The Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union

[Excerpted from The Soviet Union-- A Country Study, Raymond E. Zickel, ed. (Washington, D. C.: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, 1989).]

The Strains of the War Effort and the Weakening of Tsarism

The onset of World War I had a drastic effect on domestic policies and a weak regime. A show of national unity had accompanied Russia's entrance into the war, but military reversals and the government's incompetence soon soured the attitude of much of the population. German control of the Baltic Sea and GermanOttoman control of the Black Sea severed Russia from most of its foreign supplies and potential markets. In addition, inept Russian preparations for war and ineffective economic policies hurt the country financially, logistically, and militarily. Inflation became a serious problem. Because of inadequate matériel support for military operations, the War Industries Committee was formed to ensure that necessary supplies reached the front. But army officers quarreled with civilian leaders, seized administrative control of front areas, and would not work with the committee. The central government disliked independent support activities organized by zemstvos and various cities. The Duma quarreled with the bureaucracy, and center and center-left deputies eventually formed the Progressive Bloc, which was aimed at forming a genuinely constitutional government.

After Russian military reversals in 1915, Nicholas II went to the front to assume nominal leadership of the army. His German-born wife, Alexandra, and Rasputin, a debauched faith healer, who was able to stop the bleeding of the hemophiliac heir to the throne, tried to dictate policy and make ministerial appointments. Although their true influence has been debated, they undoubtedly decreased the regime's prestige and credibility.

While the central government was hampered by court intrigue, the strain of the war began to cause popular unrest. In 1916 high food prices and a lack of fuel caused strikes in some cities. Workers, who won for themselves separate representative sections of the War Industries Committee, used them as organs of political opposition. The countryside was becoming restive. Soldiers, mainly newly recruited peasants who had been used as cannon fodder in the inept conduct of the war, were increasingly insubordinate.

The situation continued to deteriorate. In an attempt to alleviate the morass at the tsar's court, a group of nobles murdered Rasputin in December 1916. But his death brought little change. In the winter of 1917, however, deteriorating rail transport caused acute food and fuel shortages, which resulted in riots and strikes. Troops were summoned to quell the disorders. Although troops had fired on demonstrators and saved tsarism in 1905, in 1917 the troops in Petrograd (the name of St. Petersburg after 1914) turned their guns over to the angry crowds. Support for the tsarist regime simply evaporated in 1917, ending three centuries of Romanov rule.

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The February Revolution

By early 1917, the existing order in Russia verged on collapse. The country's involvement in World War I had already cost millions of lives and caused severe disruption in Russia's backward economy. In an effort to reverse the steadily worsening military situation, Emperor Nicholas II commanded Russian forces at the front, abandoning the conduct of government in Petrograd (St. Petersburg before 1914; Leningrad after 1924) to his unpopular wife and a series of incompetent ministers. As a consequence of these conditions, the morale of the people rapidly deteriorated.

The spark to the events that ended tsarist rule was ignited on the streets of Petrograd in February 1917 (according to the old Julian calendar then in use in Russia). Provoked by shortages of food and fuel, crowds of hungry citizens and striking workers began spontaneous rioting and demonstrations on March 7 (February 23, according to the Julian calendar). Local reserve troops, called in to suppress the riots, refused to fire on the crowds, and some soldiers joined the workers and other rioters. On March 12, with tsarist authority in Petrograd rapidly disintegrating, two separate bodies emerged, each claiming to represent the Russian people. One was the Executive Committee of the Duma, which the Duma had established in defiance of the tsar's orders of March 11. The other body was the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, founded on the model of the St. Petersburg Soviet of 1905. With the consent of the Petrograd Soviet, the Executive Committee of the Duma organized the Provisional Government on March 15. Delegates of the new government met Nicholas that evening at Pskov, where rebellious railroad workers had stopped the imperial train as the tsar attempted to return to the capital. Advised by his generals that he lacked the support of the country, Nicholas informed the delegates that he was abdicating in favor of his brother, Grand Duke Michael. When Michael in turn refused the throne on March 16 (March 3), the rule of tsars and emperors in Russia came to an end.

The Period of Dual Power

The collapse of the monarchy left two rival political institutions--the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet-- to share administrative authority over the country. The Petrograd Soviet, drawing its membership from socialist deputies elected in factories and regiments, coordinated the activities of other soviets that sprang up across Russia at this time. The Petrograd Soviet was dominated by moderate socialists of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and by the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. The Bolshevik faction of the latter party provided the opposition. While representing the interests of Russia's working classes, the Petrograd Soviet at first did not seek to undermine the Provisional Government's authority directly. Nevertheless, the Petrograd Soviet's "Order No. 1" of March 14 (March 1) instructed soldiers and sailors to obey their officers and the government only if their orders did not contradict the decrees of the Petrograd Soviet, thereby effectively limiting the Provisional Government's control over the armed forces.

