TIMELINE OF WORLD HISTORY
 

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  Vladimir Lenin

part I
Vladimir Ilich Lenin


part II
October Revolution
Cheka
Red Terror
White Terror
Russian Civil War
Russian famine of 1921
  Joseph Stalin

part I
Joseph Stalin 1879-1938

part II
Joseph Stalin 1939-1953

part III

Great Purge
Moscow Trials
Holodomor
Stalin and anti-Semitism
Stalin and Socialist Realism
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
CONTENTS
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Joseph Stalin
 
 
 
 
Joseph Stalin, Russian in full Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, original name (Georgian) Ioseb Dzhugashvili (born December 18 [December 6, Old Style], 1879, Gori, Georgia, Russian Empire [see Researcher’s Note]—died March 5, 1953, Moscow, Russia, U.S.S.R.), secretary-general of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–53) and premier of the Soviet state (1941–53), who for a quarter of a century dictatorially ruled the Soviet Union and transformed it into a major world power.

During the quarter of a century preceding his death, the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin probably exercised greater political power than any other figure in history. Stalin industrialized the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, forcibly collectivized its agriculture, consolidated his position by intensive police terror, helped to defeat Germany in 1941–45, and extended Soviet controls to include a belt of eastern European states. Chief architect of Soviet totalitarianism and a skilled but phenomenally ruthless organizer, he destroyed the remnants of individual freedom and failed to promote individual prosperity, yet he created a mighty military–industrial complex and led the Soviet Union into the nuclear age.

Stalin’s biography was long obscured by a mendacious Soviet-propagated “legend” exaggerating his prowess as a heroic Bolshevik boy-conspirator and faithful follower of Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union. In his prime, Stalin was hailed as a universal genius, as a “shining sun,” or “the staff of life,” and also as a “great teacher and friend” (especially of those communities he most savagely persecuted); once he was even publicly invoked as “Our Father” by a metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church. Achieving wide visual promotion through busts, statues, and icons of himself, the dictator became the object of a fanatical cult that, in private, he probably regarded with cynicism.

The young revolutionary
Stalin was of Georgian—not Russian—origin, and persistent rumours claim that he was Ossetian on the paternal side. He was the son of a poor cobbler in the provincial Georgian town of Gori in the Caucasus, then an imperial Russian colony. The drunken father savagely beat his son. Speaking only Georgian at home, Joseph learned Russian—which he always spoke with a guttural Georgian accent—while attending the church school at Gori (1888–94). He then moved to the Tiflis Theological Seminary, where he secretly read Karl Marx, the chief theoretician of international Communism, and other forbidden texts, being expelled in 1899 for revolutionary activity, according to the “legend”—or leaving because of ill health, according to his doting mother. The mother, a devout washerwoman, had dreamed of her son becoming a priest, but Joseph Dzhugashvili was more ruffianly than clerical in appearance and outlook. He was short, stocky, black-haired, fierce-eyed, with one arm longer than the other, his swarthy face scarred by smallpox contracted in infancy. Physically strong and endowed with prodigious willpower, he early learned to disguise his true feelings and to bide his time; in accordance with the Caucasian blood-feud tradition, he was implacable in plotting long-term revenge against those who offended him.

In December 1899, Dzhugashvili became, briefly, a clerk in the Tiflis Observatory, the only paid employment that he is recorded as having taken outside politics; there is no record of his ever having done manual labour. In 1900 he joined the political underground, fomenting labour demonstrations and strikes in the main industrial centres of the Caucasus, but his excessive zeal in pushing duped workers into bloody clashes with the police antagonized his fellow conspirators. After the Social Democrats (Marxist revolutionaries) of the Russian Empire had split into their two competing wings—Menshevik and Bolshevik—in 1903, Dzhugashvili joined the second, more militant, of these factions and became a disciple of its leader, Lenin. Between April 1902 and March 1913, Dzhugashvili was seven times arrested for revolutionary activity, undergoing repeated imprisonment and exile. The mildness of the sentences and the ease with which the young conspirator effected his frequent escapes lend colour to the unproved speculation that Dzhugashvili was for a time an agent provocateur in the pay of the imperial political police.

Rise to power
Dzhugashvili made slow progress in the party hierarchy. He attended three policy-making conclaves of the Russian Social Democrats—in Tammerfors (now Tampere, Finland; 1905), Stockholm (1906), and London (1907)—without making much impression. But he was active behind the scenes, helping to plot a spectacular holdup in Tiflis (now Tbilisi) on June 25 (June 12, Old Style), 1907, in order to “expropriate” funds for the party. His first big political promotion came in February (January, Old Style) 1912, when Lenin—now in emigration—co-opted him to serve on the first Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, which had finally broken with the other Social Democrats. In the following year, Dzhugashvili published, at Lenin’s behest, an important article on Marxism and the national question. By now he had adopted the name Stalin, deriving from Russian stal (“steel”); he also briefly edited the newly founded Bolshevik newspaper Pravda before undergoing his longest period of exile: in Siberia from July 1913 to March 1917.

In about 1904 Stalin had married a pious Georgian girl, Ekaterina Svanidze. She died some three years later and left a son, Jacob, whom his father treated with contempt, calling him a weakling after an unsuccessful suicide attempt in the late 1920s; when Jacob was taken prisoner by the Germans during World War II, Stalin refused a German offer to exchange his son.

Reaching Petrograd from Siberia on March 25 (March 12, Old Style), 1917, Stalin resumed editorship of Pravda. He briefly advocated Bolshevik cooperation with the provisional government of middle-class liberals that had succeeded to uneasy power on the last tsar’s abdication during the February Revolution. But under Lenin’s influence, Stalin soon switched to the more-militant policy of armed seizure of power by the Bolsheviks. When their coup d’état occurred in November (October, Old Style) 1917, he played an important role, but one less prominent than that of his chief rival, Leon Trotsky.

Active as a politico-military leader on various fronts during the Civil War of 1918–20, Stalin also held two ministerial posts in the new Bolshevik government, being commissar for nationalities (1917–23) and for state control (or workers’ and peasants’ inspection; 1919–23). But it was his position as secretary general of the party’s Central Committee, from 1922 until his death, that provided the power base for his dictatorship. Besides heading the secretariat, he was also member of the powerful Politburo and of many other interlocking and overlapping committees—an arch-bureaucrat engaged in quietly outmaneuvering brilliant rivals, including Trotsky and Grigory Zinovyev, who despised such mundane organizational work. Because the pockmarked Georgian was so obviously unintellectual, they thought him unintelligent—a gross error, and one literally fatal in their case.

From 1921 onward Stalin flouted the ailing Lenin’s wishes, until, a year before his death, Lenin wrote a political “testament,” since widely publicized, calling for Stalin’s removal from the secretary generalship; coming from Lenin, this document was potentially ruinous to Stalin’s career, but his usual luck and skill enabled him to have it discounted during his lifetime.

Lenin’s successor
After Lenin’s death, in January 1924, Stalin promoted an extravagant, quasi-Byzantine cult of the deceased leader. Archpriest of Leninism, Stalin also promoted his own cult in the following year by having the city of Tsaritsyn renamed Stalingrad (now Volgograd). His main rival, Trotsky (once Lenin’s heir apparent), was now in eclipse, having been ousted by the ruling triumvirate of Zinovyev, Lev Kamenev, and Stalin. Soon afterward Stalin joined with the rightist leaders Nikolay Bukharin and Aleksey Rykov in an alliance directed against his former co-triumvirs. Pinning his faith in the ability of the Soviet Union to establish a viable political system without waiting for the support hitherto expected from worldwide revolution, the Secretary General advocated a policy of “Socialism in one country”; this was popular with the hardheaded party managers whom he was promoting to influential positions in the middle hierarchy. His most-powerful rivals were all dismissed, Bukharin and Rykov soon following Zinovyev and Kamenev into disgrace and political limbo pending execution. Stalin expelled Trotsky from the Soviet Union in 1929 and had him assassinated in Mexico in 1940.

In 1928 Stalin abandoned Lenin’s quasi-capitalist New Economic Policy in favour of headlong state-organized industrialization under a succession of five-year plans. This was, in effect, a new Russian revolution more devastating in its effects than those of 1917. The dictator’s blows fell most heavily on the peasantry, some 25 million rustic households being compelled to amalgamate in collective or state farms within a few years. Resisting desperately, the reluctant muzhiks were attacked by troops and OGPU (political police) units. Uncooperative peasants, termed kulaks, were arrested en masse, being shot, exiled, or absorbed into the rapidly expanding network of Stalinist concentration camps and worked to death under atrocious conditions. Collectivization also caused a great famine in Ukraine. Yet Stalin continued to export the grain stocks that a less cruel leader would have rushed to the famine-stricken areas. Some 10 million peasants may have perished through his policies during these years.

Crash industrialization was less disastrous in its effects, but it, too, numbered its grandiose failures, to which Stalin responded by arraigning industrial managers in a succession of show trials. Intimidated into confessing imaginary crimes, the accused served as self-denounced scapegoats for catastrophes arising from the Secretary General’s policies. Yet Stalin was successful in rapidly industrializing a backward country—as was widely acknowledged by enthusiastic contemporary foreign witnesses, including Adolf Hitler and such well-known writers as H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw.

