32.2.2: The Soviet Socialist Republics
The satellites states that arose in the Eastern Bloc not only reproduced the command economies of the Soviet Union, but also adopted the brutal methods employed by Joseph Stalin and Soviet secret police to suppress real and potential opposition.
Define a Soviet Socialist Republic
- The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a federation of Soviet Republics that were outwardly independent nations, but existed essentially as satellite states under the control of Russian power.
- During the opening stages of World War II, the Soviet Union laid the foundation for the Eastern Bloc by invading and then annexing several countries as Soviet Socialist Republics, adding to the existing Soviet Union of Russia, Transcaucasia, Ukraine, and Byelorussia.
- The defining characteristic of communism implemented in the Eastern Bloc was the unique symbiosis of the state with society and the economy, resulting in politics and economics losing their distinctive features as autonomous and distinguishable spheres.
- The Soviet-style “replica regimes” that arose in the Bloc not only reproduced Soviet command economies, but also adopted the brutal methods employed by Joseph Stalin and Soviet secret police to suppress real and potential opposition.
- The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 or the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 was a nationwide revolt against the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from October 23 until November 10, 1956.
- satellite state
- A country that is formally independent in the world, but under heavy political, economic, and military influence or control from another country.
- Soviet Socialist Republic
- Ethnically based administrative units in communist states of Eastern Europe that were subordinated directly to the Government of the Soviet Union.
- Eastern Bloc
- The group of communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, generally the Soviet Union and the countries of the Warsaw Pact.
- Derived from a Russian word signifying council, assembly, advice, harmony, concord, political organizations and governmental bodies associated with the Russian Revolutions and the history of the Soviet Union.
Formation of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc
The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a union of multiple subnational Soviet republics; its government and economy were highly centralized.
The Soviet Union had its roots in the October Revolution of 1917, when the Bolsheviks, headed by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the provisional government that replaced the Tsar. They established the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (renamed Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1936), beginning a civil war between the revolutionary “Reds” and the counter-revolutionary “Whites.” The Red Army entered several territories of the former Russian Empire and helped local Communists take power through soviets, which nominally acted on behalf of workers and peasants. In 1922, the Communists were victorious, forming the Soviet Union with the unification of the Russian, Transcaucasian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian republics. Following Lenin’s death in 1924, Joseph Stalin came to power in the mid-1920s. Stalin suppressed all political opposition to his rule, committed the state ideology to Marxism-Leninism (which he created), and initiated a centrally planned command economy. As a result, the country underwent a period of rapid industrialization and collectivization which laid the foundation for its victory in World War II and post-war dominance of Eastern Europe.
During the opening stages of World War II, the Soviet Union created the Eastern Bloc (the group of communist states of Central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War) by invading and then annexing several countries as Soviet Socialist Republics by agreement with Nazi Germany in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. These included eastern Poland (incorporated into two different SSRs), Latvia (which became the Latvian SSR), Estonia (which became the Estonian SSR), Lithuania (which became the Lithuanian SSR), part of eastern Finland (which became the Karelo-Finnish SSR) and eastern Romania (which became the Moldavian SSR).
According to Article 76 of the Constitution of the Soviet Union, a Union Republic was a sovereign Soviet socialist state that had united with other Soviet Republics in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Article 81 of the Constitution stated that “the sovereign rights of Union Republics shall be safeguarded by the USSR.” In 1944, amendments to the All-Union Constitution allowed for separate branches of the Red Army for each Soviet Republic. They also allowed for Republic-level commissariats for foreign affairs and defense, allowing them to be recognized as de jure independent states in international law. This allowed for two Soviet Republics, Ukraine, and Byelorussia, as well as the USSR as a whole to join the United Nations General Assembly as founding members in 1945.
Therefore, constitutionally the Soviet Union was a federation. In accordance with provisions present in the Constitution (versions adopted in 1924, 1936, and 1977), each republic retained the right to secede from the USSR. Throughout the Cold War, this right was widely considered meaningless, and the Soviet Republics were often referred to as “satellite states.” The term satellite state designates a country that is formally independent in the world, but under heavy political, economic, and military influence or control from another country. The term is used mainly to refer to Central and Eastern European countries of the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War.
