Stalin in 1942 Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) was one of the most ruthless leaders of modern times. As secretary-general of the Soviet Communist Party, he ruled the Soviet Union as a dictator. He transformed the country into a world power, driving through a programme of rapid industrialization and changing outdated farming methods. However, he also presided over a regime of terror that saw the deaths of millions of people, particularly during the purges of 1934–1939, known today as the Great Terror. Despite his achievements in modernizing the Soviet Union, his record as a ruthless murderer will never be forgotten.
Stalin was of Georgian rather than Russian origin. He was born on 18th December 1879 in a small town called Gori in Georgia, which was at that time part of the Russian Empire. His full name was Iosif (Joseph) Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (he adopted the name Stalin in 1912 from the Russian word for "steel"). His father, a cobbler, died when Stalin was 14, and the boy was sent to Tiflis, Georgia's capital, to study to be a priest. Instead he secretly read the works of Karl Marx, and became involved in the revolutionary movement against the Russian czar (emperor). He joined the Bolsheviks (a Marxist revolutionary group) and was imprisoned and exiled to Siberia a number of times for his revolutionary activities.
Together with Lenin, Stalin organized and took part in a bank robbery in the Georgian city of Tbilisi in 1907. They killed 40 people, injured 50 and escaped with 341,000 roubles to fund their revolutionary activities.
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