One of the most powerful and murderous dictators in human history, Stalin was the supreme ruler of the Soviet Union for a quarter of a century. His regime of terror caused the death and suffering of tens of millions of his subjects, but he was also in charge of the war machine that played a significant role in the defeat of Hitler's armies during World War II. A Georgian by birth, Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili grew up in modest circumstances and only learned Russian at school. He studied at a theological seminary but never graduated, instead embarking on a life as a professional revolutionary. This included robbing banks to fill the Bolshevik party chest and spending years in Siberian exile. Stalin was not one of the decisive players in the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917, but he soon rose in the ranks. In 1922 he was made General Secretary of the Communist Party, a post which was not considered particularly significant at the time but nevertheless became the base from which he launched his bid for supreme power. After Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin promoted himself as his political heir and gradually outmanoeuvred rivals. Unlike Trotsky, Stalin believed that socialism could be introduced in one country without being accompanied by a world revolution. By the late 1920s, Stalin was effectively the dictator of the Soviet Union. His forced collectivisation of agriculture cost million of lives, while his industrialisation programme made his country militarily strong but provided little material welfare for its citizens. Moreover, the population suffered immensely during the Great Terror of the 1930s, during which Stalin and his henchmen purged the Party of 'enemies of the people' and sent millions to the Gulag system of slave labour camps. The purges severely depleted the Red Army officer corps, and despite many warnings, Stalin was ill prepared for Hitler's massive attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. His political future hung in the balance, but he recovered to lead his country to victory. As usual with Stalin, the human cost was enormous, but that mattered little to him. His general disregard for human lives included his own family - his eldest son perished in German captivity, his second wife committed suicide, and many in-laws were caught up in the terror. After World War II, the Soviet Union entered the nuclear age and ruled over an empire which included most of Eastern Europe. Increasingly paranoid, Stalin himself became a victim of the fear he had induced in his subjects. Having suffered a stroke at night, he lay helpless on his floor for many hours, because no one dared disturb him. He died on 5 March 1953. A large part of the Soviet population reacted to his death with hysterical grief, but soon his former comrades-in-arms denounced his policies of terror and persecution. Today, Stalinism is a symbol of totalitarian rule and limitless personal power. His birth home in Gori forms part of the Stalin Museum, a bizarre and somewhat eerie Soviet monument to one of history's most bloodthirsty tyrants.