Page 2 (History of Russia: XVII - end of XXth centuries)
Ivan IV conquered the Tatar states of Kazan (1533-84) and Astrakhan (1556), gaining control of the Volga River down to the Caspian Sea. In addition, from the 1580s, the fur trade lured the Russians deep into Siberia across the Urals. Peter the Great concentrated on achieving a window on the West, wresting the Baltic region from Sweden in 1721. Catherine the Great annexed the Tatar khanate of Crimea and acquired parts of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Russian forces subdued the Kazaks (1816-54), completed Russian control of the Caucasus (1857-64) and annexed the khanates of Central Asia (1865-76). China ceded to the tsar the Amur basin and parts of the Pacific Coast (where Vladivostok was founded in 1860), and leased Port Arthur (1898).
From its modest beginnings in the 14th century principality of Moscow, Russia had become the largest state in the world by Peter's time. Three times the size of Europe, it spanned the Eurasian landmass from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Much of its expansion had taken place in the 17th century, culminating in the first Russian settlement of the Pacific in the mid-17th century, the reconquest of Kiev, and the pacification of the Siberian tribes. However, this vast land had a population of only 14 million. Grain yields trailed those of agriculture in the West, compelling almost the entire population to farm. Only a small fraction of the population lived in the towns.
Peter the Great
, the Great (1672–1725),
consolidated autocracy in Russia and played a major role in bringing his country into the European state system
Peter was deeply impressed by the advanced technology, warcraft, and statecraft of the West. He studied Western tactics and fortifications and built a strong army of 300,000 made up of his own subjects, whom he conscripted for life. In 1697-1698, he became the first Russian prince to ever visit the West, where he and his entourage made a deep impression. In celebration, Peter assumed the title of emperor as well as tsar, and Muscovy officially became the Russian Empire in 1721.
s first military efforts were directed against the Ottoman Turks
. His attention then turned to the north. Peter
still lacked a secure northern seaport except at Archangel
on the White Sea
, whose harbor was frozen nine months a year. Access to the Baltic was blocked by Sweden, whose territory enclosed it on three sides. Peter's
ambitions for a "window to the sea
" led him in 1699
to make a secret alliance with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
and Denmark against Sweden
, resulting in the Great Northern War
. The war ended in 1721
when an exhausted Sweden sued for peace with Russia. Peter
acquired four provinces situated south and east of the Gulf of Finland
, thus securing his coveted access to the sea. There he built Russia's new capital, St. Petersburg
, as a "window opened upon Europe
" to replace Moscow
, long Russia's cultural center. It has been said that St.Petersburg
was built on the bones of the people who died building it. Peter's word was indeed law in many things. He could force all those entering the city to bring with them at least one stone, for there were no stones in that area.
The strains of Peter's military expeditions produced another revolt. Invoking the name of populist rebel Stenka Razin, another Cossack chieftain Kondraty Bulavin raised a revolt, ultimately crushed.
Peter reorganized his government on the latest Western models, molding Russia into an absolutist state. He replaced the old boyar Duma (council of nobles) with a nine-member senate, in effect a supreme council of state. The countryside was also divided into new provinces and districts. Peter told the senate that its mission was to collect tax revenues. In turn tax revenues tripled over the course of his reign. As part of the government reform, the Orthodox Church was partially incorporated into the country's administrative structure, in effect making it a tool of the state. Peter abolished the patriarchate and replaced it with a collective body, the Holy Synod, led by a government official.
Peter died in 1725, leaving an unsettled succession and an exhausted realm. His reign raised questions about Russia's backwardness, its relationship to the West, the appropriateness of reform from above, and other fundamental problems that have confronted many of Russia's subsequent rulers. Nevertheless, he had laid the foundations of a modern state in Russia.
Catherine I, Peter's wife and his grandson, Peter II,
died relatively soon after ascending the throne. After the death of Peter's niece Anna Ionnovna (1730-1740),
whose reign was called the time of German rule due to the influence of her German advisors, a coup by the guards brought Peter's daughter, Elizabeth (1741-1761),
to the throne. Elizabeth
laid the groundwork for her famous successor, Catherine
, both practically, by codifying criminal law, and aesthetically, by naming the great Italian architect Rastrelli
, whose unique Baroque creations included such important St.Petersburg buildings as Smolny Cathedral,
the Winter Palace
where now the Hermitage
is, suburban palaces at Peterhof
and Tsarskoe Selo.
