Summerhouses & the Soviet Union

Following the industrialization of the Soviet Union in the mid-20th century, many people moved to cities in search of work and opportunities. This mass migration to urban areas such as Moscow and the population boom that occurred resulted in a housing shortage that left many homeless with the lucky few being forced to live in communal apartments. With Joseph Stalin’s death in March 1953 his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, wanted to distance himself Stalin’s legacy and the politics that surrounded him. To do this form of destalinization, Khrushchev wished to connect with the common people and afford them the right and ability to move away from the shared living situations that afforded to them little privacy. Thus, Khrushchev implemented numerous housing projects that rapidly expanded the boundaries of urban centers and increased the number, size, and standard of apartments across the Soviet Union (Morton, 235). Despite these seemingly improvements in housing, the changes were not all that positive compared to the standards of living in other countries. These so called “Khrushchev barracks” had low ceilings, small rooms, and shoddy and fast construction (Freeze, 425). The result of such homes and standards of living left many Russian citizens wanting to escape from their encompassing and overcrowded lives to a more natural and free environment.

Ivan Shagin: Moscow Landscape (1955)

To find such a retreat from the urbanized areas such as Moscow, many Russians sought out dachas, or summer houses to either rent or own for a duration of the year. These countryside vacation homes were largely state-owned and operated in the rural areas untouched by industrialization and development (Geldern). They served the purpose of allowing Russians to receive fresh air they could not get in large cities and reunite themselves with nature and the rural territories that many of them had grown up in.

Despite their popularity and appeal to large amounts of the population, there were not many dachas in existence. This is the result of good land being used for agricultural purposes under Khrushchev with his “Virgin Lands” program, where farmable land was taken and used as state-farms because of their history of never previously being used (Freeze, 424). As there were a limited number of dachas available for rent, the search for them began early in the year, sometimes as early as January.

Georges Bortoli, "Dachas outside Moscow (1954)

One family reported that when searching for a dacha in February to spend their summer holidays at that the dacha-searching and renting processes were very curt and filled with examining less than acceptable homes and rooms. They state that they viewed a wooden shed and a room that was to be divided among numerous families that wanted to rent that particular week. Finally, they concluded that: “We finally found a suitable dacha, but the price was staggering. For the same amount, the entire family could have gone on holiday to the Black Sea for three months (Dashkevich, 180).”

Dachas were also divided along the signs of wealth and status with politicians and the elite owning private summer houses equipped with servants and other forms of luxuries. The average man on the other hand was forced to rent a summer house for a considerable price while also facing the risk of having his stay be double-booked with other families. This risk was serious as there was no agency to protect against this from occurring, or even a government department that oversaw the renting and regulations of dachas (Dashkevich, 18). In fact, many of the existing regulations only existed on paper. The process of renting a dacha is primarily done between the owners and the renters of the summer houses, with the Soviet government rarely being involved in the process (Morton, 248). This directly affects the pricing of the dachas as there were no strict and enforced regulation for renters to base the prices off of. The non-existent regulations combined with the growing demand for dachas and their small quantity forced many Russians to overpay for their accommodations.



Bortoli, Georges. “Moscow and Leningrad Observed. ” 1975. Soviethistory. Web. 8 April. 2018.

Dashkevich, Natalia. “’I WANT TO RENT A DACHA’ – Existing Concerns and Nonexistent Services.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press. Vol. 25, No. 19. (1973): 18.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History, Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.

Geldern, James von. “Dachas.” Soviethistory. Web. 8 April. 2018.

Morozov, Sergei. “Sovetskaia khudozhestvennaia fotografiia.” 1958. Soviethistory. Web. 8 April. 2018.

Morton, Henry W. “Who Gets What, When and How? Housing in the Soviet Union.” Soviet Studies. Vol. 32, No. 2 (1980): 235-259.




Soviet Successors

On March 5, 1953 Soviet Russian leader Joseph Stalin died after suffering from a brain hemorrhage 4 days earlier. Stalin, who rose through the ranks under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin and became the leader of the Soviet Union shortly after World War I in 1922, left behind a government that faced the difficult task of choosing a new leader among the various qualified and ambitious statesmen (Siegelbaum). This issue of succession would ultimately decide the course the Soviet Union would take during the global strife of the Cold War, and would result in changes in Soviet life, economics, and government because of the mass reforms made by Stalin’s successor (Freeze, 408).

