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Prominent Russians: Joseph Stalin

December 21, 1878 – March 5, 1953

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Joseph Stalin was the General Secretary of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union’s sole leader from 1924 until his death in 1953. One of the most controversial and enigmatic figures in Russian history, he is still the subject of fierce discussions and assessments. His introduction of the command principle and five-year plans aimed at boosting the country’s economy condemned the country to human losses of immense proportions. The scale of repressions astounds and petrifies, though some believe it was a necessary and inevitable measure under the circumstances. Although an ethnic Georgian himself, he launched massive campaigns on the deportation and eradication of many ethnic groups from the Soviet territory. So great was his influence on the people that it eventually grew into a cult of personality, denounced after his death by Nikita Khrushchev, who initiated the so-called “de-Stalinization.”

Early years

Joseph Stalin (Iosif Dzhugashvili) was born in Gori, Georgia, a town then plagued by street violence, on 21 December 1879. He was brought up in a family of a shoemaker and a peasant’s daughter. The only one to survive out of four children, he himself was very prone to illnesses – for this reason his mother was very protective of him.

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Some sources, however, claim that, as a strict and religious woman, she frequently resorted to physical punishment, which she believed was an integral part of child rearing. Stalin’s relationship with his mother was strained and he didn’t even attend her funeral in 1937. His absence at the funeral, however, could also be accounted for by the urgent affairs he had to attend to as head of state.

Joseph's father, Vissarion, a shoemaker, was heavily addicted to drinking and had a drunken habit of beating up his wife and son. Stalin recalled getting so mad at his father that he once almost killed him by throwing a knife at him.

At the age of seven Joseph contacted smallpox. He survived but his face remained scarred for the rest of his life and other children cruelly called him "pocky." At the age of 12, two horse-drawn carriage accidents left his left arm permanently damaged. In 1888, Joseph’s mother managed to obtain a place for him at the local church school where he was to be trained as a priest. Giving in to his mother’s request, he entered the school in the town of Gori, graduating in 1894 as the best student.

Despite his health problems, young Stalin finished high school as one of the best students and eventually won a free scholarship to the Tiflis (now Tbilisi) Theological Seminary.

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While studying at the seminary, he joined a secret political organization called Messame Dassy (The Third Group), where he first discovered the theories of Karl Marx.

In May 1899, Stalin was expelled from the Tiflis Theological Seminary. He was suspected of reading forbidden books and converting students to Marxism, while at the same time, the school records reveal, he merely didn’t show up for the exam.

For several months after leaving the seminary Stalin was unemployed. He eventually found work giving private lessons to middle class children. Later, he worked as a clerk at the Tiflis Observatory and began writing articles for a socialist Georgian newspaper.

Rise to power

Shortly after leaving the seminary, Stalin discovered the writings of Vladimir Lenin, and gradually became a complete adherent of Marxist ideology. After several clashes with the Tsarist secret security service he became a full-time revolutionary and outlaw. As a member of the Batum and Tiflis Communist Party committees, he conducted subversive activities in the Caucasus, developing a paramilitary environment, inciting strikes, spreading propaganda and engaging in bank robberies, kidnappings and extortion. The Tsarist government often sent him into exile, but that didn’t stop him from coming back and honing his skills as a diversionist.

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Stalin skillfully engaged in ransom kidnappings, counterfeiting operations and robberies.

During his last exile, Stalin was conscripted by the Russian army to fight in World War I, but was deemed unfit for service due to his left arm that had been damaged in childhood.

In 1901 Stalin joined the Social Democratic Labor Party and while most of the organization’s leaders lived in exile, he stayed in Russia overseeing the anti-tsarist resistance movement. On 18 April 1902 Stalin was arrested after coordinating a strike at the large Rothschild plant at Batum. After spending 18 months in prison Stalin was deported to Siberia. In 1904 he escaped from Siberia and within a few months he was back organizing demonstrations and strikes in Tiflis. Vladimir Lenin was impressed with Stalin's achievements and arranged a meeting with him in Finland.

In 1906-1907 Stalin headed the so-called expropriation campaign in the Caucasus; to raise funds for the Bolsheviks’ needs, he organized a robbery of the bill collector’s truck in Tiflis but was caught and sentenced to two years of exile. Stalin was also suspected of a series of other robberies, which he had allegedly performed to feed the revolution.

