USSR #1284 (1948)

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics #1284 (1948)

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics #1284 (1948)

The Soviet Union (Сове́тский Сою́з — Sovetsky Soyuz in Russian), officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик (СССР) — Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik), also known unofficially as Russia (Росси́я — Rossiya), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple equal national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party federation, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital. Stamps of the Soviet Union were issued in the period 1923 to 1991, inscribed Почта СССР (“Post of the USSR”). Soviet stamps reflected to a large extent the history, politics, economics and culture of this world’s first socialist state.

With an area of 8,649,500 square miles (22,402,200 square kilometers), the Soviet Union was the world’s largest country, a status that is retained by the Russian Federation. Covering a sixth of Earth’s land surface, its size was comparable to that of North America. The European portion accounted for a quarter of the country’s area, and was the cultural and economic center. The eastern part in Asia extended to the Pacific Ocean to the east and Afghanistan to the south, and, except some areas in Central Asia, was much less populous. It spanned over 6,200 miles (10,000 km) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 4,500 miles (7,200 km) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert, and mountains.

The Soviet Union had the world’s longest border, like Russia, measuring over 37,000 miles (60,000 km), or  1 1⁄2 circumferences of Earth. Two-thirds of it was coastline. The United States was across the Bering Strait. The Soviet Union bordered Afghanistan, China, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Hungary, Iran, Mongolia, North Korea, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Turkey from 1945 to 1991. The Soviet Union’s highest mountain was Communism Peak (now Ismoil Somoni Peak) in Tajikistan, at 24,590 feet (7,495 meters). The Soviet Union also included most of the world’s largest lake, the Caspian Sea (shared with Iran), and Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater and deepest lake, an internal body of water in Russia.

The Soviet Union had its roots in the October Revolution of 1917, when the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Russian Provisional Government which had replaced Tsar Nicholas II. In 1922, the Soviet Union was formed with the unification of the Russian, Transcaucasian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian republics. Following Lenin’s death in 1924 and a brief power struggle, Joseph Stalin came to power in the mid-1920s. Stalin committed the state’s ideology to Marxism–Leninism (which he created), and initiated a centrally planned economy. As a result, the country underwent a period of rapid industrialization and collectivization. Political paranoia was also fomented around Stalin, and the Great Purge was carried out to remove his opponents from the Communist Party through arbitrary arrests and persecutions of many people.

Shortly before World War II, Stalin signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact agreeing to non-aggression with Nazi Germany, after which the two countries invaded Poland in September 1939. In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union, opening the largest and bloodiest theater of war in history. Soviet war casualties accounted for the highest proportion of the conflict in the effort of acquiring the upper hand over Axis forces at intense battles such as Stalingrad and Kursk. The territories overtaken by the Red Army became satellite states of the USSR. The Cold War emerged by 1947, as the Eastern Bloc which united under the Warsaw Pact in 1955 confronted the Western states which united under NATO in 1949.

Following Stalin’s death in 1953, a period of political and economic liberalization, known as “de-Stalinization” and “Khrushchev’s Thaw”, occurred under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev. The Soviet Union took an early lead in the Space Race, with the first artificial satellite and the first human spaceflight. In the 1970s, there was a brief détente of relations with the United States, but tensions resumed with the Soviet–Afghan War in 1979.

In the mid-1980s, the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, sought to reform and liberalize the economy through his policies of glasnost and perestroika. The Cold War ended during his tenure, and in 1989, Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe overthrew their respective communist governments. This led to the rise of strong nationalist and separatist movements inside the USSR as well. The government initiated a referendum, boycotted by some Soviet republics, which resulted in the majority of participating citizens voting in favor of preserving the union as a renewed federation. In August 1991, an abortive coup d’état was attempted by Communist Party hardliners. The Russian President Boris Yeltsin played a high-profile role in facing down the coup. On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned and the remaining twelve constituent republics emerged from the dissolution of the Soviet Union as independent post-Soviet states. The Russian Federation — formerly the Russian SFSR — assumed the Soviet Union’s rights and obligations and is recognized as the primary legal successor of the Soviet Union.

The word Soviet is derived from a Russian word meaning council, assembly, advice, harmony, concord and all ultimately deriving from the Proto-Slavic verbal stem of vět-iti “to inform”, related to Slavic věst (“news”). The word sovietnik means councilor. A number of organizations in Russian history were called “council” (сове́т). For example, in the Russian Empire, the State Council, which functioned from 1810 to 1917, was referred to as a Council of Ministers after the revolt of 1905.

