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Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953), born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, was an ethnic Georgian revolutionary who schemed and murdered his way to the leadership of the Soviet Union, an entity that he helped to establish with other leading Bolsheviks. He is known for mass starvation and genocide, brutal totalitarianism, his personality cult which lasts to this day, and bringing the Soviet Union into the industrial age kicking and screaming. He was also forced to join the winning side of World War Two, and he capitalized on this victory by creating the Eastern Bloc and helping to start the Cold War.
Stalin started out as a basic thug, organizing bank robberies and kidnappings for the Bolshevik cause, but he rose through the Party's ranks through the good graces of Vladimir Lenin. During the Russian Civil War, he helped organize the defense of Tsaritsyn, and the city was renamed "Stalingrad" in his honor in 1925. Stalin came to power in the Soviet Union by defeating Leon Trotsky in a power-struggle, and he proceeded to institute a program of forced industrialization and agricultural collectivization called the Five-Year Plans. These policies led to a general famine in the Soviet Union between 1932 and 1933. Ever the soulless pragmatist, Stalin intentionally exacerbated the situation to inflict the Holodomor on Ukraine and to wipe out about half the population of Kazakhstan. This was done for the purpose of exterminating the people Stalin viewed as most likely to be his political opposition. Stalin also eliminated internal opposition by committing the "Great Purge", where he had about 1.5 million people arrested by his secret police, of whom about 700,000 were murdered. Purges contributed to the Red Army's poor performance in WWII, although that was far from the Red Army's only problem. While defeating Hitler, Stalin forced many European countries to adopt communist totalitarianism and made them into Soviet puppets. This and other factors contributed to the beginning of the Cold War. He died in 1953 of natural causes.
Before 1991 and the opening of the Soviet archives, Historians typically estimated the death count to around 20 million of his own people, while other more recent analyses of East European archives argue he had killed a piddling three to nine million. His pseudonym Stalin means "Man of Steel".[note 1] A good way to shorten one's career (or, very possibly, one's life) was to "accidentally" change the T for an R or an S.[note 2] Stalin's education was apparently of use in his further career, as he studied theology from 1895–1899.
World War II
In 1939, shortly before Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland and the resulting outbreak of the Second World War, Stalin entered a non-aggression agreement with Adolf Hitler, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (named after the statesmen who led the negotiations), in which Stalin promised not to interfere in Hitler's plans for Europe and Hitler not to interfere with the Soviet Union. The pact included a secret protocol, provisionally carving up Poland, the Baltic states, Romania and other central European countries into Nazi and Soviet "spheres of influence" so that both countries could profit from the upcoming conflict. In the early days of the war, Nazi-Soviet relations remained cordial, with Stalin even considering joining the Axis. However, relations soon cooled and the pact ultimately broke down when Hitler welched on the deal by invading the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.
Stalin's forced-march approach to industrialization had strengthened Soviet military-industrial capabilities, but his consolidations of power had left the military leadership weakened, having had many of his best generals and spies arrested and executed in the period immediately before the war and some 25,000 officers purged from the Red Army. Stalin was deeply paranoid and apparently more concerned about the Red Army's loyalty to him alone than their effectiveness as a professional military force. As with Hitler, Stalin's personal involvement in military decisions proved disastrous. Many Soviet armies, totaling several million men, were surrounded and destroyed at the outset of the war because they were forbidden from retreating. However, unlike Hitler, Stalin learned to trust his generals as time went by and granted them more leeway, which gave them the room to transform the Red Army into a formidable fighting machine. Between the Russian winter, Russian mud, Hitler's incompetence, Russians' fortitude and the industrial capacity established under Russian communism, the Soviet Union managed to survive and ultimately proved instrumental in the defeat of Hitler's Germany.
After the victory, Russia held many German soldiers in prisoner-of-war camps. The conditions in these camps were horrible, but they still had it better than the ordinary Russian civilians, as will be explained below. Additionally, after NKVD evaluation 226,127 returning Soviet POWs were thrown into gulags as Stalin felt they could no longer be trusted.
Starving the peasants
Among the most horrendous crimes perpetrated by Stalin were the famines that struck the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine and southern Russia. Stalin may have been motivated by antipathy toward Ukrainians and contempt for the peasantry, but he was also engaged in stinting the entire population to extract resources necessary for rapid industrialization.
He has been accused of purposefully causing one of the worst famines of modern times: the Ukrainian Famine of 1932–1933.
