This week marks the 70-year anniversary of the funeral of Joseph Stalin, the Marxist dictator who led the Soviet Union during World War II and the height of its terror state.
Stalin, who followed in Vladmir Lenin’s bloody footsteps, suffered a stroke and died at his Kuntsevo Daach on March 5, 1953. He was 74. A state funeral in Moscow took place days later—on March 9—and in typical Soviet fashion, even the funeral turned into a disaster. When hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens turned out to “pay their respects” (more likely they were afraid to draw attention of state police for not attending; the level of fear and paranoia in the USSR was high, as the below clip from the 2017 film The Death of Stalin comically shows), a human crush formed, killing hundreds of people, perhaps thousands.
“The Soviets suppressed the news,” Vanity Fair reported decades later.
It was a tragic but fitting end to Stalin’s gruesome reign.
Soviet historians would later estimate that some 20 million civilians died under Stalin’s regime from famine, executions, forced collectivization, and in labor camps.
Despite these atrocities, Reuters recently ran an article exploring Stalin’s “mixed” legacy in the nations he once terrorized.
"Why should I have a bad attitude towards [Stalin]?" a Moscow resident identified only as Andrei told Reuters, explaining the Soviet dictator should be lauded because of his war-time achievements.
Readers of course can determine for themselves whether Stalin was a Communist hero or an evil tyrant. While we believe the historical record speaks for itself, here are some (sourced) quotes from Uncle Joe himself that might help readers decide what kind of man Joseph Stalin truly was.
- “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?” -as quoted in Quotations for Public Speakers: A Historical, Literary, and Political Anthology by Robert G. Torricelli
- “Death is the solution to all problems. No man, no problem.” -The New York Times, 1989
- “Gratitude is an illness suffered by dogs.” -as quoted in Stalin’s Secret War (1981) by Nikolai Tolstoy
- “I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this—who will count the votes, and how.” -said in 1923, as quoted in The Memoirs of Stalin's Former Secretary (text in online Russian)
- “Education is a weapon, the effect of which is determined by the hands which wield it, by who is to be struck down.”-interview with H. G. Wells, 1934
- “The press must grow day in and day out — it is our Party's sharpest and most powerful weapon.” -speech at The Twelfth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.), April 19, 1923
- “The Communists base themselves on rich historical experience which teaches that obsolete classes do not voluntarily abandon the stage of history.” -interview with H. G. Wells, 1934
- “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”-Quote Investigator
- “[T]o assert that we want to make a revolution in other countries, to interfere in their lives, means saying what is untrue, and what we have never advocated.” -Stalin in an interview with Roy Howard, president of Scripps-Howard Newspapers, three years before he agreed with Hitler to invade Poland
- “Gaiety is the most outstanding feature of the Soviet Union.”-Stalin in 1935 (the quote, uttered without irony, would later inspire a popular Soviet art exhibition)
“There is no actual starvation, or deaths from starvation…[T]o put it brutally, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” -This quote is commonly misattributed to Stalin, but it actually belongs to Stalin sympathizer Walter Duranty of The New York Times, who uttered these words in March 1933, at the height of the Ukrainian Holodomor, a manmade famine that killed millions.