During the Georgian Affair, Vladimir Lenin envisioned an expression of Great Russian ethnic chauvinism by Joseph Stalin and his supporters, calling for these nation-states to join Russia as semi-independent parts of a greater union, which he initially named as the Union of Soviet Republics of Europe and Asia (Союз Советских Республик Европы и Азии — Soyuz Sovetskikh Respublik Yevropy i Azii). Stalin initially resisted the proposal, but ultimately accepted it, although — with Lenin’s agreement — he changed the name of the newly proposed state to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, although all the republics began as Socialist Soviet and did not change to the other order until 1936.

The last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, ruled the Russian Empire until his abdication in March 1917 in the aftermath of the February Revolution, due in part to the strain of fighting in World War I, which lacked public support. A short-lived Russian Provisional Government took power, to be overthrown in the October Revolution (November 7, 1917) by revolutionaries led by the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin.

The Soviet Union was officially established in December 1922 with the union of the Russian, Ukrainian, Byelorussian, and Transcaucasian Soviet republics, each ruled by local Bolshevik parties. Despite the foundation of the Soviet state as a federative entity of many constituent republics, each with its own political and administrative entities, the term “Soviet Russia” — strictly applicable only to the Russian Federative Socialist Republic — was often applied to the entire country by non-Soviet writers and politicians.

On December 28, 1922, a conference of plenipotentiary delegations from the Russian SFSR, the Transcaucasian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR and the Byelorussian SSR approved the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR and the Declaration of the Creation of the USSR, forming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. These two documents were confirmed by the 1st Congress of Soviets of the USSR and signed by the heads of the delegations, Mikhail Kalinin, Mikhail Tskhakaya, Mikhail Frunze, Grigory Petrovsky, and Alexander Chervyakov, on December 30, 1922. The formal proclamation was made from the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre.

On February 1, 1924, the USSR was recognized by the British Empire. The same year, a Soviet Constitution was approved, legitimizing the December 1922 union.

An intensive restructuring of the economy, industry and politics of the country began in the early days of Soviet power in 1917. A large part of this was done according to the Bolshevik Initial Decrees, government documents signed by Vladimir Lenin. One of the most prominent breakthroughs was the GOELRO plan, which envisioned a major restructuring of the Soviet economy based on total electrification of the country. The plan was developed in 1920 and covered a 10 to 15-year period. It included construction of a network of 30 regional power stations, including ten large hydroelectric power plants, and numerous electric-powered large industrial enterprises. The plan became the prototype for subsequent Five-Year Plans and was fulfilled by 1931.

From its creation, the government in the Soviet Union was based on the one-party rule of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks). After the economic policy of “War communism” during the Russian Civil War, as a prelude to fully developing socialism in the country, the Soviet government permitted some private enterprise to coexist alongside nationalized industry in the 1920s and total food requisition in the countryside was replaced by a food tax.

The stated purpose of the one-party state was to ensure that capitalist exploitation would not return to the Soviet Union and that the principles of democratic centralism would be most effective in representing the people’s will in a practical manner. Debate over the future of the economy provided the background for a power struggle in the years after Lenin’s death in 1924. Initially, Lenin was to be replaced by a troika consisting of Grigory Zinoviev of the Ukrainian SSR, Lev Kamenev of the Russian SFSR, and Joseph Stalin of the Transcaucasian SFSR.

On April 3, 1922, Stalin was named the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Lenin had appointed Stalin the head of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate, which gave Stalin considerable power. By gradually consolidating his influence and isolating and outmaneuvering his rivals within the party, Stalin became the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union and, by the end of the 1920s, established totalitarian rule.

The first postage stamps of the newly proclaimed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were designed by Georgy Pashkov and issued on August 19, 1923, in relation to the First All-Russian Agricultural and Handicraft Exhibition which opened in Moscow on that day. The stamps inscribed in Russian CCCP (USSR) or Почта CCCP (Post of the USSR), the value, and the words Всероссийская сельско-хоз. и кустарно-пром. выставка (All-Russian Agricultural and Handicraft Exhibition). They were produced by lithographic printing in two versions, imperforate and perforated (Scott #242-249).

The first Soviet definitive stamps appeared in October 1923 (Scott #250-259). Known as the Gold Standard issue, the stamps bore the busts of a worker, Red Army soldier and peasant. In the period between 1923 and 1926, the worker and soldier designs were placed on thirteen stamps each and that of the peasant on ten stamps.

