The New Union Treaty: The Desperate Attempt to Save the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union was coming undone. Nationalist political organizations in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia controlled the parliaments and demanded independence from the USSR in April of 1991. Despite a referendum to preserving the Soviet territories, the three Baltic states refused to participate in the referendum and soon Georgia would join them in declaring independence. Moldavia and Armenia began testing the waters for independence, refusing to take part in the Soviet Union’s referendum and suddenly six states threatened to leave the Soviet Union. A major coal miners strike, which started in March, entered its second month and had begun inspiring workers in other industries to participate in organized strikes. After failing to act in revolutions in 1989, the Warsaw Pact was formally becoming undone and the military alliance designed to counter NATO was no more. With all of these events happening in April of 1991, the Soviet Union was its breaking point and was in a desperate struggle to preserve as much of its empire as it could.

Gorbachev
Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev

When the Soviet Union dealt with insurrection in the past, it had responded with an overwhelming show of force to reset the region’s government and people to the USSR’s desired state of being. However, Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev decided to instead to rewrite the Union Treaty. Despite meeting with the leaders of each of the republics that did not participate in the referendum, none of those countries joined the the talks to form the New Union Treaty. This left nine Soviet Republics and Gorbachev to establish the new treaty, with the meetings being labeled the “Novo-Ogarevo process” after a nearby village where these leaders met.

In August, the New Union Treaty was finally finished. It gave far more power to the individual Soviet republics than what they had before. It stated that each of the republics were entitled to mineral rights in their territories. Most importantly, the new treaty gave individual republics the ability to have their laws trump Soviet law, making the state a confederation. This treaty, if it were enacted, may have radically changed the foundation of the Soviet Union to the point which it would appear as a shadow of its former self, yet still containing all the pieces which made it such an intimidating and powerful empire.

boris-yeltsin_21-t
Russian Federation leader Boris Yeltsin

However, the New Union Treaty that Gorbachev labored so hard on was never enacted. Conservative forces within the Soviet Union which desired these individual territories to submit to Soviet rule and restore the old order. Their coup failed, swinging the momentum back in the direction of Russian Federation leader Boris Yeltsin and the other republics which desired greater independence. After the coup, the push to sign the New Union Treaty by the Soviet republics was abandoned and in December, the Soviet Union became completely undone and the sovereign independent states emerged from its ashes.

Sources:

Lewis Siegelbaum, “Nine Plus One Agreement” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History.
“New Union Treaty: Treaty on the Union of Sovereign States,” Sovetskaia Rossiia, August 15, 1991.
“Mikhail Gorbachev: A former Soviet Statesmen” Photo Credit Giant Bomb.
“Prominent Russians: Boris Yeltsin,” Photo Credit Russiapedia.

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • RSS

Attacks from All Sides: The Dissidence to Brezhnev’s Soviet Union

Under Khrushchev, Soviets were allowed to criticize their political leaders as a certain amount of free speech was allowed. Deeply departing the days of terror under Stalin, Khrushchev’s leadership did not go after people whose actions did not threaten the state, allowing a greater expression of artistic and intellectual criticisms of the state. The arrival of Brezhnev constricted that freedom of expression or at the very least attempted to. As the current rulers of the Soviet Union wished to temper speech, intellectuals continued pushing for greater freedoms of expression in order to criticize the regime. From protests to mass demonstrations to the circulation of banned literature, intellectuals fought the current ideological status quo enforced by Brezhnev and his people.