Unlike Lenin who chose his successor, Stalin, before he stepped down in 1922 and his death in 1924, Stalin did not leave behind a clear indication of who was to succeed him (Bociurkiw, 576). This problem became apparent while Stalin was on his deathbed and during his funeral, where the three main possible successors, Georgii Malenkov, Lavrentii Beria, and Nikita Khrushchev each promoted themselves as the possible heirs to Stalin. This self-promotion began while Stalin lay dying as the main three divided themselves into a “collective leadership,” where each would be given a different form of power that would allow for them to be seen as equals. This leadership style saw Malenkov being named the new chairman of the Council of Ministers, Beria as the continued chief of the Soviet secret police, and Khrushchev as the new top secretary of the Central Committee (Siegelbaum). “Collective leadership” allowed for the men who distrusted one another, but trusted one another’s desire to preserve the regime to work together to fill the vacated, demigod-like role Stalin left (Bociurkiw, 578).

This “collective leadership” the three leaders were placed did not last long as each began to make a grab for complete power as the head of the Soviet Union. This began at Stalin’s funeral, where Malenkov and Beria gave speeches about Stalin and the glory of the Soviet Union. They were two of the three speakers at the funeral in addition to Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s longtime friend and protégé (Freeze, 409). It is notable that Khrushchev did not speak at the funeral of Joseph Stalin, as such an honor was reserved for high-ranking statesmen. This fact could have also been representative of Khrushchev’s lower position in the triumvirate-like Soviet leadership, but was not the case.

"Crowds in Line to View Stalin's Body (1953)." Death of Stalin, 1953. 2001.

Following Stalin’s funeral, all three potential successors began to call for changes and attempted to gather support from the people. Laverntii Beria, a longtime leader in the Soviet government began to call for a “liberal” change, citing issues such as civil rights, the release of prisoners including high-ranking officials, and the change to the Gulag system as primary concerns (Freeze, 410). The changes in Beria’s policies and his positions on large-scale issues worried Malenkov and Khrushchev, and they united against Beria as they deemed him too powerful and popular with the most influential people. This united front officially began on June 26, 1953, where a meeting was called to discuss the, “criminal anti-party and anti-state activities of Beria.” The main result of this meeting was the arrest of Beria and his main supporters (Freeze, 410-411).

It was on July 8, 1953 that Beria was tried and examined by the Central Committee for the third round. In this committee meeting, Khrushchev and Malenkov and their other allies testified against Beria’s actions and accuse him of being anti-Soviet and of greatly harming the state. For example, Comrade Shatalin stated that, “Beria had become so impudent, that he began to obviously circumvent at least the apparatus of the Central Committee. In many cases he appointed and removed people without permission from the Central Committee (“Beria is Condemned).” Comrade Shatalin further attacked Beria’s character by commenting on his many affairs and relations with women and summarized the entire committee feelings on the entire matter and Beria with, “What does this rogue care for the interests of the State (“Beria is Condemned).” It is important to note however that Beria had served under Stalin for over ten years and had performed the darkest actions of the Soviet government awhile serving as the head of the secret police. He was linked to concentration camps, mass deportations, and numerous purges, as well as other jobs assigned to him by Joseph Stalin (Deutscher, 235). One can state that Beria did act in the interest of the State while acting in his own interest, but that his ambition and the desires of his political opponents to not see him in power led to his downfall.

Six months after he was arrested, Beria was pronounced guilty and executed (Siegelbaum). This left Malenkov and Khrushchev as the two remaining contenders as Stalin’s successor, and their primary competition for power revolved around development and industry. Khrushchev was in favor of developing and investing in the Soviet agriculture, which had previously been ignored and under former leaders. He wanted to cultivate lands which had previously never been farmed before to increase production of food such as wheat to fight against the still persistent hunger the citizens of the Soviet Union faced. Malenkov on the other hand wanted to divert resources form agriculture and focus on light industry and the production of goods (Freeze, 411-412).

It was not until mid-1955 that the “collective leadership” officially ended with Malenkov’s resignation. In his resignation statement, Malenkov noted that, “It is now evident what important role this reform played in the task of developing agriculture (“Malenkov Resigns).” This statement, Khrushchev’s emphasis on agricultural development, and his own support from government officials and the common people allowed for Nikita Khrushchev to succeed Stalin, albeit without his large personal following and demigod like status.



“Beria is Condemned.” Soviethistory. Web. 1 April. 2018.

