The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) (Russian: Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик (СССР); tr.: Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik (SSSR)), also called the Soviet Union (Сове́тский Сою́з; tr.: Sovetsky Soyuz), was a state in much of the northern region of Eurasia that existed from 1922 until 1991. The list of republics in the Soviet Union varied over the time. In its final years it consisted of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics (S.S.R.'s). Russia was by far the largest Republic in the Soviet Union, dominating in nearly all respects: land area, population, economic output, and political influence. The territory of the Soviet Union also varied, and in its most recent times approximately corresponded to that of the late Imperial Russia, with notable exclusions of Poland, Finland, and Alaska. The political organization of the country was defined by the only recognized political party, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Main article: History of the Soviet Union.
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, but political and social unrest continued and was aggravated during World War I by military defeat and food shortages.
The February and October Revolutions (see also Russian Revolution) were followed by a period of civil war (see Russian Civil War), in which the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic (RSFSR) and other Bolshevik led states came to control most of the former Russian Empire. On July 6, 1923 the RSFSR, the Transcaucasian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic, and the Byelorussian and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republics signed a Treaty of Union forming the Soviet Union.
The collapse of Tsarist rule was followed by the eviction of the landlord class and the subdivision of land among peasant families. Poor and middle peasants generally did not benefit from the latter until Lenin announced the New Economic Policy (NEP), which saw an end to government requisitioning of food during the civil war. Peasants marketed most of their produce at free prices during the years of the NEP.
After the death of the Soviet Union's revolutionary founding figure Vladimir Lenin (1924), Joseph Stalin finally emerged as the uncontested leader, defeating Leon Trotsky who he subsequently had exiled from the Soviet Union in 1929 and had murdered in 1940.
Under Stalin, who replaced Lenin's NEP with five year plans and collective farming, the Soviet Union (established 1922) became a major industrial power, but with effective political opposition eliminated during the 1930s by purges. World War II established the Soviet Union as one of the two major world powers, a position maintained for four decades through military strength, aid to developing countries, and scientific research, especially into space technology and weaponry. Growing tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States, its former wartime ally and the other superpower, led to the Cold War.
Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev promoted Soviet glasnost (openness) and perestroika (economic restructuring). A U.S.-Soviet summit meeting in 1986 and 1987 and a meeting of U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev in late 1988 brought a reduction in arms in Europe.
The disintegration of Communist allies in Eastern Europe heralded the dissolution of the Soviet Union. As the Russian republic's Boris Yeltsin eclipsed Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in power, the Soviet Union was peacefully dissolved in December 1991. Most former Soviet republics joined the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Main article: Politics of the Soviet Union
According to the most recent Soviet Constitution of 1977, the Soviet Union theoretically was a federal state consisting of fifteen republics joined together in a voluntary union and the government had a federal structure (see Constitution of the Soviet Union). The government of the Soviet Union implemented decisions made by the Communist Party (see Organization of the Communist Party of the USSR).
The organization of the CPSU was based on democratic centralism, the Leninist method of intraparty decision making. According to democratic centralism, lower party bodies executed the decisions of higher party bodies. The lowest bodies started from the town and district levels, working up to the Central Committee, the highest party body.
The party, using its nomenklatura authority, placed reliable individuals in leadership posts throughout the government. CPSU bodies monitored the actions of government ministries, agencies, and legislative organs. The highest government legislative body was the Supreme Soviet.
See also: Soviet law
Main article: Foreign relations of the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union was denied recognition by most countries when it was founded in 1922. The Soviet Union joined the League of Nations in 1934, but was expelled in 1939 amid the start of the Winter War. However, World War II established the USSR as one of the two major world powers, a position maintained for four decades through military strength, aid to developing countries, and scientific research, especially into space technology and weaponry.
