History of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991

“The high banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin!”

This 300-level course traces the history of the Soviet Union, from its origins in the collapse of Tsarist autocracy and the revolutions of 1917, through the utopian experiments of the 1920s, the dictatorial rule of Stalin, Khrushchev’s reforms, and the Soviet system’s stagnation and eventual collapse in 1991. It looks at the Soviet project as a balance between grand ambition and compromise. Among the questions we will discuss are: what did the Soviet government try to accomplish and what impeded these plans? How did ordinary Soviet citizens understand the promise of communism and why did they—or didn’t they—support Soviet power? Despite supposedly building a more just, ethical, and democratic society, why did the Soviet government repeatedly deploy violence and coercion as it attempted to remake human beings and the world around them? And why, despite officially rejecting imperialism, did the Soviet Union often behave like an empire? Finally, it asks: was the Soviet Union un-reformable and was its collapse inevitable?