Josef Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1922, until his death in 1953. Stalin is arguably the most famous Soviet leader of all, beating even his predecessor for this. Stalin was born in Georgia, and his paternal father's origins are not known. What is known, however, is that the man Stalin knew as his father was a humble cobbler. Stalin acted under the Bolshevik banner, though his political views do put him more in line with the Mensheviks instead.
Stalin was responsible for the formation of the main Soviet mouthpiece, Pravda (Russian for 'truth'). This newspaper was the organ from which the Soviet Central Party distributed their words and leadership. He wrote for his own paper under a variety of different names, including "K. Kato" and "Beso", and had at least 100 aliases over the course of time before he became the leader of the Soviet Union. Many of these aliases are only being discovered and identified in recent years due to their sheer number.
Stalin was responsible for a great number of deaths during the Second World War, as well as purges, such as the Red Terror. He led the country during the Second World War, giving the command to halt the oncoming Nazi forces at the symbolic cities of Leningrad and Stalingrad; one of these cities bore his name and therefore vanity dictated this was the only reasonable approach.
During his earlier life he was training to be ordained as a priest, though declared himself an Atheist during this time period and left his training. Despite this he went on to request a prayer for the safety of Moscow during the Second World War, in absolute secrecy. It has meant Stalin's religious beliefs have been called into question by various scholars and historians, though there is no clear evidence that he was truly religious.
Josef Stalin is well known for his place within Soviet history, and indeed, in Russian and Western history. Many hundreds, if not thousands, of books have been written by different scholars attempting to identify more about the man. Little was known about him before the fall of the Soviet Union, for the archives were not opened until the Union fell in 1991. The vast majority of information about the man was hidden from the general public due to the fact he commanded a powerful cult of personality and propaganda. Among this cult was Lavrentiy Beria, who commanded the secretive KGB.
Josef Stalin succeeded Vladimir Lenin as the figurehead of the Soviet Union, displacing Leon Trotsky, who had a bitter rivalry with Stalin. This rivalry was to be cut short, after Trotsky was killed with an icepick to the back of the head by a South American KGB sleeper agent. At one point before the October Revolution, Stalin was believed to have been an agent of the 'Okhrana': the secret police of Tsarist Russia.
Stalin died on March 5th, 1953. He had suffered from blockages around his arteries, due to a lifetime of heavy smoking, but this was not what killed him. After returning from an all-night dinner and movie to his residence at Kuntsevo, he did not awake at the time he was meant to. This left guards concerned for him, but they were under orders not to wake him in this situation.
Different theories have also arisen around his death, such as the possibility of assassination. Supposedly, Lavrentiy Beria bragged to Vyacheslav Molotov that he had poisoned Stalin, mocking him and spitting on his body when he collapsed again. Modern historians believe he may have ingested a powerful rat poison, knowing for being tasteless. This is entirely possible, and would suggest assassination. Beria feared being eliminated in another of Stalin's great purges, so this may have given motive to murder.
Modern Russians have divisive opinions of Stalin: some consider him to have been an excellent leader, while others feel his actions were unjustifiable. Polling indicates the Russian youth would still consider voting for someone like Stalin should they be in a position to do so. Part of the reason for this may lie in the fact Stalin's personality cult was incredibly powerful and even now, the full extent of his actions cannot be measured.
One primary example of Stalin's propaganda is his depiction as a giant. Stalin was no giant: different sources report him as being of various heights. Harry S. Truman was said to have called him a "little squirt" after meeting him, claiming him to be around 5'4". Other heights given suggest he was closer to 5'8", but he was not known to be extremely tall. If he was around 5'4" then he would be marginally shorter than Vladimir Lenin, at 5'5". His face was pockmarked from pox at childhood, and he was known for irregular arms. His right arm was thinner than his left though this was never depicted.
Stalin was known for being highly gracious towards people, in certain situations. When he invited high ranking Soviet officials to watch movies with him, he often offered dinner regardless of the time. Stalin was a fan of movies, particularly American-made cowboy films, and also loved hunting and fishing. This may stem from his time in exile, in the freezing wastelands of Siberia.
He was also known for his love of reading: he was said to be capable of reading 500 pages a day, from a library of over 20,000 books. This is entirely possible due to the fact he was known as a poet in Georgia before he was known as a revolutionary or leader.
