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Joseph Stalin

Soviet politician, general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and premier of the Soviet Union (1878-1953)

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Joseph Stalin
Иосиф Сталин (Russian)
იოსებ სტალინი (Georgian)
1937 portrait used for state publicity purposes
General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
In office
3 April 1922 – 16 October 1952[a]
Preceded byVyacheslav Molotov
(as Responsible Secretary)
Succeeded byGeorgy Malenkov (de facto)[b]
Chairman of the Council of Ministers
of the Soviet Union
In office
6 May 1941 – 5 March 1953
PresidentMikhail Kalinin
Nikolay Shvernik
First Deputies
Preceded byVyacheslav Molotov
Succeeded byGeorgy Malenkov
Member of the Russian Constituent Assembly
In office
25 November 1917 – 20 January 1918[d]
Served alongsideNikolai Kutler, Pavel Milyukov, Rodichev, Maxim Vinaver, Cherepanov, Evdokimov, Mikhail Kalinin, Józef Unszlicht, Grigory Zinoviev, Boris Kamkov, Shreider
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
ConstituencyPetrograd Metropolis
Minister of Defence
In office
15 March 1946 – 3 March 1947
Preceded byhimself as People's Commissar of Defense of the Soviet Union
Succeeded byNikolai Bulganin
People's Commissar for Nationalities of the RSFSR
In office
1917 – 7 July 1923
Preceded byposition established
Succeeded byposition abolished
People's Commissar of Defense of the USSR
In office
19 July 1941 – 25 February 1946
Preceded bySemyon Timoshenko
Succeeded byhimself as People's Commissar of the Armed Forces of the USSR
Personal details
Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili[e]

18 December [O.S. 6] 1878
Gori, Tiflis Governorate, Caucasus Viceroyalty, Russian Empire (now Georgia)
Died5 March 1953(1953-03-05) (aged 74)
Kuntsevo Dacha, Kuntsevo, Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union (now Russia)
Cause of deathCerebral hemorrhage
Resting placeLenin's Mausoleum, Moscow (9 March 1953 – 31 October 1961)
Kremlin Wall Necropolis, Moscow (from 31 October 1961)
Political partyRSDLP (1901–1903)
RSDLP (Bolsheviks) (1903–1918)
CPSU (1918–1953)
(m. 1906; d. 1907)
(m. 1919; d. 1932)
MotherEkaterine Geladze
FatherBesarion Jughashvili
CabinetStalin I–II
ReligionNone (Atheism)
Formerly Georgian Orthodox
Military service
Man of Steel
The Red Tsar
Kremlin Highlander
AllegianceSoviet Union
Branch/serviceSoviet Armed Forces
Years of service
  • 1918–1920
  • 1941–1953
RankMarshal of the Soviet Union (1943)
Central institution membership
  • 1917–1953: Full member, 6th19th Presidium
  • 1922–1943: 11th19th Secretariat
  • 1920–1952: 9th18th Orgburo
  • 1912–1953: Full member, 5th19th Central Committee

Other offices held

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin[g] (18 December [O.S. 6 December] 1878[1] – 5 March 1953) was a Georgian revolutionary and the ruler of the Soviet Union from 1927 until 1953. He served as both General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1952) and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union (1941–1953). Despite initially governing the country as part of a collective leadership, he ultimately consolidated power to become the Soviet Union's de facto dictator by the 1930s. A communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin formalised these ideas as Marxism–Leninism while his own policies are known as Stalinism.

Born to a poor family in Gori in the Russian Empire (now Georgia), as a youth Stalin joined the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. He went on to edit the party's newspaper, Pravda, and raised funds for Vladimir Lenin's Bolshevik faction via robberies, kidnappings and protection rackets. Repeatedly arrested, he underwent several internal exiles. After the Bolsheviks seized power during the October Revolution and created a one-party state under Lenin's newly renamed Communist Party in 1917, Stalin joined its governing Politburo. Serving in the Russian Civil War before overseeing the Soviet Union's establishment in 1922, Stalin assumed leadership over the country following Lenin's 1924 death. Under Stalin, socialism in one country became a central tenet of the party's dogma. Through the Five-Year Plans, the country underwent agricultural collectivisation and rapid industrialisation, creating a centralized command economy. This led to severe disruptions of food production that contributed to the famine of 1932–33. To eradicate accused "enemies of the working class", Stalin instituted the Great Purge, in which over a million were imprisoned and at least 700,000 executed between 1934 and 1939. By 1937, he had complete personal control over the party and state.

