15 Interesting Facts About Joseph Stalin Everyone Should Know!

Today, Joseph Stalin is famous for being the USSR’s de facto dictator from 1927 until his death in 1953. This got me thinking, what are some interesting facts about Joseph Stalin? During WWII, Stalin would prove to be an invaluable ally for the West, helping to defeat Nazi Germany. Following the war, however, Stalin would […]

15 Interesting Facts About Joseph Stalin Everyone Should Know!
Facts about Joseph Stalin: A picture of an elderly Joseph Stalin in Soviet military dress staring into the camera

Today, Joseph Stalin is famous for being the USSR’s de facto dictator from 1927 until his death in 1953. This got me thinking, what are some interesting facts about Joseph Stalin?

During WWII, Stalin would prove to be an invaluable ally for the West, helping to defeat Nazi Germany. Following the war, however, Stalin would become the West’s main antagonist, through his attempts to expand communism into Western Europe.

Stalin would also help to promote pre-existing concepts like anti-capitalism in the West, a concept that is still around today (partly due to Stalin)!

15. A Proud Georgian

Despite growing up to be the head of a country often referred to as “Russia” by the West, Russians were by no means the only ethnic group in the USSR, they were simply the largest.

Indeed, arguably their most famous leader, Joseph Stalin, wasn’t even Russian! Instead, he was Georgian, and a proud one at that, being born in the Georgian village of Gori, just a few hours away from Tbilisi.

Growing up in Georgia to Georgian parents, Joseph would speak Georgian for the first nine years of his life. Joseph would only begin to learn Russian when he was nine due to his schooling being done in Russian.

Despite being a patriotic Russian, Stalin would always speak with a heavy Georgian accent, which made it incredibly difficult for many to understand him, resulting in Stalin preferring to express himself through writing instead.

14. He Was Almost a Priest

Growing up, Stalin’s mother, Keke, was extremely religious. Being quite close to his mother, a young Stalin would similarly be quite religious, with the pair living in the same house as a Georgian Orthodox priest.

Seeing the young Stalin’s piety, the Georgian Orthodox priest would secure a young Stalin a place at the local Gori Religious School. Although a somewhat mischievous student, Stalin got good grades, especially in art and drama.

From here, he’d be able to secure a place at the Tbilisi Spiritual Seminary, with the intention of becoming a priest. Upon arriving at the school, aged 16, Stalin would continue to excel academically, being well-respected by both his peers and teachers.

As Stalin got older, however, he began to lose interest in becoming a priest, and thus his studies. His grades would begin to drop, with Stalin becoming a rebellious student, being repeatedly confined to a cell for his behavior.

After leaving the school and joining the communist party in 1901, Stalin would denounce religion and become an atheist for the rest of his life.

13. He Was a Bank Robber

After joining the communist party, Stalin realized that they needed a lot of money if they were going to successfully rise up, overthrow the bourgeois elite and, most importantly, keep their power.

To that end, in 1905, Stalin would begin raising funds by running large-scale protection rackets on large businesses and mines in and around Baku, taking extra care not to harm any workers in the process.

Whilst effective, the communists were using these funds faster than Stalin could replenish them. Having a great idea, Stalin would return to Tbilisi in 1907 to organize a bank robbery, which would bring in a large influx of cash for the communists.

On June 26 1907, Stalin alongside a crew of fellow communists, would attack a heavily guarded carriage transporting a large amount of money to the Imperial Bank in Tbilisi, using firearms and homemade explosives.

Although Stalin’s crew would kill an estimated 40 people, all of the crew would escape unharmed, escaping with 241,000 rubles in notes, which the communists would use to help fund strikes and other revolutions over the coming months and years.

12. The Death of His First Wife Deeply Troubled Him

Soon after joining the communist party, Stalin would become good friends with another Georgian communist, Alexander Svanidze, with the pair becoming inseparable.

