For we were young and we had wings
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author of military history
In June, 1945, Germany was divided up into four zones each occupied by the American, British, French and Soviet troops. Berlin, which lay deep within the Soviet zone, was also divided into four zones. Stalin attempted a blockade to drive out the Allies restricting food and other supplies for Berliners. The Allies set up an airlift and supplied the city by airplanes for 11 months. Stalin ended the blockade in May, 1949. Stalin’s aggressive policies led the West in 1949 to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a mutual defense organization. During the Korean War 1950-1953, Stalin supported the Communist North Korea that invaded South Korea. Korea had been divided into two parts after the Second World War. American and Soviet troops occupied their respective claimed land but somewhat later both withdrew its troops. North Korean troops then launched a surprise attack in an attempt to unite the country and U.S. troops had to be sent back to Korea. The war ended a few months after Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953.
Joseph Stalin was born on December 21, 1879 in Gori in the Georgian mountain area of southwest Russia. His real name was Iosif Vissartionovich Djugashvili but in 1913 adopted the name Stalin which was a Russian word that means man of steel. His father, Vissarion Ivanovich Djugashvili was an unsuccessful shoemaker who was said to be a drunkard and was cruel to his young son Joseph. Stalin’s mother, Ekaterina Gheladze Djugashvili became a washerwoman to help support the family. They lived in a small shack where the first three children died shortly after birth and Stalin grew up as an only child. When Stalin was young, his father left the family and went to nearby Thilisi to work in a shoe factory. Young Stalin had smallpox at about age 6 or 7 which scarred his face for life. In 1888, at great sacrifice, Stalin’s mother sent him to a little church school in Gori where he spent five years reportedly as a bright student. He received a scholarship for a religious seminary in Thilisi and entered this school at age 14. He became known for his reading, debating and good schoolwork but held grudges and seldom forgave people who opposed him. Stalin studied for priesthood in the Georgian Orthodox Church but was repeatedly punished for reading forbidden books, which included the French author, Victor Hugo. As well, he became interested in the ideas of Karl Marx, a German social philosopher. Some people were bringing Marxist pamphlets to Thilisi and other smaller cities.
In September, 1901, Stalin began writing revolutionary articles for a Georgian Marxist journal named Brdzola closely reflecting the ideas of Lenin. That year he was formally accepted into the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Under false names, Stalin carried our underground activity organizing strikes in the Batum oil fields and was arrested in 1902 for his revolutionary activities. Surprisingly, while he was in prison and later exiled to Siberia, he was elected to the party’s governing body. The Social Democrats split into two groups with Lenin heading the Bolsheviks who demanded a small party membership and the Mensheviks who wanted a larger membership. Stalin escaped from Siberia and shortly after met Lenin in Finland in 1905. About this time Stalin married Ekaterina Svanidze, the sister of a former school mate but sadly she died in 1907 of tuberculosis. They had one son, Jacob, who died during the Second World War when captured by the Germans. Stalin remarried his former secretary, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, about 1918 and they had a son, Vasily and a daughter, Sveltlana. Nadezhada died in 1932 and Vasily, a Soviet General, died in an automobile accident following Stalin’s death in 1953. Sveltlana moved to Great Britain in 1982 and finally to the United States in 1986.
Czar Alexander 111 died in 1894 and his son, Nicholas 11 became czar ruling Russia with complete power controlling the press, restricted education and forbade student organizations. Russia made important economic and social progress during this time when peasants were demanding more land. As they could not raise enough food on their small farms, millions faced starvation. The growing class of factory workers was discontented because of long hours and low wages. In 1898 Stalin joined a secret Marxist revolutionary group and as with many schools, his seminary was a center for the circulation of forbidden revolutionary ideas.
In May, 1899, Stalin was expelled for not appearing for an examination, probably due to his interest in Marxism. When Stalin left the seminary, he got a clerk’s job at the Tbilist Geophysical Observatory but only a year later left as an active revolutionist. Stalin helped organize a May Day demonstration to protest working conditions. In March, 1901, the Czar’s secret police arrested a number of socialists in Thilisi but fortunately Stalin was not among them.
