The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Russian: Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik), abbreviated to USSR (Russian: СССР SSSR), commonly called as the Soviet Union (Russian: Советский Союз Sovetsky Soyuz) and rarely as Soviet Russia (Russian: Советская Россия Sovetskaya Rossiya), is a constitutionally socialist state in Eurasia that ruled under one-party government of the Soviet Communist Party and consists of 17 Soviet republics with Moscow as its capital.
The Soviet Union is the largest country in the world and shares land borders with Scandinavia, Finland, Estonia and Lithuania (with the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic), Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Altishahr, Mongolia, Manchuria, and Korea. It also has maritime borders with Japanese island of Karafuto across the Strait of Tartary and with the U.S. state of Alaska across the Bering Strait. Extending across the entirety of Northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union spans nine time zones and incorporates a wide range of environments and landforms.
- 1 Politics and government
- 2 History
- 2.1 Revolution and foundation (1917)
- 2.2 Russian Civil War (1917−1923)
- 2.3 Nation-building (1920−1926)
- 2.4 Industrialization and collectivization (1926−1939)
- 2.5 Collective security policy (1933–1940)
- 2.6 Great Patriotic War (1941−1945)
- 2.7 Beginning of the Cold War (1945−1953)
- 2.8 The Ponomarenko Thaw (1953−1960)
- 2.9 Charkviani-Kosygin reforms (1960−1980)
- 2.10 Decade of Stagnation (1980−1990)
- 2.11 East-West Détente (1990−2002)
Politics and government
The word "Soviet" is derived from a Russian word sovét (сове́т) meaning council, assembly, advice, harmony, or concord, reflecting the ruling principle of council democracy of the Soviet Union. Council democracy is the antithesis of representative democracy practiced in several nations, such as parliamentary or presidential democracies, since it is practically based on direct democracy. The councils are directly responsible to their electors and are bound by their instructions. Delegates may accordingly be dismissed from their post at any time or be recalled by the voters.
In Soviet system, voters are organized in two basic units: the workers of a company and the inhabitants of a district. The industrial workers elect delegates among themselves to represent them in a worker's council for each company they worked in. Every worker's councils are intended to institute workers' self-management or workers' control of the workplace as a form of economic democracy. The inhabitants of a district elect delegates to a local soviet as public functionaries, which act as local legislators, government and courts in one. In contrast with representative democracies, there is no separation of powers in council democracy.
The delegates of the soviets are elected to the congress of the soviets on several levels: local, republican and union. At the residential and business level, delegates are sent to the local congress of soviets in plenary assemblies. These, in turn, can delegate members to the next level. The system of delegation continues to the supreme-level All-Union Congress of Soviets. The electoral processes thus take place from the bottom up. Every congress of soviets are bicameral in nature consists of two equal chambers, each represent residential and workplace delegates.
The All-Union Congress of Soviets is the highest state body of the Soviet Union. It is consisted of two chambers, each with equal legislative powers: the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of the Nationalities which are elected by the republican-level congresses of soviets. The Soviet of the Union consists of the delegates of workplace-based soviets, while the Soviet of the Nationalities consists of the delegates of residential-based soviets. When in recess, the All-Union Congress elects the Central Executive Committee from among its members to act on its behalf.
The Central Executive Committee consists of a chairman, 15 deputy chairmen (one from each republic), a secretary, and 20 members. The chairman is de jure head of state of the Soviet Union and colloquially referred as "Chief" (Староста, Starosta). The CEC appoints the members of Council of Ministers with the recommendation from majority of the deputies on the Congress. The Council of Ministers issues decrees and decisions that are binding throughout the Soviet Union. The chairman of the Council is synonymous with the office of head of government and referred as "Premier" (Премьер, Prem'yer).
Based on council democracy, the judiciary is not independent of the other branches of government. The Supreme Court of the Soviet Union supervises the lower courts and applies the law as established by the Constitution or as interpreted by the All-Union Congress. The Constitutional Oversight Committee reviews the constitutionality of laws and acts. The Soviet Union uses the inquisitorial system of Roman law, where the judge, procurator, and defense attorney collaborate to establish the truth.
The Soviet Union is also the first major nation to enumerate an ultimate aim toward a communist society within its constitution. The current Constitution of the Soviet Union, promulgated in 1946, specifies the leading role of the Communist Party within the Soviet society. It is described as the revolutionary vanguard of the working people to realize a communist society following the October Revolution. Anarchists, social democrats and other left-wing groups are allowed to participate in the elections of the soviets as independents, but are legally prohibited to organize themselves into political parties or any "counter-revolutionary organization".
Revolution and foundation (1917)
General dissatisfaction over the autocratic Tsarist regime of the Russian Empire and decline of war morale and national economy due to World War I culminated in the February Revolution of 1917 in Petrograd. The Tsar abdicated in March 1917 and was replaced by the Russian Provisional Government presided first by Prince Georgy Yevgenyevich Lvov, then Aleksandr Kerensky.
