Stalin, Joseph 1879-1953
(Born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili) Soviet dictator.
Stalin led the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as absolute dictator for twenty-four years. While he is credited with transforming the USSR into a world superpower, Stalin's use of mass execution—called "purgings"—and terror made him one of the most reviled political figures in history. As a writer and editor at the Communist Party newspaper Pravda, as well as the author of books and articles, Stalin contributed to the body of works delineating Soviet ideology. However, critics are divided over the importance of his writings; some maintain that Stalin simply regurgitated Marxist doctrine as it had already been interpreted by Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik movement. Nonetheless, Stalin created for himself as leader a supreme status that gave rise to a cult-like following despite his renowned tyranny.
Stalin was born in the small town of Gori, in czarist Georgia, in 1879. His father, a poor shoemaker, was an abusive alcoholic who was killed in a brawl when Stalin was eleven years old. His mother was an illiterate peasant who, after his father's death, prepared Stalin to enter the Orthodox priesthood. Stalin entered the Tiflis Theological Seminary when he was fourteen, but he was expelled in 1899 because of his involvement in a revolutionary anti-czarist group. In 1901 he officially joined the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party. A year later he was arrested and sent to a prison in Siberia, from which he escaped in 1904, returning to the underground Marxist movement in Tiflis. When Russian Marxism split into two factions—the radical Bolsheviks and the more moderate Menshiviks—Stalin sided with the Bolsheviks, thus aligning himself with Lenin and other major party leaders. Beginning in 1905 he attended several international conferences of the Russian Social Democrats, where he was first introduced to Lenin. In the following years Stalin was arrested and imprisoned on several instances; each time he escaped. In 1912 he went to Vienna to study Marxism; at that time he wrote Marxism and the National Question. The following year he began writing for the party newspaper Pravda, under the pseudonym Joseph Stalin, which means "man of steel." During the Russian Revolution of 1917 Stalin concentrated his efforts at the paper's editorial offices, rather than taking part directly in the events. In fact, most historians agree that Stalin played a rather insignificant role in the first years following the revolution; he was appointed People's Commissar for Nationalities and was a military commissar during the civil war of 1918-1921. Although Lenin valued Stalin for his organizational abilities and appointed him to the post of general secretary, a powerful position, Stalin's emphasis on Russian nationalism made Lenin uncomfortable. Leon Trotsky also quarreled with Stalin on policy and theoretical issues at this time; Lenin usually sided with Trotsky, but as general secretary Stalin's position of power was secure. Lenin, before his death, allegedly warned other party members about Stalin's potential for abusing power but was too ill to take action. Lenin died in 1924, and within five years Stalin had total control of the party. His first act was to extinguish Lenin's New Economic Policy (NEP)—intended to introduce a limited amount of free trade to the Soviet system in order to revive the economy after the civil war—and replace it with his own policy of collectivization, which nationalized the agricultural industry. Collectivization was an unmitigated disaster: peasants who refused to turn over their livestock and farms to the state were executed or sent to Stalin's prison work camps, called gulags. With agricultural production cut in half, mass famine ensued, and at least three to ten million peasants died of starvation. Stalin denied blame for the failure of collectivization, accusing others of misunderstanding his directives. His other major goal was to introduce widespread industrialization to the USSR, in order to move the country from an agriculture-based to an industry-based economy. In this he succeeded—initiating the machinery that would eventually make the Soviet Union a superpower nation—in large part because of the slave labor provided by the millions of Soviet citizens imprisoned in the gulags. Around 1934 Stalin launched the period that would be known as the Great Terror. Throughout the 1930s about one million old Bolshevik party members (those who had taken part in the pre-Stalin revolutionary era) and countless millions of citizens were accused of sabotage, treason, and espionage and were arrested, tortured, and either executed or sent to the gulags. This massive effort to ensure Stalin's absolute power was called "purging." Dramatic purge trials of party officials and senior members of the Red Army were set up. Defendants were accused of treason and other trumped-up charges and were always found guilty. The purging of the army had particularly devastating effects when the Soviet Union became involved in World War II. Stalin signed a Non-Aggression Pact with German dictator Adolf Hitler in the summer of 1939. The Pact included secret plans for the two leaders to control the European territories each considered essential to his country's expansion. But when Germany invaded Poland in September of that year, Stalin sought to increase the Soviet Union's presence in western Europe by invading Finland in November; Finland surrendered, and in June of 1941 Hitler broke his Pact with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union, which, because of the military purgings, suffered devastating losses for nearly two years. Historians are divided over the degree of Stalin's success as a military commander during the German invasion. Many blame the huge Soviet losses on his increasing paranoia and megalomania. Nonetheless, the Red Army did hold off the Germans until they surrendered in 1945. After the war Stalin moved quickly to seize control of Eastern European countries to create the Soviet bloc. In 1949 the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb, ushering in the arms race and Cold War with the United States that would last into the late 1980s. In 1953 Stalin was planning another series of purges, this time because of an alleged traitorous plot among the mostly Jewish Kremlin physicians. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage before the new purge trials could take place.
