The End of An Era?

The August Coup, with military forces pictured above, was the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union by 1991 was in complete disarray and decline. General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, taking over in 1985, had done much to try and reform the Soviet Union in order for it to keep pace with the West. However, the declining economy and the opposition by hard-line members of the Communist Party of Soviet Union(CPSU) would prove to be formidable opponents for Gorbachev. There was an increasing shift for the republics in the Soviet Union to become more autonomous and even independent, which became evident in the New Union Treaty that was proposed. This treaty would decentralize the authority of the Soviet Union and would most likely threaten the structure of the Soviet Union(Seventeen Moments). So, in order to preserve the Soviet Union as they knew it, eight high-ranking members of the CPSU gathered together to stop the signing of the treaty at Gorbachev’s retreat in Crimea(Seventeen Moments).

With the treaty, scheduled to be signed in Moscow on August 20th, the coup leaders attempted to convince Gorbachev to delay the signing. To their dismay Gorbachev refused, forcing the leaders to launch their coup on August 19th under the pretext that Gorbachev was ill. As stated in this document written by coup leader Yanaev, “In connection with Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev’s inability, for health reasons, to carry out the responsibilities of the USSR President… responsibilities have been transferred to the USSR Vice President, Gennadii Yanaev…”(Bonnel 33). Gorbachev was effectively placed under house arrest during this time and the eight coup leaders ordered for the Soviet military to patrol the streets of Moscow and to take vital government buildings. The coup leaders then began to refer to themselves as the State Committee for the State of Emergency, and made various declarations to the Soviet people about the situation. However, the Committee would be opposed by many people, the biggest being the President of the Russian Republic Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin, who had been a member of the CPSU until 1990, was seen as the leader of the opposition to the CPSU and would find himself the enemy of Gorbachev. As Colton puts in his book, “No one has been more of a player in the breakup of the Soviet state and the inauguration of a post-Soviet reality”(Colton 56). The coup, however, was poorly executed and led leading to its defeat after only a few days but Boris Yeltsin would emerge as the the true winner afterwards. As Freeze states, “The most famous, enduring legacy of the ‘putsch’ was the image of Boris Yeltsin, astride a tank in downtown Moscow, leading those opposed to the coup…”(Freeze 464).

Boris Yeltsin’s famous speech from atop a disabled tank during the August Coup of 1991. Collapse of the Soviet Union, Britannica

The aftermath of the coup attempt was felt almost immediately by the Soviet Union. Gorbachev, who had been against these hard-line leaders until the very end, decided to outlaw the Communist Party of Soviet Union, effectively destroying the Soviet political apparatus(Freeze 464). This would, of course, only hasten the demise of the Soviet Union and the new era of independent republics would begin, chiefly led by the President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin. The August Coup of 1991, while not being the only cause of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, was the factor that greatly hastened its fall and led to a new age of geopolitics for the world.

Sources Used:

Russia A History: Gregory L. Freeze

Patterns in Post-Soviet Leadership: Timothy Colton and Robert C. Tucker

Russia at the Barricades: Eyewitness Accounts of the August 1991 Coup: Victoria E. Bonnel, Ann Cooper, and Gregory Freidin

Seventeen Moments in Soviet History


A New Leader: The Death of Stalin

Nikita Khrushchev, who took over leadership of the Soviet Union two years after Stalin’s death, was considered a reformer and a beacon of change.

For almost thirty years, the Soviet Union had known only one leader, the seemingly all-knowing and all-powerful Joseph Stalin. Stalin had consolidated his power firmly in the late 1920s and from then on ruled all of the Soviet Union, using purges and the secret police, the NKVD, to keep the Soviet people in line. However, as Freeze puts it, “Stalin himself had so personalized power, leaving the lines of institutional authority so amorphous and confused, that many key organs had atrophied and virtually disappeared”(Freeze 407). It was apparent that after Stalin’s death, the next leader of the Soviet Union would need to be almost entirely different from Stalin in order to succeed.

Stalin’s death took place on March 5, 1953 and the movement at which the Central Committee moved to find a successor was almost immediate. Georgy Malenkov, who had been the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Stalin’s potential heir, quickly promoted himself to Chairman and took control of the state apparatus(Freeze 409). Khrushchev, it seemed, was the one person in the Central Committee that looked the least likely to succeed Joseph Stalin, as he lacked the power and presence of other leading Soviet officials such as Malenkov, Lavrenty Beria, and Vyacheslav Molotov. However, Khrushchev would use his position as First Secretary to gain power within the party, very similar to how Stalin used his position as General Secretary to do the same. Beria would become an obstacle in Khrushchev’s quest for power as Beria controlled the NKVD and was pushing for some major reforms, such as the release of almost all the political prisoners that Stalin had put into the Gulag system(Seventeen Moments). This posed a major problem for Khrushchev as he was the one who saw himself as the reformer in the party and Beria was the figure who helped to purge many people in the name of Stalin. On June 26, 1953, at a meeting of the Central Committee, Beria was unanimously removed from power and arrested for criminal anti-party and anti-state activities, effectively removing all of Beria’s influence in one move(Freeze 410). With the removal of Beria, Khrushchev now had only one major opponent for leadership of the Soviet Union in Malenkov, however, by 1954 Malenkov had effectively been sidelined and Khrushchev was in control.

