Stalin was born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili on December 21 (Dec. 9, O.S.), 1879, in the Georgian village of Gori.
Stalin briefly studied at a seminary for the Orthodox priesthood but then joined the new Social Democratic Labor party and organized workers in Transcaucasia, was arrrested and sent to Siberia. When the party split into 2 factions, he joined the Bolsheviks of Lenin, became a member of the Central Committee in 1912 and wrote for Pravda, taking the pseudonym, Stalin, or "steel" in 1913.
For five years after the Bolshevik Revolution in1917 Stalin was the People's Commissar for Nationalities, and in 1922 Stalin was Secretary General of the party's Central Committee, and a member of the Politburo.
After Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin eliminated his rivals and rose to sole leadership of the party; in 1925 he renamed the city of Tsaritsyn to Stalingrad (now Volgograd).
In his first Five-Year Plan announced 1928, Stalin began industrialization and the forced collectivization of farms, caused the death by starvation of over 3 million and the imprisonment of 5 million peasants. By 1932 his second wife Nadeshda committed suicide and by 1933 he ended the forced policy. Although agricultural production declined by half, industrialization was a success and increased six-fold.
In the "Great Purges" from 1933-39, Stalin eliminated half of the Party membership and over half of the Army officer corps. Prominent victims were displayed at show trials that began August 1936. Investigations and arrests were carried out by the NKVD, the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, causing the imprisonment of 8 million and the death of at least 12 million Russian citizens.
Stalin began diplomatic relations with the United States in 1933, joined the League of Nations in 1934, promoted the Popular Front in 1935 that encouraged cooperation with western democracies, supported the Republicans in the Spanish civil war 1936-39.
In a secret speech to the Politburo on August 19, 1939, Stalin revealed his plan to wage war on Europe and Germany to Sovietize all Europe to the Channel. It was four days later that German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop arrived to join Stalin and Molotov in signing the final version of the Nazi-Soviet Treaty of Nonaggression, including the secret protocols dividing control of territory in Europe, that emerged from diplomatic discussions since April 17, 1939.
On August 23, 1939, Stalin and Hitler signed the Non-Aggression Pact.
On November 30, 1940, Stalin invaded Finland.
On May 5, 1941, Stalin delivered a speech at the Soviet War Academy where he announced his determination to go to war: "A modern army must be an offensive army."
On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded Russia following Hitler's Barbarossa Plan, a preemptive strike with 3 million soldiers at 3:15 am, before Stalin was ready to start his offensive war.
On May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered to the Red Army in Berlin. At the Potsdam Conference in July, Germany was officially partitioned into four zones of occupation.
On 29 August 1949 Russia tested its first atomic bomb.
Stalin supported North Korea in the Korean War 1950-53.
Stalin died March 5, 1953, in Moscow, 3 days after suffering a stroke, at the age of 73.
Bullock, Alan. Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives. New York: Knopf, 1992. 1081 p.
"Trotzky makes Talkie Debut" 12/10/1932 and "Father of Russian Revolution Sees U.S. Hope of Democracy 3/2/1938 Metrotone newsreels
"Icepick used to kill Leon Trotsky resurfaces," AP, July 11, 2005, article on reserve
Raack, R.C. , "Stalin's role in the coming of World War II: The international debate goes on," World Affairs 159/2, Fall 1996, p. 47-55, article on reserve.
Radzinskii, Edvard, translated by H.T. Willetts. Stalin: the First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia's Secret Archives. New York : Doubleday, 1996. 607 p.
"Europe Aug. 29, 1939" double-page map from Time 1939/08/29 - bg