Joseph Stalin was the soviet communist leader who’s passing molded an era, and whose iron rule determined the lives of millions of people. Considering that he shaped the direction of post-World War II Europe, we may regard him as the most powerful person to live during the 20th century.
Joseph Stalin was born IosifVissarionovichDzhugashvili on December 21, 1879, in Gori, Georgia. Both his parents were peasants. His father, VissarionDzhugashvili, was a cobbler, hoping that one day his son will be apprenticed in the same trade; his mother, YekaterinaGeladzeDzhugashvili, worked as a house servant for various upper-class Georgian families. Stalin was rather sickly as a child; he was badly scarred by smallpox, and another illness crippled his left arm (later in his life, in 1916, this disability will prevent him from joining the Russian army). Nevertheless, he is described as having been in excellent physical shape as a teenager; throughout much of his life he was muscular and well built.
Sosso (Stalin’s schoolboy nickname) was an excellent student. He graduated from the Gori Church School in 1894 with very high marks and managed to earn a full scholarship to the Tbilisi Theological Seminary. While attending the seminary, in his way to becoming a priest, Stalin was converted over to Marxism. He quit the seminary before graduation, in order to be a full-time revolutionary.
Stalin’s revolutionary career began in 1899 when he joined the Social-Democratic party as a propagandist among Tbilisi railroad workers. In 1902 he was arrested by the police, under the charge of revolutionary activities, and he was imprisoned for eighteen months in Baku. After this incarceration ended, Stalin was sentenced to three years exile in Siberia, from which he managed to escape in 1904. This became a familiar pattern. Between 1902 and 1913 Stalin was arrested eight times; he was exiled seven times and escaped six times. The government contained him only once; his last exile in 1913 lasted until 1917.
After his first escape from Sibiria in 1904, Stalin returned to Georgia. There he married his first wife, YekaterinaSvanidze. She died in 1907, just after she gave birth to Stalin’s first son: Yakov. Stalin later said: “This creature softened my stony heart. She is dead and with her have died my last warm feelings for all human beings.”
In December 1905 Stalin and Lenin met for the first time, at a Bolshevik conference in Finland. Stalin was highly unimpressed by Lenin at their first meeting. He expected him to be a superhuman hero, unlike the ordinary and normal-seeming man that he really was. Stalin’s first political pseudonym was “Koba” (a fictitious hero in Georgian literature). Such pseudonyms were quite common among the Russian revolutionaries of that period; Lenin often published under the name “Tulin” (note that even the names “Lenin” and “Stalin” were political pseudonyms). Stalin used the name “Koba” until about 1913 when he regularly began signing articles and letters with the name “Stalin” (meaning “man of steel” or “steel one”).
Until the last years of the czarist Russia, Stalin was more an up-and-coming follower than a leader. Unlike the intellectual party members, his contribution to the cause was practical, not theoretical. These “practical contributions” were the reason of his expelling from the Georgian Social Democratic Party in 1907; when he took part in a series of bank robberies and other crimes (supposedly in order to raise funds for the “professional” revolutionaries like himself). Shortly thereafter he migrated to Baku and founded a Bolshevist group among the Baku socialists. In January 1912, Stalin was nominated by Lenin to the Central Committee; by now Lenin was quite impressed with Stalin’s writings (which he generally worked on while in exile). Stalin edited briefly the new party newspaper, Pravda (Truth) and at Lenin’s erge wrote his first major work, Marxism and the Nationality Question. Before this treatise appeared (1914), however, Stalin was sent to Siberia .
escape from Siberia
In 1917, Stalin managed to escape from Siberia and immediately headed for Petrograd, (modern St. Petersburg) upon hearing that the February Revolution had brought about the abdication of the Tsar and the installation of the Provincial Government. There he resumed the editorship of Pravda. Until Lenin arrived in April, Stalin and Lev Kamenev dominated all party decisions. Stalin argued strongly for the continuation of the war and for cooperation with the Provisional Government. When Lenin arrived back in Petrograd from his exile in Switzerland, on April 3, 1917, he strongly criticized Stalin for printing both of these opinions and demanded an immediate reversal in policy. Nevertheless, Stalin was re-elected to the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party on April 27, 1917.
After a Bolshevik-sponsored insurrection in July, Lenin went into hiding and Trotsky was arrested, leaving Stalin and YakobSverdlov (another prominent Bolshevik) temporarily in charge of the Bolsheviks. After Lenin’s return several months later, Stalin’s influence rapidly declined (due to his failure to completely agree with all of Lenin’s positions, including his advocacy of an “armed revolution” to overthrow the Provisional Government). This decline only proved temporary, however.
