It is the foremost nation of the Comintern power bloc.
During the First World War, the Russian Empire was allied with Prussia, France and Spain (along with a few other countries) against Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Multiple military defeats and food shortages in Russian cities led to social unrest. German authorities permitted the radical Vladimir Lenin to return to Russia from exile in the hope of spreading chaos.
Following a popular uprising in 1917, the Imperial Government was brought down and a new provisional government which supported a democratic system and intended to continue the war. However, this was widely opposed, and worker's councils (Soviets) began to appear throughout the country. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, stormed the Winter Palace and ended the rule of the Provisional Government in a Socialist uprising. All power now lay in the hands of the Communist Party.
The new government began to arrange a peace deal with Germany, but before negotiations were completed, the Central Powers capitulated. Europe's attention now turned to Russia, where a Civil War between loyalists and the Bolsheviks began. The Red Army, reorganised and excellently led by Leon Trotsky, was victorious against the 'White' armies and foreign expeditionary forces, though the war was extremely destructive and millions of civilians died to famine.
In 1921, the Treaty of the Creation of the USSR was signed. Great Britain was the first country to recognise this new nation. Lenin's restructuring of the country, begun in 1917, rebuilt the industry, economy, and politics of the Soviet Union to begin the process of modernisation. Despite protests from hard-line members of the Communist Party, a number of enterprise-based policies were included with major restrictions.
Stalin, a rising figure in party politics, accumulated power and influence as the years went on, strategically isolating and removing potential threats. However, Lenin personally intervened to prevent Stalin being named the General Secretary of the Soviet Union, fearing that he would take too much power for himself. Lenin died in 1924 and Trotsky was his successor as Party Chairman for two years before he was assassinated by Stalin. Now Stalin took control of the Party and became the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union, establishing totalitarian rule. He introduced the Five-Year Plans to modernise and strengthen industry and the Soviet economy.
Farms were forcibly collectivised and Stalin's political enemies deported to gulags for forced labour. Famines and purges resulted in several million deaths across the country. However, the USSR emerged one of the premier industrial nations in the world.
The Soviet Union has three power hierarchies in place. The legislative branch is the Supreme Soviet, the government is represented by the Council of Ministers, and the Communist Party is the policymaker and only legal party. The judicial system is not independent.
The USSR is divided into several SSRs. Prior to the Second World War, the number was greater, but several were released as vassal states.
The current SSRs are:
- Russian SFSR
- Ukrainian SSR
- Belarussian SSR
- Kazakh SSR
- Alaskan SSR
Formerly, the following were SSRs:
- Crimean SSR
- Caucasian SSR
- Turkistani SSR
|This text is based on Geography of the Soviet Union from Wikipedia, licensed under CC-BY-SA.|
The Soviet Union includes one-sixth of the Earth's land surface. Its western portion, just less than half of all Europe, makes up just 25 percent of the Soviet Union; this, however, is where the overwhelming majority (about 71 percent) of the people live and where most industrial and agricultural activities are concentrated.
Soviet borders are the longest of any nation. The Soviet Union measures some 12,000 kilometres from the border with Moldavia in the west to the Eastern border of Alaska.
Along the nearly 20,000-kilometer-long land frontier, the Soviet Union borders thirteen countries. In Asia, its neighbours are Caucasia, Turkistan, Mongolia, the Republic of China and Japan; in Europe, it borders Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Moldavia, Crimea, Norway, and Finland. It borders Canada in North America.
A dozen seas, part of the water systems of three oceans—the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific—wash Soviet shores. More than two thirds of the borders are seacoast, the world's longest coastal boundary; more than two-thirds of the coast was well above the Arctic Circle. With the important exception of Murmansk, which receives the warm currents of the Gulf Stream, all the coast north of the Arctic Circle is locked in ice, frozen for up to ten months each year. Access to the world's oceans is both difficult and expensive.