In October 1927, Grigory Zinoviev and Leon Trotsky were expelled from the Central Committee and forced into exile.

In 1928, Stalin introduced the First Five-Year Plan for building a socialist economy. In place of the internationalism expressed by Lenin throughout the Revolution, it aimed to build Socialism in One Country. In industry, the state assumed control over all existing enterprises and undertook an intensive program of industrialization. In agriculture, rather than adhering to the “lead by example” policy advocated by Lenin, forced collectivization of farms was implemented all over the country.

Famines ensued, causing millions of deaths; surviving kulaks were persecuted and many sent to Gulags to do forced labor. Social upheaval continued in the mid-1930s. Stalin’s Great Purge resulted in the execution or detainment of many “Old Bolsheviks” who had participated in the October Revolution with Lenin. According to declassified Soviet archives, in 1937 and 1938, the NKVD arrested more than one and a half million people, of whom 681,692 were shot. Over those two years that averages to over one thousand executions a day. According to historian Geoffrey Hosking, “…excess deaths during the 1930s as a whole were in the range of 10–11 million.” Although historian Timothy D. Snyder claims that archival evidence suggests a maximum excess mortality of nine million during the entire Stalin era. Yet despite the turmoil of the mid-to-late 1930s, the Soviet Union developed a powerful industrial economy in the years before World War II.

Under the doctrine of state atheism in the Soviet Union, there was a “government-sponsored program of forced conversion to atheism” conducted by Communists. The Communist regime targeted religions based on State interests, and while most organized religions were never outlawed, religious property was confiscated, believers were harassed, and religion was ridiculed while atheism was propagated in schools. In 1925, the government founded the League of Militant Atheists to intensify the persecution. Accordingly, although personal expressions of religious faith were not explicitly banned, a strong sense of social stigma was imposed on them by the official structures and mass media and it was generally considered unacceptable for members of certain professions (teachers, state bureaucrats, soldiers) to be openly religious.

Soviet authorities sought to control the Russian Orthodox Church and, in times of national crisis, to exploit it for the regime’s own purposes; but their ultimate goal was to eliminate it. During the first five years of Soviet power, the Bolsheviks executed 28 Russian Orthodox bishops and over 1,200 Russian Orthodox priests. Many others were imprisoned or exiled. Believers were harassed and persecuted. Most seminaries were closed, and the publication of most religious material was prohibited. By 1941 only 500 churches remained open out of about 54,000 in existence prior to World War I.

After 1929, quality of the Soviet stamps improved. Their agitational content expanded, as well. An increasing attention was given to stamps with face values of 7, 14, and 28 kopecks used for international correspondence. These stamps were “supposed to tell the truth to the world about the victories of the workers’ country of the Soviets.” Also, there were plans to sell more stamps in the international market. By targeting stamps for sales abroad, the Soviet government reckoned on hard currency.

The early 1930s saw closer cooperation between the West and the USSR. From 1932 to 1934, the Soviet Union participated in the World Disarmament Conference. In 1933, diplomatic relations between the United States and the USSR were established when in November, the newly elected President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt chose to formally recognize Stalin’s Communist government and negotiated a new trade agreement between the two nations. In September 1934, the Soviet Union joined the League of Nations. After the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, the USSR actively supported the Republican forces against the Nationalists, who were supported by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

In December 1936, Stalin unveiled a new Soviet Constitution. The constitution was seen as a personal triumph for Stalin, who on this occasion was described by Pravda as a “genius of the new world, the wisest man of the epoch, the great leader of communism.” By contrast, Western historians and historians from former Soviet occupied countries have viewed the constitution as a meaningless propaganda document.

The late 1930s saw a shift towards the Axis powers. In 1939, almost a year after the United Kingdom and France had concluded the Munich Agreement with Germany, the USSR dealt with the Nazis as well, both militarily and economically during extensive talks. The two countries concluded the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the German–Soviet Commercial Agreement in August 1939. The nonaggression pact made possible Soviet occupation of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, and eastern Poland. In late November of the same year, unable to coerce the Republic of Finland by diplomatic means into moving its border 16 miles (25 km) back from Leningrad, Joseph Stalin ordered the invasion of Finland.

In the east, the Soviet military won several decisive victories during border clashes with the Empire of Japan in 1938 and 1939. However, in April 1941, USSR signed the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact with the Empire of Japan, recognizing the territorial integrity of Manchukuo, a Japanese puppet state.

