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History of the Soviet Union: Part I

 This article is part of the
History of Russia series.
 Early Russian East Slavs
 Kievan Rus'
 Mongol invasion of Russia
 Imperial Russia
 Russian Revolution
 Russian Civil War
 History of the Soviet Union: Part I
 History of the Soviet Union: Part II
 Collapse of the Soviet Union
 Commonwealth of Independent States
 History of post-communist Russia
 List of famous Russians

This article covers the history of the Soviet Union (USSR) from its origins in the October Revolution of 1917 until its victory in The Great Patriotic War in 1945. See History of the Soviet Union: Part II for its history from 1945 until its dissolution in 1991.

Table of contents
1 The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the Russian Civil War
2 The "New Economic Policy"
3 Stalinist industrialization
4 "The Great Patriotic War" (World War Two)
5 Related articles
6 References
7 External links

The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the Russian Civil War

During World War I, Tsarist Russia experienced famine and economic collapse. The demoralized Russian Army suffered severe military setbacks, and many soldiers deserted the front lines. Dissatisfaction with the monarchy and its policy of continuing the war grew, and Czar Nicholas II was abdicated in February of 1917.

A provisional government was installed, led first by Prince Georgy Yevgenyevich Lvov, then by Aleksandr Kerensky, but it maintained its commitment to the war. The provincial government failed to enact land reforms demanded by the peasantry, who accounted for over eighty percent of the population.

Within the military, mutiny and desertion were pervasive among conscripts; the intelligentsia was disaffected over the slow pace of reforms; poverty was worsening; and income disparities and inequality were growing while the provisional government grew more and more autocratic and appeared on the verge of succumbing to a military junta. Deserting soldiers returned to the cities and gave their weapons to angry socialist factory workers. Conditions in urban areas were fertile ground for revolution.

During the revolution, the Bolsheviks had adopted the popular slogans "all power to the Soviets!" and "land, peace, and bread!". Soviets were councils assembled locally within a city with delegates elected from the workers of the various factories and other businesses. Soviets were the bodies of direct popular democracy; although they held no official position of power in the Provincial government, they exerted considerable influence over the hearts and minds of the working classes.

After the revolution, the party leadership devised a constitution that appeared to recognize the authority of the local Soviets. The highest legislative body was the Supreme Soviet. The highest executive body was the Politburo. (More about the political organization of the USSR can be found on Organization of the Communist Party of the USSR.)

The first leader of the Soviet Union was Vladimir Lenin, who led the Bolshevik faction of Communists. Popular pressure induced Lenin to proclaim the Bolshevik seizure of power in October of 1917. One of the first acts of the Communist government was to withdraw from World War I. Following the peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Soviet Union turned over most of the area of the Ukraine and Belarus to Germany.

Immediately, however, supporters of the Czarist regime broke out in revolt, resulting in years of all-out civil war, which lasted until 1922. Known as the "whites", these forces were aided by Western intervention. Allied armies led by the United States, Great Britain, and France, seeking to prevent the spread of Communism or Russia's exit from the war effort, attempted to invade the Soviet Union and support forces hostile to the Bolsheviks with the intention of overthrowing the Soviet regime.

Vladimir Lenin

The Bolsheviks, later the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), initially enjoyed only a tenuous, precarious hold on power. They were also divided among their own party rank and file on tactics and some policy issues. Despite these problems, they quickly consolidated their hold on state power over progressively larger portions of the country, and enacted laws prohibiting any effective rival political party under the banner of "democratic centralism."

Prior to the revolution, the Bolshevik doctrine of democratic centralism argued that only a tightly-knit and secretive organization could successfully overthrow the government; after the revolution, they argued that only such an organization could prevail against foreign and domestic enemies. Fighting the civil war would actually force the party to put these principals into practice.

Arguing that the revolution needed not a mere parliamentary organization but a party of action which would function as a scientific body of direction, a vanguard of activists, and a central control organ, Lenin banned factions within party. He also argued that the party should be an elite body of professional revolutionists dedicating their lives to the cause and carrying out their decisions with iron discipline, thus moving toward putting loyal party activists in charge new and old political institutions, army units, factories, hospitals, universities, and food suppliers. Against this backdrop, the nomenklatura system would evolve and become standard practice.