Stalin's government promoted Marxism–Leninism abroad through the Communist International and supported European anti-fascist movements during the 1930s, particularly in the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, it signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, resulting in the Soviet invasion of Poland. Germany ended the pact by invading the Soviet Union in 1941. Despite initial setbacks, the Soviet Red Army repelled the German incursion and captured Berlin in 1945, ending World War II in Europe. The Soviets annexed the Baltic states and helped establish Soviet-aligned governments throughout Central and Eastern Europe, China, and North Korea. The Soviet Union and the United States emerged from the war as global superpowers. The tensions that arose between the Soviet-backed Eastern Bloc and U.S.-backed Western Bloc became known as the Cold War. Stalin led his country through the post-war reconstruction, during which it developed a nuclear weapon in 1949. In these years, the country experienced another major famine and an antisemitic campaign peaking in the doctors' plot. After Stalin's death in 1953, he was eventually succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev, who denounced him and initiated the de-Stalinisation of Soviet society.

He is widely considered one of the 20th century's most significant figures. Stalin was the subject of a pervasive personality cult within the international Marxist–Leninist movement, which revered him as a champion of the working class and socialism. His legacy is highly debated across the political spectrum and around the world. Supporters and Neo-Stalinists point out his role in stopping the Third Reich; it was Stalin's leadership and perseverance that led the Soviet Union to overcome the millions of casualties, deliberate starvation of cities, and Germany's worst crimes against humanity. Domestically, Stalin is praised for his effort in industrializing and modernizing Russia. When he assumed power in the late 1920s the USSR was underdeveloped, and primarily agrarian, this is in direct contrast to when he died. In 1953 Stalin left the USSR with the world's largest army and it was recognised as a nuclear power. Conversely, his absolute, totalitarian government has been widely condemned for overseeing mass repression, ethnic cleansing, wide-scale deportation, hundreds of thousands of executions, and famines that killed millions. Stalin's paranoia and lust for power led him to commit violence against his allies and those who facilitated his rise in the party. He is directly responsible for the Great Purge which saw many in the Red Army and Soviet leadership be executed alongside their families. Stalin employed a vast and expansive secret police which effectively rendered individual rights nonexistent and ran large-scale forced labor camps, the Gulag system. Stalin is also criticised by modern socialist and Marxist-Leninist parties for his cult of personality and equating socialism with Stalinism. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Stalin has retained popularity in Russia and his native Georgia as a victorious wartime leader who established the Soviet Union as a superpower paving the way for Russia's achievements in engineering, universal education, and sending the first human into space. Both his critics and his supporters agree that the Russia of today would be unrecognisable without the actions of Joseph Stalin.

Joseph Stalin Intro articles: 63

Early life

Childhood to young adulthood: 1878–1899

1893 class table of Gori Religious School including a photo of Stalin. Some of the photos may be from earlier dates, but it is believed that this photo of Stalin was taken in 1893.

Stalin's birth name was Ioseb Besarionis dzе Jughashvili[h]. He was born in the Georgian town of Gori,[2] then part of the Tiflis Governorate of the Russian Empire and home to a mix of Georgian, Armenian, Russian, and Jewish communities.[3] He was born on 18 December [O.S. 6 December] 1878[4][i] and baptised on 29 December.[6] His parents, Besarion Jughashvili and Ekaterine Geladze,[7] were ethnically Georgian, and Stalin grew up speaking the Georgian language.[8] He was their only child to survive past infancy[9] and was nicknamed "Soso", a diminutive of "Ioseb".[10]

Besarion was a shoemaker who was employed in a workshop owned by another man;[11] it was initially a financial success but later fell into decline,[12] and the family found itself living in poverty.[13] Besarion became an alcoholic[14] and drunkenly beat his wife and son.[15] Ekaterine and Stalin left the home by 1883 and began a wandering life, moving through nine different rented rooms over the next decade.[16] In 1886, they moved into the house of a family friend, Father Christopher Charkviani.[17] Ekaterine worked as a house cleaner and launderer and was determined to send her son to school.[18] In September 1888, Stalin enrolled at the Gori Church School, a place secured by Charkviani.[19] Although he got into many fights,[20] Stalin excelled academically,[21] displaying talent in painting and drama classes,[22] writing his own poetry,[23] and singing as a choirboy.[24] Stalin faced several severe health problems: An 1884 smallpox infection left him with facial scars;[25] and at age 12 he was seriously injured when he was hit by a phaeton, likely the cause of a lifelong disability in his left arm.[26]

In 1894 Stalin began his studies at the Tiflis Spiritual Seminary (pictured here in the 1870s).

