Detente: Nixon and Brezhnev

Nixon and Brezhnev. Click for link.

To the surprise and relief of many people throughout the world, the late sixties and early seventies saw a decrease in tension between the two superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union. This came at a period in the Cold War when both sides possessed nuclear weapons with means of destroying each other. The relationship that is most associated with this “détente” or “thaw” is the one between the Nixon-Ford administration of the United States and the Brezhnev administration of the Soviet Union.

During this time, the United States and the Soviet Union met and composed various agreements. In the Seventeen Moments article “Détente,” Lewis Siegelbaum points out the SALT I talks and the Helsinki Accords as two of the most notable. The SALT talks were talks to limit nuclear and strategic weapons while the Helsinki Accords established the status quo for post-war acceptance throughout Europe. These agreements helped solidify the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union during this time of détente.

Along with these agreements, Nixon also sought the help of nations throughout the Middle East to try to get them to resist Communist insurgency in their countries. Despite Nixon being very active in the counter-communist insurgency campaigns in these nations, as well as backing the overthrow of Allende in Chile in the early 1970s, the relationship and tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union continued to thaw. As an article in the Current Digest shows, Nixon and his advisors, including Henry Kissinger, met with Brezhnev in 1972 and everyone agreed on the benefits that the increased cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union was provided and came up with ways to continue improving them.

Jimmy Carter Quote.

This period of détente would eventually come to an end when the Jimmy Carter administration came into power in 1976. The event that marked then end of the period was when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to fight against a U.S. backed rebel group. Although it did not last forever, the period of détente led to many good things throughout the world. The increased cooperation of both the United States and European nations with the Soviet Union resulted in greater international stability. Along with this, the fear of nuclear war seemed to be forgotten during the time of détente, allowing people to live in less fear. Overall, Brezhnev left his mark on the history of the Soviet Union and his legacy will forever be the thaw that he helped create with the United States.

The Housing Crisis and the Rise of “Khrushchev’s Slums”

Depiction of “Khrushchev Slums” being erected.

The Sixties was a decade of change across the world. While students went on strike in Paris and people were protesting the Vietnam War in Chicago, Khrushchev was attempting to reform some of the old Stalinist ways of the Soviet Union while also keeping Soviet influence in the Eastern Bloc strong. One of the crises that plagued the Soviet Union in the sixties was the lack of sufficient housing in urban areas. As Lewis Siegelbaum points out in his essay on Seventeen Moments, by 1960 23.5 percent of total capital investment was being devoted to housing construction. This boost in investment came off of a series of Khrushchev’s Five-Year Plans. By the year 1965, more than 50 percent of urban dwellers lived in apartments that Khrushchev was so invested in.

Although Khrushchev’s apartment investments helped decrease the housing shortages in urban areas, they came with a cost. Since Khrushchev was focused on correcting the housing shortage quickly, the apartment in which he was investing sacrificed amenities and quality of construction. This led to the newly erected apartment buildings being less pleasant than many people would have wanted. On top of that, the apartments were small and closely packed together, in some cases multiple families had to share kitchen and bathrooms. The discomforts that these apartments brought to families earned them the name “Khrushchev Slums.” In some cases, they were referred to in Russian by their initials, “kaka,” which was suggestive of defecation due to their horrible conditions. Many of these slums were erected in Moscow, as well as other major cities throughout the U.S.S.R.

A cartoonist’s depiction of an apartment in the “Khrushchev Slums.”

Although the “Khrushchev Slums” were not as comfortable as some might had hoped, they did help eliminate the housing crisis in the urban areas of the Soviet Union. More people had placed to live, making people happier. On top of that, the increase in the housing market helped boost the economy, and with the housing crisis handled, Khrushchev was able to focus more politically on keeping influence on the Eastern bloc while loosening some of Stalin’s strict regulations.

