After the events of World War II, the state of Czechoslovakia came under the influence of the Soviet Union and communist ideals. This culminated in 1968 when the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) saw Alexander Dubček, a communist reformer, elected as their First Secretary 1. Once in power, he began to promote his political agenda with a slogan of “Socialism With a Human Face.” According to historian Lewis Sigelbaum, Dubček wished to promote “… cultural freedom, economic reform based on the ‘socialist market,’ and restrictions on the secret police.” All of these promises seemed allowed him to gain the support of the majority of Czechoslovakia, however, his Soviet allies didn’t see this in the same light.
These reforms infuriated the Soviets and, after several failed negotiations, caused them to send upwards to half a million Warsaw Pact troops to Czechoslovakia to occupy the country. These troops were said to have been equipped with the most sophisticated weaponry that the Soviets had in their arsenal 2. According to one Soviet news article,” The measures taken by the Soviet Union … to defend the socialist gains of the Czechoslovak people are of enormous significance.” This intervention wasn’t well received by Czech nationals who sought for political reform promoted by Dubček. Inevitably, a resistance movement was formed across the entirety of Czechoslovakia – curfews were ignored, violent and non-violent forms of protest were utilized, Soviet weapons and vehicles were stolen, etc 3. Due to their actions, the resistance movement of the Czechs all received global coverage as the Western world looked down upon the actions of the Warsaw Pact.
The Soviet invasion was caught on camera and broadcast across the globe – this had some very significant repercussions in the public sphere for the USSR 3. In an attempt to persuade others of their concerns for the actions taken in Czechoslovakia, the Soviets issued a memorandum know as the Brezhnev Doctrine that stated that it was the right and responsibility of the Soviet Union to protect their communist allies 5. Regardless of their intentions, the Soviets won out and the country remained under Soviet control until 1989 with the events of the Velvet Revolution. By that point though, the idea set forth by Alexander Dubček of having “Socialism With a Human Face” was long forgotten and the collapse of the communist state of Czechoslovakia began to fall.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.
Lowenthal, Richard. The Sparrow in the Cage, Problems of Communism, Vol. 17, No. 6 (November – December 1968), pp. 2-28.
Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Crisis in Czechoslovakia.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 1 Sept. 2015, soviethistory.msu.edu/1968-2/crisis-in-czechoslovakia/.
On February 19, 1954, a Soviet news outlet known as the Pravda published an article on a decree set by the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) to transfer the area of Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic 1. This came as quite a shock to the Soviet people because the Crimean outblast had been part of Russia since 1783 when the Empire defeated the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Kozludzha 2. The only citation that was given was from the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in 1954 which stated that there were “… economic commonalities, territorial closeness, and communication and cultural links [between Crimea and the Ukrainian SSR].” This was ultimately seen as a symbol of peace between all parties involved and also represented the power of Soviet influence throughout Eastern Europe 5.
There was one question that baffled historians concerning this event: What was the main motive behind this transfer of land? There are several factors that perplex individuals and them from being able to answer this question. Firstly, the Crimean peninsula was nowhere near touching the Ukrainian SSR – they did not share any political boundaries. Furthermore, the peoples inhabiting Crimea culturally identified more-so with Russian than Ukraine 1. Lewis Siegelbaum notes that, “According to the 1959 census, there were 268,000 Ukrainians but 858,000 ethnic Russians living in Crimea.” Lastly, the Crimea relied on tourism and recreation as its main economic factor; the majority of those that took advantage of this were from the USSR 1. With this present evidence, it will be hard to decide what the true motive for such an action would be.
Regardless of the motive, the transfer of Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR was ironic in that the chairman of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, Kliment Voroshilov, gave his closing remarks at the signing of the decree, he stated that the “enemies of Russia” had “repeatedly tried to take the Crimean peninsula from Russia and use it to steal and ravage Russian lands.” He commended the “joint battles” waged by “the Russian and Ukrainian peoples” as they mete out a “severe rebuff against the insolent usurpers.” Voroshilov’s description of Russia’s past “enemies” seems fitting for today in showing Russia’s own actions face-to-face with the Ukraine. Moreover, the transfer of Crimea is an ironic action of sixty years ago, taken by the USSR to strengthen its control over Ukraine, that has come back to haunt Ukraine today.
On May 8, 1945, the European theater, which had faced one of the longest and bloodiest wars the world has ever know, finally went quiet. Occurring about a week after Adolf Hitler had committed suicide, the remaining leaders of the German High Command offered unconditional surrender to representatives of the Allied Powers. This event signified the start of a dramatically different and changing global climate, but more importantly, it also allowed for relative peace to occur across Europe. This peace never could have been secured had it not been for the actions of the Soviet Union and her willingness to overcome all odds.