Stalin produced a number of works on Soviet ideology—including Marxism and the National Question, Marxism and Linguistics, Dialectical and Historical Materialism, and his collected lectures on Foundations of Leninism—but whether or not he added anything new or innovative to theoretical communism is debatable. Many critics consider his writing unoriginal and repetitive. He did, however, transform Soviet communism, in his writings and his practices, from a revolutionary system to a strategy of conservative, isolationist authoritarianism. His talent for propaganda allowed him to establish an astonishingly effective cult of personality despite his reputation for brute violence. By neutralizing anyone he considered or suspected of being an enemy, Stalin opened an avenue to total control of both his party and his people, whether they were followers or not. Pictures and statues of him were placed in all public places, as well as in private Soviet homes. His writings were studied, and poems and songs were written to glorify him. He encouraged his image as "Father of the Soviet People" and the "Great Teacher," and, after the Germans were driven out of the USSR in World War II, he exploited the role of savior of his country. After his death Stalin was still revered by Soviet citizens, many of whom wept openly when they heard he had died. Although he continued to receive credit for advancing Soviet society into the technological age to successfully compete with other world powers, in 1956 his successor Nikita Khrushchev and other Soviet leaders officially denounced Stalin and his actions. His policies were directly responsible for the deaths of as many as thirty million Soviets.
Marxism and the National Question (nonfiction) 1913
Trotskyism or Leninism? (nonfiction) 1924
Leninism. 2 vols. (nonfiction) 1928-1933
The October Revolution: A Collection of Articles and Speeches (essays and speeches) 1934
Dialectical and Historical Materialism (nonfiction) 1938
Foundations of Leninism (lectures) 1939
The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union (nonfiction) 1945
Marxism and Linguistics (nonfiction) 1950
Selected Works of Joseph V. Stalin (nonfiction) 1971
The Essential Stalin: Major Theoretical Writings, 1905-1952 (nonfiction) 1972
Stalin's Letters to Molotov, 1925-1936 (letters) 1995
SOURCE: A review of 'Leninism,' in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 4, 1934, pp. 634-36.
[In the following review, Karpovich finds Leninism valuable because of its contemporaneity with Stalin 's early years in power but otherwise finds the theories espoused "monotonous" and unoriginal.]
Those interested in political theory will not find anything new in this collection of Stalin's articles and speeches Leninism. He himself does not claim authorship of new and original ideas. His position is that of a faithful interpreter of the revelation, a guardian of orthodoxy. The fundamentals of the dogma cannot be questioned, and discussion is permissible...
(The entire section is 1017 words.)
SOURCE: A review of 'Marxism and the National and Colonial Question,' in The American Political Science Review, Vol. XXX, No. 5, October, 1936, pp. 1026-27.
[In the following review, Sandelius finds Stalin in Marxism and the National and Colonial Question "persuasive" and "orderly. "]
Among the publications prepared by the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute appears now, in English, Marxism and the National and Colonial Question by Joseph Stalin, being a collection of articles, reports, and speeches, ranging in date from 1913 to 1935, on the subject—one may say—of Stalin's most distinctive interest and experience. A rather central thread appears...
(The entire section is 437 words.)
