Joseph Stalin, a man of great ambition and power, played a significant role in the transformation of Russia throughout the 20th century and up until his death in 1953. Joseph Stalin was a coldblooded leader, capable of provoking revolutionary loyalty in his followers. Nikita Khrushchev, who followed Stalin to power, described Stalin’s guidance as “creating a cult of personality.” What gave Stalin such power? Was it because he could persuade people on his behalf? Was it his rise to power along with the rise of industrialization? Or did he simply create a cult? Stalin’s success likely derived from a combination of all three. It’s undeniable however that Stalin’s leadership played a massive role in the present portrayal of Russia. By the 1930’s, he managed to lead Russia into the industrial age and at the same time alter the Soviet people into a strong-willed and modern nation able to counter the Western powers. Stalin was without a doubt an aggressive yet remarkable leader, and it would be tested when World War Two broke out in Europe in 1941. He characteristically ordered vigorous attacks and was willing to take risks with the lives of his soldiers, and urged the Central Committee to discharge commanders that proved futile. Stalin’s behavior during the civil war anticipated exactly the role he would play as Leading Commander throughout World War Two. However, it was this behavior and his fear of losing power that would haunt him until his death in 1953.
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Born into a dysfunctional family in the mountains of Georgia in 1879, Joseph Stalin from childhood embraced his strong desire for greatness and respect. Joseph was a devout Orthodox, and often involved himself in sermons. Due to an early outbreak of smallpox and a deformed arm as a child, Stalin felt inferior to many intellectuals and from that point on he would distrust many of the people he’d meet in his future. Because Stalin grew up in a dangerous village where blood feud persisted, he learned to crush any individuals that would attempt to harm him.
“Georgian popular culture had a broad emphasis on honour. This involved loyalty to family, friends and clients. Joseph by contrast felt no lasting obligation to anybody. He was later to execute in-laws, veteran fellow leaders and whole groups of communists whose patron he had been. On the surface he was a good Georgian. He hosted lavish dinner parties, he dandled children on his knee. But his sense of traditional honour was non-existent (Service 27).”
Through a traumatic childhood event, where he witnessed the hanging of two local Georgian men, Joseph learned that state power was an essential factor in any society, and that if changes in government were to ever happen, force would be a key component to go against the status quo. Prior to his engagement in school education, Joseph loved Georgian literature including thirteenth century epic poetry such as The Patricide by Alexander Qazbegi, a story about the great resistance against Russian Imperial power in the 19th century. When he began attending school, he was soon to be recognized as a competent student that was well-behaved and quick to learn. By the end summer in 1894, Joseph had completed his term at the Board of the Gori Spiritual School, and was recommended to attend the Tiflis Spiritual Seminary. The school itself followed many rules, which ranged from prohibiting students to only spending up to an hour a day in the city, to only being allowed to speak and write Russian. Inevitably, Joseph’s desire for more power and intellect led him to join the rebel students. Through his rebellious acts, he acquired texts by Marx, Darwin, Plekhanov and Lenin. During his attendance, Marxism was on the rise and he would not hesitate to learn in its tenets. By the end of his term at Tiflis Spiritual Seminary, Stalin lost interest in poetry and religion, and began to focus on his study of socialism, Marxism, economics and politics. During the Revolution in 1905, Stalin along with other Marxist and Bolshevik organizations across Russia were involved in a series of thefts from banks to help fund their party. Lenin and Stalin, who were firm supporters of Bolshevism, demanded for money to help sustain the party. By the end of 1906, Stalin was well-recognized in Georgia as “The next Lenin.”
