The Man of Steel

Joseph Stalin, also known as the merciless ruler of the Soviet Union, commanded the Red Army that destroyed despicable Nazi Germany during World War II. His terrorizing insurgence after he became the Soviet Dictator is still one of the most dreadful and discussed topics in history.

Published Categorized as Biography
A confident Stalin in his office, seated on his desk and writing a memo.
“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” – Joseph Stalin

A Stalin biography

Joseph Stalin (1878 – 1953) – Political Leader, Dictator

Joseph Stalin was born Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili on December 21, 1879, in Gori Georgia, to Visarion “Beso” Dzhugashvili (an alcoholic shoemaker) and Ekaterina “Keke” Vissarionovich (a laundress who fondly called him ” Soso”).

Stalin’s childhood was full of agony and sorrow. His parents regularly got into fights. There were rumors regarding his legitimacy. His father used to beat him. At age 7, Stalin’s father took him to work in the boot factory as an apprentice. He did not last on the job and quit almost immediately.

Stalin’s mother was a devout orthodox Christian and hoped that he would become a priest. She worked hard to send him to a Catholic School. Consequently, Stalin joined the Gori Church School in 1888. He was a brilliant student and graduated top of his class in almost all subjects. Due to his atypical behavior, his school life turned out to be very turbulent. Later, he developed a bad reputation as a troublemaker.

As a child, Stalin contracted smallpox which left his face scarred. His peers frequently called him “Pocky”. School records also show that he initiated protests and strikes against faculty and administrators both of whom he considered incompetent. When he was ten years old, he was nearly killed during the Christmas celebration. He was standing with a group of boys when a fast-moving carriage knocked him off, and wheels rolled over his leg. The accident also resulted in irreparable damage to his left arm.

His mother was able to secure a partial scholarship in Tiflis Seminary, which he joined in 1894. Although the seminary was a religious institution, political issues were frequently debated there, and this is where his fascination with Marxism started. He read Marxist theory at the seminary and worked hard to become an educated Marxist. Stalin also studied philosophy, natural science, and history.

The young Stalin also acquainted himself with Vladimir Lenin’s writings and legal Marxism. A year later he joined the Messame Dassi, a social-democratic organization. He lost interest in his studies and missed a few exams. Furthermore, he got involved in revolutionary activities such as attending illegal worker’s meetings and organizing strikes.

A young and intense Stalin posing for the photograph
Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (Stalin) in 1902. The photo was taken by the Batumi Regional Gendarme Directorate.

The seminary authorities learned about Stalin’s activities and he was expelled from the seminary. He landed a job as a calculator and a meteorologist at the Tiflis Observatory, but his job wasn’t enough to keep him away from the revolutionary path. Stalin started organizing strikes and protests at the observatory. He facilitated obnoxious activities such as robbery, kidnapping, and extortion to fund the organization. Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin was impressed by how he organized strikes. This is when Josef adopted the name, “Stalin”, or ‘The Man of Steel.’

Through the initiative of Stalin, the first illegal social-democratic newspaper, Brdzola (the Struggle) was published in 1902. Marxism became the heart of the Bolsheviks and later became Communism. Marxism suggested that all the working-class distinctions must share wealth and resources equally. As a result of his extralegal activities, Stalin was arrested and exiled to Novaya Upa, Siberia, but he did not stay there for long. In January 1904, he escaped and returned to Tiflis in February 1904. He was imprisoned multiple times in the following years.

Lenin was astonished by Stalin’s wit and courage whereupon he appointed him to serve on the first Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. Lenin held Joseph Stalin in high regard as a man who would get things done. After Tsar Nicholas relinquished his position, the Bolsheviks took over the Russian government. In 1922, the Soviet Union was established, and Lenin became its first leader. Stalin was appointed as the Secretary-General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

Lenin died in 1924, it was established that Trotsky would assume his position as head of state. But Stalin intervened during the transition of power, removed Trotsky from the committee, and exiled him. Eventually, Stalin himself became the dictator of the Soviet Union.

Once Stalin came into power, he went on a killing spree. His deep paranoia regarding traitors resulted in the execution of all the people who posed a threat to his position. He asked the secret police to arrest those who opposed him, those resistant towards his leadership, and even the ones above suspicion. The political prisoners were persecuted, reprimanded, and tortured until they confessed to crimes they did not even commit. Furthermore, numerous people were sent to prison camps and Gulags (forced labor camps).

