Born in Georgia, his family name was actually Djugashvili, and his adopted middle name was Visarionovitch. This hero of the Soviet Union was a living reminder of the ancient truth that holds that most great ideologies are in themselves worth study, or even practical use; the problem is that, accepting the human race as it is, the ideology must be adapted and executed as reality by a member of that race, and as the race is flawed, the original ideology which might have been excellent if properly observed, changes and is ultimately corrupted by its association with human beings.
This is what has happened with all religions, including Christianity. The Christian Idea, as preached by Christ, was and is a near perfect conception of the ideals which should lead to a pure and blameless life. But the Christian Church fell, over the centuries, into the hands of its leaders – bishops, deacons, priests – and, ultimately, archbishops and popes. Ten centuries after Christ walked on the water, his Church had become a sink of corruption and depravity, with blade-wielding bishops decapitating enemies on battle fields ‘in the name of God’, and ‘humble’ priests fattened by the best produce of the lands of their flock, drinking themselves to death between occasional appearances at Mass or Confession.
Communism was also a religion, one of the most feared. Its ideals of Equality, Work and Homes for All, True Education, Fairness all round etc., were abused by leaders from the start. If Karl Marx had lived to see the Stalinist Purges, he might well have preferred to take a job as a librarian in Highgate and forget about everyone being born equal. ‘Socialism’ is of course ‘communism’ with an adopted name.
Josef Stalin was the son of a cobbler or shoemaker (in Spanish zapatero). He was educated in a seminary of the Russian Orthodox Church, from which he was expelled in 1899. His teachers found his revolutionary views unacceptable. Always in trouble, he was twice sent to Siberia, but escaped on each occasion. By 1902, at the age of 23, he was in Paris; in 1906 at the Conference of Russian Social Democrats in Stockholm. In 1907 he attended the same conference in London.
The Bolshevik Central Committee was established in 1912 and Stalin was seen as its expert on ‘racial minorities’. In 1913 he completed (though virtually illiterate) a study called Marxism and the Nationalities Problem. In 1817 he became editor of the communist newspaper Pravda. He was an assistant (though not for long) to Lenin in Petrograd during the October Revoution, and was made Commissar for Nationalities in a government that Lenin established. He held this post until 1922 when he became Secretary of the Communist Party at the age of 43.
During the Russian Civil War he became a leader in the defence of Petrograd against the White Army of General Yudenich. He defended Tsaritsyn against General Denikin and got it renamed Stalingrad in his honour. At the end of 1923 it became obvious that Lenin was dying, and Stalin allied himself with Zenoviev and Kamenev in order to keep Trotsky out of office. This began a long struggle with him for leadership, which only ended with a disgraced Trotsky murdered abroad at Stalin’s orders.
In 1927 Stalin broke with his former associates and used his position as Party Secretary to impose his will on the Party at the December 15th Congress. From 1928 began his policy of achieving ‘Socialism in One Country’ through a series of ‘Five-Year Plans’. From 1933 (the year Hitler was ‘elected’ as Chancellor) through 1936 (when the Spanish Civil War broke out) to 1938 Stalin enforced his own views, which were always right, through trials in which his opponents, mostly elderly Bolsheviks or retired Army officers, were charged with treason and executed (sometimes before their trials).
The Great Purge in the USSR between 1936 and the end of 1938 sprang from Stalin’s determination to remove all possible rivals to his leadership. Attempts were made at the time to associate some of the accused with treasonable contacts with a ‘Foreign Power’ (we must assume this was Germany). But no evidence has ever been found since 1945 that would substantiate these charges. The Purge removed ten close associated of Lenin; three Marshalls of the Soviet Union, including Chief of the General Staff Tukachevsky; six members of the Poliburo; and four hundred out of the seven hundred generals in the Red Army. Many leading communists living in the Soviet Union at the time were imprisoned, shot or simply disappeared. No reliable figures exist for the extent of the Purge among the lower levels of the Soviet administration, though mass arrests normally led to forced labour (and death) rather than immediate execution, especially among the agricultural classes, who found themselves very much less equal than any Commissar. Hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens were sent off to ‘open up’ new regions of the Arctic or build new ‘centres’ in Siberia. Most of this was organised by the Head of the Russian Secret Police (N.K.V.D.) N.I. Yezhov, who by 1938 had himself disappeared, as had many other N.K.V.D. officials. Their precise fate, thanks to efficient methods of elimination, is uncertain. Numbers, in terms of official statistics, are equally uncertain, though several Russian dissident writers have put casualty figures for the Great Purge at twenty million citizens of the Russian Empire dead or disappeared. Hitler managed to eliminate six million Jews. Pol Pot rather more of his fellow countrymen.
On 7th May 1941, two years into the Second World War, Stalin, who had up until now relied on indirect political control, became Chairman of the Council of Ministers (in Spanish Consejo de Ministros). There he stayed until his death at the age of 74 in March, 1953.
As Commissar of Defence and a Marshall of the Soviet Union he had assumed total direction of the massive Russian war effort, and attended (and dominated) the three ‘Peace’ conferences at Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam, of which the following years of ‘Cold War’ were a direct result. After the War he managed to retain as rigid a grip on the policies of the dozens of newly Communist states of the USSR as he had always held on the Russian political machine. His only failure was Yugoslavia, where he was successfully defied by Marshal Tito in June 1948.
After his death, Russian leaders began an agonizingly slow process of what was called ‘deStalinization’, having discovered that he had purposefully developed a ‘personality cult’ in Russia in order to achieve total domination. A natural dictator (any powerful leader who refuses to accept opposition) or even countenance it, he was internationally accused of having organised the massive persecutions of the 1930s, in which untold millions were killed. Successive new leaders of the Soviet Union attempted to destroy his reputation after his death, but of these only Kruschev and Gorbachev managed to make their point through through realpolik and glasnost.
Finally the Russians decided to remove Stalin’s body from its mausoleum in Red Square and reburied it in a plain grave beside the Kremlin wall.
[…] in fifty years. Any reader of this website will know my views on Richard III, Henry VIII and Stalin. I do not have a good opinion of that Prince of Wales who became Edward VIII. I have never been […]