January 16, 2008

Stalin: The Red Tsar


Stalin: The Red Tsar

Joseph Stalin was born December 21, 1879, in Gori, which is now in the Republic of Georgia. His birth name was Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. Around 1910, he took on the name Stalin which means man of steel. Iosif is a common Eastern European and Russian spelling for Joseph. Stalin's parents were peasants who, hoping for a better life for their son, sent him to the Gori church run school {1888-1894}.

Joseph turned out to be their best student and was awarded a full scholarship to Tbilsi Theological Seminary. It may come as a surprise, but Joseph Stalin attended the Seminary in preparation for the priesthood. However, the Orthodox Church did not keep the young Stalin from reading censured materials including Karl Marx's Das Kapital or The Communist Manifesto. At a time when Russia was steeped in peasant uprisings and headed toward certain revolution, the ideals presented in the Marxist literature made perfect sense to the young and intelligent Stalin.

Shortly before graduation from Seminary, Stalin left and joined the Social Democratic Party {1899}. He began his revolutionary career as a distributor of propaganda and worked, primarily, in the Tbilisi railroad workers' community. Stalin was arrested in 1902, spent a year in prison and then was exiled to Siberia. He escaped from his prison camp two years later. In fact, Stalin was such a nuisance that, from 1902 to 1913, he was arrested eight times, exiled seven times and escaped six times! The only time the Imperial government was successful in detaining young Stalin was his last exile and sentence which he served completely {1913-17}.

Stalin's personal life did not go much better. His first wife, Yekaterina Svanidze, who he married in 1904, died in 1910. Stalin remarried in 1919 to Nadezhda Alliluyeva who committed suicide in 1932. As a member of the Revolution, Stalin was not a leader, but a follower. He sympathized with the Bolsheviks whose leader, Vladimir Lenin, made Stalin a member of the Bolsheviks' Central Committee in 1912. Stalin served as the editor of Pravda {Truth} in 1913 and wrote his first treatise, Marxism and the National Question in 1914. Just prior to its publication, Stalin was exiled to Siberia for the final time. He was released in March of 1917 and returned to Petrograd {St. Petersburg} to resumed editing Pravda.

Stalin had little to do in the November, 1917, civil uprising and was not known as a revolutionary hero. He was the resident expert for the Bolsheviks on issues of nationalism and was appointed, by Lenin, as the head of the Commission for Nationality Affairs. Along with Leon Trotsky, Stalin assisted Lenin with emergency decision making during the trying time of the civil war. He was valued for his hard work, loyalty and complete devotion to administrative responsibilities. In 1922, Stalin became Secretary General of the party.

Lenin, suffering from the affects of a stroke, found himself in conflict with Stalin. The latter was systematically converting his well organized system into a personal political power. Prior to his death in 1924, Lenin denounced Stalin as a political liability, rude and called for his removal as General Secretary. Lenin expressed serious concerns in his Testament as to how Stalin would use his growing political might. On March 5, 1923, Lenin penned a note addressed to Stalin in which he severed all "comradely relations." The note's contents, as well as his Testament were successfully suppressed by Stalin

Immediately following Lenin's death, Stalin formed a troika; meaning three, the perfect number; with Grigory Zinovyev and Lev Kamenev. Stalin used his new co-leaders to push out former Lenin aide and Stalin rival, Leon Trotsky. After doing away with any political threat from Trotsky, Stalin abandoned his partners and aligned himself with Nikolay Bukharin and Aleksey Rykov. Trotsky, Zinovyev and Kamenev banded together in an attempt to undermine Stalin's growing influence. Stalin outwitted them and, by 1929, was the unmistakable leader of the Soviet Union. In 1936, Stalin had the followers of Trotsky tried and found guilty of treason. The verdict was execution.

One of the Soviet Union's greatest problems, in the late 1920's, was underproduction of its agricultural industry. Stalin resolved the issue by exporting grain from Siberia into western Russia. This caused starvation and famine in such areas as Ukraine. Stalin's reaction to peasant uprisings was a national program of collectivization. The peasants, known as kulaks, refused to work harder than needed to provide for their own families. They resented Stalin's mandate that they contribute large amounts of their products to his collective farms. In protest, they would destroy their livestock and crops, causing themselves to starve, rather than turn it over to Stalin. Obviously, this was a no win situation as the peasants starved to death or were killed and/or deported at Stalin's command. Uncounted thousands were collected and displaced wherever workers were needed most. This program enabled the Soviet Union to break into the international industrial scene as a major power.

By the mid 1930's, Stalin was exercising his power in the form of political terrorism. He was determined to purge society of any and all people not loyal to himself and his policies. Persons offensive to the state were hauled off to labor camps, tried and/or executed. Stalin's one-time compatriots turned enemies, Zinovyev, Kamenev, and Bukharin; confessed to treason against the state in puppet trials and were sentenced to death {1936}. During Stalin's reign of Great Terror, unknown numbers of people simply disappeared, presumed executed. Their number included not only peasants, but industrial, political and military leaders. Their removal made room for the next generation of Communists; men such as Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev.

