Useful Notes: Josef Stalin

aka: Iosif Stalin
Long live Stalin, he loves you; sing these words, or you know what he'll do!note 

"Do you remember the Tsar? I'm like the Tsar."
"You would have done better to have become a priest."
Stalin and his mother.

Josef Stalin (born Ioseb Besarionis dze Dzhugashvili) ruled the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. We're going to refrain from moral commentary on him as, frankly, his actions speak for themselves.

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 was actually very minor - post-war digging has unveiled a communique wherein Lenin forgets Stalin's name and resorts to calling him 'that Georgian guy'. His fast reading speed and excellent recall made him a natural bureaucrat, so he eventually came to organise the Bolshevik Party's newspaper and various Party administrative matters. Important stuff, to be sure, but thoroughly unexciting and somewhat boring. He would eventually accrue so much power through his bureaucratic and secretarial work that he was actually able to make a bid for control of the entire country upon Lenin's death, ousting actual notables of The Revolution including Nikolai Bukharin, Lev Kamenev, and Leon Trotsky.

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 General Secretary, 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 . 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, though it only really hit its stride under NKVD Chief Nikolai Yezhov 1935. 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)note . 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 (and some who did, for good measure). 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 too Bad 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.)

There are four different accounts of Stalin's final hours (Khruschev, Mikoyan, the chief of Stalin's MGB guard detail Colonel Starostin, and his deputy-chief Lozgachev) but they all contradict each other and, taken individuality, make no sense so we're not going to mention them here. When Stalin suffered his fatal stroke in his sleep (his smashed watch hints at 6 a.m.) on the 1st of March 1953 his personal security detail supposedly waited until twelve hours after his usual wake-up time of 10 a.m. before actually checking on him, even though they enjoyed a casual and easy-going relationship (they were Stalin's personal bodyguards for a reason: he trusted them) with him and they knew that he hadn't gotten up in that time thanks to the house's pressure and doorknob sensors. Officially Lozgachev contacted Khruschev directly at 7 a.m. the following morning, and Khruschev then phoned the Health Minister and ask him to find a doctor. However, Khruschev had probably been told about it sometime the day before.

Lozgachev answered directly to Semyon Ignatiev, head of the MGB (successor to the NKVD, predecessor to the KGB), and was required to keep him informed of all developments concerning Stalin's health. In the event that Stalin was known to be incapacitated or dead, power was supposed to pass to a committee headed by one of three people (Beria, Pervukhim, Saburov) on a daily rotation until the Central Committee could be summoned. On the 1st of March the committee would've been headed by Lavrenty Beria - who wanted Ignatiev purged or dead, so Ignatiev releasing the news that day was a bad move to say the least. Ignatiev's political, or even actual, survival was bound up in helping anyone other than Beria becoming the new leader of the USSR because he had no support base of his own and people hated him for organising the latest purges (including the so-called 'Doctors Plot'). Nikita Khruschev was the only serious contendor against Lavrenty Beria for the leadership of the USSR. If either Khruschev or Beria were to move against the other while Stalin was still alive then Stalin would purge them. But if Stalin was dying or dead, then both would have to act as swiftly as possible to buy up supporters and secure the leadership. Giving Khruschev a head-start and delaying Stalin's treatment to ensure that he was too crippled or dead to keep the leadership made a lot of sense. The witness accounts do agree that Beria was informed of Stalin's illness at 11 p.m. on the 1st of March, just one hour after Stalin had 'officially' been discovered, but Ignatiev had every reason to ensure he was the last person to know about it.

Lavrenty Beria's conduct at Stalin's funeral - laughing, joking, and generally having a great time (including when delivering Stalin's eulogy) - and the rumors that he was a sociopathic serial murderer and sexual predator who had orchestrated the execution of several hundred thousand in the purges (and whom Stalin had feared might sexually assault Stalin's daughter given the chance)note  meant it was almost inevitable that there'd be a rumour that Beria had poisoned Stalin. To the surprise of many, Stalin's death really was from natural causes - and Khruschev had good reason to tell everyone about it (to justify his purging of Beria, not that he really needed any more) if his investigations had proved or even hinted otherwise. As it was Khruschev merely hinted at it, and merged it into his story (which, it should be stressed, was merely a story) of how he and Beria had gone to see and take care of Stalin after he'd suffered his stroke.

