Born in 1879, Joseph Stalin was the son of a Georgian cobbler. In his youth he suffered from smallpox which scarred his face, and was in two carriage accidents that permanently damaged his left arm. He was a good student, but a rebellious one who did not easily accept religious or imperialist instruction, and was expelled from the Orthodox seminary where he received schooling in 1899 when he missed his final examinations. Shortly afterwards he discovered the works of Vladimir Lenin
, and became a Marxist, joining the Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1903. He was soon noted to be a revolutionary by the Russian
police and became a full-time outlaw. During this period he spent much of his time in the Caucasus inciting strikes through propaganda. He raised money during this time through various criminal enterprises including bank robberies, kidnappings and extortion. In 1906 he married his first wife, Ekaterina, with whom he had his first child, Yakov. Around this time he left the party because they established rules about bank robberies. After planning a bank robbery that resulted in the deaths of 40 people, he fled to Baku along with his young wife, who soon succumbed to typhus. While in Baku he organized the murders of supporters of the Tsar, as well as looting and destruction of property. He was sent to Siberia seven separate times, and escaped most of these times. After being released from one such imprisonment in 1912 he created Pravda
, the newsletter that would later become central to the Communist
party, from an existing party newspaper. It was around this point that he adopted the name "Stalin", Russian for steel, to write his articles. Though he was conscripted to fight in World War I at one point while imprisoned, he was ultimately rejected for service because of the damage to his left arm.
When he returned from exile to St. Petersburg the last time he at first threw in with the provisional government of Alexander Kerenesky, however, when Lenin was triumphant in the Party conference of 1917 Stalin switched his own allegiance and that of Pravda
to Lenin, advocating the overthrow of the provisional government. He himself was elected to the Bolshevik Central Committee at that same Party conferencef. Lenin attempted a revolution and failed, and Stalin helped him to flee to Finland
while also assuming leadership of the Bolsheviks. Finally in November 1917, he, Lenin and other members of the Bolshevik Central Committee planned an insurrection, the October Revolution, which resulted in the overthrow of Kerensky's provisional government. After this overthrow, Stalin was given the position of People's Commissar for Nationalities' Affairs. During the subsequent Russian Civil War he was one of the members of the five-member politburo formed by Lenin and which also included Leon Trotsky
, against whom Stalin was often vocally opposed. In May of 1918 Stalin was sent to Tsaritsyn where he took command of the army. His rule was immensely brutal, and he organized the burning of villages and the execution of deserters and renegades in order to intimidate the peasantry and prevent mass desertions.
During the Polish- Soviet War Stalin refused to act in aid of Trotsky, who was commanding the assault on Lviv. Because of this the assaults of both Lviv and Warsaw failed, failures for which Stalin was blamed, and which resulted in him resigning his military commission and returning to Moscow
in 1920. He was vocally criticized by Trotsky for his actions. In 1921 he was central to the invasion and subsequent subjugation of Soviet Georgia, which created a rift between himself and Lenin who did not approve of any Soviet state being so repressed. Nonetheless, Stalin remained a close ally of Lenin, who appointed him General Secretary in 1922. That same year Lenin suffered a stroke, and Stalin acted as his intermediary with the world though their relationship was growing strained by frequent disagreements, Lenin going so far as to recommend that Stalin be removed from his position as General Secretary in his Testament. However, Stalin formed an alliance with Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev against Trotsky, and together these three were able to prevent Lenin's Testament from coming to light in the 1923 Party Congress. By 1924, Lenin was dead, and Stalin was beginning to fight with his old confederates, Kamenev and Zinoviev. Together with Trotsky they were soon thrown from the Party. Trotsky was eventually assassinated, and Kamenev and Zinoviev were executed during the Purges. Going against the New Economic Policy of Lenin, Stalin advocated the centralization of the economy and, in 1927, the collectivization of agricultural production. Stalin used the assassination of Sergei Kirov, probably at Stalin's own order, in 1934 to justify a purge of political enemies, using show trials to exile or execute dissenters. The trials ended in 1938, and Stalin blamed them on an old ally, Nikolai Yezhov, and had him executed as well.
Stalin relied heavily on the secret police, which he gave increasing levels of power throughout the early years of his time in power. He set up intelligence rings throughout the world in large cities. He used violence and espionage to observe Communist governments and ensure they remained pro-Stalinist. In order to maintain his power in Russia he created a cult of personality around both himself and Lenin, elevating both men to near-godhood. He used it to rewrite history to cast himself in a more favourable light in terms of the revolution, and gave himself grandiose titles. He even went so far as to include himself in the national anthem during the Second World War. Shortly before the Second World War he deported and resettled several millions people in Siberia and Asian republics, as well as sending many to Gulags. Many of these resettled people died of starvation or diseases. He cited separatist actions and German collaboration for many of the resettlements. Mostly those deported were ethnic minorities.
