The Major Themes of Russian History

For my last blog post this semester, I wanted to look back at the Russian History that we have studied.  Looking at my blog posts from the semester, I was able to come up with one overarching theme that I think best describes Russia’s past.  Stalled progress and stagnation are two words that accurately describe Russia’s history.

Looking back to my first post of the semester, I noted how it’s pretty well known that Russia lagged behind the western world as far as technological and social advancements.  A later post about the city of Akademgorodok focused on what seemed to be Russia’s desire to devote itself to scientific research and advancement.  Unfortunately, it was unable to escape the problems of elitism and corruption, and never was able to succeed as a true center of innovation.

The common denominator between failures like these and other soviet failures is the corruption and translucency of the government.  Prior to the Revolution of 1917, the problem was that too many individuals and groups wanted power. For example, in the cases of Pyotr Stolypin and Lavr Kornilov, there was simply too much corruption and a lack of true Russian leadership to stabilize the nation.  Post-1917, The extreme corruption, lack of transparency, and willingness to persecute opposition was at the forefront.  Starting with the Lost Census of 1929, the government showed that it was not afraid to cover up any event or occurrance that undermined the nation or its leaders.  The era that followed this, known as “Stalinization” ruled over Russia until World War II, when “de-Stalinization”, an effort to undo everything done by Josef Stalin. Led by Nikita Khrushchev, this effort looked to create a more transparent government, reduce the coercion and persecution that occurred under Stalin, and grow individual freedoms.  Unfortunately, along with the idea that Russia’s history is defined by stalled progress, these anti-Stalinist ideas were not really so anti-Stalinist.  For example, Khrushchev instituted a moral code that “all good communists should abide by.”  This moral code is an example of stalled progress as it set guidelines as to how communists should act, which went against the idea of more personal choice and freedom.  It also didn’t fully reduce the role of government in people’s lies, as it was up to party representatives to “intervene” if the rules were not followed.  So, in essence, de-Stalinization wasn’t extremely effective in de-Stalinizing the country.

Russia has a long and illustrious history, but much of it can be summed up in a few words.  Most history buffs can tell you that Russia has had a history of technological and social lag and stagnation, but after this semester, I can expand on that.  The lag and stagnation that has repeatedly occurred in Russia can be attributed to the corruption, coercion, and general weakness of the Russian government over time.

Chernobyl – More Than Just An Explosion

In April of 1986, the worst nuclear accident in the world occurred at Chernobyl nuclear station.  Nuclear radiation and debris spread around the area, rendering it unlivable.  This disaster was destructive not only to the environment, but also to the economy and international relations.

In the aftermath of this incident, Russian leaders were faced with a massive bill.  The cleanup effort was the most obvious cost.  Thought Russian leaders have never published the cost that they initially faced, Ukranian authorities in 1996, ten years after the disaster, stated that cleanup costs have surpassed 1 billion dollars a year.  Not only did Russian authorities need to clean up the area, but they needed to find housing for those displaced, over 40,000 citizens. Also, in true Russian form, the government spent a good amount of money trying to do damage control in the media as well, further driving up their costs.

Another unforeseen effect of the disaster was a negative impact on international relations.  Since Chernobyl was located in the northern part of current-day Ukraine, there was a large amount of resentment towards Soviet leaders.  Ukrainian leaders felt that they had repeatedly been victimized by central Russian leaders, and this disaster was the tipping point.  Add this to rising tensions from other Russian controlled territories, such as the Armenians as we discussed in class on Thursday, and Soviet leaders were dealing with multiple complaints from their territories.

Chernobyl had long reaching impacts to Russia, and many of those still affect the present day Chernobyl area.  The area around the plant still cannot be inhabited, and there children from the area still experience radiation caused diseases and abnormalities.  In the immediate years following the incident though, there were extreme environmental, economic, and foreign implications.

Chernobyl information:

Armenian article:

Ukranian article: :8080/searchresults/article.jsp?art=0&id=13615305

The Hypocrisy of the Moral Code

In 1961, the Communist Party presented a new “moral code” that was to be implemented in Russia.  Known as “The Moral Code of the Builder of Communism”, this code was supposed to replace the Stalinist principles of coercion and repression in controlling the lives of Soviet citizens.

