Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (18.12.1878.-05.03.1953) was a Georgian revolutionary and Soviet political leader who governed the Soviet Union from 1924 until he died in 1953. 

He was born in a poor family in Gori (now Georgia). Stalin attended Tbilisi Spiritual Seminary, but as he got older, he became more and more rebellious and dropped out of further education. During his schooling, he was influenced by Marxist literature and became an extreme opponent of the tsarist regime. 

 In October 1899, Stalin began work as a meteorologist in the Tiflis Observatory. He attracted many supporters with his actions and speeches, with whom he organized workers’ meetings and several strike actions. These actions were observed by the Russian secret police, he was arrested and sent to prison. After a successful escape, his participation in the Bolshevik movement has increased, even took a criminal course. He was arrested again and sent to exile, but his activities didn’t stop. By that time, he was already famous and recognized by party members and became very close to Lenin. 

During WW I and the Russian civil war, he became one of the top figures in the communist milieu, alongside Lenin, Trotsky, and Sverdlov. He took part in military commanding, but he was heavily criticized as he disobeyed several orders from the Politburo. This made him feel betrayed and surrounded by enemies. After Lenin died in 1924, Stalin started to rally up his sympathizers, confront his opponents, and finally became supreme party leader.  

This period illuminated Stalin’s character, cautious observers could see dominant, paranoid, brutal displays of power in his actions. But, crescendo was still to come. The Soviet Union, devastated by WW I, revolution, and other unrests, desperately needed reorganization and stabilization. His measures were drastic and hard to follow. Dekulakization, collectivization, and industrialization made some progress but also were the cause of several serious uprisings in the whole country. Every one of them was brutally suppressed. Famine, Holodomor, were the results of poor crops and bad redistribution of grain. Great terror – paranoid doubts in his colleagues and military personnel took thousands of victims. Shootings, false trials, deportations, ethnic cleansing wreaked havoc among the Soviet population.  

Stalin believed that a clash between capitalists and communists was inevitable and German actions of Austria annexation and further belligerent acts just verified it. He tried to make closer cooperation with Britain and France but was rejected. The pact with Nazi Germany was a surprise, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed on 3rd May 1939. As Germany attacked Poland, 17 days later, Soviet troops did the same. Cooperation between the two countries continued, despite the British blockade of Germany.  

In November, Soviet troops attacked Finland but suffered an embarrassing defeat. In the peace treaty, Finland gave some territorial concessions to the Soviets. Because of these actions, the Soviet Union was expelled from the League of nations. Soviets have seized Baltic states, Bessarabia and northern Bukovina, also. Heavy dissent was followed by brutal repressions of the Soviet army. 

Barbarossa, German operation against the Soviet Union was a surprise for Stalin, despite his doubts about it. Some historians say that he was drunk for seven days, wallowing in disbelief. Germany’s advancement was devastating, they came 15 kilometers near Moscow suburbs, but Stalin didn’t leave Moscow to raise Soviet morale. Harsh weather conditions, constant counterattacks made the German offensive halted. Unlike Zhukov and several other generals, Stalin emphasized attack despite the costs. Enormous manpower reserves made him assured that only an attack can repel Germans. In July 1942, Stalin issued order No 227, “ Not a step back”, soldiers in retreat would be shot by NKVD units. 

During German advancement for oil basins in south Russia, one of the targets was Stalingrad. Hitler’s obsession to capture the city was equal to Stalin’s intention to defeat his opponent. This battle of the rams, the Battle of Stalingrad, was one of the greatest battles in the history of warfare. After this defeat, the Germans were in constant retreat. In operation Citadel, Hitler would attempt to upheave the course of the war, but instead, he suffered a heavy defeat. 

Stalin met Roosevelt and Churchill in Teheran (location of Stalin’s choosing), to plan further actions in war and start the post-war dismantling of the British empire. Also, new zones of influence would be discussed. According to this plan, Stalin is starting new offensives in the east, urging Allies to do the same thing in the west. Operation Bagration and several others would expel Germans from Soviet territory. In February 1945, three leaders met again, in the Yalta conference. Further course of actions would be discussed, surrender of Germany, war declaration to Japan, reparations in money and territories. 

In April 1945, the Soviets entered Berlin and Germany surrendered in May. Stalin wanted to capture Hitler alive, but Hitler committed suicide. With Germany defeated, Stalin switched focus to the war with Japan. Soviet invasion of Manchuria and US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki led the war to an end. 

Post-war years were supposed to be years of peace and stabilization, but tensions went high between former allies, resulting in the Cold war. In his late years, Stalin was in poor health. On 1st March 1953, he had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died five days later. His body was embalmed and being laid in Lenin’s mausoleum at the Red square. Despite many atrocities, acts beyond crime, Stalin remained a very popular figure in the Soviet Union, even nowadays Russia.