Bociurkiw, Bohdan R. “The Problem of Succession in the Soviet Political System: The Case of Khrushchev.” The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science / Revue canadienne d’Economique et de Science politique. Vol. 26, No. 4. 1960. 575-591.

Death of Stalin, 1953. “Crowds in Line to View Stalin’s Body (1953).” 2001. Web. 1 April. 2018.

Deutscher, Isaac.The Beria Affair.” International Journal. Vol. 8, No. 4. 1953. 227-239.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History, Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.

“Malenkov Resigns.” Soviethistory. Web. 1 April. 2018.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Succession to Stalin.” Soviethistory. Web. 1 April. 2018.


Territory & WWII

By signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918 the Soviet Russia gave up its territorial claims to the Baltic region, Ukraine, and other parts of Eastern Europe to formally end its participation in World War I. As previously stated in my second blog post, this allowed for the Bolshevik leadership to focus on their domestic issues without having to concern itself with a two-sided war, thus allowing them to solidate their leadership and authority within the Soviet Union. It was not until the eve of World War II in 1939 that the question of regaining the lands they had previously lost entered the minds of the Soviet leadership, and it was only because of the influence that they decided to align themselves with Germany, the nation that forced them to give up their territories 20 years prier.

This Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union began in late August of 1939 with the goal of territorial expansion in the lands of Poland. This Pact allowed for Germany and the Soviet Union to both invade and then divide the lands between themselves for the purpose of expanding their borders and increasing their economic and farming capabilities (Siegelbaum). This same idea led to the Soviet Union invading and occupying the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, which had only recently achieved their independence later that same year. With the invasion and quickly following annexation of the Baltics, the Soviet Union had regained most of the territory it had lost during the World War I.

German and Soviet Soldiers (1939). September 20, 1939. Soviethistory.

In the beginning, the Soviet Union used the pretext of housing soldiers during World War II in the Baltic states as an excuse for being there with large amounts of soldiers. The Soviet Union had forced the Baltic nations to sign in late 1939 a treaty permitting it to establish and house military garrisons, naval bases, and air bases in their lands (Kochavi, 173). A year later in August 1940, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were officially annexed by the Soviet Union and proclaimed as Soviet Socialist Republics. It is important to note that with these annexations, the territory of Bessarabia, and with the eastern part of Poland gained in the 1939 partition, that the Soviet Union added around 150 to 300 kilometers to its western border (Freeze, 378). This is significant as it shows that the Soviet Union had built up its eastern front and strengthen its western border against potential invaders, who would ultimately be Nazi Germany in 1941, its former pact-mate. With this act, Germany violated the Treaty of Non-Aggression by directly attacking the USSR, despite pledging not to do so (Treaty of Non-Aggression).

Map of Baltic Sea

Baltic Sea- Map and Details. Worldatlas. Web. 25. March. 2018.

As the Soviet was annexing these territories, World War II was occurring with the Soviets posed to side with the Allies after it was invaded by Nazi Germany. The alliance between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain almost did not happen because of the surrounding controversy of the Baltic states being part of the Soviet Union. British foreign minister Eden had met with the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in December 1941 to discuss their alliance against Germany with the official recognition of the Baltic states also being a central topic. Foreign Minister Eden was in favor of accepting the Baltics as Soviet republics as it would give support to their alliance with the Soviet Union. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was of the opposite opinion, until he came to the conclusion that doing so would risk alienating the Soviet Union (Kochavi, 173).

The real political opposition to the Soviet demand was from the United States and its President Roosevelt, who did not want to recognize the Soviet annexation of the Baltics as being official and legal because of the Atlantic Charter. They objected to the forceful annexation with the Atlantic Charter, which proscribed territorial changes, “that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned (Kochavi, 173).” With this refusal by the United States, Great Britain was not forced to accept the Baltics as legal territories of the Soviet Union. The power of the United States kept the Soviet Union from receiving the official international recognition of its territorial gains, which it had long since desired to signify that the international community viewed it as valid (Kochavi, 174-175).

The entire issue and question of the Allied forces accepting the Soviet annexation of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia as truly being new satellite states of the Soviet Union could have potentially cost them an alliance. The United States and the other Allies did not approve of the Soviet Union’s forced territorial gains in the Baltics and other parts of Eastern Europe, but were forced to deal with it to appease Stalin and keep the USSR as an ally during World War II.



Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History, Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.

German and Soviet Soldiers (1939). September 20, 1939. German soldiers treat Red Army Soldiers to cigarettes during a meeting on the line of demarcation in Poland. Soviethistory.

Kochavi ,Arieh J. “BRITAIN, THE SOVIET UNION, AND THE QUESTION OF THE BALTIC STATES IN 1943.”  Journal of Baltic Studies. Vol. 22, No. 2. 1991: 173-182.

“Baltic Sea- Map and Details.” Worldatlas. Web. 25. March. 2018.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Soviet territorial Annexations.” Soviethistory. Web. 25. March. 2018.

“Treaty of Non-Aggression: Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Treaty of Non-Aggression. August 23, 1939.” Soviethistory. Web. 25. March. 2018.




Kirov and Killing

On 1 December, 1934 Sergei Mironovich Kirov was murdered at the Smolnyi Institute in St. Petersburg by Leonid Nikolaev, a former party member. The 48-year-old First Secretary of the Leningrad party organization and longtime Bolshevik member was assassination only months after he had received a higher percentage of votes in the elections to the Politburo at the Seventeenth Party Congress than Joseph Stalin (Freeze, 364).

Isaak Brodskii. “S.M. Kirov Secretary of the Leningrad Provincial Committee of the Communist Party.” The Kirov Affair Images. Soviethistory. 1929. Web. 18 March. 2018.

Sergei Kirov’s death became a political sensation for the Bolshevik party because of the murder of such a prominent political figure. For days after the event, radio broadcasts and newspaper devoted time to mourn the death of the politician. They also denounced those responsible for the assassination and focused on the alleged perpetrators of the crime. These newspapers also called for national support for the Bolshevik Party by stating that the attack on Sergei Kirov was not just about him, but about the entire Bolshevik Party and the proletariat revolution (Knight). In rural areas local party leaders organized meetings for workers, peasants, students, and others to mourn the death of Kirov together. As this was occurring, these local leaders were also asking for donations of either money or labor to support his memory (Rimmel, 481).

Kirov’s death did not provoke the same intense, mournful response from the common people. These people, mostly those living in rural areas, were not concerned with the assassination of a powerful politician, as they were focused on their lack of food and growing hunger. The general population did not see the events as terrible news or something to be too concerned with, as they viewed the Soviet government and Kirov himself with hostility. With Kirov’s death, they focused more so on the failures of the Party and Communism to help combat their mass hunger than on Kirov himself. (Lenoe, 353).

Interestingly enough was the responses from Leningrad, Kirov’s place of work and a city where two days before the assassination it was announced that bread rations for workers would be ended. These workers, angry at their main source of food being removed, viewed Kirov’s murder and the question of who did it as being important. Instead, the average Soviet worker viewed Kirov’s assassination with a sense of satisfaction and glee, with one worker being noted as saying, “That’s the way to go—that’s just what he deserved, because the people are exhausted and are kicking the bucket from hunger…. This means there are now 800 extra grams of bread for the population (Lenoe, 353).”

Monument to Sergey Kirov (Soviet politician) on Kirovskaya Square in St Petersburg, Russia

Nikolay Tomskiy & Noy Trotskiy. “Monument to Sergey Kirov on Kirovskaya Ploshchad.” Saint-Petersburg. 1938. Web. 18. March. 2018.

While the responses from the Party members and the general public were vastly different and demonstrated the varied sentiments towards the Soviet government, the official response of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin created a sense of unity between the two groups. This was because Stalin’s response affected everyone in the Soviet Union, regardless of position, and put everyone in some form on danger. After Sergei Kirov’s murder, Stalin launched an investigation and personally oversaw the interrogation of Nikoleav, the assassin. Stalin’s report stated that Nikoleav did not act alone in this crime, and that he was supported by the Zinovievites, the supports of the disgraced former party boss Grigorii Zinoviev, the remaining members and supporters of the White Guard, and other rival ideological organizations (Siegelbaum). Stalin’s report and the resulting investigation into these particular groups is significant, as it allowed for him to eliminate and try those he deemed to be dangerous. He was able to do this without question and with the support of his mourning and angry political party, as they saw these individuals and political organizations as being an “enemy of the people.” (Freeze, 364).