Stalin: Poet and Revolutionary
Josef Stalin was also known for his work as a poet, in his native Georgia. It was around 1902 when he was first credited as a poet, and he was well regarded for his works. While not Shakespearean, he was well received, and had a love of poetry throughout his life. He was capable of reciting the works of Walt Whitman, and read Goethe (responsible for the Tragedy of Faust), and Shakespeare. Historians, such as Robert Service, have observed his poems to be rather generic for the period.
Stalin's poems were published under the alias of Soselo, and continued to be studied in Georgian schools right through until the 1970s, though were credited to Anonymous after his death. As a leader he never received recognition for his poetry, but his poetry was notable for one thing in particular: he used his prestige to gain information for a bank robbery in the Georgian town of Tiflis. This robbery was one of the largest in Tsarist history, providing a great deal of funding for the Bolshevik movement. His poems are in the public domain, though here is an example from a poem titled "Morning":
The pinkish bud has opened,
Rushing to the pale-blue violet
And, stirred by a light breeze,
The lily of the valley has bent over the grass.
It is worth noting that this is not the entirety of the poem, and some of its subtleties will have been lost in the translation from its native language to English. Despite this it proves a good example of Stalin's poetic style.
During his time as a revolutionary for the Bolsheviks, Stalin commanded men known as "Mauserists". These men were armed and prepared to kill or be killed to achieve their revolutionary goals. Their name stemmed from their choice of firearm: German made pistols from the Mauser weapon company, such as the 'Broomhandle' C96. These men were violent criminals, and exactly the people Stalin needed on his side to perform his acts for the Bolsheviks.
The most well known of Stalin's Mauserists is probably Simon Ter-Petrossian (nicknamed 'Kamo'), who acted as Stalin's right hand man, often begging to be allowed to kill for him. He was incarcerated in an asylum, where he managed to act insane for two whole years, simply so he could break out with aid from his friends. Kamo died in 1923 during a freak accident - what may be worth observing is Stalin's power came in 1922, and he no longer had any real need for Kamo.
Kamo's nickname was derived from a mistake he made when speaking Russian. As a Georgian under Tsarist rule he was forced to speak Russian, as was Stalin. The Russian term "Whom" is Komu, and he made the mistake of saying Kamo, which has no meaning. Stalin was well known for creating nicknames for his friends, and gave Ter-Petrossian the name in jest.
Stalin was credited with many different quotes during his life, though the validity and authenticity of them is difficult to verify. Many of them are contested, though detailing of these quotes is also provided below in order to fully identify the different reports and questions raised by historians and scholars.
A sincere diplomat is like dry water or wooden iron.
Said during a speech in St. Petersburg during January 1913. This was one of a number of sarcastic and humorous quotes Stalin is credited with.
We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or they will crush us.
Said at some point, likely before the rapid industrialization of the " Five Year Plan" in the 1930s.
You know, they are fooling us, there is no God.
Said by Stalin to another student during his time training to be ordained as a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church. This quote is also cited by Simon Montefiore in the book Young Stalin.
God's not unjust, he doesn't actually exist. We've been deceived. If God existed, he'd have made the world more just... I'll lend you a book and you'll see.
Another quote Stalin said to a fellow student during training to be ordained as a priest in the Orthodox Church. The book he intended to give the other student was reportedly On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin.
The writer is the engineer of the human soul.
Said during a meeting of Soviet writers at Maxim Gorky's house in 1932. This is cited in Simon Montefiore's Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar.
God is on your side? Is He a Conservative? The Devil's on my side, he's a good Communist.
One version of a sarcastic comment made to Winston Churchill at the Tehran Conference of 1943. Other wordings are also in circulation, though the general meaning of the quote remains the same throughout.
When one man dies it is a tragedy, when thousands die it's statistics.
A quote commonly attributed to Stalin, but also one of the most controversial for this reason. While often referenced as a remark Stalin himself made, there is little evidence to confirm it to have ever been said by him. Other wordings also exist, though the original wording is as above. The original English reference to this comes from a biography of Harry S. Truman, and was sourced from the Russian-language The Time of Stalin: Portrait of Tyranny, which states the quote to have been made to Churchill in Tehran, during the 1943 Conference. This quote seems to originate with German novelist Erich Maria Remarque, who wrote All Quiet on the Western Front.