On November 7, 1917 (October 25 on the Soviet calendar), the Bolsheviks seized power in a relatively bloodless coup, overthrowing the Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky. Although Stalin apparently had no role in the October Revolution itself, he was shortly thereafter appointed, by Lenin, to the position of People’s Commissar for Nationalities within the new Bolshevik government. Stalin’s job was, basically, to manage relations between the various ethnic groups of the former Russian Empire and to develop some sort of coherent policy toward the questions of national secession and civil rights. On November 15, Stalin revealed the Decree on Nationality, which stated that the new Bolshevik government would treat all ethnic minorities within the Soviet sphere equally, and would respect the right of all minority nations (such as Ukraine, the Baltic peoples, and the Finnish) to secede from Russia.
On March 3, 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed; the Russians gave up Ukraine, most of Belorussia, the Baltic States, Poland, Transcaucasia, and Bessarabia. Stalin had initially argued against the treaty, agreeing with Trotsky that Russia could declare itself withdrawn from the war without having to sign any sort of diplomatic agreement. Stalin was, though, among the first of the dissenters to recant this objection and fall back into line behind Lenin. In the June of 1918, Stalin left Moscow (the new capital) and arrived in Volgograd (which, incidentally, would later be renamed Stalingrad) with a new job: “Director General of Food Supplies in the South of Russia”. Russia was in the midst of a civil war between the Bolsheviks and a number of opponents (including a considerable number of foreign cadres–among them British, Czech, French, and American detachments). Stalin proved quite successful in this role, delivering large quantities of food from the lower Volga to Moscow and markedly improving the local railroad network. During the summer of 1918, Stalin’s operations came under military attack by Cossacks and anti-Bolshevik forces from both the Caucasus and the Donets basin. Stalin appointed his own military commander (Voroshilov), who successfully defended the city. It was during this period that Stalin ordered his first executions (mostly of captured Whites and other various political prisoners). Stalin preferred to conduct the overall military operations in the lower Volga region himself, much to the chagrin of Leon Trotsky, who by now was the supreme commander of the Red Army. Ultimately, though, Stalin’s defense of the region proved unsuccessful, the Red Army units in the area lost 60.000 men while he was there, and the Whites were later able to capture the city and hold it for an extended period.
Nevertheless, Lenin was reportedly quite impressed by Stalin’s display of personal initiative and decisiveness. Before the winter of 1918, Stalin had been recalled to Moscow by Lenin. In January of 1919, Lenin and Trotsky sent Stalin into Siberia to stop a major White advance westward, led by the former Tsarist officer Admiral Kolchak. Stalin was in Siberia until February, when he returned to Moscow after failing to do much to stop the advance (and after heavily criticizing both the local Red Army commander and Trotsky himself for the weaknesses of the Bolshevik forces he was in charge of). In May, Stalin was sent to Petrograd (St. Petersburg) in order to stop a White offensive from Estonia (which consisted of some Finnish and British detachments). Stalin performed exceptionally well, winning a decisive victory on June 16 with the capture of two White-controlled fortresses. Shortly thereafter Stalin had 67 officers executed because they had disagreed with him over the handling of the Red Army counterattack.
marrying for the second time
During the same year, 1919, Stalin was married for the second time. His second wife was named NadyaAllilueva; she had been serving as his secretary (and had accompanied him to Volgograd the previous year). She was seventeen when they married, and Stalin was 39. Nadya produced two more children for Stalin; Vasily (a son), born in 1921, and Svetlana (a daughter) in 1926. After a terrible argument with Stalin over the Ukrainian famine in November of 1932, she committed suicide. Vasily, an alcoholic and a chronic failure at nearly everything, died in 1962. Svetlana’s first marriage was to GrigorMorozov (who was, much to Stalin’s annoyance, a Jew), but she later divorced him and married a son of Andrei Zhdanov. Svetlana had eight children (five with Morozov; thus, more than half of Stalin’s second-generation descendants were half-Jewish) and Stalin has direct descendants living both within and outside of Russia today (Svetlana herself left the Soviet Union, but later returned).
In October 1919 Stalin again returned to southern Russia, this time to stave off an offensive on Moscow led by General Anton I. Denikin, who had under his command the Volunteer Army (equipped with many British tanks). Stalin bickered almost constantly with both his subordinates and his superiors during this campaign (which ultimately ended in victory in December). After supervising mopping-up operations in the area, he returned to Moscow in April of 1920.
