Today marks the 50'th aniversary of the death af Joseph Stalin (1879-1953).
Today's revision of history (a concept invented by Stalin himself in the 1930's when he had communist party leaders who had fallen from grace retouched from official photographs) celebrates the fall of the eastern block by presenting Stalin as a far worse dictator and mass murderer than even Hitler (who referred to Stalin af the true master of dictatorship and to himself as a mere novice by comparison).
Many sighs of relief went out when Stalin died, an upcoming purge of jewish elements in Soviet Russia was cancelled, and men and women who had spent many years in the prison camps of Siberia could now be freed. And some perhaps be told why they were sent there in the first place...
Others however were genuinely upset by the death of Stalin, people wept openly and even today 70% of Russians believe Stalin did mainly good things.
To the generation who saw the revolution in 1917, Stalin was the beast who turned the hope of a workers paradise on earth into the nightmare of totalitarianism with it's bureaucracy, secret police informants (an "heirloom" from Tsarist Russia as was the prison camps in Siberia were the same police once sent the young Stalin), oppression of all political views not adhering firmly to the party-line (as set by Stalin), colossal industries producing magnificent weapons and allmost useless commodities, etc, etc.
To the generation of World War II, he was the Man of Steel (the meaning of the word "Stalin" in russian), the stalwart leader who lead the Red Army into victory over Hitlers forces and turned the outcome of the war (forgetting the execution of hundreds of The Red Army's leading officers in the 1930's which had a major influence on the terrible disasters of 1941 when literally millions of russian troops were killed or captured and saw the german tanks within 30 miles of Moscow).
Even to many non-communists Stalin was "Uncle Joe" who kept fighting the Nazis and gave hope of their destruction. When World War II ended communist were popular in the former occupied countries, not because of their ideology but because they were among the few who had not collaborated with either the Italian, Japanese or German occupiers.
To the post-war generation communists he was the living god, larger than life and the embodyment of the Communist Block, as long as Stalin was at the helm the course was set for communism in the continued fight against capitalist/imperialist America, capitalist/fascist Western Germany, capitalist lackays (the social-democrats and euro-communists) and the general exploitation of the working class.
In Stalin's world there would be no such thing as "other paths" as both the East Germans, Hungarians and later the Czechs would learn the hard way. Eastern Europe belonged to Stalin's Russia where it was to form a "buffer-zone" if - once again- Russia was to be attacked from the west.
Stalins death saw the beginning of the Krutchev era where many of the crimes of Stalin was exposed and world communism was divided into hardcore Stalinists who wanted to continue the doctrines of Stalin and those who wanted a more moderate aproach, a "Socialism with a human face" as Czech party leader Alexander Dubçek said in 1968 (also purged by the Russians).
Given the turbulent age Stalin lived in and the huge powers he controlled and opposed, combined with the veil of myth, propaganda and enigma surrounding him it will probably be many years before anyone can create a clear and un-biased view of him and his era, but here are a few links about him:
From the BBC
CNN profile on Stalin
You can't blame Stalin for everything, by Fidel Castro
A view from The Progressive Labour Party (long...and give new meaning to the term "seventies revival")