As close friends, Stalin often stayed with the Svanidze family, becoming close friends with Alexander’s sister, Ekaterine, whom he affectionately called “Kato”. Following this, the pair became romantically involved, strengthening Alexander’s and Joseph’s friendship even more.

Joseph would write fondly of Kato, describing her as the woman who “melted his heart”, with Kato also writing fondly of the scruffy young Bolshevik who was best friends with her brother.

In the summer of 1906, Kato fell pregnant with Stalin’s child, causing the young Bolshevik to propose to Kato. As a deeply religious woman, Kato would insist on the pair getting married in a church, which an atheist Stalin would agree to.

Less than nine months after giving birth, to a son, Yakov, Kato would come down with either typhus or tuberculosis and die on November 22 1907.

Her death would deeply affect Stalin, who’d go from a jovial young man to a bitter, angry and distant one, refusing to even speak with his former best friend and brother-in-law, Alexander.

11. He Hated His Eldest Son

In fact, Stalin was so affected by his wife’s death, that he couldn’t even look at his son, Yakov, without being reminded of his wife’s death. Wanting to avoid this, Stalin left a nine-month old Yakov with his wife’s family, to immerse himself in his revolutionary activities.

For the next 14 years, Yakov would be raised by his aunts, in the same home his mother had grown up in. At the age of 14, however, Yakov would move to Moscow to live with his father.

Despite having grown up, Yakov still reminded Stalin of his dead wife, causing the pair to argue often. Due to growing up in Georgia, Yakov had also never learned Russian – a fact that both angered and embarrassed Stalin.

Eventually learning Russian, Yakov would go to university before his father forced him to join the artillery corps. Yakov’s graduation would coincide with the Germany invasion of the USSR, which would see his father send him to the frontlines.

Due to overwhelming German numbers, Yakov would be captured by the Germans and sent to Sachsenhausen Concentration camp. The Germans would offer to exchange Yakov for German Field Marshal, Friedrich Paulus, but Stalin refused.

On April 14 1943, Yakov would attempt to escape from Sachsenhausen, but would be fatally shot by German guards. After Yakov’s death, Stalin spoke highly of Yakov, believing him to be a “real man” as Stalin once put it.

10. His Many Nicknames

Born as Ioseb Besarionis dzе Jughashvili, the man who would eventually become Joseph Stalin, would be known as “Soso” to his friends and family (a diminutive of “Ioseb”), a nickname that would stick with him for the rest of his life…

Whilst at school, a young Joseph would be a keen reader.

After devouring works like Das Kapital, Joseph would move to works like The Patricide, by Georgian author, Alexander Kazbegi, which soon saw Joseph go by the name “Koba” – after the book’s main protagonist.

For security purposes (as well as it being hard to pronounce his last name), Joseph would use a number of nicknames after joining the communist party in 1901, with his favorite being “Ivanov”.

It was for these reasons that a young Joseph would first go by the nickname “Stalin” (meaning “Steel” or “Man of Steel” in Russian) in 1912. From 1912 onwards, Joseph would be known as Joseph Stalin to the Russian people and the rest of the world.

9. Lenin Despised Stalin

Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Lenin’s Bolsheviks rose to power, with many of Lenin’s closest allies being given important roles, both within the communist party and the new Soviet government itself.

As one of the most Bolsheviks, Stalin was no exception, accepting the position of People’s Commissar for Nationalities, owing to his Georgian (eg. non-Russian) heritage.

Using this role, Stalin would go from a publicly unknown, yet powerful member of the Bolsheviks, to a famous and even more powerful member of the Bolsheviks with the backing of many of the USSR’s ethnic minorities as well as many ethnic Russians too!

In 1922, Lenin began suffering from a series of strokes, one of which left him paralyzed. Unable to fulfill his duties as the General Secretary of the Communist Party, Lenin nominated Stalin to be his successor.

Following Stalin’s tenure as General Secretary closely, Lenin began to dislike Stalin’s methods, believing him to be unfit to rule. Upon his death, he ordered that the person who was in charge of giving everyone jobs to not give Stalin a new job.

