Joseph Stalin, was born in Gori, Georgia on 21st December, 1879. He was his mother's fourth child to be born in less than four years. The first three died and as Joseph was prone to bad health, his mother feared on several occasions that he would also die. Understandably, given this background, Joseph's mother was very protective towards him as a child.
Joseph's father was a bootmaker and his mother took in washing. As a child, Joseph experienced the poverty that most peasants had to endure in Russia at the end of the 19th century. At the age of seven he contacted smallpox. He survived but his face remained scarred for the rest of his life and other children cruelly called him "pocky".
Joseph's mother was deeply religious and in 1888 she managed to obtain him a place at the local church school. Despite his health problems, he made good progress at school and eventually won a free scholarship to the Tiflis Theological Seminary. While studying at the seminary he joined a secret organization called Messame Dassy. Members were supporters of Georgian independence from Russia. Some were also socialist revolutionaries and it was through the people he met in this organization that Stalin first came into contact with the ideas of Karl Marx.
In May, 1899, Stalin was expelled from the Tiflis Theological Seminary. Several reasons were given for this action including disrespect for those in authority and reading forbidden books. Stalin was later to claim that the real reason was that he had been trying to convert his fellow students to Marxism.
For several months after leaving the seminary Stalin was unemployed. He eventually found work by giving private lessons to middle class children. Later, he worked as a clerk at the Tiflis Observatory. He also began writing articles for the socialist Georgian newspaper, Brdzola Khma Vladimir.
In 1901 Stalin joined the Social Democratic Labour Party and whereas most of the leaders were living in exile, he stayed in Russia where he helped to organize industrial resistance to Tsarism. On 18th April, 1902, Stalin was arrested after coordinating a strike at the large Rothschild plant at Batum. After spending 18 months in prison Stalin was deported to Siberia.
At the Second Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party in London in 1903, there was a dispute between Vladimir Lenin and Julius Martov, two of the party's leaders. Lenin argued for a small party of professional revolutionaries with a large fringe of non-party sympathizers and supporters. Martov disagreed believing it was better to have a large party of activists.
Julius Martov based his ideas on the socialist parties that existed in other European countries such as the British Labour Party. Lenin argued that the situation was different in Russia as it was illegal to form socialist political parties under the Tsar's autocratic government. At the end of the debate Martov won the vote 28-23. Vladimir Lenin was unwilling to accept the result and formed a faction known as the Bolsheviks. Those who remained loyal to Martov became known as Mensheviks.
Stalin, like Gregory Zinoviev, Anatoli Lunacharsky, Mikhail Lashevich, Nadezhda Krupskaya, Mikhail Frunze, Alexei Rykov, Yakov Sverdlov, Lev Kamenev, Maxim Litvinov, Vladimir Antonov, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Gregory Ordzhonikidze and Alexander Bogdanov joined the Bolsheviks. Whereas George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Lev Deich, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, Leon Trotsky, Vera Zasulich, Irakli Tsereteli, Moisei Uritsky, Noi Zhordania, Andrei Vyshinsky and Fedor Dan supported Julius Martov.
In 1904 Stalin escaped from Siberia and within a few months he was back organizing demonstrations and strikes in Tiflis. Vladimir Lenin was impressed with Stalin's achievements and in 1905 he was invited to meet him in Finland.
Stalin returned to Russia and over the next eight years he was arrested four times but each time managed to escape. In 1911 he moved to St, Petersburg and the following year became editor of Pravda. Arrested again in 1913, Stalin was exiled for life to North Siberia.
After the overthrow of Nicholas II, the new prime minister, Alexander Kerensky, allowed all political prisoners to return to their homes. Stalin went back to St. Petersburg and once again became one of the editors of Pravda. At this time, Stalin, like most Bolsheviks, took the view that the Russian people were not ready for a socialist revolution.
When Vladimir Lenin returned to Russia on 3rd April, 1917, he announced what became known as the April Theses. Lenin attacked Bolsheviks for supporting the Provisional Government. Instead, he argued, revolutionaries should be telling the people of Russia that they should take over the control of the country. In his speech, Lenin urged the peasants to take the land from the rich landlords and the industrial workers to seize the factories.
Lenin accused those Bolsheviks who were still supporting the Provisional Government of betraying socialism and suggested that they should leave the party. Some took Lenin's advice, arguing that any attempt at revolution at this stage was bound to fail and would lead to another repressive, authoritarian Russian government.
Stalin was in a difficult position. As one of the editors of Pravda, he was aware that he was being held partly responsible for what Vladimir Lenin had described as "betraying socialism". Stalin had two main options open to him: he could oppose Lenin and challenge him for the leadership of the party, or he could change his mind about supporting the Provisional Government and remain loyal to Lenin.
After ten days of silence, Stalin made his move. In Pravda he wrote an article dismissing the idea of working with the Provisional Government. He condemned Alexander Kerensky and Victor Chernov as counter-revolutionaries, and urged the peasants to takeover the land for themselves.
In November, 1917, Vladimir Lenin rewarded Stalin for his support of the October Revolution by appointing him Commissar of Nationalities. Lenin joked to Stalin that: "You know, to pass so quickly from an underground existence to power makes one dizzy."