The Provisional Government, in contrast to the socialist Petrograd Soviet, chiefly represented the propertied classes. Headed by ministers of a moderate or liberal bent, the new government pledged to convene a constituent assembly that would usher in a new era of bourgeois democracy. In the meantime, the government granted unprecedented rights--full freedom of speech, press, and religion, as well as legal equality--to all citizens. The government did not take up the matter of land redistribution, however, leaving it for the constituent assembly. Even more damaging, the ministers favored keeping Russia's military commitments to its allies, a position that became increasingly unpopular as the war dragged on. The government suffered its first crisis in the "April Days," when demonstrations against the government's annexationist war aims forced two ministers to resign, leading to the appointment of moderate socialist Aleksandr Kerensky as war minister. Kerensky, quickly assuming de facto leadership of the government, ordered the army to launch a major offensive in June, which, after early successes, turned into a full-scale retreat in July.

While the Provisional Government grappled with foreign foes, the Bolsheviks, who were opposed to bourgeois democracy, gained new strength. Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, returned to Petrograd in April 1917 from his wartime residence in Switzerland. Although he had been born into a noble family, from his youth Lenin espoused the cause of the common workers. A committed revolutionary and pragmatic Marxist thinker, Lenin astounded the Bolsheviks already in Petrograd by his April Theses, boldly calling for the overthrow of the Provisional Government, the transfer of "all power to the soviets," and the expropriation of factories by workers and of land belonging to the church, the nobility, and the gentry by peasants. Lenin's dynamic presence quickly won the other Bolshevik leaders to his position, and the radicalized orientation of the Bolshevik faction attracted new members. Inspired by Lenin's slogans, crowds of workers, soldiers, and sailors took to the streets of Petrograd in July to wrest power from the Provisional Government. But the spontaneity of the "July Days" caught the Bolshevik leaders by surprise, and the Petrograd Soviet, controlled by moderate Mensheviks, refused to take power or enforce Bolshevik demands. After the uprising died down, the Provisional Government outlawed the Bolsheviks and jailed Leon Trotsky (Lev Trotskii, originally Lev Bronstein), an active Bolshevik leader. Lenin fled to Finland.

In the aftermath of the "July Days," conservatives sought to reassert order in society. The army's commander in chief, General Lavr Kornilov, who protested the influence of the soviets on both the army and the government, appeared as a counterrevolutionary threat to Kerensky, now prime minister. Kerensky dismissed Kornilov from his command, but Kornilov, disobeying the order, launched an extemporaneous revolt on September 10 (August 28). To defend the capital, Kerensky sought help from all quarters and relaxed his ban on Bolshevik activities. Railroad workers sympathetic to the Bolsheviks halted Kornilov's troop trains, and Kornilov soon surrendered, ending the only serious challenge to the Provisional Government from the right.

The Bolshevik Revolution

Although the Provisional Government survived the Kornilov revolt, popular support for the government faded rapidly as the national mood swung to the left in the fall of 1917. Workers took control of their factories through elected committees; peasants expropriated lands belonging to the state, church, nobility, and gentry; and armies melted away as peasant soldiers deserted to take part in the land seizures. The Bolsheviks, skillfully exploiting these popular trends in their propaganda, dominated the Petrograd Soviet and the Moscow Soviet by September, with Trotsky, freed from prison after the Kornilov revolt, now chairman of the Petrograd Soviet.

Realizing that the time was ripe for seizing power by armed force, Lenin returned to Petrograd in October and convinced a majority of the Bolshevik Central Committee, which had hoped to take power legally, to accept armed uprising in principle. Trotsky won the Petrograd garrison over to Soviet authority, depriving the Provisional Government of its main military support in Petrograd.

