*** war and social upheaval: Communism

The Rise and Fall of Soviet Communism (1917-91)

Russian Civil War
Figure 1.--These boys were photographed as Red Army soldiers at the end of the Russian Civil War (1922). They look too young to be actual soldirts. We suspect it was somw kind of propaganda activity. The Bolsheviks recruited masive numbers of Russians to fight the Whites who attempted to restore the Tsar. The Bolsheviks in the young Soviet state looked to the new generation as untainred by the Tsarist past. Hitler and the NAZIs as in many other areas took the same view.

The first Communist state was the Soviet Union. The Revolution was a reaction to the privations of World War I (1914-18), in which the Russian people, suffered greviously. The Bolsheviks emerged victorious against a democratic Provisional Government (1917). This led led to a distructive Civil war between Reds and Whites (1918-22). The Bolsheviks proceeded found not only a socialist economy, but a repressive police state under Lenin and more importantly Stalin. It is now recognized by most authors that Stalin's ruthless policies including engineering a famine in the Ukraine resulted in more deaths that even Hitler's Holocaust and other genocidal policies. Stalin at the outbreak of World War II at first entered a partnership with Hitler, but then was invaded (1941). The Great Patriotic War waged by the Russian people was the key factor in the defeat of the German Army (1945). It also left Stalin in control of the countries of Eastern Europe. The result was the Cold War with American and the European democracies. The internal contridictions and efficencies of the Communist system and the desire of natuonal groups for indepence led to the unraveling of the Stalin's Soviet empire, first in Poland (1989) and finally the Soviet Union itself (1991). The Communists without a maket economy are of course not noted for their fashion sence and fashion industry. There were some ideological constraints on fashion. Often clothing manufacturers just copied Western styles, but there were clothing industries in these countries and fashion developments. Some countries had specialized school fashions and uniforms and the Young Pioners were forme with uniforms.

Soviet Historiography

Assessing Soviet history poses many difficult problems. A true historisan is suspsed to collect facts and then draw conclusions from those facts. A Soviet historians was given the conclusions. His job was to find facts to support the conclusions. He was expected to be highly selective in the facts seized. At times, facts had to be ignored or even fassified. Of course there were plenty of Western historians who did the same. The difference of course is in the West historians did not face the NKVD and Gulag if they did not follow the Party line. Soviet historians while they did not have to worry about coming up with conclusions, they had plenty of difficulties. One major one was thst Stalin often changed his policies which meant that historians who wrote about former policies were in trouble. And the changing position of important offiials caused problems. Fallen commisars had to be air brushed out of photographs. [King] The Great Purges tured heros of te Revolution into spies and traitors. NKVD men were assigned o go into libraries ad cut artickes and photograhs out of old copies of newspapers. As a result of this, the work of Soviet historians is extremely suspect.

Karl Marx (1818-83)

Communism as a social force was founded by Karl Marx in his landmark work Das Kapital. He did not invent all the ideas, but it was Marx who first put them together in a coherent system. Marx as a young as a young, idealistic university student in Germny he was disturbed by the economic inequalities of the day and did not think that they could be corrected by the conservative monarchies of the day or the liberal democracy developing in Britain. America was not yet on his radar screen except for the issue of slavery. While still in the university, he joined a movement known as the Young Hegelians, after Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. He was a German philosopher and major sicial critic. Hegel became an important figure in German idealism. Hegel's effort at sytemizing thought and creating a historical construct clearly influenced the young Marx still at university. Marx became a journalist, but the radical nature of his articles upset authorities. He was disturbed by the social inequalities of the day and did not think that they could be corrected by liberal democracy. Officials in Germany, France and Belgium expelled him as a disruptive influence. Europe was swept by revolution (1848). It was not Communist Revolution, but a combination of liberal and nationalist ideas. In the midst of all the tumault, Marx and German associate Friedrich Engels published 'The Communist Manifesto'. It introduced a new concept in European thinking -- socialism. It was the idea that there were conflicts inherent in the capitalist system that would ultimately destroy the whole system. Marx had to flee Europe after the 1848 revolutions failed. Ironically Marx would eventually find refuge in Britain, at the time the financial center of world capitalism. It was in London that he would be able to study and author his monumental work -- Das Kapital. It never occurred to Marx that there was an inherent strength in a society that allowed freedom of thought, something outside his economic construct. Nor did he identify the obvious question of why capitalism developed in Europe which also related to freedom. He published the first volume of Das Kapital in which he laid out his vision of history, centering on war and the inevitable path of self-destruction. It would play an important part in the growing international workers� movement, radicalizing European workers. Marx was interested in America, taking a special interest in the fight ahainst slavery and the Civil War, in part because he supported himself by writing for American newspapers. Some of his articles are insightful, but he never saw what was happening in American beyond abolition. By the time that Marx published his work, America was emerging as the preminent world industrial power. Like the Imperial German Goverment, however, Marx did not understand why or begin to enter the massive expansion of American industrial power into his historical construct. In fairness to Marx, the horrendous Communist atrocities of the 20th century from the Soviet Union to China and Cambodia were not what Marx had predicted or desired. Over 100 million people have perished because of the political sytn that Marx played a central role in formulating. These atrocities resulted from what emerged in the Soviet Union -- Marxist-Leninism. Marx was a journalist and academic. The Bolsheviks found that to apply his teachings to goverening, force was needed-- brutality on an unprecedented level. This was because Marx was so wrong about economics and human behavior that only a totalitarian could force people to comply.

World Socialist Movement

The central themne of socialism is that the goods produced in society should be held in common and distrubuted equally. This basic idea is not new. Idealized socialist concepts can be identified as early as ancient Greece in Plato's Republic, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, and the millenarian movements of medieval Europe. Socialist concepts were expressed as Europe entered the modern era. They can be found in Sir Thomas More's Utopia. We also see Socialist princioles present among the Levellers and other sects that emerged during the English Civil War (1640s). Socialist thought was rife among the Sans-culottes in the early period of the French Revolution, although these principles never became a main focus of the Revolution (1790s). It was not until after the Napoleonic Wars that the term "socialism" appeared and the mocement began to develop as a political force. A primary factor here was the Industrial Revolution which began in Britain during the mid-18th century and spread to Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. From the beginning, Socialism was closely associated with European liberalism. The term Socialism first appeared in France and was quickly adopted by English social reformers (1820s). While the Socialist mobement was an outgrowth of social disparities resulting from the industrial Revolution, early Socialist leaders were wealthy men who expoused utopian concepts, especially the idea that men did not need to be motivated by material rewards and that society could be orgamized around cooperative socities in which workers produced for the benefit of the community as a whole and the produce was distributed equitably. Some of the prominent Socilist utopins were Robert Owen, Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Alexander Herzen and Ferdinand Lassalle. The New Lanark community was one of the early Socialist utopinn communities. The English reformers were more concerned with reordering society than in seizng political power. Liberals in Germany set out to seize power and created a unified, democratic Germany in the Revolutions of 1848. They almost suceeded, but in the end failed. This defeat generated a new train of Socialist thought premised on the ideq of workers seizing political power. Karl Rodbertus-Jagetzow was one of the early theoreticians. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote the "Manifesto of the Communist Party" (1848). Marx and Engels developed the foundation for what became known as scientific socialism and which has become referred to as Marxism. Mark developed his ideas in great detail in Das Kapital (1867). The book The book is the Socialist analysis of capitalism. Marx saw socialism as the stage of history and class structure following the inevitable revolution in which the urban proletariat would seize power. After this the state would "wither away" as an unecessary institution. Splits developed in the Socialist movement. The main thread in Western Europe were democratic socialists who believed that power could be achieved democratically through elections. Another group believed tht capatlists would never turn over power and believed that a violent worker uprising was necessary. They became known as Communists. And even more radical offshoot was Anarchism. Socialism did not begin to have a major political impact even after the Revolution of 1848, although liberals wre umportant in some countries. The First International (International Working Men's Association--IWA) was founded in London. Marx addressed the conference. The groups that attemded the conference had little real influence, but serious organizing began--especially in France and Germany. The working class of Paris actually seized power in the city as the Paris Commune after the Franco-Prussian War (1871), althoiugh they were quickly suppressed by the mew French Republic. Cracks began to appear in the First International. Bakunin's IWA was expelled at the Hague Congress (1872) which resulted in the Jura federation. The Marxists eventually abandoned the IWA to the Anarchists, and founded the Second or Socialist International in Paris (1893). Socialist parties by this time were active in most European countries and were beginning to achieve some importance in some countries, especially those in which free elections were held. These were the most modern industrial countries (Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden). The one country in which Scocialist countries had no political success was the United States. Anarchists achieved some success within the trade union movement in some countries (France, Italy, and Spain).

