Stalin, Joseph Vissarionovich

Stalin, Joseph Vissarionovich

(stä`lĭn, Rus. vĭsəryô`nəvĭch stä`lyĭn), 1879–1953, Soviet Communist leader and head of the USSR from the death of V. I. LeninLenin, Vladimir Ilyich
, 1870–1924, Russian revolutionary, the founder of Bolshevism and the major force behind the Revolution of Oct., 1917. Early Life
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 (1924) until his own death, b. Gori, Georgia. His real name was Dzhugashvili (also spelled Dzugashvili or Djugashvili); he adopted the name Stalin ("man of steel") about 1913.

Early Career

The son of a shoemaker, Stalin studied (1894–99) for the priesthood at the theological seminary at Tiflis, but was expelled. While still a divinity student, he became a convert to Marxism and joined the Social Democratic party in the Caucasus. He became a disciple of Lenin after the split (1903) of the party into factions of Bolshevism and MenshevismBolshevism and Menshevism
, the two main branches of Russian socialism from 1903 until the consolidation of the Bolshevik dictatorship under Lenin in the civil war of 1918–20.
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Stalin attended party congresses abroad (at Stockholm in 1906 and at London in 1907), but unlike Lenin, Leon TrotskyTrotsky, Leon
, 1879–1940, Russian Communist revolutionary, one of the principal leaders in the establishment of the USSR; his original name was Lev Davidovich Bronstein. Early Career

Trotsky was born of Jewish parents in the S Ukraine.
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, and other revolutionists he did not choose prolonged exile abroad. Under the alias of Koba, taken from the name of a famous Georgian outlaw, he remained in the Caucasus. He was especially active in the party press. Between 1902 and 1913 he was arrested five times and each time escaped.

In 1911 he left the Caucasus for St. Petersburg, where in 1912 he became one of the first editors of Pravda [truth], then a small paper devoted to doctrinal disputes, later the official daily of the Communist party of the USSR. Stalin was arrested in 1913 and was exiled for life to N Siberia, where he remained until an amnesty was granted after the February Revolution of 1917. Back in St. Petersburg (by then, renamed Petrograd), he edited Pravda jointly with Lev KamenevKamenev, Lev Borisovich
, 1883–1936, Soviet Communist leader. His original name was Rosenfeld. He joined (1901) the Social Democratic party and sided with the Bolshevik wing when the party split (1903).
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Rise to Power

After the October Revolution of 1917, Stalin, already a member of the central committee since 1912, entered the Soviet cabinet as people's commissar for nationalities and began to emerge as a leader of the new regime. During the civil war from 1918 to 1920 he played an important administrative role on the military fronts and in the capital. He was elected (1922) general secretary of the central committee of the party, enabling him to control the rank-and-file members and to build an apparatus loyal to him.

Stalin's significance in the revolutionary movement and his relation to Lenin have been subjects of great controversy. He was highly regarded by Lenin as an administrator but not as a theoretician or leader. Toward the end of his illness, which began in 1922, Lenin wrote a testament in which he strongly criticized Stalin's arbitrary conduct as general secretary and recommended that he be removed. However, he died before any action could be taken, and the testament was suppressed.

On Lenin's death, Stalin, Kamenev, and Grigori ZinovievZinoviev, Grigori Evseyevich
, 1883–1936, Soviet Communist leader, originally named Radomyslsky. He joined the Russian Social Democratic Labor party in 1901 and sided with Vladimir Lenin's Bolshevik faction after 1903 (see Bolshevism and Menshevism).
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 formed a triumvirate of successors allied against Trotsky, who was a strong contender to replace Lenin. After Trotsky was ousted (1925) as commissar of war, Stalin, now allied with Nikolai BukharinBukharin, Nikolai Ivanovich
, 1888–1938, Russian Communist leader and theoretician. A member of the Bolshevik wing of the Social Democratic party, he spent the years 1911–17 abroad and edited (1916) the revolutionary paper Novy Mir [new world] in New York City.
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, turned on Kamenev and Zinoviev. In a desperate attempt to counter Stalin's power, Zinoviev and Kamenev joined forces with Trotsky. Their efforts failed and they were forced to resign from the central committee of the Communist party. Stalin subsequently broke with Bukharin and engineered his fall from power.

A primary issue around which these party struggles centered was the course of the Russian economy. The right wing, led by Bukharin, favored granting concessions to the peasantry and continuing Lenin's New Economic PolicyNew Economic Policy
(NEP), official economic reconstruction program of the USSR from 1921 to 1928. It replaced the economic policies of "war Communism" (1918–21), an emergency program established by Lenin during the civil war.
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 (NEP). The left, represented by Kamenev and Zinoviev, wished to proceed with industrialization on a large scale at the expense of the peasants. Stalin's position wavered, depending on the political situation, and the NEP continued until 1928 with considerable success. Then Stalin reversed this policy and inaugurated collectivization of agriculture and the Five-Year PlanFive-Year Plan,
Soviet economic practice of planning to augment agricultural and industrial output by designated quotas for a limited period of usually five years. Nations other than the former USSR and the Soviet bloc members, especially developing countries, have adopted such
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. Ruthless measures were taken against the kulaks, the farmers who had risen to prosperity under the NEP.