Stalin was captured and sent to Siberia seven times, but escaped all but the last time. Released from yet another Siberian exile in April 1912, Stalin moved to Saint Petersburg and created the “Pravda” newspaper, the major Communist Party media organ. He eventually adopted the name "Stalin" from the Russian word for “steel,” which he used as a pseudonym in his published works. During this period Stalin, as per Lenin’s instructions, wrote the work “Marxism and National Issues,” for which he received Lenin’s high acclaim. The article expressed his socialist views on the solution of national issues. From then on Lenin expressed great content with Stalin, calling him “a wonderful Georgian.”

After the Revolution of March 1917, Stalin returned to Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg), where he resumed the editorship of Pravda. Together with another associate of Lenin, Leon Kamenev, Stalin dominated party decisions in the capital before Lenin arrived in April. The two advocated a policy of moderation and cooperation with the provisional government. Stalin did not play a significant role in the armed uprising known as the October Revolution.

When civil war broke out (a standoff between the Red Army and the anti-Bolshevik White Army) in May 1918, Lenin dispatched Stalin to the city of Tsaritsyn (now Volgograd). With the help of his new allies, Kliment Voroshilov and Semyon Budyonny, Stalin imposed his influence on the military. He ordered the killings of many former Tsarist officers and burned villages in order to intimidate the peasantry into submission and discourage bandit raids on food shipments.

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In May 1919, in order to stem mass desertions on the Western Front, Stalin had deserters and renegades publicly executed as traitors.

He employed similar techniques to quell the rioting of the White Army regiments, headed by Admiral Kolchak in Siberia, and troops of another White Army leader, Yudenich, on the Petrogradsky Front, for which he was awarded the title of hero.

As the Bolshevik’s expert on nationalism, Stalin was Lenin's choice to head the Commissariat for Nationality Affairs. Together with Yakov Sverdlov and Leon Trotsky, he helped Lenin decide all emergency issues in the difficult first period of the Civil War. Within the party Stalin strengthened his position by meticulous and skilled organizational work and devotion to administrative tasks. He was Commissar for State Control in 1919-23, and in 1922 was appointed Secretary-General of the Party. But such a high-ranking position was not enough and Stalin continued to methodically and craftily work his way further to the top.

Before his death, Lenin became increasingly worried about Stalin's personality and conduct. In his political "testament" Lenin doubted whether the Party's general secretary would use his great power with sufficient caution. He also attacked Stalin for being "too rude" and called for his removal. Luck and eloquence enabled Stalin to get around Lenin's testament.

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After Lenin's death, Stalin joined forces with Grigory Zinovyev and Leon Kamenev to lead the country. Stalin teamed up with these temporary allies against Leon Trotsky, Stalin’s lifelong opponent and the most likely candidate to fill Lenin’s position. Once Trotsky was thrown out of the political arena, Stalin reversed course, aligning himself with Nikolay Bukharin and Aleksey Rykov against his former partners. Trotsky, Zinovyev, and Kamenev in turn challenged Stalin as the "left opposition." Through skillful manipulation and special interpretations of Lenin's precepts, Stalin eventually turned his rivals against each other, while he himself reached the top. By his 50th birthday in 1929, Stalin had succeeded in establishing himself as Lenin's recognized successor and the sole leader of the Soviet Union.

Policy before WWII

Purges

Stalin, as head of the Politburo, consolidated near-absolute power in the 1930s with a Great Purge of the Party, which he justified as being necessary to expel “opportunists” and “counter-revolutionaries.” Those targeted by the purge were often expelled from the Party. These measures however, grew drastically more severe toward the mid-1930s, as banishment to the GULAG labor camps or immediate execution after NKVD (predecessor to KGB) “troika” trials were introduced.

In the 1930s Stalin apparently became increasingly worried about the growing popularity of Sergey Kirov. At the 1934 Party Congress where the vote for the new Central Committee was held, Kirov received only three negative votes, the fewest of any candidate, as opposed to Stalin who came down with 1,108 negative votes. After the mysterious assassination of Kirov, the circumstances of which are still debated today, Stalin developed an intricate scheme to implicate opposition leaders Trotsky, Kamenev and Ziovyev in the murder. Some historians, however, believe it was Stalin who orchestrated the killing. To cover his actions Stalin significantly expanded investigations and trials. He also passed a new law on "terrorist organizations and terrorist acts," which were to be investigated for no more than ten days, with no prosecution, defense attorneys or appeals, followed by a "quickly" executed sentence.

