Joseph Stalin

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Chinese portrait of Josef Stalin.

Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin (born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili and also often referred to in English as Joseph Stalin or Josef Stalin) was a Georgian revolutionary, Marxist theoretician[1], and statesman who was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1953, and the Premier of the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1953. He synthesized the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin into an official state ideology known as Marxism-Leninism. He is commonly credited as being partially accountable for defeat of the German Reich during World War II. Stalin oversaw the mass industrialisation of the USSR and creation of arguably the world's first long-lasting socialist state, which assisted in the liberation of workers all across the world, although not without a fair share of Authoritarianism in his own country. Stalin's rule is subject to extreme amounts of controversy, as Marxist-Leninists and others assert Stalin was a Hero of the Workers who oversaw the construction of the first example of real existing Socialism and the defeat of Fascism during the Second World War. On the other hand, Anarchists, Trotskyists and others, claim Stalin was a "red fascist", no better than the Tsar he replaced.

Life[edit]

Early life[edit]

Stalin (Meaning Man of Steel) was born in Gori on 18 December 1878, a small mining town in modern day Georgia, at the time a part of the Russian Empire. His father (Besarion) was a shoemaker and his mother (Ekater) was a laundress. He was his parent's fourth child, and the only one to survive infancy. At the age of three, he almost died to a case of Smallpox, which left him with facial scarring for the rest of his life. When he was 12, he was run down by a carriage, severely damaging his right arm, which left it all but useless for the rest of his life. Although his father's business initially did well, the business eventually fell on hard times, and his father became an abusive alcoholic. Stalin and his mother ran away from home to live with a family friend, who was a priest.

Stalin's mother was determined to have her child go to school, which he did, at the age of 12. He was noted as the "brightest but naughtiest student in class", excelling academically, but stagnating by the time he left school. When he was 15, he joined a Banned Books club in school, where he read texts forbidden by the Tsarist regime at the time, including Karl Marx's Das Kapital and other revolutionary texts. When he left school, Stalin studied priesthood in the Georgian Orthodox Church in the city of Tblisi, although he eventually became disillusioned with religion, once stating to a classmate "You know, there is no god." In 1899, at the age of 21, Stalin began giving lectures on Marxism at an Observatory, where he began a career of essentially acting as a Slavic Robin Hood. Stalin was frequently arrested for leftist activities, several times being sent to the Katorga - or Tsarist Gulag. He escaped numerous times and eventually he joined the All-Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. After the RSDLP split, he became a member of the Bolshevik faction.[2]

Rise to power[edit]

He took part in increasingly radical activities, taking on the name "Koba", named after a Georgian Robin Hood-type character. During the 1905 Revolution, he organised worker's militias and assisted in Setting up what became the short-lived Moscow Soviet, where he narrowly escaped the Tsarist officers. Unfortunately, his wife died of what is assumed to be tuberculosis because of this. Stalin met Vladimir Lenin in 1907, after Lenin's wife, Nadezha Krupskaya, introduced him at a leftist meeting in Helsinki, Finland, then also apart of the Russian Empire. The two immediately took a liking to each other, and Lenin taught Stalin everything he knew. Although the Bolsheviks disapproved of Stalin's criminal activities in stealing from rich capitalists and giving back to the poor, Lenin secretly requested Stalin steal printing equipment to further the party's reach. In 1912 Stalin became the editor-in-chief of Pravda, the newspaper of the Bolshevik Faction of the RSDLP, oftentimes publishing articles he'd written himself. Stalin's 1915 article, Marxism and the National Question, which addressed the issue of nationalities, nationalism and how one is to organise a multi-ethnic society on racial and cultural grounds, greatly impressed Lenin. By the time of the 1917 Revolution, Stalin had become Lenin's second-in-command, and stayed back at Party headquarters during the revolution, informing other party officials of what was happening. In the subsequent civil war, Stalin became a General and took part in the Battle of Tsaritsyn, a crippling defeat for White Army forces. The city was later renamed Stalingrad in his honour.

