—Milovan Djilasnote Yugoslav communist theorist who later got exiled from his country, Conversations With Stalin (1962)
Widely regarded to be the most famous and evil Georgian in human history, Josef Stalin (born Ioseb Besarionis dze Dzhugashvili) ruled the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953.
He was born in his native Georgia, a mountainous little country known for breeding tough men. Before Red October, he led an interesting and colorful early life. After dropping out of an Orthodox seminary, he helped the Bolsheviks by robbing banks (for which he did time in jail) and writing poetry. His role in Red October wasn't large at all - at least, according to Trotsky. He was put in charge of the Bolshevik Party's newspaper and organizational matters, which were background but fairly important jobs. He may have been late for the Revolution, but it didn't end in one night.
After coming to power, Stalin changed his "official" birthday to 21st December 1879 (Old Russian—December 9th). He was actually born on 18th December 1878 (Old Russian—December 6th), and there are extensive records to prove it, including in his own hand. To date, nobody can agree on exactly why he decided to change it, but that was when his birthday was celebrated from then on.
Lenin was incapacitated by a series of strokes in the early 1920s, and this allowed Stalin to begin a slow and methodical rise to power (the sort of rise to power that makes for a very boring story, which is probably why it has never been depicted in a major work of fiction). First, Stalin managed to get himself elected to the position of General Secretary (in those days, an actual secretarial position, although one with a great deal of power due to its control over the rank-and-file membership; Trotsky referred to him as "Comrade Card-Index"), which made him powerful but not that powerful. Shortly before his death, Lenin wrote a testament which said that Stalin should be removed as G-S, though also recognized both he and Trotsky as the two most capable candidates for leadership- Stalin suppressed this in later years, but the testament was discussed in the Central Committee before he secured his power base; ironically, this was probably the first time Lenin or any senior Party member had seriously considered Stalin as having that kind of potential, and it might have backfired on Lenin (who was seriously ill and temperamental at the time- the Party even thought about giving him a phony copy of the Party newspaper so as to calm him down and stop him pestering them) by drawing attention to Stalin's talents, giving him a boost of respect and reputation note For the record, Lenin evaluated 6 candidates in that testament, including Trotsky, and criticized them all; it's just that Stalin stood to lose the most since Lenin recommended that he be removed from the position of General Secretary.. Stalin began promoting his supporters to key positions, and he deftly navigated the complex world of Soviet politics, switching sides on the debate between developing Soviet communism or promoting world revolution twice to remove his rivals.
After he got all the power he wanted (sometime around 1930), Stalin initiated a huge industrialization and collectivization scheme in the USSR, overseeing an astonishing period of economic growth and initiating programs that would bring mass literacy and a greatly increased life expectancy to what had been an impoverished, rural population — at a horrendous human cost, especially in Ukraine (though there has been hearty debate amongst historians as to whether this was caused by actual famine, augmented by policies, or bred deliberately).
To say that Stalin was paranoid is to say that the Pacific Ocean is a little wet. The man saw enemies everywhere, and a culture of tattle-telling developed in the USSR big-time. Stalin built up, during his reign, perhaps the most comprehensive and fearsome apparatus of state terror that has ever existed on earth, embodied in the NKVD (the ancestor to the KGB). Stalin then purged (read: fired, imprisoned or killed, depending on the situation) pretty much every high-ranking communist who didn't bend over backwards to show loyalty to him. These purges considerably weakened the Reds with Rockets before 1941. By the time the war against Germany began, Stalin had killed every single leader of the original Bolshevik Party (with the exception of his puppet head of state, Mikhail Kalinin, and the commissar Rozalia Zemlachka, who was tooBad Ass and Ax-Crazy to be purged), and replaced them with his cronies. He also "revised" history to make his role in Red October much bigger and had statues placed of him across the USSR. (Lenin originally had prohibited any statues of communist leaders because in his opinion "A statue is a pigeon's best friend." The one exception was a pair of statues of Marx and Engels in Moscow. This was disregarded after his death and Stalin had statues of Lenin placed throughout the country as well.)
It has been suggested that when Stalin suffered his fatal stroke in early 1953, it took so long to get him medical attention because no one wanted to check on him and risk his wrath if he was only oversleeping. There is also a theory that he was poisoned by his chief of secret police, Lavrentiy Beria.
How many died as a result of his rule is a matter of debate (including whether the mass famines are counted). Although there are as many estimates today as there are authors, most place it in the range of 10-30 million, with 20 million being the most cited average estimate. Almost half of these died in the famine of 1922-1923, which was particularly severe in Ukraine, where it is known as the Holodomor (whether this was a deliberate campaign of genocide on Stalin's part or just an example of his criminal incompetence is still a matter of debate). Other deaths were the result of his purges, forced mass deportations of "suspicious" populations (e.g. Germans, Tatars, Poles), forced labor camps and various atrocities in Eastern Europe (such as the Katyn Massacre). In addition, Stalin's questionable leadership and execution/imprisonment of some of the USSR's most competent officers were partly responsible for the extremely heavy Soviet losses during WW 2 and the Winter War.