In August 1894, Stalin enrolled in the Orthodox Spiritual Seminary in Tiflis, enabled by a scholarship that allowed him to study at a reduced rate.[27] He joined 600 trainee priests who boarded there,[28] and he achieved high grades.[29] He continued writing poetry; five of his poems, on themes such as nature, land and patriotism, were published under the pseudonym of "Soselo" in Ilia Chavchavadze's newspaper Iveria (Georgia).[30][31] According to Stalin's biographer Simon Sebag Montefiore, they became "minor Georgian classics"[32] and were included in various anthologies of Georgian poetry over the coming years.[32] As he grew older, Stalin lost interest in priestly studies, his grades dropped,[33] and he was repeatedly confined to a cell for his rebellious behaviour.[34] The seminary's journal noted that he declared himself an atheist, stalked out of prayers and refused to doff his hat to monks.[35]

Stalin joined a forbidden book club at the school;[36] he was particularly influenced by Nikolay Chernyshevsky's 1863 pro-revolutionary novel What Is To Be Done?[37] Another influential text was Alexander Kazbegi's The Patricide, with Stalin adopting the nickname "Koba" from that of the book's bandit protagonist.[38] He also read Capital, the 1867 book by German sociological theorist Karl Marx.[39] Stalin devoted himself to Marx's socio-political theory, Marxism,[40] which was then on the rise in Georgia, one of various forms of socialism opposed to the empire's governing tsarist authorities.[41] At night, he attended secret workers' meetings[42] and was introduced to Silibistro "Silva" Jibladze, the Marxist founder of Mesame Dasi ("Third Group"), a Georgian socialist group.[43] Stalin left the seminary in April 1899 and never returned.[44]

Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party: 1899–1904

Police photograph of Stalin, taken in 1902, when he was 23 years old.

In October 1899, Stalin began work as a meteorologist at the Tiflis observatory.[45] He attracted a group of supporters through his classes in socialist theory[46] and co-organised a secret workers' mass meeting for May Day 1900,[47] at which he successfully encouraged many of the men to take strike action.[48] By this point, the empire's secret police, the Okhrana, were aware of Stalin's activities in Tiflis' revolutionary milieu.[48] They attempted to arrest him in March 1901, but he escaped and went into hiding,[49] living off the donations of friends and sympathisers.[50] Remaining underground, he helped plan a demonstration for May Day 1901, in which 3,000 marchers clashed with the authorities.[51] He continued to evade arrest by using aliases and sleeping in different apartments.[52] In November 1901, he was elected to the Tiflis Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), a Marxist party founded in 1898.[53]

That month, Stalin travelled to the port city of Batumi.[54] His militant rhetoric proved divisive among the city's Marxists, some of whom suspected that he might be an agent provocateur working for the government.[55] He found employment at the Rothschild refinery storehouse, where he co-organised two workers' strikes.[56] After several strike leaders were arrested, he co-organised a mass public demonstration which led to the storming of the prison; troops fired upon the demonstrators, 13 of whom were killed.[57] Stalin organised another mass demonstration on the day of their funeral,[58] before being arrested in April 1902.[59] Held first in Batumi Prison[60] and then Kutaisi Prison,[61] in mid-1903 he was sentenced to three years of exile in eastern Siberia.[62]

Stalin left Batumi in October, arriving at the small Siberian town of Novaya Uda in late November 1903.[63] There, he lived in a two-room peasant's house, sleeping in the building's larder.[64] He made two escape attempts: On the first, he made it to Balagansk before returning due to frostbite.[65] His second attempt, in January 1904, was successful and he made it to Tiflis.[66] There, he co-edited a Georgian Marxist newspaper, Proletariatis Brdzola ("Proletarian Struggle"), with Philip Makharadze.[67] He called for the Georgian Marxist movement to split from its Russian counterpart, resulting in several RSDLP members accusing him of holding views contrary to the ethos of Marxist internationalism and calling for his expulsion from the party; he soon recanted his opinions.[68] During his exile, the RSDLP had split between Vladimir Lenin's "Bolsheviks" and Julius Martov's "Mensheviks".[69] Stalin detested many of the Mensheviks in Georgia and aligned himself with the Bolsheviks.[70] Although he established a Bolshevik stronghold in the mining town of Chiatura,[71] Bolshevism remained a minority force in the Menshevik-dominated Georgian revolutionary scene.[72]

Revolution of 1905 and its aftermath: 1905–1912

Stalin first met Vladimir Lenin at a 1905 conference in Tampere. Lenin became "Stalin's indispensable mentor".[73]

In January 1905, government troops massacred protesters in Saint Petersburg. Unrest soon spread across the Russian Empire in what came to be known as the Revolution of 1905.[74] Georgia was particularly affected.[75] Stalin was in Baku in February when ethnic violence broke out between Armenians and Azeris; at least 2,000 were killed.[76] He publicly lambasted the "pogroms against Jews and Armenians" as being part of Tsar Nicholas II's attempts to "buttress his despicable throne".[77] Stalin formed a Bolshevik Battle Squad which he used to try to keep Baku's warring ethnic factions apart; he also used the unrest as a cover for stealing printing equipment.[77] Amid the growing violence throughout Georgia he formed further Battle Squads, with the Mensheviks doing the same.[78] Stalin's squads disarmed local police and troops,[79] raided government arsenals,[80] and raised funds through protection rackets on large local businesses and mines.[81] They launched attacks on the government's Cossack troops and pro-Tsarist Black Hundreds,[82] co-ordinating some of their operations with the Menshevik militia.[83]