In theory, this system was to be democratic since all leading party organs elected from below, but also centralized since lower bodies would be accountable to higher organizations. In practice, "democratic centralism" was more centralist, with decisions of higher organs binding on lower ones. Over time, party cadres would grow increasingly careerist and professional. Party membership required exams, special courses, special camps, schools, and nominations by three existing members.

In December 1917, the Cheka was founded as the Bolshevik's first internal security force. Later it changed names to GPU, OGPU, MVD, NKVD and finally KGB. These "secret police" were responsible for finding those viewed by the party as counter-revolutionary and expelling them from the party or bringing them to trial.

The "New Economic Policy"

During the Civil War (1917-1921), Lenin adopted War Communism, which entailed the breakup of the landed estates and the forcible seizure of agricultural surpluses. The Kronstadt rebellion signaled the growing unpopularity of War Communism in the countryside: in March 1921, at the end of the civil war, disillusioned sailors, primarily peasants who initially had been stalwart supporters of the Bolsheviks under the provisional government, revolted against the new regime. Although the Red Army, commanded by Leon Trotsky, crossed the ice over the frozen Baltic Sea and quickly crushed the rebellion, this sign of growing discontent forced the Party under Lenin's direction to foster a broad alliance of the working class and peasantry (eighty percent of the population), although orthodox Marxist-Leninists favored a regime solely representative of the interests of the revolutionary proletariat. Lenin consequently ended War Communism and instituted the New Economic Policy (NEP), in which the state allowed a limited market to exist. Small private businesses were allowed and restrictions on political activity were somewhat eased.

However, the key shift involved the status of agricultural surpluses. Rather than requisitioning agricultural surpluses by force (the hallmark of War Communism), the NEP allowed peasants to sell their surplus yields on the open market. Meanwhile, the state still maintained state ownership of what Lenin deemed the "commanding heights" of the economy: (heavy industry such as the coal, iron, and metallurgical sectors along with the banking and financial components of the economy. The "commanding heights" employed the majority of the workers in the urban areas. Under the NEP, such state industries would be profit-maximizing and largely free to make their own economic decisions.

The Soviet NEP (1921-29) was essentially a period of "market socialism" similar to the Dengist reforms in Communist China after 1978 in that both foresaw a role for private entrepreneurs and markets based on trade and pricing rather than centralized planning. As an interesting aside, during the first meeting in the early 1980s between Deng Xiaoping and Armand Hammer, a US industrialist and prominent investor in Lenin's Soviet Union, Deng pressed Hammer for as much information on the NEP as possible.

With new market incentives to raise productivity, agricultural yields not only recovered to the levels attained before the Bolshevik Revolution, but greatly improved. The break-up of the quasi-feudal landed estates of the Czarist-era countryside gave peasants their greatest incentives ever to maximize production. Now able to sell their surpluses on the open market, peasant spending gave a boost to the manufacturing sectors in the urban areas. As a result of the NEP, and the breakup of the landed estates while the Communist Party was consolidating power between 1917-1921, the Soviet Union became the world's greatest producer of grain.

Agriculture, however, would recover from civil war more rapidly than heavy industry. Factories, badly damaged by civil war and capital depreciation, were far less productive. In addition, the organization of enterprises into trusts or syndicates representing one particular sector of the economy would contribute to imbalances between supply and demand associated with monopolies. Due to the lack of incentives brought by market competition, trusts were likely to sell their products at higher prices.

The slower recovery of industry would pose some problems for the peasantry, who accounted for eighty percent of the population. Since agriculture was relatively more productive, relative price indexes for industrial goods were higher than those of agricultural products. The outcome of this was what Trotsky deemed the "Scissors Crisis" because of the scissors-like shape of the graph representing shifts in relative price indexes. Simply put, peasants would have to produce more grain to purchase consumer goods from the urban areas. As a result, some peasants withheld agricultural surpluses in anticipation of higher prices, thus contributing to mild shortages in the cities. This, of course, is normal, speculative market behavior, but some top Communist Party cadres, with little understanding of market economics, did not understand this phenomenon, considering it to be exploitative of urban consumers.

