16 Shocking Facts About Joseph Stalin
From a bullied child living under squalid conditions of the home of an alcoholic and abusive father in Georgia to becoming the supreme ruler of his country, Joseph Stalin’s quest for absolute power made him a scourge to his own nation, the Soviet Union. Going by the name “man of steel”, the brutal dictator caused the demise and torture of tens of millions across the Soviet Union. The following are some very shocking facts about Joseph Stalin:
He came from a poor home
Stalin was born as Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili on December 18, 1879, to a very poor family living in a peasant village (Gori) in Georgia. His father was a drunk of a cobbler. Faced with several financial woes, Joseph Stalin’s father often took out his frustration on the young Stalin.
His mother, on the other hand, worked as a cleaning and laundry lady. She was a devout Russian Orthodox Christian who could do very little to ease the family’s financial problems. To make matters worse, Joseph Stalin was afflicted with severe smallpox at the age of seven. The disease left a palpable scar on his face for the rest of his life.
Joseph Stalin was constantly bullied and ridiculed as a child
While growing up, Stalin’s father wasn’t the only one who abused him. A lot of the time, Stalin was on the receiving end of soul-crashing ridicule and punches from his friends. Coupled with the mistreatment he received at home, the young Stalin went through a very awful childhood. His confidence and his self-worth were all but obliterated.
As a result of this, Stalin harbored anger and hate in his heart. He dreamed of one day getting so much power in order to prove to all those who bullied him. A look back into the childhood of Joseph Stalin helps to truly understand why he ended up being a blood-thirsty and vindictive leader.
He was exposed to a lot revolutionary ideas at a young age
Joseph, under the influence of his mother, studied extremely hard to secure a scholarship at Tiflis Theological Seminary in mid 1890s. His mother wanted him to become a fine priest of the highest morals.
However, the young Joseph’s complete fascination with books and materials that he picked up from the Massame Dassy – a revolutionary group – made him have second thoughts about becoming a priest.
Stalin spent several nights, in hiding, reading up on the works of Karl Marx, the highly influential German psychologist and economist. Socialist’s materials of such nature played a huge role in shaping the mind of the young boy. With this, came his move into atheism and immense participation in revolutionary movements in and around Tiflis.
He got booted out of the seminary
One thing was for sure: the priests and teachers at the seminary cracked the whip on anyone who was caught in possession of socialist and Marxist text books. In Stalin’s case, the young teenager did not just step out of line by reading those banned books; he also used to challenge the priests. He defied their authority and proclaimed himself an atheist. The last two were more than enough reasons for him to be booted out of the seminary in 1899.
Stoked the flames of industrial strikes and protests
After leaving the seminary, Joseph Stalin would briefly work at the Tiflis Observatory as a clerk. He quickly became infamous for sowing dissent and angst in his coworkers. Joseph provoked them into dropping their tools and embarking on a strike.
The workers also clashed violently with authorities. Not being able to stand the heat that the authorities were putting on him, Stalin had no other option than to go underground.
Prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917, Stalin was in the truest sense of the word an agent provocateur, stirring up people with similar revolutionary intentions into protesting.
Committed several bank heists to finance his party
With a reinvigorated spirit, Stalin came out of hiding and joined the militant group – the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks were part of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP), and their leader was the learned Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.
With the blessing of Lenin, Stalin and a group of Bolsheviks busied themselves conducting bank heists. The loot from their crimes was used to fund the revolutionary activities of the Bolsheviks. It has been estimated that Stalin and his gang stole about 250,000 rubles in Tiflis alone – that is close to 3.5 million US dollars.
Stalin was not the brightest of intellectuals in the party. He also was not the best orator in the Communist Party. However, what he lacked in scholarship, he made up for it with astute organizational skills. He was very vital at the grassroots level, making posters and organizing meetings here and there to promote the Marxist ideology of the Bolsheviks.
He lost his first wife
Stalin’s first wife, Ketevan Svanidze, was a very devout Russian Orthodox woman. The couple, whose marriage was in 1906, had one issue – Yakov Dzhugashvili. For a period of time Joseph and his family had to head to Baku, Azebaijan, after Tsarist officials came for them. Stalin was wanted for his role in a number of bank robberies and other illegal activities.
A year into the marriage, Ketevan gave up the ghost due to typhus. From there onwards, the grieving Stalin developed a personal disliking for his son Yakov. He constantly rebuked, perhaps abused, Yakov for been too weak and soft. Yakov was later left in the care of his maternal grandparents while growing up.
