Born Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili, Joseph Stalin was born on 18 December 1878, or 6 December 1878 according to the Old Style Julian calendar (however, he later chose a new birth date for himself: 21 December 1879) in the town of Gori, Georgia, which was then part of the Russian Empire. In his 30s, he took the name Stalin – meaning “man of steel.”
Joseph Stalin was an only child and grew up poor. His father, an alcoholic who beat up his son, was a shoemaker, and his mother was a laundress. Stalin contracted smallpox as a boy, which left him with facial scars that lasted a lifetime. He earned a scholarship as a teen to attend a seminary in and study for the Georgian Orthodox Church priesthood. While he was there in Tblisi, he secretly started reading the work of “Communist Manifest” author and German social philosopher Karl Marx, becoming interested in the revolutionary movement against the Russian monarchy. Stalin was expelled from the seminary in 1899 for skipping exams, but he claimed it was for Marxist propaganda.
Joseph Stalin became an underground political agitator after leaving school, participating in labour strikes and demonstrations. He took up the name Koba, after a fictional Georgian outlaw-hero, and joined the Bolsheviks, the militant wing of the Marxist Social Democratic movement, led by Vladimir Lenin. Stalin was arrested several times between 1902 and 1913 for his involvement in criminal activities, the spoils from which were used to assist in funding the Bolshevik Party. He was subjected to exile in Siberia.
Joseph Stalin married a seamstress named Ekaterina “Kato” Svanidze (1885 – 1907) in 1906. They had one son, named Yakov (1907 – 1943) who died during World War II as a prisoner in Germany. Ekaterina died from typhus soon after Yakov was born. In 1918, Joseph Stalin married Nadezhda “Nadya” Alliluyeva (1901 – 1932) who was the daughter of a Russian revolutionary. They had a boy and a girl, but Nadezhda killed herself in her early 30s. Joseph Stalin also had many children out of wedlock.
Rise to Power
While in exile in Switzerland, Lenin, in 1912 appointed Joseph Stalin to serve on the first Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. The Bolsheviks seized power in Russia three years later in November 1917. In 1922 the Soviet Union was founded with Lenin as its first leader. After Lenin’s death in 1924, Joseph Stalin outsmarted his rivals and won the struggle for control of the Communist Party, and by the end of 1920, Joseph Stalin had become dictator of Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin
Beginning in the late 1920s, Joseph Stalin began a series of five-year plans with the purpose of transforming the Soviet Union to an industrial superpower from a peasant society. His development plan was focused on government control of the economy and included mandatory collectivization of Soviet agriculture – where the government took control of farms. Millions of farmers disobeyed Joseph Stalin’s orders and were exiled or shot as punishment. The government control of farms resulted in widespread famine all over the Soviet Union which killed millions.
Stalin ruled with a totalitarian grip and by terror in order to get rid of anyone who might oppose him. He encouraged citizens to spy on each other, increased his powers of the secret police and had millions of people sent to forced labour camps or killed.
World War II
In 1939, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler signed a nonaggression pact, but in 1941 Germany broke the pact and invaded the USSR, despite warnings from the British and Americans about a possible invasion, and the Soviets were not ready for war. As German troops came near Moscow, Stalin stayed there and ordered a scorched earth policy, eliminating any infrastructure or supplies that might benefit the enemy. At the Battle of Stalingrad, the Red Army defeated the Germans and finally drove them from Russia.
Joseph Stalin did not calm down with age. Throughout Europe, he established communist governments and led the Soviets into the nuclear age in 1949 by exploding an atomic bomb.
Joseph Stalin became increasingly paranoid and died after suffering a stroke at the age of 74 on March 5, 1953.
By some guesses, Joseph Stalin, during his brutal rule, was responsible for the deaths of 20 million people.