As a Georgian and a member of a minority group who had written about the problems of non-Russian peoples living under the Tsar, Stalin was seen as the obvious choice as Commissar of Nationalities. It was a job that gave Stalin tremendous power for nearly half the country's population fell into the category of non-Russian. Stalin now had the responsibility of dealing with 65 million Ukrainians, Georgians, Byelorussians, Tadzhiks, Buriats and Yakuts.
The policy of the Bolsheviks was to grant the right of self-determination to all the various nationalities within Russia. This was reinforced by a speech Stalin made in Helsinki on November 16th, 1917. Stalin promised the crowd that the Soviet government would grant: "complete freedom for the Finnish people, and for other peoples of Russia, to arrange their own life!" Stalin's plan was to develop what he called "a voluntary and honest alliance" between Russia and the different national groups that lived within its borders.
Over the next couple of years Stalin had difficulty controlling the non-Russian peoples under his control. Independent states were set up without his agreement. These new governments were often hostile to the Bolsheviks. Stalin had hoped that these independent states would voluntarily agree to join up with Russia to form a union of Socialist States. When this did not happen Stalin was forced to revise his policy and stated that self-determination: "ought to be understood as the right of self-determination not of the bourgeoisie but of the toiling masses of a given nation." In other words, unless these independent states had a socialist government willing to develop a union with Russia, the Bolsheviks would not allow self-determination.
Vladimir Lenin also changed his views on independence. He now came to the conclusion that a "modern economy required a high degree of power in the centre." Although the Bolsheviks had promised nearly half the Russian population that they would have self-determination, Lenin was now of the opinion that such a policy could pose a serious threat to the survival of the Soviet government. It was the broken promise over self-determination that was just one of the many reasons why Lenin's government became unpopular in Russia.
During the Civil War Stalin played an important administrative role in military matters and took the credit for successfully defeating the White Army at Tsaritsyn. One strategy developed by Stalin was to conduct interviews with local administrators on a large barge moored on the Volga. It was later claimed that if Stalin was not convinced of their loyalty they were shot and thrown into the river.
In August, 1918, Moisei Uritsky, chief of the Petrograd Secret Police was assassinated. Two two weeks later Dora Kaplan shot and severely wounded Vladimir Lenin. Stalin, who was in Tsaritsyn at the time, sent a telegram advocating an "open and systematic mass terror" against those responsible. The advice of Stalin was accepted and in September, 1918, Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka, instigated as the Red Terror. It is estimated that in the next few months 800 socialists were arrested and shot without trial.
The Soviet's government's policy of War Communism during the Civil War created social distress and led to riots, strikes and demonstrations. The Kronstadt Uprising reinforced the idea that the government was unpopular and in March, 1921, Vladimir Lenin announced details of his New Economic Policy (NEP). Farmers were now allowed to sell food on the open market and could now employ people to work for them.
The New Economic Policy also allowed some freedom of internal trade, permitted some private commerce and re-established state banks. Factories employing less than twenty people were denationalized and could be claimed back by former owners.
Stalin supported Lenin's policy. His view was that as long as there was only a one party state, the government could allow the introduction of small-scale private enterprise. As he pointed out: "The New Economic Policy is a special policy of the proletarian state designed to tolerate capitalism but retain the key positions in the hands of the proletarian state."
Vladimir Lenin found the disagreements over the New Economic Policy exhausting. His health had been poor ever since Dora Kaplan had shot him in 1918. Severe headaches limited his sleep and understandably he began to suffer from fatigue. Lenin decided he needed someone to help him control the Communist Party.
At the Party Conference in April, 1922, Vladimir Lenin suggested that a new post of General Secretary should be created. Lenin's choice for the post was Stalin, who in the past had always loyally supported his policies. Stalin's main opponents for the future leadership of the party failed to see the importance of this position and actually supported his nomination. They initially saw the post of General Secretary as being no more than "Lenin's mouthpiece".
Soon after Stalin's appointment as General Secretary, Lenin went into hospital to have a bullet removed from his body that had been there since Kaplan's assassination attempt. It was hoped that this operation would restore his health. This was not to be; soon afterwards, a blood vessel broke in Lenin's brain. This left him paralyzed all down his right side and for a time he was unable to speak. As "Lenin's mouthpiece", Stalin had suddenly become extremely important.
While Vladimir Lenin was immobilized, Stalin made full use of his powers as General Secretary. At the Party Congress he had been granted permission to expel "unsatisfactory" party members. This enabled Stalin to remove thousands of supporters of Leon Trotsky, his main rival for the leadership of the party. As General Secretary, Stalin also had the power to appoint and sack people from important positions in the government. The new holders of these posts were fully aware that they owed their promotion to Stalin. They also knew that if their behaviour did not please Stalin they would be replaced.
Surrounded by his supporters, Stalin's confidence began to grow. In October, 1922, he disagreed with Lenin over the issue of foreign trade. When the matter was discussed at Central Committee, Stalin's rather Lenin's policy was accepted. Lenin began to fear that Stalin was taking over the leadership of the party. Lenin wrote to Leon Trotsky asking for his support. Trotsky agreed and at the next meeting of the Central Committee the decision on foreign trade was reversed. Lenin, who was too ill to attend, wrote to Trotsky congratulating him on his success and suggesting that in future they should work together against Stalin.
