Soviet Union

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The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (more commonly called the Soviet Union or the USSR) was a self-proclaimed Communist state that existed from 1922 to 1991, covering much of the area of the former Russian Empire. For virtually all of its history it was governed exclusively by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Although at first formed of four Soviet Socialist Republics, this number had grown to 16 by the end of 1940; it was reduced to 15 in 1956 and this remained the total until the final days (see "Catalogs" above for a table).

Although the exact borders of the Soviet Union varied, by the end of the Second World War in 1945 it covered all of the former territories of the Russian Empire other than Poland.

The Soviet Union was often referred to as Russia, and although this was incorrect, Russia (under the guise of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic or RSFSR) was certainly by far the largest and most powerful and developed state within the Union.


The Soviet Union was run by a single-party system under the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Its primary organs were, from 1936, the Party's Politburo and Central Committee, and Sovmin, the Council of Ministers. The bicameral Supreme Soviet, sometimes assimilated to the Communist Party, was formally an organ not of the Party but of the Soviet state. (The word "soviet" is Russian for "council" or "assembly.")


The history of the Soviet Union is grounded in the history of Russia as a whole, and its establishment in the two revolutions of 1917.

The Soviet legacy includes serious economic, military, political, and social issues.

The Bolshevik Coup

See Russian Revolution of 1917

The Tsarist Government was toppled in February 1917 following the February Revolution. The short-lived state that followed underwent two Prime Ministers, Prince Georgy L'vov and Alexander Kerensky. Although the Bolsheviks were imprisoned after the failed July Days attempt at establishing a Bolshevik government, they were released after the Kornilov Affair, in which General Kornilov attempted to overthrow the Republican government and establish a military dictatorship, as a precautionary measure.

Preceding the Second Congress of Soviets in Petrograd, the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party voted with an almost unanimous vote (only two voted against: Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev) to initiate a revolution in the context of the Congress. This came to pass as in November (new dating system) the Bolsheviks overthrew the government and established their own Workers' and Peasants' Coalition Government.