At the same time, the Socialists formed the rival political body: the workers' council, known in Russian as the "Soviet" (Russian: сове́т sovét). The formation of the Petrograd Soviet resulted to the emergence of dual power in the country. The Bolsheviks, under Leon Trotsky, quickly gained the power in the Petrograd Soviet. Returned from his exile in Switzerland, Bolshevik leader, Vladimir Lenin, wrote the April Theses that stressed the importance of Russian Revolution as a trigger for the international socialism and the need of the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia.
The conflict between two authorities erupted in July 1917 when the industrial workers and soldiers demanded the power be turned over to the Soviets. The demonstration was broken down by the Provisional Government and forced Lenin into hiding. In October 1917, Lenin returned from his hiding in Finland and directing the Red Guards to storm the Winter Palace, the seat of Russian Provisional Government. This event would later be known as the Great October Socialist Revolution. The Council of People's Commissars was established shortly afterward and acted as the highest executive body of Soviet Russia with Lenin as its chairman.
In December, the Bolsheviks signed an armistice with the Central Powers, though by February 1918, fighting had resumed. In March, Soviet Russia ended involvement in the war for good and signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, giving away much of the territories of the former Russian Empire to German Empire, in exchange for peace in World War I. Russia was officially renamed as the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic in 1918.
Russian Civil War (1917−1923)
Anti-Bolshevik forces from both right and left formed a loosely organized White Army and fought against the Bolshevik's Red Army in a long and bloody civil war from 1917 until 1923. In this war, the Red Army not only faced resistance from the White Army, but also from several independence movements in Finland, Malorussia, Belorussia, Baltic countries and Transcaucasian nations. Soviet Russia successfully defeated this resistances and maintained its own establishment, although had to recognize the sovereignty of Cisniprian Ukraine as the Ukrainian People's Republic in the Peace of Lwów in August 1920 and other newly independent nations, including Finland, Estonia, and Lithuania.
Through the political consolidations such as the decision of the World Congress of the Communist International in 1920 that stated there should be only one Communist Party in every country and the ban on internal factions in the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) at the Tenth Party Congress of 1921, the Communist Party gradually became the only legal political party in the Russian SFSR, and later in the Soviet Union, by 1922.
On December 28, 1922, the delegations from the Russian SFSR, the Transcaucasian SFSR, the Malorussian SSR, the Byelorussian SSR and the Latvian SSR approved the Treaty of Creation of the USSR and the Declaration of the Creation of the USSR, forming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. These two documents were confirmed by the first Convocation of the Congress of Soviets of the USSR and signed by the heads of the delegations Mikhail Kalinin, Mikhail Tskhakaya, Mikhail Frunze and Grigory Petrovsky, Aleksandr Chervyakov and Oto Karklins, respectively, on December 30, 1922.
This newly-established union was then internationally recognized for the first time by Germany through the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922 where both the Soviet Union and Germany mutually canceled all pre-war debts and renounced war claims. This move later followed by the United Kingdom that gave the USSR de jure recognition on February 1, 1924. In the same year, the 1924 Soviet Constitution was approved, legitimizing the December 1922 union.
As a first step toward economic development, Soviet Russia launched the plan for the country's total electrification, called the GOELRO plan, in 1920. The plan was implemented for the 10 to 15-year period and envisaged a major restructuring of the Soviet economy based on electrification, the predominant growth of heavy industry and the rational location of the industry over the entire nation. It included construction of a network of 30 regional power plants, including ten large hydroelectric power plants, and numerous electric-powered large industrial enterprises.
After the economic policy of War Communism during the Russian Civil War, as a prelude to fully developing socialism in the country, the Soviet government instituted the New Economic Policy (Новая экономическая политика, Novaya Ekonomicheskaya Politika). Small private enterprises were allowed and total food requisition in the countryside was replaced by a food tax. The state, on other side, maintained ownership of heavy industry such as the coal, iron, and metallurgical sectors along with the banking and financial components of the economy.
The New Economic Policy era saw a huge expansion of trade in the hands of full-time merchants, coinciding with rising living standards in both the city and the countryside. The break-up of the quasi-feudal landed estates of the Tsarist-era countryside also gave peasants their greatest incentives ever to maximize production. As a result, Soviet agriculture recovered more rapidly from civil war than its heavy industry. The Soviet Union eventually became the world's greatest producer of grain by 1920s.
Lenin died in January 21, 1924 and the power struggle within the Bolshevik Party followed aftermath. The party soon split between factions that competing for the leadership of the state and the party. Leon Trotsky, the War Commissar, was the most likely candidate to succeed Lenin in power at that time. However, the Union Premier, Lev Kamenev, and the Comintern leader, Grigory Zinoviev, were able to marginalize Trotsky at the 13th Party Conference in 1924.