World War I (1914-18)

Russian support for the Serbs was the immediate cause of Germany decalring war in 1914 and launching World War I. No country suffered more from the War than Russia's illprepared and supported peasany army. Casualties on the Eastern front were even grater than on the Western front. The Russian soldiers had little artillery support and were unprotected from German poison gas attacks. Russia's war effort undoubtedly prevented Germany from bringing the full weight of her army to bear against France and gaining victory in the first weeks of the War. Millions of Russian soldiers and civilians died in both the fighting and destruction as well as food shortages on the home front.

Russia Revolution (1917)

The Revolution of 1905 following the disastrous Russo-Japanese War had shaken the Tsarist Empire to the core. Tsar Nicholas had been forced to grant a constitution. This created a duma or parliament. The Tsar was back in control (1907). The Tsarist state was irevocably weakened. The shooting of striking gold miners at the Lena field in Siberia resulted in a new wave of unrest (1912). Thus Tsarist Russia was in no condition to enter a general European war (1914). The War was a disaster for Russia. The country was unprepared and the result was huge casualties. Russia suffered more casualties than any other country. Dusruptions in the economy and the advance og=f German forces resulted in shortages including severe shortages and bread lines in the major cities. As a result, the Tsarist Government collapsed with relatively little resistance when riots broke out in St. Persburg. Army revolts forced the Tsar to abdicate. Nicholas II abdicated on March 2, 1917, in favor of his brother Michael. No fool, Michael renounced his claim the next day. The abdication of the Tsar left the Duma in control of Russia. The Duma was dominated by liberal politicans. Defense Minister Alexander Kerensky formnmed a provisional government. The Provisional Government, however, was hampered by thev Petrograd Council (Soviet) of Soldiers and Workers's Deputies. And here radical elements including the Bolshevils had considerable influence. The Provisional Government also honored commitments to the Allies. Kerensky tried to keep Russia in the War. He gave Brusilov command of another offensive against the German Southern Army in Galicia. This time Brusilov made little progress. He drove through mutinous Austrian units, but was stopped at great cost by German units commanded by Hoffman and Hutier. The Germans after stopping the Russians, launched a major offensive. This was the stroke that shattered the Russian Army. It's collapse paved the way for the Bolsheviks to seize power. The first Communist state was of course the Soviet Union. The Revolution was a reaction to the huge losses, government incompetence, and privations of World War I (1914-18), in which the Russian people, suffered greviously. The Bolsheviks emerged victorious against a democratic Provisional Government (1917). The Russian Revolution is often described as a result of social forces that had been developing for centuries. A strong case can be made for the Revolution as a coup d'état that may have never occurred without the leadership of Lenin. [Pipes] The Germans allowed Lenin who was in Switzerland to cross their territory in a sealed railway car. Hecarrived in Petrograd (April 1917). His demands for "peace, land, and bread" resonated with the Russian people, especially the Petrigrad Soviet with was not faorably disposed toward the liberal duma and Kerensky Government. Lenin and his allies demanded "all power to the Soviets". As the situation in Petrograd deteriorated, General Kornilov attempted to seize power. This backfired when his troops mutinied. The Bolsheviks then moved on the Provisional Government (November 7). They arrested members if the Provisional Government theu could find and seized power in the name of the Soviets.


Jews are often depicted as playing a major role in both the Bolshevik Revolution and Communism in general. Hitler of course constantly referred to the Bloshevick-Jewish conspiracy. There were in fact many Jews involved in the Bolshevik Revolution and the Communist movement. Karl Marx of course was Jewish. Leon Trotsky and many other leading Bolsheviks were Jewish. Here some historical perspective is needed. Russia had the largest Jewish population in Europe. This was even more so before World war I when large areas id eastern Poland weee part of Tsarrist Russia. Russian Jews were opressed by Tsarist policies and horific attacks by the cossacks known as pogroms. This drove largevnumbers of Russian and PolishbJews into Europe (Germany was a major destination) and America. In Russia there was no legal political opposition to the Tsar, thus it is understandable that many Jews would become involved in revolutionary policuies. It is also understandable that socialism with its idealtic appear of building a more just society would appeal to many Jews both in Russia and America and Europe. What is not true, however, is that Jews played a major role in the Soviet state after the first years of the Revolution. After the Civil War, few Jews had key positions. Stalin himself was deeply anti-semitic. Some claim that he appointed some Jews to unpopular positions so he could later have them arrested. Virtually all the important old Bolsheviks disappeared in the purges of the 1930s. After World War II, there is considerable evidence to suspect that Stalin was preparing another Holocaust which was only prevented by his death. Later Jews were to play a major role in the Soviet civil rights movemnent that played a role in the fall of the Soviet Union.

Civil War (1918-21)

The abdication of the Tsar and subequent Civil War led to distructive fighting between Reds and Whites (1918-22). Foreign governments intervened to assist the whites. The Red Army fought to retain the old Rusian imperial borders, but lodst Finland, the Baltics Republic nd lrgereas of White Eussia to Polsand. The TRrd Army fid succeed. The old Imperial Army was shatered by the Germans. Many soldiers mutinied and killed their officers. People's Commisar for War Leon Trotsky organized a new Red Army, recruiting massive numbers of peasants and workers. The Red Army without trained officers performed poorly in the early phases of the fighting. Leon Trotsky played a msajor role in fashioning the Red SArmy into an effective fighting force. The Bolsheviks attached political officers to all Red Army units to keep warch over the officers (many who had been in the old Imperial Army) and explain Communism to the largely illiterate peasant recruits. The Bolsheviks were especially concerned with the younger generation, untained by the Tsarist past and capitalism. The War and the Civil War affected agricultual production. Food shortsages were widespread. Large numbers of children orphaned in the fighting were psarticuilsrly at risk. As in Europe, American food again played a role in saving millions of children.

The Baltics

The Revolution and the Civil War allowed the three Baltic Republics (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) to delaclare independence from the new Bolshevik Soviet state. The Estonians declared their independence immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution (November 28, 1917). The Bolsheviks prepared to seize the country, but there was not yet an armistace and the Germans moved to protect Estonia. They also made the independence of the Baltics as German protectorates a provision of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. After the armistace on the Western Front (November 11, 1918), the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk wasabrogated. The Baltics aided by the Allies, especially the British fleet, and Germany were able to establish their independence. Here a young British officer, Harold Alexander, played an important role leading the Landeswehr (essentially a small German force) in Latvia.


Lenin had promissed that the suspension of bourgeois freedoms was to be temprary during the Revolution and Civil War. He promissed the Russians that they were creating a state which would allow greater freedoms than anything experienced in the Western bourgeois democracies. On the contrary, Lenin played a part in creating the foundation for a police state. Here the Bolsheviks can not be uniqueky faulted. They at first simply recreated their version of Tsarists institutiins which included a secret police (the Okhrana). arbitrary arrest and courts, and Siberian exiles at hard labor. Under Lenin and especially Stalin, however, the Soviets created a much more efficent police states than the Tsars ever imagined.