The actual insurrection--the Bolshevik Revolution--began on the morning of November 6 (October 24) when Kerensky ordered the Bolshevik press closed. Interpreting this action as a counterrevolutionary move, the Bolsheviks called on their supporters to defend the Petrograd Soviet. By evening the Bolsheviks controlled utilities and most government buildings in Petrograd, allowing Lenin to proclaim the downfall of the Provisional Government on the morning of November 7 (October 25). The Bolsheviks captured the Provisional Government's cabinet at its Winter Palace headquarters that night with hardly a shot fired in the government's defense. Kerensky left Petrograd to organize resistance, but his countercoup failed and he fled Russia. Bolshevik uprisings soon took place elsewhere; the Bolsheviks gained control of Moscow by November 15 (November 2). The Second Congress of Soviets, meeting in Petrograd on November 7 (October 25), ratified the Bolshevik takeover after moderate deputies (mainly Mensheviks and right-wing members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, or SRs) quit the session. The remaining Bolsheviks and left-wing SRs declared the soviets the governing bodies of Russia and named the Council of People's Commissars (Sovet narodnykh kommissarov--Sovnarkom) to serve as the cabinet. Lenin became chairman of this council. Trotsky took the post of commissar of foreign affairs; Stalin, a Georgian, became commissar of nationalities. By acting decisively while their opponents vacillated, the Bolsheviks succeeded in effecting their coup d'état.

On coming to power, the Bolsheviks issued a series of revolutionary decrees that ratified peasants' seizures of land and workers' control of industry; abolished legal class privileges; nationalized the banks; and set up revolutionary tribunals in place of the courts. At the same time, the revolutionaries now constituting the regime worked to secure power inside and outside the government. Deeming Western forms of parliamentary democracy irrelevant, Lenin argued for a dictatorship of the proletariat based on one-party Bolshevik rule, although for a time left-wing SRs also participated in the Sovnarkom. The Soviet government created a secret police, the Vecheka [or CHEKA] to persecute enemies of the state (including bourgeois liberals and moderate socialists). Having convened the Constituent Assembly, which had been elected in November with the Bolsheviks winning only a quarter of the seats, the Soviet government dissolved the assembly in January after a one-day session, ending a short-lived experiment in parliamentary democracy in Russia.

In foreign affairs, the Soviet government, seeking to disengage Russia from the world war, called on the belligerent powers for an armistice and peace without annexations. The Allied Powers rejected this appeal, but Germany and its allies agreed to a cease-fire and began negotiations in December 1917. After dictating harsh terms that the Soviet government would not accept, however, Germany resumed its offensive in February 1918, meeting scant resistance from disintegrating Russian armies. Lenin, after bitter debate with leading Bolsheviks who favored prolonging the war in hopes of precipitating class warfare in Germany, persuaded a slim majority of the Bolshevik Central Committee that peace must be made at any cost. On March 3, Soviet government officials signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, relinquishing Poland, the Baltic lands, Finland, and Ukraine to German control and giving up a portion of the Caucasus region to Turkey. With the new border dangerously close to Petrograd, the government was soon transferred to Moscow. An enormous part of the population and resources of the Russian Empire was lost by this treaty, but Lenin understood that no alternative could ensure the survival of the fledgling Soviet state.

Civil War and War Communism

Soon after buying peace with Germany, the Soviet state found itself under attack from other quarters. By the spring of 1918, elements dissatisfied with the Communists (as the Bolsheviks started calling themselves, conforming with the name change from Russian Social Democratic Labor Party to Russian Communist Party [Bolshevik] in March) established centers of resistance in southern and Siberian Russia against the Communist-controlled area. Anti-Communists, often led by former officers of the tsarist army, clashed with the Red Army, founded and organized by Trotsky, now serving as commissar of war. A civil war to determine the future of Russia had begun.

The White armies enjoyed, to varying degrees, the support of the Allied Powers. Desiring to defeat Germany in any way possible, Britain, France, and the United States landed troops in Russia and provided logistical support to the Whites, whom the Allies trusted to resume Russia's struggle against Germany after overthrowing the Communist regime. (Japan also sent troops, but with the intention of seizing territory in Siberia.) After the Allies defeated Germany in November 1918, they opted to continue their intervention in the Russian Civil War against the Communists in the interests of averting world socialist revolution.

During the Civil War, the Soviet regime also had to deal with struggles for independence in regions that it had given up under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (which the regime immediately repudiated after Germany's defeat by the Allies in November 1918). By force of arms, the Communists established Soviet republics in Belorussia (January 1919), Ukraine (March 1919), Azerbaydzhan (April 1920), Armenia (November 1920), and Georgia (March 1921), but they were unable to win back the Baltic region, where the independent states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania had been founded shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution. In December 1917, during a civil war between Finnish Reds and Whites, the Soviet government recognized the independence of Finland but was disappointed when that country became a parliamentary republic in 1918. Poland, reborn after World War I, fought a successful war with Soviet Russia from April 1920 to March 1921 over the location of the frontier between the two states.