As a leader, Stalin aimed to transform the Soviet Union into an industrialized and modern country. He launched five-year plans between 1928-1932, 1933-1937, and 1938-1941. Stalin formulated the doctrine of socialist industrialism. He strongly believed that this would free the nation from the jeopardizing effects of a stumbling economy. He stated that “This is the way out. To turn the small and scattered peasant farms into large scale farms based on the cultivation of the soil, based on a new and higher technique”.

Industrialization proved to be a tedious process. The colossal change was necessary. It was vital to build up industries that did not exist before his reign, and these were funded by loans, plunder, and merciless exploitation of people.

I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat.”

Joseph Stalin

The government seized farms, forced owners to work in larger government farms and they were not allowed to seek work elsewhere. The Kulaks (wealthy farmers) fought back and organized a “grain strike”. Coal, oil, electricity massively increased but it imperiled the environment. Thousands of Kulaks were drafted as hard laborers and had to work as coal miners, canal diggers, building railroads, and laying roads. Millions died of starvation and disease.

To unleash the economic potential of Russia, Stalin raised grain quotas to 44 %. Ukraine became Soviet Union’s “breadbasket”. However, 35 million Ukrainian farmers were sentenced to Gulags. Every time there was a grain shortage, the farmers experienced malevolence- Stalin ordered his agents to confiscate wheat and the farmers were punished with beatings and whippings.

 In 1934, Stalin launched the “Great Purge”—An internal attack on his fellow Bolsheviks who opposed his policies and sympathized with the Kulaks. Almost 800,000 were executed and 2 million died from strenuous conditions in the Gulags. High-ranking Bolsheviks were also arrested and 70 of them were executed.

I trust no one, not even myself.

Joseph Stalin

Stalin also used an iron fist to impede citizens from traveling to other countries. Citizens were not allowed to travel outside the country unless they were members of the official delegation. Travelers were required to travel in groups. If the traveler failed to return, his relatives were held as hostages.

Stalin correctly anticipated the occurrence of a second World War. He knew that The Russian military was weakened due to the execution of talented military officers, and he pursued a double alliance with France/England in case of a German invasion. He also sent his ambassador, Alexei Merekaloy to Berlin to negotiate with Hitler’s ambassador, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Stalin offered a non-aggression pact, made a deal with Hitler, not to attack Germany and Russia will not attack Germany.

Despite the deal, Stalin made preparations for a widespread conflict. In the spring of 1941, he focused on the production of fully armed tanks, artillery, and aircraft. He also had trustworthy spies working in the German High Command who supplied valuable information about the German forces.

On June 22, 1941, Hitler gave the go-ahead for Operation Barbarossa, officially opening the Eastern Front (and in doing so signed his death warrant). German troops entered Russia and were met with scattered resistance. Operation Barbarossa was initially very successful. Hitler’s aim to destroy communism and annex the western areas of the Soviet Union seemed achievable. The main targets for the Wehrmacht were Soviet wheat and oil.

Hitler succeeded in seizing Lithuania. To avoid another loss, Stalin strengthened his connections with other nations. On July 12, 1941, Great Britain collaborated with the USSR with an agreement for joint action in the war against Germany.

A photo of a waving Stalin from 1941
Stalin in July 1941

One hundred and seventy German divisions supported by thousands of tanks and aircraft moved into the USSR and were erratically hurled into an attack. Stalin rallied his troops and ordered the forces to vanquish German troops. He ended his address with the call:

Ни шагу назад!

“Ni shagu nazad”, meaning ‘Not one step back’

‘Order No. 27’ as it was known by the Soviet Press became the Modus Operandi for the Red Army. Fleeing from the defense of the Motherland was criminalized as treason of the highest order and was punishable by death on the spot. Officers used this as an excuse for killing soldiers who tried to run away from the battlefield. Between 1942 and 1945, 422,700 Red Army personnel were executed as a result.

In the Soviet army, it takes more courage to retreat than advance.

Joseph Stalin

All this changed in the winter of 1941 and early 1942. The Germans attacked Moscow and Stalin’s army fought tooth and nail against the aggressor. Stalin’s methods, although vicious, resulted in USSR’s victory. The Battle of Moscow is considered one of the most important battles in history.

