The Fall of the Soviet Union: Joseph Stalin and Other Political Figures

The Soviet Union was first formed on December 30th, 1922, by the Bolshevik party led by Vladimir Lenin. During the Russian revolution, the Red Army, consisting of socialists led by Vladimir Lenin, was fighting the White Army, consisting of a mix of monarchists, capitalists, and democratic socialists, for control. When the civil war was ended, in 1922, the Red Army gained power and started the new Communist based Soviet Union. (Russian Revolution)

The Soviet Union first consisted of Russia, Belorussia, Ukraine, and the Transcaucasian Federation. Later, in 1936, the Transcaucasian Federation separated into the Georgian, Azerbaijan, and Armenian republics. Estonia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were all added into the union. The union’s allies were Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. (USSR Established)

The Soviet Union was had many great achievements during its rein. Their space program had many of the world’s first major contributions to space exploration including, the first orbiting satellite, Sputnik 1. The first creature to live in orbit, Laika the dog on Sputnik 2. The first man made object to leave Earth’s orbit, the first object to orbit the moon, the first orbit of Mars and Venus, the first space station, the first spacewalk, and many more contributions were made. (The Achievements of the USSR)

The Soviet Union was created to be a society of true democracy; however, it was led by only the Communist party that demanded allegiance of all Russian citizens. In, 1924, Joseph Stalin came into power, and the Soviet Union created a totalitarian control over the economy. This allowed them to administrate all industrial activity and established collective farms. This dictatorship also controlled all aspects of political and social life. Anyone who criticized Stalin’s work or policies was arrested and sent to either death or to work in a labor camp. (Fall of Soviet Union)

Stalin had a series of five-year plan that were made to change the Soviet Union from a society full of poverty to an industrial superpower. This is how government-controlled farms was instituted which led to many refusing farms being executed or exiled. This also led to widespread famine across the union causing millions to starve to death. Stalin used terror as a tool to rule. He eliminated anyone who opposed his rule. He also expanded the powers of the secret police and encouraged his citizens to snitch on one another which led to millions being killed or send to labor camps. “Additionally, Stalin built a cult of personality around himself in the Soviet Union. Cities were renamed in his honor. Soviet history books were rewritten to give him a more prominent role in the revolution and mythologize other aspects of his life. He was the subject of flattering artwork, literature and music, and his name became part of the Soviet national anthem. His government also controlled the Soviet media.” (Joseph Stalin)

In 1939, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler implemented a nonaggression pact. Afterwards, Stalin went on to annex parts of Poland, Romania, and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Stalin also launched an attack on Finland. In June of 1941, Hitler broke the pact and invaded the USSR which Stalin was unprepared for due to his ignoring of warnings from the United States, Britain, and even his own intelligence agents. “As German troops approached the Soviet capital of Moscow, Stalin remained there and directed a scorched earth defensive policy, destroying any supplies or infrastructure that might benefit the enemy. The tide turned for the Soviets with the Battle of Stalingrad, from August 1942 to February 1943, during which the Red Army defeated the Germans and eventually drove them from Russia.” (Joseph Stalin)

After the war, even with old age, Stalin had not let up on his strict policies. He implemented a reign of terror that called for executions of anyone or anything that resembled or supported a Western influence. He established communist governments all through Eastern Europe. In 1949, Stalin took the Soviets into the nuclear age by exploding an atomic bomb. The next year he gave the communist lead North Korea permission to invade the democratic United States backed South Korea, which started the Korean War. (Joseph Stalin)

Stalin died of a stoke on March 5th, 1953, at the age of 74. His body was placed in the Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow, but later in 1961, was removed by Nikita Khrushchev’s destalinization processes. It is estimated that Stalin was responsible for the deaths of up to twenty million people during his deadly rule. (Joseph Stalin)

After Khrushchev took over the country he began his destalinization processes. He began with a speech in February of 1956 where he criticized Stalin for his executing and exiling of opponents, for making himself a dictator, and for incompetent wartime leadership. Next, he renamed Stalingrad and moved Stalin’s body out of the museum. After Khrushchev’s speech, protestors took to the streets in Poland and Hungary. The Polish revolt was resolved peacefully; however, the Hungarian revolt was taken on by force and two thousand five hundred Hungarians died while thirteen thousand were injured. (Nikita Khrushchev)