During its struggle for survival, the Soviet state placed great hopes on revolution's breaking out in the industrialized countries. To coordinate the socialist movement under Soviet auspices, Lenin founded the Communist International (Comintern) in March 1919. Although no successful socialist revolutions occurred elsewhere immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution, the Comintern provided the Communist leadership with the means through which they later controlled foreign communist parties. By the end of 1920, the Communists had clearly triumphed in the Civil War. Although in 1919 Soviet Russia had shrunk to the size of sixteenth-century Muscovy, the Red Army had the advantage of defending the heartland with Moscow at its center. The White armies, divided geographically and without a clearly defined cause, went down in defeat one by one. The monarchical cause was effectively killed when Communists shot the imperial family in July 1918. The Allied governments, lacking support for intervention from their war-weary citizenry, withdrew most of their forces by 1920. The last foreign troops departed Siberia in 1922, leaving the Soviet state unchallenged from abroad.

During the Civil War, the Communist regime took increasingly repressive measures against its opponents within the country. The Soviet constitution of 1918 deprived members of the former "exploiting classes"--nobles, priests, and capitalists--of civil rights. Left-wing SRs, formerly partners of the Bolsheviks, became targets for persecution during the Red Terror that followed an attempt on Lenin's life in August 1918. In those desperate times, both Reds and Whites murdered and executed without trial large numbers of suspected enemies. The party also took measures to ensure greater discipline among its members by tightening its organization and creating specialized administrative organs.

In the economic life of the country, too, the Communist regime sought to exert control through a series of drastic measures that came to be known as war communism. To coordinate what remained of Russia's economic resources after years of war, in 1918 the government nationalized industry and subordinated it to central administrations in Moscow. Rejecting workers' control of factories as inefficient, the regime brought in expert managers to run the factories and organized and directed the factory workers as in a military mobilization. To feed the urban population, the Soviet government carried out mass requisitions of grain from the peasantry.

The results of war communism were unsatisfactory. Industrial production continued to fall. Workers received wages in kind because inflation had made the ruble practically worthless. In the countryside, peasants rebelled against payments in valueless money by curtailing or consuming their agricultural production. In late 1920, strikes broke out in the industrial centers, and peasant uprisings sprang up across the land as famine ravaged the countryside. To the Soviet government, however, the most disquieting manifestation of dissatisfaction with war communism was the rebellion in March 1921 of sailors at the naval base at Kronshtadt (near Petrograd), which had earlier won renown as a bastion of the Bolshevik Revolution. Although Trotsky and the Red Army succeeded in putting down the mutiny, the rebellion signaled to the party leadership that the austere policies of war communism had to be abolished. The harsh legacy of the Civil War period, however, would have a profound influence on the future development of the country.


Lenin's Leadership

While the Kronshtadt base rebelled against the severe policies of war communism, the Tenth Party Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) met in March 1921 to hear Lenin argue for a new course in Soviet policy. Lenin realized that the radical approach to communism was unsuited to existing conditions and jeopardized the survival of his regime. Now the Soviet leader proposed a tactical retreat, convincing the congress to adopt a temporary compromise with capitalism under the program that came to be known as the New Economic Policy (NEP). Under NEP, market forces and the monetary system regained their importance. The state scrapped its policy of grain requisitioning in favor of taxation, permitting peasants to dispose of their produce as they pleased. NEP also denationalized service enterprises and much small-scale industry, leaving the "commanding heights" of the economy--large-scale industry, transportation, and foreign trade--under state control. Under the mixed economy of NEP, agriculture and industry staged recoveries, with most branches of the economy attaining prewar levels of production by the late 1920s. In general, standards of living improved during this time, and the "NEP man"--the independent private trader--became a symbol of the era.

About the time that the party sanctioned partial decentralization of the economy, it also approved a quasi-federal structure for the state. During the Civil War years, the non-Russian Soviet republics on the periphery of Russia were theoretically independent, but in fact they were controlled by Moscow through the party and the Red Army. Some Communists favored a centralized Soviet state, while nationalists wanted autonomy for the borderlands. A compromise between the two positions was reached in December 1922 by the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The constituent republics of this Soviet Union (the Russian, Belorussian, Ukrainian, and Transcaucasian republics) exercised a degree of cultural and linguistic autonomy, while the Communist, predominantly Russian, leadership in Moscow retained political authority over the entire country.