Following the Great Patriotic War, Stalin's cult status was massive and remained so until a few years after he died. His reputation wasn't seriously hit until Khrushchev's seminal "Secret Speech" in 1956, in which Stalin was denounced and accused of numerous crimes — this speech reportedly caused not only open weeping but heart attacks in the audience.
Most of what the West knows about Stalin originates from the works of exiled political rival Leon Trotsky (who was eventually assassinated by Stalin's agents) and, later, from Khrushchev-era revelations - though these ended with his successors and were strictly controlled regardless. Trotsky portrays Stalin as a virtual non-entity before his rise to power, and a man of average intelligence, limited vision, and a false Marxist. Other historians, however, suggest that this was politically motivated smear, and that the real Stalin was highly intelligent and extremely charismatic, and fanatically devoted to his cause. Whether Stalin did or did not follow Marxism is a topic of huge controversy (with 3 or 4 different sides, and debates that can go on forever). What is clear is that Trotsky and Stalin really, really hated each other, and the USSR would have been a different place with Trotsky in charge. Trotsky's supporters argue that it would have been a much more democratic place, closer to the communist ideal. Stalin's supporters argue that it would have quickly turned into a German-speaking place, due to Trotsky not being ruthless enough to win the war with Germany. This is questionable, given Trotsky's Civil War record; many modern historians think it would not have been much different at all, as Trotsky was almost as ruthless, violent and fanatical as his rival.
Likewise, some historians also argue that Stalin was more important to the pre-Revolution Bolshevik party than Trotsky gave him credit for. He single-handedly designed Bolshevik policies concerning ethnic minorities who'd been living under the Russian Empire (being a member of such a minority himself), and likely had a hand in other official policy. Lenin did have a falling out with Stalin and recommended Stalin's removal from the General Secretary position in his last testament, but Stalin would have retained his seat in the Politburo and would have been quite influential even were he not the G-S. The fall out, as it happens, was that Stalin had insulted Lenin's wife, which is not exactly the same as fearing he'd end up a despot.
In other words, History Marches On, perhaps subverting many of the tropes listed below - specifically Almighty Janitor, Foreshadowing, From Nobody to Nightmare, and Kicked Upstairs (subversions are noted).
After his biological son attempted suicide, reportedly his only response was to note with disgust, "He can't even shoot straight".
Yakov was captured by the Germans a couple of weeks after the German invasion. The Germans later offered to trade Yakov for captured German Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, but Stalin refused. YMMV on whether that was Stalin being an Abusive Parent or Stalin refusing to accept a special privilege not offered to other prisoners' families. Yakov committed suicide by prison guard not long after, when he ran to the fence at the concentration camp.
Also Freudian Excuse - Have you ever said "If I were President..."? That was pretty much the reason for every crazy project Stalin initiated, at least according to this memoir by a famous Stalin biographer. And it's all because of a retreat into fantasy caused by, you guessed it, an abusive childhood.
For the rural population, life was so harsh under Stalin's rule that the German soldiers were initially perceived as saviors from Bolshevism everywhere. That perception was reversed (very quickly) after discovering that the Nazis were even worse than the Soviets, namely due to their murderous, racist oppression of "subhuman" ethnicities, such as the Slavs that formed the overwhelming majority of the Soviet Union's population.
Like Hitler, also, most of his Inner Circle consisted of men at least 10 years younger than him, which likely helped create this image even at the highest levels. Almost all of his contemporaries had been purged. He probably was planning to purge that lot too and make way for the next generation to keep everyone on their toes, and he may have done this earlier had the war not gotten in the way of things.
Almighty Janitor - He actually held the position of General Secretary, and was even nicknamed "Comrade Card-Index". However, Stalin, being the Genre SavvyChessmaster that he is, worked his way up to be the most powerful position... and then became Premier of the Soviet Union. Who's Laughing Now?, indeed.
After Stalin, the General Secretary office became the office with real power, not the Premier. Everyone you may possibly know as a "Premier" was in fact a General Secretary and may or may not be also a Premier.
The short Alternate History story "The Wheels of If" by L. Sprague de Camp (written in 1940) mentions Stalin's brilliance at realising 'the man who writes the minutes of the meeting determines the reality of what happened there', and the main character is able to use the same tactic when plunged into another world - as no-one there had thought of it yet.
Not only did he control what was discussed at meetings, but as the paper-pusher of the Politburo, he also had to perform the tedious task of sending out letters asking for Politburo members to update their memberships. When he chose to not send certain members their letters... He who controls the membership, controls the votes. He who controls the votes, controls the Party.