The Holocaust and Forgotten Victims

Jewish survivors of Auschwitz on Liberation Day, 1945 (Click Photo for Source)

One of the most horrific events of the Second World War, as well as history itself, was the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the enactment of Hitler’s campaign to exterminate the Jews of Europe. However, the majority of Jews that fell victim to the Holocaust were from Eastern Europe, which would for the majority of the war be Soviet Union territory. The locations of which the Holocaust occurred left a lasting effect on the Soviet Union as well as the rest of Eastern Europe.

When the Nazis launched Operation Barbarossa in the Summer of 1941, the were hoping for a quick and easy win over the East after failing to take Britain in the West. However, this did not go as well as Hitler had hoped, causing the German army to have to begin retreating in 1943 after the battle of Stalingrad. As the German Army retreated, the mindset of the German officials shifted to complete extermination of the Jews in the occupied territories. Many Jews throughout the ghettos of Eastern Europe were rounded up and either shipped to concentration/death camps in the West or shot on the spot. This change in Nazi tactics is one of the aspects of the Holocaust that sets it apart from any other event in history. In any logical war, when the tide of the war seems to be turning in your opponent’s favor, countries tend to cut unnecessary costs such as public transportation and other disposable things to help the war effort. This is not what Germany did during World War II. Even after Hitler knew that Germany’s defeat was inevitable, he continued to run the death camps in Poland and continue killing millions of Jews while the Soviets pushed towards Berlin on the Eastern front.

One of the things that is pointed out in the Holocaust article in the Seventeen Moments database is how the Holocaust had a “dividing effect on its victims” rather than a uniting one. During the post war year, many of the countries held memorials and erected monuments for their countrymen who fell victim to the Holocaust, without paying much attention to those of other countries. Another dispute that arose Jews and the Soviets was the idea that the Jews were the sole victims of the Holocaust. It is true that Jews were the group that was most targeted during the Holocaust, but other Eastern European ethnicities such as the Slavs as well as Gypsies such as the Roma and Sinti were also targeted. Because of this a rift appeared between the Soviets and the Jews due to the latters portrayal of the Holocaust as a unique event of Jewish suffering.

It is indisputable that the Holocaust will forever remain a blemish on the history of the face of humanity; however, it is important to know what groups fell victim to the atrocity and the lasting effects that it left on the countries who bore the brunt of it. The tensions that the claims of the Holocaust being uniquely Jewish has caused lasting resentment in the East, which can be seen in Khrushchev’s attack on a poem written by Russian poet Evengenli Evtushenko at Babii Yar in 1961. Although countries continue to bicker over the legacy of the Holocaust, the fact remains that it was the largest atrocity in history and everyone should strive to prevent it from from ever happening again.

The Lost Shepherd to a Revolutionary Flock

Patriarch Tikhon of the Orthodox church

Ever since the October Revolution in 1917, the relationship between the Orthodox church in Russia and the newly Bolshevik-ruled state had been tense. The head of the Orthodox church, Patriarch Tikhon (pictured above), and other traditionalists in the church had openly opposed the Bolsheviks. This would cause a rift to form between the church and state, while a schism would break apart the church itself. The new Soviet government would welcome this, in fact, they made delegitimizing the church one of its main goals.

In 1921 and 1922, Russia was in the middle of an intense famine. The Bolsheviks used this as an opportunity to turn the people of the Republic against the church. The Orthodox church possessed a vast amount of jewels and other valuable materials that were used in their religious ceremonies. The State waged a propaganda war against the church, accusing it of neglectful of the wellbeing of its flock. This effort by the State was very effective; the reputation of the church was tarnished as people turned against it. The Bolsheviks then issued a decreed that ordered the church to turn over any valuable possessions that could be exchanged for money to be used to buy food abroad for the country. While some priests obeyed the decree, others including Patriarch Tikhon resisted, causing the subsequent looting of churches as well as trials and executions of priests.

