Childhood and early years
Born Gori, Georgia to illiterate pesant parents (who had been serfs at birth). His harsh spirit has been blamed on undeserved and severe beatings by his father, inspiring vengeful feelings towards anyone in a position to wield power over him (perhaps also a reason he became a revolutionary). His mother set him on a path to become a priest, and he studied Russian Orthodox Christianity until his he was nearly twenty.
His involvement with the socialist movement began already at seminary school, from which he was expelled in 1899. From there on he worked for a decade with the political underground in the Caucasus. He soon followed Vladimir Lenin's ideology about centralism and a strong party of "professional revolutionaries". His practical experience made him useful in Lenin's Bolshevik party leading up to the 1917 October Revolution (in which he played no direct part).
Rise to power
Stalin spent his first years after the revolution building his post as general secretary secretly into the most powerful one in the communist party. After Lenin's death in 1924, a triumvirate of Stalin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev governed against Trotsky (on the left wing of the party) and Bukharin (on the right wing of the party). Soon after, Stalin switched sides and joined with Bukharin. Together, they fought a new opposition of Trotsky, Kamenev, and Zinoviev. By 1928 (the first year of the Five-Year Plans) Stalin's supremacy was complete. From this year, he could be said to have exercised control over the party and the country (although the formailities were not complete until the Great Purges of 1936-1938).
Purges and mass murders
Stalin consolidated his power base with purges against his political and ideological opponents, most notably the old cadres and the rank and file of the Bolshevik Party. Measures used against them ranged from imprisonment in work camps (Gulags) to assassination (such as that of Leon Trotsky). Under the pretext of constructing `socialism in one country', Stalin terrorized large segments of the Soviet population, such as the Kulaks, a term for prosperous farmers who were disinherited when agriculture was collectivized. He also orchestrated a massive famine in the Ukraine in which an estimated 5 million people died. It is believed that with the purges, forced famines, state terrorism, labor camps, and forced migrations, Stalin was responsible for the death of as many as 40 million people within the borders of the Soviet Union.
World War II
In 1939 Stalin signed Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact with Nazi Germany which divided Eastern Europe between the two powers. In 1941, however, Hitler broke the pact and invaded the Soviet Union (see Operation Barbarossa). Under Stalin's leadership the Soviet Red Army put up fierce resistance to the advancing Nazi forces. Following a campaign the Soviet forces were able to regain their lost territory and push their over-stretched enemy back past Berlin itself.
Under Stalin's extremely brutal prosecution of the war, by some estimates, one quarter of the Russian population was wiped out. There was, then, a huge shortage of men of the fighting-age generation in Russia. As a result, to this day, World War II is remembered very vividly in Russia, and May 9, Victory Day, is one of its biggest national holidays.
Policies and accomplishments
Stalin is often credited with successfully industrializing the Soviet Union. What can be said without controversy is that by the time of World War II, the Soviet economy had been industrialized to the point that the Soviets could resist the German invasion. That Stalin or his policies are to be credited for this is contended.
Much of this industrial achievement resulted from foreign firms being brought in to develop Soviet industry. This was simply a continuation of the industrialization process that began under the czars, and is ultimately a continuation of the policy of modernization begun by Peter the Great in the 17th century, which also relied on the importation of human capital. That this policy continued to create beneficial results under Stalin, as it had under the czars, does not speak to Stalin's effectiveness as a leader or to the practicality of a socialist economy.
Other topics to be added:
- Family life