1917-1924 Bolshevik authority

  • Dec 1917 - Cheka
  • Jan 1918 - Constituent Assembly dissolved
  • March 1918 - Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, 'Communist Party' named
  • April/May 1918 - civil war starts
  • July 1918 - Tsar and family killed
  • March 1919 - Politburo and Orgburo made
  • 1921 - Kronstadt revolt, NEP, Ban on Factions (April) 
  • 1921-22 - famine
  • 1922 Stalin made General Secretary, Lenin dictates testament
  • 1923 - Nomenklatura system
  • 1924 - Lenin dies
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Lenin's Ideology

  • One party government - Petrograd Soviet had non-Bolshevik socialists so sidelined; Sovnarkom created. After Constituent Assembly dismissed civilians protested (12 shot Jan 1918). After Treaty of Brest-Litovsk SRs walked out so Bolsheviks took title 'Communist Party'.
  • End to war - Treaty of Brest-Litovsk March 1918 put focus on 'socialism at home' not international socialism. Armistice with Germany Nov (Bukharin led 'revolutionary war group' instead)
  • Soviet state - 'dictatorship of proletariat' required suppression of counter-revolutionaries. Cheka established Dec 1917. Governed by Terror, War Communism, attack on church, censorship. 1921: Lenin's Ban on Factions. SR show trail 1922 (11 dead). 
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Stalin's rise

  • Lenin's Testament - Dec 1922 criticises Politburo members, mostly Stalin (Georgian affair & Krupskaya insult). Central Committee suppressed it. 
  • Stalin's actions - Triumvirate alliance formed between Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin. As General Secretary he builds support network (at 12th party congress only 3 Trotskyites). Orates Lenin's funeral. Nov 1926 removes Zinoviev and Trotsky from Party. Feb 1929 Trotsky deported. April 1929 Bukharin fired from Pravda editor, Nov 1929 removed from Politburo.  
  • Ideology - Trotsky says abandon NEP, have 'permanent revolution'. Bukharin says continue NEP. Stalin vacillates about NEP but says socialism in one country. 
  • Trotsky's mistakes - publishes 'Lessons of October' but doesn't mention Stalin. Doesn't get involved in debates about publication of Testament. Him and Bukharin consider alliance but don't make one. 
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Russian Civil War

  • Issue: existing opposition merged with people angry at Treaty of Brest-Litovsk to make White Army.
  • Events: Czech Legion, intending to fight Russian enemies on Western Front, ended up joining anti-Bolshevik forces (financed by Germany) + seizing parts of Trans-Siberian railway (March 1918). Bolsheviks moved capital to Moscow, July 1918 Tsar and family murdered. 
  • Sucess factors: Trotsky led Red Army effectively, peasant support crucial (Lenin had legitimised peasant seizures), geographical advantage with heavy population, strong industrial resources. Propaganda of red flag/ star helped. 
  • Outcome: 10m deaths from fighting, starvation and disease. Helped centralise + Party control. 1919 Politburo created with Lenin, Trotsky + Stalin. 1921 Lenin's Ban on Factions and nomenklatura system created party elites. General Secretary position created + filled by Stalin (only member on Orgburo + Politburo). 
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Development of Stalin's dictatorship

Lenin died 1924. By 1936 Stalin had established a personal rule. 

  • Political structure - nomenklatura and apparat provided vast patronage, party congresses called less frequently, 'Lenin enrolment' almost doubled membership 
  • 1936 Constitution - 'Supreme Soviet' replaced 'All-Russian Congress'. Promised ethnic autonomy, four-yearly elections and voting rights for 'former people' (dispossessed elites). Mostly ignored.
  • Personality cult - portrayed as Lenin's disciple ('Stalin is Lenin of today'), effective propaganda 'History of All-Union Communist Party' textbook doctored history and sold 34m copies, 
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Economy under Lenin

