SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.48 issue2Some philological remarks on the provenance, nature and genre of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus' Meditations"Myth" reviewed as a concept in the human sciences author indexsubject indexarticles search
Home Pagealphabetic serial listing  

Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751

Tydskr. geesteswet. vol.48 n.2 Pretoria  2008


Josef Stalin (1878-1953) se fisiese en psigiese gesondheid


Joseph Stalin's (1878-1953) physical and psychological health



Francois RetiefI; André WesselsII

INavorsingsgenoot, Departement Engels en Klassieke Kultuur, Universiteit van die Vrystaat
IIDepartement Geskiedenis, Universiteit van die Vrystaat




In hierdie studie word Josef Stalin se siektegeskiedenis onder die loep geneem en word sowel sy fisiese as psigiese gesondheidstoestande geëvalueer. Stalin was nie net vir sowat 25 jaar die absolute heerser in die destydse Sowjet-Unie nie, maar inderdaad die mees absolute diktator wat die wêreld in die loop van die twintigste eeu opgelewer het. Ook as internasionale rolspeler het hy in die aanloop tot en tydens die Tweede Wêreldoorlog groot invloed uitgeoefen, en na afloop van die stryd die gebeure tydens die eerste jare van die Koue Oorlog medebepaal. Gevolglik is dit nodig dat sy gesondheid (of gebrek aan gesondheid) histories geëvalueer word ten einde vas te stel in welke mate dit sy besluite en optrede (kon) beïnvloed het. Van die gevolgtrekkings waartoe gekom word, is dat Stalin se ongesonde lewenstyl sy fisiese gesondheid negatief beïnvloed het, en dat hy 'n versteurde psige gehad het, tipies van 'n psigopatiese persoonlikheid, en met kenmerke van sadisme, grootheidswaan en paranoia.

Trefwoorde: Stalin, Sowjet-Unie, siektegeskiedenis, totalitarisme, suiweringsveldtogte, Tweede Wêreldoorlog, leierskap, geestesgesondheid, fisiese gesondheid


Joseph Stalin was one of the greatest dictators of the 20th century. In many respects he was an unlikely ruler - of short stature, with an unimpressive physical appearance, little charisma or spontaneous enthusiasm, and a mediocre speaker. But for some 25 years he succeeded in ruling the Soviet Union with a ruthless policy based on terror and repression. During this time, nearly 40 million Russians died during the Second World War, and a further 20 million in peace time. When he died in 1953, there were approximately 7,5 million exiles in the correctional labour camps (Gulags). Yet, during his lifetime he was hailed by his rank and file countrymen as a wise founder of the Soviet State and its defender against international imperialism and capitalism. It is probably true to say that, in retrospect, he succeeded in dealing practical Marxism a lethal blow.
His career is traced from very humble origins in Georgia. Born in 1878 he was educated in a local church school. His subsequent studies at a theological seminary were aborted by his conversion to revolutionary socialism, and eventually Bolshevism. After a chequered career as revolutionary, often prisoner of the Tsarist authorities, but also a secret agent for the Tsarist Secret Police, he joined the 1917 revolution as a relatively minor official. By way of ingenious powerplay he managed to promote himself to the position of Lenin's successor after the latter's death in 1924. By 1928 he had become the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union, which he remained until his death. Through ruthless methods of absolute totalitarianism based on repression and fear, he launched two successive five-year programmes of radical socialist industrialisation and collective farming. This led to large-scale starvation and suffering among the kulak farmers in particular - 10 million of them had died by 1933. In his subsequent "Great Purge" Stalin rid himself of the majority of his erstwhile party comrades, as well as senior officers in the Soviet army. After a near catastrophic devastation of Russia during the Second World War, Stalin emerged more powerful than ever in 1945. The last eight years of his life, however, were an anticlimax, characterized by progressive deterioration of his health and mental abilities, although he still launched purges of suspected opponents, up to his death.
Stalin's illnesses are reviewed, starting with childhood diseases and accidents, leading, inter alia, to a shortened and disabled left arm, and a pock-marked face. In later life he had typhus, pulmonary tuberculosis, appendicitis, severe dental caries, recurrent tonsillitis, a probable irritable colon syndrome and possibly gall bladder pathology. Vague rheumatic pains were cured by hydrotherapy. In his early fifties ischaemic heart disease and hypertension were diagnosed, but Stalin refused all regular therapy, and in time developed a total distrust of doctors. He persisted with an unhealthy sedentary lifestyle, excessive eating, the drinking of mainly wine, heavy smoking of a pipe and cigarettes. The latter he stopped in 1952. From the middle 1940s he experienced repeated episodes of minor cerebro-vascular insufficiency, and progressive memory loss. He died of a massive left-sided cerebral haemorrhage on 5 March 1953.
Stalin's disturbed psyche was almost certainly not due to a true psychosis like paranoia or schizophrenia. It is suggested that he rather suffered from a complex psychopathic personality, possibly partly based on childhood victimization by a ruthless father, and strong elements of narcissism, sadism, megalomania and paranoia. He had an uncanny and ruthless ability to manipulate people, which enabled him to maintain absolute authority by means of fear and terror. He was married twice, and had many illicit affairs which usually involved a minimum of emotional interplay. The suggestion that he was bisexual is almost certainly untrue.

