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Regular version of the site

95th Anniversary of the Creation of the USSR in the Richard Stites Memorial Historical Library

The Centre for Historical Research and the HSE in St Petersburg Bachelor's Programme 'History' carry on the students' project on promoting the Richard Stites Memorial Historical Library

December review by Anna Garina & Elina Ozhgikhina:

The Soviet Union. Edited by Denis J.B. Shaw and R.W. Davies. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 1978.
Шифр в библиотеке: 947 S76

It is, in fact, a guide to the Soviet Union, intended for readers who are practically not familiar with the history of the USSR. A small collection of articles about the Soviet Union is a publication that I would like to discuss.
As it said in the introduction, the book is written in order to make a general impression about the current state of various spheres of life of Soviet society at the time of writing the book. The book is based on the material of the annual lecture course, which was read to first-year students of all specialties at the University of Birmingham. The title of each chapter corresponds to a certain criterion, according to which the history and the modern way of life in the Soviet Union were assessed. However, we can see chapters on geography, the October Revolution, industrialization, Soviet science and literature. Moreover, we are talking about Lenin and Stalin and about modern politics at that time (the 1970s).
Most of all I was attracted by an article entitled "Making Soviet Man: Education", written by N.J. Dunstan. It seems to me that the theme of education, as well as the theme of the formation of children's thinking in the USSR, has never been particularly highlighted. Of course, we all know about the pioneers, octobrists, but few know what exactly influenced the development of Soviet school education, how higher education became accessible to all children, and how it changed over time. This chapter is illustrated by a fascinating table (Fig.9, Structure of the Soviet education system, p.99), which presents data comparing the age of the child and the level of education that he should receive at the moment.
Continuing the conversation about the illustrations of this book, it is also worth noting the photos that are often found during reading. In the book you will find photos of the last emperor of the Russian Empire and his family, Trotsky and other iconic personalities. Along with them you will see photos of pioneers, students in Uzbekistan, and maybe even something more unique.
The book will give you a complete picture of the Soviet Union, about the state as a whole, and about practically all spheres of life of Soviet society.
Do not miss the chance to look into this colorful picture in details!

Gwendolen M. Carter. The Government of the Soviet Union. New York, 1967.
Шифр в библиотеке: 320 G70

At first look it is difficult to say that such a thin book can be a student’s book (115 pages). Probably, this textbook will be the strangest book prepared for the anniversary of the establishment of the USSR.
I think it's almost impossible to write a review of the textbook - only if we consider its scientific and truthfulness of the given information. However, taking this book in hand, for some reason I changed my mind about putting it back to the shelf of the library. Perhaps I was attracted to the content of the book, so as it turned out not to be what I expected. The table of contents immediately suggests that this textbook will not be as we are used to - the first chapter talks about Soviet people in general, smoothly turning to politics. Speaking of the description of the government of the USSR everything is built up logically: first we are talking about Lenin, then – about Stalin, and then about Khrushchev and his followers.
The textbook appears in this case as a kind of guidebook - G.Carter describes the geography, people, culture and religions of the Soviet Union. The book contains not only dry facts, dates, figures and names, it somehow miraculously embodies everything. Yes, we are still talking about a history book! After reading this textbook I had a full and colorful picture in my head, which was not when I was reading our domestic publications. G.M.Carter keeps a balance between expressing her opinion and presenting the factual material - that's why it's interesting to read this book.
I believe that the textbook is compulsory for students who study history of the USSR, as well as a wide range of readers who wish to receive alternative view of the history of the Soviet Union and learn differences of teaching the history in our state to American students.


Orlando Figes. A people's tragedy: the Russian Revolution, 1891-1924. New York,1996.
Шифр в библиотеке:
947 F51