Between 10 and 12 million died because of Stalin's policies and orders. But the 'real' number is still a matter of debate because everyone loves to hate Stalin - and the bigger the number, the more there is to hate and the more people will like and talk about and buy your book. Most books about Stalin were also written before the fall of the Soviet Union, meaning that the numbers were almost exclusively a matter of conjecture given the lack of any statistical evidence whatsoevernote . The total of 10-12 million comes from demographic estimates of 6-8 million dead in the 1932-4 famines, a million-plus in the 1946-7 famines, 750k dead in the Purges of 1937-8, and about 1.9 million dying in prison (many from starvation in the months of tightest rationing during World War Two). This is against about 6 million dying in famines in the last couple of years of the Russian Civil War (1921-22) and 18-19 million prison sentences (as opposed to inmates - many inmates served more than one sentence) being issued under Stalin. Interestingly, some of the sillier death-estimates to come out of the Cold War have claimed that more people died in Soviet prisons than were ever imprisoned in the first place (e.g. 50 million). That's how willing people are to believe the man was evil incarnate, rather than a despicable bastard of a human being.

Interestingly there lingers a debate as to whether the 1932-4 famines constituted a deliberate attempt to kill Ukrainian people (the Ukrainian famine is called 'the Holodomor'), with NATO insisting on terming it a 'genocide' back during The Cold War. 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 and crimes against humanity in Eastern Europe (such as the Katyn Massacre). After World War II Stalin, suddenly fearing his doctors after a series of health scares, had them all arrested on suspicion of trying to poison him and sparked the so-called Doctor's Plot which led to arrests of several prominent Jews in different areas of government service - showing for all their universalist humanistic rhetoric the Soviets had failed to eliminate latent anti-semitism in the Russian Republic. In addition, Stalin's questionable leadership and execution/imprisonment of the USSR's most competent (and incompetent) officers left only mediocre and incredibly inexperienced people in all senior and mid-level command positions for the first months of WW2 and the Winter War, resulting in avoidably heavy losses. While many of said competent officers were later brought back, the damage had already been done.

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.

Appears in the following works:

  • The extraordinarily weird American propaganda film Mission to Moscow (1943) features a Stalin who is an enlightened, wise leader bringing Russia into a freer, more democratic future.
  • 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.
    • Orwell contacted what sources he could in eastern Europe to find out if Stalin really had stayed in Moscow at the wars low point. Finding out from enough people that he had, Orwell asked his publishers to change that one line. It was not so much out of admiration as out of a wish to be fair on Orwell's part.