With himself now in control of the country, Khrushchev now began the process of De-Stalinization, seeking to reform of dismantle almost all of Stalin’s policies. It was a slow and gradual process to remove the cult of personality that had been pervasive throughout the rule of Stalin and was spearheaded by Khrushchev. As noted by Freeze, “Zealous ‘de-Stalinzers’ (including Khrushchev) were zealous communists: they denounced the cult for its voluntarism and for crediting Stalin, not the party or people, for the great achievements of industrialization and victory over fascism(Freeze 414). Khrushchev’s major reforms also included building up the agricultural sector of the Soviet Union as it had been fairly neglected during Stalin’s reign, however, this was opposed by Lazar Kaganovich, who had always been a die hard supporter of Stalin and his policies(Freeze 410). What is very interesting to note out of all this is that Khrushchev had, during Stalin’s rule, supported all of his policies and purges of people, including people he was personally close. Stalin targeted close family members of party leaders and the party leaders themselves felt incredibly vulnerable during the final years of Stalin’s rule. Khrushchev’s now famous Secret Speech at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956, was momentous for the history of the Soviet Union. Officially called “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences”, the speech delved into the rule of Stalin, where Khrushchev was very critical of Stalin’s rule in regard to the purges and the the cult of personality that Stalin had created for himself(Freeze 417). After all of this, Khrushchev had finally asserted himself as the true leader of the Soviet Union, a position he would only hold until 1964 when he was pushed out by one Leonid Brezhnev. As a side note, I think a really cool and informative movie to check out if anyone’s interested is The Death of Stalin, which I think is actually pretty funny and fits the class kinda well.

Sources Used:

Russia A History: Gregory L. Freeze

Seventeen Moments of Soviet History


The Cult of Personality: Stalin Edition

Joseph Stalin, pictured above, was leader of the Soviet Union from the mid 1920s until his death in 1953.

Joseph Stalin, born in modern day Georgia, was and still is one of the most influential people of the entire 20th century for his role as leader of the Soviet Union. Stalin is also seen as the embodiment of a totalitarian dictator, whose iron fist crushed any dissent in the country and kept a very watchful eye on his citizens. However, none of this would be possible if Stalin had not made himself this revered figure nor could he have ruled as long as he did without it. In this post, I will be looking at how Stalin, a man whose actions in his rule are very questionable at best, cultivated a cult of personality in the Soviet Union that people in Russia even today revere.

Stalin’s official position was called General Secretary of the Soviet Union and he was able to use this position within the government to be able to consolidate his power after Lenin’s death. His main rival for leadership of the Soviet Union was Leon Trotsky, who was the founder and commander of the Red Army, and Stalin would seek to discredit him and his beliefs in a book known as the “Short Course.” ” Instances of Trotsky’s “practices” were cited at the congress. For example, he had attempted to shoot a number of prominent army Communists serving at the front, just because they had incurred his displeasure”(Stalin Short Course). In this book, Stalin also states that, “Either we create a real worker and peasant-primarily a peasant- army, strictly disciplined army, and defend the Republic, or we perish”(Stalin Short Course). All of this serves to prop up Stalin as a hero of the early Soviet Union and to show that Trotsky, was a cruel and vain villain who did not care much about the Revolution.

The reality of it all was that Stalin needed a cult of personality because of the policies of collectivization in the early 1930s. “The industrialization drive itself was suffused with military metaphors, but collectivization was the real thing, a genuine war against the peasants”(Freeze 347). These policies would make Stalin generally unpopular with the peasants as they were losing all of their land and possessions, with some even losing more. “But collectivization and the resistance it provoked among the peasants cost vastly more in lives than the October Revolution or even the ensuing civil war”(Freeze 348).

In closing, Joseph Stalin, while never in real danger of being overthrown, wanted to be able to wield absolute power in the Soviet Union and was prepared to use all available resources in order to make that a reality. The men around him also helped in creating the cult, with Robert Tucker noting, “The one indispensable quality shared by all of the glorifiers, high and low, was pliability. In very many ways the aggrandizement of Stalin required the twisting of truth and the falsification of historical fact”(Tucker 363). Stalin’s use of mass media and propaganda was so pervasive that after he died, his successor Nikita Khrushchev would begin a process known as De-Stalinization in order to bring a sense of normalcy back to the Soviet Union.

