Soviet Union

former country in Eurasia (1922–1991)

The Soviet Union officialy Union of Soviet Socialist Republics also known as USSR[3] was the Russian state after end of Tsarist Period and the world's first single-party Marxist–Leninist state from 1922 until 1991. It was the first country to declare itself socialist and build towards a communist society. It was a union of 14 Soviet socialist republics and one Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (Russian SFSR).

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Other names
Союз Советских Социалистических Республик
Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik
Motto: Пролетарии всех стран, соединяйтесь!
(Translit.: Proletarii vsekh stran, soyedinyaytes'!)
English: Workers of the world, unite!
Anthem: "The Internationale"

"State Anthem of the Soviet Union"
The Soviet Union after World War II
The Soviet Union after World War II
and largest city
55°45′N 37°37′E / 55.750°N 37.617°E / 55.750; 37.617
Official languagesRussian
None (State atheism)[2] (see text)
Marxist–Leninist single-party state
General Secretary of the CPSU 
• 1922–1952
Joseph Stalin (first)
• 1991
Vladimir Ivashko (last)
• 1922–1938
Mikhail Kalinin (first)
• 1988–1991
Mikhail Gorbachev (last)
• 1922–1924
Vladimir Lenin (first)
• 1991
Ivan Silayev (last)
LegislatureSupreme Soviet
Soviet of the Union
Soviet of Nationalities
Historical eraInterwar period / World War II / Cold War
30 December 1922
26 December 1991[1]
• Total
22,402,200 km2 (8,649,500 sq mi) (1st)
198922,276,060 km2 (8,600,830 sq mi)
• 1989
GDP (PPP)1990 estimate
• Total
2.7 trillion (2nd)
HDI (1990)0.920
very high
CurrencySoviet ruble (руб) (SUR) (SUR)
Time zoneUTC+2 to +13
Calling code7
Internet TLD.su2
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic
Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic
Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic
Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic
1On 21 December 1991, eleven of the former socialist republics declared in Alma-Ata (with the 12th republic – Georgia – attending as an observer) that with the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ceases to exist.
2Assigned on 19 September 1990, existing onwards.

The Soviet Union was created about five years after the Russian Revolution. It was announced after Vladimir Lenin overthrew Alexander Kerensky as Russian leader. The communist government developed industry and over time became a major, powerful union. The largest country in the Union was Russian SFSR, Kazakh SSR was the second, and Ukrainian SSR the third largest. The capital city of the Soviet Union and RSFSR was Moscow. The Soviet Union expanded its political control greatly after World War II. It took over the whole of Eastern Europe. Those countries were not made part of the Soviet Union, but they were controlled by the Soviet Union indirectly. These countries, like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and East Germany, were called satellite states.

The top-level committee which made the laws was the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. In practice, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the leader and most important decision-maker in their system of government.

Although the constitution said the Republics could leave the Union if they wanted, it was a completely centralized government, with no states' rights for the member countries.

The Union was formed with the idea to give everyone equal social and economic rights (equality). There was virtually no private property—everything belonged to the state (public property was an idea discussed by Karl Marx, and formed the basis for socialism) 'Soviets', or workers' councils, were created by the working class to lead the socialist state democratically, but they soon lost power with the rise of Stalinism. The Union was successful in many fields, putting the first man, first woman, and first satellite into space, defeating Hitler's Nazi Germany and winning World War II, together with the United States and United Kingdom, helping build infrastructure, as well as schools and hospitals in many third-world countries. However, its centralized government found innovation and change difficult to handle. The Union collapsed in 1991 due to the failed efforts to reform the country by its 8th Leader and the 10th President, Mikhail Gorbachev, leaving behind Russian Federation in its place along with 14 other nations.