Ax-Crazy: Anyone who doesn't view Stalin as Only In It For The Power typically views him as being this instead. The question is just the scale of it: from just being a man who's ready to send people to death for a cause, to being a plain murderer.
Badass Bookworm: According to one biographer, he was the best read Russian leader since Catherine The Great, including Lenin. He was far more learned than he is often remembered.
Badass Bureaucrat / Obstructive Bureaucrat - Whatever else you might think of him, he was a bank robber and a revolutionary, and a far more charismatic and intelligent one than his most famous sources portray him as. He used bureaucracy as a springboard to establishing a personal dictatorship and in turn to annexing most of Eastern Europe and turned Russia from the least of the Great Powers into one of Earth's only two superpowers.
Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Could well be the world champion in wrongly attributed quotes. You've probably heard at least one aphorism worthy of a James Bond villain (most likely "A Million Is a Statistic"). It almost always turns out that it had been invented by a not-entirely-unbiased historical fiction writer as something Stalin "must have", "could have", "would have" or "should have" said.
Two of the most famous: "One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic" is from the book "Black Obelisk" and was attributed in "Children of the Arbat", and "No man - no problem" was created by a biographer as "it was his principle anyway".
Better The Devil You Know: Many people in the Soviet Union were willing to fight for Stalin despite everything; he may have been a ruthless tyrant, but he was their ruthless tyrant.
Broken Base: One hardly can find middle opinion on Stalin: people tend either to completely demonise him or worship him as a god - and naturally both groups hate each other.
Black and Gray Morality: The way the Soviet Union treated its citizens under Stalin in early years was indeed horrible, as the country was working beyond limits to catch up with others as a whole, and most United States citizens were treated far better, but you've got to remember both countries supported cruel dictators in other countries.
Boomerang Bigot: A Georgian who committed huge-scale violence against Georgia, though he was (slightly) less harsh on Georgia than he was on most of the other Soviet republics.
The Caligula: He definitely behaved as such, although whether it was genuine or just a cynical ploy to keep power is debatable.
Compensating for Something: Stalin absolutely LOVED Heavy Tanks for their Thick Armor, Raw Firepower, and Huge Size. So much so that he had an entire series named after him. However, this love actually caused more harm than good for the Red Army.
Deadpan Snarker: Well-known for his sardonic sense of humor, for example as stated above when hearing of his son's failed attempt of suicide: "He can't even shoot straight". So much that Winston Churchill, the king of snark himself, and who hated the man, once conceded that Stalin had a redeeming sense of humor.
The Dreaded: Stalin was obeyed without question because his cronies were simply too fucking terrified of his wrath not to do so. It eventually indirectly caused his own death when his guards obeyed his orders not to disturb him after he went to sleep. See Hoist by His Own Petard, below.
Egopolis: Tsaritsyn, a strategically important city where Stalin first came to prominence during the Russian Civil War, was renamed "Stalingrad". Several other cities were named after him in the USSR, and Eastern European countries after Soviet influence extended to them.
Some Soviet military vehicles were named after him, such as the Stalinets artillery tractor or the mighty Joseph Stalin heavy tanks.
Enemy Civil War: The Great Purge, and his obsessive conflict with Trotsky. Also, Winston Churchill (a noted anti-communist) dreamed of provoking the Nazis and Soviets to fight each other until both were utterly defeated. Ironically, this is almost exactly what Stalin wanted the Western Allies to do.
Enemy Mine: His alliance with Churchill and Roosevelt against Hitler. During the war, he also reversed his view on the Russian Orthodox Church, with intensified patriotic support for the war effort - he originally feared that dislike of communists would make the church agitate against the Soviets, even during war.
His alliance with Hitler pre-World War II: Despite the Nazis' extreme racism and anti-Communism, Germany and the USSR reached a non-aggression pact and gave Germany explicit permission to invade and annex parts of Eastern Europe, including western Poland.
Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas / Momma's Boy - Was rather fond of his mother, being that she was the only person he spoke Georgian to (something he hated) after becoming ruler of the Soviet Union, since she couldn't speak Russian. She was even placed in a room inside a palace during Stalin's reign.
Other sources claim that Stalin also spoke Georgian with Beria, the Georgian head of the secret police, just to keep the conversations private, no other Georgian-speakers being present in the top clique.
Stalin was not only fond of his mother, he was also kind of scared of her too; he supposedly left the Georgian Orthodox Church relatively untouched mostly because he was afraid of the tongue-lashing he'd get from Mom (she was a devout Georgian Orthodox Christian and had, after all, wanted him to be a priest).
