The End of an Era

The Soviet Union faced many changes in the twentieth century; whether it be leadership change, social growth, industrial advancement, or impacts from different wars, the Soviet Union went through a dynamic transformation that all came to a head by the early 1990’s. After months of efforts to halt the inevitable or must some kind of alternate resolution, the USSR was officially dissolved on Christmas Day, 1991, as President Gorbachev resigned (Freeze 464).

This dissolution did not come out of no where though, months of decisions and debates lead to the final act. The August 1991 coup ended up speeding up the end even though it was meant to stop the weakening of the USSR. Other factors played a role: Constituent republics began to declare independence, all-union institutions were ended while their assets went to the republics, and an over all understanding and acceptance of these pulled away from the strength of the Soviet nation (Siegelbaum). Gorbachev tried hard to preserve the Soviet Union as a federal state and in April 1991 arranged a national referendum. A majority voted to maintain the USSR, but the nationalist movements that had emerged could did not change (Freeze 463). The “New Union Treaty”was his last attempt to save the USSR as it worked to transform the Soviet state into a loose confederation with a common presidency, foreign policy and military (Freeze 463).

Despite different efforts, the end of the USSR came as the end of the year approached. December turned out to be the month in which the fatal blows to the Soviet Union were delivered.


Voters in the Ukraine approved the referendum on independence and elected their first president, Leonid Kravchuk. Only a week later on December 8, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, the three main Slavic republics, came together and agreed to dissolve the USSR without consulting the other republics (Freeze 464). The Belavezh Accord was signed making it official. On December 21, the presidents of all the other republics with the exception of Georgia and the three Baltic states, declared their willingness to enter the Commonwealth (Siegelbaum). A mere four days later,  Gorbachev announced his acceptance of the dissolution of the Soviet Union.





Change in Faith?

As the  Soviet came out of WWII and into the Cold War, many social changes began to shape the nation and influence what it was becoming. Of all the things changing for the Soviet in the latter half of the twentieth century, religion and is ties to the nation was no exception. In 1957 Khrushchev started an anti-religions campaign and that reached a climax during the beginning of the 1960’s. In August of 1961 the passage of new legislation regarding priests and the legality of their administration over their parishes. As a result, into the next few years more than half of the current Orthodox parishes had been disbanded and around ten thousand churches had been closed.


The “spiritual legacy of the church” had been put at risk and many monasteries were closed or converted to institutions that served secular needs. Churches were made into school and worshipers were were kept from going in churches. Priests fell under attack both physically and spiritually in regard to what was happening.

G. Val’k: How Everything Got Started… (1968) – If somebody asks me, say: there is no God. Cover of Krokodil, No 7, 1968. Source: “Fighting Pencil” Group: Red Tape from Red Square. 1998.


The effect on the people was large. Religion, or even just faith, was still very important to many Soviet people and Communist leaders of the state realized the need for replacing religion into the minds of its citizens. This attempt speaks a lot of the culture that was growing and being supported during this time. A program of very aggressive atheist lectures was presented to the public, named Znanie in 1963. A focus on science was strong and propaganda of the time push for a more secular approach to life. In an issue of “Science and Religion”, a journal beginning in 1959, the topic stressed that there could be no god, due to the mood rocket not making contact with the “heavenly firmament” when in space. Though to readers, these assertions did not have as strong an impact as intended and many people kept their faith.

This is not the first time the government has become involved in matters of religion that influence the population and it wouldn’t be the last. Like all people in power throughout history, people will always try to influence others in different ways, and religion and spirituality are common modes to do so. The picture above depicts God watching a hokey games while angel of a receptionist types away. The caption reads “if somebody asks me: tell them there is no God”. The poster tries to related the spiritual aspect of God with the secular idea of a day-to-day job that people would understand and then possibly related to and understand. Posters like this were used in an attempt to remove the based of religion, though many Soviets remained in their faith throughout this time.


Fight Against Superstition Images

Fight Against Superstition

Freeze pg. 434-450



Work From Home

Lev Russov: Girl in White Dress, Ivanov, S, V: The Leningrad School, 1930-1990. 1999.

As the Soviet moved forward into the decade after WWII, many social issues continued to change. One of the more prominent issues would be the dynamic and shifting role women played in society. During the second world war a shift was seen as women played a more involved role in the war that had a social and political impact on the Soviet nation. After the war however, many women fell back into their more traditional roles as house wives and school teachers. Not all women fell back into these roles though and not all of society took a step backward. In 1955 abortions were legalized again, giving  women more say in their own well being and co-education was returned to the classrooms.

Nadezhda Kalugina: In the Toy Factory (1960), Moscow Museum of Russian Impressionism. 2001.

While some women were going back to their homes to be wives and mothers, some were contributing to the industrial growth of the nation. The push for women to join the work force (not the same work force as men) was present in the time after the war. In the video below, many women are showed happily making lamps and the narrator even says that one of the women “called upon her friends to do the same”. The video promotes women to participate in such work and shines a positive appeal on the idea. This push mixed with the still traditional gender roles that were present created the start of the double burden faced by women.

The double burden describes the work load women face from having to work outside the home as well as perform their usual gender based roles in the home. This is an issue that is faced all over the world and in many time periods. Though during this time right after the war, the beginning of this burden had just arose for the Soviet women. Women during this time were faced with many different approaches to live their lives and were constantly being made to be subjective to the ideals of males.



What’s a Woman to Think? Images

What’s a Woman to Think? Images

What’s a Woman to Think?

Women’s Work Collective (1956)



Defend the Motherland!

There is no denying that war brings many changes to a nation. The social changes within Russia during and after WWII are seen in many ways, including the changing role women played throughout. Women were used in many propaganda ways; the use of women in feature films to promote different aspects of the war was on the rise.  Particularly in the first two years of the war, the focus shifted from the army to the role that women played in the partisan movement.  The most popular movie represented by this was She Defends the Motherland released in 1943.

