Joseph Stalin, who took over the Communist Party after the death of Vladimir Lenin, instituted sweeping changes in the government of the USSR. Under Stalin, the Soviet government became increasingly oppressive as he put his own vision of Communism into effect to sometimes disastrous results.
Stalin comes into power
When Lenin died in 1924, it left a power vacuum at the head of the Communist party. At the time, it seemed Leon Trotsky would move into that vacuum, but Stalin's shrewd maneuvering undermined Trotsky's loyalty and experience. He gradually accumulated more and more power. From his position as general secretary of the central committee of the Communist party in 1922, he eventually became premier of the Soviet Union in 1941 and held that position until he died in 1953.
Stalin held that the USSR was far behind other modern nations because of its lack of industrialization. He spearheaded rapid industrialization of the country, turning small agrarian towns into cities driven by industry. This program of urbanization was accompanied by agricultural collectivization. Meant to increase productivity, this plan instead reduced it, leading to famine throughout the country in 1932 and 1933. However, industrialization was largely successful; by the end of World War II, the USSR become the second-largest country economically, after the United States.
Implementation of reform
Stalin implemented his reforms through a totalitarian regime. Farmers who resisted collectivization were forced to comply or face severe punishment. Many who protested or questioned Stalin's policies were sent to labor camps or killed outright. Stalin maintained tight control over the entire population of the Soviet Union, controlling the media and educational institutions and instituting stringent censorship on everything the populace consumed.
One of the most extreme examples of Stalin's totalitarianism was the Great Purges of the 1930s. Millions of people died or were imprisoned or sent to labor camps as Stalin had rivals and critics eliminated en masse. Many high-ranked officials in the government and the armed forces lost their lives as Stalin became increasingly paranoid, fighting to squash every challenge to his power. About one million people were executed outright; about ten million went to labor camps where the death rate was extremely high. Stalin also persecuted the Russian Orthodox Church, seeing it as yet another threat to his power.
Effects of the purges
The purges helped consolidate Stalin's power, but greatly weakened the military as well as the private sector. Many of the most knowledgeable and powerful people in industry and other positions were lost. The Soviet Union's growth slowed appreciably, and on the verge of World War II, they found themselves with a greatly weakened military.
World War II and after
In spite of a slow start at the beginning of the war and an early alliance with Nazi Germany, the USSR was instrumental in defeating the Axis powers. The USSR fought the bloodiest battles in the war on the Eastern Front, losing as many as 12 million troops. But like Napoleon before him, Hitler was unable to conquer either the vastness of Russia or its harsh conditions and was eventually defeated.
After the war, the USSR emerged as a world superpower, and shortly afterward, it also developed a nuclear weapons program. With the Cold War now underway, Stalin spearheaded successful post-war reconstruction. Upon Stalin's death in 1953, Nikita Krushchev took over rule of the country and, in 1956, began his own system of reforms to "de-Stalinize" the country.