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Russian Revolution and the U.S.S.R.




·        From 1825-1870 a strong conservative government (Tsar) resists most calls for “liberal” reforms. Peasants and secret societies (the intelligentsia; violent political terrorists).

·        After 1870 the intelligentsia takes the leadership role in the reform efforts. Turn to argument and working within the political system.

·        Basically populist in orientation to begin with- focused on peasantry.

·        By 1883 radical political parties forming. Some groups turning away from peasants and focusing on the new industrial classes beginning to emerge in Russia.

·        Russia begins to industrialize.

·        1898- Social Democratic party formed. Marxist, Europe-oriented.

·        1903- The Social Democrats split: Menshiviks and Bolsheviks. Bolsheviks led by Lenin.

·        1905- defeat by Japan and growing domestic discontent leads to creation of a  moderate/“liberal” representative government under the Tsar.

·        Resistance from both conservative (Tsar)  and left-wing extremes block meaningful reform by the new government and leave the moderates divided and discredited. By 1914 everyone becoming more desperate.

·        1914- Russia went to war against Germany and Austria-Hungary primarily over issues in the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire.


The Revolution of 1917

·        1914-1917, war brought disaster. Even moderates talking about need for revolution to bring effective change to the government.

·        Winter, 1917-  food riots in St. Petersburg. The army defied orders to fire on the mob. The Duma sets up an executive committee. A new provisional government set up in March- backed by the army. The Tsar abdicated.  Republic established.

·        Problems continue. Peasants revolt. Government decides to continue fighting in the war. Opposition from both political extremes. Support for new government fades quickly. Lenin returns from exile.

·        Bolshevik program: Peace, Land, Bread. Support growing from people, soviets from summer 1917. Portions of the army, too.

·        November 6, 1917 Bolsheviks under Lenin lead coup. Removal of the provisional government.

·        New elections held later that month. Bolsheviks lose the election. Take control by force. Nullify the results of the election. Initiate the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”

·        March 1918- Bolsheviks rename themselves the Communist Party.


The New Regime, 1917-1927

·        March 1918- Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Russia withdraws from the war. Gives up territories to Germany.

·        Internal opposition formed to the Revolution- civil war followed.

·        Key institutions formed early- Cheka, December 1917; Red Army- March 1918.

·        “War Communism”- Industry nationalized. Food requisitioned from farms. Landlord properties abolished.

·        Civil war won by Communists: Rallied peasant support through call to patriotism, and land redistribution; Red army victories quickly discredit the opposition; “Red Terror”. 4-5 million die.

·        1919- Third International. Comintern. Splits international socialism.  Russian Communist party assumes leadership of world marxism.

·        1921- New Economic Policy. Relaxed government controls over the economy. Policy followed until 1927.

·        1923- U.S.S.R. formed.

·        1924- first constitution issued; Lenin died.

·        1927- Stalin emerged from the political vacuum left by Lenin.

·        1936- second constitution issued.


The Stalin years to WWII

·        1928- Stalin initiates Five Year Plans. Wanted to strengthen the economy and especially industry. Strict government control. Targeted heavy industry first.

·        1929-1939- Soviet industrial growth higher than in any other country. Total production up 400% in this period. By 1939, only the U.S. and Germany had greater GNP than U.S.S.R. Still lagged in consumer products, efficiency. Low quality standards.

·        1929- Agricultural collectivization begins.

·        Enormous resistance initially. Famine and great destruction of property and livestock.

·        Collectivization did not increase production, but did free up labor force for new industries.

·        Purges- 1934-1939. An estimated 10% of the population passed through the penitential system in this period.

·        1934- Joined the League of Nations

·        Cooperated with other European states against Fascism. “Popular Front”



·        Human slaughter on an unprecedented scale.(New- means and desire)

·        Collectivization=massive social engineering.

·        Concentration camps and slave labor- integrated into the economy.

·        Totalitarianism manifested for the first time. Lenin eliminated external dissenters. Stalin finished off internal dissent.

·        First massive propaganda successes.

·        Standards of living rose (slowly)

·        No economic equality, but many evils of unrestrained capitalism eliminated. No unemployment; no total, abject poverty.

·        Establishment of U.S.S.R. created a center and place of arms for anti-imperialism.