Brezhnev
Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union from 1964-1982

Three main ideological dissidents arose out of the dissident movement towards Brezhnev’s Soviet Union. The liberal strain was best represented by Andrei Sakharov, arguing that policies which favored the freedom of expression and the defense of human rights were necessary, especially in this growing new world of nuclear weapons and divided powers. Liberals preached for greater cooperation with the United States and believed that the current strict ideological beliefs held by the modern Communist Party prevented the ideological cooperation needed for this to happen. Social justice and ideological freedom would benefit all of humanity. Conservative dissent towards the modern Soviet Union was also prevalent. Critics attacked Western values and labeled Marxism as one such ideology which emerged from the West. They desired a return to Russian Orthodoxism, viewing a greater return to Christianity as the only way Russia could heal itself from its mistakes throughout the century. Marxists also shared in the dissent of the modern Soviet Union. Many Marxists believed it was time to invite the people, or at least a greater portion of them, to have a say in the running of the government. These dissenters viewed Brezhnev as too authoritarian and demanded a new Soviet Union which embraced democratic principles which Marxism originally called for.

Sakharov
Andrei Sakharov, nuclear physicist and popular liberal author and dissenter.

The response to these criticisms were met with ferocity from the Brezhnev in others in the Soviet government. The most vocal of dissenters were placed in labor camps or were exiled. Underground organizations which preached for human rights and more democratic governance were sought out and demolished by government forces. The lack of change any of these criticisms of the modern Soviet state brought around deep unrest in the Soviet populace. This dissatisfaction with the modern government is one of the reasons Mikhail Gorbachev was able to gain ground and eventually lead the Soviet Union, with his radical policies of glasnost and perestroika going against the established political philosophy Brezhnev and his allies had pushed throughout the Soviet Union during the 1970s.

Sources:

James von Geldern, “The Dissident Movement,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History.
Andrei Sakharov, Sakharov Speaks (New York: Knopf, 1974), pp. 58-61, 80-81, 112-13.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Letter to the Soviet Leaders (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), pp. 19-21, 24-26, 41-43, 51-54, 56-57.
Roy A. Medvedev, On Socialist Democracy (New York: Knopf, 1975), pp. 310-15, 331-32.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, “Leonid Ilich Brezhnev: President of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” Encyclopedia Britannica, Photograph, June 24, 2014.
“Andrei Sakharov,” Encyclopedia Britannica Kids, Photograph.

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • RSS

Invading Czechoslovakia: The Brezhnev Doctrine in Practice

Replacing Antonin Novotny as First Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in 1968, Alexander Dubcek sought to incorporate swift political reforms. After his predecessor failed to quell the rebellious nature of the youths and intellectuals or find any acceptable ways of utilizing these passions for communist objectives, Dubcek implemented a different approach to gain support from the Czechs. Dubcek announced an “Action Program,” policies designed around allowing political freedom and reducing the existing laws on secret policing and economic freedoms. Dubcek hoped that is new program would generate support throughout the country, as well as being viewed as an acceptable twist from the old Communist laws based on those from the Soviet Union.

dubcek
Picture of Alexander Dubcek. It says: “I am with you, be with us!”

Instead of calmly adopting these new policies and celebrating what they achieved, as Dubcek may have hoped, Czechs eagerly embraced the new reforms. Soon, workers councils were established and calls for strikes in certain economic sectors emerged. Members of academia pressed their viewpoints, hoping to achieve in greater social change. While the situation was not complete chaos for Dubcek and his people, Brezhnev and the Soviet Union disliked the Western-lite reforms that were implemented and were determined to reverse them.

The Soviet Union expressed great fear over Dubcek’s reforms. They realized he had little power of reasserting control and with other Soviet intellectuals beginning to support the policies Dubcek put in place, they knew they had to act. Brezhnev unleashed the full power of the Soviet bloc upon Czechoslovakia in order to end the political revolution. Many Soviet Bloc states feared that the political changes in Czechoslovakia could extend to their own nations, Communist leaders throughout Warsaw Pact states supported an invasion. As did Communist hardliners within Czechoslovakia, believing that Dubcek’s experiment had gotten out of hand and threatened socialist rule over Europe. Calling upon the Warsaw Pact forces, minus Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia who supported Dubcek’s efforts, Brezhnev gave the Soviet forces the go-ahead to reassert standard Communist laws in Czechoslovakia. The invasion was not met with wide-spread armed resistance, though there were many angry and sometimes violent demonstrators, as hundreds of thousands of Warsaw Pact troops occupied the country and reversed its new laws.