Elizabeth's choice of her successor, however, was an unfortunate one. Her nephew Peter III (1761-1762) adopted a pro-Prussian policy. He withdrew Russia from Seven Years' War, saving Prussia from almost certain defeat and forgoing great potentials gains for Russia. This angered the guards enough that his German wife, Catherine, was able to lead a successful coup in 1762.
Catherine II, the Great
, the Great
, was a German princess who married Peter III, at that time the Russian heir to the crown. Finding him an incompetent moron, Catherine tacitly consented to his murder. It was announced that he had died of "apoplexy
", and in 1762
she became ruler.
Catherine contributed to the resurgence of the Russian nobility that began after the death of Peter the Great. State service had been abolished, and Catherine delighted the nobles further by turning over most government functions in the provinces to them.
Catherine the Great extended Russian political control over the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with actions including the support of the Targowica confederation, although the cost of her campaigns, on top of the oppressive social system that required lords' serfs to spend almost all of their time laboring on the lords' land, provoked a major peasant uprising in 1773, after Catherine legalized the selling of serfs separate from land. Inspired by another Cossack named Pugachev, with the emphatic cry of "Hang all the landlords!" the rebels threatened to take Moscow before they were ruthlessly suppressed. Catherine had Pugachev drawn and quartered in Red Square, but the specter of revolution continued to haunt her and her successors.
While suppressing the Russian peasantry, Catherine successfully waged war against the decaying Ottoman Empire and advanced Russia's southern boundary to the Black Sea. Then, by plotting with the rulers of Austria and Prussia, she annexed half of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the Partitions of Poland and pushed the Russian frontier westward into Central Europe. By the time of her death in 1796, Catherine's expansionist policy had made Russia into a major European power. This continued with Alexander I's annexation of Finland from the weakened kingdom of Sweden in 1809.
death and the ascension of her son, Paul I (1796-1801)
, it seems that much of what she had done was to be undone. Not without good reason, Paul
hated his mother. One of the first actions he undertook as Emperor was to give his dishonored murdered father, Peter III
, a decent burial. However, the partisans of his mother used every opportunity to discredit and slander him. After a short reign of only five years, Paul
became deeply unpopular with the guards, and the supporters of his son Alexander
were able to lead a coup agains him in the very castle he had built with a state of the art securit system - a moat. Despite precautions, Paul
was assassinated in his own bedroom on March 11, 1801.
With Alexander I's (1801-1825) reign, the key event was the war with France. Napoleon made a major misstep when he invaded Russia after a dispute with Tsar Alexander I and launched an invasion of the tsar's realm in 1812. The campaign was a catastrophe. Although Napoleon's Grand Army made its way to Moscow, the Russians' scorched-earth strategy prevented the invaders from living off the country. In the bitterly cold Russian weather, thousands of French troops died in the snow. As Napoleon's forces retreated, the Russian troops pursued them into Central and Western Europe and to the gates of Paris. After Russia and its allies defeated Napoleon, Alexander became known as the 'savior of Europe,' and he played a prominent role in the redrawing of the map of Europe at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
Although the Russian Empire would play a leading political role in the next century, secured by its defeat of Napoleonic France, its retention of serfdom precluded economic progress of any significant degree. As West European economic growth accelerated during the Industrial Revolution, which had begun in the second half of the 18th century, Russia began to lag even farther behind, creating new problems for the empire as a great power.
Decembrist Revolt in 1825
The tsar that was considered to be quite liberal was replaced by his younger brother, Nicholas I (1825–1855), who at the onset of his reign was confronted with an uprising. The background of this revolt lay in the Napoleonic Wars, when a number of well-educated Russian officers traveled in Europe in the course of the military campaigns, where their exposure to the liberalism of Western Europe encouraged them to seek change on their return to autocratic Russia. The result was the Decembrist Revolt (December 1825), started by a group of aristocratic young officers (later called "Decembrists"), who brought troops to the Senate Square of St.Petersburg and hoped to force Nicholas I to sign a constitution for the country. They won over only part of the St.Petersburg garrisson, and troops loyal to the new Emperor Nicholas were able to disperse the demonstration. Later, five of the rebellion's leaders were hanged and about 100 other were exiled to Siberia.