On the surface of it, this plan should have worked. However, Lenin made one mistake: Stalin was also the man in charge of giving everyone jobs. As you can probably imagine, Stalin didn’t follow Lenin’s orders after the latter’s death in 1924.

8. Stalinism

Following Stalin’s rise to power in 1927, he began to instigate a series of reforms. Whilst meant as a continuation of Lenin’s own brand of communism, Leninism, these reforms laid the groundwork for Stalin’s own brand of communism – Stalinism.

Whilst economically not to dissimilar to Leninism, Stalinism initially aimed to expand the USSR’s industry, by introducing things like collective farming and factory quotas.

As time progressed, Stalinism would also begin to enact cultural reforms. The most famous of these would be purging subversives, eg. non-communists and counter-revolutionaries, that had only been monitored by the secret police under Lenin

Beyond this, Stalin would also begin developing a cult of personality for both himself and Lenin, styling both of them as “men of the people”, in a way that is reminiscent of Julius Caesar and his Caesarism.

Following Stalin’s death in 1953, Stalinism would be ended in the USSR and every other communist country. Despite this, Stalinism would heavily influence other types of communism, primarily North Korea’s Juche.

7. He Loved And Hated Germany

In 1914, the assassination of Austrian heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by a Serbian nationalist led to WWI. As a member of the Entente alliance (alongside France and Britain), Imperial Russia would be dragged into the war.

Due to the strains of the war, the Russian people soon grew angry with the Tsarist regime and turned to political ideologies like communism, eventually leading to the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Seeing his political ideology come to power thanks to Germany’s war, Stalin often spoke about how he owed the creation of the Soviet Union to Imperial Germany.

Yet, within a few decades, both Germany and Russia would fight again. Russia, with the help of the British, French and Americans, would defeat the Germans once again. However, Stalin stopped writing about how he owed the Soviet state to the Germans.

You see, two generations of Germans had risen up against Russia, slaughtering millions of Russians. Understandably upset, Stalin wanted Germany to suffer. He wanted it to be broken and defeated so it could never rise up again Russia again.

In part, this is what led to the Cold War, as well as the formation of both East and West Germany following WWII.

6. International Relations

Nearing the end of WWII, the Allies would host the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences to discuss what should happen to a post-war Europe, and how to prevent the next generation from fighting a WWIII (as the previous two generations had fought WWI and WWII).

During Yalta, Stalin and British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill would fight quite regularly, with their visions for a post-war Europe being completely opposite, with Churchill wanting a strong capitalist Europe, whilst Stalin wanted a communist Europe.

On the other Stalin would have quite a close relationship with American President Franklin D Roosevelt, with the American president often serving as the arbitrator between the pair, thus gaining the respect of both sides.

By Potsdam, Churchill had been replaced by Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, who was much more friendly towards Stalin, whilst FDR’s death had seen Truman take his place, who was far more anti-Soviet than his predecessor had been.

5. Stalin’s Antisemitism

In 1903, the court of Tsar Nicholas II would instigate a series of pogroms against Russia’s Jews, killing hundreds of Russian Jews. Seeing this, Stalin took the stage to denounce what he saw as the tsar’s unjustified slaughter of hundreds of Russians.

Despite his noble efforts, very few people took notice of Stalin, with no one actually acting on what Stalin said. His actions would also earn the ire of the communist high-ups, as whilst a tragedy, they argued that most Jews would never support communism.

This conversation thoroughly shifted a young Stalin’s view towards Jews, with him becoming more and more antisemitic over the course of the next few months, whilst also writing glowing accounts of Karl Marx (who was a Jew).

Upon becoming the USSR’s dictator, Stalin found a new outlet to voice his hatred of the Jews in, with him ordering the Soviet state media to viciously attack all things Jewish, something that would become a staple of his premiership.

Whilst a staple of Stalin’s reign, statewide antisemitism would be continued by almost every subsequent Soviet leader until the USSR’s collapse in 1991.

