After a meteoric rise, a bit of bribery and a lot of wars and a run-in with some pirates, Julius Caesar was declared dictator of Rome and its Empire in 46 BC. Caesar was approaching the peak of his power. And some peak it was; his name is still familiar today, and it is from his name that the words for king in German, Kaiser and many Slavonic languages, Tsar come.
Literally having his name evolve to mean king in half the Western world is not even Caesar’s most impressive name based feat: his power was so absolute over Roman society that he reorganised the calendar from a lunar based to a solar based one. As in the Egyptian calendar, he set the length of a year as 365.25 days, and invented the leap year to account for the extra quarter day. The month of Quintilis was renamed July to honour Caesar.
In fact, it was around the time he started having months named after him that some figures in the Senate begun to resent Caesar as a dictator. By this time, he’d also made a number of reforms, both to strengthen the Empire and to cement his own power and prevent future challengers to him. For instance, he instigated a large programme of public works like temples and rewarded families for having lots of children, to grow the population faster.
Increasingly Caesar began to take personal power over the state and ascend to the level of a divine ruler, being granted further honours such as coins having his face on, having a golden chair in the senate and a literal cult, with Mark Antony as high priest. The last straw, as if all this wasn’t enough of a red flag, came in February 44 BC when Caesar was proclaimed dictator in perpetuity.
The plot to assassinate Caesar was hatched (a word applied only to plots, plans and eggs), by a number of Caesar’s old associates, many of whom he had magnanimously pardoned for siding against him in the civil war. Prominent amongst the conspirators were the Senators and brothers-in-law Cassius and Brutus, the latter of whom had a close relationship to Caesar.
The conspirators decided to kill Caesar in the Senate chamber on the 15th of March, known in the Roman calendar as the Ides of March. Caesar had received several warnings, including from a soothsayer and his wife, that ill would befall him on that very. Caesar was almost swayed by their arguments, until Cassius arrived and persuaded Caesar to come to the Senate. On the way to the Senate chamber Caesar is said to have joked with the soothsayer that “the Ides of March are come”, but he was still fine, to which they replied “Aye Caesar, but not gone”.
On the night before the assassination Mark Antony had been made aware of the plot by one of the conspirators and set out to save Caesar on the morning of the Ides of March. However, the plotters had anticipated this and sent men to delay outside the Senate chamber.
Once Caesar was inside the Senate chamber Lucius Tillius Cimber presented him with a petition to recall his exiled brother and the other conspirators crowded around Caesar, ostensibly to support the petition. Caesar was having none of it though, and waved the crowd away. Then Cimber pulled Caesar’s toga down, and Caesar cried out “why, this is violence!”. Things quickly became more violent as Casca pulled out a knife and thrust it at Caesar’s throat, but he was able to catch his arm before the blow struck. Then the full group of 60 or more men fell upon Caesar, all stabbing at him until he fell to the Senate floor. They continued to stab at his body as he lay defenceless.
Caesar’s last words, if he said anything at all, are a matter of some dispute, but the commonly accepted version is “Et tu, Brute?” (“even you, Brutus”), as Caesar saw the man he regarded as a close friend stab him to death. For his betrayal of Caesar, history has taken a dim view of Brutus. Most notably, in Dante’s Divine Comedy, which sets out the modern vision of Hell, Brutus can be found right at the centre of Hell, being eternally chewed by Satan himself. Satan’s other two mouths are chewing on Brutus’ fellow conspirator Cassius and Judas, which gives a sense of the gravity of Brutus’ betrayal.
The autopsy report (the first known such report in history) concluded that Caesar had been stabbed 23 times, but only the second blow, to his chest, had been enough to kill him.
Mark Antony, upon hearing the commotion in the Senate chamber, fled in fear. Indeed most ordinary Romans locked themselves in their homes, fearful of the implications of Caesar’s death, despite the conspirators taking to the streets to proclaim “People of Rome, we are once again free!”. Despite their intentions to save the Roman Republic, they had all but killed it as the people still loved Caesar. Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son, and Mark Antony allied as a new civil war sprang up, and were soon successful in defeating the conspirators. Brutus and Cassius killed themselves upon losing this war. Antony fled to Egypt, where he married Cleopatra, hoping to dominate Rome using Egypt’s wealth. Relations between Antony and Octavian soon broke down and yet another civil war erupted. Octavian won this war, and Antony and Cleopatra also killed themselves (people don’t seem to take well to losing wars). Octavian became the first Roman Emperor, taking the name Augustus and later copying Caesar’s trick in having a month named for him.
