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History's Happenings for November 12

Stalin Takes Over Russia

Josef Stalin

Following the Bolshevik Revolution of November 7, 1917, Russia was anything but unified. Not only were there power struggles among the new "soviets" spread around the country, but civil war broke out almost immediately between the new Communist central government, and the outgoing conservatives and monarchists.

And then there was the fiercely independent Caucasus, where Georgians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis just weren't into Communism or Soviet rule.

At the head of the Bolsheviks' efforts to stem the tide of such nationalist nonsense was their new Commissar for Nationalities, one Josef Stalin.

Born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili of peasant stock in Imperial Georgia in 1879, Stalin joined the militant Bolshevik Party soon after its split from the somewhat milder Mensheviks in the early 1900's. Arrested several times for crimes against the state, he gradually became a protégé of Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin, finding a seat on the party's Central Committee in 1912.

When the monarchy tumbled in March, 1917, Stalin went to St. Petersburg where he took control of the Communist Party newspaper, Pravda. He didn't play an important role in the Bolshevik Revolution that October, but arrived on the other side with the important Nationalities commisariat, as well as a position on the Council of People's Commissars.

The bloody Civil War ended with the Bolsheviks' defeat of the White Russian forces in 1921, and mass murder in the Caucasus engineered by Stalin had forced the three provinces to accept the Russian boot.

By 1922, Stalin held not only the post of Commissar for State Control -- a curiously ominous title -- but was also elected as General Secretary of the Communist Party. With Lenin still in firm control of the State, this position did not give him the raw power that would come later, but most assuredly did provide a power base on which to build.

For his part, Lenin had come to have reservations about Stalin's heavy-handed methods and, shortly before his death, had advised against his further elevation. When Lenin finally died in 1924, Stalin was able to suppress his benefactor's final opinions and begin the manipulations that would bring him to absolute power.

Stalin's handling of the Polish War of 1920-21 had created a rift with Soviet Minister of War and long-time Bolshevik thinker Leon Trotsky. Now in 1924 Stalin formed a ruling coalition that left Trotsky out in the cold. When Stalin turned on his new partners, they joined with Trotsky to form an opposition to Stalin's left. It was the defeat of this coalition, and the expulsion of Trotsky from the Party, that marks -- as clearly as possible -- Stalin's assumption of formal power in November, 1927.

Still ruling with a coalition, Stalin again turned on his partners in 1928 and, by 1930 had eliminated all competition for power. From that point onward, until his death in 1953, Stalin ruled as the absolute dictator of the Soviet Union, supported by such madmen as secret police commissars Nikolai Yezhov and Lavrenty Beria, whose penchants for trumped-up charges, exquisite tortures and quick executions kept the masses in line.

Perhaps it was knowledge of his own path to power that drove Stalin's fanatical insecurity. During his reign he carried out innumerable purges of the top leadership, both civilian and military. When Russia entered the War in 1941, the top command of the Army was totally inept, its experienced leaders having been shot for imagined crimes against the State during the 30's.

A similar fate befell successive waves of insiders, as officialdom at every level was continually turned over by phony charges and secret police bullets in the neck. ("Getting it in the neck" became a common colloquialism for getting rid of a problem.)

Stalin also had his own answer to inadequate food production. When his plan to force all peasants onto state-controlled collective farms failed to produce the needed food, he simply let them starve. Those that resisted were shot.

Nor was he done with his old nemesis Trotsky. In 1940, uneasy at Trotsky's continued writings against his regime, Stalin arranged for him to be murdered in his home near Mexico City.

All tolled, estimates for Stalin-era deaths due to purges, starvation, slave labor camps and murder in the countryside extend well into the tens of millions -- a record of genocide that exceeds even Adolf Hitler's.

Birth of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton with daughter, 1856

Along with Susan B. Anthony the prime mover behind the women's suffrage movement and the eventual Nineteenth Amendment, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born on November 12, 1815 in Johnstown, NY.

Stanton's earliest efforts were on behalf of the abolitionist and temperance movements in the 1830's. In 1848 she helped organize the Seneca Falls (NY) Convention on Women's Rights, which issued a declaration on the subject modeled after the Declaration of Independence. From that point onward her focus was women's rights.

In 1851 she began a 50-year partnership with Susan B. Anthony which included the publication of a weekly paper called Revolution and the foundation of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Their efforts resulted in the introduction, in 1878, of a constitutional amendment providing for women's suffrage. The amendment was continually reintroduced until it passed in 1920.

Unfortunately, Stanton's rather radical views on a variety of other issues, including divorce, reproductive rights and religion, eventually alienated her from the mainstream movement. She died in 1902.

Naval Battle of Guadalcanal Begins

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Key Jap Officers Sentenced to Hang

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Ellis Island Closes After 62 Years

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