Warsaw Pact tanks making their way through Czechoslovakia.

The invasion proved to damage the international reputation of the Soviets throughout the world. The Brezhnev Doctrine, which argued that it was the duty of Communist countries to invade its neighboring Communist states if they were acting anti-socialist, was viewed as very unpopular by even Communist sympathizers in the West. Brezhnev's invasion of Czechoslovakia created a credible persona that other states throughout Eastern Europe had no real autonomy, that their sovereignty was an illusion created by their Soviet puppet masters. Video footage of the Warsaw Pact forces flooding into Czechoslovakia flooded the televisions around the world, showing people that the Russian Communists did not even tolerate their own allies drifting too far away from the Soviet Union's desired policies. To counteract this image, Brezhnev would be required to spend political capital trying to calm the international outrage by making numerous peace deals with Western powers, including improving relations with the United States.

Sources:
Lewis Siegelbaum, “Crisis in Czechoslvakia,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History.
Sergei Kovalev, The International Obligations of Socialist Countries, Pravda, 26 September 1968, 4.
Vasil et al. Bilak, Letter to Brezhnev, translated by Mark Kramer, August 1968.
Gregory L. Freeze, Russia: A History, 3rd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
“I Am With You,” Poster of Alexander Dubcek, 1968.
“Tanks in the Streets,” Paul Goldsmith, Czech Center, New York, 1968. HO/AFP/Getty Images

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • RSS

Hungary and the Soviet Union’s Intervention

Matyas Rakosi, the leader of the Hungarian Communist Party, was a strict leader during a time of fierce political repression and economic turmoil. His supporters maintained strengthen even after his resignation in 1953. Due to their political maneuverings, they were able to strip power away from the the new popular prime minister, Imre Nagy in 1955. Growing tensions within Hungary, especially from the country’s youth, had simmered since the instillation of the Hungarian Communist Party into governance and their anger began to spill out onto the streets in an attempted revolution.

Soviet Tanks in Budapest.

Soviet Tanks in Budapest.

In a rally held by university students in the center of Budapest to commemorate the popular poet Sandor Petofi, calls for greater freedoms and political rights were echoed among the participants. Eventually, the rally grew violent with shots being fired in the streets and an uprising against the establishment started to gain steam. The young militant activists sacked the newspaper of the Hungarian Communist Party and, in the face of emergency, Nagy was reappointed to power to quell the growing insurgency. However, the movement continued to grow in support as members of Hungary’s military and workers from around the country joined the movement and began seizing factories and organizing militia movements. Having lost control of the country, nearby contingents of Soviet troops attempted to end the uprising claiming invitation to stop the uprising by the Hungarian government, only to be forced to retreat proclaiming that Hungary was falling victim to foreign and reactionary influence undermining the government. The uprising in Hungary seemed to done the unthinkable, force fundamental change in the country as Nagy called for non-Communist party members to enter and play major roles in government, as well as starting to meet the demands of the protesters.

Upon seeing the Hungarian uprisings as well as the similar events occurring in Poland as a threat to Soviet rule throughout the region, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev sent a large contingent of additional soldiers into Hungary. Seeing the battle lines become drawn between the Soviet Union and Hungary, Nagy put himself as a leader of the Hungarian resistance, declaring the withdrawal of his state from the bonds of the Warsaw Pact. Janos Kadar, the new head of the Hungarian Communist Party, sided with the Soviets and declared Nagy a traiter while making himself the new head of a new Hungarian government. On the day that Soviet forces overwhelmed the Hungarian defenses, Nagy issued a statement by radio, telling the world that Hungary’s lawful democratic government was under attack. No help from the West or Hungary’s neighbors came however, due to a false understanding between the Hungarian government and Radio Free Europe. The Soviets quickly seized back control of Hungary, giving power to Kadar, arresting and executing Nagy, and preserving the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Bloc. Despite the threat of Hungary’s counter-revolution marking the beginning of the end for the Soviet Bloc, the Communist powers were able to regain control of Hungary and Eastern Europe, preserving the land’s close obedience to Soviet rule.

