How popular was the Soviet Union?

How popular was the Soviet Union?

How much popular support was there in the Soviet Union? How did this popular support increase and decrease with time?

Here is an infographic that sort of summarizes my question. It shows that even at the point of collapse, some 70% of Soviet citizens supported the continued governance by the communist party within the Soviet Union. However, I have doubts about the validity of this information. Also, this only shows a single year, not how popular attitudes increased and decreased as the years passed.

What does scholarly research say about this?


Background:

When I was a US 3rd grader (1983?), my social studies class informed me that "nobody" in the Soviet Union liked their government. This was obviously false information; at the very least, at least one person would like it, right?

As a 7th grader, my history class talked about how the party members were rich and liked to be in power, but everyone else hated the government. How could such a small group hold so much power? The incorrect answer that my classmates came up with was that all Russians were cowards who hated freedom. This is obviously wrong; WWII and the Sputnik were great refutations.

Later in life(~2010), I had a Russian friend whose old mother had come to live with him in the US. She was a diehard anti-American; she loved the Soviet Union her whole life, and had always been poor. So at least one non-powerful non-party member supported the government.

From my reading of how the communist party and government was structured, and how reforms were implemented, it appears that many people - above 60% - supported the revolution and subsequent economic organization. However, I'd love to see some peer-reviewed data.


Please note, this question asks for historical truth and not repetition of the ugly cold war propaganda some of us grew up with.

Some possible sources:

  • Is there a peer reviewed publication where scholars have attempted to make an objective estimate?
  • Did the CIA or British Intelligence declassify their factual estimates? What about other military intelligence?
  • Did the Communist leadership factually study this? If so, has this data been released?
  • Marketing Estimates by McDonalds, Coca-Cola and other companies?

Instead of the "popular" vs "not popular" dichotomy, the question asks "how popular." I am also interested in how much support existed as the years passed.

(Edit: It has been noted that it will be impossible to produce exact, perfect numbers. )


This is another answer of mine based on the statistics released by the Levada Center, a leading Russian social study organization.

They conducted polls on the popularity of Lenin and the USSR since the 1990s.

Do you regret the breakup of the USSR? Yes-No-Not know. In March 1992 66% regretted the breakup the USSR which is thrice those who supported it. The number never fell much below 50%.

What role played Lenin in the history of our country? Totally positive - More positive than not - More negative than not - Totally negative - Don't know

Do you think, was it possible to avoid dissolution of the USSR? It was inevitable - It was possible to avoid - Don't know


What you learnt in school seems to be incorrect when compared with my knowledge of the matter (as a Russian)

As far as I know, the Soviet rule was overwhelmingly popular in the USSR, except possibly the Baltic republics and Western Ukraine. It was somewhat less popular with humanitarian elites though (show business, writers etc.). I want also point out that even the most of those who disliked Socialism or the Communist Party, supported the existence of the USSR as a united country because of patriotism, according to my impression.

Even when the Perestroika was started, the government never said it would be transition to Capitalism, they said it would be strengthening of Socialism and return to Lenin's principles. Only when it was too late most people realized they were fooled, based on what I perceived.

So when you ask whether the people supported "reforms", well, maybe 60% supported it but because they supported the government and the government said the reforms were to improve Socialism.

As to the question, whether party officials were rich, I would refer you to this answer I wrote at Quora.


Images

1. A poster with Gorbachev in front of Lenin.


2. Perestroika. All power to the Soviets (Councils). (Notice how they use the Lenin's slogan of 1917, known from the school desk and hammer and sickle to justify the removal of Communist party from power.)


3. Perestroika is the continuation of work of the October (revolution). (The symbol of the October Revolution, Aurora cruiser is displayed.)


4. Leninism is the ideological source of Perestroika on the Pravda ("Truth") newspaper building.

(The guys are holding the plaque saying "LIE". Some people had realized they were being fooled quite early.)


5. Again, Bolshevik slogan from 1917 Land to the peasants, even written in old orthography, is used to justify introduction of private property on land.


I want add this, third answer to clarify some issues with terminology and how the things were run in the USSR.

First of all I want to point out that I have learned from the Internet that in the USA there is common sentiment of some distrust of the government, a dichotomy between "we" and the government. But in the USSR there was no such dichotomy. The government was "we". The system of feedback in the Soviet system was overwhelming. If you wanted something concrete done and it was uncontroversial, you would have it done, even if it was formally illegal or against the regulations. A petition usually was more than enough. A petition from an initiative group or a merited citizen was excessive. So, people generally had no grounds to criticize the government: if someone had good arguments for something changed, it would be changed. Any idea would be heard. Coming up with ideas was encouraged. Criticizing the government thus would be like criticizing themselves. At worst they would blame some certain official who barred the idea.

The plaque says "Here works the member of the Supreme Council of the Ukrainian SSR".

The system of government in the USSR closely followed the people's mentality and their understanding of what is right. But what changed with time is that while in the early USSR the system mostly followed the mentality of the whole people, towards the end of the USSR the main reference base became ethnic Russians and ethnic Russian mentality.

It is also worth to note here that many Communist moral principles as implemented in the USSR were borrowed from the moral of the Russian Orthodox Christianity and pre-Communist Russian mentality. Simply put one can argue Communism in Russia was just Christianity without Christ, the similar way some argue the modern ideology in China is just Confucianism painted red and the American ideology is just disguised Protestantism. Thus these principles were quite uncontroversial among the general public.

That said, I would say that Socialist principles and Socialist understanding of justice were quite universally accepted, like say "democracy" principles are accepted in the USA. There were people who would advocate for Capitalism or Monarchy but they were fringe, like those who advocates for Communism or neo-Nazis in the USA.

So even those who criticized the social order of the USSR would usually bring arguments of the kind that the things were wrong because they did not follow the principles of Socialism. Compare medieval Europe here: there, you usually would not call to replace Christianity with some other religion, but would say this and that bad thing is un-Christian.

