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The U.S.S.R.: History & Creation

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  • 0:06 The Soviet Union
  • 0:47 Russian Revolution and…
  • 2:48 Formation of the Soviet Union
  • 3:49 A Brief History of the…
  • 7:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, former middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, commonly referred to as the Soviet Union. We will learn what events brought about the emergence of the Soviet Union, and how it has impacted the course of world history.

The Soviet Union

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the Soviet Union, has played a monumental part in 20th-century world history. Since its creation in 1922, the Soviet Union has been at the center of world affairs. The world's first communist state, the Soviet Union rose to power in the 1920s and 1930s.

During World War II, it was an Allied Power and helped defeat Nazi Germany. Immediately after the war, the Soviet Union and the United States entered a period of prolonged tension called the Cold War. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed.

The Russian Revolution and the Russian Civil War

If there was any single event that led to the formation of the Soviet Union, it was the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Russian Revolution refers to the series of revolutions that swept Russia throughout 1917. Of course, these revolutions did not come about overnight. Social and political unrest had been building in Russia for decades. For example, in the Revolution of 1905, massive protests resulted in Tsar Nicholas II making reforms, including the formation of the Duma, which was a legislative assembly. The major revolutions, however, happened throughout 1917.

The February Revolution resulted in the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II and the installation of a leftist provisional government, while the October Revolution resulted in the overthrow of the provisional government, and the establishment of a permanent communist government. The Bolsheviks were primarily responsible for these revolutions. Bolsheviks were followers of Vladimir Lenin's Marxist ideology; they were typically members of Russia's working class.

Immediately following the October Revolution, Vladimir Lenin declared Russia to be a socialist state. Officially, it was called the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Not everyone in Russia, however, was on-board with the Bolshevik's radicalism. The Russian Revolution immediately spawned the Russian Civil War, in which Bolshevik 'Reds' fought conservative 'Whites.' Although the anti-Bolshevik 'Whites' were supported by the United States and other Western European democracies, they were ultimately unable to stop the tide of communism in Russia. The Russian Civil War ended in 1922 with the Bolsheviks firmly in power.

Formation of the Soviet Union

Upon achieving victory, the Bolsheviks absorbed regions other than Russia proper. Okay, this is where it can get tricky, so stick with me. The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was just one of the many 'republics' that composed the Soviet Union. That 'republic' came into existence in 1917, right after the October Revolution. The larger Soviet Union, however, did not officially come into existence until December 1922, when the Declaration of the Creation of the USSR was signed, formally absorbing the Ukraine, and other regions, like Georgia and Armenia, into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Think of it this way: Russia was the most powerful and largest 'republic' within the Soviet Union, but not the sum total of the Soviet Union. Whew! Let's move on!

A Brief History of the Soviet Union

Now that we understand how the Soviet Union came into existence, let's very quickly highlight a few key events in Soviet history. When the Soviet Union was founded in 1922, Vladimir Lenin was its head of state. When he died in 1924, Joseph Stalin consolidated power through political intrigue to become Lenin's successor. Stalin essentially became the dictator of the Soviet Union.

Under his rule, the Soviet Union emerged victorious in World War II, having helped defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Stalin was an important leader; under his rule the Soviet Union emerged as one of the two world superpowers (the United States, of course, being the other). Under his leadership, the Soviet Union also successfully exploded its first atomic bomb in August of 1949.

Immediately following World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union began to see things very differently. The former allies disagreed over how European nations should be reconfigured. The Soviet Union wanted Eastern Europe to be composed of communist countries, whereas the United States wanted these countries to be democratic. The Cold War stemmed from these issues and others. The Cold War was a prolonged period of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. It lasted roughly half a century - from the end of World War II to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

We need to understand that a 'cold war' is a war in which actual physical combat does not occur. Instead, the Cold War was a war of threats, ideas, and competition. That said, regional 'hot wars' like the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Soviet War in Afghanistan did, indeed, stem from the broader Cold War.

When Joseph Stalin died in 1952, he was succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev is best remembered for being the Soviet leader during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cold War tension was particularly high throughout his rule, with ideological clashes with U.S. presidents like John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis and his successor Lyndon B. Johnson after Kennedy's assassination.

In the 1970s, under the new leader Leonid Brezhnev, tensions relaxed somewhat, a period often called détente. However, détente ended with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (sometimes referred to as 'the Soviet Union's Vietnam War') in 1979 and tensions between the United States and the U.S.S.R. resumed throughout the early and mid-1980s. By the late 1980s, Soviet power was crumbling.

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