Useful Notes / Josef Stalin
aka: Joseph Stalin
Long live Stalin, he loves you; sing these words, or you know what he'll do!note 

"What exactly is your job anyway, Josef?"
"I'm... 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 Jughashvili) was a Georgian who ruled the Soviet Union from 1925 until his death in 1953, the second undisputed ruler after Vladimir Lenin. He was born on 18th of December 1878 (Old Russian Calender —December 6th) but he changed his birthday in 1925 (to the 21st of December 1879, Old Russian — December 9th)note . He was fluent in Georgian, Russian, and Greek; proficient in German and French; and knew a smattering of English. He never bought a pair of shoes in his life, making and repairing his own from a young age. He could speed-read at an incredible pace, had an excellent memory, never forgot anyone's name, and had an early photograph in which he appeared to be reading with his finger suppressed. He liked to sing tenor, loved Tolstoy, and would frequently write to his favourite contemporary authors to complain about spelling or grammatical errors. He made a number of lifelong friendships, was eminently charmismatic when he put his mind to it, and managed to match wits with H. G. Wells himself in a face-to-face interview. Politically and diplomatically, he was marked by a remarkably astute practice of Realpolitik.

Stalin was also an extraordinarily damaged human being. He seems to have been insecure among his peers because (unlike the other Old Bolsheviks) he had never traveled abroad, was not truly fluent in French or German (or English), and always spoke with a noticeable Georgian accent. He did not take insults lightly, held grudges for decades until he could act upon them, and delighted in the suffering and even the deaths of people who had slighted him. Politically, he was steadfast believer in the paramount importance of Marxist-Leninist ideological purity even when this created enormous practical problems and human suffering in practice. Politically and diplomatically, he made gross errors which almost brought about the destruction of the Soviet Union (Collectivisation, Operation Barbarossa). Stalin was ultimately responsible for the avoidable deaths of some 10-12 million Soviet civilians because he believed that (as Lenin put it) "that which is good for the Revolution is good", and the avoidable deaths of some 2-3 million Soviet soldiers because he didn't want to believe he'd been Out-Gambitted.

While Stalin was ultimately responsible for the human cost of his rule, as we have documentary evidence that he was fully aware of it, approved of it and conceived or ordered actions that contributed to it, there is considerable room for quibbling over the role played by his subordinates. An entire generation of idealistic and opportunistic bureaucrats, including Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, encouraged Stalin's paranoid and ruthless tendencies out of genuine belief, for personal gain, or both. After Stalin's death these men attempted to pin sole responsibility upon Stalin to avoid implicating themselves, with Khrushchev's "Secret Speech" to the 20th Party Congress on the 25th of March 1956 inaugurating this development. Western European scholarship of the time took this assertion and ran with it, but from the late 1990s onward (after the opening of the Soviet Archives) scholars began to appreciate that much of Stalin's policies had a sizable consensus among party elites and even the peoples of the Soviet Union. Here we should distinguish very clearly between the Collectivisation measures of the Second Five-Year Plan of 1928-1933 and the Purges of 1935-38. Stalin pushed the former from above over the objections of experts and Regional governments, but in the latter was met halfway by Local government figures (like Nikita Khrushchev) and even some ordinary citizens trying to remove experts and Regional government figures so they could rise through the ranks and make the regional governments responsive to central control.

The historiography of Stalin largely centers upon whether he was an all-knowing sadist, a largely oblivious puppet of the Soviet bureaucracy, or something inbetween - the lattermost being the view best supported by the evidence. Robert Conquest is the best example of the first school, and in the 1970s he claimed that Stalin had deliberately killed 50-60 million people. Back then, this figure seemed reasonable given Anglo-American estimates of 'extraordinary' deaths resulting from the Soviet-German War (deaths which would not otherwise have occurred of natural causes, e.g. cancer), which were put at 10-20 million (versus the actual figure of 25-27 extraordinary and 10+ million 'ordinary' deaths of people who would have died of natural causes within the next two decades anyway). note  Today the best living biographers of Stalin, Stephen Kotkin and the brothers Roy & Zhores Medvedev, put the number of 'avoidable' deaths under Stalin's leadership at about 10-12 million. This can be broken down into some 6-8 million dead in the 1932-4 famines resulting from the forcible collectivisation of agriculture note and lack of national-level provision of food aid, about 2 million from disease and overwork as state prisoners during WWII (as the Soviet State prioritized the importation of rare materials necessary for war production over the high-calorie-content food products necessary to keep prisoners alive), about 1 million dead in the 1946-7 famines which resulted from the wartime overuse of poor soils and poor provision of food-aid, 750k dead in the Purges of 1935-38, and several tens of thousands more dead in prison or from execution by the NKVD/NKGB during Stalin's tenure.

