Revision Notes

Kemnay Academy
Advanced Higher History
Soviet Russia 1917 – 1953
Revision Notes
1. The Downfall of the
Tsarist Regime
2.The Collapse of the
Provisional Government
1861: Emancipation of the Serfs
1881: Assassination of Alexander II
1894: Nicholas II becomes Tsar
1892 – 1902: Economic Reforms of Sergei Witte
1905: Russo-Japanese War
1905 Revolution / October Manifesto
1906: First Duma elected and dissolved
1906 – 1911: Stolypin Land Reforms / State Repression
1907: Second Duma elected and dissolved
1907 – 1912: Third Duma
1911: Assassination of Stolypin
1912 – 1914: Fourth Duma
1914: Outbreak of World War One
1915: Recall of the Duma / Progressive Bloc formed
Key Figures
Tsar Nicholas II: Tsar of Russia 1894 – 1917
Tsarina Alexandra: German wife of Nicholas II
Sergei Witte: Minister of Finance 1892 – 1902 - Prime Minister of Russia 1905/6
Gregory Rasputin: Siberian Holy Man
Peter Stolypin: Prime Minister of Russia 1906 - 1911
General Khabalov: Commander of the Petrograd Garrison
Paul Milyukov: leader of the Kadets in the Duma
Mikhail Rodzianko: President of the Fourth Duma
Alexander Kerensky: SR leader and founding member of the Provisional Committee
The Tsar’s Autocratic Regime
Nicholas II was an hereditary ruler ‘appointed by God’; his absolute rule was ratified by
the ‘Fundamental Laws of the Empire’ (1832), Before the October Manifesto of 1905,
there were no political parties.
The Tsar’s Government consisted of:
The Imperial Council: advisers directly responsible to the Tsar
The Cabinet of Ministers: responsible for various government departments
The Senate: responsible for administering the law
The inefficiencies of the Civil Service was another problem; it was weighed down by
bureaucracy and riddled with corruption, incapable of administering the vast Russian
The Tsar was also the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church was an
extremely powerful institution and emphasised the Tsar’s divine right to rule
The Repressive Nature of the Regime
Nicholas II inherited a regime where civil liberties were repressed following the
assassination of Alexander II:
There was no freedom of speech
Newspapers were censored
Political activists could be imprisoned without trial
Universities were under strict government control
The power of Local Councils (Zemstvas) were reduced
The power of the secret police, the Okhrana, was extended
State repression increased under Prime Minister Peter Stolypin; between 1906-11 Russia
was effectively under martial law, referred to as ‘Stolypin’s Necktie’
This was illustrated by the Lena Goldfields Massacre (1912) in which striking workers
were killed by Tsarist troops
Under Russification, the Empire’s national minorities such as Poles, Finns and Ukrainians
had Russian culture, education and religion enforced upon them. Anti-Semitism was also
rife in Tsarist Russia
Opposition to the Tsar
Populists: were drawn from the middle classes. They aimed to educate the peasants in
the countryside. The Populist group ‘People’s Will’ assassinated Alexander II
Social Revolutionaries (SR’s): SR’s played an active role against the Tsarist regime,
carrying out over 2,000 assassinations including the Tsar’s uncle, Grand Duke Sergei.
They drew their support from the peasantry
Social Democrats (SD’s): Followers of Marxist theory,SD’s believed the proletariat
would overthrow the bourgeoisie and establish a socialist state. At the Second Party
Congress in 1903, they split into two factions: the Bolsheviks led by Lenin and the
Mensheviks led by Martov
Octobrists: named after the October Manifesto, Octobrists represented landowners,
industrialists and big business. They were moderate in their demands, and believed the
monarchy could co-exist alongside an elected parliament
Kadets (Constitutional Democrats): the largest liberal party, the Kadets believed in a
Constitutional Monarchy in which the powers of the Tsar would be curtailed. Led by Paul
Milyukov, they were supported by small businessmen and professionals
Economic Problems
By comparison to other European powers, Russia’s economy was backward. She had some
heavy industries, but a poor infrastructure and weak banking system
Between 1892 – 1903, Minister of Finance Sergei Witte, modernised the economy.
Foreign investment, particularly from France after the signing of the Franco-Russian
Alliance, increased significantly
Witte oversaw the building of the Trans-Siberian Railway: as a result of the growth in
railways, industrial output in coal, iron and steel increased rapidly
Russia’s development into a modern industrial state brought great social problems:
migration to the cities led to overcrowding, bad housing, disease and squalor
Workers faced harsh working conditions and unemployment in times of recession; this led
to unofficial unions being formed and an increasing number of strikes from 1912
The Land Reform Issue
The vast majority of people were peasants dependent on the land for their survival.
Under the Emancipation Decree (1861), former serfs were entitled to buy land but few
could afford to do so without incurring huge debt
Between 1906 – 11, Stolypin introduced agrarian reforms to assist peasant farmers
become more productive by giving them the rights of private ownership
The pace of reform was slow, however, and by the time of Stolypin’s assassination in 1911,
only 1 / 10 of peasants owned their own land. Land reform remained a contentious issue
for most peasants
The Suppression of the Dumas
The four Dumas between 1906 and 1917 were the first elected Parliaments in Russia’s
history. Many people, however, were dissatisfied with the Duma, believing that the Tsar
had failed to meet the promises of the October Manifesto. In 1906, he passed the
Fundamental Laws: this meant that
The Tsar could dissolve the Duma
The State Council of the Duma was elected by the Tsar and could veto legislation passed
by the elected lower house
No law could be passed without the consent of the Tsar
The First Duma lasted only from April - June 1906 before being dissolved. Kadets and
other deputies reassembled at Vyborg; they were arrested and debarred from reelection
The Second Duma was also short-lived; it included a sizeable number of SR’s and SD’s
whose outspoken criticism of the Tsar led to its dissolution after a few months
After Stolypin withdrew the franchise from peasants and industrial workers, the Third
and Fourth Dumas were filled with moderates and conservatives less inclined to criticise
the Tsar; the State Council dominated political affairs
The Fourth Duma was dissolved in 1914 following the outbreak of war and reinstated in
1915; within the Duma, a Progressive Bloc was formed between Kadets and leftOctobrists; the Bloc became increasingly critical of the Tsar’s handling of the war
Russia and the First World War
Russia’s entry into the First World War in support of her Serbian ally was disastrous for
The Tsar’s regime. At first, the war stirred patriotism and united the nation behind The
Tsar; the Duma offered its full support, with only the five Bolshevik deputies in
By 1917, Russia was crippled by problems political, social and economic problems as a
direct consequence of the war:
Inflation: The stability of Russia’s economy was destroyed by increased government
spending and heavy borrowing to sustain the war effort. The Gold Standard was
abandoned, as severe inflation took hold the cost of food and fuel soared
Food Shortages: By 1916, food supplies had fallen due to peasant conscription and the
requisitioning of horses and fertilizers. Peasants began hoarding grain; food was
prioritised for the front line, leading to bread rationing in the cities
Transport: Railways were commandeered for exclusive use by the military; the network
was unable to cope with the strain of the war effort and by 1916 had virtually ground to a
halt. This meant that basic necessities of food, fuel and medicine failed to reach the
cities. Petrograd and Moscow were receiving only a third of the provisions they required
Popularity of the Tsar and Tsarina
In 1915, Nicholas II had assumed personal command of the Russian armed forces. This
was designed to rally popular support behind the war effort, however, military setbacks
on the Eastern Front led to the Tsar being blamed personally
The Tsarina, Alexandra, was branded a ‘German spy’: her relationship with Gregory
Rasputin greatly damaged the credibility of the Monarchy at a time when Russia was
embroiled in a desperate struggle for survival
Rasputin’s apparent influence over the Tsar’s wartime government merely added fuel to
the fire of those who criticised the corruption and incompetence of the regime
The Collapse in Morale
Dispiriting setbacks on the Eastern Front led to a collapse in army morale. This was
compounded by the huge losses incurred by the Brusilov Offensive in 1916
A report conducted by the President of the Duma, Mikhail Rodzianko, in 1916 revealed
widespread disorganisation and indiscipline within the army, as well as shortages of
uniforms, boots, medicine and ammunition
Desertion among the peasants who made up the bulk of the Russian Army increased
On 28 February, Kronstadt sailors mutinied against their officers
The ‘Progressive Bloc’
The Duma had dissolved itself at the outbreak of war but was recalled in July 1915. The
Tsar declined, however, to replace his incompetent Cabinet of Ministers with a new body
more representative of the people
236 of the 422 deputies formed a ‘Progressive Bloc’ comprising largely of Kadets, leftOctobrists and other progressive parties. The SR’s also supported the Bloc in Duma
The Bloc was not hostile to the Tsar and supported the war effort but Nicholas’ refusal
to acknowledge its authority lost much of the remaining goodwill towards him
The February Revolution
In February 1917, discontent against the Tsar’s regime rapidly turned into a revolution;
the speed with which events unfolded and the lack of leadership suggests the revolution
was spontaneous rather than planned
Hostility towards the Tsar was reflected by peasant unrest and discontent among the
mass of industrial workers, provoked by the prolonged miseries of the war years along
with a government clampdown on trade union activity and suppression of civil liberties
Striking workers from the huge Putilov Steel Works were joined on the streets by other
workers, alarmed by rumours of further cuts in bread rations
23 February coincided with International Women’s Day; thousands of women had taken
to the streets and along with the mass of workers brought Petrograd to a standstill
Breakdown of Law and Order
General Khabalov, Commander of the Petrograd Garrison, informed the Tsar (400 miles
away at the Front) that he could not impose martial law as most of his troops refused to
obey orders
Troops sent from the Front to reinforce the Garrison also deserted; many of the police
ordered to bring the protests under control joined the demonstrators instead
The Dual Authority
On 27 February, the Tsar ordered the Duma to dissolve; deputies instead formed a
‘Provisional Committee’ (which evolved into the Provisional Government), One of its
leaders, Alexander Kerensky, called for the Tsar’s abdication
On the same day, the ‘Petrograd Soviet’ of Soldiers, Sailors and Workers’ deputies met
for the first time at the Tauride Palace – the same building as the Provisional Committee
The Soviet was set up largely at the instigation of the Mensheviks, and became the
mouthpiece of the striking workers, soldiers and sailors. (The Bolsheviks were not
involved as most of their leaders were in exile at this time)
On 28 February, the Soviet declared its determination to ‘wipe out the old regime’ and
establish a Constituent Assembly
Rodzianko advised the Tsar that only his abdication could save the monarchy. On 28
February, Nicholas attempted to return to Petrograd but the royal train was intercepted
by his generals 100 miles from the city
Nicholas was persuaded to sign the decree of abdication on 2 March, nominating his
brother Grand Duke Michael as Tsar, which he sensibly declined
On 3 March, the Provisional Government announced itself as the official government of
Russia and the Tsar’s abdication was made public the following day
While mass protests played a part in the Tsar’s downfall, it was some of his most loyal
supporters – army generals, police chiefs and aristocratic members of the Duma – who
lost faith in Nicholas and persuaded him to abdicate
February 27 Provisional Committee is formed
March 1 Petrograd Soviet Issues Order No. 1
April 4 Lenin delivers his April Theses
May 17 Kronstadt Soviet declares itself independent of Provisional Government
May 31 Kerensky becomes Minister for War
June 16 Kerensky Offensive begins
July 3 – 6 July Days Uprising
July 7 Kerensky becomes Prime Minister after Lvov’s Resignation
September 1 Kornilov abandons his march on Petrograd
October 8 Trotsky becomes Chairman of Petrograd Soviet
Formation of the MRC
October 23 Kerensky moves to crush the Bolsheviks
October 25 First Session of the Congress of Soviets
Seizure of the Winter Palace
Kerensky flees from Petrograd
October 26 Lenin claims power in the name of the
Congress of Soviets
Key Figures
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin: Bolshevik leader
Leon Trotsky: Chairman of Petrograd Soviet (from 8 October)
General Lavr Kornilov: Commander in Chief of Russian Army (from 18 July)
Prince Georgy Lvov: Prime Minister of the Provisional Government (until 7 July)
Paul Milyukov: Foreign Minister in the Provisional Government (until 2 May)
Alexander Kerensky: Minister for War / Prime Minister of Russia (from7 July)
Formation of the Provisional Government
The Provisional Government evolved from the Provisional Committee which formed after
the Tsar dissolved the Duma.
It assumed power after the Tsar’s abdication on 13 March 1917, and consisted of
representatives from all political parties apart from the Bolsheviks. A ‘Temporary
Committee’ included:
Prince Georgy Lvov Prime Minister
Paul Milyukov (Kadets) Foreign Minister
Alexander Kerensky (SR’s) Minister for Justice
Alexander Guchcov (Octobrists) Minister of War
Peter Struve (Kadets) Minister of Trade
The Provisional Government immediately announced a number of progressive liberal
An amnesty for all political prisoners
Freedom of speech, press, and assembly
The abolition of all restrictions based on class, religion, and nationality
Arrangements for the calling on a Constituent Assembly on the basis of universal
Problems Facing the Provisional Government
From the outset, the Provisional Government faced several key problems:
It was not an elected body and lacked legitimate authority
It had no constitutional rights to dictate laws to the Russian people
It had no military backing to enforce its decrees
The Provisional Government therefore relied on the goodwill of the people for its
support. Initially, it enjoyed a certain amount of support from the people: this was,
however, gradually eroded by three key issues:
The failure to deal with the ongoing problems of land reform
The continuation of the war against Germany on the Eastern Front
The problem of ‘Dual Authority’
The Land Issue
As far as Russia’s vast peasant population was concerned, land reform was the most
important issue in the wake of the Tsar’s abdication. Land reforms had come to a halt
following Stolypin’s assassination and the onset of war
The Provisional Government, however, were reluctant to simply allow the peasants to take
over private land without compensation for landowners:
Many members of the government came from the landowning and propertied classes
The government did not view land reform as a main priority given the ongoing war against
Germany and Austria
The Land Commission set up by the Provisional Government made little progress in solving
the problem
Lenin believed the peasantry had little revolutionary zeal: the Bolsheviks therefore had
no real land policy, however, he saw an opportunity to undermine the government by
stirring up discontent over the land issue
Lenin effectively stole the SR slogan: ‘Land to the Peasants’, recognising the legitimacy
of peasant land seizure. This led to an upsurge in Bolshevik support in the countryside
and split the SR’s; ‘left’ SR’s now sided with the Bolsheviks
The War Issue
The continuation of the war against Germany on the Eastern Front was the biggest
problem facing the Provisional Government. Without supplies and war credits from her
Western Allies Russia faced economic collapse
Foreign Minister Milyukov pledged to continue the war until Germany was defeated; this
led to Bolshevik-orchestrated anti-war demonstrations against the government in late
The demonstrations forced the resignation of Milyukov along with Guchkov, the Minister
for War. These resignations weakened Prince Lvov’s administration
With each military setback on the Eastern Front, support for the Provisional Government
declined. Bolshevik agitators infiltrated army units, encouraging soldiers to disobey
officers and desert en masse
The Problem of ‘Dual Authority’
In the wake of the Tsar’s abdication, Soviets were set up in most of Russia’s major towns
and cities; it was the Petrograd Soviet that was to play a key role in the downfall of the
Provisional Government, however:
The Petrograd Soviet was not initially hostile to the PG and agreed to co-operate
on certain conditions
Both the Soviet and PG met within the Tauride Palace; some representatives such
as Kerensky were members of both bodies
The Soviet was primarily concerned with the welfare of the soldiers and workers
whom it represented; it did not present itself as an alternative government
Initially, the Soviet was dominated by moderate socialists, Mensheviks and SR’s. A
central committee – Ispolkom – was formed and took most of the key decisions
Gradually, there was a swing to the ‘left’ as Bolsheviks began to exert increasing
influence over the Soviet. Increasingly, there was less co-operation between the two
bodies, particularly after the ‘July Days’. Increasingly, the Soviet moved to the ‘left’
while the Provisional Government moved to the ‘right’
Soviet Order No. 1
On 1 March 1917, the Soviet issued Order No. 1 in response to a decree by the
Provisional Government that soldiers of the Petrograd Garrison who had taken part in the
February Revolution were to return to barracks.