Among those who vainly sought to moderate Stalin’s policies was his young second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, whom he had married in 1919 and who committed suicide in 1932. They had two children. The son, Vasily, perished as an alcoholic after rising to unmerited high rank in the Soviet Air Force. The daughter, Svetlana, became the object for her father’s alternating affection and bad temper. She emigrated after his death and later wrote memoirs that illuminate Stalin’s well-camouflaged private life.

The great purges
Khrushchev’s secret speech: Khrushchev addresses the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, 1956 [Credit: AFP/Getty Images]In late 1934—just when the worst excesses of Stalinism seemed to have spent themselves—the Secretary General launched a new campaign of political terror against the very Communist Party members who had brought him to power; his pretext was the assassination, in Leningrad on December 1, of his leading colleague and potential rival, Sergey Kirov. That Stalin himself had arranged Kirov’s murder—as an excuse for the promotion of mass bloodshed—was strongly hinted by Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary of the party, in a speech denouncing Stalin at the 20th Party Congress in 1956.

Stalin used the show trial of leading Communists as a means for expanding the new terror. In August 1936, Zinovyev and Kamenev were paraded in court to repeat fabricated confessions, sentenced to death, and shot; two more major trials followed, in January 1937 and March 1938. In June 1937, Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, at the time the most influential military personality, and other leading generals were reported as court-martialed on charges of treason and executed.

Such were the main publicly acknowledged persecutions that empowered Stalin to tame the Soviet Communist Party and the Soviet elite as a whole. He not only “liquidated” veteran semi-independent Bolsheviks but also many party bosses, military leaders, industrial managers, and high government officials totally subservient to himself. Other victims included foreign Communists on Soviet territory and members of the very political police organization, now called the NKVD. All other sections of the Soviet elite—the arts, the academic world, the legal and diplomatic professions—also lost a high proportion of victims, as did the population at large, to a semi-haphazard, galloping persecution that fed on extorted denunciations and confessions. These implicated even more victims until Stalin himself reduced the terror, though he never abandoned it. Stalin’s political victims were numbered in tens of millions. His main motive was, presumably, to maximize his personal power.

Role in World War II
During World War II Stalin emerged, after an unpromising start, as the most successful of the supreme leaders thrown up by the belligerent nations. In August 1939, after first attempting to form an anti-Hitler alliance with the Western powers, he concluded a pact with Hitler, which encouraged the German dictator to attack Poland and begin World War II. Anxious to strengthen his western frontiers while his new but palpably treacherous German ally was still engaged in the West, Stalin annexed eastern Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and parts of Romania; he also attacked Finland and extorted territorial concessions. In May 1941 Stalin recognized the growing danger of German attack on the Soviet Union by appointing himself chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars (head of the government); it was his first governmental office since 1923.

Stalin’s prewar defensive measures were exposed as incompetent by the German blitzkrieg that surged deep into Soviet territory after Hitler’s unprovoked attack on the Soviet Union of June 22, 1941. Khrushchev claimed that Stalin was shocked into temporary inactivity by the onslaught, but, if so, he soon rallied and appointed himself supreme commander in chief. When the Germans menaced Moscow in the winter of 1941, he remained in the threatened capital, helping to organize a great counter-offensive. The Battle of Stalingrad (in the following winter) and the Battle of Kursk (in the summer of 1943) were also won by the Soviet Army under Stalin’s supreme direction, turning the tide of invasion against the retreating Germans, who capitulated in May 1945. As war leader, Stalin maintained close personal control over the Soviet battlefronts, military reserves, and war economy. At first over-inclined to intervene with inept telephoned instructions, as Hitler did, the Soviet generalissimo gradually learned to delegate military decisions.

Stalin participated in high-level Allied meetings, including those of the “Big Three” with Churchill and Roosevelt at Tehrān (1943), Yalta (1945), and Potsdam (1945). A formidable negotiator, he outwitted these foreign statesmen; his superior skill has been acclaimed by Anthony Eden, then British foreign secretary.

Last years
After the war, Stalin imposed on eastern Europe a new kind of colonial control based on native Communist regimes nominally independent but in fact subservient to himself. He thus increased the number of his subjects by about a hundred million. But in 1948 the defection of Titoist Yugoslavia from the Soviet camp struck a severe blow to world Communism as a Stalin-dominated monolith. To prevent other client states from following Tito’s example, Stalin instigated local show trials, manipulated like those of the Great Purge of the 1930s in Russia, in which satellite Communist leaders confessed to Titoism, many being executed.

Far from continuing his wartime alliance with the United States and Great Britain, Stalin now regarded these countries—and especially the United States—as the arch-enemies that he needed after Hitler’s death. At home, the primacy of Marxist ideology was harshly reasserted. Stalin’s chief ideological hatchet man, Andrey Zhdanov, a secretary of the Central Committee, began a reign of terror in the Soviet artistic and intellectual world; foreign achievements were derided, and the primacy of Russians as inventors and pioneers in practically every field was asserted. Hopes for domestic relaxation, widely aroused in the Soviet Union during the war, were thus sadly disappointed.

Increasingly suspicious and paranoid in his later years, Stalin ordered the arrest, announced in January 1953, of certain—mostly Jewish—Kremlin doctors on charges of medically murdering various Soviet leaders, including Zhdanov. The dictator was evidently preparing to make this “Doctors’ Plot” the pretext for yet another great terror menacing all his senior associates, but he died suddenly on March 5, according to the official report; so convenient was this death to his entourage that suspicions of foul play were voiced.

Assessment
A politician to the marrow of his bones, Stalin had little private or family life, finding his main relaxation in impromptu buffet suppers, to which he would invite high party officials, generals, visiting foreign potentates, and the like. Drinking little himself on these occasions, the dictator would encourage excessive indulgence in others, thus revealing weak points that he could exploit. He would also tease his guests, jocularity and malice being nicely balanced in his manner; for such bluff banter Stalin’s main henchman, Vyacheslav Molotov, the stuttering foreign minister, was often a target. Stalin had a keen, ironical sense of humour, usually devoted to deflating his guests rather than to amusing them.

Foremost among Stalin’s accomplishments was the industrialization of a country which, when he assumed complete control in 1928, was still notably backward by comparison with the leading industrial nations of the world. By 1937, after less than a decade’s rule as totalitarian dictator, he had increased the Soviet Union’s total industrial output to the point where it was surpassed only by that of the United States. The extent of this achievement may best be appreciated if one remembers that Russia had held only fifth place for overall industrial output in 1913, and that it thereafter suffered many years of even greater devastation—through world war, civil war, famine, and pestilence—than afflicted any of the world’s other chief industrial countries during the same period. Yet more appallingly ravaged during World War II, the Soviet Union was nevertheless able, under Stalin’s leadership, to play a major part in defeating Hitler while maintaining its position as the world’s second most powerful industrial—and now military—complex after the United States. In 1949 Stalinist Russia signaled its arrival as the world’s second nuclear power by exploding an atomic bomb.

Against these formidable achievements must be set one major disadvantage. Though a high industrial output was indeed achieved under Stalin, very little of it ever became available to the ordinary Soviet citizen in the form of consumer goods or amenities of life. A considerable proportion of the national wealth—a proportion wholly unparalleled in the history of any peacetime capitalist country—was appropriated by the state to cover military expenditure, the police apparatus, and further industrialization. It is also arguable that a comparable degree of industrialization would have come about in any case—and surely by means less savage—under almost any conceivable regime that might have evolved as an alternative to Stalinism.

Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture did not produce positive economic results remotely comparable to those attained by Soviet industry. Considered as a means of asserting control over the politically recalcitrant peasantry, however, collectivization justified itself and continued to do so for decades, remaining one of the dictator’s most durable achievements. Moreover, the process of intensive urbanization, as instituted by Stalin, continued after his death in what still remained a population more predominantly rural than that of any other major industrial country. In 1937, 56 percent of the population was recorded as engaged in agriculture or forestry; by 1958 that proportion had dropped to 42 percent, very largely as a result of Stalin’s policies.

Another of the dictator’s achievements was the creation of his elaborately bureaucratized administrative machinery based on the interlinking of the Communist Party, ministries, legislative bodies, trade unions, political police, and armed forces, and also on a host of other meshing control devices. During the decades following the dictator’s death, these continued to supply the essential management levers of Soviet society, often remaining under the control of individuals who had risen to prominence during the years of the Stalinist terror. But the element of total personal dictatorship did not survive Stalin in its most extreme form. One result of his death was the resurgence of the Communist Party as the primary centre of power, after years during which that organization, along with all other Soviet institutions, had been subordinated to a single man’s whim. Yet, despite the great power wielded by Stalin’s successors as party leaders, they became no more than dominant figures within the framework of a ruling oligarchy. They did not develop into potentates responsible to themselves alone, such as Stalin was during his quarter of a century’s virtually unchallenged rule.

That Stalin’s system persisted as long as it did, in all its major essentials, after the death of its creator is partly due to the very excess of severity practiced by the great tyrant. Not only did his methods crush initiative among Soviet administrators, physically destroying many, but they also left a legacy of remembered fear so extreme as to render continuing post-Stalin restrictions tolerable to the population; the people would have more bitterly resented—might even, perhaps, have rejected—such rigours, had it not been for their vivid recollection of repressions immeasurably harsher. Just as Hitler’s wartime cruelty toward the Soviet population turned Stalin into a genuine national hero—making him the Soviet Union’s champion against an alien terror even worse than his own—so too Stalin’s successors owed the stability of their system in part to the comparison, still fresh in many minds, with the far worse conditions that obtained during the despot’s sway.