The procedures were replicated throughout the country, with the specially created infamous Article 58 of the legal code – providing capital punishment for “anti-Soviet activities” – put to extensive use. The most insignificant pretexts were often enough to brand someone an "enemy of the people," starting the cycle of public persecution and abuse, often leading to interrogation, torture and deportation, if not death. The Russian word “troika” traditionally referred to a team of three horses; now it meant a panel of three NKVD executioners who performed a quick, simplified trial with sentencing carried out within 24 hours.

Many military leaders were convicted of treason and a large scale purging of Red Army officers followed. The repression of so many formerly high-ranking revolutionaries and Party members was condemned by Leon Trotsky, as he claimed that a "river of blood" separated Stalin's regime from the true socialism of Lenin. In August 1940, Trotsky himself was assassinated in Mexico, where he had lived in exile since January 1937, effectively eliminating the last of Stalin's opponents among the former Party leadership. The only three "Old Bolsheviks" left from Lenin’s Politburo were Stalin, Mikhail Kalinin, the “All-Union Warden” and Vyacheslav Molotov, Chairman of the People’s Commissariat Committee.

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Mass operations of the NKVD also targeted "national contingents" such as Poles, ethnic Germans, Koreans, etc. A total of 350,000 people were arrested and 247,157 executed. Many Americans who had immigrated to the Soviet Union during the worst of the Great Depression were executed, while others were sent to prison camps or gulags. Concurrent with the purges, efforts were made to rewrite history in Soviet textbooks and other propaganda materials. Notable people executed by NKVD were removed from the texts as though they never existed. Gradually, the history of the revolution came to focus on two figures alone: Lenin and Stalin.

In light of revelations from the Soviet archives, historians now estimate that nearly 700,000 people were executed in the course of The Terror, the majority of whom were ordinary Soviet citizens; workers or peasants, teachers, priests, musicians or soldiers.

In 1936, Nikolay Bukharin, Aleksey Rykov and rest of the Old Party members, accused of connections with Trotsky and plotting a conspiracy against Stalin, were arrested. They were all found guilty and eventually executed.

Stalin’s decision to purge the Red Army was dictated by his suspicions that some high-ranking Red Army officials were plotting against him with Germany. Some historians suggest such suspicions had grounds. The purge, however, could also have been merely a result of Stalin’s pathological suspiciousness or his desire to do away with potential rivals or threats. In June 1937, General Mikhail Tukhachevsky and seven other top Red Army commanders were charged with conspiracy and plotting with the with Germany. All eight were convicted and executed, followed by the execution of 30,000, or roughly 50% of the armed forces. Some researchers claim this measure “beheaded” the Red Army and later became the cause for the Red Army’s tragic retreat in the first years of WWII, while others attribute the withdrawal to the Army’s loosening discipline and increasing lack of professionalism.

The last stage of The Terror was the purging of the NKVD; Stalin wanted to make sure that those who knew too much about the purges would also be eliminated. Stalin announced to the country that "fascist elements" had taken over the security forces. Such an approach not only allowed him to get rid of staff who knew too much, but also justified the execution of thousands of innocent people. He appointed Lavrenty Beria as the new head of the Secret Police, assigning him the task of ridding the agency of “unreliable elements.” After a series of investigations, Beria arranged the execution of all the senior figures of the organization.

Deportations

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Shortly before, during and immediately after World War II, Stalin conducted a series of deportations on a huge scale, which profoundly affected the ethnic map of the Soviet Union. It is estimated that between 1941 and 1949 nearly 3.3 million people were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. By some estimates up to 43% of the resettled population died of diseases and malnutrition.

Separatism, resistance to Soviet rule and collaboration with the invading Germans were cited as the official reasons for the deportations, rightly or wrongly, and the individual circumstances of those spending time in German-occupied territories were never examined. After the brief Nazi occupation of the Caucasus, the entire population of the Crimean Tatars – more than a million people in total – were deported literally overnight without a chance to prepare or pack their possessions.

Deportations took place in appalling conditions, often in cattle trucks, with hundreds of thousands of deportees dying en route of famine or disease. Those who survived were forced to work practically 24 hours a day without pay in the specially organized labor camps in Siberia. Families were deliberately broken up, with all children, if any, placed into different orphanages. In February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev condemned the deportations, but it was not until 1991 that the Tatars, Meskhetians and Volga Germans were allowed to return to their homelands. The deportations had a profound effect on the peoples of the Soviet Union.