Date English name Local name Remarks
January 1 New Year Новый Год  
March 8 International Women's Day Международный Женский День  
May 1-May 2 Day of International Solidarity of Labor people Первое Мая - День Международной Солидарности Трудящихся  
May 9 Victory Day День Победы Defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II in 1945
October 7 Constitution Day День Конституции since 1978
November 7 Great October Socialist Revolution Седьмое Ноября October Revolution 1917; it is currently called День Согласия и Примирения

Republics of the Soviet Union


The Soviet Union consisted of 15 republics. These were either Soviet Socialist Republics, or Soviet Socialist Federal Republics. Each republic was independent and handled its own cultural affairs. Each also had the right to leave the union, which they did in 1991.

The Federal Republics were different in that they had more autonomy, and were made up of states themselves. These were often called Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics. There were a number of them. Most of them still exist; though they are now republics, within the independent state. The Tatar ASSR turned into the Republic of Tatarstan, for example (It is located around Kazan).

Soviet republics

The Soviet Union, before it collapsed

  1. Armenian SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic)
  2. Azerbaijan SSR
  3. Byelorussian SSR
  4. Estonian SSR
  5. Georgian SSR
  6. Kazakh SSR
  7. Kyrgyz SSR
  8. Latvian SSR
  9. Lithuanian SSR
  10. Moldavian SSR
  11. Russian SFSR (Soviet Federal Socialist Republic)
  12. Tajik SSR
  13. Turkmen SSR
  14. Ukrainian SSR
  15. Uzbek SSR
  16. Karelo-Finnish SSR (1940-1956)

Independent countries

  1. Armenia
  2. Azerbaijan
  3. Belarus
  4. Estonia
  5. Georgia
  6. Kazakhstan
  7. Kyrgyzstan
  8. Latvia
  9. Lithuania
  10. Moldova
  11. Russia
  12. Tajikistan
  13. Turkmenistan
  14. Ukraine
  15. Uzbekistan
  16. N/A (Karelia is a republic of Russia)

Geography, climate and environment

Permafrost Regions in the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union at its largest size in 1991, with 22,400,000 square kilometres (8,600,000 sq mi), was the world's biggest country. Covering a sixth of the world's land, its total size was comparable to North America's. The western part (in Europe) accounted for a quarter of the country's area, and was the country's cultural and economic center. The eastern part (in Asia) extended to the Pacific Ocean to the east and Afghanistan to the south, and was much less lived in than the western part. It was over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) across (11 time zones) and almost 7,200 kilometres (4,500 mi) north to south. Its five climatic (different weather, temperature, humidity and atmospheric pressure) zones were tundra, taiga, steppes, desert, and mountains.

The Soviet Union had the world's longest border, measuring over 60,000 kilometres (37,000 mi) in 1991. Two thirds of the Soviet border was coastline of the Arctic Ocean. Across the Bering Strait was the United States. The Soviet Union bordered Afghanistan, China, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Hungary, Iran, Mongolia, North Korea, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Turkey at the end of WWII.

The Soviet Union's (and now Russia's) longest rivers are the Yenisey, Ob/Irtysh, Amur and Lena. The Soviet Union's highest mountain was Communism Peak (today it is called the Ismoil Somoni Peak) in Tajikistan measured at 7,495 metres (24,590 ft). The world's largest lake, the Caspian Sea, was mostly in the Soviet Union. as well as the world's deepest lake, Lake Baikal.



The last Russian Tsar (emperor), Nicholas II, ruled Russia until March 1917, when the Russian Empire was taken over and a short-lived "provisional government" replaced it, led by Alexander Kerensky and soon to be overthrown in November by Bolsheviks and started the Russian civil war.

From 1917 to 1922, the country that came before the Soviet Union was the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR), which was its own country, as were other Soviet republics at the time. The Soviet Union was officially created in December 1922 as the union of the Russian (also known as Bolshevist Russia), Ukrainian, Byelorussian, and Transcaucasian Soviet republics ruled by the communist Bolshevik parties.