Stalin has arguably made a greater impact on the lives of more individuals than any other figure in history. But the evaluation of his overall achievement still remains, decades after his death, a highly controversial matter. Historians have not yet reached any definitive consensus on the worth of his accomplishments, and it is unlikely that they ever will. To the American scholar George F. Kennan, Stalin is a great man, but one great in his “incredible criminality…a criminality effectively without limits,” while Robert C. Tucker, an American specialist on Soviet affairs, has described Stalin as a 20th-century Ivan the Terrible. To the British historian E.H. Carr, the Georgian dictator appears as a ruthless, vigorous figure, but one lacking in originality—a comparative nonentity thrust into greatness by the inexorable march of the great revolution that he found himself leading. To the late Isaac Deutscher, the author of biographies of Trotsky and Stalin—who, like Carr, broadly accepts Trotsky’s version of Stalin as a somewhat mediocre personage—Stalin represents a lamentably deviant element in the evolution of Marxism. Neither Deutscher nor Carr has found Stalin’s truly appalling record sufficiently impressive to raise doubts about the ultimate value of the Russian October Revolution’s historic achievements.

To such views may be added the suggestion that Stalin was anything but a plodding mediocrity, being rather a man of superlative, all-transcending talent. His special brilliance was, however, narrowly specialized and confined within the single crucial area of creative political manipulation, where he remains unsurpassed. Stalin was the first to recognize the potential of bureaucratic power, while the other Bolshevik leaders still feared their revolution being betrayed by a military man. Stalin’s political ability went beyond tactics, as he was able to channel massive social forces both to meet his economic goals and to expand his personal power.

Ronald Francis Hingley
EB Editors

Encyclopædia Britannica
 
 
 

Iosef Jughashvili Stalin and
Georgi Dimitrov, a Bulgarian communist


Maxim Gorky with J.V. Stalin in 1931
 



Joseph Stalin
 



Joseph Stalin and Kliment Voroshilov, December 1935
 



Joseph Stalin
 



Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev, January 1936




Joseph Stalin




Joseph Stalin




Stalin and Politburo colleagues in the Kremlin, 1946.

 
 
 
 
 
 
Joseph Stalin (Jughashvili)   Part I (1879-1938)
 
 
Joseph Stalin (birth surname: Jughashvili; 18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953) was the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. Holding the post of the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he was effectively the dictator of the state.

Stalin was one of the seven members of the first Politburo, founded in 1917 in order to manage the Bolshevik Revolution, alongside Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky, Sokolnikov and Bubnov. Among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who took part in the Russian Revolution of 1917, Stalin was appointed General Secretary of the party's Central Committee in 1922. He subsequently managed to consolidate power following the 1924 death of Vladimir Lenin by suppressing Lenin's criticisms (in the postscript of his testament) and expanding the functions of his role, all the while eliminating any opposition. He remained general secretary until the post was abolished in 1952, concurrently serving as the Premier of the Soviet Union from 1941 onward.

Under Stalin's rule, the concept of "Socialism in One Country" became a central tenet of Soviet society, contrary to Leon Trotsky's view that socialism must be spread through continuous international revolutions. He replaced the New Economic Policy introduced by Lenin in the early 1920s with a highly centralised command economy, launching a period of industrialization and collectivization that resulted in the rapid transformation of the USSR from an agrarian society into an industrial power. However, the economic changes coincided with the imprisonment of millions of people in Gulag labour camps. The initial upheaval in agriculture disrupted food production and contributed to the catastrophic Soviet famine of 1932–33, known in Ukraine as the Holodomor. Between 1934 and 1939 he organized and led a massive purge (known as "Great Purge") of the party, government, armed forces and intelligentsia, in which millions of so-called "enemies of the working class" were imprisoned, exiled or executed, often without due process. Major figures in the Communist Party and government, and many Red Army high commanders, were killed after being convicted of treason in show trials.

In August 1939, after failed attempts to conclude anti-Hitler pacts with other major European powers, Stalin entered into a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany that divided their influence and territory within Eastern Europe, resulting in their invasion of Poland in September of that year, but Germany later violated the agreement and launched a massive invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Despite heavy human and territorial losses, Soviet forces managed to halt the Nazi incursion after the decisive Battles of Moscow and Stalingrad. After defeating the Axis powers on the Eastern Front, the Red Army captured Berlin in May 1945, effectively ending the war in Europe for the Allies. The Soviet Union subsequently emerged as one of two recognized world superpowers, the other being the United States. Communist governments loyal to the Soviet Union were established in most countries freed from German occupation by the Red Army, which later constituted the Eastern Bloc. Stalin also fostered close relations with Mao Zedong in China and Kim Il-sung in North Korea.

Stalin led the Soviet Union through its post-war reconstruction phase, which saw a significant rise in tension with the Western world that would later be known as the Cold War. During this period, the USSR became the second country in the world to successfully develop a nuclear weapon, as well as launching the Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature in response to another widespread famine and the Great Construction Projects of Communism. In the years following his death, Stalin and his regime have been condemned on numerous occasions, most notably in 1956 when his successor Nikita Khrushchev denounced his legacy and initiated a process of de-Stalinization. Stalin remains a controversial figure today, with many regarding him as a tyrant.[9] However, popular opinion within the Russian Federation is mixed. The exact number of deaths caused by Stalin's regime is still a subject of debate, but it is widely agreed to be in the order of millions.

 
 

Stalin aged 15
 
Stalin aged 23
 
 
Early life
Stalin's birth name in Georgian was Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili (იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი). He was born an ethnic Georgian; Georgia was then part of the Russian Empire. The Russian-language version of his birth name was Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (Иосиф Виссарионович Джугашвили).

Ioseb was born on 18 December 1878 in the town of Gori in the Tiflis Governorate of the Russian Empire (today in Georgia). His father was Besarion Jughashvili, a cobbler, while his mother was Ketevan Geladze, a housemaid. As a child, Ioseb was plagued with numerous health issues. He was born with two adjoined toes on his left foot, and his face was permanently scarred by smallpox at the age of 7. At age 12, he injured his left arm in an accident involving a horse-drawn carriage, rendering it shorter and stiffer than its counterpart.

Ioseb's father slid into alcoholism, which made him abusive to his family and caused his business to fail. When Ioseb's mother enrolled him into a Greek Orthodox priesthood school against her husband's wishes, Ioseb's enraged father went on a drunken rampage. He was banished from Gori after assaulting the police chief. Besarion moved to Tiflis, leaving his wife and son behind in Gori.

When Ioseb was sixteen, he received a scholarship to attend the Tiflis Spiritual Seminary, the leading Russian Orthodox seminary in Tiflis; the language of instruction was Russian. Despite being trained as a priest, he became an atheist in his first year. He was a voracious reader and became a Georgian cultural nationalist. He anonymously published poetry in Georgian in the local press and engaged in student politics. Although his performance had been good, he was expelled in 1899 after missing his final exams. The seminary's records also suggest that he was unable to pay his tuition fees. Around this time, Ioseb discovered the writings of Vladimir Lenin and joined the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, a Marxist group.

Out of school, Jughashvili briefly worked as a part-time clerk in a meteorological office, but after a state crackdown on revolutionaries, he went underground and became a full-time revolutionary, living off donations.

When Lenin formed the Bolsheviks, Jughashvili eagerly joined him. Jughashvili proved to be a very effective organizer of men as well as a capable intellectual. Among other activities, he wrote and distributed propaganda, organized strikes, and raised funds through bank robberies, kidnappings, extortion, and assassinations. Jughashvili was arrested and exiled to Siberia numerous times, but often escaped. His skill, charm, and street-smarts won him the respect of Lenin, and he rose rapidly through the ranks of the Bolsheviks.

Jughashvili married his first wife, Ekaterina Svanidze, in 1906, who bore him a son. She died the following year of typhus. In 1911, he met his future second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, during one of his many exiles in Siberia.

Sometime between 1910 and 1912, he began using the alias "Stalin" in his writings.
 

Revolution and war

   
  Joseph Stalin in the Russian Revolution, Russian Civil War, and Polish-Soviet War

Joseph Stalin was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee from 1922 until his death in 1953. In the years following Lenin's death in 1924, he rose to become the authoritarian leader of the Soviet Union.

After growing up in Georgia, Stalin conducted activities for the Bolshevik party for twelve years before the Russian Revolution of 1917. After being elected to the Bolshevik Central Committee in April 1917, Stalin helped Lenin to evade capture by authorities and ordered the besieged Bolsheviks to surrender to avoid a bloodbath. The Bolsheviks then seized Petrograd and Stalin was appointed People's Commissar for Nationalities' Affairs.

In the civil war that followed between Lenin's Red Army against the White Army, Stalin formed alliances with Kliment Voroshilov and Semyon Budyonny while leading troops in the Caucasus. There, he ordered the killings of former Tsarist officers and counter-revolutionaries and burned villages to intimidate the peasantry into submission and discourage food bandit raids. After their Civil War victory, the Bolsheviks moved to expand the revolution into Europe, starting with Poland, which was fighting the Red Army in Ukraine. As joint commander of an army in Ukraine, Stalin's actions in the war were later criticized, including by Leon Trotsky.

