James W. Meng

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Units: Foreword 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6


The USSR during the Post-War period & the Krushchev decade.
13.1. Socio-political life of the USSR, 1945-1953.

After 1945, major changes occurred in the broader public consciousness in the Soviet Union. Victory in the Great Patriotic War created great hopes for the democratization of public life. At the same time, these hopes were tempered by an enthusiastic, patriotic regard for the country. On the 6th of September 1947 the City of Moscow itself was awarded the Order of Lenin "for outstanding service of the working people of Moscow to the Motherland, for courage and heroism in the struggle against the German invaders, and in connection with the city's 800th anniversary."

In September 1945, the USSR abolished the prevailing state of emergency and abolished the State Defense Committee. In March 1946 the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR was transformed into a Council of Ministers, chaired by I.V. Stalin until his death in 1953; and the People's Commissariats were transformed into independent ministries. In 1947 the death penalty was abolished. In 1948 the activities of congresses of public and political organizations (trade unions, Komsomol, creative unions) resumed. Following a thirteen-year hiatus in October 1952, the 19th Congress of the CPSU was held. At the Congress, the Bolshevik party was renamed to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).

Between 1946-48, closed discussions were held on the project of a new Constitution for the USSR and the new program of the CPSU. Proposals were made on possible decentralization of the economy, on a refusal by the party to direct economic management, on expansion of democracy, and so on.

At the same time, sociopolitical life was characterized by considerable contradictions. When the USSR emerged victorious from the second World War, Stalin's authority became outsize. On the 26th of June 1945 the military rank "Generalissimus of the Soviet Union" was introduced in the USSR and conferred to Stalin the following day. Once again, tight control over the life of society was exercised by the authorities, and it became obvious after 1946 that a return to the political methods of the 1930s was once again in the cards. Repressions spread to the managerial cadres of the party, the army, and the ministries.

Between 1947-49, a struggle against the cultural influences of the West on the life of the USSR began, known as the struggle against cosmopolitanism. Anti-Semitism was the primary ideology used for these purposes, and persecution of people of Jewish ethnicity became more common. The government, through the framework of the Stalinist political system, continued to exercise considerable control over spiritual life and propaganda throughout education, literature, and art all focused on promoting the personality cult of Stalin. In the struggle against various forms of free-thinking, a number of special resolutions were adopted that limited creative activities of representatives of culture. This particularly concerned writers - notably, A. Akhmatova, M. Zoshchenko, and artists - R. Falk, P. Korin, M. Saryan, and others.

13.2. Rebuilding of the Soviet economy in the post-war period.

Perhaps the most important task of the post-war period was the forcible restoration of the Soviet economy. Heavy industry was being restored, and conversion of military production being carried out. Western Europe received more than 12 billion dollars of investment for these purposes, primarily from external sources.

In the USSR, beyond reparations payments from Germany in the amount of 4.3 billion rubles, primary sources of funding for reconstruction were internal: from the monetary reform of 1947 and from state loans; from a redistribution of funds from the agricultural sector to the industrial sector; from reductions in social expenditures; and from the free labor provided by prisoners in GULAGs and by prisoners of war. The enthusiasm of Soviet people in their reconstruction of their own peaceful lives also played an important motivational role. Gradually, the country returned to normality, restoring an 8-hour workday and a regular holiday schedule.

In the course of the 1947 monetary reform, an exchange of old money for new money was carried out at a ratio of 10:1. The old ration card system for food and manufactured goods introduced in 1946 was abolished. Nevertheless, goods were still rationed: periodic limits per person of 2kg of bread, 1kg of meat, 1 piece of soap, 2 liters of kerosene, etc. were still in force.

Generally, economic development still tended to focus on heavy industry while the conversion from wartime to peacetime economic needs was in progress. A massive demobilization and reduction in the army from 11.4 to 2.9 million people was completed. Yet when the Cold War began, money began to be re-invested in the military-industrial complex.

In efforts to keep pace with the West, the USSR also faced the task of creating its own nuclear weapons. The first Soviet nuclear weapon appeared in 1949 thanks to the efforts of Soviet scientists I.V. Kurchatov, Yu.B. Khariton and others. In 1953 the Soviet Union also posessed another type of new weapon - an hydrogen bomb, on which the Soviet scientists Ya.B. Zeldovich and A.D. Sakharov worked.

