Vocabulary for Russian History

Tsar Emperor
Tsarina Empress
Tsarevitch Son of the emperor and heir
Haemophilia Blood clotting disorder suffered by the Tsarevitch, Alexei
Romanov The dynastic name
Autocracy Monarch has total power
Duma Parliament
Zemstva Local council
Orthodox Church The state church
Reactionary Refusal to accept change
Okhrana The Tsar’s secret police
Menshevik Minority party
Bolshevik Majority party
Iskra Spark (Marxist newspaper)
Pravda Truth (Communist newspaper)
Russification Policy to make people speak Russian, e.g. Finland
Pogrom Russian word for persecution
Proletariat Wage earners
Constitution The rules by which a country is governed
Constituent Assembly The body which writes the constitution
Soviet Committee of workers
Politburo Cabinet of ministers
Checka Secret police of Lenin
Gosplan Department of economic planning set up by Lenin
Rouble Russian currency
Kulaks Richer peasants – They have a big farm
Abdicate To give up the throne
Triumvirate Three powerful men: Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev (1923-7)
Autarky Self-sufficiency
Mir Small rural village
Kremlin Royal palace in Moscow which is now a parliament building
Kolkhoz Collective farm
Serf A peasant
USSR Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
NEP New Economic Policy
Manifesto Plan
Investment goods A good produced that adds more wealth to the economy, e.g. tractor
Consumer goods Goods that are used up, e.g. toilet paper

Summary of the Causes of the Russian Revolutions

Long Term

  1. The Tsar – weaknesses in his character and reactionary policies. His failure to understand his people.
  2. The Tsar – his failure to make political, social or economic reform.
  3. Opposition to autocracy. The influence of Karl Marx, growth of revolutionary parties in Russia and the survival of revolutionary leaders abroad.
  4. The failure of the 1904-5 Russo-Japanese war.
  5. The failure of the 1905 revolution. This was:
    • A missed opportunity for the Tsar to control the revolutionaries.
    • A missed opportunity for the rebels to gain power in Russia.

NOTE: 1-4 are reasons for the 1905 revolution.

Short Term

  1. All the long term causes came to a head during World War I. The defeat of Russia abroad intensified hardships at home at a time when domestic policy was controlled by weak and unpopular leaders – the Tsarina and Rasputin.
  2. The arrival of revolutionary leaders in Russia, notably Trotsky and Lenin.
  3. The March 1917 revolution failed to give enough power to the workers (soviets) so the November 1917 revolution took place.

Nicholas II (1894-1917) and the Downfall of Tsarist Rule


  1. To maintain the Romanov dynasty.
  2. To maintain autocratic, Tsarist, power.
  3. To maintain the Russian empire, by Russifying his lands.

By following these aims, the Tsar made himself increasingly unpopular and by 1917, his failure was complete (1917 he abdicated, 1918 he was shot.)

Reasons for the Tsar’s Failure (or causes of the Russian Revolution)

1. The Tsar’s Character

He was a loyal family man but he had serious defects of character. He was easily influenced by his wife (German), he ignore his ministers and he failed to understand the problems of his people (he was too remote from them). He was a reactionary and an indecisive autocrat. As a result, very little got done.

2. Refusal to accept reform

a. Political – Although serfdom had been abolished in 1861, most Russians had no rights, there was no duma, few zemstvas and in 1895 the Tsar said that any plans for reform were senseless dreams.

b. Social – In 1900, Russia was a sprawling landmass stretching across Europe and Asia. Its peasant population was uneducated and superstitious and differed in race and religion. The Tsar refused to introduce education, he preferred the local nobility to control the serfs and he censored the press. Furthermore, people who did not belong to his Orthodox Church suffered in pogroms (e.g. Jews). He continued to Russify his lands, offending the subject races in Finland, Poland, Turkistan and the Ukraine. The Tsar called this policy, ‘one Tsar, one god, one nation.’ He could have used his energy to create more wealth for Russia.

c. Economic – Russian farming was feudal (primitive), resources were unexploited and industrial output was low.

Country Coal Pig Iron Steel
USA 212 13.8 10.2
GB 228 9 5
Germany 149 7.5 6.7
Russia 16.2 2.9 1.5

(Figures are output, in millions of tons, in 1900)

The only economic reforms of the Tsar were the building of the Trans-Siberian railway, which reached Vladivostok in 1901, and a treaty with Germany was made to set up banks in Russia. He allowed no rights for workers, who were low-paid and living in hovels.