Although it has been debated whether the Soviet Union intended to invade Germany once it was strong enough, Germany itself broke the treaty and invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, starting what was known in the USSR as the “Great Patriotic War”. The Red Army stopped the seemingly invincible German Army at the Battle of Moscow, aided by an unusually harsh winter. The Battle of Stalingrad, which lasted from late 1942 to early 1943, dealt a severe blow to the Germans from which they never fully recovered and became a turning point in the war. After Stalingrad, Soviet forces drove through Eastern Europe to Berlin before Germany surrendered in 1945. The German Army suffered 80% of its military deaths in the Eastern Front.

The same year, the USSR, in fulfillment of its agreement with the Allies at the Yalta Conference, denounced the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact in April 1945 and invaded Manchukuo and other Japan-controlled territories on 9 August 1945. This conflict ended with a decisive Soviet victory, contributing to the unconditional surrender of Japan and the end of World War II.

The Soviet Union suffered greatly in the war, losing around 27 million people. Approximately 2.8 million Soviet POWs died of starvation, mistreatment, or executions in just eight months of 1941–42. During the war, the Soviet Union together with the United States, the United Kingdom and China were considered as the Big Four of Allied powers in World War II and later became the Four Policemen which was the foundation of the United Nations Security Council. It emerged as a superpower in the post-war period. Once denied diplomatic recognition by the Western world, the Soviet Union had official relations with practically every nation by the late 1940s. A member of the United Nations at its foundation in 1945, the Soviet Union became one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, which gave it the right to veto any of its resolutions.

The Soviet Union maintained its status as one of the world’s two superpowers for four decades through its hegemony in Eastern Europe, military strength, economic strength, aid to developing countries, and scientific research, especially in space technology and weaponry.

During the immediate postwar period, the Soviet Union rebuilt and expanded its economy, while maintaining its strictly centralized control. It aided post-war reconstruction in the countries of Eastern Europe, while turning them into satellite states, binding them in a military alliance (the Warsaw Pact) in 1955, and an economic organization (The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance or Comecon) from 1949 to 1991, the latter a counterpart to the European Economic Community. Later, the Comecon supplied aid to the eventually victorious Communist Party of China, and saw its influence grow elsewhere in the world. Fearing its ambitions, the Soviet Union’s wartime allies, the United Kingdom and the United States, became its enemies. In the ensuing Cold War, the two sides clashed indirectly using mostly proxies.

The Ministry of Communications of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Министерство связи СССР) was the central state administration body on communications in the Soviet Union from its establishment on March 15, 1946 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991. It had authority over the maintenance and further development of all types of communications in general use, and technical means of radio and television broadcasting. It was also in charge of the periodicals distribution as well as the provision of technological progress in the industry, the quality of communication services, and the most complete and continuous needs of the country media and communication services. Additionally, the Ministry was responsible for issuing postage stamps and postal stationery (envelopes, postcards, etc.), which were used in the postal system of the Soviet Union. During the period from 1923 up to 1967, postal rates in the Soviet Union were changed ten times.

Stalin died on March 5, 1953. Without a mutually agreeable successor, the highest Communist Party officials initially opted to rule the Soviet Union jointly through a troika. This did not last, however, and Nikita Khrushchev eventually won the power struggle by the mid-1950s. He shortly afterwards denounced Stalin’s use of repression in 1956 and proceeded to ease Stalin’s repressive controls over party and society. This was known as de-Stalinization.

Because Moscow considered Eastern Europe to be a critically vital buffer zone for the forward defense of its western borders (in case of another major invasion such as the German invasion of 1940), the USSR sought to cement its control of the region by transforming the Eastern European countries into satellite states dependent upon and subservient to its leadership. Soviet military force was used to suppress anti-Stalinist uprisings in Hungary and Poland in 1956.

In the late 1950s, a confrontation with China regarding the USSR’s rapprochement with the West and what Mao Zedong perceived as Khrushchev’s revisionism led to the Sino–Soviet split. This resulted in a break throughout the global Marxist–Leninist movement, with the governments in Albania, Cambodia and Somalia choosing to ally with China in place of the USSR.

During this period of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Soviet Union continued to realize scientific and technological exploits in the Space Race, rivaling the United States: launching the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 in 1957; a living dog named Laika in 1957; the first human being, Yuri Gagarin in 1961; the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova in 1963; Alexey Leonov, the first person to walk in space in 1965; the first soft landing on the moon by spacecraft Luna 9 in 1966 and the first moon rovers, Lunokhod 1 and Lunokhod 2.