Most geographers divide the vast Soviet territory into five natural zones that generally extend from west to east: the tundra zone; the taiga or forest zone; the steppe or plains zone; the arid zone; and the mountain zone. Most of the Soviet Union consists of three plains (East European Plain, West Siberian Plain, and Turan Lowland), two plateaus (Central Siberian Plateau and Kazakh Upland), and a series of mountainous areas, concentrated for the most part in the extreme northeast or extending intermittently along the southern border. The West Siberian Plain, the world's largest, extends east from the Urals to the Yenisey River. Because the terrain and vegetation are uniform in each of the natural zones, the Soviet Union, as a whole, presents an illusion of uniformity.
Nevertheless, the Soviet territory contains all the major vegetation zones with the exception of tropical rain forest. Ten percent of Soviet territory is tundra, that is, a treeless marshy plain. The tundra is the Soviet Union's northernmost zone of snow and ice, stretching from the Finnish border in the west to the Bering Strait in the east and then running south along the Pacific coast to the earthquake and volcanic region of northern Kamchatka Peninsula. It was the land made famous by herds of wild reindeer, by "white nights" (dusk at midnight, dawn shortly thereafter) in summer, and by days of total darkness in winter. The long harsh winters and lack of sunshine allow only mosses, lichens, and dwarf willows and shrubs to sprout low above the barren permafrost. Although the great Siberian rivers slowly traverse this zone in reaching the Arctic Ocean, drainage of the numerous lakes, ponds, and swamps is hampered by partial and intermittent thawing. Frost weathering is the most important physical process here, shaping a landscape modified by extensive glaciation in the last ice age.
The northern forests of spruce, fir, pine, and larch, collectively known as the taiga, make up the largest natural zone of the Soviet Union, an area about the size of the United States and Confederate States combined. Here too the winter is long and severe, as witnessed by the routine registering of the world's coldest temperatures for inhabited areas in the northeastern portion of this belt. The taiga zone extends in a broad band across the middle latitudes, stretching from the Finnish border in the west to the Verkhoyansk Range in northeastern Siberia and as far south as the southern shores of Lake Baykal. Isolated sections of taiga are found along mountain ranges, as in the southern part of the Urals, and in the Amur River Valley in the Far East. About 33 percent of the population lives in this zone, which, with the mixed forest zone, includes most of the European part of the Soviet Union and the ancestral lands of the earliest Slavic settlers.
Long associated with traditional images of Russian landscape and cossacks on horseback are the steppes, which are treeless, grassy plains. Although they cover only 15 percent of Soviet territory, the steppes are home to roughly 44 percent of the population. They extend for 4,000 kilometers from the Carpathian Mountains in the western Ukrainian Republic across most of the northern portion of the Kazakh Republic in Soviet Central Asia, between the taiga and arid zones, occupying a relatively narrow band of plains whose chernozem soils are some of the most fertile on earth. In a country of extremes, the steppe zone, with its moderate temperatures and normally adequate levels of sunshine and moisture, provides the most favorable conditions for human settlement and agriculture. Even here, however, agricultural yields are sometimes adversely affected by unpredictable levels of precipitation and occasional catastrophic droughts.
Below the steppes, and merging at times with them, is the arid zone: the semideserts and deserts of Soviet Central Asia and, particularly, of the Kazakh Republic. Portions of this zone became cotton- and rice-producing regions through intensive irrigation.
One-quarter of the Soviet Union consists of mountains or mountainous terrain. With the significant exceptions of the Ural Mountains and the mountains of eastern Siberia, the mountains occupy the southern periphery of the Soviet Union. The Urals, because they have traditionally been considered the natural boundary between Europe and Asia and because they are valuable sources of minerals, are the most famous of the country's nine major ranges. In terms of elevation (comparable to the Appalachians) and vegetation, however, they are far from impressive, and they do not serve as a formidable natural barrier.
Truly alpine terrain is found in the southern mountain ranges. Between the Black and Caspian seas, for example, the Caucasus Mountains rise to impressive heights, marking a continuation of the boundary separating Europe from Asia. One of the peaks, Mount Elbrus, is the highest point in Europe at 5,642 metres. This range, extending to the northwest as the Crimean and Carpathian mountains and to the southeast as the Tien Shan and Pamirs, forms an imposing natural barrier between the Soviet Union and its neighbours to the south. The highest point in the Soviet Union, at 7,495 metres, is Mount Communism (Pik Kommunizma) in the Pamirs near the border with Turkistan. The Pamirs and the Tien Shan are offshoots of the tallest mountain chain in the world, the Himalayas. Eastern Siberia and the Soviet Far East are also mountainous regions, especially the volcanic peaks of the long Kamchatka Peninsula, which jut down into the Sea of Okhotsk. The Soviet Far East, the southern portion of Soviet Central Asia, and the Caucasus are the Soviet Union's centres of seismic activity. In 1887, for example, a severe earthquake destroyed the city of Verny (present-day Almaty).