Historians have viewed Joseph Stalin’s responding actions to the assassination of Sergei Kirov as being suspicious because of its intensity. A result of Kirov’s assassination and the resulting actions of Joseph Stalin was the widespread and popular theory that Stalin himself had ordered Kirov’s assassination. This is a common theory, as it allowed for Stalin to use Koriv’s assassination as an excuse to investigate and purge his political opponents and those he deemed potentially dangerous to his authority (Freeze, 364-365). The resulting purge, deemed the Great Terror by historians, resulted in millions of deaths of government officials, military officers, members of the elite, those with great economic statuses, those opposed to the Bolshevik Party and Joseph Stalin, and the high-ranking members of the Bolshevik Party (Freeze, 369). This mass purge resulted in the removal on anyone who could potentially challenge Stalin’s rule and authority in the Soviet Union.



Brodskii, Isaak. “S.M. Kirov Secretary of the Leningrad Provincial Committee of the Communist Party.” The Kirov Affair Images. Soviethistory. 1929. Web. 18 March. 2018.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History, Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.

Knight, Amy. Who Killed Kirov?’ The Kremlin’s Greatest Mystery. New York: Hill and Wang. 1999.

Lenoe, Matt. “Did Stalin Kill Kirov and Does It Matter?” The Journal of Modern History. Vol. 74, no. 2. (2002):352 380.

Rimmel, Lesley, A. “Another Kind of Fear: The Kirov Murder and the End of Bread Rationing in Leningrad.” Slavic Review Vol. 56, no., 3. (1997): 481-499.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. “The Kirov Affair.” Soviethistory. Web. 17. March. 2018.

Tomski, Nikolay & Noy Trotskiy. “Monument to Sergey Kirov on Kirovskaya Ploshchad.” Saint-Petersburg. 1938. Web. 18. March. 2018.

The Roles of Women & Revolution

“Women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, government, cultural, political and other public activity.”

Constitution of the U.S.S.R., Article 122[1]

With this declaration in the Constitution of the U.S.S.R in 1924 the Bolsheviks stated that women would be considered the equal to men in society and in the eyes of the law. Their concern with the roles of women stemmed from their visions of revolution and the necessity for a complete upheaval of societal institutions, traditions, and values.[2] The reorientation and changes of the roles of women were considered one of the most important steps in building the new nation as it would involve part of the nation that had previously been excluded politically and socially.

With the creation of the Zhenotdel (Women’s Department) in 1917 the Soviet Union had established a political organization run by women, for women. This organization along with the main government helped to change the rules and regulations placed on women by making them equal to men under the law. Marriage was also removed from Church control and could only be legally accepted and performed by a government official. Divorce which had previously been controlled by the Church was now under the authority of the government. Divorce was also something which women could ask for without requiring permission of their fathers or husbands.[3] The ability to divorce their husbands was the most significant change for Soviet women, as they did so in droves. Divorce was also the most successful Bolshevik policy for establishing a true revolution as it aided in creating gender equality and removing some of the patriarchal authority that came from marriage. Most importantly however, was the fact that divorce gave women new abilities in her life to be something besides a wife or a mother.[4]

Despite all of these gains for women, the Soviet family system risked its traditional structure and the protection of its most vulnerable part: the children. With women being able to get divorced, many were forced to raise their children by themselves with only one paycheck. While child support or alimony was supposed to be given by the father, it was difficult to collect as fathers could run and hide or challenge their paternity over their supposed child. Soviet changes to the societal position of women and its own inabilities to create an alternative childcare system as a proper replacement effected the ability of children to receive proper care.[5] Despite the intent of the Soviet government to create a welfare system that would allow for mothers to work and their children to receive care from government sponsored daycares, the Soviet Union lacked the resources to do so. Thus, the Soviet Union could not be the type of welfare state that it advocated for and those in the most vulnerable positions suffered as a result.

To help educate the Soviet youth on Bolshevik ideology and teach them skills needed for future work, organizations such as the Komsomol, or the Young Communist League were created. The Komsomol was tasked with helping to create a generation of the “New Soviet Man,” which would be literate, understanding of life and society, and knowledgeable of the skills needed to be a successful worker and countryman.[6] With these lofty goals came several issues that the majority of government sponsored programs faced: A lack of funding. The inability of the Bolsheviks to fund these youth organizations and the constant harassment and discrimination the female members faced helped to enforce gender norms that the Soviet Union wanted to do away with.[7] With limited funding the Komsomol and related schools were forced to have fees for students to become members and participate. With this system, prevailing gender norms continued as parents would enroll their sons instead of their daughters at higher rates, which limited the potential education and skills daughters would need economic security.[8]

