Stalin (1879-1953) Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili was born on December 21, 1879, in the village of Gori, Georgia. He was born to Vissarion and Yekaterina Dzhugashvili. His father Vissarion, was an unsuccessful cobbler who drank heavily and beat him savagely. When Iosif was 7, he caught smallpox, which scarred him for life, and then he came down with septicemia, which left his left arm slightly crippled for life. He lived in the 1920s a normal life, surrounded by many relatives who spoke their minds freely in the family circle, and he had good personal friends among the Soviet leadership. His life began to change, though, after the suicide of his second wife Nadezhda Allililuyeva in 1932, who left a letter incriminating him personally and politically. After that he became very paranoid, suspecting otherseven those with whom he had been friends with for years. A complex man, he centered his life completely in his office. Although, he did allow public worship of himself on a scale rarely matched in any country in the 20th Century. In his personal life, he withdrew almost completely, living either in his Kremlin apartment or in his new country house at Kuntsovo, constantly surrounded by officers and bodyguards until his death. Frantic to catch up with the West in 1928, Stalin and his men launched a set of policies known as the “five-year plans,” designed to turn backward Russia into an industrial and military world power, which he accomplished in only one decade. Though this was a great success, the peasants paid dearly, most with their lives. Most of starved to death from famine. Those that survived were killed off in Stalins “purges” to rid him of opposition.
This is divided into sections based on each significant period of Stalin’s life. Click on the section headings below to jump ahead to each section.
Stalin’s birthplace, the village of Gori.
Stalin’s birth name was Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili.
Stalin was born on December 21, 1879, in Gori, a village in Transcaucasian Georgia, a province of the Russian Empire within the Caucasus mountains.
Note: Stalin was not a Russian, contrary to popular belief–Georgians are a distinct minority within the former Soviet Union. Stalin did not even speak Russian especially well; he never was quite able to get rid of his accent.
Stalin was the only one of four children to survive infancy.
Stalin’s father was named Vissarion Dzhugashvili; he was an unsuccessful cobbler. Who drank heavily and beat the boy savagely.
Stalin’s mother, Yekaterina Geladze Dzhugashvili, worked as a house servant for various upper-class Georgian families.
Stalin was rather sickly as a child; he was badly scarred by smallpox, and septicemia crippled his left arm. Stalin reportedly had an exceptional singing voice and sung in his school choir. Nevertheless, he is described as having been in excellent physical shape as a teenager; throughout much of his life he was muscular and well-built.
Stalin was enrolled in a local Orthodox parochial school in Gori in 1888 at the age of 9. When he was 14, his father died in 1890 from wounds he received in a brawl. Stalin won a free scholarship in 1894 to the Orthodox Russian theological seminary at Tiflis to be educated for priesthood. In his fourth year he joined Mesame Dasi, a secret group supporting Georgian nationalism and socialism.
Stalin was expelled from the seminary in 1899, when he was about to graduate.
Stalin first tried tutoring and then clerical work at the Tiflis Observatory, but he abandoned his clerical job in May 1901, when he was about to be arrested.
Stalin then became a paid agitator, trying to incite a revolt against the czar. He edited illegal pamphlets and helped distribute them secretly. He organized strikes among the factory workers in Tiflis.
He first called himself Koba, after a legendary Georgian hero meaning “The Indomitable.” Later he changed his name to David, Soso, Chiijikov, Nijeradze, and finally, Stalin.
Stalin was arrested for the first time on April 18, 1902 and imprisoned for eighteen months in Batum; after this incarceration ended Stalin was exiled to Siberia in 1903 for three years. Stalin escaped from this exile in 1904 and reappeared in Tiflis–a pattern that he experiences many times prior to 1917.
Stalin and Lenin met for the first time in December of 1905, at a Bolshevik conference in Finland. Stalin was reportedly highly unimpressed by Lenin at their first meeting–Stalin was expecting him to be a sort of superhero.
In June of 1904, Stalin married his first wife, Yekaterina Svanidze. She was a simple peasant girl who was devoted to him. She died on April 10, 1907, leaving a son, Yakov Dzhugashvili.
Stalin was expelled from the Georgian Social Democratic Party in 1907 for taking part in a series of bank robberies and other crimes, in order to raise funds for the revolutionary. Shortly thereafter he migrated to Baku (on the Caspian Sea) and founded a Bolshevist group among the Baku socialists.
Shortly thereafter, Stalin was arrested for his activities and imprisoned for a short while in Baku. In 1908 Stalin was sentenced to another two years of exile–he escaped from this exile in the middle of 1909, and was re-arrested in March of 1910.
Until 1917, Stalin’s life consisted of continual imprisonment, exiles, and escapes. In January of 1912, Stalin was nominated by Lenin to the Central Committee–by now Lenin was quite impressed with Stalin’s writings (which he generally worked on while in exile).
Stalin was rejected for service in the Russian Army in 1916 (by now Russia was at war with the Central Powers) because of the condition of his left arm.
Stalin’s Military Career: (1917-1921)
In March 1917, Stalin immediately left Siberia (where he was still in exile) for Petrograd (modern St. Petersburg) because of the revolution led by Alexander Kerensky which freed all political prisoners.
After returning from exile on March 25, 1917, he joined the editorial board of Pravda, which was then headed by Lev Kamenev.
