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Stalin – hero or villain?

By Talia Klein Perez
 Getty Images: Hulton Archive
Born to a poor family and rising to the position of leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph’s Stalin is one of the 20th Century’s most influential personalities. He is also one of the period’s most criticized leaders. With a name meaning “Man of Steel,” Stalin has been decried as Hitler-esque, but has also been hailed as the savior who freed Europe from Hitler’s murderous regime.
We will delve back in time and list three reasons proving that Stalin is a villain and three reasons evidencing his heroism.


Three reasons why Stalin is a villain


He forced labor on the Soviet people

Stalin introduced the Gulag to the Soviet Union – the country’s system of forced labor camps. This was one of the harshest forced labor camps known to man and has since been broadened to represent the entire Soviet forced labor penal system. Stalin used the Gulag to advance his agricultural collectivisation and industrial revolution plans. He held the threat of being sent to the Gulag against anyone who stood in his way. Millions of prisoners were sent to engage in unskilled, inefficient manual labor in unsanitary environments under harsh weather conditions, in exchange for pitiful food rations. At least ten percent of those imprisoned in the Gulags died as a result of harsh labor and neglect.


His ‘Five Year Plans’ killed millions

Stalin felt that the Soviet Union was decades behind the world’s advanced countries and was determined to bridge this gap by rapid industrialization. He launched three “Five Year Plans” in an attempt to keep his homeland from falling to a Western country. Yet, the program of collectivisation and food quotas meant to ensure factory workers had what to eat so they could help the country advance had horrific consequences. Many people of the Kulak (wealthy) class were imprisoned and sent off to engage in forced labor, while peasants simply starved to death. All in all, Stalin’s “Five Year Plans” and collectivisation schemes cost the Soviet Union 6 million lives.


He ruled by totalitarian control

Joseph Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist. He was hated and feared as a dictator, governing with totalitarian control in an attempt to appease his paranoias and cling to power.  Stalin knew his country was weak, poor and behind the times. As such, he adopted ideas from other well-known leaders, like Marx’s view of a classless society and Lenin’s communist aspirations, using the ideologies to justify a de facto reign of terror. He abolished freedom of the press and began executing, imprisoning and firing officials, writers and philosophers who dared speak out against him. He simultaneously denied access to information or cultural influences from the West.


Three reasons why Stalin is a hero


He turned the Soviet Union into a world superpower

One of the main reasons Stalin launched the ‘second economic revolution’ of 1928-1941 was his desire to build a socialist economic system and turn the Soviet Union into a great power. And though highly criticized, the “Five Year Plans” established to achieve this goal shifted the country’s economy from one that was predominantly agricultural to one that was based in industrial production. The plans eventually lead to increased output and great economic development.


He defeated the Nazis

The popular belief among Western (American) society is that the United States won the Second World War, citing battles at Normandy and Iwo Jima as proof. Yet, it is Russia, then known as the Soviet Union, who defeated Hitler and liberated Europe from the Nazi regime. Stalin’s Russia served as “the main engine of Nazism’s destruction,” according to British historian and journalist Max Hastings in “Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945.” The Red Army paid the harshest price of all the world’s armies for its involvement in WWII: approximately 26 million Soviet citizens died during the war, including as many as 11 million Red soldiers. The Soviets simultaneously cost Germany three-quarters of their wartime losses.


He raised the standard of living in the Soviet Union

Despite the severity of the methods used, Stalin’s efforts ultimately raised the standard of living for the Soviet people. By increasing the use of modern technologies throughout the Soviet Union, Stalin was able to make energy sources much more readily available to the country’s people. His “Electrification” plans saw energy as a force that could reconfigure the sociopolitical order. Stalin harnessed this knowledge, to make energy (electricity in particular) more accessible to the public, in the comfort of their own homes.

The bottom line: Stalin ruled the former Soviet Union with an uncompromising totalitarian agenda, thrusting the Soviet people into poverty, misery and untimely death. Yet he did this to better the country and turn it into the global superpower of today. What do you think, was Stalin a national hero, or was he a villain?


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