In November 1905, the Georgian Bolsheviks elected Stalin as one of their delegates to a Bolshevik conference in Saint Petersburg.[84] On arrival, he met Lenin's wife Nadezhda Krupskaya, who informed him that the venue had been moved to Tampere in the Grand Duchy of Finland.[85] At the conference Stalin met Lenin for the first time.[86] Although Stalin held Lenin in deep respect, he was vocal in his disagreement with Lenin's view that the Bolsheviks should field candidates for the forthcoming election to the State Duma; Stalin saw the parliamentary process as a waste of time.[87] In April 1906, Stalin attended the RSDLP Fourth Congress in Stockholm; this was his first trip outside the Russian Empire.[88] At the conference, the RSDLP — then led by its Menshevik majority — agreed that it would not raise funds using armed robbery.[89] Lenin and Stalin disagreed with this decision[90] and later privately discussed how they could continue the robberies for the Bolshevik cause.[91]

Stalin married Kato Svanidze in a church ceremony at Senaki in July 1906.[92] In March 1907 she bore a son, Yakov.[93] By that year — according to the historian Robert Service — Stalin had established himself as "Georgia's leading Bolshevik".[94] He attended the Fifth RSDLP Congress, held in London in May–June 1907.[95] After returning to Tiflis, Stalin organised the robbing of a large delivery of money to the Imperial Bank in June 1907. His gang ambushed the armed convoy in Yerevan Square with gunfire and home-made bombs. Around 40 people were killed, but all of his gang escaped alive.[96] After the heist, Stalin settled in Baku with his wife and son.[97] There, Mensheviks confronted Stalin about the robbery and voted to expel him from the RSDLP, but he took no notice of them.[98]

A mugshot of Stalin made in 1911 by the Tsarist secret police.

In Baku, Stalin secured Bolshevik domination of the local RSDLP branch[99] and edited two Bolshevik newspapers, Bakinsky Proletary and Gudok ("Whistle").[100] In August 1907, he attended the Seventh Congress of the Second International — an international socialist organisation — in Stuttgart, Germany.[101] In November 1907, his wife died of typhus,[102] and he left his son with her family in Tiflis.[103] In Baku he had reassembled his gang, the Outfit,[104] which continued to attack Black Hundreds and raised finances by running protection rackets, counterfeiting currency, and carrying out robberies.[105] They also kidnapped the children of several wealthy figures to extract ransom money.[106] In early 1908, he travelled to the Swiss city of Geneva to meet with Lenin and the prominent Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov, although the latter exasperated him.[107]

In March 1908, Stalin was arrested and interned in Bailov Prison in Baku.[108] There he led the imprisoned Bolsheviks, organised discussion groups, and ordered the killing of suspected informants.[109] He was eventually sentenced to two years exile in the village of Solvychegodsk, Vologda Province, arriving there in February 1909.[110] In June, he escaped the village and made it to Kotlas disguised as a woman and from there to Saint Petersburg.[111] In March 1910, he was arrested again and sent back to Solvychegodsk.[112] There he had affairs with at least two women; his landlady, Maria Kuzakova, later gave birth to his second son, Konstantin.[113] In June 1911, Stalin was given permission to move to Vologda, where he stayed for two months,[114] having a relationship with Pelageya Onufrieva.[115] He escaped to Saint Petersburg,[116] where he was arrested in September 1911 and sentenced to a further three-year exile in Vologda.[117]

Rise to the Central Committee and editorship of Pravda: 1912–1917

The first issue of Pravda, the Bolshevik newspaper of which Stalin was editor

In January 1912, while Stalin was in exile, the first Bolshevik Central Committee was elected at the Prague Conference.[118] Shortly after the conference, Lenin and Grigory Zinoviev decided to co-opt Stalin to the committee.[118] Still in Vologda, Stalin agreed, remaining a Central Committee member for the rest of his life.[119] Lenin believed that Stalin, as a Georgian, would help secure support for the Bolsheviks from the empire's minority ethnicities.[120] In February 1912, Stalin again escaped to Saint Petersburg,[121] tasked with converting the Bolshevik weekly newspaper, Zvezda ("Star") into a daily, Pravda ("Truth").[122] The new newspaper was launched in April 1912,[123] although Stalin's role as editor was kept secret.[123]