The issue of gangs and illegal activities amongst teenagers was also placed upon the Komsomol by the Soviet society. The Komsomol was criticized for not being able to control underage drinking, smoking, and fighting, while also promoting something positive for the Soviet youths to focus on.[9] Mark G. Field states in his work that drinking and smoking were not only problems associated with the youth in the Komsomol and other organizations, but that they were widespread issues that affected everyone from the upper-class to the white-collar workers to the rural farmers. Field argues that the combination of the Russian drinking culture and the effects of industrialization led to the increase in underage gang activity. Because of industrialization family functions began to disappear with the need to work more for wages. Thus, fathers were out of the home more, while women began to enter the job market in droves to support their families.[10] He states that this removal of family functions and parents at home left children without proper role models to teach and guide them. The result of this was male teenagers having to discover their own version of manliness, which mimicked their fathers and older Soviet workers, which included the common habits of hard drinking and picking fights with strangers.[11]



[1] Stalin Society of North America, “On Women’s Rights and Abortion in the USSR,” Stalinsociety, Web. 25 Feb. 2018.

[2] Gregory L. Freeze, Russia: A History, Third Edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009): 329.

[3] James von Geldern, “The New Woman,” Soviethistory, Web. 25 Feb. 2018.

[4] Freeze, 331.

[5] Ibid., 332.

[6] Ibid., 334.

[7] Sean Guillory, “Revolutionary Manliness,” Soviethistory, Web. 25 Feb. 2018.

[8] Freeze, 335.

[9] Mark G. Field, “Alcoholism, Crime, and Delinquency in Soviet Society,” Social Problems Vol 3. No., 2, (1955):  101.

[10] Ibid., 107.

[11] Ibid., 103.



Field, Mark G. “Alcoholism, Crime, and Delinquency in Soviet Society.” Social Problems Vol 3. No., 2. (1955): 100-109.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.

Geldren, James von. “The New Woman.” Soviethistory. Web. 25 Feb. 2018.

Guillory, Sean. “Revolutionary Manliness.” Soviethistory. Web. 25 Feb. 2018.

Stalin Society of North America. “On Women’s Rights and Abortion in the USSR.” Stalinsociety. Web. 25 Feb. 2018.




Out of the War and into the Revolution

Following over 3 years of war with over 1.5 million military deaths belonging to the Russian Empire, Soviet Russia formally removed itself from World War I on March 3, 1918 with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (Centre-robert-schuman). The preparations for the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk began in December, 1917 with an armistice in the then German-occupied Polish town of Brest-Litovsk with negotiations between Germany and Soviet Russia. The signing of the treaty resulted in huge territorial losses for Soviet Russia as it was forced to ends its military presence in the Baltic states and Ukraine. The territorial losses of Soviet Russia were acceptable as it allowed for it to focus on its Civil War and other internal issues such as aiding those effected by the famine and reuniting families separated because of the war.

The negotiations between the Central Powers and Bolshevik Russia helped to signify the authority of the newly formed Soviet government as it was internationally recognized as the head of the Russian state. Domestically however, the negotiations and agreement to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk created numerous problems for the Bolsheviks and its head of state, Vladimir Lenin. It took Soviet Russia quite some time to agree to the negotiations and Treaty as the Soviet foreign policy was shifting between agreeing to the terms presented by the Germans and continuing to stay in the war to spread revolutionary sentiment among the European people (Siegelbaum). This tactic of stalling was both intentional and a result of result of differing opinions among the Soviet government. It was purposeful as it allowed the Bolshevik government to have more time to spread propaganda to the workers and peasants in the Entente and Central Powers in order to potentially help them realize what had happened in Russia with its Revolution. The Soviet negotiators and stallers, which included Leon Trotsky, hoped that the lower classes would become inspired and wish to emulate the process that Soviet Russia had undergone, thus expanding their political ideology (Wheeler-Bennett, 139). This goal ended a couple of months later, as Lenin achieved the required majority in the Communist Committee, thus officially ending Soviet Russia’s participation in World War I on March 3, 1918.

“Ioffe Kamenev at Brest-Litovsk (1917).” Astrov, Valentin, ed. An Illustrated History of the Russian Revolution. New York: International Publishers. 1928.

