The history of Russia in the twentieth century is bound up with that of two other, greater, political entities: the multiethnic Tsarist empire and its replacement, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) that was born in the chaos of revolution in 1917 and formally constituted by the Union treaty of 1922. Russia was the largest part of both of these states and their history is its history to a degree that would not be true of other parts of the Tsarist empire or USSR, many of which enjoyed brief periods of independence from the USSR, or retained stronger independent political traditions than Russia. For many Russians, Russia was (and for some still is) coterminous with the Tsarist empire and the USSR. In administrative terms this was certainly the case: the Tsarist state was the chief political authority in Russia; the most important political body in the USSR, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU, known before 1952 as the Bolshevik Party and the Communist Party), had branches in all of the republics of the USSR except Russia, where regional party organizations reported directly to the central party leadership. It is therefore impossible to tell the story of Russia without telling that of the Tsarist empire and the USSR. It is only towards the end of the USSR, in 1990 when the newly elected Russian parliament declared ‘sovereignty’, that a speciﬁcally Russian polity began to emerge and the Russians – that is the people of the Russian Federation, rather than just ethnic Russians – found themselves in a state that was separate from the states inhabited by the peoples of Ukraine and Belarus, Transcaucasia, Central Asia and the Baltic littoral. This chapter reviews the fate of both the Tsarist and Soviet states. It is
necessarily schematic in approach, concentrating on internal political developments and efforts at building a state that could deal with change and the challenges of building a modern economy.1 International affairs were very important in shaping the way that Tsarist and Soviet authorities dealt with these challenges. Tsarism, as will soon be apparent, was laid low by international events that prompted its modernization and downfall. Fear of invasion between 1917 and 1941, and international competition in the Cold War after 1945, greatly shaped the USSR’s development and fate. However, for reasons of space and because international competition was a constant pressure on
Russian and Soviet political leaders (see Chapter 5), we will concentrate on how internal political forces and processes produced state formations that ultimately lacked the capacity to adapt to new circumstances and therefore failed to survive through to today.