What Was The Soviet Union?

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics dominated much of Eastern Europe and beyond for most of the 20th Century.

The country known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR or Soviet Union) was formed after the 1917 Russian Revolution, which occurred in the space of the former Russian Empire and several neighboring states. As a result of this revolution and subsequent civil wars between political factions, the supporters of communism (the "Reds") defeated the Russian nationalists (the "Whites"). The former ultimately came to power, and were called the Bolsheviks. The new government declared that the land, resources and means of production we are all moving to a collective system for the betterment of the workers and peasants, not the aristocratic elite. On December 30th, 1922, after the defeat of the remaining monarchical supporters, the process of joining the new communist republics into the USSR began in full swing.

Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Transcaucasian Soviet Republics became the nucleus of the nascent state. The Turkmen and Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republics (SSRs) joined in 1924, the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic in 1929, and the Kyrgyz and Kazakh SSRs in 1932. By this time, the Transcaucasian Soviet Republic had been divided into three parts, which became the Armenian SSR, Azerbaijan SSR, and the Georgian SSR. In 1940 the Finnish-Karelian and Moldovan SSRs joined, as well as the Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian SSRs around the Baltic Sea. The addition of these three Baltic Republics had not been recognized by the US and Western Europe. From 1956 until 1991, the USSR consisted of 15 constituent republics.

10. Geographic Area

Throughout the 20th Century, the Soviet Union, by total area, was the largest country in the world, occupying 22,400,000 square kilometers, or 8.65 million square miles. The vast country stretched across large portion of both eastern Europe and central and northern Asia. Its borders stretched from the Baltic Sea in the west, to the Far Eastern port of Dezhnev in the Chukotka region near the Bering Strait in the east. In the north the upper spike of continental part of the USSR was a port Chelyuskin, while in the south stood Kushka at the border between Afghanistan and the Turkmen SSR. From the north, the USSR's coasts were washed by 6 seas of the Arctic Ocean, namely the White, Barents, Kara, Laptev, East Siberian, and Chukchi Seas. In the east, it was bordered by 3 seas of the Pacific Ocean, these being the Bering Sea, Sea of Okhotsk, and Sea of Japan. As the Soviet Union had access to the Black, Azov, and Caspian Seas in total, it was allowed the title of being the country having the longest coastline in the world. Eleven time zones were presented in the country, with dramatic climatic variations seen therein. From the Arctic climes in the areas above the Arctic Circle, to the subtropical in the areas of Sochi and the Georgian SSR, the Soviet Union housed a range of weather patterns and nation in environs. The capital of the Soviet Union was Moscow in Russia.

9. System of Governance & Hierarchy

Located in Moscow, the Supreme Council of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was the main authority. It consisted of two chambers, these being the Soviet of the Union, with 750 members, and the Soviet of Nationalities, which also had 750 members. Regular elections were held for both chambers. However, the only political force through the history of the USSR was the Communist Party itself, and the elections held in the country, in most cases, only put forward candidates selected by this same party. The Soviet Constitution established the powers of another body, the Soviet ("Council") of People's Deputies, for dealing with matters of local and regional governance. These Soviets were elected bodies, and existed at all levels of government. In the scope of their responsibility was to bring to life at the local and regional levels the decrees adopted by the Supreme Council of the Soviet Union at the national level. The Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Soviet Union was responsible for the most important decisions of domestic and foreign policy, as well as to adjust these to coincide with the general stances of the Communist Party. The main official of the country was the Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Soviet Union. Over the years, this position was held by such Soviet leaders, and effectively heads of state, as Josef Stalin, Georgy Malenkov, Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko, and Mikhail Gorbachev.

8. Political Ideologies

The political ideology of the Soviet Union, following the stage of wartime Communism in Vladimir Lenin's post-revolution time in power, set a goal to organize society on the principles set forth in the works of Karl Marx. Later, such theories were called Marxist-Leninist ideologies. The theory was based on negation of the principle of powers and their separation, and instead compounded into one governmental organ with both legislative and executive power. The next step was that the state itself must be transformed into a society where there is no division into classes. Theorists of the Marxist-Leninist transformation saw communism as being the final stage of a society's development. Elected officials or members formed so called "Soviets" of party members (after 1977 referred to as People's Deputies' Councils), and these were designed to embody the principles of Marxist-Leninist theory in the work within the population and grassroots level governance of the country.

7. Quality of Life

The salary rate in the Soviet Union was calculated according to individuals' professions and employment term. Graduates could also count on the salary, which was enough for everyday life in the Soviet Union and for making savings on summer holidays. In the Soviet Union, accommodations payments were insignificant. Housing and public utilities, electricity, gas, central heating, and water supply had a minimal influence on the monthly budget of a family, as they were largely subsidized by the government. All employees were also provided with dormitory-like living accommodations. Rare experts and certain categories of citizens were almost immediately granted with apartments, while other employees had to "get in the line" to wait for such, though sooner or later they all received apartments. Later, with the birth of children, people could get in the queue for an enhancement of living conditions for their families, such as receiving a larger apartment. The Soviet Union's different factories and collective farms and other entities each had different opportunities for granting their respective workers with apartments. Back in the Soviet Union, the middle class was the main class in the state. There were, however, a small segment of powerful "confidants" and Politburo members within the population who received special benefits from the state. In the USSR medical services were free, and the same principle was implemented with education, which was also free all the way up to post-graduate level.