The importance of Soviet Order No. 1 was far-reaching:
The Order stated that soldiers were only to obey the orders of their officers and the
decrees of the Provisional Government if these did not contradict the orders of the
It also stated that soldiers should elect representatives to the Soviet and should form
committees to run their unit; the saluting of officers and standing to attention when off
duty was to be abolished
Soviet Order No 1 fatally undermined the authority of the Provisional Government, as it
could not count on the support of soldiers to enforce its decrees unless the et was in
The April Thesis
On 3 April, Lenin returned from exile to Petrograd, famously arriving at the Finland
Station where he was greeted by enthusiastic Bolshevik supporters. The following day, he
issued his famous ‘April Thesis’
There would be no co-operation with other parties
The Provisional Government was to be overthrown in a workers’ revolution
All authority was to be transferred to the Soviets
Lenin’s ‘all power to the Soviets’ slogan was based on his belief that the Bolsheviks could
use the Soviets as a power base to assume control, seemingly with the consent of the
Lenin other slogan, ‘Peace, Bread and Land’ was designed to appeal to the workers and
peasants whose three main concerns were: the continuation of the war; the shortages of
food; the ongoing issue of land reform
Lenin’s return to Petrograd in October
Following the July Days, Lenin fled into exile once more. He returned to Petrograd on 7
October, convinced that the time was right for Revolution; this was despite the concerns
of other members of the Bolshevik party such as Kamenev and Zinoviev
Lenin believed, however, that the Bolsheviks would have to seize power before two events
took place:
The meeting of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets
Elections to the Constituent Assembly
Lenin argued his case to the Central Committee, who on 10 October finally agreed to an
armed insurrection against the Provisional Government
While others wavered, it was Lenin who provided not only the vision but the drive and
determination (as well as the ruthlessness) to carry out a successful Bolshevik Coup in
October 1917 using a small band of dedicated, professional revolutionaries
The ‘Kerensky Offensive’
Alexander Kerensky (SR’s) held positions both in the PG and the Soviet. He became
Minister for War following Guchkov’s resignation in May 1917
Kerensky was a flamboyant and energetic figure; he made several visits to the front line
and appealed to Russian patriotism in an effort to continue the war. He was, however,
criticised for his liberal army reforms which included the abolition of the death penalty
for desertion
On 16 June, Kerensky ordered a huge offensive against Austro-Hungarian forces in
Galicia; the offensive was poorly timed as morale was extremely low among troops
Despite initial successes, a strong counter-attack by Austrian and German forces forced
a headlong retreat of some 150 miles. Russian casualties were estimated at around
400,000 killed and wounded
The failure of the Kerensky Offensive had disastrous consequences for the Provisional
Government. In Petrograd, news of the failure led to rioting among soldiers and workers
which became known as the ‘July Days’
The ‘July Days’
The events of 3 – 6 July were generally chaotic, set against the backdrop of
widespread civil unrest:
workers had taken control of many factories
there was widespread seizure of land by the peasants
a number of national minority governments had been formed
The demonstrators – including a contingent of Kronstadt sailors – were scattered and
order quickly restored. Though it is widely accepted that Bolshevik agitators were behind
the uprising, Trotsky later claimed the violence was pre-empted by Mensheviks and SR’s.
In a sense, the July Days played into Kerensky’s hands:
At this stage, there were still sufficient troops loyal to the government to crush the
The Bolsheviks were greatly discredited; they were shown to be disorganised, poorly-led
and branded as traitors
Kerensky ordered the arrest of Bolshevik leaders including Trotsky & Kamenev; Lenin
fled once more into exile. The Bolshevik newspaper ‘Pravda’ was closed down
The Kornilov Affair
The event that undermined Kerensky’s authority more than any other was the ‘Kornilov
Affair’. General Lavr Kornilov had been appointed by Kerensky as Commander in Chief of
the Army. He was a proud Cossack and Monarchist
In September 1917, Kornilov, ordered a contingent of loyal troops to Petrograd, intending
to crush the Soviet and restore order to the streets
Whether Kerensky was complicit in Kornilov’s plan to overthrow the Soviet is debatable.
On realising the threat posed by Kornilov to the Provisional Government, however,
Kerensky ordered Kornilov to surrender his command
He issued 40,000 firearms to workers (many of whom subsequently joined the
Bolsheviks) and called on loyal citizens to defend the capital
While Kornilov’s coup attempt failed, it was highly damaging to the Provisional
Government and to Kerensky in particular who was seen to have made a huge tactical
blunder in several respects:
The Provisional Government was now seen as extremely vulnerable to armed insurrection
Kerensky’s own credibility was damaged by first being seen to ‘conspire’ with Kornilov,
then having him arrested
Bolshevik prisoners were released from prison and issued with weapons which they would
later use. The Bolsheviks were now seen as the ‘defenders of the capital’ and of the
February Revolution – Kerensky underestimated the threat from the ‘left’
After Kornilov’s arrest, Kerensky assumed responsibility as Commander in Chief of the
Russian Army and therefore took responsibility for its military failures
Kerensky & the October Revolution
Kerensky made another crucial mistake in ordering troops of the Petrograd
Garrison to the front; the order was ignored and led to mass desertion of garrison
Kerensky then pre-empted the timing of the Bolshevik coup: following the
publication of an article by Kamanev and Zinoviev arguing against the overthrow of
the PG, he became convinced that a coup was imminent
Kerensky ordered the arrest of Bolshevik leaders; this was to prove impossible,
given the lack of loyal troops; Kerensky’s tactical blunder was the signal for the
Bolsheviks to act
Control of the Soviet
Arrested following the July Days, Trotsky had been released from prison along with
other Bolsheviks during the Kornilov Affair; on 8 October, he was elected Chairman of
the Petrograd Soviet
By this time, attendance at Soviet meetings had declined to just a few hundred; this
enabled the Bolsheviks to form the majority in the Soviet and exert a disproportionate
degree of influence
The Soviet consequently moved increasingly to the ‘left’ while the Provisional Government
moved to the ‘right’: Dual Authority was essentially at an end
Trotsky sided with Lenin against Kamanev and Zinoviev on the need to take decisive
action against the Provisional Government before the moment was lost and elections to
the Constituent Assembly could be held
Trotsky and the MRC
While Lenin was undoubtedly the inspiration and instigator behind the October
Revolution, Trotsky was the main organiser of events as they unfolded
One of the main reasons for the success of the October Revolution was the formation of
the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC)
Trotsky used his position as Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet to form the MRC on the
pretence of defending Petrograd from German invasion or a military coup. This
‘legitamised’ the insurrection as the Red Guard were seen to be acting on the authority of
the Soviet
On 24/25 October, Trotsky personally directed the seizure of key public buildings and
the storming of the Winter Palace, defended only by a few military cadets, Cossacks and
a Woman’s Battalion, the ‘Amazons’
Trotsky later stated that the two key factors in the success of the October Revolution
The formation of the MRC
The desertion of the Petrograd Soviet
Cults Academy
Advanced Higher History
Soviet Russia 1917 – 1953
Revision Notes
3. The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power
4.The Russian Civil War
THEMES 3 & 4:
1917: Sovnarkom formed /State Capitalism introduced (dec)
Cheka formed (dec)
1918: Red Army formed (Jan)
Declaration of Rights (Jan)
Constituent Assembly dissolved (Jan)
Treaty of Brest Litovsk (Mar)
Revolt of the Czech Legion (May)
War Communism introduced (Jun)
The Ice March / Death of General Kornilov (Apr)
Yudenich’s failed attack on Petrograd (Oct/Nov)
Defeat of Deniken’s Volunteer Army at Orel (Oct)
1919 Defeat of Kolchak’s White Army at Omsk (Oct)
1920 Withdrawl of most foreign troops from Russia
1921 Tambov Rising
1921 Kronstadt Rebellion (Mar)
Tenth Party Congress / War Communism ended (Mar)
Key Figures
Lenin: Chairman of the Sovnarkom (Council of Ministers)
Trotsky: People’s Commissar for War
General Deniken: Commander of Volunteer White Army
General Yudenich: Commander of Northwestern White Army
General Kolchak: Commander of White Army of Siberia
Alexander Shlyapnikov: leader of Workers’ Opposition
Alexandra Kollontai: leader of Workers’ Opposition
Stepan Petrechenko: Chairman of Kronstadt Sailors Committee
Following the revolution, the Bolsheviks faced a desperate battle for survival. They were
a minority party with a relatively small support base. According to Lenin, power had been
seized with the backing of the Congress of Soviets. In reality, the coup had been
instigated by the Bolsheviks alone and without the consent of other parties
Key issues facing the Bolsheviks included:
the threat of counter-revolutionary forces
the problem of severe food shortages & inflation
the negotiation of a peace settlement with Germany
imminent elections to the Constituent Assembly
Structure of the New Government
Following the Revolution, Lenin formed a new legislative body, the Sovnarkom: (Council of
the People’s Commissars). Essentially, this was the Central Committee of the Bolshevik
Party in all but name and included:
Chairman: Lenin
Commissar for Foreign Affairs / War Trotsky
Commissar for Internal Affairs: Rykov
Commissar for Nationalities: Stalin
In theory, the Sovnarkom was appointed by the Congress of Soviets, who in turn were
elected by local Soviets. In reality, Lenin had no intention of following such democratic
State Capitalism
Marxist theory envisaged the transformation from a capitalist to a socialist state
representing the triumph of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie. In practical terms,
however, Russia faced severe shortages of raw materials, a fall in industrial production
and soaring inflation
Lenin foresaw a period of transition in which existing economic structures would act as a
stepping stone to socialism
Capitalist institutions such as banks, post offices and building societies were placed
under state control; railways and other industries were nationalised
All private trade and enterprise would be regulated by the Vesenkha, a sub-committee
answerable to the Sovnarkom
Lenin referred to this transitional phase as ‘State Capitalism’ and this became the
cornerstone of Bolshevik economic policy in the year following the revolution
The Declaration of Rights
In the weeks following the revolution, the Sovnarkom ruled by decree without consulting
the Soviet. This was what Marx had described as ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ – a
necessary phase in the transition between a capitalist and a socialist state
Aware that the Bolsheviks faced potential discontent among workers, peasants and
national minorities, Lenin took steps to appease these groups by issuing a declaration of
The Decree on Land
Private land ownership was abolished; the sale or lease of land was forbidden. In a sense,
this was merely rubber-stamping the fact that peasants had already seized huge amounts
of land from the landowners
The Decree on Workers’ Control
This allowed workers’ committees to take responsibility for factory management and
production; in reality, the state still regulated factories by controlling the committees to
ensure strict order and discipline was maintained
The Decree on National Minorities
Self-autonomy was to be granted to the ‘free nations’ of the federation of Soviet
national republics. As the Bolsheviks had little authority outwith Petrograd and Moscow,
this decree had little real impact
The Use of Terror
In addition to acceding to popular demands, another aspect of Bolshevik consolidation of
power was the use of state terror to wipe out opposition
This was achieved through the ‘Cheka’, the Bolshevik secret police formed by a decree on
20 December 1917. The Cheka was commanded by Felix Dzerzhinsky; the Cheka soon
gained a reputation for brutality surpassing that of the Tsar’s hated Okhrana
A number of leading Kateds, SR’s and Mensheviks were arrested and some executed
without trial; opposition newspapers were closed down
There was a purge of the Civil Service who had resisted the Bolshevik coup by going on
Members of the bourgeoisie were liable to arrest and stripped of their wealth and
priviliges; this was the beginning of ‘class warfar
The Constituent Assembly
Elections to the Constituent Assembly took place on 25 November 1917; the result – as
Lenin feared – emphasised the Bolsheviks’ precarious hold on power:
The Bolsheviks gained just 175 seats, a distant second to the SR’s who gained 370 seats
They had polled just 24% of the popular vote, largely confined to the urban districts
Even an alliance with the ‘left SR’s’ was insufficient for the Bolsheviks to wield authority
within the Assembly
Lenin’s refusal to co-operate with other parties was now put to the test; either the
Bolsheviks could take their place as a minority party within the Assembly and hope to
exert influence legitimately, or more drastic action could be taken
The Dissolving of the Constituent Assembly
The Constituent Assembly met for the first and only time at 4pm on 5 January 1918,
and was dissolved by Red Guard factions in the early hours of the following morning
Lenin claimed that the Soviet government created in October was the legitimate
government, elected by the will of the workers and soldiers. He also claimed the
Constituent Assembly elections had been rigged by the SR’s and Kadets
The dissolving of the Constituent Assembly was to have far-reaching consequences:
A Constituent Assembly had been the dream of many ordinary Russians for generations;
its dissolution was a bitter disappointment to those who believed the October Revolution
was a force for democratic change
Crowds of protestors who gathered in support of the Assembly were fired upon by the
Red Guard; this had echoes of the old Tsarist regime
Workers, soldiers and peasants had supported the revolution in the belief that a new
government would consist of representatives from all parties
The dissolving of the Constituent Assembly alienated many people against the Bolsheviks
and was one of the main causes of the Civil War
The Treaty of Brest Litovsk
Lenin and Trotsky disagreed over the cessation of hostilities against Germany. Trotsky
was of the belief that the war could be turned into a ‘class war’; he argued that a peace
settlement should be delayed until Bolshevik agitators could instill revolutionary belief in
Austrian and German troops. Lenin disagreed as:
The German government had funded Lenin in his attempts to undermine the Russian war
effort and continued to fund the Bolshevik Party after the revolution
The Bolsheviks’ anti-war stance had stood them apart from other parties. Lenin believed
that ‘peace at any price’ was vital for the survival of the revolution
An Armistice was agreed at Brest-Litovsk on 22nd December 1917; it soon became clear
that the German government intended to impose a harsh settlement
Trotsky, who as Foreign Minister headed the Russian delegation, withdrew from the talks
declaring ambiguously: ‘no peace – no war.”
