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The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), also called the Soviet Union, was a state in much of the northern region of Eurasia that existed from 1922 until its dissolution in 1991. The Russian Federation is widely accepted as the Soviet Union's successor state in diplomatic affairs. Its formation was the culmination of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which overthrew Tsar Nicholas II. According to its Constitution, it was declared to be a socialist state. The political organization of the country was defined by the only permitted political party, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. States of this type have become known as communist states. The territory of the Soviet Union varied, and in its most recent times approximately corresponded to that of the late Imperial Russia, with notable exclusions of Poland and Finland.

The USSR is generally considered to be the successor of the Russian Empire, whose last monarch, Tsar Nicholas II, ruled until 1917. The Soviet Union was established in December 1922 as the union of the Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Transcaucasian Soviet republics ruled by Bolshevik parties.

Revolutionary activity in Russia began with the Decembrist Revolt, uncovered in 1825, and although serfdom was abolished in 1861, its abolition was achieved on terms unfavorable to the peasants and served to encourage revolutionaries. A parliament, the Duma, was established in 1906, after the 1905 Revolution but political and social unrest continued and was aggravated during World War I by military defeat and food shortages.

A spontaneous popular uprising in Petrograd, in response to the wartime decay of Russia's physical well-being and morale, culminated in the toppling of the imperial government in March 1917 (see February Revolution). The autocracy was replaced by the Provisional Government, whose leaders intended to establish democracy in Russia and to continue participating on the side of the Allies in World War I. At the same time, to ensure the rights of the working class, workers' councils, known as soviets, sprang up across the country. The radical Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Ilich Lenin, agitated for socialist revolution in the soviets and on the streets. They seized power from the Provisional Government in November 1917 (see October Revolution). Only after the long and bloody Russian Civil War of (1918-1921), which included combat between government forces and foreign troops in several parts of Russia, was the new communist regime secure. In a related conflict, the "Peace of Riga" in early 1921 split disputed territory in Belarus and Ukraine between Poland and Soviet Russia.

From its first years, government in the Soviet Union was based on the one-party rule of the communists, as the Bolsheviks called themselves beginning in March 1918. After the extraordinary economic policy of war communism during the Civil War the Soviet government permitted some private enterprise to coexist with nationalized industry in the 1920s and total food requisition in the countryside was replaced by a food tax (see New Economic Policy). Debate over the future of the economy provided the background for Soviet leaders to contend for power in the years after Lenin's death in 1924. By gradually consolidating his influence and isolating his rivals within the party, notably Lenin's more obvious heir Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin became the sole leader of the Soviet Union by the end of the 1920s.


In 1928 Stalin introduced the First Five-Year Plan for building a socialist economy. In industry the state assumed control over all existing enterprises and undertook an intensive program of industrialization; in agriculture the state appropriated the peasants' property to establish collective farms (see Collectivization in the USSR). The Soviet Union became a major industrial power; but the plan's implementation produced widespread misery for some segments of the population. Collectivization met widespread resistance from the kulaks, resulting in a bitter struggle of many peasants against the authorities, famine, and possibly millions of casualties, particularly in Ukraine. Social upheaval continued in the mid-1930s, when Stalin began a purge of the party (see Great Purges); out of this process grew a campaign of terror that led to the execution or imprisonment of untold millions from all walks of life (see Gulag). Yet despite this turmoil, the Soviet Union developed a powerful industrial economy in the years before World War II.

Although Stalin tried to avert war with Germany by concluding the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact in 1939, in 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union. It has been debated that the Soviet Union had the intention of invading Germany once they were sufficiently strong enough. The Red Army stopped the Nazi offensive at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943 and drove through Eastern Europe to Berlin before Germany surrendered in 1945 (see Great Patriotic War). Although ravaged by the war, the Soviet Union emerged from the conflict as an acknowledged great power.

During the immediate postwar period, the Soviet Union first rebuilt and then expanded its economy, with control always exerted exclusively from Moscow. The Soviet Union consolidated its hold on Eastern Europe, supplied aid to the eventually victorious communists in the People's Republic of China, and sought to expand its influence elsewhere in the world. This active foreign policy helped bring about the Cold War, which turned the Soviet Union's wartime allies, the United Kingdom and the United States, into foes (see Cold War). Within the Soviet Union, repressive measures continued in force; Stalin apparently was about to launch a new purge when he died in 1953.

In the absence of an acceptable successor, Stalin's closest associates opted to rule the Soviet Union jointly, although a struggle for power took place behind the facade of collective leadership. Nikita Khrushchev, who won the power struggle by the mid-1950s, denounced Stalin's use of terror and eased repressive controls over party and society (see de-Stalinization). Khrushchev's reforms in agriculture and administration, however, were generally unproductive, and foreign policy toward China and the United States suffered reverses. Khrushchev's colleagues in the leadership removed him from power in 1964.


Following the ouster of Khrushchev, another period of rule by collective leadership ensued, lasting until Leonid Brezhnev established himself in the early 1970s as the preeminent figure in Soviet political life. Brezhnev presided over a period of détente with the West while at the same time building up Soviet military strength; the arms buildup contributed to the demise of détente in the late 1970s. Another contributing factor was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.

After some experimentation with economic reforms in the mid-1960s, the Soviet leadership reverted to established means of economic management. Industry showed slow but steady gains during the 1970s, while agricultural development continued to lag. In contrast to the revolutionary spirit that accompanied the birth of the Soviet Union, the prevailing mood of the Soviet leadership at the time of Brezhnev's death in 1982 was one of aversion to change.

Two developments dominated the decade that followed: the increasingly apparent crumbling of the Soviet Union's economic and political structures, and the patchwork attempts at reforms to reverse that process. After the rapid succession of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, transitional figures with deep roots in Brezhnevite tradition, the energetic Mikhail Gorbachev made significant changes in the economy and the party leadership. His policy of glasnost freed public access to information after decades of government repression. But Gorbachev failed to address the fundamental flaws of the Soviet system; by 1991, when a plot by government insiders revealed the weakness of Gorbachev's political position, the end of the Soviet Union was in sight.

On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as president of the USSR and turned the powers of his office over to Boris Yeltsin. The next day, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved and by the end of the year all official Soviet institutions had ceased operations.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "USSR".