1878 - 1953
Joseph Stalin was born in Georgia in 1878. After Lenin’s death in 1924 Stalin’s power increased, and after a series of political manipulations he became the country’s sole leader by 1928. Once in power, Stalin instituted economic reforms that centralized the economy through the nationalization of industry, rapid industrialization and forced agricultural collectivization.. These measures helped transform The Soviet Union from an agrarian country into an industrial power. They also resulted in famines and the suppression political enemies though imprisonment, deportation, and murder. His use of force to consolidate power culminated in The Great Purge from 1936-39. Stalin also centralized the Soviet political structure, taking a more direct role in military and economic affairs. By the end of the 1930s, adding “buffer” territories was a key part of his foreign policy. He signed a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany in August 1939, which allowed The Soviet Union to annex The Baltic States, Bessarabia, and Northern Bukovina, then part of Poland. The non-aggression pact also made it possible for the USSR to invade Finland without German opposition.
Stalin (left) with Vladimir Lenin in 1919
World War II:
Stalin was unprepared for the Nazi invasion in 1941. Diverting military resources to Finland and prosecuting senior Red Army leadership in The Great Purge left the country vulnerable to attack. The Red Army suffered heavy losses and many civilians were killed in the first months of the war. Though The Red Army was able to stop The German advance at Stalingrad and Moscow, some historians argue Stalin’s meddling in military decisions hindered Soviet operations. Stalin did not cede operational authority to his generals until 1943, after The Battle Of Kursk, when The Red Army began their advance into German territory. With the end of the war in sight, Stalin argued with allied leaders about dividing territory in post war Europe. Though he allowed Generals Zhukov and Konev autonomy in within their units, Stalin rushed The Red Army to cover as much ground as possible, resulting in The Soviet Union reaching Berlin before the other allies in 1945.
Stalin(right) with US President Harry Truman (centre) and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (left) at The Potsdam Conference in 1945
After World War II, Stalin led The Soviet Union into The Cold War against his former western allies. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, the newly formed East Germany and—initially—Yugoslavia and Albania became Soviet satellite states, dividing Europe between east and west or communism and capitalism. Stalin supported Kim Il Sun in The Korean War against the west and to a lesser extent Mao Zedong in The Chinese Civil War against the American backed Nationalist Party. Stalin initially supported the State of Israel, but when Israel sided with the United States he turned violently against the newly formed state. His anti-zionist policies soon became anti-Jewish policies within the Soviet Union itself. He initiated campaigns against Soviet Jews, culminating in The Night of Murdered Poets and The Doctors Plot.
Stalin developed a cult of personality within the Soviet Union, which intensified after World War II. He continued his practice of consolidating power through fear and intimidation, resulting in regular deportations and arrests. Stalin died on March 5th 1953, officially of a stroke. Though he lead The Soviet Union into the industrial age and through World War II, in the West, Stalin is mostly remembered for causing the death of between 4 and 10 million people. His successor Nikita Khrushchev instituted a de-Stalinization policy that removed Stalin’s cult of personality, cut back on the use of terror, and dismantled much of the Gulag system.