4. The Death of Stalin

By 1950, Stalin was well into his seventies, with his health beginning to decline as a result. Despite being treated by the best doctors in the USSR, Stalin didn’t trust them at all, which was only heightened after one suggested that he retire for his health.

For health reasons, Stalin began to take longer vacations, particularly to the warmer parts of the southern USSR, often visiting one of his many dachas spread throughout the country.

By March 1 1953, Stalin had just returned to Moscow from an extended vacation in the south. That same day, Stalin’s staff would find a semi-conscious Stalin on his bedroom floor, having suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage.

To afraid to touch him, most of the USSR’s best doctors refused to treat Stalin, with those that did being sent home by Stalin’s children. As a result, Stalin could’ve lived, but instead, died on March 5 due to complications with the cerebral hemorrhage.

Despite the official Soviet prognosis, many suspect that Lavrentiy Beria poisoned Stalin on behalf of British Intelligence (as Beria may have been in the pay of British Intelligence) although no official documents can corroborate either of these beliefs.

3. Stalin The Womanizer

Following the death of his first wife, Stalin would go to modern-day Azerbaijan, where he’d work with the local communist groups there. It was here, where Stalin would meet Nadezhda Alliluyeva, before marrying her in 1919.

However, the death of his first wife still haunted Stalin. Even despite his new wife bearing him two children – a son and a daughter, Joseph and Nadezhda often got into fights with one another.

Using his position as a powerful and well-respected revolutionary, Stalin would become a prevalent womanizer, often having affairs with female revolutionaries, or on occasion, the wives of his fellow revolutionaries.

Whilst many try to hide their infidelity, Stalin was quite open about it, with his wife being well aware of her husband’s infidelity, which understandably caused numerous fights between the couple, thus causing Stalin to start even more affairs.

It was likely due to her husband’s infidelity that Stalin’s wife, Nadezhda, would take her own life in November 1932, after having a fight with her husband over his infidelity.

2. Mass Murderer

When we think of some of the most prolific mass murderers of the 20th century, your mind probably goes straight to Stalin’s contemporary – Adolf Hitler, or maybe even Stalin’s fellow communist dictator, Mao Zedong.

Yet, Joseph Stalin was also one of the largest mass murderers history has ever seen!

On the low-end, some historians estimate that through the various famines Stalin caused, as well as the Great Purge of the 1930’s, Stalin was directly responsible for as many as 10 million deaths, not to mention those caused by WWII.

By comparison, on the high-end, some historians estimate that Stalin’s famines and the Great Purge he instigated, were the direct cause of death for as much as 20 million death, with one estimate even going as far to claim 30 million!

Whilst we will likely never know the full extent of Stalin’s genocides, due to the USSR burning most of the records pertaining to Stalin’s purges and genocides, even the lowest estimates place Stalin as one of history’s greatest murderers.

1. Stalin… The Trillionaire?

One of the main tenements of communism is that everyone, regardless of job, social class and/or background, should be equal. This means living in the same type and size of housing, earning the same amount of money and so on.

Yet, for those few people who lead communist countries, they are often among the richest politicians in the world. The USSR under Stalin was no exception.

As the dictator of the USSR, whatever Stalin said, went. Despite technically being property of the state, Stalin often claimed personal ownership of the various villas (dachas) dotted throughout Russia, which acted as his personal residences.

On one occasion, Stalin even had an entire underground rail network built from one of his dachas to another one, an underground rail network only he could use. So much for equality…

Then there’s also the fact that as dictator, all of the USSR’s industry was under his personal control, with the USSR’s industry accounting for as much as $7.5 trillion in today’s money.

Due to this, historians generally agree that Stalin had a personal net worth of $7.5 trillion, making Stalin not only the richest politicians of his day, but also one of the richest people to have ever lived!

Which are the most interesting facts about Joseph Stalin in your opinion? Tell me in the comments!