3. Opposition to autocracy

Press censorship and the Okhrana prevented the growth of opposition to the Tsar, so rebel leaders had to live abroad. One rebel group, the Social Democrats, met in London, in 1903, and after an argument they split into two new parties, the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. Lenin led the Bolsheviks and based his ideas on the writings of Karl Marx (1818-1883). Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital (1867). Lenin wrote Marxist ideas in Iskra until 1903, and in Pravda afterwards. These groups first put real pressure on the Tsar after the failure of the war with Japan.

4. Tsar’s Foreign Policy was Unsuccessful after 1904

The Trans-Siberian railway reached Vladivostok by 1901, and seeking popularity via a victory abroad, the Tsar decided to try and add Manchuria to his empire. Japan had the same idea.

Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)

October 1903 Russia advanced into Korea

May 1904 Japan defeated the Russians at Mukden (Russians stranded in marsh land)

April 1904 Meanwhile the Russian Pacific fleet was defeated by Togo

October 1904 The Russian Baltic fleet set off for the Pacific, but on the way attacked Norwegian and British trawlers, mistaking them for the Japanese fleet.

May 1905 Russian Baltic fleet sunk by Togo at the Tsushima Straits (23 Russian ships were sunk, Japan lost 110 men).

Treaty of Portsmouth (USA – 1905)
  1. Russia had to vacate Manchuria.
  2. Russia had to compensate Britain and Norway.
  3. Japan secured rights in Manchuria.
  4. Rather than gaining popularity, the Tsar was more unpopular at home and abroad.

5. The Revolution of 1905

The rebels had been active before 1905, e.g. they had killed Plehve, the Tsar’s chief foreign minister (1904). With the defeat of Japan in 1905, the unrest grew. In January 1905, 200,000 people led by Father Gapon peacefully marched to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg to deliver a petition to the Tsar. The palace guards panicked and c.1000 people were killed on Bloody Sunday, and this led to revolt:

  1. Tsarist policemen were attacked (St. Petersburg)
  2. Peasants replaced landlords on the estates (Rural areas)
  3. The Tsar’s uncle, Sergius, was blown up in the Kremlin (Moscow)
  4. The people demanded a duma

As a result the Tsar presented the October Manifesto. To quell the riots, the Tsar offered a duma, but the dumas turned out to have no power, e.g. the 1906-8 duma was dismissed (dissolved), the 1907-12 duma was merely a puppet of the Tsar, and the 1912 duma was dissolved.

The 1905 revolution was a missed opportunity for the Tsar to control the rebels and for the rebels to gain control.

6. The Failure of Russia in World War I

In July 1914, Russia went to war with Germany and Austria-Hungary. I the first month it was successful, but in August 1914, at the battle of Tannenburg, Russia lost 160,000 men to the Germans, led by Field Marshall Von Hindenburg. The Russians began retreating. The Tsar went to the front to rally his troops and boost morale. Russian domestic policy was in the hands of the German Tsarina and the ‘mad monk’, Rasputin. She was seen as a German spy and he wasn’t trusted. He dominated the Tsarina because he could control the Tsarevitch’s haemophilia (through hypnotism). He debauched the court and was killed in 1916. He was poisoned with cyanide, shot near the heart, beaten with chains and then frozen ion the River Neva.

The people celebrated at the death of Rasputin, because they blamed him for the food and fuel shortages. Faced with desertions, mutiny and defeat, the Tsar returned to Petrograd, where he was forced to abdicate. The scene was set for revolution.

Gregory Rasputin (1871-1916)


RasputinRussian peasant mystic monk who was an influential figure at the Tsar’s court from 1905 until his death. Rasputin, who led a debauched private life, owed his position to his hypnotic healing power over the heir to the throne, the Tsarevitch Alexei (1904-18), a haemophiliac. From 1911 Rasputin, confidant in the protection of the Tsarina, interfered in politics securing for his nominees the highest appointments in the Church and State. At the same time, his alcoholic excesses and sexual orgies horrified many leading figures in St. Petersburg society, and the press began to comment adversely on his influence. Once the First World War began, he was popularly believed to be a German agent – although the evidence is inconclusive. In December 1916 he was murdered by exasperated aristocrats. His activities discredited the monarchy (and, indirectly, the Church) in the eyes of the Russian people.