Early Soviet State

The Bolsheviks proceeded to found not only a socialist economy, but a repressive police state under Lenin and more importantly Stalin. This was inevitavle, because a socialist ciommand ecoomy as invisioned by Lenin and the Bolsheviks is only possible if repressive firces of the state can be enployed. Lenin had promissed that the suspension of bourgeois freedoms was to be temprary during the Revolution and Civil War. He promissed the Russians that they were creating a state which would allow greater freedoms than anything experienced in the Western bourgeois democracies. On the contrary, Lenin played a part in creating the foundation for a totalitarian police state. Here the Bolsheviks can not be uniquely faulted. They at first simply recreated their version of Tsarists institutions which included a secret police (the Ocrana). arbitrary arrest and courts, and Siberian exiles at hard labor. Under Lenin and especially Stalin, however, the Soviets created a much more efficent police states than the Tsars ever imagined. What were determined to be counter revolutionaries and class enenies were early targets. class enemies and The Bolsheviks launched an atheist campaiign. The Bolseviks which created the Soviet state would eventually become targets of Stalin's NKVD, consimed by the Revolution and totalitarian system they created.


At the time of World War I, most of Wurope was controlled by three great empires -- the Ausro-Hungarian, German, and Tsarist Empires. Each of these empires faced a natioanlities problem, especially the by the 20th century with the ruse of nationalism. A fourth great empire, the Ottoman Empire had lost most of its Europeamn territory because of natioanlist movemrnts in the Balkans. World War I would be set off by natioanlist agitation--the assaination of Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand. After the War the Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin would seek to gain control over the territory of the Tsarist Empire. Except for Finland, the Baltics, and Poland, he was remanrkably successful. This meant he inherited the natiioamnlities problem that had proved so distuctive to the old empires. His solution was continued by Stalin. The supression of virtually all nationalist expression while at the same time the country was divided into ethically based republics giving the appearance of a nationalist existence. The only real natiomalist expression allowed was basically eye candy--costuming and dancing. The 16 different republics (the number varied over time) had no real power. The country and economy was centrally controlled from Moscow. This continued after World War II when Stalin regained control of Poland and the Baltics. (The Baltics and oarts of Poland were annexed. Ultinately, Lenin's and Stalin's sollution would prove to be a huge mistake. The people od the Soviet Union apparently took the various republic's seriously, in part because thatey were etnically based. As the Soviet Socialist econmy stagnated and largely failed in comparison to the Capitalist West, opposition to the Soviert system coalessed around these ethnically based republics. All this had been held in check by Lenin's and Stalin's brutally efficent police and Gulag. The KGB and its presecors were highly efficient in supressing natioanlist expression. This led to the appearnce that natioanlist thought had been sucessfully extinguished. Khrushchev had began to limit the power of the KGB. But Gorbachev in particular significantly curtailed the use of force. He did not take the nationality problem seriously. But without the use of force thae natioanlity issue exploded. Ths process began in the Soviet Eastern European Empire, especially Poland. But spread to the Sovit Union itself, at first most pronounced in the Baltics, Than Ukranians voted for independence. None of the different republics voted to continue ties with Russia. Only Belarus where the old Communost leadership remained in power and Stalin had been particularly effective in suoressung nationalist expression had Russian conectiins and showed showed some affity with Russdia.

Atheism Campaign

The Soviet Communist state launched the most thirough atheist campaign in history. The French Revolution was perhaps the first. There had been many campaigns against specific religions, but never before such a cpmprehensive, long standing state-organized campaign against all religions. The atheist campaign began by Kenin as soon as the Bolheviks seized power, but omly with the end of the Civil War did the Soviet state organize a systematic campaign against religion. The Soviet Union and Communist states in general were openly hostile to religion and officially atheist. The intensity of the aheist campaigns they launched varied, but during the Bolshevist and especially Stalinist era the Soviet campaign was intense. The Soviets took the Marxist position that there was no God. It was far more than a metaphysical matter. They consideed religion a crime and a way of opressing the people. Marx wrote, "Religion is the opium of the people." [Marx] It was a phrase repeated by Lenin. Under Lenin and the Bolsheviks Marx's words were converted into a systematic, often brutal campaign to religion from the life of the people. Religion had been very important in Russian life, especially the Orthodox faith. The primary focus was on Christinity, but there were other religiins in the Soviet Union, including judaism and Islam. The Soviet secret police comenced aabage campaign to destroy religion. It included the confiscation of church property, tearing down churches, arresting and murdering clergymen and nuns, and discouraging the practice of religion in many ways. [Gorbachev, pp. 20-21.] This began before Stalin seized control of the state. Under Stalin's NKVD such actions could be organized with chilling effiency. The historiam nof Salinist oppression writes, " Religious believersm of course, were being arrested uninterruptedly. (there wre nevertheless, certain special dates and peak periods. There was 'a night of struggle against religion' in Leningrad on Christmas Eve, 1929, when they arrested a large part of the religious intelligencia and held them--not just until morning eiher. And there was certainly no 'Christmas Tale.'" [Solzhenitsyn, p. 50.] Stalin in his infamous purges Purges shifted the primary targets of the secrete police which became the NKVD to potebntial opposition with the power structure (Government, Party, military, inteligencia, ect.). But discrimation and arrest of religious people never ceased. This was especially true during the Great Terror when the NKVD units werev given quotas of people to arrest. Who bettr than religious people who almost by definition were not true Communists. After Stalin the arrests declined and executions ceased, but the descrimination continued until the collpase of the Soiviet Union.. The hostility to religion continues in the surviving Communist countries (China, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, and Vietnam).


Quite a large number of individuals played a role in the Russian Revolution and Soviet state. Several like Lennin, Stalin, Molotov, Khruschev, and Gorbechv are very well known. Most of the rest are not beyond the narrow reach of Russian history scholars. Here we will collect information on some of the major individuals involved in the Revolution and the Soviet era, both these major figures as well as the many lesser known figures.

Secret Police

The Bolsheviks and other revolutionaries were brutally treated by the Ocrana, the Tsarist Secret Police. After the Bolsheviks seized power, many included Lenin were convinced that they needed their own secret police to deal with counter revolutionaries. The Bolshevik secret police was created only 2 months after the October Revolution (December 1917). The Bolshevik used the Cheka to firmly establish their rule. It was to be temporary expedient that Lenin assured the population that would be dibanded when the party has consolidated their hold on power. The Cheka was organized by Feliks Dzerzhinskii. It was at first only authorized to investigate "counterrevolutionary" crimes. In the struggle with counter-revolutionaries, however, the Cheka began a much broader campaign against of terror against the propertied classes. The Cheka often resorted to summary execution without trials. Some Bolsheviks were outraged with the Cheka's brutality. Lenin and other Bolsheviks were convinced that the Cheka's campaign of terror was necessary. While tghe Bolshevik's victory in the Civil War (1918-21) Lenin did disband the Cheka. The responsibilities were transferred to the State Political Directorate/United Department of Political Police (OGPU/GPU) (1922). The power of the GPU were more limited than that of the Cheka. This changed, however, with the rise to power of Joseph Stalin. Stalin perpetually obsessed with threats to his power again invested the secret police with virtually limitless extra-llegal powers. The GPU was renamed the People's Comissariat (later Ministry) for Internal Affairs (NKVD/MVD) (1934). Under Stalin the secret police were no longer subject to party control or any legal constraints. The NKVD was authorize to act against subversive elements, oversee prisons and labor camps, as well as the reducation of political prisoners. The NKVD became the person tool of Stalin which used it not only to purge the Pary but to wage a campaign of terror against the Soviet people. Stalin in the 1930s initiated a campaign against peasants to collectivize agriculture which was followed by purges and the Great Terror. Stalin conventiently purged the heads of the secret police that carried out his crimes. His last secret police head was Lavrenti Beria. When Stalin died (1953), the Soviet leadership purged Beria from the Communist Party and had him executed before he could use his power to seize power himself. The NKVD in the de-Stalinization era was renamed the KGB. The Gulag was slowly reduced and the Stalinist Terror receeded. The Soviets leaders, however, until the advent of Gorbechev continued to use the secret police to suppress political and religious thought and to act without any real legal constraint. The KGB acted on its own during the late 1980s to resist Gorbechev's efforts to open Soviet society and played a key role in organizing the attempted coup against Gorbechev (August 1991).

