Joseph Stalin (Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, Russian: Иосиф Виссарионович Сталин; born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, Georgian: იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი; born 18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953) was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee from 1922 until his death in 1953. In the years following Lenin's death in 1924, he rose to become the authoritarian leader of the Soviet Union.

Stalin launched a command economy, replacing the New Economic Policy of the 1920s with Five-Year Plans and launching a period of rapid industrialization and economic collectivization. The upheaval in the agricultural sector disrupted food production, resulting in widespread famine, such as the Soviet famine of 1932-1933, known in Ukraine as the Holodomor.

During the late 1930s, Stalin launched the Great Purge (also known as the "Great Terror"), a campaign to purge the Communist Party of people accused of corruption or treachery; he extended it to the military and other sectors of Soviet society. Targets were often executed, imprisoned in Gulag labor camps or exiled. In the years following, millions of ethnic minorities were also deported.

In 1939, the Soviet Union under Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, followed by a Soviet invasion of Poland, Finland, the Baltics, Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. After Germany violated the pact in 1941, the Soviet Union joined the Allies to play a vital role in the Axis defeat, at the cost of the largest death toll for any country in the war. Thereafter, contradicting statements at allied conferences, Stalin installed communist governments in most of Eastern Europe, forming the Eastern bloc, behind what was referred to as an "Iron Curtain" of Soviet rule. This launched the long period of antagonism known as the Cold War.

Stalin's careful control of the media helped him to foster a cult of personality. However, after his death his successor, Nikita Kruschev, denounced his legacy, initiating the period known as de-Stalinization.

Early Years

Childhood and education, 1878–1899

Stalin's birth house in Gori, Georgia, within the shrine complex built over it in the 1930s.Stalin was born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili in Gori in the Tiflis Governorate of the Russian Empire, to Besarion Jughashvili, a Georgian cobbler who owned his own workshop,[5] and Ketevan Geladze, a Georgian who was born a serf. He was their third child; their two previous sons died in infancy.[5]

Initially, the Jughashvilis' lives were prosperous, but Stalin's father became an alcoholic, which gradually led to his business failing and him becoming violently abusive to his wife and child.[6] As their financial situation grew worse, Stalin's family moved homes nine times in Stalin's first ten years of life.[5] The town where Stalin grew up was a violent and lawless place. It had only a small police force and a culture of violence that included gang warfare, organized street brawls and wrestling tournaments, some of which were traditions inherited from Georgia's war-torn past.[5]

At the age of seven, Stalin fell ill with smallpox and his face was badly scarred by the disease. He later had photographs retouched to make his pockmarks less apparent. Stalin's native tongue was Georgian; he did not start learning Russian until he was eight or nine years old, and he never lost his strong Georgian accent.

At the age of ten, Stalin's mother enrolled him at the Gori Church School. His peers were mostly the sons of affluent priests, officials, and merchants. He and most of his classmates at Gori were Georgians and spoke mostly Georgian. However, at school they were forced to speak Russian, which was the policy of Tsar Alexander III. Stalin was one of the best students in the class, earning top marks across the board. He became a very good choir singer and was often hired to sing at weddings. He also began to write poetry, something he would develop in later years.[5]

Stalin's father, who had always wanted his son to be trained as a cobbler rather than be educated, was infuriated when the boy was accepted into the school. In a drunken rage he smashed the windows of the local tavern, and later attacked the town police chief. Out of compassion for Stalin's mother, the police chief did not arrest Besarion, but told him to leave town. He moved to Tiflis where he found work in a shoe factory and left his family behind in Gori.

Young Stalin, circa 1894, age 16About the time Stalin began school, he was struck by a horse-drawn carriage. The accident permanently damaged his left arm; this injury would later exempt him from military service in World War I. At the age of 12, Stalin was struck again by a horse-drawn carriage and injured much more badly. He was taken to hospital in Tiflis where he spent months in care. After he recovered, his father seized the boy and enrolled him as an apprentice cobbler at the shoe factory where he worked. When his mother – through the aid of contacts in the clergy and school staff – recovered the boy, his father cut off all financial support to his wife and son, leaving them to fend for themselves. Stalin returned to his school in Gori where he continued to excel. He graduated first in his class.[5]

In 1894, at the age of 16, he enrolled at the Georgian Orthodox Seminary of Tiflis, to which he had been awarded a scholarship. The teachers at Tiflis Seminary were also determined to impose Russian language and culture on the Georgian students.[5] Like many of his comrades, young Stalin reacted by being drawn to Georgian patriotism. During this time he gained fame as a poet; his poems were published in several local newspapers. However, his interest in poetry began to fade as he was drawn to rebellion and revolution.

During his time at the seminary, Stalin and numerous other students read forbidden literature that included Victor Hugo novels and revolutionary, including Marxist, material. He was caught and punished numerous times for this. He became an atheist in his first year.[5] He insisted his peers call him "Koba", after the Robin Hood-like protagonist of the novel The Patricide by Alexander Kazbegi; he continued to use this pseudonym as a revolutionary. In August 1898, he joined the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, an organization from which the Bolsheviks would later form.

Shortly before the final exams, the Seminary abruptly raised school fees. Unable to pay, Stalin quit the seminary in 1899 and missed his exams, for which he was officially expelled.[5] Shortly after leaving school, Stalin discovered the writings of Vladimir Lenin and decided to become a revolutionary.

Beginnings as a Marxist revolutionary, 1899–1917

After abandoning his priestly education, Stalin took a job as a weatherman at the Tiflis Meteorological Observatory. Although the pay was relatively low (20 roubles a month), his workload was light, giving him plenty of time for revolutionary activities. He would organise strikes, lead demonstrations and give speeches. He soon caught the attention of the Tsar's secret police, the Okhrana.[5]

Stalin in 1902On the night of April 3, 1901, the Okhrana arrested a number of SD Party leaders in Tiflis, but Stalin spotted their agents waiting in ambush at the Observatory and avoided capture. He went underground, becoming a full-time revolutionary, living off donations from friends, sympathizers and his Party. He began writing revolutionary articles for the Baku-based radical newspaper Brdzola ("Struggle").[5]

In October, Stalin fled to Batumi and got work at an oil refinery owned by the Rothschild family. Organizing the workers there, Stalin was almost certainly involved in a 1902 fire at the refinery designed to trick the management into giving the workers a bonus for putting out the fire. However, the manager suspected arson and refused to pay. This led to a series of strikes, all organized by Stalin, which in turn led to arrests and street clashes with Cossacks. In one attempt to break their comrades out of prison, 13 strikers were killed when Cossacks intervened. Stalin distributed pamphlets portraying the dead as martyrs. On April 18, 1902, the authorities finally arrested Stalin at a secret meeting. At his trial, Stalin was acquitted of leading the riots due to lack of evidence, but was kept in custody whilst the authorities investigated his activities in Tiflis. In 1903, the authorities decided to exile Stalin to Siberia for three years.[5]

Stalin ended up in the Siberian town of Novaya Uda on December 9, 1903. During this time, he heard that two rival factions within the Social-Democrats had formed: the Bolsheviks under Lenin and the Mensheviks under Julius Martov. Stalin, already an admirer, decided to join Lenin's group. He managed to obtain false papers and, on January 17, 1904, escaped Siberia by train, arriving back in Tiflis ten days later.[5]

With no income, Stalin lived off his circle of friends. One of them introduced him to Lev Kamenev (then known as Lev Rosenfeld), his future co-ruler of the USSR after Lenin's death. At this time, Stalin favored a Georgian Social-Democratic party, which caused a rift with the majority who favored international Marxism. Threatened with expulsion, he was forced to write Credo, a paper renouncing his views (because this paper distanced himself from Lenin, when Stalin became ruler of the USSR, he tried to destroy all copies of this Credo, and many of those who had read it were shot).[5] The following month, the Russo-Japanese War broke out between Japan and Russia. The war, which would eventually end in Russia's defeat, severely strained the Russian economy and caused a great deal of restlessness in Georgia. Stalin travelled across Georgia conducting political activity for his party. He also worked to undermine the Mensheviks through a campaign of slander and intrigue; his efforts brought him to Lenin's attention for the first time.

On January 22, 1905, Stalin was in Baku when Cossacks attacked a mass demonstration of workers, killing 200. This was part of a series of events which sparked off the Russian Revolution of 1905. Riots, peasant uprisings and ethnic massacres swept the Russian Empire. In February, ethnic Azeris and Armenians were slaughtering each other in the streets of Baku. Commanding a squad of armed Bolsheviks, Stalin ran protection rackets to raise party funds and stole printing equipment. Afterward, he headed west, where he continued to campaign against the Mensheviks, who enjoyed overwhelming support in Georgia. In the mining town of Chiatura, both Stalin and the Mensheviks competed for the support of the miners; they chose Stalin, preferring his plain and concise manner of speaking to the flamboyant oratory of the Menshevik speaker.[5] From Chiatura, Stalin organized and armed Bolshevik militias across Georgia. With them, he ran protection rackets among the wealthy and waged guerrilla warfare on Cossacks, policemen and the Okhrana.[5] Later that year, in Tiflis, he met Ekaterina Svanidze, who would become his first wife.

In December 1905, Stalin and two other activists were elected to represent the Caucasus at the next Bolshevik conference, which took place in Tammerfors, Finland. There, on January 7, 1906, Stalin met Lenin in person for the first time. Although Stalin was impressed by Lenin's personality and intellect, he was not afraid to contradict him.[5] He objected to Lenin's proposal that they take part in elections to the recently formed Duma; Lenin conceded to Stalin. At the conference he also met Emelian Yaroslavsky, his future propaganda chief, and Solomon Lozovsky, his future Deputy Foreign Commissar. After the conference, Stalin returned to Georgia, where Cossack armies were brutally trying to reconquer the rebellious region for the Tsar. In Tiflis, Stalin and the Mensheviks plotted the assassination of General Fyodo Griiazanov, which was carried out on March 1, 1906. Stalin continued to raise money for the Bolsheviks through extortion, bank robberies and hold-ups.

In April 1906, Stalin attended the Fourth Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. At the conference, he met Klimenti Voroshilov, his future Defence Commissar and First Marshal; Felix Dzerzhinsky, future founder of the Cheka; and Grigory Zinoviev, with whom he would share power after Lenin's death. The Congress — in which the Bolsheviks were outnumbered — voted to ban bank robberies. This upset Lenin, who needed the bank robberies to raise money.

Stalin and Lenin both attended the Fifth Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in London in 1907.[7] This Congress consolidated the supremacy of Lenin's Bolshevik faction and debated strategy for communist revolution in Russia. Here, Stalin first met Leon Trotsky in person; Stalin immediately came to hate him, calling him "handsome but useless".[5] After the conference, Stalin would begin to switch his focus away from Georgia, which was rife with feuding and dominated by the Mensheviks, to Russia, and he began writing in Russian.

Upon his return to Tiflis, Stalin readied himself for a major bank robbery. Through contacts in the banking business, he had learned a major shipment of money was due to be delivered in June to the Imperial Bank at the centre of town. Because his party banned bank robberies, Stalin temporarily resigned. On June 26, 1907, Stalin's gang ambushed the armed convoy when it entered Yerevan Square with gunfire and homemade bombs. Around 40 people were killed, but all of Stalin's gang managed to escape alive with 250,000 roubles (around US$3.4 million in today's terms).[5] Stalin and his family left Tiflis two days later. A henchman delivered the money to Lenin in Finland, who then fled with it to Geneva. The Mensheviks, who had banned bank robberies (and did not get to share in the loot), were outraged and investigated the suspects. Stalin escaped expulsion, though the affair would cause him trouble for years to come.

Stalin's family moved to Baku. Whilst Stalin continued his revolutionary activities, his wife fell ill from Baku's pollution, heat, stress and malnourishment. She eventually contracted typhus (though many historians believe it to have been tuberculosis) and died on December 5, 1907. Stalin was overcome with grief and retreated into mourning for several months. The loss also hardened him; he told a friend: "with her died my last warm feelings for humanity".[5] He abandoned his son, Yakov, who was raised by his deceased wife's family.

When Stalin resumed his activities, he organized more strikes and agitation, this time focusing on the Muslim Azeri and Persian workers in Baku. He helped found a Muslim Bolshevik group called Hummet, and also supported the Persian Constitutional Revolution with manpower and weapons, and even visited Persia to organize partisans. Stalin ordered the murders of many Black Hundreds (right-wing supporters of the Tsar), and conducted protection rackets and ransom kidnappings against the oil tycoons of Baku. He also conducted counterfeiting operations and robberies. He befriended criminal gangs, and used them to obstruct the Mensheviks. Stalin's gangsterism upset the Bolshevik intelligentsia, but he was too influential and indispensable to oppose.

The Okhrana tracked down and arrested Stalin on April 7, 1908. After seven months in prison, he was sentenced to two years' exile in Siberia. He arrived in the village of Solvychegodsk in early March 1909. After seven months in exile, he disguised himself as a woman and escaped on a train to St Petersburg. He returned to Baku in late July.

The Bolsheviks were on the verge of collapse due to Okhrana oppression within the Empire and infighting among the intelligentsia abroad. In desperation, he advocated a reconciliation with the Mensheviks (which Lenin opposed). He demanded the creation of a Russian Bureau to run the Social-Democratic Party from within the Empire, to which he was appointed.

Stalin soon realised the Bolsheviks had been heavily infiltrated by Tsarist spies. He initiated a hunt for the traitors, which failed to root out any real traitors - as revealed by Okhrana records - and caused much disarray in the Party.

On April 5, 1910 Stalin was yet again arrested by the Okhrana. He was banned from the Caucasus for five years and sentenced to complete his previous exile in Solvychegodsk. He was deported back there in September. He briefly escaped in early 1911, but another exile who was supposed to pass much-needed money to him instead ran off with it (Stalin had him shot for this in 1937), and he was forced to return to Solvychegodsk. During his exile, he had an affair with his landlady, Maria Kuzakova, with whom he fathered a son, Constantine. Stalin was released on July 9, 1911, while Maria was still pregnant. Stalin moved to Vologda in late July, where he had been ordered to reside for two months.

The information card on "I. V. Stalina", from the files of the Tsarist secret police in Saint Petersburg, 1911[5]In January 1912, at the Prague Party Conference, Lenin led his Bolshevik faction out of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, founding the separate Bolshevik Party. A Central Committee was elected, but when some of its members returned to Russia, they were arrested by the Okhrana, having been secretly betrayed by fellow CC member Roman Malinovsky, an Okhrana spy. To fill the void, Lenin and Grigory Zinoviev coopted Stalin as a member of the Central Committee

Stalin renewed his efforts to reconcile the Bolsheviks with the Mensheviks in the hope of salvaging the then struggling Marxist movement. He published editorials in Pravda advocating reconciliation, and secretly met with Menshevik leaders on several occasions. This angered Lenin, who twice summoned Stalin to Kraków to argue policy. On the second visit at the end of 1912, Stalin was removed from his post as editor of Pravda, but was made a leader of the Russian Bureau of the Bolshevik Party. Lenin also asked Stalin to write an essay laying out the Bolshevik position on national minorities.

After Kraków, Stalin spent several weeks in Vienna with a wealthy Bolshevik couple he met with Lenin in Kraków. While there he met for the first time Nikolai Bukharin, who would become a leading politician in the future Soviet government. They continued to discuss the issue of nationalities. Stalin completed his essay on the topic, entitled "Marxism and the National Question", which was published in March 1913 under the pseudonym "K. Stalin" (this was the first time he used the name "Stalin" in a publishing).

