Joseph Stalin was born in Gori, Georgia, on 21 December 1879.  His father was a shoemaker and his mother a domestic servant. He was expelled from school for neglecting his studies and found work at the City's meteorological observatory over the next decade. Stalin became a famous local revolutionary by supporting strikers, publishing illegal propaganda and serving several prison terms. He first met Vladimir Lenin in 1905.

Stalin was so committed to Bolshevism that he organized bank raids to boost party funds. He travelled to Vienna, Stockholm and London at Lenin's request and was made a member of the party's central committee in 1912. With Lenin's blessing he briefly edited Pravda until he was arrested in 1913.

After his contribution to the October Revolution in 1917, Stalin rose to become the first General Secretary of the Bolshevik Party in 1918. When Lenin died in January 1924, there were two leaders jockeying for the leadership of the party, Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin. Stalin managed to outdo Trotsky and to assume power. Once in power he expelled all those that were close to Lenin and centralized his control of the country until his death.

Propaganda: False or exaggerated statements aimed at persuading people to support particular policies.

The Great Purges of 1930s

After securing leadership of Russia, Stalin established himself as a dictator. He would not tolerate any opposition within the Communist Party. The Bolshevik revolutionaries and supporters of Lenin and Trotsky who dared to challenge him were expelled from the party, imprisoned in labour camps, exiled from Russia and even assassinated. Stalin was ruthless in his methods to make Russia a classless society. Thousands of people were executed while several million were subjected to intensive indoctrination.

Stalin's Great Purges of 1930s consisted of efforts to wipe out opposition, which resulted in thousands of deaths. Most of those accused of opposing Stalin met their fate without being brought to trial. High-ranking army officers were charged with high treason and given mock trials at which they were sentenced to death. About 35 000 soldiers were either executed or imprisoned. During this bloodbath Stalin got rid of almost every notable leader of the 1917 Revolution.

It is believed that during his reign of terror more people were killed than in both the First and Second World Wars combined. Apart from eliminating opposition, Stalin wanted to reduce the size and influence of the Communist Party so he could implement his Five-Year Plans without challenge.

In addition to this cruelty, Stalin made sure that people were indoctrinated and brainwashed in his communist ideology. He made use of the press to launch propaganda campaigns depicting himself as Russia's greatest leader and his portraits were prominently displayed in public places.

Stalin made sure that his regime was not criticised by having his close friends run the press. In order to influence his propagandistic theories at schools he had history books rewritten to put him in favourable light and to give him credit for the October Revolution, which was responsible for placing the communist government in power. He even had himself credited as the brains behind the reform of Russia's economic condition during Lenin's rule.

Stalin eliminated those who challenged him both within his party and outside. He believed that indoctrination pointed out the way ahead for future communist leaders by doing away with opposition to his implementation of policies.


1. Why did Stalin initiate the Great Purges?

2. Was Stalin responsible for committing genocide in the Soviet Union?

3. How did he establish himself as a leader and force his policies on the people?

4. Form several groups. Share ideas on how politicians get support for their ideas. What methods do they use to convince the public? Do you think political parties use propaganda and do you think it's right or wrong?


1. Demonstrate the ability to work independently, formulating enquiry questions and gathering, analysing, interpreting and evaluating relevant evidence to answer questions.

2. Synthesise information about the past to develop, sustain and defend an independent line of historical argument, and communicate and present information reliably and accurately in writing and verbally.

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