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

Week 6

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Chapter 6, pages 140-169

Chapter 7, pages 170-194

Chapter 8, pages 195-213


Ch. 6, pp. 140-169

What was meant by the term "the nationality question"?

What had been Leninís view of the nationality question before 1917?

Who was put "in charge" of Soviet nationalities policy after 1917?

What position did Stalin and Bukharin take on the nationality question during the Civil War? Did Lenin agree? Explain.

What about Stalinís plan for a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Lenin disagree with in 1922? Explain. Who "won" this first dispute over the Union?

When and why did Lenin try to warn the party leadership that Stalin was a threat? What was it that Lenin actually said about Stalin in 1923?

In the long-term, who really won the dispute between Lenin and Stalin over Soviet nationality policy?

Who was this Stalin fellow, anyway? What does Suny tell us about him? What was his role in 1917? During the Civil War?

What functions did Stalin control as head of the partyís Secretariat and in the Orgburo? Why was that so important?

Who were Stalinís allies in 1923-25, and why?

What had happened to Leninís health in 1921-23?

Who were the most likely successors to Lenin? Explain.

At what point did Stalin and his allies begin pushing Trotsky out of the leadership? What were the main issues that Trotsky had raised in the "Platform of the Forty-Six"? what were the results?

In what ways did Stalin use Leninís death for his own political purposes?

Why wasnít Leninís criticism of Stalin (in his Testament) made known in 1924?

How did Stalin succeed in labeling Trotsky as deviating from Leninism?

What was Trotskyís status in the leadership by 1925?

Did the entire party agree about supporting the NEP economic policy? Explain.

Did NEP bring a higher standard of living right away in 1921? Explain. Did NEP help those starving in the 1921 famine?

What condition was the economy in by 1921? Explain.

Which recovered more rapidlyóindustry or agriculture? Explain.

What caused the "scissors crisis" of 1923? How did Bukharin want to "close the scissors"? What did the Politburo actually do about this crisis?

What was the main idea behind the slogan "Socialism in One Country"? How did Stalin and Bukharin use this idea to discredit Trotsky?

What was Trotskyís position on industrialization and foreign trade in 1925?

What was Bukharinís position on these questions?

Explain the basic criticism that Trotsky and the "Left Opposition" made of the Stalin-Bukharin economic program.

What happened to the Left Opposition at the 14th party congress?

Was Trotsky kicked out of the government in 1925? Kamenev? Zinoviev? Explain.

What was the "United Opposition"?

What happened to the United Opposition in the course of 1927?

Why did the Stalin faction in 1927 decide to adopt many of the proposals of the defeated Left Opposition?

How did Stalin deal with the 1927 grain crisis? Why was that so important?

Why had Lenin adopted a policy of peaceful coexistence? What did this involve?

By 1921, did Lenin support "revolutionary offensives" in foreign policy? Why not?

Why did the Soviet government and the German government sign the 1922 Rappallo Treaty?

Did all members of the Comintern agree with the new Soviet foreign policy? Explain.

What was the relationship between the Russian Communist Party and the Comintern?

Why was the Soviet Union felling increasingly isolated by the mid-1920s? How did the Soviet government respond?

Did Moscow support the nationalists or the communists in China in 1920-27? Explain. What happened in China in 1927 that, as Suny points out, was a great disaster for Soviet policy? Explain.

What were the causes of the 1927 war scare and how did it effect Soviet domestic politics?

Suny says that between 1917 and 1928 "the USSR moved from being a revolutionary power to become a more normal stateÖ" What does he mean by this? Explain.

At the end of this chapter, Suny explains five reasons that Stalin was able to emerge as the most powerful leader in the Communist Party and the Soviet state by 1928. What is Sunyís main point about: the changing "rules of the political game"; Stalinís control over the party secretariat; Stalinís ideals of building socialism; Stalinís personality; the weakness of Stalinís opponents?


Ch. 7, pp. 170-194

Detailed questions on chapter 7

What contradictions does Suny identify in NEP society?

Why does Suny call NEP society and amalgam of cultures?

Why were class designations so important to the Communist Party?

Was it easy to determine objective class distinctions during NEP?

How did the Party do this?

Does Suny himself see class distinctions as an "objective" category? Explain.

When and why did the civil war migration of people from town to countryside reverse? What were the results?

When and why did workersí standards of living begin to improve?

How did NEP affect the gender balance in the workforce? Explain.

What sort of special treatment did Red Army soldiers receive?

What kind of goods did the NEP economy concentrate on and why?

According to Suny, what about the NEP ecopnomy created tensions between workers and the Communist Party, and how did the party try to lessen these?

How did workers actually organize themselves at work during NEP?