So if there were things which were disliked, the people would not call to overthrow the whole social order, but to improve the existing one, similarly how in the USA one would not call to overthrow Democracy because of police misbehavior, but would rather say the police's bad behavior was undemocratic.

Another thing to understand is that the Communist party was not really a political force in the USSR. It was rather a structure of the state. So the very question about whether one supports the rule of CPSU (which was reflected in the constitution) would look very strange, like if an American was asked whether he is content with the idea of being ruled by the Congress and Senate. Well, maybe someone would say he would prefer a queen, but this would not be quite a common answer. More often you would hear the wishes that bad and corrupt people should not be accepted into the party.

A more concrete question would be whether one supports the current government and certain personalities in it. Here, the answers could vary a lot. If you ask somebody in the US whether he supports Democracy and whether he supports Obama, the results will be completely different. Similarly, in the USSR there were a lot of people who disliked this or that minister or party official. Among the USSR leaders the least popular were Khrushchev and Gorbachev.

But here again, the majority of people would be loyal. This is because most people are unpolitical. Another feature of Russian mentality is that there a widespread type of people who would support any government irrespective of its policy, so they now support the Capitalist government the same way they supported the government under the USSR. In absence of central media who criticized the government, the popular approval of any current government in the USSR was greater than approval rating of the most of the US presidents.

That's why the whole thing of transition towards Capitalism was done from top to bottom, by the incumbent government and masked with Leninist rhetoric. When the majority of the people realized we were going in a wrong direction, it was already too late: Gorbachev had made himself invulnerable by becoming the president. Before him all Soviet leaders could be ousted at any time, the way it happened with Khrushchev, but the president office introduced by Gorbachev had a fixed term, and the impeachment procedure was made highly difficult. Thus the August coup of 1991 followed.

Now, last thing to clarify. One can ask, what Russians thought about better economic development in the Capitalist countries compared to the USSR, higher quality of life etc.

Here the answers can vary. The official propaganda said the following things: it is not that good in the West for the poor; the wealthy Capitalist countries exploit the poor Capitalist countries, that's why they are rich etc. There were people who believed this propaganda and those who did not.

Now, among those who did not, the most common explanation would be along the lines "it is because we (Russians) cannot work well, because of our mentality", and not a blame on Socialism or the government. Other kind of people would say "if Stalin were alive, we would now live better, it was Khrushchev and the others who messed up the things".

Moreover, Capitalism was considered simply morally wrong, even if efficient. So even if you would succeed to convince a person that Capitalism is more efficient than Socialism, a common reply would be "Well, maybe, but it is unjust and immoral". Imagine you would try to convince somebody in the USA that a dictatorship like in Saudi Arabia is more efficient and people there live better. Most likely a common person would reply "Okay, but it is unjust and immoral".


Now, about the dissolution of the USSR. While in ethnic republics there could be politicians who advocated the secession or dissolution of the USSR, in Moscow not a single politician could advocate it because it would be a political suicide.

Even Yeltsin later claimed he was not for the dissolution of the USSR, but that the USSR could not be saved.

Even the far-right Monarchist Neo-Nazi group "Memory" were against the dissolution of the USSR, rather calling it a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy.

The same goes for the Zhirinovsky's Liberal-Democratic party, and quite every other political group.


I'd like to address the issue of the 1991 referendum. Your (otherwise excellent) question misinterprets it completely.

In brief

The referendum was not about "continued governance by the communist party" because by the time the referendum was held the communist party had already effectively abdicated its power - the train had certainly left that station by then.

What the referendum did show was that a majority of Soviet people were in favour of retaining a federal state with an unspecified system of government rather then breaking it up to create a number of smaller independent countries, as had eventually transpired in reality.

The end of communist governance in the USSR

The communist party (CPSU) high-handedly ran the Soviet state ever since its inception. This was formally acknowledged in Article 6 of the Soviet constitution of 1977 (the earlier 1936 constitution had a similar article too, of course). But during perestroika the reins of power began to slip from the party's grasp and on March 14, 1990 this article was amended from the clear-cut statement of communist paramountcy:

The leading and guiding force of the Soviet society and the nucleus of its political system, of all state organisations and public organisations, is the Communist Party of the Soviet Union [… ] The Communist Party [… ] determines the general perspectives of the development of society and the course of the home and foreign policy of the USSR [… ]

to the toothless platitude:

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union, other political parties as well as labor, youth and other public organisations and mass movements [… ] participate in the policy-making of the Soviet state [… ]

This was no trifle - it was the main demand of the newly-formed democratic opposition movement and Gorbachev's giving in to it was a clear indication that the party's grip on power was effectively broken.

Indeed, the very same bill which abolished the party's monopoly on power introduced the new office of President of the USSR, to be filled by Gorbachev who urgently needed a new job title. Clearly, being merely Secretary General of the CPSU was no longer enough to command full obedience.

The referendum question: another look

If you will now reread the referendum question, you'll find that it does not mention the CPSU or communism at all! Rather, it reads:

Do you consider it necessary to preserve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, which will fully guarantee the rights and freedoms of all nationalities?

Another telling fact is that if one read's carefully the wiki page on the referendum, it turns out that originally there were 5 questions planned, rather than one. Question 2 and 3 were to refer to the preservation, respectively, of the socialist system and of the Soviets. However, all the extra questions were dropped from the final ballot. Probably because the organizers did not feel they would be able to secure a majority on them.

The struggle to preserve the federal state

During 1990 and 1991 the Soviet state went into implosion mode. Long-repressed ethnic rivalries escalated into violence, pogroms, and open warfare. The federal leadedrship, no longer sure of itself, tried half-hearted repression and then when things went sour, reneged on its own repressive measures, blaming local army commanders. This cost it its credit with the military and police.

The regional elites now sensed weakness on behalf of the central government and saw an opportunity to assert themselves. Thus during 1990 many republics of the USSR either seceded or asserted their "sovereignty", finding themselves at loggerheads with the central authorities. Which laws were now to take precedence? The federal or the republican ones?

