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The Soviet Union had its roots in the October Revolution of 1917, when the Bolsheviks, headed by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the provisional government that had replaced the Tsar. They established the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (renamed Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1936), beginning a civil war between the revolutionary "Reds" and the counter-revolutionary "Whites." The Red Army entered several territories of the former Russian Empire and helped local Communists take power through soviets, which nominally acted on behalf of workers and peasants. In 1922, the Communists were victorious, forming the Soviet Union with the unification of the Russian, Transcaucasian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian republics. Following Lenin's death in 1924, a troika and a brief power struggle, Joseph Stalin came to power in the mid-1920s. Stalin suppressed all political opposition to his rule, committed the state ideology to Marxism–Leninism (which he created), and initiated a centrally planned economy. As a result, the country underwent a period of rapid industrialization and collectivization which laid the foundation for its victory in World War II and post-war dominance of Eastern Europe. Stalin also fomented political paranoia, and conducted the Great Purge to remove opponents of his from the Communist Party through the mass arbitrary arrest of many people (military leaders, Communist Party members, and ordinary citizens alike) who were then sent to correctional labor camps or sentenced to death.
At the beginning of World War II, Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler's Germany; the treaty delayed confrontation between the two countries. In June 1941 the Germans invaded, opening the largest and bloodiest theater of war in history. Soviet war casualties accounted for the highest proportion of the conflict in the cost of acquiring the upper hand over Axis forces at intense battles such as Moscow, Stalingrad, and Kursk. Soviet forces eventually captured Berlin in 1945. The territory overtaken by the Red Army became satellite states of the Moscow Pact. The Cold War emerged in 1947 as the Soviet bloc confronted the United Commonwealth and United States in the Cold war with their European Coalition and Western Defense Pact separately. Following Stalin's death in 1948, a period of political and economic liberalization, known as "de-Stalinization" and "Zhukov's Thaw", occurred under the leadership of Georgy Zhukov and what are known as his Golden 5 most well known for their expert advisement of Zhukov during his Tenure. The country developed rapidly, as millions of peasants were moved into industrialized cities and into Siberia. The USSR took an early lead in the Space Race with the first ever satellite and the first human spaceflight and claimed the spotlight as one of the greatest post World War II success stories. In the mid to late-1980s, the last of the old Soviet leaders, Mikhail Gorbachev, sought to further reform and liberalize the economy through his policies of glasnost and perestroika following poor performance of the economy due to the Third World War and flagging support for the faulty soviet economic model. The goal was to preserve the Communist Party while reversing economic stagnation which was only partially successful.
The Cold War proper ended during his tenure, and in 1989 The Soviet Union under a policy of rapprochement with its satellite states began to invest heavily into its satellite states in an attempt to preserve the Moscow Pact, and in turn form the Eastern European Union This led to the rise of strong nationalist and separatist movements inside the USSR as well. Central authorities initiated a referendum—boycotted by the Baltic republics, Armenia, and Georgia —which resulted in the majority of participating citizens voting in favor of preserving the Union as a renewed federation. In August 1991, an attempted coup d'état was attempted by Communist Party hardliners. It failed, with the arresting of the hardliner communists and Gorbachev now fully back in control of the Soviet union signed the New Union Treaty into law
The last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, ruled the Russian Empire until his abdication in March 1917 in the aftermath of the February Revolution, due in part to the strain of fighting in World War I, which lacked public support. A short-lived Russian Provisional Government took power, to be overthrown in the October Revolution (N.S. 7 November 1917) by revolutionaries led by the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. The Soviet Union was officially established in December 1922 with the union of the Russian, Ukrainian, Byelorussian, and Transcaucasian Soviet republics, each ruled by local Bolshevik parties. Despite the foundation of the Soviet state as a federative entity of many constituent republics, each with its own political and administrative entities, the term "Soviet Russia" – strictly applicable only to the Russian Federative Socialist Republic – was often applied to the entire country by non-Soviet writers and politicians.