Rasputin’s Death

With the exception of certain Court ladies who were as if mesmerised by Rasputin, almost everyone close to the Palace was aware that the ‘monk’s’ conduct and influence were leading the monarchy to the edge of the abyss. A plot was therefore hatched to assassinate him. One night in December 1916 he was invited to the home of Prince Yussupov who, along with the Tsar’s cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri, and Purishkevich, the monarchist leader in the Duma, had made all the necessary arrangements to dispose of him. It proved, however, more difficult than they had anticipated. He was fed cakes and wine liberally dosed with cyanide. The poison seemed to have no effect. Yussupov drew a pistol and shot the totally unsuspecting Rasputin in the chest, close to the heart. The others in the plot appeared on the scene from an upstairs room and pronounced him dead. One of them put on Rasputin’s overcoat and hat and they all left Yussupov’s house, pretending to accompany Rasputin to his home. Yussupov, however, felt vague misgivings and decided to return. There in the basement was Rasputin’s body, just as it had been left. There was no sign of life, no heart or pulse-beat Yussupov has described what happened next:

‘All of a sudden, I saw the left eye open…. A few seconds later his right eyelid began to quiver, then opened. I then saw both eyes – the green eyes of a viper – staring at me with an expression of diabolical hatred. The blood ran cold in my veins. My muscles turned to stone … I stood rooted to the flagstones as if caught in the toils of a nightmare.

Then a terrible thing happened: with a sudden violent effort Rasputin leapt to his feet, foaming at the mouth. A wild roar echoed through the vaulted rooms, and his hands convulsively thrashed the air. He rushed at me trying to get at my throat, and sank his fingers into my shoulder like steel claws. His eyes were bursting from their sockets, blood oozed from his lips. And all the time he called me by name, in a low, raucous voice.’

Yussupov managed to free himself but was unable to prevent his victim from bursting out of the house. Hearing Yussupov’s shouts, Purishkevich arrived in time to fire several revolver shots at Rasputin as he tried to flee. This time no mistake was made. Rasputin’s body was retrieved from the icy waters of the River Neva some days later.

The murder of ‘Our Friend’ (as the Tsar and Tsarina regularly referred to him in their correspondence) did nothing to avert the Revolution. It came too late to have any effect upon the course of events, and in any case Rasputin was much more a symptom than a cause of Russia’s ills.

Russian Revolutions March and November 1917

Note: sometimes these revolutions are dated as February and October 1917. Refer to the map showing Petrograd in November 1917.

St. Petersburg – Leningrad: A note about names

In 1703 Tsar Peter the Great made St. Petersburg his capital. When Germany and Russia were at war in 1914 the city was renamed Petrograd, to lose the Germanic ‘burg’. In 1924 the city was renamed Leningrad in honour of the dead revolutionary.

March (February) Revolution 1917 (Middle Class Revolution)

In Petrograd in early March 1917 food riots, strikes and mutinies took place. On 8th March, troops and police, sent in to control the rebels, joined the rioters. Public buildings were seized, prisoners released and the Duma (a puppet of the Tsar) was dismissed.

A committee of ten Duma members formed a Provisional Government.

The Tsar hurried from the battlefront was seized and forced to abdicate in favour of his brother, Grand Duke Michael, who refused to accept office. The Royal Family were all arrested. Later, on 16th July 1918, it is though that the Tsar and Tsarevitch were shot at Ekaterinburg, though the fate of the Tsarina and her daughters is uncertain.

Meanwhile, (March 1917) the Petrograd soviet (Soviets, or workers councils, were elected after the October manifesto of 1905) of workers and soldiers issued orders as if it were the legitimate government. This rivalled the Provisional Government for authority. This caused confusion in Petrograd allowing socialist leaders to exploit the situation and to make plans of their own.

The first Premier of the Provisional Government was Prince Lvov with Alexander Kerensky (1881-1971) as Minister of Justice. Generally, the middle class supported the Provisional Government where as the proletariat supported the Petrograd Soviet. To gain popularity the Provisional Government promised reforms to the land and offered the Fins and the Poles their freedom. It also promised to set up a Constituent Assembly to draw up a constitution. The Provisional Government continued to fight in the First World War.

On 16th April 1917, Lenin and other exiles arrived in a sealed train at Finlandia station, Petrograd, from Switzerland. The German High command had arranged Lenin’s return, calculating that these leading socialists would undermine the Russian was effort, and so aid Germany. Lenin was not automatically popular with the people because he demanded a complete overthrow of capitalism, and end to war and the destruction of the provisional Government. The proletariat was won over to Lenin by his offer of ‘Peace, Bread, Land’ and ‘All Power to the Soviets’. At his base at the Smolny Institute Lenin continued to woo the workers as he needed mass support to oust the Provisional Government.

