Joseph Stalin was a ruthless dictator who transformed the Soviet Union into a world superpower. Here are 10 facts that help paint a picture of this man who changed the world.
1. His last name is a title meaning, “Man of Steel.”
Stalin was awarded the title “Man of Steel.” Why this Superman-esque name? It fit perfectly with his stern image as leader of the industrial-powerhouse of the USSR. Moreover, it hid his true identity, protecting his family from the many assassination attempts and deceptions that plagued him, as well as the communist party.
2. He had another nickname, “Comrade Index Card.”
The name came from a joke made by Stalin’s rival in the communist party, Leon Trotsky. A play on Stalin being only a small contributor to the party, the name was given when the Man of Steel took his first major political position as General Secretary of the Russian communist party. It was in fact a secretarial position, thus the nickname “Comrade Index Card” mocked Stalin’s duties. However, Trotsky would not be laughing as history would unfold to see Stalin at the head of the country and Trotsky on the run for his life.
3. He may not have actually said his infamous statistics quote.
“A single death is a tragedy, a million dead is a statistic.” Cold, harsh, yet truthful words that Stalin is often quoted as saying. The reports are easily believed, due to the various purges, unexpected “missing” people, and general fear created by his regime. However, there is little evidence that the quote was real. It was reported originally by the German writer and pacifist Erich Maria Remarque and, judging by the source’s background and stance against war, it might be reasonable to assume that Man of Steel did not in fact say the infamous words.
4. He would not even give ransom for the return of his own son.
During World War II, Stalin’s son, Yakov, was taken prisoner by the Nazis and of course, Hitler was ready to make as audacious a ransom offer as possible. True to his Man of Steel moniker, Stalin refused any ransoming agreement. No matter what torture Hitler threatened would befall his son, Stalin did not budge. His son would go on to die in prison. Tough love.
5. He had a city named after him.
The famous siege of Stalingrad was fought during World War II. Because the city was named after its leader, Stalin ordered a victory at Stalingrad, and there was no arguing with the man. Though pushed to the fringe of survival, the Russian Army was able to achieve a decisive victory. Some speculate that this victory was the turning point in favor of the Allies in the war against Adolf Hitler. Following the victory, the Russians would go on to push the Nazis all the way back to Berlin.
6. He was very paranoid.
His goal of uniting the nation with him as the leader grew to frightening heights. Stalin enacted a series of purges known as “Stalin’s Terror,” whereby millions of people were sent to forced labor, assassinated, or publicly executed, out of fear that they were enemies of the state. With the state police, the NKVD, at the helm of the purges, millions were condemned for having even a single contact with questionable individuals on Stalin’s hit list. Interestingly enough, it was found out after his death that Stalin had been suffering from atherosclerosis (fatty tissue build-up in the arteries) of the brain, possibly explaining his deranged “terror.”
7. He ordered the development of a half-human, half-ape hybrid.
With a desire to create a new human that would be resilient to pain beyond normal man and would not care about the quality of food eaten, Stalin ordered his top scientists to create a hybrid ape-man. In the dictator’s eyes, this hybrid man would be the greatest solider, capable of great strength but with an underdeveloped brain so as to be easily controlled. Aside from military purposes, such a man would provide greater manpower to speed up Russia’s industrial development. Unfortunately, the chief scientist for the job, Ilya Ivanov, was unsuccessful. Because of this failure, in typical Stalin-fashion, Ivanov was arrested and exiled to Kazakhstan.
8. He trained as a priest.
Before being swayed by the leftist ideas of Marxism and anti-religious thought, Stalin intended to become an Orthodox priest. Following the wishes of his mother, he attended the Tbilisi Theological Seminary on a full scholarship, with the goal of becoming ordained at the Russian Orthodox Church. However, as fate would have it, Stalin would pick up the works of Karl Marx and forgo the priesthood.
9. He was not actually Russian.
Stalin was actually not a native Russian. Rather, he hailed from impoverished beginnings in the country of Georgia. However, as he became acclimated to Marxist thought, he grew in power, slowly rising up in the communist party of Russia. His home country would not escape him, however. He played a key role in the forced military imposition of Vladimir Lenin’s communist movement in Georgia. This military campaign in his home country was the first of many that exemplified Stalin’s hard-liner approach to spreading the communist ideology.
10. He had a rough childhood.
Stalin’s father, Besarion, was an alcoholic, leading to business failures and violence towards Joseph and the boy’s mother. On top of this, Joseph experienced many physical calamities in his youth. He grew up constantly getting into brawls with others his age, and smallpox left his face extremely scarred. Moreover, he was struck by a horse-drawn carriage not once, but twice, leading to permanent damage of his left arm, which in turn exempted him from fighting in World War I, where he would likely have died.
Haugen, Brenda. Joseph Stalin: Dictator of the Soviet Union. Minneapolis, MN: Compass Point, 2006. Print.
Military History Monthly. Stalin Facts
TVtropes. Useful Notes: Josef Stalin
Russiapedia. Of Russian Origin: Stalin’s Purges
Photo Credits: “Joseph Stalin” and “Stalingrad” by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R80329 [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons; “Young Joseph Stalin, 1894” by paukrus [CC], via Flickr