Revolution and the foundation


Extreme government-changing activity in the Russian Empire began with the Decembrist Revolt of 1825, and although serfdom was removed in 1861, its removal was achieved on terms unfavorable to the peasants (poor agricultural workers) and served to encourage changers (revolutionaries). A parliament (legislative assembly)—the State Duma—was created in 1906 after the Russian Revolution of 1905, but the Tsar suppressed people trying to move from absolute to constitutional monarchy. Rebellion continued and was aggravated during World War I by failure and food shortages in popular cities.

Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky in counterrevolutionary propaganda

A rebellion in Petrograd, in response to the wartime decay of Russia's economy and morale, caused the "February Revolution" and the removal of the government in March 1917. The tsarist autocracy was replaced by the Russian "Provisional government", whose leaders intended to have elections to Russian Constituent Assembly and to continue war on the side of the Entente in World War I.

At the same time, workers' councils, known as Soviets, sprang up across the country. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, pushed for socialist revolution in the Soviets and on the streets. In November 1917, during the "October Revolution", they took power from the Provisional Government. In December, the Bolsheviks signed an armistice (peace) with the Central Powers. In March, after more fighting, the Soviets quit the war for good and signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

In the long and bloody Russian Civil War, the new Soviet power won. The civil war between the Reds and the Whites started in 1917 and ended in 1923. It included the Siberian Intervention and other foreign interference, the killing of Nicholas II and his family and the famine in 1921, which killed about 5 million. In March 1921, during a related conflict with Poland, the Peace of Riga was signed and split disputed territories in Belarus and Ukraine between the Republic of Poland and Soviet Russia. The Soviet Union had to resolve similar conflicts with the newly established Republic of Finland, the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Latvia, and the Republic of Lithuania, which had all escaped the empire during the civil war.

Unification of the Soviet Republics


On 28 December 1922, people from the Russian SFSR, the Transcaucasian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR, and the Byelorussian SSR approved the Treaty of Creation of the USSR and the Declaration of the Creation of the USSR, creating the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. These two documents were made true by the 1st Congress of Soviets of the USSR and signed by heads of delegations.

On 1 February 1924, the USSR was accepted as a country by the British Empire. Also in 1924, a Soviet Constitution (set of laws) was approved, making true the December 1922 union of the Russian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Belarusian SSR, and the Transcaucasian SFSR to form the "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" (USSR).

The big changes of the economy, industry, and politics of the country began in the early days of Soviet power in 1917. A large part of this was performed according to Bolshevik Initial Decrees, documents of the Soviet government, signed by Vladimir Lenin. One of the most important and notable breakthroughs was the GOELRO plan, that planned a major change of the Soviet economy based on total electrification of the country. The Plan was developed in 1920 and covered a 10- to 15-year period. It included the making of a network of 30 regional power stations, including ten large hydroelectric power plants, and numerous electric-powered large industrial organizations. The Plan became the prototype for subsequent Five-Year Plans and was basically fulfilled by 1931.

Stalin's rule

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow being demolished in 1931. Organized religion was suppressed in the Soviet Union.

From its beginning years, government in the Soviet Union was ruled as a one-party state by the Communist Party (Bolsheviks). After the 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).

Soviet leaders argued that one-party rule was necessary because it ensured that 'capitalist exploitation' would not return to the Soviet Union and that the principles of Democratic Centralism would represent the people's will. Debate over the future of the economy provided the background for Soviet leaders to take more power in the years after Lenin's death in 1924. Initially, Lenin was to be replaced by a "troika" composed of Grigory Zinoviev of Ukraine, Lev Kamenev of Moscow, and Joseph Stalin of Georgia.

Stalin led the country through World War II and into the Cold War. Gulag camps greatly expanded to take a lot of prisoners. After he died, Georgy Malenkov briefly continued his policies. Nikita Khrushchev reversed some of Stalin's policies,but Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin kept things as they were.

After the 1936 revised constitution, the Soviet Union stopped acting as a union of republics and more as a single super-country.