Stalin was arrested several times between 1906 and 1913 and spent years in prison or in exile. In 1912, Stalin was suddenly elevated by Lenin into the small powerful position of Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. With Lenin’s help, he wrote a long article called ‘The National Question and Social Democracy.’ In 1913, he was arrested for the last time. Germany declared war on Russia and Stalin remained in exile in Siberia until 1917. In 1916, he was turned down for army service due to a childhood blood infection. Russia suffered badly at this time due to severe food shortages. When Stalin and others were released from prison, he returned to Petrograd to take over editorship of the newspaper, Pravada. However, Lenin was critical of his writings and undertook radical actions to overthrow the government. This action led to the Bolshevik seizure of power in September, 1917. Lenin became leader of the new government and named Stalin the commissioner of nationalities. As opposition to the new government developed, armed uprisings grew into civil war. During the civil war, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was renamed the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) and Stalin became one of the five members of the Politburo, or the policy making body of the party. In 1922, the Communist party’s Central Committee elected Stalin as its general secretary.
The Bolsheviks won the civil war in 1920. They began to rebuild the war-torn country. At first Lenin and others were unaware of Stalin’s quiet plotting. But by the end of 1922, Stalin’s growing power began to disturb Lenin. Before a series of strokes prevented Lenin from working, he wrote a secret note warning that Stalin must be removed as general secretary. He wrote that Stalin was too “rude” in personal relations and abused the power of his office. Because of his illness, however, Lenin was unable to remove Stalin. Lenin died in 1924. Stalin continued to build his own power and cleverly used this to destroy his rivals. In December 1929 the party praised Stalin on his 50th birthday and he had become dictator.
Worked to death: millions perished in Siberian Labour camps like this one, some textbooks have said that Stalin only did this to push through modernisation
In 1928, Stalin began the first of the Soviet Union’s five year plans for economic development. The government began to eliminate private businesses. Production of industrial machinery and farm equipment became more important and the production of clothing and household goods was neglected. In 1929, Stalin began to collectivize Soviet farming and ended private farming, seizing control of farms, equipment and livestock for the government. When some actions to thwart these plans were carried out by farmers, Stalin sent a million families into exile which resulted in widespread starvation. During the 1930’s minority nationalities in the Soviet Union were subject to increasingly strict controls by the government. Stalin set up a police system and millions of people were executed or sent to labour camps. He turned over industries to the secret police who forced labourers to work for them. Fear spread throughout the Soviet Union as neighbours were ordered to spy on one another, urging children to inform on their parents to the police. In 1935, Stalin started the ‘purge’ to eliminate all the old Bolsheviks associated with Lenin; killing anyone who might have threatened his power. He also executed thousands of other Communist Party members, including the chiefs and countless officers of the army. When Stalin decided to cooperate with Adolf Hitler in 1939, there was no one left to oppose him. In 1939, the Soviet Union seized a large part of Poland. In 1940, the Soviet troops invaded the Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. On November 30, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland and following a bitter struggle, took control of a large portion of that country.
However, Hitler had other ideas and by December, 1940, was planning to invade Russia. In May, 1941, Stalin named himself premier of the Soviet Union and the following month, Germany invaded. By this time following the purges and elimination of experienced officers, the Soviet Union was unprepared for total war. As with other countries, their equipment was out-dated. The German army approached Moscow in October, 1941 but they were beat back in the winter of 1941-1942. In March, 1943, Stalin met with Churchill and Roosevelt in Teheran, Iran and agreed that the “big three” would work together to defeat Germany. The three leaders met again in 1945 at Yalta in the Crimean to discuss the military occupation of Germany after the war. After the Allies defeated Germany, Stalin gradually cut off almost all contact between the U.S.S.R. and the West. He set up Communist governments in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania. He tried unsuccessfully to take over Greece, Iran and Turkey. Soon the struggle with the free world became known as the Cold War.
The Big Three Allied Leaders: Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill
In the end, his dictatorship resulted in the highest death toll amongst all dictators of all time. The total number murdered under Stalin's reign, range from 10 million to 60 million.