Josef Vissarionovich Stalin

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Stalin, Josef Vissarionovich


(real surname, Dzhugash-vili). Born Dec. 9 (21), 1879, in Gori, in what is now the Georgian SSR; died Mar. 5, 1953, in Moscow. One of the leaders of the Communist Party, Soviet state, and international communist and workers’ movement. Prominent theorist and propagandist of Marxism-Leninism.

The son of a shoemaker, Stalin graduated from the Gori church school in 1894 and entered the Tbilisi Orthodox Seminary. Under the influence of Russian Marxists living in Transcaucasia he became involved in the revolutionary movement, studying the works of K. Marx, F. Engels, V. I. Lenin, and G. V. Plekhanov in an illegal group. Stalin was a member of the CPSU from 1898. As a member of Mesame-dasi, a Social Democratic group, he propagandized Marxist ideas among the workers of the Tbilisi railroad shops.

In 1899, Stalin was expelled from the seminary for revolutionary activity, went underground, and became a professional revolutionary. He was a member of the Tbilisi, Caucasian Union, and Baku committees of the RSDLP and helped publish the newspapers Brdzola (The Struggle), Proletariatis brdzola (The Struggle of the Proletariat), Bakinskii proletarii (Baku Proletarian), Gudok (The Whistle), and Bakinskii rabochii (Baku Worker). He also took an active part in the Revolution of 1905–07 in Transcaucasia. From the moment that the RSDLP was founded, Stalin upheld Lenin’s ideas of strengthening the revolutionary Marxist party and supported the Bolshevik strategy and tactics of proletarian class struggle. He was a confirmed advocate of Bolshevism and unmasked the opportunistic line of the Mensheviks and anarchists in the revolution. Stalin was a delegate to the First Conference of the RSDLP, held in Tammerfors in 1905, as well as to the Fourth (1906) and Fifth (1907) Congresses of the RSDLP.

In the period of his underground revolutionary activity Stalin was arrested and exiled several times. In January 1912, at a session of the Central Committee that had been elected by the Sixth (Prague) All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP, Stalin was co-opted into the Central Committee in absentia and made a member of its Russian Bureau. While working in St. Petersburg in 1912–13, he was a frequent contributor to the newspapers Zvezda (Star) and Pravda (Truth). In 1912 he attended the Kraków meeting of the Central Committee of the RSDLP and party workers. At this time Stalin wrote his Marxism and the National Question, in which he discussed the Leninist principles for solving the national question and criticized the opportunistic program of “national-cultural autonomy.” The work was praised by Lenin (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 24, p. 223). In February 1913, Stalin was again arrested and exiled to the Turukhansk region.

After the autocracy was overthrown, Stalin returned to Petrograd on Mar. 12 (25), 1917, where he was made a member of the Bureau of the Central Committee of the RSDLP (Bolshevik) and of the editorial board of Pravda. He was active in expanding party work under the new conditions. Stalin supported the Leninist line of the development of the bourgeois democratic revolution into a socialist revolution. At the Seventh (April) All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP(B) he was elected a member of the Central Committee; from this time until the Nineteenth Party Congress he was elected to the party Central Committee at all congresses. At the Sixth Congress of the RSDLP(B), at the request of the Central Committee, Stalin gave the committee’s political report and a report on the political situation.

As a member of the Central Committee, Stalin took an active part in preparing for and carrying out the Great October Socialist Revolution. He belonged to the Political Bureau of the Central Committee, the Military Revolutionary Center (the party agency charged with leading the armed uprising), and the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee. On Oct. 26 (Nov. 8), 1917, at the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, he was elected to the first Soviet government as people’s commissar for nationalities affairs, a post he held until 1922. Concurrently, from 1919 to 1922, he headed the People’s Commissariat of State Control, which in 1920 was reorganized as the People’s Commissariat of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection.

During the Civil War and Foreign Military Intervention (1918–20), Stalin performed a number of important services for the Central Committee of the RCP (Bolshevik) and the Soviet state. He was a member of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic, one of the organizers of the defense of Petrograd, a member of the Revolutionary Military Councils of the Southern, Western, and Southwestern fronts, and the representative of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee on the Council of Workers’ and Peasants’ Defense. Stalin showed himself to be a prominent party worker in military affairs and politics. By a decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, Stalin was awarded the Order of the Red Banner on Nov. 27,1919.

After the Civil War, Stalin took an active part in the party’s efforts to rebuild the national economy, to implement the New Economic Policy (NEP), and to consolidate the alliance of the working class and peasantry. During the trade union controversy that Trotsky forced on the party, Stalin defended the Leninist platform with respect to the role of trade unions in the building of socialism. At the Tenth Congress of the RCP(B) in 1921 he gave a report entitled “Immediate Tasks of the Party Regarding the National Question.” In April 1922, at a Central Committee plenum, Stalin was elected general secretary of the Central Committee, a post he held for more than 30 years.

As one of the leaders in organizing the multinational state, Stalin took part in forming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. At first, however, he made a mistake in seeking a solution to this new and complex problem by proposing the “autonomy” plan, under which all republics would join the RSFSR as autonomous units. Lenin criticized the plan and argued for creating a single federal state in the form of a voluntary union of equal republics. After considering the criticism, Stalin gave his full support to Lenin’s idea and, at the request of the Central Committee of the RCP(B), gave a report on the formation of the USSR at the First All-Union Congress of Soviets in December 1922.

At the Twelfth Party Congress in 1923, Stalin gave an account of the organizational work of the Central Committee and a report entitled “Nationality Aspects in the Building of Party and State.”