Gorbachev, an astute enough politician, saw what was going on, saw that the old Soviet system was by now beyond saving and took a reasonable step: he invited those republics who have not seceded (9 out of 15) to negotiate a new federal compact. In effect, the Soviet Union was going to be replaced by a new creation, the Union of Sovereign States.

The referendum was a political move by Gorbachev to shore up support for the federal center vis-a-vis the republics and to leverage it to gain more power during the negotiations for the drafting of the USS. It probably achieved its purpose.

In the event, the new federal compact was to the signed on August 20, 1991. A day before that, on August 19, a group of communist blowhards in Gorbachev's government tried to turn the clock back with their infamous abortive putsch. In the aftermath, both Gorbachev's political reputation and the idea of a federation took such a hit that the final scuttling in December 1991 was almost unavoidable.


There are four questions in one.

People could like or dislike to certain degree the declared base principles of the state and society, the currently declared principles, the long-term real principles, or the current real principles. All of these were integrated in our minds (I was born in Moscow in 1962) as our views on USSR. And those four aspects were connected and dependent on each other in every mind.

Practically, I have seen only one person in all my life till about 1987 that disliked the declared base principles of USSR. I think, that is sufficient statistics for this aspect. That single person was a man of 92 years old who started his life and work before 1917. And he didn't tell his view openly to me, 10-years old then. I merely deciphered his real views later, probably erroneously.

As for the view on the real life in USSR in long term, "simple" people were not so simple as educated layer. And all of them knew about horrors of the war and regime of 30-50ties. They did not know statistics, of course, but they knew what happened to surrounding of their family. And that was enough. People on lower Volga/Don knew about the Novocherkassk rebellion, and Leningrad inhabitants knew that hunger in the blockade Leningrad was not for everybody. Maybe the educated layer was less wise, maybe among them there were less people, who were victims, or maybe they simply shut their mouths by a piece of good bread with caviar (in Moscow, mostly), but among them there was many people, who thought that the past was OK, safe some single problems. And these views did not change in families, maybe, only due to dying off. So, mostly people dislike the real past of USSR. But here the majority was not so absolute.

As for newly declared principles, such as "the economics must be economical" of Brezhnev, struggle against slacking of Andropov or back to socialism/strengthening the law/acceleration early programs of Gorbi, people simply didn't pay much attention to them. It was merely a reason to speak about and to create a next set of anecdotes. Why? That will be answered in the next paragraph.

Mostly people are not interested in principles, but in the reality. But how can they evaluate it? Only by comparison to other realities or to some virtual realities.

Only very few people visited foreign countries, but when they visited much more poor countries, those visitors lived there much better than aborigines, and in the richer countries they saw how much better other people live. So, with so limited channel for information, the people in USSR were getting information, that it is BETTER abroad. All wanted to go abroad. There was an anecdote about that:

"Some pretty singer-girl visited USSR and met with Brezhnev. He liked her and asked what she wants. She asked him to open the borders. "Oh, dear! Your feelings to me are so strong, that you want to remain here with me, only you and me, only two of us in the whole land?!"

The base problem was, that they compared what they saw in life with what they read in books and saw in movies and were taught at school. The ideals grew higher and higher and people saw greater and greater discrepancy between theory and reality. Everybody knew that the current state simply won't run. The reason why they thought so, were different, and often erroneous. My mother, when visiting as a correspondent, the Priosersk region, was asked by a party leader of the region, if some serious changes are awaited, for it cannot go this way. I was asked in 1983 in the train by a couple of Belorussian teachers, when the revolution will come.

Practically everybody hated the state of the USSR. But they wanted it to change. The USSR as such was considered as a given thing, as a frame, and they simply didn't realize that it could disappear. Even in 1989, when I visited my friend, a member of Ukrainian Language Society, (was considered as an utter nationalist one), no one thought about separation, only language autonomy was in question.

The change in that view was created by Gorbi in this very 1989, I have seen it myself. When Gorbi said: "The position of Lithuainian delegation is irrelevant"… Millions of people sitting at their TVs became separatists. The sense of USSR existence disappeared.

So, it was not a continuous, but an abrupt change in views.


This looks like an interesting question; also, one that will be nearly impossible to answer. Yet, for some reason I figured I would try to add some more input: mainly because the other replies, as good as they are, focus on the Russian SFSR, while this was (nominally) an equal to fourteen others. Modern Russia is one of these fifteen and, therefore, cannot be representative of the others even though the Russian SFSR had a higher population count than all the other SFSR's put together (at least in 1989).

One of the problems with this type of retrospective popularity assessments is that people are notoriously biased when thinking about their own opinions (longer take on this topic as well as perception of things in general is by Kahneman). Also, our memory of how good the past was always gets better. Hence, while the answer by Anixx is impressive with what it quotes, I wouldn't explicitly trust those numbers. The numbers for the early 1990's are likely to be a lot more accurate than the later ones, and one should always try to understand the immediate situation in which those polls were taken.


So, what sort of evidence do we have?