In May, Stalin was sent west on his final military expedition. Poland had invaded Ukraine and captured Kiev on May 7 (shortly before Stalin’s dispatch to the area); the next month Stalin and his subordinate Yegorov failed to isolate the outnumbered Polish forces, and the Poles managed a fighting retreat back across the border. Later, when the campaign reached central Poland, Stalin ignored orders to assist the general in charge of the operation (Mikhail Tukhachevsky) with his drive on Warsaw and instead launched a failed counterattack on Lvov, in southeastern Poland. This unnecessary and useless diversion of important resources is often blamed as the principal factor in the Bolshevik defeat in Poland. In order to deflect criticism for this, Stalin later blamed Trotsky and Tukhachevsky for the defeat, calling Tukhachevsky a traitor (and once Stalin came to power, Tukhachevsky was to eventually pay for this alleged treason and others with his life). Despite the Bolshevik defeat in Poland, by November of 1920 the Russian Civil War was over, with only the Caucasian republics of Armenia and Georgia (Stalin’s homeland) still not under Moscow’s control (not counting Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all of which managed successfully to hold on to their independence). In fact, Lenin recognized Georgia’s independence in April of 1920. Stalin, however, urged Lenin to attack Georgia, which Lenin finally did on February 15, 1921. The country was conquered in just ten days, and Stalin argued that all non-Bolsheviks should be ruthlessly oppressed. Thus ended the final chapter in the Civil War, and the final military operations in which Stalin played a part until WWII.
Stalin was appointed by Lenin to the position of General Secretary of the Central Committee in April of 1922. In this position, Stalin was effective “third-in-command”, second only to Trotsky and Lenin himself. Apparently, Lenin had great trust in Stalin’s force of character and personal initiative; Stalin was among the very few who never fled Russia and moreover many of the old-order Bolsheviks had proved to be somewhat weak-willed and unimaginative during both the Revolution itself and the Civil War which followed.
Lenin suffers a major stroke
Just a month later, on May 25, 1922, Lenin suffered a major stroke. For the next few months, Lenin and Stalin were involved in a series of disputes. For example, Stalin proposed that the former Russian provinces which had not managed to fully escape Moscow’s grip be fully incorporated into the Russian state; Lenin’s proposal, which eventually became the basis for the new “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics”, was to allow the outlying provinces some degree of self-rule and their own governments (although they were not to be fully independent). Of course, when Stalin assumed total control over the Soviet Union he fully centralized the government according to his original suggestion. After Lenin’s first stroke (he suffered from several more which eventually left him bedridden and practically an invalid) Stalin’s power started to increase among the members of the Central Committee. During this period, Lenin began secretly writing his “Political Testament”, in which he outlined his plans for the future of the Party. In particular, Lenin individually critiqued the major leaders of the Bolsheviks; Trotsky, Lev Kamenev, Nicolai Bukharin, Grigori Zinoviev, Alexis Rykov, and Stalin. In general, Lenin did not praise any of the major leaders, finding none completely suited for the task of leading the Party and the government. However, it seems that Lenin suggested that Trotsky might be the best man for the job. About Stalin Lenin had only negative things to say; in fact, Lenin recommended that the Party should find some way to get rid of Stalin. Lenin quite ominously predicted that Stalin was, in his opinion, unable or unwilling to exercise power cautiously or selflessly enough. During the same period, Stalin became involved in an abusive argument with Lenin’s wife Krupskaya.
On December 22, 1922, Stalin found out from one of his sources that Lenin had written a personal letter to Trotsky. Lenin had been previously placed under virtual house arrest by Stalin and his cadre, in order to “protect him” from assassination attempts and allow him to recover in a relatively stress-free environment. Stalin, enraged, called Krupskaya on the telephone and screamed at her ferociously (for allowing Lenin to write the letter). Krupskaya told this to Lenin several months later. By March of 1923, Lenin had learned of Stalin’s phone call; this discovery, coupled with Stalin’s ruthlessness in dealing with the situation in Georgia, prompted Lenin to begin seriously planning Stalin’s removal from power. Unfortunately, Lenin had yet another stroke that month. This one, however, took away Lenin’s ability to speak. Lenin’s condition progressively worsened until his death on January 21, 1924. Stalin, upon hearing of Lenin’s death, was allegedly in a very joyful and jubilant mood. He had good reason to be — the major obstacle in his drive for power was gone.
The struggle for power that ensued, ended with Stalin and his temporary allies, Kamenev, and Zinoviev in control of the Party. Stalin used this alliance in order to get rid of his main opponent, Trotsky. After the threat of Trotsky was eliminated, he allied with Bucharin and Rykov against his former partners. At this period, Stalin proved his enormous political skills. He managed, by raising Lenin to be the symbol of the new Russia, to promote himself as the soviet hero and his uncontested successor. The climax came in his 50th anniversary, in 1929, when icons, statues, busts and images of all sorts of both Lenin and Stalin appeared everywhere in public buildings, schoolrooms, and homes. (Kishlansky 796-797)
At the same time a number of socio-cultural changes took place in Russia. Abortions were legalized, anti-religious campaigns were inaugurated, and the art’s society was forced to change it’s forms and objectives.
