liberalism". A compromise was reached, in which the country would be renamed the "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" (USSR). The USSR's formation was ratified in December 1922; although officially a federal system, all major decisions were taken by the Politburo in Moscow. Their differences were not just based on policy but also became personal; Lenin was particularly angered when Stalin was rude to his wife Krupskaya during a telephone conversation. In the final weeks of his life, Lenin dictated increasingly disparaging notes on Stalin that became his testament. He criticized Stalin's rude manners and excessive power, suggesting that Stalin should be removed from the position of General Secretary.
Lenin died in January 1924. Stalin took charge of the funeral and was one of its pallbearers; against the wishes of Lenin's widow, the Politburo embalmed his corpse and placed it within a mausoleum in Moscow's Red Square. It was incorporated into a growing personality cult devoted to Lenin, with Petrograd being renamed "Leningrad" that year. To bolster his image as a devoted Leninist, Stalin was eager to present himself as a theorist, giving nine lectures at Sverdlov University on the "Foundations of Leninism"; it was later published as a concise overview of Lenin's ideas. At the following 13th Party Congress, Lenin's Testament was read out to senior figures. Embarrassed by its contents, Stalin offered his resignation as General Secretary; this act of humility saved him and he was retained in the position. In his private life, he was dividing his time between his Kremlin apartment and a dacha he had obtained at Zubalova. His wife had given birth to a daughter, Svetlana, in February 1926.
Stalin saw Trotsky as the main obstacle to his rise to dominance within the Communist Party, and while Lenin had been ill he had forged an anti-Trotsky alliance with Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev. Although Zinoviev had expressed concerned about Stalin's growing authority, he rallied behind him at the 13th Congress as a counterweight to Trotsky, who now led a party faction known as the Left Opposition. The Left Opposition believed that too many concessions to capitalism had been made with the NEP; Stalin was deemed a "rightist" in the party for his support of the policy. Stalin built up a retinue of his supporters in the Central Committee, while the Left Opposition were gradually removed from their positions of influence. He was supported in this by Bukharin, who like Stalin believed that implementing the Left Opposition's proposals would plunge the Soviet Union into instability.
In the autumn of 1924, Stalin also removed Kamenev and Zinoviev's supporters from key positions. In 1925, Kamenev and Zinoviev moved into open opposition of Stalin and Bukharin. They attacked one another at the 14th Party Congress, where Stalin accused Kamenev and Zinoviev of reintroducing factionalism—and thus instability—into the party. In the summer of 1926, Kamenev and Zinoviev joined with the Trotskyites to form the United Opposition against Stalin; in October they agreed to stop factional activity under threat of expulsion, and later publicly recanted their views under Stalin's command. The factionalist arguments continued, with Stalin threatening to resign in both December 1926 and December 1927. In October 1927, Zinoviev and Trotsky were removed from the Central Committee; the latter was exiled to Kazakhstan and later deported from the country in 1929. Some of those United Opposition members who were repentant were later rehabilitated and allowed to return to government. Stalin had established himself as the party's supreme leader, although was not the head of government, a task he entrusted to key ally Vyacheslav Molotov. Other important supporters on the Politburo were Voroshilov, Lazar Kaganovich, and Sergo Ordzhonikidze, with Stalin ensuring that his allies ran the various state institutions.
In 1924, Georgian nationalists seeking independence launched the August Uprising; it was suppressed by the Red Army. In April 1925, Tsaritsyn was renamed Stalingrad. In 1926, Stalin published On Questions of Leninism. It was in this book that he introduced the concept of "Socialism in One Country", which he claimed was an orthodox Leninist perspective. It nevertheless clashed with established Bolshevik views that socialism could not be established in one country but could only be achieved globally through the process of world revolution. In 1927, there was some argument in the party over the USSR's relationship to the situation in China. Stalin had called for the Communist Party of China to ally itself with the Kuomintang nationalists, viewing a Communist-Kuomintang alliance as the best bulwark against Japanese imperial expansionism in eastern Asia. However, the Kuomintang reversed the tables in the Shanghai massacre of 1927 by massacring the membership of the Communist Party in Shanghai midway through the Northern Expedition.
By the latter half of the 1920s, the Soviet Union was still lagging behind the industrial development of Western countries, and Stalin's government feared military attack from Japan, France, or the United Kingdom. Many Bolsheviks, including in Komsomol, OGPU, and the Red Army were eager to be rid of the NEP and its market-oriented approach, desiring a push towards socialism. There were concerns about a growing sector of society—the 'kulaks' and the Nepmen—who had profited from the policy and become wealthier than other citizens. There had also been a shortfall of grain supplies; 1927 produced only 70% of grain produced in 1926. At this point, Stalin turned against the NEP, putting him on a course to the "left" even of Trotsky or Zinoviev.
In early 1928 Stalin travelled to Novosibirsk, there claiming that kulaks were hoarding their grain. He ordered that the kulaks be arrested and their grain confiscated, with Stalin bringing much of the area's grain back to Moscow with him in February. At his command, grain procurement squads surfaced across Western Siberia and the Urals, with violence breaking out between these squads and the peasantry. Stalin announced that both kulaks and the "middle peasants" must be coerced into releasing their harvest. Bukharin and several other members of the Central Committee were angry that they had not been consulted about this measure, which they deemed rash. In January 1930, the Politburo approved a measure to liquidate the existence of the kulaks as a class; they were rounded up and exiled either elsewhere in their own regions, to other parts of the country, or to concentration camps. Large numbers died during the journey. By July 1930, over 320,000 households had been affected by the de-kulakisation policy.
In 1929, the Politburo announced the mass collectivisation of agriculture. Stalin stipulated that kulaks would be barred from joining these collectives. Although officially voluntary, many peasants joined the collectives out of fear they would face the fate of the kulaks; others joined amid intimidation and violence from party loyalists. By 1932, about 62% of households involved in agriculture were part of collectives, and by 1936 this had risen to 90%. Many of the peasants who had been collectivised resented the loss of their private farmland, and productivity slumped. Famine broke out in many areas, with the Politburo frequently ordering the distribution of emergency food relief to these regions. Armed peasant uprisings against dekulakisation and collectivisation broke out in Ukraine, northern Caucuses, southern Russia, and central Asia, reaching their apex in March 1930; these were repressed by the Red Army. Stalin responded to the uprisings with an article insisting that collectivisation was voluntary and blaming any violence and other excesses on local officials. Bukharin expressed concerns about these policies; he regarded them as a return to Lenin's old "war communism" policy and believed that it would fail. However, by the summer of 1928 he was unable to rally sufficient support in the party to oppose the reforms. In November 1929 Stalin removed him from the Politburo.
In 1928, the first Five Year Plan was launched, its main focus being on boosting heavy industry but with a secondary emphasis on improving urban living standards. The plan was finished a year ahead of schedule, in 1932. The USSR underwent a massive economic transformation. New mines were opened, new cities like Magnitogorsk constructed, and work on the White Sea-Baltic Canal begun. Millions of peasants moved to the cities and became proletariat, although urban house building could not keep up with the demand. Large debts were accrued while purchasing foreign-made machinery. Many of the major construction projects, including the White Sea-Baltic Canal and the Moscow Metro, were constructed largely through forced labour. Stalin's message was that socialism was being established in the USSR while capitalism was crumbling amid the Wall Street crash. His speeches and articles reflected his utopian vision of the Soviet Union rising to unparalleled heights of human development, creating a "new Soviet person".
In 1928, Stalin declared that as socialism developed, so the class war would intensify between the proletariat and their enemies. He warned of a "danger from the right", including in the Communist Party itself. The first major show trial in the USSR was the Shakhty Trial of 1928, in which several middle-class "industrial specialists" were convicted of sabotage. From 1929 to 1930, further show trials were held to intimidate opposition: these included the Industrial Party Trial, Menshevik Trial, and Metro-Vickers Trial. Nationalism among the ethnic minorities was suppressed, with Stalin aware that the ethnic Russian majority may have concerns about being ruled by a Georgian. To this end, he promoted ethnic Russians throughout the state hierarchy and made the Russian language compulsory throughout schools and offices, albeit to be used in tandem with local languages in areas with non-Russian majorities.
The government's anti-religious campaign was re-intensified, with increased funding given to the League of Militant Atheists. Religious figures, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Buddhist, faced persecution. Many religious buildings were demolished, most notably Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, destroyed in 1931 to make way for the (never completed) Palace of the Soviets. Religion continued to hold an influence over much of the population; in the 1937 census, 57% of respondents identified as religious. Stalin desired a "cultural revolution", entailing both the creation of a culture for the "masses" and the wider dissemination of previously elite culture. He oversaw the proliferation of schools, newspapers, and libraries, as well as the advancement of literacy and numeracy. He personally wooed prominent writers, namely Maxim Gorky, Mikhail Sholokhov, and Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy. He also expressed patronage for scientists whose research fitted within his preconceived interpretation of Marxism; he for instance endorsed the research of agrobiologist Trofim Lysenko despite the fact that it was rejected by the majority of his scientific peers as pseudo-scientific.