In 1913, Stalin, along with other Bolshevik leaders were sent to exile in northeast Siberia. Their planned term of life in exile was cut short however, when in March of 1917, news came to Stalin that Nicholas II of Russia abdicated his position as ruler, thus ending the reign. A Provisional Government was formed on March 3rd, with Prime Minister Prince Lvov, cabinet members made up of Constitutional-Democrats, and Minister Alexander Kerenski. Immediately, Stalin and Kamenev were demanding a “revolutionary democratic dictatorship.” On their journey back to Petrograd, both Kamenev and Stalin agreed that they would seize control of the Bolshevik Central Committee in the capital. The Central Committee was not pleased with the arrival of Kamenev, when they discover which side he, Stalin, and Muranov were taking in the political debate. The Committee members were determined to avoid giving the three of them high ranks. Over the next few months, Stalin, who did not adopt all of Lenin’s policies which demanded state ownership of the land, argued that it would alienate peasants who wished to control the countryside. Stalin and Kamenev both agreed that in order for their Bolshevik party to grow, they had to convince everyone that they were the only party in Russia that could bring peace. Inevitably, the Provisional Government ran into difficulties, mainly due to the prolongation of the war with Germany and the dislocation of the economy.
“Food supplies fell. Factories faced closures as metal, oil and other raw materials failed to be delivered. Banks ceased to bail out industrial enterprises. The civilian administrative system, which was already creaking under wartime strains, started to collapse. Transport and communication became unreliableâ€¦Workers called for higher pay and secure employment. Soldiers in the garrisons supported a peace policy: they were horrified by the possibility of being transferred to the front line (Service 128).”
By 1918, Civil war broke out between the “Red” and “White” groups. Slowly overtime, Stalin and other Bolshevik groups begin to seize control. It was not until 1922, when Stalin was appointed to General Secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. Stalin understood his power, and used it against the committee, and it was not until much later that the organization came to a realization of what he was planning. The only person who could challenge Stalin, was Lenin, who was near death after a series of strokes. In due course, Stalin became the leader of the country up until Mikhail Gorbachev. After Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin went about destroying the ally commanders. At first, he’d remove them from their posts and exiled abroad. Stalin was still not satisfied, however, when he culminated a series of show trials in the 1930’s against the founding fathers of the Soviet Union. Stalin successfully managed to manipulate the public of Russia that these revolutionaries were “enemies of the people.” Driven by his own sense of inferiority, Trotsky along with any other intellectual professionals were liquidated or sent into exile. The First Moscow Trial accused Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, two prominent party leaders, of attempted assassination of Stalin. The two were sentenced to death. The Second Moscow Trial involved Karl Radek, Yuri Piatakov, Leon Trotsky and Grigory Sokolnikov, in which they were said to have conspired with Nazi Germany. Most were either sentenced to death or exile. The third and final trial, known as “The Trial of the Twenty-One” involved Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, Nikolai Krestinsky, Christian Rakovsky, and Genrikh Yagoda. The twenty-one members were accused of belonging to the “Bloc of Rightists and Trotskyites.” All the leading defendants were executed except Rakovsky and two others. Through a series of purges in 1936-38, Stalin became the sole intellectual force of Russia, and began to pursue an economic policy which would mobilize the entire country to achieve rapid industrialization, so that he may stand alongside with other Capitalist leaders.
“To this end, he forcefully collectivized agriculture, instituted the Five-Year Plans to coordinate all investment and production in the country, and undertook a massive program of building heavy industry. Although the Soviet Union boasted that its economy was booming while the Capitalist world was experiencing the Great Depression, and its industrialization drive did succeed in rapidly creating an industrial infrastructure where there once had been none, the fact is that all this was done at exorbitant cost in human livesâ€¦and the discovery of a source of cheap labor through the arrest of millions of innocent citizens led to countless millions of deaths from the worst man-made famine in human history and in the camps of the Gulag (Abamedia 1).”
Inevitably, Stalin managed to make Russia a world power, only to the demise of millions of innocent people.
In the early hours of August 24, 1939 Stalin came to agreements with Hitler a ten-year non-aggression pact. The agreement, which took place in Molotov’s office in Kremlin, ended six years of mutual discrepancy between the Soviet Union and the Third Reich. Stalin, who was greatly pleased and signed the treaty which ultimately divided the northern regions of Eastern Europe into two areas. Stalin believed that he and Hitler had a truce, thus he refused to listen to any warnings in 1941 that Hitler was planning a massive attack. On May 5, 1941, Stalin addressed a speech in Moscow which declared:
“War with Germany is inevitable. If comrade Molotov can manage to postpone the war for two or three months through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that will be our good fortuneâ€¦Until now we have conducted a peaceful, defensive policy and we’ve also educated our army in this sprit. But now the situation must be changed. We have a strong and well-armed army. A good defense signifies the need to attack. Attack is the best form of defense. We must now conduct a peaceful, defensive policy with attack (Service 407).”
