Theme 1: Communist government in the USSR, 1917-85.

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Theme 1.

Theme 1:

Communist government in the USSR, 1917-85.

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Background to the Bolshevik Revolution.

  • Before the revolutions of 1917, Russia was ruled by emperors.
  • Widely regarded as more repressive than other European rulers.
  • Tsar’s subjects had no political rights.
  • Government was strong, but the economy was weak compared to that of Britain, Germany, the USA and other powers.
  • Russia had very little modern industry.
  • By 1913, only 2.4 million of Russia’s 140 million people worked in factories.
  • Population as a whole remained very poor.
  • Political repression and massive inequality led to the growth of opposition.
  • SR’s were committed to overthrowing the Tsar.
    • They weren’t able to get passed his political policy.
  • Bolshevik party established in 1903. Wanted to remove the Tsartist regime.
  • Aim: to get rid of the upper and middle classes who exploted the workers and peasants under the capitalist system that had developed with the Industrial Revolution.
  • Believed that capitalism should be replaced by socialism.
  • Bolshevik Party was used as the vanguard of Revolution.
  • Power would be taken away by the bourgeoise and placed in the hands of the Bolshevik party, who would act as a dictatorship of the proletariat to promote socialism.
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  • Russia entered WW1 in 1914.
  • Russia’s economy was too weak to provide food and equipment needed for war.
  • The Tsar was an incompetent wartime leader.
  • By early 1917, economic chaos, military defeat and political mismanagement led to the February Revolution:
    • A popular uprising in Petrograd, Russia’s capital city that overthrew the Tsar and set up a Provisional Government.
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Provisional government.

  • Following the October Revolution, the Provisional Government introduced a series of reforms.
  • The Tsar’s despotism was replaced by a liberal system.
    • Included freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion.
  • Provisional Government promised democracy.
    • But they continued to fight WW1.
  • Lenin argued for a second revolution.
  • Following his return from exile in April 1917, he demanded an immediate end to WW1 and redistribution of land to peasants.
  • These demands were summarised in the slogan: “Peace, Land and Bread.”
  • As the Provisional Government continued to fight in the war and Russia’s economic problems grew worse, Lenin’s message became increasingly popular.
  • By October 1917 Lenin and his followers the Bolsheviks had support to overthrow them.
  • Lenin and Trotsky seized the moment and organised a coup d’etat, which allowed the Bolsheviks to take power.
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Lenin’s ideology.

Lenin seized power because he believed that a global revolution was needed to replace capitalism and imperialism with socialism.

  • A new social system that would allow all people to actually be free and equal.
  • He was a Marxist.
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Marxist view of history.

  • Marx was a German philosopher and revolutionary.
  • Became famous for arguing that the workers should rise up and destroy capitalism in a revolution.
  • Marx’s view of revolution was based on his theory of history.
  • Marx argued that history had progressed from Primitive Communism, slavery, Feudalism, and capitalism.
  • Marx argued that progress from one stage to another occurred due to class conflict.
  • At the end of feudalism, the new capitalist class overthrew the old feudal lords.
  • Marx argued that the English, American and French Revolutions were examples of the victory of capitalism over feudalism.
  • Marx believed that capitalism would also come to an end as capitalism would be replaced by socialism in Europe’s most advanced economies.
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Lenin’s State, 1917-18.

  • Lenin’s new state changed over time.
  • Initially he embraced a radically democratic state.
  • However, by the summer of 1918, the state was much more authoritarian

Apparatus of government

  • Sovnarkom- Council of the People's Commisars (top government ministers, responsible for making key decisions. 20 elected members. Small group that could make quick decisions.
  • Central executive committee- Larger group elected by the Congres of Soviets. Task was to oversee the work of the gov and its adminstration.
  • All- Russian Congress of Soviets- Supreme law making body of the state. All laws issued by the Sovnarkom had to be approved by the Congress.

Party control over the state

  • Politburo- 7-9 leading members chosen by the party's Central Committee to make key decisions affecting policy. Met daily under Lenin and became more important than the Sovnarkom. Members: Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky, Stalin.
  • Central committee- 30-40 members chosen by the Party congress. After 1919, its power increasingly delegated to the Politburo.
  • Party congress- Made up of represntatives of Local party branches. Role of congress declined after ban on factions. Met yearly.
  • Local party branches- headed by a party secretary. Kamenev: head of the Party branch in Petrograd. Zinoviev: Moscow.

Democratic centralism

  • Soviets used as bodies which represented workers at local level. Their wishes could be heard by the decision making bodies at the higher levels of gov. Thus, on the surface, they appeared to be democratic but the reality was diffferent.
  • Soviets had been undermined as soon as the Bolsheviks took power. System of ruling by decree meant that they were not involved in decision-making.
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Creating a ‘Soviet-state’.

  • In October 1917, Lenin seized power on behalf of the Soviets – small democratic councils that had emerged in every town and village in Russia after February.
  • Between February and October, the soviets played a key role in governing Russia.
  • Additionally, the local soviets sent representatives to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets. (ARCOS)
    • They met in June 1917 to discuss Russia’s future.
  • Lenin and other senior Bolsheviks argued that the ARCOS should become the basis of the new Russian Government.
  • The October Revolution formally handed power to the ARCOS.
    • As the ARCOS was too big to meet regularly, they elected the Council of People’s Commissars – Sovnarkom to govern Russia on a day-to-day basis.
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  • Essentially the new Russian cabinet.
  • First Sovnarkom was made up of 13 People’s Commissars.
  • Lenin was elected Chairman of Sovnarkom.
    • Others included Trotsky who was head of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs.
    • Stalin, who was the head of the People’s Commissariat of Nationality Affairs.
  • All of the new Commissars were revolutionaries.
  • The vast majority had supported Lenin since 1903.
  • Many had worked with him in exile, and all supported the Bolsheviks seizure of power.
  • Lenin’s first government passes a series of decrees that were very popular.
  • Right after the October Revolution, Lenin gave a speech to the ARCOS.
  • Proposed a series of decrees which were approved:
    • Decree on Land (October 1917) – gave peasants the right to take land from the nobility and the Church.
    • Decree of Peace (October 1917) – which committed the new government to withdrawing from WW1.
  • Lenin also continued to publish decrees for the first few months of government:
    • Workers’ Decrees (November 1917) – which established an 8 hour maximum working day and a minimum wage.
    • Decree of Workers’ Control (April 1918) – which allowed workers to elect committees to run factories.
  • These measures early on allowed Lenin to take control over Russia:
    • Won support for the regime from workers, peasants and soldiers.
    • It also ended WW1 which gave what Lenin called: breathing space.
  • For the first few months, Sovnarkom had little real power.
  • October Revolution had occurred in Russia’s capital city, Petrograd.
  • At first, it did not give Lenin control of Russia’s other major cities.
  • Just because he was in charge by being in government, does not mean he had any actual power.
  • Initially the Sovnarkom was very disorganised
    • For example, Stalin’s Commissariat was just a desk in the corner of a room.
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How democratic was Russia in 1918?

  • Lenin and the Bolsheviks claimed that the new government was democratic.
  • Lenin argued that the new state was based on committees of working people who participated in government on a day-to-day basis.
  • Claimed the soviet-state was more democratic than the systems in Britain, the USA and France where people merely voted four-five years.
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Broad-based support.

  • There is evidence that the new government was actually democratic.
  • The first decrees were popular and reflected the needs of what the majority of workers, peasants and soldiers wanted.
  • In 1918, Russia was not yet a one-party state.
  • According to the Constitution of 1918, Sovnarkom was responsible to the Congress of Soviets – which contained representatives of many parties including the Mensheviks.
    • As well as the SR’s.
  • One reason as to why there was broad-based support for the new government was the belief that it would become a coalition government with all of Russia’s main parties.
  • In November, Lenin’s new government was dominated by people who wanted the Bolshevik Party to govern alone.
  • There was genuine support for a Bolshevik-dominated government along the workers of Petrograd in the early days of the revolution.
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The Constituent Assembly.

