Soviet statesman, head of the government and
a leader of the Communist party in 1920s - 1950s. Iosif Vissarionovich
Jugashvili (Stalinss real name) was born on 21st December
1878, to a poor shoemaker family in Georgia, then a remote Caucasus
province of the Russian Empire. Apparently due to the introduction
of a modern calendar in Russia (1918) with two weeks difference
in dates, Stalins year of birth later was often quoted as
Five years of religious schooling was the only
formal education he has ever received. Yet he devoted much time
to reading and self-education. From his youth, Stalin was involved
in a revolutionary movement in the ranks of the illegal Russian
Social-Democratic Party. In 1903 he joined the left-wing fraction
of this party, better known as "Bolsheviks." Like many
other revolutionaries, he acquired several pseudonyms, one of
which--Stalin (a man of steel)--later became his official surname.
As a revolutionary antigovernment conspirator,
Stalin was arrested six times by the imperial police and was exiled.
In 1912, the Bolsheviks leader, Vladimir I. Ulyanov (Lenin),
promoted Stalin to the Central Committee of the Bolshevik party.
However, prior to the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, Stalin was
neither well-known, nor popular among the fellow revolutionaries
and his role in the Russian revolutionary movement was insignificant.
His ascent to power started in the early 1920s
after the Russian Civil War and a formation of the Soviet Union
(USSR). In 1922, Stalin was appointed to a newly-established position
of the Secretary General of the Bolshevik Communist party, the
seemingly subsidiary desk job for control over documentation and
personnel matters. Yet he skilfully used this position to implement
Lenins idea of a total Communist party control through the
trusted party members installed into key positions all around
the country. That gave Stalin a crucial leverage in a power struggle
inside the Communist party following Lenins death in 1924.
By 1929, Stalin emerged as an unrivalled dictator with limitless
powers, having all his opponents disgraced and demoted. Later,
he ordered to murder them all.
Official propaganda created Stalins personality
cult, treating him as a living God. New, alternative history of
the revolution was introduced where Stalin played central role.
Any deviation from the "political correctness" was prohibited,
any dissent was immediately suppressed. Stalins system of
ideological brainwashing became a model for George Orwells
classic fiction novel "1984."
Stalin is mostly remembered for an unprecedented
campaign of purges (also known as the "Great Terror")
that accompanied his policy of a forceful centralization and modernization
of the Soviet industry and agriculture in the 1930s. The entire
class of small farmers was brutally destroyed and private land
was confiscated. By Stalins own account, ten million people
lost their lives. Other three million were subjected to a slave
labour in the GULAG* concentration camps. At a pinnacle of the
Great Terror (1937 - 1938), Stalin ordered the destruction of
the top Armed Forces leadership, critically weakening the USSR
Considering himself a great visionary, Stalin
often made decisions based on his assumptions, rather than facts.
One of his greatest blunders was a gross miscalculation of German
intentions. Hoping to buy additional time for war preparation
against Germany, Stalin stunned the world by signing the nonaggression
pact with Hitler (1939). Until the last moment, he stubbornly
ignored numerous warnings of the imminent German aggression.
During the war
with Germany (1941 - 1945), Stalin occupied all top positions
in the USSR establishment: along with being the Communist party
Secretary General, he simultaneously was the Prime-Minister, Defence
Commissar (minister), Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief and the
Chairman of the State Defence Committee. He personally supervised
all operations of the Soviet Armed Forces, creating yet another
myth of his "military genius." In reality, however,
Stalin just allowed his generals to prepare military campaigns
in a professional manner after several devastating defeats, that
had resulted from his improper interference. Stalin also demonstrated
diplomatic talent, skilfully persuading the United States President
Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime-Minister Winston Churchill
to form an alliance with the Soviet Union against Germany and
to provide military supplies to the USSR.
Stalin always paid utmost attention to military
industry, directly supervising nomenclature of military materiel,
procurement and production schedules. Despite the war efforts,
he ordered the fundamental research in nuclear weapons in 1942.
That research along with espionage on American
nuclear project allowed the USSR to obtain the atomic bomb
in 1949. On the 13th May 1946, Stalin authorized a top secret
decree, "The Issues of Reactive Weapons," launching
a massive development of missile technology. This date is celebrated
in Russia as the birthday of the modern rocket-space industry.
An ascetic loner and a "workaholic,"
Stalin spent long hours in his office, often working late at night.
That forced the entire government apparatus to work accordingly.
He never had a happy family life, his first wife died early, while
the second wife committed suicide. Stalins older son (from
the first marriage), Yakov Jugashvili, the Red Army officer, became
a prisoner of war and died in a German concentration camp. Stalin
reportedly refused to exchange him for the German Field-Marshal
von Paulus, captured by the Red Army in 1943. Younger son, Vasili
Stalin, flew combat missions as a fighter pilot and quickly grew
up in ranks from a Lieutenant to a Lieutenant General in just
eight years. After Stalins death, Vasili was demoted and
jailed for an alleged power abuse. He eventually died of alcoholism
in exile. Stalins daughter, Svetlana Alilluyeva, obtained
the worlds notoriety after her sudden defection to the USA
in 1967 and a publication of a book about her farther. She lives
in Great Britain avoiding any publicity.
Although he had never been in a regular military
service, Stalin accepted the highest military rank of Marshal
of the Soviet Union in 1943. After victory in World War II, he
was also awarded the unusual title of the Generalissimo of the
Soviet Union (1945). His top state awards included two Gold Stars
of the Hero of the Soviet Union and the Hero of Socialist Labour,
two Orders of Lenin, two Orders of Victory, Order of Suvorov and
three Orders of the Combat Red Banner.
Stalin unexpectedly died of a stroke on the 5th
March 1953, at the age of 74.
To the present day, Stalin remains one of the
most controversial figures in Russian history. Many people in
Russia still see him not as a bloody dictator but as a strong
ruler, who introduced the so-much-needed order and discipline
and promoted the Soviet Union to the superpower status.
* GULAG an official abbreviation of the
Prison Camps Chief Directorate, a unit of the Interior Commissariat
(NKVD) in the 1930s-1940s. The word "gulags," that is
widely used in Western literature on Russia, is incorrect.