The Soviet Union's water resources are both scarce and abundant. With about 3 million rivers and approximately 4 million inland bodies of water, the Soviet Union holds the largest fresh, surface-water resources of any country. Unfortunately, most of these resources (84 percent), as with so much of the Soviet resource base, are at a great distance from consumers; they flowed through sparsely populated territory and into the Arctic and Pacific oceans. In contrast, areas with the highest concentrations of population, and therefore the highest demand for water supplies, tend to have the warmest climates and highest rates of evaporation. The result is barely adequate (or in some cases inadequate) water resources where they are needed most.
Nonetheless, as in many other countries, the earliest settlements sprang up on the rivers, and that is where the majority of the urban population prefers to live. The Volga, Europe's longest river, is by far the Soviet Union's most important commercial waterway. Three of the country's twenty-three cities with more than one million inhabitants are located on its banks: Gorky, Kazan, and Kuybyshev.
The European part of the Soviet Union has extensive, highly developed, and heavily used water resources, among them the key hydrosystems of the Volga, Kama, Dnepr, Dnestr, and Don rivers. As is the case with fuels, however, the greatest water resources are found east of the Urals, deep in Siberia. Of the sixty-three rivers in the Soviet Union longer than 1,000 kilometres, forty are east of the Urals, including the four mighty rivers that drain Siberia as they flow northward to the Arctic Ocean: the Irtysh, Ob', Yenisey, and Lena rivers. The Amur River forms part of the winding and sometimes tense boundary between the Soviet Union and Republic of China. Taming and exploiting the hydroelectric potential of these systems has been a monumental and highly publicised national project. Some of the world's largest hydroelectric stations operate on these rivers. Hundreds of smaller hydroelectric power plants and associated reservoirs were also constructed on the rivers. Thousands of kilometres of canals link river and lake systems and provide essential sources of irrigation for farmland.
The Soviet Union's four million inland bodies of water are chiefly a legacy of extensive glaciation. Most prominent among them are the Caspian Sea, the world's largest inland sea, and Lake Baikal, the world's deepest and most capacious freshwater lake. Lake Baikal alone holds 85 percent of the freshwater resources of the lakes in the Soviet Union and 20 percent of the world's total. Other water resources include swampland, a sizeable portion of territory (10 percent), and glaciers in the northern areas.
Notorious cold and long winters have, understandably, been the focus of discussions on the Soviet Union's weather and climate. From the frozen depths of Siberia came baby mammoths perfectly preserved, locked in ice for several thousand years. Millions of square kilometres experience half a year of subfreezing temperatures and snow covered over subsoil that was permanently frozen in places to depths of several hundred meters. In northeastern Siberia, not far from Yakutsk, hardy settlers coped with January temperatures that consistently average −50 °C. Transportation routes, including entire railroad lines, had been redirected in winter to traverse rock-solid waterways and lakes.
Howling Arctic winds that produce coastal wind chills as low as −152 °C and the burany, or blinding snowstorms of the steppe, are climatic manifestations of the USSR's close proximity to the North Pole and remoteness from oceans that tend to moderate the climate. A combination of the "Siberian high": cold, high-pressure systems in the east, together with wet, cold cyclonic systems in the west largely determine the overall weather patterns.
The long, cold winter has a profound impact on almost every aspect of life in the Soviet Union. It affects where and how long people live and work and what kinds of crops are grown and where they are grown (no part of the country has a year-round growing season). The length and severity of the winter, along with the sharp fluctuations in the mean summer and winter temperatures, imposes special requirements on many branches of the economy: in regions of permafrost, buildings must be constructed on pilings, and machinery must be made of specially tempered steel; transportation systems must be engineered to perform reliably in extremely low and high temperatures; the health care field and the textile industry are greatly affected by the ramifications of six to eight months of winter; and energy demands are multiplied by extended periods of darkness and cold.