  • In January 1918, there was a clear indication that Lenin was turning against democracy.
  • Lenin refused to recognise the results of a nationwide election held in November 1917.
  • Election created a Constituent Assembly with a Bolshevik minority, which met for the first time in January 1918/
  • Lenin closed the Constituent Assembly after one day.
    • Claimed that it posed a threat to the power of the soviets.
  • Lenin was also willing to disregard the soviets.
  • In March 1918, Lenin approved the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
    • Gave away a big part of Russian territory to the Central Powers in order to end Russia’s involvement in WW1.
  • Treaty was very unpopular and the Bolsheviks lost the election across Russia in April and May 1918.
  • Lenin refused to recognise the results and argued that the results were unfair.
  • Mensheviks and SR’s were expelled from the soviets.
  • Lenin postponed elections because of Civil War.
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The impact of the Civil War, 1918-21.

  • The Civil War allowed Lenin to establish communist control over Russia.
  • It radically changed the nature of the Bolshevik Party and the new government.
  • The Civil War led to the creation of a ‘party-state’ and, as a result of the Civil War, the state became increasingly authoritarian and centralised.
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Russian Civil War.

  • From the start, Lenin’s government faced huge opposition.
  • Lenin described the war as a battle between the Communist Red and the reactionary Whites.
    • In reality it was bigger than this.
  • Senior members of the Russian army wanted to re-establish Tsarist rule, while others wanted a military dictatorship or a democratic system like France or America.
  • The new government had radical opponents too.
  • The SRs and Mensheviks wanted a more democratic type of socialist government.
    • Anarchists also wanted to abolish government altogether.
  • Britain, France, the USA and Japan all sent troops to fight the new government.
    • There was fear that a revolution might spread.
  • First signs of military conflict emerged in January 1918 as General Kornilov organised an anti-Bolshevik army in the Don region.
  • SRs and liberals set up rival governments.
  • A full scale civil war broke out in summer of 1918.
    • Enemies of Bolsheviks gaining grounds in the first 6 months of 1919.
    • In the summer of 1919, the Red Army began to win.
  • Red Army extended communist power by winning against Nestor Makhno’s anarchist army in the Ukraine, Alexander Kolchak’s authoritarian government in Siberia, etc.
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Government during the Civil War.

  • Lenin’s objective during the Civil War was to ensure the survival of the new government.
  • Lenin was willing to do whatever was necessary in order to win.
  • As a result of the Civil War, government changed in two ways:
    • Lenin’s government became more centralised.
    • The Communist Party became more powerful.
  • Lenin’s prime method of pushing for victory was to centralise power:
    • He centralised control of the economy with War Communism.
    • He also relied on political centralisation, working through the loyal Party nomenklatura rather than the more democratic soviets, and using terror to suppress opposition.
    • Trotsky, the leader of the Red Army, made it more authoritarian.
      • Introduced conscription, harsh punishments, and relied on former Tsarist generals to lead the army.
    • Centralisation kept the government and economy in shape, and help the army win the war.
    • It also took power away from the workers, peasants and soldiers who took the communists claimed to represent.
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The emergence of a ‘party-state’.

  • At first, the new regime described itself as a ‘soviet-state’; however, during the Civil War the government increasingly became a party-state, based on the Communist Party.
  • Civil war meant that the new government had to act quickly to achieve victory.
  • Consequently, Lenin tended to rely on the Politburo.
  • Lenin preferred working with the Politburo to Sovnarkom as it was smaller – 5 to 7.
    • Therefore could reach decisions much quicker.
    • He preferred working with the Politburo because it contained his most loyal supporters, people like Stalin, Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev.
  • Lenin did not abolish the Sovnarkom.
    • It simply ceased to function as the main centre of government.
  • From 1920, the Politburo effectively became the government of Russia.
    • Politburo clearly provided clear and effective leadership during the Civil War.
    • The rise of the Politburo indicated that the new government was based on the Communist Party rather than the soviets.
  • This pattern of Communist Party dominance also emerged at a local level.
  • Senior Communists preferred to work through the Communist Party, which had branches all over the country.
  • They did not trust the local soviets, as SRs and Mensheviks were still present on many of them.
  • Soviets were often bypassed in favour of the communist nomenklatura.
  • Party members who senior official trusted to implement government policy without question.
  • By 1921, the new government was based on two parallel structures:
    • Communist Party and the soviet-state.
  • As the Civil War continued and other political parties were increasingly excluded from the government, the soviet-state lost power to the Communist Party.
  • Due to increasing Party dominance, the new form of government became known as the “party-state”.
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Red Terror.

  • In December 1917, Lenin created the All-Russian Emergency Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage –
  • A Political police force which was tasked with defending the revolution.
  • Terror implemented by the Cheka headed by Felix Dzershinsky.
  • During the Civil War Chekists were responsible for raiding anarchist organisations, closing down opposition newspapers and expelling Mensheviks and SRs from the soviets.
  • The Cheka was willing to imprison, torture or kill anyone who was viewed as a threat to the communists.
  • Waves of arrests between 1921-22, known as the Red Terror.
  • Between 1917-23, 200,000 people had been executed.
  • After the Civil war, Cheka replaced by the OGPU. Terror was more bureaucratic and discreet.
  • Purge known as the Chistka (cleanisng). Under Lenin, 1/3 of the Party were purged.
  • Lenin argued that during a revolution, civil war and terror were necessary to protect the government from its enemies.
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Building the Red Army.

  • In order to fight and win the Civil War, Lenin reformed the army.
  • Following the February Revolution, the Russian army had been democratised:
    • Soldiers’ committees were empowered to elect senior officers.
  • Lenin abolished the system and Trotsky put back Tsarist Generals in charge of the army.
  • This created outrage among idealists in the Party, who accused Lenin and Trotsky of betraying the principles of the revolution.
  • Abolishing democracy and putting highly trained experts in charge of the army paid off.
    • The Red Army became a disciplined and successful fighting force.
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Changing nature of the Communist Party.

  • By 1921, the Communist Government was no longer a government of the workers, peasants and soldiers.
  • While the soviets had been made up of working people, the communist nomenklatura, who administered the policies of War Communism, were largely educated members of the former middle class – economists, statisticians and engineers.
    • They had all worked for the former provisional government.
    • The communists needed their administrative and technical expertise to help run industries and supply the army during the war.
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1921: Crisis and reform.

The communists had won the Civil War due to their ability to control the whole Russian economy and their willingness to dominate the government.

  • This had made the new government extremely unpopular.
  • Crisis of 1921, which included rebellion among the workers and peasants showed the extent of the opposition to Lenin’s government.
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Popular unrest.

  • By early 1921, the communists had won the Civil War.
  • However, the Civil War had ruined Russia’s economy.
  • Droughts in 1920 and 1921 made the situation worse, threatening famine.
  • Peasants in Tambov, led by Aleksandr Antonov, began a rebellion against communist grain requisitioning and Cheka brutality.
  • By January 1921 Antonov had a force of 50,000 anti-communist fighters.
  • Antonov’s revolt was not the only challenge to the Bolsheviks in the countryside.
  • In March 1921, there were peasant attacks on government grain stores all along the Volga River.
  • In the major cities there were strikes against communist policies in early 1921.
  • In Petrograd the Red Army responded by opening fire on unarmed workers.
  • Sailors at the Kronstadt naval base, horrified by the communists’ suppression of the Petrograd strikes, rebelled.
  • The Kronstadt sailors demanded a series of reforms:
    • The immediate free and fair election of new soviets.
    • Release of all anarchist, Menshevik and SR political prisoners.
    • A restoration of freedom of speech and the press.
    • The abolition of the Cheka.
    • An end to War Communism.
  • In essence, the Kronstadt sailors wanted a return to soviet democracy.
  • This demand was summed up in their slogan:
    • Soviets without Communists.
  • By mid-March, the Red Army had crushed the Kronstadt uprising.
  • The Red Army was equally ruthless in Tambov.
  • In May they suppressed the rebellion by deporting 100,000 people in labour camps and attacking peasant villages with poisoned gas.
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One-party state.

