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Joseph Stalin

Stalin, Joseph Vissarionovich (1879-1953), Russian revolutionary, head of the USSR (1924-53).

A Georgian cobbler’s son named Dzhugashvili, he joined the Social-Democratic party while a seminarian and soon became a professional revolutionary. In the 1903 party split he sided with LENIN. Stalin attended party congresses abroad and worked in the Georgian party press. In 1912 he went to St. Petersburg, where he was elected to the party’s central committee. About this time he took the name Stalin (man of steel). His sixth arrest (1913) led to four years of Siberian exile.

After the RUSSIAN REVOLUTION of March 1917, he joined the editorial board of the party paper Pravda. When the Bolsheviks took power (Nov. 1917) he became people’s commissar of nationalities. He also played an important administrative role in the civil war (1918-20).

In 1922 Stalin was made general secretary of the party. Lenin, before he died in 1924, wrote a testament urging Stalin’s removal from the post because of his arbitrary conduct; but in the struggle to succeed Lenin, Stalin was victorious. By 1927 he had discarded his erstwhile allies BUKHARIN, KAMENEV, and ZINOVIEV; in 1929 TROTSKY, his major rival for the succession, was exiled from the USSR. Forcible agricultural collectivization and breakneck industrialization began in 1928. The state, instead of withering away, as Marx had foreseen, was glorified. Nationalism was revived as socialism in one country. The military was reorganized along czarist lines. Conservatism permeated official policy on art, education, and the family.

Political repression and terror reached a height in the 1930s. In a public trial Bukharin, Kamenev, Zinoviev, and others were charged with conspiring to overthrow the regime; they confessed and were executed. Enormous numbers of ordinary citizens also fell victim.

Stalin’s foreign policy in the 1930s focused on efforts to form alliances with Britain and France against NAZI Germany; the 1939 Russo-German nonaggression pact marked the failure of these efforts. In 1941 Stalin took over the premiership from MOLOTOV.

The German invasion (June 22) found him unprepared; at war’s end (1945) 20 million Russians were dead . At the TEHERAN CONFERENCE and the YALTA CONFERENCE Stalin gained Western recognition of a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. The paranoia of his last years led to a period of terror reminiscent of the 1930s.

On his death (1953) his body was placed next to Lenin’s. In 1956, at the 20th Party Congress, KHRUSHCHEV denounced Stalin’s tyranny, but destalinization has never been thoroughgoing.

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