The Soviet Union: A Very Short Introduction
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The Soviet Union at its height occupied one sixth of the world's land mass, encompassed fifteen republics, and stretched across eleven different time zones. More than twice the size of the United States, it was the great threat of the Cold War until it suddenly collapsed in 1991. Now, almost twenty years after the dissolution of this vast empire, what are we to make of its existence? Was it a heroic experiment, an unmitigated disaster, or a viable if flawed response to the modern world? Taking a fresh approach to the study of the Soviet Union, this Very Short Introduction blends political history with an investigation into Soviet society and culture from 1917 to 1991. Stephen Lovell examines aspects of patriotism, political violence, poverty, and ideology, and provides answers to some of the big questions about the Soviet experience. Throughout, the book takes a refreshing thematic approach to the history of the Soviet Union and it provides an up-to-date consideration of the Soviet Union's impact and what we have learnt since its end.
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reality. But the primacy of the future was unquestioned in the culture of the time. All Soviet people were made aware of where they stood on the communist timeline that stretched from backwardness and benightedness to modernity and socialism. Peasant women from Central Asia were at one extreme, high-achieving young male workers at the other. The signiﬁcance of the 1936 constitution does not lie in its truthvalue. It stands in the same relationship to Soviet reality as The Radiant Path. Universal
weeks his achievement gave rise to a nationwide campaign that bore his name. The result was an epidemic of record-breaking workers in all sectors: by December 1935, a list of their feats in heavy industry alone ran to two volumes. While the urge to compete and to streamline production no doubt gave the Stakhanovite movement some of its momentum, the material incentives were also considerable. Mass media coverage dwelled on the rewards that high-achieving workers stood to gain: besides fatter wage
Soviet family contained 2.8 children in 1959 but only 2.4 in 1970 (though ﬁgures varied substantially between republics and between urban and rural populations). The divorce rate shot up after legislation was liberalized in 1965. Within a few years it was around 3.5 per 1,000 (or more than three times the rate in 1940). Yet, in a dismaying reminder of the limits of modernization in Soviet society, a high divorce rate and widespread tolerance of early sexual activity did not bring in their wake
territory of the old Russian empire. Only the 98 more developed westernmost nations – Poland, Finland, and the Baltic states – had managed to stay ﬁrmly out of the union. How did this reincorporation occur? But to view the Bolshevik slogan of self-determination as a Machiavellian plan to reconstitute the Russian empire under a different name is too simple. This phrase did not provide much in the way of practical guidance. The disintegrating Russian empire contained numerous national or
circumstance is the fact that many of the men who led the Bolshevik revolution had spent their maturity in Western Europe. Between 1900 and April 1917, Lenin led a peripatetic existence in Switzerland, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Britain, and elsewhere, returning to Russia only in an unsuccessful bid to shake up the revolutionary politics of 1905–7. The Bolsheviks’ opponents would conclude from such prolonged absences that they were at best out of touch with Russian realities and at worst agents of