Khrushchev initiated “The Thaw”, a complex shift in political, cultural and economic life in the Soviet Union. This included some openness and contact with other nations and new social and economic policies with more emphasis on commodity goods, allowing living standards to rise dramatically while maintaining high levels of economic growth. Censorship was relaxed as well.

Khrushchev’s reforms in agriculture and administration, however, were generally unproductive. In 1962, he precipitated a crisis with the United States over the Soviet deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba. An agreement was made between the Soviet Union and the United States to remove enemy nuclear missiles from both Cuba and Turkey, concluding the crisis. This event caused Khrushchev much embarrassment and loss of prestige, resulting in his removal from power in 1964.

The Era of Stagnation was a period of negative economic, political, and social effects in the Soviet Union, which began during the rule of Leonid Brezhnev and continued under Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko.

Following the ousting of Khrushchev, another period of collective leadership ensued, consisting of Leonid Brezhnev as General Secretary, Alexei Kosygin as Premier and Nikolai Podgorny as Chairman of the Presidium, lasting until Brezhnev established himself in the early 1970s as the preeminent Soviet leader.

In 1968, the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia to halt the Prague Spring reforms. In the aftermath, Brezhnev justified the invasion along with the earlier invasions of Eastern European states by introducing the Brezhnev Doctrine, which claimed the right of the Soviet Union to violate the sovereignty of any country that attempted to replace Marxism–Leninism with capitalism.

Brezhnev presided over a period of détente with the West that resulted in treaties on armament control (SALT I, SALT II, Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty) while at the same time building up Soviet military might.

In October 1977, the third Soviet Constitution was unanimously adopted. The prevailing mood of the Soviet leadership at the time of Brezhnev’s death in 1982 was one of aversion to change. The long period of Brezhnev’s rule had come to be dubbed one of “standstill”, with an aging and ossified top political leadership.

Bread lines in Moscow, 1984

Bread lines in Moscow, 1984

Two developments dominated the decade that followed: the increasingly apparent crumbling of the Soviet Union’s economic and political structures, and the patchwork attempts at reforms to reverse that process. Kenneth S. Deffeyes argued in Beyond Oil that the Reagan administration encouraged Saudi Arabia to lower the price of oil to the point where the Soviets could not make a profit selling their oil, so the USSR’s hard currency reserves became depleted.

Brezhnev’s next two successors, transitional figures with deep roots in his tradition, did not last long. Yuri Andropov was 68 years old and Konstantin Chernenko 72 when they assumed power; both died in less than two years. In an attempt to avoid a third short-lived leader, in 1985, the Soviets turned to the next generation and selected Mikhail Gorbachev.

 Third-form schoolchildren from School No 54 (Moskvoretsky District, Moscow) joining the Young Pioneer Organization at the enrollment ceremony in the pavilion-museum Vladimir Lenin's Funeral Train (a branch of the Сentral Lenin Museum in Moscow). [January 1, 1984]

Third-form schoolchildren from School No 54 (Moskvoretsky District, Moscow) joining the Young Pioneer Organization at the enrollment ceremony in the pavilion-museum Vladimir Lenin’s Funeral Train (a branch of the Сentral Lenin Museum in Moscow). [January 1, 1984]

Gorbachev made significant changes in the economy and party leadership, called perestroika. His policy of glasnost freed public access to information after decades of heavy government censorship.

Gorbachev also moved to end the Cold War. In 1988, the Soviet Union abandoned its nine-year war in Afghanistan and began to withdraw its forces. In the late 1980s, he refused military support to the governments of the Soviet Union’s satellite states, which paved the way for Revolutions of 1989. With the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and with East Germany and West Germany pursuing unification, the Iron Curtain between the West and Soviet-controlled regions came down.

In the late 1980s, the constituent republics of the Soviet Union started legal moves towards potentially declaring sovereignty over their territories, citing Article 72 of the USSR constitution, which stated that any constituent republic was free to secede. On April 7, 1990, a law was passed allowing a republic to secede if more than two-thirds of its residents voted for it in a referendum. Many held their first free elections in the Soviet era for their own national legislatures in 1990. Many of these legislatures proceeded to produce legislation contradicting the Union laws in what was known as the “War of Laws”.

