Joseph Stalin was born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili in the village of Gori, in the Russian province of Georgia, on Dec. 21, 1879. His father was a shoemaker with a penchant for drunkenness, who left Gori when Stalin was young to seek employment in the city of Tiflis. Thus Joseph's mother, Yekaterina, made the more profound impact on his life--it was she who directed his education, first in the local Gori Church School and then, thanks to a scholarship, at the Tiflis Theological Seminary. There, she hoped, he would train to become a priest. Instead, the young Stalin became a devoted advocate for Marxist revolution.
After leaving the Seminary in 1899, he joined the Social Democrats, Russia's Marxist political party, and became a professional revolutionary. He worked in Tiflis, and then in the Black Sea port of Batumi, organizing worker protests, which led to his arrest in 1902. Exiled to Siberia, he would soon escape, setting a pattern for the next ten years: from 1902 to 1913 he would be arrested and exiled six times, escaping almost every time. (Siberian exile, in Tsarist Russia, was notoriously easy to escape from.) During this period, the Social Democrats split into two factions, the Bolsheviks, under the leadership of Lenin, and the Mensheviks. Stalin joined the more radical Bolsheviks, and by the time World War I arrived, in 1914, he had attended a number of Party Congresses and risen high in Lenin's favor, who appointed him to the Bolshevik Central Committee. It was at this time that he adopted the name "Stalin," meaning "steel one.".
In 1917, the Russian Revolution toppled the Tsarist government. From March until November of that year, Russia was ruled by a Provisional Government, which made plans for a democratically elected assembly. A number of miscalculations, however, along with the strain of continuing the war with Germany, paved the way for a Bolshevik coup in November of 1917.