Russia and the Soviet Union

Russian and Soviet History

Russia and the Soviet Union have played a major part in European and World History. The Romanov dynasty, rulers from 1613 to 1917, saw Russia develop as a nation, then empire. It experienced highs and lows as the country sought to embrace the best of other cultures whilst retaining her own identity. A feudal like system of the nobility and serfs was long established in Russia. This and other features of society were challenged, then changed. Adapting to new methods of rule was often hard. Russia saw assassinations of Tsars, rebellions and in 1905 and twice in 1917, Revolutions.

Russia: The Bolshevik Revolution

The Revolutions of February and October, 1917, brought about a seismic change in Russian politics. The Tsar abdicated in 1917, giving way to a Provisional Government. A further Revolution saw the Bolsheviks seize control. During the Civil War that followed, the execution of the Romanov family was authorised and carried out in secret. With victory in the Civil War, Lenin and the Bolsheviks began a period of rule that was to last until 1991.

The USSR and Stalinism

Founded in 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Union), was the first single party socialist state in the world. Policies were introduced to speed up the process of creating Socialism. Agriculture was Collectivised. Industry became state controlled. Opposition was censured, censored, oppressed, imprisoned or exterminated. A Cult of Personality was fostered around the second Bolshevik leader, Joseph Stalin. Great purges took place to rid society of any real or potential opponents.

Joseph Stalin shown in a poster 'steering' the CCCP (USSR)

Society in Russia and the Soviet Union

Both Russian and Soviet states saw reformers and reactionaries. They both endured long, bitterly contested wars. The government throughout all of this contended with the problems that the physical features and size of the nation(s) posed. People starved. Some, due to natural catastrophe. At times, due to the negligence or actual policy of government and/or their officials. Life was often hard as a result.

Decline, Revolution and Disintegration

Tsarism and the Soviet state both went into decline. Society, Government and the Economy had weaknesses. These contributed to the fall of the Romanov’s and the End of the USSR.

Russian and Soviet HistoryRussian History Homepage
Russia before the First World WarOpposition to Tsarist RuleImpact of the First World War
1917: Abdication of Tsar Nicholas IIBolshevik RevolutionLenin and the Bolshevik Revolution
Leon TrotskyBolshevik Rule 1918-1924Russian Civil War
New Economic PolicyLenin's LegacyDevelopment of Communist Rule
Life in the Soviet UnionFailure of Reform and Decline of the Communist StateStalinism
Collectivisation of Soviet AgricultureWomen in the USSRDe-Stalinisation
Khruschev's Reform ProgrammeDecline of the Soviet UnionCollapse of the Soviet Union
Gorbachev
Romanov Russia and the Soviet Union: Chronology
  • 1613 – The Romanov’s become rulers (Tsar’s) of Russia
  • 1812 – Napoleon invades Russia and is defeated on the outskirts of
    Moscow
  • 1861 – Tsar Alexander II emancipates (frees) the serfs (peasants)
    and introduces some reforms
  • 1904 – Russia is humiliated in her war against Japan
  • 1905 – Tsar Nicholas II forced to reform following failed Revolution
  • 1914 – Russia entered the First World War
  • 1916 – Rasputin is assassinated
  • 1917 – Tsar Nicholas II abdicates in February and is replaced by a
    provisional government
  • 1917 – Bolshevik Revolution
  • 1918 – Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
  • 1918 – Romanov family executed by Bolsheviks
  • 1918-1922 Russian Civil War
  • 1921 – New Economic Policy introduced
  • 1922 – Soviet Union formerly declared as a state
  • 1924 – Lenin dies. After a power struggle, he is replaced by Stalin
  • 1928 – First of the Five Year Plans. Collectivisation and Industrial change begins
  • 1934 – Soviet Union joins the League of Nations
  • 1939 – Non Aggression Pact with Nazi Germany
  • 1939 – Occupation of Eastern Poland
  • 1939-40 – Russo-Finnish War
  • 1940 – occupation of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia
  • 1941 – Non Aggression pact with Japan
  • 1941 – Operation Barbarossa. German invasion of the Soviet Union begins
  • 1943 – Stalingrad. German troops begin to retreat
  • 1945 – Yalta and Potsdam conferences agree spheres of influence
  • 1945 – Enters war against Japan
  • 1945 – Victory in Europe and the Pacific
  • 1948 – Berlin Blockade sees the USSR attempt to block Western supplies to Free Berlin
  • 1953 – Stalin dies. He is replaced by Nikita Khruschev. Khruschev’s policies are known as the Khrushchev Thaw.
  • 1955 – Warsaw Pact established
  • 1955 – Hungarian Uprising crushed
  • 1956 – Khruschev’s ‘Secret Speech’ and the Destalinisation programme
  • 1957 – Sputnik launched. The first ever Satellite
  • 1958 – Khruschev dismisses Bulgarin and takes on the role of Prime Minister in addition to the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party
  • 1960 – U2 Spy Plane shot down
  • 1962 – Cuban Missile Crisis
  • 1964 – Khruschev is ousted and replaced as Chair of the Party by Leonid Brezhnev and as Prime Minister by Aleksey Kosygin
  • 1968 – Intervention of Soviet forces in Czechoslovakia. The “Brezhnev doctrine” of the right to intervene is established
  • 1969 – Soviet troops clash with Chinese forces in a border dispute
  • 1971 – SALT 1 Treaty
  • 1977 – New Constitution adopted. Brezhnev elected President
  • 1979 – SALT 2 Agreement
  • 1979 – Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
  • 1980 – Nikolay Tikhonov replaces Kosygin due to the latter’s health. Kosygin dies shortly after.
  • 1982 – Brezhnev dies. He is replaced by Yuri Andropov.
  • 1984 – Andropov dies. He is replaced by Konstantin Chernenko.
  • 1985 – Chernenko dies. He is replaced by Mikhail Gorbachev.
  • 1985 – Gorbachev launches anti-alcholism campaign
  • 1985 – Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (restructuring) policies introduced by Gorbachev
  • 1987 – US and USSR agree to scrap medium range nuclear missiles
  • 1988 – Gorbachev becomes President and retains role as Chair of the Party
  • 1988 – Politburo agree to the introduction of some Private Enterprise
  • 1989 – Year of Counter Revolutions. Popular uprisings against Soviet domination across Eastern Europe. The Berlin Wall falls.
  • 1989 – Soviet Forces withdraw from Afghanistan
  • 1989 – First freely contested elections in the Soviet Union
  • 1990 – Communist Party votes to end One Party Rule
  • 1990 – Sanctions imposed on Lithuania
  • 1990 – Boris Yeltsin is elected President of the Russian Soviet. He leaves the Communist Party shortly afterwards.
  • 1991 (August) – Senior Party officials detain Gorbachev at his holiday retreat. They themselves are arrested after 3 days.
  • 1991 (August) – Boris Yeltsin as President of the Russian Soviet bans the Communist Party. It’s assets are seized by the Government.
  • 1991 (August) – Boris Yeltsin recognises the independence of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Ukraine declares independence.
  • 1991 (September) – Party Congress votes for the dissolution of the USSR.
  • 1991 (December 8th) – Signing of documents creating the Commonwealth of Independent States by some former Soviet Republics.
  • 1991 (December 25th) – Gorbachev Resigns as Soviet President. Power and the key to the Russian Nuclear arsenal handed to the Russian Government.
  • 1991 (December 26th) – Russian Officials take over the Soviet offices and positions of Government.
Tsarist System of Government