On 25th July 1917 the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, tried but failed to take power. At the same time Kerensky replaced Lvov as Premier and though highly competent, Kerensky made the mistake of keeping Russia in the First World War. Russian offensives in the summer of 1917 were unsuccessful and consequently many soldiers deserted and officers were shot by their own men. Sensing growing opposition Lenin prepared for a ‘coup’, but he had to flee Petrograd as the secret police were closing in on him. With Lenin in Finlandia, Trotsky, who had arrived in Petrograd on 18th May 19178, continued to direct Bolshevik activities.

November (October) Revolution 1917 (Bolshevik/Proletarian Revolution)

  1. General Kornilov, military commander of Petrograd, realised the threat of a Bolshevik take-over, and ordered troops to crush the soviets. Kerensky resented this, fearing Kornilov as a rival, and so had him arrested. This weakened the Provisional Government’s military power, leaving the Bolsheviks intact.
  2. Lenin returned from hiding, to Petrograd in October 1917.
  3. On 7th November 1917, a secret meeting of Bolsheviks decided on an armed rising. The Petrograd Soviet ordered Red Guards, under Trotsky, to key parts of the city. They met little resistance. In a few hours they controlled railway stations, Post Office, barracks, banks and power stations. The crew of the cruiser ‘Aurora’ mutinied and opened fire on the government headquarters and Kerensky escaped, finding his way to USA.
  4. After a near bloodless revolution in Petrograd, a new Soviet Government, led by Lenin, was set up.

Reasons for Bolshevik Success (1917)

  1. The Provisional Government was unpopular for keeping Russia in the First World War. (The Provisional Government would have been better off having loyal troops defending key parts of Petrograd in October/November 1917.)
  2. The Provisional Government was unpopular for not providing food and fuel.
  3. The Provisional Government was unpopular for being in the middle
    1. It was looked upon as a lowly up-start by the ex. Tsarist supporters.
    2. It was seen as a ‘superior’ upper class by the Soviets.
  4. The Bolsheviks were a well-disciplined party dedicated to revolution. Its members obeyed the political measures of Lenin and the military measures of Trotsky.
  5. The Bolsheviks gained the support of half of the army and the Kronstadt navy. Much of the other half of the armed forces supported the Tsar, rather than the Provisional Government.
  6. The Bolsheviks had popular policies as shown by Lenin’s slogans: ‘Peace, Bread and Land’ and ‘All power to the Soviets.’

Profiles of Men in Russian History

1. Karl Marx (1818-1883) – ‘the father of modern communism’

He was a German Jew who lived most of his adult life in England. He studied in the British museum and wrote ‘Communist Manifesto’ (1848) and ‘Das Kapital’ (1867). Marx had two beliefs – the ‘Ideal State’ and ‘the methods by which the ideal state could achieved’.

‘Ideal state’ – a state of perfection arrived at after a class struggle. This state would involve all men working for the good of others. There would be no need for crime or a police force, no need for money and all men would be equal. Marriage, families and religion would be swept away in the ideal state. (Marx was an atheist).

Arriving at the ideal state – Marx said the ideal state would come in three stages, each marked by a revolution in class structure.

Marx’s theories are very idealistic. Communist countries today differ from Marx’s ideas. Marxist foreign policy involved the spread of Communism worldwide.

2. Vladmir Ilyich Ulyanov - Lenin (1870-1924)

Born 1870 in Simbirsk in the Volga region. Father a school inspector. Very intelligent, he studied at Kazan University but gained his degree in Law at St. Petersburg in 1891. Believed in ideas of Marx and because of his activities he was arrested in 1897 and sent to Siberia where he married another revolutionary – Krupskaya. Release in 1900. Lenin went to Switzerland, Germany and Britain. He became the leader of the Russian Social Democrats. His ideas reached Russia by way of his Socialist newspapers, ‘Iskra’ (Spark) and after 1903 ‘Pravda’ (Truth).

Revolution 1917 – He was in Switzerland at the time of the February-March revolution, and was taken by Germans to Russia in sealed train. 16th April 1917 arrived at Petrograd. Soviet constitution prepared by Lenin – idea of all power to the proletariat. By July authorities were after Lenin so he fled but kept contact with Trotsky and other revolutionaries. Lenin was instrumental in November 1917 in the final revolution at Petrograd. Lenin was in power 1917-1924. Lenin was shot in August 1918, by Dora Kaplan. He had his first stroke in 1922 and died 21st January 1924.

3. Trotsky (1879-1940)

He was the son of a Jewish farmer. Became a Marxist in 1897. Escaped from Siberia in 1902, fled abroad. Took part in 1905 revolution. 1917 joined Bolshevik party. As chairman of Petrograd soviet he seized power in 1917. He became commissar for war and headed the Russian delegation to Brest Litovsk, March 1918. He led the Red Army during the Civil War. Lenin chose Trotsky to succeed him, but Stalin ousted him. Trotsky was expelled from Communist party in 1927. He was assassinated in Mexico, by Stalin’s agents in 1940: hacked with an ice-pick.