What were the arteli? Why did these pose a problem for Soviet economic goals?

Were workersí lives during NEP stable and secure? Explain.

What does Suny mean by "low classness" (p. 176)?

What were the functions of the rural commune and the rural household during the 1920s?

What three social "classes" did the Communists "see" in the countryside?

Does Suny think that there were really class divisions in the villages? Explain.

Were peasants enthusiastic about the Communist Party? Explain.

Who were the Nepmen, and what was there economic function?

Why were so many members of the Communist Party hostile towards NEP?

How were former Red Army soldiers reintegrated into civilian society? Why was that important?

In what sense was the army a "school for socialism"?

What sort of "radical" social programs did the Soviet government implement in its first decade (especially regarding women)?

Did these programs result in real emancipation of women? Explain. Did womenís situation improve or worsen?

Did all groups (including peasants) support the stateís family reforms?

Explain the Soviet governmentís position on religion during NEP. Was it consistent?

Explain the Orthodox churchís position towards the Soviet government during NEP. Was it consistent?

Explain Sunyís main point about the legitimacy of the Soviet regime during NEP.

How did the regimes symbols and its claim to legitimacy change during NEP?

How did the cult of Lenin work to legitimate the regime?

 "BIG" questions on chapter 7

Why was the concept of "class" so important to Soviet/Party culture, and why was it so vital that they ascribe class characteristics to various groups?

Thinking about the material in this chapter and in chapter 6, why would the aims of workers and the aims of the party have been in conflict during NEP?

Why was Bukharinís "pro-peasant" policy (chapter 6) so difficult a thing for party members to accept? Why fear the peasantry?

Was Leninís conception of NEP only economic? Or was it cultural as well? Considering this, and thinking about the issue of the Nepmen, why would party members (and especially young party members) be impatient with NEP?

How did the "civil" functions of the army and the various Soviet social programs and anti-religious campaigns discussed in this chapter fit into Leninís "cultural" concept of NEP?

Why did the leadership create a "cult of Lenin"?


Ch. 8, pp. 195-213

Detailed questions on chapter 8

Did the intelligentsia support the Bolsheviks in 1917?

What happened to the pre-revolutionary intelligentsia once the Bolsheviks were in power?

Did the avant-garde poet Blok support the Bolshevik revolution? Explain.

Did Lenin and the Bolsheviks think much of the avant-garde artists? Explain.

Who was Anatoli Lunacharskii, and what did he think of the avant-garde?

What was the Proletkult? The VAPP? Did the Party in the early 1920s support any one of these literary/artistic groups over the others? Explain.

How did the Bolsheviks understand the uses of art, theater, etc?

What is meant by the term "the soft line on culture"? Why was the party "soft" towards artists in 1921-28?

Explain in a few words the main point/ideas about art made by of the following people and artistic movements during NEP:

    The Sarapion Brothers

    The "National Bolsheviks" and the Changing Signposts Movement

    Aleksandr Voronskii


    The journal Left

What happened to Sergei Esenin and Vladimir Maiakovskii, and what can there fate show us?

What sort of values did early Soviet films tend to depict?

Did Soviet audiences want to watch "political" films? What sort of entertainment did people seem to like?

What role did educators like Leninís wife, Nadezhda Krupskaia, think that education could play in building socialism? Explain.

What kinds of school reforms did the Bolsheviks implement?

Did teachers like these reforms? What other obstacles did the reforms face?

Explain how the relationship between the Bolshevik government and the universities changed between 1917 and NEP.

What actually happened to public education during NEP? Explain. What was expected out of the schools? Did they have the resources to meet such goals?

What became of the "soft line on culture" in 1928?

What does Suny mean by the term "Cultural Revolution" as a designation of a particualr time period and policy? (You should note that this is a term that historians applied the term to this period later on, not a term people used at the time.)

What had Lenin meant by "cultural revolution"? How did that differ form the partyís new policy in 1928-35?

How was "class war" rhetoric used against different groups in 1928-29? For instance, vs. "bourgeois specialists," scientists in the Academy of Sciences, and writers like Mikhail Bakhtin?

What sort of function were artists and critics supposed to have according to the new "hard line" on culture?

Who won the "culture wars" of the 1920s?

 "BIG" questions on chapter 8

Why did the new regime need the intelligentsia?

Why would many intellectuals have "come to terms" with the new regime in the twenties?

What did most party officials hope that art and education would do in the twenties?

Why didnít these educational and cultural ambitions work out?

What were the basic issues at dispute during the "culture wars" of the 1920s?

What simple ideas seem to have driven "the Cultural Revolution," and why might these ideas have been effective means of mobilizing the party for action?

What might Stalin have meant by the term "engineers of the soul"?


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