In 1989, the Russian SFSR, which was then the largest constituent republic (with about half of the population) convened a newly elected Congress of People’s Deputies. Boris Yeltsin was elected its chairman. On June 12, 1990, the Congress declared Russia’s sovereignty over its territory and proceeded to pass laws that attempted to supersede some of the USSR’s laws. After a landslide victory of Sąjūdis in Lithuania, that country declared its independence restored on March 11, 1990.

McDonald's opens in Moscow, January 31, 1990

McDonald’s opens in Moscow, January 31, 1990

A referendum for the preservation of the USSR was held on March 17, 1991, in nine republics (the remainder having boycotted the vote), with the majority of the population in those nine republics voting for preservation of the Union. The referendum gave Gorbachev a minor boost. In the summer of 1991, the New Union Treaty, which would have turned the Soviet Union into a much looser Union, was agreed upon by eight republics.

The signing of the treaty, however, was interrupted by the August Coup — an attempted coup d’état by hardline members of the government and the KGB who sought to reverse Gorbachev’s reforms and reassert the central government’s control over the republics. After the coup collapsed, Yeltsin was seen as a hero for his decisive actions, while Gorbachev’s power was effectively ended. The balance of power tipped significantly towards the republics. In August 1991, Latvia and Estonia immediately declared the restoration of their full independence (following Lithuania’s 1990 example). Gorbachev resigned as general secretary in late August, and soon afterward the Party’s activities were indefinitely suspended — effectively ending its rule. By the fall, Gorbachev could no longer influence events outside Moscow, and he was being challenged even there by Yeltsin, who had been elected President of Russia in July 1991.

The remaining 12 republics continued discussing new, increasingly looser, models of the Union. However, by December, all except Russia and Kazakhstan had formally declared independence. During this time, Yeltsin took over what remained of the Soviet government, including the Moscow Kremlin. The final blow was struck on December 1, when Ukraine, the second most powerful republic, voted overwhelmingly for independence. Ukraine’s secession ended any realistic chance of the Soviet Union staying together even on a limited scale.

On December 8, 1991, the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (formerly Byelorussia), signed the Belavezha Accords, which declared the Soviet Union dissolved and established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in its place. While doubts remained over the authority of the accords to do this, on December 21, the representatives of all Soviet republics except Georgia signed the Alma-Ata Protocol, which confirmed the accords. On December 25, Gorbachev resigned as the President of the USSR, declaring the office extinct. He turned the powers that had been vested in the presidency over to Yeltsin. That night, the Soviet flag was lowered for the last time, and the Russian tricolor was raised in its place.

The following day, the Supreme Soviet, the highest governmental body of the Soviet Union, voted both itself and the Soviet Union out of existence. This is generally recognized as marking the official, final dissolution of the Soviet Union as a functioning state. The Soviet Army originally remained under overall CIS command, but was soon absorbed into the different military forces of the newly independent states. The few remaining Soviet institutions that had not been taken over by Russia ceased to function by the end of 1991.

Red Square with St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, January 29, 1990

Red Square with St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, January 29, 1990

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, Russia was internationally recognized as its legal successor on the international stage. To that end, Russia voluntarily accepted all Soviet foreign debt and claimed overseas Soviet properties as its own. Under the 1992 Lisbon Protocol, Russia also agreed to receive all nuclear weapons remaining in the territory of other former Soviet republics. Since then, the Russian Federation has assumed the Soviet Union’s rights and obligations. Ukraine has refused to recognize exclusive Russian claims to succession of the USSR and claimed such status for Ukraine as well, which was codified in Articles 7 and 8 of its 1991 law On Legal Succession of Ukraine. Since its independence in 1991, Ukraine has continued to pursue claims against Russia in foreign courts, seeking to recover its share of the foreign property that was owned by the Soviet Union.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union was followed by a severe economic contraction and catastrophic fall in living standards in post-Soviet states including a rapid increase in poverty, corruption, unemployment, homelessness, rates of disease, and income inequality, along with decreases in calorie intake, life expectancy, adult literacy, and income. Between 1988-1989 and 1993-1995, the Gini ratio increased by an average of 9 points for all former socialist countries. The economic shocks that accompanied wholesale privatization were associated with sharp increases in mortality. Data shows Russia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia saw a tripling of unemployment and a 42% increase in male death rates between 1991 and 1994.

In summing up the international ramifications of these events, Vladislav Zubok stated: “The collapse of the Soviet empire was an event of epochal geopolitical, military, ideological, and economic significance.”