Talks were resumed and the peace settlement eventually signed on 3 March 1918; the
terms of the treaty were extremely harsh:
Huge parts of the Russian Empire from the Black Sea to the Baltic were ceded to German
control, including Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Finland and the Baltic States
Russia lost about one sixth of her population; 25% of her arable land; 75% of her iron ore
and coal reserves
Russia was to pay 3 billion roubles in war reparations
Neither Lenin nor Trotsky were concerned with the huge loss of territory as they were
convinced a workers’ revolution was inevitable, however, they faced a serious backlash
from Russians horrified at the acceptance of such harsh terms:
People from across the social classes, particularly those on the ‘right’ and ‘centre’ such as
conservatives and Kadets, formed an opposition bloc against the Bolsheviks
‘Left’ Bolsheviks and ‘left’ SR’s on the other hand believed the peace settlement betrayed
the idea of a worldwide workers’ revolution by enabling the triumph of Germany as an
Imperialistic Power
Along with the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, the signing of the Treaty of
Brest Litovsk created such opposition to the Bolsheviks that Russia was dragged into a
long and bloody civil war
The Russian Civil War was fought largely from 1918 – 1921, though sporadic fighting
continued after this. It was a long, bloody and complex struggle. The main protagonists
Reds: Bolsheviks and their supporters
Whites: Counter-Revolutionaries including former army officers, Cossacks and supporters
of the other political parties such as the SR’s and Kadets
Greens: national minorities such as Ukrainians and Georgians who fought for
The Czech Legion: a force of Czech volunteers trapped within Russia following the Treaty
of Brest-Litovsk
Foreign Interventionists: forces from outwith Russia including the United States, Britain
and France as well as Japanese troops
The Red Army
The Red Army – officially the ‘Workers and Peasants Red Army’ – evolved from the Red
Guard who had participated in the October Revolution.
It comprised largely of Kronstadt sailors, former soldiers and workers who supported
the revolution. It was established by a decree of 28 January 1918
As People’s Commissar for War, Trotsky had the responsibility for forging an efficient
fighting force. Within a few months, it was around 250,000 strong and later grew to
several million in number
The White Army
There were several White Armies of which the most significant forces were:
A 20,000 strong Northwestern Army commanded by General Yudenich; it operated in the
Baltic and made a failed attack on Petrograd in October 1919
Admiral Kolchak’s 110,000 strong Siberian Army controlled much of Siberia, where the
Mensheviks and SR’s had declared an independent Republic; Kolchak’s Army were allied
with the Czech Legion
The largest White force was General Denekin’s ‘Volunteer Army’ operated in the
Caucasus Region of Southern Russia; at its peak, it was 250,000-strong and supported by
Cossacks, Polish, French and British forces
The Green Armies
‘Greens’ was a loose term to describe armed groups of peasants who fought independently
of the Reds and the Whites. Greens were most active in Ukraine and Georgia and fought
for national independence or local self-interest
Perhaps the most famous ‘Green Army’ was that of the Ukrainian anarchist Nestor
Makhno, who waged a brutal campaign against both Red and White forces before being
driven into exile in 1921
Other independent warlords such as Roman Ungern von Sternberg waged their own
private wars in Mongolia and elsewhere across the Empire
The Czech Legion
The Czech Legion was one of several foreign forces trapped inside Russia following the
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, another being the 5 Polish Rifle Division. Both fought alongside
Admiral Kolchak against the Red Army in Siberia
During World War 1, the 50,000 strong Czech Legion had volunteered to fight alongside
the Russian Army in the hope of securing an independent Czech homeland; the Czech
troops planned to reach Vladivostock via the Trans-Siberian railway, from where they
would be evacuated to the Western Front to resume the fight against Germany
Trotsky, who had previously granted safe passage to the Legion, was then compelled by
the terms of Brest-Litovsk to disarm them. This led, in May 1918, to the ‘Revolt of the
Legions’ and subsequent clashes with Bolshevik forces
Foreign Interventionists
Following the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, British, French and American forces were dispatched
to safeguard stockpiles of supplies sent to aid the Russian war effort against Germany.
British and French ships patrolled the Baltic and the Black Seas
Politicians like Churchill called for the Bolsheviks to be overthrown to stop the spread of
Communism; there were concerns that Russia’s war debts would not be honoured and the
assets of foreign investors would be frozen
Other foreign powers, notably Czechoslovakia, Finland, Lithaunia, Poland and Romania sent
troops against the Bolsheviks; a large Japanese force occupied the vital pacific port of
The Role of Trotsky
As Commissar for War, Trotsky was responsible for the creation of the Red Army and
enjoyed a free hand in military matters
He enlisted a large number of ex-Tsarist officers to train and instill discipline in the
army; he imposed a harsh regime, including the return of the death penalty for desertion
or disloyalty
Conscription was enforced in areas controlled by the Bolsheviks; this swelled the ranks of
the Red Army to around 3 million men
Trotsky proved an inspired wartime leader; he kept a high profile, travelling to the front
line in a ‘sealed train’ utilized as his command headquarters. Trotsky also devised Red
Army planning and strategy
Control of the Railways
Trotsky realised that control of Russia’s rail network was vital to the Bolshevik war
effort & made it a priority to protect vital rail links between Petrograd and Moscow
the railways were the means to transport troops, ammunition and supplies to the front
line as well as industrial resources to the cities
Control of the Cities
The Bolsheviks remained in control of a concentrated area of Western Russia around
Petrograd and Moscow for the entire duration of the war
control of the cities was vital to maintain supplies and good lines of communications; it
also meant the Bolsheviks controlled the factories and were able to maintain a high level
of industrial production
Use of Propaganda
The Bolsheviks used propaganda effectively to portray the White Army as being in league
with the ‘foreign invaders’ of Britain, France and the United States. The Bolsheviks were
seen as the ‘defenders of the Motherland’
Bolshevik propaganda warned of a return to the days of the hated Tsarist regime if the
Whites were victorious
They played on atrocities committed by the White Army to create hostility in Whitecontrolled areas
While the Reds were unified by a single cause the White war effort was greatly
hampered by a lack of unity and co-ordination; the White Armies largely fought as
separate entities with a lack of common cause
There was lack of co-operation between the Whites, Foreign Interventionists, the Czech
Legion and the Greens; each fought for their own self-interests sometimes in conflict
with each other
Foreign Intervention was largely ineffective and half-hearted: co-ordination with White
forces was often poor. By the end of 1919, the vast majority of French and American
troops were withdrawn
Geography and logistics
The three main White Armies were spread out across vast areas: Yudenich in the northwest, Kolchak in the north-east and Deniken in the South
Bolshevik control of the railways meant it was extremely difficult for the White forces
to move men and supplies effectively and to co-ordinate offensives
As the Bolsheviks controlled the industrial centres, the White Armies relied on supplies
from abroad; these were often unreliable and in insufficient quantities to sustain the
White war effort
Leadership & Morale
The Whites lacked inspirational leadership. The one man who could have united White
forces, General Kornilov, was killed in April 1918 following his famous ‘Ice March’
His successor, Deniken, was defeated at Orel in October 1918 and forced to retreat
thereafter. Yudenich’s poorly co-ordinated attacked on Petrograd ended in failure in
October 1918; Kolchak’s tactical blunders led to his defeat at Omsk in October 1919
Morale among White forces was often extremely low; peasants were often conscripted
into the army only to desert en masse. Foreign troops – after four years of war on the
Western Front – had no real willpower to fight
Forced conscription and atrocities committed by White forces often led to great
resentment and resistance among the local population
In June 1918, Lenin abandoned State Capitalism and introduced a series of economic,
political and social measures known collectively as ‘War Communism’. This was
necessitated by:
rising inflation
severe food shortages
a shortage of labour due to conscription
The main aim of War Communism was to concentrate economic and industrial resources
into the war effort but this met with only limited success. War Communism was enforced
by the Supreme Economic Council, ‘Vesenkha’ and centralised all areas of the economy
under Bolshevik control. In June 1918, a ‘Decree on Nationalisation’ enabled the party to
take direct control over factories and railways
Main features of War Communism
All industry was nationalised
A state monopoly on foreign trade was introduced
Strict discipline was imposed on workers
Forced Labour was imposed on non-working classes
Requisition of agricultural surpluses from peasants
Food and most commodities were rationed in the cities
Private enterprise became illegal
Military-like control of railroads was introduced
Effects of War Communism
Industrial output declined due to a shortage of raw materials and manpower; by 1921,
heavy industry had fallen to output levels of 20% of those in 1913. This was aggravated
by a 50-75% drop in the population of Petrograd and Moscow as workers fled the cities in
search of food
A black market emerged in despite the ban on profiteering. The ruble collapsed and was
replaced by a system of bartering; 90% of all wages were paid with goods. 70% of railway
locomotives were in need of repair
Requisitioning squads sent into the countryside to seize grain met strong opposition from
peasants who refused to co-operate; food production fell as the peasants had no
incentive to produce. Requisitioning led to severe famine in which millions died
The Red Terror
Another aspect of War Communism was the Red Terror that swept Russia at the height
of the Civil War. Enforced by the Cheka, the Terror was designed to bring workers and
peasants into line with the Bolshevik war effort
In the cities, workers who took industrial action were executed, for example on 16
March 1919 200 striking workers at the Putilov Works in Petrograd were shot
In the countryside, Kulaks were particularly targeted, and thousands executed for
hoarding grain
The Bolsheviks also took the opportunity to settle old scores against their many enemies.
Thousands of Tsarists, landowners and priests of the Russian Orthodox Church were
brutally murdered
Those who were not executed were often sent to Gulags, forced labour camps where
prisoners would often be worked to death or die of extreme cold, disease and starvation
Lenin justified War Communism and the use of Terror as the only means by which the
Bolsheviks could hold on to power during the Civil War. As the Terror escalated and
famine spread, however, opposition to War Communism grew dramatically forcing Lenin to
The Tambov Rebellion
Peasant revolts against grain requisitioning broke out across Russia. The largest and most
significant of these was the Tambov Rebellion in 1920/21.
A large force of peasant militia was formed to oppose the requisitioning squads. It took
30,000 Red Army troops along with squads of Cheka to crush the uprising.
The ‘Workers Opposition’
In 1921, a ‘Workers’ Opposition’ was formed, accusing Bolshevik leaders of betraying the
principles of the revolution
Among its leaders were trade union leaders and two prominent Bolsheviks, Alexander
Shlyapnikov and Alexandra Kollontai. They called for the restoration of civil liberties,
better living and working conditions and an end to martial law
The Kronstadt Rebellion
As discontent over the oppressive nature of War Communism grew, leaders of the
Workers’ Opposition joined with the Kronstadt Sailors in forming a united bloc against
the Bolshevik regime
Traditionally among the Bolsheviks’ staunchest supporters, the Kronstadt sailors had
been at the forefront of the ‘July Days’ and October Revolution – this development was
therefore extremely worrying for Lenin
In March, 1921, the workers and sailors, led by a naval officer of the Baltic Fleet, Stepan
Petrichenko, formed a Revolutionary Committee and issued a series of demands to the
Bolshevik government
Trotsky responded by ordering 60,000 Red Army troops across the ice to crush the
rebellion; after heavy fighting, the ringleaders of the rebellion were rounded up and
executed; some, including Petrichenko, escaped across the ice-bound Gulf of Finland to
Importance of the Kronstadt Rebellion
In the aftermath of the Kronstadt Rising, Lenin claimed the sailors had been infiltrated
by ‘White’ agents; in reality, he knew the rebellion was symbolic of the deeply unpopular
Bolshevik regime and that changes were essential
Consequently, at the Tenth Party Congress in March 1921, Lenin made a dramatic
economic U-turn, announcing the end of War Communism and the introduction of a New
Economic Policy (NEP).
Cults Academy
Advanced Higher History
Soviet Russia 1917 – 1953
Revision Notes
5. Evolution of the Soviet State
6.Stalin’s Rise
to Power
1918: Decree on SDeparation of Church & State
1919: Comintern (Communist International) founded
1921: Tenth Party Congress (mar) / NEP introduced
Decree against Factionalism
Treaty of Riga ends Russo-Polish War (mar)
1922: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)
Stalin becomes General Secretary of Communist Party
Treaty of Rapallo
Seizure of church wealth and properties
Proletkult disbanded
1923: Eleventh Party Congress (mar)
Declaration of the 46 (Oct)
1924: Death of Lenin (jan)
Soviet Constitution ratified (jan)
The Zinoviev Letter
Key Figures
Lenin: Chairman of Sovnarkom (Council of Ministers) and dominant figure in Politburo
Leon Trotsky: Commissar for War and key member of the Politburo
Felix Dzerzhinsky: Head of Cheka & Minister of the Interior
Nicolai Bukharin: Editor of Pravda, member of the Politburo and a main influence behind
the adoption of NEP
Anatoli Lunarcharsky: Commissar of Enlightenment (Culture and Education)
Alexandra Kollontai: feminist and leader of the ‘Workers’ Opposition’
The Introduction of NEP
By March 1921, it was clear that War Communism had failed:
Food shortages remained an acute problem
Industrial output had continued to decline
The Ruble had been devalued by soaring inflation
Black-market profiteering had flourished
There was widespread discontent, even among Bolshevik supporters
At the Tenth Party Congress in March 1921, Lenin made a dramatic turn, announcing the
end of War Communism and the introduction of a New Economic Policy (NEP) - an uneasy
mixture of capitalism and socialism. Lenin was a realist and knew such a step was
necessary to prevent full-scale rebellion
Main Features of NEP
Centralised control of the economy was relaxed
Requisitioning was abandoned, replaced by a ‘tax in kind’
Food surplus could be sold for profit
Currency and private trade was restored
The state maintained control of heavy industry, banking and foreign trade
NEP was extremely controversial within the party; many Bolsheviks including Trotsky
believed it to be a betrayal of the Revolution
There was great resentment over the emergence of ‘Nepmen’, private traders who
prospered under NEP. Nepmen were regarded as the new bourgeoisie
To appease hard-liners on the ‘left’, Lenin was forced to state that NEP was only a
temporary measure to get the economy back on track
At the Tenth Party Congress, Lenin introduced a ‘Resolution on Party Unity’ calling for a
ban on ‘factionalism’ and a ban on all other political parties. This helped to reduce
criticism as to attack NEP was now seen to be an attack on the party itself
The endorsement of NEP by Nicolai Bukharin, widely regarded as the party’s foremost
economists, also went a long way to convincing others of its merits
Impact of NEP
Under NEP, requisitioning was abolished. Private ownership was restored to some areas
of the economy, especially farming (but not to the land itself). Peasants were allowed to
lease land, hire labour and sell surplus yield for profit
Agricultural production increased: the grain harvest rose from 37.6 million tons (1921) to
51.4 million tons (1924) The efficiency of food distribution benefited the peasants who
had suffered greatly under War Communism – a new generation of Kulak farmers
Restrictions on trade and commerce were lifted; private enterprise was encouraged. This
led to the emergence of a new class of ‘NEPmen’; by 1924, NEPmen accounted for 75% of
trade within Soviet Russia. Many urban workers resented the profits made by private
What Lenin described as the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy - the heavy industries,
transport, banks and financial institutions were still state-run. Industrial production was
restored to pre-WW1 levels
Problems with NEP
Since the agricultural sector was growing faster than heavy industry, there was an
imbalance in the economy. A surplus of food meant a fall in agricultural prices
Meanwhile, the cost of manufactured goods rose; this made it more difficult for the
peasants to buy goods without producing even more grain peasants had to produce more
wheat to purchase these goods. This was known as the ‘Scissor Crisis’ which reached its
peak by the end of 1923
Peasants began to withhold grain surplus to wait for higher prices. The government
took measures to decrease inflation and enact reforms on the internal practices of
the factories. Prices were fixed to halt the scissor effect
Despite an upturn in production, agricultural methods were still ouitdated and inefficient.
