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Stalin's USSR 1929-53


Click on the photo above to access interactive BBC timeline of Stalin

Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) was the dictator of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1929 to 1953. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union was transformed from a peasant society into an industrial and military superpower. However, he ruled by terror, and millions of his own citizens died during his brutal reign.


Born into poverty, Stalin became involved in revolutionary politics, as well as criminal activities, as a young man. After Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) died, Stalin outmaneuvered his rivals for control of the party.


Once in power, he collectivized farming, accelerated the rate of industrialisation via his 5 Year Plans and had potential enemies executed in purges or sent to forced labor camps.


Stalin aligned with the United States and Britain in World War II (1939-1945) but afterward engaged in an increasingly tense relationship with the West known as the Cold War (1946-1991). After his death, the Soviets initiated a de-Stalinization process.

Authoritarian States checklist

Emergence of authoritarian states

  • Conditions in which authoritarian states emerged: economic factors; social division; impact of war; weakness of political system

  • Methods used to establish authoritarian states: persuasion and coercion; the role of leaders; ideology; the use of force; propaganda

Consolidation and maintenance of power

  • Use of legal methods; use of force; charismatic leadership; dissemination of propaganda

  • Nature, extent and treatment of opposition

  • The impact of the success and/or failure of foreign policy on the maintenance of power


Aims and results of policies

  • Aims and impact of domestic economic, political, cultural and social policies

  • The impact of policies on women and minorities

  • Authoritarian control and the extent to which it was achieved

USSR 1924-53 - HL syllabus

  • Soviet Union (1924–1941): Stalin and the struggle for power (1924–1929); defeat of Trotsky; Stalin’s policies of collectivization and the Five-Year Plans; government and propaganda under Stalin; the purges and the Great Terror


  • The impact of the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945); post-war Soviet Union (1945–1953): political and economic developments

Rise to Power 1924-29

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The death of Lenin in 1924, marks the beginning of Stalin's rise to power. At that point he was one of seven members of the Politburo--the others were Zinoviev and Kamenev, Trotsky, Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, and Mikhail Tomsky. By 1930, Stalin would overshadow them, and by 1940 outlive them. His amazing success can be attributed to a combination of his own political genius and the mistakes that his rivals persisted in making. Gifted ideologues though they were, his opponents were primarily men of theory--Marxists to the core-- rather than men of action. Stalin, meanwhile, never enjoyed a deep understanding of Marxist theory, and was always willing to twist it to his advantage, a habit that proved useful in the years ahead, as he repeatedly out- intrigued his supposed "comrades" within the party.


In December 1924, Stalin first articulated his own twist on Marxist orthodoxy, which he termed "Socialism in One Country." He argued that the success of Marxism in Russia was not contingent upon a worldwide Communist Revolution-- which his fellow leaders expected to begin sweeping through the rest of the world at any moment. The global fall of capitalism would come eventually, he said, but in the meantime it was necessary to build a successful Soviet Union. Trotsky and his supporters vigorously attacked this viewpoint, but by this time, Trotsky's star was in eclipse. Always considered an outsider by the older Bolsheviks, he had been a brilliant military organizer, but was proving less adept at the cutthroat world of party politics. By January 1925, Zinoviev and Kamenev were urging that he be expelled from the Politburo (though Stalin actually acted as a voice of moderation and prevented the measure from passing).


By this point, Stalin was gravitating away from the "troika" and toward the other three members of the Politburo--Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky. These three formed a so-called "Rightist" bloc, differing on economic policy from Zinoviev and Kamenev (who drew their support from old-line Bolsheviks, including Lenin's wife). The "Rightists" wanted to continue with Lenin's New Economic Policy, which allowed considerable economic freedom for the peasantry, while the Zinoviev-Kamenev "Leftists" wanted to push the country more strongly toward state control of economic life.

In 1924, the "Leftists" appeared to hold control over the Central Committee. But by the following year, Zinoviev and Kamenev realized that Stalin, whom they had saved from political ruin after Lenin's death, was betraying them and moving toward an alliance with Trotsky.


In addition, Stalin had begun to gather a strong faction around himself, including figures like Mikhail Kalinin, Kliment Vorishilov, and Vyacheslav Molotov. While Trotsky, the weakest member of the Politburo, remained largely aloof, the Rightists and Leftists clashed at the 1925 Party Congress, and the Rightists carried the day, despite vituperative attacks on Stalin and his "Socialism in One Country" by Kamenev.