As for Julius Caesar, his body remained on the Senate floor for some time, until three common slaves put him on a stretcher and carried him to his home, an arm hanging from the side of the stretcher. He was also later deified to provide further legitimacy for the sole reign of an Emperor descended from his bloodline, which probably doesn’t quite make up for being stabbed by a mob, orchestrated by one of his closest friends. In truth the fact Caesar’s name is still known today is largely down to his brutal murder, which sealed the fate of the Roman Republic.
Julius Caesar is one of the most famous names in all of history and rightly so. It was he who laid the foundations for Rome to become an Empire which would last for hundreds of years, forging a single united entity out of numerous nearly autonomous regions. Caesar’s rise to power and (spoiler) subsequent assassination at the height of his power, along with his reputation as one of the greatest military commanders in history, has secured him a high place in the pantheon of historical figures. This is how he took control of one of the greatest empires of history.
At the time of Julius Caesar’s birth in 100 BC, the Roman Empire was governed primarily by the Senate in Rome, though provinces such as Spain and Cisalpine Gaul (Northern Italy) were ruled by governors, appointed by the Senate. The Senate itself was comprised of the upper class of Roman society (old rich white men; some things never change) and chaired by two elected consuls, who served for a single year.
By 60 BC Caesar had demonstrated his skill as a military man, winning campaigns against several tribes in Spain while he governed the region. Before this he had been a successful orator, a role similar to a modern day lawyer, earning a reputation for excellent and impassioned speaking. At one stage he had also been captured by pirates, who demanded a ransom of 20 silver talents. Caesar took this as an insult, certain he was worth more and insisted they raise his ransom to fifty talents, while also promising to hunt down and crucify the pirates once he was freed, which they took as a joke. The ransom was paid, and sure enough the pirates wound up crucified, though, as an act of leniency, Caesar had their throats cut first, which was nice.
To further his political position, Caesar secured a three-way alliance of himself, distinguished general Pompey the Great and Crassus, who was exceptionally wealthy thanks to real estate speculation (yep, again with some things never changing). This was known as the first triumvirate, and dominated Roman politics after Caesar was elected as a consul for 59 BC. The major move of his consulship was a redistribution of public land to the poor, achieved despite significant opposition when Pompey flooded Rome with soldiers.
With his consulship coming to end that year, the aristocracy attempted to limit Caesar’s future power by giving him military command over not a province, as was customary, but the woods and pastures of Italy. Caesar didn’t fancy gardening leave, and was successful at overturning this judgment and was appointed as governor of modern day Southern France (Transalpine Gaul), Northern Italy (Cisalpine Gaul) and South-Eastern Europe (Illyricum). The term of his governorship was also set at five years, rather than the regular one, to extend his immunity from prosecution for “irregularities” during his consulship. To escape this prosecution Caesar fled from Rome to his provinces as his consulship drew to a close. This fear of prosecution would later prove decisive in one of the most crucial events of ancient history.
It was during his tenure as governor of these regions that Caesar truly displayed his brilliance as a military commander, greatly expanding the empires borders by making war against all of Gaul. Caesar’s success led to the entirety of modern Belgium and most of France falling under Caesar’s control. He also made attempts to invade Britain at this point, but was unsuccessful due to poor information and a poor harvest in Gaul. His great success in the Gallic wars made him immensely popular with his legions and the people of Rome.
However, back in Rome, the triumvirate had collapsed after the death of Crassus and Caesar’s daughter, whose marriage to Pompey cemented the alliance. With Rome on the brink of anarchy Pompey was appointed as the sole consul as an emergency measure.
As Caesar’s governorship drew to a close in 50 BC the senate, now led by Pompey, ordered him to disband his forces and return to Rome. Fearing that he would be prosecuted as he no longer had the immunity enjoyed by a governor, Caesar refused the orders of the senate. In return, Pompey accused him of treason against Rome. Caesar, now certain that he would be prosecuted should he submit to the senate, decided on a drastic course of action.
