Born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili in Gori, Tiflish Governorate, Russian Empire, the Georgian-born Russian leader Joseph Stalin is regarded as one of the most notorious political leaders of the twentieth-century and his rule profoundly affected the course of Russian history. He is most remembered for his role during WWII, his colossal reforms of Russia, and his Great Purge which resulted in the execution of millions.
Joseph Stalin was the fourth child born to his parents in 1879. His father was a cobbler. His elder siblings died in childhood. Stalin experienced an impoverished childhood, but received some education through the Tiflis Theological Seminary. Historians believe this was where he was first exposed to Marxism. After he was expelled from this school, Stalin worked as a teacher, a clerk, and wrote newspaper articles. In 1901 he joined the Social Democratic Labour Party and was subsequently deported to Siberia several times for his political activities.
Upon his return after an escape, Stalin caught the attention of Vladimir Lenin with his ability to organize demonstrations and strikes. In 1911 Stalin became the editor of the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda. Stalin was once again sent to Siberia in 1913, but was recalled after the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II. Stalin continued his work with Pravda and allied with Lenin who began to accuse the Bolsheviks of distorting socialism. Stalin’s open support of Lenin earned him a place in Lenin’s cabinet after his victory of the October Revolution in 1917. Stalin served as the Commissar of Nationalities, a position that allowed him direct control over all non-Russian peoples (about half the Empire’s population).
Since Stalin had been a loyal supporter, Lenin selected him to help govern the Communist Party and created the position of General Secretary for him. Stalin assumed great power as Lenin’s health declined. Lenin’s relationship with Stalin deteriorated, but he died before he could remove or formally suggest the removal of Stalin from this post. Consequently, Stalin obtained complete control of the Russian Empire upon Lenin’s death in 1924.
As 1st Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Stalin launched rapid industrialization and collectivization schemes. While industrialization rapidly brought modernization to Russia, economic collectivization, particularly in agriculture, resulted in widespread famine that led to millions of deaths throughout the empire—Ukraine was hit particularly hard and scholars still debate whether or not to consider their fate as an example of genocide.
Stalin’s regime is most particularly noted for its widespread terror and repression. Scholars continue to debate the number of deaths attributed to Stalin directly, but contemporary estimates range between four and ten million not including famine deaths. Other estimates have concluded that Stalin’s regime was responsible for more than twenty thousand deaths. Stalin was married twice. He and his first wife had a son before she later died. His second wife died under controversial circumstances leaving behind another son and a daughter. Stalin died, also under questionable circumstances, in 1953.