In May 1912, he was arrested again and imprisoned in the Shpalerhy Prison, before being sentenced to three years exile in Siberia.[124] In July, he arrived at the Siberian village of Narym,[125] where he shared a room with a fellow Bolshevik Yakov Sverdlov.[126] After two months, Stalin and Sverdlov escaped back to Saint Petersburg.[127] During a brief period back in Tiflis, Stalin and the Outfit planned the ambush of a mail coach, during which most of the group — although not Stalin — were apprehended by the authorities.[128] Stalin returned to Saint Petersburg, where he continued editing and writing articles for Pravda.[129]

Stalin in 1915

After the October 1912 Duma elections, where six Bolsheviks and six Mensheviks were elected, Stalin wrote articles calling for reconciliation between the two Marxist factions, for which Lenin criticised him.[130] In late 1912, Stalin twice crossed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire to visit Lenin in Kraków,[131] eventually bowing to Lenin's opposition to reunification with the Mensheviks.[132] In January 1913, Stalin travelled to Vienna,[133] where he researched the 'national question' of how the Bolsheviks should deal with the Russian Empire's national and ethnic minorities.[134] Lenin, who encouraged Stalin to write an article on the subject,[135] wanted to attract those groups to the Bolshevik cause by offering them the right of secession from the Russian state, but also hoped they would remain part of a future Bolshevik-governed Russia.[136]

Stalin's article Marxism and the National Question[137] was first published in the March, April, and May 1913 issues of the Bolshevik journal Prosveshcheniye;[138] Lenin was pleased with it.[139] According to Montefiore, this was "Stalin's most famous work".[136] The article was published under the pseudonym "K. Stalin",[139] a name he had used since 1912.[140] Derived from the Russian word for steel (stal),[141] this has been translated as "Man of Steel";[142] Stalin may have intended it to imitate Lenin's pseudonym.[143] Stalin retained the name for the rest of his life, possibly because it was used on the article that established his reputation among the Bolsheviks.[144]

In February 1913, Stalin was arrested while back in Saint Petersburg.[145] He was sentenced to four years exile in Turukhansk, a remote part of Siberia from which escape was particularly difficult.[146] In August, he arrived in the village of Monastyrskoe, although after four weeks was relocated to the hamlet of Kostino.[147] In March 1914, concerned over a potential escape attempt, the authorities moved Stalin to the hamlet of Kureika on the edge of the Arctic Circle.[148] In the hamlet, Stalin had a relationship with Lidia Pereprygia, who was thirteen at the time and thus a year under the legal age of consent in Tsarist Russia.[149] In or about December 1914, Pereprygia gave birth to Stalin's child, although the infant soon died.[150] She gave birth to another of his children, Alexander, circa April 1917.[151][152]

In Kureika, Stalin lived closely with the indigenous Tunguses and Ostyak,[153] and spent much of his time fishing.[154]

Russian Revolution: 1917

While Stalin was in exile, Russia entered the First World War, and in October 1916 Stalin and other exiled Bolsheviks were conscripted into the Russian Army, leaving for Monastyrskoe.[155] They arrived in Krasnoyarsk in February 1917,[156] where a medical examiner ruled Stalin unfit for military service because of his crippled arm.[157] Stalin was required to serve four more months on his exile, and he successfully requested that he serve it in nearby Achinsk.[158] Stalin was in the city when the February Revolution took place; uprisings broke out in Petrograd — as Saint Petersburg had been renamed — and Tsar Nicholas II abdicated to escape being violently overthrown. The Russian Empire became a de facto republic, headed by a Provisional Government dominated by liberals.[159] In a celebratory mood, Stalin travelled by train to Petrograd in March.[160] There, Stalin and a fellow Bolshevik Lev Kamenev assumed control of Pravda,[161] and Stalin was appointed the Bolshevik representative to the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, an influential council of the city's workers.[162] In April, Stalin came third in the Bolshevik elections for the party's Central Committee; Lenin came first and Zinoviev came second.[163] This reflected his senior standing in the party at the time.[164]

The existing government of landlords and capitalists must be replaced by a new government, a government of workers and peasants.
The existing pseudo-government which was not elected by the people and which is not accountable to the people must be replaced by a government recognised by the people, elected by representatives of the workers, soldiers and peasants and held accountable to their representatives.