Stalin’s Russia was the first state to have as an ideological objective the elimination of religion. Towards that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. Actions toward particular religions, however, were determined by State interests, and most organized religions were never outlawed.
The main target of the anti-religious campaigns in the 1920s and 1930s was the Russian Orthodox Church, which had the largest number of followers. Nearly all of its clergy, and many of its believers were shot or sent to labor camps. Theological schools were closed, and church publications were prohibited. By 1939 only about 500 of over 50,000 churches remained open. Only after the Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin revived the Russian Orthodox Church to intensify patriotic support for the war effort.
In 1928, the Central Committee established the right of the party to exercise guidance over literature; and in 1932 literary and artistic organizations were restructured to promote a specified style called “socialist realism”. Works that did not contribute to the building of socialism were banned. Lenin had seen the need for increasing revolutionary consciousness in workers. Stalin now asserted that art should not merely serve society, but do so in a way determined by the party and its megalomaniac plans for transforming society. As a result, artists and intellectuals as well as political figures became victims of the Great Terror of the 1930s.
During the war against Nazi Germany, artists were permitted to infuse their works with patriotism and to direct them against the enemy. The victory in 1945, however, brought a return to repression against deviation from party policy. Andrei Zhdanov, who had been Stalin’s spokesman on cultural affairs since 1934, led the attack. He viciously denounced such writers as Boris Pasternak and Mikhail Zoshchenko, who were labeled “anti-Soviet, underminers of socialist realism, and unduly pessimistic”. Individuals were expelled from the Union of Writers, and offending periodicals were either abolished or brought under direct party control. Zhdanov died in 1948, but the cultural purge known as the “Zhdanovshchina” continued for several more years. The noted filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein and great composers such as Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitrii Shostakovich were denounced for “neglect of ideology and subservience to Western influence”. The attacks extended to scientists and philosophers and continued until after Stalin’s death in 1953.
Stalin increased the size of the Kremlin bureaucracy: commissariats, commissions, and committees regimented and disciplined every area of society and economy. He also abandoned Lenin’s idea of equal wages and claimed socialist society allowed wage differentials on the basis of piece work. A new managerial class emerged in Russia with better housing, special mess halls, vacation resorts, and restricted shops. In the new system top-level managers and party officials were on the top of the pyramid; engineers, doctors, and foremen followed leaving clerks and common laborers above only from “slaves”.
Stalin re-introduced slavery to the Russian economy and put its control under GULAG (State Administration of Corrective Camps), a sub-unit of NKVD (Commissariat of State Security). Concentration camps for counter-revolutionaries existed in 1917, but slave labor camps date from Stalin’s regime. By 1931 2 million people worked for GULAG primarily in Siberia and the Far East. Slaves came from all walks of life: kulaks, orthodox believers, bourgeois specialists, borderland minorities, and other “class enemies”. Slavery became an important factor in the calculations of all Five Year Plans, including the first.
In November 1927, Joseph Stalin launched his “Revolution from above” by setting two extraordinary goals for Soviet domestic policy: rapid industrialization and collectivization of agriculture. Although among his aims were to erase all traces of the capitalism that had entered under the New Economic Policy and to transform the Soviet Union as quickly as possible, without regard to cost, into an industrialized and completely socialist state, the master plan was to make the USSR invincible militarily. In order to achieve this goal he initiated an economic revolution based on “Five Year Plans”.
Stalin’s First Five Year Plan, adopted by the party in 1928, called for rapid industrialization of the economy, with an emphasis on heavy industry. It set goals that were unrealistic; a 250 percent increase in overall industrial development and a 330 percent expansion in heavy industry alone. All industry and services were nationalized, managers were given predetermined output quotas by central planners, and trade unions were converted into mechanisms for increasing worker productivity. Many new industrial centers were developed, particularly in the Ural Mountains, and thousands of new plants were built throughout the country. But because Stalin insisted on unrealistic production targets, serious problems soon arose. With the greatest share of investment put into heavy industry, widespread shortages of consumer goods occurred.
The First Five-Year Plan also called for transforming Soviet agriculture from predominantly individual farms into a system of large state collective farms. The Communist regime believed that collectivization would improve agricultural productivity and would produce grain reserves sufficiently large to feed the growing urban labor force. The anticipated surplus was to pay for industrialization. Collectivization was further expected to free many peasants for industrial work in the cities and to enable the party to extend its political dominance over the remaining peasantry.