As Hitler began to take over France, Stalin realized it was only a matter of time before Germany would attempt to takeover Russia. If the Soviet state would fail to defeat the German armed forces, it would mean the end of the communist party. On the 23rd of June, Stalin worked with the members of the Supreme Command to plan for war. Over the next few days, the members would vote on Supreme Commander. It was not until the 10th of July, that Stalin was appointed the position. As the three million German forces crept closer to Moscow, panic began to pervade all of USSR. Because the military had been removed of its best commanders in the 1930’s, it took much time for the Soviets to reorganize. “allowing to Stalin’s purges the army was to all intents and purposes leaderless. In this respect Hitler was right in declaring that the Red Army was a headless giant, and in hurrying to invade the Soviet Union while its head had still not regrown (Wegner 381).” Stalin ordered that armament production be boosted, along with labor discipline be tightened and food supplies be secured from villages. Stalin encouraged “â€¦enhancing the Soviet defensive position along the USSR’s western borderlands. Hence the takeover of the Baltic States and the move into Romania (Roberts 122).” Unfortunately, the lack of military experience by Stalin was detrimental to their early success. After the battle for Minsk came to a close, Stalin lost more than 400,000 Red Army troops to German forces. The Soviet air force had been destroyed, and the areas of transport and communications throughout USSR had been shattered.
“In October of 1941 the German forces, having lunged across the plains and marshes to the east of the River Bug, were massing outside Moscow for a final thrust at the USSR’s capital. Critical decisions needed to be taken in the Kremlin. The initial plan was for the entire government to be evacuated to Kuibyshev on the Volga. Stalin was set to leave by train – and Lenin’s embalmed corpse, was prepared for the journey to Tyumen in west Siberia. Moscow appeared likely to fall to the invader before winterâ€¦and Stalin, could scarcely expect that Hitler would grant him his life in the event of the increasingly probable German victory (Service 420).”
From 1941 to 1945, the forces under the command of Stalin ordered nearly 50 different strategic operations, nearly a quarter of which were defensive. Because of Stalin’s lack of military knowledge, he was not able to forecast any future attacks by Hitler. Thus many of the battles were spontaneous defensive battles, which was mainly due to the lack of preparation in long-term strategy for the whole USSR. As military leader, Stalin attempted to maintain morale of his forces through means of “Stalinist” methods and propaganda. He would pay less attention to strengthening the roles of his commanders and political commissars, and focus more on violence and punishment. It was not until Zhukov, one of Stalin’s assisting commanders, concluded that they must abandon the Ukrainian capital in order to conserve resources and human lives. Stalin, who did not agree with Zhukov, followed through with the plan. While Zhukov worked on a campaign, Stalin promoted the expansion of the armed forces. Miraculously, Stalin’s war slogan “Everything for the Front!” helped provide a massive economic boost. In the second half of 1942, Stalin managed to have the USSR produce 15,000 aircrafts and 13,000 tanks. However as a result, farms fell out of production and a deeper impoverishment of the countryside. By November, Stalin and Zhukov arranged a new operation called “Uranus”. Operation Uranus consisted of a series of telegrams, in which Stalin would order a series of attacks to crush the enemy. Thus Hitler would order his fellow general to break into Stalingrad, which had been prepared with Russian army groups. The battle persisted until February 2, 1943, when German resistance finally ceased. Stalingrad was a Soviet city again. Following the war, Stalin met in the Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam Conferences and ordered for the Soviet Union to directly seize property from conquered nations. Stalin managed to successfully negotiate with the other leaders and secured three seats for Russia at the UN, and took control the Baltic States, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania. Communist governments were installed in the newly controlled territories, and many people began to leave. The Soviet Union was now a recognized superpower worldwide, having its own permanent seat with the Security Council, giving Stalin the respect he’d been dreaming his whole life.
