Joseph Stalin was the General Secretary of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union’s sole leader from 1924 until his death in 1953. One of the most controversial and enigmatic figures in Russian history, he is still the subject of fierce discussions and assessments. His introduction of the command principle and five-year plans aimed at boosting the country’s economy condemned the country to human losses of immense proportions. The scale of repressions astounds and petrifies, though some believe it was a necessary and inevitable measure under the circumstances. Although an ethnic Georgian himself, he launched massive campaigns on the deportation and eradication of many ethnic groups from the Soviet territory. So great was his influence on the people that it eventually grew into a cult of personality, denounced after his death by Nikita Khrushchev, who initiated the so-called “de-Stalinization.”
Joseph Stalin (Iosif Dzhugashvili) was born in Gori, Georgia, a town then plagued by street violence, on 21 December 1879. He was brought up in a family of a shoemaker and a peasant’s daughter. The only one to survive out of four children, he himself was very prone to illnesses – for this reason his mother was very protective of him.
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Some sources, however, claim that, as a strict and religious woman, she frequently resorted to physical punishment, which she believed was an integral part of child rearing. Stalin’s relationship with his mother was strained and he didn’t even attend her funeral in 1937. His absence at the funeral, however, could also be accounted for by the urgent affairs he had to attend to as head of state.
Joseph's father, Vissarion, a shoemaker, was heavily addicted to drinking and had a drunken habit of beating up his wife and son. Stalin recalled getting so mad at his father that he once almost killed him by throwing a knife at him.
At the age of seven Joseph contacted smallpox. He survived but his face remained scarred for the rest of his life and other children cruelly called him "pocky." At the age of 12, two horse-drawn carriage accidents left his left arm permanently damaged. In 1888, Joseph’s mother managed to obtain a place for him at the local church school where he was to be trained as a priest. Giving in to his mother’s request, he entered the school in the town of Gori, graduating in 1894 as the best student.
Despite his health problems, young Stalin finished high school as one of the best students and eventually won a free scholarship to the Tiflis (now Tbilisi) Theological Seminary.
While studying at the seminary, he joined a secret political organization called Messame Dassy (The Third Group), where he first discovered the theories of Karl Marx.
In May 1899, Stalin was expelled from the Tiflis Theological Seminary. He was suspected of reading forbidden books and converting students to Marxism, while at the same time, the school records reveal, he merely didn’t show up for the exam.
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