  • State capitalism (1917-18) - 1917 Decree on Land abolished private ownership. Veshenka created to supervise economy. Workers ran own factories but unsuccessful (they stole, raised their pay and could not manage). High inflation followed, food shortages (50g bread daily). 
  • War Communism (1918-21) - grain crisis of 1918 led to food requisitioning (extensive Cheka needed to implement this). Putilov Iron works, rail and banks all nationalised. Sugar = 1st nationalised industry then oil. Poor working conditions reimposed + internal passports introduced. Disease rife, severe famine 1921, industrial output fell by 20%, kulak attacks. 
  • Opposition - Tambov revolt needed 100,000 Red Army soldiers to put down. Martial Law declared 1921 + Cheka needed. Kronstadt naval revolt involved 30,000 sailors. Divisons within party ('Workers' Opposition' against WC)
  • NEP (1921-28)- Gosplan created 1921. Some private trade, rationing and grain requisitioning ended. 1923 'scissors crisis' (peasants withheld supplies). Nepmen traders helped, kulaks reappeared. 
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Economy under Stalin

Moved from NEP to 'command economy'. 

  • First Five Year Plan (1928-32) - heavy industry (oil, coal, steel). 1500 enterprises opened. Electricity production 3x, Magnitogorsk created. Consumer industries declined, lack of skilled workers. Targets unmet, Great Depression meant grain price low. 
  • Second Five Year Plan (1933-37) - communications, Moscow metro 1935, Dnieprostroi Dam with hydro-electric power. Stakhanovite movement - cut 14x more coal. Consumer industries lagging but more disposable income 
  • Third Five Year Plan (1938-41) - heavy industry. Fuel crisis, purges meant worker shortages and strain due to war. 
  • Agriculture - major attacks on kulaks, removing 10m successful farmers, livestock killed. Kolkhoz (collectives with peasant families contributing to state). 58% households collectivised by 1930. Oct 1931 severe drought and 1932-33 massive famine. Called 'second serfdom'
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Leninist Society

  • Proletariat - everyone made 'citizens', burzhui class enemies. Effort towards proletarianisation, unmet targets can mean execution 1921.
  • Women - abortion legal 1920, could own propert, contraceptive advice available. 1917 Decree Against Sex Discrimination. Kollontai - women should be relieved of the 'cross of motherhood', socialist nurseries. 
  • Education - Commissariat of the Enlightenment (free co-ed schools), Gimnazis abolished.
  • Religion - toleration. All schools taken over by State, Patriarch of Orthodox Church (Tikhon) arrested 1922 for opposing Bolshevik changes. League of the Godless challenged religious teachings. 
  • Propaganda - move away from bourgeoisie high art, Petrograd renamed Leningrad, freedom of expression encouraged if not counter-revolutionary. 'Silver Age'
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Stalinist Society

  • Proletariat - 1932 longer hours and 7 day working week. Stakhanovite movement.
  • Women - marriage remphasised, wage 40% less than men, financial incentives offered to large families and abuse proliferated 
  • Education - Quota system 1935 which educated working class children abolished. Stakhanovite mindset extended to education targets
  • Religion - 1922 anti-Church campaign killed 8000. Hijab banned. 65,000 religious institutions reappropraited for social/industrial functions. 
  • Propaganda - Zhdanov created Union of Soviet Writers which writers had to conform to. Shostakovich's work was condemned by Pravda. Return to tradition (Tolstoy/ Tchaikovsky) was advocated. Daniil Kharms founded Union of Real Art 1928, sent to gulag by Stalin
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Communist Terror

  • Opposition - Sovnarkom banned oppo press. Class warfare. Shakhty show trial 1928 (Stalin needed scapegoat for economy, 53 engineers in Caucasus). Jan 1935 - Zinoviev, Kamenev & others imprisoned. 250,000 Party members expelled as 'anti-Leninists'. Trotsky killed 1940.
  • Cheka - Cheka (Dec 1917) under Dzerzhinsky. Yezhov is Cheka (NKVD) chief 1936-38 when Beria replaced him.
  • Red Terror - SRs & Mensheviks called traitors (500 shot Petrograd). 1921 8000 priests executed. 1918-21 saw near 1m deaths. Extensive torture used. 
  • Gulags - prisons couldn't cope with numbers. Yagoda built on Lenin's labour camps idea with these. White Sea Canal meant 25,000 deaths. 
  • 1932 crisis - Nadezhda commits suicide, leaving a note criticising policies. Two opposition groups form (old Bolsheviks and Ryutin Platform) but quashed. 
  • Kirov Affair  - Kirov was Leningrad Party Secretary. Murdered Dec 1934 in suspicious circumstances. 
  • Great Purges (1936-38) -  Show trials in 1936 (Zinoviev & Kamenev), 1937 (civil war heroes including Tukhachevksy tortured and shot), 1938 (Bukharin). 
  • Yezhovshchina (1937-38) - directed at ordinary citizens. Executions by quota system. 
  • End - Yezhov blamed. 450,000 convictions quashed and 30,000 released from gaol. 
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Soviet Union by 1941