— Stalin's editorial in Pravda, October 1917[165]

Stalin helped organise the July Days uprising, an armed display of strength by Bolshevik supporters.[166] After the demonstration was suppressed, the Provisional Government initiated a crackdown on the Bolsheviks, raiding Pravda.[167] During this raid, Stalin smuggled Lenin out of the newspaper's office and took charge of the Bolshevik leader's safety, moving him between Petrograd safe houses before smuggling him to Razliv.[168] In Lenin's absence, Stalin continued editing Pravda and served as acting leader of the Bolsheviks, overseeing the party's Sixth Congress, which was held covertly.[169] Lenin began calling for the Bolsheviks to seize power by toppling the Provisional Government in a coup d'état. Stalin and a fellow senior Bolshevik Leon Trotsky both endorsed Lenin's plan of action, but it was initially opposed by Kamenev and other party members.[170] Lenin returned to Petrograd and secured a majority in favour of a coup at a meeting of the Central Committee on 10 October.[171]

On 24 October, police raided the Bolshevik newspaper offices, smashing machinery and presses; Stalin salvaged some of this equipment to continue his activities.[172] In the early hours of 25 October, Stalin joined Lenin in a Central Committee meeting in the Smolny Institute, from where the Bolshevik coup — the October Revolution — was directed.[173] Bolshevik militia seized Petrograd's electric power station, main post office, state bank, telephone exchange, and several bridges.[174] A Bolshevik-controlled ship, the Aurora, opened fire on the Winter Palace; the Provisional Government's assembled delegates surrendered and were arrested by the Bolsheviks.[175] Although he had been tasked with briefing the Bolshevik delegates of the Second Congress of Soviets about the developing situation, Stalin's role in the coup had not been publicly visible.[176] Trotsky and other later Bolshevik opponents of Stalin used this as evidence that his role in the coup had been insignificant, although later historians reject this.[177] According to the historian Oleg Khlevniuk, Stalin "filled an important role [in the October Revolution]... as a senior Bolshevik, member of the party's Central Committee, and editor of its main newspaper";[178] the historian Stephen Kotkin similarly noted that Stalin had been "in the thick of events" in the build-up to the coup.[179]

Joseph Stalin Early life articles: 106

In Lenin's government

Consolidating power: 1917–1918

On 26 October 1917, Lenin declared himself chairman of a new government, the Council of People's Commissars ("Sovnarkom").[180] Stalin backed Lenin's decision not to form a coalition with the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionary Party, although they did form a coalition government with the Left Socialist Revolutionaries.[181] Stalin became part of an informal foursome leading the government, alongside Lenin, Trotsky, and Sverdlov;[182] of these, Sverdlov was regularly absent and died in March 1919.[183] Stalin's office was based near to Lenin's in the Smolny Institute,[184] and he and Trotsky were the only individuals allowed access to Lenin's study without an appointment.[185] Although not so publicly well known as Lenin or Trotsky,[186] Stalin's importance among the Bolsheviks grew.[187] He co-signed Lenin's decrees shutting down hostile newspapers,[188] and along with Sverdlov, he chaired the sessions of the committee drafting a constitution for the new Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.[189] He strongly supported Lenin's formation of the Cheka security service and the subsequent Red Terror that it initiated; noting that state violence had proved an effective tool for capitalist powers, he believed that it would prove the same for the Soviet government.[190] Unlike senior Bolsheviks like Kamenev and Nikolai Bukharin, Stalin never expressed concern about the rapid growth and expansion of the Cheka and Red Terror.[190]

The Moscow Kremlin, which Stalin moved into in 1918

Having dropped his editorship of Pravda,[191] Stalin was appointed the People's Commissar for Nationalities.[192] He took Nadezhda Alliluyeva as his secretary[193] and at some point married her, although the wedding date is unknown.[194] In November 1917, he signed the Decree on Nationality, according ethnic and national minorities living in Russia the right of secession and self-determination.[195] The decree's purpose was primarily strategic; the Bolsheviks wanted to gain favour among ethnic minorities but hoped that the latter would not actually desire independence.[196] That month, he travelled to Helsinki to talk with the Finnish Social-Democrats, granting Finland's request for independence in December.[196] His department allocated funds for establishment of presses and schools in the languages of various ethnic minorities.[197] Socialist revolutionaries accused Stalin's talk of federalism and national self-determination as a front for Sovnarkom's centralising and imperialist policies.[189]

Because of the ongoing First World War, in which Russia was fighting the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary, Lenin's government relocated from Petrograd to Moscow in March 1918. Stalin, Trotsky, Sverdlov, and Lenin lived at the Kremlin.[198] Stalin supported Lenin's desire to sign an armistice with the Central Powers regardless of the cost in territory.[199] Stalin thought it necessary because — unlike Lenin — he was unconvinced that Europe was on the verge of proletarian revolution.[200] Lenin eventually convinced the other senior Bolsheviks of his viewpoint, resulting in signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918.[201] The treaty gave vast areas of land and resources to the Central Powers and angered many in Russia; the Left Socialist Revolutionaries withdrew from the coalition government over the issue.[202] The governing RSDLP party was soon renamed, becoming the Russian Communist Party.[203]

