Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)
The man who turned the Soviet Union from a backward country into a world superpower at unimaginable human cost. Stalin was born into a dysfunctional family in a poor village in Georgia. Permanently scarred from a childhood bout with smallpox and having a mildly deformed arm, Stalin always felt unfairly treated by life, and therefore developed a strong, romanticized desire for greatness and respect, combined with a sharp streak of calculating cold-heartedness towards those who had maligned him. He always felt a sense of inferiority before educated intellectuals, and particularly distrusted them.
In 1922, Stalin was appointed to another such post, as General Secretary of the Communist Party's Central Committee. Stalin understood that "cadres are everything": if you control the personnel, you control the organization. He shrewdly used his new position to consolidate power in exactly this way--by controlling all appointments, setting agendas, and moving around Party staff in such a way that eventually everyone who counted for anything owed their position to him.
By the time the Party's intellectual core realized what had happened, it was too late. Stalin had his (mostly mediocre) people in place, while Lenin, the only person with the moral authority to challenge him, was on his deathbed and incapable of speech after a series of strokes, and besides, Stalin even controlled who had access to the leader. The General Secretary of the Party became the de facto leader of the country right on up until Mikhail Gorbachev.
Driven by his own sense of inferiority, which he projected onto his country as a whole, Stalin pursued an economic policy of mobilizing the entire country to achieve the goal of rapid industrialization, so that it could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Capitalist powers. To this end, he forcefully collectivized agriculture (one of the Bolsheviks'...