In the mean time the Party took constructive steps to offset the crisis, attempting to bring down prices for manufactured goods and stabilize inflation, by imposing price controls on key industrial goods and breaking-up the trusts in order to foster market completion.

However, the radical or leftwing of the Party, led by Trotsky, who long opposed the NEP for ideological reasons, exploited the "Scissors Crisis" to gain ideological capital over the moderate wing of the party supportive of the NEP, led by Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin. Initially, Stalin united with the Bukharinite faction of the Party to defeat Trotsky. But he eventually tuned against the moderates who favored the NEP once Trotsky was exiled in order to consolidate his control over the party and the state.

In order to devise a pretext for abandoning the NEP, Stalin himself would move on the exploited the problems associated with the "Scissors Crisis". Moreover, he pointed to the rise of the Nepmen (small retailers profiting off the flourishing urban-rural trade) and Kulaks (the emerging middle class of peasant farmers) under the NEP as new capitalistic classes hostile to the Party's monopoly on power. Since the NEP economy was a mixed economy, he was also able to point to inflation and unemployment as the evils of the market.

Stalinist industrialization

Stalin's consolidation of power

Since succession mechanisms had not grown regualrized in party procedure, Lenin's death in 1924 heightened the fierce political battle between factions in the party hostile and supportive of the NEP. Stalin eventually shifted from side to side and eventually rid the party of both factions by forging a path of development that integrated the ideas of both camps. He adapted the leftist (hard-line) stance opposing agricultural production governed by private economic decision-making, which would entail the liquidation of the Kulaks and Nepmen as classes and rapid industrialization by the brutal harnessing of labor and capital, favored by the ideologues as an attempt to produce the material basis of communism quickly under unfavorable conditions. But he also endorsed the rightist (pragmatist) notion of "socialism in one country", which favored concentrating on economic development rather than exporting revolution. In that respect, he also favored extensive exports of grain and raw materials, thereby which the Soviet Union could attain the revenues from foreign exchange to import foreign technologies need for industrial development.

By then, Stalin had a reputation as a revolutionary, "devoted Bolshevik," and Lenin's "right hand man". However, in reality Lenin had distrusted Stalin, and before his death had written a letter warning against giving power to Stalin, calling him "rude" "intolerant" and "capricious". Stalin and his supporters had covered this letter up, which only came to light after Stalin's death in 1953.

At the Fifteenth Party Congress in December 1927, Stalin, now an unchangeable dictator, abandoned the NEP. Warning delegates of an impending capitalist encirclement, he stressed that survival and development could only occur by pursuing the rapid development of heavy industry. Stalin remarked that the Soviet Union was "fifty to a hundred years behind the advanced countries" (the United States, France, Germany, Great Britain, etc.), and thus must narrow "this distance in ten years". In a perhaps eerie foreboding of World War II, Stalin declared, "Either we do it or we shall be crushed". Stalin's abandonment of the NEP with the first Five-Year Plan drafted by GOSPLAN in 1929 was the key turning point in Soviet history, establishing central planning geared toward rapid heavy industrialization as the basis of economic decision-making.

To oversee the radical transformation of the Soviet Union, the party, under Stalin's direction, established GOSPLAN (the State General Planning Commission), a Communist Party organ responsible for guiding the socialist economy toward accelerated industrialization. In April 1929 GOSPLAN released two joint drafts that began the process that would industrialize the primarily agrarian nation. This 1700 page report became the basis the first Five Year Plan for National Economic Construction, or "Piatiletka", calling for the doubling of Soviet capital stock between 1928 and 1933. Shifting from Lenin's NEP, the First Five Year Plan would begin the rapid, incredible process of transforming a largely agrarian nation consisting of peasants and emerging from Czarist absolutism into an industrial superpower. In effect, the initial goals were laying the foundations for future, exponential economic growth.