In 1928, a poor harvest led to a Grain Crisis: requisitioning was re-introduced
The Soviet economy was still stagnant and inefficient compared to the West;
unemployment remained high; real wages were little better than before the revolution;
living conditions in the cities remained poor, with bad housing and rising crime rates
NEP was finally ended in 1928, when Stalin instigated his programme of Collectivisation
and Rapid Industrialisation
The ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’
As demonstrated by the dissolving of the Constituent Assembly in 1918, Lenin had no
time for democracy. Between 1921 – 24, Soviet society developed along authoritarian
lines just as oppressive as the old Tsarist regime. This is referred to as the ‘dictatorship
of the proletariat’
This was in stark contrast to Trotsky’s belief that centralised government would soon
wither away following the Revolution and that the Bolsheviks would merely ‘issue a few
decrees’ before shutting up shop and going home:
At the Tenth Party Congress in 1921, a ban on all political parties other than the
Bolsheviks had been decreed; factionalism within the party was also banned
Soviets were no longer democratic institutions but instruments through which the
Bolsheviks imposed their authority
Government became increasingly bureaucratic; the number of government departments
and officials greatly increased
Freedom of speech was eroded; censorship was imposed on the press, religious and
academic writings
Courts became an instrument of the state, used to administer ‘revolutionary justice’
against Bolshevik opponents
Following the decree against the Worker’s Opposition in 1921, Trade Unionism had been
destroyed; workers followed strict labour laws and were severely punished for taking
industrial action
The Red Terror
The Cheka, led by Felix Dzerzhinsky, imposed a regime of fear over anyone who dared
oppose or criticise the Bolsheviks. A purge on political opponents led to thousands of SR’s
and Mensheviks being murdered or sent to gulags; trade unionists, religious leaders and
academics were among those who fell victim to the Terror
The Declaration of the ‘46’
In October 1923, 46 leading Communists sent a letter to the Politburo of the Central
Committee expressing concern that the party was insufficiently democratic. This became
known as the ‘Declaration of the 46’ who, along with Trotsky, formed the ‘left opposition’
within the party
The Russian Orthodox Church was a symbol of the old Tsarist regime and viewed as a
potential source of opposition to the Bolshevik government
In January 1918, the Decree on Separation of Church and State was passed; church
ownership of land and property was removed; priests were no longer entitled to a state
salary or pension; religious teaching was banned in schools
By 1924, public worship was banned; the Orthodox Church was closed down; 300 bishops
had been executed and some 10,000 priests arrested; atheism was adopted instead
Culture and the arts came under State control. Anatoli Lunarcharsky was appointed
Commissar of Enlightenment, responsible for promoting a proletarian culture through the
‘Proletkult’ movement
Writers, artists and musicians were expected to reflect the triumph of the proletariat.
Remnants of the old bourgeoisie culture were eradicated
The form of artistic expression that emerged under Proletkult, however, tended to be
surrealist or avant-guard; this found little favour with many Bolsheviks who preferred
their art to reflect ‘socialist realism’. In 1922, Lenin disbanded the Proletkult movement
Thereafter, Lenin waged war on the Intelligentsia; hundreds of writers and academics
accused of being counter-revolutionaries were imprisoned or exiled
The Role of Women & Family
The Bolsheviks believed that capitalist society led to the subjugation of women; decrees
were passed to give women equal status in society
One of the Bolshviks’ leading females, Alexandra Kollontai was a feminist who advocated
the liberation of women from traditional family restrictions; while such views found
favour among some Bolsheviks, attempts to remove the family unit as the cornerstone of
society proved unsuccessful
Lenin was an ‘international revolutionary’: his foreign policy was driven by the belief that
the Revolution was merely the first step in a worldwide proletarian revolution
Lenin had therefore been prepared to concede territory at Brest-Litovsk in the firm
belief that national boundaries meant little in the greater scheme of events
The Comintern
In March 1919, the COMINTERN (Communist International) was founded under the
chairmanship of Grigory Zinoviev with the aim of influencing workers’ revolution
Communist parties were established in many countries across Europe and beyond;
between 1921-24, the Comintern attempted unsuccessfully to support uprisings in
Germany, Hungary and Estonia
The Russo-Polish War (1920-1) was a serious setback for Lenin’s aim to spread
Bolshevism beyond Russian frontiers; the decisive defeat of the Red Army in the Battle
of Warsaw (August 1920) led to Soviet capitulation at the Treaty of Riga in March 1921
Thereafter, Lenin decided to consolidate and adopted a ‘realistic’ approach; he remained
convinced there would be a worldwide revolution at some point in the future but failed to
determine when this would happen. He believed the Soviet state was ‘surrounded by
Improved relations with Germany resulted in the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922; Germany and
Russia agreed on mutual recognition, cancellation of debts, restoration of trade links and
secret military cooperation – the treaty was also an attempt to divide the west and
prevent a ‘capitalist bloc’ against Russia
In 1922, the USSR (Soviet Union) was created, consisting of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and
the Transcaucasian Republics (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan)
By 1924, the Soviet Union had gained formal diplomatic recognition from major powers
including Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Government in Britain. An Anglo-Soviet Trade
Agreement was signed in August
The Daily Mail’s publication of the Zinoviev Letter, however, on 15 December - four days
before the General Election – destroyed Anglo-Soviet relations. In the letter, Zinoviev
appeared to encourage British workers to revolution. (The letter is now accepted to be a
1922: Stalin elected General Secretary of Communist Party
1924: Death of Lenin / Trotsky publishes ‘Lessons of October’
1925: Trotsky loses position as Commissar for War
1926: Trotsky joins Kamenev and Zinoviev in the ‘United Opposition’
1927: Trotsky, Kamanev and Zinoviev expelled from the Party
1928: Stalin denounces NEP and turns on the right
1929: Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky removed from the Politburo; Trotsky exiled
Key Figures
Josef Stalin: General Secretary of the Communist Party
Leon Trotsky: Commissar for War (until 1925)
Lev Kamanev: Chairman of the Sovnarkom (1923-4)
Grigory Zinoviev: Chairman of the Comintern (until 1926)
Nikolai Bukharin: Leader of the party ‘right wing’
Alexei Rykov: Chairman of the Sovnarkom (from 1924)
Mikhail Tomsky: Chairman of the Council of Trade Unions
Vyacheslav Molotov: Close ally of Stalin, member of Politburo from 1926
The notion that Stalin played a minimal role in the Bolshevik Party prior to the death of
Lenin in 1924 has recently been dismissed. Robert Service has shown that in fact by
1912, Stalin had become one of 6 original members of the Bolshevik Central Committee.
Lenin admired Stalin’s loyalty and organizational abilities, describing him as ‘that
wonderful Georgian’.
While many Bolsheviks remained in exile following the February Revolution, Stalin
returned to St Petersburg and, along with Kamenev, assumed control of the Bolshevik
newspaper, Pravda. In May 1917, Stalin was elected to the Politburo of the Central
Committee as Commissar for Nationalities – a nod to his Georgian background.
Stalin’s precise role in the October Revolution is ambiguous; it is likely he took a back
seat as Lenin and particularly Trotsky (as head of the MRC) instigated events; later,
however, Stalin was keen to promote the ‘leading role’ he played in helping co-ordinate
the revolution
In addition to his role as Commissar for Nationalities (1917 – 1923) Stalin assumed
several roles within the party favourable to his political progress.
Liaison Officer between the Politburo and Orgburo – this position enabled Stalin to
closely monitor the work of both the Politburo (political bureau) and the Orgburo
(organizational bureau)
People's Commissar of the Workers and Peasants Inspectorate (1919-1922) – this allowed
Stalin to oversee the work of all government departments
Member of the Revolutionary Military Council (1920–1923) – this gave Stalin an influential
position over military planning and strategy; for example, he co-ordinated the Red Army
invasion of Georgia in 1921
Member of the Central Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets – gave Stalin
influence over the role of the Soviets at national and local level
General Secretary of the Communist Party – in 1922, Stalin assumed the highly influential
role of General Secretary of the Communist Party – a position he maintained until his
death in 1953
Stalin as General Secretary
The role of General Secretary of the Communist Party was created in 1922 to oversee
the administration of the party. It was thought to be a relatively insignificant role, one
ideally suited to Stalin’s well-known aptitude for organizational and administrative
Colleagues sometimes referred to him – rather disparagingly - as ‘a grey blur’ or ‘Comrade
Card-Index’. This was to underestimate Stalin’s abilities. He was now in a unique position
to influence, shape and control policy matters.
Combined with his leadership over the Orgburo (Secretariat) and with a close ally, Lazar
Kaganovich, as head of the Registration and Distribution Department of the Central
Committee, the position allowed Stalin to fill the party with his own political allies.
Stalin had four key advantages as Party Secretary:
Influence over Politburo business: Stalin was responsible for drawing up agendas and
recording minutes; he could also selectively control the flow of information emenating
from Politburo meetings
Control of appointments: Stalin was able to appoint his own supporters to positions of
authority within the party, particularly at local party level – this helped to secure the
votes of party members when required
Control of Party Organisation: Stalin could influence the selection of delegates to attend
the annual party congress where major policy issues were decided and representatives of
the Central Committee were elected
Control of Party Membership: Using the ‘ban on factionalism’, Stalin was able to dismiss
from the party radical elements who were likely to favour his political rivals such as
The ‘Lenin Enrolment’
From 1923, a programme to increase party membership among the proletariat was
encouraged, known as the ‘Lenin Enrolment’. Admission to the party was controlled by the
Orgburo with Stalin at its head. By 1925, membership had increased to 600,000, many of
whom were illiterate workers less likely to question party policy. Naturally, Stalin could
expect the loyalty of those he had admitted to the party when it came to voting matters
Before his death, Lenin began to have doubts over Stalin, whom he had previously
admired for his loyalty and revolutionary zeal. Concerns had been raised after Lenin
witnessed Stalin’s abrasive dealings with the Georgian delegation following the Civil War,
and following a telephone conversation in which Stalin was extremely rude to Lenin’s wife.
Lenin’s Funeral
Following Lenin’s death on 21 January 1924, Stalin seized the initiative. He took on the
mantle of natural successor, displaying the authority and leadership characteristics
typical of Lenin.
Stalin not only organised Lenin’s funeral, but assumed the role of chief mourner
delivering the oration in eloquent terms that suggested he, Stalin, would take it upon
himself to carry on Lenin’s work.
By contrast, the absence of Trotsky at the funeral was seen as a slight to Lenin and went
a long way to putting Trotsky at a disadvantage in the leadership struggle
Lenin’s Testament
On 22 December 1922, Lenin began to write his Testament in which he expressed
concern regarding Stalin’s suitability as Party Secretary
This followed in the wake of the ‘Georgian Affair’ when Stalin as Commissar for
Nationalities, disagreed with Lenin that some autonomy for Georgia be maintained
Stalin’s dealings with the Georgian delegation – and a related telephone call in which
he spoke extremely rudely to Lenin’s wife – caused Lenin to turn against Stalin
Lenin believed Stalin was driven by power and displayed a rudeness likely to cause
divisions within the party. He urged Bolshevik leaders to think about how Stalin might be
removed from authority
Lenin had intended the document to be read out at the 12 Party Congress in April
1923, however, a stroke in March left Lenin unable to speak and the document was
kept secret by his wife until after Lenin’s death
It was made available to delegates prior to the 13 Party Congress in May 1924. However,
the testament was also critical of Trotsky, Kamanev and Zinoviev. Its contents were
therefore suppressed - much to Stalin’s good fortune
Trotsky was widely regarded as Lenis’s natural successor but had a number of
weaknesses: his Jewish background; his role as a former Menshevik; due to his
intellectual genuis, he came across as aloof and arrogant
Crucially, he failed to build up a loyal following within the party and had few close allies.
It was feared that he might assert a dictatorship if he assumed power
During the Civil War, he was an inspirational leader but he could also be indecisive and
hesitant: lack of judgement at crucial moments such as the decision to suppress Lenin’s
Testament and his failure to attend Lenin’s funeralproved costly
Kamenev & Zinoviev
As Chairman of both the Politburo and Sovnarkom (1923-4) Lev Kamenev was potentially
in a strong position to succeed Lenin. Kamenev, however, lacked the vision and ruthless
ambition required to become supreme leader
Grigory Zinoviev was Chairman of the Comintern. He delivered the Central Committee’s
report to the 12 & 13 Party Congress (previously Lenin’s responsibility). He was
ambitious but not an intellect; he was described by E.H. Carr as ‘weak and vain’ and lacked
personal popularity
Kamenev & Zinoviev never had the full trust of hardline Bolsheviks: they had opposed the
October Revolution and subsequently favoured a socialist coalition. Both were criticised
in Lenin’s Testament (at the time, Lenin had called them ‘deserters’). Trotsky also cast
doubt over their revolutionary credentials in ‘Lessons of October’(1924)
Nikolai Bukharin was a popular figure within the party, a favourite of Lenin who was
highly regarded as an intellectual and economist. He was not, however, a skilled politician.
A ‘right’ Bolshevik, Bukharin was often at odds with mainstream party policy, criticising
the Treaty of Brest- Litovsk, Georgian suppression and the purge of Trade Unions. He
was also criticised by hardliners for moving from the ‘left’ to the ‘right’ by advocating the
introduction of NEP
Trotsky attempted to draw battle-lines with Stalin over the issue of bureaucratisation.
Trotsky believed ‘party bureaucracy’ was becoming an increasing problem due to the vast
number of government offices that had been created in the wake of the revolution
He attempted to seize the political initiative by condemning bureaucracy, as Lenin had
done before him, and advocated a return to ‘party democracy’
Trotsky’s ill-judged attack on bureaucracy played into Stalin’s hands; the party was so
weighed down by bureaucracy that it could not function any other way. Many party
members owed their position within the party (and their privileges) to bureaucracy
Economic Policy
Economic policy was at the forefront of debate within the party. Trotsky – along with
Kamenev and Zinoviev - regarded NEP as a deviation from true socialism. In 1923, he led
a group of ‘left Communists’ known as the ‘Platform of 46’ in criticising the policy and
urging a return to tighter state control of industry and commerce.
On the ‘right’, Bukharin championed the continuation of NEP, believing it would lead to a
wealthier class of peasants who would then spend money on manufactured goods. Stalin’s
views on NEP were ambiguous. He first appeared to side with Bukharin in supporting NEP
in order to out-manoeuvre the left; by the late 1920’s, he took the opposite view and
condemned NEP, using it as a weapon to attack Bukharin
‘Socialism in One Country’
Trotsky was driven by his belief in a worldwide proletariat revolution. ‘Permanent
Revolution’ was the idea that the workers’ revolution in Russia was only a first step; that
it was vital for the revolution to be spread beyond Russia’s frontiers in order to achieve
true socialism and for the Communist regime to survive
Stalin, on the other hand, championed ‘Socialism in One Country’; he believed that
consolidation within the USSR was the first priority. He argued that the Soviet Union
must first become a modern, industrialised state capable of rivaling the capitalist west.