Follow the Leader - He inspired (read: forced) several communist rulers to copy his policies and practices, including Five-Year Plans, pervasive personality cults, and of course, good old-fashioned repression. Most of them didn't gain as much success as Stalin, but some are especially famous:
Kim Il Sung and his successors in North Korea. Tourists say that North Korea is a "Stalinist theme park." Like Stalin, the Kims have a cult of personality, and build many statues of themselves. They send disloyal citizens to the Korean version of the gulag.
Saddam Hussein was no communist, and lived after Stalin's time, but he did admire Stalin, and copied some of Stalin's tactics. He also seems to have copied Stalin's mustache. Saddam had his own personality cult and many statues of himself. As Stalin did purges, so Saddam purged opponents from his Ba'ath Party.
"Lenin's method leads to this: the party organization substitutes itself for the party as a whole; then the Central Committee substitutes itself for the organization; and finally a single 'Dictator' substitutes himself for the Central Committee." -Trotsky
And then there's 'We are 100 years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this lag in ten years. Either we do it, or they will crush us!'. Date of quote? 1931.
In 1939 he gave a pretty accurate prediction of the USSR's future:
Many deeds of our Party and people will be distorted and split upon, especially abroad, and in our own county too. Zionism, anxious to dominate the world, will severely take vengeance on us for our successes and achievements. They still see our country as barbaric country, resource pit. My name will be slandered too. I'll be accused in many atrocities. World's Zionism will do everything to destroy our Union, so Russia may never stand up. Power of the USSR is in unity of the nations. Strike will be made to break it, to separate Russia from outskirts. With particular force nationalism will rise. He will suppress internationalism and patriotism, for some time. There will be ethnic groups inside nations and conflicts. There will be lot of leaders-pygmies, traitors within their own nations. In general, future development will take complex and even crazy ways, turns very steep. Situation goes to the fact that East will be especially disturbed. There will be sharp contradictions with the West. But, however situation will unfold, time will pass and eyes of new generations will be directed at deeds and victories of our socialist fatherland. Year after year, new generations will come. They will rise banner of their fathers and grandfathers again, and will give us proper credit. Their future will be build upon our past.
— Quote from talk with A.M. Kollontai (1939)
From Nobody to Nightmare: Who would've thought a cobbler-in-training/priest-in-training would become one of the world's biggest dictators?
Gasshole: Inverted. Stalin had no real gastrointestinal problems, yet had a phobia of farting in public. When attending meetings, he would always have two water glasses in front of him, that he would clink together to mask the sound.
Though he did once take a crap in the middle of the road towards the end of WW 2. He and some of his posse drove out to examine how operations were proceeding, and while in the country the Vozhd had a call of nature, much to the (silent) embarrassment of his entourage. No toilets in the countryside, and no shame either. Hey, nobody else saw it.
Good Scars, Evil Scars: He had scars on his face from contracting smallpox when he was 6 (which he hid by having photos of himself retouched), a malformed arm from a childhood accident which, due to not having money to treat it, caused the arm to become septic and fail to heal correctly (which he hid by always having his arm bent in photos which camouflaged the deformity, or otherwise obscuring it), and webbed toes on his left foot. These no doubt contributed to his aggressive personality (kids called him "Pocky" because of his face, etc.) and his efforts to conceal them typified his pride.
Heroic BSOD / Vetinari Job Security: About a week after the Germans invaded, Stalin attended a late-night situation briefing with Zhukov and other senior generals. After demanding an update and not getting one from the generals (due to the breakdowns in communications it wasn't clear just how bad the unfolding disaster was), Stalin stalked out of the meeting in a rage, snarling as he went that "Lenin gave us this great state, and we've fucked it all up." He went home to his dacha and for two days did no work and saw no one, as the Germans continued to plunge deep into the USSR. Finally several members of the Politburo went to fetch him. Stalin gave them what Mikoyan would later call a strange look and asked "Why do you come?". They told him they wanted him back in charge. To this day, opinions differ on whether or not this was a genuine BSOD, a Vetinari Job Security tactic in which Stalin demonstrated that he was indispensable, or a Batman Gambit in which Stalin would sniff out any possible disloyalty among his lieutenants.
Inverted during the 60s-00s - he was often accused of many more crimes that even he could commit.
Hoist by His Own Petard: Whether or not the rumors of his being poisoned are true, the fact remains that the very terror he put in his underlings kept them from going in to check on him after he had a stroke and could have gotten the doctors in time to save his life. There were rumors that he was going to initiate another round of purges in the weeks before his death, and after seeing what he'd done to their predecessors, it's possible that one of his minions decided not to let the same thing happen to them.
For that matter, he'd just accused a conspiracy of doctors of plotting to kill him. The life expectancy of any doctor who treated the dying "Koba" would not have been high.
I Did What I Had to Do: This was Stalin's justification for his actions. Along with the general claim that he was creating a new socialist utopia, Stalin also specifically said that the USSR had to industrialize, and quickly, or else it would be overwhelmed by the rest of the world.