Brief Overview of economic planning

The new economic system put forward by the first Five-Year plan entailed a complicated series of planning arrangements. In an ideal plan, the Politburo sent its list of priorities for the Five-Year Plan to the Council of Ministers, which elaborated them and sent them to the State Planning Commission or GOSPLAN, which disaggregated the priorities to its own departments. The departments worked out the drafts of the parts of the plan, which were re-aggregated into a full draft by GOSPLAN. This draft of the plan would be sent to the Council of Ministers and to the Party's Politburo and Central Committee Secretariat. The Council of Ministers then disaggregated the plan into task by ministry, then by lower units, eventually to the enterprise level. Enterprises then assesed the feasibility of targets and estimated needed inputs, which was the most intense bargaining phase of planned economic decision-making. Estimates after this bargaining process were re-aggregated to the Council of Ministers, which sent the revised estimates to the State Planning Commission (GOSPLAN). The redrafted plan was then sent to the Council of Ministers and the Party's Politburo ad Central Committee Secretariat for approval. The Council of Ministers submitted the Plan to the Supreme Soviet (the rubber-stamp Parliament) and the Central Committee submits the plan to the National Party Congress, both for rubber stamp approval. By the time this process is completed, the plan became law.

The first Five-Year plan focused on the mobilization of natural resources to build up the country's heavy industrial base by increasing output of coal, iron, and other vital resources. At a high human cost, this process was largely successful, forging a capital base for industrial development more rapidly than any country in history. However, as the economy grew more complex in the post-Stalin years, the prudence of planned economic decision-making would prove less apt at attaining growth through technological innovation and improvements in productivity, thus resulting in the stagnation associated with the later years prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Collectivization and industrialization in practice

Under the NEP, the abandonment of the War Communist (1917-21)-era requisitioning of agricultural surpluses gave peasants individual incentives to improve agricultural productivity by allowing them to sell their surpluses to the state on the open market. The process of collectivization, however, overseen by the first Five-Year Plan, abandoned this policy. Instead, peasants were forced to give up their private plots of land and property, and work for a collective farm, and be forced to sell their produce for an artificially low price that had been set by the state.

Now that the state was able to seize agricultural surpluses, it would be able to export grain to attain the necessary foreign exchange revenues needed to import technologies necessary for heavy-industrialization. However, peasants bitterly opposed this process and in many cases peasants destroyed their animals rather than give them to collective farms. Because of this, collectivization led to a drop in the high productivity of Russian farming achieved during the NEP years, which did not regain the NEP level until 1940, or allowing for the further disasters of World War II. Perhaps the state would have been able to export more grain on the foreign market had it not even gone through with this disastrous process. Moreover, collectivization worsened famine conditions during a time of drought, particularly in the Ukraine. The number of people who died in these famines is estimated at between two and five million. The number of casualties, however, is bitterly disputed to this day.

However, the mobilization of resources by state planning augmented the county's industrial base. Pig iron output, necessary for development of nonexistent industrial infrastructure rose from 3.3 million to 10 million tons per year. Coal, the integral product fueling modern economies and Stalinist industrialization, successfully rose from 35.4 million to 75 million tons, and output of iron ore rose from 5.7 million to 19 million tons. Other examples of the effectiveness of early socialist development were complexes such as Magnitogorsk and Kuznetsk, the Moscow and Gorky automobile plants, the Urals and Kramatorsk heavy machinery plants, and Kharkov, Stalingrad and Cheliabinsk tractor plants either built or under construction.

Based largely on these figures the Five Year Industrial Production Plan had been fulfilled by 93.7 percent in only four years, while parts devoted to heavy-industry part were fulfilled by 108%, explaining why Stalin in December 1932 declared the plan a success to the Central Committee, since increases in the output of coal and iron would fuel future development. Some historians even suggest that the first Plan could have been even more successful if the USSR had not confronted foreign crisis beyond its control.