Soviet foreign policy played a major role determining the tenor of international relations for nearly four decades, and the Soviet Union had official relations with the majority of the nations of the world by the late 1980s. The Soviet Union became a member of the United Nations at its foundation in 1945. It also became one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council which gave it the right to veto any of its resolutions. (see Soviet Union and the United Nations)
The CPSU Central Committee Politburo determined the major foreign policy guidelines. The overarching objectives of Soviet foreign policy were national security and the maintenance of hegemony over the Warsaw Pact.
As the Soviet Union achieved rough nuclear parity with the United States, Cold War superpower competition between the Soviet Union and the U.S. gave way to Détente and a more complicated pattern of international relations in which the world was no longer clearly split into two clearly opposed blocs in the 1960s and 1970s. Less powerful countries had more room to assert their independence, and the two superpowers were partially able to recognize their common interest in trying to check the further spread and proliferation of nuclear weapons (see SALT I, SALT II, Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty). Since the early 1970s, the Soviet Union concluded friendship and cooperation treaties with a number of states in the noncommunist world, especially among Third World and Non-Aligned Movement states.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia claimed to be the legal successor to the Soviet Union on the international stage. Russian foreign policy repudiated Marxism-Leninism as a guide to action, soliciting Western support for capitalist reforms in postcommunist Russia.
Main article: Republics of the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union was a federation of Socialist Soviet Republics (SSR). The first Republics were established shortly after the October Revolution of 1917. At that time, republics were technically independent one from another but their governments acted in close coordination. In 1922, four Republics (Russian SFSR, Ukrainian SSR, Belorussian SSR and Transcaucasian SFSR) joined into the Soviet Union. Between 1922 and 1940, the number of Republics grew to sixteen. Some of new Republics were formed from territories conquered by the Soviet Union, others by splitting existing Republics into several parts. The criteria for establishing new republics were as follows:
The system remained almost unchanged after 1940. No new Republics were established. One republic, Karelo-Finnish SSR, was disbanded in 1956. The remaining 15 Republics existed until the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991 and became independent countries, with some still loosely organized under the heading Commonwealth of Independent States.
Main article: Economy of the Soviet Union
Based on a system of state ownership, the Soviet economy was controlled by an elaborate system administrative planning from the drafting of the first Five Year Plan (1928) to the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991). Major industries (agriculture, banking, communications, public services, trade, and transportation) were controlled by the state's agents through Gosplan (the state planning commission) and Gosbank (the state bank) according to the priorities of the Communist Party. The Soviet planning bureaucracy determined prices, allocation of resources, and distribution of goods and services. The supply-demand mechanism was absent. Money was distributed as salaries or rewards, and people could freely decide which of the offered goods they want to buy. Their buying decisions, however, had relatively little influence on planning and shortages of in-demand consumer goods were common.
Private property was legal but limited, people could own property for personal use, but not for commercial use, see the main article for more detail.
Industry was long concentrated after 1928 on heavy industry rather than the consumer or agricultural sectors. The emphasis on heavy industry allowed the Soviet Union to emerge as a modern, industrialized superpower at an unbelievable pace without waiting decades for capital accumulation through the expansion of light industry and without reliance on external financing. Overall, indicators of public health and economic welfare showed some incredible improvements, but production in the consumer and agricultural sectors was often inadequate. Crises in the agricultural sector reaped catastrophic consequences in the 1930s under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
Growth rates slowed in the 1960s. They then stagnated since the mid-1970s, sometimes attributed to administrative planning. This encouraged attempts to implement economic reform (Perestroika) in the 1980s. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, most former Soviet Republics, including the largest (Russia), have moved towards a system of private ownership and market-based allocation of resources.
Main article: Demographics of the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union was one of the world's most ethnically diverse countries, with more than 100 distinct national ethnicities living within its borders. The total population was estimated at 293 million in 1991. The Soviet Union was so large, in fact, that even after all associated republics gained independence, Russia remains the largest country by area, and remains quite ethnically diverse, including, e.g., minorities of Tatars, Udmurts, and many other non-Russian ethnicities.
Main article: List of Soviet Union-related topics.
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