Return to Soviet Russia Fall 2001 Syllabus


Study questions on Ronald Grigor Suny, The Soviet Experiment:  Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1998)  

Week 14

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Chapter 19, pages 421-446

Chapter 20, pages 449-468


Ch. 19, pp. 421-446

What is Suny’s main point about Soviet society during the Brezhnev era?

Does Suny think that the USSR of the Brezhnev era had much in common with the goals of 1917? Explain. 

What was the main internal political goal of the Brezhnev leadership?

Who was Brezhnev? What does Suny tell us about his personality and career?

Did Brezhnev rule over the party as a dictator? Explain.

How does Suny explain the aims of Soviet involvement in the Vietnam conflict? Did they allow the Vietnam war to effect their relations with the US?

What signs of trouble had emerged in the Soviet economy by the late 1960s? 

What kinds of reforms had Prime Minister Kosygin supported in the mid-1960s? (What was at the core of the debate between "reformers" and "statists"?)   

Why was Kosygin unable to make real economic reforms?

What sectors of the economy did Brezhnev favor, and how did Brezhnev want to pull the USSR out of its economic slump?

Was the Brezhnev leadership liberal on cultural matters?  

Why did the Soviet Union intervene in Czechoslovakia in 1968? What was the impact on the Soviet Union’s image?

What events inspired dissidents in the USSR?

Were all dissidents anti-Soviet? What different "types" of dissidents does Suny discuss? 

How did the Brezhnev regime treat dissidents? (Give some examples.)

Did most Soviet citizens support the dissidents? Explain.

When and why did large numbers of intellectuals become dissatisfied with the Soviet regime?

What did the term "soft repression" mean (applied to the policies of KGB chief Andropov)?

What problems did Soviet agriculture face during the Brezhnev era? Explain.

When did Brezhnev emerge as the most powerful figure in the collective leadership?

How does Suny explain Brezhnev’s longevity?

Explain the point of the joke that ends the third paragraph on p. 436.

How did Soviet oil and gold wealth hinder economic reform?

How did Soviet society change during the Brezhnev era (e.g, population trends, standards of living, housing, economic differences, access to health care, life expectancy, infant mortality, education, etc.)? 

Who were the elites in Soviet society in the 1970s?

According to Suny, what was the "bargain" between the state and society in the USSR, and did the Brezhnev regime keep its side in this bargain? 

Why was the black market so important to daily life in the USSR?

What does Suny have to say about religion, and about family life, during the Brezhnev era?

Did Soviet relations with China improve under Brezhnev? Explain.

What was "détente"? When and why did it reach its peak?

Was détente good for the USSR? Explain.

When and why did détente break down?

Is it fair to say that third world countries fought the Cold War "for" the US and the USSR? Explain your position.

Why did the USSR move into Afghanistan in December 1979, and what were the results?

Why was the USSR facing a crisis in Poland in 1980-81?

In what sense was the USSR ready for change by 1982?



Ch. 20, pp. 449-468

When did Brezhnev die and who replaced him?

What was "different" about Andropov, and how would you describe his leadership style?

What did Andropov try to reform, and were these reforms really efforts to change the Soviet system? Explain.

Did Andropov’s "brigade" reforms really give workers more power?

Who replaced Andropov in Feb. 1984?

Describe Chernenko.

Who was Gorbachev, and what was his professional background?

Did Gorbachev have a clear plan for reform when he came to power in 1985?

Suny says that Gorbachev changed the "language" of Soviet politics in 1985—what does this mean?

Did the entire party support reform in 1985?

How did the 1986 party program differ from the old party program?

What were Gorbachev’s strengths and weaknesses?

How did the change in oil prices in the mid-1980s effect the Soviet economy, and what did this mean for Gorbachev’s reforms?

What was "glasnost" and why did Gorbachev promote this policy?

Did all party members support glasnost?

Did the public in general support glasnost?

What was "perestroika," and why had Gorbachev concluded by 1987 that the USSR had to become more democratic?

What effect did these reforms have on the party leadership? What position did Yeltsin take? What position did Ligachev take?

Why did Yeltsin resign from the party leadership in fall 1987, and what were the results?

In what ways were Gorbachev’s policies contradictory? Why does Suny say that Gorbachev wanted to be "Martin Luther and the pope"?

Was Gorbachev’s foreign policy "New Thinking" a success? What was Gorbachev trying to do in his foreign policy?

Does Suny think that Reagan won the Cold War? Explain.

What was the point of Nina Andreeva’s March 1988 letter to Soviet Russia, and how did the debate it began signal an era of greater democratization?

Give some examples of glasnost in action in 1988. Did such openness increase public support for the Communist Party?

Why was Gorbachev trying to strengthen the government and weaken the party in June 1988? And why would many party bureaucrats oppose this?

Suny says that ethnic and national disturbances "hijacked" Gorbachev’s reforms—what does he mean by this?

Suny argues (on pp. 462-63) that long-term Soviet policies created ethnic tensions and that Gorbachev’s reforms allowed these tensions to explode. Explain his argument.

Suny says that the USSR faced four kinds of ethnic crises in the late 1980s. What were these four types of ethnic problems? (see pp. 463-65)

Whose idea was it to elect a Congress of People’s Deputies, and why?

Were the 1989 elections to the Congress of People’s Deputies democratic? Explain.

Why were these 1989 elections so important?

Why was it important that the congress meetings were televised?

In what ways does Suny compare Gorbachev to the Mensheviks and SRs in 1917?

What is Suny’s main point in this chapter?


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