The party consolidated its authority throughout the country, becoming a monolithic presence in state and society. Potential rivals outside the party, including prominent members of the abolished Menshevik faction and the Socialist Revolutionary Party, were exiled. Within the party, Lenin denounced the formation of factions, particularly by radical-left party members. Central party organs subordinated local soviets under their authority. Purges of party members periodically removed the less committed from the rosters. The Politburo created the new post of general secretary for supervising personnel matters and assigned Stalin to this office in April 1922. Stalin, a minor member of the Central Committee at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, was thought to be a rather lackluster personality and therefore well suited to the routine work required of the general secretary.

From the time of the Bolshevik Revolution and into the early NEP years, the actual leader of the Soviet state was Lenin. Although a collective of prominent Communists nominally guided the party and the Soviet Union, Lenin commanded such prestige and authority that even such brilliant theoreticians as Trotsky and Nikolai I. Bukharin generally yielded to his will. But when Lenin became temporarily incapacitated after a stroke in May 1922, the unity of the Politburo fractured, and a troika (triumvirate) formed by Stalin, Lev B. Kamenev, and Grigorii V. Zinov'ev assumed leadership in opposition to Trotsky. Lenin recovered late in 1922 and found fault with the troika, and particularly with Stalin. Stalin, in Lenin's view, had used coercion to force non-Russian republics to join the Soviet Union; he was "rude"; and he was accumulating too much power through his office of general secretary. Although Lenin recommended that Stalin be removed from that position, the Politburo decided not to take action, and Stalin remained general secretary when Lenin died in January 1924.

As important as Lenin's activities were to the foundation of the Soviet Union, his legacy to the Soviet future was perhaps even more significant. By willingly changing his policies to suit new situations, Lenin had developed a pragmatic interpretation of Marxism (later called Marxism-Leninism) that implied that the party should follow any course that would ultimately lead to communism. His party, while still permitting intraorganizational debate, insisted that its members adhere to its decisions once they were adopted, in accordance with the principle of democratic centralism. Finally, because his party embodied the dictatorship of the proletariat, organized opposition could not be tolerated, and adversaries would be prosecuted. Thus, although the Soviet regime was not totalitarian when he died, Lenin had nonetheless laid the foundations upon which such a tyranny might later arise.

Stalin's Rise to Power

After Lenin's death, two conflicting schools of thought regarding the future of the Soviet Union arose in party debates. Left-wing Communists believed that world revolution was essential for the survival of socialism in the economically backward Soviet Union. Trotsky, one of the primary proponents of this position, called for Soviet support for permanent revolution around the world. As for domestic policy, the left wing advocated the rapid development of the economy and the creation of a socialist society. In contrast with these militant Communists, the right wing of the party, recognizing that world revolution was unlikely in the immediate future, favored the gradual development of the Soviet Union through NEP programs. Yet even Bukharin, one of the major right-wing theoreticians, believed that socialism could not triumph in the Soviet Union without assistance from more economically advanced socialist countries.

Against this backdrop of contrasting perceptions of the Soviet future, the leading figures of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik)--the new name of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) as of December 1925--competed for influence. The Kamenev-Zinov'ev-Stalin troika, supporting the militant international program, successfully maneuvered against Trotsky and engineered his removal as commissar of war in 1925. In the meantime, Stalin gradually consolidated his power base and, when he had sufficient strength, broke with Kamenev and Zinov'ev. Belatedly recognizing Stalin's political power, Kamenev and Zinov'ev made amends with Trotsky to join against their former partner. But Stalin countered their attacks on his position with his well-timed formulation of the theory of "socialism in one country." This doctrine, calling for construction of a socialist society in the Soviet Union regardless of the international situation, distanced Stalin from the left and won support from Bukharin and the party's right wing. With this support, Stalin ousted the leaders of the "Left Opposition" from their positions in 1926 and 1927 and forced Trotsky into exile. By the end of the NEP era, free debate within the party thus became progressively limited as Stalin gradually eliminated his opponents.

Foreign Policy, 1921-28

In the 1920s, as the new Soviet state temporarily retreated from the revolutionary path to socialism, the party also adopted a less ideological approach in its relations with the rest of the world. Lenin, ever the practical leader, having become convinced that socialist revolution would not break out in other countries in the near future, realized that his government required normal relations with the Western world for it to survive. Not only were good relations important for national security, but the economy also required trade with the industrial countries. Blocking Soviet attainment of these desires were lingering suspicions of communism on the part of the Western powers and concern over the foreign debts incurred by the tsarist government that the Soviet government had unilaterally canceled. In April 1922, the Soviet commissar of foreign affairs, Georgii Chicherin, circumvented these difficulties by achieving an understanding with Germany, the other pariah state of Europe, at Rapallo, Italy. In the Treaty of Rapallo, Germany and Russia agreed on mutual recognition, cancellation of debt claims, normalization of trade relations, and secret cooperation in military development. After concluding the treaty, the Soviet Union soon obtained diplomatic recognition from other major powers, beginning with Britain in February 1924. Although the United States withheld recognition until 1933, private American firms began to extend technological assistance and develop commercial links beginning in the 1920s.