Soviet Economics

The economy of the Soviet Union was based on Marxist economic theory. Karl Marl ws, however, an idealistic academic. The Bolsheviks who seized control of Russia found that his theories could not easily be introduved. Not only was Marx an idealist, but he believed the Communist Revolution would take place in the advanced industrial states of Western Europe, not backward, largely agricultural Russia. Thus Lenin saw the need to modify Marxist doctrine. He even allowed limited private enterprise to rescue the failing Soviet economy--the New Economic Policy. This was, however, a short-lived experiment, quickly ended after Lenin's death and the rise of Stalin. Because Lenin and Stalin so modified Marxist doctrine, the economic system of the Soviet Union was described as Marxist-Leninist. This is a misnomer, as the system has more to do with Stalin than Lennin. The basic modification of Mrxism made by Stalin was the creation of an all-poweful state. This was one way of doing away with private property as Marx wanted, it was also instrumental in bulding a totalitarian state through which Stalin could control every aspect of Soviet life. The Soviet Marxist-Leninist economic system as it evolved included state ownership, collective agriculture, and central planning. The economy not only involved state control and public ownership, but also a drive for autarky. The Soviets ignored the liberal doctrine of free trade which saw benefits in each country engaging in economic activities for which it was best suited because of climate, natural resources, and other factors. Examples would be Ecuadoo produced bananas, France wine, and Sri Lanka tea. Soviet economics was based on a policy of autarky. The Soviets sought to avoid imports and either produce everything domestically, often at substantial cost, or do without. Under Stalin beginning in 1928, the Soviet economy was directed by a series of Five-Year Plans. Under these plans, the Soviet Union (especially the Russian and European SSRs were transformed from a largely agrarian society to one of the world's largest industrial nations. The Five Year Plans were overseen by Gosplan. Unlike industries in the West, Soviet industries were not subject to cost limits. The resut that while Soviet industry for a time grew rapidly and reported impressive production quotas, the products were often of low quality and the operations highly ineffiuient. This was not, however, fully understood until the Soviet economy began to stagnate in ther 1970s. Western industries had to produce a product consumers demanded and they had to add value. This was not the case in the Soviet Union. Consumers had relatively little influence and Soviert companies often were priducing goods that were worth less than the raw materials used to produce them. Soviet colletivized agriculture proved to be more of an economic failure than industry.

New Economic Policy--NEP (1921-28)

The Russian economy including the agricultural sphere was devestated by first World War I (1914-18) and then the Civil War (1919-21) which followed the Revolution. The confiscation of private property and radical socialist policies only added to the economic devestation. To revive the economy Lenin initiated the New Economic Policy which in effect restored an element of capitalism and personal rewards to the depressed economy (1921). Soviet War Communism, the seizure of factories and other productive facilities caused further disruptions. The NEP was designed as a temprary porogram to reintroduce limited private owenership back into the Soviet economy. The NEP was a considerable success. The fact that it resulted in increased production and relatibe prosperity does not seem to have ebntered into Stalin's thinking. Stalin who was gaining control of the Party and Soviet state had other goals in mind, namely the absolute control of the Soviet economy and rapid industriaklization. Stalin replaced the NEP with the First Five Year Plan (1928). In one way, those who took advantage of the NEP were set up for Stalin's purges. Many would be targeted by the NKVD as counter-revolutionaries.


The Soviets built a very impressive public school system offering a free public education to all. It had its weaknesses, but also strengths. There were no dark holes such as the inner city schools in the American system. Academic standards did, however, vary across the country. The principal difference was betweem urban anbd rural schools. Another problem was social class. Many children without the preferred background (worker and peasant origins) were disadvantaged in access to higher education. As to high academic standards. This is a tough one. In the humanities, how do you measure high academic standards? The students were given the answers and they learned them. I wholly agree that they were not encouraged to think, even punished for it. So how you measure high academic standards I do not know. In the sciences it was a different matter. The Soviets had very impressive scientific achievements. You don't get that without high academic standards. And I worked with Soviet fishery scientists and can tell you that they were every bit as competent, but not as well funded as our scientists. Even here, ideology siometimes intervened. Sobiet biological scienes wer significantly harmed by Stakin's support of deolically based appriosaches. And any assessment of the Soviet education system as to be put in perspective of our American system with substantial numbers of children leaving school functionally illiterate. And the fact that even well educated American kids leaving school with no appreciation of the importance and value of capitalism in our history and the world economy. This is the result of the pervsive left-wing ideology taught as fact in American schools, quite similar to Soviet ideological education. One undeniable achievemnent of Soviet education was the education of women.


The Soviets liberated women from a very conservative social structure, although there were limits on how far women could rise. Women in Tsarist times had very few options. Few upper and middle class women worked. Many girls were not educated inckluding girls from prosperous families. Women were involved in the economy, mostly oproviding agricultural labor. Many of the peasant workers (foe=rmer serfs) were illiterate. The Revolution changed this. Education was significatly expanded anbd part of this was the education of women. This opened up all kinds of jobs, including jobs in the professions for the first time. These steps toward liberating women was a major accomplishment. Here you are making the same mistake as many modern academics. Criticizing Jackson when he helped enfranchise all whites for not liberating blacks or criticizing Lincoln when he liberated blacks for not liberating women. History is an ongoing process. The achievements of one generation should not be discarded because they did not solve the whole process in one fell swoop. History rarely works that way. A fair criticism is that you do not see women in powerful positions. (Notice that there are no women leaders in any Communist country.) And you do not see women in the Poliburo (or in the intellengensia or nomenklatura). Another issue is family law. A Russian source tells us, "Specially during the age of Stalin most of the political decisions balanced in favor of 'the family' and not so much for women. Abortion was regulated in an extremely tight way (according to official sources to improve the demographics). The regulation about divorce was also made harder and legislation of so called 'free unions' became less permisive. All this is collected in the 'Family Law' passed in 1936. [Arcos] We are not sure to what extent the pay gap nin the West existed in the Soviet Union. We suspect that sime of the same reasons that cause the pay gap in the West also affected Soviet women. One matter that was different is the states privision of nursery care.


The Russia that the Bolshevicks seized control of was a multi-ethnic empire. Russia in the late-19th century set out to Russify the Empire, but with only limited success. The non-Russian areas of the Empire attempted to achieve independence after the revolution. The Red Army built by Trotsky managed to piece together most of the Tsarist Empire during and after the Civil War. Only Finland, the Baltics, Poland, and a small area of Romania managed to remain outside Soviet control. (Most of which the Soviets would size during World war II as a result of the NAZI-Soviet Nomn-Agreession Pact.) The new Soviet Union was still a large multi-national empire with Russia at its core. Constitutionally the Soviet Union was a federation of suposedly republics with substantial powers. In fact it was an even more centralized state than the Tsarist system it replaced. The ideology of the state was the international Communist movement. This meant that natioinalism had to be supressed, especially non-Russian nationalism. Thus nationalism in the various republics had to be supressed. And various waves of nationalities over time passed throuh the expanding Gulag. [Solzhenitsyn, pp. 51ff.] Interestingly it was Stalin who most fiercely suppresed the nationalities and he was Georgian. Expression of non-Russian nationalist seniment was actively supressed. Russian nationalism was not strongly promoted, although this varied over time. There was a revival of Russian nationalism during the Great Patriotic War. The only expression of nationalist sentiment allowed was show-case ethnic events like costumes and folk danceing. The Soviets despite 70 years of supressing the various nationalities found in the 1990s that as soon as police state controls were eased that natioanlist sentiment emerged in force. Each of the different republics chose independence. The one area that seems to have been effective Russified was the eastern Ukraine.


