Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953) served as the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee from 1922 until his death in 1953. Stalin assumed the leading role in Soviet politics after Vladimir Lenin's death in 1924, and gradually marginalized his opponents until he had become the unchallenged leader of the Soviet Union.
Stalin launched a command economy, replacing the New Economic Policy of the 1920s with Five-Year Plans and launching a period of rapid industrialization and economic collectivization. The upheaval in the agricultural sector disrupted food production, resulting in widespread famine, including the catastrophic Soviet famine of 1932–1933 (known in Ukraine as the Holodomor).
During the late 1930s, Stalin launched the Great Purge (also known as the "Great Terror"), a campaign to purge the Communist Party of people accused of sabotage, terrorism, or treachery; he extended it to the military and other sectors of Soviet society. In practice, the purges were indiscriminate. Targets were often executed, imprisoned in Gulag labor camps or exiled. In the years which followed, millions of members of ethnic minorities were also deported.
In 1939 Stalin entered into a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, followed by the Soviet invasion of Poland, Finland, the Baltics, Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. After Germany violated the pact by invading the Soviet Union in 1941, the Soviet Union joined the Allies to play an important role in the Axis defeat, at the cost of the largest death toll for any country in the war (mostly due to the mass deaths of civilians in territories occupied by Germany). After the war, Stalin installed subservient communist governments in most countries in Eastern Europe, forming the Eastern bloc, behind what was referred to as an "Iron Curtain" of Soviet rule during the Cold War. Stalin's government was also the driving force in the removal of political killings from the 1948 Genocide Convention.
Modern views of Stalin in the Russian Federation remain mixed, with some viewing him as a tyrant while others consider him a capable leader. Following his death, Stalin and his regime have both been questioned and denounced on numerous occasions. In 1956, Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced his legacy and drove the process of de-Stalinization of the Soviet Union. In November 2010, the Russian State Duma approved a declaration blaming Stalin, amongst other officials, for having personally ordered the Katyn massacre.
Stalin was born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili (Georgian: იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი) on 18 December 1878 to Ketevan Geladze and Besarion Jughashvili, a cobbler, in the town of Gori, Georgia. At the age of seven, he contracted smallpox, which permanently scarred his face. At ten, he began attending church school where the Georgian children were forced to speak Russian. By the age of twelve, two horse-drawn carriage accidents left his left arm permanently damaged. At sixteen, he received a scholarship to a Georgian Orthodox seminary, where he rebelled against the imperialist and religious order. Though he performed well there, he was expelled in 1899 after missing his final exams. The seminary's records suggest he was unable to pay his tuition fees. The official Soviet version states that he was expelled for reading illegal literature and forming a Social Democratic study circle.
Shortly after leaving the seminary, Stalin discovered the writings of Vladimir Lenin and decided to become a Marxist revolutionary, eventually joining Lenin's Bolsheviks in 1903. After being marked by the Okhranka (the Tsar's secret police) for his activities, he became a full-time revolutionary and outlaw. He became one of the Bolsheviks' chief operatives in the Caucasus, organizing paramilitaries, inciting strikes, spreading propaganda and raising money through bank robberies, ransom kidnappings and extortion.
In the summer of 1906, Stalin married Ekaterina Svanidze, who later gave birth to Stalin's first child, Yakov. Stalin temporarily resigned from the party over its ban on bank robberies and his link to the 1907 Tiflis bank robbery, a large raid on a bank shipment in the crowded Yeveran Square that resulted in the deaths of 40 people and the injuring of 50 people. and then fled to Baku, where Ekaterina died of typhus. In Baku, Stalin organized Muslim Azeris and Persians in partisan activities, including the murders of many "Black Hundreds" right-wing supporters of the Tsar, and conducted protection rackets, ransom kidnappings, counterfeiting operations and robberies.
Stalin was captured and sent to Siberia seven times, but escaped most of these exiles. After release from one such exile, in April 1912 in Saint Petersburg, Stalin created the newspaper Pravda from an existing party newspaper. He eventually adopted the name "Stalin", from the Russian word for steel, which he used as an alias and pen name in his published works.
During his last exile, Stalin was conscripted by the Russian army to fight in World War I, but was deemed unfit for service because of his damaged left arm.
After returning to Saint Petersburg from exile, Stalin ousted Vyacheslav Molotov and Alexander Shlyapnikov as editors of Pravda. He then took a position in favor of supporting Alexander Kerensky's provisional government. However, after Lenin prevailed at the April 1917 Party conference, Stalin and Pravda supported overthrowing the provisional government. At this conference, Stalin was elected to the Bolshevik Central Committee. After Lenin participated in an attempted revolution, Stalin helped Lenin evade capture and, to avoid a bloodbath, ordered the besieged Bolsheviks to surrender.
He smuggled Lenin to Finland and assumed leadership of the Bolsheviks. After the jailed Bolsheviks were freed to help defend Saint Petersburg, in October 1917, the Bolshevik Central Committee voted in favor of an insurrection. On 7 November, from the Smolny Institute, Stalin, Lenin and the rest of the Central Committee coordinated the coup against the Kerensky government—the so-called October Revolution. Kerensky left the capital to rally the Imperial troops at the German front. By 8 November, the Winter Palace had been stormed and Kerensky's Cabinet had been arrested.