  1. The Bolsheviks won the Civil War.
    • They managed this because they had popular support which was greater than that given to the Whites (mostly, I'd say, because of apparent bad White propaganda and their generals' stupidity, but that's a different topic).
    • This doesn't mean that the Reds managed to mobilize all of the public (or even the majority), but it does mean that they managed to mobilize more of the public than the alternatives.
    • Given that the opposition was linked to the Russian Empire and the nobility, the class which had directly led to defeats in 1905 and 1917, it is perhaps not surprising they also lost the Civil War.
  2. Nationalist troops were able to fight for and win the independence of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland even though Bolshevik rebellions took place in these lands.
    • Finland had been ruled autonomously throughout the Russian period from 1809 to 1917.
    • Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania had an effective special autonomous system of government which was in effect from 1721 to the end of the 19th century (with a small break at the end of the 18th century).
    • Poland had a history of independent government which extended from the 11th to the 18th century.
    • This means that all of the territories that managed to gain independence from the "Russian Empire" had a history of government (which is not to say that nowhere else in the Empire was this the case, e.g., Georgia and Armenia which had been independent, but that this was of assistance in the national mindsets).
  3. The above countries managed to maintain their independence (for variable lengths of time).
    • Finland has retained its independence since gaining it though the Winter War and the Continuation War were attempts in which the Soviets tried to re-establish control-they failed, but Finland gave up territory.
    • Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were occupied by the USSR in 1939 (also along with some territorial changes in their borders).
    • Poland was destroyed as an independent state in 1939, but re-created as an Eastern bloc country in 1945 with nominal freedoms. As they were not subsumed, they don't much concern us beyond this point.
  4. It is impossible to give "values of popular support" for events which caused the subsumption of the Baltic republics in the USSR.
    • The Soviet strategy to offer pacts of mutual assistance, ask for bases to defend against Hitler's Germany, incite popular unrest against local governments, and demands for a new government to be nominated were generally effective (Vares, Kirhenšteins, and Sniečkus).
    • This was followed by a new (generally one-sided) election after which the pro-Soviet victors asked for admission to the USSR.
    • That this was effective doesn't mean that this was popular, given the main reasons armed resistance was not offered link to the aforementioned bases which had given the Red Army the rear of these countries.
  5. The USSR employed methodology to deal with local anti-Soviet elements.
    • That there was a substantial anti-Soviet element in these countries is demonstrated by the various uprisings (e.g., June Uprising) which coincided with the German invasion and the post-German retreat/defeat combat.
    • The post-war rise of the Forest Brethren who were on the run from the Soviet authorities. In the Estonian SSR (regrettably there are no English subtitles for that video, but it is really good), these men continued fighting into the 1970's with the last one killed in combat in 1978. Naturally, the majority was captured or fell well before this time, but it is clear that at least the rural population would have given considerable support and supplies to these people for their struggle to be possible for such a long time.
    • The Soviet deportations as carried out in 1941 and between 1945 and 1952 in all three Baltic countries were aimed at weakening the anti-Soviet population in these countries, incl. the people who supported the above-mentioned Forest Brethren.

As the Caucasus and Central Asia is not my speciality, I am not going to focus there with regards to these points but will mention them below.

The above describes a military occupation that was later incorporated into the civilian government. There is no way to estimate the support at these stages because the government was interested solely in creating the appearance of overwhelming popular support for the Soviet Union.


Where we can estimate the popular opinion to a greater degree is in the process of the restoration of independence in these three countries. Also relevant is that the Baltic republics, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova boycotted the referendum on the renewal of the USSR in a new form (described in some of the other answers).

  1. In the Lithuanian 1990 elections, candidates endorsed by Sąjūdis, the group that led the charge towards regaining independence, won 91 out of 135 seats. This is probably the best poll one can take in Lithuania, giving 67% in 1990.
    • The declaration of restoration of independence passed 124:0:6:0 (for:against:abstained:did not participate), a far higher rate.
    • The independence referendum carried by 93.2%.
  2. In the Latvian 1990 elections, the Popular Front gained 68.2% of the votes against the Communists' 21.5% with 10.3% undecided. Turnout 81.3%.
    • The declaration of restoration of independence passed 138:0:1:62 (for:against:abstained:did not participate).
    • The independence referendum carried by 74.9%.
  3. In the Estonian 1990 elections, the Popular Front and pro-Independence forces won 70 seats against the Communists' 25 with 10 independents for a 105 seat assembly. This reflects a pro-tally of approx. 66.7%.
    • The declaration of restoration of independence passed 69:0:0:36 (for:against:abstained:did not participate).
    • The independence referendum carried by 78.2%.

These are all similar numbers of roughly two-thirds' voters pro-restoration of independence amongst the population.

Further:

  • Armenia's 1991 independence referendum carried by 99.5%.
  • Azerbaijan's 1991 referendum on the future of the USSR carried by 94.1%.
  • Azerbaijan's 1991 independence referendum carried by 99.8%.
  • Georgia's 1991 independence referendum carried by 99.5%.
  • Moldava's 1990 Supreme Soviet election doesn't say numbers, but the Popular Front is said to have carried the majority.
  • Turkmenistan's 1991 independence referendum carried by 94.0%.
  • Ukraine's 1991 independence referendum carried by 92.3%.
  • Uzbekistan's 1991 independence referendum carried by 98.3%.

Some of the other answers have described why the member republics opted for a clear severing of ties after the August putch failed.


Almost none of the numbers from above are ideal, with probably none of these elections actually offering a poll of what the population actually thought of the Soviet Union (as opposed to what they thought about self-government, etc). Nevertheless, the rapidity with which many states were adamant to (re-)establish self-government should indicate that a different system was desired.


From 1921 to 1991 the RSFSR and later Soviet Union successfully maintained state hegemony. To this extent it was "popular." This was counteracted by repeated political strikes and insurrections. These were generally typical of advanced industrial societies:

  • Metropolitan insurrections were proletarian with communist demands, driven largely by emiseration combined with effective organisation and the belief of the possibility of victory. (Kronstadt; https://libcom.org/library/1962-novocherkassk-tragedy )
  • Rural and peripheral insurrections against the collapse of pre-capitalist social relations in the village
  • Nationalist insurrections in the periphery

However, as noted by Simon Pirani (using Bolshevik sampling of workplace soviet votes), workers in 1920-21 saw the Bolshevik party as a potential mediator of their demands.

For Andrle, the proletariat of the 1930s entered into a bargain about increased consumption with limited output. These bargains were whittled down during the Great Patriotic War in an agreement about survival in the face of a genocidal fascist enemy.

While insurrection and strikes reduced over the period 1921-1960, informal go slows and work to rule (you say sharpen the pencil for 15 seconds, even if it results in a nub: have a 15 second sharpen) increased. This is evidenced by decreased labour engagement and productivity increases post 1960. (However, similar statistics are observable in the West 1960-1990).