Stalin in exile, 1915Stalin returned to Saint Petersburg in February 1913. During this time, many Bolsheviks, including almost the entire Central Committee, had been arrested by the Okhrana, having been betrayed by Roman Malinovsky, a high-ranking Bolshevik who for years had been an Okhrana spy and agent provocateur. That month, an article had been published that outed Malinovsky as a spy, but the Bolsheviks dismissed it as Menshevik libel (ironically, Lenin and Stalin were his strongest defenders). On March 8 Malinovsky persuaded Stalin to attend a Bolshevik fundraising ball, which was raided by the Okhrana.

Stalin was condemned to four years in the remote Siberian province of Turukhansk. He was eventually joined by Kamenev and several other Bolshevik exiles. He spent six months in the small hamlet of Kostino on the Yenisei River. After learning that Stalin was planning an escape (he had received money and supplies from his comrades), the authorities moved him north to Kureika, a hamlet on the edge of the Arctic Circle. There, he lived the life of a hunter-gatherer, having learned fishing and hunting from local Siberian tribesmen. While there he began a 2-year affair with Lidia Pereprygina, then aged 13, with whom he fathered two children. The first died in infancy; the second, named Alexander, was born in April 1917.

Role during the Russian Revolution of 1917

In the wake of the February Revolution of 1917 (the first phase of the Russian Revolution of 1917), Stalin was released from exile. On March 25 he returned to Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) and, together with Lev Kamenev and Matvei Muranov, ousted Vyacheslav Molotov and Alexander Shlyapnikov as editors of Pravda, the official Bolshevik newspaper, while Lenin and much of the Bolshevik leadership were still in exile. Stalin and the new editorial board took a position in favor of supporting Alexander Kerensky's provisional government (Molotov and Shlyapnikov had wanted to overthrow it) and went to the extent of declining to publish Lenin's articles arguing for the provisional government to be overthrown. However, after Lenin prevailed at the April Party conference, Stalin and the rest of the Pravda staff came on board with Lenin's view and called for overthrowing the provisional government. At this April 1917 Party conference, Stalin was elected to the Bolshevik Central Committee with the third highest total votes in the party.

In mid-July, armed mobs led by Bolshevik militants took to the streets of Petrograd, killing army officers and bourgeois civilians. They demanded the overthrow of the government, but neither the Bolshevik leadership nor the Petrograd Soviet were willing to take power, having been totally surprised by this unplanned revolt. After the disappointed mobs dispersed, Kerensky's government struck back at the Bolsheviks. Loyalist troops raided Pravda and surrounded the Bolshevik headquarters. Stalin helped Lenin evade capture and, to avoid a bloodbath, ordered the besieged Bolsheviks to surrender.

Convinced Lenin would be killed if caught, Stalin smuggled him to Finland. In Lenin's absence, Stalin assumed leadership of the Bolsheviks. At the Sixth Congress of the Bolshevik party, held secretly in Petrograd, Stalin was chosen to be the chief editor of the Party press and a member of the Constituent Assembly, and was re-elected to the Central Committee.

In September 1917, Kerensky suspected his newly appointed Commander-in-Chief, General Lavr Kornilov, of planning a coup and dismissed him. Believing Kerensky was being controlled by the Bolsheviks, Kornilov decided to march his army on Petrograd. In desperation, Kerensky turned to the Petrograd Soviet for help and released the Bolsheviks, who together raised a small army to defend the capital. In the end, Kerensky convinced Kornilov's army to stand down and disband without violence. However, the Bolsheviks were now free, rearmed and swelling with new recruits and under Stalin's firm control, whilst Kerensky had few troops loyal to him in the capital. Lenin decided the time for a coup had arrived. Kamenev and Zinoviev proposed a coalition with the Mensheviks, but Stalin and Trotsky backed Lenin's wish for an exclusively Bolshevik government. Lenin returned to Petrograd in October. On October 29, the Central Committee voted 10-2 in favor of an insurrection; Kamenev and Zinoviev voted in opposition.

On the morning of November 6, Kerensky's troops raided Stalin's press headquarters and smashed his printing presses. Whilst he worked to restore his presses, he missed a Central Committee meeting where assignments for the coup were being issued. Stalin instead spent the afternoon briefing Bolshevik delegates and passing communications to and from Lenin, who was in hiding.[5]

Early the next day, Stalin went to the Smolny Institute from where he, Lenin and the rest of the Central Committee coordinated the coup. Kerensky left the capital to rally the Imperial troops at the German front. By November 8, the Winter Palace had been stormed and Kerensky's Cabinet had been arrested.

Role in the Russian Civil War, 1917–1919

Communist Party of the Soviet Union

History Organization Congress · Central Committee Politburo · General Secretary Secretariat · Orgburo Control Committee Auditing Commission Leaders Vladimir Lenin Joseph Stalin Nikita Khrushchev Leonid Brezhnev Yuri Andropov Konstantin Chernenko Mikhail Gorbachev Other topics Pravda Komsomol Communism portal v • d • e Upon seizing Petrograd, the Bolsheviks formed the new revolutionary authority, the Council of People's Commissars. Stalin was appointed People's Commissar for Nationalities' Affairs; his job was to establish an institution to win over non-Russian citizens of the former Russian Empire. He was relieved of his post as editor of Pravda so that he could devote himself fully to his new role.[8]

In March 1918, the Menshevik leader Julius Martov published an article exposing Bolshevik crimes committed before the revolution. It stated that Stalin had organised bank robberies and had been expelled from his own party for doing so (the latter part is untrue). Stalin sued Martov for libel and won.

After seizing Petrograd, civil war broke out in Russia, pitting Lenin's Red Army against the White Army, a loose alliance of anti-Bolshevik forces. Lenin formed a five-member Politburo which included Stalin and Trotsky. During this time, only Stalin and Trotsky were allowed to see Lenin without an appointment.

In May 1918, Lenin dispatched Stalin to the city of Tsaritsyn. Situated on the Lower Volga, it was a key supply route to the oil and grain of the North Caucasus. There was a critical shortage of food in Russia, and Stalin was assigned to procure any he could find. The city was also in danger of falling to the White Army. Here, he first met and befriended Kliment Voroshilov and Semyon Budyonny, both of whom would become two of Stalin's key supporters in the military. Through his new allies, he imposed his influence on the military; in July Lenin granted his request for official control over military operations in the region.

Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, and Mikhail Kalinin meeting in 1919. All three of them were "Old Bolsheviks" — members of the Bolshevik party before the Russian Revolution of 1917.Stalin challenged many of the decisions of Trotsky, who at this time was Chairman of the Revolutionary-Military Council of the Republic and thus his military superior. He ordered the killings of many former Tsarist officers in the Red Army; Trotsky, in agreement with the Central Committee, had hired them for their expertise, but Stalin distrusted them. This created a lot of friction between Stalin and Trotsky. Stalin even wrote to Lenin asking that Trotsky be relieved of his post.[8]

Stalin ordered the executions of any suspected counter-revolutionaries.[9] In the countryside, he burned villages in order to intimidate the peasantry into submission and discourage bandit raids on food shipments.

Stalin returned to Moscow in early 1919 and married his longtime companinon, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, on March 24. At the Eighth Party Congress in March, Lenin criticised Stalin for using tactics that led to excessive casualties.

In May 1919, Stalin was dispatched to the Western Front, near Petrograd. In order to stem mass desertions and defections of Red Army soldiers, Stalin rounded up deserters and renegades and had them publicly executed as traitors.

Role in the Polish-Soviet War, 1919-1920

After the Bolsheviks won the civil war in late 1919, Lenin and many others wanted to expand the revolution westwards into Europe, starting with Poland, which was fighting the Red Army in Ukraine. Stalin, in Ukraine at the time, argued these ambitions were unrealistic, but lost. He was briefly transferred to the Caucasus in February 1920, but managed to get transferred back to Ukraine in May where he accepted joint command of an army.

In late July 1920, Stalin moved against the then-Polish city of Lwów, which conflicted with the general strategy set by Lenin and Trotsky by drawing his troops further away from the forces advancing on Warsaw. In mid-August the Commander-in-Chief Sergei Kamenev ordered the transfer of troops from Stalin's forces to reinforce the attack on Warsaw. Stalin refused to counter-sign the order, though he didn't actually block it.[8] In the end, the battles for both Lwów and Warsaw were lost, and Stalin's actions were held partly to blame.

Stalin returned to Moscow in August 1920, where he defended himself before the Politburo by attacking the whole campaign strategy. Although this tactic worked, he nonetheless resigned his military commission, something he had repeatedly threatened to do when he didn't get his way.[8] At the Ninth Party Conference on September 22, Trotsky openly criticised Stalin's war record. Stalin was accused of insubordination, personal ambition and military incompetence. Neither he nor anybody else challenged these attacks; he only briefly reaffirmed his position that the war itself was a mistake, something which everybody agreed on by this point.[8]

Rise to power

In late 1920 Trotsky argued for a formal imposition of Party dictatorship over the industrial sectors. Believing this would needlessly upset the trade unions, Lenin asked Stalin to build a support base for him against Trotsky; Lenin's faction eventually prevailed at the Tenth Party Congress in March 1921. Lenin still, however, encountered difficulties with various factions in pushing his policies through and decided to give his ally more power.[8] With the help of Kamenev, Lenin successfully had Stalin appointed to the post of General Secretary on April 3, 1922. He still held his posts in the Orgburo, the Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate and the Commassariat for Nationalities Affairs, though he agreed to delegate his workload to subordinates. With this power, he would steadily place his supporters in positions of authority.[8]

Stalin played a decisive role in engineering the 1921 Red Army invasion of Georgia following which he adopted particularly hardline, centralist policies towards Soviet Georgia, which included severe repression of all opposition within the local Communist party (e.g., the Georgian Affair of 1922), not to mention any manifestations of anti-Sovietism (the August Uprising of 1924).[10] It was in the Georgian affairs that Stalin first began to play his own hand.[11] Lenin, however, disliked Stalin's policy towards Georgia, as he believed all the Soviet states should be on equal standing with Russia rather than be absorbed and subordinated to it.[8]

Stalin visiting the ailing Lenin at his dacha in Gorki.On May 25, 1922, Lenin suffered a stroke while recovering from surgery to remove a bullet lodged in his neck since a failed assassination attempt in August 1918. Severely debilitated, he went into semi-retirement and moved to his dacha in Gorki. Stalin visited him often, acting as his intermediary with the outside world.[8] During this time, the two quarrelled over economic policy and how to consolidate the Soviet republics. One day, Stalin verbally swore at Lenin's wife for breaching Politburo orders by helping Lenin communicate with Trotsky and others about politics;[8] this greatly offended Lenin. As their relationship deteriorated, Lenin dictated increasingly disparaging notes on Stalin in what would become his testament. He criticised Stalin's rude manners, excessive power, ambition and politics, and suggested that Stalin should be removed from the position of General Secretary. One of Lenin's secretaries showed Stalin the notes, whose contents shocked him.[8] Before Stalin could mend any bridges, Lenin suffered a heart attack on March 10, 1923 which left him completely incapacitated.

During Lenin's semi-retirement, Stalin forged an alliance with Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev against Trotsky. These allies prevented Lenin's Testament from being revealed to the Twelfth Party Congress in April 1923.[8] Although they too were disconcerted by Stalin's power and some of his policies, they needed his help in opposing Trotsky's faction and his possible succession to Lenin.

Lenin died of a heart attack on January 21, 1924. Stalin was given the honor of organising his funeral. Against Lenin's wishes, he was given a lavish funeral and his body was embalmed and put on display. Thanks to Kamenev and Zinoviev's influence, the Central Committee decided that Lenin's Testament should not be made public. At the Thirteenth Party Congress in May, it was read out only to the heads of the provincial delegations. Trotsky did not seize the opportunity to demand Stalin's removal.[8]

In the months following Lenin's death, Stalin's disputes with Kamenev and Zinoviev intensified. Stalin allied himself now with Nikolai Bukharin, whom he had promoted to the Politburo at the Thirteenth Party Congress. At the Fourteenth Party Congress in December 1925, Stalin openly attacked Kamenev and Zinoviev, revealing that they had asked for his aid in expelling Trotsky from the Party.

Stalin began advocating that the Bolsheviks should focus building communism in the countries they already controlled rather than spreading the revolution. This drew to him many like-minded Party members and put him in ideological opposition to Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev, who had formed an opposition against Stalin. Stalin also undermined his enemies' reputations, pointing out that Trotsky wasn't a Bolshevik before the revolution and that Kamenev and Zinoviev had voted against the revolution.

Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev grew increasingly isolated and were ejected from the Central Committee in October 1927. On November 14, Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the Party itself, followed by Kamenev at the Fifteenth Party Congress in December.[8] Kamenev and Zinoviev were readmitted some six months later after writing open letters of apology, but Trotsky was exiled from the Soviet Union.

Stalin began pushing for more rapid industrialization and central control of the economy, a position which resonated with many Party members who disliked Lenin's New Economic Policy. At the end of 1927, a critical shortfall in grain supplies prompted Stalin to push for collectivisation of agriculture. In January 1928, he personally travelled to Siberia where he oversaw the seizure of grain hoards from kulak farmers. Many in the Party supported the seizures, but Bukharin and Premier Rykov were outraged.[9][8] Bukharin criticized Stalin's plans for rapid industrialization financed by kulak wealth, and advocated a return to the NEP. Stalin accused Bukharin of factionalism and capitalist tendencies, and the other Politburo members sided with him. Bukharin was ejected from the Politburo in November 1929.

Stalin gained popular appeal from his presentation as a 'man of the people' from the poorer classes. The Russian people were tired from the world war and the civil war, and Stalin's policy of concentrating in building "Socialism in One Country" was seen as an optimistic antidote to war.

Stalin took great advantage of the ban on factionalism which meant that no group could openly go against the policies of the leader of the party because that meant creation of an opposition. By 1928 (the first year of the Five-Year Plans) Stalin was supreme among the leadership, and the following year Trotsky was exiled because of his opposition. Having also outmaneuvered Bukharin's Right Opposition and now advocating collectivization and industrialization, Stalin can be said to have exercised control over the party and the country.

However, as the popularity of other leaders such as Sergei Kirov and the so-called Ryutin Affair were to demonstrate, Stalin did not achieve absolute power until the Great Purge of 1936–1938.

Bolstering Soviet secret service and intelligence

Stalin vastly increased the scope and power of the state's secret police and intelligence agencies. Under his guiding hand, Soviet intelligence forces began to set up intelligence networks in most of the major nations of the world, including Germany (the famous Rote Kappelle spy ring), Great Britain, France, Japan, and the United States. Stalin saw no difference between espionage, communist political propaganda actions, and state-sanctioned violence, and he began to integrate all of these activities within the NKVD. Stalin made considerable use of the Communist International movement in order to infiltrate agents and to ensure that foreign Communist parties remained pro-Soviet and pro-Stalin.

One of the best examples of Stalin's ability to integrate secret police and foreign espionage came in 1940, when he gave approval to the secret police to have Leon Trotsky assassinated in Mexico.

Cult of personality

Roses for Stalin (1949), painting by Boris Vladimirski.Stalin created a cult of personality in the Soviet Union around both himself and Lenin. The embalming of the Soviet founder in Lenin's Mausoleum was performed over the objection of Lenin's widow, Nadezhda Krupskaya. Stalin became the focus of massive adoration and even worship. Many personality cults in history have been frequently measured and compared to his.

