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Joseph Stalin

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Stalin, Joseph (1879-1953), general secretary of the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1922 to 1953, the despotic ruler who more than any other individual molded the features that characterized the Soviet regime and shaped the direction of Europe after World War II ended in 1945.

Stalin was born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili in the town of Gori, Georgia, which at the time was part of the vast Russian Empire. He was the third and only surviving child of a cobbler and a housecleaner. In 1888 Stalin began attending the Gori Church School, where he learned Russian and excelled at his studies, winning a scholarship to the Tbilisi Theological Seminary in the Georgian capital in 1894.
Stalin’s historical legacy is overwhelmingly negative. Although his policies transformed the USSR from an agrarian-based society into an industrialized nation with a powerful military arsenal, the transformation was accomplished at the cost of millions of lives. Stalin’s militant distrust of the West and his assertion of Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe gave rise to the Cold War. His purges of society through violent police terror left a permanent scar on the collective memory of the people under his rule. Although admired by some Russians, most would agree with the assessment in the West that Stalin was one of the cruelest dictators in history.

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