  • Lenin responded to the unrest by suppressing opposition political parties.
  • In doing so, he created a one-party state.
  • During the Civil War, opposition political parties were often persecuted by the Cheka.
  • In spite of this they had survived the Civil War and therefore were able to play a key role in the strikes of early 1921.
  • From February 1921 Lenin authorised the Cheka to destroy opposition political parties.
  • At the end of February 1921, all Mensheviks in Petrograd and Moscow, including one of the Mensheviks’ leaders, Fyodor Dan, were arrested and sent to the Butyrka Prison.
  • Communists’ dominance of Russia was consolidated by crushing opposition political parties.
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The 1921 Party Congress.

  • Lenin recognised that the unrest in Tambov, Petrograd and Kronstadt reflected the fact that Russian workers and peasants were deeply dissatisfied with the regime.
  • As a result, Lenin pushed through a series of reforms in the 1921 Party Congress.
  • The NEP liberalised the economy, while the ban on factions tightened Lenin’s political control.
  • Lenin faced opposition from several factions within the Bolshevik Party, such as:
    • The Workers’ Opposition: a group who wanted to reintroduce workers’ control of industry.
    • The Democratic Centralists: a group who wanted to make the Communist Party more democratic.
  • Lenin introduced a resolution, entitled “On Party Unity”.
    • This banned factions inside the Party.
    • Party members found guilty of forming factions could be expelled from the Party as punishment.
    • The ban helped strengthened Lenin’s position within the Party by making opposition to his policies more difficult to organise.
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Conclusion: Lenin’s legacy.

  • Between 1917 and the time of Lenin’s death in 1924, Russia was transformed.
  • Lenin succeeded in creating a Dictatorship of the Proletariat to defend the revolution.
  • He did destroy soviet democracy and replaced it with a one-party state.
  • The original institutions that had been created after the October Revolution had lost their power to Party institutions that had emerged during the Civil War.
  • For example, Sovnarkom ceased to play an important role in government, while the Politburo made all the important decisions that affected Russia.
  • Civil War made Russia very centralised
  • The ban on factions meant that political centralisation increased.
  • Lenin argued that the ban on factions decreased the role of the soviets, was only temporary.
  • However there was no sign before Lenin’s death that the government had plans to make Russia more democratic.
  • Cheka were introduced and played a significant role persecuting political parties.
  • Finally Lenin replaced a workers’ government with a highly bureaucratic one.
  • Soviets full of workers, peasants and soldiers were replaced by specialists and administrators, few of whom were working class.
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Stalin in power, 1928-53.

Stalin in power, 1928-53

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The elimination of Stalin’s opponents.

  • Between 1923 and 1928, the leadership struggle changed the nature of the Communist Party.
  • Between 1917 and 1922, Lenin’s government was quite pluralistic.
    • Pluralism denotes a diversity of views or stands rather than a single approach or method
  • Stalin had transformed the Party in four ways:
    • He had established an ideological orthodoxy.
    • Destroyed the authority of the other main contenders.
    • He changed the nature of Party membership.
    • He had created the patronage system.
  • By doing so, he took victory and destroyed the political authority of his key rivals.
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Leadership in the Soviet Union.

  • Lenin’s leadership was based on his personality and his authority.
  • He was able to lead because he had the respect of all his senior colleagues.
  • They knew that he had masterminded the revolution and that the government that emerged reflected his vision.
  • In that sense, he was leader of the USSR because he was Lenin, not because he held official positions.
  • Replacing Lenin was not a matter of winning a post in the government.
    • Rather each of the contenders had to persuade the Communist Party that they were a true Leninist
  • The Politburo had emerged as the most powerful part of the government.
  • Therefore gaining a majority in the Politburo was the key to power in the USSR.
  • Winning a majority in the Politburo meant winning votes at the Party Congress as the Party Congress elected the Central Committee.
    • They in turn elected the Politburo.
  • The battle for leadership was a battle for support within the Party, not within the USSR.
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Stalin’s rivals for power in 1923.

  • The leadership struggled was prompted by Lenin’s declining health.
  • Lenin had become unwell towards the end of 1921, in May 1922, he had the first stroke that left him unwell to work.
  • By mid-1923, it was obvious that Lenin would never return to government.
    • A struggle began at the top of the Party which had a big impact on the government of the USSR.
  • From 1923 there were 4 key contenders who had a chance of becoming leader:
    • Zinoviev, Bukharin, Trotsky and Stalin.
    • They all had a significant degree of authority in the Party.
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  • Zinoviev emerged as the front-runner to lead the USSR in 1923.
  • He claimed to be a true Leninist as he was Lenin’s closest friend.
  • The two spent so much time together that Zinoviev’s handwriting became like that of Lenin.
  • Zinoviev also support Lenin since the beginning of the Bolshevik movement in 1903.
  • He became Lenin’s right hand man.
  • Between 1923 and 1925, Zinoviev led the Triumvirate with him, his friend Kamenev and Stalin.
    • They formed a majority in the Politburo.
    • The alliance kept Trotsky out of power and laid the foundations for Stalin’s power.
  • Zinoviev and Kamenev persuaded the Central Committee to ignore Lenin’s Testament which contained an instruction to sack Stalin.
    • Stalin therefore retained his position at the top of government.
  • Zinoviev also created a very effective political strategy which denied Trotsky power.
    • He made a lot of speeches about the difference between Leninism and Trotskyism.
    • The point was to get rid of Trotsky’s power and that he was not a Leninist.
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  • From 1925 to early 1928 Bukharin was the most prominent figure in soviet government.
  • In 1925 he formed an alliance with Stalin known as the Duumvirate.
  • This gave Bukharin and Stalin a majority in the Politburo due to the support of more junior members who were allies of Bukharin.
  • He claimed to be a true Leninist for a number of reasons:
    • He joined the Bolshevik faction in 1906 and support Lenin until his death.
    • Lenin and Bukharin were close.
    • Lenin entrusted Bukharin with a series of important jobs such as editorship of the Soviet newspaper Pravda.
  • It was widely known that Bukharin and Lenin had disagreed over issues.
    • In 1918 they disagreed over ending WW1 and in 1921 over the introduction of the NEP.
    • Many also believed that he was too young and inexperienced to be leader.
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  • Most famous member of government other than Lenin.
  • Well known as a revolutionary hero due to the role he played in the Revolution as well as the Civil War.
  • He had also been Lenin’s right man.
  • He was not popular within the Communist Party.
  • Many communists remembered that between 1903 and 1917 he had opposed Lenin.
  • Trotsky had joined the Bolsheviks in mid-1917 and many Bolsheviks believed that he joined the Party to gain power rather than he was because he was a true Leninist.
  • There was a lot of disagreement about the timing of the October Revolution and the NEP in 1922.
  • There was a lot of evidence that Zinoviev was right and Trotsky was not a true Leninist and therefore did not deserve to lead the Party.
  • Trotsky kept his position in his Politburo until 1927 but had no real influence.
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  • Stalin was a big part of the Politburo majority between 1923 and 1928.
  • He played a supporting role, letting Zinoviev and then Bukharin play the leading roles in the Triumvirate and then the Duumvirate.
  • Stalin claimed to be the true Leninist for a lot of reasons.
    • He joined the Bolsheviks at the very beginning in 1903 and loyal to Lenin.
    • Stalin began to be disloyal to Lenin in 1922 when Lenin was too ill to fight back.
  • Lenin trusted Stalin in high regard and trusted him with important administrative tasks.
  • He also promoted him to the position of General Secretary in 1921.
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The Communist Party in 1928.