The New Economic Policy that implemented in 1922 created a class of traders, called the "NEPmen," that viewed as class enemies by the Party. Consequently, the NEP became highly unpopular with some party members who saw it as a betrayal of Communism and wanted a fully planned economy instead. Kamenev and Zinoviev favored the abandonment of the Policy. Between 1925–1927, the government discontinued the majority of contracts with foreign enterprises. In 1926, the NEP was fully abandoned by the Soviet government. The Five-Year Plan for building a socialist economy was introduced; the state assumed control over all existing enterprises and undertook intensive industrialization.
Industrialization and collectivization (1926−1939)
Following the abandonment of NEP, collectivization of agriculture was introduced. In November 1929, the Central Committee decided to implement accelerated collectivization in the form of kolkhozes and sovkhozes. It aimed to accumulate the peasants' surplus product to fund the forced industrialization and consolidate the land into parcels that could be farmed by modern equipment. Despite the initial plans, collectivization, accompanied by the bad harvest of 1932–33, did not live up to expectations. Between 1929 and 1932 there was a massive fall in agricultural production resulting in famine in the countryside.
At the 17th Party Congress in 1934, the rightist Ulitnik (from ulitka, "snail/cochlea") faction led by Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov and Mikhail Tomsky, was joined by the centrist Goretsy ("highlanders") faction led by Sergo Ordzhonikidze, Sergei Kirov, and Anastas Mikoyan, to form the New Opposition. The Opposition accused Kamenev, Zinoviev, and Trotsky of the country's mismanagement that resulted in the massive 1932–1933 famine in which millions died. As a result, the triumvirate found themselves in a tiny minority and was marginalized. While Kamenev was re-elected to the Politburo, Zinoviev and Trotsky were demoted from full members to non-voting members.
Within weeks after the Congress, the Opposition wrested control of the party organization. Zinoviev was expelled from the Leningrad party command, recalled from his position in the city's soviet and replaced by Sergei Kirov, formerly a party leader from Baku. Initially a mid-level party bureaucrat, Kirov rose rapidly through the party ranks. By the end of 1930s, combined by his charismatic straightforward persona and personal power base at Leningrad, Kirov had become a leading figure of influential Goretnik faction and one of the party strongmen on the Politburo.
With the triumph of the Opposition, the collectivization was made voluntary, although not stopped or reversed, and the incentive system for peasants was partially reintroduced. Nikolai Kondratiev, the new chairman of the State Planning Committee, emphasized exports of agricultural produce with foreign nations to fund rapid industrialization. By 1939, the Soviet industry expanded rapidly, especially on the armaments industry. Further improvements were made in the country's communications, especially railways, which became faster and more reliable. Through the second wave of industrialization, the Soviet Union rapidly transformed from a largely agrarian nation consisting of peasants into an industrial superpower.
Collective security policy (1933–1940)
After its establishment, the Soviet Union initially struggled with foreign relations, being the first Communist-run country in the world. However, by 1933, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Japan, along with many other countries had recognized the Soviet government and established diplomatic ties. Germany was the Soviet Union's close ally at first in which both countries establishing trading relations as well as a secret military collaboration following the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo. The rise of Adolf Hitler in 1933, however, strained the relations between two countries.
With Kondratiev at the charge of economic planning, the government established foreign trades with the West and Asian nations, resulting to a shift in the Soviet foreign policy. Foreign Commissar Maxim Litvinov was the staunch proponent of Soviet-West cooperation. From 1934, the USSR started to pursue closer cooperation with the West. In September 1934, the Soviet Union joined the League of Nations. As the relationship with the United States improved, the Soviet government hired American specialists and foreign labours on industrial construction in the Soviet Far East to further massive industrialization. American instructors were also employed to teach the Soviet engineers and technicians the American industrial methods.
The rearmament of Germany following the rise of Adolf Hitler pushed the Soviet Union to pursue rapprochement with France. Despite ideological differences, both France and the Soviet Union formally restored diplomatic relations. In 1936, the two countries concluded a non-aggression pact, called the Litvinov-Laval Pact, and the Franco-Soviet Commercial Agreement. On another hand, France’s ally, the United Kingdom, was a bit skeptical about developing a closer relationship with the Soviet Union. Instead, the British attempted to appease Germany through the Munich Agreement in 1938, in hope that will avoid war between great powers.
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, on the false pretext that Poland had launched attacks on German territory; Lithuania followed by three days later. Sixteen days later, the Soviets invaded and annexed Cisniprian Ukraine into the Malorussian SSR as a pre-emptive effort against German expansionism. Warsaw surrendered to the Germans on October 1, with final pockets of resistance surrendering on October 16. After the direct borders between Germany and the Soviet Union were created, a non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR was signed, giving the Soviet Union an excuse to expand its influence in the Baltic.