Stalin's key weapon in imposing terror on his country was the secret police. His purges had virtually removed any power formerly held by the military. As a result, the Soviet Union suffered major losses in WWII while Stalin attempted to direct his country's military actions agains Nazi Germany. Stalin managed to gain victories against Germany, most notable was the Battle of Stalingrad. This was due, in no small part, to his willingness to sacrifice massive numbers of Soviet lives which he had forced into military service. Stalin was certainly no military genius!

Stalin attended landmark meetings with the Allies' at Tehran (1943), Yalta (1945), and Potsdam (1945). He became known as a power to be reckoned with; one which intended to expand Soviet influence throughout Eastern Europe. After the end of WWII, Stalin succeeded in dominating many states which his armies had liberated from the Nazis.

Stalin was driven by one overpowering fear; future attack of his western border. His collection of Eastern European states served as the buffer he needed and became known as the Iron Curtain. This isolationist behavior and expansion of Communist control are believed by most, to have brought about the Cold War. Stalin displaced about 1.5 million non-Russian occupants of the new Soviet republics. Most were Muslims labeled as Nazi sympathizers and, as a result, a direct threat to the Soviet. A variety of, so called, minorities from the Crimea, Caucasus, Bulgaria, Armenia and so on, were rounded up and hauled off to Siberia. The official justifications for these deportations was alleged collaboration with their former Nazi oppressors and resistance to Soviet control.

Stalin's twilight years were spent in increasing paranoia and failing health. It seems evident that he was gearing up for another purge of the leading citizen classes of the Soviet Union. In January, 1953, he ordered the arrest of many Moscow doctors, mostly Jews, charging them with medical assassinations. This Doctor's Plot brought back chilling memories of the purges of the 1930's. What might have been another blood letting was avoided by Stalin's sudden, and somewhat mysterious, death on March 5, 1953. After his death and the end of his reign of terror, Stalin's name and regime were widely criticized by the Soviet authorities and people. He is remembered as a terrorist against his own people and countless human rights crimes. Supporters of Stalin believe he saved his country from certain European domination; that the lives lost and/or ruined were necessary casualties for the greater good of the nation.

 

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

The Little Humpbacked Horse

The Little Humpbacked Horse

A beloved Russian classic about a resourceful Russian peasant, Vanya, and his miracle-working horse, who together undergo various trials, exploits and adventures at the whim of a laughable tsar, told in rich, narrative poetry.
22 Russian Crosswords

22 Russian Crosswords

Test your knowledge of the Russian language, Russian history and society with these 22 challenging puzzles taken from the pages of Russian Life magazine. Most all the clues are in English, but you must fill in the answers in Russian. If you get stumped, of course all the puzzles have answers printed at the back of the book.
The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

This exciting new trilogy by a Russian author – who has been compared to Orhan Pamuk and Umberto Eco – vividly recreates a lost world, yet its passions and characters are entirely relevant to the present day. Full of mystery, memorable characters, and non-stop adventure, The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas is a must read for lovers of historical fiction and international thrillers.  
Murder and the Muse

Murder and the Muse

KGB Chief Andropov has tapped Matyushkin to solve a brazen jewel heist from Picasso’s wife at the posh Metropole Hotel. But when the case bleeds over into murder, machinations, and international intrigue, not everyone is eager to see where the clues might lead.
Fish: A History of One Migration

Fish: A History of One Migration

This mesmerizing novel from one of Russia’s most important modern authors traces the life journey of a selfless Russian everywoman. In the wake of the Soviet breakup, inexorable forces drag Vera across the breadth of the Russian empire. Facing a relentless onslaught of human and social trials, she swims against the current of life, countering adversity and pain with compassion and hope, in many ways personifying Mother Russia’s torment and resilience amid the Soviet disintegration.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
Fearful Majesty

Fearful Majesty

This acclaimed biography of one of Russia’s most important and tyrannical rulers is not only a rich, readable biography, it is also surprisingly timely, revealing how many of the issues Russia faces today have their roots in Ivan’s reign.
A Taste of Russia

A Taste of Russia

The definitive modern cookbook on Russian cuisine has been totally updated and redesigned in a 30th Anniversary Edition. Layering superbly researched recipes with informative essays on the dishes' rich historical and cultural context, A Taste of Russia includes over 200 recipes on everything from borshch to blini, from Salmon Coulibiac to Beef Stew with Rum, from Marinated Mushrooms to Walnut-honey Filled Pies. A Taste of Russia shows off the best that Russian cooking has to offer. Full of great quotes from Russian literature about Russian food and designed in a convenient wide format that stays open during use.
Jews in Service to the Tsar

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Benjamin Disraeli advised, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” With Jews in Service to the Tsar, Lev Berdnikov offers us 28 biographies spanning five centuries of Russian Jewish history, and each portrait opens a new window onto the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews, illuminating dark corners and challenging widely-held conceptions about the role of Jews in Russian history.
Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod is a mid-sized provincial city that exists only in Russian metaphorical space. It has its roots in Gogol, and Ilf and Petrov, and is a place far from Moscow, but close to Russian hearts. It is a place of mystery and normality, of provincial innocence and Black Earth wisdom. Strange, inexplicable things happen in Stargorod. So do good things. And bad things. A lot like life everywhere, one might say. Only with a heavy dose of vodka, longing and mystery.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955