Throughout the 1920s and beyond, Stalin placed a high priority on foreign policy. He personally met with a range of Western visitors, including George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells, both of whom were impressed with him. Through the Communist International, Stalin's government exerted a strong influence over Marxist parties elsewhere in the world; initially, Stalin left the running of the organisation largely to Bukharin. At its 6th Congress in July 1928, Stalin informed delegates that the main threat to socialism came not from the right but from non-Marxist socialists and social democrats, whom he called "social fascists"; Stalin recognised that the social democrats were the Marxist-Leninists' main rivals for working-class support in many countries. This preoccupation with opposing rival leftists concerned Bukharin, who was particularly worried by the growth of fascism and the far right across Europe. After Bukharin's departure, Stalin placed the Communist International under the administration of Dmitry Manuilsky and Osip Piatnitsky.
Stalin faced problems in his family life. In 1929, his son Yakov unsuccessfully attempted suicide; his failure earned Stalin's contempt. His relationship with Nadya was also strained amid their arguments and her mental health problems. In November 1931, after a group dinner in the Kremlin in which Stalin flirted with other women, Nadya shot herself. Publicly, it was claimed that Nadya died of appendicitis; Stalin also concealed the real cause of death from his children. Stalin's friends noted that he underwent a significant change following her suicide, becoming emotionally harder.
Within the Soviet Union, there was widespread civic disgruntlement against Stalin's government. Social unrest, previously restricted largely to the countryside, was increasingly evident in urban areas, prompting Stalin to ease on some of his economic policies in 1932. In May 1932, he introduced a system of kolkhoz markets where peasants could trade their surplus produce. At the same time, penal sanctions became more severe; at Stalin's instigation, in August 1932 a measure was introduced meaning that the theft of even a handful of grain could be a capital offense. The second Five-Year Plan had its production quotas reduced from that of the first, with the main emphasis now being on improving living conditions. It therefore emphasised the expansion of housing space and the production of consumer goods. Like its predecessor, this Plan was repeatedly amended to meet changing situations; there was for instance an increasing emphasis placed on armament production after Adolf Hitler became German Chancellor in 1933.
Such policies nevertheless failed to stop the famine which peaked in the winter of 1932–33. Between five and seven million people died; many resorted to cannibalising the dead to survive. Worst affected were Ukraine and the North Caucuses, although the famine also impacted Kazakhstan and several Russian provinces. The 1932 harvest had been a poor one, and had followed several years in which lower productivity had resulted in a gradual decline in output. Stalin blamed the famine on hostile elements and wreckers within the peasantry. According to British historian Alan Bullock, "the total Soviet grain crop was no worse than that of 1931 ... it was not a crop failure but the excessive demands of the state, ruthlessly enforced, that cost the lives of as many as five million Ukrainian peasants." Stalin refused to release large grain reserves that could have alleviated the famine, while continuing to export grain, and he strictly enforced new draconian anti-theft laws on the collective farm. Other historians hold the view that it was largely the insufficient harvests of 1931 and 1932 caused by a variety of natural disasters that resulted in famine, with the successful harvest of 1933 ending the famine. The Ukrainian famine is sometimes referred to as the Ukrainian Genocide, implying it was engineered by the Soviet government, specifically targeting the Ukrainian people to destroy the Ukrainian nation as a political factor and social entity. The existence of the famine was denied to foreign observers.
In 1935–36, Stalin oversaw the elaboration of a new constitution. This featured various liberalising features, including the introduction of secret ballots during elections. Introducing this constitution, he declared that "socialism, which is the first phase of communism, has basically been achieved in this country". In 1938, The History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), colloquially known as the Short Course, was released; Conquest later referred to it as the "central text of Stalinism". A number of authorised Stalin biographies were also published, although Stalin generally wanted to be portrayed as the embodiment of the Communist Party rather than have his life story explored. During the later 1930s, Stalin placed limits on the personality cult developing around him, and sought to portray himself with humility, for instance through the use of self-deprecating humour. This was perhaps for pragmatic reasons, recognising that an appearance of modesty would make him more appealing. By 1938, Stalin's inner circle had gained a degree of stability, containing the personalities who would remain there until Stalin's death.
Seeking improved international relations, in 1934 the Soviet Union secured membership of the League of Nations, of which it had previously been excluded. Stalin initiated confidential communications with Hitler in October 1933, shortly after the latter came to power in Germany. Stalin admired Hitler, particularly the latter's manoeuvres to remove rivals within the Nazi Party in the Night of the Long Knives. He nevertheless recognised the threat posed by fascism and sought to establish better links with the liberal democracies of Western Europe; in May 1935, the Soviets signed a treaty of mutual assistance with France and Czechoslovakia. At the Communist International's 7th Congress, held in July-August 1935, the Soviet government encouraged Marxist-Leninists to unite with other leftists as part of a popular front against fascism. In turn, the anti-communist governments of Germany, Fascist Italy and Japan sought to counter the influence of the international communist movement with the Anti-Comintern Pact of 1936. When the Spanish Civil War broke out the same year, the Soviets sent 648 aircraft and 407 tanks to the left-wing Republican faction; these were accompanied by 3000 Soviet troops and 42,000 members of the International Brigades set up by the Communist International. Stalin took a strong personal involvement in the Spanish situation. Germany and Italy backed the Nationalist faction, which was ultimately victorious in March 1939.
Regarding state repressions, Stalin often provided conflicting signals. In May 1933, he ordered the release of many criminals convicted of minor offenses from the overcrowded prisons and ordered the security services not to enact further mass arrests and deportations. In September 1934, he ordered the Politburo to establish a commission to investigate any false imprisonments; however, that same month he called for the execution of workers at the Stalin Metallurgical Factory accused of spying for Japan. This began to change in December 1934, when the prominent party member Sergey Kirov was murdered.
The killing was followed by an intensification of state repression; Stalin issued a decree establishing NKVD troikas which could mete out rulings without involving the courts. Just as the de-kulakisation policy had sought to rid rural areas of anti-government forces, so Stalin sought to do the same in the cities and towns. In 1935, the NKVD was ordered to expel suspected counter-revolutionaries, particularly those who had been aristocrats, landlords, or businesspeople before the October Revolution. In the early months of 1935, over 11,000 people were expelled from Leningrad, to live in isolated rural areas. In 1936, Nikolai Yezhov became head of the NKVD and oversaw this intensification. Stalin instigated this intensification of repression, which was rooted in his own psychological compulsions and the logic of the system he had created, one which prioritised security above other considerations.
Stalin orchestrated the arrest of many former opponents in the Communist Party: denounced as Western-backed mercenaries, many were imprisoned or exiled internally. The first Moscow Trial took place in August 1936; Kamenev and Zinoviev were among those accused of plotting assassinations, found guilty in a show trial, and executed. The second Moscow Show Trial took place in January 1937, and the third in March 1938, in which Bukharin and Rykov were accused of involvement in the alleged Trotskyite-Zinovievite terrorist plot and sentenced to death. There were mass expulsions from the party, with Stalin commanding foreign communist parties to also purge anti-Stalinist elements. During the 1930s and 1940s, NKVD groups assassinated defectors and opponents abroad; in August 1940, Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico, eliminating the last of Stalin's opponents among the former Party leadership. In May, this was followed by the arrest of most members of the military Supreme Command and mass arrests throughout the military, often on fabricated charges. These purges replaced most of the party's old guard with younger officials who did not remember a time before Stalin's leadership and who were regarded as more personally loyal to him. Party functionaries readily carried out their commands and sought to ingratiate themselves with Stalin to avoid becoming the victim of the purge.
Repressions further intensified in December 1936 and remained at a high level until November 1938, a period known as the Great Purge. By the latter part of 1937, the purges had moved beyond the party and were affecting the wider population. In July 1937, the Politburo ordered a purge of "anti-Soviet elements" in society, something affecting whole social categories, including Bolsheviks who had opposed Stalin, former Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, priests, former soldiers in the White Army, and common criminals. That month, Stalin and Yezhov signed Order No. 00447, listing 268,950 people for arrest, of whom 193,000 were to be sentenced to forced labour and 75,950 executed. He also initiated "national operations", forms of ethnic cleansing in which members of various non-Soviet ethnic groups—among them Poles, Germans, Latvians, Finns, Greeks, Koreans, and Chinese—were exiled either internally or externally. During these years, approximately 1.6 million people were arrested. 700,000 were shot, and an unknown number died under NKVD torture. Many were interred in mass graves, with some of the major killing and burial sites being Bykivnia, Kurapaty and Butovo.
Stalin initiated all of the key decisions during the Terror, personally directing many of its operations and taking an interest in the details of their implementation. His motives in doing so have been much debated by historians. His personal writings from the period were—according to Khlevniuk—"unusually convoluted and incoherent", filled with claims about conspiracies and enemies encircling him. He was particularly concerned at the success that right-wing forces had in overthrowing the leftist Spanish government, worried that domestic anti-Stalinist elements would become a fifth column in the event of a future war with Japan and Germany. The Great Terror ended when Yezhov was removed as the head of the NKVD, to be replaced by Lavrentiy Beria. Yezhov was arrested in April 1939 and executed in 1940. The Terror had damaged the Soviet Union's reputation abroad, particularly among previously sympathetic leftists, and as the Terror wound down, so Stalin sought to deflect responsibility away from himself. He later claimed that the Terror's "excesses" and "violations of law" were Yezhov's fault.