British historian, who is already popular for his comprehensive assessment of Russian culture1, now is immersed in a new sphere. Now we will talk about Russian Revolution of 1891-1924. The study consisting of almost nine hundred pages can be regarded as a magnificent novel. There is no dry scientific language in this book, whereas other books of the same theme could have it.
All writing is represented in chronological order - from the reign of Nicholas II to the formation of the Soviet Union. Complicated terminology, abbreviations are explained in the dictionary, which is attached to the book. Problems with maps and dates also will not arise - they attached to the book too.
The narrative is so harmonious and logical that sometimes the thought flashes in my head: "Am I reading a novel based on true story?". Literary language, logic and validity of the presentation, based on actual sources, distinguish the book of Figes in a number of other works with a similar theme. The book has excerpts of letters from Nicholas II and other sources that help to feel that era - the era of the people's tragedy.
The book combines social and political history. Through the narrative of social events, stories from the life of famous personalities of that era (such as M. Gorky,        G. Lvov and A. Brusilov) are woven into it. Figes notes that he "tried to show the revolution not as a march of social forces and ideologies, but as an event that affected the lives of real people,
consisting of many complex personal tragedies"2.
It is also interesting that the author addresses to literary sources. However, he uses a fragment of M.I. Tsvetaeva, who describes A.F. Kerensky in her work ("And someone fell on the map", 1917). Thus, the book gives a complete overview of the history of that time, combining and using other spheres of life.
I am sure that this book is perfect for the already experienced reader, who understands the history of Russia in this period at a sufficient level. Furthermore, the book is useful for those who have just entered the path of studying the history of Russia and want to get a deeper knowledge on this important issue.
Interest to this work can be caused by the fact that the book received a big number of awards3, and was highly appreciated by many journalists. For example, Norman Stone from The Sunday Times commented: "I doubt there is anyone in the world who knows the revolution as well as Figes does."

1. It is a question of the book of O. Figes "Natasha's Dance"
2. Figes, Orlando. A People's Tragedy. London: A Penguin Book, 1996. p. xvii
3. Winner of The W.H. Smith Literary Award, The Longman / History Today, Book of the Year Award, The 1997 NCR Book Award, The Wolfson History Prize. A Choice Outstanding Academic Book of 1997


Gail Warshofsky Lapidus. Women in Soviet society: Equality, Development, and Social Change. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.
Шифр в библиотеке: 305 L29

Probably, now it is difficult for any person to imagine what was the role of a woman earlier. It is difficult to imagine that before women did not work, could not vote, and in general were practically incompetent. The whole role and understanding of women started changing only in the Soviet Union - women started to receive the right to vote, the right to get education, and could work. This incredible change in the ideology of the whole country that is mentioned in this book.
Accompanied by a large number of sources, the book gives an incredibly exhaustive story of the woman's becoming. Of course, there will be a so-called preface to the whole study - the chapter on the women's issue in pre-revolutionary Russia. Next, we will talk about the transformation in 1917-1930, after which this issue will be described within the reign of the Stalin.
I think other women are interested in this subject. Although the women's question has not been raised all over the world for a long time, it seems to me that this happened very drastically and changed almost the entire state of the USSR.
You will not find photos of Soviet women in this book, you will not find descriptions of how they dressed, because this is not the main theme of the book. Do not get upset - the book is not without illustrative material. A large number of tables on various topics will speed up and simplify your understanding of the problems. Particularly fascinating to me seems to be a table that describes the number of women in the Communist Party1 in 1920-1977. In addition to the huge increase in the number of women, we can see a change in the percentage of women to men in the party. However, in 1920 the percentage of women is only 7.4, and by 1977 it has grown to 24.7. This is the real change!
I believe that Alexander Dallin expressed a justifiable opinion: "The volume is not only thoroughly reached and sophisticated in its approach and analysis but is also marked by a most welcome decency, common sense and lack of stridency … Unquestionably the best available study in this field.”

1. Table 24, Women's members of the communist party 1920-1977. p.210.


Warren Bartlett Walsh. Russia and the Soviet Union: A Modern History. Literary Licensing, LLC, 2012.
Шифр в библиотеке: 947
W 18

The book of Warren Bartlett Walsh is notable for the fact that at the beginning of the book the author talks about what history is studying. So that history is a story about people based on not ideal sources, errors and bias, it is because they are written by a person who itself is not perfect. The second thesis says that history is the extension of human memory. However, in historiography, the main problem is the connection of time, and it turns out that scientists constantly jump from the past to the future. Moreover, social norms, values, as well as everyday life (food culture, clothing, fashion, utensils) have changed significantly, which leads to "historical dualism".
At the beginning of the book, the author writes about the events of the 1917 revolution, about the civil war and about the devastation after the war time, namely the situation in agricultural sphere (the introduction of compulsory labor, since there was nothing to pay salaries), religion (the transfer of the church to self-reliance and the return of secrilized lands to the state, 454 destroyed churches and monasteries and many arrested priests), education (an introduction of compulsory education), economics (the failure of military communism and the introduction of the NEP). All these aspects became preconditions for the formation of the USSR. The socialist system offered further expansion or expansion by Marx, so in 1922 Lenin decided to create the USSR. The union consisted of the participating countries (in 1922 Ukraine, Belorussia, the Transcaucasian republic entered, which subsequently split into Armenia, Tajikistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan). After that, «the state machine» became more complicated and grew in size. In detail, the author dwells on the principle of managing the union, namely, on the fact that Lenin insisted on creating a union on the principle of federations, and Stalin on a unitary form. Despite this, both Lenin's and Stalin's theories were united by the prospect of further establishing communism in the USSR and throughout the world.
The book is distinguished by a competent analysis of the creation of the USSR from the point of view of social history, that is, studying the phenomenon of creating a socialist state from the perspective of different categories of the population, various professional spheres of life, and also the work of Warren Bartlett Walsh allows us to see the reasons and preconditions for the formation of the USSR. Moreover, the name of the work that is unique is curious, because "Russia and the USSR" are written through a union, which is not similar to historiography.
So, the history of the USSR for the author is first and foremost a significant historical event that should be devoid of bias and accent, and should be considered in details, which are often "blurred in the masses".