  • Leadership struggle led to a series of big changes in the Party.
  • In general terms the Party became more centralised and disciplined as a result of the struggle as the contenders tried to gain power over the Party.
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Ideological orthodoxy.

  • In order to win the leadership struggle, Stalin had to establish that he was the true Leninist.
    • This changed the nature of the Party by establishing an ideological orthodoxy.
  • Between 1917 and 1928, the Communist Party included members who believed a variety of different things.
    • During the leadership struggle Stalin and his allied discredited a number of ideas, which became known as Trotskyite.
  • By 1928, the Communist Party was committed to two ideas which Stalin believed in:
    • Socialism in one country:
      • Stalin and Bukharin had advocated the idea that the USSR could construct socialism.
      • Traditionally, Marxists assumed that socialism could only be achieved following a global revolution.
      • In that sense, constructing socialism was believed to be a global project and not something that could be done in one country.
      • From 1924, Bukharin and Stalin argued that the USSR could build socialism without a revolution.
      • They argued that socialism in one country was the correct Leninist idea.
      • Also that Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev were Trotskyites, rather than Leninists, because they wanted to wait for a global revolution before socialism.
    • Collectivisation and industrialisation:
      • In 1928, Stalin argued that the time was right to abandon the NEP and transform the Soviet economy.
      • Lenin had argued that the NEP would “last a while but not forever”.
        • This statement was vague but Stalin argued that Lenin’s commitment to the NEP was pragmatic.
      • When the economy under the NEP stopped growing in the late 1920s, Stalin argued that peasants should be forced to work on state-owned farms.
        • The profit they produced should be used to industrialise the USSR quickly.
      • He also argued that Bukharin’s desire to continue the NEP indicated that Bukharin was no longer a true Leninist.
    • This new ideological orthodoxy was a big change in the nature of the Party.
    • Lenin had tolerated differences of view at the top of the government and was prepared to work with people he disagreed with.
      • Stalin argued that Trotskyites and Bukharin’s followers posed a threat to the Party.
    • He therefore had Zinoviev, Kamenev and Trotsky arrested and Trotsky expelled from the Party and the USSR.
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Authority at the top of the Party.

  • Under Lenin there were many people who had authority within the Party.
  • Stalin, Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev and Kamenev all enjoyed the respect of significant parts of the Party.
    • Therefore all had power bases within the Party.
  • Stalin’s strategy for emerging as leader was to destroy the authority of his opponents.
  • He undermined them by:
    • Establishing a new ideological orthodoxy and branding opponents enemies of Leninism.
    • Demanding that Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev apologise to the Party for the errors when they lost votes at the Party Congress.
    • Accusing Bukharin, Zinoviev and Kamenev of plotting against the Party and forming a faction; and these were serious crimes as Lenin had banned factions in 1921.
  • By 1928, the Party had been transformed from an organisation in which there were a large number of people who had a degree of authority to an organisation in which Stalin had a near monopoly of authority.
  • Significantly, Stalin did not succeed in completely destroying Bukharin’s authority by 1928.
  • Bukharin was still regarded highly by the Party, even though his policies were rejected.
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Party membership.

  • Another change in the Party introduced by Stalin to help win the leadership struggle was an increase in Party membership.
  • In 1924, Stalin initiated the Lenin Enrolment.
  • From May 1924, Lenin Enrolment allowed 128,000 people to join the Communist Party.
    • Stalin justified this by saying that the Party needed new working-class members.
  • In practice, the new members were poorly educated people who wanted good paying jobs.
  • Due to their lack of education, the new members were suspicious of Trotsky and Bukharin, the Party’s leading intellectuals.
  • However, they were interested in getting well-paid Party jobs they tended to support Stalin as he was able to promote them within the Party.
  • By 1928, the Party was quite different to the Party of 1921.
  • The new recruits were less interested in ideas or the goals of the revolution and more interested in their careers.
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Stalin’s patronage system.

  • Party democracy also weakened between 1921 and 1928.
  • In 1921, the Party was based on Democratic Centralism.
  • All Party members voted for delegates who attended the Party Congress, which elected the Central Committee.
  • From 1923 Stalin began to issue an “approved list”.
  • Rather than having a free choice, local parties were encouraged to send delegates to the Party Congress from the approved list.
  • In 1923, approximately ⅓ of the delegates at the Party Congress were selected from Stalin’s list.
  • As the 1920s went on, this figure grew, giving Stalin more control over the Party Congress.
  • Stalin also had a number of positions in the Party which helped him win support by acting as patron.
  • As General Secretary, he could give well-paid and powerful jobs to lower-ranking Party members.
  • Equally as head of the Central Control Commission and the Rabkrin he had the power to investigate and, if necessary, sack Party members and government officials.
  • Stalin’s power to promote and sack Party members meant that he could count on the loyalty of Party members who wanted to retain their positions or get a promotion.
  • Changes in the Party increased Stalin’s power.
  • They also led to a change in the nature of the Party:
  • First, from the mid-1920s the Party increasingly had the role of administering and implementing the decisions of the Politburo and the leader.
    • Party members became known as “apparatchiks”, people who worked in the Party “apparatus”, implementing orders rather than thinking creatively about politics.
  • Second, the Party became increasingly privileged.
    • People with full-time positions in the Party were known as the nomenklatura.
      • These were people who enjoyed power and status due to their Party position, and ultimately to patronage.
    • In this sense, under Stalin the Party ceased to be full of dedicated revolutionary radicals and became full of professional administrators dedicated to their own careers.
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The purges of the 1930s.

  • Stalin was the undisputed leader of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union by 1928.
  • He was still insecure that he would lose power.
  • He was concerned that:
    • His own supporters were prepared to challenge his authority.
    • His old rivals would conspire against him.
  • Stalin responded to these threats by launching the Great Terror, a campaign of arrests, torture, mass imprisonments and executions that finally removed his opponents.
  • In the 1930s gov extended influence over economy, censorship, control of artists and unleashed a reign of terror against its citizens. 
  • The Great Terror was at its height from 1935 to 1938.
  • It was responsible for the deaths of around 10 million Soviet citizens, which was nearly 10% of the population.
  • As Stalin's power increased, so did the role of the Cheka-OGPU.
  • OGPU concerned with opposition members in the Communist party- Zinoviev + Kamenev= house arrest, Bukharin= spied on. 
  • OGPU nicknamed 'the dry guillotine' by party members because they didn't do anything really. 
  • 1928- OGPU organised dekulakisation, organised prison labour camps, spied on workers and peasants and organised show trials of 'saboteurs.' 
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Causes of the purges.

  • The Great Terror had several causes.
  • They were all related to Stalin’s desire to safeguard his position.
  • End of 1934- Stalin launched a wave of political terror that claimed a million lives and resulted in 12 million people being sent to forced-labour camps.
  • Stalin believed that many of his 'comrades' could not be trusted.
  • Stalin's paranoia was fed by the secret police, now re-named NKVD.
  • The purges were bound up to his economic goals.
  • The purges allowed Stalin to remove his political rivals.
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  • Opposition from the Politburo was one of the causes of the Great Terror.
  • By 1932, there was a group of moderates in the Politburo associated with Sergei Kirov, head of the Communist Party in Leningrad.
  • Kirov and the moderates were able to force some changes in policy in the early 1930s.
    • In 1932, Kirov defended Martemyan Ryutin.
      • Ryutin had circulated a document that was highly critical of Stalin’s policies.
      • He also formed the Union of Marxists Leninists, an opposition group which included supporters of Bukharin, Zinoviev and Trotsky.
      • Stalin demanded his execution.
      • Kirov with the support of Politburo moderates, argued successfully that he should be sent to prison.
    • In 1933 Kirov and the moderates argued for more realistic targets in the Second Five-Year Plan and for a greater emphasis on the production of consumer goods.
  • Kirov’s growing authority within the Party was clearly a challenge to Stalin.
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Economic problems.