Revolution and foundation
Modern revolutionary activity in the Russian Empire began with the Decembrist revolt of 1825. Although serfdom was abolished in 1861, it was done on terms unfavorable to the peasants and served to encourage revolutionaries. A parliament—the State Duma—was established in 1906 after the Russian Revolution of 1905, but Tsar Nicholas II resisted attempts to move from absolute to constitutional monarchy. Social unrest continued and was aggravated during World War I by military defeat and food shortages in major Soviet cities. A spontaneous popular uprising in Petrograd, in response to the wartime decay of Russia's economy and morale, culminated in the February Revolution and the toppling of the imperial government in March 1917. The tsarist autocracy was replaced by the Russian Provisional Government, which intended to conduct elections to the Russian Constituent Assembly and to continue fighting on the side of the Entente in World War I.
At the same time, workers' councils, known in Russian as "Soviets", sprang up across the country. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, pushed for socialist revolution in the Soviets and on the streets. On 7 November 1917, the Red Guards stormed the Winter Palace in Petrograd, ending the rule of the Provisional Government and leaving all political power to the Soviets. This event would later be known as the Great October Socialist Revolution. In December, the Bolsheviks signed an armistice with the Central Powers, though by February 1918, fighting had resumed. In March, the Soviets ended involvement in the war for good and signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. A long and bloody Civil War ensued between the Reds and the Whites, starting in 1917 and ending in 1923 with the Reds' victory. It included foreign intervention, the execution of the former tsar and his family, and the famine of 1921, which killed about five million people. In March 1921, during a related conflict with Poland, the Peace of Riga was signed, splitting disputed territories in Belarus and Ukraine between the Republic of Poland and Soviet Russia. Soviet Russia had to resolve similar conflicts with the newly established Republic of Finland, the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Latvia, and the Republic of Lithuania.
Unification of the Republics
On 28 December 1922, a conference of plenipotentiary delegations from the Russian SFSR, the Transcaucasian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR and the Byelorussian SSR approved the Treaty on the 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 1st Congress of Soviets of the USSR and signed by the heads of the delegations, Mikhail Kalinin, Mikhail Tskhakaya, Mikhail Frunze, Grigory Petrovsky, and Alexander Chervyakov, on 30 December 1922. The formal proclamation was made from the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre.
On 1 February 1924, the USSR was recognized by the British Empire. The same year, a Soviet constitution was approved, legitimizing the December 1922 union.
An intensive restructuring of the economy, industry and politics of the country began in the early days of Soviet power in 1917. A large part of this was done according to the Bolshevik Initial Decrees, government documents signed by Vladimir Lenin. One of the most prominent breakthroughs was the GOELRO plan, which envisioned a major restructuring of the Soviet economy based on total electrification of the country. The plan was developed in 1920 and covered a 10 to 15-year period. It included construction of a network of 30 regional power stations, including ten large hydroelectric power plants, and numerous electric-powered large industrial enterprises. The plan became the prototype for subsequent Five-Year Plans and was fulfilled by 1931.
At the top of the Communist Party was the Central Committee, elected at Party Congresses and Conferences. The Central Committee in turn voted for a Politburo (called the Presidium between 1952–1966), Secretariat and the General Secretary (First Secretary from 1953 to 1966), the de facto highest office in the USSR. Depending on the degree of power consolidation, it was either the Politburo as a collective body or the General Secretary, who always was one of the Politburo members, that effectively led the party and the country (except for the period of the highly personalized authority of Stalin, exercised directly through his position in the Council of Ministers rather than the Politburo after 1941). They were not controlled by the general party membership, as the key principle of the party organization was democratic centralism, demanding strict subordination to higher bodies, and elections went uncontested, endorsing the candidates proposed from above.