Trotsky’s views were thus portrayed as ‘fanciful’ while Stalin was seen as the great
Russian patriot
The Defeat of the ‘Left’
By the time of the 13 Party Congress (1924), Trotsky was all but isolated within the
party. Stalin had formed a ‘triumvirate’ with Kamanev and Zinoviev, who bore personal
grudges against Trotsky following his criticism of them in ‘Lessons of October’
Stalin used Trotsky’s political isolation to undermine his position within the party and
ensure he received a hostile reception. Stalin was able to ‘deliver the votes’, in other
words, count on the support of delegates who owed their allegiance to Stalin rather than
At the 14 Party Congress (1925), Trotsky was relieved of his position as Commissar for
War. Kamanev and Zinoviev were also isolated after calling for the NEP to be abandoned
and the removal of Stalin as Party Secretary
In 1926, Trotsky joined his former opponents Kamanev and Zinoviev to form a ‘United
Opposition’ against Stalin and the right. Stalin used the ‘ban on factionalism’ to denounce
the left bloc
Stalin used his alliance with key figures on the right – Tomsky, Rykov and Bukharin – to
outvote the left bloc and oust Trotsky, Kamanev and Zinoviev in turn from the Central
Committee and Politburo. At the 15 Party Congress (1927) all three were expelled from
the party along with other ‘Trotskyists’
The Defeat of the Right
Having defeated the ‘left’, Stalin now appeared to denounce NEP. He turned on his
former allies Rykov, Tomsky and Bukharin on the ‘right’.
Stalin advocated rapid industrialisation and state grain procurement, measures which
Bukharin argued could destabilise the economy but which found favour with party
hardliners who had always opposed NEP
Stalin used his own supporters and those on the left who were anti-NEP to outvote the
right. Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky were all removed from the Politburo to be replaced by
pro-Stalinists such as Molotov; they were allowed to remain in the party only after
admitting the ‘error of their ways’
By the time of the 16 Party Congress (1930) Stalin was unchallenged as leader of the
Communist Party. As no such position officially existed, Stalin maintained his position as
General Secretary until his death in 1953
Cults Academy
Advanced Higher History
Soviet Russia 1917 – 1953
Revision Notes
7. The Soviet Economy Under Stalin
8.The Stalinist Purges
1927: Stalin announces programme of rapid industrialisation
1928: widespread collectivisation begins; First Five Year Plan implemented
1930: Collectivisation temporarily halted: ‘Dizzy with Success’
1932/3: The Great Ukrainian Famine
1933: Second Five Year Plan begins
1935: Stakhanov Movement founded
1938: Third Five Year Plan begins
1946: Fourth Five Year Plan begins
1949: COMECON (Council for Mutual Economic Aid) founded
1951: Fifth Five Year Plan begins
Key Figures
Josef Stalin: General Secretary of the Communist Party
Nikolai Bukharin: Leader of the party ‘right wing’ and supporter of NEP
Sergei Ordzhonikidze: Commissariat for Heavy Industry
Alexei Stakhanov: the inspiration behind the ‘Stakhanov Movement’
The End of NEP
At the 15th Party Congress in December 1927, Stalin announced plans for a new
programme of rapid industrialisation. This effectively brought NEP to an end, in favour
of the First Five Year Plan. There were a number of reasons for the ‘Great Turn’ in
Soviet economic policy, both political and economic:
Having defeated the ‘left’ of the party, Stalin now turned on NEP as a means of
undermining Bukharin and the ‘right’. NEP had remained unpopular with hard-line
Bolsheviks, particularly on the left, who saw it as a betrayal of socialist principles
While NEP had initially resulted in an upturn in grain production, agriculture remained
inefficient. In 1928, a Grain Crisis emerged after a poor harvest leading to food
shortages and requisitioning. Stalin argued that the grain crisis was caused by Kulaks and
NEPmen who sold food to the urban population at inflated prices
Industrial production had grown under NEP but the Soviet economy was still stagnant and
inefficient by comparison to the west; unemployment remained high; real wages were
little better than before the revolution; living conditions in the cities remained poor, with
bad housing and rising crime rates
Stalin’s Economic Aims
Stalin’s desire to modernise the Soviet economy had two essential components:
collectivisation and industrialisation
While Bukharin and the right believed the economy would evolve at its own pace, Stalin
favoured direct state control or ‘central planning’. He referred to this phase of Soviet
history as the ‘second revolution’ so great was its importance. It is sometimes referred
to as the ‘Revolution from Above’
Stalin believed that Soviet Russia was ‘surrounded by enemies’ who wished to see the
downfall of the Communist regime. Only by modernising the economy and increasing
industrial output could her security be guaranteed. As Stalin himself proclaimed: "Either
we do it, or we shall be crushed"
Stalin believed that only by making agriculture more efficient could sufficient capital be
raised to stimulate rapid industrial expansion. This would be done through
collectivisation. Stalin predicted an increase of 50% in agricultural production would lead
to an increase of 330% in industrial production as a result of collectivisation.
Peasants would no longer farm the land for their own profit, but for the state. To
increase efficiency, their efforts would be ‘pooled’ in collective state-run farms. There
were several main motives for collectivisation:
Profits from collectivised farms would be used to finance Stalin’s proposed programme of
rapid industrialisation
More efficient farming methods would ‘free up’ labour in the countryside; peasants would
drift to the cities, thus providing an enlarged urban workforce
Increased agricultural production would ensure plentiful supplies of food for the workers
There were three main types of collective farms:
Toz: peasants owned their own land but shared machinery and livestock. These types of
farm were generally phased out in the 1930’s
Sovkhoz: state-owned farms where the peasants worked directly for the government and
earned a regular wage
Kolkhoz: the most common type of collective farm. All land, machinery, livestock and
resources were pooled. The land was run by an elected committee who were compelled to
ensure grain quotas were met
MTS Stations: ‘tractor and machinery’ stations were established to provide support for
the collectivised farms. In reality, they were often used by the party to exert control
over the countryside
Propaganda played an important part in the establishment of collectivised farming. The
government was keen to use films and posters to promote the image of a ‘voluntary’
programme willingly embraced by the rural population. In reality, peasants were
embittered by an unpopular policy forced upon them against their will – a far cry from
the land ownership they had expected to benefit from after the revolution
Resistance to Collectivisation
For peasants who owned land or property, collectivisation meant giving it up to the
collective farms and selling most of the food that they produced to the state at minimal
prices. Understandably, this proved very unpopular with most peasants
Many peasants opposed to collectivisation offered both passive and active resistance.
There were numerous acts of sabotage, including burning of crops, destruction of
machinery and slaughtering animals. As much as 50% of the harvest in the Ukraine was
either not collected at all or was deliberately destroyed
In areas where there was greatest resistance to the process, bands of peasants armed
themselves and violence broke out with attacks against party officials and requisitioning
In August 1932, the ‘Decree on the Protection of Socialist Property’ allowed for the
death sentence for sabotage of state land and property. 125,000 sentences were passed
between August 1932 to December 1933
The idea of a ‘Kulak class’ of peasant was a Stalinist myth; in reality, Kulaks were
peasants who showed more enterprise or efficiency than their neighbours. Propaganda
portrayed kulaks as ‘enemies of the state’ who exploited poor peasants and were in league
with the capitalists
In 1930, the Politburo drew up quotas of 1 million kulak households (6 million people) to be
deported or exiled;
Anti-Kulak squads (OGPU) forcibly deported kulaks and their families to work on
agricultural labour camps, often in remote regions of Siberia
At local level, quotas were increased by the local Soviet in the hope of finding favour in
Moscow. This typically meant 5% of all peasant households were classed as Kulaks.
Definitions of Kulaks varied wildly from one region to the next; in some cases lots were
drawn to determine who was ‘kulak’
Thousands of kulak families died during transportation or because of the appalling
conditions in the labour camps. As this new wave of terror escalated, many kulaks were
executed for hoarding or other ‘crimes against the state
Stalin’s war against the Kulaks continued throughout the 1930’s. It proved counterproductive, however, and had a negative effect on the economy, depriving the agricultural
sector of some of its most enterprising farmers
The Scale of Collectivisation
The speed of collectivisation proved so rapid that in March 1930, an issue of Pravda
carried Stalin's article ‘Dizzy with Success’ calling for a temporary halt to the process
Stalin stated that 50% of peasant farms had been collectivised, greatly exceeding
expectations. He claimed that as a result, some ‘comrades’ had become dizzy with success
and had lost ‘clearness of mind and sobriety of vision.’ (It is likely, however, that increasing
peasant resistance to the policy was the main reason for the temporary cessation)
After the publication of the article, the pressure for collectivisation abated; the number
of peasants living on collective farms dropped by 50%. Soon collectivisation was
intensified again, however, and by 1936, about 90% of Soviet agriculture was
The Impact of Collectivisation
Due to government quotas, peasants generally earned less for their labour than they had
done pre-collectivisation. In some cases, collective farm earnings were only a quarter of
those generated from private plots of land
Between 1929 and 1932 there was a huge fall in agricultural production and widespread
famine in the countryside. Consumption of bread, potatoes, meat and butter fell eg.
Bread 250 kilos per head (1928) – 214 (1932)
The number of livestock - cows, pigs, sheep amd horses – was cut in half as peasants
deliberately slaughtered their animals; only on the late 1950s did animal stocks begin to
approach 1928 levels eg. Cattle 70 million (1928) – 34 million (1932)
The Great Famine
Estimates of the deaths from starvation or disease directly caused by collectivisation
have been estimated at between 4 - 10 million. According to official Soviet figures, some
24 million peasants disappeared from rural areas with only 12 million accounted for by
moving to jobs on state farms or in the cities
Nowehere was the famine more severe than in the Ukraine, once the ‘breadbasket of
Russia’ and where resistance to collectivisation was strongest. Stalin was determined to
crush Ukrainian nationalism; severe measures were taken against the population. As many
as 5 million Ukrainians died at the height of the famine in 1932/3 – an act of genocide
referred to as ‘Holodomor’ – ‘death by hunger
One success of collectivisation was the many thousands of peasants who fled the
countryside to the towns and cities in search of work. So great was the migration of
people to the towns that internal passports had to be introduced
Stalin required additional labour for his huge industrial and construction projects that
would form the basis of the First Five Year Plan (October 1928 – December 1932). Stalin
wanted to create a ‘war economy’, placing the emphasis on heavy industries – coal, iron,
steel, electricity and oil production.
Stalin saw the Depression of the 1930’s as a warning against the dangers of capitalism:
he expected the Soviet Union to become an ‘autarky’, a self-sufficient economy in the
shortest possible time. The First Five Year Plan was therefore something of a
propaganda exercise to show that the Soviet Union could not only match but surpass the
Organisation & Implementation
Organisation for the First Year Plan was generally chaotic. The Commissariat for Heavy
Industry led by Sergei Ordzhonikidze laid down a series of targets which the State
Planning Commission ‘Gosplan’ was charged with implementing.
This then filtered down to regional administrators and factory managers whose
responsibility it was to meet targets. There were no guidelines as to how these targets
were to be met
The original targets were optimistic; for example, coal production was expected to
increase from 35 – 68 million tons per year; iron ore from 6 – 15 million tons
but because local officials and factory managers falsified figures, they were soon
revised upwards to become ‘Optimal targets’
Propaganda was used to convince workers that they were part of a movement to build a
new and better society. Many participated in the projects with zeal; those who were less
convinced were generally bullied, intimidated and coerced into maximizing their rate of
Foreign participation played an important role in the First Five Year Plan. Due to a
shortage of skilled labour, foreign companies sent specialists, engineers and skilled
workers to participate in large construction projects
The first Five Year Plan was a remarkable achievement overall. Coal and iron output
doubled; steel production increased by a third. Electricity production trebled
Huge industrial plants were built at Magnitogorsk in the Urals and Kuznetz in Western
Siberia. At Magnitogorsk, an entire city of 250,000 grew up around what became the
world’s largest steel works
There were massive engineering and construction projects such as The Dnieprostroi Dam
which became the biggest construction site in the world, multiplying Russia’s capacity for
electricity production. The Moscow-Volga Canal and Moscow Metro System were other
notable examples
There was a big increase in the manufacture of farm machinery and turbines. Huge
tractor works were built at Kharkov and Stalingrad, where the tractor factory would
become one of the epicenters of the 1942 battle
Not all sectors of industry showed rapid progress. Chemical targets were not met;
textile production fell and there was a shortage of affordable consumer goods for
workers to spend their wages on
The plan suffered from the inadequate transport system and a shortage of raw materials
and skilled labour, leading to competition between factories to secure valuable resources
and manpower
Due to the speed of production, the quality of manufactured goods (such as tractor
tyres) was often poor. There was massive over-production in some sectors and underproduction in others
The Human Cost
Living standards remained very poor for most urban workers; at Magnitogorsk, for
example, most workers earned low wages and lived in miserable overcrowded tents,
barracks or mud huts
NEPmen who had prospered under NEP now found their small-scale businesses and
workshops swept aside; many went out of business as all available resources were
diverted to heavy industry
‘bourgeoisie specialists’ – managers, engineers and officials – became scapegoats when
targets were not met. Accused of sabotage, they were often found arrested, tried and
deported to forced labour camps
Organisation & Implementation
The Second & Third Five Year plans were modeled on the patterns of the first, but the
targets were more realistic. and the aim was to consolidate and build on the successes of
the first.
The People’s Commissariat was still responsible for coordinating the Plans but by 1934
had become better organised. More detailed plans and targets were worked out for each
area of industry. Training schemes were established to encourage workers to learn new
The Second and Third Five Year Plan benefited from the large-scale industrial plants
such as Magnitogorsk; Coal and steel production continued to rise significantly; oil
production doubled while electricity production multiplied by five times.
