The Soviet Union emerged from a Russia that was experiencing many difficulties. The difficulties of war, from both World War I and civil war were impoverishing the country and lowering moral. Political unrest was growing in Russia throughout Nicholas II‘ s reign. Strikes and revolts were common and political parties of revolutionaries were forming. The October Manifesto granted the people some of the rights they were striking for but Nicholas was unwilling to give the people what they really wanted, a constitutional government. These troubles were further complicated by Russia's involvement in World War I and famines that left the majority of the people in desperate situations.
In July 1918 Nicholas II and his family were executed. This ended the Romanov dynasty which was replaced by the officially recognized Provisional Government. However, the Provisional Government's authority was challenged by a group called the Soviet Petrograd. The Provisional Government granted many rights and tried to make reforms. This government was supported by many foreign countries but was not very popular within Russia mainly because it continued Russia's presence in World War I. Lenin and the Bolshevik's were able to come to power when neither group advocated the removal of Russian forces.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks gained control over Russia with a coup that later became known as the October Revolution and their proclamation of "Bread, Peace, and Land." The October Revolution took place in 1917 on October 25 of the old Russian calendar and on November 7 of the modern calendar. After the October Revolution, Russia entered three years of civil war before power was completely consolidated in the Bolshevik party. Lenin and his followers made many promises to the people that gained them much popular support. However, after they had removed all opposition they did not carry through with their promises.
The Bolsheviks believed that all the nations of the world would become communists. They preached worker solidarity and rule and felt that the workers should have the power to govern and control the means of production. However, in practice the party was in control. Lenin was in control of the power, and while he said that he would share power with many of the minorities in a form of ethnic federalism, Lenin and the rest of the Bolsheviks resisted sharing any real power, always having the ability to overrule. Terrorism and repression became common early in the Bolshevik rise. Already during the civil war any disagreement with the official party stance was repressed.
In 1921, by the end of the civil war, Russia was in a state of ruin. The economy had virtually collapsed. War Communism, marauding soldiers and striking workers had left the country devastated. To overcome this, Lenin proposed the New Economic Policy which allowed for limited capitalism until 1928. This would help the economy recover at which time communism could be resumed. This policy was successful in bolstering the economy, however its measures were temporary. Lenin died in 1924 and Stalin came to power. He further consolidated power within the party and became a dictator and Russia a totalitarian state.
In 1928, when the New Economic Policy was set to end, Stalin began his Five Year Plans. These plans were meant to rapidly industrialize the country. Stalin's Five Year Plans set production quotas for workers and factories to follow. These quotas ignored supply and demand. Rather, the greatest emphasis for production was placed on industrialization. Stalin sought to transform Russia from a backward country to a military power. The country's industrial base became the most important factor in economic planning.
Quotas were set impossibly high. As a result, falsification of records was common and it is very difficult to determine how successful the Five Year Plans were. However, Russia became industrialized very quickly and emerged as a superpower. One problem with the Five Year Plans was that quantity was emphasized over quality.
Agriculture was also affected by this. Farms were collectivized. The party had the ultimate goal of completely controlling the rural villages. A member of the Party oversaw the collective and the state owned all the large machinery. Richer peasants were sent to bleak regions or shot. Their land and animals were confiscated. Also during this time so much grain was collected from the peasants that many did not have enough left to survive the winter and replant next year. This agricultural collectivization resulted in the death of millions.
Another element of Stalin's rule were the Purges. Terror was a common tactic used to make people conform to Stalin's plans. All social and occupational groups were affected. People were put on trial and executed for no reason. Others were sent to forced labor camps. Stalin conducted a series of trials and executions of party officials during his reign that ultimately resulted in terminating all opposition and giving Stalin complete dictatorial power. While the use of terror was always present during Stalin's reign, the Purges reached their height from 1936-1938. As many as 8 million people were affected by the Great Purge.
Partially as a result of the purges and partially due to Stalin's and the rest of the world's unpreparedness for war, World War II was very destructive for the USSR. During the purges Stalin destroyed the military leadership. They were also unprepared for attack by Hitler and the Germans because of a pact of nonaggression signed between the two countries and the belief that Germany would not try to fight a war on two fronts. However, Hitler attacked the USSR and a prolonged battle ensued. The war devastated western Russia. The land and many cities were destroyed. Also, numerous soldiers and civilians died. Despite early losses and the devastation, by the end of the war Russia was one of the strongest military powers. They were steadily advancing into western Europe and only the end of the war stopped them. This war led to the USSR becoming a superpower. WWII was followed by the Cold War in which Soviet led Eastern European nations and American led Western nations were on unfriendly terms. The two sides entered into an arms race to try to determine who would be the most powerful. In the Soviet Union the Cold War also resulted in heavy censoring of artistic work such as painting, literature and music. Art was supposed to glorify communist Soviet Union.
After Stalin's death Khrushchev attained the leadership position. Khrushchev admitted that Stalin had wrongly convicted people during the purges. Khrushchev did not try to repeat the totalitarian nature of Stalin's rule, although he did have considerable power
Gorbachev promoted perestroika and glasnost. The Soviet economy was not doing well and Gorbachev saw this as a way to help the economy. However, he did not intend to completely drop socialism. Gorbachev also tried to help the economy by working to improve worker discipline and fighting alcoholism. Alcoholism was a serious problem and Gorbachev's attacks against it were unpopular and did not last. The changes Gorbachev enacted led the country into reforms that Gorbachev had not sought. Gorbachev's rule ended on Christmas Day 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The Funeral of the Communist Party and a result of it – collapse of the Soviet Union. Yeltsin versus Gorbachev.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia became the largest former Soviet country. Boris Yeltsin took over as ruler and until 2000 worked to enact economic reform, fix social problems and build democracy in Russia. These have been difficult processes in Russia. Economic problems have left many people in poverty. The health of many Russians has declined as people now either pay for health care or are forced to use an inadequate government based system.
The First President of the Russian Federation B. Yeltsin.
The New Flag and Coat of Arms of the Russian Federation.
Environmental problems are also a factor. Throughout the Soviet period the environment was abused. Environmental protection is just now becoming important in Russia. Building democracy has also been difficult in Russia. Yeltsin did not always follow democratic procedures and many have lost faith in the democratic and capitalist systems. Yeltsin resigned and on March 26, 2000 Vladimir Putin was elected the new Prime Minister and later the President of the Russian Federation.