  • Economy - Five Year Plans transformed Russia into industrialised nation. Farms collectivised, no free market. USSR ahead of Britain, just behind Germany (steel & iron). Consumer production worse than NEP, crop failure 1936 due to underdeveloped agriculture.
  • Society - Urbanisation strengthened proletariat. Communal values in Kolkhoz. Poor QoL (housing conditions, 1932 internal passports). Conservative values imposed, censorship and propaganda. 
  • Political - authoritarian one-party state. 1936 constitution said universal suffrage but only Communist candidates. Centralised power so no congresses. Nomenklatura & purges had consolidated personal dictatorhsip. 
  • Impact of war - focus on heavy industry helped war victory, plus numbers. Deficiencies in equipment quantity and quality.
  • Opposition - upscaled Lenin's 'class warfare' against Kulaks & burzhui. NKVD arrested millions citizens + killed 600,000 party members. Cheka used a lot
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Wartime Stalinism

Operation Barbarossa: Germany invades Soviet Union without declaring war June 1941. Rapid advance (blitzkrieg), captured over one million plus ethnic minorities joined as Hilfwillige but Nazis racist. Germans stopped short of Moscow plus harsh Winter. 

  • Politics - Stavka (supreme military command) established. Stalin withdraws to dacha and Molotov handles public announcements. Politburo makes GKO (State Defence Committee). Stalin makes first appearance in July as 'supreme war leader' with pro-patriotic propaganda (not pro-socialism). Issued order 227 threatening desertion and captivity with death (150,000 killed). 1.5m uprooted and 1/3 died during deportion to East. 
  • Economy - 'scorched earth policy' ruined land. 3500 new enterprises during war and Lend-Lease scheme provided $11bn of US aid. Weaponry efficient (T-34 tank). Food shortages big issue.
  • Society - over 1/4 deaths due to starvation. Gulags. 1943 socialist anthem changed to nationalist one. Over half of workers women by 1945 and Kosmodemyanskaya received 'Hero of Soviet Union' award. 

War strengthened support for Stalin and Russia, but they had lost 25million lives during war. 

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Later economy under Stalin


  • WW2 destroyed 70% of industrial capacity. 1947 Stalin refuses Soviet countries Marshall Aid and establishes Comecon and Cominform. 
  • 1946-50 Fourth Five Year Plan - wanted to catch up with USA and became second to it industrially, Dnieper Dam power station revived. 
  • 1951-55 Fifth Five Year Plan - continued heavy industry and Korean War needed rearmament (50-53). National income increased by 7%.


  • 'Scorched earth policy' was destructive, compunded by droughts.
  • Fourth Five Year Plan had meant high grain quotas, poor pay, high taxes.
  • Tree plantations + canals following incorrect advice (Lysenko).
  • Kolkhoz output raised and peasants left with little. 
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End of Stalin

Post-war period characterised by personal control, heavy industry, terror, and personality cult (High Stalinism). Zhdanovshchina was anti-Western surge and tightening of arts; writers expelled from Writer's Union (Anna Akhmatova) and musicians attacked (Shostakovich's symphonies). 