Sources:
Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Hungarian Crisis.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History.
Imre Nagy, Radio Announcement. November 4, 1956
Department of State Bulletin. Vol. 35, no. 907 (12 November 1956), pp. 745-746
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History, 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 418-419.
Soviet Tanks in Budapest (1956).

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • RSS

Starvation Returns: The Famine After the War

Used to death from a history of famine and the recent long bloody war with Germany, the Soviet Union once again found itself in the midst of starvation. Starvation occurred to the Soviets during the war: in the Battle of Leningrad, more than a million Soviets died of starvation and disease. Of course the death made up only a fraction of the people the Soviet Union lost more than twenty-five million Soviets died in WWII. Many of the soldiers that survived the war decided not to return to agrarian life, hurting farmers ability to feed themselves and sustain the high quotas the state required. Needing food for its cities which had a swelling population, as well as believing lands under its control could produce more resources under proletariat leadership, supplies were seized from farmlands which needed their produce to survive. Already broken and attempting to build their crippled empire the Soviets suffered another major strike of mass starvation.

c3e51dab964fa296cfacb4f36c537176
“We Can Defeat Drought Too!”

In 1946, a severe drought would hit present-day Ukraine, then under Soviet control. This drought combined with the Soviet’s collectivization policies for agriculture caused millions of peasants to die from famine and a plague of typhoid which swept through Eastern Europe. For most collective farms, approximately half of their products would be given to the state due to outrageously high quotas set by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, despite protests from its secretary, future Soviet Union Leader Mikhail Khrushchev. A main reason for the increases in Soviet demand for agrarian products came from the Committee’s determination that more could be taken from these areas without it too much adversely affecting the region and that that farm goods taken from the peasants as of then was insufficient. In their declaration in September 1946, the Committee proclaimed wide-spread violations of the Kolkhoz Charter, the law which created collectivized farmland, and these infractions needed to be dealt with harsh and severely. The Bolsheviks on the Committee proclaimed that due to improper use of crediting Labor Days and sustained inability to not produce enough food for the state, and the corruption riddling the system could only be solved through strict actions and violent repercussions. Afterwards, the Soviet Union took to disciplining the Ukraine peasants they were supposed to serve. They oppressed and killed villages and leaders who struggled to meet the high quotas or expressed any opposition towards the Bolsheviks plan. Believing the problem was ingrained bourgeoisie mentality in the peasants, the Soviets repeatedly raised the quotas as well as having authorities legally rob villagers of their only source of food.

image

Hitting rural villages which lacked the means to produce enough food to help themselves and the state suffered the most. While hitting regions across Eastern Europe, most of Ukraine experienced this major drought and disproportionately suffered more from it than nearly anywhere else in the Soviet Union. Many Ukrainian villagers were forced to eat things such as grass and tree bark to keep from starving to death when the drought hit. Millions of Ukrainians were reported to suffer from muscular dystrophy. Low estimates say 100,000 while high estimates say nearly 3 million were killed by the famine. While it hit all of the Soviet Union during 1946-1947, the famine would continue to degrade Ukrainian peasants until the end of the decade.

Sources:
edited by Gregory L. Freeze, Russia: A History, 3rd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 390-393.
Lewis Siegelbaum, Famine of 1946-1947.
Fedor Abramov, Two Winters and Three Summers (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1984), Chapter IV, pp. 120-123.
Vladimir Gsovski, Soviet Civil Law (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Law School, 1948), Vol. II, pp. 487-497.
V. Govorkov: We Can Defeat Drought Too! (1949)
“The Famine of 1946-1947,” Territory of Terror, 2013.