Stalin, whose wife Nadya Alliluyeva worked in Lenin's private office, soon discovered the contents of the letter sent to Leon Trotsky. Stalin was furious as he realized that if Lenin and Trotsky worked together against him, his political career would be at an end. In a fit of temper Stalin made an abusive phone-call to Lenin's wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, accusing her of endangering Lenin's life by allowing him to write letters when he was so ill.
After Krupskaya told her husband of the phone-call, Vladimir Lenin made the decision that Stalin was not the man to replace him as the leader of the party. Lenin knew he was close to death so he dictated to his secretary a letter that he wanted to serve as his last "will and testament". The document was comprised of his thoughts on the senior members of the party leadership.
Lenin became increasing concerned about Stalin's character and wrote a testament in which he suggested that he be removed. "Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated enormous power in his hands: and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution. I therefore propose to our comrades to consider a means of removing Stalin from this post and appointing someone else who differs from Stalin in one weighty respect: being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite, more considerate of his comrades."
However, Vladimir Lenin died before any action was taken. Stalin now emerged as the leader of the Soviet Union. When he first gained power Stalin continued Lenin's New Economic Policy. Farmers were allowed to sell food on the open market and were allowed to employ people to work for them. Those farmers who expanded the size of their farms became known as kulaks.
In 1928 Stalin began attacking kulaks for not supplying enough food for industrial workers. He also advocated the setting up of collective farms. The proposal involved small farmers joining forces to form large-scale units. In this way, it was argued, they would be in a position to afford the latest machinery. Stalin believed this policy would lead to increased production. However, the peasants liked farming their own land and were reluctant to form themselves into state collectives.
Stalin was furious that the peasants were putting their own welfare before that of the Soviet Union. Local communist officials were given instructions to confiscate kulaks property. This land was then used to form new collective farms. Thousands of kulaks were executed and an estimated five million were deported to Siberia or Central Asia. Of these, approximately twenty-five per cent perished by the time they reached their destination.
After the death of Vladimir Lenin, Stalin joined forces with two left-wing members of the Politburo, Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, to keep Leon Trotsky from power. Both these men had reason to believe that Trotsky would dismiss them from the government once he became leader. Stalin encouraged these fears. He also suggested that old party activists like themselves had more right to lead the Bolsheviks than Trotsky, who had only joined the party in 1917.
Leon Trotsky accused Stalin of being dictatorial and called for the introduction of more democracy into the party. Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev united behind Stalin and accused Trotsky of creating divisions in the party.
Trotsky's main hope of gaining power was for Lenin's last testament to be published. In May, 1924, Lenin's widow, Nadezhda Krupskaya, demanded that the Central Committee announce its contents to the rest of the party. Gregory Zinoviev argued strongly against its publication. He finished his speech with the words: "You have all witnessed our harmonious cooperation in the last few months, and, like myself, you will be happy to say that Lenin's fears have proved baseless." The new members of the Central Committee, who had been sponsored by Stalin, guaranteed that the vote went against Lenin's testament being made public.
In 1925 Stalin was able to arrange for Leon Trotsky to be removed from the government. Some of Trotsky's supporters pleaded with him to organize a military coup. As commissar of war Trotsky was in a good position to arrange this. However, Trotsky rejected the idea and instead resigned his post.
With the decline of Trotsky, Joseph Stalin felt strong enough to stop sharing power with Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev. Stalin now began to attack Trotsky's belief in the need for world revolution. He argued that the party's main priority should be to defend the communist system that had been developed in the Soviet Union. This put Zinoviev and Kamenev in an awkward position. They had for a long time been strong supporters of Trotsky's theory that if revolution did not spread to other countries, the communist system in the Soviet Union was likely to be overthrown by hostile, capitalist nations. However, they were reluctant to speak out in favour of a man whom they had been in conflict with for so long.
When Stalin was finally convinced that Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev were unwilling to join forces with Leon Trotsky against him, he began to support openly the economic policies of right-wing members of the Politburo such as Nikolay Bukharin, Mikhail Tomsky and Alexei Rykov. They now realized what Stalin was up to but it took them to summer of 1926 before they could swallow their pride and join with Trotsky against Stalin.
When Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev eventually began attacking his policies, Joseph Stalin argued they were creating disunity in the party and managed to have them expelled from the Central Committee. The belief that the party would split into two opposing factions was a strong fear amongst communists in the country. They were convinced that if this happened, western countries would take advantage of the situation and invade the Soviet Union.
Under pressure from the Central Committee, Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev agreed to sign statements promising not to create conflict in the movement by making speeches attacking official policies. Leon Trotsky refused to sign and was banished to the remote area of Kazhakstan.
In 1927 Stalin's advisers told him that with the modernization of farming the Soviet Union would require an extra 250,000 tractors. As well as tractors there was also a need to develop the oil fields to provide the necessary petrol to drive the machines. Power stations also had to be built to supply the farms with electricity.
Since the October Revolution industrial progress had been slow. It was not until 1927 that production had reached the levels achieved before the start of the First World War. Stalin decided that he would use his control over the country to modernize the economy.
The first Five Year Plan that was introduced in 1928, concentrated on the development of iron and steel, machine-tools, electric power and transport. Stalin set the workers high targets. He demanded a 111% increase in coal production, 200% increase in iron production and 335% increase in electric power. He justified these demands by claiming that if rapid industrialization did not take place, the Soviet Union would not be able to defend itself against an invasion from capitalist countries in the west.
