Created by David William Phillips
In 1914, a lack of experienced military leaders and outdated weaponry left
the Russian Empire ill prepared for the Great War.
The poorly trained and equipped Russian army suffered terrible losses on
the Eastern Front against the Central Powers.
By 1917, the Russian will to continue fighting in the war had disappeared.
In March 1917, working-class women in St. Petersburg, upset by the war and
food shortages called for a massive strike to shut down the factories.
Czar Nicholas II responded by ordering his troops to break up the
crowds with force. However, many soldiers refused their orders
to fire and instead joined the demonstrators.
On March 12, 1917, the Duma urged
the czar to abdicate his throne,
which he did.
Power was handed over to a
The provisional government decided to continue fighting the
Great War. This was a grave mistake; workers and peasants
wanted to end the terrible years of fighting.
The government was challenged by
the power of the soviets — councils
representing workers and soldiers
— which came to play an important
role in Russian politics.
Soviets sprang up around Russia.
Most were made up of socialists.
The Bolsheviks were a radical
Marxist political party whose
influence was on the rise.
They were led by V.I. Lenin,
and were dedicated to
beginning a violent revolution
to overthrow the capitalist
The Bolsheviks promised to
end the war, redistribute
land to the peasants,
transfer control of factories
and industries from
capitalists to the workers,
and transfer government
power to the soviets.
Three slogans summed up the Bolshevik program:
1. “Peace, Land, Bread”
2. “Worker Control of Production”
3. “All Power to the Soviets”
By the end of October, 1917, the Bolsheviks held majorities in the
St. Petersburg and Moscow soviets.
On November 6, the Bolsheviks seized the Winter Palace and the
provisional government collapsed.
The Bolsheviks renamed
In March of 1918, Lenin
ended the war with
By the terms of the Brest-
Litovsk treaty, Lenin
surrendered vast amounts
of Russian territory to end
He did not feel it was a loss because
believed that these territories
would soon return to Russia as the
Marxist revolution spread through
Civil war soon broke out in Russia. Many people were opposed to the
Communists, including czarists, liberals, and anti-Leninist socialists. They
were aided by the Allies, who gave them troops and supplies, hoping
Russia would rejoin the war.
But, by 1920, the
Army emerged as
By 1921, the Communists had
complete control of Russia.
The country had become a
centralized state dominated by
a single party.
However, the country and
government were both on the
verge of collapse.
Due to the long years of war,
Russia’s industrial output
was only 20% of its 1913
Then, in the early 1920s,
millions in Russia died during
a great famine caused by
Because of the role the Allies had played in the civil war, the
Communists mistrusted them and remained hostile. They
would have no outside help.
In 1921, Lenin created the New Economic Policy (NEP) to cope with the
extreme problems. This was a modified version of capitalism.
Peasants could sell produce and small businesses could be privately owned
but the government still controlled heavy industries and banking.
In 1922, the Communists created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
(USSR), or Soviet Union.
The NEP saved the Soviet Union from economic ruin, but the Communists
saw it only as a temporary measure on the path to true communism.
In 1924, Lenin died and a bitter struggle for power in the Politburo, the
committee that controlled the policies of the Communist Party, ensued.
One faction, led by
Leon Trotsky, wanted
to end the NEP and
rapidly industrialize the
nation at the expense
of the peasants.
They also wanted to
spread communism to
Trotsky’s main rival in the
Politburo was Joseph Stalin.
He had been born as Iosif
Dzhugashvili but adopted the
name “Stalin” which means
“Man of Steel.”
Stalin was not a great
philosopher but was a great
bureaucrat and organizer.
Stalin held the job of
general secretary, and
as such had appointed
thousands of officials
These officials helped
Stalin gain complete
control over the
By 1929, Stalin had removed Trotsky, the original Bolsheviks, and
anyone who threatened his personal power and made himself
the powerful dictator of the Soviet Union.
Trotsky fled to Mexico, where he was tracked down and
assassinated in 1940, on Stalin’s orders.
The Stalinist Era began a time of radical changes in the Soviet Union.
In 1928, Stalin ended the NEP and instituted the First Five-Year Plan.
The Five-Year Plans set clear
economic goals for five-year
periods. The plans emphasized
rapid industrialization and
production of capital goods and
greatly increased the output of
heavy machinery and
production of oil and steel.
The Five-Year Plans, however, took a heavy toll
on the Russian people.
Urban housing for millions of workers was
terrible. Wages declined.
The government dealt with these problems by using propaganda to
“Enemies of the Five Year Plan.”
The Landowner glares like a ferocious
The Kulak [rich peasant] snorts through his
The habitual drunk boozes his woes away
The [village] priest frantically whoops and
The corrupt journalist spits and hisses
The capitalist sharpens his tusks
The Menshevik rages like a madman
The White Soldier effs and blinds.
These dogs that have not been thrown into
Everyone defending the bad old ways -
Put an evil curse on the Five-Year Plan
And declare war on it.
They threaten its disruption, realizing
That it spells their utter ruination.
Stalin also collectivized
Collectivization was a
system in which the
government took over
ownership of private
farms and had the
peasants work them.
Many peasants resisted by hoarding food and killing livestock.
Stalin responded by increasing the number of farms in the program.
Those who resisted Stalin’s
programs were sent to Siberian
gulag forced labor camps.
During the early 1930s, millions of Russians starved to death due to food
shortages from collectivization.
Stalin conducted Great Purges of Old Bolsheviks, Red Army officers,
and others, most of whom were executed. The purges spared no one.
Stalin had people killed by the
secret police removed from
history books and
photographs as if they never
Gradually, the official history
of revolution was rewritten to
be a story about just two men:
Lenin and Stalin.
The true history of Stalin’s
reign will always remain
shrouded in mystery and
Stalin’s harsh policies
transformed the Soviet
Union from a
nation to an industrial
to fight in the Second
policies and purges may
have killed as many as
25 million Soviet