Soviet Union

The Soviet Union was a nation that existed from 1922 to 1991, and came into being as a result of the revolution that transformed Russia into a socialist nation in 1917.

The Soviet  Union was the largest nation on the planet and was known for being the great representative of socialist ideology. It existed for much of the 20th century and its emergence is related to the Revolution of 1917 , which transformed Russia into a socialist nation.

The transformations that took place in this country after the revolution led to the emergence of the Soviet Union during the 1920s. This group was formed by 15 Soviet nations, which ended up gaining their independence after it was dissolved in 1991. The end of the USSR was responsible by the end of the Cold War , a political-ideological conflict that marked the second half of the 20th century.

Its end is also related to the economic crisis that the Union faced from the 1970s onwards. This crisis became so intense that it led to a political crisis, making it unsustainable to maintain the country and the communist bloc under the influence of the Soviets. , which collapsed at the end of the 1980s.

Russian Revolution and the emergence of the Soviet Union

Vladimir Lenin was the leader of the October Revolution of 1917 and governed the country until his death in 1924.
Vladimir Lenin was the leader of the October Revolution of 1917 and governed the country until his death in 1924.

The emergence of the Soviet Union is directly linked to the Russian Revolution of 1917 , also known as the October Revolution. This revolution, led by Vladimir Lenin, ensured the rise of the Bolsheviks to Russian power and was responsible for overthrowing Kerensky’s Provisional Government.

The Provisional Government, in turn, had taken power in Russia in February 1917, was composed of liberals and socialists and had been responsible for removing the Romanov Dynasty from power. Kerensky’s overthrow occurred through the seizure of the streets of Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg) by the Bolsheviks.

This brought Lenin to power and began the country’s transformation to a socialist model. The victory of the communists was the result of the turbulent context that the country was experiencing. Affected by economic inequality resulting from centuries of tsarism and affected by the economic crisis and war, the revolutionary solution ended up gaining strength in the country.

The implementation of socialism in the country generated an international reaction that started the Russian Civil War. This war was the result of the joining of forces opposing the newly installed socialist regime. This formation was known as the White Army, and was attended by soldiers and foreign funding.

To defend socialism in Russia, the Red Army was formed, and command of it was handed over to one of the leaders of the revolution — Leon Trostki. This war considerably worsened the situation in Russia, as the country had just emerged from three years of conflict in the First World War .

In any case, the Red Army managed to emerge victorious after three years of civil war. This victory and the great military mobilization carried out by the Bolsheviks allowed the Russian government to guarantee control over the interior of the country, in regions that until then could be considered “rebels”. The consolidation of Bolshevik socialism in Russia led to the unification of some nations, and the USSR was formed in 1922 .

The rise of Stalin in the Soviet Union

Chronologically, from the end of 1917 until the beginning of 1924, power in the Soviet Union was in the hands of Lenin. His influence began to deteriorate as his health suffered, from 1922 onwards, as a result of a stroke. As a result, a dispute over the succession of power began within the government.

Among the names competing for power, Leon Trostki and Josef Stalin stand out , although others, such as Nikolai Bukharin, Grigori Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, also expressed their intention to take command of the Soviet Union. In the political game, Stalin had more skill, and thus prevailed, becoming the leader of the country.

Zinoviev and Kamenev would be removed from the Communist Party and only readmitted in 1928. Trostki was expelled from the party and forced into exile in 1929. The rivalry between Trotsky and Stalin was such that the latter sent a spy to kill the former while he was in exile in Mexico, in 1940. In addition to the dispute for power, what was at stake in the rivalry between Trotsky and Stalin were ideological differences over the direction of socialism.

Trostki believed in the international construction of socialism and defended the Soviet Union’s permanent role in expanding this ideology across Europe, for example. Stalin, on the other hand, believed in the idea of ​​“socialism in one country” and that the Soviet Union should first consolidate socialism internally , and then act on its spread throughout the world.

  • Stalinism

Stalin’s rise to power began a period known as Stalinism , agreed between 1924 and 1953 (although some say that Stalin’s government began only in 1927). Stalinism became known for being a totalitarian regime whose great symbol was Stalin’s authoritarianism and the persecution of the country’s opposition and their execution.

Stalinism, throughout its entirety, was marked by the cult of Stalin’s image and the persecution of dissent that resulted in the arrest and death of millions of people. Furthermore, a land collectivization process was carried out that also resulted in the death of millions of people from starvation, and Soviet industry grew rapidly.

Historian Lewis Siegelbaum states that the industrialization promoted by Stalin during this period was the way he found to guarantee the economic autonomy necessary for the viability of the Soviet Union.|1| The desire to industrialize the country gave birth to the Five-Year Plans, economic measures that stipulated the effective action of the State to guarantee substantial industrialization.

In addition to the massive industrialization of the Soviet Union, Stalinism was marked by the large-scale use of forced labor camps, known as gulags . These places hosted people who were seen as a threat by the government — the old Russian elite, the intelligentsia (intellectual elite), and people who opposed some government policies.

The persecution of the “opposition” led to the deaths of important cadres of the Soviet government and the Communist Party. Important members of the Russian army were killed (which left the country lacking competent military commanders), as well as former allies, such as Nikolai Bukharin, and Leon Trotsky, as mentioned.