Background

Stalin was born on December 18, 1878 in Gori, Georgia to a family of limited financial means. He was the fourth child born to the family of Ekaterina Gheladze and Vissarion Djugashvili; the prior three children of the couple had died at an early age. Stalin later became politically active and, during the Russian Revolution of 1905, organized and armed Bolshevik militias across Georgia, running protection rackets and waging guerrilla warfare. After meeting Lenin at a Bolshevik conference in 1906 and marrying Ekaterina Svanidze, with whom he had a son Yakov, Stalin temporarily resigned from the party over its ban on bank robberies. Embarking on an effort to organize Muslim Azeri and Persian partisans in the Caucasus, Stalin conducted protection rackets, ransom kidnappings, counterfeiting operations and robberies, until arrest and exile in 1908.

Between 1908 and 1917, Stalin was arrested seven times and escaped five times, enjoying less than two years of liberty in the nine-year period.

Role during the Russian Revolution of 1917
Supporting revolution and saving Lenin

In the wake of the February Revolution of 1917 (the first phase of the Russian Revolution of 1917), Stalin was released from exile. On March 25 he returned to Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) with just a typewriter and a wicker suitcase, wearing a suit he had on in 1913 when he was arrested. On March 28, together with Lev Kamenev and Matvei Muranov Stalin ousted Vyacheslav Molotov and Alexander Shlyapnikov as editors of Pravda, the official Bolshevik newspaper, while Lenin and much of the Bolshevik leadership were still in exile. Stalin and the new editorial board took a position in favor of the Provisional Government (Molotov and Shlyapnikov had wanted to overthrow it) and went to the extent of declining to publish Lenin's 'letters from afar' arguing for the provisional government to be overthrown. He described them as "Unsatisfactory...a sketch with no facts."

For a week from March 31, Stalin stopped writing articles, this may have been when he switched to Lenin's position. However, after Lenin prevailed at the April Party conference, Stalin and the rest of the Pravda staff came on board with Lenin's view and called for overthrowing the provisional government. At this April 1917 Party conference, Stalin was elected to the Bolshevik Central Committee with 97 votes in the party, the third highest after Zinoviev and Lenin. These three plus Kamenev formed the Central Committee's Bureau. Stalin would share a flat with Molotov where he apologised: "You were the nearest of all to Lenin in the initial stage in April."

On June 24, Stalin threatened to resign when Lenin turned against the idea of an armed demonstration when the Soviet refused to support it. It went ahead anyway on July 1 and was a Bolshevik triumph.

In mid-July, armed mobs led by Bolshevik militants took to the streets of Petrograd, killing army officers and bourgeois civilians. Sailors from Kronstadt phoned Stalin asking if an armed uprising was feasible. He said: "Rifles? You comrades know best." This was enough encouragement for them. They demanded the overthrow of the government, but neither the Bolshevik leadership nor the Petrograd Soviet was willing to take power, having been totally surprised by this unplanned revolt. After the disappointed mobs dispersed, Kerensky's government struck back at the Bolsheviks. Loyalist troops raided Pravda on July 18 and surrounded the Bolshevik headquarters. Stalin helped Lenin evade capture minutes before and, to avoid a bloodbath, ordered the besieged Bolsheviks in the Peter and Paul Fortress to surrender.

Stalin put Lenin in five different hiding places, the last being the Alliluyev family apartment. Convinced Lenin would be killed if caught, Stalin persuaded him not to surrender and smuggled him to Finland[dubious – discuss]. He shaved off Lenin's beard and moustache, took him to Primorsky station then to a shack north of Petrograd, then to a barn in Finland. In Lenin's absence, Stalin assumed leadership of the Bolsheviks[dubious – discuss]. At the Sixth Congress of the Bolshevik party, held secretly in Petrograd, Stalin gave the main report, was chosen to be the chief editor of the Party press and a member of the Constituent Assembly, and was re-elected to the Central Committee.

The coup of General Lavr Kornilov, August 1917
In September [O.S. August] 1917, Kerensky suspected his newly appointed Commander-in-Chief, General Lavr Kornilov, of planning a coup and dismissed him (10 September [O.S. 27 August] 1917). Believing that Kerensky had acted under Bolshevik pressure, Kornilov decided to march his troops on Petrograd. In desperation, Kerensky turned to the Petrograd Soviet for help and released the Bolsheviks, who raised a small army to defend the capital. In the end, Kerensky convinced Kornilov's army to stand down and to disband without violence.

The October Revolution
The Bolsheviks now found themselves free, rearmed, swelling with new recruits and under Stalin's firm control, whilst Kerensky had few troops loyal to him in the capital. Lenin decided that the time for a coup had arrived. Kamenev and Zinoviev proposed a coalition with the Mensheviks, but Stalin and Trotsky backed Lenin's wish for an exclusively Bolshevik government. Lenin returned to Petrograd in October. On October 23, the Central Committee voted 10-2 in favor of an insurrection; Kamenev and Zinoviev voted in opposition.

On the morning of 6 November [O.S. 25 October] 1917 Kerensky's troops raided Stalin's press headquarters and smashed his printing presses. While he worked to restore his presses, Stalin missed a Central Committee meeting where assignments for the coup were being issued. Stalin instead spent the afternoon briefing Bolshevik delegates and passing communications to and from Lenin, who was in hiding.

Early the next day, Stalin went to the Smolny Institute from where he, Lenin and the rest of the Central Committee coordinated the coup. Kerensky left the capital to rally the Imperial troops at the German front. By 8 November [O.S. 27 October] 1917, the Bolsheviks had "stormed" the Winter Palace and arrested most of the members of Kerensky's cabinet.

Role in the Russian Civil War, 1917–1919
Upon seizing Petrograd, the Bolsheviks formed the new revolutionary authority, the Council of People's Commissars. Stalin was appointed People's Commissar for Nationalities' Affairs; his job was to establish an institution to win over non-Russian citizens of the former Russian Empire. He was relieved of his post as editor of Pravda so that he could devote himself fully to his new role.

In March 1918, the Menshevik leader Julius Martov published an article exposing Bolshevik crimes committed before the revolution. Martov wrote that Stalin had organized bank robberies and had been expelled from his own party for doing so (the latter part is untrue). Stalin sued Martov for libel and won.

After seizing Petrograd, civil war broke out in Russia, pitting Lenin's Red Army against the White Army, a loose alliance of anti-Bolshevik forces. Lenin formed an eight-member Politburo which included Stalin and Trotsky. During this time, only Stalin and Trotsky were allowed to see Lenin without an appointment.

In May 1918, Lenin dispatched Stalin to the city of Tsaritsyn (later known as Stalingrad, now Volgograd). Situated on the Lower Volga, it was a key supply route to the oil and grain of the North Caucasus. There was a critical shortage of food in Russia, and Stalin was assigned to procure any he could find according to Prodrazvyorstka policy. The city was also in danger of falling to the White Army. He opposed the “military specialists”— former Tsarist professional military officers— and formed the "Tsaritsyn group," a loose group of like-minded Bolshevik military leaders and party members personally loyal to Stalin. In doing so, he first met and befriended Kliment Voroshilov and Semyon Budyonny, both of whom would become two of Stalin's key supporters in the military. Through his new allies, he imposed his influence on the military; in July Lenin granted his request for official control over military operations in the region to fight the Battle for Tsaritsyn.

Stalin challenged many of the decisions of Trotsky, who at this time was Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic and thus his military superior. He ordered the killings of many former Tsarist officers in the Red Army; Trotsky, in agreement with the Central Committee, had hired them for their expertise, but Stalin distrusted them. This created friction between Stalin and Trotsky. Stalin even wrote to Lenin asking that Trotsky be relieved of his post.

Stalin ordered the executions of any suspected counter-revolutionaries. In the countryside, he burned villages to intimidate the peasantry into submission and discourage bandit raids on food shipments.

Stalin returned to Moscow in early 1919 and married his longtime companion, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, on March 24. At the Eighth Party Congress in March, Lenin criticised Stalin for using tactics that led to excessive casualties.

In May 1919, Stalin was dispatched to the Western Front, near Petrograd. To stem mass desertions and defections of Red Army soldiers, Stalin had deserters and renegades rounded up and publicly executed as traitors.



Stalin among other participants to the 8th Congress of the Russian Communist Party (b), 1919.
A group of participants in the 8th Congress of the Russian Communist Party, 1919.
In the middle are Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, and Mikhail Kalinin.
 

Role in the Polish-Soviet War, 1919–1920
After the Bolsheviks turned the tide and were winning the civil war in late 1919, Lenin and many others wanted to expand the revolution westwards into Europe, starting with Poland, which was fighting the Red Army in Byelorussia and the Ukraine. Stalin, in Ukraine at the time, argued these ambitions were unrealistic, but lost. He was briefly transferred to the Caucasus in February 1920, but managed to get transferred back to Ukraine in May where he accepted the position of the Comissar of the South-West Front (commander Alexander Yegorov).

In late July 1920, Yegorov moved against the then-Polish city of Lwów, which conflicted with the general strategy set by Lenin and Trotsky by drawing his troops further away from the forces advancing on Warsaw. In mid-August the Commander-in-Chief Sergei Kamenev ordered the transfer of troops (1st Cavalry Army, commanded by Semyon Budyonny and Kliment Voroshilov) from Yegorov's forces to reinforce the attack on Warsaw led by Mikhail Tukhachevsky. Stalin refused to counter-sign the order because it did not have the requisite two signatures on it, a reasonable response. In the end, the battles for both Lwów and Warsaw were lost, and Stalin's actions were held partly to blame.

