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Joseph Stalin Facts

Joseph Stalin was leader of the Soviet Union between 1922 and 1953. He followed Vladimir Lenin as Soviet leader, and was the first General Secretary of the USSR’s Central Committee.

This article contains a number of interesting Joseph Stalin facts that you may find helpful in learning about Stalin, or for teaching about Stalin.

Joseph Stalin trained as a priest

Joseph Stalin was a talented but rebellious child and, when he was 16, was awarded a scholarship to attend a seminary. He was expelled in 1899, aged 20. Reasons for his expulsion differ – some say that, despite being a talented pupil, he missed examinations, others say that he wasn’t able to pay his tuition fees. The official Soviet record, naturally, didn’t address either of these theories, preferring the argue that he was expelled because he was caught reading illegal communist pamphlets.

Picture of Joseph StalinJoseph Stalin was Georgian, not Russian

Stalin’s birth name was Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughasvili. He was born on 1878 in the town of Gori, in Georgia. Despite his upbringing, he became a Russian nationalist in his early 20s, and then a Marxist.

Stalin was exiled to Siberia seven times

It was in Siberia that Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughasvili changed his name to Joseph Stalin. In Russia, Stalin means man of steel. Stalin suffered a damaged arm as a child, and was judged unfit to serve in the Russian military – perhaps this contributed to his choice of name.

How many people did Stalin kill?

That Stalin was a brutal leader with no respect for individual human life is not in doubt. What isn’t clear is how many were killed under Stalin’s leadership. Estimates of the death count vary between 3 and 60 million. You can read more about how many people Stalin killed in our companion article.

Stalin Height

In an attempt to bolster Stalin’s Cult of Personality and his image as a strong man, many efforts were made to subliminally persuade people that Stalin was taller than he actually was – for example, photographs of Stalin were often shot from slightly below. In actuality, although he was not a tall man, Stalin’s height is not accurately known. It is likely that he was approximately 5’5″ tall, slightly taller than today’s President Dmitry Medvedev (you can read more about Dmitry Medvedev’s height here.)

Stalin was assassinated (probably)

Actually, this isn’t a fact – but it’s quite possible that Stalin was assassinated. His death in 1953 was generally attributed to a stroke, which given his poor health over the preceding decade was not implausible. However, a 2003 study indicates that Stalin had actually taken, or been given, warfarin (rat poison).

Russia today has mixed feelings about Stalin

There is a lot of nostalgia in Russia today about the Soviet era, and particularly about Stalin’s leadership. He is seen by many as a great, decisive leader, who steered the Soviet Union through the most brutal and dangerous conflict of its history, the Second World War. More than one in three Russians reported in a recent poll that they would vote for Stalin if he were alive today. However, current Russian President has denounced those who try to rehabilitate his image.

More about Stalin

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more about Stalin, you may enjoy reading some of these books about Stalin, available at

You might also enjoy some of our other articles about this former Soviet leader. We have articles containing Stalin Pictures and an article containing Battle of Stalingrad facts which follows a similar format to this article.

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