Lenin (1917-1923) – Summary Notes

Lenin had three problems in 1917:

  1. Russia was still at war with Germany
  2. He needed to extend Bolshevik power throughout Russia
  3. Russia was in economic ruin

a. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (3/3/1918)

Trotsky began negotiations with Germany in December 1917. The Treaty was not signed until 3/3/1918 and was humiliating for Russia because she lost coalfields and people. By leaving the war early Russia annoyed her allies, Britain and France. Lenin accepted the peace terms so that he could concentrate upon domestic affairs.

b. Extension of Bolshevik power throughout Russia

Lenin tried to increase popularity by giving land to the peasants, nationalising industry, and promising a Constituent Assembly. Such reforms were delayed because of civil war (May 1918 – c.1920) between the Reds and the Whites. The Reds, led by Trotsky, won.

The Civil War extended into a war with Poland (1920-21). Peace was made at Riga (1921) and again Russia was humiliated, but Lenin was desperate for peace (for the first time since 1914).

Lenin called a Constituent Assembly to meet but there were only 14 Bolsheviks in it. Lenin dismissed it and wrote his own constitution (1923), making Russia a dictatorship, and changing its name to the USSR.

c. Coping with Economic Ruin

Russian agriculture, industry, communications, trade and workforce had been devastated by warfare since 1914. (Russia was under-populated in 1900.) Lenin followed two economic policies.

1. War Communism (Based upon Marx’s ‘Das Kapital’)

The Red Army and navy personnel received the best of everything while they fought the Civil War. Capitalism (profiteering) was banned. By 1921 Russia faced mass starvation (Cannibalism) and the Red Navy mutinied, so in 1922, Lenin changed his policy to:

2. NEP – New Economic Policy (1922-28)

Capitalism was reintroduced (e.g. piece rate). New rouble was introduced to reinflate the economy.

Lenin died in 1924.

Lenin: Russia (1917-24)


Lenin had three problems in 1917. He needed to solve these to create the first ideal Marxist/Socialist State in Russia.

  1. Continued war against the central powers
  2. Bolshevik power did not extend far beyond Petrograd
  3. The Russian economy was in ruins

Between 1917-24 Lenin ended Russia’s role in the First World War, extended Bolshevik power throughout Russia and began economic reform.

a. Russia left the First World War at THE TREATY OF BREST-LITOVSK (3rd March, 1918)

Since 3rd December 1917 Trotsky, as war commissar, had been negotiating peace with Germany. The Kaiser brought negotiations to a conclusion by advancing his troops five hundred miles into Russia in 1918. Under pressure at the Polish town of Brest-Litovsk, Trotsky agreed to the following:

  1. Russian parts of Poland and the Baltic States were to be taken by Germany.
  2. Finland, Georgia and the Ukraine (a German puppet state) to be independent.
  3. Reparations of six thousand million marks to be paid to Germany.

By this treaty Russia lost 1/3 of her population and 9/10 of her coalfields. Her allies, Britain and France, felt betrayed, as they were left to fight Germany without Russia. Lenin accepted humiliating terms so that he could concentrate on domestic affairs.

NOTE: The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was cancelled by the Treaty of Versailles (28th June 1919)

b. Extension of Bolshevik Power in Russia, the establishment of a communist dictatorship

After making peace Lenin aimed to place all power in Russia in Bolshevik hands. He:

Civil War (1918-1920)

Lenin’s government forces were called ‘Reds’. Opposition, consisting of Tsarist officers, Kulaks and Allied troops, were called ‘Whites’. International help was given to the Whites for three reasons:

The Fighting (from May 1918)

The Reds were centrally organised by Trotsky. The Whites had several weaknesses. They had no single leader, and no figurehead after the 16th July 1918, when the Tsar was killed. The Whites had no common purpose, argued amongst themselves, were scattered around Russia and help from abroad was less than effective. The Reds were successful in five areas:

  1. In Southern Russia the Cossacks were defeated by November 1920
  2. The Baltic states were defeated by October 1920
  3. In Siberia the Czechs and Japanese, who helped the Whites, were defeated by February 1920, though Japan kept control of Vladivostok until November 1922.
  4. British and French forces in Archangel, to the North of Russia left ion October 1920.
  5. Polish forces in the Ukraine were more difficult to defeat, and the Civil War extended into :

The Russo-Polish War (1920-21)

Poland took advantage of the Russian Civil War to extend her eastern borders. Lord Curzon had settled the ‘Curzon Line’ as the border between Poland and Russia in December 1919, but this separated some Catholics from living in Poland. Poland defeated Russia at the battle of the Vistula and at the Treaty of Riga 1921. Poland gained land to the east of the Curzon Land, including the city of Vilna.

