When the Communists Collide


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During the late 1950’s and into the 1960’s, the Soviet Union was not only concerned with its conflict in the West, but also with its neighbors to its South-East. The imperialist Chinese and Soviets began butting heads. Many political figures regarded the Chinese as descendants of the Mongol hordes and feared a second invasion. Along with their fears, the Chinese were negotiating immigration policies with the Americans, which led to the 1965 Immigration Act. The increase in tension between both Chinese and Russian translated to confrontation along the southern Sino-Soviet border.

The initial tensions began in the late 1950’s. Khrushchev had been lending Mao assistance in development of nuclear weapons in 1954. Mao had also helped Khrushchev maintain leadership during an attempted coup. However, when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) did not hand over a captured American Sidewinder missile in 1958 and Khrushchev’s leadership now secure, the Soviets decided not to send an Atomic weapon model to the Chinese. Mao, infuriated with the lack of support, deemed the Soviets as weak communists, splitting the communists into pro-Soviets and pro-Chinese.

Tensions continued to rise when in 1967 the Soviets claimed the Chinese illegally detained the Soviet steamship, Svirsk, and captured the captain. The conflict between the two entities finally reached a breaking point in 1969 when regular army forces clashed over Damanskii Island (Chenpao Island to the Chinese). Further clashes occured along the Xinjiang-Kirghiz border. It is unknown why Mao pressed for continued conflict during his cultural revolution but by October of 1969 the Soviets and Chinese agreed to reopen negations regarding the border disputes.

Although, the dispute between both parties led to few casualties, it still showed that the communism globally were not in universal agreement and unification.


“CHINESE AUTHORITIES CONTINUE PROVOCATIONS.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press [Minneapolis] 30 Aug. 1967, Vol. 19 ed., No. 32 sec.: 13. The Current Digest of the Russian Press. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

“The Chinese Border Images.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. N.p., 05 Aug. 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

“The Chinese Border.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. N.p., 22 June 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

“Origins of the 1965 Immigration Act.” The 1965 Immigration Act : Asian-Nation. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Click to access soviet_policies_twrds_chinas_nuclear_weapons_prgm_1.pdf

The Communist Cars


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Stalin with the ZIS 101

Stalin with the ZIS 101

Prior to World War II, the communist Soviets had never been fond of the production of automobiles. It represented free enterprise and a bourgeois lifestyle. However, in 1929 the Soviet government singed an agreement with Ford Motors to build a factory in what is now known as Gor’kii. The Gor’kii Automotive Factory (GAZ). The GAZ would be more known for its size and ability to produce, rather than the automobiles themselves. According to Lewis Siegelbaum, author of Cars for Comrades: The Life of the Soviet Automobile, the GAZ, as well as other automobile factories, began slowing in production of commercial automobiles due to the need for steel in the production of tanks. The production decreased from 211,000 in 1938 to 145,000 in 1940.



Following the war, Stalin approved two new models, Pobeda (Victory) and Moskvich (muscovite). Although the prices were far too high for the common worker, the small number produced allowed for there to be more demand than product. People would be put onto waiting lists for months and even years before being able to get their hands on the new automobiles.

Moskvitch 400

Moskvitch 400

Stalin would also have a series of highly prestigious automobiles produced from Moscow’s Stalin Factory (ZIS), including the speedy ZIS-110 and the monstrous armor-plated ZIS-115 and ZIS-110B (convertible version). However, their were only a few dozen 115’s produced and most were owned by the Kremlin. Stalin owned five of his own and alternated which one he would drive each day as a safety precaution.

ZIS 115

ZIS 115

The importance of Stalin allowing the increased production and sales of automobiles is how it portrays a consumer based economy and eases tensions with the wary, free-market West. The “Big Plan” identified the Soviet’s inability to deal with conflict following World War II due to the fragility of their political structure and economy. Stalin, therefor, allowed for a more democratic look to the post-WWII USSR. Whether or not the increased production and sales of cars actually eased tensions is unknown, however, it did introduce automobiles to a progressive soviet society.