Numerous towns, villages and cities were renamed after the Soviet leader (see List of places named after Stalin) and the Stalin Prize and Stalin Peace Prize were named in his honor. He accepted grandiloquent titles (e.g. "Coryphaeus of Science," "Father of Nations," "Brilliant Genius of Humanity," "Great Architect of Communism," "Gardener of Human Happiness," and others), and helped rewrite Soviet history to provide himself a more significant role in the revolution. At the same time, according to Khrushchev, he insisted that he be remembered for "the extraordinary modesty characteristic of truly great people."

Many statues and monuments were erected to glorify Stalin but all of them distorted Stalin's true build. Going by these monuments and statues it would be easy to assume that Stalin was a tall and well built man not unlike Tsar Alexander III. This was not the case however; photographic evidence suggests he was between 5 ft 5 in and 5 ft 6 in (165–168 cm).[13] His physical stature was exaggerated in all portraits and statues to avoid any image of weakness that could harm his cult of personality.

Trotsky criticized the cult of personality built around Stalin as being against the values of socialism and Bolshevism, in that it exalted the individual above the party and class and it disallowed criticism of Stalin. The personality cult reached new levels during the Great Patriotic War, with Stalin's name even being included in the new Soviet national anthem. The reference was later removed during the process of De-Stalinization. Also the soldiers of the Red Army when they charged into battle, they would not only yell out "FOR THE MOTHERLAND", but also most, if not all would also yell out "FOR STALIN". Also the Iosif Stalin tank class was named after Stalin.

Stalin became the focus of a body of literature encompassing poetry as well as music, paintings and film. Artists and writers vied with each other in fawning devotion, crediting Stalin with almost god-like qualities, and suggesting he single-handedly won the Second World War.

It is debatable as to how much Stalin relished the cult surrounding him. The Finnish communist Tuominen records a sarcastic toast proposed by Stalin at a New Year Party in 1935:

Comrades! I want to propose a toast to our patriarch, life and sun, liberator of nations, architect of socialism [he rattled off all the appellations applied to him in those days] – Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, and I hope this is the first and last speech made to that genius this evening.

Changes to Soviet society, 1927–1939

Purges and deportations


Stalin, as head of the Politburo consolidated near-absolute power in the 1930s with a Great Purge of the party, justified as an attempt to expel 'opportunists' and 'counter-revolutionary infiltrators'. Those targeted by the purge were often expelled from the party, however more severe measures ranged from banishment to the Gulag labor camps, to execution after trials held by NKVD troikas.

The purges commenced after the assassination of Sergei Kirov, the popular leader of the party in Leningrad. Kirov was very close to Stalin and his assassination sent chills through the Bolshevik party. Publicly Stalin merely reacted to this assassination by tightening security by seeking out alleged spies and counter-revolutionaries, but in effect he was removing those who might have threatened his leadership. This process then transformed itself into extensive purges.

In the 1930s, Stalin apparently became increasingly worried about Kirov's growing popularity. At the 1934 Party Congress where the vote for the new Central Committee was held, Kirov received only three negative votes, the fewest of any candidate, while Stalin received 292 negative votes, the highest of any candidate. Kirov was a close friend with Sergo Ordzhonikidze, and together they formed a moderate bloc in the Politburo. Later in 1934, Stalin asked Kirov to work for him in Moscow. One theory suggests that Stalin did this in order to keep a closer eye on Kirov, this despite the supposed fact that Stalin entirely controlled the NKVD. Kirov refused, however, and according to the same theory he became a competitor in Stalin's eyes.

On December 1, 1934, Kirov was killed by Leonid Nikolaev (also seen spelled as Nikolayev) in the Smolny Institute Leningrad. Kirov had arrived at the Smolny to work in his office, and, apparently leaving his bodyguard downstairs, headed to the upper floors, where the officials had their rooms. Nikolayev emerged from a bathroom and followed Kirov towards his office, shooting him in the back of the neck. Officially Stalin claimed that Nikolayev was part of a larger conspiracy led by Leon Trotsky against the Soviet government. This resulted in the arrest and execution of Lev Kamenev, Grigory Zinoviev, and fourteen others in 1936. The death of Kirov ignited the great purge where supporters of Trotsky and other suspected enemies of the state were arrested. It has been speculated that Stalin was the man who ordered the murder of Kirov, and that the shooting was carried out with the help of the NKVD. However, although most historians believe that this second version of why and how Kirov was killed is more likely, it has so far not been unambiguously proven correct and it is still disputed by some.

Several trials known as the Moscow Trials were held, but the procedures were replicated throughout the country. There were four key trials during this period: the Trial of the Sixteen (August 1936); Trial of the Seventeen (January 1937); the trial of Red Army generals, including Marshal Tukhachevsky (June 1937); and finally the Trial of the Twenty One (including Bukharin) in March 1938.

Most notably in the case of alleged Nazi collaborator Tukhachevsky, many military leaders were convicted of treason. The large scale purging of the officers of the Red Army cost the Soviet Union dearly during the German invasion of June 22, 1941, and its aftermath.[19]

The repression of so many formerly high-ranking revolutionaries and party members led Leon Trotsky to claim that a "river of blood" separated Stalin's regime from that of Lenin. Solzhenitsyn alleges that Stalin drew inspiration from Lenin's regime with the presence of labor camps and the executions of political opponents that occurred during the Russian Civil War. Trotsky's August 1940 assassination in Mexico, where he had lived in exile since January 1937, eliminated the last of Stalin's opponents among the former Party leadership. Only three members of the "Old Bolsheviks" (Lenin's Politburo) now remained — Stalin himself, "the all-Union Chieftain" (всесоюзный староста) Mikhail Kalinin, and Chairman of Sovnarkom Vyacheslav Molotov.

Nikolai Yezhov, the young man walking with Stalin in the top photo from the 1930s, was shot in 1940. Following his death, Yezhov was edited out by Soviet censors. Such retouching was a common occurrence during Stalin's rule. No segment of society was left untouched during the purges. Article 58 of the legal code, listing prohibited "anti-Soviet activities", was applied in the broadest manner. Initially, the execution lists for the enemies of the people were confirmed by the Politburo.

Over time the procedure was greatly simplified and delegated down the line of command. People would inform on others arbitrarily, to attempt to redeem themselves, or to gain small retributions. The flimsiest pretexts were often enough to brand someone an "enemy of the people," starting the cycle of public persecution and abuse, often proceeding to interrogation, torture and deportation, if not death. Nadezhda Mandelstam, the widow of the poet Osip Mandelstam and one of the key memoirists of the purges, recalls being shouted at by Akhmatova: "Don't you understand? They are arresting people for nothing now?" The Russian word troika gained a new meaning: a quick, simplified trial by a committee of three subordinated to NKVD.

Mass operations of the NKVD also targeted "national contingents" (foreign ethnicities), such as Poles, Ethnic Germans, Koreans, etc. A total of 350,000 (144,000 of them Poles) were arrested and 247,157 (110,000 Poles) were executed - which historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore calls "a mini-genocide".

Towards the end of the purge, the Politburo relieved NKVD head Nikolai Yezhov, from his position for overzealousness. He was subsequently executed. Some historians such as Amy Knight and Robert Conquest postulate that Stalin had Yezhov and his predecessor, Genrikh Yagoda, removed in order to deflect blame from himself.

In parallel with the purges, efforts were made to rewrite the history in Soviet textbooks and other propaganda materials. Notable people executed by NKVD were removed from the texts and photographs as though they never existed. Gradually, the history of revolution was transformed to a story about just two key characters: Lenin and Stalin.

In light of revelations from the Soviet archives, historians now estimate that nearly 700,000 people (353,074 and 328,612 for 1937 and 1938 respectively, according to official data) were executed in the course of the terror,[21] with the great mass of victims being "ordinary" Soviet citizens: workers, peasants, homemakers, teachers, priests, musicians, soldiers, pensioners, ballerinas, beggars.[22][23] Some experts believe the evidence released from the Soviet archives is understated, incomplete or unreliable.[24][25][26][27] For example, Robert Conquest suggests that the probable figure for executions during the years of the Great Purge is not 681,692, but some two and a half times as high. He believes that the KGB was covering its tracks by falsifying the dates and causes of death of rehabilitated victims.[28] At the time, while reviewing a list of people to be shot, Stalin reportedly muttered to no one in particular:

Who's going to remember all this riffraff in ten or twenty years time? No one. Who remembers the names now of the boyars Ivan the Terrible got rid of? No one. The people had to know he was getting rid of all of his enemies. In the end, they all got what they deserved.[29]

In addition, Stalin dispatched a contingent of NKVD operatives to Mongolia, established a Mongolian version of the NKVD troika and unleashed a bloody purge in which tens of thousands were executed as 'Japanese Spies.' Mongolian ruler Khorloogiin Choibalsan closely followed Stalin's lead.[


Meeting in a prison cellShortly before, during and immediately after World War II, Stalin conducted a series of deportations on a huge scale which profoundly affected the ethnic map of the Soviet Union. It is estimated that between 1941 and 1949 nearly 3.3 million[31] were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. By some estimates up to 43% of the resettled population died of diseases and malnutrition.[32]

Separatism, resistance to Soviet rule and collaboration with the invading Germans were cited as the official reasons for the deportations, rightly or wrongly. Historian Allan Bullock explains:

Many no doubt had collaborated with the occupying forces … but many had done so not out of disloyalty but from the instinct to survive when abandoned to their fate by the retreating Soviet armies. The individual circumstances were of no interest to Stalin … After the brief Nazi occupation of the Caucasus was over … the entire population of five of the small highland peoples of the North Caucasus, as well as the Crimean Tatars – more than a million souls – (were deported) without notice or any opportunity to take their possessions. There were certainly collaborators among these peoples, but most of those had fled with the Germans. The majority of those left were old folk, women, and children; their men were away fighting at the front, where the Chechens and Ingushes alone produced thirty-six Heroes of the Soviet Union.[33]

During Stalin's rule the following ethnic groups were deported completely or partially: Ukrainians, Poles, Koreans, Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, Meskhetian Turks, Finns, Bulgarians, Greeks, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and Jews. Large numbers of Kulaks, regardless of their nationality, were resettled to Siberia and Central Asia. Deportations took place in appalling conditions, often by cattle truck, and hundreds of thousands of deportees died en route.[34] Those who survived were forced to work without pay in the labour camps. Many of the deportees died of hunger or other conditions.

In February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev condemned the deportations as a violation of Leninism, and reversed most of them, although it was not until 1991 that the Tatars, Meskhetians and Volga Germans were allowed to return en masse to their homelands. The deportations had a profound effect on the peoples of the Soviet Union. The memory of the deportations played a major part in the separatist movements in the Baltic States, Tatarstan and Chechnya, even today.


Stalin's regime moved to force collectivization of agriculture. This was intended to increase agricultural output from large-scale mechanized farms, to bring the peasantry under more direct political control, and to make tax collection more efficient. Collectivization meant drastic social changes, on a scale not seen since the abolition of serfdom in 1861, and alienation from control of the land and its produce. Collectivization also meant a drastic drop in living standards for many peasants, and it faced violent reaction among the peasantry.

In the first years of collectivization it was estimated that industrial production would rise by 200% and agricultural production by 50%,[35] but these estimates were not met. Stalin blamed this unanticipated failure on kulaks (rich peasants), who resisted collectivization. (However, kulaks proper made up only 4% of the peasant population; the "kulaks" that Stalin targeted included the slightly better-off peasants who took the brunt of violence from the OGPU and the Komsomol. These peasants were about 60% of the population). Those officially defined as "kulaks," "kulak helpers," and later "ex-kulaks" were to be shot, placed into Gulag labor camps, or deported to remote areas of the country, depending on the charge. Archival data indicates that 20,201 people were executed during 1930, the year of Dekulakization.[30]

The two-stage progress of collectivization — interrupted for a year by Stalin's famous editorial, "Dizzy with success" (Pravda, March 2, 1930), and "Reply to Collective Farm Comrades" (Pravda, April 3, 1930) — is a prime example of his capacity for tactical political withdrawal followed by intensification of initial strategies.


Famine affected other parts of the USSR. The death toll from famine in the Soviet Union at this time is estimated at between five and ten million people.[citation needed] The worst crop failure of late tsarist Russia, in 1892, had caused 375,000 to 400,000 deaths.[36] Most modern scholars agree that the famine was caused by the policies of the government of the Soviet Union under Stalin, rather than by natural reasons. [37]

Entering Gulag (a leaf from Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya's notebook)According to Alan Bullock, "the total Soviet grain crop was no worse than that of 1931 … it was not a crop failure but the excessive demands of the state, ruthlessly enforced, that cost the lives of as many as five million Ukrainian peasants." Stalin refused to release large grain reserves that could have alleviated the famine, while continuing to export grain; he was convinced that the Ukrainian peasants had hidden grain away, and strictly enforced draconian new collective-farm theft laws in response.[38][39] Other historians hold it was largely the insufficient harvests of 1931 and 1932 caused by a variety of natural disasters that resulted in famine, with the successful harvest of 1933 ending the famine.[40] Soviet and other historians have argued that the rapid collectivization of agriculture was necessary in order to achieve an equally rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union and ultimately win World War II. This is disputed by other historians; Alec Nove claims that the Soviet Union industrialized in spite of, rather than because of, its collectivized agriculture.

The USSR also experienced a major famine in 1946–48 due to Soviet economic policy and the Soviet entitlement system that cost an estimated 1 to 1.5 million lives as well as secondary population losses due to reduced fertility.[41]

Ukrainian famine

The Holodomor famine is sometimes referred to as the Ukrainian Genocide, implying it was engineered by the Soviet government, specifically targeting the Ukrainian people to destroy the Ukrainian nation as a political factor and social entity.[42] While historians continue to disagree whether the policies that led to Holodomor fall under the legal definition of genocide, twenty six countries have officially recognized the Holodomor as such. On November 28, 2006 the Ukrainian Parliament approved a bill, according to which the Soviet-era forced famine was an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people.[43] Professor Michael Ellman concludes that Ukrainians were victims of genocide in 1932-33, according to a more relaxed definition, which is favored by some specialists in the field of genocide studies. He also asserts that, while this is not the only Soviet genocide (e.g. The Polish operation of the NKVD), it is the worst in terms of mass casualties.[44]

Current estimates on the total number of casualties within Soviet Ukraine range mostly from from 2.2 million to 4 to 5 million.


The Russian Civil War and wartime communism had a devastating effect on the country's economy. Industrial output in 1922 was 13% of that in 1914. A recovery followed under the New Economic Policy, which allowed a degree of market flexibility within the context of socialism.

Under Stalin's direction, this was replaced by a system of centrally ordained "Five-Year Plans" in the late 1920s. These called for a highly ambitious program of state-guided crash industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture.

With seed capital unavailable because of international reaction to Communist policies, little international trade, and virtually no modern infrastructure, Stalin's government financed industrialization both by restraining consumption on the part of ordinary Soviet citizens to ensure that capital went for re-investment into industry, and by ruthless extraction of wealth from the kulaks.

In 1933 workers' real earnings sank to about one-tenth of the 1926 level. Common and political prisoners in labor camps were forced to do unpaid labor, and communists and Komsomol members were frequently "mobilized" for various construction projects. The Soviet Union used foreign experts, e.g. British engineer Stephen Adams, to instruct their workers and improve their manufacturing processes.

