Joseph Stalin was the dictator of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1929 to 1953. He left a profound impact, not only on Russian history, but also on the history of the world as one of the world’s most powerful dictators. The impact Joseph Stalin had on the twentieth century is possibly greater than that of any other individual.
In 1897 a boy by the name of Josif Vissarionovich Djugashvili was born. He was born into a family ridden with poverty resulting in the death of his three older brothers and sisters. Djugashvili’s mother ensured, through self-sacrifice, that he would have an opportunity to succeed in life. She worked diligently to afford schooling for him. In 1888, at a small church school, Djugashvili began his education.
At this small school, Djugashvili, preformed well, and received good marks. In 1894, for his efforts, Djugashvili was rewarded a scholarship to the Georgian Orthodox Church to study priesthood. It was here that he learned to speak Russian, and was introduced to the works of Karl Marx. Djugashvili’s beliefs that Russia, under Tsarist rule was doomed, was reflected in the works of Marx. Djugashvili became consumed by the theories of Karl Marx and continuously read his works. The literature was banned from allowed school readings. When discovered Djugashvili was expelled.
It was during this period that Djugashvili changed his name to Joseph Stalin. Stalin is the Russian term for man of steel. Stalin helped to organize a series of rallies against the Russian government, and in 1901, he became a member of the Russian Social Democratic Labor (Marxist) Party. In 1903, although Stalin was imprisoned at the time, he was elected by the federation of Social Democrats to serve on its governing body. Stalin was then transferred to exile in Siberia.
During his exile, the Socialist party split into two groups: those that followed Lenin, the Bolsheviks, and the Mensheviks. In 1905 Stalin escaped from exile joined the Bolsheviks and was able to finally meet Lenin. During the ten-year span form 1907 until 1917, Stalin spent seven of them, either in exile or prison. Conditions were steadily diminishing in the USSR and in March 1917, Czar Nicholas II, gave up his throne. This led to the release of Stalin. The Bolsheviks organized the October Revolution, and by November, their party had governmental control of which Lenin became the leader.
Opposition to this new government led to a civil war. In 1920, the Bolsheviks, now known as the Communist Party, won the war. The Communist Party’s Central Committee elected Stalin as its general secretary. This position gave Stalin the power to expel “unsatisfactory” party members. Stalin used this power to weed out individuals that supported Trotsky, his competition for power. Lenin became worried of the power that Stalin was beginning to acquire and he discussed this with Trotsky. Lenin died in 1924 having no impact on Stalin’s future.
Trotsky became Stalin’s prime rival. Stalin was in support of Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP) and rallied the support of followers in hope to shut down Trotsky. In 1927, Trotsky was expelled from the party. To ensure that Trotsky was no threat to his position, Stalin had him assassinated, and all traces of his life in the USSR destroyed. In 1929, Stalin became the Dictator of Russia.
Stalin’s plans for the USSR were already in place by the time he was appointed Dictator. Through a series of Five Year Plans, beginning in 1928, Stalin’s goal was to modernize the country. During his first five-year increment, he targeted the development of iron and steel, machine tools, electric power and transport. Stalin set extremely high quotas that each factory had to meet: coal production was to increase by 111%, iron production by 200%, and electric power by 335%. Stalin formed the Gosplans, a group of individuals established to execute the policies of the Five-Year Plans. Stalin was weary of the western powers, and justified his demands with the concern that if they should attack, the USSR would be defenseless.
The implementation of this plan completely changed the economic map of Russia. The Gosplans had many of the new industrial towns erected beyond the Ural Mountains to protect them from invasion should the time come. It was during this period that Lenin’s NEP was brought to an end. The NEP, which was established to allow a mixed economy of some private but mainly state operated enterprises, was abolished. The Central Government now had complete control of the economy.
Having an industrial based economy gave rise to the demand for higher education for the highly skilled jobs now available. Initially higher wages were offered to highly skilled workers, but the demand was too high. To solve this dilemma Stalin expanded education. He did this by building new colleges schools and universities. Through improved education a new “elite Soviet Russia” formed.