Every factory had large display boards erected that showed the output of workers. Those that failed to reach the required targets were publicity criticized and humiliated. Some workers could not cope with this pressure and absenteeism increased. This led to even more repressive measures being introduced. Records were kept of workers' lateness, absenteeism and bad workmanship. If the worker's record was poor, he was accused of trying to sabotage the Five Year Plan and if found guilty could be shot or sent to work as forced labour on the Baltic Sea Canal or the Siberian Railway.
With the modernization of industry, Stalin argued that it was necessary to pay higher wages to certain workers in order to encourage increased output. His left-wing opponents claimed that this inequality was a betrayal of socialism and would create a new class system in the Soviet Union. Stalin had his way and during the 1930s, the gap between the wages of the labourers and the skilled workers increased.
In the summer of 1932 Stalin became aware that opposition to his policies were growing. Some party members were publicly criticizing Stalin and calling for the readmission of Leon Trotsky to the party. When the issue was discussed at the Politburo, Stalin demanded that the critics should be arrested and executed. Sergey Kirov, who up to this time had been a staunch Stalinist, argued against this policy. When the vote was taken, the majority of the Politburo supported Kirov against Stalin.
In the spring of 1934 Sergey Kirov put forward a policy of reconciliation. He argued that people should be released from prison who had opposed the government's policy on collective farms and industrialization. Once again, Stalin found himself in a minority in the Politburo.
After years of arranging for the removal of his opponents from the party, Stalin realized he still could not rely on the total support of the people whom he had replaced them with. Stalin no doubt began to wonder if Sergey Kirov was willing to wait for his mentor to die before becoming leader of the party. Stalin was particularly concerned by Kirov's willingness to argue with him in public, fearing that this would undermine his authority in the party.
As usual, that summer Kirov and Stalin went on holiday together. Stalin, who treated Kirov like a son, used this opportunity to try to persuade him to remain loyal to his leadership. Stalin asked him to leave Leningrad to join him in Moscow. Stalin wanted Kirov in a place where he could keep a close eye on him. When Kirov refused, Stalin knew he had lost control over his protégé.
On 1st December, 1934. Sergey Kirov was assassinated by a young party member, Leonid Nikolayev. Stalin claimed that Nikolayev was part of a larger conspiracy led by Leon Trotsky against the Soviet government. This resulted in the arrest and execution of Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, and fifteen other party members.
In September, 1936, Stalin appointed Nikolai Yezhov as head of the NKVD, the Communist Secret Police. Yezhov quickly arranged the arrest of all the leading political figures in the Soviet Union who were critical of Stalin. The Secret Police broke prisoners down by intense interrogation. This included the threat to arrest and execute members of the prisoner's family if they did not confess. The interrogation went on for several days and nights and eventually they became so exhausted and disoriented that they signed confessions agreeing that they had been attempting to overthrow the government.
In 1936 Nickolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Krestinsky and Christian Rakovsky were arrested and accused of being involved with Leon Trotsky in a plot against Stalin. They were all found guilty and were eventually executed.
Stalin now decided to purge the Red Army. Some historians believe that Stalin was telling the truth when he claimed that he had evidence that the army was planning a military coup at this time. Leopold Trepper, head of the Soviet spy ring in Germany, believed that the evidence was planted by a double agent who worked for both Stalin and Adolf Hitler. Trepper's theory is that the "chiefs of Nazi counter-espionage" took "advantage of the paranoia raging in the Soviet Union," by supplying information that led to Stalin executing his top military leaders.
In June, 1937, Mikhail Tukhachevsky and seven other top Red Army commanders were charged with conspiracy with Germany. All eight were convicted and executed. All told, 30,000 members of the armed forces were executed. This included fifty per cent of all army officers.
The last stage of the terror was the purging of the NKVD. Stalin wanted to make sure that those who knew too much about the purges would also be killed. Stalin announced to the country that "fascist elements" had taken over the security forces which had resulted in innocent people being executed. He appointed Lavrenti Beria as the new head of the Secret Police and he was instructed to find out who was responsible. After his investigations, Beria arranged the executions of all the senior figures in the organization.
Stalin supported the Popular Front government in Spain. After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War he sent large quantities of Soviet tanks and aircraft to the Republicans. They were accompanied by a large number of tank-drivers and pilots from the Soviet Union. All told, about 850 Soviet advisers, pilots, technical personnel and interpreters took part in the war.
Stalin became increasingly concerned that the Soviet Union would be invaded by Germany. Stalin believed the best way to of dealing with Adolf Hitler was to form an anti-fascist alliance with countries in the west. Stalin argued that even Hitler would not start a war against a united Europe.
Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, was not enthusiastic about forming an alliance with the Soviet Union. He wrote to a friend: "I must confess to the most profound distrust of Russia. I have no belief whatever in her ability to maintain an effective offensive, even if she wanted to. And I distrust her motives, which seem to me to have little connection with our ideas of liberty, and to be concerned only with getting everyone else by the ears."
Winston Churchill, an outspoken critic of British foreign policy, agreed with Stalin: "There is no means of maintaining an eastern front against Nazi aggression without the active aid of Russia. Russian interests are deeply concerned in preventing Herr Hitler's designs on eastern Europe. It should still be possible to range all the States and peoples from the Baltic to the Black sea in one solid front against a new outrage of invasion. Such a front, if established in good heart, and with resolute and efficient military arrangements, combined with the strength of the Western Powers, may yet confront Hitler, Goering, Himmler, Ribbentrop, Goebbels and co. with forces the German people would be reluctant to challenge."