These events soon resulted in a schism in the Orthodox church, which had been the goal of the Bolsheviks from the start. In 1922, the younger, more progressive clergy broke away and form what would become to be known as the “Living Church.” Soon after, Patriarch Tikhon was arrested and put in prison under the charges of being the central figure of religious opposition to the Bolsheviks. While Patriarch Tikhon was in prison, the state continued its all out war on the church. Anti-religious propaganda continued to circulate, while a decree was passed which required any religious society with more than fifty members to register with the state. All those who did not register could be denied the right to congregate. These new policies placed the church completely at the mercy of the state.

Meanwhile, the “Living Church” became the main religious authority. They removed any remaining traditionalist clergy from office, including stripping Patriarch Tikhon of his title. When Tikhon died in 1924, the state did not allow the church to elect a new patriarch. Overall, the religious situation remained in shambles for years to come. The “Living Church” lost most of its support by partaking in the state’s campaign against the Orthodox Church. Despite all of these events, some supporters of the Orthodox church remained and rallied against its injustices.

In conclusion, the relationship between the Bolshevik state and the church was by no means an equal and supportive one. The Bolsheviks sought to eliminate all that opposed them, including those in the church or the church itself if need be. By taking control of the church, the Bolsheviks controlled pretty much every aspect of society. In a way, this method may seem unorthodox, but it did result in a more unified Soviet State.



Gregory L. Freeze, Russia. A History, 3rd Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009,) 335-337.

(Image): “Patriarch Tikhon. Fragment of a painting by Constantine and Natalia Miroshnik,” accessed February 24, 2018,

James Von Geldern, “Confiscating Church Gold,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, accessed February 24, 2018,

James Von Geldern, “Living Church,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, accessed February 24, 2018,


War and Revolution

Russian field hospital during World War I.

Russia had not had the best track record when it came to recent wars in the early twentieth century. In fact, the last war they were involved in, the Russo-Japanese War, had ended in a humiliating defeat. The Tsar and the Russian military had lost to a non-European power that they had seen as subordinate to themselves. This loss caused major unrest throughout the empire, resulting in an incident known as “Bloody Sunday.” On “Bloody Sunday,” the Russian troops that wee guarding the Winter Palace shot and killed peaceful protesters. This incident causes the revolting to spread, causing the Tsar to pass laws in order to please the peasants and dissolve the riots. Tsar Nicolas II, along with the Duma, took a shot at a “constitutional experiment,” granting more freedoms to peasants and allowing the to own land. This attempt succeeded slightly in easing the tensions between the aristocracy and the lower class, but this would only be temporary.

Based on this history, it is not surprising that many Russians were not happy when World War I dragged on into its fourth year. A war that they had expected to be short and brief had turned out to be just the opposite, and this started to exert stress on many lower class Russians. Millions and millions of Russians had been enlisted in the military since the beginning of the war and little progress had been made overall. This caused the spirits of Russians to sink as they began to second think Russia’s involvement in World War I.

These feelings, along with the short food supply in Russia, set fire to the revolution in February 1917. People then began protest the government and the war openly. Shortly after the February Revolution, the Russian military began to disintegrate. A few weeks into the revolution, between 100,000 and 150,000 soldiers deserted the military and returned home. The Russian army attempted to stabilize the military be raising a patriotic feeling throughout it. End the end, their attempts failed and the military continued to collapse.

In conclusion, the stresses caused by Russia’s involvement in World War I helped accelerate the revolutions of February and October, 1917. The war had led to a famine throughout Russia, and when the women could not get their bread rations, the February Revolution ensued. Many everyday people were fed up with getting involved in wars that they were not able to win. The loss in the Russo-Japanese War had humiliated the Russian people enough, and they were not happy about their poor performance in World War I either. This disapproval of the war made it easier for the Bolsheviks to rally support behind their slogan, “bread, land, and peace.” Russia’s involvement in World War I is what set the stage for the revolutions to happen. Without the universal public disapproval of the war, it would have been harder to rally the people against the government. All in all, it’s hard to say that without the war there would be no revolution, but the conditions brought on by the war certainly exacerbated and intensified the revolutions of February and October, 1917.