SOURCE: "Stalin, Trotsky, and Willi Schlamm," in From the Uncollected Edmund Wilson, Ohio University Press, 1995, pp. 217-27.
[In the following essay, which was originally published in the Nation in 1937, Wilson provides a critical examination of the report of the Trotsky Commission.]
The report of the Trotsky Commission is a remarkably interesting document, which makes one realize the inadequacy, if not frivolity, of the newspaper accounts of the Mexican hearings.
In regard to the question of Trotsky's guilt on the charges brought against him at the Moscow trials, these hearings made public a great deal of material which helps to establish his...
(The entire section is 2879 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The History of the Civil War in the U. S. S. R.,' in International Affairs, Vol. XVII, 1938, pp. 581-82.
[In the following review, Oudendyk finds The History of the Civil War in the U.S.S.R. interesting but unfortunately too biased to leave the reader with anything but a distorted picture.]
A New generation has grown up in Soviet Russia of men and women who have never lived under any other régime. The old generation has practically disappeared. The days of revolution and civil war are now considered sufficiently remote for the successful partisan of those days to write a history of them as seen exclusively from his point of view. Much if not...
(The entire section is 789 words.)
SOURCE: A review of 'Leninism,' in Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy, Vol. LII, 1941-42, pp. 118-20.
[In the following review, Burns finds the English translation of Stalin's Leninism a valuable source for Westerners studying the socio-political climate of the Soviet Union.]
This volume [Leninism] is an authorized translation of the eleventh Russian edition of Problems of Leninism. It contains speeches and articles which were not in the two-volume edition of 1933 or in the volume, also called Leninism, published in 1938. But the more important speeches of Stalin, included in the earlier English...
(The entire section is 760 words.)
SOURCE: "Trotsky's Stalin," in From the Uncollected Edmund Wilson, Ohio University Press, 1995, pp. 231-40.
[In the following essay, which first appeared in the New Yorker in 1946, Wilson reviews the English translation of Leon Trotsky's biography Stalin, finding it a volume of great historical and political importance.]
Leon Trotsky, during the later years of his exile, set out to write a life of Lenin. The first volume of this biography, which ends with Lenin's graduation from law school, was brought out, in a French translation, in 1936, but Trotsky did not get very much further with it. Needing money, he was persuaded by a New York publisher, on the...
(The entire section is 2656 words.)
SOURCE: "Stalin and Hitler: A Lesson in Comparison," in The Pacific Spectator, Vol. VII, No. 2, Spring, 1953, pp. 152-66.
[In the following essay, Sandler argues that Stalin's Soviet Union more closely resembled Hitler's Germany than the socialist society proposed by Karl Marx.]
One day en route to Tiflis a guest of the Soviet government, André Gide, stopped at Gori, a small village where Josef Stalin was born. To the great French writer, who for years had followed the "experiment" in Russia with enthusiasm, the arrival in Gori was an occasion charged with emotional impact. Impulsively he decided to send the Russian leader a telegram expressing his gratitude for the...
(The entire section is 5534 words.)
SOURCE: "Stalin as an Economist," in The Review of Economic Studies, Vol. XXI, No. 56, 1953-54, pp. 232-39.
[In the following essay, Meek examines Stalin's economic theory.]
Whenever great changes in basic economic and social institutions are brought about, the theoreticians of the new order begin seeking to express its experience in generalised form. And sometimes—but only very rarely—it happens that the political leaders who usher in the changes are themselves men with a taste for theoretical generalisation, in which case both the new order and the theory of the new order may come to be constructed under the guidance of one and the same hand. This was the...
(The entire section is 4827 words.)
SOURCE: "Anatomy of Tyranny: Khrushchev's Attack on Stalin," in The World Today, Vol. 12, No. 6, June, 1956, pp. 265-71.
[In the following essay, the anonymous writer discusses Khrushchev's criticism of Stalin's policies.]
Rarely has a document aroused more interest and speculation than the paper issued by the State Department purporting to be the text of the speech delivered on 25 February 1956 by Mr Khrushchev, first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to its twentieth Congress. The United States Government does not vouch for its authenticity; nevertheless it has been received everywhere as plausible; it is in keeping with the tenor of statements...
