Joseph Stalin is one of the most famous dictators from the 20th century. He ruled over the Soviet Union as a communist dictator from 1924 until his death in 1953. As such, Stalin led the Soviet Union through several major world events, such as: World War II, the Cold War and the Korean War. Today, he is remembered as a brutal dictator who was responsible for the death of over 20 million people. For instance, he imprisoned millions of his own people in gulags (labor camps), carried out devastating purges and caused the Ukraine Famine.
JOSEPH STALIN'S EARLY LIFE
Joseph Stalin was born on December 18th, 1878, in Gori, Georgia. Georgia was a country that was located between Eastern Europe and West Asia, but was still part of the Russian Federation. He was born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili and began using the name Joseph Stalin in his early 20’s.
At an early age, his father struggled with alcoholism and the left Joseph and his mother. Soon after, Stalin gained a scholarship to a seminary school in order to study to become a priest. He didn’t finish with the school and instead became an atheist. After he left the seminary school he began reading the writings of Vladimir Lenin and joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which practised Marxism. The group would eventually form into the Bolsheviks under the leadership of Lenin, which Stalin also joined.
As part of his membership in the Social Democratic Labour Party, he often found himself in trouble with Russian authorities and was sent to Siberia several times as punishment. When World War I broke out, Stalin was drafted into the Russian Army but did not serve due to a badly injured arm that he had hurt as a child. During the course of World War I, Russia suffered a massive loss of life which negatively impacted the morale of the country. As such, the Marxist movement led by Vladimir Lenin gained strength and popularity.
JOSEPH STALIN & THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION
At the time, Russia was led by a tsar, which was the title for the Russian absolute monarchs before 1917. Tsar Nicholas II ruled over Russia before and during the first parts of World War I. The mounting Russian casualties and lack of supplies led to an increased amount of anger directed at the Tsar and his handling of the Russian war effort. At the same time, Russia was a society that was sharply divided and the poorest Russians struggled to survive day-to-day. Poverty was widespread, especially among Russian peasants, who worked for the landowning nobility. This all combined to set the stage for a revolution against the Tsar and his rule over Russia.
In 1917, Vladimir Lenin led a series of revolts against Tsar Nicholas II. Soon, Tsar Nicholas II and his family were imprisoned and Lenin and the Bolsheviks assumed power over Russia. For his part, Stalin assumed control of the Communist Party Newspaper ‘Pravda’ or ‘Truth’ and used the paper to publicly support Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ actions in the country. In the years following the Russian Revolution and the resulting civil war, Stalin worked his way up into a leadership position within the Communist Party established by Lenin. By 1922, Lenin had appointed Stalin General Secretary, which allowed him the ability to begin appointing close allies to positions of power.
Also in 1922, Lenin suffered a series of strokes. As a result he essentially retired from the leadership role and Stalin gained more control. However, it was during this time that Lenin began to grow suspicious towards Stalin. Lenin was critical of Stalin’s political views and the methods he was using to maintain power. In fact, Lenin wrote a ‘Testament’ in which he criticized Stalin’s leadership and argued that he should be removed from the position of General Secretary. However, Stalin and his allies prevented Lenin’s testament from being presented to others in the Communist Party. Lenin died of another stroke on January 21st, 1924.
JOSEPH STALIN'S DICTATORSHIP
Following Lenin’s death there was a power struggle in the Soviet Union between Stalin and his allies and Leon Trotsky, a trusted ally of Lenin. Stalin eventually isolated Trotsky within the power structure of the Soviet Union and forced him into exile. Stalin’s rise to power was complete as he centralized all power in the Soviet Union under himself and ran the country as a Communist dictatorship. Although Stalin claimed to be a Marxist-Leninist, his own interpretations of communism were influenced heavily by his desire to maintain absolute power and control. As such, historians refer to Stalin's form of communism as 'Stalinism'. For instance, Stalin established gulags during his time as the dictator of the Soviet Union. In short, a gulag was a labor camp, where people who were considered undesirable were sent. Stalin often had people who questioned his authority sent to the gulags as a form of punishment. As well, Stalin was also known to remove important religious leaders, teachers and other educated groups as he feared they could threaten his leadership. Because of this, Stalin is often viewed historically as a very paranoid and controlling figure. Further to this point, Stalin famously carried out a series of purges against his own people. To maintain his power over the country Stalin organized a series of purges in which he oversaw mass executions of political rivals and potential threats to his authority. Between 1934 and 1939, Stalin carried out purges in which millions were arrested and either executed or sent to the gulags. The accused included people from across Soviet society but focused in on members of the Soviet military and members of communist party.