  • Economic problems were also a cause of the Great Terror.
  • First, senior figures within government were aware of the problems with Stalin’s industrial and agricultural policies, which undermined Stalin’s authority in government.
  • Secondly, by accusing workers and managers of being wreckers and saboteurs Stalin could blame them for the problems.
    • Rather than accepting responsibility for the failure of his policies.
  • Finally he sent wreckers and saboteurs to Gulags, which were huge labour camps.
    • He used them as an army of slave labour, which he could use to build factories or mine resource.
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The Congress of Victors.

  • Events during the Congress of Victors, held in February 1934, also indicated that Stalin’s position was under threat.
  • Stalin came second to Kirov in the vote at the end of the Congress which elected the new Central Committee.
    • Kirov received 1225 votes compared to Stalin’s 927.
  • Senior members of the Party approached Kirov, urging him to stand against Stalin as General Secretary.
    • Kirov refused, and the vote was kept secret.
  • Nonetheless, the Congress demonstrated that Stalin had a rival in the Communist Party.
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Kirov’s murder.

  • Finally, Kirov’s murder was a useful pretext for launching the terror.
  • Kirov was murdered in December 1934.
  • Some historians speculate that Stalin ordered the attack, but no proof has ever been found.
  • The murder did remove Stalin’s main rival.
  • The murder allowed Stalin to claim that there was a dangerous conspiracy that aimed to overthrow the Communist Government.
  • In that sense, it gave Stalin a reason to arrest his rivals and launch a mass terror campaign.
  • Yagoda was responsible for implementing Stalin's wave of political terror. He oversaw the arrest, interrogation and trial of Zinoviev and Kamenev. As well as show trials, he also oversaw the arrest of thousands of Junior Party members. Scale of political terror not unusual, but this was the first time that had been used against the Party itself. 
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The Great Terror, 1934-38.

  • The Great Terror started in Leningrad in December 1934.
  • Right after Kirov’s murder, Stalin arrested Zinoviev and Kamenev and organised an investigation into the Communist Party in Leningrad.
  • The Great Terror spread throughout the USSR in 1936 and reached its peak in 1937.
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Show trials.

  • The most public aspect of the terror were three show trials that took place in 1936, 1937 and 1938.
  • These removed Stalin’s rivals:
    • The Trial of the 16, 1936, led to the execution of Zinoviev, Kamenev and 14 of their supporters.
    • The Trial of the 17, 1937, led to the execution and imprisonment of 17 of Trotsky’s former supporters.
    • The Trial of the 21, 1938, led to the execution of Bukharin and many of his supporters.
  • Not only did the trials lead to the deaths of Stalin’s former rivals, but they also destroyed the reputations of the key defendants.
  • All of the defendants confessed to plotting to murder Kirov and working with capitalist nations to overthrow the USSR.
  • The show trials were a tiny fraction of the Great Terror.
  • The terror also affect all aspects of the Party and the government.
  • Indeed, 95% of those affected by the terror were men between the ages of 30 and 45 who held senior positions in the Party or an important role in the economy.
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Secret trials.

  • In addition to the public trials, Stalin organised a trial of the Red Army’s leaders.
  • In 1937, 8 senior generals were tried for plotting to overthrow the government.
  • The 8 leaders had worked with Trotsky when he was head of the Red Army.
    • Therefore Stalin did not trust them.
      • All were executed.
    • Following the trial more than 37,000 officers were purged from the army.
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Consequences of terror.

The Great Terror led to big changes in government:

  • Eliminated Stalin’s rivals from the 1920s.
  • Also led to the death or imprisonment of a whole generation of communists who had known and worked with Lenin.
    • He removed all Party members who could claim authority that was independent from Stalin.
  • Led to the emergence of a new generation of Communist Party leaders who owed their positions to Stalin and were loyal.
  • Established the principle that Stalin had the right to use terror against anyone who was disloyal.
  • Stalin’s political police, the NKVD became a powerful organisation within the regime.
    • Consequently, Beria, Stalin’s NKVD chief from 1938, also became a powerful figure within the government.
  • Overall, the Great Terror established that Stalin was the only source of authority in the USSR.
  • Other politicians and the Party itself could not be trusted.
  • Only Stalin could be trusted to defend the USSR.
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Stalin’s power over party and state.

  • Stalin dominated both party and state.
  • The relationship between the Party and the state in the USSR was complicated and changed over time.
  • Crucially, Stalin use the changing relationship between the two organisations to his advantage.
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The party and state’s relationship.

  • Stalin inherited the Communist Party and the Soviet State from Lenin.
    • Lenin had created both but had failed to define the relationship between them.
  • In 1917, Lenin established a state based on the soviets.
  • As non-Communist political parties were outlawed, the Communist Party, rather than the state, became the most powerful organisation in the USSR.
  • The exact relationship however, between the Party and the State was never defined.
  • Moreover, the relationship changed in the period 1928-53.
  • Stalin used the vagueness of the relationship between the Party and the state to his advantage throughout the 1940s and the early 1950s.
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  • The Second World War led to a change in the relationship between party and state.
    • A change that emphasised Stalin’s power.
  • From 1928, Stalin had been the most powerful man in the Communist Party.
  • It was only in 1941 that Stalin became Chair of Sovnarkom – the most senior committee.
  • This change reflected the need for an efficient government during wartime.
  • Stalin’s government in the 1930s had been grossly inefficient.
  • Indeed, by purging the senior levels of the state, the Party and the military he had sabotaged the effectiveness of all aspects of the government.
  • Nonetheless the government needed to run effectively in order to win the war.
  • Therefore from 1941 Stalin took the leading position in the state, as well as the Party, in order to ensure better co-ordination of government.
  • As well as becoming Chair of the Council of Ministers, Stalin promoted effective government during the war in the following ways:
    • Ended mass terror to help them work more efficiently during war.
    • Allowed state power to grow – done to let State Ministers make important decisions.
    • Changed the composition of the Politburo – Ministers joined the Politburo and members of the Politburo were given important jobs.
      • This meant that the Politburo increasingly co-ordinated state activity as well as Party activity.
    • Created the State Defence Committee (GKO).
      • Responsible for economic co-ordination and military production and defence during the war.
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Competition between party and state.

  • Following the war Stalin used the party-state relationship to his advantage by encouraging competition between the two organisations.
  • First, he did this by appointing rival personnel to key positions in the Party and State.
  • For example, he placed Andrei Zhdanov, Beria’s key rival, in charge of Party supervision of Beria’s political police.
  • Encouraging competition between Party and state officials meant that senior officials in the Soviet Government competed with each other and not with Stalin.
  • Second, Stalin shifted power from the Party to the state and back again.
  • In 1938, the Politburo was the most senior committee in government.
  • By 1942, the GKO was the most powerful committee, and after the war, the Council of Ministers became more powerful.
  • By shifting the centre of power within the government.
  • Stalin was able to ensure that none of these senior committees grew to rival him.
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Post-war terror.

  • A final way in which Stalin held onto power was the continued use of terror.
  • He did not use terror to the same extent after the war as he had in the 1930s.
  • Nonetheless, by purging hundreds of Party and state officials in his last years he inspired fear in thousands more.
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The Leningrad Affair, 1949.

  • During 1949, Stalin launched a purge against the Leningrad Party.
  • Stalin was concerned that Leningrad, Russia’s second city, was developing a degree of independence from his powerbase in Moscow.
  • Around 100 officials were shot and 2000 arrested and dismissed.
  • Significantly, the Leningrad Affair may also have been part of the struggle to replace Stalin that emerged in the late 1940s.
  • In 1948, Stalin celebrated his 70s birthday.
  • Clearly, his life was coming to an end.
  • Two of the main rivals for his position were Beria and Zhdanov.
  • Beria’s powerbase was in the MVD, the political police.
  • Whereas Zhdanov was the chief of the Leningrad Party.
  • The Leningrad Affair follow Zhdanov death in 1949. and one explanation was that Beria encouraged Stalin to purge Leningrad because it contained a group of senior officials, rivals to Stalin.
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Testing loyalty.