According to Robert C. Tucker, Stalin's program was under-fulfilled by a mere 6 percent "only because the refusal of nonaggression pacts by neighboring countries and complications in the Far East", such as the Japanese occupation of Chinese Manchuria in 1931, which foreshadowed war and forced the USSR to convert some plants to munitions production to meet gaps in defense potential.

While undoubtedly marking a tremendous leap in industrial capacity, the Five Year Plan was, of course, extremely harsh on industrial workers; quotas were extremely difficult to fulfill, requiring that miners put in 16 to 18-hour workdays, and working conditions were poor, even hazardous. By some estimates, 127,000 workers died during the four years (from 1928 to 1932). Due to the allocation of resources for industry along with decreasing productivity since collectivization a famine occurred. The use of forced labor must also not be overlooked either. In the construction of the industrial complexes, prisoners were used as expendable resources. The quotas were so repressive that the failure to fulfill them could result in treason charges, and exile to the GULAGs.

From 1921 until 1954, during the period of state-guided, forced industrialization, it is claimed 3.7 million people were sentenced for alleged counter-revolutionary crimes, including 0.6 million sentenced to death, 2.4 million sentenced to prison and labor camps, and 0.8 million sentenced to expatriation. Although some estimates put these figures much higher. Much like with the famines, the evidence supporting these statistics4 is disputed by some historians, although this is a minority view.

Changes in Soviet Society: modernization

Stalin's industrial policies largely improved living standards for the majority of the population, although the debated amount of casualities resulting from Stalinist policies taints the Soviet record.

Employment, for instance, rose greatly; 3.9 million per year was expected by 1923, but the number was actually an astounding 6.4 million. By 1937, the number rose yet again, to about 7.9 million, and in 1940 it was 8.3 million. Between 1926 and 1930, urban population increased 30 million. Unemployment had been a problem during the time of the Czar and even under the NEP, but it was not a major factor after the implementation of Stalin's industrialization program. The mobilization of resources to industrialize the agrarian society industrial created a need for labor, meaning that the unemployment went virtually to zero. Several ambitious projects were begun, and they supplied raw materials not only for military weapons but also for consumer goods.

The Moscow and Gorky automobile plants produced automobiles that the public could utilize, and the expansion of heavy plant and steel production made production of a greater number of cars possible. Car and truck production, for example, reached 200,000 in 1931. Because the industrial workers needed to be educated, the number of schools increased. In 1927, 7.9 million students attended 118,558 schools. This number rose to 9.7 million students and 166,275 schools by 1933. In addition, 900 specialist departments and 566 institutions were built and functioning by 1933.

The Soviet people also benefited from a degree of social liberalization. Females were given an adequate, equal education and women had equal rights in employment, precipitating improving lives for women and families. Stalinist development also contributed to advances in health care, which vastly increased the lifespan for the typical Soviet citizen and the quality of life. Stalin's policies granted the Soviet people universal access to health care and education, allowing this generation to be the first not to fear typhus, cholera, and malaria. The occurrences of these diseases dropped to record-low numbers, increasing life spans by decades.

Soviet women under Stalin were also the first generation of women able to give birth in the safety of a hospital, with access to prenatal care. Education was also an example of an increase in standard of living after economic development. The generation born during Stalin's rule was the first near-universally literate generation. Engineers were sent abroad to learn industrial technology, and hundreds of foreign engineers were brought to Russia on contract. Transportation was also improved, as many new railways were built. Workers who exceeded their quotas, Stakhanovites, received many incentives for their work. They could thus afford to but the goods that were mass-produced by the rapidly expanding soviet economy.

Of course, these overall gains were not universal. Kulaks, prosperous peasants, were exiled to Siberia as political prisoners (a large portion of the kulaks served as forced labor). In 1975, Abramov and Kocharli estimated that 265,800 kulak families were sent to the GULAG in 1930. In 1979, Roy Mendvedev used the Abramov's and Kocharli's estimate to calculate that 2.5 million peasants were exiled between 1930 and 1931, but he suspected that he underestimated the total number. Tragically, Siberia was both sparsely populated and the site of most of the Soviet Union's natural resources. Prison labor, in large measure, explains the Soviet Union's amazingly high output levels of key natural resources during the early stages of industrial development.