Over the remaining years of his life he would he was the dictator of the Soviet Union through several key events, including: the Ukraine Famine, World War II, and the Cold War.
The Ukraine Famine, which is also known as the Holodomor, was a period of starvation caused by the policies of Joseph Stalin in 1932 and 1933 in the country of Ukraine. The famine was caused when Stalin collectivized the farms of ethnic Ukrainians and seized stores of grain for use in industrializing the Soviet Union. Many historians view the famine as a result of actions taken of Stalin and therefore categorize the event as genocide. It is estimated that between 2.5 to 7.5 million people died of starvation during the Ukraine Famine.
JOSEPH STALIN IN WORLD WAR II & THE COLD WAR
Stalin’s involvement in World War II was also very important. He allied the Soviet Union with both France and Britain in the face of growing German nationalism and aggression in Central Europe. However, just before the start of the war, Adolf Hitler and Stalin agreed to a non-aggression pact, which allowed Stalin to better prepare his country for the industrial needs of war at that time. The non-aggression pact between the two nations ended after Hitler decided to invade the Soviet Union in 1941. This immediately turned Stalin into an enemy of Hitler and the Soviet Union joined forces with the other Allied nations against Nazi Germany. Stalin remained leader over the Soviet Union throughout the entire history of World War II, and led the Soviet Union to victory against Nazi Germany. For instance, the war in Europe ended in 1944 when Soviet troops defeated Nazi Germany in the Battle of Berlin. To learn more about World War II and Stalin’s role in the war, click on the links above.
The Cold War occurred immediately following the end of World War II and saw the Soviet Union face off against the United States in a war of ideologies that last for 45 years. Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union in the early years of the Cold War and played a significant role in Cold War events such as the Berlin Blockade and the Korean War. This was significant because it saw Joseph Stalin face off against the United States. In particular, Stalin and American President Harry S. Truman went head to head in the Berlin Blockade. As well, Stalin oversaw early examples of Soviet Expansionism in the Cold War.
Expansionism as a foreign policy strategy was used by the Soviet Union in the timeframe of the Cold War. For instance, the Soviet Union sought to spread communism and its influence to other regions of the world in the years following the end of World War II. This is important, because in the Cold War both the United States and the Soviet Union worked to spread their ‘sphere of influence’. Both wanted to expand their influence around the world in order to gain support for their separate ideologies, which included communism (for the Soviets) and liberalism (for the Americans). Soviet expansionism in the Cold War was often met with containment on the part of the United States, because the Americans hoped to stop the spread of communism. As such, Soviet expansionism and American containment led to many different examples of conflict between the two superpowers, which heightened tensions throughout the 20th century. As for Stalin, he began Soviet expansion with the events of the Korean War. To learn more about the Cold War and Stalin’s role in the war, click on the links above.
JOSEPH STALIN'S DEATH & LEGACY
Stalin died on March 5th in 1953 from a bleed in his brain (cerebral bleed). While he was officially mourned in the Soviet Union, his death was also welcomed by many as he was a brutal dictator towards his people. As such, today he is remembered as a tyrant for the terrible acts he carried out against millions of people. For example, he carried out a mass genocide of people in the Ukraine Famine. As well, he established gulag labor camps where in he imprisoned millions of his own people. As such, he is often associated with other 20th Century dictators and remembered for his brutal rule over the Soviet Union. He also played a key role in several major world events including World War II and the Cold War.