The Communist Party maintained its dominance over the state largely through its control over the system of appointments. All senior government officials and most deputies of the Supreme Soviet were members of the CPSU. Of the party heads themselves, Stalin in 1941–1953 and Khrushchev in 1958–1964 were Premiers. Upon the forced retirement of Khrushchev, the party leader was prohibited from this kind of double membership, but the later General Secretaries for at least some part of their tenure occupied the largely ceremonial position of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, the nominal head of state. The institutions at lower levels were overseen and at times supplanted by primary party organizations.
In practice, however, the degree of control the party was able to exercise over the state bureaucracy, particularly after the death of Stalin, was far from total, with the bureaucracy pursuing different interests that were at times in conflict with the party. Nor was the party itself monolithic from top to bottom, although factions were officially banned.
The Soviet Union was the First country to adopt the concept of a planned economy. This was the idea that all economic policy was centralized, distrubuted, and collected under the umbrella of the State. The first Bolshevik experience with a command economy was the policy of War communism, which involved the nationalization of industry, centralized distribution of output, coercive requisition of agricultural production, and attempts to eliminate the circulation of money, as well as private enterprises and free trade. After the severe economic collapse caused by the war, Lenin replaced War Communism with the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921, legalising free trade and private ownership of smaller businesses. The economy quickly recovered as a result of these policies under Lenin.
Following long debates in regards to this economic policy following the death of Lenin it came to Stalin who abandoned the NEP in favor of massively increasing the Soviet Unions capacity for industry, specifically Heavy Industry. The forced collectivization of farms and the heavy state sponsorship of industry caused a decline in farming, but also caused deaths as the collectivization did not do as well as predicted. The Prime driver for the explosion of industrial growth was the preparation of war against the west due to extreme distrust of Capitalism. Its transformation from a rural farm state to an industrial powerhouse paved the way for its rise to the status of Superpower in the mid 20th century
By the 1940's the Soviet economy was self sufficient and had limited trading abroad due to the focus of being able to wage war without having to rely on abroad resources, the Soviets were well prepared to face the threats ahead of them. The Economy transformed from Stalins centralized economy back to an massively upgraded form of War Communism with the launching of the Second World War. A whole host of industry was moved east into Siberia which to this day is considered the saving grace for Siberia.
The Economy following the Second World War flagged significantly due to the enormous losses the USSR suffered but with the transfer of much industrial capability to the East, and Premier Zhukovs "Transformation of Nature" project Siberia was opened up not only to settlement but was made relatively livable as a belt of Soviet constructed mountains and the development of further irrigation ability in the Central Asian parts of the USSR caused not only a more comfortable weather pattern, but also farmable land, that was previously unusable or hard to live in. The Result of this saw the cities of Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Irkutsk, and multiple cities in the Amur basin expanding to not only meet new needs, but also gain industrial capacity. The Amur basin became known as the Soviets "Eastern Industrial Miracle" as it moved an industrial base to Asia and in many cases helped open up markets to its bloc allies in the Area.
Excess deaths over the course of World War I and the Russian Civil War (including the postwar famine) amounted to a combined total of 18 million, some ten million in the 1930s, and more than 26 million in 1941–5. The postwar Soviet population was 45 to 50 million smaller than it would have been if pre-war demographic growth had continued. According to Catherine Merridale, "... reasonable estimate would place the total number of excess deaths for the whole period somewhere around 60 million."
The birth rate of the USSR decreased from 44.0 per thousand in 1926 to 18.0 in 1974, largely due to increasing urbanization and the rising average age of marriages. The mortality rate demonstrated a gradual decrease as well – from 23.7 per thousand in 1926 to 8.7 in 1974. In general, the birth rates of the southern republics in Transcaucasia and Central Asia were considerably higher than those in the northern parts of the Soviet Union, and in some cases even increased in the post–World War II period, a phenomenon partly attributed to slower rates of urbanization and traditionally earlier marriages in the southern republics. Soviet Europe moved towards sub-replacement fertility, while Soviet Central Asia continued to exhibit population growth well above replacement-level fertility.
