The Soviet Union - The Most Powerful Communist Country in the World



The Soviet Union or Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (U.S.S.R) was a Communist state that existed in the last century, between 1922 and 1991. At that time, it was the largest country in the world, spread over two continents, Asia and Europe, and eleven time zones. The Soviet Union was the most powerful Communist country that ever existed.

The European part of the Soviet Union was about a fourth of the size of the whole country, but almost 80% of its citizens lived there. The Asian part stretched across Siberia to the Pacific Ocean and south to the Himalayas. It was a sparsely populated region.



The Soviet Union emerged out of the Russian Revolution, a conflict that abolished the Russian empire and removed the tsar who ruled it. The new country was founded in 1922 after Vladimir Lenin reunited Russia with other republics after a civil war between Communists and forces who were loyal to the tsar.
When Lenin died in 1924, Joseph Stalin took over as the leader of the Soviet Union. He was a ruthless dictator, who had many citizens arrested and killed for criticizing Communism.

Soviet Union

Map of the Soviet Union

At the beginning of World War II the Soviet Union signed a treaty with Nazi Germany, in which both states promised not to attack each other.  However, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. In the following two years, the bloodiest battles of the war were fought on Russian soil, including the infamous Battle of Stalingrad.  Millions of Soviet soldiers and civilians were killed.

After World War II, The Soviet Union expanded its influence to many states of Eastern Europe. The U.S.S.R regarded Eastern Europe as their backyard and installed pro Communist governments there. This led to the Cold War, a period of tension and unstable relationships with western countries. The Soviets also expanded their influence to other continents. As a result, Cuba, North Korea and North Vietnam turned Communist.

After Stalin died in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev came to power. He was a more liberal leader than Stalin, but during his rule confrontation with the west’s superpower USA came to a climax.  The Cuban missile crisis almost led to a nuclear war between the USA and the U.S.S.R. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet Union made progress in technology and launched the first satellites into space, thus provoking the USA to enter the Space Race.

In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power.  His aim was to liberalize the Soviet Union. He introduced his famous policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) . Towards the end of the decade there were signs of Communism collapsing everywhere in Eastern Europe. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down and thousands of East Germans were able to freely travel to the west.

In 1991, Gorbachev lost power after generals attempted to overthrow his government. On December 25, 1991 he resigned and the majority of the 15 Soviet Republics declared independence. The USSR had ceased to exist.

Power plant on a Russian river

Power plant on a Russian river



The Communist Party was the only existing party in the Soviet Union. It controlled everything. Members of the ruling Central Committee elected a Politburo, which made most of the decisions. The Secretary General was not only leader of the Communist party but also the nation’s most powerful person. Even though the Soviet Union existed of 15 separate republics, they controlled them tightly.



The whole economy of the Soviet Union was planned by the state.  The production of goods was centralised. There was no free trade and private companies did not exist. So-called five-year plans were used to develop industries as well as the energy sector. During the first decades, the Soviet Union changed from a farming country to a highly industrialised nation. At its climax, it was the second largest economy of the world.

Production, however, did not take into consideration what people really needed. Western goods were impossible to get. Workers got the same wages, regardless of how hard they worked. Prices were also set by the state. On the other side, the government provided basic services, like health care, housing and education.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union spent a lot of money on weapons and the arms race. This led to shortages in food production so that the country often had to import products from the west. The Soviets had a vast supply of natural resourcesOil and natural gas were produced for the world market. Pipelines brought energy to Western Europe.


Population and ethnic groups

The Soviet Union consisted of many ethnic groups with different languages, cultures and religions. In 1991, about 290 million people lived in the county, but only 60% of them were Russians. The U.S.S.R. had problems integrating these cultures. Especially during the 1980s, the Islamic population in the southern republics wanted more autonomy and independence from Soviet authorities.  This led to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.


Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan

Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan


Why the Soviet Union collapsed

There are many reasons for the fall of the Soviet Union. These are the main ones:

  • More and more republics wanted to become independent
  • Loss of control in Eastern Europe
  • During glasnost people were able to protest for the first time
  • Population could not cope with a more liberal economy. They were used to having the government do everything for them.
  • Invasion of Afghanistan cost the country a lot of money
  • The Communist country had to import food, while income from lower oil prices went down


Related Topics




  • abolish = end, do away with
  • aim = what someone wants, plan
  • arms race = when a country tries to have more weapons than others
  • arrest = to take someone to a police station because they have done something wrong
  • attack = strike, hit
  • attempt = try
  • authorities = government departments
  • autonomy = independence , the right to govern yourself
  • backyard = here: area that is close to your country
  • basic services = things that you need in everyday life
  • battle = single fight during a war
  • cease = stop
  • century  =  a hundred years
  • citizen = a person who lives in a country and has rights there
  • civil war = war in which groups of people from the same country fight against each other
  • climax = here: time during which the country was strongest and most powerful
  • collapse = break down
  • confrontation= conflict
  • consist = to be made up of
  • cope with = handle, manage
  • decade = ten years
  • declare independence = to officially say that you are a free country
  • develop = make something grow
  • economy = system by which a country’s money and goods are produced  and used
  • elect = to choose someone for an official position
  • emerge = come from, arise
  • empire = group of countries, all controlled by one person
  • especially = above all
  • ethnic = of a certain language, religion or country
  • even though = while
  • expand = grow, make something larger
  • fall = collapse
  • forces = soldiers
  • free trade = buy and sell products to other countries
  • goods = products
  • health care = service that cares for the health of a country’s population
  • however = but
  • including = also
  • income = the money you get from the goods you sell to others
  • independence = freedom
  • infamous = well-known for being very brutal
  • influence = power, control
  • install = set up
  • integrate = join together
  • invade = to enter a country with soldiers, in order to take control of it
  • launch = start
  • loss = losing something
  • loyal = if you can trust someone
  • majority = most of
  • missile = rocket that can fly over long distances  and explode there
  • natural resources = raw materials that can be used for food and energy
  • nuclear war = war with atomic bombs
  • overthrow = take over
  • policy = strategy, program
  • progress = growth; step forward
  • provide = offer, give
  • provoke =start, cause
  • regard = to think of something as
  • regardless = in spite of, not caring about
  • remove = take out
  • resign = step down as leader
  • reunite = bring together again
  • rule = time as a ruler
  • ruthless = brutal, cruel
  • separate = single, independent
  • shortage = not enough of
  • sign = signal , clue
  • sign = to put your name on a document
  • size = how big something is
  • soil = earth, land
  • Space Race = time during which the USA and the Soviet Union wanted to be the first to put a man into space and send him to the moon
  • sparsely populated = not many people live in a large area
  • spread = to reach from one place to another
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  • supply = stock, reserve
  • take into consideration = remember to think about something that is important
  • technology = new machines and inventions, as well as modern knowledge
  • tension = worry, pressure, nervousness
  • tightly = strongly
  • treaty = written agreement
  • tsar = ruler of Russia before 1917
  • unstable = not steady
  • vast = very large
  • wages = money that workers get for the work they do
  • weapon = something that you use in a war, or to fight against someone