Russian Federation. During the year, the Russian Federation suffered the worst economic crisis since the collapse of communism. According to Countryaah, the capital of Russia is Moscow. The economic collapse began on August 17, paralyzing the Russian banking system. The ruble was exposed to an almost free fall. Before the crisis, the ruble rate was around 6 rubles per dollar, but at the end of the year the rate was 20 rubles per dollar. Inflation rose to over 70%. The economic collapse came at the same time as the worst grain harvest in 40 years and extensive natural disasters such as floods, droughts and forest fires.
In the Russian Federation, there is a big difference between reported and actual income, but according to official calculations, almost every third Russian citizen now lives below the poverty line. Responsibility for the economic collapse placed President Boris Yeltsin on Prime Minister Sergei Kirijenko, who was dismissed on 23 August. He had replaced Viktor Chernomyrdin five months earlier, when Yeltsin dissolved the government. Former Foreign Minister and spy chief Yevgeny Primakov was appointed new Prime Minister after Kirijenko. He traveled to Belarus on his first foreign visit as head of government. Valentina Matvijenko, the first Russian woman so high in the political hierarchy, was named Deputy Prime Minister responsible for social affairs.
During the year, the Russian Federation was not only a country in deep economic crisis but also a country without leaders. Never before in his presidential year had the burly Boris Yeltsin been so often absent from public life, stopped so many trips and visits at the last moment and given such powerless, slow and strange answers to simple journalist questions. Yeltsin’s long absence due to illness gave new impetus to the discussion about the need for a vice president. The post was abolished in 1993 after Deputy President Aleksandr Rutskoy tried to overthrow Yeltsin and since Mikhail Gorbachev’s Vice President Gennady Janayev participated in the coup attempt against the Soviet leader in 1991. The new Prime Minister Primakov quickly entered the role of Yeltsin’s replacement. He was also accepted abroad as a working head of state.
Together with Yugoslavia, the Russian Federation is the European country most criticized by human rights organizations. This applies, for example. the dramatic deterioration of the economy and all the misery that it brings, and the suspicion that regional leaders are believed to be behind the threats, beatings and murders of a number of journalists. But this also applies to police brutality against ethnic minorities and increasingly open anti-Semitism. One legal case that has been strongly condemned outside the country’s borders is the prosecution of environmental activist Aleksandr Nikitin. He is accused of having leaked secret information to the Norwegian environmental organization Bellona. The Russian secret police FSB has been investigating the matter for three years.
A serious setback to the country’s internationally already shameful reputation was the brutal murder of Galina Starovojtova. She was one of the country’s most prominent women, a colorful MP who fought racism and crime. She had intended to run in the 2000 presidential election but was murdered outside her home in Saint Petersburg. In addition to Starovojtova, five members of the Russian Duma, the parliament, have been murdered since 1993. However, it is difficult to determine whether it was a political murder. It appears that people who engage in financial crime stand in elections to gain parliamentary immunity from prosecution. Starovojtova fought this kind of crime.
Tsar Nicholas II and his family were buried during the year in Saint Petersburg, 80 years after they were assassinated by the Bolsheviks.
State apparatus instead of party
Immediately before the German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin had assumed the position of chairman of the People’s Commissioners’ Council – ie. Prime position. As Stalin also continued as prime minister after the war, the state apparatus became the most important instrument of power and the role of the party was reduced. This must have been a major reason why it was not considered necessary to convene a post-war party congress to discuss the huge problems the USSR was facing. The Central Committee hardly held plenary meetings, although resolutions were issued in its name. It is also uncertain whether the Politburo met regularly.
Another important – and perhaps the most important – reason for the party’s diminished role was the enormous strengthening of Stalin’s position that the war had led. Stalin was hailed in the most grotesque manner as the great genius who mastered all fields, from economics, philosophy and international politics to linguistics. He was the infallible leader of a party that had long since ceased to be a living political organization in which official Marxism-Leninism was but a collection of eternal true and inscrutable dogmas.
In the senior party leadership, an eerie atmosphere of intrigue and rivalry prevailed among Stalin’s employees. Evidently, Stalin himself called for rivalry and strife among his closest associates. He had to prevent, at all costs, the formation of a coalition that could threaten his position.
Shdanov, who in the years after the war was number 10 in the hierarchy, died in 1948. His death led to an avalanche of purges of his proteges in the party. How many were executed do not know. However, it is certain that the most prominent men such as Vosnesensky, Kusnetsov and Popkov were executed. There is little reason to doubt that Stalin must have planned these purges – with possible support from Malenkov, who won most by wiping out the Shdanov wing in the party.
In 1952, the 19th Party Congress was held – the first since 1939. At this Congress extensive reorganization of the party’s governing bodies was undertaken. It has been interpreted in the way that Stalin planned extensive purges of the older generation of party leaders, and in this way wanted to bring new blood into the party leadership. But the senior party leaders who came to the top after the processes of the 1930s did everything possible to prevent new purges. The last year before Stalin’s death was therefore marked by strong unrest and tension in the USSR.
Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953 put the entire USSR in shock. Already on March 7, a reorganization of state and party leadership was announced – to “prevent unrest and panic.” The party bureau was reduced to former political bureau size, with the most important members being Malenkov, Berija, Molotov, Khrushchev and Kaganovich. Malenkov was initially both the party’s first secretary and head of government, but Khrushchev still strengthened his position and in September 1953 was given the title of first secretary. When former security minister Abakumov was executed in 1954 to take charge of the “Leningrad affair” in 1948, this also affected Malenkov. In 1955, he was replaced by the far more insignificant Bulganin as head of government.
