Joseph Stalin Research Paper Example

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Revolutionary, political agitator and longest-serving Soviet leader, Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, was born 21 December 1879 in Gori, Georgia. He adopted the pseudonym Stalin, meaning “man of steel,” in 1907. Dzhugashvili attended the Gori church school and earned a full scholarship to the Tbilisi Theological Seminary. While studying for the priesthood, Stalin read forbidden literature, including the writings of Karl Marx (1818-1883). He left the seminary to become a full-time revolutionary.

Stalin began his career in the Social Democratic Party in 1899 as a propagandist among the Tbilisi rail workers. Between 1902 and 1913 Stalin was arrested eight times; he was exiled seven times and escaped six times. Stalin supported the Bolshevik faction of the party, making himself useful particularly in raising funds by robbing banks. In 1912 Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) coopted him into the Bolsheviks’ Central Committee. He briefly edited the new party newspaper, Pravda (Truth), and at Lenin’s urging wrote his first major work, Marxism and the National Question (1913).

After the Revolution of March 1917, Stalin returned to Petrograd where he resumed the editorship of Pravda. Together with Lev Kamenev (1883-1936), Stalin led the party policy of moderation until Lenin arrived in April. After the Revolution Stalin distinguished himself by ruthless military leadership and strengthened his position by organizational work and devotion to administrative tasks. In 1922 he became general secretary of the party: the source of political power. After Lenin’s death Stalin joined with Grigori Zinoviev (1883-1936) and Kamenev to lead the country and eliminate Leon Trotsky (1879-1940); their attack included much propaganda. Stalin then reversed course and aligned himself with Nikolai Bukharin (1888-1938) and Aleksey Rykov (18811938) to galvanize the party to destroy his old allies in the “left opposition.” He then used careful manipulation of the economic data available to the party cadres to destroy the “right opposition.” By his fiftieth birthday (1929), he had cemented his position as Lenin’s anointed successor and entrenched his power as sole leader of the Soviet Union.

Stalin used the lack of progress in Soviet agriculture to launch a ruthless collectivization program that was in effect an offensive against the peasantry. This process was linked to thoroughgoing cultural revolution and a wholesale industrialization campaign that raised the Soviet Union to the front rank of the industrial powers able to prosecute a world war. In the mid-1930s Stalin launched a major campaign of political terror. The purges, arrests, and deportations to labor camps were orchestrated via an all-pervasive propaganda campaign to convince the population (and particularly the party cadres) that the whole state was riddled with traitors. Even major figures like Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Bukharin admitted to crimes against the state in show trials and were sentenced to death. Stalin was not a particularly subtle propagandist—and had little to add to the theory of the practice—but his campaigns were audacious, energetic, and total. Unlike his cultured rivals, he had learnt his lessons in the seminary and on the hard stage of revolutionary agitation. The campaigns were undoubtedly helped by the all-pervasive atmosphere of fear instilled by the State security apparatus.

The purges had stripped the Soviet Union of its political and military leadership, and the regime’s triumphalist rhetoric had left the state unprepared for the Nazi assault. The “Great Patriotic War” began disastrously. Nonetheless Stalin showed his “steel” by personally directing the defense of the USSR. He rallied the population in part by astute use of nationalist (pan-Slavic) rhetoric. Stalin was also willing to make huge human sacrifices— and make propaganda capital from the sacrifice—including through the sieges of Stalingrad and Leningrad.

After the war his regime extended Communist domination over the countries liberated by the Soviet armies. This campaign— and the single-minded determination to protect the Soviet Union—led to growth in arms production and strident anticapitalist propaganda, which contributed to the mutual suspicions of the Cold War. Stalin died in March 1953 but remained a Soviet icon, although his successor Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971) engineered a break with this by denouncing Stalin and his cult of personality in a secret speech to the Twentieth Communist Party Congress in 1956.


  1. Fitzpatrick, Sheila, ed. Stalinism, New Directions. 2000. London: Routledge.
  2. Gorlizki, Yoram, and Oleg Khlevniuk. 2004. Cold Peace: Stalin and the Soviet Ruling Circle, 1945–1953. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  3. Holloway, David. 1994. Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939–1956. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  4. Lewin, Moshe. 1985. The Making of the Soviet System: Essays in the Social History of Interwar Russia. New York: Pantheon. Service, Robert. 2005. Stalin, A Biography. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  5. Tucker, Robert C. 1973. Stalin as Revolutionary, 1879–1929: A Study in History and Personality. New York: W. W. Norton.

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