It is now recognized by most authors that Stalin's ruthless policies including engineering a famine in the Ukraine resulted in more deaths that even Hitler's Holocaust and other genocidal policies. Stalin set up a cult of personality in which the Soviet people were forced to virtaully worship him. Stalin organized a series of show trials in which priminent officials and military officers were forced to admit to ludicrous accounts of treason. Soviet citizens were encouraged to denounce their neigbors. Many did in an effort to improve their chances of survival.

Stalinist Era

Soviet scholars in the deStalinization period argued that Stalin was an aberation. The only problenm with that was that much of the history of the Soviet state and many of its most important achievements occurred during Stalin's rule. The country was transformed during the Stalinist era. The Soviet Union changed from a backward agricultural state to a major industrial power. A great emphasis was placed on education and peasants and workers saw their sons enter universities. The major achievement was the defeat of NAZI Germany in the Great Patriotic War. The industrial advances were achieved at great cost. The Soviet people were subjected to an unbelievable reign of terror. Not only did millions disappear into the Gulag, but the camps became a country within a country where millions laboored asslaves in horrendous conditions. In addition, mush of the developent was inefficent and not vialble in a market economy. There was also great damage to the environment.

The Gulag

The Gulag is the system of slave labor camps initially established in 1919 by the Cheka--the secret police established by the Bolsheviks after they seized power from the Russian Provisional Government. The numbers of people incarcerated was realtively limited during the 1920s while Lenin was alive and after his death when Bolshevik leadrs struggled for comtrol. This began to change one Stalin ha seized control of the Soviet Union. Stlalin was in control by 1929 and by the early 1930s the numbers of people incarcerated in the camps of the Gulag began to reach sizeable numbers. The Gulag under Stalin was administered by the Main Directorate for Corrective Labor Camps, a unit under the NKVD which had replaced the Cheka. As a reult of the increased arrests ordered by Stalin, the Gulag by 1934 had several million inmates. As in any country, some of the imates were murderers, thieves, and all variety of ordinary criminals. Under Stalin the make up of the prisonors changed and included increasing numbers of political and religious dissenters. Most were not dissenters in the sence of men and women actively working afainst the Soviet system. Many may simply have told a joke or have been reported by others for a host of reasons. Some were arrested simply because NKVD officers were given quotas. The Soviet Union under Stalin was a country in which the average citizen could at any time be arrested. Then they would be tortured and killed or sent to forced labor camps comprising an emense Gulag where they would often simply disappear. The Gulag camps were located throughout the Soviet Union, but primarily in remote regions of Siberia and the Far North where living conditions were often extremely severe--a factor in the low survival rates at some camps. The Gulag reached such significant levels that under Stalin it was a major factor in the Soviet econonomy. Gulag prisoners were used in several difficult construction projects such as the White Sea-Baltic Canal, the Moscow-Volga Canal, the Baikal-Amur main railroad line, numerous hydroelectric stations, and strategic roads and industrial enterprises in remote regions where it would have been difficult and expensive t have recruited free labor. GULAG slave labor was extensively used in the Soviet Union's lumber industry as well as the mining of coal, copper, and gold.

NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggresion Pact (1939)

NAZI Foreign Minister Ribbentrop and newly appointed Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs Molotov on August 23, 1939, signed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. At the time of thesigning, British and French delegations were in Moscow trying to reach an understanding with Stalin. Hewas convinced, however, that they were tring to draw him into a war with Hitler. The two countries which until that time had been bitter foes, pledged not attack each other. Any problems developing between the two countries were to be delt with amicably. It was last for 10 years. The Pact shocked the world and the purpose was immedietly apparent. It meant that Germany could attack Poland without fear of Soviet intervention. Thus after defeating Poland, Germany did not have to fear a full-scale European war on two fronts. What was not known at the time was that there was a secret protocol to the pact which in effect divided Eastern Europe betwen the two countries. This protocol was discoered after the end of the World War II in 1945. The Soviets continued to deny this protocol until 1989. The NAZIs 8 days after signing the Pact invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, launching World War II. Britain and France declared war September 3. Poland's fate was sealed on September 17, when the Soviets invaded Poland from the east. Although the Soviet's did not enter the War against Britain and France, the Soviets were virtual NAZI allies as they provided large quantaies of strategic materials, especially oil. Communist parties in Britainand France opposedthe war effort. The Communst Party in America opposed President Roosevelt's efforts to expand defense spending and assist Britain and France.

Soviet Aggressions

Although it is the NAZI aggressions that are most commonly addressed in World War II histories, the Soviet Union compiled nearly as long a list of aggressions as the NAZIs. Operating within secret protocols to the Non-agression Pact, Hitler and Stalin were in fact close partners in the waging of aggressive war. The Great Patriotic War fought against the NAZIs after the 1941 German invsion came to be an icon in Soviet history. Left unsaid was the fact that Hitler and Stalin were partners in the virtul partition of Europe. After Poland, the first target was Finland, but Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania were also targets. The oviet invasion of Finland had significant repercussions. The Allies for a time considered actively aidinging Finland, but the Germans offensoives in the West soon made that impossible. The poor performance of the Red Army in Finland was a factor in Hitler'd decission to attack the Soviet Union before Britain had been defeated.

Katyn Forrest (1940)

Poland's fate during World War II generally focuses on the NAZI occupation--arguably the most brutal in the annals of European history. The NAZIs were not the only country to invade Polnd in 1939. Often lost in the historical assessment is what the Soviets at Stalin's oders were doing in their occupation zone. This is probably due to the fact tht as the Soviets were part of the victorious Allied coalition, they were able to better limit the post-War relevations. In addition, the Soviet occupation lasted less than 2 years. The Soviet occupation was extrenmely brutal, only the NAZI occupation exceeds in britality. Stalin was also determined to undermine Polish nationalism and like the NAZis targeted the country's inteligencia and leadership. One group targeted for distruction was the Polish army officers interned by the Red Army. Most were from the upper and middle classes which also made them suspect to Stalin on ideological claas grounds. After the NAZIs invaded the Soviet Union they discovred the mass graves of thousands of Polish soldiers (mostly officers) executed by the NKVD on Stalin's orders in th Katyn Forrest nea Smolensk. Goebbels used the discovery in NAZI propaganda broadcasts. The NAZI broadcast were believeable because the men were known to have been in Soviet custody. The Soviets denied all knowledge of the men and continuied to do so until the fall of the Communist Government in Poland. The German relevations were in many ways the beginning of the Cold War. General Wladyslaw Sikorski's Polish Government demanded an investigation and a Red Cross investigation. Stalin used the opportunity to break diplomatic relations with the London-based Polish Government-in-exile. He created a compliant Union of Polish Patriots which would eventually become the Government of the People's Republic of Poland installed by the Soviets.

Great Patriotic War (1941-45)

The war on the Eastern Front was the most gighantic conflict in the history of warfare. In large measure, the result of the campaign determined the outcome of the War. It is difficult to see how the Western Allies could have staged the D-Day invassion to liberate France if the NAZIs had succeded in destroying the Red Army on the Easern Front. The resistance of the Soviet people to the NAZIs is one of the outstanding instances of heroism and valor in human history. It is no reflection on the character of the Soviet people that Stalin became virtually an ally of Hitler and launched a series of aggressions comparable to those of the NAZIs. Opperation Barbarossa came as a complete shock to Stalin (June 22, 1941). The Wehrmacht achieved stunning successes. In the drive toward Moscow and Leningrad, the NAZIs committed the most heinous attrocities in modern times. Hitler had made it clear from the onset that the campaign would be a war of extinction. At the gates of Moscow, the Russian Winter, interference by Hitler, and the bravery of the Red Army broke the Wehrmacht. Slowly after Moscow and Stalingrad the the weight of Allied production, the resurgent Red Army, the strastegic bombing campaign, and finally a second front with D-Day doomed the Wehrmacht.