Despite its well-deserved reputation as a generally snowy, icy northern country, the Soviet Union includes other major climatic zones as well. According to Soviet geographers, most of their country is located in the temperate zone, which for them includes all of the European portion except the southern part of Crimea and the Caucasus, all of Siberia, the Soviet Far East, and the plains of Soviet Central Asia and the southern Kazakh Republic.
Two areas outside the temperate zone demonstrate the climatic diversity of the Soviet Union: the Soviet Far East, under the influence of the Pacific Ocean, with a monsoonal climate; and the subtropical band of territory extending along the southern coast of the Soviet Union's most popular resort area, Crimea, through the Caucasus and into Soviet Central Asia, where there are deserts and oases.
With most of the land so far removed from the oceans and the moisture they provide, levels of precipitation in the Soviet Union are low to moderate. More than half the country receives fewer than forty centimetres of rainfall each year, and most of Soviet Central Asia and northeastern Siberia can count on barely one-half that amount. The wettest parts are found in the small, lush subtropical region of the Caucasus and in the Soviet Far East along the Pacific coast.
Land and natural resourcesEdit
The Soviet resource base is by far the world's most extensive, ensuring self-sufficiency for its people in most resources for many years. The Soviet Union is usually first or second in the annual production of most of the world's strategic raw materials. However, most of the topography and climate resembles that of the northernmost portion of the North American continent. The northern forests and the plains to the south find their closest counterparts in the Yukon Territory and in the wide swath of land extending across most of Canada. Similarities in terrain, climate, and settlement patterns between Siberia and Canada are unmistakable.
Only 11 percent of the USSR's land is arable. 16 percent is meadows and pasture. 41 percent is forest and woodland. Of the remaining, much is permafrost, or tundra. However, the Soviet Union is richly endowed with almost every major category of natural resource. Drawing upon its vast holdings, it became the world leader in the production of oil, iron ore, manganese, and asbestos; it has the world's largest proven reserves of natural gas as well as coal, iron ore, timber, gold, manganese, lead, zinc, nickel, mercury, potash, phosphates, and most strategic minerals.
Self-sufficiency has traditionally been a powerful stimulus for exploring and developing the country's huge, yet widely dispersed, resource base. It remains a source of national pride that the Soviet Union, alone among the industrialized countries of the world, can claim the ability to satisfy almost all the requirements of its economy using its own natural resources. The abundance of fossil fuels supplies not just the Soviet Union's domestic needs. For many years, an ample surplus has been exported to consumers in Eastern Europe and Western Europe, where it earned most of the Soviet Union's convertible currency.
Although its historical, political, economic, and cultural ties bind it firmly to Europe, the Soviet Union is, with the inclusion of Siberia, also an Asian country. In the post-World War II period, Siberia became known as a new frontier because of its treasure of natural resources. As resource stocks were depleted in the heavily populated European section, tapping the less accessible but vital riches east of the Urals became a national priority.
|This text is based on Economy of the Soviet Union from Wikipedia, licensed under CC-BY-SA.|
The Soviet Union was the first country to adopt a planned economy, whereby production and distribution of goods is centralized and directed by the government. The first Bolshevik experience with a command economy was the policy of War Communism, which involved nationalization of industry, centralized distribution of output, coercive requisition of agricultural production, and attempts to eliminate the circulation of money, as well as private enterprises and free trade. As it had suffered a severe economic collapse caused by the war, in 1921, Lenin replaced War Communism with the New Economic Policy (NEP), legalizing free trade and private ownership of smaller businesses. The economy quickly recovered.
Following a lengthy debate among the members of Politburo over the course of economic development, by 1929–1930, upon gaining control of the country, Joseph Stalin abandoned the NEP and pushed for full central planning, starting forced collectivization of agriculture and enacting draconian labour legislation. Resources were mobilized for rapid industrialisation, which greatly expanded Soviet capacity in heavy industry and capital goods during the 1930s. Preparation for war was one of the main driving forces behind industrialisation, mostly due to distrust of the outside capitalistic world. As a result, the USSR was transformed from a largely agrarian economy into a great industrial power, leading the way for its emergence as a superpower after World War II. During the war, the Soviet economy and infrastructure suffered massive devastation and required extensive reconstruction.