The Rubicon is a small and shallow river, significant only because it marked the border between Italy as administered by the senate and the province of Cisalpine Gaul in Northern Italy. It would be of no historical note whatsoever if Caesar had obeyed the ultimatum to disband his army and return to Rome. He did not, and on the 10th of January 49 BC Caesar crossed the Rubicon with the XIII legion. Brining an armed force into Italy was strictly forbidden and an act of war against Rome itself. Caesar, fresh from the subjugation of Gaul, was now marching on the capital of the very empire he had served. Armed conflict was made inevitable that day, which Caesar was entirely aware of, uttering the famous phrase “ālea iacta est” (the die has been cast).
Although their forces outnumbered Caesar’s single legion, Pompey and the senate fled Rome in fear of the might and military skill of Caesar, arriving in Greece shortly ahead of Caesar’s forces catching up.
Leaving his staunch ally Mark Antony in charge of Rome, Caesar was able to defeat the Pompey’s forces all around the Mediterranean, from Spain to a final rout at Pharsalus in Greece. Pompey fled once again, this time to Egypt, pursued by Caesar. Pompey was murdered in Egypt, shortly before the arrival of Caesar, who was then presented with his severed head. Moved to tears by the death of his old friend at the hands of non-Romans, Caesar ordered Pompey’s assassins murdered.
Caesar then became embroiled in the Egyptian civil war, with his troops and strategy proving decisive in winning the throne for Cleopatra, with whom he had a child. In 48 BC Caesar was appointed dictator for one year, during which time he subdued the last of the old senate which had stood against him the civil war, including Cicero and Cato the younger, the latter of which committed suicide rather than live under Caesar’s dictatorship.
Just as Cato feared, Caesar was then appointed dictator for 10 years. There was nobody left to outwardly challenge Caesar and he strode on toward absolute control of the Roman Empire to become the most powerful man alive. Julius Caesar was never declared emperor though, as a growing conspiracy would thwart his final ambitions…
Shortly after the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, Winston Churchill declared that an “Iron Curtain has descended over the continent of Europe”. He was talking about Russia’s, or as it was then called, the Soviet Union, taking of the entirety of Eastern Europe as part of the agreements made between Truman, Churchill and Stalin at the Potsdam conference.
In effect, this was the beginning of the Cold War, a period of animosity between the two world superpowers, America and the Soviet Union. The Cold War never saw a shot fired in anger, but fuelled the arms and space races of that dominated the second half of the 20th Century. It threatened, on several occasions, to bring an end to civilisation through a nuclear apocalypse, most famously in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Cold War came to abrupt end in 1991, but not with any peace agreement between the two arch rivals. Instead, the Soviet Union collapsed on Boxing Day 1991.
How was it possible that one of the world’s leading powers, rivalled only by the USA, simply imploded and ceased to exist?
The key figure in this tale is Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union from 1985.
In response to the economic and social situation in the Soviet Union, he introduced two major policies that would inadvertently trigger the demise of his own Presidency, the fall of the Iron Curtain, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Communist Party in Russia. Safe to say then, he screwed up.
The first of these policies was Glasnost, or openness. This gave the people the freedom of expression, which they had been denied ever since the Communist revolution of 1917. He thought that by granting greater freedoms to the suppressed population, they would work harder, stimulating the slowly declining economy and give greater support to the regime.
Policy number two was Perestroika, or restructuring. Aiming entirely at addressing the economic stagnation, perestroika gave greater freedoms to local ministries in setting the targets for industry to reach, as well as widespread reintroduction of capitalist principles, such as increasing free trade in industry.
Unfortunately for Gorbachev, neither of these policies worked. In fact, they massively backfired. The restructuring initiative did not bring the economic benefits he had predicted it would, while granting more powers to the annexed nations such as Estonia and the Ukraine. The pent up anger of a people who had endured massive suffering at the hands of the State, especially under the Terror of Stalin, was unleashed in the new, free speaking, media, as they turned upon Gorbachev for his failure to improve the economic conditions for the ordinary person.
Although consumer goods did increase in number, the distribution system was so broken that milk rarely got delivered before souring and, though Soviets produced more shoes than anyone else in the world, customers were forced to stand in line time and again to buy several pairs because the sizes were so askew that it was necessary to acquire many pairs to make a fit. Housing meanwhile was atrocious with couples required to wait years before qualifying for a small apartment; the wait for cars also dragged on interminably, and after one finally arrived, it was not unusual for it almost immediately to experience mechanical problems.
