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|Opiates for the masses|
“”Gaiety is the outstanding feature of the Soviet Union.
|—Joseph Stalin reveals the communist homosexual agenda[note 1]|
The Soviet Union (Russian: Сове́тский Сою́з, Sovetsky Soyuz), officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or USSR (Russian: Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик, Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik, or CCCP, "SSSR") was a group of socialist states dominated by Russia (then the RSFSR) that existed from 1922 to 1991. Of course, 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.[note 2]
- 1 Timeline
- 2 Cliff's Notes
- 3 Member "republics"
- 4 Satellites
- 5 In Soviet Russia
- 6 OK, comrades. Time for "Гимн СССР"!
- 7 Mathematics and science in the Soviet Union
- 8 Space exploration
- 9 Economic Performance Relative to the West
- 10 See also
- 11 External links
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
“”In 1492 the first global power appeared. In 1992 the last European global power collapsed.
|—George Friedman, Flashpoints, p.41.|
The Soviet Union began in 1917, when two revolutions occured in Russia. The first overthrew the Tsardom, while the second consolidated power under the
Bullshitviks Bolsheviks. After a brutal civil war, the communist regime won out. The Lenin years involved a certain amount of capitalism, and the Union formed with the annexation of unification with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia (country), Ukraine, and Belarus. Lenin died in 1924, being succeeded by Joseph Stalin, who made Lenin's regime look like Libertopia.
Utilizing brutal five-year plans to industrialize the nation, his policies killed millions, but did successfully make the USSR an industrial powerhouse. Despite being paranoid and power-hungry, Stalin decided to sign a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, of which rhetoric against the Soviets was one of their main talking points. This fell apart in 1941 when the Operation Barbarossa went underway. Believing that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," the Western Powers allied themselves with the Soviet Union, emerging victorious in World War II. This led to the USSR de facto taking control of Eastern Europe, while the Western Allies took de facto control of Western Europe. This alliance unsurprisingly fell apart as soon as the war ended. Indeed, the nuclear bombing of Imperial Japan confirmed the possibility of nuclear explosives and the Soviets pressed ahead with the development of their nuclear weapons. Thus began the Cold War, a titanic struggle for supremacy between two conflicting ideologies. The two sides competed in every imaginable venue, from space exploration to fundamental research in the sciences and mathematics, everything short of direct all-out war. Mainland China fell to Communism in 1949 and the Nationalists fled to the Island of Formosa, modern-day Taiwan. Communist China naturally allied with the USSR at first but eventually decided to become more independent. North Korea, supported by the Soviet Union and Red China, invaded the South, triggering the Korean War, which ended with the status quo. Stalin finally died in 1953, and his successor changed it back to Marxist-socialist governance.
With the rest of the industrial world still recovering from World War II until the early 1970s, both sides pretty much had the power for themselves. Their power was quickly abused, establishing puppet regimes throughout the world, such as the US in Iran and much of Latin America, and the USSR in much of Indochina and North Africa. However, the Eastern Bloc began to decline in the 1980s. Reformist Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985, and began to slowly open relations to the West, and ended decades of censorship. Partly as a result of this, capitalist revolutions occurred throughout the Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s, performed by a disillusioned populace. This expanded into the Union itself in 1991. A Russian presidency was established, which brought Boris Yeltsin to power in Russia. In a desperate attempt to keep stability, Gorbachev proposed the Union be replaced with a confederation. Hardline communists tried to stop this in the August Coup, which failed and was the final blow to the Union. Members began seceding, and then, on December 25, Gorbachev resigned and the Soviet Union fell, despite the 1991 referendum result resulting in most of the population voting to stay in the Union itself. Nevertheless, modern Russia remains a powerful country, at least militarily due to inheriting the bulk of the Soviet arsenal.
The remaining states in Asia aligned with China and economic collapse ensued across the former Eastern Bloc, either from botched shock therapy or loss of Soviet funding. North Korea became increasingly impoverished and oppressive, devolving into the highly secretive state it is today. Cuba was eventually forced to open relations with the US, as were most former communist regimes. Most nowadays are state capitalist, with North Korea and Laos being the exceptions (but look where that's gotten them). Red China and (unified) Vietnam eventually normalized relations with the United States, through are still shaky in some areas.
Although it was a communist state,[note 3] the USSR 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 saw as a transitional phase before the State "withered away" and "True Communism" oozed into existence. This has bolstered 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 sunshine and roses. Stalin and his politburo orchestrated the deaths of at least 8 million (and possibly as many as 20 million) citizens. One of the worst was the Holodomor in Ukraine during 1932-1933. Mass slaughters only stopped after the end of Stalin's rule, the sheer brutality of which has been compared to the period of Nazi ascendancy.
After the death of Stalin in 1953, the USSR faced a leadership crisis with a ruling troika of Nikita Khrushchev, Georgy Malenkov and Lavrentiy Beria vying for sole power. While Khrushchev was disliked by many Soviet politicians (for reasons that, ironically, often reeked of classism due to his background as a peasant coal miner in Ukraine) he was easily the sanest of the three, as Malenkov was a spineless toady and Beria, as head of the NKVD, was a mass-murdering psychopath and serial rapist who was described by Stalin himself as "our Himmler."