The mixed feelings of the Bolsheviks about Soviet Russia’s removal from World War I was supported by the idea of “War Communism,” in which the Soviet state was supposed to act heroically with a strong, unified military to secure its own statehood, and then rescue other people and convert them from a capitalist society to more socialist one (Freeze, 301). The removal of the Soviet Russian army from the World War however went against this strong internal sentiment. In fact, many saw Lenin’s signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk as a sign of his and his leaderships weakness. The perception of weakness was not just limited to Russia, as Soviet Russia’s former allies and its enemies perceived the Soviet state to be vulnerable and in the correct moment to be the victim of a takeover and annexation of more land (Wheeler-Bennett, 327).

The young Bolshevik regime was assaulted by enemies from within and from the outside. Political enemies such as the Social Revolutionaries of the Right contacted the Entente forces for a potential alliance, the remaining Cadets met with the German forces in territories such as Ukraine, and the White Armies threatened an uprising in Siberia and in the Baltic States. These internal situations were occurring while the still dominate power of Germany was surrounding the former Empire and enforcing peace in the region, especially Ukraine (Wheeler-Bennett, 327-328). With the increased German power and authority in Eastern Europe and in Russia, Germany was in a better position to make demands of Russia. This weakened Russia’s negotiating position and ability to influence international events, as Germany then dominated and were considered in the major politics of Eastern Europe (Wheeler-Bennett, 329-330).

Despite the backlash against Soviet Russia removing itself from World War I, it was the best solution for all of Lenin’s problems. It allowed for him and the Bolsheviks to have a “breathing spell,” where they could solely focus on their internal matters and political rivals (Wheeler-Bennett, 141). Lenin’s strategic retreat from World War I helped save his legacy, and it can be argued that the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was the savior of Bolshevism in Russia (Wheeler-Bennett, 142). Without it, Soviet Russia would have been destroyed and consumed by either German forces, the White counter-revolutionaries, or another political organization desiring power.



Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.

“Kamenev, Ioffe at Brest-Litovsk (1917).” Astrov, Valentin, ed. An Illustrated History of the Russian Revolution. New York: International Publishers. 1928.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Treaty of Brest Litovsk.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History.

REPERES. “World War I Casualties.”

Wheeler-Bennett, John W. Brest-Litovsk: The Forgotten Peace March 1918. London: MacMillian and Co. 1938.

Wheeler-Bennett, John W. “The Meaning of Brest-Litovsk Today.” Foreign Affairs. Vol. 17, no. 1. (1938): 137-152.




Trans-Siberian Railway

The vast territory of Russia often made it difficult for the empire to fully unite as a modernized, economically secure, and culturally homogeneous nation. The inability of the Russian government to connect with Siberia caused great concern as it would be unable to quickly and efficiently help in cases of invasion or famine. In addition to these societal factors, the desire of Moscow and Tsarevich Nicholas to ensure that the far eastern parts of the empire would not break away led to the development of a transportation system that would make travel quicker and unite the empire.[1] The picture below by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii ca. 1907-1915 of a portion of the Trans-Siberian railway near the Ural Mountains Region in Russia demonstrates the desire to connect the Russian Empire. This image shows that the builders were willing to go across and through natural boundaries to build the only connecting transportation system in Russia.

Trans-Siberian Railway Metal Truss Bridge on Stone Piers, over the Kama River near Perm, Ural Mountains Region

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, “Trans-Siberian Railway Metal Truss Bridge on Stone Piers, over the Kama River near Perm, Ural Mountains Region,” World Digital Database. 20 Jan. 2018.

The apparent need to unite the more prosperous Western part of the Russian Empire with Siberia via railway began with the Tsarevich Nicholas’s father, Alexander III in the late 1800s when the Empire was attempting to maintain its status as a dominate power in the Pacific region, while also competing with the local powers of China and Japan and the expansive power of the British Empire. The first hints of desire for the Siberian railway began shortly after the start of construction of the Manchurian Railroad in 1886, which received European backing. The capabilities of the Manchurian Railroad to move troops and its proximity to the Russian border near cities such as Blagoveshchensk and Pos’et created fear for the Russian government, as it saw a great potential for invasion by the Chinese and other foreign powers.[2]