For the duration of the Cold War, the countries of Eastern Europe became Soviet satellite states — they were “independent” nations, one-party Communist States whose General Secretary had to be approved by the Kremlin, and so their governments usually kept their policy in line with the wishes of the Soviet Union. However, nationalistic forces and pressures within the satellite states played a part in causing deviation from strict Soviet rule.
Conditions in the Eastern Bloc
Throughout the Eastern Bloc, both in the Soviet Socialist Republic and the rest of the Bloc, Russia was given prominence and referred to as the naibolee vydajuščajasja nacija (the most prominent nation) and the rukovodjaščij narod (the leading people). The Soviets encouraged the worship of everything Russian and the reproduction of their own Communist structural hierarchies in each of the Bloc states.
The defining characteristic of communism in the Eastern Bloc was the unique symbiosis of the state with society and the economy, resulting in politics and economics losing their distinctions and autonomy. While more than 15 million Eastern Bloc residents migrated westward from 1945 to 1949, emigration was effectively halted in the early 1950s, with the Soviet approach to controlling national movement emulated by most of the Eastern Bloc. The Soviets mandated expropriation of private property.
The Soviet-style “replica regimes” that arose in the Bloc not only reproduced Soviet command economies, but also adopted the brutal methods employed by Joseph Stalin and Soviet secret police to suppress real and potential opposition. Stalinist regimes in the Eastern Bloc saw even marginal groups of opposition intellectuals as a potential threat because of the bases underlying Stalinist power therein. The suppression of dissent and opposition was a central prerequisite for the security of Stalinist power within the Eastern Bloc, though the degree of opposition and dissident suppression varied by country and time throughout the Eastern Bloc. Furthermore, the Eastern Bloc experienced economic mismanagement by central planners resulting in extensive rather than intensive development, and lagged far behind their western European counterparts in per capita gross domestic product. In addition, media in the Eastern Bloc served as an organ of the state, completely reliant on and subservient to the communist party. The state owned radio and television organizations while print media was usually owned by political organizations, mostly the ruling communist party.
Hungarian Uprising of 1956
The Hungarian Revolution or Uprising of 1956 he Hungarian Uprising of 1956 was a nationwide revolt against the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from October 23 until November 10, 1956. Though leaderless when it first began, it was the first major threat to Soviet control since the USSR’s forces drove Nazi Germany from its territory at the end of World War II and broke into Central and Eastern Europe.
The revolt began as a student demonstration, which attracted thousands who marched through central Budapest to the Parliament building, calling out on the streets using a van with loudspeakers via Radio Free Europe. A student delegation, entering the radio building to try to broadcast the students’ demands, was detained. When the delegation’s release was demanded by the demonstrators outside, they were fired upon by the State Security Police (ÁVH) from within the building. One student died and was wrapped in a flag and held above the crowd. This was the start of the revolution. As the news spread, disorder and violence erupted throughout the capital.
The revolt spread quickly across Hungary and the government collapsed. Thousands organised into militias, battling the ÁVH and Soviet troops. Pro-Soviet communists and ÁVH members were often executed or imprisoned and former political prisoners were released and armed. Radical impromptu workers’ councils wrested municipal control from the ruling Hungarian Working People’s Party and demanded political changes. A new government formally disbanded the ÁVH, declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact, and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October, fighting had almost ceased and a sense of normality began to return.
After announcing willingness to negotiate a withdrawal of Soviet forces, the Politburo changed its mind and moved to crush the revolution. On November 4, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and other regions of the country. The Hungarian resistance continued until November 10. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months thereafter. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition. These Soviet actions, while strengthening control over the Eastern Bloc, alienated many Western Marxists, leading to splits and/or considerable losses of membership for Communist Parties in the West.
Public discussion about this revolution was suppressed in Hungary for more than 30 years.
- The Soviet Socialist Republics
“Cold War.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_War#Beginnings_of_the_Eastern_Bloc. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“History of the Soviet Union (1927–1953).” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Soviet_Union. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“Eastern Bloc politics.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Bloc_politics. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“Republics of the Soviet Union.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republics_of_the_Soviet_Union. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“Hungarian Revolution of 1956.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_Revolution_of_1956. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“Hole_in_flag_-_Budapest_1956.jpg.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_Revolution_of_1956#/media/File:Hole_in_flag_-_Budapest_1956.jpg. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“396px-EasternBloc_BorderChange38-48.svg.png.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Bloc#/media/File:EasternBloc_BorderChange38-48.svg. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.