After the Decembrist uprising Nicholas I initiated a period of reaction, characterized by an increase in the use of the secret police and informers, a rise in censorship and the number of secret trials and executions. However, repression and creativity coexisted. Alexander Pushkin wrote some of his best poetry, Mikhail Glinka composed his best operas and chamber music, Fyodor Dostoevsky started his career as a writer.
Russia's great power status obscured the inefficiency of its government, the isolation of its people, and its economic backwardness. Following the defeat of Napoleon, Alexander I had been ready to discuss constitutional reforms, but though a few were introduced, no thoroughgoing changes were attempted.
The following is the list of tsars during this period, with the years of their reign:
Paul I, 1796-1801
Alexander I, 1801-1825
Nicholas I, 1825-1855
Alexander II, 1855-1881
Alexander III, 1881-1894
Nicholas II, 1894-1917.
In order to repress further revolts, Russian schools and universities were placed under constant surveillance and students were provided with official textbooks. Police spies were planted everywhere. Would-be revolutionaries were sent off to Siberia; under Nicholas I hundreds of thousands were sent to labor camps there.
At that time Michael Bakunin would emerge as the father of anarchism. He left Russia in 1842 to Western Europe, where he became active in the socialist movement. After participating in May Uprising in Dresden of 1849, he was imprisoned and shipped to Siberia, but eventually escaped and made his way back to Europe. There he practically joined forces with Karl Marx, despite significant ideological and tactical differences.
The question of Russia's direction had been gaining steam ever since Peter the Great's program of westernization. Some favored imitating Europe while others renounced the West and called for a return of the traditions of the past. The latter path was championed by Slavophiles, who heaped scorn on the "decadent" West. The Slavophiles were opponents of bureaucracy, preferred the collectivism to the individualism of the West.
Alexander II and the abolition of serfdom
Tsar Nicholas died with his philosophy in dispute. One year earlier, Russia had become involved in the Crimean War, a conflict fought primarily in the Crimean peninsula. Since playing a major role in the defeat of Napoleon, Russia had been regarded as militarily invincible, but the reverses it suffered on land and sea in the Crimean War exposed the decay and weakness of Tsar Nicholas' regime.
When Alexander II came to the throne in 1855, desire for reform was widespread. A growing humanitarian movement, which in later years has been likened to that of the abolitionists in the United States before the American Civil War, attacked serfdom. In 1859, there were more than 23 million serfs living under conditions frequently worse than those of the peasants of western Europe in the 16th century. Alexander II made up his own mind to abolish serfdom from above rather than wait for it to be abolished from below through revolution.
The emancipation of the serfs in 1861 was the single most important event in the 19th century Russian history. It was the beginning of the end for the landed aristocracy's monopoly of power. Emancipation brought a supply of free labor to the cities, industry was stimulated, and the middle class grew in number and influence; however, instead of receiving their lands as a gift, the freed peasants had to pay a special tax for what amounted to their lifetime to the government, which in turn paid the landlords a generous price for the land that they had lost. In numerous instances the peasants wound up with the poorest land. Although serfdom was abolished, since its abolition was achieved on terms unfavorable to the peasants, revolutionary tensions did not get fewer, despite Alexander II's intentions.
In the late 1870s Russia and the Ottoman Empire clashed in the Balkans. From 1875 to 1877, the Balkan crisis escalated with rebellions against Ottoman rule by various Slavic nationalities, which the Ottoman Turks suppressed with what was seen as great cruelty in Russia. Russian nationalist opinion became a serious domestic factor in its support for liberating Balkan Christians from Ottoman rule and making Bulgaria and Serbia quasi-protectorates of Russia. In early 1877, Russia intervened on behalf of Serbian and Russian volunteer forces when it went to war with the Ottoman Empire. Within one year, Russian troops were nearing Constantinople, and the Ottomans surrendered. Russia's nationalist diplomats and generals persuaded Alexander II to force the Ottomans to sign the Treaty of San Stefano in March 1878, creating an enlarged, independent Bulgaria that stretched into the southwestern Balkans. When Britain threatened to declare war over the terms of the Treaty of San Stefano, an exhausted Russia backed down. At the Congress of Berlin in July 1878, Russia agreed to the creation of a smaller Bulgaria. As a result, Russian nationalists were left with a legacy of bitterness against Austria-Hungary and Germany for failing to back Russia. The disappointment as a result of war stimulated revolutionary tensions in Russia.