Full restoration of the economy did not occur until 1953. By then, over 6200 enterprises had been built and/or restored. Primacy was given to heavy industry throughout the process. As a consequence, production of consumer goods lagged behind demand, though the range of consumer goods (radios, cameras, motorcycles, etc.) increased dramatically. Meanwhile, the situation in agriculture remained difficult. Famine broke out once again in 1946 and ration cards were introduced. Yet at the same time, administrative pressures of collective farmers became more intense. Taxes on independent peasant farms increased significantly. Compulsory state procurement of meat, milk, and eggs made those farmers' lives even more difficult and their farms nearly unprofitable. By the beginning of the 1950s a genuine agrarian crisis had arisen in the country. Peasants all the while continued to live without passports and yet were subject to judicial accountability for non-compliance with government labor requirements. Farms in the Baltic republics were also forcibly collectivized during this period.

13.3. Sociopolitical development of the USSR after Stalin's death.

The death of Stalin fell on the 5th of March 1953. Following his death, G.M. Malenkov became Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR. His first deputy was L.P. Beria, who headed the joint Ministry of Internal Affairs and State Security (MVD-MGB). N.S. Krushchev was elected First Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee. Important changes began to take place: the GULAG system was liquidated and an amnesty was enacted for its prisoners. The process of "rehabilitating" the memory of victims of Stalinist repression began. Finally, on the 26th of June 1953, thanks to the personal courage of Krushchev and with the support of the army leadership, Beria - with whose name most mass repressions were associated - was arrested.

The 20th Congress of the CPSU in February 1956 was a major turning point in the history of the country. Krushchev himself spoke with a report "On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences", citing Stalin's numerous crimes and the dictatorial methods of his administration. His report characterized the personality cult as a phenomenon engendered solely by Stalin's personal qualities, without any connection to the nature of the USSR's political system.

The 20th Congress of the CPSU was of historical significance not only for the USSR but also for other countries throughout the Eastern Bloc and elsewhere in the socialist world, who awaited change in their own countries. The Soviet Union recognized the many forms of transition to socialism, and abandoned the idea of exporting the revolution to other countries. Some changes were also made to the Party ideology: notably, the idea of a dictatorship of the proletariat was soundly rejected in favor of a multinational state.

Following the 20th Congress of the CPSU, the process of de-Stalinization began in society. The Stalinist system of fear and repression was destroyed. Mass rehabilitation of those repressed during the 1930s-50s began and millions of people returned from camps and exile. In February 1957, entire repressed peoples who suffered during the Stalin era were rehabilitated, and the national autonomies of the Balkarian, Chechen, Ingush, Kalmyk, and Karachai peoples were restored.

Under Krushchev, the first major blow to the administrative-command system was dealt and for the first time, public criticism of high-level state figures became a possibility. The 20th Congress fundamentally changed the country's entire political and social atmosphere, bringing about a major shift in public consciousness in which a large number of people tok up the struggle with the cult of personality as the symbol of a beginning of social revival.

But at the same time, party leadership felt it important to limit dissent. It was decided to move all discussion of Krushchev's report out of the public eye, and criminal prosecutions for criticism of the Soviet reality - treated as slander - began. As Moscow's intelligentsia once again began to experience persecution, a dissident movement emerged that advocated political freedom and freedom of creativity.

In 1959, at the 21st Congress of the CPSU, discussions were held on the "complete and final victory of socialism in the USSR" in which a utopian slogan about the transition to full communism - estimated to be 20 years in the future - was put forth. The goal of the party was to inspire people to solve problems "in a communist way"; and during these years, the movement "for communist labor" developed.

All in all, the transformations experienced by Soviet society during the Krushchev era were quite significant and the period is now thought of as one of the most important in the history of the USSR.

13.4. Socioeconomic development of the USSR during the 1950s-60s.

Solving the Soviet Union's various economic problems remained the most important task of society. Following Stalin's death, the USSR's new economic course was to be set by G.M. Malenkov, Chairman of the Council of Ministers (1953-55). It was decided that in order to address the current situation, the appropriate method was to focus on light and food industries, and particularly to move agriculture out of its current state of crisis. Increasing yield by intensifying production was the chosen remedy. To this end, it was decided to incentivize farmers by lowering taxes on personal subsidiary farming; by increasing the size of personal farming plots; by liquidating collective farms' debts; and by increasing the prices on agricultural products.