Khrushchev worked to increase food production and to raise living standards. He greatly reduced the power of the Soviet’s feared secret police, released political prisoners, uncensored art, and opened up more of the country to foreign visitors. “Khrushchev had a complicated relationship with the West. A fervent believer in communism, he nonetheless preferred peaceful coexistence with capitalist countries. Unlike Stalin, he even visited the United States. Relations between the two superpowers deteriorated somewhat in 1960 when the Soviets shot down an American U-2 spy plane deep inside their territory. The following year, Khrushchev approved the construction of the Berlin Wall in order to stop East Germans from fleeing to capitalist West Germany.” (Nikita Khrushchev)

During the Cold War, in October 1962, Khrushchev place nuclear weapons in Cuba causing the United States to threaten with nuclear war. Khrushchev and Kennedy came to an agreement that Khrushchev would remove his nuclear arsenal from Cuba if the United States would openly promise not to invade Cuba and to secretly remove their nuclear weapons form Turkey. In July of 1963, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States agreed to a partial nuclear test ban. (Nikita Khrushchev)

After a break in relations from China and food shortages in the Soviet Union, other high-ranking Soviet officials called Khrushchev back from vacation and forced him to resign in 1964. He quietly lived out the rest of his days and died of a heart attack in September of 1971. (Nikita Khrushchev)

After Nikita Khrushchev’s resignation, Leonid Brezhnev took over as the new leader of the Soviet Union. Brezhnev had many military actions including the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and going to war with China in 1969. The Soviet economy, which flourished in the beginning of his leadership, had stopped its growth during the mid-1970s. “Although the end of the Brezhnev years saw an increase in tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two world powers still developed respect for each other. During the years President Richard Nixon (1913–1994) was in office (1969–74), the two leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union often visited each other. They improved relations enough to allow the creation of a joint United States-Soviet space program in 1975, a large purchase of American wheat by the Soviets, and other cooperative efforts.” (Leonid Brezhnev)

After Leonid Brezhnev’s death Mikhail Gorbachev took over as the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985. He inherited both a terrible economy and a dissolving political system. He stated by putting two policies in place, one being the glasnost, or openness, policy and the second being the perestroika, or restructuring, policy.

The glasnost policy began in the late 1980s and made transparency in the government. It stopped state censorship, “allowing Soviet media to report painful, long-covered-up truths—such as the fact that alcoholism and infant mortality were rising, life expectancy at birth was declining and standards of living in the West were outpacing those in the USSR. It also allowed non-Communist parties to take part in elections.” (Was the Soviet Union’s Collapse Inevitable?) Perestroika, which was also made in the late 1980s, was a policy aimed at recreating the suffering economy. This policy created a joint communism-capitalism economy where people could open up private businesses and foreigners could bring their businesses into the country for the first time ever. The people advocated this, at first, when a McDonald’s opened for the first time in Moscow; however, when the first decline in the economy came a new wave of food shortages and economic hardships caused the republics of Lithuania and Ukraine to demand autonomy from the Soviet Union.

When Brezhnev had the profits from his two-decade oil boom, he spent it on the nuclear program to try to beat the United States in the Cold War instead of spending it to improve the economy or the living standards of the citizens. The United Nations announced that the Soviet Union would lose the ability to have military control over neighboring countries which lead to the communist regimes toppling in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Shortly after, the Berlin Wall fell and the German reunification began. (Why did the Soviet Union Fall?)

“This atmosphere of possibility soon enveloped the Soviet Union itself. Frustration with the bad economy combined with Gorbachev’s hands-off approach to Soviet satellites to inspire a series of independence movements in the republics on the USSR’s fringes. One by one, the Baltic states (Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) declared their independence from Moscow. Then, in early December, the Republic of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine broke away from the USSR and created the Commonwealth of Independent States. Weeks later, they were followed by eight of the nine remaining republics. At last, the mighty Soviet Union had fallen.” (Fall of Soviet Union)

After the fall of the Soviet Union people realized that, “Mr. Gorbachev had given people a new freedom. But the Soviet Union had also given them something tangible — the pride of superpower. Whatever their problems and shortages, they had been one of the two arbiters of global destinies, a nation that nobody could intimidate or bully. Now that was being taken away, too, and how the humiliation would play out, especially in conditions of hunger and poverty, was among the troubling questions for the future.” (Schmemann)