The Soviet Union continued to deny this until its breakup, but the numbers of people denying it have dwindled along with Soviet foreign aid. The United Nations issued a joint resolution in 2003, signed by 26 countries, to the effect that the famine was a deliberate political act. In 2008, the European Parliament recognized the Holodomor as a crime against humanity, citing the United Nations Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Ukraine has considered formally accusing Russia of attempted genocide, since it blatantly seemed that Stalin was trying to starve many of them to death. In 2010, a Ukrainian court conducted a posthumous trial of Stalin and a number of other CPSU brass, finding them guilty of genocide.
Stalinism, Uncle Joe's legacy to the world, features a ruthless approach to communism that relies heavily on:
- an all-powerful supreme leader aided by a large body of secret police who "encourage" neighbors to inform on neighbors
- purges of any potential adversaries to the supreme leader (with emphasis on the comrades who helped him achieve his position in the first place)
- the imprisonment and murder of intellectuals and homosexuals (see Soviet penal code article 121)
- the occasional mass murder of entire portions of the population
- mass deportations of ethnic groups, such as the Chechens, Ingush, Poles, Tatars, or Volga Germans.
- antisemitism (see Doctors' Plot)
Stalinism also covers the particular approach to economic development which Stalin pursued during his rule. It relies on complete state control and central planning of all economic activity and tries to achieve rapid development of heavy industry. The Soviet Union did indeed see rapid industrial growth under the first five-year-plans, but this came at a heavy price: the necessary capital had to be somehow squeezed out of an agrarian society, adding to the misery of Soviet peasants. Forced collectivization and resistance to it resulted in millions of deaths and a huge drop in Soviet agricultural production, which in turn led to the famines of the 1930s. In the short term, Stalinism gave the Soviet Union the industrial resources that allowed it to triumph in the anticipated conflict with Germany. Despite the incredible devastation of World War II, it also permitted the Soviet Union to pose as the other great power in the Cold War and to lead the United States through much of the Space Race. Nevertheless, in the long run its failure to facilitate the sort of rapid information exchange necessary for competing with post-industrial Western societies in the later 20th century probably doomed it.
Stalinism breaks notably from orthodox Marxism and Trotskyism because of its adherence to the theory of Socialism in One Country. Stalin first proposed this notion in late 1924 in the second edition of Foundations of Leninism and the idea received fierce criticism from Trotsky and Zinoviev. The theory, further elaborated by Nikolai Bukharin in 1925, essentially holds that—because of the defeat of all the other socialist revolutions around Europe—the Soviet Union should strengthen itself internally. Trots and Orthodox Marxists view their struggle as an international struggle towards socialism and eventually towards communism.
While the jury is still out on whether the Holodomor was caused by extreme incompetence or anti-Ukrainian sentiments, one clear example of his racism was the Armenian genocide. His predecessor Lenin had literally saved the Armenians from genocide from the Ottoman Empire remnants when he was dictator, one of the few feathers in his cap. Unfortunately, due to his paranoia and Georgian racism (the Armenian Church was a subversive force during this time) Stalin turned his back on them[note 3].
Not that this would be the last time he fucked over the Armenians, as in 1947 he initiated a ridiculous annexation scheme from Turkey while using Armenian sovereignty as bait. When that failed, Stalin shipped them all to the gulag. He also deported Volga Germans — there's a reason you've never heard of those people — to Siberia and Chechens to Kazakhstan after Hitler's invasion based only on ethnicity. Even to his own kind, the Georgians, he was cruel. Communism in action: be equally racist towards everyone!
Stalin was a man of action and contributions to Marxism as political theory were slight. Here is an example of his work:
“”But the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the power of the proletariat in one country still does not mean that the complete victory of socialism has been ensured. After consolidating its power and taking the peasantry in tow, the proletariat of the victorious country can and must build up a socialist society. But does this mean that it will thereby achieve the complete and final victory of socialism, i.e., does it mean that with the forces of only one country it can finally consolidate socialism and fully guarantee that country against intervention and, consequently, also against restoration? No, it does not. For this the victory of the revolution in at least several countries is needed. Therefore the development and support of revolution in other countries is an essential task of the victorious revolution. Therefore, the revolution in the victorious country must regard itself not as a self-sufficient entity but as an aid, as a means of hastening the victory of the proletariat in other countries.
He was also known for his poetry during his youth, which was written in Georgian. A selection was published under the pseudonym Soselo in the Georgian newspaper Iveria ("Georgia") in 1895, some of which were later reprinted in anthologies of Georgian poetry.