Richard Pipes suggested Lenin was more to blame, for ordering Soviet troops south to spread revolution to Romania, and north to secure the Polish corridor for Germany (this would win over German nationalists). Both these diversions weakened the Soviet assault. Much blame must be laid on the overall commander, Kamenev, for permitting insubordination from both front commanders and conflicting and ever changing strategic orders during the critical phase in the attack on Warsaw.

Stalin returned to Moscow in August 1920, where he defended himself before the Politburo by attacking the whole campaign strategy. Although this tactic worked, he nonetheless resigned his military commission, something he had repeatedly threatened to do when he didn't get his way. At the Ninth Party Conference on September 22, Trotsky openly criticized Stalin's war record. Stalin was accused of insubordination, personal ambition, military incompetence and seeking to build his own reputation by victories on his own front at the expense of operations elsewhere. Neither he nor anybody else challenged these attacks; he only briefly reaffirmed his position that the war itself was a mistake, something which everybody agreed on by this point.

 



World War I
During WWI, upon his exile in Siberia, Stalin was drafted into the Russian Army but couldn't serve as a result of his damaged left arm. He had to travel to Achinsk, only 100 km from the Trans-Siberian Railway for his medical exam, and was allowed to stay there after the army rejected him.




Prior to the revolution of 1917, Stalin played an active role in fighting the Russian government. Here he is shown on a 1911 information card from the files of the Russian police in Saint Petersburg.

 

Russian Revolution of 1917
After returning to Petrograd from his final exile, Stalin ousted Vyacheslav Molotov and Alexander Shlyapnikov as editors of Pravda. He then took a position in favor of supporting Alexander Kerensky's provisional government. However, after Lenin prevailed at the April 1917 Communist Party conference, Stalin and Pravda shifted to opposing the provisional government. At this conference, Stalin was elected to the Bolshevik Central Committee. In October 1917, the Bolshevik Central Committee voted in favor of an insurrection. On 7 November, from the Smolny Institute, Leon Trotsky, Lenin and the rest of the Central Committee coordinated the insurrection against Kerensky in the 1917 October Revolution. By 8 November, the Bolsheviks had stormed the Winter Palace and Kerensky's Cabinet had been arrested.

Russian Civil War, 1917–1919
Upon the October Revolution, Stalin was appointed People's Commissar for Nationalities' Affairs. Thereafter, civil war broke out in Russia, pitting Lenin's Red Army against the White Army, a loose alliance of anti-Bolshevik forces. Lenin formed a five-member Politburo, which included Stalin and Trotsky. In May 1918, Lenin dispatched Stalin to the city of Tsaritsyn. Through his new allies, Kliment Voroshilov and Semyon Budyonny, Stalin imposed his influence on the military.

Stalin challenged many of the decisions of Trotsky, ordered the killings of many counter-revolutionaries and former Tsarist officers in the Red Army and burned villages in order to intimidate the peasantry into submission and discourage bandit raids on food shipments. In May 1919, in order to stem mass desertions on the Western front, Stalin had deserters and renegades publicly executed as traitors.

Polish-Soviet War, 1919–1921
As Bolshevik victories in the Russian Civil War of 1917–1922 established the Bolshevik position more securely, Soviet Russia started a push towards world revolution, which formed part of the communist ideology to transform the whole world into socialist states. (Tukhachevsky: There can be no doubt that if we had been victorious on the Vistula (i.e. in Poland), the revolutionary fires would have reached the entire continent.[20]). Looking toward Western Europe, the Bolsheviks encountered the newly reborn independent — and expansionist-minded — state of Poland. Conflicts began in what became known as the Polish–Soviet War of 1919–1921. After the Polish Army achieved initial successes, the Bolsheviks pushed the Polish forces back into central Poland in the summer of 1920. As the people's commissar to the high command of the southern front, Stalin was determined to take the then Polish city of Lwów (now Lviv in Ukraine). This conflicted with the general strategy set by Lenin and Trotsky, which focused on the capture of Warsaw further north.

Tukhachevsky's forces engaged those of Polish commanders Józef Piłsudski and Władysław Sikorski at the pivotal Battle of Warsaw (12–25 August 1920), but Stalin refused to redirect his troops from Lwów to help Tukhachevsky. Consequently, the Poles totally routed the four invading armies of Soviet Russia fighting for the Polish capital. The Bolsheviks lost the battles for both Lwów and Warsaw, and Stalin was blamed. In August 1920 Stalin returned to Moscow, where he defended himself and resigned his military command. At the Ninth Party Conference of March–April 1920, on 22 September 1920, Trotsky openly criticized Stalin's behavior.

Rise to power
Stalin played a decisive role in the 1921 Red Army invasion of Georgia, after which he adopted particularly hardline, centralist policies towards Soviet Georgia. This led to the Georgian Affair of 1922 and other repressions. Stalin's actions in Georgia created a rift with Lenin, who believed that all the Soviet states should stand equal.

Lenin nonetheless considered Stalin a loyal ally, and when he got mired in squabbles with Trotsky and other politicians, he decided to support Stalin. With the help of Lev Kamenev, Lenin appointed Stalin General Secretary in 1922. This post enabled Stalin to appoint many of his allies to government positions.

Lenin suffered strokes in May and December 1922, forcing him into semi-retirement in Gorki. Stalin visited him often, acting as his intermediary with the outside world, but the pair quarreled and their relationship deteriorated. Lenin dictated increasingly disparaging notes on Stalin in what would become his testament. He criticized Stalin's political views, rude manners, and excessive power and ambition, and suggested that Stalin should be removed from the position of general secretary. During Lenin's semi-retirement, Stalin forged an alliance with Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev against Trotsky. These allies prevented Lenin's Testament from being revealed to the Twelfth Party Congress in April 1923 (after Lenin's death the testament was read to selected groups of deputies to the Thirteenth Party Congress in May 1924 but it was forbidden to be mentioned at the plenary assemblies or any documents of the Congress).

Lenin died of a stroke on 21 January 1924. Following Lenin's death, a power struggle began, which involved the following seven Politburo members: Nikolai Bukharin, Lev Kamenev, Alexei Rykov, Joseph Stalin, Mikhail Tomsky, Leon Trotsky, and Grigory Zinoviev.

Again, Kamenev and Zinoviev helped to keep Lenin's Testament from going public. Thereafter, Stalin's disputes with Kamenev and Zinoviev intensified. Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev grew increasingly isolated, and were eventually ejected from the Central Committee and then from the Party itself. Kamenev and Zinoviev were later readmitted, but Trotsky was exiled from the Soviet Union.

The Northern Expedition in China became a point of contention over foreign policy by Stalin and Trotsky. Stalin wanted the Communist Party of China to ally itself with the Nationalist Kuomintang, rather than attempt to implement a communist revolution. Trotsky urged the party to oppose the Kuomintang and launch a full-scale revolution. Stalin funded the KMT during the expedition. Stalin countered Trotsky's criticisms by making a secret speech in which he said that the Kuomintang were the only ones capable of defeating the imperialists, that Chiang Kai-shek had funding from the rich merchants, and that his forces were to be utilized until squeezed for all usefulness like a lemon before being discarded. However, Chiang quickly reversed the tables in the Shanghai massacre of 1927 by massacring the membership of the Communist party in Shanghai midway through the Northern Expedition.

Stalin pushed for more rapid industrialization and central control of the economy, contravening Lenin's New Economic Policy (NEP). At the end of 1927, a critical shortfall in grain supplies prompted Stalin to push for the collectivisation of agriculture and order the seizure of grain hoards from kulak farmers. Nikolai Bukharin and Premier Alexey Rykov opposed these policies and advocated a return to the NEP, but the rest of the Politburo sided with Stalin and removed Bukharin from the Politburo in November 1929. Rykov was fired the following year and was replaced by Vyacheslav Molotov on Stalin's recommendation.

In December 1934, the popular Communist Party boss in Leningrad, Sergei Kirov, was murdered. Stalin blamed Kirov's murder on a vast conspiracy of saboteurs and Trotskyites. He launched a massive purge against these internal enemies, putting them on rigged show trials and then having them executed or imprisoned in Siberian Gulags. Among these victims were old enemies, including Bukharin, Rykov, Kamenev and Zinoviev. Stalin made the loyal Nikolai Yezhov head of the secret police, the NKVD, and had him purge the NKVD of veteran Bolsheviks. With no serious opponents left in power, Stalin ended the purges in 1938. Yezhov was held to blame for the excesses of the Great Terror. He was dismissed from office and later executed.

Changes to Soviet society, 1927–1939

Bolstering Soviet secret service and intelligence

Stalin vastly increased the scope and power of the state's secret police and intelligence agencies. Under his guiding hand, Soviet intelligence forces began to set up intelligence networks in most of the major nations of the world, including Germany (the famous Rote Kappelle spy ring), Great Britain, France, Japan, and the United States. Stalin made considerable use of the Communist International movement in order to infiltrate agents and to ensure that foreign Communist parties remained pro-Soviet and pro-Stalin.

One of the best examples of Stalin's ability to integrate secret police and foreign espionage came in 1940, when he gave approval to the secret police to have Leon Trotsky assassinated in Mexico.


 

   
  Chronology of Soviet secret police agencies
   
  There was a succession of Soviet secret police agencies over time. The first secret police after the Russian Revolution, created by Vladimir Lenin's decree on December 20, 1917, was called "Cheka" (ЧК). Officers were referred to as "chekists", a name that is still informally applied to people under the Federal Security Service of Russia, the KGB's successor in Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

For most agencies listed here secret policing operations were only part of their function; for instance, the KGB was both the secret police and the intelligence agency.