I Have Many Names: Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili (Russian- Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili); aka Koba, aka Soso, aka Josef Stalin ("Stalin"= "Man of Steel"). "Koba" is the name of a (much more violent) Robin Hood-esque figure from the Georgian novel The Patricide; "Soso" is a Georgian diminutive of his first name, Iosif/Josef. Both were originally childhood nicknames (he insisted on the former). Stalin is also reported to have used at least a dozen other nicknames, pseudonyms and aliases such as "Josef Besoshvili"; "Ivanov"; "A. Ivanovich"; "Soselo" (a youthful nickname), "K. Kato"; "G. Nizheradze"; "Chizhikov" or "Chizhnikov"; "Petrov"; "Vissarionovich"; "Vassilyi". Directly following World War II, as the Soviets were negotiating with the Allies, Stalin often sent directions to Molotov as "Druzhkov". He is only remembered as "Stalin" because that happened to be the name he was using at the time of the October Revolution (the same is true for Lenin and Trotsky).
I Have No Son: Doubly Subverted. When the Germans captured his son while serving in the artillery, they offered to trade him for captured Field Marshall Friedrich Paulus. Stalin did not deny he was his son, but said "You have in your hands not only my son Yakov but millions of my sons. Either you free them all or my son will share their fate" and "A Field Marshall is not worth a lieutenant". Cold, but the right thing to do. The Double Subversion is that poor Yakov was in fact The Unfavorite and Stalin just didn't like him. When Yakov tried to commit suicide, Stalin commented that "he can't even shoot straight." Still, some accounts say that the death did seem to genuinely upset him. Come to think of it...
I Have Your Wife: He did this even to some of his closest associates, such as Molotov.
I Lied: To Churchill and Truman, after he promised that the nations that were to be under Soviet control were to have democracies soon after the war. Turns out that show votes had taken place in those countries and they became satellite states for the USSR. Churchill and Truman realized too late and so the Cold War began.
Though it's important to note that Churchill and Truman could do little to stop Stalin from doing all of this. Interestingly, some communist rebels in Yugoslavia foresaw his actions and took control of the country before Stalin could arrive to make sure that they had some level of independence.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that communism was generally more popular in Western Europe than in Eastern Europe around 1945. It is rumored that just as the Soviets had to rig elections to make communists win in the East, the Western Allies had to rig the vote in France and Italy to make the communists lose.
Disputable in the second, regarding the West. Outright rigging of the elections wasn't really discussed, much less used. Unbelievably blatant coercion, use of martial law, and very prominent propaganda campaigns about exactly what the USSR was doing were entirely kosher, though.
The vote for joining the USSR was of course rigged in most, if not all, countries that "voluntarily" joined the USSR. (Search in linked page: "July 14–15, 1940")
Just the First Citizen: Stalin zig-zags this by playing it straight and averting it at the same time. For all his power, all the control, all the spy networks and the state he built, he was simply the General Secretary of the Communist Party—because of Stalin's use of this trope, the de facto leader during the history of the U.S.S.R. was always the person filling this post, regardless of whether or not that person was also the Premier. Someone stated that a title that would reflect his real power would have to be something like "Pope of the Communist church; Czar of Russia; CEO of Soviet inc." In addition he also allowed himself to be called simply "Vozhd" (leader/boss) after his fiftieth birthday celebration in 1929, and was given the title "Generalissimus" (the highest possible military rank), although he never wore the insignia. On the other hand, years before becoming General Secretary he did change his birth name from Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili to the Russian equivalent of Joe Steel. During his personality cult he also accepted an immense number of grandiose titles, including "Coryphaeus of Science", "Father of Nations", "Brilliant Genius of Humanity", "Great Architect of Communism", "Gardener of Human Happiness", and many more.
Karmic Death: Stalin had put so much fear into his minions that when he went to bed and ordered them not to disturb him, they didn't dare to do so. Unfortunately, he then had a stroke and was left lying on the ground for a whole day before they checked on him far too late. If his goons hadn't been so scared of his wrath, they might have gone in to check on him when he didn't come out at his usual time, and then gotten the doctors in to save him in time.
Kicked Upstairs: If an Old Bolshevik wasn't purged, they probably got this treatment. Specifically, Mikhail Kalinin: celebrated Old Bolshevik, appointed Head of State of the USSR, survived the purges, but he had almost no real power in Soviet government other than to sign his name to decrees made without his input and answer some diplomatic letters.
Kill 'em All: Punished the Old Bolsheviks, the Left Deviation, the Right Deviation, the speculators, the NEP men, the old military officers, the dissidents, the Jews, the ethnic Germans, the seditious, the saboteurs, and anyone speculated of belonging to the above. Over two million people went through in the Gulags. Almost a million died.