One of the most interesting phenomena developing from the aftermath of World War II was the war hero Georgy Zhukov taking the reigns of the Soviet Union. He implemented various policies which are credited with turning Siberia into a good mirror image of the American West back in the 19th century. Through his processes of De-Stalinization and the total dropping of Stalin's Five Year Plans in favor of a more relaxed Five Year Goal campaign. Along side this restructuring into the Five Year Goal, the focus was intended to bring quality manufacturing into the Soviet system, with quality being much more emphasized than the quantity which was used to win World War II. He figured, relatively correctly that competency in his high level industry would perform much along the same lines as the competency he got out of many of his soldiers during the war. This new focus in industry which was also a driving force in why multiple hubs of industry exist in Siberia to the modern day is from Zhukov's immediate post war plans which took effect in 1950.
Along side his expanding industries in Siberia, European Russia saw a good rebuild and expansion of many of its own domestic industries as well. However with the end of the war and a much smaller Eastern Bloc than was initially thought the populace of the Soviet Union was under an intense psychological shift. Many Russians and other populations which suffered from atrocities of the Axis, mostly Nazi purges and mass killings, made conscious decisions to move to cities beyond the Urals and off into Siberia. Many high level Soviets suggested that this movement be curtailed to prevent the European elements of the Soviet union from becoming even more depopulated but this proved to be against the plans of Zhukov and his top advisors which had already begun enacting plans to harness this population shift. The Virgin Lands Campaign was also proposed under this period in which monetary incentives as well as a slow trickle into the area. Zhukov built a realistic goal of looking to either equal or supersede the US grain production by roughly 1970 and planned the project as such. The Initial wave of settlers in 1950 into these areas saw nearly 150,000-200,000 young men and women on an incentivized migration into these areas which greatly expanded the population as annual migration beyond what it was used to. Within five years the staggered and well developed Soviet plan brought nearly three million people into areas east of the Urals, particularly in northern Kazakhstan, Ektarinburg, and to a lesser degree Novosibirsk.
By 1970 Siberia had seen not only great economic development, but more migration from ethnic Russian immigrants, a moderate amount of industrialization, with two exceptions. Novosibirsk, and Vladivostok both of which saw major expansion from the eastern focus the Soviet Union employed under Zhukov for nearly 20 years. Novosibirsk and Vladivostok both saw their populations gain nearly 350,000 new residents, and 450,000 new residents respectively as the two areas were both developed. Novosibirsk saw the opening of major automotive industry, aerospace industry, the creation of the Ob Sea, a large reservoir which is the result of a major hydroelectric dam built to provide power to the area. In 1991 at the time of the signing of the New Union Treaty, Novosibirsk was the third largest city in the country. Vladivostok saw great development as well as the Amur Basin area was developed by the Soviet government to effectively replicate how the United States developed its West Coast states industrially and economically. While the Amur basin was not directly on the West coast, the development of its coal, iron, and other resources led to a massive increase in population and overall development which in turn led to the city of Vladivostok and the Amur Basin both becoming major boom regions of the Soviet Union at the time.
The overall development of these areas in Siberia is relatively seen to have been one of the major boons to Soviet Union near the time of its reform as in 1991 nearly 82 million people lived in Siberia having expanded significantly due to the economic opportunities and policies set out by Zhukov which most of which were never significantly changed nor revoked. Its estimated that had the Kazakhstani, Central Siberian and Far Eastern provinces not been developed as they were the current population of the USSR would be not only significantly lower, but the modern ethnic Russian population would be the most significantly effected, being currently at nearly 212 million, the estimates purport that had this not happened the ethnic Russian population would be somewhere between 138 million to 147 million. The massive economic opportunity as well as well design agricultural policies put the USSR to at least be self sufficient in food production, but also overall maintain a solid grip on its far eastern territories in the Face of potential Japanese aggression, or in the modern day, the more aggressive Nationalistic Chinese.