The edges of the Soviet Union soon frayed, as the Nationalities, emboldened by receiving greater powers, pushed for complete autonomy, with Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia producing mass organised dissent. With his policy of Glasnost now in place, Gorbachev could not forcibly crush these uprisings, as the media would only criticize him further, but nor could he allow them to flourish, as it would undoubtedly spell the end of the Soviet Union.
And they did. Soon, similar movements developed in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and the Central Asian republics. This hugely weakened the influence of the central government in Moscow, which essentially lost control of these nations.
Gorbachev, facing savage criticism from the press and the Russian people, unable to control the Nationalist groups and without the support of the military, resigned on Christmas Day 1991. The very next day, by popular demand, the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist. Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and all the other protesting nations seized their independence.
The Iron Curtain had fallen
But how had the Soviet Union’s economy, which had been transformed under Stalin’s brutal Five Year Plans into a world leader, come to stagnation by the close of the 20th Century? After all, it was the economic climate that drove Gorbachev to his misguided and disastrous reforms.
The answer lies with the Soviet Union’s nemesis, America and one man in particular.
William Casey had intimate access to American President Ronald Reagan and the CIA leadership, as well as having a myriad of connections to banking and big business. Through all of these, he was able to quash cheap loans to the Soviet Union, to clamp down on the export of Western technology the Russians are needed to maintain their crumbling industrial base, to make it tougher for the Soviet Union to complete a huge natural gas pipeline that would provide them with much-needed Western currency.
His biggest success though, was in convincing Saudi Arabia to substantially increase oil production, which drove down the world price of oil. This was of huge benefit to America, a major importer of oil, and of huge cost to the Soviet Union, which relied heavily on exporting oil.
This facilitated Regan’s continuation and intensification of the arms race with the Soviet Union. Of course, the Soviet Union had to respond and upped its own spending on the military to a massive 30% of the economy (although precise numbers are questionable in the Soviet Union). The economy could not handle this magnitude of spending on the military, as it desperately needed investment in other areas; as a Communist economy, all industry was State owned and managed, irrespective of the demands of the population. As the Soviet Union’s capital base eroded over time from wear and tear of the huge demands placed upon it, production fell across the board and the economy stuttered and stagnated as the Soviet Union ushered in Gorbachev's leadership.
And this is when Gorbachev instigated his doomed policies of Glasnost and Perestroika, before the Nationalist groups pressed for independence, to which Gorbachev was forced to cave, resulting in the fall of the Iron Curtain.
The causes of World War One are complicated and numerous, unlike the causes of the Second World War, which was down mainly to Hitler’s fanatical obsession with establishing “living space” for his people. However, there are a few main causes that built up over time to contribute the outbreak of war
By 1914, Europe had been divided into two distinct groups, as a result of alliances that had built up over the past century:
The Triple Alliance was Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary.
The Triple Entente was Britain, France and Russia.
The alliance between Germany and Austria was very understandable; both nations spoke the same language, had a similar culture and were central European powers at the time.
Austria was embroiled in disputes in the south-east of Europe, an area known as the Balkans. She needed the might of Germany to augment her own strength if the situation deteriorated towards war. Italy had joined these countries as she feared their power on her northern border. Germany was mainland Europe's most powerful country - so from Italy's point of view, being an ally of Germany was an obvious move. Each member of this Triple Alliance was bound to help the others in the event of one of them being attacked by another nation.
The Triple Entente was less concrete than the Triple Alliance. The members of the Entente (Britain, France and Russia) were not bound to support one another in the event of an attack, but it was expected that they would do so.
France was suspicious of Germany as France had a powerful army but lacked a strong navy. Britain had the world's most powerful navy but a small army. France and Britain joining together in an understanding was natural.
Britain was also concerned about Germany because she was building up a new and powerful navy, which Britain saw as a direct challenge to its own, especially when Germany had only a small amount of coastline, compared to the island of Britain.. The inclusion of Russia down mainly to Russia's royal family, the Romanovs, being closely related to the British Royal Family. Russia also had a huge army and with France on the west of Europe and Russia on the east, the idea was that Germany would fear fighting a war on two fronts, the West and East and would not risk provoking war.