Stalin’s main objective, concerning agriculture, was to force as many peasants as possible into either collective farms or state farms. In collective farms, people worked the land collectively, in order to meet the state standards of production. What remained, if any, was then divided among them, according to the percentage the had earned by their work. On the other hand, on the state farms, peasants received wages directly from the state.
Neither of the above systems was accepted by the people, a lot of them preferred to slaughter their animals and to bury their grain, instead of handing them over to the collective farms. Stalin’s response was ruthless; millions of peasants were killed and even more faced death in labor camps. He focused particular hostility on the wealthier peasants, or kulaks. About one million kulak households (some five million people) were deported and never heard from again. Forced collectivization of the remaining peasants, which was often fiercely resisted, resulted in a disastrous disruption of agricultural productivity and a catastrophic famine in 1931-33. Although the First Five-Year Plan called for the collectivization of only twenty percent of peasant households, by 1940 approximately ninety-seven percent of all peasant households had been collectivized and private ownership of property almost entirely eliminated. Forced collectivization helped achieve Stalin’s goal of rapid industrialization, but the human costs were incalculable.
In the mid-1930s Stalin launched a major campaign of political terror. The purges, arrests, and deportations to labor camps touched virtually every family. Former rivals Zinovyev, Kamenev, and Bukharin admitted to crimes against the state in show trials and were sentenced to death. Untold numbers of party, industry, and military leaders disappeared during the “Great Terror,” making way for a rising generation that included such leaders as Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev. Fear instilled by political secret police formed an essential part of the system called Stalinism.
“The Great Terror”, as Robert Conquest called this period, started with the assassination of Sergei Kirov (see Appendix I), a prominent member of the party, and head of the Petrograd soviet. Stalin, in his way to increase his personal power, and to eliminate any possible future threats, used the assassination of Kirov (which he apparently ordered) as the pretense of a series of arrests.
In 1936 Stalin made preparations for a massive purge of the Red Army. He wrote a script called “The Anti- Soviet Trotskyite Military Organization in the Red Army”, and called upon Yezhov (the secret police head) to supply the evidence. In May 1937 political commissars were re-introduced to Red Army units for the first time since 1921, and several high ranking officers were placed under arrest, including Marshal Tukhachevsky, and generals E.A. Dreitzer, S.V. Mrachkovsky, I. Reingold, V. Primakov, and V. Putna. Under threats, promises of leniency, and torture these Civil War veterans confessed to espionage for Germany and to plotting Stalin’s assassination. While it is certain that the accused were not rabidly Stalinist, it is also certain they were anti-Nazi. Perhaps their greatest crime had been service under War Commissar Trotsky. Thus it was a cruel irony that anti-German officers were accused of pro-Nazism, while their hero leader tried to make secret deals with Hitler. Stalin convened a special court of judges with his crony officer Voroshilov presiding. On 11 June, the accused were tried, convicted, sentenced, and shot. All the judges but Voroshilov were later arrested and summarily executed.
Stalin’s purge of the military continued from June 1937 to October 1939 with the arrest of Marshal V.K. Bliukher (Commander of the Far East). During the first week Stalin arrested 980 officers. The purge resulted in the execution of 3000 naval commanders and 38,700 army officers.Of the top 101 generals, 80 were shot; of 186 division commanders 140 were shot. This series of arrests, show trials, executions, and deportation, didn’t stop until 1939 (Goff, page 238). These purges proved disastrous when, in the second world war, the huge Red Army had no leaders to follow.
On the eve of the Terror, when mass purges and show trials where at their peak, Stalin bestowed a constitution on the USSR. Its purpose was to show the world that the Soviet Union was a very democratic country. Stalin’s Constitution was ratified in the Congress of Soviets in November 1935 after several months of publicity and comment. Article 126 negated the entire document, though, for it made the Communist Party the only legal party, and that party approved all delegates to the Congress of Soviets, renamed the Presidium. At the ratification ceremony Stalin made an important announcement: socialism had been achieved and the USSR was currently in a transition stage on the path to communism. Russia was free of an exploiting class and only the peasants, workers, and intelligentsia remained to build the classless society of communism.
In the face of the growing threats from Nazi Germany and Japan, Stalin reverted increasingly to traditional forms of foreign policy, seeking diplomatic alliances with the European powers. Thus in January 1932 the Soviet leader signed a non-aggression Pact with Finland, the constant opponent of the U.S.S.R in the west. In 1933 the United States diplomatically recognized the U.S.S.R. and the next year Russia entered the League of Nations, an organization that Lenin had earlier described as “an alliance of world bandits against the proletariat” (Goff, page 248)
In May 1935, Stalin signed a Mutual Assistance Treaty with France; the confirmation of the pact came in February 1936, due to conservative distrust from the French. A similar treaty was signed with Czechoslovakia, except in this case neither party was obligated to aid the others unless France first came to the aid of the attacked nation (Goff, page 248). Despite his willingness to co-operate with the West, in order to contain Hitler’s aggression, suspicion from both sides led Stalin to sign his own, non aggression, pact with Hitler in August 1939 (see Appendix II) .