Kalinin and Vorishilov joined the Politburo, and the suddenly weakened Kamenev and Zinoviev turned to Trotsky for support, forming a "United Opposition" in the summer of 1926. But they were no match for the Bukharin-Stalin alliance. By the time of the next Party Congress, in October of 1926, Zinoviev and Kamenev had been removed from the Politburo, and Stalin felt secure enough in his power to urge the Party's official repudiation of their views as "anti-Leninist." Trotsky resisted, and in 1927 he was expelled from the party and exiled to Central Asia; Zinoviev and Kamenev, defeated, begged for clemency, which the Politburo granted.


Stalin was triumphant--now, even his ally in this struggle, Bukharin, grew nervous, as he realized that Stalin's power in the Party now overshadowed even his own influence.  By 1928, he was sufficiently alarmed over Stalin's growing power to seek a reconciliation with the disgraced "Leftist", Kamenev. His efforts were fruitless, however--Kamenev was convinced that his only hope of survival lay in going along with Stalin, who was now beginning his campaign against the "Rightists." Having defeated Trotsky, Kamenev, and Zinoviev, he now readmitted the latter two into the Party and began to co-opt their ideas, pushing for immediate collectivization of land and rapid, state-controlled industrialization, as opposed to the more gradualist approach backed by Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomsky.


Throughout 1928 and 1929, Stalin gathered support in the Central Committee, and by November 1929, he was powerful enough to have Bukharin removed from the Politburo. Earlier, in February of that year, Trotsky, who had continued political activity in the Russian east, was expelled from the Soviet Union. With Stalin's strongest adversaries thus humbled or eliminated, he stood alone atop the pyramid of Soviet power.

Stalin RTP essay work


Key terms for Stalin RTP

- see right hand board photos

Strengths of Stalin

- see below in red

- see below in red box

Weaknesses of others and circumstances

- see below in blue

+ Quick Stalin RTP diagram

Consolidation & Maintenance of Power 


Consolidation of Power

  • Economic

  • Political

  • Social

 Stalin by 1929 had complete control of the party leadership - but now he had to extend that to the Party at large and ultimately the whole of the was he to achieve this and which methods were most effective?

Stalin's control of the Party leadership was assured by 1929 - what he needed to secure now was control of the USSR as a whole.

Economic Control of the USSR I - Collectivisation
Economic Control of the USSR II - Industrialisation

Stalin's control of the Party leadership was assured by 1929 - what he needed to secure now was control of the USSR as a whole.

Political Control of the USSR - The Purges

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Stalin's control of the Party leadership was assured by 1929 - what he needed to secure now was control of the USSR as a whole.

Social Control of the USSR - Soft Power
Stalin's Russia - Society + Culture
Foreign Policy 


  • Pre-war efforts to secure alliance

  • Faculties podcasts

  • pt I on the left  

  • pt II on right


  • WWII or Great Patriotic War

  • Interview on the left with producer of alt US history TV

  • Short summary on right + BBC documentary as well as Battlefield ep underneath


  • Podcasts left and right explaining the start of the Cold War b/w USA/USSR

  • BBC documentary underneath about the Grand Alliance of WWII collapsed 

Legacy of Stalin and Stalinism

Perspectives on Stalin and the USSR


Paper 1 style questions on Stalin's collectivisation

1a) What are the hoped for effects of Lenin's order in Source B?                                                                      (3)

1b) What is the message of Source A?                                                                                                                  (2)

2)   With reference to the origin, purpose and highlighted content, assess the values and limitations of

      Source A to historians studying Stalin's policies in the countryside in 1930.                                             (4)

3)   Contrast and compare the views expressed in the highlighted sections of reports in Sources C + D.    (6)  

Source A - 1930 Bolshevik propaganda poster
Source B - Lenin's infamous 1918 order to hang kulaks....
Source C - 1932 Report from SW Siberia on effects of collectivisation
Source D - 1932 Report from W Siberia on effects of collectivisation
Source E - 1922 order from Lenin to deal with religious opposition in Petrograd

Series of podcasts examining russian history AII to Khruschev 185-1964

Stalin  (Revolutionary; Despot; Generalissimo)

- 1990 series based on Soviet citizens accounts

Karl Marx & Marxism

Karl Marx - In Our Time - BBC Radio 4

Vladimir Lenin - In Our Time - BBC Radio 4

look at Stalin`s early years in Georgia & the childhood that helped make the man 

Stephanie Shakhireva's article - Re-printed with permission.
Swaddled Nation: Modern Mother Russia and a Psychologival Reassessment of Stalin,
First appeared in the Summer 2007 issue of The Journal of Psychohistory

Dizzy with Success

Holomodor or Ukranian famine of 1932/33

Stalin, Industrialisation & 5YPs

Stalin - Inside the Terror BBC documentary

Stalin "Red Terror" - archival footage

shostakovich v stalin doc

Stalin's expulsion orders of 1944

stalins railway of death

Russia's War, Blood on the Snow 

ep 9 Cult of Personality - High Stalinism & Cold War

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