The 20th Party Congress in 1956 consolidated and deepened the cautious de-Stalinization that had taken place since Stalin’s death. It was at this congress that Khrushchev kept his famous secret speech on Stalin’s terror. But even though this Congress marked a divide in Soviet history, it is important to emphasize that nothing fundamentally changed about the relations of power in the USSR. Although certain dogmas were replaced by new ones, this did not mean that it would be possible to conduct any more comprehensive theoretical-political discussion – either in the party or in society.
For the Soviet people, Congress promised more bread and less terror, and Stalin had not spent many days next to Lenin in the mausoleum at the Red Square in Moscow before the people noticed that repression and terror were suppressed. Limited amnesties were implemented, which led to the detention camps being emptied. The secret police authority area was severely cropped. Within the cultural life, a thaw broke out. The writers could gently start writing about reality, here and now. Not about reality “seen from the pinnacle of the future”.
At the same time, a comprehensive revision of the pay system was carried out in 1955, which had previously been marked by enormous differences. A minimum wage of 300 rubles a month was set for workers, a professor’s salary was cut from 6,000 to 5,000 rubles a month.
After the Second World War, the United States had begun a new war – the Cold War targeting communism. The United States’ purpose in this war was to bring down the USSR, and one of the means was to force the other superpower to apply enormous funds to the armaments. The United States had established NATO in 1949, and in 55 the USSR responded again by forming the Warsaw Pact, which, in addition to the superpower itself, comprised its allies in Eastern Europe. The USSR embarked on a gigantic reconstruction project to avoid being run over by the United States.
After the 21st Party Congress, further reforms were launched to raise living standards. Among other things, the pace of housing construction that had largely been neglected after the war. New amnesties and the “restoration of socialist legality” caused the prison camps to be largely emptied. Not only individuals were rehabilitated, but also some of the deported nationalities. Except for the Volga Germans and Crimean Tartars, they were allowed to return to their native areas of the Caucasus and west of the Volga’s lower ranks.
The Stalinisation and the direct dramatic consequences it had with worker uprisings in Poland and a comprehensive uprising in Hungary, Khrushchev’s opponents in the party leadership strengthened. In 1957, they made an unsuccessful attempt to remove him as First Secretary. The crisis ended with Molotov Malenkov and Kaganovich being excluded by the Bureau and the Central Committee. The following year, Khrushchev assumed the post of prime minister.
In the late 1950s, the USSR became increasingly prevalent in international politics. The new leadership had replaced Stalin’s confrontational policy towards the Western capitalist countries with peaceful coexistence. Already in 1949 the USSR had blown up its first nuclear bomb and later developed the hydrogen bomb. It meant tremendously to the international prestige of the USSR that the first sputnik was sent up in 1957 – before the US did anything similar. Also inwardly in the USSR, this meant that Khrushchev’s authority grew.
At the 22nd party congress, Stalin was further condemned. The period after the party congress, for cultural life, was a thaw 2, best characterized by the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s novel “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” which describes the life of one of the Stalin prison camps.
There was significant progress in industry and technology, but agriculture remained a weak link in the Soviet economy. The fall of 1963 was disastrous and the government was forced to buy grain abroad. The growth rate in the industry, which had been impressively high in the 50s, began to decline in the early 60s. The economic setbacks, the prestige defeat of the Cuban crisis in 1962, and the perpetual reorganization of the economy, the party and the state administration led Khrushchev’s former supporters to turn to him and, on October 14, 1964, removed him from office.
For the new leaders, the slogan of collective leadership was an important legitimization of the takeover of power. A number of Khrushchev’s administrative reforms were abolished. The party leaders at the various levels were promised greater stability and tranquility. Industry leaders were advocated for a more rational economic policy, and Khrushchev’s highly unrealistic forecasts of increasing industrial growth and living standards were silently canceled. The collective farmers were allowed to grow larger private plots.
The new leaders, on the whole, gave the impression that they wanted to follow a moderate policy without experimentation, no further liberalization, but no return to mass terror. However, a tightening was soon implemented. Already in 1965, the two writers Andrej Sinjavsky and Julij Daniel were arrested for publishing their works in the West. In 1966, emphasized Brezhnev Stalin merits of the organizers of the USSR’s industrialization and as leader of the war against Germany. At this time, there was a fear of rehabilitation of Stalin.
Initially, Breshnev did not seem to have a special position in the collective leadership. Still, it quickly became apparent that he was strengthening his position when, in 1965, Podgornyj was kicked up to the politically insignificant position of USSR president. The Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia and the justification of it with the “Breshnev Doctrine” were an expression of a strengthening of Breshnev’s authority.
When the 24th party congress met in 1971 – one year late – Bresnev’s position as the leader in the collective leadership was secured. At the party congress, large parts of the Central Committee were replaced, and in subsequent years several replacements were made in the Politburo. The Ukrainian Sixth was kicked out while Foreign Minister Gromyko, KGB Chief Andropov and Defense Minister Gretshko got a seat in the bureau.
In the first half of the 70s, Breshnev was still building up as an international statesman. As a peace advocate, and not without considerable success. East Germany was internationally recognized, disarmament agreements were signed with the United States, and not least the European Security Conference was considered a victory for their policy. The 25th party congress in 1976 was characterized as Brezhnev’s coronation congress. He now held a completely exclusive position within the party leadership.
In 1977, a commission led by Breshnev presented a proposal for a new constitution for the USSR. This constitution was to replace the “Stalin Constitution” of 1936, and had been planned for 15 years. Already at the time, it was obvious that the Breshevev epoch was on its way to its end – especially considering his high age and failing health.