Stalin’s policies toward the nazi Germany were controversial. Stalin saw an allie on Hitler. He believed, despite Hitler’s known beliefs about the Slavs and the communists, that he could co-operate with him. Towards this end, he helped Hitler’s rise to power, by preventing German communists from co-operating with other leftists in order to form a government (Goff, page 247). The peak was the signing of the Nazi-Soviet non aggression Pact that came in August 1939, when Molotov (Stalin’s foreign minister) and Ribbentrop (Hitler’s foreign minister) agreed that for ten years both sides would abstain from attacking each other. This pact contained secret protocols providing for the partition of Poland and for Soviet and German spheres of influence in Eastern Europe. Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Bessarabia were to be in the Soviet sphere of influence, while Germany’s sphere was agreed to be western Poland (Goff, page 253).
On September 1, 1939 Germany invaded Poland, thereby provoking declarations of war by Great Britain and France and launching World War II. Sixteen days later, the Red Army crossed the Polish frontier, took possession of eastern Poland, and began the Sovietization of the occupied areas. Hundreds of thousands of Poles were deported to Siberia. On September 29, Hitler and Stalin signed a treaty demarcating their so-called spheres of interest in Poland. The treaty acknowledged the supremacy of each power in its respective sphere and provided for joint resistance to interference from third parties .
The pact with Hitler signaled the opening of a new phase in the development of the USSR. In the immediately preceding years the central emphasis of Soviet policy had been on “building socialism”, that is, on the industrialization of the country. The seizure of eastern Poland was the first of a series of territorial annexations that launched a new expansionist phase of Soviet policy. The Polish annexation was soon followed by domination of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Ultimatums were sent to the governments of the Baltic states, which were finally overrun by the Red Army (Shirer, page 794). Non aggression pacts, were imposed on them, gaving the Soviet Union the right to station troops on their soil. Stalin had the press suppressed, the political leaders arrested and all parties besides the Communist declared illegal, in all three Baltic states. Election were held, and the new parliaments (consisting in their majority only by communists) decided to unite their countries with the U.S.S.R.
The annexation of the Baltic States to the Soviet Union was just the beginning of Stalin’s “appetite”. Bessarabia and Bucovina (both territories belonged in Rumania at that time) soon followed, making Hitler, his allie, nervous; though Germany’s main oil supplies came from that country. On the other hand, Stalin was out to get as much of Eastern Europe as he could, now that Hitler was busy in the West frond. In order to deal with Stalin’s virtually limitless “appetite” the Germans, established a puppet government in Romania, on the fall of 1940, and guaranteed the Romanian-Soviet frontier.
The relation of the two countries (Germany and U.S.S.R) had been deteriorating ever since. Hitler was planning on attacking and destroying the Soviet Union from as early as October 18, 1939; though the first signs of his thesis for the U.S.S.R could be traced back in 1924, when he wrote Mein Kampf (Shirer, page 796).
On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union, surprising Stalin, who had refused to believe that an attack was imminent. Italy and Romania declared war on the USSR the same day. Finland, Hungary, Albania, and other Axis satellites, soon followed. Britain and the United States tried to help, by sending material aid to the USSR. The US program, known as Lend-Lease, ultimately provided the USSR with some $12 billion worth of equipment and food. After the United States entered the war in December 1941, the three powers became military allies. In January 1942, four months after it had pledged allegiance to the principles of the Atlantic Charter, the Soviet government and 25 other Allied governments signed a declaration formally subscribing to the program and purposes of the Atlantic Charter and pledging their cooperation in the war against the Axis powers.
Stalin motivated all the Soviet people to fight “The Great Patriotic War”.
The Axis assault on the USSR was launched from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea. During the late summer and fall of 1941 the Germans plunged deeply into the Soviet Union, striking at Leningrad, Moscow, and the Ukraine. As the Red Army was constantly retreating under the stupendous blows of the German armies, Stalin began frantic efforts to remove industrial plants and workers from the path of the invader and relocated them in and behind the Ural Mountains. Much of what could not be removed was laid waste in accordance with a “scorched-earth” policy. Stalin managed to unite all the Russians, and to make them sacrifice everything, in order to win “The Great Patriotic War”, as the WWII is referred by the Soviet people.