There he helped Lenin prepare the final plans for the history-making Bolshevik revolution. Stalin’s name seldom appears in records of the revolution, for he remained in the background as an administrator. His work was largely responsible for the success of the bloody October Revolution in 1917.
During the civil war that followed the revolution, Stalin served as political commissar with Bolshevik armies on several fronts. In 1918, he directed the successful defense of vital Tsaritsyn against the White Army. The city was renamed Stalingrad in his honor in 1925, but the name was later changed in the 1950’s and 60’s to Volgograd to downgrade Stalin’s importance.
Stalin’s Slow Rise to Power: (1921-1928)
In 1921, Stalin led the invasion that won his homeland, Georgia, for the Communists, or Bolsheviks as they now called themselves. The next year Stalin became general secretary of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. As Lenin’s trusted aide, Stalin methodically assumed increasing power.
Scarcely a month later, on May 25, 1922, Lenin suffered a major stroke. For the next few months, Lenin and Stalin were involved in a series of disputes. For example, Stalin proposed that the former Russian provinces which had not managed to fully escape Moscow’s grip be fully incorporated into the Russian state; Lenin’s proposal, which eventually became the basis for the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was to allow the outlying provinces some degree of self-rule and their own governments (although they were not to be fully independent). Of course, when Stalin assumed total control over the Soviet Union he fully centralized the government according to his original suggestion.
After Lenin’s first stroke, he suffered from several more which eventually left him bedridden and practically an invalid. During this period, Lenin began secretly writing his “Political Testament”, in which he outlined his plans for the future of the Party. In particular, Lenin individually criticized the major leaders of the Bolsheviks — Trotsky, Lev Kamenev, Nicolai Bukharin, Grigori Zinoviev, Alexis Rykov, and (of course) Iosif Stalin. In general, Lenin did not praise any of the major leaders, finding none completely suited for the task of leading the Party and the government. However, Lenin suggested that Trotsky might be the best man for the job. About Stalin Lenin had only negative things to say — in fact, Lenin recommended that the Party should find some way to get rid of Stalin. Lenin quite ominously predicted that Stalin was, in his opinion, unable or unwilling to exercise power cautiously or selflessly enough.
During the same period, Stalin became involved in an abusive argument with Lenin’s wife Krupskaya. On December 22, 1922, Stalin found out from one of his sources that Lenin had written a personal letter to Trotsky. Lenin had been previously placed under virtual house arrest by Stalin and his cadre, in order to “protect him” from assassination attempts and allow him to recover in a relatively stress-free environment. Stalin, in a fit of rage, called Krupskaya on the telephone and screamed at her ferociously (for allowing Lenin to write the letter). Stalin, among other things, called her a whore and threatened to have her removed from her political positions. Krupskaya told this to Lenin several months later.
By March of 1923, Lenin had learned of Stalin’s phone call; this discovery, coupled with Stalin’s ruthlessness in dealing with Georgia (see above), prompted Lenin to begin seriously planning Stalin’s removal from power. Unfortunately, Lenin had yet another stroke that month. This one, however, took away Lenin’s ability to speak. Lenin’s condition progressively worsened until his death on January 21, 1924. Stalin, upon hearing of Lenin’s death, was allegedly in a very joyful and jubilant mood. He had good reason to be — the major obstacle in his drive for power was gone.
In 1924, there were three primary factions that had sufficient power to seriously contend for control of the Party — the Bukharinists (or Rightists), the Troskyites, and the newly-formed Troika (consisting of Stalin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev).
Stalin and his men at the end of 1928 struck out to turn regressive Russia into a modern state. With vigorous and ruthless action as the basis, Stalin launched forced industrialization and collectivization. He established crude and unrealistic five-year economic plans, the deportation and execution of hundreds of thousands of kulaks (peasants) and forced the rest to enter into state-controlled collective farms. Top leaders such as Nikolai Bukharin, Aleksei Rykov, and Mikhail Tomsky, who urged restraint and more realistic procedures were swept out of office.
Despite the death of millions from famine and goods shortages that these measures caused, Stalin still pursued the program. He met resistance and criticism with mass deportations, executions, and show trials of alleged saboteurs.
This produced considerable dissatisfaction that led to a secret movement to replace Stalin with Sergei Kirov. The murder of Kirov in December 1934 began a period of purging and terror that lasted until 1939 and was marked by the execution of virtually the entire political and military elite and the incarceration in forced labor camps of millions of Soviet citizens.
In this way Stalin with the help of the secret police, established his personal dictatorship over the party and the country.
In the face of the growing threats from Nazi Germany and Japan, Stalin reverted increasingly to traditional forms of foreign policy, seeking diplomatic alliances with the European powers. Finally in August 1939, he concluded a bilateral nonaggression treaty with Hitler.
Stalin liquidated a hundred thousand farmers in the name of progress, killed half a million intellectuals to eliminate opposition, executed all his top army officers to consolidate his power, and then purged his own secret police. He unleashed a famine that starved millions. Then he led Russia to victory over one of the largest armies ever to invade a foreign land.
From the beginning of the purges in 1935 until his death in March 1953, he was extremely suspicious, seeing everyone as not only enemies but as enemies of the state. He was unable to resume his trust in anyone from whom he had once withdrawn it, and he was unshakably convinced that the system of political terror must be allowed to work even if it touched those around him.