Lenin, who had an excellent knowledge of party cadres, exerted an enormous influence on their indoctrination and tried to place party workers in positions that would benefit the general party cause but with due regard for their individual traits. In his “Letter to the Congress,” Lenin described a number of members of the Central Committee, including Stalin. Although he regarded Stalin as one of the leading party figures, Lenin nevertheless wrote on Dec. 25, 1922: “Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has unlimited authority concentrated in his hands, and I am not sure whether he will always be capable of using that authority with sufficient caution” (ibid., vol. 45, p. 345). In a supplement to his letter, written on Jan. 4,1923, Lenin said, “Stalin is too rude, and this defect, although quite tolerable in our midst in dealings among us Communists, becomes intolerable in a General Secretary. That is why I suggest that the comrades think about a way of removing Stalin from that post and appointing another man in his stead who in all other respects differs from Comrade Stalin in having only one advantage, namely, that of being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite and more considerate to the comrades, less capricious, etc.” (ibid., p. 346).

By a decision of the Central Committee of the RCP(B) all the delegations at the party’s Thirteenth Congress, held in May 1924, were made acquainted with Lenin’s letter. In view of the complex situation in the country and the critical nature of the struggle against Trotskyism, it was deemed expedient to leave Stalin in the post of general secretary of the Central Committee on the condition, however, that he take note of Lenin’s criticism and draw the necessary conclusions from it.

After Lenin’s death Stalin took an active part in working out and implementing CPSU policy, plans for economic and cultural development, measures to bolster the country’s defense capability, and the foreign policy of the party and Soviet state. Together with other party leaders, Stalin waged an implacable struggle against the enemies of Leninism. He played a prominent role in the ideological and political defeat of Trotskyism and right-wing opportunism, in defending the Leninist doctrine of the possibility of the victory of socialism in the USSR, and in consolidating party unity. Stalin wrote a number of important works propagating the Leninist ideological heritage, among them The Foundations of Leninism (1924), “Trotskyism or Leninism?” (1924), Problems of Leninism (1926), “More on the Social Democratic Deviation in Our Party” (1926), “The Right-wing Deviation in the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik)” (1929), and “Problems of Agrarian Policy in the USSR” (1929).

Under the leadership of the Communist Party the Soviet people carried out the Leninist plan for building socialism and effected revolutionary transformations of enormous complexity and historical importance. Together with other leaders of the party and Soviet state, Stalin made a personal contribution to these accomplishments.

The key task in building socialism was socialist industrialization to ensure the country’s economic independence, the technical modernization of all national economic sectors, and the defense capability of the Soviet state. The most complex and difficult of the revolutionary transformations was the reorganization of agriculture along socialist lines. Mistakes and excesses were allowed in the collectivization of agriculture, and Stalin bears some of the responsibility for the errors. The mistakes were corrected, however, through decisive steps taken by the party, with Stalin’s participation. The cultural revolution was important for the victory of socialism in the USSR.

During the years when the threat of war was growing and in the Great Patriotic War (1941–45), Stalin directed the party’s multi-faceted efforts to bolster the defense of the USSR and organize the defeat of fascist Germany and militarist Japan.

However, on the eve of the war Stalin made a miscalculation in his estimate of the time that Hitler’s Germany might attack the USSR. On May 6,1941, he was appointed chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR, becoming chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR in 1946. On June 30, 1941, he was made chairman of the State Defense Committee; on July 19, people’s commissar of defense of the USSR; and on August 8, supreme commander in chief of the armed forces of the USSR. As head of the Soviet state he took part in the Tehran (1943), Yalta (1945), and Potsdam (1945) conferences of the leaders of the three powers—the USSR, the USA, and Great Britain.

After the war Stalin continued to serve as general secretary of the party Central Committee and chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR. During these years the party and the Soviet government did their utmost to mobilize the Soviet people for the struggle to rebuild and then expand the national economy. Their foreign policy was aimed at bolstering the international position of the USSR and the world socialist system, unifying and developing the international workers and communist movement, supporting the liberation struggle of the peoples of colonial and dependent countries, and ensuring peace and security throughout the world.

Apart from the positive aspects of Stalin’s leadership, theoretical and political mistakes were committed, and certain of his character traits had negative repercussions. During the first years after Lenin’s death he took account of the critical remarks addressed to him, but later he departed from the Leninist principles of collective leadership and the norms of party life and overestimated his own merit in the successes of the party and people. The cult of Stalin’s personality gradually evolved, leading to flagrant violations of socialist legality and doing great damage to party work and the cause of building communism.

The Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, held in 1956, condemned the cult of personality as a phenomenon alien to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism and to the nature of the socialist social order. On June 30, 1956, in a decree of the CPSU Central Committee entitled On Overcoming the Personality Cult and Its Consequences, the party gave an objective, comprehensive analysis of Stalin’s work and a thorough critique of the cult of personality. The cult of personality did not and could not change the socialist essence of the Soviet system and the Marxist-Leninist character of the CPSU and its Leninist policy. Neither did it arrest the natural course of development of Soviet society. The party worked out and implemented a system of measures to ensure the restoration and further development of the Leninist norms of party life and the principles of party leadership.

Stalin was a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the ACP(B) from 1919 to 1952, of the Presidium of the CPSU Central Committee in 1952–53, of the Executive Committee of the Comintern from 1925 to 1943, of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee from 1917, and of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR from 1922. He was also a deputy to the first, second, and third convocations of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.

Stalin was awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labor (1939), Hero of the Soviet Union (1945), and Marshal of the Soviet Union (1943). The highest military rank, Generalissimo of the Soviet Union, was conferred on him in 1945. He received three Orders of Lenin, two Orders of Victory, three Orders of the Red Banner, and the Order of Suvorov First Class, as well as various medals. Stalin is buried in Red Square.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.