Traitor Nations (1944)

After the NAZIs had been pushed back to the Soviet borders, Stalin acted aginst what he reffered to as the "traitor nations". These were populations he judged as being sympathetic to the NAZIs. They were arrested in massive NKVD actions and exhilded to Central Asia and Siberia. Given the brutality of the actions and the lack of provision for these people doing transport and at their destinations, these actions were largely genocidal. The best known action is against the Chechens. Stalin concluded that the Chechens were sympahetic to the NAZIs. We are not sure just how valid this charge us. It is likely that many Chechens were ant-Communist because of their Islamic religion and Stalin's suppression of all religions. We do not know to what exten the Chechens supported the NAZIs wen the Wehrmacy moved into the Caucuses (1942). (Many Soviet citizens in the Baltics, the Ukraine, and other areas of the Soviet Union looked on the Germans as lineraors until their genocidal racial policies toward Slavs became apparent.) We do know that many Chechens served loyally in the Red Army. Stalin ordered that the entire Chechen people be exiled to Siberia. The action was coordinated by he NKVD and launched February 23, 1944. The 1 million Chenchens were brutally packed into box cars in the middle of the winter and deported east to Central Asia Siberia. Little provision was made for them either on the transports or in the camps to where they were deported. Accounts of the transports are harrowing. Chechen women in particular were mortified to being packed together in boxcars with men for the extended trasport. Some women were ashamed to relieve themselve in front of men and held their urine until their bladders burst. Anuyone who resisted was shot or executed n other ways. It is estimated that about one-third of the Chechen people were killed or died in the roundups and transport box cars, although no precise statistics are known to exist. Many more Chechens perished in the harsh conditions of their exile.

Cold War

Germany's defeat left Stalin in control of the countries of Eastern Europe. President Harry Truman whe he became president in April 1945 began taking a stringer aproach o the Soviets, disturbbed by Soviet actions in Poland. Stalin proceeded to install People's Republics in these states which men Stalinist police states subservient to the Soviet Union. American and European democracies sharply critivised the Soviet actions. Winston Churchill warned in 1946 that an "iron curtain" was descending through the middle of Europe. Joseph Stalin who had virtually allied himself wih Hitler in 1939 to launch World War II, blamed the Wat on "capitalist imperialism" and threatened Wrestern Europe. Preident Truman decided to support Western Europ ecomomically (the Marshll Plan) and militarily (NATO). The Cold War was a period of intense East-West competition, tension, and conflict, but always short of full-scale war. The first major episode was the oviet blockade of Berlin in 1948. Berlin was during much of the ColdWar a focal point of the conflict. The Soviets brutally supressed attempts by Eastern Europeans to overthrow Soviet imposed governments: East Germany (1953), Poland (1956), Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1978), and several other lesser outbreaks, especially in Poland. There were proxy wars and competition for influence in developing countries, many of which introduced Soviet command economics. There was also an arms race between the two super powers. After Stalin died in 1953, the Cold War became more unanced. There were periods of relaxation followed by resumed confrontation. The most dangerous point of tge Cold War was th Cuban Missle Criis (1962). There were efforts to persure detante during the 1970s. Unlike the other major conflicts in world history, in the end the Cold War was not settled by force of arms. It was the example of the West, especially the success of free market economics and political democracy that defeated Communism. [Mandelbaum]

The Doctors' Plot

Stalin accused a group of Jewish doctors of plotting to kill him and other Soviet officials. They were tried and condemned to death. After their execution, tere were to be mass public hangings on Red Square. Stalin had ordered a vast national anti-Semitic pogram against Soviet Jews. This was an action similar to the actions against "Traitor Nations" during Worls War II. mass arrests of Soviet Jews would have ment the exiling of more than 2 million Jews to Siberia and Central Asia. [Rayfield] Not one can know for sure Stalin's though process. Surely he like many Russians had anti-Semitic beliefs. Probably he was acting like his Tsarist predecessor Alexander III. He sought to achieve popularity among the anti-Semitic population by launching the pogroms. (Alexander's pogroms in the 1880s are the cause of Russian Jewish emmigration to America.) Stalin may have reasoned that a modern pogrom would be popular with many and shift the populations aspirations for a better like to the campaign against the Jews. Historians report that barns had been built for the Jewsish deportees in Kazakhstan and busses were ready in Moscow. One report indicates that the deportation of Moscow Jews was set to begin March 5. Only Stalin's sudden death in 1953 prevented his action against Soviet Jews from being carried out.

Stalin's Death (1953)

Stalin was the longest ruling Soviet leader. Soviet radio began to issue grave account's of Stalin's health (March 2). Stalin at 73 years of age suffered Tass repoted was a cerebral hemorrhage. He died at 9:50 p.m. on March 5, 1953. Thousands lined up in the snow to see Stalin's body alying in state. The crowds were so large that some people died in the press to see the Soviet leader. Some estimates are as high as 500 deaths. Stalin was interred next tgo Lennin in the Red Square mosoleum. Three speeches were made, by Georgy Malenkov, Lavrenty Beria, and Vyacheslav Molotov. Controversy swirls around Stlin's death. Some maintain that he was poisoned. Others that his Politboro colleagues witheld medication after the stroke. One historian charges that Stalin was preparing an invasion of Western Europe and knew that would be a dissater for the Soviet Union. [Radzinski] The historical record supporting this is weak. We don't discount it, but have not seen sufficent evidence to support it. Suposedly the deportation of Soviet Jews was a step toward raising tensions with the West. NKVD chief Lavrenti Beria (1899-1953) was susposedly a key ploter. Of course Beria had more than World War III to worry about. He knew that Stalin periodically disposed of his secret police chiefs so that details of his crimes died with them. Thus he appears to have struck first. There is considerable reason to believe that Beria poisoned Stalin. Beria is believed to have put rat poison in Stalin's wine. Beria was apparently concerned with good reason that diappointments in the H-bomb program had caused Stalin to prepare for his arrest. Here Beria struck first. Stalin reportedly vomited blood for 3 days. [Reed] Beria in the annals of the 20th century is a man so monsterous that he is approached only by Himmler. In the end it did him no good. Before Beria could effectively use the NKVD to place himself in power, his Politboro colleagues expelled him from the Party before he could use the NKVD to seize power himself. They then had him tried and executed.

Nikita Khrushchev (1954-64)

A power struggle followed Stalin's death in 1953. Ukranian Party boss Nikita Khrushchev emerged victorious in that struggle. Khrushchev was a true believer in Communism. Like many of his generation, the Revolution had provided opportunities thast were incoceibanle under the Tsarist regime, He was convinced that the Communist system was a scientifically based system that if properly managed would out produce the West. He was perplexed when confronted with the Soviet Union's deep seated economic problems. Perhaps his single most important achievement was launching the De-Stalinization process in 1956 with the 20th Party Congress. This too, however, resulted in difficulties as disorders in both Poland and Hungary soon followed. While Stlalin was a mass murder, Khrushchev was even more dangerous. His behavior was often crude such as when he took his shoe off and banged his desk at the United Nations when a speaker displeased him. He told Americans n"we will bury you". He rarely listen to advisors, often making important decissions on whim. Also he actually believed in Communist ideology. This combined with his mercurial personality and willingness to gamble brought the world close to nuclear war over Cuba in 1962. He once confided with Nassar that aideast crisis was like "playing chess in the dark". He was finally replaed by faceless party aparatcheks in 1964 for "adventurism". [Taubman] Conservatives in the Party leadership were concerned about the de-Stalinization process as well as dangerous adventure in Cuba, but what seems to have caused his removal was Khrushchev's efforts to reform the beaureacracy, especially fixed terms in office--a convern to an aging leadership generation. Khrushchev had essentially made Soviet officials safe from purges through his de-Stalinization program. These very same officials replaced him (October 1964).

