Georgian Surnames

Stalin, Joseph Vissarionovich Jughashvili (Djugashvili)

1879—1953

Stali was Soviet Communist leader and head of the USSR from the death of V. I. Lenin (1924) until his own death. He was born in Gori, Georgia. His real name was Jughashvili; he adopted the name Stalin ( "man of steel" ) about 1913.

Early Career

The son of a shoemaker, Stalin studied (1894—99) for the priesthood at the theological seminary at Tiflis (Tbilisi), Georgia, but was expelled. While still a divinity student, he became a convert to Marxism and joined the Social Democratic party in the Caucasus. He became a disciple of Lenin after the split (1903) of the party into factions of Bolshevism and Menshevism.

Stalin attended party congresses abroad (at Stockholm in 1906 and at London in 1907), but unlike Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and other revolutionists he did not choose prolonged exile abroad. Under the alias of Koba, taken from the name of a famous Georgian outlaw, he remained in the Caucasus. He was especially active in the party press. Between 1902 and 1913 he was arrested five times and each time escaped.

In 1911 he left the Caucasus for St. Petersburg, where in 1912 he became one of the first editors of Pravda [truth], then a small paper devoted to doctrinal disputes, later the official daily of the Communist party of the USSR. Stalin was arrested in 1913 and was exiled for life to N Siberia, where he remained until an amnesty was granted after the February Revolution of 1917. Back in St. Petersburg, he edited Pravda jointly with Lev Kamenev.

Rise to Power

After the October Revolution of 1917, Stalin, entered the Soviet cabinet as people's commissar for nationalities and began to emerge as a leader of the new regime. During the civil war from 1918 to 1920 he played an important administrative role on the military fronts and in the capital. He was elected (1922) general secretary of the central committee of the party, enabling him to control the rank-and-file members and to build an apparatus loyal to him.

Stalin's significance in the revolutionary movement and his relation to Lenin have been subjects of great controversy. He was highly regarded by Lenin as an administrator but not as a theoretician or leader. Toward the end of his illness, which began in 1922, Lenin wrote a testament in which he strongly criticized Stalin's arbitrary conduct as general secretary and recommended that he be removed. However, he died before any action could be taken, and the testament was suppressed.

Soviet Leader Prewar Years

The political and cultural aims of Stalin's regime were to identify the totalitarian rule of the Communist party with stability and legitimacy.

Stalin maintained that his program of consolidating "socialism in one country" (i.e., Russia), although demanding immense sacrifice and discipline, would render the USSR immune to attacks by capitalist nations and would demonstrate the superiority of the socialist system. He thus repudiated, for the time being, the role of Russia as torchbearer of world revolution.

This process was accompanied by repressive measures and terror, which reached their height in the political purges of the 1930s. Stalin made his dictatorship absolute by liquidating all opposition within the party.

In internal policy, Stalin promulgated a new constitution in 1936. Although it contained symbols of democratic institutions, effective political power was reserved to the Communist party as the vanguard of the working people. Although it reaffirmed the Soviet principle of autonomy for the various nationalities, the constitution in effect made it impossible for republics or other national groups to secede from the union.

Wartime and After

Until 1934, Stalin had pursued the policy, initiated by the Treaty of Rapallo, of friendship with Germany. After Adolf Hitler became (1933) chancellor of Germany, Stalin strove for international acceptance and cooperation, joining (1934) the League of Nations and attempting a rapprochement with Great Britain and France. The failure of such a rapprochement and the growing danger of war led Stalin to conciliate Hitler.

The nonaggression pact with Germany (Aug., 1939) was designed to keep the USSR out of World War II. The territorial concessions and strategic advantages granted the Soviet Union by Germany at the expense of other East European nations contributed to Stalin's underestimation of the German threat. The Nazi invasion of Russia on June 22, 1941, took Stalin–who in May had taken over the premiership from V. M. Molotov–by surprise; it temporarily paralyzed his leadership and nearly led to the collapse of the Soviet army.

The extent to which Stalin as a military leader subsequently contributed to Soviet victory has been fiercely debated among Soviet and Western authors; his forceful leadership was probably a greater asset than his military capability. He directed the war effort from the Kremlin, where he remained when the rest of the government was evacuated. He was voted the rank of marshal of the Soviet Union (1943) and of generalissimo (1945).

At the Tehran Conference (1943) and the Yalta Conference (1945) with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and at the Potsdam Conference (1945), Stalin proved an astute diplomat. His diplomatic skill led to the recognition by the Western powers of a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. Having further strengthened his personal power in the course of World War II, Stalin used it ruthlessly to consolidate his control within the Soviet Union and the emerging Soviet empire against what he perceived as renewed capitalist threats. Always suspicious of Communist movements outside his control, he tried unsuccessfully to dissuade the Chinese Communists from taking power after World War II and broke with Josip Broz Tito in 1948 over the question of Yugoslavia's independent Communist policies.

Stalin's paranoia during the last years of his life led to increased repression and persecution of his closest collaborators, reminiscent of the purges of the 1930s. His public appearances, which had always been rare, became even less frequent in the late 1940s and early 50s. His remoteness only stimulated the public worship bestowed upon him, which verged on apotheosis.

Stalin died Mar. 5, 1953, of a cerebral hemorrhage. His body was entombed next to Lenin's in the mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow. Little is known of Stalin's private life except that he married twice and that both wives died (the second, Nadezhda Sergeyevna Alliluyeva, by suicide in 1932). Yakov, his son by his first wife Svanidze, died in Nazi captivity. He had a son and a daughter by his second wife. His son, Vasily, was an officer in the Soviet air force before his death in 1962. His daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, defected to the United States in 1967.

Denunciation

At the 20th All-Union Party Congress in 1956, Nikita Khrushchov and other Soviet leaders attacked the cult of Stalin, confirming many accusations long current outside the USSR. They did not repudiate Stalin's economic policies, but accused him of tyranny and terror, falsification of history, and self-glorification. In 1961 the 22d Party Congress voted to remove Stalin's body from the Lenin mausoleum; he was then interred in the heroes' cemetery near the Kremlin wall. The term Stalinist, first used to distinguish Stalin's policies from those of Trotsky and others, came to mean a brand of Communism that was both national and repressive. Since Stalin's death the tyrannical implications of the term have become primary.