  • Likewise, Lord Voldemort is (according to Word Of Goddess) a combination of both Stalin & Hitler's worst traits.
  • The man himself shows up in Axis Powers Hetalia as Russia's leader during the WW2 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.
  • Arthur Koestler's novel Darkness at Noon refers to him only as "No. 1," though it's mentioned that he had been called many names.
  • The instigator of WWII in the Alternate History game Command & Conquer: Red Alert. As much as a Jerk Ass as in real life. He dies differently depending on which side you're on.
  • Makes several appearances in Alternate History stories by Harry Turtledove:
    • In Literature/Worldwar, he's the same as the historical Stalin, leading the Soviet Union through WW2 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 WW2 with Fantasy Counterpart Cultures, Stalin's equivalent is the mad King Swemmel of Unkerlant, who had his twin brother Kyot (analogue of Trotsky) murdered.
  • Appears as Froggo's big buddy in Histeria!
  • Similarly, he's the title character in Michael Moorcock's The Steel Tsar.
  • The The Adventures of 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!").
  • Appears as part of The Terror's Legion of Doom on The Tick.
    • Or rather, a guy who really looks like Joseph Stalin and has done some research on him. For The Terror, that's close enough for him to make the team.
  • And of course, Stalin Vs. Hitler.
  • In Greg Bear's Vitals, Stalin funded a rogue biologist's research into immortality through the use of specially bred bacteria. And the plan succeeded. Sadly, the successful implementation of the procedure takes a toll on the subject's mind and involves being sealed into in a iron-lung style container half-filled with growth medium and bacteria. The book's protagonist finds him (along with other ex-Soviet leaders) in such a state in a secret chamber underneath downtown Manhattan.
  • Robert Duvall played him in an 1992 television movie on HBO.
  • The 1998 Russian film, Khrustalyov, My Car! by director Aleksei German is set in the final days of Stalinist Russia in the climate of the anti-semitic crackdown of the "Doctor's Plot". We get a glimpse of Stalin's ugly, messy Karmic Death.
  • Played by Aleksey Petrenko in the 2009 HBO wartime biopic of Churchill Into the Storm.
  • An episode of Animaniacs had the Warners visiting the Yalta Conference, and jumping on Winston Churchill's big belly. Uncle Joe decides that looks like fun, and joins them.
  • In the Wild Cards superhero setting, Stalin's death is shrouded in mystery; there's a rumour that he was done in by one of his aides after turning into a vampire.
  • Also in the game Stalin vs. Martians.
  • 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 the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, it's implied Stalin is actually a son of Hades. In fact, its Wiki outright states it.
  • In GURPS Technomancer, 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 Civilization I 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.
  • Long live Stalin, he loves you; sing these words, or you know what he'll do!
  • The leader of the USSR in the Hearts of Iron, classed as "Ruthless Powermonger" and "Backroom Backstabber".
  • Commander Stalin, a freeware RTS game.
  • Appears in Robert Bolt's 1977 play State of Revolution, unsurprisingly as the villain (with Lenin and Trotsky as protagonists). Stalin's Establishing Character Moment has him confronting the leader of the Georgian Communist Party, coolly telling him "I am here to purge your party."
  • 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.
  • Played by Colin Blakeley in the 1983 TV film Red Monarch. Based on Soviet dissident Yuri Krotkov's essays, it satirizes Stalin's paranoid leadership style in the final years of his life.
  • Played by Michael Caine in the TV miniseries When Lions Roared.
  • The 1996 Australian comedy film Children of the Revolution revolves around Joe, the lovechild of a brief affair between Stalin and an Australian woman who meets him while on a study trip to the USSR shortly before his death. Stalin is played by F. Murray Abraham.
  • Shows up as a fresh-faced, gregarious young revolutionary and acolyte of Lenin in Nicholas and Alexandra.
  • The Command & Conquer: Red Alert Series began with Stalin and, historical inaccuracies aside, is considered not only one of the evilest and psychotic portrayals of the man, but one of the most accurate as well.
  • Sent up here by Eric Idle, Henry Woolf and David Batley in Rutland Weekend Television. A genial Stalin played by Eric Idle shows you how to cook Omelette Stalin, in Communist Kitchen. note 
    Whenever you've shot all the people to shoot, and you've shot the firing squad too...
  • Adolf Hitler is scared off by characters disguising themselves as Stalin in the Looney Tunes cartoons Herr Meets Hare and Russian Rhapsody.
  • Nero visited Stalin in The Peace Initiative of Nero to convince him to become a pacifist. He holds a peace elixir under Stalin's nose causing him to suddenly want to make an end to the Cold War. Unfortunately Nero starts argueing which one of them is the greatest peacemaker and thus Stalin throws him into a dungeon, ending Nero's peace initiative.
  • A short story by Anatoli Kudravcev features Stalin and Hitler as progressors of an advanced allien race attempting to save the planet from overpopulation. They discuss the way they can prolong the conflict but ultimately conclude that humanity is doomed despite their best efforts.

Alternative Title(s):

Joseph Stalin, Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, Iosif Stalin, Stalin