Martin McCauley. The Soviet Union Since 1917. Longman history of Russia, 2006.
Шифр в библиотеке: 947.08 M12

The book of Martim McCAULEY is remarkable, because, firstly, it illustartes the transition from the chaos of the revolution to the creation of a new powerful state, secondly, radical changes in the political, religious, cultural spheres, and thirdly, the reaction of Western countries to the newly emerged state.
The author begins to talk about the formation of the USSR from the causes and premises. As chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, the main decisions were, of course, decided by Lenin, but gradually the role of the Politburo grew. By 1922, the Politburo and the CEC-constituent nucleus of Soviet Russia became important authorities. At the XI (1922), Stalin became General Secretary of the Central Committee, at the same time he became the Commissioner for National Affairs and Workers and Peasants Affairs. Also Stalin was the only one who was in the party, in the Secretariat, and in the Council of People's Commissars. Lenin insisted on the creation of the USSR on the principle of federations, and Stalin on the autonomization of territories controlled by the Bolsheviks-the direct inclusion of formally independent Soviet republics that had emerged during the civil war back into the RSFSR as autonomous republics of the Russian Federation, were rejected during the life of Lenin and implemented after his death. Thus, it can be concluded that Stalin's role in the formation of the USSR was significant and there is an opinion that the USSR was formed on despotic principles, namely from autonomous republics that in reality were not sovereign.
However, an even greater role in the formation of the USSR was played by inner-party struggle. In 1922, the views of party members began to differ and inside the party there was complete chaos, many party members disagreed with its leader (for example, the introduction of the NEP was perceived by party members as betrayal and concession to the bourgeoisie). Party members began to think about how to organize life in such a large and diverse country and opinions were different. So in 1921 all fractions were banned to reach a consensus. As a consequence, this was the creation of the USSR in a Leninist way. However, until Lenin's death, but also after the death of the leader and the reprisals against his entourage (Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky, Bukharin, Rykov), the Stalinist position became firmly entrenched in its positions.
It is surprising that in this work the story is presented from a non-standard point of view. For example, the author emphasizes the spontaneity of the revolution (the work begins with the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, Nicholas II and his family celebrates with pomposity and it would seem that nothing foreshadowed troubles). Further, the author focuses on the formation of the USSR, namely, emphasizes the role of Stalin in the formation of the USSR (it is believed that Stalin as a representative of not the Russian part of the population served as a link), and not Lenin, as is commonly believed. The Western countries reaction to the new state, which varied from hostility to international cooperation, was also described in a unique way, and the inhabitants of the republics were viewed by Europe as oppressed inhabitants of the colonies.
So, the author of this book believes that Stalin played a key role in the formation of the USSR, suppressing separatism in the regions, as he was well aware of the national diversity of the RSFSR and, therefore, he actively opposed national oppression.


Lewis H. Siegelbaum: Soviet  state and society between revolutions 1918-1929. Cambridge University press, 1992.
Шифр в библиотеке: 947.08 S58