Stalin's own interpretation of Britain's rejection of his plan for an antifascist alliance, was that they were involved in a plot with Germany against the Soviet Union. This belief was reinforced when Neville Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler at Munich in September, 1938, and gave into his demands for the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Stalin now believed that the main objective of British foreign policy was to encourage Germany to head east rather than west.
Stalin realized that war with Germany was inevitable. However, to have any chance of victory he needed time to build up his armed forces. The only way he could obtain time was to do a deal with Hitler. Stalin was convinced that Hitler would not be foolish enough to fight a war on two fronts. If he could persuade Hitler to sign a peace treaty with the Soviet Union, Germany was likely to invade Western Europe instead.
On 3rd May, 1939, Stalin dismissed Maxim Litvinov, his Jewish Commissar for Foreign Affairs. Litvinov had been closely associated with the Soviet Union's policy of an antifascist alliance. Meetings soon took place between Vyacheslav Molotov, Litvinov's replacement and Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister. On 28th August, 1939, the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed in Moscow. Under the terms of the agreement, both countries promised to remain neutral if either country became involved in a war.
Stalin now ordered the Red Army into Poland and reclaimed land lost when the Brest-Litovsk Treaty was signed in 1918.
Another aspect of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty that made the Soviet Union vulnerable to attack was the loss of Finland. Leningrad was only thirty-two kilometres from the Finnish border. This made Leningrad and its 3.5 million population, a potential target of artillery fire. Stalin therefore began to consider the Invasion of Finland.
After attempts to negotiate the stationing of Soviet troops in Finland failed, Stalin ordered the Red Army to invade. Adolf Hitler, who also had designs on Finland, was forced to standby and watch the Soviet Union build up its Baltic defences. It took the Soviet troops three months to force the Finnish government to agree to Stalin's original demands. Although the world was now aware of Stalin's shrewdness in foreign affairs, Finland's small army of 200,000 men had exposed the Soviet Union's poorly trained and equipped army.
Stalin believed that Germany would not invade the Soviet Union until Britain and France had been conquered. From Stalin's own calculations, this would not be until the summer of 1942. Some of his closest advisers began to argue that 1941 would be a much more likely date. The surrender of France in June, 1940, also cast doubts on Stalin's calculations.
Stalin's response to France's defeat was to send Vyacheslav Molotov to Berlin for more discussions. Molotov was instructed to draw out these talks for as long as possible. Stalin knew that if Adolf Hitler did not attack the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, he would have to wait until 1942. No one, not even someone as rash as Hitler, would invade the Soviet Union in the winter, he argued.
Germany was now in a strong negotiating position and Molotov found it impossible to agree to Hitler's demands. As soon as talks broke-up, Hitler ordered his military leaders to prepare for Operation Barbarossa. The plan was for the invasion of the Soviet Union to start on the 15th May, 1941. Hitler believed that this would give the German Army enough time to take control of the country before the harsh Soviet winter set in.
Information on the proposed invasion came to Stalin from various sources. Richard Sorge, an agent working for the Red Orchestra in Japan, obtained information about the proposed invasion as early as December, 1940. Winston Churchill sent a personal message to Stalin in April, 1941, explaining how German troop movements suggested that they were about to attack the Soviet Union. However, Stalin was still suspicious of the British and thought that Churchill was trying to trick him into declaring war on Germany.
When Sorge's prediction that Germany would invade in May, 1941, did not take place, Stalin became even more convinced that the war would not start until 1942. The reason for this delay was that Germany had invaded Yugoslavia in April. Adolf Hitler had expected the Yugoslavs to surrender immediately but because of stubborn resistance, Hitler had to postpone Operation Barbarossa for a few weeks.
On 21st June, 1941, a German sergeant deserted to the Soviet forces. He informed them that the German Army would attack at dawn the following morning. Stalin was reluctant to believe the soldier's story and it was not until the German attack took place that he finally accepted that his attempts to avoid war with Germany until 1942 had failed.
The German forces, made up of three million men and 3,400 tanks, advanced in three groups. The north group headed for Leningrad, the centre group for Moscow and the southern forces into the Ukraine. Within six days, the German Army had captured Minsk. General Demitry Pavlov, the man responsible for defending Minsk, and two of his senior generals were recalled to Moscow and were shot for incompetence.
With the execution of Pavlov and his generals, Stalin made it clear that he would punish severely any commander whom he believed had let down the Soviet Union. In future, Soviet commanders thought twice about surrendering or retreating. Another factor in this was the way that the German Army massacred the people of Minsk. Terrified of both Stalin and Adolf Hitler, the Soviet people had no option but to fight until they were killed.
The first few months of the war was disastrous for the Soviet Union. The German northern forces surrounded Leningrad while the centre group made steady progress towards Moscow. German forces had also made deep inroads into the Ukraine. Kiev was under siege and Stalin's Chief of Staff, Georgi Zhukov, suggested that the troops defending the capital of the Ukraine should be withdrawn, thus enabling them to take up strong defensive positions further east. Stalin insisted that the troops stayed and by the time Kiev was taken, the casualties were extremely high. It was the most comprehensive defeat experienced by the Red Army in its history. However, the determined resistance put up at Kiev, had considerably delayed the attack on Moscow.