Collectivization

Stalin's regime moved to force the so-called Collectivization of agriculture. The measure aimed at increasing agricultural output through large-scale collective farms, bringing the peasantry under direct political control and making tax collection more efficient. Collectivization brought about social changes not seen since the abolition of serfdom in 1861. Collectivization also meant a drastic drop in living standards for many peasants, understandably provoking violent reactions and repulsion among the peasantry.

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In the first years of Collectivization industrial production was expected to increase by 200% and agricultural production by 50%. These estimates were never even minimally met. Stalin blamed the unanticipated failure on the “kulaks” (rich peasants) who resisted Collectivization most fiercely. Those officially defined as "kulaks," "kulak helpers," and later "ex-kulaks" were persecuted and eventually either shot or exiled, depending on the charge. Archival data indicates that 20,201 people were executed during 1930, the year of the so-called “Dekulakization”.

When the exiles and executions related to Collectivization reached their climax, Stalin issued his two famous editorials, "Dizzy with Success" and "Reply to Collective Farm Comrades," in which he openly blamed the local authorities for excessive violence in purging the peasantry — a prime example of his capacity for tactical political withdrawal when his policies got out of hand.

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Famines caused by the forced expropriation of grain from peasants affected all parts of the USSR. The death toll from famine in the Soviet Union during this time is estimated at between five and ten million people, while the worst crop failure of late Tsarist Russia, in 1892, had caused 375,000 to 400,000 deaths. Most modern scholars agree that the famine was a complex consequence produced both by policies pursued by Stalin’s government and by natural causes.

Stalin refused to release large grain reserves to alleviate the famine. He was convinced that peasants were hiding grain away and to fight this tendency, he enforced draconian collective-farm theft laws. Historians also suggest it was largely the insufficient harvests of 1931 and 1932 caused by a variety of natural disasters that resulted in the famine.

Soviet and other historians argue whether the rapid collectivization of agriculture was necessary to achieve an equally rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union and ultimately win World War II.

Industrialization

The 1920s had a devastating effect on the country's economy. Industrial output in 1922 was 13% of that of 1914. A recovery followed under the New Economic Policy, which did allow a degree of market flexibility but did not last long enough to fully recuperate from the years of stagnation. Under Stalin's direction, a system of centrally ordained "Five-Year Plans" was introduced in the late 1920s. These called for a highly ambitious program of state-guided crash industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture.

With no foreign investments available because of international reaction to Communist policies, little international trade and virtually no modern infrastructure, Stalin's government financed industrialization both by restraining consumption on the part of ordinary Soviet citizens and by the ruthless extraction of wealth from the kulaks.

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In 1933 workers' real earnings sank to about one-tenth of the 1926 level. Common and political prisoners in labor camps were forced to do unpaid labor and communists and Komsomol (Communist youth organization) members were frequently "mobilized" for various construction or agricultural projects, like building houses or gathering crops.

In spite of early breakdowns and failures, the first two Five-Year Plans achieved rapid industrialization starting from a very low economic base. While it is generally agreed that the Soviet Union achieved significant levels of economic growth under Stalin, the precise rate of growth is disputed. It is not disputed, however, that these gains were accomplished at the cost of millions of lives. Official Soviet estimates confirmed the annual rate of growth at 13.9%; modern Russian and Western estimates, however, give lower figures of 5.8% and even 2.9%.

The Five-Year Plan substantially helped to modernize the previously backward Soviet economy. New products were developed and the scale and efficiency of existing production greatly increased. Some innovations were based on indigenous technical developments, others on imported foreign technology.

Participation for World War II

After a failed attempt to sign an anti-German political alliance with France and Britain, on 23 August 1939, the Soviet Union entered into a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, negotiated by Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. Officially a non-aggression treaty only, it also included secret protocols, which provided for the division of Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence. The eastern part of Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and part of Romania were recognized as parts of the Soviet sphere of influence, with Lithuania added in a second secret protocol in September 1939. Stalin and Ribbentrop traded toasts on the night of the signing and discussed past hostilities between the countries.

During the early morning of 22 June 1941, however, Hitler broke the pact by implementing Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Soviet territories. The reasons for why Stalin was caught off guard by the German attack are still hotly debated. Although he had received warnings from his intelligence network and many of his generals, he was convinced Germany would not attack the Soviet Union until it had had defeated Britain. In the initial hours after the German attack commenced Stalin hesitated; by many accounts, he was horrified and simply did not know what to do. Whatever the real cause, the Red Army suffered huge human and material losses in the first months of the war, with the situation only somehow ameliorating after the successful Battle of Moscow in the winter of 1941. By the end of 1941, the Soviet military had suffered 4.3 million casualties and German forces had advanced 1,050 miles into Soviet territory.