Initially, to provide an impetus for hard work, rewards, medals and subsidized holidays were offered to individuals who met their quotas. This program was successful for only a short period before it lost its effectiveness. Since positive reinforcement was unsuccessful, limitations were placed on those who did not reach their set goals: Sunday was no longer a day of Sabbath, wages were cut, and fines were enforced. Anyone who protested the program was accused of defeatism. Multiple offenses could lead to imprisonment or execution.
Since so many workers were needed to run the factories, food production decreased and crime began to rise. To solve this problem Stalin implemented a policy known as collectivization. The goal of collectivization was to modernize farming and allow rations to be distributed by the state. However, the plan for collectivization was implemented so quickly, and without proper knowledge of the states agricultural status, that the plan proved to be less successful then hoped. The move for collectivization was met with fierce resistance. To put an end to the upheaval, Stalin waged war against the peasants.
In 1929, food famine was more rampant. As a form of protest, peasants refused to plant their crops and to compound the problem half of the countries livestock had been destroyed. Five to six million individuals were killed; still others were sent north to labor camps. Chaos now engulfed the USSR. Famine was again taking over. Millions starved to death during the 1930’s.
However, Stalin inflicted fear in order to assure compliance. Stalin referred to this as purging, “a means of ridding the system of hostile elements.” During the 190 30’s over one millions people were executed and 10 million were sent to labor camps. It is estimated that between the years of 1936 and 1950 over 12 million deaths occurred. So began Stalin’s Reign of Terror. Three major outcomes resulted from the Reign of Terror: universal suffering, establishment of Stalin as the unchallenged leader, and a weakened people.
The USSR now had a Totalitarian government. This meant that the economy was controlled centrally by the state. One political party was allowed, which had control over media and the police force. Any foreign relations the USSR had prior to this point were dismissed and the USSR went into seclusion.
It was not until 1933 that Stalin realized the threat of Adolph Hitler, and then did he attempt to involve himself in western relations. However, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, was unenthused by Stalin’s request to form an alliance against Germany. Despite the support of Winston Churchill on USSR’s behalf, Chamberlain met with Hitler in 1938 in Munich. This led Stalin to believe that there was support from the British for Hitler to move west.
Stalin was faced with two options in 1939, either reach an agreement to resist German power, or come to agreement with Hitler. On August 23 1939, the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact was signed. Stalin did this with the forethought that a German invasion of Russia was inevitable. By buying himself time with the treaty, Stalin would be able to build up his military strength. In addition, by including secret clauses, half of Poland was to be turned over to USSR control after Germany’s invasion. On September 1, 1939, German invaded Poland. On September 3, 1939, France and Brittan declared war.
With war underway in Europe, Stalin took measures to protect his country. Finland was no longer USSR territory and one of Stalin’s primary military campaigns was to gain control of Finland. Gaining control of Finland accomplished two things for Stalin. One, Leningrad, a major Russian city was more protected. Two, although the Russians proved to be unforgiving, the three month battle displayed the poor training and equipment of the Soviet Army.
Stalin theorized that Hitler would not attack until both France and Brittan had fallen. He estimated that he had until 1942 to raise and prepare his military forces. However, France surrendered in 1940 forcing Stalin to recalculate his time line. On June 22, 1941, Germany moved to invade the Soviets. This shattered Stalin’s preparations for war.
The Germans moved in to the Soviet Union. The capture of three separate targets were the Germans’ goals: Leningrad, Moscow, and the Ukraine. Only six days after Hitler’s invasion Minsk fell to German forces. As a message to the Soviet army, Stalin had the Generals responsible for protecting that town shot and killed in public display. In fear of Hitler and of Stalin, the Soviets fought to their death.
During the first few months of the war, the Soviets suffered tremendous casualties. By September with the onset of winter in sight, Stalin encouraged his troops that upon retreat they burn and ruin anything that could be of use to the invading Germans. This was known as the Scorched Earth Policy. The Germans were traveling deeper into Soviet territory. More distance was between the thousands of troops and their supplies. Nevertheless, by October 1941, German forces were only fifteen miles from Moscow.
