The Soviet Experiment part one will be the first of three articles that details the rise, fall, and aftermath of the Soviet Union. Some important themes to consider throughout; nationalism, resistance and dictatorship, equality, and communism itself. One of the most important struggles that occured in the USSR was the conflict over the economy: should the Soviet Union have a highly socialized economy, but permit small business or have a complete command economy?
In 1914 the Russian Empire under the rule of Tsar Nicholas II entered World War One on the side of the allied powers. They came to the aid of Serbia (who they had a diplomatic and military alliance with) this alliance would prove fatal to the Russian Empire. Millians of Russian soldiers died during the conflict, there were terrible food shortages in the major cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. It was during this period that the Germans released Lenin from captivity and sent him to Russia to organize. The Germans knew that Lenin was highly influential and that there had been a major communist resistance in the Russian Empire for decades.
As the Germans marched closer and closer to Moscow, and the deathtoll rose on the front, Tsar Nicholas was forced to resign. The October Revolution of 1917 overthrew the democratic provisional goverment, who was continuing the war. Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized power and negotiated a truce with the Germans. As the war in europe slowly died down, the Bolsheviks became engaged with Civil War against Tsarist factions and Russian Generals who were attempting to create a militay dictatorship. By appealing to the workers the Bolsheviks eventually triumped in 1922.
Lenin would become the first leader of the USSR, but would die shortly after the creation of the new state due to a wound he had recieved during an attempted assassination. After his death there was no clear leadership, the USSR was under the control of the Politburo. Some in the Politburo advocated following Lenin's NEP policy (New Economic Policy) which would allow small businesses to remain independent and farmers could recieve fair wages. The major corporations and industry were placed under the command of the USSR and nationalized. The though was that eventually all businesses would be owned by the state if the state started at the top and worked its way down.
However, during the 1920's Joseph Stalin began to consilidate his position as General Secretary of the USSR, by removing opposition. By 1929 he was in full command of the Politburo. He moved to end rights that were extended to women, thus ending the brief period of equality that they enjoyed, and conslidated all businesses under the USSR. This led to massive famines in Ukraine where millions died. Opposition to his leadership in the Central Committee of the USSR were removed and Stalin initated a purge of military officers in the 1930s that killed tens of thousands of high ranking officers. Millions were sent to work camps in Siberia and simply disappeared.
During the same time Stalin created a Centrally Planned Economy. Central Planners mapped out everything that would be built and made in the USSR, these plans were called 5 year plans. Impossible quotas were given to state industries and many were not met. If the quota wasn't met then the managers were often deported to Siberia. During this period many farmers and agrarian workers migrated to the cities, industry grew and the USSR transitioned from being an agrarian pesant state to a heavy industrial state (second only to the USA)
Transnationalism in this period was heavily oppressed. Stalin did not want any nationalist uprisings to begin in any province of the USSR. Many regions such as Georgia were flooded with Russians and the offical language of the USSR was russian even though there 15 provinces in the USSR and some didn't speak Russian such as Ukraine. Any resistance leaders were crushed and sent to work camps. In 1939 Stalin and Hitler signed a truce which would effectively keep the USSR out of WWII until the USSR was invaded during operation barbarosa.
WWII consumed Europe. And, by 1941 all of the major Western European powers, except for the UK were under the control of Nazi Germany. Instead of focusing on removing the last threat to Germany, the UK, Hitler consilidated his forces and attacked the USSR in 1941. Between 1941 and 1945 the USSR would experience heavy losses, estimated around 20 million deaths. However, the USSR would eventually triumph and this triumph would be known in the USSR as the Great Patriotic War. The war would given Stalin and the Communist Party legitmacy that they had not had to this period. The Great Patriotic War legitimized the Communist Party as the ruling party, as the party that led the USSR to victory against overwelming odds and technology. The war would be remembered not as the triumph of individual soldiers, but the triumph of the military and industrial supremacy that Joseph Stalin created. This would add a layer of nationality, a layer that all people in the USSR could relate too. The 1939 pact between Hitler and Stalin was forgotten, but what was remembered was the Joseph Stalin's leadership.
The post-war period between 1946-1953 was the last years of Joseph Stalin. The purges of the 1930s did not begin again, this period was focused on creating the Soviet myth that would unite a nation. Stalin would die in 1953, and his succesor Nikita Khrushchev would denounce Stalin in his 1956 "secret speech" This speech would begin the process of de-stalinization.
Go to part two now!