In spite of early breakdowns and failures, the first two Five-Year Plans achieved rapid industrialization from a very low economic base. While it is generally agreed that the Soviet Union achieved significant levels of economic growth under Stalin, the precise rate of growth is disputed. It is not disputed, however, that these gains were accomplished at the cost of millions of lives.

Official Soviet estimates stated the annual rate of growth at 13.9%; Russian and Western estimates gave lower figures of 5.8% and even 2.9%. Indeed, one estimate is that Soviet growth became temporarily much higher after Stalin's death.[50]

According to Robert Lewis the Five-Year Plan substantially helped to modernize the previously backward Soviet economy. New products were developed, and the scale and efficiency of existing production greatly increased. Some innovations were based on indigenous technical developments, others on imported foreign technology.


Main articles: Science and technology in the Soviet Union, Suppressed research in the Soviet Union, Lysenkoism Science in the Soviet Union was under strict ideological control by Stalin and his government, along with art and literature. There was significant progress in "ideologically safe" domains, owing to the free Soviet education system and state-financed research. However, in several cases the consequences of ideological pressure were dramatic — the most notable examples being the "bourgeois pseudosciences" genetics and cybernetics.

In the late 40's, some areas of physics, especially quantum mechanics but also special and general relativity, were also criticized on grounds of "idealism". Soviet physicists, such as K. V. Nikolskij and D. Blokhintzev, developed a version of the statistical interpretation of quantum mechanics, which was seen as more adhering to the principles of dialectical materialism.[52][53] However, although initially planned, this process did not go as far as defining an "ideologically correct" version of physics and purging those scientists who refused to conform to it, because this was recognized as potentially too harmful to the Soviet nuclear program.

Linguistics was the only area of Soviet academic thought to which Stalin personally and directly contributed. At the beginning of Stalin's rule, the dominant figure in Soviet linguistics was Nikolai Yakovlevich Marr, who argued that language is a class construction and that language structure is determined by the economic structure of society. Stalin, who had previously written about language policy as People's Commissar for Nationalities, read a letter by Arnold Chikobava criticizing the theory. He "summoned Chikobava to a dinner that lasted from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. taking notes diligently." In this way he grasped enough of the underlying issues to coherently oppose this simplistic Marxist formalism, ending Marr's ideological dominance over Soviet linguistics. Stalin's principal work discussing linguistics is a small essay, "Marxism and Linguistic Questions."

Although no great theoretical contributions or insights came from it, neither were there any apparent errors in Stalin's understanding of linguistics; his influence arguably relieved Soviet linguistics from the sort of ideologically driven theory that dominated genetics.

Scientific research was hindered by the fact that many scientists were sent to labor camps (including Lev Landau, later a Nobel Prize winner, who spent a year in prison in 1938–1939) or executed (e.g. Lev Shubnikov, shot in 1937). They were persecuted for their dissident views, not for their research. Nevertheless, much progress was made under Stalin in some areas of science and technology. It laid the ground for the famous achievements of Soviet science in the 1950s, such as the development of the BESM-1 computer in 1953 and the launching of Sputnik in 1957.

Indeed, many politicians in the United States expressed a fear, after the "Sputnik crisis," that their country had been eclipsed by the Soviet Union in science and in public education.[citation needed]

Social services

Under the Soviet government people benefited from some social liberalization. Girls were given an adequate, equal education and women had equal rights in employment, improving lives for women and families. Stalinist development also contributed to advances in health care, which significantly increased the lifespan and quality of life of the typical Soviet citizen. Stalin's policies granted the Soviet people universal access to healthcare and education, effectively creating the first generation free from the fear of typhus, cholera, and malaria. The occurrences of these diseases dropped to record low numbers, increasing life spans by decades.

Soviet women under Stalin were the first generation of women able to give birth in the safety of a hospital, with access to prenatal care. Education was also an example of an increase in standard of living after economic development. The generation born during Stalin's rule was the first near-universally literate generation. Millions benefitted from mass literacy campaigns in the 1930s, and from workers training schemes. Engineers were sent abroad to learn industrial technology, and hundreds of foreign engineers were brought to Russia on contract.[57] Transport links were improved and many new railways built. Workers who exceeded their quotas, Stakhanovites, received many incentives for their work; they could afford to buy the goods that were mass-produced by the rapidly expanding Soviet economy.

The increase in demand due to industrialization and the decrease in the workforce due to World War II and repressions generated a major expansion in job opportunities for the survivors, especially for women.


Stalin propaganda poster, reading: "Beloved Stalin — a fortune of the nation!"Although born in Georgia, Stalin became a Russian nationalist and significantly promoted Russian history, language, and Russian national heroes, particularly during the 1930s and 1940s. He held the Russians up as the elder brothers of the non-Russian minorities.

During Stalin's reign the official and long-lived style of Socialist Realism was established for painting, sculpture, music, drama and literature. Previously fashionable "revolutionary" expressionism, abstract art, and avant-garde experimentation were discouraged or denounced as "formalism". Careers were made and broken, some more than once. Famous figures were repressed, and many persecuted, tortured and executed, both "revolutionaries" (among them Isaac Babel, Vsevolod Meyerhold) and "non-conformists" (for example, Osip Mandelstam).

A minority, both representing the "Soviet man" (e.g. Arkady Gaidar) and remnants of the older pre-revolutionary Russia (e.g. Konstantin Stanislavski), thrived. A number of émigrés returned to the Soviet Union, among them Alexei Tolstoi in 1925, Alexander Kuprin in 1936, and Alexander Vertinsky in 1943.

Poet Anna Akhmatova was subjected to several cycles of suppression and rehabilitation, but was never herself arrested. Her first husband, poet Nikolai Gumilev, was shot in 1921, and her son, historian Lev Gumilev, spent two decades in a gulag.

The degree of Stalin's personal involvement in general, and in specific instances, has been the subject of discussion. His name was as constantly invoked during his reign in discussions of culture as in just about everything else; in several famous cases his opinion was final.

Stalin's occasional beneficence showed itself in strange ways. For example, Mikhail Bulgakov was driven to poverty and despair; yet, after a personal appeal to Stalin, he was allowed to continue working. His play, The Days of the Turbines, with its sympathetic treatment of an anti-Bolshevik family caught up in the Civil War, was finally staged, apparently also on Stalin's intervention, and began a decades-long uninterrupted run at the Moscow Arts Theater.

Some insights into Stalin's political and esthetic thinking might perhaps be gleaned by reading his favorite novel, Pharaoh, by the Polish writer Bolesław Prus, a historical novel on mechanisms of political power. Similarities have been pointed out between this novel and Sergei Eisenstein's film, Ivan the Terrible, produced under Stalin's tutelage.

In architecture, a Stalinist Empire Style (basically, updated neoclassicism on a very large scale, exemplified by the Seven Sisters of Moscow) replaced the constructivism of the 1920s.

Stalin's rule had a largely disruptive effect on the many indigenous cultures within the Soviet Union. The politics of Korenizatsiya and forced development of "Cultures National by Form, Socialist by their substance" was arguably beneficial to later generations of indigenous cultures in allowing them to integrate more easily into Russian society.

The attempted unification of cultures in Stalin's later period was very harmful. Political repressions and purges were even more devastating to indigenous cultures than on urban ones as the cultural elites were smaller. The traditional lives of many peoples in the Siberian, Central Asian and Caucasian provinces was upset and large populations were displaced and scattered in order to prevent nationalist uprisings.

The Hotel Moskva (Moscow) in Moscow was said to have been built with mismatched side wings because Stalin had mistakenly signed off both of the proposals submitted, and the architects had been too afraid to clarify the matter. (The hotel had actually been built by two independent teams of architects with differing ideas.)


Stalin's role in the fortunes of the Russian Orthodox Church is complex. Continuous persecution in the 1930s resulted in its near-extinction: by 1939, active parishes numbered in the low hundreds (down from 54,000 in 1917), many churches had been leveled, and tens of thousands of priests, monks and nuns were persecuted and killed. Over 100,000 were shot during the purges of 1937–1938.[60] During World War II, the Church was allowed a revival as a patriotic organization, after the NKVD had recruited the new metropolitan, the first after the revolution, as a secret agent. Thousands of parishes were reactivated until a further round of suppression in Khrushchev's time.

The Russian Orthodox Church Synod's recognition of the Soviet government and of Stalin personally led to a schism with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. An Act of Canonical Communion was signed on May 17, 2007, followed immediately by a full restoration of communion with the Moscow Patriarchate; there remain some issues not fully healed to the present day.

Just days before Stalin's death, certain religious sects were outlawed and persecuted.

Many religions popular in the ethnic regions of the Soviet Union including the Roman Catholic Church, Uniats, Baptists, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, etc. underwent ordeals similar to the Orthodox churches in other parts: thousands of monks were persecuted, and hundreds of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, sacred monuments, monasteries and other religious buildings were razed.


Stalin made few contributions to Communist (or, more specifically, Marxist-Leninist) theory. The contributions he made were accepted and upheld by all Soviet political scientists during his rule. Among Stalin's contributions were his "Marxism and the National Question", a work praised by Lenin; his "Trotskyism or Leninism", which was a factor in the "liquidation of Trotskyism as an ideological trend" within the CPSU(B).

Stalin's Collected Works (in 13 volumes) was released in 1949. A subsequent 16 volume American Edition appeared, in which one volume consisted of the book "History of the CPSU(B) Short Course", although when released in 1938 this book was credited to a commission of the Central Committee.

In 1933, Stalin put forward the theory of aggravation of the class struggle along with the development of socialism, arguing that the further the country would move forward, the more acute forms of struggle will be used by the doomed remnants of exploiter classes in their last desperate efforts – and that, therefore, political repression was necessary.

In 1936, Stalin announced that the society of the Soviet Union consisted of two non-antagonistic classes: workers and kolkhoz peasantry. These corresponded to the two different forms of property over the means of production that existed in the Soviet Union: state property (for the workers) and collective property (for the peasantry). In addition to these, Stalin distinguished the stratum of intelligentsia. The concept of "non-antagonistic classes" was entirely new to Leninist theory.

Stalin and his supporters have highlighted the notion that socialism can be built and consolidated by a country as underdeveloped as Russia during the 1920s. Indeed this might be the only means in which it could be built in a hostile environment.[61]

Calculating the number of victims

Researchers before the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union attempting to count the number of people killed under Stalin's regime produced estimates ranging from 3 to 60 million. After the Soviet Union dissolved, evidence from the Soviet archives also became available, containing official records of the execution of approximately 800,000 prisoners under Stalin for either political or criminal offenses, around 1.7 million deaths in the Gulags and some 390,000 deaths during kulak forced resettlement – for a total of about 3 million officially recorded victims in these categories.

The official Soviet archival records do not contain comprehensive figures for some categories of victims, such as the those of ethnic deportations or of German population transfers in the aftermath of WWII. Other notable exclusions from NKVD data on repression deaths include the Katyn massacre, other killings in the newly occupied areas, and the mass shootings of Red Army personnel (deserters and so-called deserters) in 1941. Also, the official statistics on Gulag mortality exclude deaths of prisoners taking place shortly after their release but which resulted from the harsh treatment in the camps. Some historians also believe the official archival figures of the categories that were recorded by Soviet authorities to be unreliable and incomplete. In addition to failures regarding comprehensive recordings, as one additional example, Robert Gellately and Simon Sebag-Montefiore argue the many suspects beaten and tortured to death while in "investigative custody" were likely not to have been counted amongst the executed.

Historians working after the Soviet Union's dissolution have estimated victim totals ranging from approximately 4 million to nearly 10 million, not including those who died in famines.[68] Russian writer Vadim Erlikman, for example, makes the following estimates: executions, 1.5 million; gulags, 5 million; deportations, 1.7 million out of 7.5 million deported; and POWs and German civilians, 1 million – a total of about 9 million victims of repression.

Some have also included deaths of 6 to 8 million people in the 1932–1933 famine as victims of Stalin's repression. This categorization is controversial however, as historians differ as to whether the famine was a deliberate part of the campaign of repression against kulaks and others, or simply an unintended consequence of the struggle over forced collectivization.[39][70][71]

Accordingly, if famine victims are included, a minimum of around 10 million deaths — 6 million minimum from famine and 4 million minimum from other causes — are attributable to the regime, with a number of recent historians suggesting a likely total of around 20 million, citing much higher victim totals from executions, gulags, deportations and other causes.[73] Adding 6–8 million famine victims to Erlikman's estimates above, for example, would yield a total of between 15 and 17 million victims. Researcher Robert Conquest, meanwhile, has revised his original estimate of up to 30 million victims down to 20 million. Others maintain that their earlier higher victim total estimates are correct.[75][76]

World War II, 1939–1945

After the failure of Soviet and Franco-British talks on a mutual defense pact in Moscow, Stalin accepted Adolf Hitler's proposal to enter into a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, negotiated by Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.[77] Officially a non-aggression treaty only, an appended secret protocol, also reached on August 23, 1939, divided the whole of eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence.[78][79] The USSR was promised an eastern part of Poland, primarily populated with Ukrainians and Belarusians, in case of its dissolution, and additionally Latvia, Estonia and Finland were recognized as parts of the Soviet sphere of influence,[79] with Lithuania added in a second secret protocol in September of 1939.[80] Another clause of the treaty was that Bessarabia, then part of Romania, was to be joined to the Moldovan ASSR, and become the Moldovan SSR under control of Moscow.[79]

Ribbentrop and Stalin at the signing of the PactThe Pact was reached two days after the breakdown of Soviet military talks with British and French representatives in August of 1939 over a potential Franco-Anglo-Soviet alliance.[81][82] Political discussions had been suspended on August 2 when Molotov stated they could not be restarted until progress was made in military talks late in August,[83] after the talks had stalled over guarantees of the Baltic states,[84][85], while the military talks upon which Molotov insisted[84] started on 11 August.[86][81] At the same time, Germany -- with whom the Soviets had started secret discussions since July 29[87][88][89][90][91] -- argued that it could offer the Soviets better terms than Britain and France, with Ribbentrop insisting "there was no problem between the Baltic and the Black Sea that could not be solved between the two of us."[81][92][93] German officials stated that, unlike Britain, Germany could permit the Soviets to continue their developments unmolested, and that "there is one common element in the ideology of Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union: opposition to the capitalist democracies of the West."[92][94] By that time, Molotov obtained information regarding Anglo-German negotiations and a pessimistic report from the Soviet ambassador in France.[87] After disagreement regarding Stalin's demand to move Red Army troops through Poland and Romania (which Poland and Romania opposed),[86][81] on August 21, the Soviets proposed adjournment of military talks using the excuse that the absence of the senior Soviet personnel at the talks interfered with the autumn manoeuvres of the Soviet forces, though the primary reason was the progress being made in the Soviet-German negotiations.[86] That same day, Stalin received assurance that Germany would approve secret protocols to the proposed non-aggression pact that would grant the Soviets land in Poland, the Baltic states, Finland and Romania,[95] after which Stalin telegrammed Hitler that night that the Soviets were willing to sign the pact and that he would receive Ribbentrop on August 23.[96] Regarding the larger issue of collective security, some historians state that one reason that Stalin decided to abandon the doctrine was the shaping of his views of France and Britain by their entry into the Munich Agreement and the subsequent failure to prevent German occupation of Czechoslovakia.[97][98][99] Stalin also viewed the Pact as gaining time in an inevitable war with Hitler in order to reinforce the Soviet military and shifting Soviet borders westwards, which would be militarily beneficial in such a war.[100][101]