Popular memory of Stalin revolves around his post-1928 paranoia note , his stance on religion note , and his role as a Leader of an Allied country during the War, where he became etched as Hitler's Arch-Enemynote . The supposed circumstances of his death, dying of a preventable stroke because his personal bodyguard were too afraid to disturb him and left him alone for twelve hours, were actually a fabrication. This is the only detail common to all four of the falsified accounts of Stalin's final hours (by Nikita Khruschev, Anasatas Mikoyan, the chief of Stalin's MGB guard detail Colonel Starostin, and Starostin's deputy-chief Lozgachev). The current most accepted guess of Roy and Zhores Medvedev is that Starostin left Stalin untreated out of a pragmatic desire to benefit from the timing of Stalin's crippling or death. Stalin was ultimately, it seems, too amiable and trusting with his staff. note It's a topic of debate and controversy whether Stalin had an authentic Marxist visionnote , whether his policies are a reversal of Lenin or merely an extension of the most dubious aspects of his administrationnote , if his regime was the inevitable end-product of the Communist and Revolutionary ideology or the end result of any attempts to bring changes in Russia. His Cult of Personality and posthumous elevation of Lenin as a founding figure, legitimated the regime and extended its lifespan to the extent the Soviet Union lasted 37 years after his death. His policies of rapid industrialization played a crucial role in the Soviet Union's victory over the Nazis, in their rise to a superpower and their building of nuclear weapons. Stalin's rule lasted for 30 years, so he was the longest-lasting ruler of the group of Nations comprising the Soviet Union, and in addition to that, he remains for the present moment, the longest-lasting ruler of Russia since Catherine the Great who reigned for 34 yearsnote 

Non-Marxist Historians to trust, because they're on the cutting-edge of research and want you to form your own opinion about Stalin:
  • Stephen Kotkin, who is currently working on a three-part biography which utilising all known documentary evidence. Volume 1, Paradoxes of Power was published in 2014. He has been kind enough to do several book launches summarising his findings, with the added benefit (for us) of not being a special snowflake who's bad at public speaking. His work will eventually cover the areas covered by...
  • Roy and Zhores Medvedevs' post-1995 work, except where it conradicts Stephen Kotkin. In English most of their work consists of articles for academic journals, and their 2003 book The Unknown Stalin is a collection of several essays rather than a whole-life biography. Their key articles are on Stalin's reaction to Operation Barbarossa and the circumstances of his death. The Medvedevs' summaries should be favoured when they contradict...
  • Robert Service, who wrote the 2004 biography Stalin which made use of much of the new archival and memoir material about Stalin. However, when it was written it was not entirely clear which sources should be privileged and which were mostly or wholly untrustworthy. Right now it's still the best biography of Stalin's entire life, though Service and the Medvedevs' should be favoured when they contradict it.