Key concepts: Stalin, Soviet Union, medical history, totalitarianism, purges, World War II, leadership, mental health, physical health


Full text available only in PDF format. 



1 T.H. Rigby, Stalin (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1966), p. 1.
2 W. Laquer, Stalin: the Glastnost revelations (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1990), pp. 1-5; A. Antonov-Ovseyenko, The time of Stalin: portrait of tyranny (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1983), pp. vii-xv.
3 S. Davies en J. Harris, Stalin: new history (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 1-17.
4 A. Neumayr, Dictators: Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin (Bloomington: Medi-Ed Press, 1995), p. 423.
5 M. Kun, Stalin: an unknown portrait (Budapest: CEV Press, 2003), pp. 8-19; H.M. Hyde, Stalin: the story of a dictator (New York: Da Capo Press, 1971), pp. 11-20; R. Service, Stalin: a biography (London: McMillan, 2004), pp. 17.
6 Service, pp. 17, 24-26.
7 Hyde, pp. 20-22; Service, pp. 19-21.
8 B. Taylor, "Josef Stalin: a medical case history" in Maryland State Medical Journal 14(11), p. 38.
9 R.A. Medvedev, On Stalin and Stalinism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 1-4; Hyde, pp. 1-2.
10 D. Rayfield, Stalin and his hangmen (London: Penguin Books, 2004), pp. 9-11; Hyde, p. 21.
11 I. Grey, Stalin (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1979), pp. 9-11.
12 Kun, p. 12.
13 Hyde, pp. 25-33; Rayfield, pp. 11-13.
14 Kun, p. 5.
15 R. Brackman, The secretfile of Joseph Stalin (London: Frank Cass, 2001), pp. 11-13.
16 Hyde, pp. 32-33.
17 L. Fischer, The life and death of Stalin (London: Jonathan Cape, 1953), pp. 68-69; Grey, pp. 11-13.
18 Hyde, pp. 35-36.
19 Fischer, p. 69.
20 Brackman, p. 9.
21 Hyde, pp. 59-60, 91; Rayfield, pp. 29-30.
22 E. Radzinsky, Stalin (London: Hodder & Staughton, 1996), p. 47.
23 Rayfield, pp. 28-32; Hyde, pp. 60-103.
24 Hyde, p. 96; Brackman, pp. 17, 186-193.
25 Rigby, p. 12; Rayfield, p. 37.
26 Hyde, pp. 40, 74-75, 123; Lacquer, p. 8.
27 Rayfield, pp. 42-43; Rigby, pp. 69-72.
28 Lacquer, p. 9; F.B. Randall, Stalin's Russia (New York: Free Press, 1965), p. 15; Hyde, pp. 153-163.
29 Hyde, pp. 153-163, 168, 260; Fischer, pp. 70-76; S.S. Montefiore, Stalin: court of the Red Tsar (New York: Alfred Knoph, 2004), pp. 106-107.
30 Rayfield, p. 416; Hyde, pp. 254-258.
31 Hyde, pp. 256-259.
32 Ibid., p. 183.
33 O. Figes, A people's tragedy (London: Pimlico, 1996), pp. 758-807; Rayfield, pp. 118-120.
34 Rayfield, pp. 72-74, 120-124.
35 Hyde, pp. 184-213.
36 A. Bullock, Hitler and Stalin, parallel lives (London: Fontana Press, 1991), pp. 196-228.
37 R.D. Warth, "Leon Trotsky" in M. Parry (red.), Chambers biographical dictionary (Edinburgh: Chambers, 1997), p. 1849.
38 Service, pp. 80, 107; Fischer, p. 76.
39 Hyde, pp. 272-282; Rayfield, p. 185.
40 Hyde, pp. 280-287, 295-296, 335-378; Rayfield, pp. 285-330.
41 Hyde, pp 295-296, 326.
42 Ibid., pp. 280-287, 335-378.
43 Rayfield, p. 239.
44 Hyde, pp. 300-313.
45 Rayfield, p. 362.
46 Bullock, pp. 661-669.
47 Medvedev, p. 148; Rayfield, p. 297.
48 Rayfield, pp. 195, 261-164, 359-362.
49 M. Ebon, Svetlana (New York: Signet, 1967), p. 92; Hyde, p. 435.
50 Hyde, pp. 435-490.
51 Rayfield, pp. 395-396.
52 Bullock, pp. 839-866.
53 Rayfield, pp. 387-389.
54 Hyde, pp. 491-545; Bullock, pp. 969-981.
55 Rigby, p. 83.
56 Neumayr, p. 426.
57 Rayfield, pp. 44-46.
58 Laquer, pp. 11, 18; Randall, pp. 286-287.
59 Montefiore, pp. 513-514.
60 Rayfield, pp. 403, 422; Randall, pp. 286-287; Bullock, p. 983-985.
61 Brackman, p. 368; Bullock, pp. 1005-1019.
62 Rayfield, pp. 309-413; Ebon, pp. 92-93; Hyde, pp. 449-546.
63 Hyde, pp. 549-550.
64 Ibid., pp. 577-579; Rayfield, pp. 423-425.
