The only real power comes out of a long rifle.
A troubled childhood. Fanciful ideology. The spirit to rebel and change the status quo. These are also the features of a brutal dictator. And perhaps the worst of them all was Joseph Stalin.
He was born into poverty on this very day, 18th December 1878, in Gori, Georgia. At the time Gori was part of the Russian empire, which was a strict monarchy. His father was an alcoholic and very abusive, hence, early in his childhood, his mother and him escaped to the house of a family friend. At the age of seven, he is beset with smallpox and grows up with a pockmarked face. In August 1894 he joined a spiritual seminary in Tiflis despite his atheistic inclinations. It was here that he had perhaps the most defining moments of his life. He joined a secret book club and began to read the works of many famous revolutionaries including the works of a certain Karl Marx. And soon enough he joined a local Socialist group and began to rebel against the Russian monarchy.
In his youth he was not averse to using any means necessary to help forward the cause. He joined the Vladimir Lenin led Bolshevik party and played his role in the 1905 Russian Revolution by conducting Guerrilla warfare. He used bank robberies, kidnappings and anything he could to help fund the cause. This notoriety pushed him underground but it also impressed Lenin whom he met for the first time in Finland at a party conference in November 1907. Lenin gives him the crucial task of running the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda. It was on this medium that Stalin wrote what is widely regarded as his most famous work, an article titled “Marxism and the National Question” under the pseudonym of Stalin (translating to “steel” or “man of steel”). And thus, the now legendary name was known among all the Bolsheviks.
He played a very important role in the October Revolution in 1917 where the Tsarist autocracy was toppled and a socialist state was established. In the years forthcoming he began to plant the seeds of his brutal rule. He, along with Lenin, instated the Cheka security force which was responsible for the infamous Red Terror, essentially a tool of State Violence to control the populace. He co-signed the order to shut down hostile newspapers and slowly began to consolidate power. Stalin and Lenin had many disagreements towards the end of Lenin’s life, Lenin even suggested that Stalin must be removed from his position for the sake of the party. But once Lenin passed, Stalin became the immediate successor, driving key individuals out of the party to consolidate all of the power.
During the late 1920s, Russia was lagging behind industrially when compared with other western nations. Stalin decided to shift the economic policy which was market oriented to a very socialist approach to make up for the fall in grains in the nation. And thus, he started the mass collectivization of agriculture, with state sponsored collective farms. Many farmers joined simply out of fear despite begrudging the loss of their private land. This resulted in a slump in productivity and famines began. Despite Stalin trying to control this, the famines reached their peak in the winter of 1932-33. Around five to seven million people lost their lives in this period mainly in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. People even resorted to cannibalism to sustain their lives, ironically these people were punished by death. Many historians claim that despite having the grain to actually alleviate the famine, Stalin refused to release them and continued to export them instead. It was a trying time for the Russian peasantry, without food or warmth, their every outcry silenced by the State. In the years leading up to the Second World War, Stalin arranged the arrest and execution of many of his opponents. The final straw was the assassination of Trotsky after which Stalin was essentially completely unopposed. He also arranged the ethnic cleansing of non-Soviet ethnic groups like Poles, Germans, Fins a large number of which were exiled, tortured and shot. This entire slice of Russian history is called as the Red Terror.
At the onset of the Second World War, Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany but relations began to rapidly deteriorate. On June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and began a steady advance. But they were halted by the coming of winter, nobody conquers Russia in the winter. He launched a counter-attack and was able to repel the German front and finally emerged victorious in 1945 after taking over Berlin along with the United States and United Kingdom.
Post-victory, Stalin was worried that his troops had acquired a taste of consumer goods while fighting in Germany and was weary of internal dissent. He also sent about half of returning prisoners of war to labour camps. His health began to deteriorate, regardless he played an important role in the early parts of the cold war and took a vice-grip on the eastern part of Europe controlled by the Soviet Union including East Germany, the so called “Iron-curtain”.
On 1st March 1953 Stalin suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and shortly died on 5th of March. He did not leave any successors nor a method of transfer of power. The system of Collective leadership was re-instated and measures were taken so that no one man can become an autocrat.
Despite his terrible misdeeds that directly and indirectly resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people, he is still hailed as a hero in many parts of Russia and Georgia. Ironic that he fought so hard to overthrow a brutal autocracy just to set up another one, with him at the helm. His life is a stark reminder that no system, no matter how ideologically pure, is incorruptible. His life has wide-ranging consequences on the perception of socialism all across the world, till this day.