Question: How much popular support was there in the Soviet Union? How did this popular support increase and decrease with time?

I would argue your elementary school teacher was mostly correct. The vast state bureaucracy employed to destroy the lives of millions of Russians who did voice criticism of the state is evidence that the soviet state wasn't very popular. That a well informed empowered populous capable of participating in such a poll was viewed as a threat to the Soviet state. A state which never submitted itself to a popular referendum while coming to power through force of arms.

There were no good polls during the rule of the soviets to say how popular or unpopular the state was because expressing a negative view of the state was reason for torture, imprisonment in a near arctic prison (gulag), or death which millions of soviet citizens experienced. That in an of itself is evidence that the Soviet Union did not stay in power due to popular support; and took very seriously any citizen who even tangentially expressed opposition to their rule.

Political Repression in the Soviet Union
Throughout the history of the Soviet Union, millions of people suffered political repression, which was an instrument of the state since the October Revolution. It culminated during the Stalin era, then declined, but it continued to exist during the "Khrushchev Thaw", followed by increased persecution of Soviet dissidents during the Brezhnev stagnation, and it did not cease to exist until late in Mikhail Gorbachev's rule when it was ended in keeping with his policies of glasnost and perestroika.

There are famous examples of this political persecution.

  • Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. imprisoned for 10 years in Gulag for writing a letter which criticized Joseph Stalin.
  • Varlam Shalamov - In 1943 Shalamov was sentenced to another term(in Gulag), this time for 10 years, under Article 58 (anti-Soviet agitation), for having called anti-Soviet writer Ivan Bunin a "classic Russian writer".
  • Osip Mandelstam - Imprisoned for criticizing Stalin, died in the Gulag; Mandelstam's own prophecy was fulfilled: "Only in Russia is poetry respected, it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?"
  • Nikolai Vavilov - Famous Botanist who was denounced by Stalin for believing in Mendelian Genetics. Died in Gulag
  • Georgy Zhzhonov - Famous actor, spent 15 years in the Gulag

From Comments:
From - axsvl77 The question calls for a % of the population backed up by a citeable source. Have you provided this?

If someone asked a question why did Napoleon ride dinosaurs into battle, a reasonable response is dinosaurs died 65 million years before Napoleon lived and died out in the late Cretaceous Period. Thus Napoleon could not have ridden any such beast into battle.

This question asks for, as you say a cit-able poll on the popularity of the Soviet Union. My response is no such poll exists due to the nature of the totalitarian regime which did not rule or rely on popular support. Also confirming no other answer has cited a source from the Soviet era and that previous answers rather cite personal opinions and reference post soviet artifacts.

Even if such a poll was conducted in the Soviet Union. Given there was no ability to inform oneself not under the direct control of the state. And given that state demonstrated a proclivity to imprison, torture, and murder folks, throughout it's history, and on a scale of millions. Folks who even entertained the most mild criticism were candidates for such treatment. Such a poll would reflect the effectiveness of the state's control over public opinion and not reflect an informed public's views.


75% of Russians Say Soviet Era Was 'Greatest Time' in Country’s History – Poll

Russians have expressed increasingly positive opinions about the Soviet Union over the years, with nostalgia toward the U.S.S.R. and approval of Stalin hitting record highs in the past year or so. Andrei Nikerichev / Moskva News Agency

Three out of four Russians think the Soviet era was the best time in their country&rsquos history, according to a survey published by the independent Levada Center pollster on Tuesday.

Russians have expressed increasingly positive opinions about the Soviet Union over the years, with nostalgia toward the U.S.S.R. and approval of Stalin hitting record highs in the past year or so.

Young People Take Back Soviet 'Kommunalkas'

Just 18% of Russian respondents said they disagree with the idea that the Soviet Union was the best time in their country&rsquos history, Levada said.

Despite this, only 28% of respondents said they would want to &ldquoreturn to the path that the Soviet Union was following.&rdquo Fifty-eight said they support Russia's &ldquoown, special way&rdquo and 10% said they preferred the European path of development.

When asked to name the things they associate with the Soviet era, 16% of respondents pointed to &ldquofuture stability and confidence&rdquo and 15% said they associated it with &ldquoa good life in the country.&rdquo Eleven percent said they associate the Soviet era with personal memories from their childhood or youth.

Only a small portion of those surveyed said they had negative associations with the Soviet Union. The economic deficit, long lines and coupons were named by 4% of respondents each, while the Iron Curtain, economic stagnation and political repressions were named by 1% each, the Levada Center said.

Levada sociologist Karina Pipiya told the Vedomosti business daily that while Russians tend to view the Soviet era in a mostly positive light, their personal memories of that time have largely been replaced by a general image of social stability, confidence in the future and a good life during that time.

According to Pipiya, nostalgia for the Soviet Union is more common among older generations, but it exists among younger people as well. The so-called romanticization of the Soviet past doesn&rsquot necessarily equal a wish for the Soviet system&rsquos return, Vedomosti quoted Pipia as saying.

Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior associate at the Carnegie Center Moscow think tank, told Vedomosti that the poll&rsquos results are a reflection of the public&rsquos sentiments toward Russia&rsquos current reality.

&ldquoThe Soviet era may not be seen as a time of high living standards, but as a time of justice. Today's state capitalism is viewed as unfair: the injustice is in distribution, access to goods and infrastructure. And this feeling is growing stronger,&rdquo Vedomosti quoted Kolesnikov as saying.


Lenin Years

The main feature of communist attitudes towards the arts and artists from 1918-1929 was relative freedom and significant experimentation with several different methods to find a distinctive Soviet style of art.

This was a time of relative freedom and experimentation for the social and cultural life of the Soviet Union. The government tolerated a variety of trends in these areas, provided they were not overtly hostile to the regime. In art and literature, numerous schools, some traditional and others radically experimental, proliferated. Communist writers Maxim Gorky and Vladimir Mayakovsky were active during this time, but other authors, many of whose works were later repressed, published work without socialist political content. Film, as a means of influencing a largely illiterate society, received encouragement from the state much of cinematographer Sergei Eisenstein’s best work dates from this period.

