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Rightly seen as a barbaric dictator, Joseph Stalin is considered to be one of the most terrible people in human history. A side that is not usually seen in him, however, are his exceptional leadership qualities. Through his ability to outmaneuver his rivals, his unforgiving and harsh style or ruling, and his expert policy making, it is clear to see that Stalin was a successful leader. Driven to near insanity by his urge for power, Joseph Stalin became one of the most great yet controversial leaders ever through a long, improbable journey.
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was born in Gori, Georgia on December 18, 1878. He was born to Georgian parents who had previously lost two children as infants. His father was a shoemaker whose business fell apart. This led Stalin’s family to lead a life of poverty, causing them to move to nine different homes in ten years of Stalin’s youth. His father became an abusive alcoholic, leading his mother to flee their home with Stalin at a young age. He excelled in school, but his father’s violence rubbed off on him, causing him to get into many fights with fellow students. His constantly rebellious nature seemed to get him in to trouble frequently. In school, he spent time confined in a cell for his rash behavior. Stalin’s early life was unsteady and his behaviour as a child is a reflection of his actions as an adult politician.
In 1899, Stalin left school and began to work as a meteorologist. Taking inspiration from various radical texts, including Capital by Karl Marx, he formed a group of supporters of socialist theory. He encouraged his supporters to take strike action, and after escaping authorities multiple times, he successfully organized a May Day demonstration in which three thousand demonstrators clashed with police. In November of 1901, Stalin was elected to the Tiflis Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, a Marxist party founded in 1898. That very month, he left for the city of Batumi. There, he continued his militant rhetoric, organizing four strikes. During the third strike, demonstrators stormed the local prison and thirteen were killed. This eventually led to Stalin’s arrest, and his subsequent three year exile to Serbia.
In typical Stalin fashion, he escaped exile on his second attempt and resettled himself in Tiflis. He became the editor of a newspaper there, continuing to preach Marxist rhetoric. He was the first to call for the Georgian Marxist movement to split off from the Russian Marxists, which unfortunately had repercussions. Members of the party saw this statement as contrary to the beliefs of Marxist internationalism, and suggested he be expelled from the party. These accusations caused Stalin to retract his opinion. During his brief time in exile, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party had split into separate political parties known as the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Despite being a minority in Georgia, Stalin joined the Bolsheviks, thus beginning his journey to the head of the communist party.
In St. Petersburg in early 1905, a revolution broke out when government troops massacred civilian protesters. During this conflict, Stalin formed a Bolshevik Battle Squad. These squads were fighting forces for resisting the government. Stalin’s Squads disarmed local police and troops, raided government arsenals, and raised funds through protecting local businesses with violence in exchange for pay. They launched attacks on the government’s Cossack troops and pro-Tsarist Black Hundreds, even coordinating some of their operations with the Menshevik Battle Squads. This revolution was advantageous for Stalin, and he took advantage by carrying out these crimes and some others as well.
In November of the same year, Stalin was selected to represent the Georgian Bolsheviks at the Bolshevik conference in St. Petersburg. There, he met revolutionary and politician Vladimir Lenin, who would later become leader of the Soviet Union and a mentor to Joseph Stalin. At another congress for the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, the Menshevik majority came to the decision that they would cease using armed robbery for the betterment of the party. Lenin and Stalin both disagreed with this decision, and later concluded that the two of them would continue the savage tactic for the advancement of the Bolsheviks.
By early 1907, Joseph Stalin had established himself as one of the leading Bolsheviks due to his rebellious nature and relentless brutality. For the next few years, he continued to rise in power and continued to carry out heists and robberies. In May 1912, he was again arrested and again exiled for three years in Siberia. Again, he escaped after just two months of his sentence. Stalin returned to St. Petersburg and became a writer and editor for Bolshevik newspaper Pravda. During this time, his opinions became well known and he adopted his name Stalin, which he used for the remainder of his life. He likely kept this name because it was the name he published articles under, and the name by which Bolshevik sympathizers knew him.
By 1917, Lenin had declared himself leader of a new government, the Council of People’s Commissars. He appointed Stalin as his right hand man. Around this time, World War I broke out, and Lenin moved the headquarters of his government to Moscow. Lenin became afraid of potential losses in the war, and convinced his Bolshevik counterparts to sign the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, ending Russia’s participation in World War I. This angered many, and caused the Left Socialist Revolutionaries to withdraw from the governing body. The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was then renamed, becoming the Russian Communist Party and seizing control of Russia. This caused the left and right wings to align against the Bolsheviks, and civil war broke out. In 1918 Stalin had taken a forefront in military command, and in 1919 the Bolsheviks had won the war.
Now unquestioned rulers of Russia, the Soviet government set their sites on expanding their reign. They spread their rule, including the invasion of Menshevik-governed Georgia, the former home of Joseph Stalin. In 1922, the health of Vladimir Lenin began to decline, and questions were raised over who would have the privilege to succeed him. His position ended up falling to Stalin, as there was a race between him and fellow Soviet governmental leaders for control. Marxism focuses on world revolution, but Stalin developed his own brand of Marxism, instead focusing on purely strengthening the Soviet Union. This was a theory that directly contradicted the belief system he lived by, but a smart one for a governmental leader nonetheless, and one that helped win over the support of other powerful Soviets. He had Leon Trotsky, likely the second most powerful Soviet, exiled for criticizing his plans, and in 1929 Stalin elevated himself to dictator of the Soviet Union. He now possessed absolute power.