Following the resignation of Malenkov during the period of de-Stalinization, N.S. Krushchev - in addition to the above measures - set out to ensure the rise of agriculture by simply expanding the active cultivated area. In 1954, an initiative was created to develop virgin lands in the Trans-Volga region, in Siberia, and in Kazakhstan. As part of this initiative, over 42 million acres of new land were developed with the help of 300,000 volunteers, mostly young people. Krushchev also paid special attention to the mechanization of agriculture, which was intended to transform collective farms into large, industrial farms in the future. In 1958, compulsory collection of agricultural products from private village households was also abolished.

With intent to increase the livestock feed base of agriculture in the USSR, collective farms were directed to expand their cultivation of maize (corn) crops, often in climactically-unsuitable areas. Between 1953-58, the area in which maize was cultivated expanded from 18 to 37 million hectacres; increase in agricultural production, however, lagged at 34% compared with the previous five-year period.

Party leadership drew attention to the backwardness of domestic industry in scientific and technical rivalry with the West throughout the Krushchev era. Goals were set to improve the technical level of production capabilities and so great focus was put upon science, education and new technologies. In 1954, the USSR built the first nuclear power plant; in 1957, it launched the first orbital satellite; and in April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to fly into space.

Between 1950 and 1965, the volume of industrial production increased five times. Growth rates both of industrial production and national income were the highest in Soviet history. Labor productivity nevertheless remained low.

Economic policy during the Krushchev era was highly socially oriented. Salaries of workers in industry were regularly raised. Real incomes for workers and servicemen grew by 60%; collective farmers - by 90%. A new law on pensions for workers and servicemen increased both pension size and reduced the retirement age. By 1960, the transition to a 7-hour workday for workers and servicemen was completed. The working week was reduced from 48 to 46 hours and mandatory loans to the state were abolished.

One particularly important gain in social policy was that of new housing construction. Between 1955 and 1964, urban housing stock increased 64%, and over 54 million people were offered new apartments. The material base of education, healthcare, and culture was also strengthened.

The late 1950s brought along with it a new set of challenges in agriculture. In 1959 the machine and tractor stations previously offered to collective farmers were eliminated, and the collective farms were obliged to buy out the associated equipment. This had negative consequences for farms' financial management. At the same time, the official position of the authorities toward private farmers changed once again: land rights were reduced, and cattle forcibly confiscated. Personal subsidiary farming declined and food shortages again resulted. Yet another agricultural crisis had this time led to the first mass purchases of grain from foreign sources.

By the end of the 1950s the pace of economic development had also begun to decline. In efforts to address this, a new organizational and economic structure was put into practice in 1957: in place of ministries (sectoral management) there were economic councils (administrative-territorial management). This reform introduced little in the way of qualitative change in management conditions and caused substantial discontent among party and state officials. Dissatisfaction with N.S. Krushchev grew, and he was eventually dismissed from his post in October 1964.

13.5. External politics of the USSR, 1945-1964.

Following the end of World War II, the Soviet Union became a recognized nuclear power in the international arena. At the same time, a conflict emerged between the two nuclear superpowers, the USSR and the United States. Stalin considered the creation of a military counterweight to the United States to be of the utmost importance, and at the same time, the United States' leadership attempted to exert all its economic and military-political power to exert pressure on the USSR, creating conditions that eventually led to the beginning of the Cold War.

During the years 1949-50, a NATO military-Atlantic bloc of Western countries was created, as were a number of other blocs with the participation of the United States (ANZUS, SEATO, etc.) Meanwhile, the USSR included the countries of Central and Eastern Europe in its zone of influence and formed the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), uniting its allies on foreign policy, economic, and ideological lines. One major consequence of the Cold War was the division of Germany: in 1949, along occupation lines, the Federal Republic of Germany (FDR) was established in the western zone, and in the eastern (Soviet) zone - the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The USSR was then forced to begin providing financial and military assistance to its allied states.