Under Commissar Anatoliy Lunacharskiy, education entered a phase of experimentation based on progressive theories of learning. At the same time, the state expanded the primary and secondary school system and introduced night schools for working adults. The quality of higher education was affected by admissions policies that preferred entrants from the proletarian class over those of bourgeois backgrounds, regardless of the applicants’ qualifications.

The state eased the active persecution of religion dating to war communism but continued to agitate on behalf of atheism. The party supported the Living Church reform movement within the Russian Orthodox Church in hopes that it would undermine faith in the church, but the movement died out in the late 1920s.

In family life, attitudes generally became more permissive. The state legalized abortion and made divorce progressively easier to obtain, while public cafeterias proliferated at the expense of private family kitchens.


Soviet Union

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia from 1922 to 1991. The name is a translation of the Russian: Союз Советских Социалистических Республик​, tr. Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik, abbreviated СССР, SSSR. The common short name is Soviet Union, from Советский Союз, Sovetskiy Soyuz. A soviet is a council, the theoretical basis for the socialist society of the USSR.

From 1945 until dissolution in 1991—a period known as the Cold War—the Soviet Union and the United States of America were the two world superpowers that dominated the global agenda of economic policy, foreign affairs, military operations, cultural exchange, scientific advancements including the pioneering of space exploration, and sports (including the Olympic Games and various world championships).

Initially established as a union of four Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR grew to contain 15 constituent or "union republics" by 1956: Armenian SSR, Azerbaijan SSR, Byelorussian SSR, Estonian SSR, Georgian SSR, Kazakh SSR, Kirghiz SSR, Latvian SSR, Lithuanian SSR, Moldavian SSR, Russian SFSR, Tajik SSR, Turkmen SSR, Ukrainian SSR and Uzbek SSR. (From annexation of the Estonian SSR on August 6, 1940 up to the reorganization of the Karelo-Finnish SSR into the Karelian ASSR on July 16, 1956, the count of "union republics" was sixteen.)

The Russian Federation is the successor state to the USSR. Russia is the leading member of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Alternate versions of the USSR have been discovered in the multiverse:

  • Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (The Endless War)
  • Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (Long live the Qing)
  • Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (Princip Arrest)
  • Union of Sovereign Socialist Republics (1983: Doomsday)
  • Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics (New Union)
  • Union of Soviet Republics (Soviet Freedom)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (14 points)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (American Commonwealth)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Atlantic Iron Curtain)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Broken Ice)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Central Victory)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Cherry, Plum, and Chrysanthemum)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Differently)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Finland Superpower)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Great Global War)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Multilateral Cold War)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Operation European Freedom)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Oswaldia)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (President Welles)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (PS-1)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (A Reich Disunited)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Russian Rise)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (The Soviet Dream)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (União de Sul África)
  • Union of Soviet Stalinist Republics (Red Scare World)
  • Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (Long live the Qing)
  • Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (Princip Arrest)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics  (Great Global War)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics  (Oswaldia)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Russian Rise)
  • Soviet Union (6-2-5 Upheaval)
  • Soviet Union (A World Divided)
  • Soviet Union (Russia Ruins Stuff)
  • The Soviet Union (Communist Victory)

A Lasting Legacy

Since WWII, commentators in the West have been critical of the T-34, some calling it &ldquothe most over-rated&rdquo tank of the war. Much detailed analysis has been expended on trying to show that the T-34&rsquos performance in action was really not that good.

However, the fact is that the Red Army won the war on the Eastern Front, largely thanks to its massive numbers of tanks. A phenomenal number of T-34s were built over its lifetime, over 84,000 in total, compared to just 1,347 of the celebrated German Tiger and 48,000 Shermans&mdashthe most-produced U.S. tank.

Red Army tank crews were badly trained and inexperienced compared to their German opponents. Their leadership was notoriously weak, partly as a result of Stalin&rsquos purges of the officer corps. So inevitably, the Soviets lost a lot of tanks. But they won the war because they were able to build more than they lost, thanks to the T-34&rsquos simple, practical design.


Population

The Soviet Union has a total population of 137,868,408 people, the majority of them being Russian, with the second most populated SSR being Ukraine. Most of the western Soviet Union is densely populated, with city sizes and density dropping off significantly east of the Ural Mountains and into Siberia. The largest cities are Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Kyiv. Ukraine and European Russia, especially cities surrounding Moscow and the Volga River, hold most of the cities with populations over 1 million and forms the developed, urbanized core of the entire Soviet Union. Soviet city names are not reverted to reflect name changes during the existence of the USSR (for example "Saint Petersburg" will not be renamed "Leningrad").


Totalitarianism

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Totalitarianism, form of government that theoretically permits no individual freedom and that seeks to subordinate all aspects of individual life to the authority of the state. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini coined the term totalitario in the early 1920s to characterize the new fascist state of Italy, which he further described as “all within the state, none outside the state, none against the state.” By the beginning of World War II, totalitarian had become synonymous with absolute and oppressive single-party government. Other modern examples of totalitarian states include the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler, the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong, and North Korea under the Kim dynasty.

What is totalitarianism?

Totalitarianism is a form of government that attempts to assert total control over the lives of its citizens. It is characterized by strong central rule that attempts to control and direct all aspects of individual life through coercion and repression. It does not permit individual freedom. Traditional social institutions and organizations are discouraged and suppressed, making people more willing to be merged into a single unified movement. Totalitarian states typically pursue a special goal to the exclusion of all others, with all resources directed toward its attainment, regardless of the cost.

How did totalitarianism get its name?

The term totalitario was used by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in the early 1920s to describe the new fascist state of Italy, which he further described as “all within the state, none outside the state, none against the state.” By the beginning of World War II, totalitarian had become synonymous with absolute and oppressive single-party government.

What are examples of totalitarian rule?