The on the eve of war, the Soviet Union was facing several problems that kept them from overcoming their Nazi enemy. Some of the major difficulties that the Soviet Union faced had arisen from purges in Soviet leadership, denial of the onset of war with Germany, and the lack of training provided to soldiers. All of these problems had allowed the Nazis’ the dominate the Eastern Front at the beginning of World War II.
Stalin’s Great Purge, which was the supposed arrest of treasonous individuals, ultimately resulted in the imprisonment and death of the majority of his senior military staff (Nelson). This demoralized the soldiers of the Red Army and inhibited them from receiving invaluable technical knowledge on the specifics of war. This saw the commissioning of officers that were inexperienced and lacked basic leadership skills. According to Russian historian Gregory Freeze,”… on the eve of the war, three-quarters of Soviet commanders had only been in their post for less than a year” (378). With the outbreak of war, this substandard leadership saw major loss of life on the side of the Soviet Union as well as major military defeats that could have potentially shortened the length of the entire war (Geldren).
The Soviets believed there would be time to prepare for the war; some even went as far to claim that there wouldn’t be a war at all. There was a general denial throughout the Soviet Union that they would have insufficient time to prepare, much less lose the war (Nelson). Despite the positioning of the German military along the borders of the Soviet Union, Russians weren’t simply weren’t afraid. Some sources say that they had received as many as eighty warnings of impending attack from the Germans, yet nothing was done. Even the Russian Premier, Joseph Stalin, refused to accept the fact that the Germans wished to invade his country – he even promoted a cooperative foreign policy with the Nazis. Gregory Freeze states that,”Stalin issued orders to Soviet military commanders not to shoot even if the Germans penetrated Soviet Territory so as to avoid dangerous provocations” (375). The Russians were simply not convinced that the Germans would act aggressively towards them.
Lastly, the Red Army was ill-prepared to fight off a large scale invasion, and even more so to conduct an invasion of mainland Europe themselves. During this point in time, there was no other military that could be compared in skill and prowess than that of the Germans. Even Gregory Freeze agrees that, “At the operational and tactical levels of war, the German Wehrmacht was then the finest army in the world” (376). It would take years of training and hardening to get the Red Army even close to rivaling that of the German’s Wehrmacht.
Despite all of these disadvantages, the Soviet Union was able to eventually overcome these odds and eventually secure victory. It wasn’t until the Battle of Kursk that the Russians were able to begin to turn the tide of the war. Some historians even go as far to argue that this event, not the Invasion of Normandy, was the turning point for the entire war (Geldren). Regardless, one can begin to examine the various aspects that allowed the Soviet Union to ultimately defeat the German Third Reich. Some of these major aspects include the undermining of the German war effort, the establishment of the ‘Red Steamroller’ effect, and Allied assistance.
One of the major failures of the Nazis that the Soviet Union took advantage of was the fact that Adolf Hitler was in direct control of the German army and their stratagem. The Russians had learned their lesson in World War I when Tsar Nicholas II had taken the same measures – the Soviets simply exploited the fact that Hitler was now in the same position (Nelson). Gregory Freeze claims that through this,”The Germans undermined their own war effort” (383). The Soviets also took advantage of the fact that the Nazis’ genocidal policies took away from their own war effort. “[The] Nazis’ bestial treatment… alienated them,” states James von Geldern. Furthermore, the German invasion plan was based off of inaccurate sources of intelligence rather than solid sources (i.e. Stalingrad). All of these factors helped to undermine the German war effort.
There is also the fact that the Russians were able to put the ‘Red Steamroller’ into effect. Gregory Freeze puts it best when he says that,”Simply put, the Soviets out produced the Germans” (387). He continues this conversation by also stating that,”Between 1943 and 1945, Soviet factories turned out over 73,000 tanks and self-propelled guns, 82,000 aircraft and 324,000 artillery pieces” (387). This change in productivity was the result of Stalin’s appointment of thousands of talented individuals to leadership positions and, likewise, the removal of incompetent ones. Even Stalin himself emerged as a better leader by becoming, “… a symbol of national unity, an embodiment of the spirit of resistance” (Freeze, p. 388). The increase in productivity and industrialization of the Soviet Union definitely allowed them to overcome the Germans.
Finally, Allied assistance during the war alleviated some the stresses that the Soviet Union was facing. The countries of Great Britain, the United States, and France all helped the Soviet Union in two different ways: providing economic relief and military support. Gregory Freeze states that,”Western assistance allowed the Soviet Union to keep millions of people in uniform… whom it otherwise would have had to withdraw from the front to prevent a collapse of the economy” (390). The pressure along the Western Front also took a lot of German manpower away from Russia ; rather than facing the Nazis all-in-one, they were able to work with a small majority. Without the help of the Allies, the Soviet Union may never have succeeded in World War II.