Progress in these four key areas eventually enabled Soviet Russia to amass sufficient
resources to defeat Germany during World War 2. During the Third Five Year Plan,
resources were increasingly diverted to the military – accounting for 17% of the total
budget by 1938 and 33% by 1940
Metal works developed with the production of copper, zinc and tin. The USSR became
almost self-sufficient in the production of machine tools and less reliant on foreign
imports; some consumer industries saw wider availability of goods; food processing plants
meant shortages became less severe and food rationing was ended
There were the same problems of lack of co-ordination, skills shortages, over-production
in some areas and under-production in others. Shortages of raw materials remained a
problem. Consumer goods remained in short supply
By 1938, industry was beginning to stagnate; diversion of resources to the military
caused severe shortages in other areas. Steel production failed to increase between
1937 – 1940, while oil production also stagnated leading to a fuel crisis
A neglect of agriculture (which Stalin saw as secondary to the needs of industry) along
with a very harsh winter in 1938 led to food shortages once again
The Human Cost
Some workers who had acquired new skills and exceeded their targets prospered during
the 1930’s with better working conditions, improved housing and better wages. Alexei
Stakhanov was held up as an example to all workers of what could be achieved; the
‘Stakhanovite Movement’ encouraged other workers to achieve similar targets
For most workers, however, living standards in real terms were lower than in 1928; food
rationing, high prices, fuel shortages and overcrowded housing with lack of sanitation all
led to miserable conditions
Under the ‘Labour Code’, Workers were denied the right to strike or campaign for
improved conditions while facing increased demands from under-pressure managers;
there were severe penalties and even imprisonment for failing to reach targets
During the Second and Third Year Plans, the Stalinist Purges were in full swing. Managers
were increasingly held responsible for failing to meet targets and often arrested
Engineers and specialists were accused of espionage and industrial sabotage – thousands
were tried and deported to forced labour camps, leading to a fall in production
The Post-War (Fourth and Fifth) Five Year Plans
The German invasion of Russia in 1941 brought the Third Five Year Plan to a premature
end. After the war, the emphasis was on reconstruction; Stalin promised that the USSR
would become the world’s leading industrial power
Much of the USSR had been devastated with widespread damage to the land and to the
cities. Compared to pre-war levels, electricity was down to 52%, iron 26%, steel 45%,
food production 60%. Reconstruction was impeded by a chronic labour shortage due to 20
million war casualties
In 1949, the Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Aid) was set up, linking the Eastern
bloc countries economically. A third of the Fourth Five Year Plan's expenditure went on
Ukraine, vital agriculturally and industrially, and was one of the areas most devastated by
In 1947, food rationing was ended, but agricultural production was barely above the 1940
level by 1952. However, industrial production recovered and by 1952 was nearly double
the 1940 level
1928: The Shakhty Affair
1932: The Ryutin Affair
1934: The Kirov Murder / Decree Against Terrorist Acts
1936-9: The Great Purge / Terror
1936: First Show Trial (Kamanev & Zinoviev)
1937: Second Show Trial / Purge of the Red Army begins
1938: Third Show Trial (Bukharin & Rykov)
1945: Purge of wartime ‘collaborators’
1949: The Leningrad Affair
1953: The Doctors’ Plot
Key Figures
Josef Stalin: General Secretary of the Communist Party
Martemyan Ryutin: ‘old’ Bolshevik whose ‘Ryutin Platform’ set off the first wave of purges
Sergei Kirov: popular Secretary of the Leningrad Soviet whose murder led to an
escalation of the purges
Gengrikh Yagoda: NKVD leader who presided over the early purges until being replaced
by Yezhovf in 1936
Nicolai Yezhovf: NKVD leader who took over from Yagoda and became synonymous with
the Great Terror
Lavrenti Beria: Succeeded Yezhovf as head of NKVD in 1938
Andrey Vyshinsky: the Prosecutor General of the Soviet Union who presided over the
show trials
“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.” Joseph Stalin. In the
1930’s, Stalin moved to eliminate all opposition to his authority. This was to become
notorious as the time of the great Stalinist purges
The purges began in the 1920’s under Lenin. Many opponents to the Bolshevik Regime had
already been crushed by the ‘Red Terror’; in 1922, the ‘Exile of the Intellectuals’ saw
hundreds of academics expelled from the Soviet Union
After Lenin’s death, the ‘ban on factionalism’ was used to justify the removal of
dissidents from the Communist Party; this included the expulsion of Trotsky, Kamanev
and Zinoviev in 1927 and Trotsky’s exile in 1929
Early Purges & the Ryutin Affair
The early purges targeted ‘industrial saboteurs’ accused of disrupting the first Five Year
Plan. The ‘Shakhty Affair’ (1928) saw 50 Russian & 3 German engineers from the coalmining town of Shakhty in the Donbass region tried for ‘sabotage in collusion with foreign
The case was given great publicity in the Soviet media, and was a clear attack on the
‘bourgeois specialists’ as a whole. The confessions by some of the defendants was a
forerunner of the "show trials" of the 1930’s
The early purges were not confined to industry. In 1932, the Ryutin Affair took place.
Martemyan Ryutin was an ‘old Bolshevik’ and a former political ally of Bukharin and Rykov
on the ‘right’ of the Party
In June 1932, Ryutin wrote a 200-page document - the Ryutin Platform - calling for the
end of collectivisation and the restoration of party membership for those who had been
expelled, including Trotsky
On 23rd September, Ryutin was arrested by the NKVD. Ryutin and his supporters were
tried and expelled from the party
Around a million Party members (a third of membership) were expelled on the grounds of
being ‘Ryutinites’. Ryutin was later executed in 1937 during the Great Purges
The early purges of the 1930’s were not as brutal as those that followed after 1934.
Victims faced dismissal from their jobs, exile, loss of Party Card (with all associated
privileges) but as Stalin’s paranoia increased, the Purges took on a more sinister turn
The Kirov Murder
Sergei Kirov was Secretary of the Leningrad Soviet, a prominent revolutionary and one of
the most popular members of the Communist Party. He had been elected to the Politburo
at the 17 Party Congress in 1934 with a far greater measure of support than Stalin
Opposed to the use of extreme measures against Party members, Kirov formed part of a
‘moderate bloc’ around which opponents of Stalin might gather; Stalin clearly saw Kirov as
a threat to his leadership credentials
On 1 December 1934, Kirov was shot dead at the Smolny Institute in Leningrad by a
Communist Party member, Leonid Nicolaev, whose wife was said to be having an affair
with Kirov
Stalin exploited Kirov’s murder to the full by passing the ‘Decree against Terrorist Acts’;
he claimed it was part of a Trotskyite conspiracy to overthrow Stalin’s authority
Around 3,000 suspected ‘Leftists’ and ‘Trotskyites’ were rounded up by the NKVD on the
authorisation of its leader, Gengrikh Yagoda; a wave of arrests, trials and executions
Consequences of the Kirov Murder
The consequences of the Kirov Affair were far reaching. It gave Stalin the excuse to
purge those who he believed offered any opposition to his authority, including prominent
party members; Trotsky’s former allies on the left, Kamanev and Zinoviev were among
those arrested and later executed for their supposed involvement in the plot
Those who were removed from key positions of authority were replaced by hard-line
Stalinist supporters such as Andrei Zhdanov, Andrei Vyshinsky, Alexander Poskrebyshev
and Stalin’s future successor, Nikita Khrushchev, who became Party leader in Moscow
Meanwhile, the ‘Stalin Enrolment’ had admitted thousands of new members to the
Communist Party who owed their allegiance to Stalin in return for the privileges of party
membership. By 1935, therefore, Stalin was in an almost unassailable position as Party
leader (although no such position officially existed)
Despite having almost complete control of the Communist Party following the Kirov
Purges, Stalin’s paranoia increased rather than abated from 1936. He declared that the
Soviet Union was ‘under siege from enemies within’
The period from 1936 is referred to as the time of the ‘Great Terror’. The Soviet people
faced reprisal and retribution against anyone suspected of opposing the Stalinist regime,
led by the ruthless Nicolai Yezhovf, Stalin’s ‘Bloody Dwarf’ who replaced Yagoda as NKVD
The Great Purge fell into 3 categories: a) The Purge of the Party b) the Purge of the
Armed Services c) The Purge of the Soviet people
The Purge of the Party
Communist Parties across the Soviet Union were made aware of the existence of a
‘Trotskyite-Kamanevite-Zinovievite Leftist Counter-Revolutionary Bloc’ and instructed to
root out suspected sympathisers
Among those who were arrested, accused of conspiracy and executed following the socalled public ‘show trials’ were some of the most loyal ‘old Bolsheviks’
A key figure in these trials was Andrey Vyshinsky, the Prosecutor General of the Soviet
Union; a former lawyer known for his clever rhetoric, Vyshinsky condemned the accused
with venom, claiming they should be shot ‘like the mad dogs they are’
In order to legitimise the executions, confessions played a key role in the trials. Many of
the accused appeared to willingly confess their ‘crimes’: in some cases, this was a
demonstration of complete loyalty to the Party; in other cases, confessions were made as
a result of torture
The executions of Kamanev and Zinoviev in 1935 were followed by a purge of the old
‘right’ and ‘centre’ – Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky were brought to trial as part of an ‘AntiSoviet Trotskyite Centre’ in 1937
Along with other ‘Trotsky-rightists’ Bukharin and Rykov (Tomsky had committed suicide)
were accused of espionage, conspiracy and plotting to kill Stalin. They were executed
despite Bukharin’s eloquent defence
Remarkably, of the original 24 members of the Bolshevik Central Committee of 1917, only
Stalin remained in power; all others had been executed, imprisoned or exiled. Of the
1996 delegates who attended the 1934 Party Congress, 1108 had been executed by 1938
The Purge of the Armed Forces
In 1937, at a time when industrial resources were being increasingly deployed towards
the military, Stalin began a widespread purge of the armed forces
In May, Vyshinsky announced the uncovering of a huge conspiracy within the Red Army;
this led to the arrest of Marshal Tukhachevsky and seven other generals, all heroes of
the Civil War. After ‘evidence’ was produced of treason and espionage, the generals
confessed and were shot
In the months that followed, the purge of the Red Army escalated; War Commissars,
members of the Supreme Military Council, Army Commanders and half of all
commissioned officers (35,000 in total) were either executed or imprisoned
There were also purges of the Soviet Navy and Air Force. All serving admirals and all but
one senior air force commanders were executed. By 1939, therefore, the Soviet military
was seriously weakened by these losses
Even the NKVD was purged; in a twist of irony, one of Bukharin and Rykov’s co-accused in
1938 was Yagoda, the former NKVD Chief who oversaw the arrest and execution of
Kamanev & Zinoviev in 1935. His successor, Yezhof, also fell out of favour with Stalin was
executed in 1940. Lavrenti Beria, the new head of the NKVD, carried out this purge and
prospered under Stalin until he himself was executed in 1953
The Purge of the Soviet People
The apparatus of terror used against the Soviet people reached its height in 1937-8;
Yezhov’s NKVD squads followed a policy of mass oppression; around 1/18 of the population
were arrested during the Terror
Many victims were randomly chosen on the most spurious charges to fulfill quotas; a
number of mass grave have been uncovered such as at Butovo near Moscow where 20,000
bodies were found. By 1939, over 20 million Russians had been sent to gulags in remote
regions of Siberia where more than half died due to the terrible conditions
Charges of industrial sabotage continued to be brought against managers & workers;
kulaks accused of agricultural sabotage were executed or sent to labour camps; there
were also purges of the legal and academic professions
The trials were not confined to Moscow and Leningrad but took place across the Soviet
Union; in the Republics, purges were used as a means of bringing the national minorities
into line
While the purges temporarily abated in the late 30’s, they resumed at the conclusion of
World War 2. It is estimated that around 1 million Russians died in the purges between
National minorities who were deemed to have collaborated with the Nazis during the
German occupation were executed en masse – notably around 50,000 Cossacks
Soviet troops who had been taken prisoner during the war were also deemed to have
collaborated with the enemy; on being released from captivity, many were executed or
sent to forced labour camps
Stalin took retribution against military commanders who he deemed responsible for
failure during the war. Even General Zhukov, the hero of Stalingrad and Kursk and who
had led Russian troops to the gates of Berlin, was demoted in 1946 and only reinstated
after Stalin’s death in 1953
The Leningrad Affair
The Leningrad Affair was a series of "criminal" cases fabricated in the late 1940’s
against prominent members of the Communist Party in Leningrad
The entire Leningrad leadership – some 2,000 members – were accused of using
Leningrad as an alternative power-base to Moscow and replaced by Stalinist hardliners
The motivation appears to have been little more than jealousy of the ‘Hero of the Soviet
Union’ status many of the Leningrad party members had aquired following the city’s siege
The Doctors’ Plot
The final phase of the Stalinist purges was the so-called Doctors’ Plot which emerged in
1953. Stalin ordered a pogrom (orchestrated campaign) against the medical profession
On 13 January, Pravda reported that a plot by doctors to poison the Soviet leadership
had been uncovered. This led to the arrests of hundreds of doctors. Only Stalin’s death
in March 1953 prevented a full-scale purge of the medical profession
Cults Academy
Advanced Higher History
Soviet Russia 1917 – 1953
Revision Notes
9. Soviet Foreign Policy / The Great
Patriotic War
10.The Origins of the Cold War
1927: Communist uprising in China crushed
1934: Soviet Union joins League of Nations
1935: Pact of Mutual Assistance with France & Czechoslovakia
1936: Anti-Comintern Pact (Germany, Italy & Japan)
Spanish Civil War begins
1939: Nazi-Soviet Pact
1941: Operation Barbarossa launched
Siege of Leningrad begins
1942: German surrender at Stalingrad
1943: Battle of Kursk
1945: Fall of Berlin
Key Figures
Josef Stalin: General Secretary of the Communist Party
Georgi Dimitov: Chairman of Comintern (from 1928)
Maxim Litvinov: Commissar for Foreign Affairs (until 1939)
Vyacheslav Molotov: Commissar for Foreign Affairs (from 1939)
Georgi Zhukov: Commander of Red Army on Eastern Front
Stalin & the Comintern
Stalin took relatively little interest in the Comintern (although he played a key part in
the dismissal of its Chairmen, Zinoviev (1926) & Bukharin (1928)
Stalin appeared reluctant to support Communist uprisings abroad; in China, for example,
Stalin did not believe the Communists were powerful enough to seize power and gave
military aid instead to Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists
In 1927, Chinese Nationalists massacred 40,000 Communists prompting Trotsky to
describe Stalin as the ‘gravedigger of the Revolution’
Stalin was acutely aware that the Soviet Union remained isolated and made security the
first priority of his foreign policy; the Comintern therefore changed its emphasis from
spreading revolution abroad to providing international security for the Soviet Union
International revolution was not abandoned altogether; Stalin was prepared to play a
waiting game, believing that the ‘corrupt’ capitalist powers would eventually collapse – the
Great Depression was evidence of this
Meanwhile, Stalin ordered that Communist Parties abroad should not co-operate with
other left-wing parties. This had repercussions in Germany where the KPD, USPD and
SPD failed to find common ground. The division of the ‘left’ in the Reichstag helped
Hitler into power
Stalin became increasingly concerned with the threat posed by Nazi Germany. He was
alarmed by Hitler’s anti-Bolshevik rants and the ‘Pact with Poland’ (1934)
The same year, Stalin ended his isolationist policy and joined the League of Nations; the
Soviet Union was represented by Commissar for Foreign Affairs Maxim Litvinov
Stalin had little faith in collective security, however. In 1935, the USSR signed a ‘pact of
mutual assistance’ with France and Czechoslovakia (Franco-Soviet Pact)
The Comintern abandoned its previous stance of non-cooperation with other left-wing
parties and attempted to form ‘Popular Front’ coalitions across Europe. This led to
Popular Front governments coming to power in France & Spain
Stalin’s suspicions of Nazi Germany was confirmed by the signing of the Anti-Comintern
Pact (1936) with Italy – Japan joined in 1937
The Spanish Civil War
Following the outbreak of war in 1936, the Soviet Union officially followed a policy of
Non-Intervention but - like Germany & Italy - ignored this agreement
Stalin offered support to Spain’s Popular Front (Republican) Government in the face of
Franco’s Nationalist Revolt. Increasingly, the Republican war effort became reliant on
Soviet aid
Arguably, however, Stalin’s aid to the Republican cause was half-hearted as he feared
that a Communist victory in Spain might lead to Britain & France forming an alliance with
Hitler and Mussolini against the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union supplied military aid including 1,000 aircraft, 900 tanks and 1,500
artillery pieces. Two-thirds of Spain's gold reserves ($500 million) were shipped to the
Soviet Union as payment by the Republican government
The Comintern were involved in organising the International Brigades. NKVD agents were
sent to deal with anti-Communists within the Republican movement (eg. leaders of the
Spanish Worker's Party (POUM). The division of the left was a factor in Franco’s triumph
The Nazi-Soviet Pact
Deeply concerned by the Anschluss and the formation of the Anti-Comintern Pact, Stalin
became increasingly alarmed over the events surrounding the Munich Agreement in
September 1938
Stalin was angered at his exclusion from the Conference and dismayed by its outcome. He
believed that Britain and France had given in to Hitler’s demands far too easily,
shattering any remaining faith in collective security
Even after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, neither Britain nor
France were willing to enter into an alliance with Stalin against Hitler
In August 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop (Nazi-Soviet) Pact was signed; Germany and the
Soviet Union agreed to maintain peaceful relations for 10 years. A secret clause agreed
to the USSR annexing the Baltic states and the division of Poland between Germany and
The Pact appeared to guarantee the security of the Soviet Union, thus fulfilling Stalin’s
main foreign policy goal. Stalin was naïve, however, in his belief that Hitler would stay
true to the terms of the Pact
Operation Barbarossa
The Nazi-Soviet Pact had several consequences: it lulled Stalin into a false sense of
security; it enabled Hitler to secure his western frontier by defeating France in 1940; it
left Soviet defences unprepared against a German Offensive
On 22 June 1941, the German Army launched Operation Barbarossa, a massive invasion
of the Soviet Union involving over 3.5 million Axis troops and 4,000 tanks on an 1,800 mile
The German Army was divided into ‘Army Group North’, ‘Centre’ and ‘South’. Barbarossa
was a three-pronged attack towards Leningrad in the north, Moscow in the centre and
Stalingrad in the South (where capturing the oil fields of the Caucus region would be
Speed was essential to the success of Barbarossa; it was necessary to capture the key
objectives before the onset of winter and before the Soviet war machine – with its
superior resources of tanks and aircraft - could be put into full operation
The initial phase of the operation was highly successful; Stalin had chosen to dismiss
reports of an imminent invasion. In the first days of Barbarossa, he appeared stunned
and failed to issue orders, refusing to believe that Hitler had broken the Nazi-Soviet
Soviet paralysis enabled the German Army to advance rapidly through Ukraine and
Belarus and across the vast Russian Steppe – ideal tank country. In the first four weeks
of the offensive, hundreds of miles were gained and the Germans advanced rapidly
towards Leningrad & Moscow
The Failure of Barbarossa
Despite early advances, Barbarossa ground to a halt as Soviet forces began to mobilise. A
huge Soviet force blocked the road to Moscow at Smolensk in July 1944
While many Russians initially welcomed the Nazis as ‘liberators’, German atrocities
alienated people against the invader and stirred patriotism; there was an upsurge in
partisan resistance against the Nazis
The weather also intervened; autumn rains turned the landscape into mud; poor roads
made rapid advance difficult. The onset of winter brought snow and ice. War on the
Eastern Front became a terrible war of attrition
The Siege of Leningrad
On 6 August 1941, Hitler ordered ‘Operation Nordlicht’, the capture of Leningrad. In
late August, the city came under terrible bombardment from land & air, destroying its
industrial plants, factories and transport links. The ‘900 Days’ Siege of Leningrad was to
become one of the most terrible events of World War II
Defense of the city was organised by General Zhukov; a defensive perimeter was formed.