Large and in Charge: Actually subverted. He wasn't as tall as paintings, statues or his personality cult in general would have you believe. He was likely around 5'6", making him a sort of Napoleon.
Amusingly, Napoleon was around 5'7", making Stalin even more of a Napoleon than Napoleon was.
Long Runners: 1928 to 1953, 25 years mark him as the the longest ruler of the USSR. He also would rank high in a list with the Tzars.
Man Behind the Man: Lots of people across Europe, esp. on the Right, thought that almost every Communist party took directions from Moscow. Turns out this was true, to the point where he was forcefully directing party policy, though not necessarily for the better (like getting his Stalinists to turn on the Troskyists in the Spanish Civil War, despite being on the same side; and telling German Communists that fighting the Nazi Party wasn't a big priority). Advised Mao Zedong against revolution, though probably due to the fear of having a fellow communist rule a country almost as big and powerful as Russia (this time, he was ignored).
Stalin supported Mao's great rivals, the Guomingdang, from a mixture of pragmatism and the fact that their political program wasn't all that different from the "socialism in one country" that he favored. He only switched horses after WWII, when Mao's Communists surged in popularity because it was believed they had played the key role in defeating the hated Japanese. However, he did from early on advise the CCP to promote Mao for his ruthless, aggrandizing and backstabbing behavior, actually the very behavior they were complaining to him about.
Interestingly enough, he actually had a policy of denouncing socialist parties in Western Europe and didn't commit as much to the Spanish Civil War as he could have (although he did nab most of their gold as payment for his services) to avoid the creation of an organized anti-communist bloc in Europe.
Manipulative Bastard: Not only did he masterfully exploit the position of General Secretary to develop his power base, Stalin also proved himself a genius at keeping the rest of the Soviet leaders alternately terrified of and dependent on him. He found all sorts of ways to eavesdrop on his minions, play off their fears, and destroy anyone who he feared would become a threat to his power, whether through carefully arranged executions or brutal mass purges. They didn't call him the Vozhd ("Master") for nothing.
The murder of Stalin's former friend Sergei Kirov, a charismatic Party member, is considered the start of the Great Terror of the 30s. A sizable group of historians suspect that Stalin orchestrated the murder in order to both dispense with a rival and remove others who might challenge his power. Even if not complicit in the murder, Stalin certainly used it to his advantage, with former Party members confessing to the plot to kill Kirov in show trials.
The Master: Was often referred to as "Vozhd." Vozhd roughly translates to boss, chief, or Master.
Modern Major General: Considered one, as while his specialization wasn't military, he got rank of Generalissimus and so was commander-in-chief. In reality, actual generals, Zhukov particularly, stated that he was fairly competent - especially for a civilian.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Before WWII he killed off a lot of his experienced military officers, which was part of the reason that Germany was able to get so far.
Also, Stalin's divisions of the boundaries in the Caucasus region (like giving the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan) caused several wars after the Soviet Union collapsed, and even today the conflicts haven't been settled.
There's also historical evidence that Soviet intelligence agencies had full knowledge of Operation Barbarossa (Nazi Germany's invasion plan), but Stalin refused to accept it.
Out-Gambitted: Narrowly averted. After Britain and France allowed Czechoslovakia to be swallowed up by the Nazis, and after those powers showed little interest in making an alliance with the USSR, Stalin shocked everybody by making an alliance with Hitler instead. The general idea, from the Soviet perspective, was that the capitalist powers of Western Europe—Germany, Italy, France, Britain—would fight and weaken each other while the Soviets fortified their new western frontier and built up their army. Instead Germany conquered France in six weeks in 1940 (Stalin was horrified at the swift collapse of the French), kicked Britain out of continental Europe, then turned around and attacked the USSR the next year, with Stalin's new western fortifications nowhere near completion and his army not at all ready. The Soviets eventually beat back the Germans, won the war, and won a new empire in Eastern Europe, but at a horrible cost in lives and resources.
Over and Under the Top - Of the world's leading mustachioed dueling dictators, Adolf Hitler was under with that little toothbrush thing, but Stalin was waaaay over with his.
The Patriarch: "Father of the nation" was among his titles. By the end of his reign, Stalin had been elevated to near godlike status in the Soviet Union... an Old Testament God, that is, as likely to smile down beneficently as squish you like a bug. While most were utterly terrified of Stalin, few could argue with the apex of power and glory he had brought the Soviet Union to.
Pet the Dog - Joseph Stalin, in addition to defeating the Nazis, also ended the persecution of Christianity in Soviet Russia.
...in order to use the Church's influence to rally the people to defeat said Nazis.
...and after ordering the execution of tens of thousands of clergymen during the Great Purge. In other words, Stalin did reduce repression against the Orthodox church, but he was also the one who turned it Up to Eleven in the first place.