Khrushchev era


Stalin died on 5 March 1953. Nikita Khrushchev eventually won the following power struggle by the mid-1950s. In 1956, he denounced Stalin's repression and eased controls over party and society. This was known as de-Stalinization.

Map showing greatest territorial extent of the Soviet Union and its allies in 1960, after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 but before the official Sino-Soviet split of 1961

Moscow considered Eastern Europe to be a very vital buffer zone for the forward defense of its western borders. For this reason, the USSR sought to strengthen its control of the region. It did this by transforming the Eastern European countries into satellite states, dependent upon and obedient to its leadership. Soviet military force was used to suppress anti-Stalinist uprisings in Hungary and Poland in 1956.

During the Khrushchev’s power program of relocating every urban family to a separate apartment was started. There were built a lot of 5-floor buildings to live for 20 years.

After Krushchev’s visit to the USA, corn became very popular in the USSR.

In the late 1950s, a confrontation with China regarding the USSR's policies led to the Sino–Soviet split. This resulted in a break throughout the global Marxist–Leninist movement. The governments in Albania, Cambodia and Somalia chose to ally with China instead of the USSR.

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin is the first human to travel into space.

During this period of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Soviet Union continued to make progress in the Space Race. It rivalled the United States. The USSR launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 in 1957; a living dog named Laika in 1957; the first human being, Yuri Gagarin in 1961; the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova in 1963; Alexei Leonov, the first person to walk in space in 1965; the first soft landing on the Moon by spacecraft Luna 9 in 1966; and the first Moon rovers, Lunokhod 1 and Lunokhod 2.

Leonid Brezhnev


Leonid Brezhnev led the Soviet Union from 1964 until his death in 1982. He came to power after he convinced the government to overthrow the then-leader Nikita Krushchev. Brezhnev's rule is often linked with the decline in Soviet economy and starting the chain of events that would lead to the union's eventual collapse. He had many self-awarded medals. He was awarded Hero of the Soviet Union (the highest honor) on three separate occasions. Brezhnev was succeeded by Yuri Andropov, who died a few years later. Andropov was succeeded by the frail and aging Konstantin Chernenko. Chernenko died a mere year after taking office.

In 1980 the Soviet Union hosted the Summer Olympics with Brezhnev opening and closing the games. The games were heavily boycotted by the western nations, particularly the United States. During the closing ceremony, the flag of the City of Los Angeles was raised instead of the flag of the United States (to symbolise the next host city/nation) and the anthem of the Olympics was played instead of the anthem of the United States in response to the boycott.

Brezhnev was the second longest serving Soviet leader after Stalin. The following is a list of leaders (General Secretary of the Communist Party) in order of their tenure and length of leadership:

Khrushchev and Gorbachev are the only Soviet leaders to have not died whilst in office. Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev are the only leaders who were not (de jure) head of state during their leaderships.

Gorbachev's rule

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985

Mikhail Gorbachev was the Soviet Union's last leader. He was the only Soviet leader to have been born after the October revolution and was thus a product of the Soviet Union having grown up in it. He and US president Ronald Reagan signed a treaty to get rid of some nuclear weapons. Gorbachev started social and economic reforms named Perestroika that gave people freedom of speech; which allowed them to criticize the government and its policies. The ruling communist party lost its grip on the media and the people. Newspapers began printing the many failures that the Soviet Union had covered up and denied in its past. The Soviet Union's economy was lagging and the government was spending a lot of money on competing with the west.


Coat of Arms and Enables of Former Soviet Republics and Current Countries

By the 1980s the Soviet economy was suffering but it was stable. Gorbachev's new ideas had gotten out of hand and the communist party lost control. Boris Yeltsin was elected (democratically) the President of the Russian SFSR even though Gorbachev did not want him to come into power. Lithuania announced its independence from the Union and the Soviet government demanded it surrender its independence or it would send the Red Army to keep order. Gorbachev invented the idea of keeping the Soviet Union together with each republic being more independent but under the same leader. He wanted to call it the 'Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics' to keep the Russian initials as CCCP (USSR in English).