Lewis H. Siegelbaum's book is devoted to the analysis of the relationship between the state and society from the October Revolution of 1917 to the reign of Stalin in the late 20's and early 30's. Siegelbaum studies the process of creating the USSR and the evolution of the management of the Communist Party and the change in economic policy, as well as changes in the situation of the peasantry and workers, both in the cultural and in the scientific spheres. The author also analyzes the reaction of different groups of the population to the revolution and to the first decrees of the Soviet government.
In February 1921, the Soviet republic was proclaimed in Georgia, although, in fact, the Soviet regime was already established in six republics: the RSFSR, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan. During the period from September 1920 and May 1921, bilateral agreements were concluded between the USSR and the five republics, most of the clauses of the treaty were based on military-economic cooperation. At the same time, the countries were independent and sovereign states. In other words, the union was created to manage military affairs, foreign trade, economy and finance, but not for agriculture, education, foreign affairs.
What is surprising is that the attention paid to diplomatic formalities. For example, when Soviet Russia and Europe were on the brink of war because the young Soviet government refused to pay the debts of imperial Russia. In this time, the idea spread that the republics that were part of the USSR were colonies and oppressed countries. Such sentiments provoked separatist sentiments in the regions, and the Soviet authorities did not know what form of government to establish. The creation of autonomous republics led by the RSFSR would confirm the words of the West, and adherence to the principle of federations was an unreliable form. Also in the choice of form of government, the national question that underlies Marxist theory is important, for example, in 1913 a work was written on the "National Question and Social Democracy," which subsequently formed the basis for the national and international policy of the USSR.
However, national policy has repeatedly been the subject of disputes between Lenin and Stalin. In 1922 Lenin was already weak due to illness, and Stalin introduced some amendments and criticized the Leninist plan of national liberalism. In December 1922, Lenin finalized the draft of the formation of the USSR. At the end of December, the Congress signed agreements on the accession of the RSFSR, the Belorussian, Ukrainian and Caucasian Republics to the USSR. Congress first registered the creation of a union of councils.
The author underlines that the consequences of the creation of the USSR was, a change in the name of the party. Due to difficulties in translation, the name of the party was replaced with the RSDRP at the VKP (B).Moreover, the management of all regions, which were governed by the principle of autonomies, led to the expansion of the party apparatus and the strengthening of the bureaucracy. To manage such a large country it was required to create a convenient-functioning authority-the Central Executive Committee. Thirdly, Stalin demanded the centralization and unification of laws on the territory of the Union republics, so in 1924 the constitution of the USSR was created.
So, the author comes to the conclusion that the USSR since its inception was a "compromise between doctrine and reality", because in fact such a huge state as the USSR functioned on its economic, cultural and social differences, which opens a new approach to studying the history of the Soviet period. Thus, 1921 was a turning point in Soviet history, which affected not only the history of the country and the world, but also the lives of people.


M.K. Dziewanowski: Russia in the twentieth century. 2002.
Шифр в библиотеке: 947.08 D99

The eleventh chapter of the book «Russia in the twentieth century» is about "the formation of the USSR and the death of Lenin." With the victory in the civil war, the Soviet regime was established in the territories of Ukraine, Belarus, the Caucasian republics. This association was a multinational ethnic association of different cultural and socio-economic levels of development. The heritage of the Russian Empire was a disparate population, namely the Muslim tribes of the Caucasus, the Europeans of the central region and the illiterate inhabitants of Siberia. The main question of the time, how to unite representatives of all nations?
The first thing that the author considers is federalism and centrism (autonomization). Lenin advocated the idea of ​​federalism, while Trotsky, Stalin and Dzerzhinsky put forward the idea of ​​autonomization, fearing the emergence of local nationalism and separatist movements. The author comes to the conclusion that the only thing that unites the Imperial and Soviet Russia is that they were multinational states. However, I believe that this statement is controversial, since in the Russian Empire the nations were oppressed, and in the USSR all were equal. Lenin wanted to introduce a fundamentally new management system in order to show differences from the Russian Empire, therefore, renunciation of Russification was proclaimed. Federalism was viewed as an ideal way to, first, attract representatives of other nationalities, and secondly, extend its expansion to the Balkans and the remaining Eastern Europe, for example, to Poland, Romania, Turkey, and thirdly, the organization of a multinational state would help the Bolsheviks to win the Civil War, since national minorities were drawn to them, and in the end the author writes that fedaralism would serve as an excellent platform for the creation of the USSR. Great slogans and the provision of various kinds of benefits, made possible the communist social engineering. Abroad, the USSR considered the structure to be open to others, which was against the oppression and colonization of other nations. In December 1922, at the 10th All-Union Congress of Soviets, the USSR included the RSFSR, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Caucasian Republic. In October 1924, part of the RSFSR split into the Uzbek and Turkmen republics, which immediately became part of the USSR. In 1929, the Republic of Tajikistan joined the six republics.
In 1936 the Caucasian republic was divided into: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, which also entered the USSR. By 1923 the draft Constitution was created in the USSR, which came into force in 1924. In comparison with the constitution of 1917, this project was distinguished by the introduction of new federal authorities. The All-Union Congress of Soviets consisted of delegates who were elected every year, and represented a rigid hierarchical structure from representatives of the republics to villages and settlemets. The All-Union Congress of Soviets now consisted of the CEC-a (which in turn consisted of the Union Council and the Council of Nationalities, where there were delegates from each republic). The first head of the CEC was Kalinin, a native of a peasant family, until 1917 worked in a factory, and in 1922 the party considered that he was ideally suited for this post (head of the Central Election Commission). As the executive branch of power, a council was established, in which there were representatives from each republic, and they could speak out about issues of war and peace, international relations, religion, economics.
It is also curious to note some injustice noted by the author of the book, namely, that Moscow was considered the capital of the USSR, so later the USSR and Russia became synonymous and the Russian language became official in the USSR, which did not please the republics that considered themselves "sovereign". Also the author writes that little attention was  paid to the duality of the constitution of 1924. For example, in secret sources it is said that the request for withdrawal from the USSR could be regarded as an enemy act and a betrayal of the ideas of communism. Obviously, the former RSFSR occupied the dominant position in the USSR for several reasons: first, ¾ of the territory was the RSFSR; and secondly, 3 out of 4 industrial centers were in the territory of the RSFSR (Petrograd, Moscow, the South Ural). Especially this situation manifested itself after Lenin's death, when the party began to move away from the ideas of federalism, and follow the Stalinist model of centrism and assimilation of primordially non-Russian peoples. For example, such a problem affected the Jews, the closure of the Synagogues or eviction to the most eastern regions, for example, Birobidzhan. The indigenous population felt the process of amalgamation, that is, unification, but they did not take it sharply, as they were not declared Russian, they were declared "Soviet people".
So, the author dwells on the ethnic and national policy of the USSR in detail, since it considers it contradictory, on the one hand, the USSR put forward the slogan: "We will solve all ethnic problems," and, on the other hand, introducing Russian language and atheism in the Muslim republics, in Ukraine, in Belorussia, thereby not allowing the republics to make independent decisions.