Defense of Stalingrand
For a time the German “blitzkrieg” appeared successful, as millions of Soviet soldiers were encircled and annihilated or captured. In the Baltic states, Belorussia and the Ukraine, the invaders met with a friendly reception from those who had suffered most under the Stalinist yoke. The atrocities of the Germans, however, stiffened Soviet resistance. The advance on Leningrad (now St Petersburg) was checked in September 1941, but the city was besieged until January 1944; casualties there ultimately exceeded 1,250,000. The advance on Moscow was stopped in October 1941.
In the south the Germans were more successful; they took the entire Ukraine, and pressed on towards the Volga to cut-off Moscow and Leningrad from the Caucasus and south-west Asia. They were finally halted and defeated in the epic Battle of Stalingrad (now Volgorad) in a battle that lasted from August 1942 through January 1943. This battle was the turning point of the Russo-German war and one of the decisive engagements of world history. Thereafter the Germans were driven steadily westwards. In the spring and summer of 1944 the Baltic states and the Ukraine were practically cleared of enemy forces; by the end of August, Soviet armies were fighting in Poland and Romania. Other victories followed. On April 22, 1945, Soviet forces entered the outskirts of Berlin; three days later Soviet and American troops met at the River Elbe. The war in Europe ended on May 8.
The Big Three, Tehran Iran 1943.
By the end of the war, the Soviet Union was recognized as one of the great powers of the world. Stalin participated with the heads of government of the United States and Great Britain at the Tehran Conference in 1943 and at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences in 1945 to decide the overall military and political strategy of the war and a common postwar European policy. The U.S.S.R also played a leading role in the preliminary interna-tional conferences leading to the establishment of the United Nations in 1945.
Instead of making a treaty immediately with defeated and disorganized Germany, the victorious powers temporarily designated four occupation zones. The eastern zone was assigned to the USSR. Berlin, surrounded by the Soviet zone, was divided into four sectors, and its eastern zone was also assigned to the USSR. The occupied zones were to be administered as parts of one country, with free trade among them. German territory east of a line formed by the Oder and Neisse rivers was assigned to Polish occupancy pending a final peace settlement. The northern part of East Prussia was ceded to the USSR. The Soviet Union, however, set up its own type of government in the areas assigned to it, and by 1947 the so-called Iron Curtain had been drawn to divide Eastern and parts of Central Europe from Western Europe. The USSR, having suffered enormous losses see (Appendix III), exacted huge reparations in the form of dismantled industrial plants and the output of current production. It also benefited from the forced labor of millions of German prisoners of war.
In his approach to postwar problems, Stalin was motivated by an expansionist policy designed to enlarge the area ruled by Communists loyal to the USSR, to strengthen security against future aggression, and to utilize the world Communist movement as a means of subverting other countries and bringing them into the Soviet orbit. The new Soviet policy was soon signalled by violations of various wartime agreements. At the Potsdam Conference, held after the victory in Europe, the Stalin made demands manifestly in excess of the needs of its national security. The demands were rejected by the United States and Britain to prevent the establishment of a vast Soviet sphere of power. Despite growing acrimony among the Allies, agreement was reached at Potsdam on the general lines of the occupation policy, on various reparations policies, and on the temporary German-Polish and Polish-Soviet boundaries.
Utilizing the threat of its military force, the USSR violated these agreements and made a sustained assault on the political, economic, and social structures of the occupied Soviet borderlands. Implementation of Soviet foreign policy generated a globe-girdling political, diplomatic, and economic conflict with the United States and its allies, known as the Cold War.
In the countries in which the influence of the Soviet Union was predominant, namely, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Yugoslavia, and East Germany, the politico-economic structure was gradually reorganized. Opposing political groups were isolated and then destroyed, large landholdings were expropriated, and (with the exception of Poland) collectivization was instituted. Virtually all industry was nationalized.
In establishing political domination, the Soviet technique was first to cooperate in coalition governments, in which the Communists were a minority but controlled the ministries directing the police, the armed forces, and the economy. This was followed (beginning in 1947) by the establishment of regimes called People’s Democracies, under which the Communists established authoritarian control of the state. In 1948 Czechoslovakia, a country not directly in the Soviet orbit, came under Communist control through subversion of a coalition government. These developments alarmed the United States and Western European powers and led to the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. To coordinate the economic activities of those states under Soviet control, Stalin in 1949 established the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA or COMECON), with Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and East Germany as members .
Stalin died on March 5, 1953, alone and isolated in a room inside Kremlin. Although Stalin was responsible for the deaths of millions of people, when he died, the whole nation wept tears of grief and of fear for the future. The iron will of Stalin wouldn’t be there anymore to guide and protect them. Yet, his death was the most pleasant news to the untold millions who were repressed during his reign.