In November 1943 Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met in Teheran, to discuss military strategy and post-war Europe. Ever since the Soviet Union had entered the war, Stalin had been demanding that the Allies open-up a second front in Europe, which Churchill and Roosevelt opposed. Up until the Soviet's victory at Stalingrad in January 1943, Stalin had feared that without a second front, Germany would win the war. After lengthy discussions it was agreed that the Allies would mount a major offensive in the spring of 1944.

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In February 1945 Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt met again in Yalta in the Crimea. With Soviet troops in most of Eastern Europe, Stalin was now in a strong negotiating position. Roosevelt and Churchill tried hard to restrict the USSR’s postwar influence in this area but the only concession they were able to obtain was a promise that free elections would be held in the countries occupied by the Red Army. In Yalta, the decision at Teheran to form a United Nations organization was confirmed. It was the only issue that all three leaders enthusiastically agreed upon. The Allied leaders also decided to divide Germany up amongst themselves.

The leaders of the victorious countries met once more at Potsdam in July 1945. Stalin's main concern at Potsdam was to obtain economic help for the Soviet Union, as nearly a quarter of Soviet property had been destroyed during the Second World War, with the destruction of 31,000 factories and impending famine. Stalin had been told by his advisers that under-nourishment of the workforce was causing low-productivity. He believed that the best way to revive the Soviet economy was to obtain massive reparation payments from Germany.

Unlike in Yalta, the Allies were no longer willing to look sympathetically at Stalin's demands. With Germany defeated and the US now in possession of the atomic bomb, the Allies no longer needed the co-operation of the Soviet Union. Stalin felt betrayed by this change of attitude.

Stalin was obsessed by the threat of an invasion from the West and between 1945 and 1948 he rushed to set up communist regimes in Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. He now had a large buffer zone of "friendly states" on his western border. Western powers interpreted these events as an example of Stalin's desire to impose communism on the whole of Europe. The formation of NATO and the stationing of American troops in Western Europe was a reaction to Stalin's policies and helped ensure the development of the Cold War.

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In 1948, Stalin ordered an economic blockade of Berlin. He hoped this measure would help him secure full control over the city. The Allies organized airlifted supplies to the beleaguered Berlin, causing Stalin to back down and allow land and air routes to be reopened.

Hostility between the Soviet Union and the United States continued to increase as the world became divided between the two power blocs.

The last years

Now in his seventies, Stalin's health significantly deteriorated. Increasingly paranoid and physically weak, Stalin apparently was about to start another purge. In January 1953 he ordered the arrest of many Moscow doctors, mostly Jews, charging them with medical assassinations.

Moreover, Stalin ordered Lavrenty Beria, the head of the NKVD, to instigate a new purge of the Communist Party. Members of the Politburo began to panic as they saw the possibility that, like previous candidates for Stalin's position as the head of the Soviet Union, they would be executed.

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The so-called Doctors' Plot and the new wave of purges within the Party seemed to herald a return to the 1930s, but Stalin's sudden death on 5 March 1953 in Moscow forestalled another bloodbath.

By the end of February 1953 he fell into a coma. After four days, Stalin briefly regained consciousness and all the leading members of the Party were called for. While they watched him struggling for his life, he raised his left arm. His nurse, who was feeding him with a spoon at the time, took the view that he was pointing at a picture showing a small girl feeding a lamb. His daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, who was also at his bedside, later claimed that he appeared to be "bringing a curse on them all." Stalin then stopped breathing and although attempts were made to revive him, his doctors eventually accepted he was dead.

Three years after his death, Nikita Khrushchev, the new leader of the Soviet Union, made a speech at the Twentieth Party Congress, in which he attacked the policies of Stalin. Khrushchev revealed how Stalin had been responsible for the execution of thousands of loyal communists during the purges.

Cult of personality

Stalin created a cult of personality in the Soviet Union around both himself and Lenin. Many personality cults in history have been frequently measured and compared to his. Numerous towns, villages and cities were renamed after the Soviet leader and the Stalin Prize and Stalin Peace Prize were named in his honor. He accepted grandiloquent titles, such as "Coryphaeus of Science," "Father of Nations," "Brilliant Genius of Humanity," "Great Architect of Communism," "Gardener of Human Happiness" and helped rewrite Soviet history, providing himself with a more significant role in the Revolution. At the same time, according to Khrushchev, Stalin insisted that he be remembered for "the extraordinary modesty typical of truly great people."