Tsar Alexander III approved of the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1891 despite its large cost because of its potential. He notes in a letter to Grand Duke Czarevitch sent on May 14, 1891 that, “’Your participation in the achievement of this work will be a testimony of my ardent desire to facilitate communications between Siberia and the other countries of the empire, and to manifest my extreme anxiety to secure the peaceful prosperity of this country.’­”[3] The need to secure the Russian Empire against threats led to Tsar Alexander III commencing the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway on May 19, 1891, beginning the creation of the world’s longest railway of 4,776 miles across the Empire from Cheliabinks to Vladivostok.[4]

The fear of direct invasion from Asian powers was also combined with a fear of the Russian Empire losing its influence in the Pacific region, as Japan had begun to strengthen its control over the Sea of Japan and held one of the regions strongest naval powers. Japan’s power and its ability to directly affect Russia’s trade with the Pacific influenced the Russian government’s decision to build the railroad, as it would allow for it to strengthen the Russian presence and potential on the Pacific Coast. The increase in Russian presence was directly connected with its need to be able to transport large quantities of troops and supplies within the Empire at any time, but especially during times of war.[5] The Empire’s urgency to be able to do this is directly connected with its history, as other railroads it had used in previous conflicts such as the fight against the Afghans proved that the mobility of troops alone would be a justifiable reason for the Trans-Siberian railroad.

The Trans-Siberian Railway was not only a connection for the large Empire for military purposes, but also for matters of unity and self-reliance. It is estimated that over 3 million peasants from Russia and Ukraine migrated to regions in Siberia during the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway to work the land.[6] This migration aided in the development of Siberian infrastructure and settlements along the railway, which resulted in numerous cities and towns being created. These peasant settlements and farms helped in expanding the domestic production of grains, which before had solely been focused on the rural regions West of the Ural Mountains. This drastic increase in grain production helped in decreasing the rates of starvation throughout the Empire with over 25 percent of Russian grain production coming from two main Siberian towns, Tomsk, and Tobol’sk.[7] The results of these migrant settlements were the result of the Trans-Siberian Railway. It pushed workers to move east in search of economic gain and the ability to own and farm previously unworked land.

The creation of the Trans-Siberian Railway also helped with the russification of the Far East regions of the Empire, as ethnic Russians were able to move east.[8] With Russification, the development of a purely Russian identity was pushed and established in order to prevent the collapse of the eastern regions of the Empire. The historical treatment of Siberia as a colony of the Russian Empire was another important reason for the Trans-Siberian Railway, as it allowed for the mass migration to and from both sides of the Ural Mountains. The ability for people to migrate and for the military to quickly move eastwards in times of war and potential separationist attempts were a factor in the Tsar’s decision to construct the Trans-Siberian Railway. The regionalist attitudes some in Siberia held greatly affected the decisions of the government officials in Moscow, as Siberian intellectuals produced literature promoting the issues of Siberian separation and the creation of it as its own nation.[9] The Trans-Siberian Railway helped to quell the fears of the Russian officials and aided in the integration of Siberia into the politics of the Russian Empire.


[1] “Trans-Siberian Railway,” Encyclopedia of Russian (January 21, 2018).

[2] Steven G. Marks, Road to Power: The Trans-Siberian Railroad and the Colonization of Asian Russia 1850-1917, (New York: Cornell University Press, 1991), 38.

[3] Scientific American, “Military Aspects of the Trans-Siberian Railway,” Scientific American Vol. 90, no. 16, (1904): 308.

[4] Ibid., 308.

[5] Marks., 41.

[6] Victor L. Mote, “The Cheliabinsk Grain Tariff and the Rise of the Siberian Butter Industry,” Slavic Review Vol 35, no. 2, (1976): 305.

[7] Ibid., 306.

[8] Marks., 46-47.

[9] Ibid., 49-50.



Marks, Steven G. Road to Power: The Trans-Siberian Railroad and the Colonization of Asian Russia 1850-1917. New York: Cornell University Press. 1991.

Mote, Victor L. “The Cheliabinsk Grain Tariff and the Rise of the Siberian Butter Industry.” Slavic Review. Vol 35, no. 2. (1976): 304-317.

Prokudin-Gorskii, Sergei Mikhailovich. “Trans-Siberian Railway Metal Truss Bridge on Stone Piers, over the Kama River near Perm, Ural Mountains Region.” World Digital Database. 20 Jan. 2018.

Scientific American. “Military Aspects of the Trans-Siberian Railway.” Scientific American Vol. 90, no. 16. (1904): 308-309.

“Trans-Siberian Railway.” Encyclopedia of Russian (January 21, 2018).