With some help from Georgy Zhukov, a wildly popular general who had been instrumental in the Soviet victory during WW2, Khrushchev was able to outmanoeuvre the other two and rise to power. Khrushchev quickly gave a speech denouncing Stalin and his legacy, set about rolling back most of the excesses of Stalinism, ushering in an era of relaxed censorship and increased human rights, along with allowing tweaks to the Soviet economy which would later bear major fruit from the Kosygin reforms.
Unfortunately, in denouncing Stalin, Khrushchev made many enemies among the Stalinist wing of the Politburo, most of which very publicly owed their careers to Stalin, and so viewed any denunciation of Stalin as an attempt to throw them under the bus. This was not helped by Khrushchev's struggles with alcoholism and generally abrasive personality, which frequently led to the USSR being embarrassed on the international stage. The Cuban missile crisis was the straw which broke the camel's back, finally causing the simmering discontent to boil over and led to Khrushchev's ouster in 1964. Ironically, Khrushchev more or less accomplished what he wanted with that gambit, forcing the removal of American ICBMs from Turkey, but American missiles were dismantled in secret, while Soviet missiles were dismantled in public, thereby giving the politburo the perception of incompetent leadership necessary to remove Khrushchev from power.
After Khrushchev, the politburo sought a more conservative leader and found one in Leonid Brezhnev in 1965. While the early Brezhnev years were marked with economic success (which, in reality, was due to the reforms of premier Alexei Kosygin), Brezhnev quickly consolidated his power and rolled back most of the Khrushchev-era reforms, despite many of them proving quite successful. This led to a period of economic stagnation and explosion in military spending through the late 60s and early 70s, which arguably became the root cause for the collapse of the USSR. His final years were marked by the Afghanistan War (which they lost) and the Politburo withering into a gerontocracy. Jokes about Brezhnev tend to focus on his vanity and senility, e.g. "Some Politburo members have practically become senile, play children's games, ride rocking horses. And look, comrade Gromyko has taken away my tin soldiers and will not give them back…" Here's another one: What has forty legs and four teeth? Answer: Brezhnev's cabinet.
After the death of the Brezhnev in 1982, he was replaced by Yuri Andropov, another member of the hardline Stalinist old guard and former chairman of the KGB. However, Andropov would serve for only 15 months before his death and was replaced by a Brezhnev Toadie in Konstantin Chernenko. Chernenko, however, would serve only 13 months himself before his death, leaving the USSR in another leadership crisis. Even the gerontocracy could see that appointing another of their own would be a terrible idea, and so Politburo threw a hail mary pass to another young reformer by the name of Mikhail Gorbachev.
Gorbachev once again reformed Soviet society, this time to an even larger extent than did Khrushchev, implementing the policies of Glasnost and Perestroika, which eased censorship and reformed the command economy, respectively. While these changes were popular and did see some success, the damage was already done and Gorbachev was not able to save the USSR.
The final blow to the Soviets' survival was dealt in the August Coup, which was ironically performed by the more radical Soviets. Many in the Party opposed the reforms under Mikhail Gorbachev. As the Eastern Bloc fell apart, his plan to save it was to replace the union with a confederacy called the Union of Sovereign States. A series of votes found this plan wildly popular among the Soviet people (in what even the CIA admits were fair elections), with yes receiving over 70% of the vote in every SSR, and many of them going above 90%. This was, however, unacceptable for hard-liners within the party, army and KGB and they attempted to overthrow Gorbachev. While this failed, it weakened it to the point where survival was impossible, and the grand experiment of state Capitalism that had lasted for nearly a century dissolved just three months later, officially dissolving on December 25th, 1991
At the very least, the Soviets did see to it that the parts of their population the leaders liked were taken care of. Indeed, after the fall of the USSR, life got worse in Russia — and especially in 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" (less charitably called gangsters), many civil-rights abuses continued, the Russian economy entered a deep depression and the poverty rate reached 40%. (Thank Yeltsin.) Post-Soviet economic conditions improved somewhat under the administration of President Vladimir Putin (President of the Russian Federation: 2000-2008 and 2012-), but things have still not returned to the level of the Brezhnev years, leading many to pine for the Soviet Union. The Russian Communist Party, which is overtly Stalinist, is the second-largest in Russia.
|The Republics of the Soviet Union (1956 — 1989)|
|Flag||Republic||Capital||Map of the Soviet Union|
|3||Byelorussia (now Belarus)||Minsk|
|6||Kazakhstan||Alma-Ata (now Almaty)|
|7||Kirghizia (now Kyrgyzstan)||Frunze (now Bishkek)|
|10||Moldavia (now Moldova)||Kishinev (now Chişinău)|
|13||Turkmenistan||Ashkhabad (now Ashgabat)|
|14||Ukraine||Kiev (now Kyiv)|
- 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 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 in the ancient Biblical homeland of, er, Siberia. The USSR's million or so Roma got jack all apart from a newspaper.