After the civil war, Stalin's work in Marxism and the National Question became the basis for the founding of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The constitution of the USSR was signed into effect on 31 January 1922, and the All-Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Bolshevik) was renamed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, with Stalin as it's General Secretary and Lenin as premier. Stalin continued to be Lenin's right hand man, alongside former Menshevik Leon Trotsky, who had been the Commissar for War during the revolution. Stalin and Trotsky already hated each other for personal reasons, but they tolerated each other. Stalin and Trotsky were the only two people that could enter Lenin's office without an appointment, and after Lenin died in 1924, a power struggle began between Stalin, Trotsky, and the "left opposition", comprised of other party officials such as Grigory Zinoviev. Although Stalin had explicitly banned Factionalism within the CPSU, citing Lenin's worry that either Stalin or Trotsky would cause a party split, this did not stop the power struggle. The Left Opposition first targeted Trotsky, while Stalin remained a neutral party - even though Stalin requested to resign numerous times between 1924 and 1927, these requests were rejected, even by Trotsky and the Left Opposition, who perceived each other to be a more dangerous threat than Stalin. However, by 1927, the left opposition realised that Stalin was the main threat they should worry about - but, by that time, their fighting each other had disqualified support for themselves and allowed Stalin to gain support for himself. In 1929, Trotsky and the left opposition were expelled from the CPSU. Stalin had cemented himself as the Leader of the USSR.

Government policies[edit]

Under Stalin's rule, the USSR prospered. Drives to eliminate Illiteracy, which previously stood as high as 80% for men and 60% for women, were a massive success, resulting in a 99% literacy rate in the USSR by 1940. Women were allowed to go to school for the first time, as Tsarist ethnic restrictions on who could and couldn't work or go to school were abolished. In addition, the mass openings of Kindergartens and Day-care centres allowed Women to enter the workforce as well. Industrial production increased 800%, and the 1936 "Stalin Constitution" outlawed discrimination or favouritism on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religion or other demographics. The workday was shortened to 7 hours a day, with guaranteed holidays and maternity leave for all workers. The wages for the average worker were tripled than compared to that in the Tsarist era, and quality of life improved massively. Collectivization efforts also ended the chronic problem of Famine in the USSR as well, though not without cost.

In 1922, at the founding of the USSR, Lenin instituted a policy of State Capitalism known as the "New Economic Policy," which was designed to build up productive forces in the economically backward USSR. Lenin had intended for this policy to continue for around 30 years or so, but, by 1927, Stalin began to slowly abolish this policy and begin a process of Collectivization as the USSR transitioned towards Socialism. Part of this process was the replacement of Privately owned farms owned by Kulaks (Rich Peasants) with State owned Sovkhozy and collectively peasant owned Kolkhozy farms. This policy was effective and helped end famines, though Kulaks resisted State collectivization efforts as much as possible, often intentionally burning grain or slaughtering livestock to prevent it from being collectivized. This, combined with superstitions and misinformation of what collectivization actually meant among the general populace, led to numerous problems. Grain stores slowly depleted, and, as weather worsened, harvests decreased as well. Stalin's drive for "Dekulakization" and Collectivization culminated in the Famine of Winter 1932-33, also known as the "Holodomor" (Ukrainian for death by hunger). The famine killed an estimated 3-5 million people across the Ukrainian SSR, Russia and Belarus. The famine was largely caused by Kulaks and bad weather resulting in decreased grain harvests of the previous years - thus leaving the Soviet State unable to properly respond to such a famine. Around 18 million tons of food were exported to the affected SSRs during the famine, though it still resulted in the deaths of millions. The famine also gave Stalin an excuse to crush the Kulaks once and for all, and many were deported to various areas within the USSR or sent to the Gulag. This was the last naturally-occurring famine in Eastern Europe.

Relations with Nazi Germany[edit]

