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 5

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Chapter 3, Socialism and Civil War, pages 72-95

Chapter 4, Nationalism and Revolution, pages 96-120

Chapter 5, The Evolution of a Dictatorship, pages 123-139


Ch. 3. pp. 92-95:

According to Suny, there were five distinct groups that fought against the Soviet government during the Civil War. What were they?

What foreign governments intervened in the Russian Civil War and why?

What was the Volunteer Army?

How does Suny describe the general course of the Civil War in the South?

What sorts of policies weakened support for the Whites in the South?

Explain the role of Czechoslovak soldiers in the Civil War in Siberia. What was the Komuch, and why was it weak?

What were the German’s aims in Russia during the Civil War, and how did that shape British and American policy?

How did Trotsky reorganize the Red Army during the Civil War? What was controversial about Trotsky’s military policies?

How did Germany’s defeat in 1918 change the dynamics of the Russian Civil War?

According to Suny, what major organizational problems did the Whites suffer from?

Who was Kolshak, and how did his seizing power in Siberia effect the dynamics of the Civil War?

Was 1919 a good or bad year for the White armies? Explain.

By the end of 1919, who was winning the Civil War?

When would it be fair to say that the Reds had won the Civil War? According to Suny, when did the last fighting in the Civil War actually end?

What were the aims of Soviet nationality policy in 1917-1918, and how did nationality groups in the former Russian Empire take advantage of the revolution?

Did all socialists in the world (or even all Marxists) support the Bolsheviks? Explain.

Did an international socialist revolution break out in Europe after 1917? Where did revolutions break out, and what happened to them? Explain.

What was the Comintern?

How did Soviet foreign policy and the Soviet government’s diplomatic relations change at the end of the Civil War?

How did the Civil War effect the economy, and what did this mean for the working class?

Did Lenin think that Russia, theoretically, was a good place to build socialism? Explain.

How did workers respond to Lenin’s policies regarding factory management, and why?

How did the Soviet government ensure that it would have a labor force?

Explain Trotsky’s idea of "labor armies."

How does Suny explain the causes of anti-Bolshevik worker protests in 1918-1919?

How does Suny describe the relationship between the Bolshevik vision of the "socialist factory" and what workers had hoped for out of socialism? Explain.

Why were the peasants so critical to the Bolsheviks’ ability to hold on to power?

What was Soviet land policy in October 1917-early 1918?

How did peasants understand the meaning of the revolution, and how did they act to put this "vision" into practice?

What were the results of the agrarian revolution of 1917-1918?

Did Soviet power mean that the food supply crisis had been solved? Explain.

What were "kulaks"? What were the Committees of Poor Peasants? What were the Military Food Brigades?

Explain the various shifts in Soviet government policy towards collecting grain during 1917-1919.

What were the sovkhozy and the kommuny?

Who did peasants support during the Civil War? Explain.

Once the Reds had won the Civil War, were the Communists popular in the countryside? Explain.

How does Suny explain the reasons that the Bolsheviks won the Civil War? What were the costs?



Ch. 4, pp. 96-120:

Were all subjects of the tsarist Russian Empire Russians? Explain.

Did the Tsarist government treat all nationalities equally? Did educated Russians treat all nationalities equally?

What characterized tsarist policy towards the nationalities in the decades before 1917?

Where is Transcaucasia? What nationality and religious groups live there?

How did the following nationality groups (in general) respond to the Bolshevik revolution, and what was there general relationship to the new Soviet regime in 1917-1920?:




Where is Ukraine, and what does Suny tell us about its population and its relations with Russia before 1917?

How does Suny summarize the very complicated history of Ukraine in 1917-1918?

Where is Belorussia, and what does Suny tell us about its population and its relations with Russia before 1917?

Compare the course of events in Belorussia in 1917-1918 to that in Ukraine.

Was there an independent Poland before 1918? Explain.

Why did the Bolshevik government go to war against Poland in 1920? And why did the Soviet invasion of Poland fail?

What lesson did Lenin learn from the Polish war?

