Joseph Stalin served as the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee from 1922 until his death in 1953. Stalin assumed the leading role in Soviet politics after Vladimir Lenin's death in 1924, and gradually marginalized his opponents until he had become the unchallenged leader of the Soviet Union. Stalin was son of a cobbler, he studied at a seminary but was expelled for revolutionary activity in 1899. He joined an underground revolutionary group and sided with the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party in 1903. A disciple of Vladimir Lenin, he served in minor party posts and was appointed to the first Bolshevik Central Committee in 1912. He remained active behind the scenes and in exile until the Russian Revolution of 1917 brought the Bolsheviks to power. Having adopted the name Stalin from the Russian war stal, meaning steel, he served as commissar for nationalities and for state control in the Bolshevik government from 1917 to 1923. He was a member of the Politburo, and in 1922 he became secretary-general of the party's Central Committee. After Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin overcame his rivals, including Leon Trotsky, Grigory Zinovyev, Lev Kamenev, Nikolay Bukharin, and Aleksey Rykov, and took control of Soviet politics. In 1928 he inaugurated the Five-Year Plans that radically altered Soviet economic and social structures and resulted in the deaths of many millions. In the 1930s he contrived to eliminate threats to his power through the purge trials and through widespread secret executions and persecution. In World War II he signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact in 1939, attacked Finland kown as the Russo-Finnish War, and annexed parts of eastern Europe to strengthen his western frontiers. Stalin's absolute insistence upon Soviet domination of Eastern Europe following the war's end was not entirely without justification; after all, Germany had invaded Russia...
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