End of War

By 1920/21 Russia was at peace after the civil/Polish wars and Lenin, confident that he had control of Russia, began to make political and social reforms.

Political Reform: The 1923 Constitution

The Constituent Assembly, called by Lenin, met in January 1918, but the Bolsheviks only had 14 seats. Lenin dismissed the CA, and after the Civil War, wrote his own constitution. This proclaimed the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). This was a union of equal ranking republics, which were ruled by a soviet that sent representatives to Moscow. Moscow was now the official capital, not Petrograd. Commissars (ministers) were appointed by a central committee and leading ministers sat on the Politburo.

Only communists could stand at elections. The USSR was a ONE PARTY STATE (Totalitarian).

Social Reforms

Bolshevik power extended to all walks of life. Only socialists could teach in schools and university. Schemes for literacy were begun.

The Orthodox Church was attacked in favour of Atheism. By 1921, the teaching of religion to minors (below 18) was forbidden. In 1926 and 1923 priests were arrested, e.g. Patriarch Tikhon.

c. Economic Reform

Russia’s economy had not been thriving under the Tsar. Civil and foreign wars had made it worse.

Using ‘Das Kapital’ as his model, Lenin began economic reforms called:

War Communism

  1. 1917-18 Church and royalist lands were seized and shared among the peasants. Industry, shipping and banks were nationalised. Foreign debts were cancelled and foreign capital in Russian banks was declared the property of the state.
  2. During the Civil War (1918-20) primer crops were requisitioned for the Red Army. Trade between individuals and all profit making was prohibited. Trade was under state control.
  3. By the end of 1920 the Russian economy was in ruins:
  4. Industrial output in 1920 was down to 20% of the 1917 level, and agricultural output in 1920 down to 30% of the 1917 level.

    From 1921-2 a famine killed five million people, despite aid from the USA. Domestic pets were eaten and there were reports of cannibalism. War Communism was blamed for this.

  5. War communism allowed the troops to have the best foodstuffs, so, when they too began to suffer, Lenin decided to change his policy. In March 1921, the Red Navy, at Kronstadt, mutinied, so Lenin ended the restriction of war communism and introduced:

The New Economic Policy (NEP)

Gosplan directed operations and kept state control of heavy industry, transport and foreign trade, but capitalism (profit making by individuals) was party revived:

Effects of the NEP

Stalin and USSR (1927-53)

  1. Background & Career
  2. Dispute with Trotsky, the period of the Triumverate (1923-27)
  3. Aims
  4. Economic Policy (The Third Revolution)
    1. Agricultural Collectivisation (the Kolkhoz)
    2. Industrial Five Year Plans
  5. Government Reform (1936 – new constitution)
  6. Rule by Terror – Purges & Treason Trials

A. Background & Career

He was born in 1879, Josef Djugashvili (He called himself Stalin, or man of steel, this shows he was egotistical.), the son of a cobbler, from Georgia. He was educated at a Seminary, but was expelled in 1899. For his revolutionary activity he was sent to Siberia, on two occasions, but he escaped (cunning). He helped Lenin in the October 1917 revolution and he was rewarded for his bravery (1918-20) in the civil war. The town of Tsarytsyn was renamed Stalingrad (now Volgograd). In 1917 he became commissar for nationalities and in 1922 he became General Secretary of the Communist Party.

B. Dispute with Trotsky, the period of the Triumvirate (1923-27)

By 1923 Lenin had been weakened by an assassination attempt (Dora Kaplan), he had a stroke in 1922, and died in 1924. He had name Trotsky to be his successor and had suggested that Stalin be demoted. After he died there was a power struggle, between Trotsky who was War Commissar and Lenin’s Triumvirate. (Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev). First of all Stalin cause Trotsky to fall out with Zinoviev and Kamenev. Trotsky was dismissed from the Politburo (Trotsky was exiled in 1929 and murdered in 1940) Next he caused Kamenev and Zinoviev to argue, and they were arrested (They were shot in 1936) With these rivals removed Stalin became sole ruler at the Party Conference in December 1927.

C. Aims

Stalin’s aims differed from Lenin’s in that he did not expect to spread Communism worldwide until Communism was secure in the USSR. He also wanted to achieve autarky in agriculture (via the Kolkhoz) and industry via the Five Year Plans.

