Stalin, Joseph Vissarionovich

(1879-1953)
   Born Joseph Dzhugashvili in Georgia, Russia, the future leader of the Soviet Union assumed the name Stalin, meaning “man of steel,” in 1913. By then, he had become a communist and member of the Bolshevik movement. He was jailed and exiled several times between 1902 and 1917, but following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, he increased his influence and was appointed general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1922. He assumed power after Vladimir Lenin’s death in 1924 and gradually displaced his enemies, most notably Leon Trotsky in 1928. He consolidated his dictatorial rule with the “Great Purge” during the 1930s. Under Stalin’s Five-Year Plans launched in 1928, the Soviet Union went through rapid, enforced industrialization that cost some 10 million lives by execution or through famine.
   Isolated from the West, Stalin hoped to prevent an attack by Nazi Germany when he signed a Nonaggression Pact in August 1939. However, the Soviet Union was attacked in June 1941, and the USSR and Great Britain suddenly became unlikely Allies and were joined in December 1941 by the United States in World War II. Although German forces almost took Moscow, Stalin mobilized the Russian people in defense of “Mother Russia,” and the tide of battle turned at Stalingrad between August 1942 and February 1943. Soviet armies pushed into Poland and eventually Germany itself.
   Although Stalin was angered by apparent delays in opening a Second Front, agreement about the shape of the postwar world appeared to be reached in conferences where he met his counterparts, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt at Tehran and Yalta, and Harry S. Truman at Potsdam. However, after the war, Stalin announced in a speech launching another Five-Year Plan on 9 February 1946 that there were irreconcilable differences between communism and capitalism that would lead to war. Disagreements about the future of Germany and about governments in Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, led to growing hostility culminating in the onset of the Cold War in 1947. Stalin gradually increased communist control in Poland, East Germany (later the German Democratic Republic), Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, and Bulgaria. For many people in the West, he became a second Hitler, an example of totalitarianism and the personification of communist dictatorship. Soviet policy gradually became more flexible after his death in 1953, and there were denunciations of the “cult of personality” he had fostered.

Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . . 2015.

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