Iosif Stalin. Photo from:

Iosif Stalin. Photo from:

Iosif Stalin (1878-1953), born Iosif Dzhugashvili, ruled the Soviet Union after Lenin’s death in 1924 for almost thirty years. Iosif is the Russian version of Joseph. His pseudonym came from the Russian word for steel. He was a Georgian and spoke Russian with an accent.

Stalin transformed the backward agrarian country into an industrial powerhouse at an unthinkable human cost. His collectivization campaign caused millions of death and eliminated the farmer class and, with it, its knowledge and traditions. The Russian agriculture is still negatively affected by the damage done to it by Stalin’s policy.

He initiated campaigns directed at alleged spies and enemies of the people during which many millions, among them much of the Soviet brainpower, perished or were exiled and entire ethnicities forcibly uprooted and deported to remote areas. Those passed over by his meat-grinder lived in constant fear that remained with them even after Stalin was gone.

In spite of that, most Soviets, among them many of those persecuted and members of their families, worshipped Stalin, referred to him as the Father of Nations, saw a protector in him, a godlike figure incapable of flawed judgment.

Here is an incomplete list of other titles commonly applied to Stalin: Generalissimo, Father of all Nations of all Times, Coryphaeus of Science, Brilliant Genius of Humanity, Genius of All Times and Peoples, Great Architect of Communism, Gardener of Human Happiness. And The Best Friend of Athletes!

The 17-meter statue of Stalin in his native town of Gori, Georgia. Photo from:Сталин,_Иосиф_Виссарионович

The 17-meter statue of Stalin in his native town of Gori, Georgia. Photo from:Сталин,_Иосиф_Виссарионович

Stalin died on March 5, 1953. The next day, the radio announced that “the heart of the comrade-in-arms and continuer of genius of Lenin’s cause, of the wise leader and teacher of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union, has ceased to beat.” For three days nothing but mournful classical music came from the radio. For three school days children were supposed to wear black armbands.

So many people tried to get a glimpse of Stalin at the funeral that hundreds were trampled, rammed against electric poles, choked, or crushed to death.

Prokofiev, one of the best composers of the twentieth century, died the same day, a short time before Stalin.  He had lived near the Red Square, and for three days the crowd that gathered to say goodbye to Stalin made it impossible to carry out the composer’s body.

Only a few people attended Prokofiev’s funeral. His death earned a few lines on page 116 of the leading Soviet musical periodical; the first 115 pages were devoted to the death of Stalin.

March 5 also happened to be the Jewish holiday of Purim that year.  It commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people when a plot had been readied to destroy them in the ancient Persian empire. Information has come to light that Stalin’s death stopped the planned forcible relocation of all the Soviet Jews to the Far East; freight trains were already being prepared.

Purges. Cosmopolitanism. Doctor’s Plot.

The 1930s and the after-WWII years was a period of mass terror in the Soviet Union. Millions were imprisoned in the Gulag or executed under the pretext of purging the Party and the Soviet society of enemies of the people: spies, conspirators, prisoners of war, doctors-poisoners, those born of undesirable ethnicity.

The top echelon of the army, Party, science, and culture as well as average citizens perished. The wives of the condemned were sent to labor camps for wives of the enemies of the people in Siberia and Middle Asia. Their children, unless they had relatives who were not afraid to jeopardize their own lives, were sent to orphanages for children of the enemies of the people where they were extensively and sometimes irreversibly brainwashed.

After serving their term, those who survived the camps remained in internal exile; they were allowed to return to large cities only beginning in the late 1950s after Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s persecutions. The social and economic consequences of destroying two generations of the best and the brightest and the most industrious are still felt and will be felt for a long time.

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