Soviet Leader

Prewar Years

The political and cultural aims of Stalin's regime were to identify the totalitarian rule of the Communist party with stability and legitimacy. The basic Marxist tenet of the ultimate "withering away" of the state was all but repudiated. Instead the state was glorified. The shift to the right was also manifest in the reorganization of the armed forces along disciplinarian lines reminiscent of the reign of Czar Nicholas INicholas I,
1796–1855, czar of Russia (1825–55), third son of Paul I. His brother and predecessor, Alexander I, died childless (1825). Constantine, Paul's second son, was next in succession but had secretly renounced (1822) the throne after marrying a Polish
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; in the official return to conservative divorce and abortion laws; in the gradual replacement of intransigent measures against the Russian Orthodox Church by a policy that made the church an instrument of the state; in the abandonment of experimental education in favor of rigid instruction; in the insistence on political criteria in the arts; and, most important, in the rebirth of nationalism and the mounting distrust of the West and of internationalism.

Stalin maintained that his program of consolidating "socialism in one country," although demanding immense sacrifice and discipline, would render the USSR immune to attacks by capitalist nations and would demonstrate the superiority of the socialist system. He thus repudiated, for the time being, the role of the Soviet Union as torchbearer of world revolution.

This process was accompanied by repressive measures and terror, which led to the collectivization famines (1930–33) and political purges of the 1930s. Stalin made his dictatorship absolute by liquidating all opposition within the party. The murder (1934) of S. M. KirovKirov, Sergei Mironovich
, 1888–1934, Russian Soviet leader. He fought in the civil war of 1918–20 and rose to power as one of Stalin's most trusted aides. A member of the Communist party Politburo from 1930, he was secretary of the party at Leningrad (now St.
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, Stalin's lieutenant, led to prosecutions for an alleged plot—vast, Trotsky-inspired, and aided by Nazi Germany—to overthrow Stalin's government. In the purge trials many old Bolsheviks, including Kamenev, Zinoviev, Aleksey RykovRykov, Aleksey Ivanovich
, 1881–1938, Russian revolutionary and Communist leader. A Bolshevik, he became commissar for the interior after the October Revolution of 1917 and a member of the Politburo in 1922.
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, and Bukharin, were accused, pleaded guilty, and were executed.

The purges extended even to the head of the secret policesecret police,
policing organization operating in secrecy for the political purposes of its government, often with terroristic procedures. The Nature of a Secret Police
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, G. G. Yagoda, and to some of the highest army officers, notably Marshal TukhachevskyTukhachevsky or Toukhachevski, Mikhail Nikolayevich
, 1893–1937, Soviet marshal. An officer in the czarist army from 1914, he joined (1918) the Bolshevik party after the Russian Revolution and held important
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. The terror reached its height under the Yezhovshchina, the period (1937–38) when N. I. Yezhov directed the secret police. As the purges drew to a close (1939), the efforts of the secret police were concentrated on eliminating those elements of the population that might be disloyal in case of war. The Soviet system of forced labor camps, the GulagGulag,
system of forced-labor prison camps in the USSR, from the Russian acronym [GULag] for the Main Directorate of Corrective Labor Camps, a department of the Soviet secret police (originally the Cheka; subsequently the GPU, OGPU, NKVD, MVD, and finally the KGB).
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, was hugely expanded during this period.

In internal policy, Stalin promulgated a new constitution in 1936 (see Union of Soviet Socialist RepublicsUnion of Soviet Socialist Republics
(USSR), Rus. Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik, former republic. It was established in 1922 and dissolved in 1991. The Soviet Union was the first state to be based on Marxist socialism (see also Marxism; communism).
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). Although it contained symbols of democratic institutions, effective political power was reserved to the Communist party as the vanguard of the working people. Although it reaffirmed the Soviet principle of autonomy for the various nationalities, the constitution in effect made it impossible for republics or other national groups to secede from the union.

Wartime and After

Until 1934, Stalin had pursued the policy, initiated by the Treaty of Rapallo (see Rapallo, Treaty ofRapallo, Treaty of,
1922, agreement signed by Germany and the USSR at Rapallo, Italy. It was reached by Walter Rathenau and G. V. Chicherin independently of the Conference of Genoa (see Genoa, Conference of), which was then in session.
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, of friendship with Germany. After Adolf Hitler became (1933) chancellor of Germany, Stalin strove for international acceptance and cooperation, joining (1934) the League of NationsLeague of Nations,
former international organization, established by the peace treaties that ended World War I. Like its successor, the United Nations, its purpose was the promotion of international peace and security.
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 and attempting a rapprochement with Great Britain and France. The failure of such a rapprochement and the growing danger of war led Stalin to conciliate Hitler.