De-Stalinization (1956)

Many Soviet citizens hoped that the relaxation of political repression that occurred during the Great Patriotic war would continue and expand after the war. This did not occur. Instead Stalin aided by by fellow Georgian NKVD Chief Lavrentiy Beria began to retigten his grip. Bolstered by victory over Hitler and the NAZIs, that grip was unasiable. And the NKVD was an instrument of repression unparalleled in history, more formidable even than Hitler's SS. The Doctor's Plot was to usher in a sweeping repression of Soviet Jews and preceived opponents as well as a more agressive confrontation with the America and the West. Unfortunately for Stalin and fortunately for the world, one of the Jewish doctors arrested was Stalin;s own personal dictor. And while he was being beaten in the Lubyanka prison, Stalin suffered cebreal hemmorage that led to his death. Only then was a reform process possible, although not guaranteed. What followed is now referred to De-Stalinization, descontructing the murderous police state, expansive police state and personal agrandizement that Stalin created. Scholars debate the time period involved, but seems roughly concurrent with the reign of Nikita Khrushchev (1954-64). The process began with Stalin's death and the arrest and excution of Beria. It was announced by Khrushchev at the 20th Party Congress who shocked the delegates. Khrushchev himself had reign in the process after the Hungarians took him seriously. Even so, the Destalinization pricess was very real. First there were official pronouncemrnts, not all made public. Second, were major poltical policy chanbges (especiakly the end of terror as a governing tool and a return to a more collective leadership. Khrushchev did begin to wind down the Gulag. Third, there were important economic changes. Fourth, there was real, if limited liberalization of intelectial life. This was highly varible. Pasternak was persecuted during the Khrushchev era. Fifth, there were symolic changes. Here especially important was the end of the Stalin cult, meaning using the full resources of the state to litwrally deigy the leader. Destalinization was finally ended by Brezhnev who seized control from the mercurial Khrushchev (October 1964).

Young Pioneers

The Young Pioneer movement was the largest youth organizatioin in history. The movement was founded in Soviet Russia. It came to involve virtually all Soviet, eastern European, Chinese, as well as children in Cuba, North Korea,and Viet Nam for nearly half a century. It does not, however, appear to be as effective as either the Hitler Youth in totaliatarian NAZI Germany or the Scouts in many democratic countries. HBU knows of much less written about the Young Pioneers and there appear to be far fewer images available of the children in their Pioneer uniforms.

Command Economics

In the Soviet Union, the economic plan for each of the 16 republics was drafted centrally in Moscow for a command economy down to and including the smallest workshop, factory, and collective farm. The entire nation followed the economic plan and were goverened by the same Party nomenklatura. The entire population was indoctrinated with the same ideological ethos, studing the same school curriculum and school books. The entire nation tuned in to the same nightly news broadcast at 9:00 pm every evening.


The Communists without a maket economy are of course not noted for their fashion sence and fashion industry. There were some ideological constraints on fashion. Often clothing manufacturers just copied Western styles, but there were clothing industries in these countries and fashion developments. Some countries had specialized school fashions and uniforms and the Young Pioners were forme with uniforms.

The Soviet State

Most Soviet experts after World War II came to see the Soviet Union as a powerful state that was widely supported by its people. Few theorized any thing but a regime that would be powerful challenge to the West for the forseeable future. Certainly the military power of the Soviet Union was very real. Few described the Soviet state as one not commanding the allegiance of large numbers of its citizens or one that if pressured would implode. [Pipes]

Soviet Weaknesses

Despite the appearance of strength, the Soviet Union was a deeply-flawed state. Some authors discussed those weakness, but not one knew just how significant they were. There were in fact major economic, political and other weakenesses in the Soviet state. Economically, the Soviet system simply did not generate sufficient wealth to sustain its political, social and economic ideals as well as provide the needs of its people. This is striking because the Soviet Union included some of the richest agricultural land in the world and a vast depository of natural resources and a well-educated population. Why with all those assetts was the Soviet Union economy so weak? There are a range of reasons. One factor is that the Soviet economy never recovered from the colectivization of agriculture. As a result, agriculture did not provide a surplus to help finance industrialization. Command economics is part of a reason. Trying to centrally manage the economy created many distotions as did the inefficent use of investment capital. The Soviet Union also stifled individual initiative which proved such a vital part of Western economies. Instead huge resources were devoted to an unproductive beaureacracy and equality unproductive military and security services. Without allowing consumer demand to play a role in the ecomomy, the force of creative destruction never acted to eliminate wasteful and unproductive state enterprises. There are almost unbelieveavke accouts about factory owners having a directive to make goods for which there was not demand. Once made and quota fullfilled they could not be sold so metal products might be melted down to make something which there was a market. There were also serious political problems. The Soviet Union wa a multi-national empire head together by political repression and military force. Once the price for disscent was oppression rather than death (as it was under Stalin), dissent appeared. Nationalist yearings were particularly powerful. Gorbachev's openings provided even more opportunity for dissent.

Era of Stgnation

Kosygin, Suslov, and Brezhnev played important roles in replacing Khrushchev. Berzhnev in particular had been especially close to Khrushchev. Leonid Brezhnev (1906�82) emerged as the preminent leader as General Secretary of the Communist Party. He ruled the Soviet Union for 18 years as was lionized as a wise and far-sighted leader. Within a few years of his death, his era came to be called the Era of Stagnation, not by regime critics, but by Soviet authorities temselves. Brezhnev oversaw a massive military buildup which made the Soviet Union a superpower on par with the United Sates. There were also expansive and often costly international commitments. Less attention was given to the domestic economy. The principal criticisms were a substatial decline of the Soviet economy as well as rampant cronyism that bloated the beaureacracy and Communist party.


Samizdat is litrally translated as "self publishing". In the West this means vanity pusblishing by people who can't convince a publisher that there was a market for their work and could be sold. In the Soviet Union it took on a diffeent meaning. The Government and Party controlled all publishing and media. And to Government and Party officvials what the public wanted was not a major consideration. The purpose of publishing and media was to control and mold public opinion. Thus authors who did not agree with the officiaslly sanctioned line, had no way of getting their work published. Thus the term Samizdat came to the refer to the dissemination of banned books or unapproved material through underground channels, commonly exchanging material among trusted friends. This became important affter Stalin's death when the NKVD began to impose less draconian penalties. The first Samizdat appeared in Moscow and Leningrad, then gradually spread throughout the Soviet Union. The first Samizdat was type-written carbon copies Typing copies was extrenely labiorious and the KGB could track dowen the type writer. Samizdat included not only banned books, but a range of subjects such as dissident activities, protests, transcripts of political trials, and open discussions of socioeconomic and cultural matters. Not all Samizdat was political. There was also pornography, banned by prudish Soviet officials. Samizdat became more diffiult to control when copy machines began to appear. The KGB's answer to this was to sation a babushka (an elderly Russian woman) by every copier to carefully control what was copied. Samizdat finally disappeared when media outlets independent of the government appeared and began to publish without censorship.