  • 1949 Leningrad Affair - massive party purge after Zhdanov's death. Leaders secretly executed.
  • 1950 'Glory to Great Stalin' , 70th birthday celebrations. Deified himself. 
  • 1951 Mingrelian case 
  • 1952 Politburo replaced by Presidium of 25. 
  • 1953 Doctor's Plot - Pravda announced 13 doctors had consipred with USA to kill Zhdanov. Other anti-semitism (ignored in textbooks that Marx was Jewish). 
  • 1953 Stalin died. Many were crushed to death trying to see the body. 
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Khrushchev's rise

  • March 1953 - Malenkov combined Secretary of Central Committee + Chairman of Council of Ministers but soon steps down; Khrushchev takes place. Collective leadership with Molotov, Beria + Malenkov. Khrushchev built network of support.
  • June 1953 - conspiracy against Beria means executed + supporters purged. 
  • 1954 - Virgin Land Scheme helps get people's support
  • 1957 - 'Anti-Party' group tries to unseat Khrushchev but vote put to Central Committee - Zhukov supports (Red Army). 
  • October 1957 - Zhukov dismissed with propaganda campaign 
  • March 1958 - Bulganin (who had jointly ruled with Khrushchev)  accused of conspiracy + Khrushchev now General Secretary
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Khrushchev's policies

  • Industry - Sixth 5YP (1956 but abandoned after 2 years due to high targets). Seventh 5YP (1959 aimed towards light industry, living quality and eocnomy/ local councils). Sovnarkhoz (name of economic council). Soviet bloc spit into 105 countries extending K's patronage and decentralising economy. Technological progress (space race Gagarin 1961. Great power status). 
  • Agriculture - Virgin Lands Campaign (ploughed up land in Kazakhastan, Urals + Siberia. 300,000 volunteers. By 1956, area equal to cultivated mass of Canada achieved, harvest was largest in Soviet history. Climate harsh, conditions primitive, no anti-erosion measures and topsoil blows away. Disastrous harvest after this).
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Stalin vs Khrushchev


  • One party state
  • Built support through network, eliminating opposition + propaganda
  • Held key governmental roles
  • Rules relied on them as individuals


  • S used mass terror, K condemned this ('On the Cult of Personality' speech)
  • Stalin earnt support using Lenin's image but K brought his own policies (VLS)
  • S was highly centralised but K wanted democratisation + decentralisation (membership for more working class, local government emphasis)
  • K shifted focus to light industry, technology and agriculture + quality of life
  • S tried to overcome West but K tries to copy them to compete
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Social developments

  • Cultural change - Western consumer goods, 1950 pensions improved + Childless Tax abolished, desrestricted foreign literature, tourism improved with World Festival of Youth (34,000 people). Atheism in school curriculum, foreign goods imported. 
  • Cultural dissidents - publications (Samizdat like 'Youngest Society of Geniuses' and Tamizdat like 'Dr Zhivago'). Magazines like Syntaxis ran by Ginzburg + Joseph Brodsky later nobel laureate charged with social parasitism. Poetry Mayak readings and rebellious figures (Nureyev the dancer and Kabakov the non-conformist musician).
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Khrushchev's fall

  • Ruling style - volatile personality, nepotist tendencies to favour son-in-law Adzhubel
  • Foreign policy - 1962 Khrushchev supplied weapons to Castro in Cuba. Following intense Cold War negotiations about nuclear armament, Soviet ships withdrew and publicly it was Khrushchev who was blamed. 
  • Agriculture - failure of VLS was his personal responsibility. 
  • Brezhnev - called K back from holiday to a Presidium meeting. Denied access to media and forced to sign resignation papers. Brezhnevfollowed as First Secretary. Pravda pronounced K's shortcomings, it was put down to poor health and he retired. No state funeral. 
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Situation by 1964

  • Political - power decentralised after Stalin the 'Red Tsar', gulag prisoners released + mass terror ended. Command economy + one-party state remained. Party elites disliked Khrushchev (Malenkov, Beria and Zhukov removed). After 'Secret Speech' Hungarian uprising. Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Economic - highest rate of female employment worldwide, developed technology (Space Race Gagarin 1961) and focus on consumer goods/ agriculture. VLS was a long-term disaster and still no plan to sustain productive economy. 
  • Opposition - Tamizdat/ Samizdat publications (Dr Zhivago), magazines like Ginzburg's Syntaxis, Mayak poetry readings, Bukovsky uni student, Brodsky accused of social parasitism. Nureyev the dancer, Kabakov the musician.
  • Social - church not accepted, Western influences. Still no independence for ethnic minorities. More people living in towns so villages women + elderly men. Living standards increased with consumer goods, advancements through space race and nuclear armament. 
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