Notable examples of totalitarian states include Italy under Benito Mussolini (1922–43), the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin (1924–53), Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler (1933–45), the People’s Republic of China under the influence of Mao Zedong (1949–76), and North Korea under the Kim dynasty (1948– ). Examples of centralized rule dating further back in history that can be described as totalitarian include the Mauryan dynasty of India (c. 321–c. 185 BCE), the Qin dynasty of China (221–207 BCE), and the reign of Zulu chief Shaka (c. 1816–28).

What is the difference between totalitarianism and authoritarianism?

Both forms of government discourage individual freedom of thought and action. Totalitarianism attempts to do this by asserting total control over the lives of its citizens, whereas authoritarianism prefers the blind submission of its citizens to authority. While totalitarian states tend to have a highly developed guiding ideology, authoritarian states usually do not. Totalitarian states suppress traditional social organizations, whereas authoritarian states will tolerate some social organizations based on traditional or special interests. Unlike totalitarian states, authoritarian states lack the power to mobilize the entire population in pursuit of national goals, and any actions undertaken by the state are usually within relatively predictable limits.

In the broadest sense, totalitarianism is characterized by strong central rule that attempts to control and direct all aspects of individual life through coercion and repression. Historical examples of such centralized totalitarian rule include the Mauryan dynasty of India (c. 321–c. 185 bce ), the Qin dynasty of China (221–207 bce ), and the reign of Zulu chief Shaka (c. 1816–28). Nazi Germany (1933–45) and the Soviet Union during the Stalin era (1924–53) were the first examples of decentralized or popular totalitarianism, in which the state achieved overwhelming popular support for its leadership. That support was not spontaneous: its genesis depended on a charismatic leader, and it was made possible only by modern developments in communication and transportation.

Totalitarianism is often distinguished from dictatorship, despotism, or tyranny by its supplanting of all political institutions with new ones and its sweeping away of all legal, social, and political traditions. The totalitarian state pursues some special goal, such as industrialization or conquest, to the exclusion of all others. All resources are directed toward its attainment, regardless of the cost. Whatever might further the goal is supported whatever might foil the goal is rejected. This obsession spawns an ideology that explains everything in terms of the goal, rationalizing all obstacles that may arise and all forces that may contend with the state. The resulting popular support permits the state the widest latitude of action of any form of government. Any dissent is branded evil, and internal political differences are not permitted. Because pursuit of the goal is the only ideological foundation for the totalitarian state, achievement of the goal can never be acknowledged.

Under totalitarian rule, traditional social institutions and organizations are discouraged and suppressed. Thus, the social fabric is weakened and people become more amenable to absorption into a single, unified movement. Participation in approved public organizations is at first encouraged and then required. Old religious and social ties are supplanted by artificial ties to the state and its ideology. As pluralism and individualism diminish, most of the people embrace the totalitarian state’s ideology. The infinite diversity among individuals blurs, replaced by a mass conformity (or at least acquiescence) to the beliefs and behaviour sanctioned by the state.

Large-scale organized violence becomes permissible and sometimes necessary under totalitarian rule, justified by the overriding commitment to the state ideology and pursuit of the state’s goal. In Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, whole classes of people, such as the Jews and the kulaks (wealthy peasant farmers) respectively, were singled out for persecution and extinction. In each case the persecuted were linked with some external enemy and blamed for the state’s troubles, and thereby public opinion was aroused against them and their fate at the hands of the military and police was condoned.

Police operations within a totalitarian state often appear similar to those within a police state, but one important difference distinguishes them. In a police state, the police operate according to known and consistent procedures. In a totalitarian state, the police operate outside the constraints of laws and regulations, and their actions are purposefully unpredictable. Under Hitler and Stalin, uncertainty was interwoven into the affairs of the state. The German constitution of the Weimar Republic was never abrogated under Hitler, but an enabling act passed by the Reichstag in 1933 permitted him to amend the constitution at will, in effect nullifying it. The role of lawmaker became vested in one person. Similarly, Stalin provided a constitution for the Soviet Union in 1936 but never permitted it to become the framework of Soviet law. Instead, he was the final arbiter in the interpretation of Marxism–Leninism–Stalinism and changed his interpretations at will. Neither Hitler nor Stalin permitted change to become predictable, thus increasing the sense of terror among the people and repressing any dissent.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Brian Duignan, Senior Editor.


The Mir Years

The most successful space station built by the Soviet Union flew from 1986 through 2001. It was called Mir and assembled on orbit (much as the later ISS was). It hosted a number of crew members from the Soviet Union and other countries in a show of space cooperation. The idea was to keep a long-term research outpost in low-Earth orbit, and it survived many years until its funding was cut. Mir is the only space station that was built by one country's regime and then run by the successor to that regime. It happened when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 and formed the Russian Federation.


Economy of The Soviet Union - History - 1970–1990

The Era of Stagnation in the mid-1970s was aggravated by the war in Afghanistan in 1979 and led to a period of economic standstill between 1979 and 1985. Soviet military buildup at the expense of domestic development kept the USSR's GDP at the same level during the first half of the 1980s. The Soviet planned economy was not structured to respond adequately to the demands of the complex modern economy it had helped to forge. The massive quantities of goods produced often did not meet the needs or tastes of consumers. The volume of decisions facing planners in Moscow became overwhelming. The cumbersome procedures for bureaucratic administration foreclosed the free communication and flexible response required at the enterprise level for dealing with worker alienation, innovation, customers, and suppliers. During 1975–85, corruption and data fiddling became common practice among bureaucracy to report satisfied targets and quotas thus entrenching the crisis.

Awareness of the growing crisis arose initially within the KGB which with its extensive network of informants in every region and institution had its finger on the pulse of the nation. Yuri Andropov, director of the KGB, created a secret department during the 1970s within the KGB devoted to economic analysis, and when he succeeded Brezhnev in 1982 sounded the alarm forcefully to the Soviet leadership. Andropov's remedy of increased discipline, however, proved ineffective. It was only when Andropov's protege Gorbachev assumed power that a determined, but ultimately unsuccessful, assault on the economic crisis was undertaken.