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • RSS

Moscow: A City Reborn

The capital of the Soviet Union needed to be revitalized. With Stalin holding total control of the country, matched with his ideological desires and national need, pushed much of the state’s resources into rebuilding and empowering Moscow. When they came into power, Stalin and the rest of the Soviet leadership realized that while Moscow may be the most important city in all of Russia, it was nowhere near as built up as it needed to be for industrialization purposes. In order for the Soviet Union to contend with its Western neighbors as a military and economic powerhouse, it needed to further transform itself away from its rural, agrarian roots into a more urbanized society. Stalin set forth his industrialization plans, placing the rebirth of Moscow high on the list.

Moscow before Reconstruction

Moscow before Reconstruction

In July 10th, 1935, Stalin and Viacheslav Molotov signed a plan into affect which would expand the already large, 800-year old city. One of the most important components of this plan was to expand the city to nearly three times its current size. Such an expansion would not only require the resettlement of peasants into the city, but also required Moscow to expand outwards, mutating the farmland into the urban jungle. More than 15 million square meters of new housing units were planned to be installed and 16 new highways became constructed. The state paid for schools, nurseries, and other necessary social institutions in order to benefit the new transition the peasants had into the city and make Moscow into a modern-age metropolis.

Planned Palace of Soviets building

Planned Palace of Soviets building

As construction of the city emerged, the old buildings the Bolsheviks thought were unnecessary had to collapse and give way to the new. Numerous churches and religious buildings were demolished by Russia to make way for homes or other construction projects. Since Stalin disliked the influence the Orthodox Church still held over Russia, this was killing 2 birds with 1 stone. New schools, as well theaters, clubs, and department stores were added into existing Moscow as the city began to emerge as a Russionized version of Paris or London. Canals and highways were pushed through the new Moscow, adding to the city’s industrial potential and benefiting the residents whose homes were not demolished to make way for new developments. Projects dedicated towards the rise and glory of Soviet rule began to be planned out and their construction started, including the never-completed Palace of Soviets, numerous large statutes of Lenin, and the elegant Moscow Metro which its construction was filled with materials, made to be visually appeasing instead of efficient. The purpose of these statues and monuments was to instill national pride and also reassert that Bolshevik rule would be there to stay in Russia for generations to come. As the creation of the new Moscow demonstrates, 1930s of the Soviet Union focused on the expansion and development of the Soviet state and its cities when its authority throughout Russia went unchallenged. With little to no internal dissent which immediately threatened the state, the Bolsheviks could finally build towards their goal: a powerful socialist state which would rival even the greatest empires of the West.

Source
Sergei Rzhevsky, “Moscow Palace of Soviets – Soviet architectural giant (July 29, 2011),” Russia Travel Blog, http://russiatrek.org/blog/history/moscow-palace-of-soviets-soviet-architectural-giant/.
Victor Ruikovich, “Moscow Before Reconstruction (1927),” Photodome 1999 http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1936-2/rebuilding-of-moscow/rebuilding-of-moscow-images/#bwg89/592.
Lewis Siegelbaum, “Rebuilding Stalinism: 1929-1941,” edited by Gregory L. Freeze, Russia: A History, 3rd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 361-362.
Lewis Siegelbaum, “Rebuilding of Moscow,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1936-2/rebuilding-of-moscow/.
Harold Denny, “Kremlin is to Remain,” New York Times, 11 July 1935, p. 1, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1936-2/rebuilding-of-moscow/soviet-to-rebuild-moscow-in-10-years/.

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • RSS

The Soviet Expands

As the Soviet Union expanded and sought to consolidate their power, they realized that they needed support from certain ethnic-minorities in certain places in their empire, especially those further from Moscow. The Soviet Union began establishing a policy of nativization, in which political positions were given to indigenous peoples over Russian counterparts. In addition, the native languages were promoted by the Soviet Union rather than Russian. Such practices were conducted to their most extreme in the Uzbek territory. All state institutions, including the local soviets, were represented by Uzbeks and speaking the native language was necessary for hiring in the local government. While this policy of nativization worked beneficially at first, the Soviets moved on to the matters of enforcing their ideology on these regional territories. This marked the beginning of a culture war in Central Asia.