As a Marxist-Leninist, Stalin expected an inevitable Second World War between competing capitalist powers and sought to ensure Soviet neutrality in the conflict. As Nazi Germany annexed Austria and then part of Czechoslovakia in 1938, Stalin recognised that this war was looming. He hoped that if Germany fought France and the UK, the capitalist trio would be worn down, leaving the Soviets a dominant force. Militarily, the Soviets also faced a threat from the east, with Soviet troops first clashing with the expansionist Japanese at Nomonhan, Mongolia in May 1939.
As Britain and France seemed unwilling to commit to an alliance with the Soviet Union, Stalin saw a better deal with the Germans. In May 1939, Germany began negotiations with the Soviets over Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe, suggesting that the region be divided between the two powers. Stalin saw this idea as an opportunity for both territorial expansion and temporary peace with Germany. In August 1939, the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, negotiated by Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. A week later, Germany invaded Poland, sparking the UK and France to declare war on it. On 17 September, the Red Army entered eastern Poland, officially to restore order amid the collapse of the Polish state; this explanation was also designed so as not to anger the UK and France.
Stalin suggested a territorial exchange with Germany, giving them the ethnic Polish-dominated areas of Lublin Province and part of Warsaw Province, and in return receiving Lithuania; Stalin had desired the reintegration of the three Baltic states into the Soviet Union. This was agreed in 28 September. A German–Soviet Frontier Treaty was signed shortly after, in Stalin's presence. The two nations continued trading, undermining the British blockade of Germany.
The Red Army entered the Baltic states, which were forcibly merged into the Soviet Union in August. The Soviets also claimed Finland, but the Finnish government refused their demands. The Soviets invaded Finland in November; despite their numerical inferiority, the Finns kept the Red Army at bay. International opinion backed Finland, with the Soviets being expelled from the League of Nations. Embarrassed by their inability to defeat the Finns, the Soviets signed an interim peace treaty, in which they received territorial concessions from Finland. In June 1940, Bessarabia and northern Bukovina—parts of Romania—were also annexed into the Soviet Union. The Soviet authorities sought to forestall any dissent in these new East European territories. One of the most noted instances was the Katyn massacre of April and May 1940, in which around 22,000 members of the Polish armed forces, police, and intelligentsia were executed.
The speed of the German victory over and occupation of France in summer 1940 took Stalin by surprise. He increasingly focused on appeasement with Germany to delay any conflict with them. After the Tripartite Pact was signed by Axis Powers Germany, Japan and Italy, in October 1940, Stalin approached Germany with the suggestion that it too join the Axis alliance. To demonstrate peaceful intentions toward Germany, in April 1941 the Soviets signed a neutrality pact with Japan. On 6 May, Stalin replaced Molotov as Premier of the Soviet Union. Although de facto head of government for a decade and a half, Stalin concluded that relations with Germany had deteriorated to such an extent that he needed to deal with the problem as de jure head of government as well.
In June 1941, Germany broke the pact by invading the Soviet Union, thus initiating the war on the Eastern Front. Despite intelligence having warned him about the German military build-up and invasion plan, Stalin was taken by surprise. To lead the war effort, Stalin formed a military Supreme Command, or Stavka, as well as a State Committee of Defence, which he headed as Supreme Commander. The German tactic of blitzkrieg was initially highly effective. The Soviet air force in the western borderlands was destroyed in the first two days of the invasion. The German armies pushed deep into Soviet territory; soon, Ukraine, Belorussia, and the Baltic states were under German occupation. As the German Army pushed east, Soviet refugees flooded into Moscow and Leningrad to escape them. However, there were other Soviet citizens—namely those who were neither ethnically Russian nor Jewish—who welcomed the German Army as liberators; they soon found that the Nazi authorities regarded these East Europeans as Untermensch, fit only for economic exploitation.
By July, the German Luftwaffe were able to bomb Moscow, and by October were amassing their troops for a full assault on the Soviet capital. Plans were made for he government to evacuate to Kuibyshev, although Stalin ultimately decided to remain in Moscow. In June 1941, Stalin ordered a scorched earth policy of destroying the infrastructure and food supplies of areas before the Germans could seize them, and he also directed that partisans were to be set up in evacuated areas. He also ordered the NKVD to kill around 100,000 political prisoners in areas where the Wehrmacht approached, while others were deported east. Stalin also conducted a purge of several military commanders who were shot for "cowardice" without a trial. Stalin issued Order No. 227 in July 1942, which directed that commanders who permitted retreat without permission would be subject to a military tribunal, and it also directed that soldiers who were guilty of disciplinary procedures would be forced into "penal battalions", which were sent to the most dangerous sections of the front lines. From 1942 to 1945, 427,910 soldiers were assigned to penal battalions. The order also directed that "blocking detachments" should shoot fleeing and panicked troops at the rear.
Against the advice of his generals, Stalin favoured an emphasis on attack over defence. In April 1942 he overrode Stavka by ordering the Soviets' first serious counter-attack, an attempt to seize German-held Kharkov in eastern Ukraine. This attack proved unsuccessful. Amid the fighting, both the German and Soviet armies disregarded the law of war set forth in the Geneva Conventions. The Soviet authorities ensured that Nazi massacres of communists, Jews, and Romani were widely reported on. The United States also joined the war against Germany in 1941, although could provide little direct assistance to the Soviets until late 1942. Responding to the invasion, the Soviets intensified their industrial enterprises in central Russia, focusing almost entirely on production for the military. They achieved high levels of industrial productivity, outstripping that of Germany.
During the war, Stalin was more tolerant of the Russian Orthodox Church, allowing it to resume some of its activities and meeting with Patriarch Sergei in September 1943. He also permitted a wider range of cultural expression, notably permitting formerly suppressed writers and artists like Anna Akhmatova and Dmitri Shostakovich to disperse their work more widely.The Internationale was dropped as the country's national anthem, to be replaced with a more patriotic replacement. There was an increased criticism of cosmopolitanism, particularly the idea of "rootless cosmopolitanism", an approach with particular repercussions for Soviet Jews. They encouraged these other Marxist-Leninist parties to emphasise nationalism over internationalism to broaden their domestic appeal. The Soviet government also began to increasingly promote Pan-Slavist sentiment.
In 1942, Hitler shifted his primary goal from an immediate victory in the East, to the more long-term goal of securing the southern Soviet Union to conquer oil fields vital to a long-term German war effort. While Red Army generals saw evidence that Hitler would shift efforts south, Stalin considered this to be a flanking campaign in efforts to take Moscow. In June 1942, the German Army attacked Stalingrad; Stalin ordered the Red Army to hold the city at all costs. This resulted in the protracted Battle of Stalingrad. In December 1942 he placed Konstantin Rokossovski in charge of holding the city. In February 1943, the German troops attacking Stalingrad surrendered. To commemorate this victory, Stalin declared himself Marshal of the Soviet Union.
By November 1942, the Soviets had begun to repulse the important German strategic southern campaign and, although there were 2.5 million Soviet casualties in that effort, it permitted the Soviets to take the offensive for most of the rest of the war on the Eastern Front. Germany attempted an encirclement attack at Kursk, which was successfully repulsed by the Soviets. Kursk marked the beginning of a period where Stalin became more willing to listen to the advice of his generals. By the end of 1943, the Soviets occupied half of the territory taken by the Germans from 1941 to 1942. Soviet military industrial output also had increased substantially from late 1941 to early 1943 after Stalin had moved factories well to the East of the front, safe from German invasion and air attack.
In Allied countries, Stalin was increasingly depicted in a positive light over the course of the war. In 1941, the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed a concert to celebrate his birthday, and in 1942, Time magazine named him "Man of the Year". When Stalin learned that people in Western countries affectionately called him "Uncle Joe" he was initially offended, regarding it as undignified. There remained mutual suspicions between Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt, who were together known as the "Big Three". Churchill flew to Moscow to visit Stalin in August 1942 and again in October 1944. Stalin scarcely left Moscow throughout the war, with Roosevelt and Churchill becoming frustrated with his reluctance to travel to meet them.
In November 1943, Stalin agreed to meet with Churchill and Roosevelt in Tehran. There, Stalin and Roosevelt got on well, with both desiring the post-war dismantling of the British Empire. At Tehran, the trio agreed that to prevent Germany rising to military prowess yet again, the German state should be broken up. Roosevelt and Churchill also agreed to Stalin's demand that the German city of Konigsberg be declared Soviet territory. The parties later agreed that Britain and America would launch a cross-channel invasion of France in May 1944, along with a separate invasion of southern France. Stalin insisted that, after the war, the Soviet Union should incorporate the portions of Poland it occupied pursuant to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Germany, which Churchill opposed. Discussing the fate of the Balkans, later in 1944 Churchill agreed to Stalin's suggestion that after the war, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Yugoslavia would come under the Soviet sphere of influence while Greece would come under that of the West.
In 1944, the Soviet Union made significant advances across Eastern Europe toward Germany, including Operation Bagration, a massive offensive in the Byelorussian SSR against the German Army Group Centre. In 1944 the German armies were pushed out of the Baltic states, which were then re-annexed into the Soviet Union. Between 1943 and 1944, several Caucasian peoples were deported to Kazakhstan. After the brief Nazi occupation of the Caucasus, the entire population of five of the small highland peoples and the Crimean Tatars – more than a million people in total – were deported without notice or any opportunity to take their possessions.
