Khrushchev’s American Tour

“The Thaw” was an era following the death of Stalin that ushered in an era of liberalization within the Soviet Union.  During this time, people were allowed to express themselves more freely than during the Stalinist era.  The USSR witnessed the emptying of the Gulag’s, as well as the liberalization within the realms of music, literature, international relations, and the press.

However, this shift did not go unopposed.  In 1957, a plot against Khrushchev developed among several key Communist Party members following the Secret Speech at the 20th Communist Party meeting.  These members saw the attempt of liberalization by Khrushchev as being incredibly hypocritical.  This is because when Stalin was in power, Khrushchev had done little to persuade him against enacting many of his brutal policies; including the purges.  One of the primary arenas that this group was vehemently against Khrushchev was in international affairs.  Khrushchev had been in favor of both the US and USSR living peacefully in the world.  This was in stark contrast to the anti-Khrushchev group which took a much more aggressive stance towards capitalist countries.

Perhaps the biggest indication of Khrushchev’s warming attitude towards the West was his 1959 visit to the United States.  Up until this point, there had been much debate regarding the focus of the Soviet economy.  Some wanted the emphasis to remain on industrializing, while others where proponents of increasing the USSR’s agricultural capacity.  Khrushchev ultimately saw the need for for the Soviet Union to improve its agricultural sector, so a trip was planned to the US, which concentrated on the American farming sector.

After arriving in the United States, Khrushchev met with Eisenhower before embarking on his journey across the country.  He ended up visiting several cities and states including Washington DC, New York City, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and California.  He ended his visit with a summit with Eisenhower.

The state dinner between Eisenhower, Khrushchev, and their wives

Ultimately, this trip was truly groundbreaking.  It was the first time that any leader of the Soviet Union had visited the US.  Khrushchev’s arrival to the United States sent the message that it is entirely possible for the world’s two superpowers to coexist, and even be on friendly terms with one another.  In terms of international affairs, this visit was truly iconic of “The Thaw” since a visit of this magnitude had not happened before.  Khrushchev’s visit to the United States paved the way for future leaders of the Soviet Union to do the very same.


— Current Digest of the Soviet Press:

— PBS:


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The Soviet Victory in WWII

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Above is an image of Kiev during Operation Barbarossa

World War proved to be the deadliest conflict in human history.  With total war related deaths ranging from 70-85 million people, the war is still stained into the memories of many.  Put simply, no country on Earth went unaffected in some way by this war.  Nowhere else does this ring truer than the USSR; a country that lost nearly 25 million people to the Second World War.   

Above is a video that details each country’s causalities during WWII 

Part of the reason that the Soviets had such a high casualty rate was because of their ill preparedness for the war.  There were several factors that contributed to the Soviet Union being unprepared for the start of WWII.  Perhaps most notably was Joseph Stalin’s refusal to believe that the Germans would invade. 

When the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, Stalin was incredibly reluctant to accept the fact that the Germans had crossed the border.  Up until that point, the Soviets and Germans had a non-aggression pact, and the Germans had various military training schools within the Soviet Union, so Stalin found it difficult to even comprehend the idea of a German invasion.  After all, Hitler and Stalin had been allies for years.

Above is a map of the German advance during the first few months of Operation Barbarossa

Another reason for the Soviet ill preparedness was due to Stalin’s purges in the 1930’s.  During this time, thousands of military officers were purged from the Red Army.  Frequently, the most liberal minded officers that experimented with new tactics were purged at the highest rates.  This ultimately caused a leadership void, so when the time came to fight, there were few qualified people to lead. 

Despite this, the Soviets eventually would come to claim victory over the Germans.  This was due to a multitude of factors.  Perhaps one of the biggest factors was that the German army greatly underestimated the size of the Red Army.  Other important factors involve Stalin’s “Not one step back” order and the greater industrial output of the Soviet Union.  Soviet industry, and correspondingly the Soviet people were key in the Soviet Union’s victory over the Germans. 

In fact, one of the most important decisions that Stalin made during the war, was to move most of the country’s industrial capability east of the Ural mountain range.  As a result, Soviet weapons plants that produced critical materiel would not be taken by the Germans, nor would they be within range of German bombers.  This entailed physically moving factories via rail.  More than 1500 factories would end up being moved to locations in Siberia and Central Asia.