This consisted of a combination of Zemstvos and Dumas.

A Zemstvo was a district council. It was established to maintain and
provide roads, medicine and education within its area. The councils for
urban areas (towns) are sometimes called municipal dumas. These local
councils were elected by landowners, merchants and artisans. Power though,
was held by an executive controlled by the Governor of the region – who
was appointed by the Tsar.

National Government

Following the 1905 Revolution, Tsar Nicholas II was forced to accept
a State Duma. This was introduced alongside the October manifesto. This
said that Russian people should have freedom of speech, assembly and association
and that laws in Russia should be ratified (agreed) by the State Duma.
However the Tsar wanted to retain power for himself, and before the first
State Duma met, he introduced the Fundamental Laws which stated that the
Tsar and his ministers had executive authority for matters relating to
the law, the chruch and the Duma. He also insisted that he could dismiss
the Duma and that decisions and laws made by the Duma had to be signed
by himself in order to become law.

Photograph of the main assembly hall of the Russian Duma, circa 1905
Photograph of the main assembly hall of the Russian Duma, circa 1905

Image – The Assembly Rooms of the Russian Duma.

Consequences:

  1. Limited democratisation introduced. The Duma provides a place for
    discussion and debate but holds no real decision making power.
  2. The Tsar retains authority and can bypass the will of the Duma if
    he wants to.
  3. Autocratic power retained by and for the Romanov Family.
Russian Society and Geography

Russia is HUGE. It contains hundreds of different ethnic groups who live
in hugely different environments. The Russian Empire stretched from modern
day Poland to the Pacific and from the arctic circle to Afghanistan. Russian
society reflected these massive differences.

Map showing Russia and the Soviet Socialist Republics that formed the USSR

Russian and Soviet HistoryRussian History Homepage
Russia before the First World WarOpposition to Tsarist RuleImpact of the First World War
1917: Abdication of Tsar Nicholas IIBolshevik RevolutionLenin and the Bolshevik Revolution
Leon TrotskyBolshevik Rule 1918-1924Russian Civil War
New Economic PolicyLenin's LegacyDevelopment of Communist Rule
Life in the Soviet UnionFailure of Reform and Decline of the Communist StateStalinism
Collectivisation of Soviet AgricultureWomen in the USSRDe-Stalinisation
Khruschev's Reform ProgrammeDecline of the Soviet UnionCollapse of the Soviet Union
Gorbachev

Links

European History

Romanov Family Association – Official family website of the Romanov Family.

theromanovfamily.com – not affiliated to the official family site as the name may suggest but a site dedicated to the family and based upon their letters, journals etc.

BBC – Clips from BBC Four Empire of the Tsars

BBC – Russia in the First World War and Revolution (1914-1921)

The Guardian – Secret History of Cities: Magnitogorsk, Soviet Steel City

Seventeen Moments in Soviet History – Excellent resource that looks at key moments in Soviet History through Primary Sources.

Communist Party of the Russian Federation – website of today’s Communist Party in Russia