6. Notable Soviet Figures

  • 1917-1922-The Revolutionary Era sees the rise of Vladimir Lenin.
  • 1922: A new age dawns, as Joseph Stalin becomes General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, while Mikhail Kalinin becomes Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets.
  • The most repressive period was the epoch of Stalinism (1936-1941) ,when many innocent people went through “filtration”and were identified as the states enemies, reabilitated only when Khrushchev came to power.
  • 1941-1945-Switching allegiance from Nazi Germany, the betrayed Stalin joined Churchill's Britain and FDR's U.S.A. in fighting the Axis in World War II.
  • 1945-1953 - A time of post-war recovery period of the national economy under the reign of Stalin.
  • 1953-1964 - The period of the political "detente" under the rule of Nikita Khrushchev,
  • 1964-1985 - A "stagnation" period during the reigns of Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko,
  • 1985-1991 – Perestroika and Glastnost, and a deescalation of the Cold War, ensued with new policies offered by Mikhail Gorbachev

5. Economy and Finance

The Soviet economic model was based on centralized planning, and differed significantly from those predominant in most developed countries with market economies. In the Soviet Union, private possession of land and real estate was not allowed, as it supposedly belonged to all Soviet citizens collectively, but in fact it belonged to the state. The planned economy would prevent competition, and subordinated the models for "five-year plans", in which all the goals of industrial production and agriculture in the country were predetermined for five years. Toward the end of 1980s, the country's budget was heavily dependent upon exports of hydrocarbon fossil fuels. When the price of oil fell, the country began to experience difficulties due to the resulting trade, and then budget, deficits. The threatened state of the economy required the Soviet government to implement far-reaching reforms. With the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, the changes began, which were known as "Perestroika" (restructuring) and "Glasnost" (openness), and these signified a shift away from stringently centralized economic control. At the same time, the Supreme Council had announced changes in the structure of the planned economy. The government attempted to introduce the progressive elements towards something more like a socialized market economy, which led to difficulties associated with the decline in production, as well as a failure to quickly re-innovate and adapt the technology sector according to the changes in market demands.

4. Global Influence

In foreign policy, Mikhail Gorbachev government called for the transfer of decision-making autonomy in the Eastern Bloc countries, and supported the unification of East and West Germany. Progressive changes in Europe, in conjunction with Perestroika and Glasnost in the country, signaled for the end of the Cold War between the Western bloc, presented by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the "Eastern Bloc" of the countries who were members of the Warsaw Pact, the structure of which was initiated and promoted by the Soviet Union.

3. Major Military Campaigns

Sino-Soviet War (1929)

Before the revolution of 1917, the Chinese Eastern Railway had been an important strategic object of the Far East under the joint management of China and Russia. In 1929, the Chinese had decided that it was time to snatch it away from the weakened USSR. However, the Chinese forces, superior 5 times over in number, were defeated at Harbin in Manchuria.

The Soviet-Finnish War (1939-1940)

Aggression by the Soviet Union with the hope to expand the northern areas and strengthen the cost line of Leningrad was turned into the Soviet Army's heavy losses. Spending on military operations for the next 1.5 years, instead of the predicted three weeks, coincided with 65 thousand troops killed and 250 thousand wounded. In the effort, the USSR pushed the border and provided Germany with a new ally in the coming war.

World War II (The Great Patriotic War) (1941-1945)

Following the German attempt to invade its Soviet allies, the USSR joined the U.S., the United Kingdom, and other Allied Powers to fight the Axis of Germany, Japan, and Italy throughout the rest of WWII.

The Fighting in Hungary of 1956

The invasion of Soviet troops to maintain the communist regime in Hungary was certainly a tour de force amidst the "Cold War." The Soviet Union had shown that it would be extremely brutal in protecting its geopolitical interests.

Invasion of Czechoslovakia (1968)

The "Prague Spring" was a direct military intervention in the affairs of another state which received a resounding condemnation internationally.

The Afghan War (1979-1989)

The Soviet war with Afghanistan destabilized the region, and helped set the stage for the rise of jihadist international terrorists in Western Asia and the Middle East following the Soviet collapse.

2. Collapse

In 1986, the time came to introduce The Congress of People's Deputies of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, instead of the Supreme Soviet of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Therein, in addition to the communists' candidates, non-party members could enter, and a place for the scientific elite had been allocated which did not exist before. The Congress of People's Deputies of the Soviet Union consisted of 2,250 members who were placed there through democratic elections. The People's Deputies within the Congress were able to create a new Supreme Council of 542 members and to choose its chairman, who in effect became the President of the Soviet Union. In August of 1991, high-ranking opponents of the reforms and the new course of the Soviet Union organized a failed coup, while the constituent Republics of the Soviet Union started to demand more independence. In December of 1991, Gorbachev announced the withdrawal from office of the First President of the Soviet Union, and proposed the idea of creating the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on the basis of former Soviet Union. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia had expressed their wish to become completely independent states, and did not wish to enter the Commonwealth. The year 1991 is considered to be the last year of existence of the Soviet Union.

1. How Are The Former SSRs Each Faring Today?

The three Baltic republics later became part of the European Union, while 12 sovereign states remained in the Commonwealth of Independent States. After the conflict in South Ossetia, Georgia declared its desire to withdraw from the Commonwealth of Independent States. The remaining 11 states began to form various military and economic blocs, including countries that were not part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The most significant was the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which was an international organization founded in 2001 by the leaders of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Another trend was to cooperate on the basis of free trade. In January of 2010, the Customs Union of the Eurasian Economic Union was established, which includes Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan customs authorities. This Customs Union provides a single customs territory within which the mutual trade in goods does not apply customs duties. Later, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia entered this Customs Union.

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