   
 
Stalin and Felix Dzerzhinsky in 1924
   
  Detailed chronology

Cheka (abbreviation of Vecheka, itself an acronym for "All-Russian Extraordinary Committee to Combat Counter-Revolution and Sabotage" of the Russian SFSR)
Felix Dzerzhinsky (December 20, 1917 – July 7, 1918)
Yakov Peters (July 7, 1918 – August 22, 1918)
Felix Dzerzhinsky (August 22, 1918 – February 6, 1922)
February 6, 1922: Cheka transforms into GPU, a department of the NKVD of the Russian SFSR.

NKVD – "People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs"
GPU – State Political Directorate
Dzerzhinsky (February 6, 1922 – November 15, 1923)
November 15, 1923: GPU leaves the NKVD and becomes all-union OGPU under direct control of the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR.

OGPU – "Joint State Political Directorate" or "All-Union State Political Board"
Dzerzhinsky (November 15, 1923 – July 20, 1926)
Vyacheslav Menzhinsky (July 30, 1926 – May 10, 1934)
July 10, 1934: NKVD of the Russian SFSR ceases to exist and transforms into the all-union NKVD of the USSR; OGPU becomes GUGB ("Main Directorate for State Security") in the all-union NKVD.

NKVD – "People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs"
GUGB – "Main Directorate for State Security"
Genrikh Yagoda (July 10, 1934 – September 26, 1936)
Nikolai Yezhov (September 26, 1936 – November 25, 1938)
Lavrentiy Beria (November, 1938 – February 3, 1941)
February 3, 1941: the liquidation of GUGB NKVD. The official liquidation of GUGB within NKVD was announced on 12 February 1941 by a joint order № 00151/003 of NKVD and NKGB USSR. The rest of GUGB was abolished and staff was moved to newly created People's Commissariat for State Security (NKGB). After German attack on USSR decision is made to have all the special services under NKVD (with the exception of Military Intelligence), NKGB is abolished.

When situation on the fronts is more stable, on April 14, 1943, the decision is made to recreate NKGB.

NKGB
Vsevolod Merkulov (February 3, 1941 – July 20, 1941) (NKGB folded back into NKVD)
NKVD – "People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs"
Lavrentiy Beria (July 20, 1941 – April 14, 1943)
NKGB – "People's Commissariat for State Security"
Vsevolod Merkulov (April 14, 1943 – March 18, 1946) (NKGB reseparated from NKVD)
March 18, 1946: All People's Commissariats were renamed to Ministries.

MGB – "Ministry for State Security"
Viktor Abakumov (March 18, 1946–1951)
Semyon Ignatyev (1951 – March 5, 1953)
The East German secret police, the Stasi, took their name from this iteration.

KI – "Committee of Information" (foreign intelligence service)[1]
Peter Fedotov MGB
Fedor Kuznetsov GRU
Yakov Malik Foreign Ministry
May 30, 1947: Official decision with the expressed purpose of "upgrading coordination of different intelligence services and concentrating their efforts on major directions". In the summer of 1948 the military personnel in KI were returned to the Soviet military to reconstitute foreign military intelligence service (GRU). KI sections dealing with the new East Bloc and Soviet émigrés were returned to the MGB in late 1948. In 1951 the KI returned to the MGB.

March 5, 1953: MVD and MGB are merged into the MVD by Lavrentiy Beria.

MVD – "Ministry of Internal Affairs"
Lavrentiy Beria (March 5, 1953 – June 26, 1953)
Sergei Kruglov (June, 1953 – March 13, 1954)
March 13, 1954: Newly independent force became the KGB, as Beria was purged and the MVD divested itself again of the functions of secret policing. After renamings and tumults, the KGB remained stable until 1991.

KGB – Committee for State Security
Ivan Serov (March 13, 1954 – December 8, 1958)
Alexander Shelepin (December 25, 1958 – November 13, 1961)
Vladimir Semichastny (November 13, 1961 – May 18, 1967)
Yuri Andropov (May 18, 1967 – May 26, 1982)
Vitaly Fedorchuk (May 26, 1982 – December 17, 1982)
Viktor Chebrikov (December 17, 1982 – October 1, 1988)
Vladimir Kryuchkov (October 1, 1988 – August 22, 1991)
Leonid Shebarshin (August 22, 1991 – August 23, 1991) (acting)
Vadim Bakatin (August 23, 1991 – October 22, 1991)
In 1991, after the State Emergency Committee failed to overthrow Gorbachev and Yeltsin took over, General Vadim Bakatin was given instructions to dissolve the KGB.

In Russia today, KGB functions are performed by the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), and the Federal Protective Service (FSO). The GRU, continues to operate as well.

   



Cult of personality

A cult of personality developed in the Soviet Union around both Stalin and Lenin. Many personality cults in history have been frequently measured and compared to his. Numerous towns, villages and cities were renamed after the Soviet leader and the Stalin Prize and Stalin Peace Prize were named in his honor. He accepted grandiloquent titles (e.g., "Coryphaeus of Science," "Father of Nations," "Brilliant Genius of Humanity," "Great Architect of Communism," "Gardener of Human Happiness," and others), and helped rewrite Soviet history to provide himself a more significant role in the revolution of 1917. At the same time, according to Nikita Khrushchev, he insisted that he be remembered for "the extraordinary modesty characteristic of truly great people." Although statues of Stalin depict him at a height and build approximating the very tall Tsar Alexander III, sources suggest he was approximately 5 ft 4 in (163 cm).

Trotsky criticized the cult of personality built around Stalin. It reached new levels during World War II, with Stalin's name included in the new Soviet national anthem. Stalin became the focus of literature, poetry, music, paintings and film that exhibited fawning devotion. He was sometimes credited with almost god-like qualities, including the suggestion that he single-handedly won the Second World War. The degree to which Stalin himself relished the cult surrounding him is debatable. The Finnish communist Arvo Tuominen records a sarcastic toast proposed by Stalin at a New Year's Party in 1935 in which he said "Comrades! I want to propose a toast to our Patriarch, life and sun, liberator of nations, architect of socialism [he rattled off all the appellations applied to him in those days] – Josef Vissarionovich Stalin, and I hope this is the first and last speech made to that genius this evening."

In a 1956 speech, Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin's cult of personality with these words: "It is impermissible and foreign to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism to elevate one person, to transform him into a superman possessing supernatural characteristics akin to those of a god."[36] Khrushchev's speech and especially the confirmation reflected in the decisions of the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1961 led to the destruction of thousands of Stalin monuments not only in the Soviet Union but in many other Socialist countries in the following years. In November 1961, for example, the large Stalin Statue on Berlin's monumental Stalinallee (promptly renamed Karl-Marx-Allee) was removed in a clandestine operation.

 

Purges and deportations
 


Beria's January 1940 letter to Stalin asking permission to execute 346 "enemies of the CPSU and of the Soviet authorities" who conducted "counter-revolutionary, right-Trotskyite plotting and spying activities"
 
Stalin's handwriting: "за" (support).



The Politburo's decision is signed by Stalin


Purges and executions
Stalin, as head of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, consolidated near-absolute power in the 1930s with a Great Purge of the party that was justified as an attempt to expel "opportunists" and "counter-revolutionary infiltrators". Those targeted by the purge were often expelled from the party, however more severe measures ranged from banishment to the Gulag labor camps to execution after trials held by NKVD troikas.

In the 1930s, Stalin apparently became increasingly worried about the growing popularity of the Leningrad party boss Sergey Kirov. At the 1934 Party Congress where the vote for the new Central Committee was held, Kirov received only three negative votes, the fewest of any candidate, while Stalin received over one hundred negative votes. After the assassination of Kirov, which may have been orchestrated by Stalin, Stalin invented a detailed scheme to implicate opposition leaders in the murder, including Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev. The investigations and trials expanded. Stalin passed a new law on "terrorist organizations and terrorist acts" that were to be investigated for no more than ten days, with no prosecution, defense attorneys or appeals, followed by a sentence to be executed "quickly."

Thereafter, several trials known as the Moscow Trials were held, but the procedures were replicated throughout the country. Article 58 of the legal code, which listed prohibited anti-Soviet activities as counterrevolutionary crime, was applied in the broadest manner. The flimsiest pretexts were often enough to brand someone an "enemy of the people", starting the cycle of public persecution and abuse, often proceeding to interrogation, torture and deportation, if not death. The Russian word troika gained a new meaning: a quick, simplified trial by a committee of three subordinated to NKVD—NKVD troika—with sentencing carried out within 24 hours. Stalin's hand-picked executioner, Vasily Blokhin, was entrusted with carrying out some of the high profile executions in this period.





Nikolai Yezhov, walking with Stalin in the top photo from the 1930s, was killed in 1940. Following his execution, Yezhov was edited out of the photo by Soviet censors. Such retouching was a common occurrence during Stalin's rule.




Many military leaders were convicted of treason and a large-scale purge of Red Army officers followed. The repression of so many formerly high-ranking revolutionaries and party members led Leon Trotsky to claim that a "river of blood" separated Stalin's regime from that of Lenin. In August 1940, Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico, where he had lived in exile since January 1937; this eliminated the last of Stalin's opponents among the former Party leadership.

With the exception of Vladimir Milyutin (who died in prison in 1937) and Joseph Stalin himself, all of the members of Lenin's original cabinet who had not succumbed to death from natural causes before the purge were executed.