Historians not to trust, because they're poorly researched and/or want you to share their opinion about Stalin:
  • Robert Conquest, author of the 1993 book Stalin: Breaker of Nations and numerous other Cold War era polemics. A proud anti-Communist and Cold Warrior, Conquest spent several decades treating defector testimony as gospel truth while the Medvedevs counselled caution. His last biography of Stalin appeared to be based upon new sources, but chiefly used old ones while making cursory references to those new materials which didn't contradict them. Feel free to cite him if your professor graduated before 2003, but avoid him like the plague if they did. Don't worry about schoolteachers just yet - they probably won't know for several years, or even decades. Of course, you won't be able to unknow the fact that you're peddling falsehoods.
  • Simon Sebag-Montefiore, author of the 2005 Stalin: The Unknown Story and 2007 The Young Stalin. Among his fellow historians he is known for his credulous approach to evidence, i.e. uncritically believing everything he reads regardless of how contradictory or obviously false it is. Like Conquest his work is basically a restatement of Cold War era sources, but rather than privileging the sources which make Stalin look most monstrous he privileges the ones that make the most dramatic and exciting narrative. Both books are novels written with extensive artistic license, not biographies. Cite them if you want academics to laugh at you. Even your schoolteachers might be vaguely aware that 'opinion is divided' (Simon says his biographies are accurate, all the actual historians say they aren't) about their reliability.
  • 'Non-partisan' biographies or general summaries of the Stalinist period published before 2005, and almost every one published before 2015. They may not have been created to have a particular bias in themselves, but they still have them: most cite Conquest and other Cold Warriors' accounts, which in turn rely almost exclusively upon defector testimony and memoirs put to paper many years or even decades after the facts. They will probably not get names and dates wrong, and their interpretations can reveal the personal views of their authors and/or the intellectual culture of their country. Government textbooks can be a good guide to what citizens are supposed to know and feel about Stalin.
  • Marxist Historians. Stalin's Marxist-Leninist ideological orthodoxy and morally dubious legacy means that he has always had zealous Marxist defenders such as Mao Zedong, and equally zealous Marxist attackers. Until very recently most of it was written using little evidence, a distrust of 'bourgeois propaganda' (arguably justified regarding Conquest's works), and a desire to instil love/hatred in the reader. Time may (may) make their work less inaccurate, but it will always be written to inspire love/hatred.
  • Anti-Marxist Historians. Stalin's Marxist-Leninism and morally dubious legacy means that he has always had an extremely strong Hatedom among avowed pro-Capitalists, the religious, and nationalists. If the author frequently condemns Stalin for violating the dictates of The Free Market/having literally been The Antichrist/disrespecting for the traditional culture of Kyrgzstan then that may be a metaphorical red flag. By definition these works have been, are, and always will be somewhat inaccurate due to their emphasis on promoting hatred rather than accuracy.

Appears in the following works:

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    Comic Books 
  • Underground Comics artist, Spain Rodriquez wrote a short comic titled simply Stalin for Art Spiegelman and Bill Griffith's Arcade: The Comics Revue. The comic is a favourite of Alan Moore and it features Stalin's weird habits such as his insistence on living in a tiny room in the Kremlin and then having that room recreated to the tiniest detail in every place of residence he stayed or passed by.
    Joseph Stalin, Soviet Man of Steel. How many died unnecessarily in his performance of history's dreadful task? After many years, questions still stir his uneasy grave.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Fan Fiction 
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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 (2009).
  • 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.

  • George Orwell:
    • 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 war's 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, and to not be too alienating to the rather pro-Soviet audiencenote .
    • And Nineteen Eighty Four, where "Big Brother" is essentially the Cult of Personality of Stalin with the face of Adolf Hitler. Though it is a little too beholden to the Trotskyist belief that "Big Brother" is merely a cover and shield for the nomenklatura for it to be really any kind of accurate satire on Stalin.
  • 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.
  • Makes several appearances in Alternate History stories by Harry Turtledove:
    • In 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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...

    Tabletop Games 

  • 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.
  • 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."

    Video Games 
  • The instigator of WWII in the Alternate History game Command & Conquer: Red Alert. Stalin is the leader of the Soviet side and is one of the evilest and most psychotic portrayals of the man and, frighteningly, this portrayal was pretty accurate of the man himself, from paranoia leading to execution of officers to mass murder on civilians. However, he's woefully lacking in the Magnificent Bastard department. This seals his fate: he ultimately dies, differently depending on which side you're on.
  • Also in the game Stalin vs. Martians.
  • 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 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.
  • The leader of the USSR in the Hearts of Iron, classed as "Ruthless Powermonger" and "Backroom Backstabber".
  • Commander Stalin, a freeware RTS game.
  • Calm Down Stalin puts us in the shoes of the man himself, whose day-today activities boil down to rule the Soviet Union and not die of a stress-induced heart attack... While being pestered by phone calls from the US, western spies/corrupt Party members and a malfuctioning office lamp.

  • 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.
  • And of course, Stalin Vs. Hitler.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Joseph Stalin