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The Soviet Union is the largest country in the world and shares land borders with Scandinavia, Finland, Estonia (with the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic), Lithuania and Poland (both with the Rykovgrad German Autonomous Oblast), Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Uyghurstan, 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.
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 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 the right-wing and the left-wing 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, the Ukraine, Belorussia, Baltic countries and Transcaucasian nations. Soviet Russia successfully defeated this resistances and maintained its own establishment, although had to recognize the sovereignty of the Ukraine in the Peace of Lwów in August 1920 and other newly independent nations, including Finland, Estonia, and Latvia.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 Soviet Russia, and later in the Soviet Union, by 1922.
On December 28, 1922, the delegations from the Russian SFSR, the Transcaucasian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR and the Belorussian 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, Grigory Petrovsky, and Aleksandr Chervyakov on December 30, 1922.
This newly-established union was then internationally recognized first by Germany through the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922 where both the Soviet Union and Germany mutually cancelled 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.
Nation-building (1920−1926)As a first step toward economic development, the government of the RSFSR launched the plan for the total electrification of Russia, called the GOELRO plan, in 1920. The plan was implemented for 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 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 (Russian: 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 state 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 People's Commissar of War, was the most likely candidate to succeed Lenin in power at that time. However, the Premier of the USSR, Lev Kamenev, and the Chairman of the Comintern Executive Committee, 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 Bolshevik Party. Consequently, the NEP became highly unpopular with some party members who saw it as a betrayal of Communist principles and wanted a fully planned economy instead. Kamenev and Zinoviev were in favor of the abandonment of the New Economic Policy. Between 1925–1927, the Soviet government discontinued majority of contracts with foreign enterprises. In 1926, the New Economic Policy 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 an intensive program of industrialization.
Industrialization and collectivization (1926−1939)Following the abandonment of New Economic Policy, the policy of collectivization of agriculture was introduced. In November 1929, the Central Committee decided to implement accelerated collectivization in the form of kolkhozes and sovkhozes. Collectivization sought to modernize Soviet agriculture, consolidating the land into parcels that could be farmed by modern equipment using the latest scientific methods of agriculture. Despite the initial plans, collectivization, accompanied by the bad harvest of 1932–1933, 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 New Opposition was formed between the rightist pro-NEP faction led by Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov and Mikhail Tomsky and the Caucasus-based moderate faction led by Sergo Ordzhonikidze, Sergei Kirov and Anastas Mikoyan. With the support from the New Opposition, Bukharin and Kirov openly criticized Kamenev, Zinoviev and Trotsky for the mismanagement of the country that resulted to the massive 1932–1933 Soviet famine in which millions died. As result, the triumvirate found themselves in a tiny minority and were soundly defeated. While Kamenev was re-elected to the Politburo, Zinoviev and Trotsky were demoted from full members to non-voting members.Within weeks of the Congress, the New Opposition wrested control of the party organization. Zinoviev was expelled from the command of the Leningrad party committee and was replaced by Sergei Kirov, former Azerbaijani party leader. Initially a mid-level party bureaucrat, Kirov rose rapidly through the party ranks. By mid-1930s, combined by his charismatic straightforward persona and influential power base at Leningrad, Kirov had became one of party strongmen on the Politburo by assuming the position as the head of Party Control Commission–Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate which responsible for the state internal security and control over the secret police.
Despite the defeat of triumvirate on the 1934 Party Congress, the policies of intensive industrialization and agricultural collectivization were still retained by new chairman of the State Planning Committee, Yevgeny Preobrazhensky, with supports by party moderates such as Kirov and Ordzhonikidze. Between 1934 and 1939, the Soviet industry expanded extremely rapidly, especially on the armaments industry. Further improvements were made in country's communications, especially railways, which became faster and more reliable. Through the second wave of industrialization under Preobrazhensky's direction, the Soviet Union rapidly transformed from a largely agrarian nation consisting of peasants into an industrial superpower.
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 and the USSR instead pursued closer cooperation with the West. In September 1934, the Soviet Union joined the League of Nations.
With the rearmament of Germany following the rise of Adolf Hitler, the Soviet Union decided 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 other hand, France’s ally, the United Kingdom, was a bit skeptical about developing 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.
By 1938, the Soviet Bolshevik Party was divided along pro- and anti-war stances. At the 18th All-Union Party Congress in 1939, the pro-war factions secured majority. Rykov was immediately dismissed by pro-war factions as the All-Union premier in May 1939, although retained his position as the premier of the Russian SFSR. Maxim Litvinov succeeded Rykov as the country’s premier despite given up his post as the foreign minister for more hawkish Molotov. Kirov was also included in the new government as the minister of heavy industry. However, with Litvinov’s focus on international relations, Kirov thus gained de facto leadership over the government.
World War II (1939−1945)
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, on the false pretext that Poland had launched attacks on German territory. Sixteen days later, the Soviets invaded and annexed the Ukraine 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. Finland and Estonia rejected Soviet territorial demands and were invaded by the Soviet Union in November 1939. The resulting Winter War ended in March 1940 with Finnish and Estonian concessions.
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 USSR's 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 occur either after the fall of Britain or the defeat of Bulgaria. At the wake of invasion, Litvinov resigned on June 27, 1941 with Kirov formally assuming the posts of All-Union Premier and People's Commissar for Defense.