A War of Steel


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The Soviets found themselves with War at their doorstep. In 1941 the Germans had broken the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 and began pouring millions of troops through the Western border of the Soviet Union. After two years of brutal fighting and heavy losses, the Soviets finally began to push the Nazis out of the USSR with the recapture of Stalingrad on February 2nd of 1943. Much of the Soviet’s military success can be attributed to the use of tanks.

Stalin took pride in his military, especially that of his tanks. When he was told to be wary of the power of the Vatican, he is quoted saying, “How many divisions does the Pope of Rome have?” Although humorous, his confidence in his tank divisions was without question. Likewise, the military posters of the time emulated Stalin’s tank obsession. Like the poster above, many posters were brutal and showed the sheer power of these new steel war machines.

The Battle of Kursk is known as the largest tank battle to date. The Germans consisted of 50 divisions, two tank brigades, three tank battalions, and eighty artillery assault divisions comprising 2,700 Tiger and Panther tanks, some 2,000 aircraft, and 900,000 men, while the Soviets consisted of 3,600 tanks, 2,800 aircraft, and 1.3 million troops. The battle led to a Soviet victory. It is highly debated whether or not D-Day or the Battle of Kursk was the downfall of the Nazis, but the battle itself is unquestionably one of the most significant battles of World War II. The following poster shows a disgruntled Hitler upset that he lost his “little ring (and there’s twenty-two divisions in the ring).” The ring being the area around the Battle of Kursk that was previously German occupied, and his twenty-two divisions is an estimate of his divisions that he lost. However, it is estimated that he may have lost upwards of thirty divisions.

The Soviet’s depended and loved their tanks during World War II and it is evident in their military victories and several propaganda posters. For the Soviets this was a war of steel. Steel that moved along treads and could shoot 76.2 mm rounds at the backs of retreating Nazis.









Udarniki: The Not-So-Elite Workers’ Club


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Stalin’s Five Year Plan in 1929 brought a new expectation for the work that must be accomplished. However, in a society in which all workers earn an equal wage, how can workers be influenced to work hard with no incentives? The Soviets pushed a movement in 1929 promoting “Shock Workers” (udarniki).

medal2Soviet Shock Worker Medal

— Soviet Shock Worker Medals

The term was created during the Civil War to designate those who worked hard on arduous tasks. The term was now being coined for workers who exceeded their given quotas. Along with being deemed a “shock worker”, those who exceeded their quotas were given special privileges. Their names were posted on notice boards, they were given access to certain scarce resources, and were even sent on special trips as defined by the collection of testimonies in The First Cruise. Although many of the publications in The First Cruise were politically oriented, the signed testimonies from “shock workers” on a sponsored trip to Europe showed just how highly these workers thought of themselves, writing “Yes, with heads held high we walked through the streets…”

False Shock Worker

False Shock Worker

The movement was highly effective. In 1929 only 29% of workers were designated as “shock workers”, but only a year later 65% of workers were coined “shock workers”. However, the effectiveness of this movement was its downfall. With the increased number of “shock workers”, their value decreased exponentially. It also put a massive strain on the workers health and the machines used in the industry. It also led to “false shock workers” who reaped the benefit of “shock workers” without the work.

Although the “Shock Workers” would die out, they were essential for Russian industrialization and allowed for the Soviets to compete with Western society.


http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/shock-workers/ (Shock Workers, Lewis Siegelbaum)










The night comes rolling in, it reels and it spins,

The light fights through the nighttime gloom.

I’m dirtier than sin, these rags are all I’m in,

And I’m so beat that I can barely move

So buy these little buns, these little hot buns,

Bring all your rubles over here.

On this bitter night look at my bitter plight,

Take pity on a private peddler-girl.

My father drinks too much, and lords it over us,

The booze will be his grave–he doesn’t care.

My sister walks the street, and my Mom’s a hopeless case

I even smoke too much, but hey, that’s life.