Stalin ordered a mass evacuation from the city. Within two weeks, over two million people had been relocated to the east. Stalin remained in Moscow to improve moral. When the Germans finally attacked Moscow, the Red Army was able to impede their progress. On the basis that victory would be achieved through assault on the enemy as often as possible, Stalin immediately ordered a counter-attack and was able to push back German troops 200 miles by January.
Through consistent requests, Stalin finally got the aid of Roosevelt and Churchill. It was determined that the Allies would mount a major offensive attack in the spring of 1942. Stalin completely dominated the conference. Alan Brook, Chief of the British General Staff, later stated, “I rapidly grew to appreciate the fact that he (Stalin) had a military brain of the very highest caliber. Never once in any of his statements did he make any strategic error, nor did he ever fail to appreciate all the implications of a situation with a quick and unerring eye. In this respect he stood out compared to Roosevelt and Churchill.” Although Stalin was submitting to the terms of the conference, he was still concerned that the goal of Churchill and Roosevelt was to defuse communism.
With negotiations in place, D-Day took place in June 1944. This created a second front that Germany now had to defend. This was Stalin’s hope from early on in the war. Without the harsh beating of Soviet forces upon the Germans, the prospect of D-Day would not have even been a possibility. Now that Germany was weakened, many countries fell into Soviet control: Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Hungry.
Churchill became concerned about the Soviets growing influence. A meeting was held between the “Big Three”, Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt, to determine post-war influence on this area. It was determined at the meeting that three months after Hitler is defeated USSR, will join the war against Japan. The decision to form a United Nations was confirmed. In addition, it was decided that once Germany fell, it would divided among the Allies.
Although Stalin had agreed to enter the war against Japan, the arrival of the atom bomb and the election of Harry Truman and Churchill’s replacement, Clement Attlee, put an end to Stalin’s plan. Churchill had suspected that upon agreeing to aid the allies in the fight against Japan, Stalin was hoping to spread Communism. Stalin’s main concern, now that the war was over, became obtaining economic help and recreating stability in the USSR.
The Soviet Union had received extensive damage during World War II and felt it was Germany’s obligation to pay large amounts of compensation. Unfortunately, coinciding with the death of Roosevelt, both British and American leaders shrugged off Stalin’s plea. The same people he had helped to win the war betrayed Stalin.
Stalin immediately felt he was being threatened with a western invasion. Between the years 1945-1948, Stalin established communist regimes in Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria, East Germany and Czechoslovakia. In reaction to Stalin, western forces established NATO and stationed troops in Western Europe. This was the beginning of the Cold War.
In 1948, Stalin ordered an economic blockade on Berlin, Germany in hopes to gain complete control over Germany. Stalin was unsuccessful in gaining control. In dealing with Korea Stalin also misjudged the USA’s reaction. Stalin encouraged North Koreas attack on South Korea in order to spread communism. The UN thwarted the move into South Korea when they voted. The Korean War ended in 1953.
Due to Stalin’s success in World War II, support for him was still high. Stalin’s health, however, had begun to decline. On March 6 1953, at four in the morning every broadcast was interrupted with drum roll. It was announced that Joseph Stalin had passed away. Stalin had been portrayed as a god-like figure; the entire country mourned his death. Stalin’s body was embalmed and placed next to Lenin’s outside of Kremlin.
Three years after Stalin’s demise, Nikita Khrushchev, The new Soviet leader renounced the ways of Stalin and criticized his role in Russian history. Stalin’s memorial was destroyed and he was moved to a simple burial site. Although Stalin’s memorial was destroyed, the impact he left on the twentieth century is irremovable. To this day 20% of Russian citizens believe that Stalin was a great man and a wise leader.
Stalinism lived on beyond the years of its founder. It flourished in countries “Behind the Iron Curtain” until the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communism in the 1980’s and 1990’s. “His was the steady, purposeful hand which, however dreadful the sacrifices, would guide the masses on the arduous path to Communism” (Wingrove, 1).
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