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Above is a map that shows the locations of Soviet tank and aircraft factories, as well as the range of German bombers

Following the conclusion of the war, the Soviets faced several major challenges.  One short term challenge that the USSR faced was the demobilization of millions of men.  The country was now faced with the task of both housing and employing these men; many of which where physically injured or had various psychological issues such as PTSD.  Due to the housing crises directly following the war, many former soldiers became homeless.

In the Long term, the Soviet Union faced demographic challenges.  For example, nearly 68% of men born in 1923 did not live to see the conclusion of the war.  Furthermore, the impact that this war had on the region can even be seen in Russia’s demographics today.  The influence that the Second World War had on the Soviet Union was truly incredible, and one could go mad trying to calculate the affect that tens of millions of dead had on the country.  

Internationally, the end of WWII meant that much resentment would grow out of what used to be an alliance.  This is in part because the U.S. and British opened up a Western Front so late in the war.  Stalin perceived this move as a conspiracy against the Soviet Union to take most of the casualties in fighting the Germans.  This animosity between countries that used to be partners contributed to the beginning of the Cold War.

World War II is widely viewed as being the most impactful period in Soviet and Russian history.  Many in the former Soviet republics point to that war as a period in time where people were able to overcome incredible adversity, and grapple their way to victory.


Wikimedia Commons Images –

The Fallen of WWII – YouTube –

Russia A History – Freeze

The Eastern Front – The National WWII Museum –

Mark Harrison – University of Warwick –

Soviet Factory Map –





The Moscow Metro

The Moscow Metro is renowned for being if not the most beautiful, one of this most beautiful, metros in the world.  The construction of the metro began during an extremely tumultuous period of the Soviet Union; a time when the country as a whole was going through rapid collectivization and industrialization.

The first stage of the Moscow Metro opened in May of 1935.  Although, the project was rolled out in four stages, with the final stage starting after the conclusion of World War II.  During the initial planning phase, the designers consulted with employees of the London Underground.  In fact, much of the engineering design work that was done for the Moscow Metro, was done by British Engineers.  When it first opened, the Moscow Metro was hailed as being better than Western capitalists’ metros due to its speed and beauty.

The metro system is known not only for its beauty, but also for its use as a bomb shelter both during and after World War II.  World War I was the first major war were aerial bombing was utilized.  Later, during the Spanish Civil War, Hitler had given Franco bombers to utilize in his campaign against the Spanish government.  With these events in mind, where cities had been attacked from the air, the Moscow Metro planners had designed the system deep enough to act as bomb shelters.  This proved to be a very smart decision, as the metro system was used for exactly this purpose during WWII.  Following the war, during the beginning of the Cold War, stations were designed and built deep enough to be used as nuclear bomb shelters.

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In contemporary times, the Moscow Metro is known for its elegant murals and Soviet era architecture.  Tourists to the city frequently make the metro a destination in and of itself.  The murals and mosaics displayed in the metro commonly depict socialist themes; including those of workers and other national achievements.


When studied in-depth, one can conclude that the Moscow Metro is used for both artistic and practical purposes.  Relatively few other metros in the world have this unique combination.


The First Five Year Plan, Collectivization, and the Kazakh Famine

The First Five Year Plan lasted from 1928-1932.  Generally speaking, it was the goal of Joseph Stalin to transform the USSR from a predominately agrarian society, into an industrialized one.  One of the key pillars of this first plan involved a process called collectivization.

During this period of collectivization, a great deal of anti-religious sentiment developed.  Many churches were decommissioned and destroyed at this time.  Above is an image of the famous Christ the Savior Cathedral being demolished in Moscow.

The process of collectivization began in 1927.  Stalin hoped to reverse the New Economic Policy (NEP) which had been establish in 1921.  The NEP involved the implementation of a series of capitalist programs to get the country back on its feet after the Russian Revolution.  To its critics, the NEP was a retreat from the communist ideal.  Stalin was determined to rid the country of the capitalist tendencies that had arisen.  The main goal of collectivization was to transform the Soviet Union’s countryside from what had been predominately individual farms, into collective farms.  This process often times involved moving mass numbers of people to new locations.  This process commonly involved the use of force.