Islam was a fundamental building block to many communities in Central Asia under Russian rule. Even under the tsar, the cultural practices of these peoples were generally uninterrupted as long as Russian leadership was recognized. While the Soviets supported the idea of native rule, they came into conflict with religious, cultural tenants of these areas due to ideological reasons.

Now how is this important to the First-Five-Year Plan? Under Stalin’s leadership, the economic plan was built on the collectivization of agriculture, strengthen the peasants under leadership of the proletariat, rapid facilitation of industrialization, and to target the land owners. The Soviet’s wanted to expand their plan throughout their state, even through Central Asia. The issue though is that there existed no real proletariat in these societies, no real economic class of people the Soviet government thought that their policies could lift up against the oppressors. The Bolshevik ideology was central of leading all of the oppressed groups out of oppression while damaging the oppressors. In this case, it had to be the liberation of women in Central Asia, which Soviets identified as being oppressed by cultural laws which traced their origins back towards the Central Asian brand of Islam.

The most important focus in this effort to enforce their ideology over Central Asia was the promotion of women’s rights under Soviet rule. The Bolsheviks sought to eliminate longstanding traditions in these areas that oppressed women including forced marriages, bride-price, and wearing the veil. The Uzbek Communist Party endorsed and enforced these policies, supporting mass burnings of the veil. The response was violent, with women who were uncovered serving as targets. While the local protests and resistance to these laws created resentment in Central Asia and were loosely enforced by the Soviets, the government had already made its mark in upsetting the status quo and bringing the territory’s policies closer to the desires of the leaders in Moscow.

While no real local proletariat existed in Central Asia, the Soviets at times attempted to create them. A great example of this is the Turkestan-Siberian Railroad, created to boost agricultural and industrial development. In order to create such a large project, the Soviets hired thousands of people in Central Asia to work alongside Russians in constructing the railroad. The exposure to industrial discipline and the projects cultural influences irreparably impacted the thousands of workers which the Russians decided to make proletariats out of. The creation of this railroad, along with many other projects the Soviets employed Central Asians to work in as proletariat-lite workers, demonstrates the extent of how the First-Five-Year Plan sought to change not only Russian society, but that of all of the territories in the Soviet Union. These construction projects would establish a small, yet present proletariat-like group in Central Asia, as well as help industrialize the areas, collectivize agriculture, and allow the Soviet Union to establish control over as much of their territory as possible.

Sources:
Freeze, Gregory. Russia: A History.
Seventeen Moments in Soviet History http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/making-central-asia-soviet/

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • RSS

Starving Soviets: The Great Famine of 1921-1922

It was a tumultuous and deadly period when the Bolsheviks seized power. Much of history of the early Soviet Union centers on the rise of Lenin and Stalin, the mass killings, and the conglomeration of Soviet power. Not as much information is centered on the widespread famines that wiped countless numbers of Russians during this period. Due to the constant fighting in the Soviet Union’s early days, the Bolsheviks were forced to send numerous armies to quell any chances of further revolution and to stake their claim on Russia. Due to the widespread distribution of soldiers, the Soviets had to establish numerous, long supply lines in order to feed their troops. Such an extensive operation led to a “food dictatorship” being imposed upon the peasantry, as grain and other food supplies were requisitioned by the government in order feed the troops. Peasant rebellions against the new Soviet leadership and policies led to a gradual reduction of farming lands, causing an even greater reduction of food supplies. Despite the New Economic Policy and other initiatives to hinder uprisings, the need for more food for the military increased coupled with the decrease of farming lands and resistance by many peasants, the Soviet Union was put in a state that it could not afford even a small dip in agriculture production.