Stalin's administration did a lot to make sure people had universal access to healthcare, and diseases such as typhus, cholera, and malaria became much rarer (except during WW 2). Of course, this wasn't much comfort to the people who got dumped in Gulags...
Porn Stache: Maybe he could have embarked on a different career if the whole Communism thing hadn't worked out.
The Purge: The infamous Great Purge of 1937-1938. There were also a few smaller purges.
Mugging the Monster: among the Old Bolsheviks untouched by the purges was one Rozalia Zemlachka, a commissar renowned for ruthlessness, Ax-Crazy and total unwillingness to take shit from anyone during the Civil War. Any attempt to arrest Zemlachka would end in a TPK of the arresting force and mild amusement on Zemlachka's part. Or maybe near-TPK and dead Zemlachka. In any case, her removal was more trouble than worth, so no attempts were made.
There's also an Urban Legend about Marshal Budyonny fending off NKVD goons with machine guns.
Reassigned to Antarctica: He was very fond of this. His most prominent target was marshal Zhukov (Stalin feared that the marshal's popularity eclipse his own - and he couldn't just kill or imprison the country's most famous war hero). He would also do this to entire ethnic groups - they were simply gathered up and forced to relocate to remote areas (which resulted in many deaths).
Red Oni, Blue Oni: Blue to Adolf Hitler's Red. Stalin was cold, calculating and cynical, whereas Hitler was impulsive, reckless and idealistic (to his own warped standard of ideals). To get an idea of this, compare their speeches. Hitler's are animated and explosive. Stalin's are dreary - in fact, because of his Georgian accent, a good way equivalent for US audiences is sounding like a Canadian reading a speech in a flat monotone. Not to mention the way Hitler was often very animated about his emotions. Stalin, not so much.
At least in public. In private, Stalin was *infinitely* less reserved and noted by his closest underlings and his enemies as being given to explosive rages and crushing depressions. That, and while he was unspeakably cynical it's quite likely he never gave up on his "ideals" either, even if what they exactly were is extreme Flame Bait.
Removed from the Picture: Stalin had a tendency to erase his political rivals from photographs taken before he had them killed. The best example is this photograph◊, which was edited three times until Stalin was the only one left. And if you look closely, his face seems to get a little lonelier each time.
Rousing Speech: Largely averted, since Stalin, despite his personal charisma, was not known as a dynamic speaker, and dictatorships ruled by terror have little need for Rousing Speeches. He could however rise to the occasion once in a while. His radio address to the Soviet people on July 3, 1941, his first speech since the German invasion, startled listeners with its uncharacteristically warm and personal introduction.
Stalin: Comrades! Citizens, Brothers and Sisters! Men of our army and navy! I am addressing you, my friends!
The Starscream - In a testament written just before his death, Lenin denounced Stalin's ambitions and tried to warn the other Soviet leaders about them. Unfortunately, Stalin managed to blunt the effect of the testament and still seized power after Lenin's death anyway.
Also, much of the Politburo during his reign.
And Mao Zedong's China tried to oust the Soviet Union as the most powerful Communist country during the Cold War.
Which is why the children of many sent to the GULAG were arrested as well, in order to prevent a generation of vengeance seekers.
In an ironic turn of events, this also happened to Stalin himself after Khrushchev's secret speech - to a certain extent (in Yugoslavia this happened to Stalin even earlier, due to the Tito-Stalin split). While he was never completely written out of history, he was marginalized and became a scapegoat for most problems in the USSR, while his positive achievements (such as they were) were ascribed to Lenin instead. In addition, most of his statues were torn down, and streets and towns named for him were re-named. Finally, his body was removed from Lenin's mausoleum.
Unwitting Pawn: As noted above, Western luminaries like H.G. Wells and Beatrice Webb gushed about the Soviet Union. Needless to say, Stalin played each and every one of them like a fiddle - he famously regarded them as "useful idiots."
We Have Reserves - More or less Red Army policy for his earlier time in power. During the Great Patriotic War the Soviets took absolutely punishing casualties, the most terrible in military history, but unlike the Western Allies they had no electorate to appease and unlike the Germans they could afford the losses, so the willingness to accept massive casualties continued. Stalin even had a few suitably villainous quotes lampshading this policy.
Quantity has quality of its own.
Do bear in mind that Red Army operational art was very different to that of the Western Allies. The Red Army could be and certainly was sloppy, leading to brutal casualty numbers, but it is a vast Flanderisation to accuse it of simply drowning its opponents in blood - resulting military casualties were close enough.
"The violent death of a large number of people was necessary before the Communist state could be established."
"Well Done, Son!" Guy: Not with his own father, but with Lenin and Karl Marx. Some historians allege Stalin frequently wondered what Marx and Lenin would think of him and his efforts to live up to their legacy.