  • One final way that Stalin used was to test loyalty of his allies.
  • One way he did this was to imprison or sack the wives and daughters of the senior figures in government.
  • One example concerns Vyacheslav Molotov.
    • One of Stalin’s closest allies.
    • Molotov had been a member of the Politburo since 1926 and Minister of Foreign Affairs since 1939.
  • In 1948, Stalin demanded that the Politburo vote to expel Molotov’s wife from the Party.
  • Molotov abstained from the vote and later apologised to Stalin for this disloyalty.
  • In 1949, Stalin had Molotov’s wife arrested and imprisoned.
  • Molotov made no effort to stop the arrest or end the imprisonment.
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  • The struggle for power and the Great Terror transformed the Soviet Government.
  • Under Lenin various politicians and the Communist Party itself, had an authority that was independent of Lenin.
  • Moreover, Lenin established the convention that political terror should never be used against the Party.
    • There was room for debate and discussion within the Party.
  • By 1938, this had changed, during the 20s, Stalin established a single ideological orthodoxy and a party which rewarded loyalty rather than free discussion.
  • The 1920s also saw the authority of Lenin’s closest allies destroyed.
  • By 1928, Stalin had full control of the Party.
  • Great Terror took this process further.
  • Many of Stalin’s allies were purged; believed that people were more likely to obey him out of fear over loyalty.
  • Stalin was prepared to rule through terror.
  • Stalin ruled rather than the Communist Party.
    • Party and state had very limited authority.
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Reform, stability and stagnation, 1953-85.

Reform, stability and stagnation, 1953-85

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Khrushchev’s reforms and de-Stalinisation.

Leadership struggle

  • Stalin’s death led to a struggle for power.
  • The power struggle from 1953 -55 was the context in which the first reforms and the first steps to Stalinisation took place.
  • Stalin dominated the Soviet Government.
  • His authority was unique.
  • He had many positions in the Party and government and his power was based off of his reputation, as well as terror.
  • His power was personal, it was not based on his positions.
  • Stalin left no “Testament”, therefore no indication of who he wanted to replace him.
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Contenders for power.

Three main contenders for power:

  • Georgy Malenkov:
    • Rumoured to be Stalin’s choice for successor.
    • Malenkov replaced Stalin as Premier of the Soviet Union, the head of the Soviet Government.
    • Malenkov’s powerbase was the Soviet state.
  • Lavrentiy Beria:
    • Head of Stalin’s political police.
    • Responsible for implementing Stalin’s terror.
    • His powerbase was the MVD.
  • Nikita Khrushchev:
    • Became Secretary of the Central Committee on Stalin’s death.
    • He had no state role.
    • The Party was his power-base, he was a popular member of the Politburo with a reputation for being the “apparatchik’s” apparatchik.
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Early government reforms.

  • Stalin’s heirs were faced with a series of problems, which prompted discussion of reform.
  • Stalin had successfully turned the USSR into a military and industrial superpower.
  • He left a major political problem:
    • Stalin’s power was personal, it was independent of the Party or the state.
    • Upon his death, there was a power vacuum, which threatened to cause chaos within the government.
    • Malenkov and Khrushchev attempted to address this by shifting the balance of power away from the leader to the state and party.
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Beria’s reforms: the MVD.

  • One way in which the new generation of leaders attempted to empower the Party and state was to reduce and restrict the power of the MVD, Stalin’s weapon against the power of the Party and the state.
  • Initially, Beria led the reform of the MVD.
  • This was partly to calm the fears of his rivals who assumed that he would use MVD against them, as Stalin had used the MVD against his rivals.
  • Beria reformed the Presidium that the Gulag system had become inefficient and difficult to manage.
  • Indeed, from the late 1940s there were an increasing number of uprisings in the Gulag.
    • Including the camps at Steplag, Kolyma, and Ozerlag.
  • Beria reformed the system in the following ways:
    • March 1953, he introduced an amnesty for non-political prisoners who were serving short sentences.
    • The amnesty was extended in April to some “counter-revolutionaries”.
    • A Party commission was set up in May to investigate past executions.
      • The Commission rehabilitated 4620 communists who had been executed on the basis of forced confessions.
    • Finally, the MVD lost a great deal of its economic power.
      • The MVD had used Gulag labour to construct factories and power stations, as well as to mine precious metals including gold.
      • These projects were terminated.
      • Prison labour was no longer used.
    • As a result of the reforms introduced by Beria the Gulag population dropped from 2.4 million in 1953 to 1.6 million in 1956.
    • Together these measures massively undermined the power of the MVD.
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Beria’s reforms: The Republics.

  • Under Stalin the republics had been dominated by central Soviet institutions.
  • In June 1953, Beria introduced two measures that were designed to make republic governments more representatives:
    • He introduced a measure that required all senior Party officials to speak the language of the republic that they worked in.
    • He ordered that all official publications should be available in the languages of the republics as well as in Russian.
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Beria’s fall.

  • Beria’s reforms had significantly weakened the MVD.
  • However, his rivals still feared that he would use the secret police to terrorise and execute them.
  • Therefore Khrushchev and Malenkov organised a plot to arrest and execute Beria.
  • At a meeting of the Presidium in June 1953, Khrushchev accused Beria of handing Soviet secrets to the British government.
  • Beria was arrested, tried and executed.
  • Malenkov accused Beria, at his trial, of using the MVD against the Party.
  • The trial and execution of Beria was another way of restricting the power of the MVD and restoring the power of the Party.
  • Beria’s arrest removed one of the main contenders for power.
  • From mid-1953 to the end of 1954 Khrushchev and Malenkov effectively rule as a duumvirate.
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Khrushchev’s early government reforms.

  • Although Khrushchev and Malenkov worked together after Beria’s arrest, they were still competing for power.
  • Khrushchev’s reforms were designed to achieve two related goals:
    • Wanted to enhance his own power and also the power of the Party at the expense of Malenkov and the state.
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Personnel changes.

  • One of Khrushchev’s first attempts at reform involved replacing Stalin’s supporters with his own.
  • Khrushchev used his position as Secretary of the Central Committee to replace senior officials throughout the Party.
  • Between 1953-56, Khrushchev replaced around ½ of the regional Party secretaries and 44% of the Central Committee.
  • In so doing, he secured his position within the Party by filling the top levels of the Part with people who were loyal to him.
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Khrushchev’s anti-bureaucracy campaign.

  • Having secured his position within the Party, Khrushchev’s second initiative was designed to weaken the state.
  • Khrushchev proposed cutting bureaucracy by devolving power from the Soviet Government to republican governments.
  • This was a direct attack on Malenkov’s powerbase.
  • In mid-1954 Khrushchev restructured government, cutting the number of central Soviet ministers from 55 to 25.
  • The amount of economic power exercised by the republics increased.
  • The reforms changed the proportion of Soviet industry controlled by central government from 68% to 44%.
  • Khrushchev’s reforms, and the apparent success of the Virgin Lands Scheme, meant that Malenkov lost the Premiership in February 1955.
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  • In 1956, at the Twentieth Party Congress, Khrushchev felt confident enough to give a speech which criticised Stalin. Party members were shocked by this. 
  • Khruschev believed that the Soviet system needed to be rejuvenated by a return to the legality of Leninism.
  • Khrushchev and Malenkov were united in the desire to end important aspects of Stalin’s rule.
  • Both men wanted to “humanise Communism”.
  • They wanted to end terror and enhance the lives of Soviet citizens by improving living standards.
  • Equally both men were Leninists and rejected cults of personality that had grown around Stalin.
  • The process of ending the “cult of personality” and the widespread use of terror started immediately after Stalin’s death.
  • The first steps towards ending the cult of Stalin were small.
  • Plans to turn Stalin’s dacha into a museum celebrating his life were scrapped.
  • Additionally, the annual Stalin prizes were cancelled and, for the first time since the 1930s, there were no official celebrations of Stalin’s birthday.
  • Regular meetings of the presidium and Central Committee resumed. 
  • Moves were made to decentralise decision-making by giving more power to organisations at regional level. 
  • The secret police were brought firmly under Party control and lost control over the labour camps.
  • 2 million political prisoners were released from the camps between 1953-1960.
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Secret Speech.