Over a million civilians were organised into labour corps to build the defences, including
trenches, barricades, tank traps & mine-fields
Although the city was virtually encircled, Soviet forces were supplied during the winter
via the ‘Ice Road’ across the frozen Baltic wastes. In summer, the city was supplied by
British and French ships by sea
A Soviet counter-attack, Operation Iskra, partially lifted the siege in January 1943;
fighting continued for another year until German forces were finally defeated
In addition to over 300,000 military casualties, around 1.2 million civilians died of
starvation, disease or cold. More civilians were killed in the Siege of Leningrad than in
the atomic bombs of Nagasaki and Hiroshima
The Battle of Stalingrad
Hitler was determined to capture Stalingrad, the city that took Stalin’s name. It was a
‘model’ industrial city, symbolising the success of the Five Year Plans; situated on the
River Volga, it was key to the oil fields of the Caucus
The German attack on Stalingrad was spearheaded by the Sixth Army, commanded by
General Von Paulus. The Germans quickly captured much of the city; Soviet troops
controlled only a small perimeter on the west bank of the Volga
The Soviets launched determined counter-attacks across the river. Furious fighting took
place around the factory district where the tractor factory continued to churn tanks off
the production line even as battle raged inside
On 19 November, Zhukov ordered Operation Uranus, a huge Red Army counteroffensive that trapped German forces in the Stalingrad ‘pocket’. Frozen and cut-off, Von
Paulus surrendered on 31 January 1942 against Hitler’s orders
Of the 91,000 soldiers of Sixth Army taken prisoner, only 5,000 survived Soviet
captivity. The destruction of Sixth Army was a turning point in World War II. Total
German losses were estimated at over half a million with Soviet casualties even higher
From Kursk to Berlin
On 5 July 1943, Hitler made a final desperate attempt to capture Moscow, Operation
Citadel. Kursk would go down as the largest tank battle in history and the end of Hitler’s
aspirations on the Eastern Front
The German Army amassed 700,000 troops, 2,400 tanks and 1,800 aircraft for the
offensive, but Soviet forces were even larger with over a million troops at Red Army
disposal and superior numbers in tanks and aircraft
Again, Zhukov masterminded the Soviet defences and counter-attacks. After 12 days of
fighting, Hitler ordered his battered forces to withdraw, fearing another ‘Stalingrad’
The Battle of Kursk was followed by a Red Army advance and the recapture of Kiev in the
autumn of 1943. German forces were gradually pushed back in fierce fighting through
Ukraine, Belarus and Poland
By the spring of 1945, the Red Army was approaching Berlin. The Battle of Berlin April
16 – May 2 ) resulted in the destruction of the German capital and the final Soviet
victory in the Great Patriotic War
How Soviet Victory Was Achieved
Victory in the war was achieved through an extraordinary effort by the Soviet people.
After his initial shock at the German invasion, Stalin showed remarkable resolve to
defeat the invader, urging and bullying the people to ever greater sacrifices
The term ‘Great Patriotic War’ was coined shortly after the German invasion to rouse
patriotism in the Soviet people. A medal ‘Order of the Patriotic War’ was introduced
by 1942, over half the national income was diverted to the military. Industrial production
was reorganised with factories re-assembled beyond the Urals
Despite severe shortages, coal, iron & steel production continued to produce sufficient
armaments to keep the Soviet war effort going; railways became more efficient
A lend-lease programme with the United States saw 17 million tons of war materials sent
to the Soviet Union. This included thousands of tanks, aircraft and military vehicles as
well as armaments and other military goods
The Impact of War on the Soviet People
During four years of brutal warfare, the Soviet people faced hardship and savagery
almost unparalleled in history. Up to 25 million people died either as victims of warfare,
or through starvation, hardship and disease
Vast areas of the Soviet Union were devastated. Both sides adopted a ‘scorched earth’
policy where every resource that might have been useful to the enemy was destroyed.
Grain requisitioning was re-introduced, resulting in starvation for millions of people
Many people in occupied territories were deported to forced labour camps where they
faced terrible hardships. Many atrocities were committed in occupied regions, often as
reprisals for partisan activity.
Millions of Russian Jews, gypsies and other ethnic peoples were rounded up and
transported to concentration camps where they were unlikely to survive. Thousands were
murdered by the SS in mass executions
1945: Yalta (feb) & Potsdam (july) Conferences
1946: Turkish Crisis
Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech
1947-49: Communist governments imposed on Eastern Bloc
1947: COMINFORM established
Truman Doctrime amid Greek Crisis
1948: Berlin Airlift begins
1949: COMECON established
NATO formed
Mao Zedong seizes power in China
1950: McCarthy ‘witch hunts’ in the USA
1950–53: Korean War
1953: Death of Joseph Stalin
1955: Warsaw Pact signed
1956: Kruschchev begins De-Stalinization process
Key Figures
Josef Stalin: General Secretary of the Communist Party
Vyacheslav Molotov: Commissar for Foreign Affairs
Nikita Kruschchev: succeeded Stalin as General Secretary
Lavrentiy Beria: NKVD Chief (1938 – 53)
Harry S Truman: US President (1945 – 53)
Moa Zedong: Chinese Communist revolutionary leader
Yalta Conference
During World War II, Stalin had formed the Grand Alliance with Britain & the USA as a
means of defeating Nazi Germany. Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt met at the Yalta
Conference in February 1945 to map out a post-war peace settlement
There was a certain amount of co-operation between the ‘Big Three’; discussions over
future political developments and territorial divisions in Europe were discussed,
particularly with regard to Germany and Poland
The main outcome was an agreement to partition Germany into four ‘occupied zones’
(Britain, France, USA and Russia) at the end of the war; it was also agreed that Germany
would be demilitarised and should pay reparations
After cessation of hostilities with Germany, the Soviet Union agreed to enter the war in
the Pacific against Japan; in return, Stalin would be given territories in Asia and a ‘free
hand’ over the Baltic States
Stalin’s agreement that the Soviet Union would participate in the newly-formed United
Nations seemed to offer hope of post-war co-operation between East and West. Stalin,
however, insisted on a right of veto
Churchill & Roosevelt were concerned about the spread of Communism. Pro-Soviet
Governments were already installed in Poland and other Eastern European ‘satellite’
Potsdam Conference
The post-war conference was held at Potsdam near Berlin from July 1945. The issues on
the agenda were essentially the same as at Yalta but relations were more strained
Stalin saw himself as the elder statesman of the Conference, as the only one of the ‘Big
Three’ who had also attended the Yalta Conference. Britain & France were represented
by Clement Attlee and Harry S Truman respectively
Issues related to demilitarisation, reparations and the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.
Territories annexed by Germany during the war (such as Alsace) were returned
The Oder-Neisse Line re-drew the frontiers between Poland and Germany, extending
Polish territory to include Danzig and Silesia; this extended the Soviet sphere of
The Western Powers agreed to recognise the pro-Soviet regime in Poland rather than the
exiled Polish war-time government in London. This was a major triumph for Stalin
The Eastern Bloc Satellites
Having ‘liberated’ much of Eastern Europe from the Nazis, Red Army troops occupied
East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. The social and
economic depravation caused by the war proved a breeding ground for Communism in the
Stalin saw the Eastern Bloc as a ‘buffer zone’ against the west, who in turn viewed these
developments with great alarm. In 1946, Churchill coined the phrase ‘Iron Curtain’ to
describe the political division that now loomed over Europe
Between 1947- 49, pro-Stalinist governments under direct control from Moscow were
imposed on each of the satellite states. Elections were held (as decreed by the Yalta
Conference) but results were often rigged in order to return Communist regimes
Elections were often accompanied by a campaign of terror against opposition parties.
This was the case, for example, in Czechoslovakia where Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk
(son of Tomas Masaryk and a close political ally of Eduard Benes) was murdered in 1948.
The Communists then seized power in the so-called ‘Czech Coup’
Typically, satellite states then went through a process of Soviet-style collectivisation,
nationalisation of industry, class warfare and propaganda; terror was used to eliminate
political opposition leaders, many of whom were murdered or fled into exile
The exception was Yugoslavia, where the partisan leader Marshal Tito’s Communist
regime ruled independently of Moscow. Tito refused to bow to Stalinsit pressure and
ruled without interference from 1953 - 1980
A number of treaties of ‘friendship and mutual assistance’ were signed between the
USSR and its satellite states: these included:
COMECON (1949)
Several popular risings against Soviet rule such as in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia
in 1968 (the infamous ‘Prague Spring’) were ruthlessly crushed. The satellite states
remained under Soviet control until the collapse of Communism in the late 1980’s
The USA was concerned that a Europe devastated by war would fall easy prey to
Communism; the Marshall Plan allocated $15 billion to shore up European economies; it
was intended that much of this aid would go to Eastern Europe to stave off Communism
Molotov refused to allow Marshall Aid for the Eastern Bloc states, fearing it was an
excuse for ‘capitalist imperialism’ to extend its influence. This meant that economic ties
between the West and its former allies, Poland & Czechoslovakia were cut off
In 1949 the ‘Molotov Plan’ led to the creation of the Comecon (Council for Mutual
Economic Assistance). Intended to promote economic growth between the Eastern Bloc
states, in reality, the Comecon was used to control the states economically and politically
Membership of the Comecon included Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria
and the USSR (joined by East Germany in 1950. Meetings were sporadic and little was
done to solve the economic problems of its members; the Comecon remained as an
economic union between Communist states worldwide until 1991
The Comintern - which had been disbanded during the war - was reformed in a new guise:
the Cominform (Communist Information Bureau). The Cominform was founded in 1947 as
an alliance of Communist Parties from across the Eastern Bloc states as well as Italy,
France and Yugoslavia
The purpose of the Cominform was to coordinate actions between Communist parties
under Soviet direction. As a result, the Cominform acted as a tool of Soviet foreign
policy;it was short-lived, however, lasting only until 1956
The Warsaw Pact
In 1955, the Warsaw Pact was signed. This was an escalation of Cold War relations and a
response to West Germany joining NATO in May 1955
The pact was signed by each of the Eastern Bloc countries; the pact agreed to recognise
the national autonomy of its members; it was a military alliance between the states to
offer mutual support in the face of foreign aggression
Although the Pact never took any collective military action it was used to impose the
political will of Moscow on its member states. The Pact was disbanded in 1991 following
the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe
The Turkish Crisis
In 1946, the Soviet Union demanded free passage through the Dardanelles Straits;
Soviet ships gathered in the Black Sea while troops massed along the Turkish border
Fearing invasion, Turkey appealed to the West for support. President Truman dispatched
a naval task force to the Mediterranean and warned Stalin that Britain and the United
States would not stand for any Soviet incursion. Under pressure, Stalin backed down
The Greek Crisis
Between 1944-49, Greece was divided by a civil war fought – sporadically - between
Communist guerilla factions and supporters of the democratically-elected government
returning from exile after Nazi occupation
The Communist rising was repelled with the assistance of British and American troops.