The last communication from Lenin to Stalin was a letter Lenin sent to Stalin in March 1923, demanding that Stalin apologize for being rude to Lenin's wife. Stalin kept that letter in his desk for the rest of his life.
You Have Failed Me: Either he loved this trope or owed it money. Alan Bullock, when asked whether he would rather spend a weekend with Hitler or Stalin, replied:
Bullock: Hitler, for though it would be boring in the extreme, I would have far more chance of coming out alive.
You Have Outlived Your Usefulness - Stalin did this constantly. The most well-known example would be the Great Purges of the 1930s, when Stalin ordered the execution of every Red Army officer that he believed wasn't loyal to him (read: almost all of them). But the shining example has to be Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the NKVD and the guy who carried out the purge on Stalin's orders, who was himself executed in 1940. That's right, Stalin even had the executioner executed.
Somewhat amusingly, Yezhov, thanks to having so much experience in the matter, actually saw this coming and spent his last weeks binge drinking and warning his friends that Stalin was probably going to have them killed.
In Animal Farm, Napoleon is clearly meant to be Stalin. A scene where all the animals ducked from an explosion was changed to have Napoleon stand firm - Orwell hated Stalin, but acknowledged that his staying in Moscow, when it would be far easier to leave, showed that for all his monstrosity and enormous flaws, he did have some balls.
The man himself shows up in Axis Powers Hetalia as Russia's leader during the WW 2 strips, where he's shown as being an abusive, manipulative prick. Though Ivan does turn the tables on him by the end. Especially since it's implied that Russia himself actually kills him off-screen.
In Worldwar, he's the same as the historical Stalin, leading the Soviet Union through WW 2 after the aliens invade, and eventually being succeeded by Foreign Minister Molotov (who was sidelined and forced out of the Party in real life).
In TL-191, he's one of the leaders of the Communist fighters in Tsaritsyn (which became Stalingrad in our timeline - Historical In-Joke), being referred to by the Western media as "The Man of Steel", the literal translation of "Stalin". In the end, the Communists lose and Tsarism is reasserted.
Which is a fairly accurate picture of what he was really doing at the time. Stalingrad was in fact named after him BEFORE his rise to power due to his command of the city's defense and his eventual victory over the besieging Whites.
In the short story Joe Steele, his family emigrates to America and he becomes a dictatorial politician in the USA.
In the Darkness series, which is basically WW 2 with Fantasy Counterpart Cultures, Stalin's equivalent is the mad King Swemmel of Unkerlant, who had his twin brother Kyot (analogue of Trotsky) murdered.
The Samurai Cat books have him and Hitler as relatively genial buddies, oddly. World War II was just a bet between them to see who could kill more Russians; the loser ended up working for the winner. And they all became werewolves. Even Hitler. And, oddly, neither Tomokato nor Shiro could kill him. For the series being very loose with reality and history (a samurai who's heard of the Chicago Cubs in 16th century Japan, while discussing their awfulness with Prohibition-era gangsters).
In Superman: Red Son, Communist Superman initially reported to Stalin, before taking over leadership of the Soviet Union after Stalin's death ("The Man of Steel is dead!").
In Adam Robert's novel Yellow Blue Tibia, in 1946 he commissions a group of young Soviet science fiction writers to devise a fake propaganda story about an invasion of the Soviet Union by radiation aliens in order to unite the Soviet people in opposing them. Forty years later, one of the authors,Konstantin Sckvorecky, believes that the story is becoming reality when the events of Chernobyl and the Challenger disaster mirror the ones in the story. He dreams that Stalin appears to him and informs him that he (Stalin) is an alien himself and knew the invasion would come, although the book is vague as to whether this was a dream or not.
Assassin's Creed II lists him as one of four Knights Templar who orchestrated World War II (the other three being FDR, Churchill and Hitler), and who controlled his subjects using an artifact that granted mind control over the populace. He was eventually killed by one of the eponymous assassins.
In GURPSTechnomancer, Stalin did not die in 1953, he was merely put into magical stasis-sleep-type-thing to be awakened when Motherland will be in danger. He awoke in 1996, after Communism fell, and started a civil war to oust democrats and capitalists from his country.
In the 1938 musical Leave it to Me!, Stalin appears at the end of the first act to give "Comrade Alonzo" (the American ambassador) a kiss on the cheek.
In CivilizationI Stalin is the default Russian leader, the Premier of the USSR in the stock WWII scenario of II, a secondary character in III and one of the possible leaders of Russia in IV. As an AI, he's kind of a hardass, and it's hard to stay on his good side for long.
Stalin is the main antagonist of the second half of The Prayer Warriors Threat of Satanic Commonism, in which a group of fundamentalist Christians travel back in time to prevent the Communists from coming to power and killing Christians. There are too many historical inaccuracies to list, but the fact that his predecessor is called "John Lennon" should give some idea of what kind of work this is.