  • The first wave of de-Stalinisation focused on ending the cult of Stalin.
  • He wanted to go further and formally criticise Stalin.
    • But doing so was a big risk as Stalin was widely respected as a founder of the Soviet system – criticising Stalin risked undermining the authority of the Soviet Union and Communism.
  • It also risked outraging the Party.
  • Many feared that criticism of Stalin would reflect badly on them as they had helped implement Stalin’s policies.
  • Khrushchev negotiated with the Presidium to present his criticisms of Stalin at a secret session of the 20th Party Congress of 1956 – the first since Stalin’s death.
  • Khrushchev spoke for 4 hours criticising Stalin’s rule.
  • He focused on the cult of personality.
    • Argued that Stalin had abandoned collective leadership and made himself a dictator.
  • In so doing, Khrushchev argued, Stalin had placed himself above the Party and robbed the Party of its leading role.
  • Stalin made serious mistakes, such as purging the Red Army right after WW2, all because he had no wisdom of the Party.
  • He also claimed that Stalin committed enormous crimes.
    • Especially during the terror when he ordered the death of hundreds of thousands.
    • Khrushchev revealed the scale of the terror, which Stalin had concealed from the Party, as well as also quoting the criticism of Stalin in Lenin’s Testament.
  • Khrushchev did not criticise Stalin’s policy of industrialisation and collectivisation, or any aspect of communist ideology.
  • Khrushchev also argued that the foundations of the Soviet system were strong.
  • Stalin was widely loved and respected in the Party and therefore many of the delegates were shocked…
  • Some delegates were so shocked they suffered heart attacks during his speech.
  • Others apparently took their own lives after learning the true scale of Stalin’s crimes.
  • Speech was kept secret.
  • However, printed copies were sent to senior Communists across the USSR and Eastern Europe.
  • One was leaked to the West, and with the help of the CIA, it was printed in the New York Times.
    • The content of the Speech was well known in the West, and was not fully published in the USSR until 1989.
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Ending terror.

  • Another important part of de-Stalinisation was further steps into dealing with terror.
  • In May 1954, Khrushchev and Malenkov set up a special commission to review the cases of political prisoners who had been sent to the Gulags.
  • In the first year, progress was slow and only 4620 of the 113,739 prisoners were released.
  • Following the Secret Speech the process escalated.
  • In June 1956, 51,439 prisoners were released.
  • The cases of political prisoners who had been executed were also reviewed.
  • By 1961, half of those who had been executed by Stalin had been rehabilitated.
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The problems of de-Stalinisation.

  • Khrushchev’s criticism of Stalin caused a series of problems.
  • Communist Parties in Hungary and Poland began their own process of de-Stalinisation.
  • In Hungary students and artists seized the opportunity, initiated a revolution and elected a new prime minister.
  • After the new government ended its military alliance with the USSR, Khrushchev ordered Soviet troops to crush the revolution.
  • There was also unrest in the USSR.
  • Leaked information about Stalin’s crimes was shocking and caused some to question the legitimacy of communist rule.
  • Indeed, there were student demonstrations in favour of multi-party democracy at Moscow State University in 1957.
    • They were again suppressed by the communist authorities.
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Khrushchev’s retreat.

  • Stalinists in the Party argued that de-Stalinisation had destabilised the government.
  • Some moderates accused Khrushchev of reforming too fast.
  • Khrushchev responded by backtracking, agreeing that the Soviet people were not ready to know the truth about Stalin.
  • In June the Central Committee issued a statement to the Party revising Khrushchev’s speech.
  • In October the editors of the Soviet magazine Questions of History were disciplined for publishing revelations about Stalin’s terror.
  • In mid-December Khrushchev secretly authorised the establishment of a Special Commission, headed by Brezhnev, to suppress anti-communist activities.
  • Finally Khrushchev’s New Year’s Eve speech acknowledged that all communists were “Stalinist”.
  • Clearly by the end of 1957 radical de-Stalinisation came to a halt.
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Democratisation and decentralisation.

  • Khrushchev continued with political reform in 1957 introducing measures to reduce the size and power of the central party.
  • Democratisation was designed to increase the participation of workers in the government.
    • However it did not involve elections.
  • Rather, Khrushchev introduced two measures:
    • Allowed expansion of Party membership.
      • It grew from 6.9 million in 1954 to 11 million in 1964.
      • This made it more democratic as a greater proportion of its members.
      • 60% by 1964 were workers of peasants.
    • He introduced fixed terms for senior Communists to ensure that they were replaced regularly.
      • As a result, ⅔ of regional Secretaries and the Presidium were replaced between 1957 and 1961.
    • In order to decentralise the Party, he abolished some of the central ministries that oversaw the economy and devolved power to 105 newly created economic councils.
    • Moved the Ministry of Agriculture away from Moscow to make it closer to the fields.
    • Khrushchev’s reforms meant that many Communist officials were demoted, lost their jobs, or were forced to move away from Moscow.
      • Consequently, there was renewed criticism of Khrushchev within the Party.
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The Anti-Party Group.

  • Discontent over Khrushchev’s reforms and the problems created by de-Stalinisation led to an attempt to overthrow Khrushchev.
  • In June 1957 a majority of the Presidium, led by Malenkov, voted to replace Khrushchev.
  • He argued that the decision to replace him could only be taken by the Central Committee.
    • Where Khrushchev had the majority of the support.
  • As a result, Khrushchev survived the attempt to oust him and sacked his opponents.
  • Khrushchev consolidated his position in March 1958 by taking over the position of Prime Minister.
  • The attempted coup of 1957 was significant for the evolution of Soviet government for 2 reasons:
    • Demonstrated that senior Communists would no longer use political terror against each other.
    • Recognised that the power of the Party Leader depended on the support of the Central Committee.
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Khrushchev’s final reforms.

  • The 22nd Party Congress of October 1961 introduced Khrushchev’s final major political reforms:
    • The main focus of the Congress was economic.
  • However, Khrushchev also used the Congress to restart the process of de-Stalinisation.
  • Accused Stalin of being involved in Kirov’s murder.
  • The Congress also voted to remove Stalin’s body from public display.
  • Khrushchev also introduced a radical Party reform.
    • He built on his earlier democratisation measures by introducing fixed terms for all jobs within the Party, including a fixed 16- year term for Central Committee members.
  • Khrushchev’s 1962 Party reforms effectively split the Party in two.
  • According to the new structure, one half of the Party was put in charge of agriculture and the other of industry.
  • This new division went right to the top of the Party:
    • The Central Committee was divided into industrial and agricultural bureaus.
    • Khrushchev hoped that this reform would boost economic growth.
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Khrushchev’s fall.

  • Khrushchev’s political reforms created discontent in the Party.
  • His economic reforms failed to boost economic growth.
  • From the late 1950s, the economy slowed.
  • Consequently, there was no possibility of fulfilling Khrushchev’s rash promises.
  • There were concerns that Khrushchev’s foreign policy was rash and dangerous.
  • As a result, in June 1964 senior figures in the Presidium began plotting Khrushchev’s overthrow.
  • In October Khrushchev was summoned to a special meeting.
  • He was criticised for mishandling the economy, foreign policy and creating his own cult of personality.
  • On this occasion the plotters had the backing of the majority of the Central Committee.
  • Consequently, Khrushchev retired and the Soviet media put out the story that he had stepped down due to poor health.
  • Khrushchev was given a pension and lived under guard.
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The extent of de-Stalinisation.