It was now September and winter was fast approaching. As German troops moved deeper into the Soviet Union, supply lines became longer. Stalin gave instructions that when forced to withdraw, the Red Army should destroy anything that could be of use to the enemy. The scorched earth policy and the formation of guerrilla units behind the German front lines, created severe problems for the German war machine which was trying to keep her three million soldiers supplied with the necessary food and ammunition.
By October, 1941, German troops were only fifteen miles outside Moscow. Orders were given for a mass evacuation of the city. In two weeks, two million people left Moscow and headed east. Stalin rallied morale by staying in Moscow. In a bomb-proof air raid shelter positioned under the Kremlin, Stalin, as Supreme Commander-in-Chief, directed the Soviet war effort. All major decisions made by his front-line commanders had to be cleared with Stalin first.
In November, 1941, the German Army launched a new offensive on Moscow. The Soviet army held out and the Germans were brought to a halt. Stalin called for a counter-attack. His commanders had doubts about this policy but Stalin insisted and on 4th December the Red Army attacked. The German forces, demoralized by its recent lack of success, was taken by surprise and started to retreat. By January, the Germans had been pushed back 200 miles.
Stalin's military strategy was basically fairly simple. He believed it was vitally important to attack the enemy as often as possible. He was particularly keen to use new, fresh troops for these offensives. Stalin argued that countries in western Europe had been beaten by their own fear of German superiority. His main objective in using new troops in this way was to convince them that the German forces were not invincible. By pushing the German Army back at Moscow, Stalin proved to the Soviet troops that Blizkrieg could be counteracted; it also provided an important example to all troops throughout the world fighting the German war-machine.
The German Army was severely handicapped by the Soviet winter of 1941-42 and once spring arrived they began to advance once again. German forces were particularly successful in the south and they were able to close in on Stalingrad.
Stalin was horrified to hear reports that the Red Army in the Ukraine had been in such a hurry to retreat that they had left behind their weapons and equipment. Not only were soldiers shot for desertion but Stalin gave permission for highly critical articles of the army to be published in the newspapers. The army, which had been praised during the early stages of the war, was now accused of betraying the Soviet people. It was an extremely risky move on Stalin's part, but it had the desired effect and its performance improved.
Stalingrad was Stalin's city. It had been named after him as a result of his defence of the city during the Russian Civil War. Stalin insisted that it should be held at all costs. One historian has claimed that he saw Stalingrad "as the symbol of his own authority." Stalin also knew that if Stalingrad was taken, the way would be open for Moscow to be attacked from the east. If Moscow was cut off in this way, the defeat of the Soviet Union was virtually inevitable.
A million Soviet soldiers were drafted into the Stalingrad area. They were supported from an increasing flow of tanks, aircraft and rocket batteries from the factories built east of the Urals, during the Five Year Plans. Stalin's claim that rapid industrialization would save the Soviet Union from defeat by western invaders was beginning to come true.
General Georgi Zhukov, the military leader who had yet to be defeated in a battle, was put in charge of the defence of Stalingrad. The line held and on 19th November, 1942, Stalin gave the order to counterattack from the north and the south. Although the German 6th Army continued to make progress towards Stalingrad, they were gradually becoming encircled. General Friedrich Paulus, the German commander, asked permission to withdraw but Adolf Hitler refused and instructed him to continue to advance on Stalingrad. This they did, but with their supplies cut-off from the west, they were unable to take the city.
In recognition of his commander's bravery, Adolf Hitler made Friedrich Paulus a Field Marshal on 30th January, 1943. Hitler was furious when a couple of days later Paulus surrendered. The German losses at Stalingrad were 1.5 million men, 3,500 tanks and 3,000 aircraft. It marked the turning point of the war. From this date on, Germany began to retreat.
It was only when the Red Army regained territory previously controlled by the Nazis that the Soviet Government became fully aware of the war crimes that had been committed. Soviet soldiers who had been taken prisoner had been deliberately starved to death. Of the 5,170,000 soldiers captured by the Germans, only 1,053,000 survived.
Women and children were also killed in large numbers. The Jews were always the first to be executed, but other groups, especially the Russians, were also killed. German soldiers were given the instructions that the "Jewish-Bolshevik system must be destroyed". Adolf Hitler was aware that to control the vast population of the Soviet Union would always be an extremely difficult task. His way of dealing with the problem was by mass exterminations.
Soviet authorities estimated that in all, over twenty million of their people were killed during the Second World War. However, it has been argued that Hitler's policy of exterminating the Soviet people guaranteed his defeat. Stories of German atrocities soon reached Red Army soldiers fighting at the front. Faced with the choice of being executed or being killed fighting, the vast majority chose the latter. Unlike most other soldiers, when faced with defeat in battle, the Soviet army rarely surrendered.
This was also true of civilians. When territory was taken by the German Army, women, children and old men went into hiding and formed guerrilla units. These groups, who concentrated on disrupting German supply lines, proved a constant problem to the German forces.
