Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, born on 18 December, was a Georgian revolutionary and Soviet politician who led the Soviet Union from the mid–1920s until 1953 as the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1952) and premier of the Soviet Union (1941–1953). Despite initially governing the Soviet Union as part of a collective leadership, he eventually consolidated power to become the country’s de facto dictator by the 1930s. A communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin formalised these ideas as Marxism–Leninism, while his own policies are known as Stalinism.
Born to a poor family in Gori in the Russian Empire (now Georgia), Stalin joined the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party as a youth. He edited the party’s newspaper, Pravda, and raised funds for Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik faction via robberies, kidnappings, and protection rackets. Repeatedly arrested, he underwent several internal exiles. After the Bolsheviks seized power during the 1917 October Revolution and created a one-party state under Lenin’s newly renamed Communist Party, Stalin joined its governing Politburo.
Serving in the Russian Civil War before overseeing the Soviet Union’s establishment in 1922, Stalin assumed leadership over the country following Lenin’s 1924 death. Under Stalin, “Socialism in One Country” became a central tenet of the party’s dogma. Through the Five-Year Plans, the country underwent agricultural collectivisation and rapid industrialisation, creating a centralised command economy.
This led to significant disruptions in food production that contributed to the famine of 1932–33. To eradicate accused “enemies of the working class”, Stalin instituted the “Great Purge”, in which over a million were imprisoned and at least 700,000 executed between 1934 and 1939. By 1937, he had complete personal control over the party and state.
Widely considered one of the 20th century’s most significant figures, Stalin was the subject of a pervasive personality cult within the international Marxist–Leninist movement which revered him as a champion of the working class and socialism. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Stalin has retained popularity in Russia and Georgia as a victorious wartime leader who established the Soviet Union as a major world power. Conversely, his totalitarian government has been widely condemned for overseeing mass repressions, ethnic cleansing, deportations, hundreds of thousands of executions, and famines which killed millions.