Through hard-work and dedication, the Soviet Union was able to eventually overcome the Nazis. In truth, the Russians were ill-prepared to take on such an enemy, but they overcame this challenge by undermining the German war effort, increasing production with the idea of the ‘Red Steamroller’, and relying on Allied assistance. The combination of all of these aspects allowed the war to play out until February 4, 1945 when the Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin met in Yalta to discuss the conditions of Germany’s inevitable surrender (Geldren). The Soviet Union would see the end of the war once and for all.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.
Geldren, James von. “Battle of Kursk.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 18 June 2017, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1943-2/battle-of-kursk/
Geldren, James von. “Holocaust.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 18 June 2017, soviethistory.msu.edu/1943-2/holocaust/.
Geldren, James von. “The Strange Alliance.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 18 June 2017, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1943-2/the-strange-alliance/the-strange-alliance-images/
Nelson, Amy. “Twentieth-Century Russia.” HIST-3644. Virginia Tech, Virginia. 2018
This image features General Lavr Kornilov (August 18, 1870 – April 13 1918) who served during World War I and the Russian Civil War 4,5. However, he is most notably remembered for his attempted coup d’état of Alexander Kerensky’s Provisional Government. Alexander Kerensky (May 4, 1881 – June 11, 1970) himself had planned for the arrival of Kornilov to help strengthen the Provisional Government’s armed forces against that of the dissatisfied lower Russian classes. Since the July Days, the Russian populace had grown skeptical of Kerensky’s government and their ability to handle the economic and social problems of the country as a whole 3. After several correspondences between Kornilov and Kerensky, Kornilov thought it best to install a new regime with himself as a sort of dictator over the Russian Empire 2. The Petrograd Soviet, a city council in Petrograd, were warned of Kornilov’s treachery. They were quickly and efficiently able to muster their defenses against Kornilov. Ultimately, the whole affair ended in utter failure; General Kornilov himself was placed under arrest and sentenced to be incarcerated in the Bykhov Fortress. This event also saw an increase in the amount of distrust in Kerensky’s Provisional Government 4.
With the occurrence of this event, the Provisional Government lost all of its credibility and resulted in its ultimate demise 3. Vladimir Lenin (April 22, 1870 – January 21, 1924) seized power shortly after the Provisional Government’s fall through the Bolshevik October Revolution that occurred on November 7, 1917 1. A few months earlier, Kerensky had released several Bolshevik supporters after their arrest during the events of the July Days. During the Kornilov Affair, Kerensky had to plea to the Petrograd Soviet for their support – this led to the re-militarization of the Bolshevik Military Organization and the release of even more Bolsehvik political prisoners, including Leon Trotsky 4. With the release of these workers, the events of the October Revolution were able to take place. The failure of General Kornilov allowed for the success of the Bolshevik Party to take control of the whole of Russia 3. I believe it was best put by Steven Brust when he stated that, “One man’s mistake is another’s opportunity.” This was definitely the case for the Bolsheviks’ and their October Revolution.
I would personally like to know more about the actual events that had ensued during Kornilov’s Revolt. It was stated several times throughout my research that the event was very fast-paced and confusing for most of the constituents involved. Some initial questions that arose in my mind include:
Why did General Kornilov forsake his position and attempt to overthrow the Provisional Government?
How did the correspondence between Alexander Kerensky and General Kornilov affect his decision to perform a coup d’état?
To what extent did the Bolsheviks’ influence the outcome of this event?
Ultimately, more research into the subject will need to be completed before any of these questions can be answered. Maybe one day we can fully appreciate and understand the full scope of how General Kornilov affected the take over of Russia by the Bolsheviks’.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863–1944) was a famous pioneer in the art of photography during the early 20th century in Russia. Using his background in chemistry, he was able to give color to images that were initially black and white by utilizing a special technique that he coined himself. He begun his career in photography in 1905, however the majority of the pictures he took are dated between 1908 and 1915. This was made possible through the support by Tsar Nicholas II and the Ministry of Transportation.
The image above was taken in the small town of Topornia which is located on the banks of Silvers Lake. This image features a young, Russian girl that is garbed in traditional clothing wore by peasants at the time this photograph was taken. She is showcasing a plate of wild strawberries that she had collected herself. This image was one in a series conducted by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii that sought to reveal the lives of the ‘common folk’. In his overarching goal of exploring the Russian Empire as a whole, he wanted to interact with the citizenry and gain a grasp of their livelihoods. If you look closely at this image, it is apparent that the town of Topornia is suffering economically due to the collapsing buildings in the background. Keeping this in mind, the girl herself seems to be well kept and fed – this suggests that she and her family may not be experiencing such hardships as the rest of the town.
After taking a look at this image, several questions arise. What was happening economically during this time period? What was this girl, and her family, doing to avoid such an economic disaster? How long and to what extent did this affect the rest of the Russian Empire? Did Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii capture any more pictures of this economic upheaval and its effects on the peasantry? All of these questions still inquire further research.