By 1900, Britain owned a quarter of the world. Huge amounts of money were made from these colonies and Britain had a powerful military presence in all parts of the world. The Empire was seen as the status symbol of a country that was the most powerful in the world at that time.
In contrast, the relatively new nation of Germany lacked an overseas Empire and was essentially jealous of Britain’s vast Empire. This led Germany to look for opportunities to expand its own territory overseas, which caused friction between the two nations.
Another issue that stirred the trouble up between Britain and Germany was Germany's desire to increase the size of her navy.
Britain concluded that Germany's desire to increase the size of her navy was to threaten Britain's naval might in the North Sea. The British government concluded that as an island she needed a large navy to protect itself and to establish trade with the vast British Empire. As a result, a naval race took place. Both countries spent vast sums of money building new warships and the cost soared when Britain launched a new type of battleship - the Dreadnought, which was a huge leap forward in naval warfare. Germany immediately responded by building her equivalent. Such a move did little to improve relations between Britain and Germany. All it did was to increase tension between the two nations.
This spark was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria, by a Serbian nationalist group, the Black Hand. Outraged at this, Austria blamed Serbia and demanded that Serbia essentially surrender itself to become part of Austria. Serbia, despite being far weaker than Austria, declined, as she was protected by Russia.
Austria then declared war on Serbia, meaning Russia declared war on Austria. The alliance system then swung into action as Germany declared war on Russia and by extension, France, invading neutral Belgium in order to secure Paris quickly. Britain, who had not quite been drawn into the war due to the nebulous nature of the Triple Entente, was then forced to declare war on Germany and Austria by an old treaty with Belgium that declared Britain would defend her if she was invaded.
The First World War, the bloodiest conflict ever seen at the time, was underway.
After skillfully disposing and discrediting his political opponents within the Bolshevik Party, Josef Stalin had taken complete control of Russia. However, the country he now governed was in turmoil.
The peasants, who made up the majority of the population, despised the Communist ideals that the Government were trying to impose on them. Also, the Bolsheviks had kept grain prices artificially low for the past few years, in order to ensure a cheap supply of grain to export, so that much needed foreign machinery could be bough to industrialise Russia. However, the peasants, who worked the land, resented this, and began to hide grain and feed it to livestock, rather than sell it for the low prices offered. This caused a crisis in Russia in 1928, with some starving workers threatening to rise up and overthrow the Bolshevik regime.
To solve this problem, Stalin reversed the Bolshevik agrarian policy by seizing the land given earlier to the peasants following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and organizing collective farms. This essentially reduced the peasants back to serfs, as they had been during the monarchy. Stalin believed that collectivism would accelerate food production, but the peasants resented losing their land and working for the state. Millions were killed in forced labor or starved during the ensuing famine. Stalin also set in motion rapid industrialization that initially achieved huge successes, but over time cost millions of lives and vast damage to the environment. Any resistance was met with swift and lethal response; millions of people were exiled to the labor camps of the Gulag or were executed.
Stalin began his Terror following his rise to power: everybody became a target for the deadly NKVD, who would seize doctors, factory workers, lawyers, widows, teachers, anybody who was even vaguely linked with somebody who might have been a "saboteur". It was these "saboteurs" that Stalin blamed for any failure of a factory to meet it's ridiculously high output targets, as he could not allow the Communist industrialisation programme to appear flawed. In truth, there were many instances of machinery being broken and even exploding, but these were caused by an inexperienced, badly trained workforce.
The Terror did not end there, even those of the Communist elite were not safe from the deadly combination of Stalin's paranoia and ruthlessness. Facing growing opposition to many of his policies in 1932, even from those who had previously been loyal to him, it is thought that Stalin arranged the assassination of his protégé, Kirov, who many viewed as a genuine political threat to Stalin. Stalin used the assassination as a pretext to arrest many leading Communists, such as Kamenev and Zinoviev, who he did not entirely control. After brutal torture, they confessed to the murder of Kirov, along with hundreds of other crimes, all of which they were entirely innocent. They also implicated others in the plots, despite the details being absolutely ludicrous; the conspirators were said to have met in a hotel which had been demolished years before the alleged meeting, and at a time when one of the supposed plotters had actually been in prison. After confessing to their crimes, the "guilty" were executed immediately, ushering in the next wave of arrests and torture.