Stalin and Ribbentrop spent most of the night of the Pact's signing trading friendly stories about world affairs and cracking jokes (a rarity for Ribbentrop) about England's weakness, and the pair even joked about how the Anti-Comintern Pact principally scared "British shopkeepers."[102] They further traded toasts, with Stalin proposing a toast to Hitler's health and Ribbentrop proposing a toast to Stalin.[102]

Implementing the division of Eastern Europe and other invasions

German and Soviet soldiers in victory parade in Brest in front of picture of StalinOn September 1, 1939, the German invasion of its agreed upon portion of Poland started World War II.[77] On September 17 the Red Army invaded eastern Poland and occupied the Polish territory assigned to it by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, followed by co-ordination with German forces in Poland.[103][104] Eleven days later, the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was modified, allotting Germany a larger part of Poland, while ceding most of Lithuania to the Soviet Union.[105] The Soviet portions lay east of the so-called Curzon Line, an ethnographic frontier between Russia and Poland drawn up by a commission of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.[106] In early 1940, the Soviets executed over 25,000 Polish POWs and political prisoners in the Katyn Forrest.[106]

Planned and actual territorial changes in Eastern and Central Europe 1939–1940 (click to enlarge)In August of 1939, Stalin declared that he was going to "solve the Baltic problem, and thereafter, forced Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to sign treaties for "mutual assistance."[105]

After unsuccessfully attempting to install a communist puppet government in Finland, in November of 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland.[107] The Finnish defense defied Soviet expectations, and after stiff losses, Stalin settled for an interim peace granting the Soviet Union less than total domination by annexing only the eastern region of Karelia (10% of Finnish territory).[107] Soviet official casualty counts in the war exceeded 200,000,[108] while Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev later claimed the casualties may have been one million.[109] After this campaign, Stalin took actions to bolster the Soviet military, modify training and improve propaganda efforts in the Soviet military.[110]

In mid-June of 1940, when international attention was focused on the German invasion of France, Soviet NKVD troops raided border posts in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.[105][111] Stalin claimed that the mutual assistance treaties had been violated, and gave six hour ultimatums for new governments to be formed in each country, including lists of persons for cabinet posts provided by the Kremlin.[105] Thereafter, state administrations were liquidated and replaced by Soviet cadres, followed by mass repression[105] in which 34,250 Latvians, 75,000 Lithuanians and almost 60,000 Estonians were deported or killed.[112] Elections for parliament and other offices were held with single candidates listed, the official results of which showed pro-Soviet candidates approval by 92.8 percent of the voters of Estonia, 97.6 percent of the voters in Latvia and 99.2 percent of the voters in Lithuania.[113] The resulting peoples assemblies immediately requested admission into the USSR, which was granted by the Soviet Union.[113]

In late June 1940, Stalin directed the Soviet annexation of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina, proclaiming this formerly Romanian territory part of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.[114] But in annexing northern Bukovina, Stalin had gone beyond the agreed limits of the secret protocol.[114]

Stalin and Molotov on the signing of the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact with the Empire of Japan, 1941After the Tripartite Pact was signed by Axis Powers Germany, Japan and Italy, in October of 1940, Stalin personally wrote to Ribbentrop about entering an agreement regarding a "permanent basis" for their "mutual interests."[115] Stalin sent Molotov to Berlin to negotiate the terms for the Soviet Union to join the Axis and potentially enjoy the spoils of the pact.[114] At Stalin's direction,[116] Molotov insisted on Soviet interest in Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Greece,[116] though Stalin had earlier unsuccessfully personally lobbied Turkish leaders to not sign a mutual assistance pact with Britain and France.[117] Ribbentrop asked Molotov to sign another secret protocol with the statement: "The focal point of the territorial aspirations of the Soviet Union would presumably be centered south of the territory of the Soviet Union in the direction of the Indian Ocean."[116] Molotov took the position that he could not take a "definite stand" on this without Stalin's agreement.[116] Stalin did not agree with the suggested protocol, and negotiations broke down.[115] In response to a later German proposal, Stalin's stated that the Soviets would join the Axis if Germany foreclosed acting in the Soviet's sphere of influence.[118] Shortly thereafter, Hitler issued a secret directive on the eventual attempts to invade the Soviet Union.[118]

In an effort to demonstrate peaceful intentions toward Germany, on April 13, 1941, Stalin oversaw the signing of a neutrality pact with Axis power Japan.[119] While Stalin had little faith in Japan's commitment to neutrality, he felt that the pact was important for its political symbolism, to reinforce a public affection for Germany.[120] Stalin felt that there was a growing split in German circles about whether Germany should initiate a war with the Soviet Union.[120]

Hitler breaks the pact

Further information: Operation Barbarossa During the early morning of June 22, 1941, Hitler broke the pact by implementing Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Soviet held territories and the Soviet Union that began the war on the Eastern Front.[121] Before the invasion, Stalin felt that Germany would not attack the Soviet Union until Germany had defeated Britain. At the same time, Soviet generals warned Stalin that Germany had concentrated forces on its borders. As well, two highly placed Soviet spies in Germany, "Starshina" and "Korsikanets", had sent dozens of reports to Moscow containing evidence of a German attack. Further warnings came from Richard Sorge, a Soviet spy in Tokyo working under cover as a German journalist.

Seven days before the invasion, a Soviet spy in Berlin warned Stalin that the movement of German divisions to the borders was for the purpose of waging war on the Soviet Union.[124] Although Stalin increased Soviet western border forces to 2.7 million men and ordered them to expect a possible German invasion, he did not order a full-scale mobilization of forces to prepare for an attack.[125] Stalin felt that a mobilization might provoke Hitler to prematurely begin to wage war against the Soviet Union, which Stalin wanted to delay until 1942 in order to further strengthen Soviet forces.[126] An alternative theory suggested by Viktor Suvorov claims that Stalin had made aggressive preparations beginning in the late 1930s and was preparing to invade Germany in summer 1941. Thus, he believes Hitler only managed to forestall Stalin and the German invasion was in essence a pre-emptive strike. This theory was supported by Igor Bunich, Mikhail Meltyukhov (see Stalin's Missed Chance) and Edvard Radzinsky (see Stalin: The First In-Depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia's Secret Archives). However, most western historians reject this thesis.[127][128] General Fedor von Boch's diary states that the Abwehr fully expected a Soviet attack against German forces in Poland no later than 1942. Such speculations are difficult to substantiate, however, as information on the Soviet Army from 1939 to 1941 remains classified.

In the initial hours after the German attack commenced, Stalin hesitated, wanting to ensure that the German attack was sanctioned by Hitler, rather than the unauthorized action of a rogue general.[9] Accounts by Nikita Khrushchev and Anastas Mikoyan claim that, after the invasion, Stalin retreated to his dacha in despair for several days and did not participate in leadership decisions.[129] However, some documentary evidence of orders given by Stalin contradicts these accounts, leading some historians to speculate that Kruschev's account is inaccurate.[130]

In the first three weeks of the invasion, attempting to defend against large German advances, the Soviet Union suffered 750,000 casualties, and lost 10,000 tanks and 4,000 aircraft.[131] In July of 1940, Stalin completely reorganized the Soviet military, placing himself directly in charge of several military organizations, which game him complete control of his country's entire war effort; more control than any other leader in World War II.[132]

A pattern soon emerged where Stalin embraced the Red Army's strategy of conducting multiple offensives, while the Germans soon overran each of the resulting small newly gained grounds, dealing the Soviets severe casualties.[133] The most notable example of this was the Battle of Kiev, where over 600,000 Soviet troops were quickly killed, captured or had gone missing.[133]

By the end of 1941, the Soviet military had suffered 4.3 million casualties[134] and the Germans had captured 3.0 million Soviet prisoners, 2.0 million of which would die in German captivity by February of 1942.[131] German forces had advanced 1,050 miles (1,690 kilometers), and maintained a linearly-measured front of 1,900 miles (3,058 kilometers).[135] The Red Army put up fierce resistance during the war's early stages. Even so, they were plagued by an ineffective defense doctrine against well-trained and experienced German forces, despite possessing some modern Soviet equipment such as the KV-1 and T-34 tanks.

Soviets stop the Germans

Further information: Eastern Front (World War II), Battle of Moscow, and Battle of Stalingrad While the Germans made huge advances in 1941, killing millions of Soviet soldiers, at Stalin's direction, the Red Army directed sizable resources to prevent the Germans from achieving one of their key strategic goals, the attempted capture of Leningrad, though more than a million Soviet soldiers lost their lives in the region during the course of the war and over a million civilians died, many by starvation.[136]

Time magazine (1943-01-04). Time had previously named Stalin Man of the Year for the year 1939.While the Germans pressed forward, Stalin was confident of an eventual Allied victory over Germany. In September of 1941, Stalin told British diplomats that he wanted two agreements: (1) a mutual assistance/aid pact and (2) a recognition that, after the war, the Soviet Union would gain the territories in countries that it had taken pursuant to its division of Eastern Europe with Hitler in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.[137] The British agreed to assistance but refused to agree upon the territorial gains, which Stalin accepted months later as the military situation deteriorated somewhat in mid-1942.[137] In November of 1941, Stalin rallied his generals in a speech given underground in Moscow, telling them that the German blitzkrieg would fail because of weaknesses on the German rear in Nazi-occupied Europe and the underestimation of the strength of the Red Army, and that he Germany's war effort would crumble against the the British-American-Soviet "war engine".[138] On November 6, 1941, Stalin addressed the whole nation of the Soviet Union for the second time (the first time was on July 2, 1941).

Correctly calculating that Hitler would direct efforts at the capture of Moscow, Stalin concentrated forces on the defense city, including numerous divisions transferred from Soviet eastern sectors after Stalin estimated that Japan would not attempt an attack in those areas.[139] By December, Hitler's troops had advanced to within 20 miles of the Kremlin in Moscow.[140] On December 5, the Soviets launched a counteroffensive, pushing German troops back 40-50 miles from Moscow, the Wermacht's first significant defeat of the war.[140]

The Soviets then in early 1942 began a series of offensives labeled "Stalin's First Strategic Offensives", through there is no concrete evidence that Stalin actually engineered the offensives.[141] The counteroffensive bogged down, in part due to mud from rains, in the Spring of 1942.[134] Stalin's attempt to retake Kharkov in the Ukraine ended in disastrous encirclement of Soviet forces, with over 200,000 Soviet casualties suffered.[142] Stalin attacked the competence of the generals involved.[143] Later, General Georgy Zhukov and others revealed that some of those generals had wished to remain a defensive posture in the region but Stalin and others that had pushed for the offensive, though some doubt Zhukov's account.[143]

At the same time, worried by the possibility of American support after their entry into the war following the Attack on Pearl Harbor, and a potential Anglo-American invasion on the Western Front in 1942 (which would not actually happen until 1944), Hitler shifted his primary goal from an immediate victory in the East, to the more long-term goal of securing the southern Soviet Union to protect oil fields vital to a long-term German war effort.[144] While Red Army generals saw evidence that Hitler would shift efforts south, Stalin considered this to be a flanking campaign in efforts to take Moscow.[143] The German southern campaign began with a push to capture the Crimea which ended in disaster for the Red Army, and caused Stalin to issue a broad scolding of his generals' leadership.[142] In their southern campaigns, the Germans took 625,000 Red Army prisoners in July and August of 1942 alone.[145] At the same time, in a meeting in Moscow, Churchill privately told Stalin that the British and Americans were not yet prepared to make an amphibious landing against a fortified Nazi-held French coast in 1942, and would instead direct efforts invading German-held North Africa, while pledging a campaign of massive strategic bombing, including that of German civilian targets.[146]

Feeling dizzy with success, estimating that the Russians were "finished," the Germans then began another southern operation in the fall of 1942, the Battle of Stalingrad, which would end up marking the beginning of a turning point in the war for the Soviet Union.[145] Hitler insisted upon splitting German southern forces in a simultaneous siege of Stalingrad and an offensive against Baku on the Caspian Sea.[147] Stalin directed his generals to spare no effort or shirk any sacrifice to defend Stalingrad.[148] Although the Soviets suffered in excess of 1.1 million casualties at Stalingrad, [149] the victory over German forces, including the encirclement of 290,000 Axis troops, marked a turning point in the war.[150]

Soviet push to Germany

Further information: Eastern Front (World War II), Battle of Kursk, Operation Bagration, Battle of Warsaw (1944), and Vistula-Oder Offensive The Soviets repulsed the important German strategic southern campaign and, although 2.5 million Soviet casualties were suffered in that effort, it permitted to Soviets to take the offensive for most of the rest of the war on the Eastern Front.[151]

In 1943, Stalin ceded to his generals' call for the Soviet Union to take a defensive stance because of disappointing losses after Stalingrad, a lack of reserves for offensive measures and a prediction that the German's would likely next attack a bulge in the Soviet front at Kursk such that defensive preparations there would more efficiently use resources.[152] The Germans did attempt an encirclement attack at Kursk, which was successfully repulsed by the Soviets[152] after Hitler canceled the offensive, in part, because of the Allied invasion of Sicily,[153] though the Soviets suffered over 800,000 casualties.[154] Kursk also marked the beginning of a period where Stalin became more willing to listen to the advice of his generals.[155]

The Big Three: Stalin, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Tehran Conference, November 1943.By the end of 1943, the Soviets occupied half of the territory taken by the Germans from 1941-1942.[155] Soviet military industrial output also had increased substantially from late 1941 to early 1943 after Stalin had moved factories well to the East of the front, safe from German invasion and air attack.[156] The strategy paid off, as such industrial increases were able to occur even while the Germans in late 1942 occupied over half of European Russia, including 40% (80 million) of its population, and one million square miles of Russian territory.[156] The Soviets had also prepared for war for over a decade, including preparing 14 million civilians with some military training.[156] Accordingly, while almost all of the original 5 million men of the Soviet army had been wiped out by the end of 1941, the Soviet military had swelled to 8 million members by the end of that year.[156] Despite substantial losses in 1942 far in excess of German losses, Red Army size grew even further, to 11 million.[156] While there is substantial debate whether Stalin helped or hindered these industrial and manpower efforts, Stalin left most economic wartime management decisions in the hands of his economic experts.[157] While some scholars claim that evidence suggests that Stalin considered, and even attempted, negotiating peace with Germany in 1941 and 1942, others find this evidence unconvincing and even fabricated.