Stalin also had an immense hatred for a group of successful capitalist farmers called Kulaks.  This hatred can be seen in the removal of  Kulaks in the propaganda poster above.

As a result of this systematic upheaval, many people in the Soviet Union experienced famine and starvation.  Despite the immense struggle to collectivize, and the many deaths that resulted, it would eventually prove to be a key element in the Soviet victory in the Second World War.

One place within the Soviet Union that experienced some of the most profound repercussions of collectivization, was Kazakhstan.  It is estimated that at least 1.5 million Kazakhs died of famine; predominately brought on by collectivization.  This particular Soviet Republic was devastated so badly primarily due to the forced settlement and collectivization of the Kazakh pastoral nomads.  These people had been nomadic for millennia and were suddenly forced to begin farming.  Tragically, with this forced adaptation of unfamiliar means of survival, famine became widespread, and many people began to die of starvation.

Kazakhs fleeing the famine of the early 1930s

Above is a picture of people in Kazakhstan attempting to migrate from a famine-stricken area.

Overall, the late 1920’s and early 1930’s was an incredibly difficult time for the Soviet Union.  Many know the story of the famines in the Ukraine, however, the mass starvation that occurred in Kazakhstan has been understudied.  Going forward, it is incredibly important to know the history and struggles of all people within the incredibly diverse Soviet Union, not just the European portions which frequently receive much of the attention from historians.




The Trans-Siberian Railway


Image Name:  Trans-Siberian Railway metal truss bridge on stone piers, over the Kama River near Perm, Ural Mountains Region

This photograph was taken by Prokudin-Gorskii in the 1910’s.  Prokudin-Gorskii was a chemist turned photographer who ended up traveling around the Russian Empire, in a railroad car that the Tsar provided to him, photographing the Empire’s people and territory.  This particular picture was taken over the Kama River near the Russian city of Perm.

Starting in the late 19th century, in order to attempt reaching economic parity with Western Europe, the Russian Empire began a process of industrialization within the country.  The government faced many obstacles in this approach; one of the primary issues being the recently emancipated surfs, the influx of people to cities, and the retribution payments that former surfs were forced to pay.  The Russian government faced the paradox of trying to industrialize and modernize economically, essentially liberalizing their economy, while simultaneously subduing political freedoms of the people, and suppressing any political opposition.  These issues were exacerbated with the Russian defeat in the Russo-Japanese War.

Due to the Russian government’s desire to populate the Empire’s Far East, as well as produce an avenue for troops and military personnel to mobilize to Eastern Russia quickly, the idea of a railroad spanning the country was nothing new.  In fact, the proposal for a Trans-Siberian railway line had been around since the mid-19th century.  However, due to a long planning period, and the Russian government’s reluctance to take financial risk, the construction for the railway did not materialize until the 1890’s.  There was much debate about the route of the railroad, with some advocating for a route that would connect many of the major cities in Siberia, while others were proponents of constructing the most direct line possible.  After a lengthy construction period, Moscow was finally connected to Vladivostok, via a line partially running through Manchuria, in 1904.  A direct railway line running entirely through Russia was finally completed in 1916.

The completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway was an incredibly significant event for the Russian Empire.  The railroad stretched over 9,000 kilometers and connected Moscow with the critically important Pacific port city of Vladivostok.  This allowed for the settlement of the Far East as well as the rapid movement of goods, raw materials, and military personnel.  In many ways, the completion of this rail line signified the progress that the Russian Empire had made in its attempt to industrialize, as well as modernize its economy; helping to close the metaphorical gap between “backwards” Russia and “advanced” Western Europe.

This particular image symbolizes the progress that Russia made in its industrialization attempts.  In many ways Prokudin-Gorskii’s image of this bridge across the Kama acts as a metaphor for the Trans-Siberian rail line “bridging” the western, populated areas of the Empire, from the Far East; an area that was largely unsettled and considered to be frontier country.  In many ways, the completion of this new transportation avenue can be compared to the United States’ trans-continental railroad; albeit the Russian rail line is over three times the length.