On This Day

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Associated Press
Lenin depicted in a 1917 painting.

On This Day: The USSR Is Born

December 30, 2010 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Dec. 30, 1922, Russia and three other republics formed the constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The Creation of the USSR

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics began with Russia and three other republics: Belorussia, Ukraine and the Transcaucasian Republic (composed of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia). “The new communist state was the successor to the Russian Empire,” writes History.com, “and the first country in the world to be based on Marxist socialism.”

The government had an executive branch, called the Central Executive Committee, along with a legislative organization called the Council of People’s Commissars. Government members were elected by local councils, known as “Soviets,” that went on to the Congress of Soviets.

The USSR, also known as the Soviet Union, grew in the wake of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution led by Vladimir Lenin. The Bolshevik Party, later renamed the Communist Party, took control of the Russian government and retained it through a civil war that raged until 1920.

Lenin was in ill health when the USSR was formed and was not present at the Congress. He did, however, release a letter called “The Question of Nationalities or ‘Autonomisation’” that addressed his beliefs about the new union.

Though Russia’s subsequent actions would indicate otherwise, the Communist Party wanted the various nations that made up the USSR to join or secede willingly. “We want a voluntary union of nations,” Lenin said in a quote that appears on the wall of the Central V.I. Lenin Museum, “a union which precludes any coercion of one nation by another—a union founded on complete confidence, on a clear recognition of brotherly unity, on absolutely voluntary consent.”

Background: Russian Revolution and Civil War

Lenin drew inspiration from the works of Karl Marx, who advocated socialism and the collective ownership of land and resources. During the rule of Czar Nicholas II, Lenin and many other Bolsheviks were exiled from Russia for their revolutionary beliefs.

After the monarchy was overthrown in March 1917, Lenin and the Bolsheviks returned to Russia to lead a second revolution against the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky. In October, the Bolsheviks were able to seize the Winter Palace and take over the Russian government. The Bolsheviks instituted socialist rule, placing the country’s banks, factories and farms under government control.

They faced opposition from conservative Russian factions known as the “Whites.” The Bolshevik Red Army defeated the White armies in a bitter civil war that lasted from 1917 to 1923, though most fighting ended by 1920.

Rise and Fall of the USSR

Josef Stalin followed Lenin as head of the Communist Party, and therefore head of the USSR, ruling the country for its first three decades. Stalin instituted “five-year plans” designed to advance industrialization and build the USSR into a world power.

During his rule, Stalin shaped the international reputation of the Soviet Union, which grew to 15 republics by 1940. Stalin oversaw the defeat of Nazi Germany on the Eastern Front of World War II (known as the Great Patriotic War in Russia), a victory that marked the emergence of the USSR into a world superpower. His domestic reign was marked by government and army purges, the creation of a draconian secret police, and government-engineered famines that killed millions.

After the war, the Soviet Union engaged in a four-decade Cold War against the United States and the capitalist world.

The USSR existed until 1991, when Russia, Belarus and Ukraine—the three remaining states that founded the Soviet Union—declared that it was dissolved. It was officially dissolved on Dec. 21 and replaced with the Commonwealth of Independent States.

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