After eliminating all those not unquestionably loyal to him, Stalin turned his deadly gaze to the NKVD itself, purging all those who knew too much about the atrocities that Stalin had sanctioned. Yagoda, the leader of the NKVD during the Terror, was arrested, tortured, and put on trial, where he confessed and was executed.
Although official records are somewhat lacking, around 5,000 people were eventually executed for the murder of Kirov. Official documents do show at least 350,000 executions taking place in one year alone. The total death toll from the Terror is estimated at 750,000, with the majority being normal Russian people, but some estimates are far greater than this number, running into the millions in many cases.
The War Years
As war clouds rose over Europe in 1939, Stalin made a seemingly brilliant move, signing a nonaggression pact with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. Stalin was convinced of Hitler's integrity and ignored warnings from his military commanders that Germany was mobilizing armies on its eastern front. When the Nazi blitzkrieg struck in June 1941, the Soviet Army was completely unprepared and immediately suffered massive losses. Stalin was so distraught at Hitler's treachery that he hid in his office for several days. By the time Stalin regained his resolve, German armies occupied all of the Ukraine and Belarus, and its artillery surrounded Leningrad.
To make matters worse, the purges of the 1930s had depleted the Soviet Army and government leadership to the point where both were nearly dysfunctional. After heroic efforts on the part of the Soviet Army and the Russian people, the Germans were turned back at Stalingrad in 1943. By the next year, the Soviet Army was liberating countries in Eastern Europe, even before the Allies had mounted a serious challenge against Hitler at D-Day.
Stalin had been suspicious of the West since the inception of the Soviet Union. Ever since the Soviet Union had entered the war, Stalin had demanded the Allies open up a second front against Germany. Both British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt argued that such an action would result in heavy casualties. This only deepened Stalin's suspicion of the West, as millions of Russians died.
As the tide of war slowly turned in the Allies' favor, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill met with Joseph Stalin to discuss postwar arrangements. At the first of these meetings, in Tehran, Iran, in late 1943, the recent victory in Stalingrad put Stalin in a solid bargaining position. He demanded the Allies open a second front against Germany, which they agreed to in the spring of 1944. In February 1945, the three leaders met again at Yalta in the Crimea. With Soviet troops liberating countries in Eastern Europe, Stalin was again in a strong position and negotiated virtually a free hand in reorganizing their governments. He also agreed to enter the war against Japan once Germany was defeated.
The situation changed at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945. Roosevelt died that April and was replaced by President Harry S. Truman. British parliamentary elections had replaced Prime Minister Churchill with Clement Attlee as Britain's chief negotiator. By now, the British and Americans were suspicious of Stalin's intentions and wanted to avoid Soviet involvement in a postwar Japan. The dropping of two atomic bombs in August 1945 forced Japan's surrender before the Soviets could mobilize.
Convinced of the Allies' hostility toward the Soviet Union, Stalin became obsessed with the threat of an invasion from the West. Between 1945 and 1948, he established Communist regimes in many Eastern European countries, creating a vast "buffer zone" between Western Europe and "Mother Russia." Western powers interpreted these actions as proof of Stalin's desire to place Europe under Communist control, thus formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to counter Soviet influence. In 1948, Stalin ordered an economic blockade on the German city of Berlin, in hopes of gaining full control of the city. The Allies mounted a massive airlift, supplying the city and eventually forcing Stalin to back down.
Stalin suffered another foreign policy defeat after he encouraged North Korean Communist leader Kim Il Sung to invade South Korea, believing the United States would not interfere. Earlier, he had ordered the Soviet representative to the United Nations to boycott the Security Council because it refused to accept the newly formed Communist People's Republic of China into the United Nations. When the resolution to support South Korea came to a vote in the Security Council, the Soviet Union was unable to use its veto.
Though his popularity from his successes during World War II was strong, Stalin's health began to deteriorate in the early 1950s. After an alleged assassination plot was uncovered, he ordered the head of the secret police to instigate a new purge of the Communist Party and another Terror, with a focus on Jewish people. Before it could be executed, however, Stalin died on March 5, 1953. Like Lenin, he suffered a fatal stroke, but nobody dared to enter his room, where he had been heard to collapse, for over 24 hours, so scared were they of Stalin's wrath when he was interrupted. When he was eventually found, he was lying in a pool of his own excrement. Doctors were called, but they refused to treat Stalin, as they did not want to be held responsible for his death. He left a legacy of murder and terror as he transformed a backward nation into a one of the two world superpowers, a legacy that endures to this day.
