The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR or Soviet Union; Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik, SSSR written in the Cyrillic alphabet as СССР) was a union of socialist republics, which were run via the only recognized political party, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It existed from 1922 until 1991. It stretched from the Baltic and Black Seas to the Pacific Ocean. In its final years it consisted of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics (SSRs). Russia was by far the largest Republic in the Soviet Union in terms of both land area and population, and also dominated it politically and economically.

Союз Советских Социалистических Республик
Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik
(In Detail) (Full size)
National motto: Workers of the world, unite!
Official language Russian
Capital Moscow
 - Total
 - % water
1st before collapse
22,402,200 km˛
 - Total
 - Density
3rd before collapse
293,047,571 (July 1991)
13,08/km2 (July 1991)
 - Declared
 - Recognised
Russian Revolution
Currency Ruble
Time zone UTC +3 to +11
National anthems The International
Hymn of the Soviet Union
Internet TLD .SU (still in use)

Table of contents
1 History
2 Politics
3 Republics
4 Geography
5 Economy
6 Demographics
7 Culture
8 Related articles
9 External link


Main article: History of the Soviet Union

Severe social problems, widespread dissatisfaction with the autocratic monarchy, and the tremendous setbacks being suffered by Russia in World War I led to the Russian Revolution and the ousting of the monarchy in 1917. A multiparty provisional government was briefly instituted, but collapsed within a year. Popular pressure prompted the Bolshevik Party to declare its seizure of power in October of 1917. During the resultant civil war, Communist forces known as Reds fought against the Whites, the pro-monarchist forces and their European and American allies. The war ended with the victory of the Red Army and the establishment of the Soviet Union, the world's first communist state, on December 30, 1922, with Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin as its leader.

The Soviet Union was the successor state of the Russian Empire but was smaller as a result of the independence of Poland, Finland and the Baltic States. Lenin instituted a policy whereby these conquests of the imperial Russian Empire were granted independence, and many other conquered regions were granted a great deal of autonomy.

After Lenin's death in 1924, there was a power struggle within the party leadership. Party secretary Joseph Stalin emerged as the new leader. Stalin began a program of rapid industrialization and forced agricultural reforms, triggering several famines (arguably used to speed up the pace of industrialisation by forcing people from the countryside to the cities). He also drastically increased the scope of the state secret police (first the NKVD then the GPU, then the KGB), and had tens of millions people killed or sent to the Gulags during his rule. Especially famous is the period, 1936-1939, known as the Great Purges.

Between 1938 and 1940 the Soviet Union occupied Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and some territories of Finland, Poland, Romania, Mongolia, and Hungary. Under Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union emerged from World War II (known in the Soviet Union as the Great Patriotic War) as a major world power, with a territory including the Baltic States and a significant portion of the territory of pre-war Poland, together with a substantial sphere of influence in Eastern Europe (see Soviet Empire). Political confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States persisted for many years and is termed the Cold War.

After Stalin's death, another power struggle occurred, with Nikita Khrushchev the new leader. A major low point of US-Soviet relations was the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Khrushchev began installing medium-range nuclear missiles on the newly-Communist island of Cuba.

Khrushchev who, throughout his period of power, oscillated between the poles of radical de-Stalinisation (known as the "thaw") and defence of the old order (such as through the invasion of Hungary in 1956) was, in 1964, removed by an internal party coup led by Leonid Brezhnev, who ruled until his death in 1982. This ushered in what became known in later years as the "era of stagnation".

President Mikhail Gorbachev dramatically reformed the oppressive nature of the Soviet government in the 1980s with his glasnost (openness) program, under which people were no longer put to prison for criticizing the government. His perestroika (restructuring) economic reforms meant the end of Soviet imperialism; the Soviet army pulled out of Afghanistan, negotiated with the United States on arms reduction, and the Soviet government ceased interfering in the affairs of other Communist governments, specifically those in Eastern Europe.

In 1991, the Soviet Union fell apart after a failed coup attempt by military leaders who were upset with the direction Gorbachev was leading the country.

Liberal and Democratic political forces, led by Boris Yeltsin, used the coup to corner Gorbachev (who still was formally committed to the ideals of Leninism), ban the Communist Party and break the Union apart.

In chronological order, the leaders of the Soviet Union were:

  1. Vladimir Lenin (1917-1924)
  2. Joseph Stalin (1924-1953)
  3. Georgy Malenkov (1953-1955?)
  4. Nikita Khrushchev (1955?-1964)
  5. Leonid Brezhnev (1964-1982)
  6. Yuri Andropov (1982-1984)
  7. Konstantin Chernenko (1984-1985)
  8. Mikhail Gorbachev (1985-1991)


Main article: Politics of the Soviet Union

After the revolution, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) outlawed every other political party. The governing of the country was, in theory, to be done by local and regional democratically elected soviets. In practice, however, each level of government was controlled by its corresponding party group (see democratic centralism). The highest legislative body was the Supreme Soviet. The highest executive body was the Politburo. (More about the political organization of the USSR can be found on Organization of the Communist Party of the USSR.)

The leader of the Communist Party was the general secretary, who was the Soviet Union's head of state, head of government, and effective dictator. He would sometimes hold other positions, such as president, although this was not always the case. Except for Khrushchev, every leader of the Soviet Union ruled for life.

See also:


Main article:
Republics of the Soviet Union

In its final decades of its existence, the Soviet Union consisted of 15 Socialist Soviet Republics (SSR). Three of these in particular shared some common history and were referred to as the Baltic Republics. They are all independent countries now, only very loosely organized under the heading Commonwealth of Independent States.

Former Soviet Republics

Current Independent Countries


Main article: Geography of the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union covered the area of the 15 current countries mentioned in the previous section, with a total area of 22,402,200 sq. km.


Main article: Economy of the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union was the first country to base its economy on communist principles, where the state owned all the means of production and farming was collectivized.


Main article: Demographics of the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union was one of the world's most ethnically diverse countries, with more than 100 distinct national ethnicities living within its borders. The total population was estimated at 293 million in 1991. The Soviet Union was so large, in fact, that even after all associated republics gained independence Russia, remains the largest country by area, and remained quite ethnically diverse, including, e.g., minorities of Tatars, Udmurts, and many other non-Russian ethnicities.


DateEnglish NameLocal NameRemarks
January 1New Year's DayНовый Год 
January 7Eastern Orthodox ChristmasПравославное Рождество 
February 23Soviet Army's DayДень Советской Армии и Военно-Морского ФлотаFebruary Revolution, 1917,
Formation of the Red Army, 1918
March 8International Women's DayМеждународный Женский День 
May 1International Labor DayПервое Мая - День Солидарности Трудящихся 
May 9Victory DayДень ПобедыCapitulation of Nazi Germany, 1945
November 7-November 8Great October Socialist RevolutionСедьмое НоябряOctober Revolution 1917; it is currently called День Примирения

Related articles

History of the Jews in Russia and Soviet Union, Communism, Socialism, World War I, Russian Civil War, World War II, Red Army

External link