October 17, 2021
Soviet Union or Soviet Commonwealth (Russian: Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик [СССР], Union [or Commonwealth] of Socialist Soviet Republics [USSR or SSSR]; 1991. The Soviet Union was a commonwealth of 15 on paper autonomous republics, with the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic as the largest and clearly dominant sub-republic. The great dominance of the Russian Soviet Republic meant that the Soviet Union was often referred to as "Russia" or "Soviet Russia" in the West, although this designation was not accurate. The Soviet Union emerged in the aftermath of World War I, when the old Russian Empire collapsed in the Russian Revolution. After a chaotic period known as the Russian Civil War, Vladimir Lenin's Bolsheviks gained power over most of the old Russian Empire. After Lenin's death, power eventually passed to Joseph Stalin, who with his command economy and brutal methods got the country through a large-scale industrialization, while pursuing an expansive foreign policy. After having attacked i.a. Poland, Finland and the Baltic countries in 1939–1940, however, in 1941 the Soviet Union was attacked by Germany, with which the Soviet Union had a non-aggression pact and divided Poland. Despite the fact that an estimated 20 million citizens died during World War II, the Soviet Union remained one of the world's two superpowers, and had expanded its sphere of power to most of Eastern Europe, which was now ruled by Soviet loyal authoritarian governments. The post-war period was marked by the Cold War, an ideological and political power struggle between the Soviet Union and many socialist countries on the one hand and the United States and many Western countries on the other. Throughout the 1980s, it became clear that the Soviet bloc was losing this battle, and when Mikhail Gorbachev took power in the Soviet Union in 1985, it became clear that fundamental reforms in the structure of society were necessary. Gorbachev failed to unite the country, and during 1990-1991 the Soviet Union disintegrated. The Soviet Union under Stalin is considered a totalitarian state, and carried out extensive abuses against its own citizens. Millions were sent to the Gulag concentration camp system, where hundreds of thousands died of starvation and exhaustion. The Soviet Union also carried out ethnic cleansing in a number of countries in Europe, especially during and after World War II. The Norwegian historian Jens Petter Nielsen estimates the number of deaths under Stalin at around 10 million people. The Soviet social system was dominated by the Communist Party, a party that considered it to be based on Marxist-Leninist principles. The Communist Party was the country's state-supporting party, and was the only party allowed. The general secretary of the party was the most powerful person in the Soviet Union, and for most of the Union's existence had far more power and influence than the government and parliament. The Soviet Union was the world's largest planned economy, where all aspects of economic life were governed centrally from the capital Moscow, including through so-called five-year plans. The country was characterized by little political freedom where, among other things, the KGB actively monitored large parts of society. In its heyday, on the other hand, the country had a well-developed social system with a well-developed health care system and social support schemes.