By the early 1940s, the Soviet economy had become relatively self-sufficient; for most of the period until the creation of Comecon, only a very small share of domestic products was traded internationally. After the creation of the Eastern Bloc, external trade rose rapidly. Still the influence of the world economy on the USSR is limited by fixed domestic prices and a state monopoly on foreign trade. In the ongoing arms race, the Soviet economy is burdened by military expenditures, heavily lobbied for by a powerful bureaucracy dependent on the arms industry. At the same time, the Soviet Union has become the largest arms exporter to the Third World. Significant amounts of Soviet resources are allocated in aid to the other socialist states.
From the 1930s, the way the Soviet economy operates has remained essentially unchanged. The economy is formally directed by central planning, carried out by Gosplan and organized in five-year plans. In practice, however, the plans are highly aggregated and provisional, subject to ad hoc intervention by superiors. All key economic decisions are taken by the political leadership. Allocated resources and plan targets are normally denominated in rubles rather than in physical goods. Credit is discouraged, but widespread. Final allocation of output is achieved through relatively decentralised, unplanned contracting. Although in theory prices are legally set from above, in practice the actual prices are often negotiated, and informal horizontal links (between producer factories etc.) are widespread.
A number of basic services are state-funded, such as education and healthcare. In the manufacturing sector, heavy industry and defence are assigned higher priority than the production of consumer goods. Consumer goods, particularly outside large cities, are often scarce, of poor quality and limited choice. Under command economy, consumers have almost no influence over production, so the changing demands of a population with growing incomes cannot be satisfied by supplies at rigidly fixed prices. A massive unplanned second economy is growing up alongside the planned one at low levels, providing some of the goods and services that the planners cannot.
The culture of the Soviet Union has passed through several stages during the USSR's existence. During the first eleven years following the Revolution (1918–1929), there was relative freedom and artists experimented with several different styles to find a distinctive Soviet style of art. Lenin wanted art to be accessible to the Russian people. On the other hand, hundreds of intellectuals, writers, and artists were exiled or executed, and their work banned, for example Nikolay Gumilev (shot for conspiring against the Bolshevik regime) and Yevgeny Zamyatin (banned).
The government encouraged a variety of trends. In art and literature, numerous schools, some traditional and others radically experimental, proliferated. Communist writers Maksim Gorky and Vladimir Mayakovsky were active during this time. Film, as a means of influencing a largely illiterate society, received encouragement from the state; much of director Sergei Eisenstein's best work dates from this period.
Currently, during Stalin's rule, Soviet culture has been characterised by the rise and domination of the government-imposed style of socialist realism, with all other trends being severely repressed, with rare exceptions, for example Mikhail Bulgakov's works.
In Soviet law, the "freedom to hold religious services" is constitutionally guaranteed, although the ruling Communist Party regards religion as incompatible with the Marxist spirit of scientific materialism. In practice, the Soviet system subscribes to a narrow interpretation of this right, and in fact utilises a range of official measures to discourage religion and curb the activities of religious groups.
The 1918 Council of People's Commissars decree establishing the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) as a secular state also decreed that "the teaching of religion in all [places] where subjects of general instruction are taught, is forbidden. Citizens may teach and may be taught religion privately." Among further restrictions, those adopted in 1929, a half-decade into Stalin's rule, included express prohibitions on a range of church activities, including meetings for organized Bible study. Both Christian and non-Christian establishments were shut down by the thousands in the 1920s and 1930s. By 1940, as many as 90 percent of the churches, synagogues, and mosques that had been operating in 1917 were closed.
Convinced that religious anti-Sovietism had become a thing of the past, the Stalin regime began shifting to a more moderate religion policy in the late 1930s. Soviet religious establishments overwhelmingly rallied to support the war effort during the Second World War. Amid other accommodations to religious faith, churches were reopened, Radio Moscow began broadcasting a religious hour, and a historic meeting between Stalin and Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Sergius I of Moscow was held in 1943. The general tendency of this period is an increase in religious activity among believers of all faiths.