D. Economic Policy (The Third Revolution)

He called it ‘The Third Revolution’ to give the economy greater emphasis.

a. Agricultural Collectivisation (The Kolkhoz)

Lenin abolished the mirs, but Stalin was the first person to replace them with something permanent. Collectivisation involved grouping the mirs into Kolkhoz.

A manager and a committee were elected to run the Kolkhoz. This involved:

  1. Selling some foods at a cheaper price to town workers.
  2. A rota for workers
  3. Sharing tools and livestock
  4. Equal pay

This system had its disadvantages:

  1. It was not an incentive to produce cheap food for the cities.
  2. The Kulaks lost in the share-out so farming suffered, because these most able farmers resigned or were shot. This was part of Stalin’s policy: ‘To smash the Kulaks as a class.’
  3. Equal pay did not encourage high output.


  1. Reorganisation caused chaos at first. Between 1932 and 1934, 12 million people died of famine.
  2. Collectivisation caused unemployment in framing, but many were absorbed into industry.
  3. Although in 1931, Stalin reintroduced some private firms, the Kolkhoz was to stay. By 1938, 85% of arable land had been collectivised.
  4. Stalin had not achieved autarky but he had achieved collectivisation. Stalin had achieved change but not improvement.

b. Industrial Five Year Plans

Gosplan was responsible for industrialising the USSR. Stalin had three Five Year Plans before the Second World War, and each was a law. If targets were not reached workers were punished. Working in fear meant that targets were reached before the terminal date. Refer to the maps showing the places concerned, and some of the effects of, the three five year plans.

First Five Year Plan (1928-1932)

Its aim was to find new sources of raw materials. These were in plentiful supply but never been minded. Coal and iron were produced in the Urals and in the Kuzbass Basin. Oil was taken from Tashkent, and the waters of the river Dnieper were used for HEP. In four years 50% of the USSR had been industrialised and national income had increased from 27 billion roubles to 45 billion roubles.

Second Five Year Plan (1933-1937)

Like plan 1 it took only four years to complete and involved the production of investment goods (e.g. tractors, lorries and cargo ships). Factories were built near to centres of raw materials, e.g. a motorworks was built at Gorky and a tractor plant was built at Stalingrad. As an incentive to workers, medals were given, e.g. the Stakhanov medal. Technical colleges were built to train workers and to put an end to the sabotage of machinery but unskilled workers. Though the plan finished in four years, most workers were dissatisfied, because they had few consumer goods.

Third Five Year Plan (1937-1941)

The idea was to produce consumer goods (e.g. toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, light bulbs, umbrellas, shoes and shoelaces, cooking pots) but the plan was wrecked by the Second World War when the factories were turned over to making arms.


  1. Output suffered because workers were not encouraged to offer positive suggestions.
  2. Cities grew in size, providing work for unemployed farm workers.
  3. Output between 1927 and 1939 increased by about four times (Coal went from 35 to 145, coil from 12 to 40 and iron from 6 to 32 – figures in millions of tons.)

Stalin’s industrial policy was more successful than his agricultural policy, but even this was ruined by war.

E. Government Reform (1936 new constitution)

In 1936 Stalin replaced Lenin’s 1923 Constitution. Stalin described the 1936 Constitution as ‘ the most democratic in the world’

Structure of Soviet government

In reality the arrows should go downwards, because the USSR was a totalitarian dictatorship.

Stalin’s constitution looked impressive on paper as all over eighteen could vote in a secret ballot, but only communists could stand for ‘election’ and voters merely signed a pre-selected list of names. They did not choose or exclude anyone.

Stalin’s system was also élitist, for example party members had preferential education, shopping facilities and even a special lane on the highways.

F. Rule by Terror – Purges and Treason Trials

Censorship and propaganda were strict. There was no freedom of the press and no criticism of government. Stalin used his secret police, the NKVD and the OGPU, to make sure there was no opposition (dissidents).

Purges and Treason Trials

Stalin got rid of his rivals, Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev:

However the supporters to Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev were still in the communist party, and Stalin wanted them purged. In 1934, Kirov, the head of the Leningrad soviet and Stalin’s friend, was killed by a member of the youth movement (called Komsomol). Stalin used this as an excuse to purge traitors (whom he called Trotskyites). Stalin had planned the death of Kirov.

Statistics on Purging

1934 – of the 139 central committee members, 98 were purged and many were shot (70% purged)

1934 – of the 1966 party conference members, 1108 were purged (56%), and many less important people were also purged, e.g. Kulaks. Stalin never admitted to the number of people he purged, but the number goes into millions

Methods of Purging

Forced accidents, forced confessions under torture, intimidation of family (e.g. kidnapping, beating up, deprivation of education, demotion or unemployment), mock trials (no defence lawyers), labour camps (gulags).