In February 1945, the three leaders met at the Yalta Conference. Roosevelt and Churchill conceded to Stalin's demand that Germany pay the Soviet Union 20 billion dollars in reparations, and that his country be permitted to annex Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands in exchange for entering the war against Japan. An agreement was also made that a post-war Polish government should be a coalition consisting of both communist and conservative elements. Privately, Stalin sought to ensure that Poland would come fully under Soviet influence. The Red Army refused to assist Polish resistance fighters battling the Germans in the Warsaw Uprising, with Stalin believing that any victorious Polish militants could form the basis of a new Polish government not under Soviet control. Although concealing his desires from the other Allied leaders, Stalin placed great emphasis on capturing Berlin first, believing that this would enable him to bring more of Europe under long-term Soviet control. Churchill was concerned that this was the case, and unsuccessfully tried to convince the U.S. that the Western Allies should pursue the same goal.
In April 1945, the Red Army seized Berlin, Hitler committed suicide, and the German government surrendered unconditionally. Stalin was annoyed that Hitler was dead, having wanted to capture him alive. He ordered his intelligence agencies to secretly bring Hitler's remains to Moscow, seeking to prevent any physical remains becoming a relic for Nazi sympathisers. As the Red Army had conquered German territory, they discovered the extermination camps that the Nazi administration had run. Many Soviet soldiers engaged in pillaging and rape. Stalin refused to punish the offenders. After receiving a complaint about this from Yugoslav communist Milovan Djilas, Stalin asked how after experiencing the traumas of war a soldier could "react normally? And what is so awful in his having fun with a woman, after such horrors?"
With Germany defeated, Stalin switched his focus to the ongoing war with Japan, transferring half a million troops to the far east. The United States, which had developed the nuclear weaponry that it would deploy against the Japanese, were not keen on Soviet military assistance, but Stalin was resolute. On 5 April 1945, the Soviet Government officially denounced its neutrality pact with Japan, and on 8 August declared war. The next day, in between the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviet army invaded Japanese occupied Manchuria and quickly defeated the Kwantung Army. These events led to the Japanese surrender and the complete end of World War II. Stalin was irritated that the Allies gave him little to no influence in occupied Japan.
At the Potsdam Conference from July to August 1945, though Germany had surrendered months earlier, instead of withdrawing Soviet forces from Eastern European countries, Stalin had not moved those forces. At the beginning of the conference, Stalin repeated previous promises to Churchill that he would refrain from a "Sovietization" of Eastern Europe. Stalin pushed for reparations from Germany without regard to the base minimum supply for German citizens' survival, which worried Truman and Churchill who thought that Germany would become a financial burden for Western powers.
In addition to reparations, Stalin pushed for "war booty", which would permit the Soviet Union to directly seize property from conquered nations without quantitative or qualitative limitation, and a clause was added permitting this to occur with some limitations.
In the Soviet Occupation Zone of post-war Germany, the Soviets set up ten NKVD-run "special camps" subordinate to the gulag. These "special camps" were former Stalags, prisons, or Nazi concentration camps such as Sachsenhausen (special camp number 7) and Buchenwald (special camp number 2). According to German government estimates, "65,000 people died in those Soviet-run camps or in transportation to them."
According to recent figures, of an estimated four million POWs taken by the Soviets, including Germans, Japanese, Hungarians, Romanians and others, some 580,000 never returned, presumably victims of privation or the Gulags. German estimates put the actual death toll of German POWs in the USSR at about 1 million, they maintain that among those reported as missing were men who actually died as POWs. Of the approximately 4 million to be repatriated 2,660,013 were civilians and 1,539,475 were former POWs. Of the total, 2,427,906 were sent home and 801,152 were reconscripted into the armed forces. 608,095 were enrolled in the work battalions of the defense ministry. 272,867 were transferred to the authority of the NKVD for punishment, which meant a transfer to the Gulag system. 89,468 remained in the transit camps as reception personnel until the repatriation process was finally wound up in the early 1950s.
After the war, Stalin was—according to Service—at the "apex of his career". Within the Soviet Union he was widely regarded as the embodiment of victory and patriotism. His armies controlled eastern and eastern-central Europe up to the River Elbe. In June 1945, Stalin adopted the title of Generalissimus. That month, he stood atop Lenin's Mausoleum to watch a celebratory parade led by Zhukov through Red Square. At a banquet held for army commanders, he described the Russian people as "the outstanding nation" and "leading force" within the Soviet Union, the first time that he had unequivocally endorsed the Russians over other Soviet nationalities. His health was deteriorating, and heart problems forced a two month vacation in the latter part of 1945.
The NKVD were ordered to catalogue the scale of destruction during the war. It was established that 1,710 Soviet towns and 70,000 villages had been destroyed. 26 million Soviet citizens had been killed, with millions more being wounded, malnourished, or orphaned. Although figures vary, the Soviet civilian death toll probably reached 20 million. One in four Soviets was killed or wounded.
Despite his strengthened international position, Stalin was cautious about internal dissent and desire for change among the population. He was also concerned about his returning armies, who had been exposed to a wide range of consumer goods in Germany, much of which they had looted and brought back with them. In this he recalled the 1825 Decembrist Revolt by Russian soldiers returning from having defeated France in the Napoleonic Wars. He ensured that returning Soviet prisoners of war went through "filtration" camps as they arrived in the Soviet Union, in which 2775,700 were interrogated to determine if they were traitors. About half were then imprisoned in labour camps.. In the Baltic states, where there was much opposition to Soviet rule, de-kulakisation and de-clericalisation programs were initiated, resulting in 142,000 deportations between 1945 and 1949.
In the aftermath of the war, some of Stalin's associates suggested modifications to government policy. Post-war Soviet society was more tolerant than its pre-war phase in various respects. Stalin allowed the Russian Orthodox Church to retain the churches it had opened during the war. Academia and the arts were also allowed greater freedom than they had prior to 1941. Recognising the need for drastic steps to be taken to promote economic regeneration, in December 1947 Stalin's government devalued the ruble and abolished the ration-book system.
The USSR also experienced a major famine from 1946 to 1947. The conditions were caused by drought, the effects of which were exacerbated by the devastation caused by World War II. British economist Michael Ellman argues that it could have been prevented if the government had not mismanaged its grain reserves. The famine cost an estimated 1 to 1.5 million lives as well as secondary population losses due to reduced fertility.
After victory, tensions among the former Allies powers grew, resulting in a period of tensions known as the Cold War. In the aftermath of the war, the British Empire declined, leaving the US and USSR as the dominant world powers. Although publicly referring to what he regarded as the aggressive nature of the British and U.S. governments, he thought it unlikely that a war with them would be imminent, believing that several decades of peace was likely. He nevertheless secretly intensified Soviet research into nuclear weaponry, intent on creating an atom bomb. He personally took a keen interest in the development of the weapon. In August 1949, the bomb was successfully tested in the deserts outside Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan.
The US began pushing its capitalist interests on every continent, acquiring air force bases in Africa and Asia and ensuring friendly regimes took power across Latin America. It launched the Marshall Plan in June 1947, with which it sought to undermine Soviet hegemony in eastern Europe. The US also offered financial assistance as part of the Marshall Plan on the condition that they opened their markets to trade, aware that the Soviets would never agree. The Allies demanded that Stalin withdraw the Red Army from northern Iran, which he did in April 1947. Stalin also tried to maximise Soviet influence on the world stage, unsuccessfully pushing for Libya—recently liberated from Italian occupation—to become a Soviet protectorate. He sent Molotov as his representative to San Francisco to take part in negotiations to form the United Nations, insisting that the Soviets have a place on the Security Council.
In April 1949, the Western powers established the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), an international military alliance of capitalist countries.
After the war, Stalin sought to retain Soviet dominance across Eastern Europe while expanding its influence in Asia. Cautious regarding the responses from the Western Allies, Stalin avoided immediately installing Communist Party governments across Eastern Europe, instead initially ensuring that Marxist-Leninists were placed in coalition ministries. In contrast to his approach to the Baltic states, he rejected the proposal of merging these states into the Soviet Union, rather recognising them as independent nation-states. He was faced with the problem that there were few Marxists left in Eastern Europe, with most having been killed by the Nazis. He demanded that war reparations be paid by Germany and its Axis allies Hungary, Romania, and the Slovak Republic. Aware that these countries had been pushed toward socialism through invasion rather than by proletarian revolution, Stalin referred to them not as "dictatorships of the proletariat" but as "people's democracies", suggesting that in these countries there was a pro-socialist alliance combining the proletariat, peasantry, and lower middle-class.
