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The Soviet Union was a group of what are now separate countries, dominated by Russia and existing from 1922 to 1991. Its full name was Союз Советских Социалистических Республик (CCCP), pronounced "Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik" (abbreviated as SSSR when written phonetically in English). The English name was the "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" (USSR). Interestingly enough, the Soviet Union was not a union of Soviet republics (soviet is "council" in Russian, referring to a democratically elected workers council), but a one-party dictatorship.
Although it was a Communist (Marx would have called it "barracks-communism") nation, it called itself "socialist," in conformance with Karl Marx's definition of that word — a stage of society in which the working class controlled the means of production, which Marx believed would be a transitional phase before the State "withered away" and True Communism oozed into existence. This has led to the mistaken notion that all forms of socialism — even non-Marxist forms such as democratic socialism — are identical to communism. The same technique, applied to "German Democratic Republic" or "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" allows us to see that Democracy, Republicanism and Communism are also all the same thing; in the latter case, it also implies that people are all Communists.
The USSR was hardly a parade of sunshine and roses, but at the very least the Soviets did see to it that the parts of their population the leaders liked were taken care of. Mass slaughters and purges stopped after the end of Stalin's rule, the sheer brutality of which has been compared to the period of Nazi ascendancy. Indeed, after the fall of the USSR, life actually got worse in Russia and especially the union republics for a great many people, as social services were cut back, state-owned property largely fell into the hands of a few "business oligarchs," (who are less charitably called gangsters) many civil rights abuses continued, and the Russian economy entered a deep depression and the poverty rate eventually reached 40%. (Thank Yeltsin.) Also, many people used to the certainty provided by the Soviet system found it difficult to cope in a society where they were no longer guaranteed housing, employment, healthcare, education and even simply the ability to plan everything out, knowing the state will provide you the necessities.
Economic matters improved somewhat under the administration of President Vladimir Putin, but things have still not improved to the level of the later Soviet years, and some people still long for the good old times of the Soviet Union. The Russian Communist Party (which is overtly Stalinist) is still the second largest in the nation, and in a country where the ruling party faces widespread accusations of electoral fraud, that is an accomplishment.
 Member "republics"
|The Republics of the Soviet Union (1956 — 1989)|
|Flag||Republic||Capital||Map of the Soviet Union|
|6||Kazakhstan||Alma-Ata (now Almaty)|
|7||Kyrgyzstan||Frunze (now Bishkek)|
|10||Moldova||Kishinev (now Chişinău)|
 Empire builder
 Big countries
- Ukraine (or "the Ukraine")
- Belarus (formerly Byelorussia or "White Russia")
 Little countries
- Kyrgyzstan (was known as Kirghizia before the departing Soviets confiscated most of the vowels)
 Even littler countries
There were also about twenty "autonomous republics" for the smaller ethnic groups. Their autonomy didn't extend much beyond having their own name on the bit of land they inhabited. The even-smaller-than-that ethnic groups also had counties and districts for them, including a Jewish Autonomous Region[wp] in the ancient Biblical homeland of, er, Siberia. The USSR's million or so Roma got jack all apart from a newspaper.
 Took a hike, but someone can't let go
- Abkhazia and South Osetiya (part of Georgia, de facto independent and only recognized by a handful of other countries)
- Chechnya (part of Russia, de facto leveled)
- Nagorno-Karabakh (part of Azerbaijan, claimed by Armenia, de facto independent for complicated diplomatic and military reasons)
- Transnistria (part of Moldova, de facto independent but not recognized by anyone)
- Crimea (annexed by Russia, claimed by Ukraine)
- Donetsk Peoples Republic and Lugansk Peoples Republic (part of Ukraine, as of this writing in a civil war)
 Loyal (mostly) commies
These countries were members of the Warsaw Pact, the mutual defense organization created by the Soviet Union to keep its friends close and its enemies closer. East Germany was reunified with West Germany in 1991; Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic are now NATO allies, much to the great annoyance of Russia. The Warsaw Pact did not survive the end of the Soviet Union and now none of its former member countries are communist any longer.