Soviet advances from 1 August 1943 to 31 December 1944:

to 1 December 1943

    to 30 April 1944

    to 19 August 1944

    to 31 December 1944In November of 1943, Stalin met with Churchill and Roosevelt in Tehran.[159] Roosevelt told Stalin that he hoped that Britain and America opening a second front against Germany could initially draw 30-40 German division from the Eastern Front.[160] Stalin and Roosevelt, in effect, ganged up on Churchill by emphasizing the importance of a cross-channel invasion of German-held northern France, while Churchill had always felt that Germany was more vulnerable in the "soft underbelly" of Italy (which the Allies had already invaded) and the Balkans.[160] The parties later agreed that Britain and America would launch a cross-channel invasion of France in May 1944, along with a separate invasion of southern France.[161] Stalin insisted that, after the war, the Soviet Union should incorporate the portions of Poland it occupied pursuant to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Germany, which Churchill tabled.[162]

In 1944, the Soviet Union made significant advances across Eastern Europe toward Germany,[163] including Operation Bagration, a massive offensive in Belorussia against the German Army Group Centre.[164] Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill closely coordinated, such that Bagration occurred at roughly the same time as American and British forces initiation of the invasion of German held Western Europe on France's northern coast.[164] The operation resulted in the Soviets retaking Belorussia and the western Ukraine, along with the successful effective destruction of the Army Group Centre and 300,000 German casualties, though at the cost of over 750,000 Soviet casualties.[164]

Successes at Operation Bagration and in the year that followed were, in large part, due to a weakened Wermacht that lacked the fuel and armament they needed to operate effectively,[165] growing Soviet advantages in manpower and materials, and the attacks of Allies on the Western Front.[164] In his 1944 May Day speech, Stalin praised the Western allies for diverting German resources in the Italian Campaign, Tass published detailed lists of the large numbers of supplies coming from Western allies, and Stalin made a speech in November of 1944 stating that Allied efforts in the West had already quickly drawn 75 German divisions to defend that region, without which, the Red Army could not yet have driven the Wermacht from Soviet territories.[166] The weakened Wermacht also helped Soviet offensives because no effective German counter-offensive could be launched,[164]

Beginning in the summer of 1944, a reinforced German Army Centre Group did prevent the Soviets from advancing in around Warsaw for nearly half a year.[167] Some historians claim that the Soviets' failure to advance was a purposeful Soviet stall to allow the Wermacht to slaughter members of a Warsaw Uprising by the Polish home army in August of 1944 that occurred as the Red Army approached, though others dispute the claim and cite sizable unsuccessful Red Army efforts to attempt to defeat the Wermacht in that region.[167] Earlier in 1944, Stalin had insisted that the Soviets would annex the portions of Poland it divided with Germany in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, while the Polish government in exile, which the British insisted must be involved in postwar Poland, demanded that the Polish border be restored to prewar locations.[168] The rift further highlighted Stalin's blatant hostility toward the anti-communist Polish government in exile and their Polish home army, which Stalin felt threatened his plans to create a post-war Poland friendly to the Soviet Union.[167] Further exacerbating the rift was Stalin's refusal to resupply the Polish home army, and his refusal to allow American supply planes to use the necessary Soviet air bases to ferry supplies to the Polish home army, which Stalin referred to in a letter to Roosevelt and Churchill as "power-seeking criminals."[169] Worried about the possible repercussions of those actions, Stalin later began a Soviet supply airdrop to Polish rebels, though most of the supplies ended up in the hands of the Germans.[170] The uprising ended in disaster with 20,000 Polish rebels and up to 200,000 civilians killed by Wermacht forces, with Soviet forces entering the city in January of 1945.[170]

Other important advances occurred in late 1944, such as the invasion of Romania in August and Bulgaria.[170] The Soviet Union declared war on Bulgaria in September of 1944 and invaded the country, installing a communist government.[171] Following the invasion of these Balkan countries, Stalin and Churchill met in the fall of 1944, where they agreed upon various percentages for "spheres of influence" in several Balkan states, though the diplomats for neither leader knew what the term actually meant.[172] The Red Army also expelled German forces from Lithuania and Estonia in late 1944 at the cost of 260,000 Soviet casualties.

In late 1944, Soviet forces battled fiercely to capture Hungary in the Budapest Offensive, but could not take it, which became a topic so sensitive to Stalin that he refused to allow his commanders to speak of it.[173] The Germans held out in in the subsequent Battle of Budapest until February of 1945, when the remaining Hungarians signed an armistice with the Soviet Union.[174] Victory at Budapest permitted the Red Army to launch the Vienna Offensive in April of 1945. To the northeast, the taking of Belorussia and the Western Ukraine permitted the Soviets to launch the massive Vistula–Oder Offensive, where German intelligence had incorrectly guessed the Soviets would have a 3-to-1 numerical superiority advantage that was actually 5-to-1 (over 2 million Red Army personnel attacking 450,000 German defenders), the successful culmination of which resulted in the Red Army advancing from the Vistula river in Poland to the German Oder river in Eastern Germany.[175]

Stalin's shortcomings as strategist are frequently noted regarding massive Soviet loss of life and early Soviet defeats. An example of it is the summer offensive of 1942, which led to even more losses by the Red Army and recapture of initiative by the Germans. Stalin eventually recognized his lack of know-how and relied on his professional generals to conduct the war.

Additionally, Stalin was well aware that other European armies had utterly disintegrated when faced with Nazi military efficacy and responded effectively by subjecting his army to galvanizing terror and nationalist appeals to patriotism. He also appealed to the Russian Orthodox church and images of national Russian heroes.

Final Victory

Further information: Battle of Berlin, Battle in Berlin, East Prussian Offensive, and Battle of the Oder-Neisse

Soviet soldiers raising the Soviet flag over the Reichstag after its captureBy April of 1945, Germany faced its last days with 1.9 million German soldiers in the East fighting 6.4 million Red Army soldiers while 1 million German soldiers in the West battled 4 million Western Allied soldiers.[176] While initial talk existed of a race to Berlin by the Allies, after Stalin successfully lobbied for Eastern Germany to fall within the Soviet "sphere of influence" at Yalta, no plans were made by the Western Allies to seize the city by a ground operation.[177][178] Stalin still remained suspicious that western Allied forces holding at the Elbe river might move on the capital and, even in the last days, that the Americans might employ their two airborne divisions to capture the city.[179]

Stalin directed the Red Army to move rapidly in a broad front into Germany because he did not believe the Western Allies would hand over territory they occupied, while he made the overriding objective capturing Berlin.[180] After successfully capturing Eastern Prussia, three Red Army fronts converged on the heart of Eastern Germany, with one of the last pitched battles of the war putting the Soviets at the virtual gates of Berlin.[181] By April 24, Berlin was encircled by elements of two Soviet fronts,[182] one of which had begun a massive shelling of the city on April 20 that would not end until the city's surrender.[183] On April 30, Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide, after which Soviet forces found their remains, which had been burned at Hitler's directive.[184] German forces surrendered a few days later. Some historians argue that Stalin delayed the last final push for Berlin by two months in order to capture other areas for political reasons, which they argue gave the Wermacht time to prepare and increased Soviet casualties (which exceeded 400,000), though this is contested by other historians.[185] Despite the Soviets' possession of Hitler's remains, Stalin did not believe that his old nemesis was actually dead, a belief that remained for years after the war.[186][187] Stalin also later directed aides to spend years researching and writing a secret book about Hitler's life for his own private reading that reflected Stalin's prejudices, including an absence of criticism of Hitler for his treatment of Jews.[188]

Fending off the German invasion and pressing to victory in the East required a tremendous sacrifice by the Soviet Union. Soviet military casualties totaled approximately 35 million (official figures 28.2 million) with approximately 14.7 million killed, missing or captured (official figures 11.285 million).[189] Although figures vary, the Soviet civilian death toll probably reached 20 million.[189] Millions of Soviet soldiers and civilians disappeared into German detention camps and slave labor factories, while millions more suffered permanent physical and mental damage.[189] Economic losses, including losses in resources and manufacturing capacity in western Russia and Ukraine, were also catastrophic.[189] The war resulted in the destruction of approximately 70,000 Soviet cities, towns and villages.[190] Destroyed in that process were 6 million houses, 98,000 farms, 32,000 factories, 82,000 schools, 43,000 libraries, 6,000 hospitals and thousands of miles of roads and railway track.[190]

Questionable tactics

Part of the March 5, 1940 memo from Lavrentiy Beria to Stalin proposing execution of Polish officersAfter taking around 300,000 Polish prisoners in 1939 and early 1940,[191][192] [193][194][192] NKVD officers conducted lengthy interrogations of the prisoners in camps that were, in effect, a selection process to determine who would be killed.[195] On March 5, 1940, pursuant to a note to Stalin from Lavrenty Beria, the members of the Soviet Politburo (including Stalin) signed an order to execute 25,700 Polish POWs, labeled "nationalists and counterrevolutionaries", kept at camps and prisons in occupied western Ukraine and Belarus.[196] This became known as the Katyn massacre.[195][197][198] Major-General Vasili M. Blokhin, chief executioner for the NKVD, personally shot 6,000 of the captured Polish officers in 28 consecutive nights, which remains one of the most organized and protracted mass murders by a single individual on record[199][200] During his 29 year career Blokhin shot an estimated 50,000 people,[201] making him ostensibly the most prolific official executioner in recorded world history.[199]

Stalin personally told a Polish general requesting information about missing officers that all of the Poles were freed, and that not all could be accounted because the Soviets "lost track" of them in Manchuria.[202][203][204] After Polish railroad workers found the mass grave,[205] the Nazi's used the massacre to attempt to drive a wedge between Stalin and the other Allies,[206] including bringing in a European commission of investigators from twelve countries to examine the graves.[207] In 1943, as the Soviets prepared to retake Poland, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels correctly guessed that Stalin would attempt to falsely claim that the Germans massacred the victims.[208] As Goebbels predicted, the Soviets had a "commission" investigate the matter, falsely concluding that the Germans had killed the POWs.[195] The Soviets did not admit responsibility until 1990.[209]

On August 16, 1941, in attempts to revive a disorganized Soviet defense system, Stalin issued Order No. 270, demanding any commanders or commissars "tearing away their insignia and deserting or surrendering" to be considered malicious deserters. The order required superiors to shoot these deserters on the spot.[210] Their family members were subjected to arrest.[211] The second provision of the order directed all units fighting in encirclements to use every possibility to fight.[211] [211] The order also required division commanders to demote and, if necessary, even to shoot on the spot those commanders who failed to command the battle directly in the battlefield.[211] Thereafter, Stalin also conducted a purge of several military commanders that were shot for "cowardice" without a trial.[211]

In June of 1941, weeks after the German invasion began, Stain directed that the retreating Red Army also sought to deny resources to the enemy through a scorched earth policy of destroying the infrastructure and food supplies of areas before the Germans could seize them, and that partisans were to be set up in evacuated areas.[130] This, along with abuse by German troops, caused starvation and suffering among the civilian population that were left behind. Stalin feared that Hitler would use disgruntled Soviet citizens to fight his regime, particularly people imprisoned in the Gulags. He thus ordered the NKVD to take care of the situation. They responded by murdering around one hundred thousand political prisoners throughout the western parts of the Soviet Union, with methods that included bayoneting people to death and tossing grenades into crowded cells.[212] Many others were simply deported east.[213][214]

In July of 1942, Stalin issued Order No. 227, directing that any commander or commissar of a regiment, battalion or army, who allowed retreat without permission from his superiors was subject to military tribunal.[215] The order called for soldiers found guilty of disciplinary measures to be forced into "penal battalions", which were sent to the most dangerous sections of the front lines.[215] From 1942 to 1945, 427,910 soldiers were assigned to penal battalions.[216] The order also directed "blocking detachments" to shoot fleeing panicked troops at the rear.[215] In the first two months following the order, over 1,000 troops were shot by blocking units and blocking units sent over 130,000 troops to penal battalions. [215] Despite having some effect initially, this measure proved to have a deteriorating effect on the troops' morale, so by October 1942 the idea of regular blocking units was quietly dropped[217] By 20 November, 1944 the blocking units were disbanded officially.[216]

After the capture of Berlin, Soviet troops reportedly raped German women and girls, with total victim estimates ranging from tens of thousands to two million.[218] During and after the occupation of Budapest, (Hungary), an estimated 50,000 women and girls were raped.[219][220] Regarding rapes that occurred in Yugoslavia, Stalin responded to a Yugoslav partisan leader's complaints saying, "Can't he understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometers through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle?"[220]

In former Axis countries, such as Germany, Romania and Hungary, Red Army officers generally viewed cities, villages and farms as being open to pillaging and looting.[221] For example, Red Army soldiers and NKVD members frequently looted transport trains in 1944 and 1945 in Poland[222] and Soviet soldiers set fire to the city centre of Demmin while preventing the inhabitants from extinguishing the blaze,[223] which, along with multiple rapes, played a part in causing over 900 citizens of the city to commit suicide.[224]. In the Soviet occupation zone of Germany, when members of the SED reported to Stalin that looting and rapes by Soviet soldiers could result in negative consequences for the future of socialism in post-war East Germany, Stalin reacted angrily: "I shall not tolerate anybody dragging the honour of the Red Army through the mud."[225][226] Accordingly, all evidence of looting, rapes and destruction by the Red Army was deleted from archives in the Soviet occupation zone.[227]

Stalin's personal military leadership was emphasied as part of the "cult of personality" after the publication of Stalin's ten victories extracted from 6 November 1944 speech "27th anniversary of the Great October socialist revolution" (Russian: «27-я годовщина Великой Октябрьской социалистической революции») during the 1944 meeting of the Moscow's Soviet deputies.

According to recent figures, of an estimated four million POWs taken by the Russians, including Germans, Japanese, Hungarians, Romanians and others, some 580,000 never returned, presumably victims of privation or the Gulags, compared with 3.5 million Soviet POW that died in German camps out of the 5.6 million taken.[228]

Soviet POWs and forced laborers who survived German captivity were sent to special "transit" or "filtration" camps meant determine which were potential traitors.[166] Of the approximately 4 million to be repatriated 2,660,013 were civilians and 1,539,475 were former POWs. [166] Of the total, 2,427,906 were sent home and 801,152 were reconscripted into the armed forces.[166] 608,095 were enrolled in the work battalions of the defense ministry.[166] 272,867 were transferred to the authority of the NKVD for punishment, which meant a transfer to the Gulag system.[166][229][230] 89,468 remained in the transit camps as reception personnel until the repatriation process was finally wound up in the early 1950s.[166]

Allied Conferences Regarding Post-War Europe

The Big Three: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Stalin at the Yalta Conference, February 1945.Stalin met in several conferences with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (and later Clement Atlee) and/or American President Franklin D. Roosevelt (and later Harry Truman) to plan military strategy and, later, to discuss Europe's postwar reorganization. Very early conferences, such as that with British diplomats in Moscow in 1941 and with Churchill and American diplomats in in Moscow in 1942|, focused mostly upon war planning and supply, though some preliminary postwar reorganization discussion also occurred. In 1943, Stalin met with Churchill and Roosevelt in Tehran. In 1944, Stalin met with Churchill in Moscow. Beginning in late 1944, the Red Army occupied much of Eastern Europe during these conferences and the discussions shifted to a more intense focus on the reorganization of postwar Europe.

In February of 1945, at the conference at Yalta, Stalin demanded a Soviet sphere of political influence in Eastern Europe.[231] Stalin eventually was convinced by Churchill and Roosevelt not to dismember Germany.[231] Stalin also stated that the Polish government-in-exile demands for self-rule were not negotiable, such that the Soviet Union would keep the territory of eastern Poland they had already taken by invasion with German consent in 1939, and wanted the pro-Soviet Polish government installed.[231] After resistance by Churchill and Roosevelt, Stalin promised a re-organization of the current Communist puppet government on a broader democratic basis in Poland.[231] He stated the the new government's primary task would be to prepare elections.[232]

The parties at Yalta further agreed that the countries of liberated Europe and former Axis satellites would be allowed to "create democratic institutions of their own choice", pursuant to the "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live."[233] The parties also agreed to help those countries form interim governments "pledged to the earliest possible establishment through free elections" and "facilitate where necessary the holding of such elections."[233] After the re-organization of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland, the parties agreed that the new party shall "be pledged to the holding of free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot."[233] One month after Yalta, the Soviet NKVD arrested 16 Polish leaders wishing to participate in provisional government negotiations, for alleged "crimes" and "diversions", which drew protest from the West.[232] The fraudulent Polish elections, held in January 1947 resulted in Poland's official transformation to undemocratic communist state by 1949.