The Great Purges

While this process was unfolding, Stalin consolidated near-absolute power afterwards with the Great Purges against his suspected political and ideological opponents, most notably the old cadres and the rank and file of the Bolshevik Party. This recent consolidation of power might have been necessitated considering the level of discontent resulting from collectivization of agriculture. Measures used against opposition and suspected opposition ranged from imprisonment in work camps (Gulags) to assassination (such as that of Leon Trotsky and possibly Sergei Kirov). The period between 1936-1937 is often called the Great Terror when thousands of people even suspected of opposing Stalin's regime were killed or imprisoned, Stalin is reputed to have personally signed 40,000 death warrants of suspected political opponents.

During this period, the practice of mass arrest, torture, and imprisonment or execution without trial, of anyone suspected by the secret police of opposing Stalin's regime became commonplace. By the KGB's own estimates, 681,692 people were shot during 1937-38 alone (although many historians think that this was an undercount), and millions of people were transported to Gulag work camps.

Several show trials were held in Moscow, to serve as examples for the trials that local courts were expected to carry out elsewere in the country. There were four key trials from 1936 to 1938, The Trial of the Sixteen was the first (December 1936); then the Trial of the Seventeen (January 1937); then the trial of Red Army generals, including Marshal Tukhachevsky (June 1937); and finally the Trial of the Twenty One (including Bukharin) in March 1938.

In spite of the Stalin's seemingly progressive constitution, enacted in 1937, the Party's power was in reality subordinated by the secret police, the mechanism whereby Stalin secured his dictatorship through state terror.

"The Great Patriotic War" (World War Two)

War and Stalinist development

Heavy-industrialization contributed to the Soviet Union's wartime victory over Nazi Germany. The Red Army overturned the Nazi eastern expansion single-handedly, with the turning point on the Eastern Front being the Battle of Stalingrad. Although the Soviet Union was getting aid and weapons from the United States, its production of war materials was greater than that of Nazi Germany because of rapid growth of Soviet industrial production during the interwar years. The Second Five Year Plan raised the steel production to 18 million tons and the coal to 128 million tons. Before it was interrupted, the Third Five Year Plan produced 18 millions of steel and 150 million tons of coal. During the war, the allies were able to outstrip Nazi Germany in the production of war materials, in some cases ten-fold. The tank production, for example, was equal to 40,000 per year for the allies, to only 4,000 for Nazi Germany.

While na´ve to de-emphasize US assistance in World War II, the Soviet Union's industrial output helped stop Nazi Germany's initial advance, and stripped them of their advantage. According to R. Hutchings, "One can hardly doubt that if there had been a slower buildup of industry, the attack would have been successful and world history would have evolved quite differently." For the laborers involved in industry, however, life was difficult. Workers were encouraged to fulfill and overachieve quotas through propaganda, such as the Stakhanovite movement. Between 1933 and 1945, some argue that seven million civilians died because of the demanding labor. Between 1930 and 1940, 6 million were put through the forced labor system.

Anti-Soviet historians, however, interpret the lack of preparedness of the Soviet Union to defend itself as a flaw in Stalin's economic planning. Shearer argues that there was "a command-administrative economy" but it was not "a planned one". He argues that the Soviet Union suffered from a chaotic state of the Politburo in its policies due to the Great Purges, and was completely unprepared for the Nazi German invasion. When the Soviet Union was invaded in 1941, Stalin was indeed surprised. Economist Holland Hunter, in addition, argues in his Overambitious First Soviet Five-Year Plan, that an array "of alternative paths were available, evolving out of the situation existing at the end of the 1920s... that could have been as good as those achieved by, say, 1936 yet with far less turbulence, waste, destruction and sacrifice."

