by Eric Mwamba
One of the most powerful and murderous dictators in history, Stalin was the grate ruler of the Soviet Union for a quarter of a century. His rain of terror caused the death and suffering of tens of millions, but he also oversaw the war machine that helped to defeat the Nazi.
Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili was born on 18 December 1879 in Gori, Georgia, which was then part of the Russian empire. His father was a cobbler and Stalin grew up in modest circumstances. He studied at a theological seminary where he began to read Marxist literature. He never graduated, instead giving his time to the revolutionary movement against the Russian monarchy. He spent the next 15 years as an activist and on a number of occasions was arrested and sent to Siberia.
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 to have meaning at the time but which gave him control over appointments and it allowed him to build up a base of support. After Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin made himself as his political heir and gradually got rid of his rivals. By the late 1920s, Stalin was the dictator of the Soviet Union.
His forced collectivisation of farms cost millions of lives, while his plan of fast industrialisation achieved a big increase in Soviet productivity and economic growth but at a price. In addition, the population suffered much during the Great Terror of the 1930s, during which Stalin freed the party of ‘enemies of the people’, resulting in the killing of thousands and the exile of millions to the gulag system of slave labour camps in Siberia.
These purges severely depleted the Russian Army, and despite the warnings, Stalin was ill prepared for Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. His political future, and that of the Soviet Union, hung in the balance, but Stalin recovered to lead his country to victory. The human cost was enormous, but was not a taught for him.
After World War Two, the Soviet Union entered the nuclear age and ruled over an empire which included most of eastern Europe. Increasingly paranoid, Stalin died of a stroke on 5 March 1953.