After Stalin's death, there was a transition in the USSR's broader foreign policy stance. G.M. Malenkov, and later N.S. Krushchev, both believed that in the nuclear age the only possible basis for international relations was upon the peaceful coexistence of nations. As a method of ensuring peace, Krushchev called for the creation of a system of collective security in Europe and Asia, and the achievement of disarmament. A number of large-scale initiatives were put into play under his leadership. In August 1955 the USSR announced a unilateral reduction of the Armed Forces by 640,000 men, and in May 1956 another reduction by 1.2 million. The USSR also liquidated military bases on the territory of Finland and China. In 1958 a unilateral ban on nuclear testing was also introduced in the USSR.

During the visit of the Soviet delegation to the United States in 1959, N.S. Krushchev addressed a session of the United Nations General Assembly with a speech on the problems of "general and complete disarmament", beginning a dialogue that eventually brought about some positive results. Notably, in August 1963 a major treaty was signed between the USSR, the United States, and the United Kingdom: the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Arms Tests, which banned all tests in the atmosphere, in space and under water. Approximately 100 nations then joined the treaty as signatories.

A declaration of the end of the state of war between the USSR and Japan was also signed in 1956, signalling the restoration of diplomatic relations.

Despite many diplomatic efforts to secure the reverse, relations between the USSR and the United States have evolved in quite a negative direction. Perhaps the highest point of international tension occurred during the Caribbean missile crisis in the autumn of 1962. In the summer of 1962, in order to secure Cuba and to ensure military-political balance in South America, the island of Cuba secretly hosted Soviet medium-range nuclear missiles. In response, the United States declared a sea and air blockade of Cuba and brought its troops to full readiness. Between the 22nd and 27th of October, U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev reached a temporary compromise in which the USSR agreed to remove all missiles from Cuba and the United States, in return, would guarantee Cuba's security. The United States also agreed to remove similar nuclear missiles from military bases in Turkey and Italy, leading afterwards to a period of detente in East-West relations.

According to the general atmosphere of detente, the USSR abandoned efforts toward world revolution, and recognized the possibility of various forms of building socialism. In 1955, a military-political formation of socialist countries, the Warsaw Pact Organization, was created, thereby legalizing the presence of Soviet troops throughout the Eastern bloc where the process of de-Stalinization had inspired separtist sentiments. In October 1956 an uprising broke out in Hungary, which was then suppressed by joint action of Hungarian communists and detatchments of the Soviet army. Then, in August 1961, in response to the mass flight of east Germans to West Berlin the Berlin Wall was erected, which became a symbol of East-West confrontation.

During the second half of the 1950s, complicated problems arose in relations with China and Albania, both of which opposed the USSR's course toward de-Stalinization.

The disintegration of colonialism in Africa and the Middle East after the second World War also forced the Soviet leadership to pay greater attention to the countries of the "third world" during this period. For the first time, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev paid official visits to countries such as India, Burma, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Egypt.

In 1957 and 1985, Moscow hosted the World Youth and Students Festivals with participation of representatives of all countries and continents. The USSR began to provide developing countries with military-political and economic assistance. On the 5th of February 1960, in efforts to support the nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America in training their students in Moscow, the University of Friendship of Peoples, named for Patrice Lumumba, was opened.

13.6. Soviet culture.

With the Krushchev thaw, the process of overcoming Stalinism affected many different dimensions of culture and facilitated the expansion of international contacts. One question intended to be addressed during the period of reform was that of accelerating the pace of scientific and technological progress. Research was actively carried out in the field of atomic physics by scientists I.V. Kurchatov, A.P. Aleksandrov, Ya.B. Zeldovich, A.D. Sakharov, and others. The work of Soviet chemists and physicists was recognized by the Nobel Prize committee: N.N. Semenov, I.E. Tamm, L.D. Landau and others.

Another key area of achievement for Soviet technology was the creation of high-speed combat and passenger aircraft by designers A. Tupolev, S. Ilyushin, A. Yakovlev, N. Antonov. Outstanding achievements in the field of outer space were achieved by S.P. Korolev. On the 12th of April 1961 the first manned spaceflight took place, flown by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. In 1963, V.V. Tereshkova became the first female cosmonaut. In 1965, the first human spacewalk took place, by pilot-cosmonaut A.A. Leonov.