While by no means an "orderly" economy or an efficient one, the Five Year Plans did plan an offensive, but since the Soviet Union was under attack, the situation required a defensive response. The result, as Shearer points out, was that the command economy had to be relaxed so that the mobilization needed was achieved. Sapir supports this view, arguing that Stalin's policies developed a mobilized economy (which was inefficient), with tension between central and local decision-making. Market forces became more significant than central administrative constraints. This view, however, is refuted by Stephen Lee, who argues that Soviet Union's "heavy industrialization translated into ultimate survival."

Marking the Soviet Union's victory, a soldier raises the Soviet flag over the German Reichstag in the Nazi capital, Berlin.

Wartime developments

The Second World War (known throughout the former USSR as the Great Patriotic War) caught the Soviet military unprepared. A widely-held belief is that this was caused by a large number of the senior officers being sent to prison in the "Great Purges" of 1936-1938. To secure Soviet influence over Eastern Europe and buy some time, Stalin arranged the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany on August 23, 1939. A secret addition to the pact gave Eastern Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Finland to the USSR, and Western Poland and Lithuania to Nazi Germany. Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1st, USSR followed on September 17th. On November 30th, USSR attacked Finland in what is called the Winter War.

On June 22nd 1941, however, Hitler broke the pact and invaded the Soviet Union (see Operation Barbarossa). It is said that Stalin at first refused to believe Nazi Germany had broken the treaty. However, new evidence shows Stalin held meetings with a variety of senior Soviet government and military figures, including Molotov (People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs), Timoshenko (People's Commissar for Defense), Zhukov (Chief of Staff of the Red Army), Kuznetsov (Commander of both North Caucasus and Baltic Military Districts), and Shaposhnikov (Deputy People's Commissar for Defense). All in all, on the very first day of the attack, Stalin held meetings with over 15 individual members of the Soviet government and military apparatus.5

It is claimed by some that Nazi Germany received notice of a planned attack by the Soviet Union. Some Russian military men as well have recently stated that Stalin's Red Army was in offensive position and ready to strike Nazi Germany.

Nazi German troops reached the outskirts of Moscow in December 1941, but were stopped by an early winter and a Soviet counter-offensive. At the battle of Stalingrad in 1942-43, after losing an estimated 1 million men in the bloodiest battle in history, the Red Army was able to regain the initiative of the war. The Soviet forces were soon able to regain their lost territory and push their over-stretched enemy back to Nazi Germany itself.

From the end of 1944 to 1949 large sections of eastern Germany came under the Soviet Union's occupation and on May 2nd 1945, the capital city Berlin was taken, while over fifteen million Germans were removed from eastern Germany and pushed into central Germany (later called GDR German Democratic Republic) and western Germany (later called FRG Federal Republic of Germany). Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Czech etc. were then moved onto German land.

The Soviets bore the brunt of World War II and the West did not open up a second front in Europe until D-Day. Approximately 21 million Soviets, among them 7 million civilians, were killed in "Operation Barbarossa", the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany. Civilians were rounded up and burned or shot in many cities conquered by the Nazis. Many feel that since the Slavs were considered "sub-human", this was ethnically targeted mass murder. However, the retreating Soviet army was ordered to pursue a 'scorched earth' policy whereby retreating Soviet troops were ordered to destroy Russian civilian infrastructure and food supplies so that the Nazi German troops could not use them.

As mentioned, the Soviets bore the heaviest casualties of World War II. These war casualties can explain much of Russia's behavior after the war. The Soviet Union continued to occupy and dominate Eastern Europe as a "buffer zone" to protect Russia from another invasion from the West. Russia had been invaded three times past 150 years before the Cold War during the Napoleonic Wars, World War I, and World War II, suffering tens of millions of casualties.

Related articles


Eric Hobsbawm: Age of Extremes, 1994
2Elias H. Tuma: Twenty-six Centuries of Agrarian Reform: A Comparative Analysis, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1965
3 In Search of a SOVIET HOLOCAUST: A 55-Year-Old Famine Feeds the Right by Jeff Coplon, Originally published in the Village Voice (New York City), January 12, 1988.
4Robert Conquest: The Great Terror, 1968
5(Steven J. Main: ibid.; 1). 837, citing '1zvestiya 'TsK KPSS', Volume 6, 1990; p. 216-22).

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