In the 1860s a movement known as Nihilism developed in Russia. For some time many Russian liberals had been dissatisfied by the empty discussions of the intelligentsia. The Nihilists questioned all old values, championed the independence of the individual, and shocked the Russian establishment.
The Nihilists first attempted to convert the aristocracy to the cause of reform. Failing there, they turned to the peasants. Their "go to the people" campaign became known as the Narodnik movement.
While the Narodnik movement was gaining momentum, the government quickly moved to extirpate it. In response to the growing reaction of the government, a radical branch of the Narodniks advocated and practiced terrorism. One after another, prominent officials were shot or killed by bombs. Finally, after several attempts, Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, on the very day he had approved a proposal to call a representative assembly to consider new reforms in addition to the abolition of serfdom designed to ameliorate revolutionary demands.
Reaction under Alexander III
Unlike his father, the new tsar Alexander III (1881–1894) was throughout his reign a staunch reactionary who revived the maxim of "Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationalism" of Nicholas I. A committed Slavophile, Alexander III believed that Russia could be saved from chaos only by shutting itself off from the subversive influences of Western Europe.
The tsar's most influential adviser was Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev, tutor to Alexander III and his son Nicholas, and procurator of the Holy Synod from 1880 to 1895. He taught his royal pupils to fear freedom of speech and press and to hate democracy, constitutions, and the parliamentary system. Under Pobedonostsev, revolutionaries were hunted down and a policy of Russification was carried out throughout the empire. In his reign Russia has concluded the union with republican France and has received the French credits for development of the industry.
Alexander was succeeded by his son Nicholas II (1894–1917). The Industrial Revolution, which began to exert a significant influence in Russia, was meanwhile creating forces that would finally overthrow the tsar. The liberal elements among the industrial capitalists and nobility believed in peaceful social reform and a constitutional monarchy, forming the Constitutional Democrats, or Kadets. Social revolutionaries combined the Narodnik tradition and advocated the distribution of land among those who actually worked it — the peasants. Another radical group was the Social Democrats, exponents of Marxism in Russia. Gathering their support from the radical intellectuals and the urban working class, they advocated complete social, economic and political revolution.
In 1903 the party split into two wings—the Mensheviks, the moderates, and the Bolsheviks, the radicals. The Mensheviks believed that Russian socialism would grow gradually and peacefully and that the tsar’s regime should be succeeded by a democratic republic in which the socialists would cooperate with the liberal bourgeois parties. The Bolsheviks, under Vladimir Lenin, advocated the formation of a small elite of professional revolutionists, subject to strong party discipline, to act as the vanguard of the proletariat in order to seize power by force.
The disastrous performance of the Russian armed forces in the Russian-Japanese War (1904–1905) was a major blow to the Tsarist regime and increased the potential for unrest. In January 1905, an incident known as "Bloody Sunday" occurred when Father Gapon led an enormous crowd to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg to present a petition to the tsar. When the procession reached the palace, Cossacks opened fire on the crowd, killing thousands. The Russian masses were so aroused over the massacre that a general strike was declared demanding a democratic republic. This marked the beginning of the Russian Revolution of 1905. Soviets (councils of workers) appeared in most cities to direct revolutionary activity. Russia was paralyzed, and the government was desperate.
In October 1905, Nicholas reluctantly issued the famous October Manifesto, which conceded the creation of a national Duma (parliament) to be called without delay. The right to vote was extended and no law was to go into force without confirmation by the Duma. The moderate groups were satisfied; but the socialists rejected the concessions as insufficient and tried to organize new strikes. By the end of 1905, there was disunity among the reformers, and the tsar's position was strengthened for the time being.
World War I
Tsar Nicholas II and his subjects entered World War I with enthusiasm and patriotism, with the defense of Russia's fellow Orthodox Slavs, the Serbs, as the main battle cry. In August 1914, the Russian army entered Germany to support the French armies. However, the weaknesses of the Russian economy and the inefficiency and corruption in government were hidden only for a brief period under a cloak of fervent nationalism. Military reversals and the government's incompetence soon soured much of the population. German control of the Baltic Sea and German-Ottoman control of the Black Sea severed Russia from most of its foreign supplies and potential markets.