After the Bolsheviks, now called the Communist Party of Soviet Russia, the CPSU, had emerged victorious from the Russian Civil War, they held complete power over Russia. At this point, in 1921, Stalin was a high ranking Communist official, holding the post of Commissar for Nationalities, but he was not widely respected by other high ranking officials, who still saw him as a simple thug.
In 1922, the post of General Secretary was created and offered by Lenin to many of the major Communists, such as Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Rykov and Tomsky. However, they all declined, believing that the post, which was mainly a simple administrative task, deciding upon who was able to join the Party at the lowest levels, was beneath them. Once all the leading Communists had rejected the post, it was offered to Stalin, who accepted, mainly for the large house that came with the post.
What nobody had realised, not even Lenin, was that the post gave Stalin exceptional power over the party machine, as the General Secretary could not only admit people to the CPSU, but remove them as well. As being in the Party came with a number of benefits, those in the Party wanted to stay in it, whilst those not in the Party wanted to get in. Therefore, whoever held the post of General Secretary had tremendous power over the Party, as it was the Party members who voted in the key debates of the Party, which ultimately determined who the Politburo, the main decision making body, was made up of.
Lenin, the undisputed leader of the Party, suffered a series of strokes in the early 1920s, before he died on January 21st, 1924. Lenin's death threw the Party into turmoil for the next 5 years as a struggle to take control of Russia raged. Trotsky, who had been instrumental in both the revolution of 1917 and the victory in the Civil War, emerged as the favourite to take up Lenin's mantle.
However, Trotsky was not well liked by the other leading Communists, being seen as too arrogant and as a possible dictator. Stalin played upon this, forming an alliance with Kamenev and Zinoviev, who were ideologically closer to Trotsky, on the more hard line Marxist left of the Party. This triumvirate were able to defeat Trotsky in the key debates that rocked the Party following the death of Lenin. This marginalized Trotsky, effectively removing him from contention for the leadership, thanks to Stalin being able to rely on those who he had let enter the Party to vote for him in the debates.
Stalin then attacked his allies, Kamenev and Zinoviev, claiming that their pure Marxist policies were not in the best interest of Russia. Again he was able to defeat them in the debates due to his command of the Party machine resulting from his position of General Secretary, removing more of the opposition. Finally, he turned on the relatively liberal members of the Party, Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky, who, once again, he defeated in the debates. By 1928, Stalin had won the power struggle and had emerged as the sole leader of the USSR.
This was not at all in line with the wishes of Lenin though, in fact, in his Testament, written in the two years before his death in 1924, Lenin proclaimed that "Stalin is too rude and this defect, although quite tolerable in our midst and in dealing among us Communists, becomes intolerable in a Secretary-General. That is why I suggest that the comrades think about a way of removing Stalin from that post and appointing another man in his stead who in all other respects differs from Comrade Stalin in having only one advantage, namely, that of being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite and more considerate to the comrades, less capricious". Instead, Lenin had argued for a collective leadership, made up of the leading Communists, the very people who Stalin had defeated in his quest for total control.
All was not well however, as the USSR remained a very backward country, far behind the advanced Western nations, such as Britain and the USA, both in industry and agriculture. The peasants, who still made up the majority of the Russian population, resented the Communist Government, and began to hide grain, which was desperately needed to export in return for foreign machinery needed to industrialise, to a point were another famine engulfed Russia. Stalin needed to act, quickly and dramatically if he was to stay in power...
On December 18, 1879, in the Russian peasant village of Gori, Georgia, Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili was born. He would become Joesph Stalin, one of the most influential leaders of human history, controlling a vast Communist Empire. As the son of Besarion Jughashvili, a heavy drinking and abusive cobbler, and Ketevan Geladze, a washerwoman, Joseph was a frail child. At age 7, two years after his father left to work in a factory in the capital of Georgia, he contracted smallpox, leaving his face permanently scarred. His left arm was left shorter than his right after a case of blood poisoning. The other village children treated him cruelly, instilling in him a sense of inferiority, which was exacerbated by his height; even when an adult, Stalin grew only to 5 foot 4 inches . Because of this, Stalin embarked upon a quest for greatness and respect. He also developed a cruel streak for those who crossed him.