At the Potsdam Conference from July to August of 1945, though Germany had surrendered months earlier, instead of withdrawing Soviet forces from Eastern European countries, Stalin had not moved those forces. At the beginning of the conference, Stalin repeated previous promises to Churchill that he would refrain from a "Sovietization" of Eastern Europe.[234] Stalin pushed for reparations from Germany without regard to the base minimum supply for German citizens' survival, which worried Truman and Churchill who thought that Germany would become a financial burden for Western powers.[235] In addition to reparations, Stalin pushed for "war booty", which would permit the Soviet Union to directly seize property from conquered nations without quantitative or qualitative limitation, and a clause was added permitting this to occur with some limitations.[235] By July of 1945, Stalin's troops effectively controlled the Baltic States, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, and refugees were fleeing out of these countries fearing a Communist take-over. The western allies, and especially Churchill, were suspicious of the motives of Stalin, who had already installed communist governments in the central European countries under his influence.

In these conferences, his first appearances on the world stage, Stalin proved to be a formidable negotiator. Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary noted: "Marshal Stalin as a negotiator was the toughest proposition of all. Indeed, after something like thirty years' experience of international conferences of one kind and another, if I had to pick a team for going into a conference room, Stalin would be my first choice. Of course the man was ruthless and of course he knew his purpose. He never wasted a word. He never stormed, he was seldom even irritated."[236]

Post-war era, 1945–1953

The Iron Curtain and the Eastern Bloc

After Soviet forces remained in Eastern and Central European countries, with the beginnings of communist puppet regimes in those countries, Churchill referred to the region as being behind an "Iron Curtain" of control from Moscow in a speech he gave at Westminster College titled "Sinews of Peace".[237] At first, many Western countries condemned the speech as warmongering, though many historians have now revised their opinions.[238] The countries under Soviet control in Eastern and Central Europe were called the "Eastern bloc."

The Eastern Bloc 1948-1989.In Soviet-controlled East Germany, like in Eastern Europe, the major task of the ruling communist party in Germany was to channel Soviet orders down to both the administrative apparatus and the other bloc parties pretending that these were initiatives of its own.[239] Important decisions had to be cleared with the CPSU Central Committee apparatus or even with Stalin himself.[239] If statements or decisions deviated from the described line, reprimands and, for persons outside public attention, punishment would ensue, such as imprisonment, torture and even death.[239] At the direction of Stalin, Soviet authorities forcibly unified the Communist Party of Germany and Social Democratic Party in the Socialist Unity Party ("SED"), claiming at the time that it would not have a Marxist-Leninist or Soviet orientation.[240] The SED won a narrow election victory in 1946, even though Soviet authorities oppressed political opponents and even prevented many competing parties from participating in rural areas, resulting in most of the party's support coming from these areas (while badly losing in cities with more election freedoms).[241] Property and industry was nationalized under their government.[240] The German Democratic Republic was declared on October 7, 1949, with a new constitution which enshrined socialism and gave the SED power over a National Front of Democratic Germany among the different political parties, with "unity lists" put forth by the SED which ensured their control.

While Stalin had promised at the Yalta Conference that free elections would be held in Poland,[233] Polish Communists, led by Władysław Gomułka and Bolesław Bierut, were aware of the lack of support for their side, especially after the failure of a referendum for policies known as "3 times YES" (3 razy TAK; 3xTAK), where less than a third of Poland's population voted in favor of the proposed changes included massive communist land reforms and nationalizations of industry.[242] Thereafter, vote rigging won them a majority in the carefully controlled poll.[243][244][245] Following the forged referendum, the Polish economy started to become nationalized.[246]

Stalin and Politbiuro Colleagues in the Kremlin. (1946)In Hungary, when the Soviets installed a communist government, Mátyás Rákosi was appointed General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party. Rákosi described himself as "Stalin's best Hungarian disciple"[247] and "Stalin's best pupil."[248] Battling the initial postwar political majority in Hungary ready to establish a democracy,[249] Rákosi invented the term "salami tactics", which related to his tactic of communists slicing up these enemies like pieces of salami.[250] At the height of his rule, he developed a strong cult of personality around himself.[247] Under Rákosi, an imitator of Stalinist political and economic programs, and dubbed the “bald murderer,” Hungary experienced one of the harshest dictatorships in Europe.[249][251] Following a conversation between Rákosi and Stalin, show trials were held in Moscow for Rákosi's largest intra-party political opponent, after which that opponent was executed.[252][248] Stalinist repression was harsher in Hungary than in the other satellite countries in the 1940s and 1950s, due to a more vehement Hungarian resistance.[249] Approximately 350,000 Hungarian officials and intellectuals were purged from 1948 to 1956.[249]

During World War II, in September of 1944, the Soviet Union declared war on Bulgaria, pretending that Bulgaria had to be prevented from assisting Germany and allowing the Wehrmacht to use its territory.[253]. Four days later, the Red Army crossed the border and created the conditions for a communist coup detat on the following night.[253] Both the creation of a communist controlled "Patriotic Front" and the condusion of an armistice followed. [253] The Soviet military commander in Sofia assumed supreme authority, and the communists whom he instructed, including Kimon Georgiev, took full control of domestic politics.[253]

In 1949, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania founded the Comecon in accordance with Stalin's desire to enforce Soviet domination of the lesser states of Central Europe and to mollify some states that had expressed interest in the Marshall Plan,[254] and which were now, increasingly, cut off from their traditional markets and suppliers in Western Europe.[255] Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland had remained interested in Marshall aid despite the requirements for a convertible currency and market economies. In July 1947, Stalin ordered these communist-dominated governments to pull out of the Paris Conference on the European Recovery Programme. This has been described as "the moment of truth" in the post-World War II division of Europe.[255]

In Berlin, a key event took place earlier in 1946, when Berlin's citizens overwhelmingly elected democratic members to its city council (with an 86% majority) — strongly rejecting the election's Communist candidates. Accordingly, any future effort to re-unite Germany would lead to, or likely first require, the expulsion of the Soviet elements. In June of 1948, the Soviet Union blockaded West Berlin, the portion of Berlin not under Soviet control, cutting off all supply of food and other items. The Soviets then offered free food to anyone that would cross into East Berlin and sign over their ration cards. The blockade failed due to the unexpected massive aerial resupply campaign carried out by the Western powers known as the Berlin Airlift. A month into the airlift, fearing the Western powers would eventually abandon them to the Soviets, 500,000 Berliners gathered at the Brandenburg Gate begging the West to continue the massive airlifts. The Soviets attempted 733 disruptions of the airlifts, including shooting near cargo planes. East Berlin communists attempted to disrupt West Berlin elections. In 1949, Stalin conceded defeat and ended the blockade.

In Greece, Britain and the United States supported the anti-communists in the Greek Civil War and suspected the Soviets of supporting the Greek communists, although Stalin refrained from getting involved in Greece, dismissing the movement as premature. Albania remained an ally of the Soviet Union, but Yugoslavia broke with the USSR in 1948.

In Stalin's last year of life, one of his last major foreign policy initiatives was the 1952 Stalin Note for German reunification and Superpower disengagement from Central Europe, but Britain, France, and the United States viewed this with suspicion and rejected the offer.

Sino-Soviet Relations

Stalin and Mao Zedong on Chinese Postage stampIn Asia, the Red Army had overrun Manchuria in the last month of the war and then also occupied Korea above the 38th parallel north. Mao Zedong's Communist Party of China, though receptive to minimal Soviet support, defeated the pro-Western and heavily American-assisted Chinese Nationalist Party in the Chinese Civil War.

The Communists controlled mainland China while the Nationalists held a rump state on the island of Formosa (now Taiwan). The Soviet Union soon after recognized Mao's People's Republic of China, which it regarded as a new ally. The People's Republic claimed Taiwan, though it had never held authority there.

Diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and China reached a high point with the signing of the 1950 Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance. Both countries provided military support to a new friendly state in North Korea. After various Korean border conflicts, war broke out with U.S.-allied South Korea in 1950, starting the Korean War.

North Korea

Contrary to America's policy which restrained armament (limited equipment was provided for infantry and police forces) to South Korea, Stalin extensively armed Kim Il Sung's North Korean army and air forces with military equipment (to include T-34/85 tanks) and "advisors" far in excess of those required for defensive purposes) in order to facilitate Kim's (a former Soviet Officer) aim of conquering the rest of the Korean peninsula.

The North Korean Army struck in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, June 25, 1950, crossing the 38th parallel behind a firestorm of artillery, beginning their invasion of South Korea.[256] During the Korean War, Soviet pilots flew Soviet aircraft from Chinese bases against United Nations aircraft defending South Korea. Post cold war research in Soviet Archives has revealed that the Korean War was begun by Kim Il-sung with the express permission of Stalin, though this is disputed by North Korea.


Stalin originally supported the creation of Israel in 1948. The USSR was one of the first nations to recognize the new country.[257] Golda Meir came to Moscow as the first Israeli Ambassador to the USSR that year. But he later changed his mind and came out against Israel.

Falsifiers of History

In 1948, Stalin personally edited and rewrote by hand sections of the cold war book Falsifiers of History.[258] Falsifiers was published in response to the documents made public in Nazi-Soviet Relations, 1939–1941: Documents from the Archives of The German Foreign Office,[259][260], which included the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and other secret German-Soviet relations documents.[259][261] Falsifiers originally appeared as a series of articles in Pravda in February of 1948,[262] and was subsequently published in numerous language and distributed worldwide.[263]

The book did not attempt to directly counter or deal with the documents published in Nazi-Soviet Relations[264] and rather, focused upon Western culpability for the outbreak of war in 1939.[263] It argues that "Western powers" aided Nazi rearmament and aggression, including that American bankers and industrialists prodied capital for the growth of German war industries, while deliberately encouraging Hitler to expand eastward.[259][263] It depicted the Soviet Union as striving to negotiate a collective security against Hitler, while being thwarted by double-dealing Anglo-French appeasers who, despite appearances, had no intention of a Soviet alliance and were secretly negotiating with Berlin.[263] It casts the Munich agreement, not just as Anglo-French short-sightedness or cowardice, but as a "secret" agreement that was a "a highly important phase in their policy aimed at goading the Hitlerite aggressors against the Soviet Union."[265] The book also included the claim that, during the Pact's operation, Stalin rejected Hitler's offer to share in a division of the world, without mentioning the Soviet offers to join the Axis.[266] Historical studies, official accounts, memoirs and textbooks published in the Soviet Union used that depiction of events until the Soviet Union's dissolution.

Domestic Support

Domestically, Stalin was seen as a great wartime leader who had led the Soviets to victory against the Nazis. His early cooperation with Hitler was forgotten. That cooperation included helping the German Army violate the Treaty of Versailles limitations, with training in the Soviet Union, the notorious Molotov-von Ribbentrop treaty which partitioned Poland giving the Soviet Union what is now Belarus and granted the Soviet Union a free hand in Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, and Soviet trade with Hitler to counteract the expected French and British trade blockades.

By the end of the 1940s, Russian patriotism increased due to successful propaganda efforts. For instance, some inventions and scientific discoveries were claimed by Russian propaganda. Examples include the boiler, reclaimed by father and son Cherepanovs; the electric light, by Yablochkov and Lodygin; the radio, by Popov; and the airplane, by Mozhaysky. Stalin's internal repressive policies continued (including in newly acquired territories), but never reached the extremes of the 1930s, in part because the smarter party functionaries had learned caution.

The "Doctors' plot"

The "Doctors' plot" was a plot outlined by Stalin and Soviet officials in 1952 and 1953 whereby several doctors (over half of which were Jewish) allegedly attempted to kill Soviet officials.[267] The prevailing opinion of many scholars outside the Soviet Union is that Stalin intended to use the resulting doctors’ trial to launch a massive party purge.[268] The plot is also viewed by many historians as an anti-Semitic provocation.[267]

The Doctors Plot followed on the heels of the 1952 show trials of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee[269] and the secret execution of thirteen members on Stalin's orders in the Night of the Murdered Poets.[270] In a December 1, 1952, Politburo session, Stalin announced that "Every Jewish nationalist is the agent of the American intelligence service. Jewish nationalists think that their nation was saved by the USA (there you can become rich, bourgeois, etc.). They think they're indebted to the Americans. Among doctors, there are many Jewish nationalists."[271] To mobilize the Soviet people for his campaign, Stalin ordered TASS and Pravda to issue stories along with Stalin's alleged uncovering of a "Doctors Plot" to assasinate top Soviet leaders,[272][273] including Stalin, in order to set the stage for show trials.[274] The next month, Pravda published stories with text regarding the purported plotters such as "[t]hey were recruited by a branch-office of American intelligence — the international Jewish bourgeois-nationalist organization called "Joint", referring to "[t]he filthy face of this Zionist spy organization."[275] Stalin directed Kruschev to incite anti-Semitism in the Ukraine, telling him "The good workers at the factory should be given clubs so they can beat the hell out of those Jews."

Regarding the origins of the plot, people who knew Stalin, such as Kruschev, suggest that Stalin had long harbored negative sentiments toward Jews that had manifested themselves before the 1917 Revolution.[267] As early as 1907, Stalin wrote a letter differentiating between a "Jewish faction" and a "true Russian faction" in bolshevism.[278][267] Stalin's secretary Boris Bazhanov stated that Stalin made crude anti-Semitic outbursts even before Lenin's death.[279][267] Anti-Semitic trends in the Kremlin's policies were fueled by the exile of Leon Trotsky.[280][267] Following ant-Semitic purges in the 1930s and 1940s, in 1946, Stalin wrote that "every Jew is a potential spy."[281][267] After purportedly ordering the development of bombers capable of reaching America, convinced that Harry Truman was Jewish, Stalin privately remarked "We will show this Jewish shopkeeper how to attack us!"

Some historians have argued that Stalin was also planning to send millions of Jews to labor camps in Western Russia.[274] Four large camps were built shortly before Stalin's death in 1953 in southern and western Russia, with rumors swirling that they were purportedly for Jews, but no directive exists that the camps were to be used for any such effort.[282] According to one source, Nikolay Nikolevitch Poliakov, Stalin purportedly created a special "Deportation Commission" to plan the deportation of Jews to these camps.[283][284][285] Poliakov, the purported secretary of the Commission, stated years later that, according to Stalin's initial plan, the deportation was to begin in the middle of February 1953, but the monumental tasks of completing lists of Jews had not yet been completed.[283][285] "Pure blooded" Jews were to be deported first, followed by "half breeds" (polukrovki).[283] Before his death in March of 1953, Stalin allegedly had planned the execution of "Doctors Plot" defendants already on trial in Red Square in March of 1953, and then he would cast himself as the savior of Soviet Jews by sending them to camps away from the purportedly enraged Russian populace.[283][286][287] Further purported statements from others describe some aspects of such a planned deportation.[285] Others argue that any charge of an alleged mass deportation lacks specific documentary evidence and that attempts to move the then geographically assimilated Jewish population would not have comported with Stalin's other postwar methods.[273]

Regardless of whether a plot to deport Jews was planned, in his "Secret Speech" in 1956, Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev stated that the Doctors Plot was "fabricated . . . set up by Stalin", but that he did not "have the time in which to bring it to an end," saving the doctors' lives.[288] Kruschev also told the session that Stalin called the judge in the case and, regarding the methods to be used, stated "beat, beat and, beat again."[288] Stalin told his Minister of State Security "[i]f you do not obtain confessions from the doctors we will shorten you by a head."[288] Stalin told Politburo members "You are blind like young kittens. What will happen without me? The country will perish because you do not know how to recognize enemies."[288]

Death and reactions

At the end of January 1953 Stalin's personal physician Miron Vovsi (cousin of Solomon Mikhoels, assassinated in 1948 at the orders of Stalin[270]) was arrested within the frame of the so-named Doctors' Plot.[289]

On March 1, 1953, after an all-night dinner in his Kuntsevo residence some 15 km west of Moscow centre with interior minister Lavrentiy Beria and future premiers Georgy Malenkov, Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin did not emerge from his room, having probably suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body.