The Second World War
Though neither leader liked the other, Stalin entered into a non-aggression pact with Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany
in 1939. It served to put parts of Poland
, Estonia, Finland and Romania
under Soviet influence, and more importantly allowed Stalin to prepare his country, which he viewed as woefully unprepared for war with Germany. After Germany invaded the portion of Poland that it had agreed upon, Soviet forces occupied the eastern portion. In the summer of 1940 Stalin officially merged the three Baltic states into the Soviet Union, an action that ultimately had a death toll of about 160,000 civilians. Stalin focused heavily on the development of the army during this period, especially improving propaganda and training efforts. When the Axis powers of Germany, Japan
signed the Tripartite Pact, Stalin briefly negotiated with Germany for admittance into the pact. However, his written agreement was never answered by Hitler, who had already begun issuing secret plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union. Stalin signed a neutrality agreement with Japan in April 1941, but already his trust in the Axis was fairly weak.
Stalin had believed that Hitler would wait to betray him until he had at least defeated England
, but was proven wrong when Hitler broke their non-aggression pact in June of 1941 with the implementation of Operation Barbarossa; this invasion of Soviet territories began the war on the Eastern Front. The Soviet army was still not totally prepared for war, especially when opposed by the very well-prepared Germans, and they had suffered around 4.3 million casualties by the end of the year. Stalin turned to the Allies, who he was sure would prevail in the war, and negotiated with Britain for mutual aid and a guarantee that the Soviet Union could retain territories it had gained. The British agreed to the former but not the latter, and Stalin eventually relented as the German army continued to push into the Soviet Union throughout 1942. As the Germans approached Moscow, Stalin launched a counteroffensive that pushed them back, their first real defeat of the war. Though Hitler had initially believed that the war in the East would be quickly won, he was forced to extend his plans as Stalin's army proved difficult to defeat. Stalin continued to repulse German attacks despite immense casualties, and also saw an increase in factory production after he had them moved far enough away from the border to protect from attacks. In 1943 during a meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt
and Prime Minister Winston Churchill
he again insisted on being allowed to regain Polish territory for the Soviet Union. At the Yalta Conference in 1945 he was able to successfully lobby for East Germany to be placed under Soviet control.
In April of 1945 Soviet forces were pushing towards Berlin
, and on the 30th Hitler and his wife Eva Braun
committed suicide. Despite his troops actually possessing Hitler's remains, Stalin refused to believe that he was dead for several years after the end of the war.
After the War
Soviet forces remained in Eastern Europe after the war, creating what was called by Churchill the "Iron Curtain" of influence over the puppet communist governments set up in the Eastern Bloc countries. When the people of Berlin, under Soviet control because of the decisions at the Yalta Conference, rejected the communist candidates in their election in 1948, Stalin instituted a blockade of West Berlin that cut off all of their food supplies as well as other necessities. However, the blockade was a failure due to the Berlin Airlift, a series of aerial supply drops, carried out by the Western Allies. Clearly defeated and humiliated, Stalin finally called it off in May of 1949. Nonetheless he exercised considerable influence in the Eastern half of Germany and the other Eastern Bloc countries, rigging Polish elections and organizing the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) in order to subjugate lesser Eastern nations and prevent them from accepting aid from the Western powers.
Despite his desire to expand Soviet interests, he did not get involved in the Greek
Civil War, believing it to be poorly planned and unprepared. He also had poor relations with Mao Zedong
, the leader of the communist party in China
, being a supporter of Chiang Kai-Shek's
government instead. He heavily supported the North Korean
communist Kim Il-sung, providing the North Koreans with a great deal of military equipment throughout the Korean War.
On March 1st, 1953 Stalin suffered a serious stroke that paralyzed the right half of his body. He was left there for the entire day, his guards too afraid of disturbing him to check that he was alright. He was eventually discovered late that night lying on the floor in a puddle of his own urine. He remained bedridden for the final four days of his life, finally dying on March 5th, 1952 of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 74 years old.
Stalin is an interesting figure, as he has acted both as ally and as opponent in real life, making it difficult to determine what role he should take in comics. During and after the Cold War the portrayal has been almost universally negative.
He appeared most prominently in Superman: Red Son
, where he adopts Superman
as his successor in the Soviet Union and encourages him to fight for the Warsaw Pact.