Joseph Stalin (1879–1953,) born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, was a Russian revolutionary and political leader who served as the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party from 1922 until 1953. He transformed the Soviet Union into a military and industrial superpower—but at a horrifying cost paid in human lives, political repression, material and spiritual deprivation, and the untold physical, moral, and psychological suffering.
Born in Georgia, Stalin supported Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks from 1903. He founded and edited Pravda, the communist party newspaper and assumed the name Stalin (“man of steel.”) After a four-year exile in Siberia, he returned to join the 1917 October Revolution and became secretary of the central committee of the party in 1922. Upon Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin outsmarted Leon Trotsky, Nikolai Bukharin, and other political rivals. He attained supreme power through his shrewd control of the party organization.
From 1929, as the de facto dictator of the Soviet Union, Stalin greatly expanded its territory. He enforced intensive industrialization and collectivization of agriculture, as a result of which 10 million peasants are assumed to have died, either of famine or by execution. Stalin crushed all political opposition, and brutally directed large-scale purges of the intelligentsia and opponent political and military leaders.
During World War II, Stalin led the Soviet armed forces to victory over Adolf Hitler and negotiated skillfully with Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. After the war, he played a large part in the restructuring of postwar Europe and forced repressive puppet communist governments on many Eastern European states.
Some consider Stalin an energetic, resolute, and heroic leader who did what was essential so as to modernize Russia and defeat its enemies. But Stalin is mostly remembered as one of the bloodiest tyrannical rulers in history. After his death, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and other leaders in the Eastern bloc countries condemned the cult of Stalin, accusing him of oppression, terror, misrepresentation of history, and self-aggrandizement.
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