“Context,” Module 03: 1917 – Did the War Cause a Revolution?, European History, accessed February 9th, 2018,

“Introduction,” Module 03: 1917 – Did the War Cause a Revolution?, European History, accessed February 9th, 2018,

(Image): Frank Herbert Simonds, History of the World War, Volume Two: The Making of Middle Europe (Garden City: Doubleday, Page, and Company, 1919), 128.

“Revolution in the Army,” Lewis Siegalbaum, Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, accessed February 9th, 2018,

Three Generations

Three generations of a Russian family in Zlatoust, Russia in 1909.

This photo depicts three generations of a Russian family and the beginning of the twentieth century. This family lived in a town know as Zlatoust in the Ural Mountains. The town had become a hub for transportation and arms production at the turn of the century. The son (middle) and granddaughter (right) worked in the arms factory in the town, which had helped provide arms to the Russian military since the beginning of the nineteenth century. In particular, the factory specialized in the production of sabers and swords for the Russian military. Although the use of arms in warfare had increased, the necessity for handheld weapons still persisted and the factory had thrived for many years.

Out of everything in the photo, the family’s attire can reveal insight on the global cultural exchange occurring during the early 1900s. The father (left) is dressed in traditional Russian clothes that were popular through imperial Russia during the 19th century. The son and the granddaughter, however, are wearing clothes of a more western style. This subtle difference may be overlooked by many but it can tell a story of its own. The differences in clothing shows how Western style and culture was seeping into the East even at the beginning of the 1900s. The generational gap is present in mostly every culture and the same can be seen in this photograph. The father, who had worked in the factory for more than 50 years, is likely to have deep ties to the traditions of the past, thus explaining his attire’s Russian characteristics. However, the same cannot be said for the son and the granddaughter. It is clear to see that between the father’s generation and the son’s, there was likely a Western influence in clothing style. This influence continued even into the granddaughter’s generation. Only when all three are present side-by-side in the photograph can the differences be discerned clearly.

The introduction of Western style clothing seen on this photograph shows how much Russians were attracted to Western ideas and innovations even at the turn of the century. Some may find this interesting and somewhat surprising when considering the distinct differences associated with the Soviet Union and the West throughout much of the twentieth century. As one can see, Western influence had already been trickling into Russia for generations in 1909 when this photograph was taken. It seems that people in the East possessed many curiosities about the West and welcomed parts of its culture. Although we know this was frowned upon by many of the Soviet leaders such as Stalin, Western culture still seeped into the East Bloc during the Cold War, reaching all the way to the Soviet Union itself. It was this spread of Western culture that helped lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union. As one can now see, the Western culture that helped collapse the Soviet Union in 1991 was not much different than the spreading of Western culture in Russia in 1909 as depicted in this photograph. Overall, it seems that Western culture was spreading to the East throughout the entire 20th Century and was impossible to stop, despite the wishes of the Soviet leaders.

This photograph shows the fluidity of culture and how quickly it can spread across the globe. In as short a time as a generation, aspects of a culture can change greatly, as one can see when examining this photograph. Whether this cultural change was restricted to clothing styles, the photograph cannot say. However, I find this to be very unlikely. Ideas and beliefs can spread faster than material objects and for that reason I belief that the culture surrounding Zlatoust likely experienced many ideological changes from the father’s generation to the granddaughter’s. I can only speculate on what these changes could have been but the shift from traditional values of imperial Russia seems to be present from the photograph. Nonetheless, the cultural change is clear and cannot be denied. The Western style clothing in the images is evidence as to how quickly, easily, and sometimes subtly a culture in an area can change as well as the acceptance of Western culture throughout Russia.


Photograph URL:

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, “Library of Congress Exhibitions – The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated: The Empire That Was Russia,” Library on Congress, accessed January 18, 2018,

Gregory L. Freeze, Russia. A History, 3rd Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).