When I started this list, I tried to think of people whose name should be known by everyone. Stalin's name came up. I won't make any attempt at trying to present him as a benevolent dictator or someone who was just misunderstood. Stalin was a monster and a madman. He is the first "warning to History". Stalin is proof of the madness the Cult of Personality engenders.
It is interesting to think what Russia might have become in the hands of someone who was less of a mad ogre. While the fall of Imperial Russia was inevitable, the transition into a constitutional monarchy or a (non-communist) republic might have redefined the 20th century and the poles of power in the world. Stalin prevented that and preyed on his people to feed his mad desires and ruthless ambition. What could a gentler Soviet Union have done for mankind?
As I said an interesting exercise.
To me, Stalin is the ultimate story of the Lieutenant-taking-over, not the man who got there as the head man. Stalin rose to power in the shadow of Lenin. As a kid, I read "Tintin au pays des Soviets" and that was a major influence on me. Hergé's book reveals a number of things about the Soviet Union and how they operate. As a child, I thought they were quite funny. But today... I just re-read the story and though while not the best of Tintin's it includes a few gems, such as the "vote" which I copied here.
At the time, I had difficulty understanding how/why a government would take these types of actions against its people. But with age came understanding.
Even after his death, Stalin's shadow loomed over the Soviet Union. At that time, the country was committed in a number of locations and it could not back down from a showdown with the US and the West. It had to stand strong for the sake of communism. Egos were involved and it would not be acceptable to simply give up. So the standoff continued, and even intensified. His mark would remain as both a stain and a mark of sheer will and determination. Even after Khrushchev liberalized the Union, there were still many who wanted a return to Stalinist politics.
Using him (Early days) Stalin was always a loyal thug. He was a good thug by all accounts, but a thug nonetheless. As a local leader of a larger organization, such as a thieves or merchants guild. He has a reputation for being ruthless and efficient.
Using him (Mother Russia's Husband) Upon Lenin's death, Stalin deified him, creating a communist messiah. Then he set about consolidating his power and removing any threat to himself and his power - real or imagined. It is this era that I think of whenever I imagine a government oppressing its people at the whims of a mad dictator.
Using him (Aftermath) The tyrant is dead, he made his nation powerful. His death does not result in a civil war, but rather a power struggle between those who seek to keep the same type of policies and those who seek to change - or modify them. How each factions plays their cards really gives us a lot of adventure potential.