(The entire section is 2894 words.)
SOURCE: "Stalin and the Cold War: A Second Look," in The South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. LIX, No. 1, Winter, 1960, pp. 1-12.
[In the following essay, Warth contends that Stalin's notorious personal defects—including vanity, deceit, and brutality—did not necessarily have a negative impact on his political skills or his leadership ability.]
The image of Joseph Stalin in the Western world was never a pleasant one—except, obviously, during the war years when the heroic achievements of the Red Army in the common cause lent a glow of enchantment to the Soviet Union and its paternal "Uncle Joe." Through the prism of the cold war his image was refracted to become...
(The entire section is 4080 words.)
SOURCE: "Khrushchev's War with Stalin's Ghost," in The Russian Review, Vol. 21, No. 1, January, 1962, pp. 3-10.
[In the following essay, Chamberlin examines the possible motives behind Nikita Khrushchev's decision in the early 1960s to openly denounce Stalin and his tyranny by having Stalin's body exhumed and removed from its exalted spot next to Vladimir Lenin's.]
There was high historical drama and some political risk in Nikita Khrushchev's decision to carry his war with the ghost of Josef Stalin to the point of removing the embalmed corpse of the deceased dictator from what was, until recently, the Lenin-Stalin Mausoleum, the great secular shrine of the Soviet...
(The entire section is 2415 words.)
SOURCE: "Stalin's Contribution to Soviet Philosophy," International Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. V, No. 2, May, 1965, pp. 267-303.
[In the following essay, Donoso traces Stalin 's place in the development of Soviet philosophy, arguing that his most significant contribution was "his ability to bring theory in line with practice. "]
It has been said that "throughout the whole of the Stalinist period Stalin himself was the only person in the Soviet Union who ever dared to say anything new."1 This was especially true in the field of philosophy. The history of Dialectical Materialism in the Soviet Union from the death of Lenin on January 21, 1924 until the...
(The entire section is 15540 words.)
SOURCE: "Dismantling the Cults of Stalin and Khrushchev," in The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. XXI, No. 3, September, 1968, pp. 383-90.
[In the following essay, Larson examines the differences in retrospective opinion of the leadership of Stalin and his successor, Nikita Khrushchev.]
Whatever else Communist power brought to Russia, it did not guarantee rule by "good" leaders. The toppling from their pedestals of Stalin and then Khrushchev forced the introduction of a very sobering note into the treatment of the past history of the Soviet regime. The present top leaders can point to no honorable predecessors in the chief party and government posts for the entire...
(The entire section is 3978 words.)
SOURCE: "Literary Policy in Stalin's Last Year," in Soviet Studies, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3, July, 1976, pp. 391-405.
[In the following essay, Frankel discusses the period of "liberalization" regarding literary activity during Stalin's last year in power.]
In recent years Western scholars have been deeply interested in determining the nature and degree of change which has taken place in the Soviet Union since Stalin's death. Numerous works have analysed and assessed the transformation of post-Stalin Russia: changes in economic policy, in the effectiveness of group pressures on policy-making, in the use and role of terror, and in the area of public discourse, debate, and...
(The entire section is 7069 words.)
SOURCE: "Stalin's Archipelago," in Terrorism: From Robespierre to Arafat, by Albert Parry, The Vanguard Press, Inc., 1976, pp. 187-202.
[In the following essay, Parry discusses changes in the policy of terror instituted by Stalin, most notably the policy of arresting and executing loyal followers of Stalinism in addition to those openly against it.]
From Lenin and Trotsky the path of terror led to Stalin and Stalin's heirs. Over these decades the character and organization of Soviet terror underwent certain changes. The transformation can be traced through the vast literature by survivors and scholars, available not in Russian alone but also in other languages,...
(The entire section is 7490 words.)
SOURCE: 'The Rise of Stalin's Personality Cult," in The American Historical Review, Vol. 84, No. 2, April, 1979, pp. 347-66.
[In the following essay, Tucker discusses the reasons behind Stalin's rise to the status of cult figure despite the objections of earlier Soviet leaders, particularly Lenin, to public adulation.]
