The Twentieth century was a very important time for the whole world. Empires rose and fell and the modern world was shaped. One of the most influential men of the century, if not the most, was Joseph Stalin. His legacy continues to frighten and inspire even 60 years after his death.
Joseph Stalin was born on December 18th, 1879. Surprisingly, Stalin wasn’t Russian but was actually born in a small town in Georgia and born with the name Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvilizaq. As a child he contracted smallpox which scarred his face and deformed his left arm. This led to other children ridiculing him and teasing. Young Joseph took this to heart and made it his mission to gain respect and greatness. His mother was a devout Russian Orthodox Christian and when Iosif grew up, she sent him away to enroll in a church school in the city of Gori.
He did well in in school and later was awarded a scholarship to go to seminary school in Tiflis in 1894. While in Tiflis he came in contact with a secret society that that pushed for Georgia’s independence from Russia. This group also led Stalin to discover the writings and teachers of socialist thinkers like Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. Although he excelled in seminary school, he dropped out in 1899. No one really knows why, the school records say it was because he no longer had the money to pay for tuition but it is more likely that the school asked him to leave because of his political views that challenged the tsarist regime.
After leaving school he chose not to return home and stayed in Tiflis. He committed his time to the revolutionary movement and then in 1901 joined the Democratic Social Labor Party and spent full time working with the revolutionaries. In 1902 he was arrested and exiled to Siberia for organizing a labor strike. During this time he adopted the name “Stalin” which means steel in Russian.
In February 1917 the Russian Revolution began. Stalin was never a good speaker or an intellectual so he never made far up in the revolutionary ladder. He did mundane tasks such as calling meetings, organizing meetings and strikes, and publishing leaflets. After escaping exile he was deemed an outlaw by the tsarist secret police and had to continue his revolutionary work in secret. He raised money for the revolution through kidnappings, robberies, and extortion. He was infamous for the Tiflis bank robbery in 1907 when the equivalents of 3.4 million U.S. dollars were stolen.
In April 1917 the government had been overthrown and Vladimir Lenin called for the people to rise up and take control of the government, the land, and the factories. Soon The Bolsheviks were in control and Stalin was appointed to the newly made position of Secretary General. During the reign of Lenin, Stalin slowly consolidated power and soon most of the men in cabinet positions owed their positions to him. Once Lenin died there was nothing to stop Stalin from seizing absolute control over the government.
Over the next two decades Stalin’s paranoia got the best of him. He starting removing high ranking government officials that he thought could challenge him or opposed his new government. He would put them on extravagant show trials and he always executed them in the end. Eventually he purged his union of almost all experienced military officers, and local officials and replaced them with his own men. During this period he also took back the land given to the people during the revolution and collectivized it. Basically, reverting the people back to serfs like they had been during the monarchy. Stalin thought that this would increase food production for the country but the people resented growing food for other and some refused to farm. This led to a resulting famine and millions of Russians died before it became effective. A massive industrialization project took place under Stalin that propelled the U.S.S.R. into modern industrialized nation. This also caused the death of millions of Russian lives and any resistance was met with lethal force. Millions were executed or sent to Gulag labor camps in Siberia. Before WW2 started Stalin foresaw what would happen if Hitler was left unchecked. The years preceding The Nazi invasion of Poland, Stalin went to western leaders to help stop Hitler before his plans went into action but no leaders would cooperate with him. So in 1939 Stalin signed a nonaggression pact with Germany that surprised the world. He did this to bide time for his own country to build up military in his newly industrialized country that was behind the Nazi’s. When the invasion of Poland took place, Germany invaded from the west and two weeks later the Soviet Union from the East. This was so that Stalin had a buffer between his own people and the Nazis. Thinking that Hitler would never start a two front war, Stalin ignored his military commanders who told him that Hitler was building up forces on his western border. When the Nazi’s finally launched their Russian campaign in June 1941, they drove deep into Russian territory killing millions of civilians and soldiers. They burned fields and captured factories vital to the Soviet cause. Stalin was so distraught by Hitler’s treachery that he hid in his office for several days. Stalin pleaded with western leaders to join the war and start a second front but they kept postponing their invasion. He also asked for more resources and reinforcements but that was also denied. The Soviets were alone against the strongest military force on earth. Stalin then did the unthinkable and achieved one of the greatest human feats in history. Migrating over Six million people from the western front to further in the Soviet Union in the east, he started a whole new industrialized revolution buy creating thousands of factories for the war effort. The will of the Soviet people to survive was so strong that they pumped out millions of weapons, tanks, and planes. Thanks to Stalin’s purges, the military and government was almost completely absent of competent officials which rendered both branches almost useless. It was the will of the Iron dictator and the people of the USSR that stopped the Nazi’s at Stalingrad in 1943. They brought the Germans into a full scale retreat and began liberating eastern European countries. Single handedly the Soviets had stopped and were beating the Nazi’s. No help from western powers had come. The war had become personal for Stalin and the soviets. They pushed through Europe all the way to Berlin and defeated Germany in 1945.
Stalin then agreed to help the United States defeat japan and invaded Manchuria. At this point the Japanese were willing to surrender as long as they could keep their emperor but the U.S. would only accept unconditional surrender. The Atomic bombs were then dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not because they had to, but to show American strength to the Soviets.
Once the war was over Stalin was convinced that the western powers would now turn on him and set up communist regimes in many Eastern European countries and blocked off trading and communication with capitalist countries. This began the cold war.
Throughout the cold war Stalin retained his reputation and continued his opposition of the United States. He hated the western powers for their lack of support in the war and their resentment of communism. This led to paranoia for the rest of his life. He lended support to communist revolutions throughout the world. When NATO was signed, Stalin made his own Warsaw Pact.
Stalin’s health began to deteriorate in the 50’s and after an assassination plot against him, he tried to start another purge of his communist party but he died on march 5, 1953. Stalin’s legacy lived on throughout the decades. He beat back the Nazi war machine, and turned Russia into a backwards nation, into a world superpower.