Scott #1284 was released on October 26, 1948, as part of a set of five stamps promoting the governmental supervision of children’s summer holidays through the Young Pioneers youth organization (Scott #1284-1288). The other values were two 45-kopeck stamps depicting Young Pioneers saluting on the dark violet design and marching on the deep carmine, a 60-kopeck deep ultramarine denomination featuring a bugler, and a 1 ruble deep blue stamp portraying Young Pioneers around a campfire. Like the others, today’s 30-kopeck dark blue green value featured stamp was printed by lithography and perforated 12½. It pictures members of the Young Pioneers flying model airplanes, chosen because my father scratch-built many radio-controlled model airplanes (and the occasional boat or car) throughout my childhood.

Young Pioneers member's pin with the inscription Всегда готов! ("Always Ready!")

Young Pioneers member’s pin with the inscription Всегда готов! (“Always Ready!”)

The Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization (Всесою́зная пионе́рская организа́ция и́мени В. И. Ле́нина — Vsesoyuznaya pionerskaya organizatsiya imeni V. I. Lenina), or the Young Pioneers, was a mass youth organization of the Soviet Union for children of age 10–15 that existed between 1922 and 1991. Similar to the Scouting organisations of the Western world, Pioneers learned skills of social cooperation and attended publicly-funded summer camps.

After the October Revolution of 1917, some Scouts took the Bolsheviks’ side, which would later lead to the establishment of ideologically altered Scoutlike organizations, such as ЮК (pronounced /yook/ and standing for Юные Коммунисты, or Young Communists) and others. During the Russian Civil War from 1917 to 1921, most of the Scoutmasters and many Scouts fought in the ranks of the White Army and interventionists against the Red Army.

Those Scouts who did not wish to accept the new Soviet system either left Russia for good (like Oleg Pantyukhov and others) or went underground. However, clandestine Scouting did not last long. Komsomol persistently fought with the remnants of the Scout movement. Between 1918 and 1920, the second, third, and fourth All-Russian Congresses of the Russian Union of the Communist Youth (Российский коммунистический союз молодёжи — Rossiyski kommunisticheskiy soyuz molodyozhi) decided to eradicate the Scout movement and create an organization of the communist type, that would take Soviet youth under its umbrella. This organization would properly educate children with Communist teachings.

On behalf of the Soviet Government, Nadezhda Krupskaya (Vladimir Lenin’s wife and the People’s Commissar of State for Education) was one of the main contributors to the cause of the Pioneer movement. In 1922, she wrote an essay called “Russian Union of the Communist Youth and boy-Scoutism.” However, it was the remaining scoutmasters themselves who supported the Komonsol and the Red Army, like Innokentiy Zhukov and some others around Nikolaj Fatyanov’s “Brothers of the fire”, who introduced the name “pioneer” to it and convinced the Komsomol to keep the scout motto “Be prepared!” and adapt it to “Always prepared!” as the organizational motto and slogan.

The Moscow scoutmasters adopted a “Declaration of the scoutmasters of Moscow concerning the question of the formation of a children’s movement in the RSFSR” on May 13, 1922. They suggested to use the scouting system as a foundation of the new communist organization for children, and give the “Young Pioneers” name to it. The main contribution of the scoutmasters was the introduction of the new expression system scouting into the discourse on communist children’s and youth organizations. By doing so they avoided the dissolution of the scout organization as it would happen sooner or later to any organization opposed to the Komsomol.

On May 19, 1922 the second All-Russian Komsomol Conference adopted the scoutmasters’ suggestions and decided to “work on the question of a children’s movement by using the re-organized system of scouting.” During the following years, many of the remaining former scoutmasters, who later became the first pioneer leaders in their respective areas, founded pioneer groups and educated future pioneer leaders in these.

May 19, 1922, was later considered the birthday of the All-Union Pioneer Organization (Всесоюзная пионерская организация — Vsesoyuznaya pionerskaya organizatsiya). By October 1922, Pioneer units nationwide were united to form the Spartak Young Pioneers Organization (Юные пионеры имени Спартака), which was named after V. I. Lenin by a decision of the Central Committee of Komsomol of January 21, 1924, becoming the Vladimir Lenin Spartak Young Pioneers Organization (VLSYPO). Beginning in March 1926. it bore the name Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization (VLAUPO).

By the middle of 1923, it had 75,000 members. Among other activities, Young Pioneer units, helped by the Komsomol members and leadership at all levels, played a great role in the eradication of illiteracy (Likbez policy) from 1923. Membership was at 161,000 at the beginning of 1924, 2 million in 1926, 13.9 million in 1940, and 25 million in 1974. Many Young Pioneer Palaces were built, which served as community centers for the children, with rooms dedicated to various clubs, such as crafts or sports. Thousands of Young Pioneer camps were set up where children went during summer vacation and winter holidays. All of them were free of charge, sponsored by the government and the Trade Unions.