By the middle of 1915 the impact of the war was demoralizing. Food and fuel were in short supply, casualties were staggering, and inflation was mounting. Strikes increased among low-paid factory workers, and the peasants, who wanted land reforms, were restless. Meanwhile, public distrust of the regime was deepened by reports that a semiliterate mystic, Grigory Rasputin, had great political influence within the government. His assassination in late 1916 ended the scandal but did not restore the autocracy's lost prestige.
On March 3, 1917
, a strike occurred in a factory in the capital Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg).
Within a week nearly all the workers in the city were idle, and street fighting broke out. When the tsar
dismissed the Duma
and ordered strikers to return to work, his orders triggered the February Revolution
The Duma refused to disband, the strikers held mass meetings in defiance of the regime, and the army openly sided with the workers. A few days later a provisional government headed by Prince Lvov was named by the Duma. The following day the tsar abdicated. Meanwhile, the socialists in Petrograd had formed a soviet (council) of workers and soldiers' deputies to provide them with the power that they lacked in the Duma.
In July, the head of the provisional government resigned and was succeeded by Alexander Kerensky, who was more progressive than his predecessor but not radical enough for the Bolsheviks. While Kerensky's government marked time, the Marxist soviet in Petrograd extended its organization throughout the country by setting up local soviets. Meanwhile, Kerensky made the fatal mistake of continuing to commit Russia to the war, a policy extremely unpopular with the masses.
Lenin returned to Russia from exile in Switzerland. A tumultuous reception by thousands of peasants, workers, and soldiers took place as Lenin's train rolled into the station. After many behind-the-scenes maneuvers, the soviets seized control of the government in November 1917, and drove Kerensky and his moderate provisional government into exile, in the events that would become known as the October Revolution.
When the national assembly, which met in January 1918, refused to become a rubber-stamp of the Bolsheviks, it was dissolved by Lenin's troops. With the dissolution of the constituent assembly, all vestiges of bourgeois democracy were removed. With the handicap of the moderate opposition removed, Lenin was able to free his regime from the war problem by the harsh Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918) with Germany, with great sacrifice of Russian territory.
A powerful group of counter-revolutionaries, termed the White movement
, began to organize to topple the Bolsheviks
. At the same time the Allied powers sent several expeditionary armies to Russia
to support the anti-Communist forces
. The Allies feared that the Bolsheviks
were in a conspiracy with the Germans
because of Brest-Litovsk
; they also hoped that the White Russians
might renew hostilities against Germany
. In the fall of 1918
regime was in a perilous position, opposed by Russia's
former allies and internal enemies, as well as in sporadic conflict with short-lived nationalist republics in Belarus
and anarchist forces.
To counteract this emergency, a reign of terror was begun within Russia as the Red Army and the Cheka (the secret police) destroyed all enemies of the revolution. However lofty their goals were, the Bolsheviks did not have the consent of all elements of society and thus had to force their rule over Russia during the civil war. They swept away the tsarist secret police, so despised by Russians of all political persuasions, along with other tsarist institutions, but ensured the survival of their own regime by replacing it with a political police of considerably greater dimensions, both in the scope of its authority and in the severity of its methods. By 1920 all White resistance had been crushed, foreign armies evacuated, and Bolshevik governments established in Belarus, Ukraine, and the Caucasus, but at the cost of perpetuating Russia's long pattern of autocratic rule in new forms.
As Russia was bogged down in civil war, the frontiers between Poland and Russia were not clearly defined by the postwar Treaty of Versailles and were further rendered chaotic by the civil war. The Polish-Soviet War (1919–1921), which ended with the defeat of the Red Army, determined the borders between Soviet Russia and Poland.
Creation of the USSR
The history of Russia between 1922 and 1991
is essentially the history of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or Soviet Union
. This ideologically-based union, established in December 1922
by the leaders of the Russian Communist Party
, was roughly coterminous with the Russian Empire
. At that time, the new nation included four constituent republics: the Russian Republic (RSFSR),
the Ukrainian SSR
, Belarusian SSR
, and the Trans-Caucasian SSR
The constitution, adopted in 1924, established a federal system of government based on a succession of soviets set up in villages, factories, and cities in larger regions. This pyramid of soviets in each constituent republic culminated in the All-Union Congress of Soviets. But while it appeared that the congress exercised sovereign power, this body was actually governed by the Communist Party, which in turn was controlled by the Politburo from Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union, just as it had been under the tsars before Peter the Great.
