- Birth name:
- Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili
- Date of Birth:
- 5 March 1878 Gori, Tiflis Governorate, Russian Empire [now
- 5' 6½" (1.69 m)
Stalin (a code name meaning "Man of Steel') was born Iosif (Joseph) Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili in 1879, in Gori, Georgia, the Transcaucasian part of Russian Empire (now Gori, Georgia). His father was a cobbler of Georgian extraction, named Vissarion Dzhugashvili, a drunkard who beat him badly and frequently and left the family when Joseph was young. His mother, Ekaterina Gheladze, was also a Georgian who supported herself and her son (her other three children died young and Jopseph was effectively an only child) by taking in washing. She managed, despite great hardship, to send Joseph to school and then on to Tiflis Orthodox Theological Seminary in Tbilisi, hoping he would become a priest. However, after three years of studies he was expelled from there in 1899, for not attending an exam, and for propagating communist ideas and books of Karl Marx.Joining a Georgian Social Democratic organization in 1898, he became active in the Communist underground as organizer of a powerful gang involved in a series of armed robberies. Having robbed several banks in southern Russia, Stalin delivered the stolen money to V.I. Lenin to finance the Communist Party. Stalin's gang was also involved in murders of their political opponents, he was seven times arrested, repeatedly imprisoned, and twice exiled to Siberia between 1902 and 1913. During those years he changed his name twice, and became more closely identified with revolutionary Marxism. He escaped many times from prison and was shuttling money between Lenin and other communists in hiding, where his intimacy with Lenin and Bukharin grew, as did his disparagement with Leon Trotsky. In 1912, he was co-opted on to the illegal Communist Central Committee. At that time, he wrote propaganda articles, and later he also edited the new Communist paper, "Pravda" (Truth). As Lenin's apprentice, he joined the Communist majority (Bolsheviks), and was responsible for consolidation of several secret communist cells into a larger ring. Stalin's Communist ring in St. Petersburg and across Russia played one of the leading roles in the Russian Revolution of 1917. After the revolution, the Communists murdered the Tsar and the Russian Royal family. Then both Stalin and Lenin took over the Tsar's palaces, and used the main one in Kremlin as their private residence.Lenin appointed Stalin the People's Commissar for Nationalities in the first Soviet government, and a member of the Communist Politburo, thus giving him unlimited power. His activities throughout the counter-revolution and the war with Poland were confined to organizing a "Red Terror" in Tsaritsin (later renamed Stalingrad). With his appointment as General Secretary to the Party Central Committee in 1922, a post he held until his death, he began to build up the power that would ensure his control of the situation after Lenin's death in 1924. He also occupied other key positions that enabled him to build up total personal power in the Party and Soviet government. Stalin was known for his piercing eyes and intimidating manners that he used to defeat his opponents into submissive retreat during private discussions. In 1927, after he requested medical help for his insomnia, anger, and severe anxiety disorder, Stalin was diagnosed with "Typical clinical paranoia" by the leading psychiatrist I. Sechenov and his assistant doctors. Three days later psychiatrist I. Sechenov and other doctors died of poisoning. Before the information about Stalin's mental illness could spread out, he ordered mass killings of intellectuals by hundreds of thousands.Stalin pursued a policy of building dictatorship under the guise of "socialism in one country." He brutally exterminated all anti-communist opposition, dominated his fellow communists and gradually isolated and disgraced his main political rivals, notably Trotsky. He stopped any economic freedoms and nationalized all of the Soviet Union's economic resources, while his successive five-year plans suffered many industrial setbacks. He encountered stubborn resistance in the field of agriculture, where the Kulaks--the independent farmers--steadfastly refused to give up their private land. Stalin brutally executed private farmers and took their lands by force, calling it "collectivization," "expropriation," and forceful industrialization of the economy. The measures he took to eliminate those who opposed his will involved the death by execution or famine of up to 10 million peasants (1926-1934). Between 1934 and 1939 he inaugurated a massive purge (Great Terror) of the party, government, armed forces and intelligentsia, in which millions of so-called "enemies of the people" were imprisoned, exiled or executed. Some Red Army forces and material were sent to support the Spanish Communist government in 1936.After the Munich crisis Stalin signed the Non-Aggression Pact with Adolf Hitler (1939), which bought the Soviet Union two years' respite from involvement in World War 2. After the German invasion (1941), the USSR became a member of the Grand Alliance, and Stalin, as war leader, assumed the title of Generalissimus. Stalin was uneducated in military science and his ill attitude to professionals and his paranoid suspiciousness caused unprecedented human losses. He dismissed military plans made by such experienced professionals as Marshal Georgi Zhukov, and insisted on his own plans which led to more losses. Later in WWII Stalin took part in the conferences of Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam, where his talks with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Harry S. Truman resulted in Soviet military and political control over the liberated countries of postwar eastern and central Europe.From 1945 until his death Stalin resumed his repressive measures at home, resulting in political censorship of arts, literature and cinema, and massive exiles and executions of intellectuals. At that time he conducted foreign policies that contributed to the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West. Stalin had little interest in family life, although he was married twice. His first wife (Ekaterina Svanidze, married c. 1904) died three years after their marriage, and left a son, Jacob (also known as Yacov), who died in a Nazi camp. His second wife (Nadezhda Alliluyeva, married 1919) attempted to moderate his politics, but she died by suicide, leaving a daughter, Svetlana, and an alcoholic son, Vasili Stalin, who later died in exile. Increasingly paranoid, Stalin launched attacks on intellectuals Osip Mandelstam, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Anna Akhmatova, Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Boris Pasternak, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and many other cultural luminaries. Stalin personally intervened in the fate of Yiddish writers and changed their sentences from exile to execution. Thirteen Yiddish writers were executed by the Soviet secret service; the leader of Yiddish writers, Perets Markish, was executed by the gunshot to his head on August 12, 1952, in Moscow.Stalin died suddenly on March 5, 1953, in somewhat mysterious circumstances, after announcing his intention of arresting Jewish doctors in the Kremlin, whom he believed were plotting to kill him. The cause of death announced was brain hemorrhage. Stalin was posthumously denounced by Nikita Khrushchev at the 20th Party Congress in 1956 for crimes against the Party and for building a "cult of personality." In 1961 Stalin's body was removed from the Lenin's Mausoleum, where it had been displayed since his death, and buried near the Kremlin wall. In 1964 Leonid Brezhnev dismissed Nikita Khrushchev and brought back some of Stalin's hard-line policies. After 1986 Mikhail Gorbachev initiated political changes of "glasnost" and "perstroika" and many of Stalin's victims were posthumously rehabilitated, and the whole phenomenon of "Stalinism" was officially condemned by the Russian authorities.