Toward the non-Western world, the Soviet leadership limited its policy to promoting opposition among the indigenous populations against imperialist exploitation. Moscow did pursue an active policy in China, aiding the rise of the Nationalist Party, a non-Marxist organization committed to reform and national sovereignty. After the triumph of the Nationalists, a debate developed among Soviet leaders concerning the future status of relations with China. Stalin wanted the Chinese Communist Party to join the Nationalists and infiltrate the government from within, while Trotsky proposed an armed communist uprising and forcible imposition of socialism in that country. Although Stalin's plan was finally accepted, it came to nought when in 1926 the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek ordered the Chinese communists massacred and Soviet advisers expelled.

Society and Culture in the 1920s

In many respects, the NEP period was a time of relative freedom and experimentation for the social and cultural life of the Soviet Union. The government tolerated a variety of trends in these fields, provided they were not overtly hostile to the regime. In art and literature, numerous schools, some traditional and others radically experimental, proliferated. Communist writers Maksim Gorky and Vladimir Maiakovskii were active during this time, but other authors, many of whose works were later repressed, published work lacking socialist political content. Film, as a means of influencing a largely illiterate society, received encouragement from the state; much of cinematographer Sergei Eisenstein's best work dates from this period.

Education, under Commissar Anatolii Lunacharskii, entered a phase of experimentation based on progressive theories of learning. At the same time, the state expanded the primary and secondary school system and introduced night schools for working adults. The quality of higher education suffered, however, because admissions policies preferred entrants from the proletarian class over those of bourgeois backgrounds, regardless of the applicants' qualifications.

Under NEP the state eased its active persecution of religion begun during war communism but continued to agitate on behalf of atheism. The party supported the Living Church reform movement within the Russian Orthodox Church in hopes that it would undermine faith in the church, but the movement died out in the late 1920s.

In family life, attitudes generally became more permissive. The state legalized abortion, and it made divorce progressively easier to obtain. In general, traditional attitudes toward such institutions as marriage were subtly undermined by the party's promotion of revolutionary ideals.

Industrialization and Collectivization

At the end of the 1920s, a dramatic new phase in economic development began when Stalin decided to carry out a program of intensive socialist construction. To some extent, Stalin chose to advocate accelerated economic development at this point as a political maneuver to eliminate rivals within the party. Because Bukharin and some other party members would not give up the gradualistic NEP in favor of radical development, Stalin branded them as "right-wing deviationists" and used the party organization to remove them from influential positions in 1929 and 1930. Yet Stalin's break with NEP also revealed that his doctrine of building "socialism in one country" paralleled the line that Trotsky had originally supported early in the 1920s. Marxism supplied no basis for Stalin's model of a planned economy, although the centralized economic controls of the war communism years seemingly furnished a Leninist precedent. Nonetheless, between 1927 and 1929 the State Planning Commission ( Gosplan) worked out the First Five-Year Plan for intensive economic growth; Stalin began to implement this plan--his "revolution from above"--in 1928.

The First Five-Year Plan called for rapid industrialization of the economy, with particular growth in heavy industry. The economy was centralized: small-scale industry and services were nationalized, managers strove to fulfill Gosplan's output quotas, and the trade unions were converted into mechanisms for increasing worker productivity. But because Stalin insisted on unrealistic production targets, serious problems soon arose. With the greatest share of investment put into heavy industry, widespread shortages of consumer goods occurred, and inflation grew.

To satisfy the state's need for increased food supplies, the First Five-Year Plan called for the organization of the peasantry into collective units that the authorities could easily control. This collectivization program entailed compounding the peasants' lands and animals into collective farms (kolkhoz) and state farms (sovkhoz) and restricting the peasants' movements from these farms, thus in effect reintroducing a kind of serfdom into the countryside. Although the program was designed to affect all peasants, Stalin in particular sought to liquidate the wealthiest peasants, the kulaks. Generally speaking, the kulaks were only marginally better off than other peasants, but the party claimed that the kulaks ensnared the rest of the peasantry in capitalistic relationships. Yet collectivization met widespread resistance not only from kulaks but from poorer peasants as well, and a desperate struggle of the peasantry against the authorities ensued. Peasants slaughtered their cows and pigs rather than turn them over to the collective farms, with the result that livestock resources remained below the 1929 level for years afterward. The state in turn forcibly collectivized reluctant peasants and deported kulaks and active rebels to Siberia. Within the collective farms, the authorities in many instances exacted such high levels of procurements that starvation was widespread. In some places, famine was allowed to run its course; millions of peasants in the Ukrainian Republic starved to death when the state deliberately withheld food shipments.