Loyal (mostly) commies
These countries were members of the Warsaw Pact, the mutual defence organization created by the Soviet Union to keep its friends close and its enemies closer. East Germany was reunified with West Germany in 1990; 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 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)[note 4] (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 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 Wałęsa, 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 foreign policy under Nicolae Ceauşescu, 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 remains a Third World country with a love-hate relationship with her powerful Northern neighbour, Red China.
- 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
- Yugoslavia: Josip Broz Tito independently set up communism in Yugoslavia after his Yugoslav Partisans came out on top in World War Two (while helped by the Allies). Stalin didn't like that Tito then wouldn't follow his directives, and tried to have him killed several times. Tito understandably threatened to have Stalin killed in turn, and promised whoever he sent wouldn't fail. Stalin backed off and Yugoslavia stayed independent of Soviet control. Tito established a more democratic form of socialism in the 1950s where state enterprises were run by workers' councils. Yugoslav citizens were also given much more freedom to travel and work abroad than in most communist countries. Both these things helped the Yugoslav economy, which remained far better than most during the Cold War. Tito chose to wisely stay out of the conflict between the US and USSR, placing Yugoslavia in the Non-Aligned Movement. Whatever its relative merits, though, ethnic tensions in Yugoslavia resulted in the infamous violent breakup of the place in 1991, with a bloody round of wars following.
- North Vietnam and, after 1975, unified Vietnam.
- Afghanistan (as in, not quite, but bloody and pointless enough)
- North Korea (Kim Il-sung was 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 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.[note 5] 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 assassinate the President. In Soviet Russia, the president[note 6] assassinates YOU!
- In Soviet Russia, the government controls corporations. In the United States, corporations control the government!
- 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 Soviets' defeat of the Nazis, to instil 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.
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."
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.[note 7] 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 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."
- Sound file of the 1944 version sung in Russian
- Sound file of the 1977 version sung in Russian
Mathematics and science in the Soviet Union
While the Soviet Union made plenty of internationally recognized contributions to pure mathematics and the natural sciences, 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 favour 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.[note 8]
When it comes to space exploration, the Soviets were quite advanced, neck-and-neck with the US. They had a lot of initial successes 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 1960s, 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, the first spacecraft to land on another planet, Venus, 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 space shuttle, the Buran, which was arguably more advanced in some aspects than the US model. Unfortunately, its development came right before the fall of the Soviet Union, which left the craft in a dilapidated hangar, which eventually collapsed, destroying it.
Economic Performance Relative to the West
So, how exactly did the USSR fair in comparison to the West, and how did economic performance change for post-Soviet countries after 1991? Before we begin to answer those questions, it's important to establish definitions for the terms that will be presented in the following sections.
|USSR||United States||Western Europe||USSR as a % of United States||USSR as a % of Western Europe|
Now, the USSR didn't exist in 1820, 1870, or 1913, but it's important to consider the position this "former USSR" area was in, relative to the West, before the actual establishment of the USSR. What can be seen from this data is that from 1820 to 1913, the "former USSR" area was in decline relative to the West, and from about 1913 to 1990, its position remained constant. Now, the economic system, or systems, of the "former USSR" area in the 19th and early 20th centuries isn't, or aren't, exactly comparable to the laissez-faire market-capitalism that existed in the United States and Western Europe at the time, but this table isn't meant to capture the nuances that should be taken into consideration, rather, it's meant as a display and comparison of raw data.
- 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
- The Soviet National Anthem misheard.
- Soviet national anthem in 10 different versions
- The phrase has now been adopted for more genuinely joyful purposes.
- They did actually try to stay true to the name once, but Lenin ended it when Mensheviks and other non-Marxist socialists won in a landslide.
- Marx could have called it "barracks-communism".
- Nothing to do with rhythm gaming or computer memory architectures.
- It helps if you're not a Muslim.
- Well, technically, the Premier, or alternately the General Secretary of the Communist Party.
- 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.
- The US was also guilty of this.
- wp:Soviet Union referendum, 1991#Results
- Rubik’s Cube: The best puzzle ever?, BBC
- Sergei Mikhalkov, The Economist
- Soviet and Czechoslovakian parapsychology Research
- Maddison, Angus (2006). The World Economy. Paris, France: Development Centre of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). pp. 185. https://www.stat.berkeley.edu/~aldous/157/Papers/world_economy.pdf
- Maddison Project Database, version 2018; 1990$ benchmark. Bolt, Jutta, Robert Inklaar, Herman de Jong and Jan Luiten van Zanden (2018), “Rebasing ‘Maddison’: new income comparisons and the shape of long-run economic development” Maddison Project Working Paper, nr. 10, available for download at www.ggdc.net/maddison. Here's the specific excel file: https://www.rug.nl/ggdc/historicaldevelopment/maddison/data/mpd2018_1990bm.xlsx