Mass operations of the NKVD also targeted "national contingents" (foreign ethnicities) such as Poles, ethnic Germans, Koreans, etc. A total of 350,000 (144,000 of them Poles) were arrested and 247,157 (110,000 Poles) were executed. Many Americans who had emigrated to the Soviet Union during the worst of the Great Depression were executed; others were sent to prison camps or gulags. Concurrent with the purges, efforts were made to rewrite the history in Soviet textbooks and other propaganda materials. Notable people executed by NKVD were removed from the texts and photographs as though they never existed. Gradually, the history of revolution was transformed to a story about just two key characters: Lenin and Stalin.

In light of revelations from Soviet archives, historians now estimate that nearly 700,000 people (353,074 in 1937 and 328,612 in 1938) were executed in the course of the terror, with the great mass of victims merely "ordinary" Soviet citizens: workers, peasants, homemakers, teachers, priests, musicians, soldiers, pensioners, ballerinas, and beggars. Many of the executed were interred in mass graves, with some of the major killing and burial sites being Bykivnia, Kurapaty and Butovo.

Some Western experts believe the evidence released from the Soviet archives is understated, incomplete or unreliable.

Stalin personally signed 357 proscription lists in 1937 and 1938 that condemned to execution some 40,000 people, and about 90% of these are confirmed to have been shot. At the time, while reviewing one such list, Stalin reportedly muttered to no one in particular: "Who's going to remember all this riff-raff in ten or twenty years' time? No one. Who remembers the names now of the boyars Ivan the Terrible got rid of? No one." In addition, Stalin dispatched a contingent of NKVD operatives to Mongolia, established a Mongolian version of the NKVD troika, and unleashed a bloody purge in which tens of thousands were executed as "Japanese Spies." Mongolian ruler Khorloogiin Choibalsan closely followed Stalin's lead.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the Soviet leadership sent NKVD squads into other countries to murder defectors and other opponents of the Soviet regime. Victims of such plots included Yevhen Konovalets, Ignace Poretsky, Rudolf Klement, Alexander Kutepov, Evgeny Miller, Leon Trotsky and the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) leadership in Catalonia (e.g. Andreu Nin).



1941 June deportation in Latvia
 

Deportations
Shortly before, during and immediately after World War II, Stalin conducted a series of deportations on a huge scale that profoundly affected the ethnic map of the Soviet Union. It is estimated that between 1941 and 1949 nearly 3.3 million people  were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. By some estimates up to 43% of the resettled population died of diseases and malnutrition.

Separatism, resistance to Soviet rule and collaboration with the invading Germans were cited as the official reasons for the deportations, rightly or wrongly. Individual circumstances of those spending time in German-occupied territories were not examined. After the brief Nazi occupation of the Caucasus, the entire population of five of the small highland peoples and the Crimean Tatars – more than a million people in total – were deported without notice or any opportunity to take their possessions.

As a result of Stalin's lack of trust in the loyalty of particular ethnicities, ethnic groups such as the Soviet Koreans, the Volga Germans, the Crimean Tatars, the Chechens, and many Poles were forcibly moved out of strategic areas and relocated to places in the central Soviet Union, especially Kazakhstan in Soviet Central Asia. By some estimates, hundreds of thousands of deportees may have died en route.

According to official Soviet estimates, more than 14 million people passed through the Gulag from 1929 to 1953, with a further 7 to 8 million being deported and exiled to remote areas of the Soviet Union (including the entire nationalities in several cases).

In February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev condemned the deportations as a violation of Leninism, and reversed some of them, although it was not until 1991 that the Tatars, Meskhetians and Volga Germans were allowed to return en masse to their homelands. The memory of the deportations has played a major part in the separatist movements in the Baltic States, Tatarstan and Chechnya.




Children are digging up frozen potatoes in the field of a collective farm, 1933

 

Collectivization
Stalin's regime moved to force collectivization of agriculture. This was intended to increase agricultural output from large-scale mechanized farms, to bring the peasantry under more direct political control, and to make tax collection more efficient. Collectivization brought social change on a scale not seen since the abolition of serfdom in 1861 and alienation from control of the land and its produce. Collectivization also meant a drastic drop in living standards for many peasants, and it faced violent reaction among the peasantry.

In the first years of collectivization it was estimated that industrial production would rise by 200% and agricultural production by 50%, but these expectations were not realized. Stalin blamed this unanticipated failure on kulaks (rich peasants), who resisted collectivization. However, kulaks proper made up only 4% of the peasant population; the "kulaks" that Stalin targeted included the slightly better-off peasants who took the brunt of violence from the OGPU and the Komsomol. These peasants were about 60% of the population. Those officially defined as "kulaks", "kulak helpers", and, later, "ex-kulaks" were to be shot, placed into Gulag labor camps, or deported to remote areas of the country, depending on the charge. Archival data indicates that 20,201 people were executed during 1930, the year of Dekulakization.

The two-stage progress of collectivization—interrupted for a year by Stalin's famous editorials, "Dizzy with Success" and "Reply to Collective Farm Comrades"—is a prime example of his capacity for tactical political withdrawal followed by intensification of initial strategies.



Famine in USSR, 1933. Areas of most disastrous famine marked with black.

 

Famines
Famine affected Ukraine, southern Russia and other parts of the USSR. The death toll from famine in the Soviet Union at this time is estimated at between 5 and 10 million people. The worst crop failure of late tsarist Russia, in 1892, had caused 375,000 to 400,000 deaths. Most modern scholars agree that the famine was caused by the policies of the government of the Soviet Union under Stalin, rather than by natural reasons. According to Alan Bullock, "the total Soviet grain crop was no worse than that of 1931 ... it was not a crop failure but the excessive demands of the state, ruthlessly enforced, that cost the lives of as many as five million Ukrainian peasants." Stalin refused to release large grain reserves that could have alleviated the famine, while continuing to export grain; he was convinced that the Ukrainian peasants had hidden grain away and strictly enforced draconian new collective-farm theft laws in response.[80][81] Other historians hold it was largely the insufficient harvests of 1931 and 1932 caused by a variety of natural disasters that resulted in famine, with the successful harvest of 1933 ending the famine. Soviet and other historians have argued that the rapid collectivization of agriculture was necessary in order to achieve an equally rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union and ultimately win World War II. Alec Nove claims that the Soviet Union industrialized in spite of, rather than because of, its collectivized agriculture.

The USSR also experienced a major famine in 1947 as a result of war damage and severe droughts, but economist Michael Ellman argues that it could have been prevented if the government had not mismanaged its grain reserves. The famine cost an estimated 1 to 1.5 million lives as well as secondary population losses due to reduced fertility.



Starved peasants on a street in Kharkiv, 1933.

 

Ukrainian famine
The Holodomor famine is sometimes referred to as the Ukrainian Genocide, implying it was engineered by the Soviet government, specifically targeting the Ukrainian people to destroy the Ukrainian nation as a political factor and social entity. While historians continue to disagree whether the policies that led to Holodomor fall under the legal definition of genocide, twenty-six countries have officially recognized the Holodomor as such. On 28 November 2006, the Ukrainian Parliament approved a bill declaring the Soviet-era forced famine an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. Professor Michael Ellman concludes that Ukrainians were victims of genocide in 1932–33 according to a more relaxed definition that is favored by some specialists in the field of genocide studies. He asserts that Soviet policies greatly exacerbated the famine's death toll. Although 1.8 million tonnes of grain were exported during the height of the starvation — enough to feed 5 million people for one year — the use of torture and execution to extract grain under the Law of Spikelets, the use of force to prevent starving peasants from fleeing the worst-affected areas, and the refusal to import grain or secure international humanitarian aid to alleviate conditions led to incalculable human suffering in the Ukraine. It would appear that Stalin intended to use the starvation as a cheap and efficient means (as opposed to deportations and shootings) to kill off those deemed to be "counterrevolutionaries," "idlers," and "thieves," but not to annihilate the Ukrainian peasantry as a whole. Ellman also claims that, while this was not the only Soviet genocide (e.g., the Polish operation of the NKVD), it was the worst in terms of mass casualties.

Current estimates on the total number of casualties within Soviet Ukraine range mostly from 2.2 million[89][90] to 4 to 5 million.

A Ukrainian court found Josef Stalin, Lazar Kaganovich, Stanislav Kosior and other leaders of the former Soviet Union guilty of genocide by "organizing mass famine in Ukraine in 1932–1933" in January 2010. However, the court "dropped criminal proceedings over the suspects' deaths".



Stalin on building of Moscow-Volga canal. It was constructed from 1932 to 1937 by Gulag prisoners.
 

Industrialization
The Russian Civil War and wartime communism had a devastating effect on the country's economy. Industrial output in 1922 was 13% of that in 1914. A recovery followed under the New Economic Policy, which allowed a degree of market flexibility within the context of socialism. Under Stalin's direction, this was replaced by a system of centrally ordained "Five-Year Plans" in the late 1920s. These called for a highly ambitious program of state-guided crash industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture.

With seed capital unavailable because of international reaction to Communist policies, little international trade, and virtually no modern infrastructure, Stalin's government financed industrialization both by restraining consumption on the part of ordinary Soviet citizens to ensure that capital went for re-investment into industry and by ruthless extraction of wealth from the kulaks.