By 1932 Stalin realized that both the economy and society were seriously overstrained. Although industry failed to meet its production targets and agriculture actually lost ground in comparison with 1928 yields, Stalin declared that the First Five-Year Plan had successfully met its goals in four years. He then proceeded to set more realistic goals. Under the Second Five-Year Plan (1933-37), the state devoted attention to consumer goods, and the factories built during the first plan helped increase industrial output in general. The Third Five-Year Plan, begun in 1938, produced poorer results because of a sudden shift of emphasis to armaments production in response to the worsening international climate. All in all, however, the Soviet economy had become industrialized by the end of the 1930s. Agriculture, which had been exploited to finance the industrialization drive, continued to show poor returns throughout the decade.

The Period of the Purges

The complete subjugation of the party to Stalin, its leader, paralleled the subordination of industry and agriculture to the state. After squelching Bukharin and the "right-wing deviationists" in 1929 and 1930, Stalin's position was assured. To secure his absolute control over the party, however, Stalin began to purge from party ranks those leaders and their followers whose loyalty he doubted.

The period of Stalin's purges began in December 1934 when Sergei Kirov, a popular Leningrad party chief who advocated a moderate policy toward the peasants, was assassinated. Although details remain murky, many Western historians believe that Stalin instigated the murder to rid himself of a potential opponent. In any event, in the resultant mass purge of the local Leningrad party, thousands were deported to camps in Siberia. Zinov'ev and Kamenev, Stalin's former political partners, received prison sentences for their alleged role in Kirov's murder. At the same time, the NKVD, the secret police, stepped up surveillance through its agents and informers and claimed to uncover anti-Soviet conspiracies among prominent long-term party members. At three publicized show trials held in Moscow between 1936 and 1938, dozens of these Old Bolsheviks, including Zinov'ev, Kamenev, and Bukharin, confessed to improbable crimes against the Soviet state and were executed. (The last of Stalin's old enemies, Trotsky, who had supposedly masterminded the conspiracies against Stalin from abroad, was murdered in Mexico in 1940, presumably by the NKVD.) Coincident with the show trials against the original leadership of the party, unpublicized purges swept through the ranks of younger leaders in party, government, industrial management, and cultural affairs. Party purges in the non-Russian republics were particularly severe. The Ezhovshchina ("era of Ezhov," named for NKVD chief Nikolai Ezhov) ravaged the military as well, leading to the execution or incarceration of about half the entire military officer corps. The secret police also terrorized the general populace, with untold numbers of common people punished for spurious crimes. By the time the purges subsided in 1938, millions of Soviet leaders, officials, and other citizens had been executed, imprisoned, or exiled.

The reasons for this period of widespread purges remain unclear. Western historians variously hypothesize that Stalin created the terror out of a desire to goad the population to carry out his intensive modernization program, or to atomize society to preclude dissent, or simply out of brutal paranoia. Whatever the causes, the purges must be viewed as a counterproductive episode that weakened the Soviet state.

In 1936, just as the purges were intensifying the Great Terror, Stalin approved a new Soviet constitution to replace that of 1924. Hailed as "the most democratic constitution in the world," the 1936 document stipulated free and secret elections based on universal suffrage and guaranteed the citizenry a range of civil and economic rights. But in practice the freedoms implied by these rights were denied by provisions elsewhere in the constitution that indicated that the basic structure of Soviet society could not be changed and that the party retained all political power.

The power of the party, in turn, now was concentrated in the persons of Stalin and his handpicked Politburo. Symbolic of the lack of influence of the party rank and file, party congresses met less and less frequently. State power, far from "withering away" after the revolution as Karl Marx had predicted, instead grew in strength. Stalin's personal dictatorship found reflection in the adulation that surrounded him; the reverence accorded Stalin in Soviet society gradually eclipsed that given to Lenin.

Mobilization of Society

Concomitant with industrialization and collectivization, society also experienced wide-ranging regimentation. Collective enterprises replaced individualistic efforts across the board: not only did the regime abolish private farms and businesses, but it collectivized scientific and literary endeavors as well. As the 1930s progressed, the revolutionary experimentation that had characterized many facets of cultural and social life gave way to conservative norms.