Stalin's mother, a devout Russian Orthodox Christian, wanted him to become a priest. In 1888, she managed to enroll him in church school in Gori. Stalin excelled at school, despite gaining a reputation for being callous towards his classmates, and his efforts gained him a scholarship to Tiflis Theological Seminary in 1894, from where his mother hoped he would go on to become a Priest. A year later, Stain came in contact with Messame Dassy, a secret organization that supported Georgian independence from Russia. Some of the members were socialists who introduced him to the writings of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.
Though he excelled in seminary school, Stalin was expelled in 1899. Accounts differ as to the reason; official school records state he was unable to pay the tuition and withdrew. It's also speculated he was asked to leave due to his political views challenging the harsh Tsarist regime of Nicholas II. Stalin did not to return home, but stayed in Tiflis, devoting his time to the revolutionary movement. For a time, he found work as a tutor and later as a clerk at the Tiflis Observatory. In 1901, he joined the Social Democratic Labor Party and worked full-time for the revolutionary movement, seeking to achieve a Communist Revolution in Russia. In 1902, he was arrested for coordinating a labor strike and exiled to Siberia, the first of his many arrests and exiles in the fledgling years of the Russian Revolution. It was during this time that he adopted the name "Stalin," meaning steel in Russian. In 1903, in London the Social Democrats split into the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, meaning minority mean and majority men respectively. Stalin played no part in the split, but naturally gravitated toward the more radical Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin.
Though never a powerful speaker like Vladimir Lenin or an intellectual like Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin excelled in the mundane operations of the revolution, calling meetings, publishing leaflets and organizing strikes and demonstrations. After escaping from exile, as many did in the under the Tsarist regime, he was marked by the Tsar's secret police as an outlaw and continued his work in hiding, raising money through robberies, kidnappings and extortion. Stalin gained infamy being associated with the 1907 Tiflis bank robbery, which resulted in several people dying and 250,000 rubles being stolen (approximately £2 million). Despite being a good administrator, a loyal supporter and an excellent bank robber, Stalin was not regarded very highly by the Bolshevik elite, he was seen as simply a common thug.
In February 1917, the Russian Revolution began after the population grew tired of the First World War and the severe grain shortages it caused. This revolution was entirely spontaneous and was not all planned by any political group. By March, the Tsar had abdicated the throne and was placed under house arrest. For a time, the revolutionaries supported a provisional Government, believing a smooth transition of power was possible. In April 1917, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin denounced the provisional Government upon his return to the Finland Station in St. Petersburg, arguing that the people should rise up and take control by seizing land from the rich and factories from the industrialists. In November of that year, a small Bolshevik force seized control of key areas in the capital, such as train stations and communication centres, before going on to storm the Winter Palace, home to the provisional Government. In truth, the provisional Government was exceptionally weak, and any group set on taking power from them would have been able to do so. Although this revolution was meticulously planned by the Bolsheviks, Stalin played no part in the seizure of power or the planning of the revolution, which was done mainly by Leon Trotsky.
After a public outcry, the Bolsheviks were forced to hold open, democratic elections the following year, after pulling Russia out of the First World War. These elections remain the most democratic elections to ever take place in Russia. The Bolsheviks did not emerge victorious, but forcibly closed down the first assembly of the elected delegates, seizing all power themselves. A Civil War ensued, with the Bolsheviks facing many different opposition groups, including troops from Britain, France and the US, sent to stop the spread of Communism before it was able to take a foothold in the world.
The Communists, after three years of bitter fighting, during which the Tsar and his entire family were executed, were able to defeat the assembled opposition, largely thanks to Leon Trotsky, who became the dynamo of the Communist Party at this time, his reputation eclipsing that of even Lenin for a time. Stalin's stock within the Party also rose during this time, but he was still seen as merely an administrator, whilst he was now amongst the Communist elite on the Politburo, the ruling body of the Party, he was not expected to progress much further and did not hold major posts within the Government. However, after an oversight by those around him, this was all set to change...