In November, 1943, Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met together in Teheran, Iran, to discuss military strategy and post-war Europe. Ever since the Soviet Union had entered the war, Stalin had been demanding that the Allies open-up a second front in Europe. Churchill and Roosevelt argued that any attempt to land troops in Western Europe would result in heavy casualties. Until the Soviet's victory at Stalingrad in January, 1943, Stalin had feared that without a second front, Germany would defeat them.
Stalin, who always favoured in offensive strategy, believed that there were political, as well as military reasons for the Allies' failure to open up a second front in Europe. Stalin was still highly suspicious of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt and was worried about them signing a peace agreement with Adolf Hitler. The foreign policies of the capitalist countries since the October Revolution had convinced Stalin that their main objective was the destruction of the communist system in the Soviet Union. Stalin was fully aware that if Britain and the USA withdrew from the war, the Red Army would have great difficulty in dealing with Germany on its own.
At Teheran, Stalin reminded Churchill and Roosevelt of a previous promise of landing troops in Western Europe in 1942. Later they postponed it to the spring of 1943. Stalin complained that it was now November and there was still no sign of an allied invasion of France. After lengthy discussions it was agreed that the Allies would mount a major offensive in the spring of 1944.
From the memoirs published by those who took part in the negotiations in Teheran, it would appear that Stalin dominated the conference. Alan Brook, chief of the British General Staff, was later to say: "I rapidly grew to appreciate the fact that he had a military brain of the very highest calibre. Never once in any of his statements did he make any strategic error, nor did he ever fail to appreciate all the implications of a situation with a quick and unerring eye. In this respect he stood out compared with Roosevelt and Churchill."
The D-Day landings in June, 1944, created a second front, and took the pressure off the Soviet Union and the Red Army made steady progress into territory held by Germany. Country after country fell to Soviet forces. Winston Churchill became concerned about the spread of Soviet power and visited Moscow in October, 1944. Churchill agreed that Rumania and Bulgaria should be under "Soviet influence" but argued that Yugoslavia and Hungary should be shared equally amongst them.
The most heated discussion concerned the future of Poland. The Polish Government in exile, based in London, had a reputation for being extremely anti-Communist. Although Stalin was willing to negotiate with the Polish prime minister, Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, he insisted that he was unwilling to have a government in Poland that was actively hostile to the Soviet Union.
In February, 1945, Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met again. This time the conference was held in Yalta in the Crimea. With Soviet troops in most of Eastern Europe, Stalin was in a strong negotiating position. Roosevelt and Churchill tried hard to restrict postwar influence in this area but the only concession they could obtain was a promise that free elections would be held in these countries.
Once again, Poland was the main debating point. Stalin explained that throughout history Poland had either attacked Russia or had been used as a corridor through which other hostile countries invaded her. Only a strong, pro-Communist government in Poland would be able to guarantee the security of the Soviet Union.
Stalin also promised that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan three months after the war with Germany ended and in return would recover what Russia had lost at the end of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05).
At Yalta, the decision at Teheran to form a United Nations organization was confirmed. It was only on this issue that all three leaders were enthusiastically in agreement.
At the time of Yalta, Germany was close to defeat. British and USA troops were advancing from the west and the Red Army from the east. At the conference it was agreed to divide Germany up amongst the Allies. However, all parties to that agreement were aware that the country that actually took control of Germany would be in the strongest position over the future of this territory.
The main objective of Winston Churchill and Stalin was the capture of Berlin, the capital of Germany. Franklin D. Roosevelt did not agree and the decision of the USA Military commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, to head south-east to Dresden, ensured that Soviet forces would be the first to reach Berlin.
The leaders of the victorious countries met once more at Potsdam in July, 1945. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died in April, 1945, had been replaced by the Vice-President, Harry S. Truman. While the conference was taking place, the British General Election results were announced. The landslide victory of the Labour Party meant that Clement Attlee replaced Winston Churchill as Britain's main negotiator.
Although Germany had been defeated, the USA and Britain were still at war with Japan. At Yalta, the Allies had attempted to persuade Stalin to join in the war with Japan. By the time the Potsdam meeting took place, they were having doubts about this strategy. Churchill in particular, were afraid that Soviet involvement would lead to an increase in their influence over countries in the Far East.
At Yalta, Stalin had promised to enter the war with Japan within three months of the defeat of Germany. Originally, it was planned that the conference at Potsdam would confirm this decision. However, since the previous meeting the USA had successfully tested the Atom Bomb. Truman's advisers were urging him to use this bomb on Japan. They also pointed out that its employment would avoid an invasion of Japan and thus save the lives of up to two million American troops.
When Harry S. Truman told Stalin that the USA had a new powerful bomb he appeared pleased and asked no further questions about it. Truman did not mention that it was a atomic bomb and it appears that Stalin did not initially grasp the significance of this new weapon. However, with the dropping of the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, the Japanese quickly surrendered and the Allies were successful in preventing Soviet gains in the Far East.
Stalin's main concern at Potsdam was to obtain economic help for the Soviet Union. Nearly a quarter of Soviet property had been destroyed during the Second World War. This included 31,000 of her factories. Agriculture had also been badly hit and food was being strictly rationed. Stalin had been told by his advisers that under-nourishment of the workforce was causing low-productivity. He believed that the best way to revive the Soviet economy was to obtain massive reparation payments from Germany.
