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Joseph Stalin
(Born Dec. 21, 1879, Gori, Georgia, Russian Empire—died March 5, 1953, Moscow, Russia, U.S.S.R.) Soviet politician and dictator. The son of a cobbler, he studied at a seminary but wasexpelled for revolutionary activity in 1899. He joined an underground revolutionary group and sided with the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party in 1903. A disciple ofVladimir Lenin, he served in minor party posts and was appointed to the first Bolshevik Central Committee (1912). He remained active behind the scenes and in exile (1913–17) until the RussianRevolution of 1917 brought the Bolsheviks to power. Having adopted the name Stalin (from Russian stal, “steel”), he served as commissar for nationalities and for state control in the Bolshevik government(1917–23). He was a member of the Politburo, and in 1922 he became secretary-general of the party's Central Committee. After Lenin's death (1924), Stalin overcame his rivals, including Leon Trotsky, GrigoryZinovyev, Lev Kamenev, Nikolay Bukharin, and Aleksey Rykov, and took control of Soviet politics. In 1928 he inaugurated the Five-Year Plans that radically altered Soviet economic and social structuresand resulted in the deaths of many millions. In the 1930s he contrived to eliminate threats to his power through the purge trials and through widespread secret executions and persecution. In WorldWar II he signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact (1939), attacked Finland (Russo-Finnish War), and annexed parts of Eastern Europe to strengthen his western frontiers. When Germany invaded Russia(1941), Stalin took control of military operations. He allied Russia with Britain and the U.S.; at the Tehrn, Yalta, and Potsdam conferences, he demonstrated his negotiating skill. After the war heconsolidated Soviet power in Eastern Europe and built up the Soviet Union as a world military power. He continued his repressive political measures to control internal dissent; increasingly paranoid;...
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