  • Khrushchev’s biggest political achievement was ending the use of terror.
  • Khrushchev’s enemies were sacked but not tortured or killed.
  • Khrushchev himself was allowed to retire with a pension.
    • Also with a car and various luxuries, rather than being shot or publicly humiliated.
    • In this sense, he achieved a significant degree of de-Stalinisation.
  • He also ended Stalin’s system of personal rule.
  • Under Khrushchev the Party gained a new authority.
  • Unlike Stalin, Khrushchev was forced to work with other senior figures in the party.
  • Secret Speech for example, had to gain the approval of the Presidium, and the Central Committee forced Khrushchev to accept revisions to the Speech months before it happened.
  • Khrushchev’s overthrow in 1964 showed the extent to which the Party’s power was independent of the leader by 1964.
  • Some aspects of Stalinism lived on:
    • The government was able to revive the cult of Stalin.
    • Adoration of Stalin was never as widespread as it had been during his rule.
  • Clearly Khrushchev was able to achieve some level of de-Stalinisation in the sense that political terror was never used on a mass scale again.
  • However, de-Stalinisation was never completed as he refused to publicly denounce the former leader.
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Brezhnev and stability, 1964-82.

  • Khrushchev’s government was associated with “reform”.
  • Brezhnev’s government by contrast focused on stability and restoration.
  • Brezhnev’s first acts were to reverse Khrushchev’s most unpopular Party reforms.
  • He also reversed aspects of de-Stalinisation and ended economic change.
  • The emphasis on stability created problems:
    • Stagnation
    • Corruption
  • Under Brezhnev, the revolutionary aspects of Soviet society became less obvious.
  • He believed that the revolutionary transformation of society had been achieved between 1917-1930.
  • Therefore the Communist Party merely needed to keep going on the course set out by Lenin and Stalin.
  • The Party became the defenders of the status quo rather than a revolutionary force for change.
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  • The post-Khrushchev leadership was keen to undo his reforms.
  • During 1964 and 1965, the new leadership was based on an informal pact between Brezhnev and Kosygin, who together had a lot of support in the Politburo and Central Committee.
  • The pact was designed to ensure government stability.
  • In general terms, Brezhnev and Kosygin committed themselves as follows:
    • They ensured the two top jobs in government were not equipped by the same person.
      • This was done to stop the emergence of an all-powerful leader.
      • Brezhnev led the Party as General-Secretary; Kosygin was Premier.
    • They divided key posts in government roughly equally between supporters of Brezhnev and Kosygin.
    • They ensured that Party and state officials kept their jobs for long periods to limit patronage.
  • The pact held from 1964-1970 when Kosygin lost his job as Premier and Brezhnev emerged as the all-powerful leader.
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“Stability of cadres”.

  • Brezhnev’s government was based on the policy of “stability of cadres”, or trust in cadres.
  • In essence the policy discouraged promotions or demotions in government.
  • This was part of the Brezhnev-Kosygin pact and ensured that there would be few battles over patronage.
  • This replaced Khrushchev’s policy of fixed terms.
    • Which had been very unpopular with the Party.
  • In this sense the policy ensured support for the new leaders from government officials because it gave them job security.
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Restoration of the Party.

Brezhnev reformed the Party, reversing Khrushchev’s key reforms:

  • Centralisation:
    • Khrushchev had repeatedly tried to break up central ministries and decentralise government by giving more power to republics.
    • Brezhnev reversed this and re-established the all-union ministries that Khrushchev had abolished.
  • Brezhnev ended the split between industrial and agricultural wings of the Party.
  • Article 6 of the new 1977 Soviet Constitution officially recognised the Party’s leading role in Soviet society.
    • In this sense, it showed the superiority of the Party over the state.
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Political stagnation, 1970-85.

  • Brezhnev’s government reforms led to stagnation at the top of government.
  • His policies meant that change in government was slow or non-existent.
  • Under Brezhnev, the party leadership had developed into an oligarchy. General Secretary was the most powerful oligarch. 
  • 'Dnepropetrovsk mafia' were a group of Brezhnev's old colleagues were promoted. 
  • 'Brezhnev system was a coalition of Politburo oligarchs. What united them was the preservation of the status quo.' 
  • Under Brezhnev promotions were made within the ranks of the local Party membership after serving a juniour position. This move severely limited innovation and change within the system. 
  • This system also allowed corruption to go unnoticed, particularly in the remote parts of the USSR. E.g 'Cotton affair' resulted in millions of roubles being claimed for non-existent cotton as officials fiddled with the figures. 
  • Nepotism was also a rife as party officials ensured jobs were given to family members. 
  • By 1984, 7 of the 11 members of the Politburo were over the age of 70. 
  • Brezhnev replaced by Androprov who recognised the need for reform. Main concern was the corruption within the party but attempts to deal with this were hampered by his lack of charm. 
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  • Brezhnev’s stability of cadres policy led to an increasingly static government in which there was little change:
    • Between 1964 and 1971, only two people were promoted to the Politburo.
    • Between 1966 and 1971, between 80 and 90% of Central Committee members retained their jobs following Party Congresses.
  • The government aged.
  • Brezhnev’s style of government was nicknamed a gerontocracy: rule of old people.
  • During the late 1960s and 70s, the average age of senior officials kept rising.
  • As the government aged it became less effective:
    • Brezhnev’s critics argued that his style of government created a generation gap between the government and society.
      • Therefore they could no longer understand the society they governed.
    • Senior officials became more ill and unable to do their jobs.
    • Stability of cadres meant that there was no opportunities for promotion.
      • Middle-ranking officials were stuck in dead-end jobs with no promotional prospect.
    • System provided no incentives to work hard.
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  • Under Brezhnev, sackings were rare.
  • Opportunities for advancement were also very limited.
  • This created a context for massive corruption.
  • Senior officials who could not grow rich through hard work and promotion, used their promotion to grow rich.
    • They knew they were unlikely to be disciplined.
  • One form of corruption was to sell goods on the black market.
    • Yury Sokolov, the director of a major Moscow food store, took bribes from rich customers for passing on luxury food.
  • Brezhnev was implicated in the corruption.
  • His daughter, Galina Brezhneva was able to get access to diamonds.
    • One of her lovers smuggled lots of diamonds out of the USSR and was prosecuted after Brezhnev’s death.
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Andropov and Chernenko.

  • Between Brezhnev’s death and Gorbachev’s appointment as General Secretary, Russia was led by Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko.
  • Both were old and part of the gerontocracy.
  • Andropov recognised the issues with the system and both men attempted reforms.
  • Neither was prepared to introduce fundamental reforms.
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Andropov, November 1982-February 1984.

  • Became the Soviet leader at the age of 68.
  • He believed that the system was fundamentally stable but the minor reforms were needed.
  • Specifically, he believed that the USSR needed to become a more disciplined nation.
  • In order to achieve this, he introduced 3 main reforms:
    • Abandoned stability of cadres.
    • Introduced small-scale reforms focusing on labour discipline.
    • Most important was the anti-corruption campaign:
      • Attacked senior figures, for example prosecuting Red Army General and Minister of the Interior Nikolai Schelokov and investigated Galina Brezhneva’s lover Boris the Gypsy.
      • This included media exposes of corrupt officials.
    • He died just over a year after his appointment as Soviet leader.
    • Biggest achievement was removing old and corrupt officials.
      • He also allowed a younger generation to rise in government.
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Chernenko, February 1984-March 1985.

  • Chernenko was unwilling to consider major reforms.
  • He was 72 years old and already extremely ill at the time he became leader.
  • Poor health meant that he could not play much of a role in government.
  • Due to his ill health, Gorbachev routinely led meetings on his behalf.
  • His brevity of his rule and health meant that he achieved very little as Soviet leader.
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