At the 22nd Communist Party Congress, Khrushchev offered many new ideas, most of which fell under the anti-Stalinist principles that Khrushchev’s regime aimed for.  These ideas included continuing to create a more transparent government and the creation of term limits for most officials.  Also, a new moral code was presented, a code by which all”good communists” should abide by.  Contained in it were extensive instructions on how communists should live their lives, public and private, specifically mentioning topics such as sex, marriage, and raising children.  Should any Soviets not follow the rules set forth at the Congress, representatives of the party, including the child-Communist group the Komsomol, would intervene and correct the issues.  This was offered as an anti-Stalinist idea because instead of the government directly regulating these issues, it would be handles in a more transparent, less repressive way.

However, in reality, this moral code was a step backwards for this supposedly anti-Stalinist Khrushchev regime.  First of all, Khrushchev had been working on allowing more personal freedom to the Soviet people, and this code is intended to dictate the lives of his citizens.  After the 22nd Congress, Khrushchev wrote that in order for communism to be fully effective, society must be fully ready and obedient towards the principle.  While what Khrushchev wrote sounds good, it is essentially a return to the Stalinist idea that society must be fully controlled.  He was trying to distance himself from Stalin by saying that party representatives would be tasked with enforcing the code, but in reality, the party and government would still be in charge, albeit indirectly.

Up until the 22nd Party Congress, Nikita Khrushchev was on a de-Stalinist rampage, but he took a huge step back in implementing a new moral code.  While the moral code was sold as a better, more transparent way to instruct Soviets on how to fulfill their duties as a citizen, it was just a different, better sounding way to show that the party was still aiming to control every detail of Soviet citizens lives.

Khrushchev’s writing after the 22nd party Congress:

17 Seconds on the moral code:

Textbook: Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 426-427. Print

Akademgorodok: The City of Science

During the cultural thaw and de-Stalinization of Russia, many changes were made by the government.  These changes included reducing repression and becoming more transparent.  Along with these changes came an increased focus on making Russia as a place of renewed culture, learning, and information.  That is where the Siberian city of Akademgorodok comes in.

The main street of Akademgorodok, Russia
The main street of Akademgorodok, Russia

Conceived in the mid 1950’s, the town that would be known as Akademgorodok, which literally translates to “town of science” was created as a research and science center.  It was designed to remain as natural as possible, which resulted in tree lined streets in the city and forests all around it.  As with most new ventures during de-Stalinization, openness and transparency was encouraged, and the town thrived due to this.  Under Stalin, much information was shrouded in secrecy and hidden from public view, but the idea of having an entire town devoted to scientific research certainly showed that a cultural thaw was occurring in Russia.

While this was most definitely a step in the right direction, there were still issued with Akademgorodok that hindered it from truly becoming a well-known research city.  First of all, the city was located in Siberia, far from any large city and especially far from Moscow.  This kind of isolation from more populated parts of Russia made it somewhat of an unknown place for many years and was somewhat like a microcosm of Russia as a whole in that the city kept mostly to itself.  Also, more decorated scientists within the city were treated with more respect and given more power.  This problem of elitism was an extremely Stalinist principle that never fully went away, and Akademgorodok can be used to show that.

Russia’s “city of science” was conceived as part of the nation’s thawing of culture and attempt to get away from Stalinist principles.  On paper, Akademgorodok was a perfect blend of openness and desire to become a learning center, however it had its problems.  Specifically, the city could not get away from problems such as isolation and elitism that plagued Russia throughout most of its history.


Textbook: Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 209-222. Print

Article on Akafdemgorodok: 8080/searchresults/article.jsp?art=9&id=13637844

Info on Akademgorodok:

Original source for photo:


The “Lost” Soviet Census

In 1937, a census was taken in Russia which ended up doing nothing but angering soviet leaders.  Despite a projected natural population growth of over 35 million citizens from the last census, the census revealed that there were only around 7 million more citizens than the last census.  This “lost” census was named because soviet leaders scrapped it all together after receiving these undesirable results and showed many issues with soviet society.


Soviet poster emphasizing the importance of the census, stating that it would allow leaders to know exactly how many schools, hospitals, and public buildings to build and serve the population.