While originally an Eastern Orthodox who entertained dreams of entering the priesthood, Stalin lost his faith after reading works by Darwin and Marx. In the minds of certain people, this somehow "proves" that all atheists are potential mass-murderers[note 4] (which is known as the association fallacy). By the same token, one could say that all Christians must be evil because Adolf Hitler maintained strategic alliances with Roman Catholicism, casually disregarding the numerous positive contributions Christians such as Martin Luther King[note 5] have made to the world. Stalin also went to Russian Orthodox seminary school before becoming a communist, but they rarely condemn seminaries using the same "logic". Stalin's atheism and contempt for the Church were perhaps most accurately illustrated by his bold statement: "Fuck the Pope. How many divisions does he have, anyway?". That said, he allowed the Russian Orthodox Church to function openly again during World War II to induce fighting spirit and nationalism to the Russians, although he shut the churches down immediately after the war ended. Aside from that, religion was generally discouraged under Stalin's regime in favour of worshiping Stalin himself and the almighty Soviet imperial cult.
Communism in the West and Stalin
Once upon a time, most communist parties in the West were openly Stalinist. After Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin, many of them fell apart under the internal dissension.
In 1940, the United States passed the Smith Act, leading to the indictment of approximately 215 people, including alleged communists (alongside fascists and anarchists). In 1957, however, the United States Supreme Court reversed a number of prosecutions under this act as unconstitutional and the actual statute itself has been amended several times.
Following a common trend in which a certain portion of the population waxes nostalgic for the reign of a dictator ("when Mussolini was in charge, the trains ran on time"), there are many people in Russia who say (quite publicly!) that Russia needs to "bring back Comrade Stalin!". This is while they already have Putin to kick them around.
Bizarrely enough, there is at least one English-language neo-Stalinist party on Earth, the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). They have an adorable YouTube channel.
- Dzhugash can mean "steel" in Georgian, hence Dzhugashvili as "son of steel".
- Writers or typesetters could die for one misplaced letter, as Andrei Tarkovsky's film Mirror suggests unforgettably. Substituting one consonant made Stalin "pisser" (ssalin) or "shitter" (sralin), Stalingrad could be set to read "Stalin is a reptile" or "Stalin is a bastard" (Stalin gad). Printing okotilsia, meaning "Lenin gave birth to kittens" (which was not possible even for such a cat-lover as him) instead of "Lenin went hunting" (okhotilsia) was punishable. (Donald Rayfield, Stalin And His Hangman). A. I. Solzhenitsyn, in Gulag Archipelago, relates that a poster in a bookkeeping office reading "Life has become happier, comrades, life has become more joyful -- Stalin" was modified by the addition of an a to Stalin's name, causing it to read " ...more joyful -- for Stalin." The entire bookkeeping office was arrested and dispatched to a gulag.
- Nevertheless, one of the most durable politicians of the Soviet Union was the Armenian Anastas Mikoyan, who survived no matter what because of his intelligence and incredible adaptability. And yes, Mikoyan also introduced ice-cream to the Soviet Union.
- As are any humans which survive to an age where they could handle a weapon properly.
- Definitely not to be confused with Martin Luther, another type of human entirely.
- To his mother in the 1930's as quoted in Young Stalin (2007) by Simon Sebag Montefiore.
- Encyclopedia of World Biography: Joseph Stalin
- Mccauley, Martin (2013). Stalin and Stalinism (3 ed.). Routledge. ISBN 978-1317863687.
- Five-Year Plans. Britannica.
- See the Wikipedia article on Soviet famine of 1932–33.
- Holodomor (Ukraine). World Without Genocide.
- Another Soviet Genocide – Kazakhstan, 1932-1933 — Coming Back To Haunt Moscow – OpEd. Eurasia Review.
- Stalin’s Great Purge: Over A Million Detained, More Than Half A Million Killed. War History Online.
- Stalin Attacks the Red Army. HistoryNet.
- See the Wikipedia article on Calculating the number of Stalin's victims.
- Hitler vs. Stalin: Who Was Worse?, New York Review of Books.
- Competitors include Winston Churchill's Great Bengal Famine of 1943 and Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward, which both had similar body counts.
- Joint Statement on Holodomor, Wikisource.
- Resolution of 23 October 2008 on the commemoration of the Holodomor, European Parliament.
- Paul Kennedy. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. New York: Random House (1987).
- "The proletariat can and must build the socialist society in one country." 
- Joseph Stalin. 1939. Foundations of Leninism. New York: International Publishers. pp. 45-46.
- Montefiore, Simon Sebag, Young Stalin, London: Phoenix, 2008, pp. 53-66.
- Said sarcastically to Pierre Laval when asked about the proposal of bringing the Pope to participate in the Allies War Conferences, which were discussing the fate of post-war Europe; as quoted in The Second World War (1948) by Winston Churchill. According to Wikiquote.
- PatriotDEMs The "Red" Dunhams of Washington State 1956
- Proletarian TV