65 Hyde, pp. 569-570.
66 Antonov-Ovseyenko, pp. 301-302; Grey, p. 461.
67 Rayfïeld, pp. 430-435; Hyde, p. 573.
68 A.B. Ulan, Stalin: the man and his era (London: Allen Lane, 1974), p. 721.
69 Brackman, p. 385; Hyde, pp. 577-590.
70 Ebon, pp. 91-93; R. Hïngley, Joseph Stalin: man and legend (New York: McGraw Hïll, 1974), pp. 416-417; Servïce, pp. 71-72.
71 Medvedev, p. 155.
72 Antonov-Ovseyenko, pp. 301-302.
73 Rayfïeld, p. 436; Bullock, pp. 1048-1049.
74 Taylor, pp. 44-45; Rïchardson, pp. 250-253.
75 Hyde, pp. 591-592.
76 Ebon, p. 103.
77 R. Rïchardson, The long shadow (London: Lïttle, Brown & Co., 1993), pp. 250-253.
78 Medvedev, pp. 158-159.
79 Hyde, p. 593; Grey, p. 462.
80 Hyde, pp. 593-594; Servïce, pp. 582-584.
81 Servïce, pp. 582-584; Montefïore, p. 638.
82 Neumayr, pp. 427-428; Servïce, pp. 582-590; Hyde, pp. 593-599.
83 A.L. Mïasnïkov, "The end" in Soviet Review 32(1), 1991, pp. 84-92; Hyde, pp. 594-595.
84 Neumayr, p. 427; Servïce, pp. 582-587; Hyde, pp. 595-596.
85 Hyde, p. 595.
86 Ebon, p. 91.
87 Hyde, pp. 595-596; Mïasnïkov, pp. 87-90.
88 Hyde, pp. 496-597.
89 Mïasnïkov, pp. 90-92; Medvedev, p. 160.
90 Hyde, p. 596.
91 Servïce, p. 590; Hyde, pp. 597-599.
92 Laquer, pp. 1-5; Rayfïeld, pp. 443-446; Hyde, pp. 600-604.
93 Antonov-Ovseyenko, p. ix.
94 Rayfield, pp. 442-443, 447-453.
95 Hyde, p. 605.
96 R.C. Tucker en A. de Jonge, "Stalin, Joseph" in Parry (red.), p. 1742.
97 Neumayr, pp. 429-433; D. Rancour-Laferriere, The mind of Stalin (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1988), p. 56.
98 Hyde, p. 23.
99 Rayfïeld, p. 28; Radzmski, p. 30.
100 Medvedev, pp. 1-4; Neumayr, p. 434.
101 Fischer, pp. 68-69.
102 Brackman, pp. 11-13,17, 186-193.
103 Rayfield, p. 239; Hyde, pp. 300-313.
104 Neumayr, pp. 429-437.
105 Rayfield, pp. 29-30.
106 Hyde, pp. 254-258; Rancour-Laferriere, pp. 100-101.
107 Rayfield, pp. 44-45; Rancour-Laferriere, pp. 101-102.
108 Medvedev, p. 5; Neumayr, p. 437.
109 Rigby, pp. 75-77.
110 Neumayr, pp. 436-437.
111 Medvedev, p. 150.
112 Rayfield, p. 390.
113 Kun, p. 4.
114 Service, p. 236.
115 Rancour-Laferriere, pp. 94-95, 100.
116 Rayfield, p. 158.
117 Neumayr, pp. 438-439; Radzïnsky, p. 310.
118 Rayfield, p. 40.
119 Neumayr, p. 423.
120 Hingley, p. 4; Rayfïeld, pp. 6, 9, 29.
121 Hyde, p. 21.
122 Brackman, pp. 6-7.
123 Hyde, pp. 20-21.
124 Richardson, p. 52; Brackman, pp. 7-8.
125 Radzinski, p. 61.
126 Hyde, p. 21.
127 Neumayr, p. 424.
128 Hyde, p. 21.
129 Neumayr, p. 424.
130 Rayfield, pp. 47-50; R. Payne, The rise and fall ofStalin (New York: Avon Books, 1965), pp. 304-305.
131 Fischer, pp. 68-69; Hyde, p. 91.
132 Hyde, p. 177.
133 Rayfield, p. 47.
134 Z.A. Medvedev en R.A. Medvedev, The unknown Stalin (London: Tauris, 2003), p. 3; Service, pp. 236-237.
135 Medvedev en Medvedev, pp. 3-4.
136 Neumayr, p. 424; Medvedev, p. 154.
137 Medvedev, p. 154; Neumayr, pp. 423-425.
138 Service, p. 571; Neumayr, p. 425.
139 Medvedev en Medvedev, p. 4.
140 N. Romano-Petrovna, Stalin's doctor, Stalin's nurse: a memoir (Princeton N.J.: The Kingston Press, 1984), pp. v-vii, xxx.
141 Hyde, p. 459.
142 Neumayr, pp. 425-426; Hyde, pp. 537-540.
143 Montefiore, pp. 523-514; Kun, p. 242.
144 Taylor, p. 40.
145 Service, p. 571.
146 Hyde, pp. 559-560.
147 Kun, p. 242.
148 Medvedev, p. 155; Neumayr, p. 426.
149 Medvedev en Medvedev, pp. 1-28; Neumayr, p. 426.
150 Rayfield, p. 435; Brackman, p. 381.
151 V. Hackinski en J.W. Norris, The acute stroke (Philadelphia: F.A. Davis, 1985), pp. 180-184.
152 Montefiore, p. 646.
153 M. Swash en J. Oxbury, Clinical neurology (Edinburgh en London: Churchill Livingstone, 1991), p. 696; L.W. Way, Current surgical diagnosis and treatment (Los Altos: Lange Medical Publications, 1983), pp. 465-466.



