I’m not quite sure why some of us are drawn like moths to flames when it comes to our attraction to dangerous ideas and places. If I were to travel to Russia as a tourist today, I would likely either be turned away or arrested and thrown into one of Russia’s infamous prisons. Russia, today, is antithetical to everything I hold deeply sacred. But I have been endlessly fascinated by the country and would love to explore the land and people, up close and personal, someday.
Russia, and specifically the Soviet Union, captivated me from the first time I saw its depiction on a world map. It was and remains the world’s largest nation measured by land mass. It’s dark, arcane history has been filled with cruelty either at the hands of Mother Nature or its monarchs and regimes. At the same time it is a land of immense beauty with a history of fine art and high culture.
Today marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Soviet era of the Russian Empire. The start of perhaps one of the most intriguing empires to ever mark time in the annals of history. I have a very abbreviated, condensed version of events leading up to December 30, 1922.
Czar Nicholas II ruled the Russian Empire as a somewhat benevolent monarch but allowed no dissent from the people. The empire was split between the very wealthy aristocratic class and the starving peasant and working classes. Due to their anti-royalist beliefs, the Bolsheviks and Vladimir Lenin were exiled from the empire. The czar faced opposition and was almost toppled in 1905. After a brief uptick in his popularity, Czar Nicholas fell into disgrace as his army suffered terrible defeats in the Great War (WWI).
By 1917, the weakening bonds between the Russian people and their czar had eroded away. Inefficiency, overwhelming military expenses, and corruption dominated the empire. Even moderates were unhappy with the monarchy. Adding to this mess, were widespread food shortages during the extremely cold winter of 1916 to 1917. Finally, on February 23rd on the Julian calendar used in Russia (our March 8th), strikes began during the International Women’s Day commemoration in St. Petersburg. Women factory workers, students, other workers, along with peasant groups formed a mass protest about the food shortages.
Bolshevik leader, Leon Trotsky, took command of the situation and organized the dissenters into an anti-monarchy movement. The czar countered with action by his police and military, but even they couldn’t control the hungry crowds. Many of the troopers and police ended up joining the demonstrators.
Halfway through the month Nicholas abducted and ceded the throne to his brother, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, who refused to take over. A government was formed by ministers of the Duma (parliament), the St. Petersburg (Petrograd) Soviet of Workers’ and Soldier’s Deputies representatives.
The new government faced instability and turnovers in power. Alexander Kerensky replaced the leader of the Duma in July. Kerensky, in turn, defeated a coup attempt by the military commander in chief. This left the Kerensky government vulnerable. Another July coup was led by Vladimir Lenin but also failed.
Then, in October (November by western reckoning) came the successful coup. The October Rebellion instituted communist rule. Russia’s factories, farms and banks were all nationalized. The revolution was not yet secure as Lenin’s Bolsheviks faced armed opposition from the conservative “White Russian” movement. A bitter civil war ensued between the Reds and the Whites from 1917 until 1923, but the worst fighting had ended in 1920.
By December of 1922, four republics were on the verge of forming a confederation of Soviet Republics. The Republics of Russia, Belorussia, the Ukraine, and the Transcaucasia Federation (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) were in negotiations.
The treaty establishing the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was drawn up during the month. The treaty plus the “Declaration of the Creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” were signed and approved by the original four republics on December 29th.
The following day, December 30, 1922, both the treaty and declaration were confirmed by the First Congress of Soviets and then signed by the delegation’s main representatives. These actions constituted the official formation of the USSR.
During the following years, the Union expanded from the founding republics into 16 by 1940. The USSR, AKA the Soviet Union not only became the successor to the old Russian Empire, but the gigantic country became the first nation in the world to adopt a communist official policy.
До свидания (Do svidanya)
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that an internal Russian poll says 59% of respondents believe the Soviet Union was a better country than the present Russian Federation has turned out to become.