Peter Kenez. A history of the Soviet Union from the Begginning to the End. Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Шифр в библиотеке: 947 K 33

In November 1920, the Bolsheviks repelled the attacks of Wrangel's army, the last source of enemy counter-revolutionary force. Despite the fact that the war with Poland continued, formally the Soviet power was already established in the territories of the future USSR. However, the Soviet government did not change the position of the workers and peasants, as before, chaos reigned in all spheres in the country, and most of the reforms were not carried out in full because of the civil war. The changes were not delayed for the distant future. The author notes that the world has never seen such significant changes in any country in the world. The most significant, in Kenes' opinion, were political changes and the very appearance of the USSR.
The Russian Empire was a multinational state: almost half of the inhabitants of the Empire were non-Russian. Ethnic minorities were absolutely different in economic and cultural development, as well as in the level of national identity. For example, with the exception of Poles and Finns, other parts of the Empire did not aspire to sovereignty and political independence, however, after the revolution in 1917, local national minorities represented the most powerful force. Realizing this fact, Lenin did not want to imitate the tsarist regime and create the country as a "prison for nationalities", so the future of the USSR was planned on the basis of the freedom of nationalities. For example, initially separatist countries, such as Poland and Finland, were not considered as ally republics. Bolsheviks planned to establish a national policy on the principle of ambivalence: on the one hand, the Bolsheviks adhered to the principles of centralization, assimilation, and not segmentation; on the other hand, the internationalists sought to preserve the "primordially Russian lands," including frontier lands, but on a voluntary basis. When the Bolsheviks established their power and created a commissariat of nationalities, Joseph Stalin became a commissariat. The commissariat and Stalin were entrusted with the important task of preserving national unity. In 1918 the Commissariat issued a "Declaration of the Rights of the Working and Exploited People," which was the first step towards the creation of the USSR and, in general, social unity. Also, an inter-national was created, which helped the USSR create ethnic unity and unite the workers of various republics. Speaking of the workers, Lenin meant the proleatariat, that is, the workers not of factories, but of the workers who classed themselves in this class.
The process of unification took place during the difficult process of national regionalism, for example, Ukrainian (introduction of the national language, support from the White army), Belarusian (supported by the Germans), etc. Unlike Western Europe, the Caucasian tribes were less prone to nationalism, because they were united not by race, but by faith.
By 1922, the Soviet state began to invent "a new image of the federation." Relations with Ukraine, Byelorussia and the Caucasian republics were first established. In 1924, the Constitution was introduced into the system, which implied the idea of ​​federalization, but in fact centralized the administration.
The most important arguments in the article are concentrated in the study of nationalist interests and the claims of the USSR to other countries. For example, in order to satisfy the interests of the republics of the USSR, the process of "indigenization" took place, which means that local residents held positions in state structures, local people also received benefits and could advance in the cultural and linguistic spheres. It is ironic that the consequence of this unification was the differentiation and growth of national self-consciousness.