Sources Used:

Russia A History by Gregory L. Freeze

History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union(Bolsheviks), Short Course by the Central Committee; edited by Joseph Stalin

The Rise of Stalin’s Personality Cult by Robert C. Tucker


Bukhara: Empire of Russia

Mohammed Alim Khan, Prokudin-Gorskii, The Emir of Bukhara

Background & Context

The Russian Empire was the largest country on Earth and with it contained many cultures and ethnicities within. In this post, I will be looking at the region known as Bukhara, which is modern day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Freeze, in chapter 8 Revolutionary Russia: National Minorities, states that “Like Austria-Hungary, Russia was truly a multinational empire…”(Freeze 256). Bukhara was a city-state located in Central Asia and was a predominantly Muslim area and was ruled by a Muslim Emir. This was a sharp contrast to the Russian Orthodoxy that many of the Russian people followed and it was because of the Orthodoxy that the Tsar had absolute power. The Emir of Bukhara ruled with absolute authority, like the Tsar, however his power was limited to the city of Bukhara. In particular, I will be looking at the last Emir of Bukhara, Mohammed Alim Khan, and what his rule did to impact this area in the Russian Empire.

One of the reasons that I chose this photo is because I found it very eye catching because the Emir has a very flamboyant outfit on. Also, the more I looked into it, the more I became interested in figuring out what must have been going on in Russia during this time and how the Emir of Bukhara would fit into all this.

Religion and the Emir in Early 20th Century Russia

As stated previously, the main religion in Russia was Christian Orthodoxy and Islam was a heavily suppressed religion in Russia. Most of the areas that the Russians had conquered in the 19th century had been predominantly Muslim areas with Bukhara being one of them. The Caucasus Mountains also contained a substantial Muslim population, mainly with the Chechen ethnic group. The Russian government during the Empire sought to clear many of Muslim peoples out of their homelands and replace them with ethnically Russian people. Muslim warriors from many of these Islamic nations were recruited into the Russian Empire’s military in order to keep the Muslim people in check. The Russians forced out many Muslims from their homes and either forced them out of Russia entirely or were sent to the far reaches of the Empire. This shows that throughout history the Muslim population of Russia has been oppressed by the central government and shows why in the late 1990s the First Chechen War is fought.

The Emir of Bukhara holds absolute power within the Emirate and is the supreme authority on all matters. Bukhara was an autonomous state in the Russian Empire, having only been conquered in the mid 19th century. The Emir, Alim Khan, was initially seen as a potential reformer for the emirate, however, this was quickly changed by his conservative clergymen who sought to keep the traditions that Bukhara had always had. Thus, the Emir kept his absolute power that allowed him to have palaces and ornate outfits like the one he is wearing in the picture above. Another interesting note about the Emir is that he was the last living descendant of Genghis Khan that still held land, showing how much the Mongol influence in Russia had diminished.

The Emir’s Shir-Budun Palace in a Country Grove, Prokudin-Gorskii

The palace of the Emir, shown above, demonstrates the power that the Emir possessed while also showing the influence that Russian architecture had on this Islamic area with the brightly painted exterior keeps this blend of the two cultures. According to the World Digital Library, the corner towers are the only aspect of the palace that are native to the culture of Bukhara which again shows the influence that Russians wished to exert on their Muslim subjects.

In the Country Palace of the Bukhara Emir, Prokudin-Gorskii

Inside the palace of the Emir, we can see how ornate and wealthy the throne room looks. To look at the throne, it is plated in what looks like solid gold and is elevated above the rest of the room, symbolizing that the Emir’s power is higher than any other authority in Bukhara. The chandeliers are shown to also look rich and the entire room is highly decorated with bright colors and with the pillars and walls all elaborately decorated with stripes or other decorations. The throne room shows the European influence that was had by the Emir was very pervasive and important.

With all of this being said, it is important to note that the Emir was eventually overthrown in 1920 by the Bolsheviks and forced to leave the country. After this, all religion in Russia was suppressed by the Soviet Union continuing a trend of oppression for the Muslim peoples of Russia. It is important to look at all of the history of not only the area of Bukhara but also the whole of Russia itself in order to understand how Muslims were treated and why they felt later after the fall of the Soviet Union that it was time to have their own freedom and finally not be oppressed by the central government.


About Me!

Hello, everyone my name is Isaiah Still and this is my blog about Russian history. I have been very interested about history for as long as I can remember, however, Russia is a place that I feel I have the least knowledge. During the course of the year, I want to learn more about their history and it is here where I will post what I have learned. If you ever have read my posts all I have to say is thank you very much and enjoy them if you can!