Conditions in Labour Camps

Conditions were cramped (20% lived in cages, 80% lived in swamps). The camps did not have a barbed wire perimeter fence because the surrounding land was so wild. The prisoners had nowhere to escape to. The diet was meagre (1/3 litre of vegetable soup twice a day, and ½ kilo of bread.) Water was drawn from contaminated sources, for example puddles. There was poor sanitation, and prisoners worked long hours in any conditions (-40°F, waist deep in snow). Clothing was poor and disease widespread (e.g. Influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, malaria, frostbite). They were at the mercy of brutal and depraved guards; self-mutilation and suicide were common.

This information taken from two sources:

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Alexander Sclzhenitsyn

La Justice Soviétique – Mora and Zwierniak – 1945

Social Groups in Russia

Women in Russia

Background – Women in Tsarist Russia

Women in Tsarist Russia were, on the whole, regarded as being of an inferior social standing to men, and were seen as being of little importance. Peasant women were often mistreated by their husbands, parents and in-laws, were exhausted by many pregnancies, and their work was considered to be of little value. The situation was very similar for the wives of landowners. Education of women was not taken seriously by many Russians. A woman could have her own property while married, and was often expected to run the estates, if her husband was away.

Women after the 1917 Revolution

The Bolshevik theory was to attempt to emancipate women – make them equal in the eyes of men, give them jobs, welfare reforms and childcare, and to raise the status of the domestic work they did. The reality of life after the revolution made this difficult – hardships caused by the Civil War, War Communism and rising unemployment made people cling to the old ways of life. Women without a man’s support often abandoned their children, as without work they could not support them. A women’s department was set up, laws were passed to enable women to obtain a divorce more easily and they were given support in their roles as mothers, e.g. maternity leave.

The Stalin Years

Stalin declared that the backwardness and inferiority of women had been solved. He said that in the USSR there were only active ‘new women’:

‘The triumph of socialism has filled women with enthusiasm and mobilised the women of our Soviet land to become involved in culture, to master machinery, to develop a knowledge of science and to be active in the struggle for high labour productivity.’ (Pravda, 8th March 1937)

Women in the USSR were needed to bring about industrialisation. For the five year plans to succeed, the state needed women to work. Women were encouraged to be stakhanovki, workers who exceeded their output targets). The amount of working women increased dramatically:

During the Second World War this rose to 16 million – 56% of the workforce. This was inevitable, as women were needed to fill the jobs left by men who had gone to fight. The war also saw women take on more high status jobs. Women went down mines, assumed positions of responsibility on farms, joined the armed services and even commanded male troops. During the war, women were told that there was no profession beyond the Soviet woman, but once men returned they moved back into more manual, unskilled jobs.

Most women were in low-paid light industry. Most jobs were clearly defined as male or female and very few women were involved in administration or soviets, especially in the countryside where traditional views on women remained unchanged. Women in rural areas still saw motherhood as an important job that stopped them contributing fully to the collective farm. This held up the success of collectivisation. Women were told to work all year round, not just at busy times, such as the harvest. They were told it was their duty to themselves and to the state to work hard. Women who increased their output targets were hailed as heroines – E.N. Lebedeva set the ‘famous’ world record for harvesting cabbages in 1946, and she was used in propaganda to encourage other women to be like her. Propaganda was used on a massive scale to put forward the idea that only by working could women truly be equal with men. Of course, women were still expected to produce children, as well as to work. To encourage childbirth, women were given motherhood medals.

Although women were expected to assume a different role – that of worker – in the USSR their social standing was still inferior to men and this was reflected in the low status of their jobs.

Stalin’s Economic Policies: Success or Failure?

  Collectivisation Industrialisation
Reasons the policy was adopted Wants to achieve autarky To modernise the USSR, produce investment goods to increase agricultural output, produce consumer goods to enhance quality of life, to improve the economy and to achieve autarky
Measures taken to enforce the policy   Strict targets for workers with fines for none-completion, mass propaganda campaigns, three five year plans
Successes of the policy Achieved the reorganisation he wanted (85% of arable land collectivised by 1938) Little unemployment, 50% industrialised by 1933, Russia was able to fight in World War II
Failures of the policy Food production fell, there was a famine 1932-33 (12 million died of famine 1932-34) No consumer goods, blamed on World War II
The human cost of the policy Millions died in Kazakhstan and the Ukraine, people who disagreed were purged People who disagreed were purged, breakdown of Russia families.
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