The period from the consolidation of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 until 1921 is known as the period of war communism. Banks, railroads, and shipping were nationalized and the money economy was restricted. Strong opposition soon developed. The peasants wanted cash payments for their products and resented having to surrender their surplus grain to the government as a part of its civil war policies. Confronted with peasant opposition, Lenin began a strategic retreat from war communism known as the New Economic Policy (NEP). The peasants were freed from wholesale levies of grain and allowed to sell their surplus produce in the open market. Commerce was stimulated by permitting private retail trading. The state continued to be responsible for banking, transportation, heavy industry, and public utilities.
Although the left opposition among the Communists criticized the rich peasants or kulaks who benefited from the NEP, the program proved highly beneficial and the economy revived. The NEP would later come under increasing opposition from within the party following Lenin's death in early 1924.
While the Russian economy
was being transformed, the social life of the people underwent equally drastic changes. From the beginning of the revolution, the government attempted to weaken patriarchal domination of the family. Divorce no longer required court procedure; and to make women completely free of the responsibilities of childbearing, abortion was made legal as early as 1920
. As a side effect, the emancipation of the women increased the labor market. Girls were encouraged to secure an education and pursue a career in the factory or the office. Communal nurseries
were set up for the care of small children and efforts were made to shift the center of people's social life from the home to educational and recreational groups, the soviet clubs.
The regime abandoned the tsarist policy of discriminating against national minorities in favor of a policy of incorporating the more than two hundred minority groups into Soviet life. Another feature of the regime was the extension of medical services. Campaigns were carried out against typhus, cholera, and malaria; the number of doctors was increased as rapidly as facilities and training would permit; and infant mortality rates rapidly decreased while life expectancy rapidly increased.
The government also promoted atheism and materialism, which formed the basis of Marxist theory. It opposed organized religion, especially in order to break the power of the Russian Orthodox Church, a former pillar of the old tsarist regime and a major barrier to social change. Many religious leaders were sent to internal exile camps. Members of the party were forbidden to attend religious services. The education system was separated from the Church. Religious teaching was prohibited except in the home and atheist instruction was stressed in the schools.
Rulers during this era are listed below. Because there was no presidency of the Soviet Union as such until the very end, the effective leader of the country usually had the title of General Secretary of the CPSU. Three other successive titles could be considered to have at least nominal head of government status, viz., Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars (1917-1946), Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Premier (1946-1991), and Chairman of the Supreme Soviet (1989-1990). Sometimes the top party and state posts were held by the same person, e.g., Khrushchev was both General Secretary and Chairman of the Council of Ministers between 1958 and 1964. There was also an official with a plausible claim to be head of state, including the Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the All Russian Congress of Soviets (1917-1922), the Chairman of the Central Committee of the USSR (1922-1938), the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (1938-1989), and finally the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet (1989-1990). Brezhnev held this post from 1977 until 1982, but he also held it from 1960 to 1964, when Khrushchev was party leader.
Here is a list of the Soviet Leaders during the USSR period:
Vladimir Lenin, 1917-1924
Josef Stalin, 1924-1953
Nikita Khrushchev, 1953-1964
Leonid Brezhnev, 1964-1982
Yury Andropov, 1982-1984
Konstantin Chernenko, 1984-1985
Mikhail Gorbachev, 1985-1991
Industrialization and collectivization
Magnitogorsk was at the forefront of Stalin's Five-Year Plans in the 1930s.The years from 1929 to 1939 comprised a tumultuous decade in Russian history—a period of massive industrialization and internal struggles as Joseph Stalin established near total control over Russian society, wielding unrestrained power unknown to even the most ambitious tsars. Following Lenin's death Stalin wrestled to gain control of the Soviet Union with rival factions in the Politburo, especially Leon Trotsky's. By 1928, with the Trotskyists either exiled or rendered powerless, Stalin was ready to put a radical program of industrialization into action.