In the field of literature, a new generation of poets appeared - A. Voznesensky, E. Evtushenko, B. Akhmadulina, R. Rozhdestvensky, and others. The once-forbidden works of M. Bulgakov (Master & Margerita), B. Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago) and others are now available. Over these years, many Nobel Prizes in literature were awarded: B.L. Pasternak (1958), M.A. Sholokhov (1965), A.I. Solzhenitsyn (1970), and I.A. Brodsky (1987). For the first time in Soviet literature, the problem of political repression was addressed in the works of V.D. Dudintsev and V. Grossman. Particularly significant works on the subject were works of A.I. Solzhenitsyn "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" (1962) and "The Gulag Archipelago" (1973).

Soviet theatre became more public and open to addressing contemporary issues. In Moscow the Theater on Taganka (directed by Yu. Lyubimov) and in Leningrad the Contemporary theater (directed by O. Efremov) became well known. Much progress was also made in the musical arts. It was during this period that Dmitrii Shostakovich wrote his tenth and eleventh symphonies. A. Khachaturian's ballets Spartacus, Anna Karenina and The Seagull by R. Shchedrin were also written. The Moscow Chamber Music Theatre, directed by B.A. Pokrovsky, was opened. One particularly prominent, developing form of musical culture was authored chanson - works of B. Okudzhava, V. Vysotsky, J. Vizbor and others. Domestic rock music also began to develop.

Soviet cinema experienced a new stage of development in which themes of the Great Patriotic War were addressed in the films "Cranes are Flying" (M. Kalatozov), "Ballad of a Soldier" (S. Chukhrai), and "A Man's Fate" (S. Bondarchuk). During these years, the creative work of directors S. Gerasimov, V. Shukshin, G. Danelia, E. Ryazanov, A. Konchalovsky, S. Rostokkoi, N. Mikhalkov, and others also begun taking place. In the comic genre, film director L.I. Gaidai became known for the films "The Caucasian Prisoner" and "The Diamond Arm".

There are also a number of film directors whose outstanding works did not receive wide distribution during the years of stagnation but are now universally recognized: A. Tarkovsky ("Ivan's Childhood", "The Mirror", "Andrei Rublev") and A. Herman ("Twenty Days Without War").

During the early 1950s a number of important changes took place in the practice of urban planning and architecture. Not long after the war, at Stalin's suggestion, the construction of multi-story buildings began again in ernest. Seven major high-rise buildings were built, the so-called "Stalin skyscrapers" which became prominent symbols of Moscow during the Soviet era. These are the main building of Moscow State University on the Lenin Hills; the building of the USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Kievskaya and Leningradskaya hotels; and others.

In 1956-57, a planning and building project for a residential area in the New Cheryomushki region was carried out under the direction of architect N. Osterman. An housing boom drew upon this project as a model, with cities of thousands of similar, standardized residential complexes of large panel-block construction - which became widely known as "Krushchevki".

Also built during these years were the Central Stadium named for V.I. Lenin in Luzhniki (architects A. Vlasov and N. Ullas); the Kremlin Palace of Congresses (M. Posokhin); the Central Television tower in Ostankino; and the Olympic Village on Michurinsky Avenue for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

The Great Patriotic War also held great inspiration for the construction of architectural and sculptural art during this period. In 1968, Victory Park was built on Poklonnaya Hill in Moscow. Also near the park is the Triumphal Arch (architect O.I. Bove), recreated in honor of liberation from the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in 1812. On the 8th of May 1967, at the burial place of the ashes of an unknown soldier near the Kremlin wall, the "Tomb of the Unknown Solider" memorial was opened, and the Eternal Flame lit on the grave. Elsewhere, in honor of the Great Victory, monumental art ensembles were built at Mamayev Hill in Volgograd and at the Piskarevsky Cemetery in Leningrad; a sculptural ensemble in honor of defenders of the Brest Fortress in Belarus was also built.

On the 8th of May 1965, Moscow was awarded the title of Hero City along with the Gold Star medal and the Order of Lenin "for mass heroism, courage and fortitude on the workers of the capital of the USSR in the fight against the German fascist invaders". This award was given to twelve cities in the USSR that became famous for their heroic defense during the war: Leningrad, Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), Kiev, Minsk, Sevastopol, and others. Since 1965, Victory Day - the 9th of May - has been an official holiday in the USSR and continues today in contemporary Russia.