In agriculture, Stalinism carried out the collectivization of the country’s land , a process that basically consisted of transforming all productive land and the assets that existed on it into State property. The objective was to transfer agricultural production entirely into the hands of the State, and thus guarantee its increase as a way of making the country’s industrialization viable.

The resistance that this measure generated among medium and large farmers was gigantic, and the government’s action was authoritarian. In 1933, for example, around 850,000 people were sent to work camps.|2| Collectivization also led to deaths, and, in this process, millions of people in Ukraine died of starvation, in what became known as the Holodomor .

  • Second World War

The Second World War was humanity’s greatest conflict and lasted from 1939 to 1945. Despite being left out of the conflict from 1939 to 1941, the Soviet Union’s involvement was crucial to the defeat of Nazism . This conflict became known in the Union as the Great Patriotic War and resulted in the deaths of approximately 20 million Soviets.

Despite the importance of the Soviet Union in defeating Nazism, paradoxically, the Soviets and Germans signed a non-aggression agreement before the war began. Known as the Non-Aggression Pact , this was signed just days before the Germans began their attack on the Poles .

His signature was part of a strategy by the Soviets (but also by the Germans) in order to better prepare themselves when the moment of imminent conflict with the Germans arrived. Through this agreement, the Soviets assured the Nazis of the possibility of invading and occupying eastern Polish territory. The Soviet invasion of Poland resulted in a massacre known as the Katyn Massacre , in which 20,000 Poles were executed by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD.

Before becoming involved in World War II, the Soviet Union participated in the Battle of Khalkhin Gol and the Winter War. The first was a battle against Japan, which took place in August 1939, and the second was a war against Finland which took place between 1939 and 1940. The Soviets officially entered World War II when the Nazis invaded the country in 1941.

The invasion of the Soviet Union was part of Operation Barbarossa , and German troops had large targets in Soviet territory . To the north, Leningrad, one of the great industrial centers of the Soviet Union; in the center, Moscow, the center of government; to the south, first Kiev, which had control over Soviet grain production, and then Stalingrad , a city at the gates of the Caucasus, an important industrial center and close to oil reserves.

The Soviets faced numerous losses in all battles, especially in the first. Soviet resistance, however, managed to stop the Nazis little by little, and the great turning point came during the Battle of Stalingrad, between July 1942 and February 1943.

The defeat at Stalingrad destroyed the German armies in the southern Soviet Union and enabled the Red Army to expel the Germans from Soviet territory. After Kursk , Nazi forces in the Soviet Union were liquidated, and the Soviets were responsible for liberating Eastern Europe from Nazi rule, as well as liberating Germany. The last Soviet battle in Europe took place during the Battle of Berlin and consolidated the Nazi defeat.

Cold War

The Soviet Union emerged from the Second World War completely destroyed, but from the destruction the country emerged victorious and began to occupy the role of power alongside the United States. Eastern Europe came under direct Soviet influence, leading to the formation of a socialist bloc.

The rivalry between the Americans and the Soviets and their different ideologies gave rise to a political-ideological conflict known as the Cold War, which lasted from 1947 to 1991. To demonstrate their power against the Americans, the Soviets made considerable investments in different areas, such as sport, technology, weapons industry, etc.

The communist bloc ended up having as its main characteristic the lack of freedom, and this was evidenced by the interventions of Soviet troops in moments of crisis for the bloc. In 1956, the Soviets intervened in Hungary, and in 1968, they put an end to the Prague Spring . The construction of the Berlin Wall was carried out in 1961, to prevent the East German population from migrating to the western part of Berlin.

  • USSR after Stalin’s death
During Nikita Khrushchev's government, Stalin's personality cult was ended through denunciations made by the government itself.*
During Nikita Khrushchev’s government, Stalin’s personality cult was ended through denunciations made by the government itself. *

In the last years of Stalin’s government, the cult of the leader gained strength, especially due to the country’s victory in the war. However, a stroke ultimately led to his death in 1953. The country was now governed by a new leader for the first time in almost 30 years. His death resulted in profound transformations in the Soviet Union.

The succession of power was passed on to Nikita Khrushchev , and he was responsible for an important event in Soviet history: de-Stalinization. Khrushchev ended the cult of Stalin that existed in the country based on denunciations of all the crimes that were committed by the former leader throughout his almost three decades in power.

Subtly and silently, the government began the de-Stalinization process by removing citations to Stalin in government documents and by not holding traditional celebrations, such as his birthday. Furthermore, repressive measures imposed by Stalin were gradually reversed.

Khrushchev’s government also began to rehabilitate people who had been governed under Stalin’s government, and in the first year alone, around 4620 people had already been rehabilitated.|3| The great moment of de-Stalinization took place at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, in 1956, when Khrushchev denounced several crimes committed by the former leader.

This speech began a more accentuated phase of de-Stalinization and resulted in the rehabilitation of thousands of people, as well as the reduction of thousands of sentences. By June 1956, more than 50 thousand people had been released and almost 20 thousand had their sentences reduced.|4| Khrushchev also strove to promote greater democratization of the Soviet government between 1957 and 1961.