See World History II.25 for more on Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt

Joseph Stalin

December 18, 1879 - March 5, 1953


external image Essener_Feder_01.pngJoseph Stalin was not one of the decisive players in the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917, but he soon rose through the ranks of the party. In 1922 he was made general secretary of the Communist Party, a post not considered particularly significant at the time but which gave him control over appointments and thus allowed him to build up a base of support. After Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin promoted himself as his political heir and gradually eliminated his rivals. By the late 1920s, Stalin was effectively the dictator of the Soviet Union.

When Stalin became the undisputed leader of Russia in 1929, he realized that Russia was far behind the west and that she would have to modernize her economy very quickly if she was to survive. Also, a strong economy would lead to a strong military if Russia was going to survive threats from external forces. An industrial Russia would also provide the farmers with the machinery they needed if they were going to modernize their farms - such as tractors. His forced collectivisation of agriculture cost millions of lives, while his program of rapid industrialization achieved huge increases in Soviet productivity and economic growth but at great cost.

Stalin knew that Russia needed a strong army. However, such was his fear of 'enemies within', that he purged the Red Army of most of its senior commanders. Only one marshal out of five was left alive and the Red Army became all but leaderless. It was a massive army but it was like a huge body with no brain to it. Moreover, the population suffered immensely during the Great Terror of the 1930s, during which Stalin purged the party of 'enemies of the people', resulting in the execution of thousands and the exile of millions to the gulag system of slave labor camps.

These purges severely depleted the Red Army, and despite repeated warnings, Stalin was ill prepared for Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. Despite the Germans reaching the outskirts of Moscow, Stalin did not leave his capital and played his part in defending his country against the Wehrmacht. As Commissar of Defence, Stalin ordered those who fought in the battle at Stalingrad not to give an inch to the Germans and he was very much the leader of his nation throughout the war. Recent released records from Russia does show Stalin's other side, however. The heroics of the people of Leningrad - besieged by the Germans between September 1941 and January 1944 - was recognized by many people as a feat of huge heroism. For the duration of the siege, the city's leaders had to make their own decisions as they were frequently cut off from Moscow and could not follow orders from the capital city. Such an independent spirit was not tolerated by Stalin and after the war, those city leaders of Leningrad during the war were dealt with by Stalin, in what was effectively a second purge of those he did not trust.

After World War Two, Stalin wished to create a buffer to prevent another attack on Soviet soil. Therefore he tightened control over many of the Eastern European nations the Soviet armies had taken over the course of the war, turning them into satellite states. Naturally this caused increased tensions with the U.S. and Great Britain, who had proposed earlier in the war that one of its primary aims was self determination for all nations. Increasingly paranoid through his later years, Stalin died of a stroke on 5 March 1953.

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