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The strains of the Second World War on Stalin were great, by this time he was old, a long-term smoker and drinker, and was inevitably driving him to an earlier death. After the suicide of his wife, Stalin and his family began to lead odd lives. While Stalin lived, however, his policies remained unchallengeable. He was not absolutely inflexible and most war-related decisions were kept in policy. While many of the churches had been reopened due to the war thrived, Stalin consented to act as unofficial ambassador for the peace policy of the USSR government. Thus the Russian Orthodox Church began to occupy previously recognized Christian buildings. Cultural expression became as wide as the war, where the level of material provision for Soviet citizens maintained the Stalinist mindset. While Stalin did not play for an economy of shortage, he still aimed to expand the supply of food and industrial products through the retail trade. Stalin agreed that in order to stimulate the production and distribution of consumer goods, he would have to cease wartime inflation. As a result, in December of 1947, Stalin declared the devaluation of the ruble, reducing its value to a tenth of what it had been valued at.
At the end of January in 1953, Stalin’s physician Miron Vovsi was arrested in relation to “The Doctors Plot.” This plot was an alleged conspiracy made by Stalin, which would nearly bring purges again to Russia. The conspiracy would eliminate the leadership of the Soviet Union by means of highly regarded Jewish doctors. Khrushchev, along with others, suggested that Stalin had long held negative attitudes towards Jews that had manifested prior to the 1917 Russian Revolution. Further suspicions of Stalin’s crudeness towards Jew’s were seen through the elimination of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in 194 and his campaign referred to as “rootless cosmopolitans.” The Soviet dictator accused nine doctors plotting to poison and kill the Soviet leadership. The convicted men were arrested, and at Stalin’s order, were tortured until they confessed. Within days of the doctor’s arrest, however, Stalin who was in terrible health was rapidly deteriorating. His high-blood pressure, along with his unhealthy lifestyle, led to his eventual coma. Four days later, Stalin briefly regained consciousness, and demanded the leading members of the party be brought for a conference. As a last sign of life, Joseph Stalin raised his left arm, only to die moments later. He remained a hero to the people of Russia until Nikita Krushchev, the new leader of the Soviet Union, made a prominent speech to the Party Congress in 1956. The speech attacked the policies of Stalin and revealed how Stalin was responsible for the execution of thousands of loyal communists during the purges.
In the months following Krushchev’s speech, thousands of the imprisoned under Stalin’s order were released. Attempts were further made to completely erase Stalin’s image from the Soviet Union. Public statues and portraits of the leader were removed, and parks and streets were renamed after being originally named after Stalin. Stalingrad, which had been associated with Stalin during both the Civil War and World War Two, was renamed Volgagrad. Finally, Stalin’s ashes were removed from the Kremlin Wall. While images and names of the leader were removed from the public domain, the system which Stalin had worked for still remained. The state which protected Soviet leaders was to stay unchanged for the next thirty years, until Mikhail Gorbachev took control in the 1980’s. The Cold War continued, gulag’s remained operational, and the totalitarian government remained. The world was finally permitted to access the records of Stalin and his crimes after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the conclusion of the Cold War, and the final end of the Soviet Union in 1991-92. While most of the contemporaries working under Stalin managed to hide the corruption behind Stalin’s past, many people still managed to acquire some information against the cruel dictator.
In the end, just as we may never gain full knowledge of his past crimes, we may never seize an absolute understanding of his motivations and personality. For decades, Stalin and his committee members managed to justify their deeds by saying that their goal, the building of a utopia, necessitated the sacrifice of any number of lives. In order to make a life which would better the whole, lives must be surrendered. While Stalin believed he never reached a complete Communist society, he did prove that his tactics such as collectivization and the Five-Year Plan guided toward an ideology that focused on Totalitarian control. While the world continues to suffer, it is important to realize Stalin’s unbridled desire for power can devastate millions of lives. His egocentric personality not only was detrimental to the Russian people, but to countries across the globe. While he may be revered as a man who greatly contributed to Russia’s success as a world superpower, it is undeniable that it was at the cost of something much more important. While he was a political genius, it was his paranoid loss of power which led to his demise. Joseph Stalin will always be remembered as a ruthless leader of Russia, and while he may have been erased from the public streets, he will always remain in the thoughts and prayers of the people in Russia and across the globe.
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