The disgust Stalin felt towards Yakov did not abate with time. During WWII, Stalin showed his utter hatred for Yakov by letting him rot and die in a POW (prisoner of war) camp of the Nazis.
Editor for the newspaper, Pravda
When the Bolsheviks leader Vladimir Lenin was committed to exile, Stalin acted as the major organizer of party affairs. It is believed that Stalin was the one who facilitated Lenin’s escape from the clutches of Tsar royal police.
While Lenin was exiled in Finland, Stalin was put in charge of editing the Pravda, the official newspaper of the Communist Party. It was not uncommon for Stalin to call on the people to let the blood of the Tsarist flow in the streets.
Right from the onset, Stalin realized how influential newspapers could be. Therefore, he used his editorials in the newspaper to call on all Russians to rise up and take their country back from the Tsar.
Civil war ensues after the Tsar Nicholas II caves in to pressure and steps down. In the end, the protesters’ voices are heard and a caretaker government is instituted.
Stalin’s reputation among the Bolsheviks gets a quick lift up as he is appointed to serve as a member of the Bolshevik’s Central Committee.
General Secretary of the Communist Party
With the caretaker government of the country resigning just as fast as they came into power, Lenin took the reins of the country. As a reward for his efforts during the Revolution, Stalin is made General Secretary of the communist Party. In his role as secretary, he calls on the unification of the Soviet Union under one ruler.
However, his suggestion is quickly put down by Lenin. Lenin believed that Stalin’s idea would make a huge mockery of the 1917 Revolution.
Stalin was skilled at manipulating party officials
In the early 1920s, Lenin’s health began deteriorating. As a result of this, Stalin gradually positioned himself as the heir to Lenin.
He first had to fend off competing claims from Leon Trotsky and other top party officials. By undermining Trotsky, he placed himself as Lenin’s heir apparent. Lenin, ill and exhausted, tried to warn his fellow comrades in the party about the dangers his long-time friend posed to the country.
However, it was too late. Under the pretext of keeping Lenin away from the stress of managing the country, Stalin quickly sidelined Lenin. As a result of his incessant desire for power, his closest rival, Trotsky, was exiled out of the country.
Upon the death of Lenin in January 1924, Stalin effectively took control of the country and became a terrible dictator down the years. His nightmarish regime lasted for quarter of a century.
READ MORE: How Did Stalin Rise to Power?
He is credited with quadrupling the Soviet Union’s industrial output
Owing to Stalin’s five-year plan, the Soviet Union saw an increase in her industrial output like never witnessed in her history. The manner in which Stalin carried out the swift industrialization left people surprised and several thousands dead. Why did Stalin embark on industrializing the USSR in the manner that he did?
He reasoned that industrialization in the country had to be done quickly, and at all cost, least the 1917 Revolution ends up being an exercise in futility.
Stalin pumped all his efforts and the country’s resources into boosting the industrial and military capacity of the Soviet Union. His plan worked out brilliantly; however, it came at huge costs to his people. Although the Soviet Union’s industrial capacity increased and became second only to the United States, the impact of such rapid industrialization fell heavily on the people.
Several tens of thousands lost their lives due to Stalin’s brutal enforcement of his growth policies. He made sure that every snippet of dissent was quickly eliminated. Many people across the Soviet Union were locked up, tortured and sent to forced labor camps. Thousands of workers, managers and local officials were summarily executed for failing to meet stringent production targets. Stalin regarded those who failed to comply with his directives as threats to the survival of the nation; hence, he gruesomely eliminated them.
Stayed aloof while 13 percent of the population in Ukraine perished from famine
Just when you think that Stalin had done his worse, in came his collectivized farming program. Stalin’s massive farm projects turned the existing system on its head. Relatively striving farms which were owned privately by relatively wealthy farmers (Kulaks) were confiscated and placed in the care of the state. These farmers were expected to either corporate or make their way to the Gulags, where they would be forced to slave away their lives, that is, if they were not already executed by Stalin.
Stalin hoped to swiftly increase the Union’s agricultural output using machines. And once all the produce have been collected, they would be shipped to state owned and controlled silos. Such moves, obviously, did not sit well with the farmers. Some farmers decided to keep some of their crops to themselves. Stalin killed thousands of farmers that were caught engaging in such practices.
