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Joseph Stalin, one of the most controversial personalities of the 20th century, rose from oppressed conditions characterized by poverty and brutality, through the revolutionary movement and the party apparatus to become the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union. Almost everyone underestimated his abilities, his virtuoso command of the apparatus and completely amoral ruthlessness. Early on he showed himself unwilling to recognize others as authorities - not even Lenin, whose cult he practiced like no other. He subjected his country to the most dramatic and brutal upheavals ever experienced by a peacetime state.