In 1932, Stalin’s wife Nadya Alliluyeva committed suicide. This took a significant toll on Stalin, and his friends reported that it made him angry and emotionally tougher. He decided that the Soviet Union needed to modernise, so as not to fall behind its capitalist competitors. “We are 50 or 100 years behind the advanced countries… We must make good this distance in 10 years… Either we do so, or we shall go under.” This quote encapsulates his thought process, and explains the massive economic increase in the steel, oil, and coal industries within the Soviet Union. Workers were treated brutally if unable to fulfill the standards set by Stalin, and some were imprisoned and executed for their failure. He also revolutionized the agriculture industry via collectivism; grouping farms together to be owned by the state. This was barbaric towards common farmers, and Stalin’s actions caused a series of famines, killing five million from his agriculture plan alone, but further strengthening the economic power of the Soviet Union.
Despite being an unquestioned ruler, Stalin was increasingly worried about threats to his dictatorship. He executed 93 of the 139 Central Committee members, and 81 of the 103 army generals in fear that one might take his spot. Joseph Stalin took no chances when it came to his power. Police arrested anyone who opposed communism, and three million were sent to work camps, a quarter of those were murdered. This power demonstration is known today as the Great Terror. In 1939 near the start of World War II, Stalin and Hitler agree to peace, and divide Eastern Europe between themselves. The Nazi party began to gain some steam, and invaded Soviet Russia, betraying Stalin and taking a strong grip on the second World War.
Fueled by uncontrollable rage and hatred for Hitler, Stalin was prepared to sacrifice everything to defeat him. Fearlessly, Stalin didn’t leave Moscow as Nazi forces closed in. At the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943, the Nazi’s attacked Moscow. Miraculously, fueled by the vehement words of Stalin, the Soviets were victorious. They suffered over a million casualties. In 1945, the Soviets finally closed in on Berlin, seizing control and prompting the suicide of Adolf Hitler, thus winning the war.
Stalin was seen as a hero and a patriot after being victorious in World War II. His final years were filled with more paranoia, purging, and tensions with other powers as the Cold War began. He died of a stroke on March 5, 1953. Those hiding from the iron grip of one the coldest and most murderous dictators rejoiced, and the Soviet Union began a new era. Joseph Stalin was seen both as monster and a genius through his incredibly eventful political saga. He lead one of the most controversial political lives ever, and his murderous tendencies appropriately earned him a reputation as a monster. But upon examination of his relentless temperament, integral dedication to his nation, and critical decision making, it is unmistakable that Joseph Stalin was one of the greatest leaders ever.
Annotated Bibliography: Joseph Stalin
- The Atlantic. www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/11/understanding-stalin/380786/. Accessed 1 Nov. 2018. This source was written by The Atlantic, a well known new magazine. The purpose is to aid the reader in “Understanding Stalin.” It helps show the intellect and strategic mastermind that Stalin was, despite his heinous killing. This source is written more as a story of the life that led to Stalin becoming the infamous dictator that he was. It doesn’t contain anything other than writing. I think this source will be useful for my paper because it helps deeper examine Stalin’s background.
- BBC. www.bbc.com/timelines/z8nbcdm. Accessed 11 Dec. 2018. BBC is a very reputable source for many things, including historical figures. They have multiple articles on Stalin and other World War II figures. The purpose of this particular page is to lay out a timeline of Stalin’s life. The timeline includes details that a few other sources missed, such as his romantic life and how it changed his politics. It has many pictures and videos of Stalin, as well as links to other related articles. A timeline is always useful when writing about a historical figure, so this one will serve me well.
- Genocide in the 20th Century. www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/stalin.htm. Accessed 1 Nov. 2018. This is a report on Stalin and the genocide he committed by The History Place. This page isn’t as well known as some of my other sources, but it provides vital information nonetheless. The article is focused in on just one part of his life: the seven million deaths that Stalin is responsible for. It was written for people looking to know more about this forced famine. The article contains tons of information about Stalin’s political conflict, and contains maps and photos that are relevant to the article in order to deepen understanding. This source will surely be useful when drafting my final paper.
- History Channel. 12 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/russia/joseph-stalin. Accessed 11 Dec. 2018. The name of the author is not stated, but the editors of History.com are a reputable source who have lots of knowledge and expertise in the field. The purpose of this article is to give an overview of the entire life of Joseph Stalin. The article is very specific, containing dates and details of Stalin’s life. It has everything from his childhood to his involvement in World War II. History even included videos to help the reader better understand the content of the article. This source might be my most useful one because it is so well written and in depth.
- History on the Net. www.historyonthenet.com/world-war-2-facts. Accessed 11 Dec. 2018. This source is by an organization that researches history and writes articles about certain events. They have many articles on the topic and are a trusted source. The articles purpose is to give facts, statistics, and general insight on World War II. It contains information on the war as a whole, with parts of it pertaining to my topic, Joseph Stalin, and his involvement in the war. The article doesn’t conclude much more than words, but has useful charts on statistics. This source may be helpful for my paper, but it doesn’t contain as much useful information as some of the other sources I have found.
- Joseph Stalin. www.britannica.com/biography/Joseph-Stalin. Accessed 1 Nov. 2018. This source is by Britannica, who are known to be distributors of all sorts of valuable information. It is a biography of Stalin that helps readers learn about him. It is broken up into eight complete sections such as introduction, rise to power, and role in World War II. It contains lots of details that will provide me with ample writing material for my paper. The encyclopedia article offers pictures and videos for a better visual learning experience.
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