In 1933 workers' real earnings sank to about one-tenth of the 1926 level. Common and political prisoners in labor camps were forced to perform unpaid labor, and communists and Komsomol members were frequently "mobilized" for various construction projects. The Soviet Union used numerous foreign experts to design new factories, supervise construction, instruct workers, and improve manufacturing processes. The most notable foreign contractor was Albert Kahn's firm that designed and built 521 factories between 1930 and 1932. As a rule, factories were supplied with imported equipment.

In spite of early breakdowns and failures, the first two Five-Year Plans achieved rapid industrialization from a very low economic base. While it is generally agreed that the Soviet Union achieved significant levels of economic growth under Stalin, the precise rate of growth is disputed. It is not disputed, however, that these gains were accomplished at the cost of millions of lives. Official Soviet estimates stated the annual rate of growth at 13.9%; Russian and Western estimates gave lower figures of 5.8% and even 2.9%. Indeed, one estimate is that Soviet growth became temporarily much higher after Stalin's death.

According to Robert Lewis, the Five-Year Plan substantially helped to modernize the previously backward Soviet economy. New products were developed, and the scale and efficiency of existing production greatly increased. Some innovations were based on indigenous technical developments, others on imported foreign technology.[98] Despite its costs, the industrialization effort allowed the Soviet Union to fight, and ultimately win, World War II.

Science
Science in the Soviet Union was under strict ideological control by Stalin and his government, along with art and literature. There was significant progress in "ideologically safe" domains, owing to the free Soviet education system and state-financed research. However, the most notable legacy during Stalin's time was his public endorsement of the agronomist Trofim Lysenko, who rejected Mendelian genetics as "bourgeois pseudoscience" and instead advocated Lamarckian inheritance and hybridization theories (which had been discredited by most Western countries by the 1920s in favor of Darwinian Evolution), that caused widespread agricultural destruction and major setbacks in Soviet knowledge in biology. Many scientists came out publicly against his views, but the majority of them, including Nikolai Vavilov (who was later hailed as a pioneer in modern Genetics), were imprisoned or executed. Some areas of physics were criticized.



Joseph Stalin

Social services
Under the Soviet government people benefited from some social liberalization. Girls were given an adequate, equal education and women had equal rights in employment, improving lives for women and families. Stalinist development also contributed to advances in health care, which significantly increased the lifespan and quality of life of the typical Soviet citizen. Stalin's policies granted the Soviet people universal access to healthcare and education, effectively creating the first generation free from the fear of typhus, cholera, and malaria. The occurrences of these diseases dropped to record low numbers, increasing life spans by decades.

Soviet women under Stalin were the first generation of women in this country able to give birth in the safety of a hospital with access to prenatal care. Education was also an example of an increase in the standard of living after economic development. The generation born during Stalin's rule was the first in the USSR to achieve widespread literacy. Engineers were sent abroad to learn industrial technology, and hundreds of foreign engineers were brought to Russia on contract. Transport links were improved and many new railways built. Workers who exceeded their quotas, Stakhanovites, received many incentives for their work; they could afford to buy the goods that were mass-produced by the rapidly expanding Soviet economy.

The increase in demand due to industrialization and the decrease in the workforce due to World War II and repressions generated a major expansion in job opportunities for the survivors, especially for women.

 

Culture
Although he was Georgian by birth, some western historians claim that Stalin became a Russian nationalist and significantly promoted Russian history, language, and Russian national heroes, particularly during the 1930s and 1940s. There are also claims that he held the Russian people up as the elder brothers of the non-Russian minorities.

During Stalin's reign, the official and long-lived style of Socialist Realism was established for painting, sculpture, music, drama and literature. Previously fashionable "revolutionary" expressionism, abstract art, and avant-garde experimentation were discouraged or denounced as "formalism".

The degree of Stalin's personal involvement in general, and in specific instances, has been the subject of discussion.[citation needed] Stalin's favorite novel Pharaoh, shared similarities[citation needed] with Sergei Eisenstein's film, Ivan the Terrible, produced under Stalin's tutelage.

In architecture, a Stalinist Empire Style (basically, updated neoclassicism on a very large scale, exemplified by the Seven Sisters of Moscow) replaced the constructivism of the 1920s. Stalin's rule had a largely disruptive effect on indigenous cultures within the Soviet Union, though the politics of Korenizatsiya and forced development were possibly beneficial to the integration of later generations of indigenous cultures.




Photograph taken of the 1931 demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow.

 

Religion
Raised in the Georgian Orthodox faith, Stalin later became an atheist. His government promoted atheism through special atheistic education in schools, anti-religious propaganda, the anti-religious work of public institutions (Society of the Godless), discriminatory laws, and a terror campaign against religious believers. By the late 1930s, it had become dangerous to be publicly associated with religion.

Stalin's role in the fortunes of the Russian Orthodox Church is complex. Continuous persecution in the 1930s resulted in its near-extinction as a public institution: by 1939, active parishes numbered in the low hundreds (down from 54,000 in 1917), many churches had been leveled, and tens of thousands of priests, monks and nuns were persecuted and killed. Over 100,000 were shot during the purges of 1937–1938. During World War II, the Church was allowed a revival as a patriotic organization, and thousands of parishes were reactivated until a further round of suppression during Khrushchev's rule. The Russian Orthodox Church Synod's recognition of the Soviet government and of Stalin personally led to a schism with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

All other religions in the Soviet Union, including the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Catholic Churches, Baptists, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism underwent similar ordeals: thousands of monks were persecuted, and hundreds of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, sacred monuments, monasteries and other religious buildings were razed.

Theorist
Main article: Stalinism
Stalin and his supporters have highlighted the notion that socialism can be built and consolidated by a country ("Socialism in One Country") as underdeveloped as Russia during the 1920s. Indeed, this might be the only means in which it could be built in a hostile environment. In 1933, Stalin put forward the theory of aggravation of the class struggle along with the development of socialism, arguing that the further the country would move forward, the more acute forms of struggle will be used by the doomed remnants of exploiter classes in their last desperate efforts – and that, therefore, political repression was necessary.

In 1936, Stalin announced that the society of the Soviet Union consisted of two non-antagonistic classes: workers and kolkhoz peasantry. These corresponded to the two different forms of property over the means of production that existed in the Soviet Union: state property (for the workers) and collective property (for the peasantry). In addition to these, Stalin distinguished the stratum of intelligentsia. The concept of "non-antagonistic classes" was entirely new to Leninist theory. Among Stalin's contributions to Communist theoretical literature were "Dialectical and Historical Materialism," "Marxism and the National Question", "Trotskyism or Leninism", and "The Principles of Leninism."



Photo from 1943 exhumation of mass grave of Polish officers killed by NKVD in Katyń Forest in 1940.

 

Calculating the number of victims
Before the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, researchers who attempted to count the number of people killed under Stalin's regime produced estimates ranging from 3 to 60 million.[108] After the Soviet Union dissolved, evidence from the Soviet archives also became available, containing official records of 799,455 executions (1921–1953), around 1.7 million deaths in the Gulag and some 390,000 deaths during kulak forced resettlement – with a total of about 2.9 million officially recorded victims in these categories.

The official Soviet archival records do not contain comprehensive figures for some categories of victims, such as those of ethnic deportations or of German population transfers in the aftermath of World War II. Eric D. Weitz wrote, "By 1948, according to Nicolas Werth, the mortality rate of the 600,000 people deported from the Caucasus between 1943 and 1944 had reached 25%." Other notable exclusions from NKVD data on repression deaths include the Katyn massacre, other killings in the newly occupied areas, and the mass shootings of Red Army personnel (deserters and so-called deserters) in 1941. The Soviets executed 158,000 soldiers for desertion during the war, and the "blocking detachments" of the NKVD shot thousands more. Also, the official statistics on Gulag mortality exclude deaths of prisoners taking place shortly after their release but which resulted from the harsh treatment in the camps. Some historians also believe that the official archival figures of the categories that were recorded by Soviet authorities are unreliable and incomplete. In addition to failures regarding comprehensive recordings, as one additional example, Robert Gellately and Simon Sebag Montefiore argue that the many suspects beaten and tortured to death while in "investigative custody" were likely not to have been counted amongst the executed.

Historians working after the Soviet Union's dissolution have estimated victim totals ranging from approximately 4 million to nearly 10 million, not including those who died in famines. Russian writer Vadim Erlikman, for example, makes the following estimates: executions, 1.5 million; gulags, 5 million; deportations, 1.7 million out of 7.5 million deported; and POWs and German civilians, 1 million – a total of about 9 million victims of repression.

Some have also included the deaths of 6 to 8 million people in the 1932–1933 famine among the victims of Stalin's repression. This categorization is controversial however, as historians differ as to whether the famine was a deliberate part of the campaign of repression against kulaks and others,or simply an unintended consequence of the struggle over forced collectivization.

Accordingly, if famine victims are included, a minimum of around 10 million deaths—6 million from famine and 4 million from other causes—are attributable to the regime, with a number of recent historians suggesting a likely total of around 20 million, citing much higher victim totals from executions, Gulag camps, deportations and other causes. Adding 6–8 million famine victims to Erlikman's estimates above, for example, would yield a total of between 15 and 17 million victims. Researcher Robert Conquest, meanwhile, has revised his original estimate of up to 30 million victims down to 20 million. In his most recent edition of The Great Terror (2007), Conquest states that while exact numbers may never be known with complete certainty, at least 15 million people were either executed or worked to death in the camps. RJ Rummel maintains that the earlier higher victim total estimates are correct, although he includes those killed by the Soviet government in other Eastern European countries as well.

 
 
 

 
 
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