Where are Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and what does Suny tell us about their populations and relations with Russia before 1917?

Compare the course of events in 1917-1918 in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

What is Suny’s main point about the creation of independent states in Belorussia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania?

Where is Finland, and what does Suny tell us about its population and relations with Russia before 1917?

When did the Finns declare independence, and who won the Finnish Civil War?

What does Suny tell us about Russian-Jewish relations before 1917?

What did the 1917 Revolution mean for Russia’s Jews?

What sort of position did the Jews find themselves in during the Civil War? Explain.

Did the Bolsheviks all agree on how to treat the Jews as a distinct group? Explain.

What regions in the Russian Empire were predominately Islamic? What does Suny tell us about relations between the tsarist regime and the Muslim peoples of the east before 1917?

What was the Jadidist movement?

How did Muslim leaders respond to the 1917 revolution?

How does Suny characterize Russian-Muslim relations during the Civil War?

Was there wide support for the Soviet government in Central Asia during the Civil War? Explain.

Why did Lenin (and Stalin) consider Central Asia so important in 1918-1920? How did this policy change in 1921?

What is Suny’s main point in the chapter about the relationship between class struggles and nationalism before 1917, during 1917, and during the Civil War?


Ch. 5, pp. 123-139:

What are the "five easy steps" towards dictatorship that Suny discusses on p. 123?

Who had and who was denied political rights under the new, Bolshevik regime?

When did the Soviet government become a one-party government?

Does Suny think that the Bolsheviks were a "strong" party in early 1918? According to Suny, how did that factor into Lenin’s turning away from radical democracy?

According to Suny, did the Soviets after October 1917 function as democratic institutions? Explain.

According to Suny, what sorts of tendencies (culture) were emerging in the Bolshevik party in 1918? Did the Civil War lessen or magnify these tendencies?

Were the Bolsheviks consistent in their policy towards the opposition socialist parties? Explain.

Did the end of the Civil War result in a lessening of repression against the non-Bolshevik socialists? Explain. What became of multi-party politics in Soviet Russia?

Does Suny argue that dictatorship was the result of Bolshevik ideology, of policies they considered necessary during the Civil War, or a mixture of both?

What does Suny mean when he says that Lenin "defended the ‘productivist’ ideal…" (p. 126)?

What does Suny say about Lenin’s character as head of state?

Explain the organizational structure of the Soviet government as it functioned during the Civil War.

According to Suny, at what point did the Communist Party become "a state within a state," and what did that mean for the function of the soviets?

On p. 124 Suny says that the Civil War transformed the relationship between the party, state, and workers in 3 ways. What were these? Explain. What were the results?

According to Suny (p. 129), what had the function/purpose of the Communist Party become by 1921?

Does Suny think that the Communist Party was a highly disciplined monolith? Explain.

What was the Left Communist movement? What became of it?

What was the "Democratic centralist" movement? What did it protest against? 

Did the party leadership simply crush the democratic centralists in 1919-1920? Explain.

Explain the positions taken on the "trade union question" at the 1921 10th Party Congress by Lenin (the "Platform of Ten"), by Trotsky and Bukharin (statization), and by the Workers’ Opposition.

Who "won" the 10th Party Congress debate on the trade union question? And what happened to the Workers’ Opposition?

After March 1921, would the Party permit factionalism? (what document from week 3 relates to this?)

How does Suny characterize the impact of the Civil War on the attitudes of Communist Party members by 1921?

Who rebelled against the Soviet government in Tambov, when, and why?

How does Suny explain workers’ protests in 1920-21?

Who rebelled at Kronstadt in 1921, why, and what became of the rebellion?

Why does Suny call March 1921 "a major turning point in early Soviet history"?

Besides the decision on factionalism, what other major decisions were made at the 10th Party Congress in March 1921?

What does Suny mean by "state capitalism"?

What was the basic idea of Lenin’s New Economic Policy?

How did Lenin justify such a change in policy?

What was the "smychka"?

According to Suny, what was Lenin’s model for the NEP?

What is Suny’s main point in this chapter?


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