Soviet poster encouraging frugality due to the famine

Unfortunately for the Soviet Union, such an even occurred in the Spring of 1921. The Volga basin, which supplied much of the Soviet’s agriculture necessities, suffered a devastating crop failure. Hitting at the absolute worse period of time for the young Soviet Union, the nation found itself in desperate need of food. More than twenty million people within the country’s borders were impacted by this famine. More than one million Soviets living in the Volga basin region emigrated to other regions of the state. The economic and resource deficit needed to solve this problem forced the Soviet Union to alleviate the food shortages by turning to political means. This meant asking for help from the international community. Needing immediate food supplies and having no other options, the Soviet Union was forced to reach out to its Western, ideological adversaries. The American Relief Administration, directed by future United States President Herbert Hoover, supplied necessary medical and food assistance to approximately nearly ten million Soviets in need of it.

Picture of Russian soldiers unloading supplies given to them by the United States

The Famine of 1921 devastated the Soviet Union and proved to be one of the first international tests for the new leaders. Needing outside intervention in order to save many of its people, Lenin and the other Soviets suppressed their proud ideology in order to receive the international aide that they needed. The state’s mistakes coupled with unfortunate timing ultimately led to the deaths of around five million people, many of them dying of diseases caused by their weakened immune systems, a byproduct of undernourishment. As awful as the famine was, millions of more likely would have died if it weren’t for the Soviet Union reaching out to the United States for aid. The conduct by the state demonstrated the transition the Bolsheviks had made from uncompromising revolutionaries into political rulers whom were directly responsible for the welfare of their new state.

Sources
Russia: A History by Gregory L. Freeze

Famine of 1921-22 Images

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • RSS

From Revolution to Crisis

With the reign of the tsar finally coming to an end in February, the new government immediately fell into economic crises. The new government inherited the economic mismanagement, high income inequality, a very large and angry peasant class, and the costly war effort from the old regime. Upon gaining power, the Provisional Government experienced demands for immediate action needed to helps stimulate the economy. The newly formed government with its slow machinations, internal divisions, and lack of experience, combined with the economic mess it inherited, as well as political protests from peasants and the Petrograd Soviet, proved ill-equipped to immediately solve the many problems Russia possessed. The Petrograd Soviet, which was formed out of a collection of several socialist parties, demanded the government to renounce any and all expansionist war aims. The Provisional Government countered that the war was needed over treaty obligations, despite not having any expansionist aims. The frustration with the new government would hit a boiling point in just two months, as Vladimir Lenin made his return to the political scene.

Portrait of Vladimir Lenin picturing him soon after his return to Petrograd

Returning to Russia, Lenin shook the political world with his April Thesis, which demanded the abolition of dual power and the governing authority of Russia to be in soviet hands. In his statement, Lenin not only promised to end food shortages and long standing grievances held by the peasants, but to also end the war which Russia’s poorest disproportionately suffered the most from. The April Thesis helped not only Lenin regain the role as the leader of the Bolsheviks, but also differentiated his party from other socialist parties, making it more powerful in the process. The timing of his return as a political leader was perfect for soon it became known that the Foreign Minister Pavel Milyukov had promised its Allies it would observe all treaties made by the tsar. Mass protests erupted in Russia, forcing the Milyukov and the War Minister to resign. In an effort to quell the anger at the Provisional Government’s foreign policy, the Provisional Government formed a new coalition government with the Petrograd Soviet.

Foreign Minister Pavel Milyukov

The formation of a new government in response to the protests during the April Crises only played into Lenin’s hands. With socialist opponents of the Soviets joining the Provisional government, these parties could be both linked to the government’s domestic policies and the increasingly unpopular war. This allowed the political divisions between the Bolsheviks and all other parties become more noticeable, which benefited the Bolsheviks, especially as the clear political party opposed to the war. The April Crisis demonstrated the Russian populace’s issues with the current government authorities and the wide-spread disdain for the war. This crisis demonstrated the trouble the new Provisional Government would continue to have since the disposition of the tsar and foreshadowed that Russia’s political revolution was far from over.