Starting in 1933, with the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, Stalin began to industrialize the USSR for war. Having reportedly read Hitler's Mein Kampf, Stalin knew exactly what Adolf Hitler's plans for Europe and the World were, and spent most of the 1930s repeatedly petitioning the French, British and Polish Governments to form an Anti-Fascist alliance and preemptively destroy the Nazi threat before it became too powerful. Hitler and Stalin spent the 1930s denouncing each other, as each built up their respective nations for War. During the Munich Crisis of 1937, Stalin threatened to Invade Germany if Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, and likewise, Hitler formalized the Anti-Comintern Pact between Various nations throughout Europe to specifically spite Stalin's antifascist efforts. Nevertheless, Stalin's repeated petitions to the League of Nations and Western Europe proved fruitless. And, a few days before Germany invaded Poland, Stalin sent a mission to Germany to formalize a non-aggression pact with Germany, much like the one they'd made with Japan. The infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact assured that neither Germany nor the USSR would attack each other for a period of ten years (which both sides knew was not going to last) but also contained numerous secret clauses: The USSR would not interfere with Germany's conquest of Europe, and Germany would not interfere with the USSR if they were to retake numerous territories lost to them in the aftermath of the Russian Civil War - Particularly Karelia, near Finland, the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, Bessabarabia (Moldova) in Romania; and the territories of Brest and Grodno (occupied by Poland but historically a part of Belarus) and numerous territories claimed by Western Ukraine but occupied by Poland. When World War II started, both sides adhered to the treaty, and two weeks after the Invasion of Poland the USSR occupied their claimed territories. In 1940 the Soviets annexed the Baltics and occupied Bessabarabia (Moldova) and went to war with Finland over Karelia in what became the rather disastrous Winter War of 1939-40.

The time bought by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact served valuable for the USSR, it allowed them to complete the construction of the Stalin line and move precious industry to the Ural Mountains, far out of reach from the Germans. Soviet generals estimated the USSR would be ready for war with Germany by October 1942, but, they were not granted this luxury and Germany invaded on 21 June 1941.

World War II[edit]

Originally, the USSR was totally unprepared for the German Invasion - Stalin reportedly ignored reports of German military buildup at the border and refused to allow Soviet forces to mass at the border as well. Georgy Zhukov later wrote in his memoirs in 1957 that Stalin was right - if they had massed their forces then they would've been destroyed then and there. In the initial six months of the war, Germany performed extremely well, making rapid advances deep into Soviet territory, occupying all of Belarus, the Baltics, Ukraine and surrounding the city of Leningrad, besieging the city. The Germans took hundreds of thousands of prisoners and SS-Ostgruppen troops committed unspeakable horrors against the Slavic people living there, whom they considered "Untermenschen". Yet, by December 1941, four months after the campaign was supposed to have ended, the Nazis had, by their count, defeated the Red Army three times over. Not only that, but there was the worry that the Soviets could potentially be much stronger and more advanced than they had initially assumed - when the Nazis had invaded, the Soviets were going through a major update of their equipment. Sightings of T-34 and KV-1 tanks were rare, but there were several recorded instances where a single example of those tanks inflicted massive casualties on the Germans. In 1941, at Raseinai, a small town in Lithuania, a lone KV-2 (or KV-1) heavy tank decimated the 6th Panzer division and held the entire town by itself for a whole day before running out of ammunition and being destroyed. Similarly, Army Group Center reported a lone T-34 tank having ripped through 13 divisions by itself before getting knocked out. By December the Russian winter (which was relatively mild by Russian standards) decimated the Germans, who did not expect the campaign to have lasted this long. German vehicles sank into the mud and snow and equipment froze up, allowing the Red Army time to prepare their defenses and rebuild their disorganized army.

The Great Purge had a massive impact on the Red Army's fighting capacity and many slots for officers were filled with inexperienced soldiers who were just there to replaced those that'd been purged. Over the course of the war this effect was gradually made negligible, but not before a massive amount of Red Army soldiers were taken prisoner or killed and the Nazis had penetrated deep into Soviet territory. The Nazis continued to advance throughout 1942, albeit at a much slower pace. The Soviet strategy of "defence in depth" was working, the City of Leningrad was holding out, and the Nazis were forced to, at times, fight for strategic points several times to wrestle it from control of stubborn Soviet defenders (See Battles of Kharkov). Additionally, Soviet resistance behind enemy lines was overwhelming, and continued to be a constant thorn in the German's side for the rest of the war. In November 1942 Significant portion of Wehrmacht Army Group South under General Friedrich Paulus began an assault on the City of Stalingrad, along the river Volga, and eventually succeeded in doing so - only to be immediately cut off and surrounded by the Red Army's Stalingrad Front, Don Front and Red Army South. The Battle of Stalingrad continued into February 1943 and resulted in overwhelming victory for the Red Army. The 6th Army had been utterly destroyed and a significant portion of Army Group South was crippled. Around a million or so Germans in the battle were either captured or killed, effectively halting any ability the Germans had to advance into Soviet territory, bringing the invasion to a standstill. This caused a panic amongst the German ranks, who quickly organised a new attack along the Kursk salient in an attempt to restart the push forward. Initially starting with a skirmish at Prokhorovka, the larger Battle of Kursk was one of the largest tank battles to ever take place, and resulted, again, with a tactical victory for the USSR, thus ending the German's ability to stage offensives in any capacity.