Unlike at Yalta, the Allies were no longer willing to look sympathetically at Stalin's demands. With Germany defeated and the USA now possessing the Atom Bomb, the Allies no longer needed the co-operation of the Soviet Union. Stalin felt betrayed by this change of attitude. He believed that the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt was an important factor in this.
The ending of lend-lease supplies to the Soviet Union immediately the war ended with Germany in May, 1945 and the insistence that Henry Wallace, the US Secretary of Commerce, resign after he made a speech in support of Soviet economic demands, convinced Stalin that the hostility towards the Soviet Union that had been in existence between the wars, had returned.
Stalin once again became obsessed by the threat of an invasion from the west. Between 1945 and 1948, Stalin made full use of his abilities by arranging the setting up of communist regimes in Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. He now had a large buffer zone of "friendly states" on his western border. Western powers interpreted these events as an example of Stalin's desire to impose communism on the whole of Europe. The formation of NATO and the stationing of American troops in Western Europe was a reaction to Stalin's policies and helped ensure the development of the Cold War.
In 1948, Stalin ordered an economic blockade of Berlin. He hoped this measure would help him secure full control over Berlin. The Allies airlifted supplies to the beleaguered Berlin and and Stalin was eventually forced to back down and allow the land and air routes to be reopened.
Stalin also miscalculated over Korea. In 1950, he encouraged Kim Il Sung, the communist ruler of North Korea, to invade South Korea. Stalin had assumed that the USA would not interfere and that Kim IL Sung would be able to unite Korea as a communist state.
Stalin's timing was particularly bad on this occasion as the Soviet representative had at that time been ordered to boycott the Security Council. With the Soviet Union unable to use its veto, it was powerless to stop the United Nations sending troops to defend South Korea.
The Korean War ended in 1953. Not only had the communists failed to unite Korea, the war also provided support for those right-wing American politicians such as Joseph McCarthy who had been arguing that the Soviet Union wanted to control the world. Hostility between the Soviet Union and the United States continued to increase as the world became divided between the two power blocks. Harry S. Truman and Winston Churchill may have been responsible for the start of the Cold War but Stalin's policies in Eastern Europe and Korea had ensured its continuance.
At home, Stalin was closely associated with the Soviet Union's victory in the Second World War and so his prestige and status remained high. His only possible rival for the leadership was Georgi Zhukov, who had played such an important role in the defeat of Germany. Stalin's response to the public acclaim that Zhukov received was to accuse him of "immodesty, unjustified conceit, and megalomania." After the war Zhukov was demoted and once again Stalin had removed from power someone who was potentially his successor.
Now in his seventies, Stalin's health began to deteriorate. His main problem was high blood-pressure. While he was ill, Stalin received a letter from a Dr. Lydia Timashuk claiming that a group of seven doctors, including his own physician, Dr. Vinogradov, were involved in a plot to murder Stalin and some of his close political associates. The doctors named in the letter were arrested and after being tortured, confessed to being involved in a plot arranged by the American and British intelligence organizations.
Stalin's response to this news was to order Lavrenti Beria, the head of the Secret Police, to instigate a new purge of the Communist Party. Members of the Politburo began to panic as they saw the possibility that like previous candidates for Stalin's position as the head of the Soviet Union, they would be executed.
Fortunately for them, Stalin's health declined even further and by the end of February, 1953, he fell into a coma. After four days, Stalin briefly gained consciousness. The leading members of the party were called for. While they watched him struggling for his life, he raised his left arm. His nurse, who was feeding him with a spoon at the time, took the view that he was pointing at a picture showing a small girl feeding a lamb. His daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, who was also at his bedside , later claimed that he appeared to be "bringing a curse on them all". Stalin then stopped breathing and although attempts were made to revive him, his doctors eventually accepted he was dead.
Three years after his death, Nikita Khrushchev, the new leader of the Soviet Union, made a speech at the Twentieth Party Congress, where he attacked the policies of Stalin. Khrushchev revealed how Stalin had been responsible for the execution of thousands of loyal communists during the purges.
In the months that followed Khrushchev's speech, thousands of those people imprisoned under Stalin were released. Those who had been in labour camps were given permission to publish their experiences. The most notable of these was the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose powerful novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, became a world-wide bestseller.
In 1962 the official party newspaper published a poem by the poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko called the Heirs of Stalin. The poem describes the burial of Stalin but at the end suggests that the problems are not yet over: "Grimly clenching his embalmed fists, just pretending to be dead, he watched from inside. He was scheming. Had merely dozed off. And I, appealing to our government, petition them to double, and treble, the sentries guarding the slab, and stop Stalin from ever rising again."
After Khrushchev's revelations, attempts were made to erase Stalin's image from the Soviet Union. Statues and portraits of Stalin were removed from public places. Towns, streets and parks named after him were changed. Stalingrad, which had been closely associated with his generalship during both the Civil War and the Second World War, was renamed Volgagrad. Even his ashes were takes from the Kremlin Wall and placed elsewhere.
Although the superficial aspects of Stalinism was removed, the system that he created remained. Stalin had developed a state apparatus that protected those in power. It was a system that the Soviet leaders who were to follow him for the next thirty years, were only too pleased to employ in order to prevent any questioning of their policies. Writers like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Yevgeni Yevtushenko were free to criticize Stalin but not those currently in power. The excesses of Stalinism had been removed but the structure of his totalitarian state remained until the emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s.