What Stalin did not realize is that his collectivized farming policy was inept at coming to the rescue of 1930s famine that plagued the Soviet Union. As a matter of fact, Stalin’s policies gravely worsened the crisis. In the Ukraine alone, it is estimated that over 3 million souls were lost due to hunger and starvation. Some historians claim that Stalin preferred exporting the state’s grains abroad rather than sending it to the Ukrainians.
Stalin was master of propaganda whose reign of terror knew no boundaries
Stalin’s reign as the leader of the USSR rode on his effective use of propaganda and cult of personality. In many Soviet newspapers and rewritten history books, he was typically referred to as: “the shining sun”; “the great teacher and friend”; and “Our father”.
However, none of those accolades could calm the rage and suspicion that brewed in the dictator’s mind. Over the years, Stalin got increasingly paranoid. It felt as if he was at war with everyone in the Union. From doctors to party officials, Stalin trusted no one. As a result of this, he embarked on the Great Purge, a brutal exercise that did away with anyone who posed real or potential threat to Stalin’s power. So many party officials and top-ranking generals were either removed from their post or killed.
About 65 percent of the members on the Central Committee were sent to an early grave. The number is more staggering among the Soviet Union’s army. Stalin stained his hands with the blood of more than 80% top military commanders and generals.
Over three and the half million people were matched into prisons and detention camps in the cold regions of Siberia. These camps, known as the gulags, could at best be described as Nazi-type concentration camps.
Long before Adolf Hitler dreamed the idea of concentration camps and genocide, Joseph Stalin was already busy implementing his in the 1930s. Unknown to most people today, the atrocities committed by Joseph Stalin between 1934 and 1939 alone to his own people could easily place him as the most brutal dictator to ever walk the earth. Those years of the Soviet Union are scarred into the memory of the World as Stalin’s Great Purge.
He drove his second wife into committing suicide
One would be absolutely wrong to think that the Soviet dictator Stalin took it easy on his family. Stalin’s reign of terror knew no bounds. He equally meted out similar vile treatment to his own family members. The person to pay the biggest price was his poor wife Nadezhda Alliluyeva, commonly called Nadya.
Stalin married Nadya in the 1919 and he went on to have two kids with her – Svetlana and Vassily. All throughout their marriage, Stalin was in the habit of emotionally and psychological torturing Nadya and the children. His sporadic bursts and quick temper frightened the living day light out of his family.
Feeling trapped in the relationship, Stalin’s wife Nadya is believed to have committed suicide in 1932. Her death was a huge loss to her surviving kids. Stalin mourned her loss bitterly. However in typical fashion of Stalin, the dictator twisted the story and attributed the cause of her death to an illness. His propaganda secretaries stated that she died as a result of appendicitis.
What can you expect from a man who repeatedly refused negotiating the release of his first son Yakov from Nazi prison?
Read More: Most Ruthless Dictators of All Time
Secured victory over the Nazis at all cost
When WW2 broke out in 1939, Stalin was quick to sign a nonaggression pact with Adolf Hitler. However, it turned out that honor among dictators was a rarity. Hitler reneged on the pact and attacked the Soviet Union once he was done with France. Stalin spent days locked up in his office bemoaning Hitler’s betrayal. For someone as ruthless as Stalin to be shocked by the Nazi Blitzkrieg attack of June 1941 shows you how severe the attack was.
In any case, Stalin gathered himself and put up a strong resistance against the Nazi Germany. He sacrificed millions of Soviet souls in doing so. To get his men fired up and fight bravely, Stalin had a policy of executing any soldier that fled the battle field. By 1943, Stalin had successfully marshaled his Red Army to a resounding victory over the Nazis.
READ MORE: Stalin’s Role During WW2
The “Iron Curtain” over Europe was Stalin’s idea
British Prime Minister and WW2 hero Sir Winston Churchill once remarked that the activities of Stalin and the Soviet Union were a grave concern to the world. Churchill coined the term “iron curtain” to explain the philosophical and political rift Stalin was creating between the West and the East. This was clearly seen during the 11-month blockade of Berlin, in June 1948, where Stalin sought to impose a physical and ideological barrier between the East and the West. He also hoped to spread communist ideologies far and beyond Europe into places all around the world.
This rift between Stalin and the West is what laid the ground works for the breakout of the Cold War. Prior to his death on March 5, 1953, Stalin successfully tested an atomic bomb, thereby ushering in the nuclear age and arms struggle between the USSR and the United States.