The 1937 census was intended by soviet leaders to show that their nation was a happy, thriving, and growing nation.  The natural population would have grown the population by 37 million citizens, but the census revealed only a 7 million person growth, a result of an alarmingly high rate of unnatural death.  As Freeze pointed out, many of these deaths occurred in government organized or ordered “purges”, and the discrepancy in what the population growth was supposed to be and what it actually was showed this.  This indicated that soviet society was extremely controlling and corrupt, the exact opposite of the picture that leaders were looking to paint.  So, leaders discredited the census, claiming that it’s directors committed “crude violations of the principles of statistical science.”

Then again in 1939, soviet leaders ordered that a census be taken under their watchful eye.  This census produced more favorable results, though still fell short of the projected growth.  This census is also disputed amongst historians because it most likely included many non-citizens so as to make the numbers look more favorable to the soviet leadership.

This “lost” census followed by the highly-criticized 1939 census speak to the societal control that was prevalent in the late 1930’s in Russia.  Along with purges ordered to take out opposition groups and various other ethnic groups, the control that the government had on the census reports of 1937 and 1939 showed that soviet leaders were extremely concerned with perception of their regime and nation.  This control would not be short lived, and would persist through the entirety of the Soviet Union.


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 209-222. Print


Original photo:

Komsomol: The Communist Youth


The image above is actually propaganda a poster once found in Russia.  It was advocating for “komsomol“, also known in the 1920’s as the Russian Communist Union of Youth.  The term “youth” was used loosely, however, as anyone between ages 14 and 28 could join this organization which lasted from 1918-1991.

Founded in 1918, the komsomol was founded so that new generations of Russians would be proficient in the teachings of communism by the time they were adults.  The leaders of Russia’s Communist party felt that they played the role of guardian within the country, and believed that instilling these youths with communist principles at a young age would ultimately help to keep the country strong for years to come.  As Freeze pointed out, the older generation of Russians in the early years of communism were just as unfamiliar with communistic ideas as were the youths, so members of komsomol probably were used in the early years under Lenin to educate much of the older Russian population as well.



Komsomol, despite what it sounds like, was actually not a strict training of the youth.  Komsomol offered a wide variety of activities that would appeal to a wide variety of youths such as reading clubs, sports, and theater groups.  This was how many members of komsomol were drawn in, and only then were these members trained in communist principles.  As seen in the poster above, there was an element of stricter training and obedience expected of komsomol members.  This was considered necessary for the lifestyle expected of members which was supposed to exclude “frivolous activities” such as excess drinking and pre-martial sex.

The komsomol lasted for over 70 years and roughly for the same time span that communist Russia existed.  This group was considered in early years to be “ambassadors” to communism, spreading the teachings to those who were less knowledgable about it.  It then shifted to a group which was supposed to be the future leaders and proponents of communism in Russia.  The komsomol was an attempt at changing as quickly as possible the political culture and ideas of Russian citizens, and in it’s time, it succeeded for quite a while.


Originial source for propaganda poster:

Original source for komsomol poster:

Information on the komsomol:

–Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 209-222. Print


The Kornilov Affair

In the years and months leading up to the Russian revolution of 1917, Russia experienced endless political corruption and unrest.  By August of 1917, the Russian government was in shambles.  A provisional government, led by Alexander Kerenskii, was in power, but was very quickly and poorly put together.

Aleksandr Kerensky
Aleksandr Kerenskii

Another powerful person in Russia at the time was the newly appointed Commander of the Russian armed forces, a man named Lavr Kornilov.  Kornilov, appointed in July of 1917, quickly realized that the provisional government that was in place did in fact lack and direction or authoritative voice in Russian affairs.

Lavr Kornilov
Lavr Kornilov

Realizing that the provisional government was little more than a pawn of the soviet, Kornilov decided that he, as leader of the Russian armed forces, should be the one to essentially take control of the country for its own sake.  He decided to lead an invasion into Petrograd and attempted to overthrow the soviet.  He did this under the impression that he had the backing of Kerenskii, but Kerenskii, as Kornilov had said all along, was simply a pawn of the soviet, and revoked his support of the invasion.

Unfortunately for Kornilov, the soviets were ready for the invasion and were easily able to stop his army.  Later, word came out that not only was Kornilov looking to overthrow the soviet, but he was also looking to install none other than himself as the leader of Russia, although some believe this was simply propaganda put out to make Kornilov less popular.

