By Tim Lambert
His Early Life
Joseph Stalin was one of the worst tyrants of the 20th century. His real name Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili and he was born in 1879. His father was a poor shoemaker. He died when Joseph was 11. His mother was a washerwoman. Stalin was a short man. He was 5 feet 4 inches tall and he was pockmarked by smallpox. Furthermore, his left arm was shorter than his right.
Stalin's mother he wanted her son to become a clergyman. Stalin studied at a seminary but he became a Marxist and he was expelled in 1899. Like all Marxists, Stalin was an atheist. (Although we don't know exactly when Stalin lost his religious faith completely).
Marxism was the creation of Karl Marx (1818-1883). According to him, society went through an inevitable series of stages ending in Communism. The industrial workers, he said, would inevitably rise up against the capitalists and Capitalism would be replaced by Socialism in which the state would own industry. However, the state would 'wither away' leaving a classless society or Communism. Needless to say, the promised utopia never materialized. Marxism was a foolish dream.
Stalin joined the Social Democratic Party, which split into Mensheviks and Bolsheviks (Communists). Stalin was a committed Communist. Yet he played only a small part in the revolution of 1917. However, in 1922 Stalin was appointed Secretary-General of the party.
Meanwhile in 1904 Stalin married Ekaterina Svanidze. They had a son called Yakov who later died in mysterious circumstances. Ekaterina herself died in 1907.
Following Lenin's death in 1924 the cunning and devious Stalin or Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili 1879 took power. By 1928 he had made himself dictator. His main enemy Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronstein 1879-1940) was exiled in 1929. In 1940 he was assassinated in Mexico. Meanwhile, Stalin soon proved to be a tyrant who murdered millions of people.
In 1919 Stalin married Nadezhda Alliluyeva. They had a son Vasili and a daughter Svetlana. However, the second wife killed herself in 1932.
In 1929 started a series of 5 years plans. Heavy industry in Russia was to be greatly expanded.
Stalin decided that farms in the Ukraine should be collectivized. In other words, peasants would be deprived of their land and livestock and made to work as farm laborers on land now owned by the state. Not surprisingly many Ukrainian peasants bitterly resisted even slaughtering their own livestock rather than hand it over to the state. However, Stalin was determined to crush the Ukrainian peasants and he caused a terrible famine in 1932-33 that took the lives of millions of innocent people. In 1932 collective farms were given completely unrealistic quotas to fill. Soviet law decreed that the peasants would not be allowed to keep any grain until they had met their quotas. They could not, of course, meet them so Soviet officials simply confiscated all the grain they wanted leaving the peasants to starve. How many people died in this man-made famine is not known for sure but it was probably about 7 million. This horrific artificial famine is called the Holodomor.
In 1934 Stalin began a series of 'purges' in which millions of people died. The purges are known as the Great Terror. They began when Sergei Kirov was assassinated. He was probably murdered on Stalin's orders. Nevertheless, Stalin used it as an excuse to eliminate his enemies (or anyone he thought might be an enemy). Many prominent communists were put on show trials and executed. Millions of ordinary people were sent to labor camps and forced to work in appalling conditions.
In 1937-38 Stalin purged the officers in the red army. About 80% of the generals and 50% of the colonels were executed. So the red army was weakened just when Russia was facing a threat from Nazi Germany.
Furthermore in the 1930s, under Stalin the churches were persecuted. Thousands of clergymen were arrested and propaganda for atheism was widespread.
Despite Stalin's terrible crimes Russian industry grew rapidly in the years 1929-1941.
The Second World War
In 1939 Stalin made a nonaggression pact with Hitler. In 1939 the two men divided Poland between them. Then Stalin demanded that Finland give him territory, which he hoped would make Russia easier to defend. When the Finns refused Stalin went to war. The Russians attacked Finland on 30 November 1939. At first the Finns successfully resisted but superior Russian numbers eventually overwhelmed them. The Finns surrendered in March 1940.
In 1940 Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were still independent. However in the summer Stalin sent in the Red army to occupy them and they were absorbed into the Soviet Union.
Despite the non-aggression pact of 1939 the Germans invaded Russia in June 1941. Stalin was taken by surprise and the Russians suffered heavy losses. Finland, Romania and Hungary assisted the Germans. However the Russians obtained substantial material aid from Britain and the USA.
At first the Germans advanced rapidly and captured a huge number of Russians (most of the captives did not survive the war). However the rate of German advance slowed and by the beginning of December it had 'run out of steam'. The Germans failed to take Moscow and on 5 December 1941 the Russians counterattacked. They made some progress early in 1942 but in the summer the Germans returned to the offensive
German troops advanced into the Caucasus. Others attempted to capture Stalingrad. The battle for the city was fought from August onward. In November the Russians counterattacked and encircled the Germans. The majority of German troops surrendered on 31 January. The rest surrendered on 2 February. Meanwhile the Germans withdrew from the Caucasus.
The Germans and Russians fought a great tank battle at Kursk in July 1943. The result was a resounding Russian victory. Afterwards the red army advanced rapidly. In November 1943 they liberated Kiev.
Early in 1944 the Red army entered the Baltic States. In June they began a massive offensive in central Europe. Romania surrendered on 23 August 1944. Although Bulgaria was not officially at war with Russia she had helped the Germans. So in September Russia declared war and occupied Bulgaria. Finland surrendered in September 1944.
In January 1945 the Russians advanced across Poland. In April they entered Berlin. The war ended on 8 May 1945.
The 'Great Patriotic War' as it was called caused terrible suffering to the Russian people. Millions of them died. When Germany surrendered the red army was left occupying Eastern Europe. So Stalin installed puppet regimes in each country. Stalin also clamped down on his own people. Fortunately he died on 5 March 1953.
A short biography of Ceausescu
A short biography of Rasputin
A short biography of Leon Trotsky
A short biography of Lenin
A short biography of Ivan the Terrible