In 1928 Stalin
proposed the first Five-Year Plan
. Abolishing the NEP
, it was the first of a number of plans aimed at
swift accumulation of capital resources though the buildup of heavy industry, the collectivization of agriculture
, and the restricted manufacture of consumer goods and for the first time in history a government controlled all economic activity. While in the capitalist countries factories and mines were idle or running on reduced schedules during the Great Depression
and millions were unemployed, the Soviet people
worked many hours a day, six days a week, in a thoroughgoing attempt to revolutionize the Soviet economic structure
As a part of the plan, the government took control of agriculture through the state and collective farms. By a decree of February 1930, about one million "kulaks" were forced off their land. Many peasants strongly opposed regimentation by the state, often slaughtering their herds when faced with the loss of their land. In some sections they revolted, and countless peasants deemed "kulaks" by the authorities were executed. The combination of bad weather, deficiencies of the hastily-established collective farms, and massive confiscation of grain precipitated a serious famine, and several million peasants died of starvation, mostly in Ukraine and parts of southwestern Russia. The deteriorating conditions in the countryside drove millions of desperate peasants to the rapidly growing cities, fuelling industrialization, and vastly increasing Russia's urban population in the space of just a few years.
The plans received remarkable results in areas aside from agriculture. Russia, in many measures the poorest nation in Europe at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, now industrialized at a phenomenal rate, far surpassing Germany's pace of industrialization in the nineteenth century and Japan's earlier in the twentieth century. Soviet authorities claimed in 1932 an increase of industrial output of 334% over 1914, and in 1937 a further increase of 180% over 1932. Moreover, the survival of Russia in the face of the impending Nazi onslaught was made possible in part through the capacity for production that was the outcome of industrialization.
While the Five-Year Plans were forging ahead, Stalin was establishing his personal power. The secret police gathered in tens of thousands of Soviet citizens to face arrest, deportation, or execution. Of the six original members of the 1920 Politburo who survived Lenin, all were purged by Stalin. Old Bolsheviks who had been loyal comrades of Lenin, high officers in the Red Army, and directors of industry were liquidated in the Great Purges. Purges in other Soviet republics also helped centralize control in the USSR.
Stalin's repressions led to the creation of a vast system of internal exile, of considerably greater dimensions than those set up in the past by the tsars. Draconian penalties were introduced and many citizens were prosecuted for fictitious crimes of sabotage and espionage. The labor provided by convicts working in the labor camps of the GULAG system became an important component of the industrialization effort, especially in Siberia. Perhaps around five percent of the population passed through the Gulag system.
The Soviet Union during the World War II
Until 1939 the USSR
was in strong opposition to Nazi Germany
, supporting the republicans of Spain
who struggled against German and Italian troops
during the Spanish Civil War
. In 1938
, however, Germany
signed the Munich Agreement
together with the major powers of Western Europe
and together with Poland
. The agreement increased fears in the Soviet Union
of a coming German attack
, which led the Soviet Union
to respond with its own diplomatic maneuvers. In 1939 the Soviet Union
signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pa
ct with Nazi Germany
. The Soviets
later fought a war with Finland
known as the Winter War (1939-40).
It was won by the Soviet Union
, which gained part of Karelia
. Despite Stalin's efforts
to stay out of a war against Germany,
the latter declared war on the Soviet Union
and swept across the border on June 22, 1941
. By November the German army had seized Ukraine
, begun its siege of Leningrad
, and threatened to capture Moscow
However, the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad proved decisive, reversing the course of the entire war. After losing this battle the Germans lacked the strength to sustain their offensive operations against the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union held the initiative for the rest of the war. By the end of 1943, the Red Army had broken through the German siege of Leningrad and recaptured much of Ukraine. By the end of 1944, the front had moved beyond the 1939 Soviet frontiers into eastern Europe. With a decisive superiority in troops, Soviet forces drove into eastern Germany, capturing Berlin in May 1945. The war with Germany thus ended triumphantly for the Soviet Union.
Although the Soviet Union was victorious in World War II, its economy had been devastated in the struggle and the war resulted in around 27 million Soviet deaths. About seventy thousand settlements have been destroyed. Ten million Soviet citizens became victims of a repressive policy of Germans and their allies on an occupied territory. German Einsatzgruppen, along with Baltic and Ukrainian collaborators, were engaged in genocide of the Soviet Jewish population. During occupation, Russia's Leningrad, now Saint-Petersburg, region lost around a quarter of its population (up to 1 million people, the largest death toll in a blockage in history). The occupied territories suffered from the ravages of German occupation, deportations of slave labor, as well as the Soviets' own scorched earth tactics in the retreat. Perhaps millions of Soviet citizens on occupied territories died because of famine and absence of elementary medical aid. Around 3.5 million Soviet prisoners of war (of 5.5 million in total) died in German camps.