The cult of Lenin, which Lenin himself opposed and managed to keep in check until incapacitated by a stroke in March 1923, subsequently became a pervasive part of Soviet public life. No single cause explains its rise. Undoubtedly, the Bolsheviks genuinely venerated their vozhd' as the man whose personal leadership had been critically important for...
(The entire section is 9883 words.)
SOURCE: "The Mind of the Tyrant: Tolstoj's Nicholas and Solzenicyn's Stalin," in Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 23, No. 4, Winter, 1979, pp. 479-90.
[In the following essay, Layton finds parallels between Leo Tolstoy's portrayal of Czar Nicholas I in Xadzi-Murat (1912) and Aleksandr Solzenicyn's depiction of Stalin in The First Circle (1968).]
Repeatedly Solzenicyn has paid tribute to Tolstoj as the grand master of Realism in the nineteenth century and as a philosopher concerned with the moral service of art. The concept of the artist as teacher and conscience of the nation has acquired major importance for Solzenicyn and has given particular...
(The entire section is 5490 words.)
SOURCE: "Was Stalin (the Terrible) Really a 'Great Man'?: A Conversation with W. Averell Harriman," in Encounter, Vol. LVII, No. 5, November, 1981, pp. 20-38.
[In the following interview, Urban discusses with Harriman, who was Franklin Roosevelt's special ambassador to Churchill and Stalin from 1941 to 1946, Stalin's behavior and activities during World War II, particularly his wartime leadership abilities.]
W. Averell Harriman was born in November 1891 and, after the usual "Eastern Establishment stations" (Groton, Yale), made a career first in the railroad business which his father, the pioneer of the Illinois Central and the Union Pacific, had established, and then...
(The entire section is 16583 words.)
SOURCE: "Mandel'shtam's 'Ode to Stalin': History and Myth," in The Russian Review, Vol. 41, No. 4, October, 1982, pp. 400-26.
[In the following essay, Freidin examines the mysterious circumstances surrounding the writing and publication of Osip Mandel'shtam's "Ode to Stalin."]
If manuscripts do not burn, as Mikhail Bulgakov once suggested, they at least get hot sitting in the fire, which is more or less what happened to the "Ode to Stalin" by Osip Mandel'shtam.1 The first indication that Mandel'shtam might have written something like the "Ode" came from Anna Akhmatova's recollections of Mandel'shtam and had the effect of a minor literary...
(The entire section is 12661 words.)
SOURCE: "The Lure of Stalinism: Bernard Shaw and Company," in The Midwest Quarterly, Vol. XXV, No. 4, Summer, 1984, pp. 416-33.
[In the following essay, Nickson uses an examination of the adherence of George Bernard Shaw to Soviet-style communism under Stalin as an example of such adherence among many artists and intellectuals of the time.]
"I am not a fascist; I am, and have been all throughout my political life, a Communist." That was George Bernard Shaw in 1935. But ten years later he was still having to answer the question "Are you a Fascist, Mr. Shaw?" Patiently replying to a newspaper reporter, Shaw said: "No: I am a Communist. That is, I advocate national...
(The entire section is 5271 words.)
SOURCE: "The Deranged Birthday Boy: Solzhenitsyn's Portrait of Stalin in The First Circle'," in Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, Summer, 1985, pp. 61-72.
[In the following essay, Rancour-Laferriere attempts a psychoanalytical reading of the character Stalin in Solzenicyn's The First Circle.]
Since Alexander Solzhenitsyn personally experienced the concentration camps of Stalinist Russia, it is not surprising that his extended portrait of Stalin in The First Circle should be "bitter" and "sarcastic."1 What is surprising is that this portrait nonetheless succeeds on an esthetic level and is convincing...
(The entire section is 5676 words.)
SOURCE: "The Image of Stalin in Soviet Literature During Stalin's Lifetime," in Images of Dictatorship: Portraits of Stalin in Literature, Routledge, 1989, pp. 17-53.
[In the following essay, Marsh reviews portrayals of Stalin in Soviet literature written and published during his leadership.]