- Albania (withdrew from the pact after the split between Mao and the Soviets, now fiercely pro-US even by post-Soviet NATO member standards)
- Czechoslovakia (broken in two after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact to make spelling easier)
- East Germany (DDR) (many older Germans still speak of "the wall in the mind," and there's still a substantial disparity between east and west even now, but by all indications younger Germans don't really get the fuss)
- Hungary (withdrew from the Warsaw Pact after the 1956 revolution but was forced to join again after the Soviet Union invaded it and crushed the revolution). Hungary took a more liberal approach to communism (known colloquially as "Goulash Communism"), which allowed, among other things, the marketing of the Rubik's Cube in the 1980s.
- Poland was permitted a remarkable array of personal freedoms and liberties alien to other countries behind the Iron Curtain, partially due to overt Western pressure (hundreds of thousands of Poles fought alongside the Allies against the Nazis) but also because of the continued influence of the Catholic Church within the country. In the 1980s Poland formed the biggest threat to the well-being of the entire Soviet empire: the independent Solidarity trade union led by Lech Walesa, which galvanized an inchoate natural opposition to Soviet hegemony, and Pope John Paul II, a Polish native, provided an inspirational figurehead for the deeply Catholic nation.
- Romania pursued its own foreign policy under Ceaușescu, which included not invading Czechoslovakia.
Comecon was the communist version of the European Union. Besides the above, members were:
- Mongolia, the second country to turn communist (in 1925), was among the first to follow Gorbachev's reforms and bring in democracy in early 1990.
- Vietnam has been inching towards freedom for the last 20 years.
- Cuba pretty much seems to think it's still 1984.
- Yugoslavia and Albania, basically only nominal members for all the difference they made.
 Commies that weren't so loyal
These were Communist countries that either did not join or withdrew from the Warsaw Pact.
- People's Republic of China
- Afghanistan (as in, not quite, but bloody and pointless enough)
- North Korea (Kim Il-sung was really upset at Khrushchev for that whole "peaceful coexistence" thing. North Korean propaganda suddenly became anti-Soviet and denounced Khrushchev as a traitor to communism. Mao Zedong was Kim's new role model... or at least that was until the Cultural Revolution shocked Kim and prompted him to switch his loyalty back to the Soviets. By this time, the U.S.S.R. was led by Brezhnev, who was more to Kim's liking, though still not quite Stalinist enough for him. Kim would continue to play the Soviets and Chinese against each other for the rest of the Cold War, beginning North Korea's long tradition of being a huge annoyance to its own allies.)
 In Soviet Russia
- In the United States, you watch TV. In Soviet Russia, TV watches YOU!!
- In the United States, you can always find a party. In Soviet Russia, the Party can always find YOU!!
- In the United States, you enrich uranium. In Soviet Chernobyl, uranium enriches YOU!!
- In the United States, you can say "death to America" and not be arrested. In Soviet Russia...you could pretty much get away with saying that too.
- In Soviet Russia, there is freedom of speech. In America, there is also freedom after speech.
- In the United States, you break the law. In Soviet Russia, the law breaks YOU!
- In the United States, you overuse joke. In Soviet Russia, joke overuse YOU!
- In the United States, you get to tell Soviet Russia joke. In Soviet Russia, you don't tell Soviet Russia joke.
 OK, comrades. Time for "Гимн СССР"!
From 1917 to 1944, the Internationale served as the Soviet national anthem. Near the end of the Great Patriotic War (as the Soviets called it), the government decided to reinvent the anthem, in the hopes of reinventing the country with it, making references to the Soviet's defeat of the Nazis, to install pride within the population. The original version praised the union forged through "the will of the people." The chorus implored the Motherland to greatness and its people to follow the red flag to freedom. The second verse praised Lenin for showing the way and Stalin for leading them on. The third verse encouraged the army to fight on against the "daring, despicable invaders." This was changed to "we destroyed the invaders" after the war, as demonstrated in this version sung by Paul Robeson.
By the 1970s, the first verse and the first half of the second verse remained unchanged. However, mention of Stalin's leadership in the second verse had been replaced by praise for the people's righteousness. In the third verse, mention of the military's victory over the Nazis was replaced by praise of communism's "deathless ideal."
NOTE: The version below plays the same 1984 promotional film twice. The first time has Russian Cyrillic and English subtitles. The second has subtitles showing the phonetic pronunciations of the original Russian lyrics, and the lyrics in Spanish.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, another national anthem was commissioned. But the Rooskies didn't like it. As bombastic, nationalistic, and over-the-top as Гимн СССР's lyrics were, its melody and harmony rank among the most gorgeous of any national anthem ever written. So about five years later, the Russian Federation reintroduced "Гимн СССР" with new lyrics. (Although they did keep the first lines of the chorus — "Славься Отечество, наше свободное!" — which (roughly translated) means "Sing to the Fatherland and to our freedom!")