The Germans continued on the offensive regardless, despite Soviet Counterattack being much more strong than German attempts at Advances. By January 1944, the Siege of Leningrad was lifted, and one year later to the day (25 January) Red Army soldiers of the 244th Rifle division discovered Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, subsequently liberating the 8,000 or so prisoners still detained there. In April 1945 the Battle of Berlin began, as the crumbling and shattered German Reich made one last stubborn defence against the so-called "asiatic hordes". Hitler killed himself in his Bunker on 1 May 1945, the same day the Soviet Flag was raised above the Reichstag. A few days later, it was hung there permanently, and on 9 May 1945, the remnants of the German Government led by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz unconditionally surrendered to the Worker's and Peasant's Red Army of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The USSR had borne the brunt of Nazi terror during the War, with some 89% of all Nazi war efforts being focused on the eastern front. Despite the Fascist enemy being vanquished, the Soviets now had to face the pressure from the Allies. Stalin had agreed with Churchill on the "Percentages agreement" which split up Europe into two spheres of influence - the east, controlled by the Soviets, and the West, controlled by the Allies. Stalin had hoped that the allies would leave Germany and allow the Kommunistche Partei Deutschland (KPD, Communist Party of Germany) to take control of the whole country, but this was not the case.

Then came the problem of Peace. Hard as this was to Europe and America, it was far harder to Stalin and the Soviets. The conventional rulers of the world hated and feared them and would have been only too willing to see the utter failure of this attempt at socialism. At the same time the fear of Japan and Asia was also real. Diplomacy therefore took hold and Stalin was picked as the victim. He was called in conference with British imperialism represented by its trained and well-fed aristocracy; and with the vast wealth and potential power of America represented by its most liberal leader in half a century. Here Stalin showed his real greatness. He neither cringed nor strutted. He never presumed, he never surrendered. He gained the friendship of Roosevelt and the respect of Churchill. He asked neither adulation nor vengeance. He was reasonable and conciliatory. But on what he deemed essential, he was inflexible. He was willing to resurrect the League of Nations, which had insulted the Soviets. He was willing to fight Japan, even though Japan was then no menace to the Soviet Union, and might be death to the British Empire and to American trade. But on two points Stalin was adamant: Clemenceau’s “Cordon Sanitaire” must be returned to the Soviets, whence it had been stolen as a threat. The Balkans were not to be left helpless before Western exploitation for the benefit of land monopoly. The workers and peasants there must have their say.

After the war[edit]

The United States dropped a Nuke on Hiroshima exactly one day before the USSR was to declare war on Japan - and, ironically enough, the Japanese surrendered to the Soviets before the Americans. The Soviets continued to occupy Manchuria and Northern Korea, hosting the People's Republic of Korea government-in-exile in Pyongyang after American soldiers in the South expelled them from Seoul. The Red Army later assisted the People's Liberation Army in defeating the Kuomintang Nationalists in the Chinese Civil War (despite Stalin personally distrusting Mao) and assisted in setting up the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in 1946 after being convinced that Kim Il-Sung was the popular choice for head of state. On the onset of the Cold War, Stalin continued to assert the stance that the USSR and other new Socialist states would not bow to America or NATO, rather, they would continue to further the interests of the working class and further communist revolution.

As Stalin grew older, he grew more paranoid, and increasingly concentrated decisions concerning the USSR within a a small bureaucratic clique. Stalin asked to resign once more in October 1952, but was rejected, again. Joseph Stalin died in Moscow, April 1953 at the age of 73.

Criticisms[edit]

Many people, including Leftists have accused Stalin of being a dictator and committing human rights abuses such as the Gulag system and Holodomor.

Holodomor[edit]

See Main Article: Holodomor

Totalitarianism[edit]

Main Article: Totalitarianism in Stalin's Rule of the USSR

GULAG System[edit]

Main Article: GULAG

The GULAG system was the system of prisons in both Tsarist Russia and the USSR before they were closed in 1953 by Khrushchev.

