The Soviet Union was a communist country with a totalitarian regime that existed from 1917 until 1991. The official name was The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.). The country stretched from the Baltic and Black Seas to the Pacific Ocean. In its final years it consisted of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics. Russia was by far the largest Republic in the Soviet Union in terms of both land area and population, and also dominated it politically and economically.
The first leader of the Soviet Union was Vladimir Lenin, who led the Communists to power in the Russian Revolution of 1917. With the newly formed Red Army in confusion, the Soviet Union had to pull out of World War I. The peace treaty with Germany, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, made the union give up most of the area of the Ukraine and Belarus. The opponents of communism within and without the union did not accept the new government, and this led to all-out civil war, which lasted until 1922.
After the revolution, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union quickly became the only legal political party. The governing of the country was to be done by local and regional democratically elected soviets. In practice its corresponding party group controlled each level of government. The highest legislate body was the Supreme Soviet. The highest executive body was the Politburo.
The state relied heavily on controlling its citizens with the secret police. In December 1917, the Cheka was founded. Later it changed names to KGB. The secret police was responsible for finding any political dissidents and expel them from the party or bring them to trial for counter-revolutionary activities.
After Lenin died in 1924, power gradually consolidated in the hands of Joseph Stalin, who led the Soviet Union until his death in 1953. Stalin was the supreme leader from 1929 until 1953. From 1921 until 1954, 3.7 million people were sentenced for counter-revolution crimes, including 0.6 million sentenced to death, 2.4 million sentenced to prison and labor camps, and 0.8 million sentenced to expatriation.
The Second World War caught the Soviet military unprepared. To secure Soviet influence over Eastern Europe, Stalin arranged the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Germany on August 23, 1939. A secret addition to the pact gave Eastern Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Finland to the USSR, and Western Poland and Lithuania to Germany. Germany invaded Poland on September 1st, USSR followed on September 17th. On November 30th, USSR attacked Finland in what is called the Winter War.
On June 22nd 1941, Hitler broke the pact and invaded the Soviet Union. Under Stalin’s leadership, the Soviet Red Army put up fierce resistance, but were at first ineffective against the advancing Nazi forces. The army was not allowed to retreat, and large numbers of soldiers were surrounded and taken as prisoners of war. The Germans reached the outskirts of Moscow in December, but were stopped by the winter and a Soviet counter-offensive. At the battle of Stalingrad in 1942 and 1943, the Red Army was able to regain the initiative of the war. From then on, the Soviet forces were able to regain their lost territory and push the Nazi forces back to Germany itself. On May 2nd 1945, the city of Berlin was taken.
Later Soviet leaders such as Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev were unable to consolidate power as Stalin had done, and served more as functionaries of the state rather than as dictators. During Brezhnev’s time in office Soviet invasion to support the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was initiated, in December 1979.
Mikhail Gorbachev became head of the Soviet Union in 1985 and attempted to preserve the collapsing Communist regime by reducing tensions with the United States and lessening the extent of political persecution, but without abandoning the core Communist tenet of centralized bureaucratic control of the economy. His two key policies were Glasnost -openness, and Perestroika -restructuring. These attempts failed, and the collapse of the Soviet Union occurred in 1991. From 1945 until the collapse, the Soviet Union fought a Cold War with the USA for world domination.
The former Soviet Union began striving to accomplish a strong economy after the fall of Communism. Many bad choices and wars were major destruction factors that led to the fall of Soviet Communism.