Intriguingly, both versions of the USSR national anthem and the post-Soviet Russian Federation anthem were written by the same man, Sergey Mikhalkov (1913-2009), who was a real-life example of a "Vicar of Bray."
 Science in the Soviet Union
While the Soviet Union made plenty of internationally recognized contributions to real science (especially in the more socially detached domains such as mathematics, physics and chemistry), they had a habit of ripping off the scientific and technological achievements of the "corrupt, capitalist West" (most notably in the case of the "atomic spies").
Also, entire branches of science (such as genetics, cybernetics or sociology) were known to fall out of favor with the Party because of nepotism and ideological bias, being ostracized as "bourgeois pseudoscience." Instead, the state invested in dubious research such as abiotic oil and Lysenkoism. This was especially true under Joseph Stalin; however, these started to fade during the era of Khrushchev. The study of parapsychology, however, continued until at least 1975.
When it comes to space exploration, the Soviets were actually quite advanced. They a lot of initial successes (and with less help from Nazi war criminals than the US...) however for a variety of factors were not able to win the moon race. Despite it running counter to their economic philosophy, the Soviets did not have a unified space agency until the ouster of Nikita Khrushchev. Instead, rival design companies spent their time squabbling for contracts, which led to a general dilution of the Soviet effort. Adding to this, the primary genius behind the Soviet space program in the 1950s and 60s, Sergei Korolev, was in very poor health due to spending WW2 in the Gulags (Thanks, Stalin!) and died young. Khrushchev also refused to consistently and adequately fund the many projects going on, leading to the US not only having all their eggs in one basket, but a much better appointed basket to boot.
That said, the Soviets were able to accomplish some remarkable things, launching the first spacecraft, first spacecraft to land on another planet (which was actually Venus, not the moon), the first man in space, first in orbit, first spacewalk and more. They also were able to come up with a very economical and reliable launch platform, the Soyuz family, which are very reliable and still significantly cheaper than launching the space shuttle, despite not being reusable. The Soviets also came up with their own space shuttle, the Buran, which was arguably more advanced than the US model. Unfortunately, it's development came right before the fall of the Soviet Union, which left the craft in a dilapidated hangar, which eventually collapsed, destroying it.
While the Soviets never landed a man on the moon, it is something of a mistake to say they "lost" the space race. The Soviets generally viewed a manned moon landing as primarily a propaganda exercise, with the same amount of actual data being able to be gained cheaper, more easily and with less risk through probes and rovers. Once the US put a man on the moon, the propaganda value diminished greatly and the Soviets focused elsewhere, to great success. The Soviets were decades ahead of NASA in terms of space stations, and had some of the best and most advanced probes and rovers. The Lunokhod rovers of the 70s set a number of records that have only recently been surpassed by NASA, and the Venera probes remain the best source of information on Venus, which was a particular Soviet focus, for some reason.
On the front of space stations, the Soviets launched the first in 1971 with the Salyut 1, and made rapid and consistent progress in advancement. In 1986, Mir, the first modular space station was launched. This was also the largest and most advanced space station until the ISS. The ISS was also spearheaded by the Russians, drawing from their considerable experience during the Soviet days.
While it had issues, the Soviet space program had scores of notable accomplishments, and was in some areas very advanced, even decades ahead of NASA. Unfortunately this tends to be poorly represented in the west due to a combination of cold war politics and the failure of the manned Soviet moon program.
 See also
- Complete History of the Soviet Union, Arranged to the Melody of Tetris (or, the epic Red Army Choir cover)
- List of bands banned on Soviet radio, and why, Boing Boing
- ↑ Nothing to do with rhythm gaming or computer memory architectures.
- ↑ Rubik’s Cube: The best puzzle ever?, BBC
- ↑ It helps if you're not a Muslim.
- ↑ Seriously, listen to it without paying attention to the words some time. Particularly one of the versions rendered by a large chorus and full orchestra. You'll feel patriotic all over even if you're not Russian... until you remember the massacres.
- ↑ Sergei Mikhalkov, The Economist
- ↑ soviet and Czechoslovakian parapsychology Research