Churchill observed that an "Iron Curtain" had been drawn across Europe, separating the east from the west. In September 1947, a meeting of East European leaders was held in Szklarska Poręba, Poland, from which was formed Cominform to co-ordinate the Communist Parties across Eastern Europe and also in France and Italy. Stalin did not personally attend the meeting, sending Zhdanov in his place. Various East European communists also visited Stalin in Moscow. There, he offered advice on their ideas; for instance he cautioned against the Yugoslav idea for a Balkan federation incorporating Bulgaria and Albania. Stalin had a particularly strained relationship with Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito due to the latter's continued calls for Balkan federation and for Soviet aid for the communist forces in the ongoing Greek Civil War. In March 1948, Stalin launched an anti-Tito campaign, accusing the Yugoslav communists of adventurism and deviating from Marxist-Leninist doctrine. At the second Cominform conference, held in Bucharest in June 1948, East European communist leaders all denounced Tito's government, accusing them of being fascists and agents of Western capitalism.
Stalin suggested that a unified, but demilitarised, German state he established, hoping that it would either come under Soviet influence or remain neutral. When the US and UK remained opposed to this, Stalin sought to force their hand by blockading Berlin in June 1948. He gambled that the others would not risk war, but they airlifted supplies into West Berlin until May 1949, when Stalin relented and ended the blockade. In September 1949 the Western powers transformed Western Germany into an independent Federal Republic of Germany; in response the Soviets formed East Germany into the German Democratic Republic in October. In Soviet-controlled East Germany, the major task of the ruling communist party in Germany was to channel Soviet orders down to both the administrative apparatus and the other bloc parties pretending that these were initiatives of its own, with deviations potentially leading to reprimands, imprisonment, torture and even death. Property and industry were nationalized.
Across Eastern Europe, the Soviet model was emulated, with a termination of political pluralism, agricultural collectivisation, and investment in heavy industry. It was aimed for economic autarky within the Eastern Bloc. Monarchies were removed from power in Romania and Bulgaria.
In accordance with their earlier agreements, the Western powers expected Poland to become an independent state with free democratic elections. While Stalin had promised at the Yalta Conference that free elections would be held in Poland, after an election failure in "3 times YES" elections, vote rigging was employed to win a majority in the carefully controlled poll. Following the forged referendum, the Polish economy started to become nationalized.
In Hungary, when the Soviets installed a communist government, Mátyás Rákosi, who described himself as "Stalin's best Hungarian disciple" and "Stalin's best pupil", took power. Rákosi employed "salami tactics", slicing up opponents of communism in Hungary like pieces of salami, to battle the initial postwar political majority ready to establish a democracy. Rákosi employed Stalinist political and economic programs, and was dubbed the "bald murderer" for establishing one of the harshest dictatorships in Europe. Approximately 350,000 Hungarian officials and intellectuals were purged from 1948 to 1956.
During World War II, in Bulgaria, the Red Army crossed the border and created the conditions for a communist coup d'état on the following night. The Soviet military commander in Sofia assumed supreme authority, and the communists whom he instructed, including Kimon Georgiev, took full control of domestic politics.
In 1949, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania founded the Comecon in accordance with Stalin's desire to enforce Soviet domination of the lesser states of Central Europe and to mollify some states that had expressed interest in the Marshall Plan, and which were now, increasingly, cut off from their traditional markets and suppliers in Western Europe. Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland had remained interested in Marshall aid despite the requirements for a convertible currency and market economies. In July 1947, Stalin ordered these communist-dominated governments to pull out of the Paris Conference on the European Recovery Programme. This has been described as "the moment of truth" in the post–World War II division of Europe.
In October 1949, Mao Zedong's Communist Party of China took power in China. With this accomplished, Marxist governments now controlled a third of the world's land mass. In December 1949, Mao visited Stalin. Initially Stalin refused to repeal the Sino-Soviet Treaty of 1945, which significantly benefited the Soviet Union over China, although in January 1950 he relented and agreed to sign a new treaty between the two countries.
After Japan's defeat, The Soviet Union and the United States divided up the Korean Peninsula, a former colonial possession, along the 38th parallel and set up a communist government in the north and a pro-western government in the south. The North Korean Army struck in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, 25 June 1950, crossing the 38th parallel behind a firestorm of artillery, beginning their invasion of South Korea. During the Korean War, Soviet pilots flew Soviet aircraft from Chinese bases against United Nations aircraft defending South Korea. Post-Cold War research in Soviet Archives has revealed that the Korean War was begun by Kim Il-sung with the express permission of Stalin.
Stalin originally supported the creation of Israel in 1948. The USSR was one of the first nations to recognize the new country. After Stalin fell out with Israel, he launched an anti-Jewish campaign within the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc.
In 1948, Stalin personally edited and rewrote by hand sections of the Cold War book Falsifiers of History. Falsifiers was published in response to the documents made public in Nazi-Soviet Relations, 1939–1941: Documents from the Archives of The German Foreign Office, which included the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and other secret German-Soviet relations documents. Falsifiers originally appeared as a series of articles in Pravda in February 1948, and was subsequently published in numerous languages and distributed worldwide.
The book did not attempt to directly counter or deal with the documents published in Nazi-Soviet Relations and rather, focused upon Western culpability for the outbreak of war in 1939. It argues that "Western powers" aided Nazi rearmament and aggression, including that American bankers and industrialists provided capital for the growth of German war industries, while deliberately encouraging Hitler to expand eastward. It depicted the Soviet Union as striving to negotiate a collective security against Hitler, while being thwarted by double-dealing Anglo-French appeasers who, despite appearances, had no intention of a Soviet alliance and were secretly negotiating with Berlin. It casts the Munich agreement, not just as Anglo-French short-sightedness or cowardice, but as a "secret" agreement that was "a highly important phase in their policy aimed at goading the Hitlerite aggressors against the Soviet Union." The book also included the claim that, during the Pact's operation, Stalin rejected Hitler's offer to share in a division of the world, without mentioning the Soviet offers to join the Axis. Historical studies, official accounts, memoirs and textbooks published in the Soviet Union used that depiction of events until the Soviet Union's dissolution.
The "doctors' plot" was a plot outlined by Stalin and Soviet officials in 1952 and 1953 whereby several doctors (over half of whom were Jewish) allegedly attempted to kill Soviet officials. The prevailing opinion of many scholars outside the Soviet Union is that Stalin intended to use the resulting doctors' trial to launch a massive party purge. The plot is also viewed by many historians as an antisemitic provocation. It followed on the heels of the 1952 show trials of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and the secret execution of thirteen members on Stalin's orders in the Night of the Murdered Poets.
Thereafter, in a December Politburo session, Stalin announced that "Every Jewish nationalist is the agent of the American intelligence service. Jewish nationalists think that their nation was saved by the United States (there you can become rich, bourgeois, etc.). They think they're indebted to the Americans. Among doctors, there are many Jewish nationalists." To mobilize the Soviet people for his campaign, Stalin ordered TASS and Pravda to issue stories along with Stalin's alleged uncovering of a "Doctors Plot" to assassinate top Soviet leaders, including Stalin, in order to set the stage for show trials.
The next month, Pravda published stories with text regarding the purported "Jewish bourgeois-nationalist" plotters. After Stalin's death, Nikita Khrushchev made the claim that Stalin hinted that he should incite anti-Semitism in the Ukraine, allegedly telling him that "the good workers at the factory should be given clubs so they can beat the hell out of those Jews." Stalin also ordered falsely accused physicians to be tortured "to death". Regarding the origins of the plot, people who knew Stalin, such as Khrushchev, suggest that Stalin had long harbored negative sentiments toward Jews, and anti-semitic trends in the Kremlin's policies were further fueled by the struggle against Leon Trotsky. In 1946, Stalin allegedly said privately that "every Jew is a potential spy." At the end of January 1953, Stalin's personal physician Miron Vovsi (cousin of Solomon Mikhoels, who was assassinated in 1948 at the orders of Stalin) was arrested within the frame of the plot. Vovsi was released by Beria after Stalin's death in 1953, as was his son-in-law, the composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg.
Some historians have argued that Stalin was also planning to send millions of Jews to four large newly built labor camps in Western Russia using a "Deportation Commission" that would purportedly act to save Soviet Jews from an enraged Soviet population after the Doctors Plot trials. Others argue that any charge of an alleged mass deportation lacks specific documentary evidence. Regardless of whether a plot to deport Jews was planned, in his "Secret Speech" in 1956, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev stated that the Doctors Plot was "fabricated ... set up by Stalin", that Stalin told the judge to beat confessions from the defendants and had told Politburo members "You are blind like young kittens. What will happen without me? The country will perish because you do not know how to recognize enemies."
Stalin's health deteriorated towards the end of World War II. He suffered from atherosclerosis from his heavy smoking, a mild stroke around the time of the Victory Parade, and a severe heart attack in October 1945. On 1 March 1953, Stalin's staff found him unconscious in his bedroom, having urinated down himself. He had suffered a burst blood vessel in the brain; He was moved onto a couch and remained there for three days. He was hand-fed using a spoon, given various medicines and injections, and leeches were applied to him. Svetlana and Vasily were called to the dacha on 2 March; the latter was drunk and angrily shouted at the doctors, resulting in him being sent home. Stalin died on 5 March 1953. According to Svetlana, it had been "a difficult and terrible death".
The political memoirs of Vyacheslav Molotov, published in 1993, claimed that Beria had boasted to Molotov that he poisoned Stalin: "I took him out." Stomach hemorrhage is usually not caused by high blood pressure, but is, along with stroke, consistent with overdose of warfarin, a colourless, tasteless, anticoagulant drug.
Stalin's autopsy, conducted by the Soviet Ministry of Health in March 1953 but not released until 2011, confirmed the cause of death as stroke resulting from high blood pressure, and that hypertension had also caused cardiac hemorrhage (not usually caused by high blood pressure) and gastrointestinal hemorrhage as well. In 2011, Miguel A. Faria, President of Mercer University School of Medicine, retired clinical professor of neurosurgery and adjunct professor of medical history, interpreted the autopsy's composition as the examiners' desire to demonstrate for posterity that they had fulfilled their professional duties as best they could by mentioning the non-cerebral hemorrhages. At the same time they would have provided themselves political cover by purposely attributing the hemorrhages to hypertension instead of poisoning by warfarin. Faria noted that when the autopsy was performed, "Stalin was worshipped as a demigod, and his assassination would have been unacceptable to the Russian populace." He also notes that Stalin experienced renal hemorrhages during his death, which is unlikely to be caused by high blood pressure.
In March, Stalin's corpse lay in state in Moscow's House of Unions for three days. Crowds were such that a crush killed around 100 people. The subsequent funeral involved the body being laid to rest in Lenin's Mausoleum in Red Square on 9 March. That month featured a surge in arrests for "anti-Soviet agitation" as those celebrating Stalin's death came to police attention. On 31 October 1961 his body was removed from the mausoleum and buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis next to the Kremlin walls as part of the process of de-Stalinization.
The Chinese government instituted a period of official mourning for Stalin's death. Mao ordered the flag be flown at half-mast, and banned recreation for three days; he also eulogized Stalin in an article "as a great leader, a Marxist theorist, and a friend of China". On 9 March, the country observed a five-minute period of silence in Stalin's memory.
His demise arrived at a convenient time for Lavrentiy Beria and others, who feared being swept away in yet another purge. It is believed that Stalin felt Beria's power was too great and threatened his own. In March, Georgi Malenkov denounced the Stalin personality cult. The doctors who had been imprisoned were released and the anti-Semitic purges ceased.
After Stalin's death a power struggle for his vacant position took place between the following eight senior members of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union listed according to the order of precedence presented formally on 5 March 1953: Georgy Malenkov, Lavrentiy Beria, Vyacheslav Molotov, Klim Voroshilov, Nikita Khrushchev, Nikolai Bulganin, Lazar Kaganovich, Anastas Mikoyan. The struggle lasted until 1958 and in September of that year, Khrushchev was elected Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Prime Minister, replacing Bulganin who had been elected to the post in March.
In 1956, Khruschev gave his "Secret Speech", On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences, delivered to a closed session of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for the cult of personality surrounding him, and his government for "violations of socialist legality". In February 1956, Khrushchev condemned the deportations as a violation of Leninism and reversed some of them, although it was not until 1991 that Tatars, Meskhetians and Volga Germans were allowed to return en masse to their territories. The memory of the deportations has played a major part in the separatist movements in the Baltic states, Tatarstan and Chechnya.
Marxism was the guiding philosophy throughout Stalin's adult life. According to Montefiore, Marxism held a "quasi-religious" value for Stalin. During his early life, Marxism blended with Georgian nationalism as a core component of his outlook. In 1917, he wrote that "there is dogmatic Marxism and there is creative Marxism. I stand on the ground of the latter". Volkogonov however believed that Stalin's Marxism was shaped by his "dogmatic turn of mind", something that Volkogonov suggested had been instilled in the Soviet leader during his education in religious institutions. According to scholar Robert Service, Stalin's "few innovations in ideology were crude, dubious developments of Marxism". Some of these derived from political expediency rather than any sincere intellectual commitment. Stalin referred to himself as a praktic, meaning that he was more of a practical revolutionary than a theoretician.
As a Marxist, Stalin believed in an inevitable class war between the world's working and middle classes. He believed that the working classes would prove successful in this struggle and would establish a dictatorship of the proletariat. He also believed that this proletarian state would need to introduce repressive measures to ensure the full crushing of the propertied classes, and thus the class war would intensify with the advance of socialism. The new state would then be able to ensure that all citizens had access to work, food, shelter, healthcare, and education, with the wastefulness of capitalism eliminated by a new, standardised economic system.
Stalin claimed to be a loyal Leninist. Nevertheless, he was—according to Service—"not a blindly obedient Leninist". Stalin respected Lenin, but not uncritically, and spoke out when he believed that Lenin was wrong. During the period of his revolutionary activity, Stalin regarded some of Lenin's views and actions as being the self-indulgent activities of a spoiled émigré, deeming them counterproductive for those Bolshevik activists based within the Russian Empire itself. After the October Revolution, they continued to have differences. Whereas Lenin believed that all countries across Europe and Asia would readily unite as a single state following proletariat revolution, Stalin argued that national pride would prevent this, and that different socialist states would have to be formed; in his view, a country like Germany would not readily submit to being part of a Russian-dominated federal state. Stalin biographer Oleg Khlevniuk nevertheless believed that the pair developed a "strong bond" over the years, and after Lenin's death, Stalin relied heavily on Lenin's writings—far more so than those of Marx and Engels—to guide him in the affairs of state.
Stalin adopted the Leninist view on the need for a revolutionary vanguard who could lead the proletariat rather than being led by them. He also believed that the Soviet peoples needed a strong, central figure—akin to a Tsar—whom they could rally around. He read about, and admired, two Tsars in particular: Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great.
Stalin viewed nations as contingent entities which were formed by capitalism and could merge into others. Ultimately he believed that all nations would merge into a single, global human community. In his work, he stated that "the right of secession" should be offered to the ethnic-minorities of the Russian Empire, but that they should not be encouraged to take that option. He was of the view that if they became fully autonomous, then they would end up being controlled by the most reactionary elements of their community; as an example he cited the largely illiterate Tatars, whom he claimed would end up dominated by their mullahs. Khlevniuk therefore argued that Stalin reconciled Marxism with imperialism. According to Service, Stalin's Marxism was imbued with a great deal of Russian nationalism. However, according to Montefiore, Stalin's embrace of the Russian nation was pragmatic, as the Russians were the core of the population of the USSR; it was not a rejection of his Georgian origins. Stalin's push for Soviet westward expansion into eastern Europe resulted in accusations of Russian imperialism.
Stalin avoided using the term "Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism", although he allowed others to do so. Stalinism was a development of Leninism. The Stalinist blend of Russian nationalism, Marxism, and state atheism was—according to Service—"so idiosyncratic a compilation as to be virtually [Stalin's] own invention".
In adulthood, Stalin measured 5 feet 4 inches (1.63 m) tall. To give the impression that he was taller, he wore stacked shoes, and stood on a small wooden platform during parades. His mustached face was pock-marked from smallpox during childhood. He was born with a webbed left foot, and his left arm had been permanently injured in childhood which left it shorter than his right and lacking in flexibility, which was probably the result of when he was aged 12 he was hit by a horse-drawn carriage. During his youth, he usually wore a red satin shirt, grey coat, and red fedora, or alternately a traditional Georgian chokha and white hood. At the time he grew his hair long and often had a beard. His cultivation of a scruffy appearance deliberately sought to reject middle-class aesthetic values. After the summer of 1918 until his death he took to wearing military-style clothing, in particular long black boots and a light-coloured collarless tunics, and also carried a gun. He was a smoker, who favoured smoking a pipe.
Stalin was ethnically Georgian, and had grown up speaking the Georgian language, only learning Russian when aged eight or nine. Stalin remained proud of his Georgian identity and culture, and throughout his life, he retained his Georgian accent when speaking Russian. According to Montefiore, his adoption of Russian culture has been exaggerated, and he was profoundly Georgian in his lifestyle and personality, spending much of his final years in his homeland. Montefiore was of the view that "after 1917, he became quadri-national: Georgian by nationality, Russian by loyalty, internationalist by ideology, Soviet by citizenship." Service stated that Stalin "would never be Russian", could not credibly pass as one and contrary to what has been previously suggested, he never really tried to be one. Stalin was described as "Asiatic" by his colleagues, and told a Japanese journalist, "I am not a European man, but an Asian, a Russified Georgian".
Stalin's (Russian: Ио́сиф Виссарио́нович Ста́лин, pronounced [ˈjɵsʲɪf vʲɪsɐˈrʲɵnəvʲɪtɕ ˈstalʲɪn]) original Georgian name is transliterated as "Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili" (Georgian: იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი [iɔsɛb bɛsɑriɔnis dzɛ dʒuɣɑʃvili]). The Russian transliteration of his name Ио́сиф Виссарио́нович Джугашви́ли is in turn transliterated to English as "Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili". Like other Bolsheviks, he became commonly known by one of his revolutionary noms de guerre, of which "Stalin" was only the last. "Stalin" is based on the Russian word сталь stal, meaning "steel", and the name as a whole is supposed to mean "man of steel". Prior nicknames included "Koba", "Soselo", "Ivanov" and many others.
Stalin had a soft voice, and when speaking Russian he did so slowly, carefully choosing his phrasing. Although he avoided doing so in public, in private Stalin used coarse language. Described as a poor orator, according to Volkogonov, Stalin's speaking style was "simple and clear, without flights of fancy, catchy phrases or platform histrionics". He rarely spoke before large audiences, and preferred to express himself in written form. His writing style was similar, being characterised by its simplicity, clarity, and conciseness.
Trotsky and several other Soviet figures promoted the idea that Stalin was a mediocrity. This idea gained widespread acceptance outside the Soviet Union but was misleading. According to Montefiore, "it is clear from hostile and friendly witnesses alike that Stalin was always exceptional, even from childhood". Stalin had a complex mind. He had a great deal of self-control, and rarely raised his voice in anger, although as his health declined in later life he became increasingly unpredictable and bad tempered. A hard worker, he displayed a keen desire to learn, and had an excellent memory. When in power, he scrutinised many details of Soviet life, from film scripts to architectural plans and military hardware. He was a capable actor who could play many different roles to different audiences; he often lied or sought to deceive others as to his motivates and aims. He judged others according to their inner strength, practicality, and cleverness. Despite his short temper and tough-talking attitude, he could be very charming; when relaxed, he cracked jokes and mimicked others.
Stalin was ruthless, temperamentally cruel, and had a propensity for violence excessive even among the Bolsheviks. He lacked compassion, something which Volkogonov suggested might have been accentuated by his many years spent in prison and exile, although he was capable of acts of kindness to strangers, even amid the Great Terror. Service stated that Stalin "derived deep satisfaction" from degrading and humiliating people, and that he "delighted" in keeping even close associates in a state of "unrelieved fear". He was capable of self-righteous indignation, and was both resentful, and vengeful, holding onto grievances against others for many years. He was also suspicious and conspiratorial, prone to believing that people were plotting against him and that there were vast international conspiracies behind acts of dissent. According to Montefiore, Stalin's "Messiah-complex led him to believe that anyone opposed to him was an enemy of the cause". Montefiore thought that Stalin's brutality marked him out as a "natural extremist"; Service suggested that he had a paranoid or sociopathic personality disorder, with this "dangerously damaged" personality supplying "the high-octane fuel for the journey to the Great Terror". By the period of glasnost and perestroika, Soviet psychologists were openly debating whether Stalin had been insane.
Stalin admired artistic talent, and protected several Soviet writers, such as Mikhail Bulgakov, even when their work was regarded as harmful to his regime. He enjoyed listening to music, owning around 2,700 albums. His taste in music and theatre was conservative, favouring classical drama, opera, and ballet over what he dismissed as experimental "formalism". He was a voracious reader, with a library of over 20,000 books. Little of this was fiction, although he knew passages from the work of Alexander Pushkin and Nikolay Nekrasov by heart and could also recite Walt Whitman. He spent much time in the Kremlin cinema, where he enjoyed watching films with other high-ranking officials late at night. Stalin enjoyed drinking, and would often force those around him to join in, preferring Georgian wine over Russian vodka. He enjoyed practical jokes, for instance by putting a tomato on the seat of Politburo members and waiting for them to sit on it. As an infant, Stalin had displayed a love of flowers, and later in life he became a keen gardener. His dacha in the Moscow suburb of Volynskoe was surrounded by a 50-acre park, with Stalin devoting much attention to its agricultural activities. Stalin was also an accomplished billiards player.
Stalin disliked travel, and was afraid of flying. As leader of the USSR, he rarely left Moscow, unless to go to his dacha or on holiday. In 1934, his new dacha was built: the Kuntsevo Dacha. Beside his suite in the Kremlin, Stalin had numerous domiciles. In 1919, he started with a country house near Usovo, he added dachas at Zuvalova and Kuntsevo (Blizhny dacha built by Miron Merzhanov). Before World War II he added the Lipki estate and Semyonovskaya and had at least four dachas in the south by 1937, including one near Sochi. A luxury villa near Gagri was given to him by Beria. In Abkhazia he maintained a mountain retreat. After the war he added dachas at Novy Afon, near Sukhumi, in the Valdai Hills, and at Lake Mitsa. Another estate was near Zelyony Myss on the Black Sea. All these dachas, estates, and palaces were staffed, well-furnished and equipped, kept safe by security forces, and were mainly used privately, rarely for diplomatic purposes. After 1932, he favoured Abkhazia as a holiday destination, being a friend of its leader, Nestor Lakoba.
Friendship was important to Stalin, and he used it to gain and maintain power. After he came to power, Stalin and the other members of the ruling team, Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Anastas Mikoyan, Klim Voroshilov, Andrei Andreev, Sergei Kirov, Valerian Kuibyshev, Sergo Ordzhonikidze, Mikhail Kalinin, Andrei Zhdanov, Khrushchev, Georgy Malenkov, Lavrenty Beria, Stanislav Kosior, Vlas Chubar, Pavel Postyshev, and Nikolai Voznesensky socialized mainly with each other. In the early years most of them had young children and Stalin's wife Nadezhda Alliluyeva was alive. Later, after World War II, as Stalin became more suspicious of his colleagues, his relationships with other members of the ruling group, now older men, became more forced.
Stalin was sociable and enjoyed a joke. While head of the Soviet Union he remained in contact with many of his old friends in Georgia, sending them letters and gifts of money. According to Montefiore, Stalin "rarely seems to have been without a girlfriend". He was sexually promiscuous, although rarely talked about his sex life. Montefiore noted that Stalin's favoured types were "young, malleable teenagers or buxom peasant women", who would be supportive and unchallenging toward him. According to Service, Stalin "regarded women as a resource for sexual gratification and domestic comfort".
Stalin married his first wife Ekaterina Svanidze in 1906. According to Montefiore, theirs was "a true love match"; Volkogonov suggested that she was "probably the one human being he had really loved". They had a son Yakov, who often frustrated and annoyed Stalin. Yakov had a daughter, Galina, before joining the Red Army and fighting in the Second World War. He was captured by the German Army and then committed suicide. Stalin's second wife was Nadezhda Alliluyeva; theirs was not an easy relationship, and they often rowed. They had two biological children—a son, Vasiliy, and a daughter, Svetlana—and adopted another son, Artyom Sergeev, in 1921. Stalin adored his daughter and had an affectionate relationship with her; he was also very fond of Artyom. During his marriage to Nadezhda, Stalin had affairs with many other women, most of whom were fellow revolutionaries or their wives. Nadezdha suspected that this was the case, and committed suicide in 1932.
According to Edvard Radzinsky he also had a long-term relationship with his housekeeper Valentina Istomina, beginning in 1934. Stalin had at least two illegitimate children. One of these, Constantin Kuzakova, later taught philosophy at the Leningrad Military Mechanical Institute, but never met his father. The other, Alexander, was the son of Lidia Pereprygia; he was raised as the son of a peasant fisherman and the Soviet authorities made him swear never to reveal that Stalin was his biological father.
The historian Robert Conquest stated that Stalin, "perhaps more than any other [person,] determined the course of the twentieth century".
Stalin strengthened and stabilised the Soviet Union. Service suggested that without Stalin's leadership the Soviet Union might have collapsed long before 1991. By the time of his death, the country had been transformed into a world power and industrial colossus, with a literate population.
Various biographers have described him as a dictator, an autocrat, or accused him of Caesarism, and in both the Soviet Union and elsewhere he came to be portrayed as an "Oriental despot". The biographer Dmitri Volkogonov characterised him as "one of the most powerful figures in human history", while Service noted that by the late 1930s, Stalin "had come closer to personal despotism than almost any monarch in history". Service however cautioned against the conventional portrayal of Stalin as an "unimpeded despot", noting that "powerful though he was, his powers were not limitless". Rather, his personal rule depended on his willingness to conserve the Soviet structure that he had inherited. Khlevniuk noted that at various points, particularly when Stalin was old and frail, there were "periodic manifestations" in which the party oligarchy threatened his autocratic control. Stalin denied to foreign visitors that he was a dictator, stating that those who labelled him such did not understand the Soviet governance structure.
Stalin was repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism; Conquest for instance stated that although Stalin had Jewish associates, he promoted anti-Semitism. Service noted that during his lifetime, Stalin "would be the friend, associate or leader of countless individual Jews". He has also been described as a terrorist for his revolutionary activities in Georgia.
A vast literature devoted to Stalin has been produced; it is so substantial that even specialists could not read it all. During Stalin's lifetime, his approved biographies were largely hagiographic in content. Stalin ensured that these works gave very little attention to his early life, particularly because he did not wish to emphasise his Georgian origins in a state numerically dominated by Russians. A large number of Stalin biographies have been published since his death. Until the 1980s, these relied largely on the same sources of information as each other. Under the administration of Mikhail Gorbachev a number of previously classified files on Lenin's life were made available to historians, with the rest being released after the fall of the Soviet Union. Much new information on Stalin's early life came with the post-Soviet opening of archives, particularly in Georgia. This resulted in a flood of new research. Conquest expressed the view that during the period of glasnost initiated by Gorbachev, Stalin and Stalinism became "one of the most urgent and vital issues on the public agenda".
Leninists remain divided in their views on Stalin. Some view him as the authentic successor to Lenin, who continued and developed his legacy, while others believe that Stalin betrayed Lenin's ideas by deviating from them.
According to the historian Robert Service, Stalin was "one of the most notorious figures in history", one who ordered "the systematic killing of people on a massive scale". Khlevniuk stated that Stalin's actions "upended or utterly destroyed literally millions upon millions of lives". Service regarded the Georgian as "one of the twentieth century's outstanding politicians". Montefiore regarded Stalin as "that rare combination: both 'intellectual' and killer", a man who was "the ultimate politician" and "the most elusive and fascinating of the twentieth-century titans". Montefiore suggested that Stalin was ultimately responsible for the deaths of between 20 and 25 million people, with Khlevniuk stating that at least 60 million people faced some form of repression or discrimination under Stalin's regime. Official records show that 800,000 were shot in the Soviet Union between 1930 and 1952, although a larger number died during torture or as a result of poor conditions in labour camps. Many more died as a result of famines and starvation; between 5 and 7 million died during the 1932–33 famine.
According to official Soviet estimates, more than 14 million people passed through the Gulag from 1929 to 1953, with a further 7 to 8 million being deported and exiled to remote areas of the Soviet Union (including entire nationalities in several cases).
Before the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, researchers who attempted to count the number of people killed during the period of Stalin produced estimates ranging from 3 to 60 million. After the Soviet Union dissolved, evidence from the Soviet archives also became available, containing official records of 799,455 executions (1921–1953), around 1.7 million deaths in the Gulag and some 390,000 deaths during kulak forced resettlement – with a total of about 2.9 million officially recorded victims in these categories.
The official Soviet archival records do not contain comprehensive figures for some categories of victims, such as those of ethnic deportations or of German population transfers in the aftermath of World War II. Eric D. Weitz wrote, "By 1948, according to Nicolas Werth, the mortality rate of the 600,000 people deported from the Caucasus between 1943 and 1944 had reached 25%." Other notable exclusions from NKVD data on repression deaths include the Katyn massacre, other executions in the newly occupied areas, and the mass shooting of Red Army personnel (deserters and so-called deserters) in 1941. The Soviets executed 158,000 soldiers for desertion during the war, and the "blocking detachments" of the NKVD shot thousands more. Also, the official statistics on Gulag mortality exclude deaths of prisoners taking place shortly after their release but which resulted from treatment in the camps. Some historians also believe that the official archival figures of the categories that were recorded by Soviet authorities are unreliable and incomplete. In addition to failures regarding comprehensive recordings, as one additional example, Canadian historian Robert Gellately and British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore argue that the many suspects beaten and tortured to death while in "investigative custody" were likely not to have been counted amongst the executed.
Historians working after the Soviet Union's dissolution have estimated victim totals ranging from approximately 4 million to nearly 10 million, not including those who died in famines. Russian writer Vadim Erlikman, for example, makes the following estimates: executions, 1.5 million; gulags, 5 million; deportations, 1.7 million out of 7.5 million deported; and POWs and German civilians, 1 million – a total of about 9 million victims of repression.
Some have also included the deaths of 6 to 8 million people in the 1932–1933 famine among the victims of repression during the period of Stalin. This categorization is controversial however, as historians differ as to whether the famine in Ukraine was created as a deliberate part of the campaign of repression against kulaks and others, was an unintended consequence of the struggle over forced collectivization or was simply primarily a result of natural factors.
Accordingly, if famine victims are included, a minimum of around 10 million deaths—6 million from famine and 4 million from other causes—are attributable to the period, with a number of recent historians suggesting a likely total of around 20 million, citing much higher victim totals from executions, Gulag camps, deportations and other causes. Adding 6–8 million famine victims to Erlikman's estimates above, for example, would yield a total of between 15 and 17 million victims. English-American researcher Robert Conquest, meanwhile, has revised his original estimate of up to 30 million victims down to 20 million. In his most recent edition of The Great Terror (2007), Conquest states that while exact numbers may never be known with complete certainty, at least 15 million people were either executed or worked to death in the camps. Rudolph Rummel maintains that the earlier higher victim total estimates are correct, although he includes those killed by the government of the Soviet Union in other Eastern European countries as well. Some of these estimates rely in part on demographic losses as American historian Richard Pipes noted: "Censuses revealed that between 1932 and 1939—that is, after collectivization but before World War II—the population decreased by 9 to 10 million people." and Conquest explained how he arrived at his estimate: "I suggest about eleven million by the beginning of 1937, and about three million over the period 1937–38, making fourteen million. The eleven-odd million is readily deduced from the undisputed population deficit shown in the suppressed census of January 1937, of fifteen to sixteen million, by making reasonable assumptions about how this was divided between birth deficit and deaths." American historian Timothy D. Snyder has assessed the evolution of research on the numbers as follows:
Today, after two decades of access to Eastern European archives, and thanks to the work of German, Russian, Israeli, and other scholars, we can resolve the question of numbers. The total number of noncombatants killed by the Germans—about 11 million—is roughly what we had thought. The total number of civilians killed by the Soviets, however, is considerably less than we had believed. We know now that the Germans killed more people than the Soviets did.[...] All in all, the Germans deliberately killed about 11 million noncombatants, a figure that rises to more than 12 million if foreseeable deaths from deportation, hunger, and sentences in concentration camps are included. For the Soviets during the Stalin period, the analogous figures are approximately six million and nine million. These figures are of course subject to revision, but it is very unlikely that the consensus will change again as radically as it has since the opening of Eastern European archives in the 1990s.
Although Khrushchev initiated a de-Stalinisation process across the Soviet Union, he was removed from power in 1964 and replace by Leonid Brezhnev. There followed a level of re-Stalinisation in Soviet society. In 1969 and again in 1979, plans were proposed for a full rehabilitation of Stalin's legacy; both were defeated by complaints both domestically and from foreign Communist parties.
Stalin remains a revered figure among many Russian nationalists, who feel nostalgic about the Soviet victory in World War II against Nazi Germany. Across much of the former Soviet Union, Stalin is closely associated with Soviet victory in the conflict, and is admired as a wartime leader even by those who reject his repressions. In a 2006 survey, over 35% of Russians stated that they would vote for Stalin. In a 2007 poll, 54% of Russian youth stated that Stalin did more good than bad and 46% disagreed with the statement that Stalin was a "cruel tyrant". In the 2008 Name of Russia television show, Stalin was voted as the third most notable personality in Russian history. A 2017 poll revealed that Stalin's popularity reached a 16-year high among the Russian population, with 46% expressing a favourable view of him. At the same time, there was a growth in pro-Stalinist literature in Russia, much of which relies upon the misrepresentation or fabrication of source material. In this literature, Stalin's repressions are regarded either as a necessary measure to defeat "enemies of the people" or the result of lower-level officials acting without Stalin's knowledge.
In a 2012 opinion survey commissioned by the Carnegie Endowment, 38% of Armenians agreed with the statement, “Our people will always have need of a leader like Stalin, who will come and restore order.” 68% of Georgians called Stalin a “wise leader.” A 2013 survey by Tbilisi University found that 45% of Georgians expressed "a positive attitude to Stalin". Many Georgians resent criticism of Stalin, the most famous figure from their nation's modern history.
In a poll taken by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology in February 2013, 37% of all Ukrainians had "a negative attitude to the figure of Stalin" and 22% "a positive [one]". Positive attitudes prevailed in East Ukraine (36%) and South Ukraine (27%) and negative attitudes in West Ukraine (64%) and Central Ukraine (39%). In the age group 18–29, 16% had positive feelings towards Stalin. In early 2010 a Ukrainian court posthumously convicted Stalin of genocide against the Ukrainian nation during the Soviet famine of 1932–1933. In the spring of 2010 a new monument in honor of Stalin was erected in Zaporizhia. In late December 2010 the statue had his head cut off by unidentified vandals and the following New Year's Eve it was completely destroyed in an explosion. In a Kiev International Institute of Sociology poll taken in February 2016, 38% of all respondents had a negative attitude to Stalin, 26% had a neutral one and 17% had a positive (19% refused to answer).
In January 2010 a Ukrainian court found Josef Stalin, Lazar Kaganovich, Stanislav Kosior and other leaders of the former Soviet Union guilty of genocide by "organizing mass famine in Ukraine in 1932–1933." However, the court "dropped criminal proceedings over the suspects' deaths". While historians continue to disagree whether the policies that led to Holodomor fall under the legal definition of genocide, twenty-six countries have officially recognized the Holodomor as such. On 28 November 2006, the Ukrainian Parliament approved a bill declaring the Soviet-era forced famine an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. Michael Ellman believes that Ukrainians were victims of genocide in 1932–33 according to a more relaxed definition that is favoured by some specialists in the field of genocide studies. He asserts that Soviet policies greatly exacerbated the famine's death toll. Although 1.8 million tonnes of grain were exported during the height of the starvation, enough to feed 5 million people for one year, Ellman believes that the use of torture and execution to extract grain under the Law of Spikelets, the use of force to prevent starving peasants from fleeing the worst-affected areas and the refusal to import grain or secure international humanitarian aid to alleviate conditions led to human suffering in the Ukraine. Ellman claims that Stalin intended to use the starvation as a cheap and efficient means (as opposed to deportations and shootings) to kill off those deemed to be "counterrevolutionaries," "idlers," and "thieves," but not to annihilate the Ukrainian peasantry as a whole. Ellman also claims that, while this was not the only Soviet genocide (e.g., the Polish operation of the NKVD), it was the worst in terms of mass casualties.