Key Facts & Information

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

  • After the Bolshevik triumph at the end of October, 1917, Lenin needed the support of the Russians as the nation was near collapse. Despite the lack of experience in running a government, Lenin, Trotsky, and the Bolshevik Party were able to introduce new laws right after the revolution.
  • Initially, the Bolsheviks showed support of the Constituent Assembly. However, with the return of Lenin in 1917, he distinguished the party from other socialist- and bourgeois-dominated bodies, including the Provisional Government and the Constituent Assembly.
  • After the election, Lenin anonymously issued the Theses on the Constituent Assembly on December 26, 1917, in the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda. He argued that a republic of Soviets should not be composed of a Constituent Assembly with bourgeois members.
  • On July 16, 1918, the last of the Russian royal family was sentenced to death. Many believed that the impromptu murder was planned by the Bolsheviks. All of Nicholas II’s family, his wife, and children were executed.
  • In line with the promise of giving the Russian people peace, Bolshevik leader Lenin signed a peace treaty with the Central Powers composed of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire.
  • On December 22, 1917, open talks between representatives took place in Brest-Litovsk (modern-day Belarus).
  • On March 3, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed, and Russia was successful in exiting the war but faced humiliating territorial loss.
  • Between 1918 and 1920, the Russian Civil War occurred in opposition to Lenin’s regime. Groups composed of militarists, monarchists, and some foreigners were collectively known as the Whites, while Lenin supporters were the Reds.
  • After the Russian Civil War, the once small Bolshevik Party held total control of Russia. Moreover, Lenin recaptured several territories of the former Russian Empire and organized them into socialist republics all ruled by the Soviets.
  • By 1922, the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics, commonly known as the USSR, was established by Lenin. After two years, each Republic delegated representatives to the Congress of Soviets and agreed with a constitution.

THE UNION OF THE SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLICS

  • Aside from having a supreme governing body with the Central Executive Committee of the Congress, Russia became a Communist one-party state.
  • In 1924, upon the death of Lenin, Joseph Stalin rose to power, defeating expected successor Leon Trotsky. Stalin ruled as a dictator and employed a series of brutal policies, including the Great Purge.
  • From 1924 until Stalin’s death in 1953, the USSR changed from an agrarian society to an industrial and military nation.
  • In order to transform the Soviet Union, Stalin led a series of Five-Year Plans which included collectivization of agriculture and rapid industrialization. The succeeding Five-Year Plans still included industrialization plus the massive production of armaments.
  • Collectivization was Stalin’s policy, which initially encouraged the transformation of agriculture from private-capitalist to collective-socialist production.
  • Collective farms were called kolkhoz and were composed of 50 to 100 families that replaced outmoded farms owned by the peasantry. Richer peasants known as the kulaks were excluded.
  • In order to modernize agriculture, small farms were combined into one and machinery like tractors was used to boost productivity. All products were sold to the government and farmers received wages.
  • In 1930, many peasants rebelled against Stalin’s policy of Collectivization. They burned farmland and killed domestic animals rather than selling to the state.
  • The direct consequence was famine. After a year, Stalin doubled the policy this worsened the famine. Stalin blamed the kulaks who were sent to gulags. By 1939, 99% of farmland was collectivized and 90% of all production went to the government.
  • Dekulakization was Stalin’s response to the kulaks’ organized protests against Collectivization. There were also reports of kolkhoznik (collective farmers) attacked by non-collective neighbors.
  • During the initial years of the Second World War, Stalin signed a nonaggression pact with Adolf Hitler with hopes that the Fuhrer would spare the USSR. However, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa against the USSR. In response, Stalin made an alliance with the U.S. and Britain.
  • After the surrender of the Nazis, Stalin felt uncomfortable with his alliance. By 1948, he installed communist governments in Eastern Europe.
  • As a result of Communist expansionism, the U.S. and Britain were threatened. In response, NATO or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in 1949.
  • By 1955, the USSR and its allies in the Eastern bloc formed the Warsaw Pact which set the stage for the Cold War. The Cold War lasted until 1991, the same year of the union’s collapse.
  • Upon the death of Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev consolidated power and became the premier of the USSR.
  • Under Khrushchev, tensions of the Cold War rose. He instigated the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, against U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
  • Khrushchev became known for his de-Stalinization policy. Through a speech, he criticized Stalin’s regime. Among his policies included the release of political prisoners, loosening of censorship, and closing of gulags or labor camps.
  • After the success of the Soviet’s Sputnik 1 and Yuri Gagarin’s mission, technological rivalry against the United States began with the Space Race.

THE USSR AND GORBACHEV

  • After the costly space race and military conflicts in Berlin, Cuba, and Afghanistan, Mikhail Gorbachev inherited a stagnant economy and unstable political system.
  • With the emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s as the new Soviet leader, the USSR began to implement policies that aimed to restructure the Soviet economy and politics. By the time of Gorbachev’s succession, the USSR’s economy had stagnated and the nation was isolated from the West. Some of his initial policies included:
    • Withdrawal of the Red Army from Afghanistan
    • Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty agreement with the U.S.
    • The implementation of democratization in governance
    • The introduction of reconstruction concepts including perestroika and glasnost

    The Soviet Union Worksheets

    This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Soviet Union across 23 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use The Soviet Union worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Soviet Union, officially known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the USSR, which was formed in 1922 through a treaty between Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Transcaucasia by the Communist leader, Vladimir Lenin. Before its collapse in 1991, the USSR grew and, at its height, controlled 15 Soviet Socialist Republics.

    Complete List Of Included Worksheets

    • The Soviet Union Facts
    • Mapping the USSR
    • From Lenin to Gorbachev
    • Soviet Glossary
    • Soviet Infographic
    • The Cold War
    • Soviet Pact and Facts
    • Collectivization Bulletin
    • Soviet Events
    • The Man of Steel
    • The Soviet Union and WWII

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