The big winner in this “Kornilov Affair” turned out to be Lenin and the Bolsheviks, which is precisely why this is such a big deal.  Not only did Kornilov fail, but it showed the inability of the provisional government to stop any sort of attempt at an overthrow, opening the door for other groups, including the one lead by Lenin, to stage their own attempts at claiming power.  And as we all know, Lenin was ultimately successful in October of 1917.

Original source for Kerenskii image:

Original source for Kornilov image: /article/alexander-kerensky-130-dies-again.html

Sources about the Kornilov Affair: —

–Hook, S. (1988, Aug 20). Bolshevik coup lacked popular support. New York Times (1923-Current File). Retrieved from

–Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 209-222. Print

The Stolypin Reforms

Pyotr Stolypin was a key figure in the early 1900’s revolutions of Russia.  Stolypin held multiple positions in the Russian government, ranging from an advisor all the way up to Prime Minister of Russia.  However, he may be best known for a set of reforms, which are appropriately known as the “Stolypin Reforms”.



In 1905, the conservative Stolypin realized that land hunger was a growing concern, as saw it not only as an opportunity to implement some of his ideas but also as an opportunity to capitalize on the conservative roots of the peasants of Russia.  He used an idea similar to that first voiced by Sergei Witte in that he decided not to divide the gentry’s land up amongst the peasants, but he gave previously communal lands to the peasants.  Stolypin believed that this would create a class of strong, individualistic workers who would then buy into his system.

However, there was a problem.  Even though Stolypin worked his was up to “Prime Minister” of Russia and more or less lead the “Third Duma“, he would have to get the government of Russia to buy in handing Russia’s communal land over to the peasants.  Unfortunately for Stolypin, this would never happen.  In 1911, Stolypin would be assassinated on a visit to Kiev, essentially ending any chance at passing his reforms.


The case of Pyotr Stolypin is interesting because it is a case of many “what-ifs”.   What if Stolypin would have been able to pass his reforms?  Would unrest have subsided and at least held the revolution off for longer, or would there have been very little impact?  Nevertheless, the Stolypin reforms were just another attempt at quelling unrest which were ultimately unable to do so.


Works Cited:

Information about Pyotr Stolypin:

NY Times reporting on Stolypin: view/96639797/1406514EC477BE91620/3?accountid=14826

Original source for Stolypin photo:

Textbook: Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 209-222. Print

The Cultural and Economic Shifts of Russia

Hi everyone!  My name is Ethan Lundquist and I am currently a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in history, as well as minoring in political science and geography.  This blog is centered around topics that appear in my 20th Century Russia class, and while I have never extensively studied Russia before this class, I hope to blog about interesting topics and create some nice discussion points.

But before we get into details, I want to use this bog post to talk about a bigger picture, and that bigger picture is the shifting identity of Russia.  It seems to be a pretty well known fact that Russia has always lagged a bit behind the Western world in terms of ideas, technology, etc.  However, it seems to be less known that up until the mid-19th century, Russia had an agrarian based economy and a class based social system in place.  Not until the lower class serfs and peasants grew tired with this system, along with industrial growth advancements did the economy and class system begin shifting.  So you may be wondering, what does a picture of a generator have to do with all of this?  Well to me, it’s more of a symbol of cultural and economic shift in Russia.  The modernization and industrialization of Russia in the second half of the 19th century meant that more workers were needed for factories and less were needed in the fields.  Therefore, as the economy shifted to industry, lower class workers shifted to industrial jobs as well, changing the direction of Russia economically and culturally.

As far as the image being a symbol of shifts in Russian culture, from the 1850’s right up until now, Russia has undergone continual shifts that have shaped it’s history.  From the era of czar’s to world war period, followed by the cold war and communist period, Russia has taken many different identities, and to me, this image represented the first major shift in what has been a long line of shifts in a relatively short period of time for Russia.  And without each and every one of these shifts, Russia could be completely different than how we know it today.


As for the actual image, it was created by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, photographer to Czar Nicholas II.  The exact generator in the photo was an alternator at a hydroelectric power station along the Murghab River.

The permanent record of this photo can be found at: