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A photo of Joseph Stalin from 1943

Stalin, Joseph 1879- 1953

Joseph Stalin served as Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1922 until his death in 1953. A brutal leader who oversaw the Soviet victory in World War II and the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe and East Germany while forging an alliance with the People's Republic of China and supporting North Korea in the Korean War, Stalin had a profound impact on the Cold War.

Biography

A photo of Joseph Stalin from 1943

Born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili on December 21, 1879, he adopted the name Stalin, which means "Man of Steel," while still a young revolutionary.

Stalin first rose to power in 1922 as secretary general of the Communist Party. Using administrative skills and ruthless maneuvering, Stalin rid himself of all potential rivals in the party, first by having many of them condemned as "deviationists," and later by ordering them executed.

To ensure his position and to push forward "socialism in one country," he put the Soviet Union on a course of crash collectivization and industrialization. An estimated 25 million farmers were forced onto state farms. Collectivization alone killed as many as 14.5 million people, and Soviet agricultural output was reduced by 25 percent, according to some estimates.

In the 1930s, Stalin launched his Great Purge, ridding the Communist Party of all the people who had brought him to power. Soviet nuclear physicist and academician Andrei Sakharov estimated that more than 1.2 million party members -- more than half the party -- were arrested between 1936 and 1939, of which 600,000 died by torture, execution or perished in the Gulag.

Stalin also purged the military leadership, executing a large percentage of the officer corps and leaving the U.S.S.R. unprepared when World War II broke out. In an effort to avoid war with Germany, Stalin agreed to a non-aggression pact with German leader Adolf Hitler in August 1939.

When Hitler invaded the U.S.S.R. on June 22, 1941, Stalin was not seen or heard from for two weeks. After addressing the nation two weeks later, Stalin took command of his troops.

With the Soviet Union initially carrying the burden of the fighting, Stalin met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Tehran (1943) and Yalta (1945), and with Churchill and Roosevelt's successor, President Harry S. Truman, in Potsdam (1945), dividing the postwar world into "spheres of influence."

Though the U.S.S.R. only joined the war against Japan in August 1945, Stalin insisted on expanding Soviet influence into Asia, namely the Kurile Islands, the southern half of Sakhalin Island, and the northern section of Korea. More important, Stalin wanted to secure a territorial buffer zone that had ideologically friendly regimes along the U.S.S.R.'s western borders.

In the wake of the German defeat, the U.S.S.R. occupied most of the countries in Eastern Europe and eventually ensured the installation of Stalinist regimes. Stalin said later to Milovan Djilas, a leading Yugoslav communist, "Whoever occupies a territory also imposes his own social system." He believed that the Americans and British "imperialism" would clash and eventually socialism would triumph.

After initially approving the participation by Eastern European countries in the U.S.-sponsored Marshall Plan (1947), Stalin forbade it. Stalin also sought to gain influence in Germany, though his exact goals remain controversial. Denied access to the western German occupation zones, he agreed to the establishment of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in October 1949.

Encouraged by Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War and the establishment of the People's Republic of China in October 1949, Stalin gave the green light to North Korean leader Kim Il Sung to attack South Korea in June 1950.

His confrontational foreign policy and his domestic terror regime (the "Stalinist system") had an impact on Soviet society and politics well beyond the dictator's death of natural causes at age 73 on March 5, 1953.

Popular Documents

February 9, 1946

Speech Delivered by Stalin at a Meeting of Voters of the Stalin Electoral District, Moscow

English translation of Stalin's 1946 "election" speech.

February 25, 1956

Khrushchev's Secret Speech, 'On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences,' Delivered at the Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

In a secret speech before a closed plenum of the 20th Congress of the CPSU, Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s cult of the personality. In addition, he revealed that Stalin had rounded up thousands of people and sent them into a huge system of political work camps (Gulags). This revelation was met with astonishment by many present for the speech, but helped to break the power that Stalin still held over the country.

February 22, 1946

George Kennan's 'Long Telegram'

George F. Kennan writes to the Secretary of State with a lengthy analysis of Soviet policy in an attempt to explain their recent uncooperative behavior. This message would later become famous as the "long telegram."

February 11, 1945

Yalta Conference Agreement, Declaration of a Liberated Europe

The text of the agreements reached at the Yalta (Crimea) Conference between President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill and Generalissimo Stalin.

March 5, 1949

Notes of the Conversation between Comrade I.V. Stalin and a Governmental Delegation from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea headed by Kim Il Sung

Kim Il Sung and Stalin discuss the military and economy in North Korea, Soviet-North Korean relations, and North Korea's relations with other foreign countries.