And there’s my boss, he had the curse of Cain,

And then he chased me out into the street, 

With only slop to eat, my nanny found me then,

And now I’m living in a craftsman’s house. 

Video/Audio: http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1924-2/nepmen/nepmen-music/hot-buns-bublichki-1928/

During the NEP era, the Communist regime worked hard to promote a growing socialist society in which all worked hard and all were happy. The song Bublichki, however, shines a different light on the daily livelihood of a common peasant. The underground song came into fruition in the 1920’s during the NEP era and describes the hardships of a poor Bublichki (hot buns or bagels) peddler-girl. This song would eventually be banned from the USSR until the late 1980’s but was passed down over generation by word of mouth. The song was also translated into a Yiddish version around the same time.

The interesting aspect of this song is the utter sense of hopelessness that can be felt from the peddler-girl. When she sings of her family, she talks about how her father being an alcoholic and how it will most likely kill him, how her sister walks the streets, her mom is a “hopeless case”, and how she smokes too much but in the end “that’s just life.” It is almost as if these hardships are so norm in the society that she has become numb to what is going on around her. One must therefore ask if this was a common experience of most peasants during the NEP era. Was the revolution as fulfilling to the peasant class as it made itself seem. The song and its censorship makes an argument that it may have not.


Google images

Mass Culture in Soviet Russia (pg. 70-71)

A Giant in Red

File:Kustodiev The Bolshevik.jpg

The Bolshevik (1919-1920), Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev

Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev was no stranger to hardship. At a young age, his father passed away leaving all of the financial burden to his mother. However, Kustodiev would find his success in art. At a young age he found himself as an assistant to the famous Ilya Repin. Repin said, “I pin great hopes on Kustodiev. He is a tal­ented artist and a thoughtful and serious man with a deep love of art; he is making a careful study of nature.”

In 1903, Kustodiev would obtain permission to travel and visited Spain and France. While away, he realized his love for Russia, or as he called it the “blessed Russian land.” The Revolution of 1905 would further spark the fire within the artist, and he began working for satirical papers which supported the working class against the autocracy.

From 1919 to 1920, Kustodiev worked on the painting above known as The Bolshevik. The painting was known for its bold style and composition. The painting represents the pride gained from the changes that occurred during 1905 and 1917. The word “Bolshevik” means “majority”, in the case of early 20th century Russia would be the working class. The painting depicts the masses of middle to lower class citizens marching on what appears to be the Kremlin. The large man who seems to be almost giant in size is carrying a large red banner that seems to encompass the entire landscape. This seems to represent the Bolshevik movement and how their efforts have empowered the “majority” of people in Russian society. The large red banner also represents Russian pride throughout the land.

Kustodiev was known to love his country and this painting shows his undying pride the “blessed Russian land.”


The Seeds of a Youthful Revolution

Barge Haulers on the Volga, Ilya Repin

The Russian Revolution was started around 1917. However, the seeds of this revolution were planted firmly beforehand in the struggles of the working class. A working class that was treated similar to that of labor bearing animals.

The painting above is called Barge Haulers on the Volga. It was an oil-on-canvas painting created between 1870 and 1873 by Ilya Repin while he was holidaying on the Volga. Although he initially had trouble finding people to pose for the painting due to the belief that your soul would be lost in the paper once the painting was finished, all of the characters represented in the painting were actual people that Repin had encountered. The painting depicts the lower working class people pulling in a barge on the Volga river. The men look defeated and worn down. Repin clearly used darker colors on all but one of the characters represented to show the their dismal state.

However, the important aspect of the picture is not the ten older, downtrodden individuals but rather the brighter, younger worker. This worker looks to be the youngest out of the group and seems to be taking off the ropes which burden the barge haulers. He represents the younger generation, who are beginning to recognize their oppression and through it to the wayside. Repin depicts the younger generation as “the light” of a new era in Russian society, hence the brighter colors. Only a short forty years later and this almost prophetic painting of uprising would come to fruition.

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