A group of communist leaders, unhappy with Gorbachev's idea, tried to take over Moscow and stop the Soviet Union from collapsing. It only made people want independence more. Although he survived the attempted takeover, he lost all of his power outside of Moscow. Russia declared independence in December 1991. Later in the month, leaders of Russia, Byelorussia, and Ukraine signed a treaty called the Belavezha Agreement to dissolve the USSR, extremely angering Gorbachev. He had no choice but to accept the treaty and resigned on Christmas Day 1991. The Soviet Union's parliament (Supreme Soviet) made the Belavezha Agreement law, marking formally the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The next day, the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the last time.

Since 2013, the document that confirmed the dissolution of the Soviet Union has been missing.[4]


2000 Postage Stamp on the 20th anniversary of the 1980 summer Olympics held in Moscow

Made on July 20th, 1924, in Moscow, Sovetsky Sport was the first sports newspaper of the Soviet Union. Sports in the Soviet Union were highly prioritized and tightly controlled. The government invested heavily in athletic programs to showcase Soviet superiority. Success in sports was seen as a reflection of the political system's strength. The emphasis on Olympic success led to the development of talented athletes in various disciplines. However, it also involved state-sponsored doping programs, which became a controversial legacy.


USSR stampː Palace of Culture Ukraine (Yevhenia Marychenko et alii), Kiev

The culture of the Soviet Union went through several stages during the USSR's existence. During the first 10 years following the revolution, there was freedom and artists tested several different styles to find a distinctive Soviet style of art. Lenin wanted art to be available to the Russian people. On the other hand, hundreds of smart people, writers, and artists were killed, and their work not being available to anyone, such as Nikolay Gumilyov who was shot, for conspiring against the Bolshevik regime, without proof.[5]

During Stalin's rule, the Soviet culture was described by the rise of the government-forced style of socialist realism, with all other trends being severely repressed, with rare exceptions, such as Mikhail Bulgakov's works. Many writers were put in prison and killed.[6]

Following the Khrushchev Thaw, censorship was removed. During this time, a different period of Soviet culture developed, described by public life and an intense focus on personal life. Bigger testing in art forms was again allowed, resulting in the creation of better, important work. Underground dissident literature, known as samizdat, was made during this late period. In architecture, the art or practice of designing and constructing buildings, the Khrushchev era mostly focused on functional design as opposed to the highly decorated style of Stalin's epoch. In music, in response to the increasing popularity of forms of popular music like jazz in the West, many jazz orchestras were permitted throughout the USSR, notably the Melodiya Ensemble, named after the principle record label in the USSR.

In the second half of the 1980s, Gorbachev's policies of perestroika and glasnost significantly grew freedom of expression in the country in the media and the press.[7]

List of wars

Raising a flag over the Reichstag


  1. Declaration № 142-Н of the Soviet of the Republics of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, formally establishing the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a state and subject of international law. (in Russian)
  2. "73 Years of State Atheism in the Soviet Union, ended amid collapse in 1990". Archived from the original on 2013-10-14. Retrieved 2023-02-12.
  3. Russian: Союз Советских Социалистических Республик/Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik
  4. "Document proclaiming death of Soviet Union missing". The Daily Telegraph. 2013-02-07. ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 2019-10-16. Retrieved 2019-03-10.
  5. 'On the other hand ...' See the index of Stalin and His Hangmen by Donald Rayfield, 2004, Random House
  6. Rayfield 2005, pp. 317–320
  7. "Gorbachev, Mikhail". Encyclopædia Britannica. 13 February 2024. Archived from the original on 20 February 2024. Retrieved 20 February 2024. Under his new policy of glasnost ("openness"), a major cultural thaw took place: freedoms of expression and of information were significantly expanded; the press and broadcasting were allowed unprecedented candor in their reportage and criticism; and the country's legacy of Stalinist totalitarian rule was eventually completely repudiated by the government.

Further reading