The film is tragic but inspiring to both women and men as it depicts a women who’s husband and child are killed and the aftermath of her survival. The transformation film shows how  Praskovia  Lukianova helps to evacuate her village and while working though the trauma of the death of her family, reemerges a different person. Becoming the front leader of the partisan band, she leads them in to hand to hand combat with the Germans. The film ends with justice being served by her own hands as she kills the German that had killed her baby son. The film presents women in a positive and encouraging light toward the war as it encouraged both men and women to be strong during this time of war.

Iriklii Toidze: The Motherland Calls You! (1941)

The poster above, “The Motherland Calls You!” encourage Russian men to serve as well as sheds light on a female character as the center piece, different from previous forms of propaganda. The poster is based on the character in the film which promotes its popularity even more. The message of the movie stresses that ordinary  people, even women, had an important role in the war and the defense of  Russia. The film was inspirational and showed how the war was shifting the outlook of women in society. In the clip below, Pasha uses her “unshakable faith in the durability of Moscow and the Soviet government to rally her people”. This particular part in the film encourages the people to believe in the Soviet government and the war while also portraying a women in a strong leadership position. The entire film can be seen here.



Women in War Films Images

Women in War Films



I ain’t Saying He’s a Gold Digger (I am)

Church and government relations have caused tensions in many ways throughout history. Russia is no stranger to the tricky dynamic of balancing religious ideals as well as a political agenda . Such was the case after 1918 when Lenin and his contemporaries created a plan to undercut the authority of the church. They worked to divide the church from its center and targeted the religion of minorities including Muslims; but mostly they worked to take the riches of the Orthodox Church…Literally. The idea was to take the gems and any precious metals from the church and create a liquid asset that could be used to buy grain abroad. The famine of 1921-22 was used to blame the church for the starvation of its people and the need to take its riches.

Jewelled headgear confiscated from Russian Orthodox cleargy, Moscow (1921). Source: Corley, Felix, ed: Religion in the Soviet Union: an Archival Reader. new York: New York University Press. 1996.

The uproar that resulted was not a surprise. Churches were being robed while priests were under great scrutiny that resulted in some executions.  The relations between church and state were rough for years after. While only one example of church-state struggle, it can represent a vast number of similar problems that resulted. Effecting and entire country and religion, the  dynamic that would follow would be hard to patch up. The scheme speaks toward the priorities of  Lenin as well as the government and the value it saw in the church.


On the illusion of the order in the state

Revolution is no stranger in history, and defiantly no stranger to Russia. The Revolution of 1905 can be linked to many things within the changing Russian state.  The Russian economy was not in the best of states to begin with; with a vast amount of land, a growing population, and a continuous struggle to make a shift to a more industrial focused system, the economy needed help. The Revolution made these problems worse, and by the end of it all, Russia sought to repair its broken state. As a response, the October Manifesto was drawn up to address the after math of the Revolution.

The following points are what the Manifesto promises to fulfill:

  1. Fundamental civil freedoms will be granted to the population, including real personal inviolability, freedom of conscience, speech, assembly and association.
  2. Participation in the Duma will be granted to those classes of the population which are at present deprived of voting powers, insofar as is possible in the short period before the convocation of the Duma, and this will lead to the development of a universal franchise. There will be no delay to the Duma elect already been organized.
  3. It is established as an unshakeable rule that no law can come into force without its approval by the State Duma and representatives of the people will be given the opportunity to take real part in the supervision of the legality of government bodies.

Basic civil liberties are promised, which addresses the unhappy population that did not like the state of the government before the Revolution. The interesting part of this document is not so much of what it promises, but what it does not promise. While granting the Russian people a voice in legislation through participation in the Duma and setting up laws to help make the people more involved in the government, the document does not address the core aspect of the Russian government. It does not promise a government based on democracy but gives an illusion of it with its promises of civil liberties. This could be why the manifesto was not successful long term and could also be the reason Russia continued to struggle with a government system.



Industrial and Agricultural Changes


This photo, Factory Interior Showing Electrical Generators, was photographed by Prokudin-Gorskii, ca. 1907-1915. It can be found in The Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04415(29).

There are many aspects of industrial and economic development that can contribute to the understanding of the broad term “history”.  In the case of Russia, during the late Imperial period, both economic and industrial changes worked together to shape the cultural and social transformations that were taking place. In the West, technology was developing fast, leaving Russia in a game of catching up.

There are a few things that contributed to the slower rate at which Russia was seemingly developing industrially. The first one, being the geographic size of the Russian state. It’s vast region, covering most of Central Asia, was a lot to take on in any context. The process of spreading new technology and developments generally results in a lot of expenses which only makes it more difficult the larger the area. The dilemma developed between the risk of falling too far being industrially, or economically.

The slower development of the economy was another reason for slower industrial growth as well as social. With a larger area comes a larger population; which during the later half of the nineteenth century was still centered agriculturally with less advances even in that industry than the West.

“At the beginning of the twentieth century, agriculture constituted the single largest sector of the Russian economy, producing approximately one-half of the national income and employing two-thirds of Russia’s population”  (Jackson, George D., and Robert James Devlin. Dictionary of the Russian Revolution. New York: Greenwood, 1989.)

With the economy heavily based in agriculture, the lack of wide spread industrial advances hurt the farming peasants as well.

The picture above, of electrical generators, provides a look at the industrial realm for Russia during the time as well as promotes the knowledge of what type of industry was advancing. With growing powers in the West and a growing state itself, Russia was on the verge of many industrial changes.

Sources/more in depth readings: (Chapter 3)