Brutal ruler of communist Russiaby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Joseph Stalin worked his way from a poor peasant to the ruler of the largest country in the world. He helped overthrow the Tsarist government, win the Russian civil war, industrialize Russia, defeat Hitler in World War II, and earned New York Times’ ‘Man of the Year’. Sound like a man worth learning about?
Joseph Stalin was born poor on December 21st 1879 in Gori, Georgia. His father was a shoemaker who died during Joseph’s childhood. Joseph’s mother was a religious woman and knew that the only future hope for her son was for him to become a priest. This was one of a scant collection of occupations that would allow a child to climb out of poverty. She enrolled him at a seminary school, where his brilliance showed through and he earned a scholarship to Tiflis Theological Seminary. Although Joseph’s studies at the Seminary didn’t last long, his style of writing and speaking was influenced by his time there. In 1899 Joseph got involved with the revolutionary socialist party, Messame Dassy, and was expelled from the University for advocating socialist theory. This abruptly ended Joseph's religious education and may have been the reason for Stalin's widespread destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church during his reign.
Stalin entered the Russian political scene when the working class was angry with Tsar Nicholas II for unacceptable living conditions that resulted from Russia’s horrible and embarrassing losses due to a war with Japan. Joseph joined the Social Democratic Labour Party, and organized strikes and protests of workers, in an overall attempt of socialists to overthrow the Tsarist government. Stalin was exiled to Siberia for his actions against the government, but escaped a year and half later, and joined the Bolsheviks, headed by Vladimir Lenin. He earned Lenin’s recognition and became the editor of Pravda, a Socialist newspaper.
While Stalin was again exiled in Siberia, World War I ravaged Russia. Tsar Nicolas took over the army himself and created a disaster. There were food shortages, and poor living conditions. Tsar Nicolas II was overthrown in 1917 and his Duma, the advisory council Nicolas had set up in 1905 to appease the workers cry for reform, took over. The Duma allowed all political prisoners to return from exile, so Stalin returned to Russia. He advocated the government of the Duma, called the Provisional Government, until Lenin denounced the its supporters. Lenin boosted Stalin to the position of Commissar of Nationalities, which gave him control over all the minority groups in Russia. These groups made up a significant percentage of Russia’s people. Struggles with the minority groups and resistors of the Communist Revolution caused the Russian Civil war. Joseph assisted the Red, Communist army in many roles including Inspector General.
The war weakened Russia and Lenin. During the civil war all property and factories were nationalized and even freedom of expression was taken away. At the end of the war when Lenin introduced the New Economic Plan, which reinstated a limited amount of free commerce, he was too weak from a bullet wound to handle the opposition to the plan. Lenin set up the position of General Secretary in 1922 and appointed Stalin. It turned out to be Stalin’s rise to complete power, in the newly formed USSR.
Stalin’s position gave him the power to head inner sections of the Communist Party that investigated leaders and ousted those who were found lacking or disloyal to the party. Lenin was nervous when Stalin began to deviate from his ideas, and in his last will and testament he wrote that he didn’t want Stalin to succeed him. Stalin was able to keep Trotsky, the leader of the Red Army and Stalin’s greatest enemy, from disclosing this information and used the competition among party members to rid it of all opposition to himself. (In 1940 Stalin had the exiled Trotsky assassinated in Mexico.) Stalin got his enemies to kill and remove each other, so that by 1928 Stalin was in control.
Joseph Stalin began his ‘reign’ by condemning the kulaks, or land owning peasants that had become wealthy. He claimed that they were not putting the Soviet Union as their first priority and not providing industry workers with enough food. Stalin forced the people to set up collective farms that were owned by the government. 5 million kulaks and farmers were exiled because they were too wealthy, objected, or refused to farm collectively. The collective farms didn’t increase the food supply and in fact there were great food shortages. Next, Stalin set up a Five-Year Plan to industrialize Russia. He demanded that there be a 111% increase in coal production, 200% increase in iron, and 335% increase in electrical production. If workers didn’t meet these standards or were thought to be destroying the Plan, and were exiled. Stalin went against his advisors and broke with normal communist ideas. Because of these actions he began to lose popularity. He once had support and friends in the party, but now found himself somewhat alone, even his wife committed suicide. Stalin was reclusive, randomly moving between his apartment and house in fear of assassination. Stalin became very suspicious and began to destroy all those in his party who might possibly be against him. In 1936-37 he purged the Red Army of those he thought were in conspiracy with Germany: 50% of the officers died, and afterwards he killed everyone who had too much information about the purge.
In June of 1941, Stalin’s fears of a German invasion of the USSR were confirmed. Stalin was a mastermind of WWII, he forbid his men from giving up by ordering a second line to advance behind the first in order to shoot fellow soldiers who might retreat. He said, ""In the Societ army it takes more courage to retreat than advance". Finally in 1943, the Red Army kept Stalingrad from falling to the winter afflicted, supply short Germans. This caused Germany to continue retreating until the end of the war. If Stalin’s army had not held it’s own, Hitler would have had a wide open, easy path to conquer all of Europe. Although Stalin was a ruthless man, whose mismanagement led to twenty million Russians dying in battle and even more dying from his Five-Year-Plans, while he did whatever necessary to keep himself in power, Russia helped save Europe from the horrors of Hitler.
For the last 10 years of his life, Stalin met with WWII allies and rebuilt the war devastated Communist USSR. In doing so he took over several European nations, communized them, and blockaded them from the west. He didn’t trust Western Europe and the United States and feared they would invade. Stalin supported Mao's Communist revolution and encouraged communist N. Korea to invade S. Korea, bringing on the Korean War. The "Cold War" which began as the iron curtain fell across Eastern Europe and the Berlin Wall rose to keep citizens trapped inside, intensified as the Stalin's intentions to extend communism over all the world became clearer to the Western powers. Stalin continued his pattern of destroying and purging his enemies until he death from a brain hemorrhage in 1953.
Raised as a poor peasant, Stalin must have hated the rich and desired all to be equal. Communism appeals to this and a desire for wealth and control pushed him to power. Stalin did much to help Russia and the world in WWII but killed millions in pursuit of his ideas and dictatorship. To his calloused heart, "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic."
Hopkinson, Christina. The Usborne History of ‘The Twentieth Century’,
ed. Jane Chisholm. Tusla: EDC Publishing, 1993. Selected readings.
Simkin, John. <a href=“ http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RUSstalin.htm”> “Joseph Stalin” </a> Spartacus Educational. Accessed October 9, 2003
Simmonds, George W. <a href=”http://www.grolier.com/wwii/wwii_stalin.html”> “Joseph Stalin” </a> Scholastic. Accessed October 9, 2003
“Joseph Stalin: <<Die, But Do Not Retreat>>.” Time, January 4, 1943. As reproduced in <a href=” http://www.katardat.org/Stalin/EN/text/documents/manyear-time1942.html”>. Accessed October 9, 2003