Nobody was safe during his reign. Not even his chiefs of the secret police (two of them were executed). There was censorship on everything and the secret police dominated the lives of every man and woman inside the Soviet Union. Just before he died, Stalin was preparing another bloodbath, in order to deal with the so-called “Doctor’s Plot” but eventually his death in March saved the lives of several, innocent people.
Today Stalin remains an enigmatic figure. He was a very skilled politician; he managed to manipulate and to exploit every opportunity having no remorse of the means he used. He managed to emerge among strong and capable adversaries, despite his lacking in education and his failures during the civil war. He transformed Russia, from a country that lacked in every aspect, compared to the West, having lost it’s pride in the last years of czarism and in the first World War, to an advanced industrialized and military significant nation with heavy influence on a number of other countries, respected and feared all around the world. Without his regime it is very doubtful that Russia would have ever become the global power it used to be. It is also doubtful that a regime with pure communist characteristics, that seemed to be the other alternative after Lenin’s death, could retain the land of Russia, preserving the unity of all it’s people, considering the unevenness of the people and races inhabiting the vast size of Russia.
Stalin gave a whole new meaning on communism. His communist Soviet Union had nothing to do with the community where there would be neither a state nor any social classes, as Lenin, and Marx before him, preached. Although, regarding that there wasn’t any class, no matter what power it possessed to be safe on his reign, we could say that there was a peculiar state of equality between the peasants and the highest state’s officers. Stalin used communism as he used Lenin; to manipulate the masses. Considering that his rule was absolute and there was nothing, not a man nor a state mechanism like a parliament to constrain him, we can undauntedly support that his regime was a totalitarian regime with many similarities to the other totalitarian states of his time (like Hitler’s Germany), and communist only in an extravagant way.
Although his industrial and economic revolution has been the bedrock that made the U.S.S.R the power it used to be, the human cost is still incalculable. Untold millions lost their lives during his reign, either shot or died in the labor cabs. Russia was being carried in the 20th century on the backs of it’s suffering peasants. The main thing that Stalin and Stalinism provided to the Russian people, was the pride to live and suffer for a great nation.
Stalin transformed Russia, from an underdeveloped nation, to one of thriving industry; he raised the U.S.S.R. to be a world-wide feared and respected country. Stalin’s personality affected the lives of people even outside the U.S.S.R; he arranged the lives of all the people of the Eastern block. The only Eastern country that managed to avoid Soviet control, was Tito’s Yugoslavia.
Stalin’s enemies named his reign “ Stalinism “. Later this expression was used by those on the political left, to characterize the most authoritarian features of Soviet Communism: rule by bureaucracy, arbitrary use of mass repression, an exaggerated and at times grotesque personality cult and the execution of political enemies. By extension, the term has also been used to denote left-wing dictatorships exhibiting some of these features; for instance, Romania under Nicolae Ceausescu, and North Korea under Kim Il Sung.
Stalinism is more generally associated with the allegation that-in spite of the hostility of surrounding capitalist countries; Stalin proved that it was possible to construct “socialism in one country”. This enabled Soviet Communists to appeal to national Russian pride while revolutionaries abroad were expected to give priority to the defence of the “Motherland of socialism”. Stalinism depicted a command economy giving priority to capital goods, rapid collectivization of agriculture, military sternness, and the insistence on the rapidity of modernization regardless of the human cost involved.
Stalin’s communism had many similarities with Hitler’s nazism. They both were dictators that took in their hands the fate of their respective nations. Both of them used all the means available, to suppress and eliminate any opposition, even if this opposition lied among their fellow party members, or just in the back of their heads. They controlled almost every aspect of the life of their citizens: from the government, the military to the press and the education and cultural institutions. The means they used where also similar; massive propaganda, terror and fear where regular instruments of their policy (Goff, page 238). They are both responsible for the death of millions of people.
Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced Stalin and Stalinism in his “ secret speech ” in the 20th party congress. Much of what Stalin and his politics represented, had been heavily criticized, and for the first time his elimination of millions of people had been exposed. Despite that, all of Stalin’s successors, although they denounced much of him and his ways, relied on his achievements to expand and preserve the power of the Soviet Union; and to his tactics in order to control the political and social mechanisms.
Kishlansky, Mark, “ The Unfinished Legasy “, HarperCollinsCollegePublishers
Watson, Jack, “ Success in 20th Century World Affairs “, John Murray Publishers Ltd third edition
Goff, Richard, “ The Twentieth Century A Brief Global History “, McGraw-Hill, Inc. fourth edition
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