Considerations of order and discipline dominated social policy, which became an instrument for the modernization effort. Workers came under strict labor codes demanding punctuality and discipline, and labor unions served as extensions of the industrial ministries. At the same time, higher pay and privileges accrued to productive workers and labor brigades. To provide greater social stability, the state aimed to strengthen the family by restricting divorce and abolishing abortion.

Literature and the arts came under direct party control during the 1930s as mandatory membership in unions of writers, musicians, and other artists entailed adherence to established standards. After 1934, the party dictated that creative works had to express socialistic spirit through traditional forms. This officially sanctioned doctrine, called socialist realism, applied to all fields of artistic endeavor. The state repressed works that were stylistically innovative or lacked appropriate content.

The party also subjected science and the liberal arts to its scrutiny. Development of scientific theory in a number of fields had to be based upon the party's understanding of the Marxist dialectic, which derailed serious research in certain disciplines. The party took a more active role in directing work in the social sciences. In the writing of history, the orthodox Marxist interpretation employed in the late 1920s was modified to include nationalistic themes and to stress the role of great leaders to foster legitimacy for Stalin's dictatorship.

Education returned to traditional forms as the party discarded the experimental programs of Lunacharskii after 1929. Admission procedures underwent modification: candidates for higher education now were selected by their academic records, rather than by class origins.

Religion suffered from a state policy of increased repression, starting with the closure of numerous churches in 1929. Persecution of clergy was particularly severe during the purges of the late 1930s, when many of the faithful went underground.

Foreign Policy, 1928-39

Soviet foreign policy underwent a series of changes during the first decade of Stalin's rule. Soon after assuming control of the party, Stalin oversaw a radicalization of Soviet foreign policy that complemented his strenuous domestic policies. To heighten the urgency of his demands for modernization, Stalin portrayed the Western powers, particularly France, as warmongers eager to attack the Soviet Union. The diplomatic isolation practiced by the Soviet Union in the early 1930s seemed ideologically justified by the Great Depression; world capitalism appeared destined for destruction. To aid the triumph of communism, Stalin resolved to weaken the moderate social democrats of Europe, the communists' rivals for working-class support. Conversely, the Comintern ordered the Communist Party of Germany to aid the anti-Soviet National Socialist German Workers' Party (the Nazi Party) in its bid for power in the hopes that a Nazi regime would exacerbate social tensions and produce conditions that would lead to a communist revolution in Germany. Stalin thus shares responsibility for Hitler's rise to power in 1933 and its tragic consequences for the Soviet Union and the rest of the world.

The dynamics of Soviet foreign relations changed drastically after Stalin recognized the danger posed by Nazi Germany. From 1934 through 1937, the Soviet Union tried to restrain German militarism by building coalitions hostile to fascism. In the international communist movement, the Comintern adopted the Popular Front policy of cooperation with socialists and liberals against fascism, thus reversing its line of the early 1930s. In 1934 the Soviet Union joined the League of Nations, where Maksim M. Litvinov, the commissar of foreign affairs, advocated disarmament and collective security against fascist aggression. In 1935 the Soviet Union concluded defensive military alliances with France and Czechoslovakia, and from 1936 to 1939 it gave assistance to antifascists in the Spanish Civil War. The menace of fascist militarism to the Soviet Union increased when Germany and Japan (itself a threat to Soviet Far Eastern territory in the 1930s) signed the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936. But the West proved unwilling to counter German provocative behavior, and after France and Britain acquiesced to Hitler's demands for Czechoslovak territory at Munich in 1938, Stalin abandoned his efforts to forge a collective security agreement with the West.

Convinced now that the West would not fight Hitler, Stalin decided to come to an understanding with Germany. Signaling a shift in foreign policy, Viacheslav Molotov, Stalin's loyal assistant, replaced Litvinov (who was Jewish) as commissar of foreign affairs in May 1939. Hitler, who had decided to attack Poland despite the guarantees of Britain and France to defend that country, soon responded to the changed Soviet stance. While Britain and France dilatorily attempted to induce the Soviet Union to join them in pledging to protect Poland, the Soviet Union and Germany engaged in intensive negotiations. The product of the talks between the former ideological foes--the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of August 23, 1939--shocked the world. The open provisions of the agreement pledged absolute neutrality in the event one of the parties should become involved in war, while a secret protocol partitioned Poland between the parties and assigned Romanian territory as well as Estonia and Latvia (and later Lithuania) to the Soviet sphere of influence. With his eastern flank thus secured, Hitler began the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939; Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. World War II had begun.