In 1942, Germans attempted to capture Stalingrad, because it played a crucial role in the production and transfer of oil. The German Army surrounded the city in what came to be known as the Siege of Stalingrad. Hundreds of thousands of people were trapped inside the city. The Luftwaffe (German Air Force) bombed the city relentlessly for several weeks to weaken the resistance. Thousands of civilians died because of the incendiary bombs dropped in the air raids. In November, reinforcements arrived and trapped about 300,000 Germans. As a result, 23 generals,2,500 officers, and 90,000 soldiers surrendered on February 2, 1943.

Joseph Stalin, Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill sit on chairs on the veranda of the Soviet Legation in Teheran. In the background are aides to the US President.
Joseph Stalin, Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on the veranda of the Soviet Legation in Teheran, during the first ‘Big Three’ Conference, November 1943.

After the war, Stalin built a cult of personality around himself, especially around the defense of Moscow and Stalingrad (a city that bore his name). He manipulated his public image. People were forced to praise and compliment him. He ordered a huge celebration in Moscow’s Great Red Square in honor of the nation’s great heroes. Families were required to hang his portrait in their homes, and in public. Artists and poets were instructed to produce works glorifying him. Moreover, he was awarded countless medals including the Hero of the Soviet Union, Order of Lenin, and the Gold Star Medal.

Stalin’s name became a symbol of courage and heroic deeds. Songs were composed about Stalin and expressing devotion to the “Great Leader”,

“We go with Stalin as with Lenin, we talk with Stalin as with Lenin, he knows all our thoughts, all his life he has cared for us.”

“For Stalin! For our country!”

It is not heroes that make history, but history that makes heroes.

Joseph Stalin

Stalin rose to global prominence after the Second World War for vanquishing the German threat. America claimed to be the hero on the Western Front, but it was the Eastern Front that sealed the deal for Hitler and his Nazi party.

As a result, the two emerging superpowers started a decades-long tussle known as “The Cold War”. Harry Truman accused Stalin of plotting to devastate America and Stalin accused Truman of the same. To counter this predicted threat and to confront America, Stalin invested heavily in rebuilding and augmenting his military. While Truman focused on propaganda and nuclear weapon proliferation, Stalin forged alliances with several countries.

Stalin rapidly consolidated eight European countries and set the countries up to form buffer zones. He also established Soviet Blocs / Satellite Nations, where he established Communist Governments.

Stalin persuaded other countries to embrace communism. Stalin was astonished by China, because of its enormity and population. As a result, Stalin made efforts to assist peasant communist leader Mao Tse Tung with his agricultural reforms and economic plans. His efforts led to a successful communist revolution in China.

He encouraged Kim Il Sung, the communist leader of Korea. He concluded that America will not meddle and Kim will be able to unite the Korean peninsula, but his estimations were wrong and the fiasco ended up resulting in the Korean War.

In 1952, Stalin launched a new terror named, “The Doctor’s Plot”. Stalin suspected several renowned doctors of conspiring to kill high-ranking Soviet officials. The doctors were arrested, beaten, and tortured.

Stalin died on March 5, 1953, after suffering from a stroke on March 2. There had been rumors of foul play, murder, and poisoning. He was found unconscious in bed, soaking in his urine by his chief bodyguard. They called his closest comrades, but none came.

Stalin’s body was put on display for four days. It was placed on a narrow aisle on the side of Lenin’s bier, poorly lighted. A colossal number of mourners came to see Stalin. However, the US Embassy in Moscow concluded that there was only a little evidence of their grief at his death. It was observed that Moscow is calm, business as usual.

Upon his death, Nikita Khrushchev assumed his position. Khrushchev launched the De-Stalinization, a movement that aimed to abolish Stalin’s influence.

Khrushchev condemned Stalin’s cult of personality and stated that he violated the party norms of collectivism. Just a few weeks after Stalin’s death, the release of prisoners began with the amnesty of March 1953. In the following years, millions of prisoners were freed from Gulags.

Many gulags were closed, restoring legal procedures, and abolishing the NKVD. Khrushchev also unveiled the full extent of his atrocities, revealing his destructive policies, removing monuments dedicated to him, and renaming Stalingrad to Volgograd. Pictures, busts, and statues of Stalin were removed from the Lenin Museum, Military Museum, and Tretyakov Gallery. Stalin’s biography was also removed from bookstores. History classes were discontinued until documents could be revised. The names of the victims of the purge were cleared and Stalin’s biography was also rewritten. Institutions were renamed, the Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin institute became the Institute of Marxism-Leninism.

Stalin is considered one of the most atrocious dictators in the history of the world. Even Adolf Hitler pales in comparison to Stalin’s casualty count.

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