The nonaggression pact with Germany (Aug., 1939) was designed to keep the USSR out of World War II. The territorial concessions and strategic advantages granted the Soviet Union by Germany at the expense of other East European nations contributed to Stalin's underestimation of the German threat. The Nazi invasion of Russia on June 22, 1941, took Stalin—who in May had taken over the premiership from V. M. Molotov—by surprise; it temporarily paralyzed his leadership and nearly led to the collapse of the Soviet army.

The extent to which Stalin as a military leader subsequently contributed to Soviet victory has been fiercely debated among Soviet and Western authors; his forceful leadership was probably a greater asset than his military capability. He directed the war effort from the Kremlin, where he remained when the rest of the government was evacuated. He was voted the rank of marshal of the Soviet Union (1943) and of generalissimo (1945).

At the Tehran ConferenceTehran Conference,
Nov. 28–Dec. 1, 1943, meeting of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Premier Joseph Stalin at Tehran, Iran.
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 (1943) and the Yalta ConferenceYalta Conference,
meeting (Feb. 4–11, 1945), at Yalta, Crimea, USSR, of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin.
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 (1945) with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and at the Potsdam ConferencePotsdam Conference,
meeting (July 17–Aug. 2, 1945) of the principal Allies in World War II (the United States, the USSR, and Great Britain) to clarify and implement agreements previously reached at the Yalta Conference.
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 (1945), Stalin proved an astute diplomat. His diplomatic skill led to the recognition by the Western powers of a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. Having further strengthened his personal power in the course of World War II, Stalin used it ruthlessly to consolidate his control within the Soviet Union and the emerging Soviet empire against what he perceived as renewed capitalist threats. Always suspicious of Communist movements outside his control, he tried unsuccessfully to dissuade the Chinese Communists from taking power after World War II and broke with Josip Broz TitoTito, Josip Broz
, 1892–1980, Yugoslav Communist leader, marshal of Yugoslavia. He was originally Josip Broz. Rise to Power

The son of a blacksmith in a Croatian village, Tito fought in Russia with the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I and was captured by
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 in 1948 over the question of Yugoslavia's independent Communist policies.

Stalin's paranoia during the last years of his life led to increased repression and persecution of his closest collaborators, reminiscent of the purges of the 1930s. His public appearances, which had always been rare, became even less frequent in the late 1940s and early 50s. His remoteness only stimulated the public worship bestowed upon him, which verged on apotheosis.

Stalin died Mar. 5, 1953, of a cerebral hemorrhage. His body was entombed next to Lenin's in the mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow. Little is known of Stalin's private life except that he married twice and that both wives died (the second, Nadezhda Sergeyevna Alliluyeva, by suicide in 1932). Yakov, his son by his first wife, died in Nazi captivity. He had a son and a daughter by his second wife. His son, Vasily, was an officer in the Soviet air force before his death in 1962. His daughter, Svetlana AlliluyevaAlliluyeva, Svetlana
, 1926–2011, only daughter of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and his second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, who committed suicide when Svetlana was six.
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, defected to the United States in 1967.


At the 20th All-Union Party Congress in 1956, Nikita KhrushchevKhrushchev, Nikita Sergeyevich
, 1894–1971, Soviet Communist leader, premier of the USSR (1958–64), and first secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union (1953–64).
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 and other Soviet leaders attacked the cult of Stalin, confirming many accusations long current outside the USSR. They did not repudiate Stalin's economic policies, but accused him of tyranny and terror, falsification of history, and self-glorification. In 1961 the 22d Party Congress voted to remove Stalin's body from the Lenin mausoleum; he was then interred in the heroes' cemetery near the Kremlin wall. The term Stalinist, first used to distinguish Stalin's policies from those of Trotsky and others, came to mean a brand of Communism that was both national and repressive. Since Stalin's death the tyrannical implications of the term have become primary.


Stalin's writings form no cohesive body of political theory, although he claimed to represent the pure interpretation of Leninism and Marxism. Among Stalin's writings translated into English are Leninism (tr., 2 vol., 1928–33), Problems of Leninism (tr. 1934), The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union (tr. 1945), Stalin's Works (tr. 1952–55), and other collections of speeches, articles, and reports.

There are numerous biographies of Stalin, some adulatory, such as that of H. Barbusse (tr. 1935), some severely critical of him, such as that by Trotsky (tr. 1946, rev. ed. 1967); recent biographies include those by D. Volkogonov (tr. 1991), E. Radzinsky (tr. 1996), R. Service (2005), and S. Kotkin (2 vol., 2014–). See also A. Orlov, The Secret History of Stalin's Crimes (1953); M. D. Shulman, Stalin's Foreign Policy Reappraised (1963); R. C. Tucker, Stalin as Revolutionary, 1879–1929 (1973) and Stalin in Power (1990); A. B. Ulam, Stalin: The Man and His Era (1973, repr. 1989); G. Urban, Stalinism (1982); A. E. Arthur, Stalin and His Times (1986); A. DeJonge, Stalin and the Shaping of the Soviet Union (1986); R. A. Medvedev, Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (2d ed. 1989); R. Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment (1991) and Stalin: Breaker of Nations (1991); S. Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism (1999); M. Amis, Koba the Dread (2003); S. Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2004); R. J. Overy, The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia (2004).

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