The crisis convinced the US that Stalin intended to expand the Soviet sphere of
influence into the Mediterranean (although in reality Stalin never actively supported the
Greek Communists)
The Truman Doctrine
The United States feared the ‘domino effect’: that as one country fell to Communism, so
would its neighbour and then its neighbour in turn
On 12 March 1947, President Truman delivered the so-called Truman Doctrine, an
impassioned appeal to Congress to provide $400 million in economic and military aid to
Turkey and Greece
Without mentioning the Soviet Union, Truman urged that the United States should be
prepared to support ‘free peoples’ who faced the threat of oppression
The Doctrine is seen as a defining moment in the development of the Cold War. It
demonstrated US intent to stand up to Communist global expansion, defining American
foreign policy during the Cold War period
It was viewed with great suspicion in Moscow and destroyed any remaining trust between
the USSR and USA
The Berlin Blockade
By 1948, economic divisions between ‘East’ and ‘West’ Berlin were becoming increasingly
apparent as the United States poured aid into West Berlin
The introduction of a new ‘Deutschmark’ currency in West Berlin was condemned by the
Soviets and used as the pretext for an economic blockade. Road and rail links between
West Berlin and West Germany were closed; fuel & electricity supplies were cut off
Fearing a Soviet incursion, a huge operation was mounted by the West from June 1948.
At the height of the Berlin Airlift, an average of 600 British & American flights per day
flew supplies into the city. Any attempt to interfere with the drops was to be viewed as
an act of war
On Easter Sunday 1949, 1,381 planes delivered over 12,000 tons of coal and other
supplies without a single accident.
Stalin was humiliated by the West’s resolve and the blockade was finally lifted in
September 1949
The Berlin Blockade marked the first serious hostility of the Cold War. While free
elections were held in West Berlin, martial law was imposed on the people of East Berlin.
This was a forerunner of the formal separation of East Germany (DDR) from West
Germany (FDR)
The division of Berlin continued to symbolise the Cold War. By 1961, when the Berlin Wall
was completed, some 2 million people had fled to the West. It was not until 1989 that the
Wall was pulled down with German re-Unification following in 1990
Following the Berlin Airlift, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) was formed in
April 1949 as an alliance of Western Powers against the Soviet threat
It coincided with the news that Soviet scientists had developed nuclear capability just
four years after the Manhattan Project had led to the dropping of atomic bombs on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The admittance of West Germany into Nato in 1955 sparked further tension and led
directly to the formation of the Warsaw Pact – thus creating two ‘Power Blocs’
In fact, the nuclear arms race that followed (and continued well into the 1980’s) created
a kind of ‘Détente’ where neither side was prepared to use these weapons against the
other for fear of retaliation
In 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China after a long and bloody
civil war against Chiang Kai-Shek, military leader of the Chinese government. Kai-Shek
fled to Taiwan where he re-established his government of the ‘Republic of China’
During the war, Mao received $1 billion military aid from Stalin to help overthrow KaiShek’s regime. Following a two-month visit to Moscow in 1950, Mao signed a ‘Sino-Soviet
Treaty of Friendship’ which formed a 30-year military alliance with the Soviet Union
China then underwent a process of industrialisation similar to that of the Soviet Union,
assisted by Soviet loans and expertise. However, while openly praising Stalin for his
achievements, Mao – like Tito - kept China independent of political control from Moscow
The fall of China to ‘Chairman Mao’ was of great alarm to the West; the US refused to
recognise the Communist regime. But while Mao inflicted terrible hardship on the Chinese
people – notably during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s – China never joined the
Warsaw Pact and relations with the Soviet Union became increasingly strained
The Korean War
At the end of World War 2, Korea had been partitioned between North (Soviet
controlled) and South (American dominated). In 1948, two separate governments were
In 1950, North Korean troops – urged by Stalin - crossed the 38 Parallel, the dividing
line between North and South. Stalin hoped to humiliate the US by dragging it into an unwinnable war while gaining a valuable ally in the Far East
After 3 years of bitter fighting, American, British & South Korean troops succeeded in
holding off the Soviet-backed North Koreans. The Military Dividing Line was reth
established close to the original 38 Parallel between North and South
The Korean War ended in stalemate, but it was another set-back for Stalin, who once
more witnessed the resolve of the West to stand up to Communist expansion in Asia. The
United States pledged its ongoing support not only to the South Koreans but also to
Chiang Kai-Shek’s deposed government in Taiwan as the rightful government of China
Cults Academy
Advanced Higher History
Soviet Russia 1917 – 1953
Revision Notes
11. Soviet Culture under Stalin
12.Stalin’s Legacy
THEMES 11 & 12:
1929: Stalin’s 50 Birthday Celebrations
1932: Avant-garde replaced with ‘Socialist Realism’
1933: Maxim Gorky returns from exile
1938: Official ‘History of the Communist Party’ published
1939: ‘Stalin and the Soviet People’ Exhibition
1940: Execution of Vsevolod Myerhold
1949: Stalin’s 70 Birthday celebrations
1953: Death of Stalin
1956: Kruschchev begins the period of ‘De-Stalinisation’
Key Figures
Josef Stalin: General Secretary of the Communist Party
Il Lissitsky: leading avant-garde artist in Soviet Russia
Sergei Eisenstein: celebrated Russian film director
Maxim Gorky: famous Russian novelist, prominent in the ‘socialist realism’ movement
Vsevolod Myerhold: famed theatre director brutally murdered by the NKVD
Marina Raskova: first female pilot and navigator in the Soviet Air Force
In the 1930’s and 40’s, a phenomenon known as the Cult of Stalin emerged in Soviet
Russia. Initially, Stalin had promoted a hard-working, modest image of himself (he was
once famously described as a ‘grey blur’)
From the late 20’s following his emergence as party leader, Stalin took on the persona of
the ‘new Lenin’: the city of Stalingrad was named in his honour; his 50 birthday in 1929
was marked by lavish celebrations; speeches were met with rapturous applause
In the early 1930’s, portraits and statues of Stalin began to appear across the Soviet
Union; paintings, posters, poetry and musical performances were produced in his honour.
At every opportunity, Stalin was depicted alongside Lenin as having been at the forefront
of the revolution
The image of Stalin gradually changed from a ‘man of the people’ to a distant, ‘god-like’
benefactor on a par with Lenin (Stalin was smart enough never to elevate himself above
In 1938, an ‘official’ History of the Communist Party re-wrote history to emphasise
Stalin’s role in the revolution at the expense of Trotsky, Bukharin and the other ‘old
Bolsheviks’; this was followed in 1939 by an exhibition entitled ‘Stalin and the Soviet
Celebrations for Stalin’s 70 birthday were even more lavish than for his 50 , with a
giant portrait illuminated above Moscow and festivities that lasted over a year
Paradoxically, Stalin kept himself a distant figure, remote and aloof from the Soviet
people. He was not a skilled orator and rarely spoke in public. This only added to the ‘aura’
that surrounded Stalin
Victory in the Great Patriotic War elevated Stalin even higher in the eyes of the Soviet
people; Stalin and Zhukov took the victory parade in Red Square, however Zhukov – the
real Hero of the Soviet Union - was quickly demoted to command the remote Odessa
Military District
Stalin’s domination of Soviet society and of the Communist Party in the 1930’s and 40’s
was such that the political regime was now described as ‘Stalinism’ rather than
The Soviet Media
The Media in Soviet Russia was controlled by TASS (Telegraph Agency of the Soviet
Union); TASS was established in 1925 as the central agency for collection and
distribution of news for all Soviet newspapers, radio and television stations and continued
until 1992
The official party newspaper was ‘Pravda’(Truth): it was first produced in 1912 from exile
in Vienna and continued publication until 1991; foreign news was subject to strict
regulation and censorship
The Arts
The Arts in Soviet Russia were intended to form a social and political role that reflected
socialist values. Music, literature, cinema, paintings and architecture all came under
scrutiny from the state
Between 1917 and 1932, avant-garde was the favoured art form. This post-modern form
of expression used abstract and geometric symbolism to convey meaning. Among those
prominent in the avant-garde movement were the artist Il Lissitsky and the film-maker
Sergei Eisenstein
From 1932, Stalin announced that avant-garde was to be replaced with a new form of
expression – ‘socialist realism’. Artistic freedom of expression was not tolerated; art in
all its forms was expected to be accessible to the masses, reflect the triumph of the
proletariat and convey an uplifting socialist message
A leading exponent of socialist realism was Maxim Gorky, regarded as one of the 20
century’s greatest literary figures. A Bolshevik supporter, Gorky had gone into exile in
the 1920’s after criticising Lenin but returned to Moscow in 1933 at Stalin’s personal
Many artists fell out of favour with the Stalinist regime. Many films, theatre productions
and musical performances were banned; examples included the famous novel of the
Russian Civil War, Dr Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak and Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible
trilogy which was deemed ‘unflattering’ to Stalin
High profile victims of the purge of the arts included the famed theatre director
Vsevolod Myerhold, who was brutally tortured and executed in 1940 after campaigning
for greater artistic freedom. Maxim Gorky also died ‘under mysterious circumstances’ in
Lenin had rejected the bourgeois education system as ‘elitist’: old textbooks were
discarded, traditional academic subjects rejected and exams abolished. Pupils were no
longer expected to obey their teachers
Stalin was shocked at the decline in educational standards; he was aware that a literate,
educated workforce was required to achieve an efficient economy
Formal education was restored with strict codes of discipline reintroduced. Literacy,
mathematics and science were made compulsory; further education colleges taught
trades and basic technical skills
While the system was meant to promote equal opportunity, the reality was different;
fees were required after the age of 15: private tuition became common for ‘gifted’
children (usually those of party members) who would often go on to achieve university
Universities such as the Moscow State University and the Academy of Sciences came
under state supervision. The work of academics was closely scrutinised; historians had to
‘rewrite’ history from a Soviet point of view. Soviet scientists were denied contact with
western scientists
Stalin’s belief in ‘socialist science’ reached its height when Trofim Lysenko claimed to
have produced ‘super crops’ to solve problems of famine; anyone who disputed Lysenko’s
claims was arrested, even though they were shown to be entirely false
Attacks on organised religion had begun in the early 1920’s under Lenin with the Decree
on the Separation of Church and State. Stalin agreed that religion had no place in Soviet
society; it was a symbol of the old Tsarist regime and ran contrary to socialist beliefs
1928 saw a renewed attack on the Orthodox Church and other religions. Churches and
monasteries were closed; thousands of clergy were arrested and exiled, imprisoned or
murdered. The attack on the church led to uprisings in the countryside amongst the
deeply religious peasants
The 1930’s saw further attacks on the church during the Great Terror. By the late
1930’s, religion – while not banned altogether - had been virtually eliminated: atheism was
the official doctrine of the Soviet people while the worship of Stalin was of course
Women’s Status in Society
Lenin had promoted women as equals in a new socialist society. Feminists such as the
prominent Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai had expected women - free from the constraints
of marriage and drudgery - to play a full and equal role in post-revolutionary society, but
under Stalin this proved increasingly difficult
Propaganda continued to celebrate the role of women. March 8 was still celebrated as
International Women’s Day, though it was now renamed International Communist Women’s
Marriage was once more encouraged in order to halt the moral decline in the social fabric
of society. The importance of motherhood was emphasised
The ‘Zhenotdel’ (Women’s Bureau of the Communist Party) was quietly forgotten about.
Few women were elevated to positions of power and status within the party or in industry
During the Five Year Plans, women were essential members of the workforce but often
faced exploitation with poor working conditions and low wages. Labour shortages during
the Great Patriotic War further increased the demand for female workers; by 1945, 15
million women worked in Soviet industry
Women in the Armed Forces
Over half a million women served in the Soviet armed forces; unlike most countries,
Russian women were actively involved in combat, often serving as snipers, machine
gunners and in tank crews
In 1933, Marina Raskova became the first female aviator in the Soviet Air Force, paving
the way for women pilots. Raskova was killed in a flying accident in 1943 and became the
first casualty of the war to be given a state funeral
89 women were awarded the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ decoration during the war; very
few, however, ever gained officer status. After the war, most women left the armed
forces altogether
Stalin’s death on March 5 1953 is surrounded by mystery. Theories that Stalin was
poisoned by his head of security, Lavrentiy Beria, as part of a Kremlin conspiracy to
prevent a new wave of purges or Soviet aggression against the West remain open to
Whatever the truth, There is little doubt that Stalin left a huge legacy not only on the
Soviet Union but on the whole world. The impact of Stalinist policies were felt across the
globe for much of the 20 Century
Stalin had succeeded in his primary objectives:
he had transformed the Soviet Union into a modern and efficient economy with the
capabilities of defeating the Nazi war machine during the Great Patriotic War
he had preserved the security of the Soviet Union in the face of what he saw as the
aggressive Imperialistic policies of the West
He had established totalitarian rule over the Soviet people to such an extent that his
regime was virtually unchallenged
He had elevated the Soviet Union to the status of superpower, eventually capable of
matching and even surpassing the United States in such fields as science and technology
and military strength
There are, however, many criticisms of Stalin’s legacy:
He became a tyrannical dictator, imposing his own political doctrine of ‘Stalinism’ upon
the people; this was far removed from the democratic ideals of Communism as envisioned
by Marx, Lenin & Trotsky
His regime was one of fear and oppression: millions were subjected to the Great Terror
purges of the 1930’s, while basic human rights were denied and individual freedom of
expression was removed
His achievements came at a terrible cost to the Soviet people; millions died of starvation,
disease and hardship during Collectivisation and the Five Year Plans
He imposed Stalinist rule over the countries of the Eastern Bloc whose peoples became
subjected to the same denial of freedoms as those of the Soviet Union
The intensity of Cold War Divisions between East and West remained for many decades
to come following Stalin’s death, leading to a climate of fear and suspicion that defined
the latter half of the 20 Century
Stalin was succeeded as General Secretary of the Communist Party by Nikita Kruschchev,
a Communist hard-liner who had once been a close political ally of Stalin, but was shrewd
enough to recognise the excesses of Stalin’s regime
Kruschchev’s ‘Secret Report’
In a ‘secret report’ delivered to select members at the 20 Party Congress in February
1956, Kruschchev denounced the ‘Cult of Stalin’ and in particular condemned the purges
against the military and party members
The ‘myth’ of Stalin and his flagrant ‘abuse of power’ was exposed. Kruschchev also cited
Stalin’s failures in foreign policy, his treatment of the Eastern Bloc countries and even
his role as war leader
The venom of Kruschchev’s attack astonished Party members, many of whom agreed with
such sentiments. Thus began a process of De-Stalinization, what is sometimes referred
to as the Kruschchev Thaw
The Kruschchev ‘Thaw’
Progressive economic measures were introduced within the Soviet Union; forced labour
was abolished and some restrictions on private trade were lifted
Most political prisoners were released from the Gulag labour camps and re-assimilated
into Soviet society. A measure of free speech was restored
A certain amount of autonomy was given to the Eastern Bloc states, though Communist
regimes remained in power. Attempts to overthrow Communism such as in Hungary in
1956 were ruthlessly crushed
There were attempts at reconciliation with the West. Prior to the signing of the Warsaw
Pact in 1955, the Soviet Union had offered to join NATO but this was rejected by the
Western Powers
De-Stalinization took many forms. Stalin’s body was removed from the Lenin Mausoleum
in 1961. His name was removed from the Soviet National Anthem. While Lenin remained a
revered figure, statues and images of Stalin were often torn down.
Today, only a few memorials to Stalin remain, scattered across obscure outposts of the
former Soviet Union. Perhaps the only major statue is found in the centre of Gori,
Stalin’s home city in Georgia, where his birthplace is now a small museum, complete with
death mask. Here at least, the Cult of Stalin remains.