With the exception of Lenin,1 no historical figure in modern times has been the subject of as many literary and dramatic portrayals as Joseph Stalin. Many writers in the USSR, including both hack writers and the best writers in the country, have chosen—or been forced—to treat this subject. In Stalin's time Soviet writers were obliged to contribute to the...
(The entire section is 15986 words.)
SOURCE: "A Modern Demonology: Some Literary Stalins," in Slavic Review, Vol. 50, No. 1, Spring, 1991, pp. 59-69.
[In the following essay, Ziolkowski examines the depiction of Stalin in literature published both in and out of the Soviet Union, arguing that such literary representations are particularly important in the absence of accurate historical and biographical documents on Stalin.]
The publication of Anatolii Rybakov's Deti Arbata (1987) was heralded with much fanfare both in the Soviet Union and abroad. In the novel Rybakov seeks to capture the essence of Stalinism as it affected the day-to-day existence of Soviet citizens, a theme that commands intense...
(The entire section is 6716 words.)
SOURCE: "On the Crimes of Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler," in Partisan Review, Vol. LVIII, No. 1, Winter, 1991, pp. 78-87.
[In the following essay, Abel rejects Marxism and national socialism as the moral doctrines they were purported to be by their adherents and focuses the blame for crimes and brutality committed for these causes on those who, Abel believes, mistakenly held them up as rooted in morality.]
In the late summer of 1945, I took issue with James Burnham (in Dwight Macdonald's Politics) for having maintained earlier that year (in the January issue of Partisan Review) that Stalin was the logical and appropriate successor to Lenin in the Communist...
(The entire section is 4768 words.)
SOURCE: "Lionel Trilling, 'The Liberal Imagination,' and the Emergence of the Cultural Discourse of Anti-Stalinism," in Boundary 2, Vol. 20, No. 1, Spring, 1993, pp. 94-124.
[In the following essay, Reising investigates the later impact on American cultural studies of the "discourse of anti-Stalinism" that emerged in the 1950s alongside the study of Soviet communism in the American academy, exemplified by Lionel Trilling's The Liberal Imagination.]
In the concluding remarks to her excellent study of McCarthyism and the universities, Ellen W. Schrecker reiterates one of her central points—that university professors were not only not "isolated from the political...
(The entire section is 12297 words.)
SOURCE: "Totalitarian logic: Stalin on linguistics," in Critical Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 1, Spring, 1993, pp. 16-36.
[In the following essay, Gray examines Stalin 's position on linguistics in Marxism and Problems of Linguistics.]
No, no: arrests vary very widely in form. In 1926 Irma Mendel, a Hungarian, obtained through the Comintern two front-row tickets to the Bolshoi Theatre. Interrogator Klegel was courting her at the time and she invited him to go with her. They sat through the show very affectionately, and when it was over he took her—straight to the Lubyanka.
(Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago,...
(The entire section is 9077 words.)
SOURCE: "Stalin's Letters to Molotov, 1925-1936," in The New Republic, Vol. 213* No. 10, September 4, 1995, p. 34.
[In the following review, Genovese finds Stalin's Letters to Molotov an important source to understanding the Soviet ruler's motivations and methods.]
In 1969, Viacheslav Molotov released eighty-six letters written to him by Josef Stalin between 1925 and 1936. Seventy-one of those letters, which now appear in English in Stalin's Letters to Molotov, were written between 1925 and 1930, years of bitter intraparty struggles and the onset of the bloody collectivization of agriculture and forced-march industrialization. The Bolsheviks were building...
(The entire section is 3429 words.)
SOURCE: "Anna Akhmatova: The Stalin Years," in New England Review, Vol. 18, No. 1, Winter, 1997, pp. 105-25.
[In the following essay, Reeder examines the poetry, little known outside of Russia, written by Anna Akhmatova during Stalin's years in power.]
For a long time now Anna Akhmatova has been known in her own country as one of the most gifted Russian poets of the twentieth century. Yet in the West she is still relatively unknown.
For many the only poems by Akhmatova that have been read and recited have been the love poems which she wrote as a young Russian aristocrat at the turn of the century. These poems have always attracted large numbers of...
(The entire section is 9174 words.)