Military Command: 1918–1921

After the Bolsheviks seized power, both right and left-wing armies rallied against them, generating the Russian Civil War.[204] To secure access to the dwindling food supply, in May 1918 Sovnarkom sent Stalin to Tsaritsyn to take charge of food procurement in southern Russia.[205] Eager to prove himself as a commander,[206] once there he took control of regional military operations.[207] He befriended two military figures, Kliment Voroshilov and Semyon Budyonny, who would form the nucleus of his military and political support base.[208] Believing that victory was assured by numerical superiority, he sent large numbers of Red Army troops into battle against the region's anti-Bolshevik White armies, resulting in heavy losses; Lenin was concerned by this costly tactic.[209] In Tsaritsyn, Stalin commanded the local Cheka branch to execute suspected counter-revolutionaries, sometimes without trial[210] and — in contravention of government orders — purged the military and food collection agencies of middle-class specialists, some of whom he also executed.[211] His use of state violence and terror was at a greater scale than most Bolshevik leaders approved of;[212] for instance, he ordered several villages to be torched to ensure compliance with his food procurement program.[213]

Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, and Mikhail Kalinin meeting in 1919. All three of them were "Old Bolsheviks"—members of the Bolshevik party before the October Revolution.

In December 1918, Stalin was sent to Perm to lead an inquiry into how Alexander Kolchak's White forces had been able to decimate Red troops based there.[214] He returned to Moscow between January and March 1919,[215] before being assigned to the Western Front at Petrograd.[216] When the Red Third Regiment defected, he ordered the public execution of captured defectors.[215] In September he was returned to the Southern Front.[215] During the war, he proved his worth to the Central Committee, displaying decisiveness, determination, and willingness to take on responsibility in conflict situations.[206] At the same time, he disregarded orders and repeatedly threatened to resign when affronted.[217] He was reprimanded by Lenin at the 8th Party Congress for employing tactics which resulted in far too many deaths of Red Army soldiers.[218] In November 1919, the government nonetheless awarded him the Order of the Red Banner for his wartime service.[219]

The Bolsheviks won the Russian civil war by the end of 1919.[220] By that time, Sovnarkom had turned its attention to spreading proletarian revolution abroad, to this end forming the Communist International in March 1919; Stalin attended its inaugural ceremony.[221] Although Stalin did not share Lenin's belief that Europe's proletariat were on the verge of revolution, he acknowledged that as long as it stood alone, Soviet Russia remained vulnerable.[222] In December 1918, he drew up decrees recognising Marxist-governed Soviet republics in Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia;[223] during the civil war these Marxist governments were overthrown and the Baltic countries became fully independent of Russia, an act Stalin regarded as illegitimate.[224] In February 1920, he was appointed to head the Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate;[225] that same month he was also transferred to the Caucasian Front.[226]

Joseph Stalin in 1920.

Following earlier clashes between Polish and Russian troops, the Polish–Soviet War broke out in early 1920, with the Poles invading Ukraine and taking Kyiv on 7 May.[227] On 26 May, Stalin was moved to Ukraine, on the Southwest Front.[228] The Red Army retook Kyiv on 10 June and soon forced the Polish troops back into Poland.[229] On 16 July, the Central Committee decided to take the war into Polish territory.[230] Lenin believed that the Polish proletariat would rise up to support the Russians against Józef Piłsudski's Polish government.[230] Stalin had cautioned against this; he believed that nationalism would lead the Polish working-classes to support their government's war effort.[230] He also believed that the Red Army was ill-prepared to conduct an offensive war and that it would give White Armies a chance to resurface in Crimea, potentially reigniting the civil war.[230] Stalin lost the argument, after which he accepted Lenin's decision and supported it.[226] Along the Southwest Front, he became determined to conquer Lviv; in focusing on this goal he disobeyed orders in early August to transfer his troops to assist Mikhail Tukhachevsky's forces that were attacking Warsaw.[231]

In mid-August 1920, the Poles repulsed the Russian advance, and Stalin returned to Moscow to attend the Politburo meeting.[232] In Moscow, Lenin and Trotsky blamed him for his behavior in the Polish–Soviet war.[233] Stalin felt humiliated and under-appreciated; on 17 August, he demanded demission from the military, which was granted on 1 September.[234] At the 9th Bolshevik Conference in late September, Trotsky accused Stalin of "strategic mistakes" in his handling of the war.[235] Trotsky claimed that Stalin sabotaged the campaign by disobeying troop transfer orders.[236] Lenin joined Trotsky in criticising him, and nobody spoke on his behalf at the conference.[237] Stalin felt disgraced and increased his antipathy toward Trotsky.[218] The Polish-Soviet War ended on 18 March 1921, when a peace treaty was signed in Riga.[238]

Lenin's final years: 1921–1923

Stalin wearing a Order of the Red Banner. According to info published in Pravda (Pravda. December 24, 1939. No: 354 (8039)), this photograph taken in Ordzhonikidze's house in 1921.