Sources:
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History, 3rd ed. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2009.
Kavkaza, Vestnik. “Pavel Milyukov on State Unity.” Vestnik Kavkaza. Article Published 2014. http://vestnikkavkaza.net/articles/society/46462.html.
Siegelbaum, Lewis. “April Crisis.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History: An On-line Archive of Primary Sources. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/april-crisis/.
Rusin, Arkadii Viktorovich. Lenin at the Finland-Station (1970). Horvath, Werner: Political Art Gallery. 2000.

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • RSS

The Reforms of Pyotr Stolypin

Russia was in a period of great instability when Pyotr Stolypin took power as the Prime Minister of the Russian Empire in 1906. The Russian Empire was beginning to experiment in (minor) democratic reforms in the years prior to this. With the establishment the Duma and rise of powerful forces urging a revolution, Styolypin became a leader tasked with passing reforms and legislation that Nicholas II would permit while dealing with the anger and demands for reform that Octobrists and other Left wing groups demanded.

Pyotr Stolypin

Agriculture and land reform that Stolypin became known for was likely the most important and consequential policy decision he made as Prime Minister. The issues of what to do with the peasant land was a long standing problem. The several political factions split over whether and how to address the dispute over peasant lands. The more Left-wing factions desired compulsory redistribution of gentry land with the Kadets demanding compensation and the radicals arguing against compensation. Stolypin’s solution was to reallocate the communal lands, opposed to the gentry lands, and transfer them to individual peasants for them to farm. This reform was eventually approved by Third Duma and was intended to create a large number of self-sustaining farmers and property owners who would feel loyal to the government and supportive of the political system. These peasants, Stolypin hoped, would become a powerful base of support for the imperial regime. The opposition, which had called for redistribution of the gentry lands to village communes and included political groups such as the Kadets, Octobrists, and even anti-individualistic conservatives, found themselves in disagreement with Stolypin’s reform. This reform led to the collapse and dismemberment of the Second Duma, further angered many Russians and pushed the state down the path towards violent revolution.

While not having anywhere near as much authority as the Emperor, Stolypin had considerable power in Russia during this tumultuous period. Contributing to further instability in the country, in 1907 Stolypin aided in the passage of infamous Article 87, a law that gave the tsar the ability to not only abolish the Duma, but to pass laws between elections, such as laws that could alter the composition of the next Duma. The result of this law was not only the creation of a new, more agreeable Duma for Stolypin, but also allowed his agricultural reform to be passed between elections and skew the next Duma’s composition to ensure its passage. This reform’s resulting Third Duma heavily embodied with landowners, businessmen, nobility, and others who supported the tsar and favored Stolypin’s agriculture policy. From this reform and election of the next Duma, Stolypin’s obtained a large nationalist coalition whose main opposition was the left-leaning Kadets and the centrist Octobrists. Major divides persisted throughout the Third Duma, with even Stolypin’s cabinet becoming divided on a wide variety of issues. In spite of this, this was the only Duma to remain for the duration of its designated term.

Stolypin’s leadership during the Russian Empire produced a major impact on Russian culture and politics. Due to numerous intense political pressures from both the Right and the Left, Stolypin ultimately produced reforms and policies that drew favor from the tsar and fueled the anger in the political opposition. While a consequential leader in a tumultuous time, Stolypin’s political decisions during his time in Prime Minister accelerated the coming Russian Revolution.

Source

Freeze, Gregory L. ed. Russia. A History, 3rd Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Wyhnar, Bohdan. “Stolypin Agrarian Reforms.” Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5, 1993. Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Posted in 2001. Viewed on January 30, 2016. http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/display.asp?linkpath=pages%5CS%5CT%5CStolypinagrarianreforms.htm

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • RSS