Stalin's Grave by the Kremlin Wall NecropolisAlthough his guards thought that it was odd for him not to rise at his usual time, they were under orders not to disturb him. He was discovered lying on the floor of his room only at about 10 p.m. in the evening. Lavrentiy Beria was informed and arrived a few hours afterwards, and the doctors only arrived in the early morning of March 2nd. Stalin died four days later, on March 5, 1953, at the age of 74, and was embalmed on March 9. His daughter Svetlana recalls the scene as she stood by his death bed: "He suddenly opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance. Then something incomprehensible and awesome happened. He suddenly lifted his left hand as though he were pointing to something above and bringing down a curse upon all of us. The next moment after a final effort the spirit wrenched itself free of the flesh." Officially, the cause of death was listed as a cerebral hemorrhage. His body was preserved in Lenin's Mausoleum until October 31, 1961, when his body was removed from the Mausoleum and buried next to the Kremlin walls as part of the process of de-Stalinization.

It has been suggested that Stalin was assassinated. The ex-Communist exile Avtorkhanov argued this point as early as 1975. The political memoirs of Vyacheslav Molotov, published in 1993, claimed that Beria had boasted to Molotov that he poisoned Stalin: "I took him out."

Khrushchev wrote in his memoirs that Beria had, immediately after the stroke, gone about "spewing hatred against [Stalin] and mocking him", and then, when Stalin showed signs of consciousness, dropped to his knees and kissed his hand. When Stalin fell unconscious again, Beria immediately stood and spat.

Later analyses of death

In 2003, a joint group of Russian and American historians announced their view that Stalin ingested warfarin, a powerful rat poison that inhibits coagulation of the blood and so predisposes the victim to hemorrhagic stroke (cerebral hemorrhage). Since it is flavorless, warfarin is a plausible weapon of murder. The facts surrounding Stalin's death will probably never be known with certainty.[290]

His demise arrived at a convenient time for Lavrenty Beria and others, who feared being swept away in yet another purge. It is believed[who?] that Stalin felt Beria's power was too great and threatened his own. Whether Beria or anyone else was directly responsible for Stalin's death, it is true that the Politburo did not summon medical attention for Stalin for more than a day after he was found.[citation needed][291]

Reaction by successors

Grutas Park is home to a monument of Stalin, originally set up in Vilnius. Monument to Stalin in Gori, Georgia.The harshness with which Soviet affairs were conducted during Stalin's rule was subsequently repudiated by his successors in the Communist Party leadership, most notably by Nikita Khrushchev's repudiation of Stalinism in February 1956. In his "Secret Speech", On the Personality Cult and its Consequences, delivered to a closed session of the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for his cult of personality, and his regime for "violation of Leninist norms of legality".

Historians argue that Stalin was partly responsible for the initial military disasters and enormous human casualties during WWII, because of his purportedly brutal policies and, in part, because he eliminated so many experienced military officers during earlier purges. Regarding the latter, his military purges focused upon the most senior officers and Stalin himself rejected intelligence warning of the German attack.[292]

Stalin's immediate successors preserved major elements of his rule, including the political monopoly of the Communist Party's presiding over a command economy and a security service able to suppress dissent. The large-scale purges of Stalin's era were never repeated, but political repression continued, albeit on a lesser scale.

Recent support by some in Russia

In recent years, some in Russia, perhaps in reaction to economic hardship or political instability, have signalled some support for Stalin. Results of a controversial poll taken in 2006 stated that over thirty-five percent of Russians would vote for Stalin if he were still alive.[293][294] In July 2008, Stalin topped at number 2 of the list of most popular figures of the Russian history and culture in the nationwide television project "Name of Russia. Historical Choice 2008" in which 292,220 out of 1,453,390 voted for him.[295] In December 2008 Stalin was voted third in a poll of the greatest Russians, leading to accusations that the poll had been rigged in order to prevent him or Lenin being given first place.[296]Also, a new statue of Stalin, along with others who fought against Hitler, is to be erected in Moscow.[297]

Personal life

Origin of name, nicknames and pseudonyms His first name is also transliterated as Iosif. His original surname, ჯუღაშვილი, is also transliterated as Jugashvili or Jughashvili. The Russian transliteration is Джугашвили, which is in turn transliterated into English as Dzhugashvili and Djugashvili; -შვილი (-shvili) is a Georgian suffix meaning "child" or "son".

There are several etymologies of the ჯუღა (jugha) root. In one version, it is the Ossetian for "rubbish"; the surname Jugayev is common among Ossetians, and before the revolution the names in South Ossetia were traditionally written with the Georgian suffix, especially among Christianized Ossetians. In a second version, the name derives from the village of Jugaani in Kakhetia, eastern Georgia.

An article in the newspaper Pravda in 1988 claimed the word derives from the Old Georgian for "steel" which might be the reason for his adoption of the name Stalin. Сталин (Stalin) is derived from combining the Russian сталь (stal), "steel", with the possessive suffix -ин (-in), a formula used by many other Bolsheviks, including Lenin.

Neo-Nazi and other anti-Semitic sources have claimed that "Dzhuga" or "Jugha" means "Jew" in Georgian and hence "Dzhugashvili" literally means "Jew-son" or son of a Jew. This, however, is incorrect as the word for "Jew" in Georgian is "ebraeli".

Like other Bolsheviks, he became commonly known by one of his revolutionary noms de guerre, of which Stalin was only the last. During his education in Tiflis, he picked up the nickname Koba, a Robin Hood-like brigand and protagonist from the 1883 novel The Patricide by Alexander Kazbegi. This became his favorite nickname throughout his revolutionary life.[298] During conversations, Vladimir Lenin called Stalin "Koba". Among his friends he was sometimes known by his childhood nickname Soso.

Stalin is also reported to have used at least a dozen other nicknames, pseudonyms and aliases such as Josef Besoshvili; Ivanov; A. Ivanovich; Soselo (a youthful nickname), K. Kato; G. Nizheradze; Chizhikov or Chizhnikov; Petrov; Vissarionovich; Vassilyi[299]. Directly following World War II, as the Soviets were negotiating with the Allies, Stalin often sent directions to Molotov as Druzhkov.

Stalin was nicknamed "Uncle Joe" by the Western media.[300][301]


While photographs and portraits portray Stalin as physically massive and majestic - he had several painters shot who did not depict him "right"[302] -, he was only five feet four inches high (160 cm).[302] His moustached face was fleshy and pock-marked, and his black hair later turned grey and thinned out. From the accident in his youth, his left arm was shortened and stiffened at the elbow, while his right hand was thinner than his left and frequently hidden.[302] His dental health also deteriorated as he got older - when he died, he only had three of his own teeth remaining.[303]He could be charming and polite, mainly towards visiting statemen[302], but was generally coarse, rude, and abusive.[304]

Marriages and family

Ekaterina "Kato" Svanidze, Stalin's first wife.Stalin met his first wife, Ekaterina Svanidze, in late 1905 when he moved into the Tiflis townhouse where she lived. They were married on the night of July 28, 1906. On March 31, 1907, she gave birth to Stalin's first child, Yakov. In June 1907, after robbing the bank in Tiflis to fund the Bolshevik cause, Stalin and his family fled east to Baku. Stalin was frequently absent as he conducted revolutionary work across Georgia. Meanwhile, Ekaterina suffered under the pollution and heat of Baku, which was an oil boomtown. She contracted typhus and died on December 5, 1907. Stalin was devastated by her death; fearing he was suicidal, his friends took away his pistol.

His son finally shot himself because of Stalin's harshness toward him, but survived. After this, Stalin said "He can't even shoot straight".[57] Yakov served in the Red Army during World War II and was captured by the Germans. They offered to exchange him for Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, who had surrendered after Stalingrad, but Stalin turned the offer down, stating "You have in your hands not only my son Yakov but millions of my sons. Either you free them all or my son will share their fate."[305] Afterwards, Yakov is said to have committed suicide, running into an electric fence[306] in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he was being held.[307]

Stalin with his children: Vasiliy and SvetlanaStalin had a son, Vasiliy, and a daughter, Svetlana, with his second wife Nadezhda Alliluyeva. She died in 1932, officially of illness. She may have committed suicide by shooting herself after a quarrel with Stalin, leaving a suicide note which according to their daughter was "partly personal, partly political".[308] According to A&E Biography, there is also a belief among some Russians that Stalin himself murdered his wife after the quarrel, which apparently took place at a dinner in which Stalin tauntingly flicked cigarettes across the table at her. Historians also claim her death ultimately "severed his link from reality."[309]

Vasiliy rose through the ranks of the Soviet air force, officially dying of alcoholism in 1962; however, this is still in question. He distinguished himself in World War II as a capable airman. Svetlana emigrated to the United States in 1967.

Stalin and Nadezhda AlliluyevaIn his book The Wolf of the Kremlin Stuart Kahan claimed that Stalin was secretly married to a third wife named Rosa Kaganovich, allegedly the sister of Lazar Kaganovich, a Soviet politician. However, the claim is unproven and many have disputed it, including the Kaganovich family, who deny that "Rosa" and Stalin ever met, and even state that Kaganovich's sister wasn't named Rosa. Kahan also claimed that both Lazar and Rosa were responsible for the death of Stalin (by poisoning), however this (as well as most of the remainder of Kahan's assertions) were dismissed as fabrication by the Statement of the Kaganovich Family.

In March 2001 Russian Independent Television NTV discovered a previously unknown grandson living in Novokuznetsk. Yuri Davydov told NTV that his father had told him of his lineage, but, because the campaign against Stalin's cult of personality was in full swing at the time, he was told to keep quiet.

Stalin also had a son named Konstantin Kuzakov together with the landlady Maria Kuzakova during his 1911 exile in Solvychegodsk.[310]

Beside his suite in the Kremlin, Stalin had numerous domiciles. In 1919 he started with a country house near Usovo, he added dachas at Zuvalova and Kuntsevo (Blizhny dacha built by Miron Merzhanov). Before WWII he added the Lipki estate and Semyonovskaya, and had at least four dachas in the south by 1937, including one near Sochi. A luxury villa near Gagri was given to him by Beria. In Abkhasia he maintained a mountain retreat. After the war he added dachas at Novy Alon, near Sukhumi, in the Valdai Hills, and at Lake Mitsa. Another estate was near Zelyony Myss on the Black Sea. All these dachas, estates, and palaces were staffed, well furnished and equipped, kept safe by security forces, and were mainly used privately, rarely for diplomatic purposes.[311] Between places Stalin would travel by car or train, never by air; he flew only once when attending the 1943 Tehran conference.

Religious beliefs and policies

Stalin's beliefs are complicated and sometimes contradictory. He received his education at the Theological Seminary at Tbilisi, where his mother sent him to become a priest, but he became a closet atheist.[312]

Regarding one famous claim about evolution, historians doubt one later Soviet claim that he read The Origin of Species at the age of thirteen while still at Gori, and told a fellow pupil that it proved the nonexistence of God. The story fails on several obvious accounts, including Stalin's remaining religious, even pious, for some years longer.[313] In fact Professor of Religion Hector Avalos noted, "Stalin, in fact, had a complex relationship with religious institutions in the Soviet Union."

Historian Edvard Radzinsky used recently discovered secret archives and noted a story that changed Stalin's attitude toward religion.[315] The story in which Ilya, Metropolitan of the Lebanon Mountains, claimed to receive a sign from heaven that "The churches and monasteries must be reopened throughout the country. Priests must be brought back from imprisonment, Leningrad must not be surrendered, but the sacred icon of Our Lady of Kazan should be carried around the city boundary, taken on to Moscow, where a service should be held, and thence to Stalingrad Tsaritsyn."[315] Shortly thereafter, Stalin's attitude changed and "Whatever the reason, after his mysterious retreat, he began making his peace with God. Something happened which no historian has yet written about. On his orders many priests were brought back to the camps. In Leningrad, besieged by the Germans and gradually dying of hunger, the inhabitants were astounded, and uplifted, to see wonder-working icon Our Lady of Kazan brought out into the streets and borne in procession."[315] Radzinsky asked, "Had he seen the light? Had fear made him run to his Father? Had the Marxist God-Man simply decided to exploit belief in God? Or was it all of these things at once?."[315]

During the Second World War Stalin reopened the Churches. One reason could have been to motivate the majority of the population who had Christian beliefs. The reasoning behind this is that by changing the official policy of the party and the state towards religion, the Church and its clergymen could be to his disposal in mobilizing the war effort. On September 4, 1943, Stalin invited Metropolitan Sergius, Metropolitan Alexy and Metropolitan Nikolay to the Kremlin and proposed to reestablish the Moscow Patriarchate, which had been suspended since 1925, and elect the Patriarch. On September 8, 1943, Metropolitan Sergius was elected Patriarch.

Hypotheses, rumors and misconceptions about Stalin

For a long time, the date of birth of Stalin was falsified.[1] Although there is an inconsistency among published sources about Stalin's year and date of birth, Iosif Dzhugashvili is found in the records of the Uspensky Church in Gori, Georgia as born on December 18 (Old Style: December 6) 1878. This birth date is maintained in his School Leaving Certificate, his extensive tsarist Russia police file, a police arrest record from April 18, 1902 which gave his age as 23 years, and all other surviving pre-Revolution documents. As late as 1921, Stalin himself listed his birthday as December 18, 1878 in a curriculum vitae in his own handwriting. However, after his coming to power in 1922, Stalin changed the date to December 21 [O.S. December 9] 1879. That became the day his birthday was celebrated in the Soviet Union. There are a number of hypotheses and popular rumors about the "real" father of Stalin;[316] also see "Death" section for hypotheses about the causes of Stalin's death.

Suspected Tsarist connections

Stalin has been suspected in the past and in the present of being a Tsarist double-agent during his revolutionary years. Some of this suspicion stems from his ability to evade Tsarists' efforts to capture him. His 1909 efforts to root out traitors caused much strife within the party; some accused him of doing this deliberately on the orders of the Okhrana. The Menshevik Razhden Arsenidze said that Stalin was betraying comrades he didn't like to the Okhrana, but there is no proof of this. His ability to anticipate Okhrana actions may have come from moles within the organization. Another historian, Simon Sebag Montefiore, found that in all surviving Okhrana records Stalin is described as a revolutionary and never a spy.[5] In the 1956, the magazine Life published a letter by Colonel Ermin, head of the Tiflis Okhrana, that said Stalin was an agent, but it has since been shown to be a forgery.

In his 1967 biography of Stalin, Edward Ellis Smith argued that Stalin was an Okhrana agent by citing his suspicious ability to escape from Okhrana dragnets, travel unimpeded, and rabble-rouse full time with no apparent source of income. One such example was the raid that occurred on the night of April 3, 1901, when most everyone of importance in the Socialist-Democratic movement in Tiflis was arrested, except for Stalin, who was apparently "enjoying the balmy spring air, and in one of his to-hell-with-the-revolution moods, [which] is too impossible for serious consideration."

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