The notion that Central Asian borders were intentionally drawn poorly in order to "divide and rule"[edit]

As part of korenizatsiya, Soviet authorities tried to enfranchise the different nations of the country so that they will feel secure enough to develop a socialist, supranational identity as well. In certain places such as Ukraine or the Baltics, there were distinct nationalities which could easily serve as the basis for viable constituent republics of the union. However, in Central Asia this is much harder to do because that region is less developed, and hence has not undergone the phase of history where various peoples naturally group together into nations as had happened in many regions of Europe after feudalism. Yet in Stalin's time, nationalist sentiments were beginning to arise in Central Asia and so he sought to accommodate this desire within the framework of the USSR; meaning, that the Central Asian tribes were to be grouped into viable national constituencies that would operate smoothly as political units, like other Soviet Republics. Thus tribes were grouped on the basis of similarity; where for instance the tribes that became Turkmenistan had a common language grouping which was most closely related to Azeri and Turkish, and Tajikistan was formed from Persian-speaking tribes. On the map, this looked rather sensible except around the Ferghana Valley, which is a geographically complex area. Therein were many different tribes arranged in an intricate manner, including several exclaves, however which by grouping truly did belong to their respective nation as closely as possible. Thus the odd borders of Central Asian nations were not a product of Stalin's supposed desire to "divide and rule" the region, but rather a result of the attempt to accommodate a region that had a highly mixed and diverse population, which had to deal with historical factors such as geography and the national groupings which arose from them, composed from peoples who often had a mixed identity in terms of matters such as culture and language. Besides, "divide and rule" goes against the principle of korenizatsiya — the Soviets sought to incorporate Central Asia and undo the alienation imposed by previous Russian regimes, where that region was the subject of Russification and national insecurity. By instead grouping those peoples as accurately as possible, the better they would come to support the greater union among them and the rest of the Soviet nation.[3]

Doctors' plot[edit]

The Doctors' plot was a supposed antisemitic campaign that was said to have been organized by Joseph Stalin between 1951-1953, as a pretext to dismiss and replace Lavrentiy Beria, prosecute other Soviet leaders, to launch a massive purge of the Communist Party, and, according to Edvard Radzinsky, even to consolidate the country for a future World War III.[4][5][6] What is true of this is that Beria was indeed being targeted first and foremost. There were accusations around the same time that Beria was a Jew who was hiding his origins (which wasn't true). The whole supposed "plot" was also blamed on the negligence of the security services under Beria. There was a wider campaign, predating the "Doctors' Plot", against what was termed "cosmopolitanism". This wasn't inherently anti-Semitic; it referred to a tendency among the Soviet intelligentsia to exalt Western culture while pitying the "backward", "primitive" culture of the peoples of the USSR. However, anti-Semitism did become a part of this campaign. Stalin did in turn notice this in newspaper articles and criticized it:

"Why Mal'tsev, and then Rovinskii between brackets? What's the matter here? How long will this continue…? If a man chose a literary pseudonym for himself, it's his right…. But apparently someone is glad to emphasise that this person has a double surname, to emphasise that he is a Jew…. Why create anti-Semitism?"[7]

At the same time, there was growing fear about Zionist intrigues, which led to unjustified repressions against Jewish public figures and Yiddish cultural establishments. Even Molotov's wife was imprisoned as a supposed Zionist spy and only released after Stalin's death. Despite all this, the so-called "Doctors' plot" was in the end largely a fabrication. According to Stalin's daughter, as well as historian Zhores Medvedev, Stalin himself didn't believe the charges and was going to stop the case till death intervened, whereupon the post-Soviet leaders stopped it in his absence, declaring it a fabrication. There was indeed an increase in anti-Semitic phenomena, as well as a general wave of repression and suspicion during the last years of Stalin's life (caused in large part by fears of Zionist influence among Soviet Jews), but Stalin himself did privately criticize instances of anti-Semitism during this time, and when Lev Mekhlis (the second most prominent Jewish official associated with Stalin) passed away a month before Stalin himself, an elaborate funeral was ordered.

The main consequence of the aforementioned repression and suspicion was the virtual shutting down of Yiddish cultural expression, which only partially revived after Stalin's death.

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]