Stalin, Joseph (Josif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili; 1879–1953), ruler of the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death. A Georgian village shoemaker's son intended for the priesthood, he joined the Georgian Social Democratic Party in 1901. In 1912 V. I. Lenin placed him on the Bolshevik central committee. (Around this time he took the name Stalin, “man of steel.”) After the Russian Revolution (1917) he advanced rapidly. In 1922 he was elected general secretary of the Russian Communist Party. In the struggle for the leadership after Lenin's death (1924), he eliminated all opposition and established himself as virtual dictator. In 1928 he launched a vast development and industrialization program that involved the forced collectivization of agriculture and intensive industrialization.
Stalin sought to “Russianize” the Soviet Union, attempting to eradicate by force the separate identities of minorities. Dissent was met with a powerful secret police, informers, mass deportations, executions, and show trials. In 1935 he initiated the first of the great “purges,” which spared neither his family nor former political associates. Equally ruthless in foreign affairs, he partitioned Poland with Germany (1939) and imposed Communist rule on the Baltic states (1940). The reversal of German fortunes on the eastern front during World War II strengthened his hand. In 1945 at Yalta he sealed the postwar fate of Eastern Europe to his satisfaction. Thereafter, he pursued Cold War policies abroad and supported rapid industrial recovery at home until his death from a brain hemorrhage. Almost immediately a process of “destalinization” began, culminating in Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 attack on the Stalinist terror and personality cult.
See also: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.