By October 1939, the USSR and the Finnish-Estonian union exchanged diplomatic negotiations regarding the modification of borders between two entities. However, they were unable to find a common agreement between two governments. On November 30, 1939, the Red Army invaded Finland-Estonia, signaled the start of Winter War. Even though the Soviets had huge military superiority, the Finnish Army were able to defend their country about three and a half months. It ended on March 13, 1940 with the Moscow Peace Treaty. Finland lost the Karelian Isthmus and Estonia lost the Narva Isthmus to the Soviets after the war.
Great Patriotic War (1941−1945)
Bulgaria's extensive trade with the Soviets during the Battle of Bulgaria between 1940-1941 prolonged the Bulgarian-Romanian conflict and halted Axis advances toward the Crimea Sea. To eliminate the Soviet proxy participation, Hitler decided to drag the Soviet Union directly into the war. On June 22, 1941, Germany abruptly broke the non-aggression pact and invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. The invasion caught the entire Soviet leadership completely unprepared as they perceived it would be done either after Britain's fall or Bulgaria's defeat. At the wake of the invasion, Litvinov resigned on June 27, 1941 and Kirov formally assumed the posts of Premier.
Early weeks of the war were disastrous for the Soviets. The Soviet organizational command and control were disrupted within the first few hours of German attacks, paralyzing every level of command of the Red Army. As the Red Army withdrew, the Soviet government evacuated as much of the western regions' industry as it could. Factories were dismantled and transported away from the war-raged front to more remote areas of the Ural Mountains, Caucasus, Central Asia and southeastern Siberia. The retreating Red Army also initiated a scorched-earth policy by burning down villages, schools, and public buildings and executing any suspicious person and political prisoners.
German troops reached the outskirts of Moscow in December 1941, but failed to capture it, due to staunch Soviet defense and counterattacks. At the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942–43, the Red Army inflicted a crushing defeat on the German army. The Soviet forces soon launched massive counterattacks along the entire German line. By 1944, the Germans had been pushed out of the Soviet Union onto the banks of the Vistula river, just east of Prussia. With Marshal Georgy Zhukov attacking from Prussia, and Marshal Ivan Konev slicing Germany in half from the south, the fate of Nazi Germany was sealed. On May 2, 1945 the last German troops surrendered to the overjoyed Soviet troops in Berlin.
Beginning of the Cold War (1945−1953)
The Ponomarenko Thaw (1953−1960)
Charkviani-Kosygin reforms (1960−1980)
Following Ponomarenko's resignation, Kandid Charkviani rose as the leader of the Politburo. Together with Alexei Kosygin and Yuri Andropov, the three formed a core of new leadership. Charkviani decided to pursue further reforms and experimented with democratic elections at the lowest level of governance, declaring the return of "authentic Leninism" (подлинный Ленинизм podlinnyy Leninizm). The leaders first set out to stabilize the country and calm the society, a task which they were able to accomplish. In addition, they attempted to speed up economic growth, which had slowed considerably during Ponomarenko's last years in power.
Several electoral experiments were introduced by Charkviani in 1964 by reforming the ways to choose local district and village chiefs. Self-nomination and secret ballot were employed in candidate selection two years later to promote competition. In 1965, Kosygin initiated several reforms to decentralize the Soviet economy. The government started to allow private corporations to be formed in certain limit while at the same time introduced profit-making and work incentives to state enterprises. This 'reformist' trend had examples and some mutual reinforcement in Eastern Europe, especially in East Germany and Illyria.
By the 1970s, the Soviet government adopted more detailed and scientific economic planning by using computer systems for simulation and calculation. In 1970, the Council of Ministers funded OGAS, a nationwide computer network, to optimize economic planning. OGAS was a gigantic intranet system with interlinked computerized system of resource allocation based on the principles of cybernetics. Partnered with the UK-based International Computers Limited, the government also launched the ES EVM mainframe in 1971, based on ICL System 4 computer.
Diplomatically, the USSR attempted to ease strained relations with the West. West German recognition of East Germany and French yielding of its sector to East Berlin were seen as the Soviet's diplomatic successes.
Compared with previous eras, this period saw high economic growth and soaring prosperity in the Soviet society. Limitation to civil liberties began to be lifted up as the Party gradually lessened its control over mass media and censorship. The Soviet Union became more open to Western culture during this period with the removal of official ban on jazz music, resulting many records became available in stores from the 1960s and 1970s. Admiration of modern music, especially the rock-n-roll wave, met more tolerance and little active resistance from official ideology. However, mass arrests and the involuntary psychiatric commitment of dissidents also became more common as carried by KGB chief Yuri Andropov.
Decade of Stagnation (1980−1990)
East-West Détente (1990−2002)