The Soviet government sought to bring neighbouring states under its domination; in February 1921 it invaded the Menshevik-governed Georgia,[239] while in April 1921, Stalin ordered the Red Army into Turkestan to reassert Russian state control.[240] As People's Commissar for Nationalities, Stalin believed that each national and ethnic group should have the right to self-expression,[241] facilitated through "autonomous republics" within the Russian state in which they could oversee various regional affairs.[242] In taking this view, some Marxists accused him of bending too much to bourgeois nationalism, while others accused him of remaining too Russocentric by seeking to retain these nations within the Russian state.[241]

Stalin's native Caucasus posed a particular problem because of its highly multi-ethnic mix.[243] Stalin opposed the idea of separate Georgian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani autonomous republics, arguing that these would likely oppress ethnic minorities within their respective territories; instead he called for a Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic.[244] The Georgian Communist Party opposed the idea, resulting in the Georgian affair.[245] In mid-1921, Stalin returned to the southern Caucasus, there calling on Georgian Communists to avoid the chauvinistic Georgian nationalism which marginalised the Abkhazian, Ossetian, and Adjarian minorities in Georgia.[246] On this trip, Stalin met with his son Yakov, and brought him back to Moscow;[247] Nadezhda had given birth to another of Stalin's sons, Vasily, in March 1921.[247]

After the civil war, workers' strikes and peasant uprisings broke out across Russia, largely in opposition to Sovnarkom's food requisitioning project; as an antidote, Lenin introduced market-oriented reforms: the New Economic Policy (NEP).[248] There was also internal turmoil in the Communist Party, as Trotsky led a faction calling for abolition of trade unions; Lenin opposed this, and Stalin helped rally opposition to Trotsky's position.[249] Stalin also agreed to supervise the Department of Agitation and Propaganda in the Central Committee Secretariat.[250] At the 11th Party Congress in 1922, Lenin nominated Stalin as the party's new General Secretary. Although concerns were expressed that adopting this new post on top of his others would overstretch his workload and give him too much power, Stalin was appointed to the position.[251] For Lenin, it was advantageous to have a key ally in this crucial post.[252]

Stalin is too crude, and this defect which is entirely acceptable in our milieu and in relationships among us as communists, becomes unacceptable in the position of General Secretary. I therefore propose to comrades that they should devise a means of removing him from this job and should appoint to this job someone else who is distinguished from comrade Stalin in all other respects only by the single superior aspect that he should be more tolerant, more polite and more attentive towards comrades, less capricious, etc.

— Lenin's Testament, 4 January 1923;[253] this was possibly composed by Krupskaya rather than Lenin himself.[254]

Stalin (right) confers with an ailing Lenin at Gorky in September 1922

In May 1922, a massive stroke left Lenin partially paralyzed.[255] Residing at his Gorki dacha, Lenin's main connection to Sovnarkom was through Stalin, who was a regular visitor.[256] Lenin twice asked Stalin to procure poison so that he could commit suicide, but Stalin never did so.[257] Despite this comradeship, Lenin disliked what he referred to as Stalin's "Asiatic" manner and told his sister Maria that Stalin was "not intelligent".[258] Lenin and Stalin argued on the issue of foreign trade; Lenin believed that the Soviet state should have a monopoly on foreign trade, but Stalin supported Grigori Sokolnikov's view that doing so was impractical at that stage.[259] Another disagreement came over the Georgian affair, with Lenin backing the Georgian Central Committee's desire for a Georgian Soviet Republic over Stalin's idea of a Transcaucasian one.[260]

They also disagreed on the nature of the Soviet state. Lenin called for establishment of a new federation named the "Union of Soviet Republics of Europe and Asia", reflecting his desire for expansion across the two continents and insisted that the Russian state should join this union on equal terms with the other Soviet states.[261] Stalin believed this would encourage independence sentiment among non-Russians, instead arguing that ethnic minorities would be content as "autonomous republics" within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.[262] Lenin accused Stalin of "Great Russian chauvinism"; Stalin accused Lenin of "national liberalism".[263] A compromise was reached, in which the federation would be renamed the "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" (USSR).[261] The USSR's formation was ratified in December 1922; although officially a federal system, all major decisions were taken by the governing Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in Moscow.[264]

Their differences also became personal; Lenin was particularly angered when Stalin was rude to his wife Krupskaya during a telephone conversation.[265] In the final years of his life, Krupskaya provided governing figures with Lenin's Testament, a series of increasingly disparaging notes about Stalin. These criticised Stalin's rude manners and excessive power, suggesting that Stalin should be removed from the position of general secretary.[266] Some historians have questioned whether Lenin ever produced these, suggesting instead that they may have been written by Krupskaya, who had personal differences with Stalin;[254] Stalin, however, never publicly voiced concerns about their authenticity.[267]

Joseph Stalin In Lenin's government articles: 67