Sunday, December 30, 2012

Nobody Sings Happy Birthday for the USSR

We illustrate this article with the seal of the new Soviet Union because virtually no photographs of the founding conference can be found.  Why?  Because they were systematically hunted down and destroyed so the faces of all of the Old Bolsheviks   who would later be purged and liquidated would not be seen.

Today is the birthday of the late, almost universally unlamented Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) a.k.a the Soviet Union.  On December 30, 1922 a conference of plenipotentiary delegations from the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (SFSR), the Transcaucasian SFSR, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) and the Byelorussian SSR approved a Treaty of Creation of the USSR and the Declaration of the Creation of the USSR.
The long running Russian Civil War which had erupted in 1917 following the successful Bolshevik Revolution was reduced to mopping up operations in central Asia and virtually over.  The White Armies of Wrangle and others were smashed by the Red Army under Leon Trotsky.  Trotsky then turned his attention on former allies in the Ukraine—the Anarchist Black Army under Nestor Makhno.  After defeating the anarchists in the field, Trotsky secured his hold on the Ukraine with a campaign of mass extermination of its peasant supporters.
Peasants everywhere were protesting the War Communism that expropriated their crops.  When the Sailors of Kronstadt, once hailed as the heroes of the Revolution in 1917, rebelled in support of the peasants in March of 1921, Trotsky sent the Red Army over the ice of the Gulf of Finland to ruthlessly smash the mutineers.  Since then the Red Army had been very efficient in repressing localized peasant uprisings in Tambov, and Siberia.
A war with Poland ended after the Poles defeated the Red Army in the Battle of Warsaw in August of 1920 and the Poles threatened to overwhelm the main units of the southern Red Army, the Soviets sued for peace and both exhausted nations agreed on a boundary splitting the disputed territory in the 1921 Treaty of Riga.
The Western Powers including the United States and Britain had largely withdrawn their intervening forces in the Russian Far East by the end of 1919.  Only the Japanese, who had territorial ambitions, remained after the fall of Vladivostok in October 1922.
So in late 1922 Soviet Russia and its allied states were militarily secure at last.  But they were in deep economic crisis.  Years of war had everywhere destroyed the economy.  Industrial production was only a fifth of what it had been before the October Revolution.  Where actual combat and the mass murder of peasants had not disrupted agricultural production, wide-spread refusal to plant as long as crops were subject to confiscation and two years of drought in much of the most fertile agricultural land had reduced the countries to near famine.
Vladimir IIlyich Lenin, Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Russian SFSR and leader of the Bolshevik Party moved to consolidate the military successes and essentially re-create much of the Russian Empire as a new federation of Soviet states.  Initially the non-Russian partners in the new USSR gained guarantees to be able to keep ethnic and national identities without forced Russification and the component states had a measure of governmental autonomy within the strictures of an avowedly Marxist state. 
The creation of a new country, and a new government with himself at its head as supreme authority gave Lenin the chance to placate peasant opposition with his New Economic Policy (NEP).  This plan had the Soviet State concentrate on the socialization and direction of heavy and basic industry.  Peasants would be allowed to sell their surplus on the open market.  Small business, craftsmen, and some non-essential industrial production would also be market driven. 
This plan did help turn around the shattered economy of the new Soviet Union.  But it also meant and ideological break with Trotsky, an advocate of continuing war communism, and the man whose military success made possible the creation of the new country.  The break was not total or immediate, but after Lenin died in 1924, Joseph Stalin, not Trotsky, succeeded as Party head and state leader.  Trotsky was soon in exile in Mexico with a price on his head.
Stalin, an ethnic Georgian, ironically, took greater central control of the various Socialist Republics and returned to the Czarist practice of Russification.  By the mid 1930’s he had purged all of the Old Bolsheviks and transformed what Lenin had envisioned as a quasi-democratic socialist state (via functioning Soviets, not political parties) into a one man dictatorship. 
You probably know the rest of the story.

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