Stressing the Soviet System

Much of Western Europe in the 1980s was willing to work with the SovietsThe French and Germans did not oposed the Soviet ordered crackdown on Solidarity in Poland. The western Europeans extended credits to the Soviets to obtain natural gas which offered to sustain the faltering Soviet economy. Some Europeans were convinced that American oposition to the Soviets would only strengthen the positions of Kremlin hardliners. There was a body of opinion popular in Europe that the Soviets should be handled with kid gloves and not challenged sharply on issues like human rights which would only cause them to become more belicise. Others argued that accepting Soviet behavior would only embolden them. [Pipes] Much of Western Europe in the 1980s was willing to work with the Soviets. The French and Germans did not oposed the Soviet ordered crackdown on Solidarity in Poland. The western Europeans extended credits to the Soviets to obtain natural gas which offered to sustain the faltering Soviet economy. Some Europeans were convinced that American oposition to the Soviets would only strengthen Some believed that the Soiviets should be handled Others argued that Soviet arms escalations like IRBMs should not be answered. Chancellor Kohl and President Regan did answer with Persian IIs. The result was of the American pressure was Gorbachev's effort to reform the Soviet system and real Soviet willingness to limit arms. [Pipes]


General Secretary Gorbachev stands in sharp contrast to the aging, unimaginative leaders who he followed. American authors have given great attention to President Reagan's role in ending the Cold war and collapse of the Soviet Union. Much less well studied is Gorbachev's role. As best we understand, Gorbachev believed in Communism and the Soviet Union. He apparently believed that economic stagnation resulted in poor management and could bve rectifed by modern management and reforms. He does not seem to have realized that Soviet economic weaknesses were structural weaknesses related to Communism and a command economy. Nor did Gorbachev fully understand the strength of nationalism. It seems difficult to understand how a many of such obvious abilities could have made such fundamental errors in assessing the Soviet system. The one thing that we know for sure is that Girbachev refused to use the very substantial security services at his disposal to supress the forces thatvhe set in motion, both in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union itself.

Efforts at Reform

Gorbachev's policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) were a starling departure for the Soviet Union, perhaps the most closed political and economic system in the world. Perestroika proved a huge disappontment, failing to reverse the decline of the Era of Stagnation blamed on Brezhnev. Even more disastrous for the Soviet Union was glasnost. Khrushchev's de-Stalinization program had made dissent possible--if still dangerous. Gorbachev by making possible more open discussion and dissent unleased forces that could not be contolled--especially the force of long suppressed nationalism.

Fall of Communism

The internal contridictions and efficencies of the Communist system and the desire of national groups for indepence led to the unraveling of the Stalin's Soviet empire, first in Poland (1989) and finally the Soviet Union itself (1991). The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979) increased calls for a more determined U.S. posture which President Reagan pursued. Compeition with the United States put huge strains on the Soviet economy. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev attempted to reform the failing economy and develop a more open political system. When these efforts failed, he refused to use the security forces to supress opposition in the Eastern European satellite states or the Soviet Union itself.

Soviet Break-up (1991)

The dissolution of the Soviet Union was led by nationalists forces. The developments in Eastern Europe helped stimulate the desire for independence. It is no accident that this movement was led by the neighboring Baltics. Here Stalin had persued a policy of Russification. The Baltics struggled to leave the Soviet Union just at the time that the three nationalities (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) still represented a majority in the population. It was a question as to whether Gorbachev could controlled the conservative forces. The failure of the coup against him (August 1991) left the conservative forces so weakened that a peaceful breakup was possible. The Soviet Union officially disolved (January 1, 1992). Despite the vast military power of the Russian Federation, the dissolution took place without the viloence that occurred in Yugoslavia and other counties that went through a similar breakup. This was perhaps because at this rare momment in Russian history, a democratically elected government controlled the Russian Federation. Russian President Boris Yeltsin let the other 14 Soviet republics seceed peacefully from the Soviet Union. Yeltsin and the Russian parliament had won arguably the most democratic election ever held in Russia. Yeltsin defeated both Gorbachev's reforming Communists and the conservative Communists suuporting the old system.

Post-Soviet Era

The 16 Soviet republics have taken very different paths. The three Baltic republics have emerged as democratic states rapidly integrating themselves into western institutions like NATO and the European Community. Russia the heart and soul of the Soviet Union is still struggling with democracy, but the new Russia is evolving into a society very different than Soviet totalitarianism. Some republics have done less well. Belarus appears to be rejecting democracy. The Ukraine's performance has been disappointing. Turkmenistan appears to be evolving into a virtual Stalinist state. Quite a number of Americans and Europeans decided to leave their countries and live in the worker's pradice. Many of these indivisuals unfamilar with the NKVD disappeard into the Gulag. Most lived ungappy lives and ecentually decided that they wanyed back into their native countrie. We have some infomtion on the American defectors. This whole process continued even when information on conditions in the Soviet Union was commonn knowledge. And it has not ended with the demise of the Soviet Union as the travails of Edward Snowden has shown.


Defection is an interesting topics. Spies and big-name dancers are the most famou, but lot of private individuals are involved. The ideology of Communism is intelectually very appealing. That is why so many were attracted to Communism and Socialism continues to attract many. Most of us stopped believing in the Easter Bunny and Santa at about age 5-6 years. But there are still intrepid souls tht believed passonatrly in Communism and the worker' pradise. A few like Lee Harvey Oswald wre mentally diturbed. But most were not. This is cost of freedom. When you allow people to think for themselves, there will be those who make poor choices, bith privately and pubically. This when the Bolshevicks seized power during World War I and then founded the Soviet Union, many idealistic people were very optimistic that they were seing a utopian society being created. And this view was fueled by the imperfections they found in their own contry. These ideas were fueled by thee closed nature of Soviet society. All negative information was supressed not only to the Soviet public, but to foreigners as well. Thus as Stalin was starving millions of Ukranian peaants, America leftists were writing articles about the happy and prosperos peaants and workes in the United States. Most of the American defectors came to regret their decesions and led largely unhappy lives, most speding years trying go get back tp the United States. There have also been defectors that have come from the Soviet Unio to the West. In sharp contrast to the Western defectors, most have found happiness and fullfilment. There were a lot more defectors from than to the Soviet Union sespite the fact that is was a lot more dofficult to defect from the Soviet Union. Americans are free to lece. Trying t defect from the Soviet Union could cost you your life or a lengthy sentence to the Gulag.

North Korea

One of the remaining Communist countries is North Korea. A great deal has been written about Noth Korea's military program, especially its nuclear weapons program. Less is known about the humanitarian nightmare inside the country. Information is tightly controlled by the North Lorean Government. No one has precise statistics, but it is believed that anywhere from 1-3 million people have died in famine that began in the mid-1990s. Although there has been a draught and the country's economic policies have worsened an already dire situation, a mahor cause of the famine appears to be a result of Government policies simiklar to those persued by Stalin in the Ukranian famine. The Goverbment of Kim Jong Il seems determine to use food as a famine for those deemed the least loyal. Notabkly, relief agencies are not allowed to minitor food distribution in the most severely affected areas. North Koreans are desperate to flee their country. An estimated 0.3 million are in hiding in Chima, terrified that the Chinese will repatriate them forcefully, Another 0.2 million people are in the North Korean Gulag in which an estimated 0.4 million people have perished in the last three decades. Kim Il Sung, the current rulers's father set a goal of elininating class enenmies through three generations.


Arcos, Cai. Internet posts (August 7, 2018). Cai tells us that most of his informnation comes from Carlos Taibo. Historia de la Uni�n Sovi�tica: de Lenin a Gorbachov (in Spanish) and the list of Politburo and minister members.

King, David. The Commisar Vanishes (2005). This fascinating book comapres the successive versions of official Soviet photographds as officials who fell out of favor with Stalin were airbrushed out of history while in real life they were shot or disappeared into the Gulag.

Mandelbaum, Michael. The Ideas that Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the 21st Century.

Pipes, Richard. VIXI: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger (Yale University Press: 2003), 264p. ("VIXI is Latin for "I lived." His parents managed to excape fom NAZI-occupied Poland. Most of their family perished in the gas chambers. Some describe him as the intelectual archetct of America's victory in the Cold War.)

Radzinski, Edvard.

Reed, Thomas C. At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War (Ballantine Books: 2004).

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I. The Gulag Archipelago (Harper & Row: New York, 1973), 660p.

Taubman, William. Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (Norton), 876p.

Rayfield, Donald. Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him (Random House, 2005), 541p.

Wells, H.G. The Outline of History: The Hole Story of Man (Doubleday & Company: Ne York, 1971), 1103p.


Navigate the Children in History Website:
[Return to Main communism page]
[Return to Main specific war and crisis page]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]

Created: December 29, 2002
Last updated: 8:38 AM 2/2/2022