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Statutes of Stalin depict him at a height and build approximating Alexander III, while photographic evidence suggests he measured between 5 ft 5 in and 5 ft 6 inches.

Stalin's name was included in the new Soviet national anthem. He became the focus of literature, poetry, music, paintings and film, exhibiting fawning devotion and crediting Stalin with almost god-like qualities and suggesting he single-handedly won the Second World War. It is debatable however, as to how much Stalin himself encouraged the cult surrounding him.

In a 1956 speech, Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin's actions: "It is impermissible and foreign to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism to elevate one person, to transform him into a superman possessing supernatural characteristics akin to those of a god."

Personal life

In 1904 Stalin married Ekaterina Svanidze, the girl his mother was said to have picked out for him. After three years, however, she died of typhus. Stalin bereaved her deeply.

Their only son, Jacob, was captured by the Nazis, but as the legend has it, when the Germans offered Stalin to trade his son for the German General Paulus, Stalin replied, “I don’t trade a general for a soldier.” In 1943, Jacob was killed in the Sachsenhausen German concentration camp when he ran into an electric fence. Jacob was married three times and had a son, Evgeny, who actively participated in Russia’s political life in the 1990s.

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In 1919 Stalin married for the second time. His new wife, Nadezhda Allilueva, was the daughter of one of Stalin’s colleagues and was 22 years his junior when he met her. This fact, however, did not prevent him from marrying the girl a year later. With Allilueva, Stalin had a son, Vasily, and a daughter, Svetlana. On 9 November 1932, Nadezhda committed suicide, which was officially represented as a tragic death. In reality, she may have committed suicide by shooting herself after a quarrel with Stalin, leaving a suicide note, that, according to their daughter was "partly personal, partly political." There is also a belief that Stalin himself murdered his wife after the quarrel, which apparently took place at a dinner in which Stalin tauntingly flicked cigarettes across the table at her. Historians also claim her death ultimately "severed his link from reality."

Vasily served in the air force and fought in World War II. After the war, he became the head of the Moscow anti-aircraft defenses. He died in 1962, allegedly of alcoholism. Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana sought political refuge at the US embassy in Delhi in 1967 and relocated to the United States permanently.

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Witnesses recall Stalin to have been very ruthless with his children. Jacob, who Stalin addressed as nothing but “my fool,” had to spend nights on the landing outside the apartment or was sheltered by friends of the family, including Trotsky. Khrushchev recalled that Stalin once even beat Vasily with his boots. Trotsky was the one to suggest that Stalin was simply replicating the atmosphere in his current family from the one he grew up with in Gori. Stalin’s attitude drove his son Jacob to a suicide attempt, which Stalin mocked, taunting him, “Ha-ha, bummer!”

The crowd of people who came to say good-bye to Stalin on 9 March 1953, was so numerous that it turned into a stampede. The exact death toll is still unknown, but the number of unidentified victims alone was estimated as high as 1422.

Stalin’s embalmed body was placed on public display in Lenin’s Mausoleum, which from 1953-1961 was called Lenin’s and Stalin’s Mausoleum. After 1961, however, the 22nd Congress proclaimed that since Stalin had violated Lenin’s heritage he was to be removed from the mausoleum. Stalin was also the first and only Soviet leader to have a burial service conducted by the Orthodox Church.

Assessment of Stalin’s era

Such an outstanding person could not but invoke polar opinions about his activity; and there are several schools of thought. The advocates of liberal thought view Stalin as the executioner of freedom and initiative, a creator of the totalitarian society and a criminal who committed so many crimes against humanity he could only be compared to Adolf Hitler.

The Communist Party has an ambivalent perception of Stalin. The pro-Stalinists justify his every deed and see him as the true successor to Lenin, while those in the opposition deem Stalin a traitor and betrayer of Lenin’s ideas.

The extremist wing praises Stalin as the only true salvation and the only real ruler suited for Russia. They see his “strong hand” policy as the only true way to have revived the Russian state.

Today the role of Stalin in Russian history is the subject of bitter public debate, with a number of Russian history textbooks calling him “an effective manager” and others presenting him as absolute evil.

RT's series of documentaries provides a detailed thrilling desciption of Stalin's purges.

Written by Ekaterina Shubnaya, RT

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