During World War Two, the Pioneers worked hard to contribute to the war effort at all costs. Thousands of them died in battles as military personnel and in the resistance against Nazi Germany in its occupied territories as partisans and Pioneers under secrecy in enemy-occupied towns and cities, even in concentration camps. One of them became widely known, for his resistance in Kerch, Volodia Dubinin. Four Pioneers would later receive the coveted Gold Star Medal as Heroes of the Soviet Union, and countless others were awarded various state orders, decorations and medals for acts of bravery and courage in the battlefield, on enemy lines and occupied territories.

Its main grouping of members until 1942 was the “Young Pioneer detachment,” which then typically consisted of children belonging to the same secondary school. From 1942 to October 1990 (when the organization was broken up), the “detachment” was made up of children belonging to the same class within a school, while a school was referred to as a “Young Pioneer group.”

There was also an age-scale structure: children of 10–11 years were called Young Pioneers of the First Stage; 11–12 years were Young Pioneers of the Second Stage; 13–15 years were Young Pioneers of the Third Stage. At age 15, Young Pioneers could join Komsomol, with a recommendation from their Young Pioneer group. The main governing body was the Central Soviet of the Young Pioneer Organization of the Soviet Union, which worked under the leadership of the main governing body of Komsomol. Its official newspaper was Pionerskaya Pravda.

The main goals and duties of Young Pioneers and requirements of membership were specified by the Regulations of the Young Pioneer Organization of the Soviet Union; by the Solemn Promise (given by each Young Pioneer joining the organization); by the Rules of the Young Pioneers; and by the Young Pioneer Motto, всегда готов! (vsegda gotov!, “Always Ready!”). There were two major revisions of them: in 1967 and 1986.

Although membership was theoretically optional, almost all the children in the Soviet Union belonged to the organization; it was a natural part of growing up. Still, joining was not automatic. In the third grade of school, children were allowed to join the Young Pioneer Organization, which was done in batches, as a solemn ceremony, often in a Pioneers Palace. Only the best students were allowed into the first batch, slightly less advanced and well-behaved were allowed into the second batch, several weeks later. The most ill-behaved or low-performing students were given time to “catch up” and could be allowed to join only in the fourth grade, a year after the first batch of their classmates. Not being admitted at all was odd, and lack of desire to join was considered suspicious.

In line with the Soviet doctrine of state atheism, the Young Pioneer Leader’s Handbook stated that “every Pioneer would set up an atheist’s corner at home with anti-religious pictures, poems, and sayings”, in contrast to the traditional Russian Christian icon corners. The Young Pioneers, “as representatives of atheism and political change, encountered massive resistance in rural areas”. In the same vein, some students refused to join the organization because of its promotion of Marxist-Leninist atheism.

Soviet Young Pioneers in the Zeravshan Mountains of Tajik SSR, 1983.

Soviet Young Pioneers in the Zeravshan Mountains of Tajik SSR, 1983

The main symbols of Young Pioneers were the red banner, flag, Young Pioneer’s red neck scarf and the organizational badge. The uniform was one of many things that identified Pioneers with each other and the people. Part of the school uniform worn at school, it included a red neckerchief and the organizational and rank badges on a white shirt with long or short pants for boys and long or short skirts for girls, with optional side caps as headdress. Full dress uniforms, used in occasions, were light blue or white with red side caps, red neckerchief and the badges, with crimson sashes for color bearers and the color escorts. When on outdoor duties, brown polo shirts with pants or skirts depending on gender were used, with an optional side cap. Sea service uniforms used sailor caps and blue and white shirts (with Telnyashkas) and pants or skirts depending on the gender, with a brown belt. Instructors and adult leaders wore the same uniforms and the caps in every occasion and in all meetings. In its early years, the Pioneers wore campaign hats in major events.

By 1987, Pioneers who joined the organization recited the revised version of its membership pledge first enacted in 1923:

I (surname, given name), having now joined the ranks of the Vladimir Illich Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization, in the presence of my comrades solemnly promise: to passionately love my motherland and to cherish it as I can, to live, study, and fight as the Great Lenin has instructed, as the Communist Party teaches me, and as to always comply with the laws of the Pioneers of the Soviet Union.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s