Francois Retief verwerf die MB ChB aan die Universiteit van Kaapstad, en daarna 'n DPhil aan Oxford (as Rhodes-student), 'n MD aan die Universiteit van Stellenbosch en FRCP van die Universiteit van Edinburgh. Hy was stigtersdekaan van die Fakulteit Geneeskunde, Universiteit van die Oranje-Vrystaat, eerste voltydse Rektor van die Mediese Universiteit van Suider-Afrika, Direkteur-Generaal van die Departement Gesondheid en Bevolkingsontwikkeling, en daarna Rektor van die Universiteit van die Oranje-Vrystaat. Hy dien 'n termyn as Voorsitter van die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns. Sedert sy aftrede is hy betrokke by navorsing oor mediese geskie-denis, en ontvang hy die Akademie se Stalsprys vir interdissiplinêre publikasies.

Francois Retief obtained his MB ChB from the University of Cape Town, followed by a DPhil Oxon (as Rhodes student), MD from the University of Stellenbosch, and FRCP from the University of Edinburgh. He was founding Dean of Medicine at the University of the Orange Free State, first fulltime Rector of the Medical University of Southern Africa, Director-General of the Department of Health and Population Development, and subsequently Rector of the University of the Orange Free State. He served a term as Chairman of the South African Academy of Science and Arts. Since his retirement he has involved himself in research on medical history, and has received the Academy's Stals Prize for interdisciplinary publications.

André Wessels is in Durban gebore. Hy het al sy akademiese kwalifikasies aan die Universiteit van die Oranje-Vrystaat verwerf. Nadat hy as onder-wyser (Amanzimtoti) en as navorser (Raad vir Geesteswetenskaplike Navorsing, Pretoria) gewerk het, is hy vanaf 1988 as dosent aan die Universiteit van die Oranje-Vrystaat (nou Universiteit van die Vrystaat) se Departement Geskiedenis verbonde, waar hy tans senior professor is. Sy groot aantal artikels, boeke en ander wetenskaplike publikasies handel oor verskeie historiese en verwante temas, maar hy fokus in besonder op die geskiedenis van die Anglo-Boereoorlog, asook die geskiedenis van die Suid-Afrikaanse Nasionale Weermag, met spesiale verwysing na die Suid-Afrikaanse Vloot.

André Wessels was born in Durban. He obtained all his academic qualifications at the University of the Orange Free State. He was a teacher (Amanzimtoti) and a researcher (Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria). Since 1988 he has been attached to the Department of History at the University of the Orange Free State (now the University of the Free State), where he is currently a senior professor. His large number of articles, books and other academic publications deal with a variety of historical and related topics, but his main research focus is on the history of the Anglo-Boer War, as well as on the history of the South African National Defence Force, with special reference to the South African Navy.

Creative Commons License All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License