Collaboration among the major Allies had won the war and was supposed to serve as the basis for postwar reconstruction and security. However, the conflict between Soviet and U.S. national interests, known as the Cold War, came to dominate the international stage in the postwar period, assuming the public guise as a clash of ideologies.
The Cold War emerged out of a conflict between Stalin and U.S. President Harry Truman over the future of Eastern Europe during the Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945. Russia had suffered three devastating Western onslaughts in the previous 150 years during the Napoleonic Wars, the First World War, and the Second World War, and Stalin's goal was to establish a buffer zone of states between Germany and the Soviet Union. Truman charged that Stalin had betrayed the Yalta agreement. With Eastern Europe under Red Army occupation, Stalin was also biding his time, as his own atomic bomb project was steadily and secretly progressing.
In April 1949
the United States
sponsored the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO),
a mutual defense pact in which most Western nations pledged to treat an armed attack against one nation as an assault on all. The Soviet Union
established an Eastern counterpart to NATO in 1955
, dubbed the Warsaw Pact
. The division of Europe into Western and Soviet blocs
later took on a more global character, especially after 1949
, when the U.S. nuclear monopoly
ended with the
testing of a Soviet bomb
and the Communist takeover
The foremost objectives of Soviet foreign policy were the maintenance and enhancement of national security and the maintenance of hegemony over Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union maintained its dominance over the Warsaw Pact through crushing the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, suppressing the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and supporting the suppression of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the early 1980s.
As the Soviet Union continued to maintain tight control over its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, the Cold War gave way to Détente and a more complicated pattern of international relations in which the world was no longer clearly split into two clearly opposed blocs in the 1970s. Less powerful countries had more room to assert their independence, and the two superpowers were partially able to recognize their common interest in trying to check the further spread and proliferation of nuclear weapons in treaties such as SALT I, SALT II and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
U.S.-Soviet relations deteriorated following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, a staunch anti-communist, but improved as the Soviet bloc started to unravel in the late 1980s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia lost the superpower status that it had won in the Second World War.
The Khrushchev and Brezhnev years (1953-1982)
In the power struggle that erupted after Stalin's death in 1953, his closest followers lost out. Nikita Khrushchev solidified his position in a speech before the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party in 1956 detailing Stalin's atrocities and attacking him for promoting a personality cult. As details of his speech became public, Khrushchev accelerated a wide range of reforms. Downplaying Stalin's emphasis on heavy industry, he increased the supply of consumer goods and housing and stimulated agricultural production. The new policies improved the standard of living, although shortages of appliances, clothing, and other consumer durables would increase in later years. The judicial system, albeit still under a complete Communist party control, replaced police terror, and intellectuals had more freedom than before.
On October 4, 1957 Soviet Union
launched the first space satellite Sputnik
. On April 12, 1961 Yuri Gagarin
became the first human to travel into space in the Soviet spaceship Vostok 1
In 1964 Khrushchev was ousted by the Communist Party's Central Committee, charging him with a host of errors that included Soviet setbacks such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the deepening Sino-Soviet Split. After a brief period of collective leadership, a veteran bureaucrat, Leonid Brezhnev, took Khrushchev's place.
Despite Khrushchev's tinkering with economic planning, the economic system remained dependent on central plans drawn up with no reference to market mechanisms. As a developed industrial country, the Soviet Union by the 1970s found it increasingly difficult to maintain the high rates of growth in the industrial sector that it had enjoyed in earlier years. Increasingly large investment and labor inputs were required for growth, but these inputs were becoming more difficult to obtain, partly because of the new emphasis on production of consumer goods. Although the goals of the five-year plans of the 1970s had been scaled down from previous plans, the targets remained largely unmet. Agricultural development continued to lag in the Brezhnev years.
Although certain appliances and other goods became more accessible during the 1960s and 1970s, improvements in housing and food supply were not sufficient. The growing culture of consumerism and shortages of consumer goods, inherent in a non-market pricing system, encouraged pilferage of government property and the growth of the black market. But, in contrast to the revolutionary spirit that accompanied the birth of the Soviet Union, the prevailing mood of the Soviet leadership at the time of Brezhnev's death in 1982 was one of aversion to change.