The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union

The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union

The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union

The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union


'An expert in probing mafia-type relationships in present-day Russia, Martin McCauley here offers a vigorously written scrutiny of Soviet politics and society since the days of Lenin and Stalin.'

John Keep, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto.

The birth of the Soviet Union surprised many; its demise amazed the whole world. How did imperial Russia give way to the Soviet Union in 1917, and why did the USSR collapse so quickly in 1991?

Marxism promised paradise on earth, but the Communist Party never had true power, instead allowing Lenin and Stalin to become dictators who ruled in its name. The failure of the planned economy to live up to expectations led to a boom in the unplanned economy, in particular the black market. In turn, this led to the growth of organised crime and corruption within the government.

The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union examines the strengths, weaknesses, and contradictions of the first Marxist state, and reassesses the role of power, authority and legitimacy in Soviet politics. Including first-person accounts, anecdotes, illustrations and diagrams to illustrate key concepts, McCauley provides a seminal history of twentieth-century Russia.


In the early 1970s when The Soviet Union since 1917 was being written, the country was at its apogee. It was a superpower and some commentators even expected it to outstrip the United States. However, less than 20 years later, it disappeared from the map. This astonishing turnaround is reminiscent of the great empires of the pre-Christian era. To take one example, the Hittite empire which held sway in Asia Minor and Syria. It appears earthquakes may have played a major role in its demise. In the case of the Soviet Union, the natural disasters were all political. Poor leadership led to its collapse; an unintended cause of policies which were geared to achieving other goals. No one yet is clear about the reasons for the outbreak of the First World War. Likewise, the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union are little understood. Scholarship is only at the beginning of the journey of discovery.

The Soviet Union was a remarkable phenomenon. It was the first Marxist state, and only survived because it was huge and had abundant natural resources. The Marxist experiment, based on eliminating the profit motive for private gain and the market economy, could not have prospered in a small country. The need to import raw materials and other goods would have forced it to trade internationally and theh for a non-existent black cat in a dark room. Leninists went further; they claimed to have caught the black cat! Given the tension between objective reality and the guiding philosophy, leaders were obliged to use coercion to force through their revolution. Marx expected a successful socialist revolution to occur when capitalism had matured and could develop no further. Instead, the first Marxist state was an underdeveloped state, in the industrial sense of the term. To survive, the Bolsheviks had to industrialise from above.

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