1 Introduction to the Course, and Russia Today  

Autocracy in Russia & the Revolution of 1905

Discussion Topics

We will discuss the Fitzpatrick reading: What may have been the advantages and disadvantages of autocracy as a form of government (think especially about Pobedonostsev and Nicholas II’s Manifesto)? What role did serfdom play in upholding autocracy? What were some of the contradictions facing Russia at the end of the 19th century? Who were the intelligentsia? Why did so many of them become convinced that the only solution to Russia’s ills was revolution? Why were Russians of all political views ambivalent about capitalism and why was industrialization a difficult project? What were some of the different tactics revolutionaries tried? Why might 1905 have been an important “dress rehearsal” for the revolutions of 1917? What strains did it show in Tsarism?


World War I and the February Revolution

Discussion Topics

The main topic will be Professor Ruthchild’s findings about women’s activism in the February Revolution, as well as the state of the autocracy at this time. Why was WWI such a trial for Russia? What were some of the short and long-term causes of the collapse of the Romanov dynasty in February 1917? What do the documents tell us about the climate of opinion in different sectors of the Russian government and population in the fall and winter of 1916–1917? Why did women play a particularly large role in the February events?

4 The Dual Government  

The Deepening of the Revolution, February-October, 1917

Discussion Topics

What was the dual government between February and October? What were the problems facing the Provisional Government and the Soviet in the months between February and October? How united were the Bolsheviks? What were Lenin’s views? Why do you think his views were increasingly holding sway? Why did others resist his views?


The October Revolution

In class we will stage a debate about the October Revolution based on your papers.

Paper 1 due

The New Government & its Critics

Discussion Topics

As the Bolsheviks took up the reins of power, what issues did they need to solve and how did they solve them? How “Marxist” do you think their solutions were? How consistent were they in their own principles?


Plunging into Civil War

Discussion Topics

What did Lenin think about entering a civil war? What factors contributed to the victory of the Reds over the Whites? What kind of leadership do you see in Trotsky’s memoir “The Train” and in his Sakwa piece (p. 81)? What was War Communism and how did the practices of WC compare with the earlier ideals of the Bolshevik leaders? In general, how and why do you think the Bolsheviks were able to take power throughout the country? Why were their critics not able to effectively resist them?


The Shift to the New Economic Policy (NEP)

Discussion Topics

Why did War Communism end up in crisis? How were the NEP decrees intended to head off further crisis? How do these latter relate to the stated values of the Bolshevik Party? What kinds of organizations was the Party establishing at this time? What were some of Lenin’s doubts towards the end of his life? What were some of the views of Kollontai and others on the family and changes in the law?


Soviet and Post-Soviet Ambivalence about National Identity

Guest speaker: Dr. Mark Pomar, former Director, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Russian Service of the Voice of America, the International Research & Exchanges Board, and the U.S. Russia Foundation.

Paper 1 revision due

The Politics and Economics of the NEP Years

Guest speaker: Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild, Norwich University.

Ruthchild, Rochelle Goldberg. Equality and Revolution: Women’s Rights in the Russian Empire, 1905–1917. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010. ISBN: 9780822960669.

Discussion Topics

How do you explain Stalin’s rise to power? What can you say about Lenin’s legacy? What was the industrialization debate and why was it so contentious? Why do you think NEP may have reached a dead end by the late 1920s? Why did the leaders of the Women’s Section [Zhenotdel] feel so threatened by NEP? How did Soviet men feel about the new gender relations?


The Great Break: Collectivization & Industrialization

Discussion Topics

Why did the Left win out in the struggle over collectivization? What were the main goals of collectivization and industrialization? Why might Stalin have issued his “Dizzy with Success” speech? What did the word “Bolshevik” mean to Stalin and probably to much of the top leadership? What were Stalin’s most important credos in this period? Why might peasants have perceived this as a new serfdom and why did they resist collectivization?


Life in the 1930s, Purge and Terror, the Gulag

Discussion Topics

The Terror is one of the most debated topics in Soviet history—why did it happen? Were there structural causes as well as Stalin’s paranoia? If Stalin’s paranoia was the principal driving force, why wasn’t there resistance from other quarters in state and society? Why do you think Joseph Davies, the American Ambassador to the USSR, believed that the trials were real? What do you think? What was Trotsky’s interpretation of what has gone wrong?

14 The Cosmonaut Who Couldn’t Stop Smiling—Yuri Gagarin  

“Finding Russia on a Map: The Name and the Boundaries in Light of Historical Cartography”

Guest speaker: Dr. Denis Khotimsky

World War II, aka The Great Patriotic War

Discussion Topics

Why do you think the Soviet authorities signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in August 1939? Why were they caught unawares in June 1941 when the Nazis invaded? How did the tenor of Soviet propaganda and practice change (and not change) during the war years? Who won the war in Europe? Did the Red Army win the war for democracy? Why did Stalin order the deportation of the Chechens, Koreans, other national groups, towards the end of the War?


Student Presentations

Students will make a 3-minute presentation of their topics for their third papers.

 Paper 2 due

The War as Myth and Symbol, and the Origins of the Cold War

Discussion Topics

What do you see as the origins of the Cold War and when would you date them to? What kinds of factors contributed to the intensification of the Cold War over time? What were the effects of the post-war settlements for Eastern Europe? Why? Why do you think anti-Semitism was growing exponentially in the post-war years? What forms did the renewed political orthodoxy of the post-war years take? In what ways do you think the Cold War is still with us even after the fall of the Soviet Union? Or do you think it is over?


The Khrushchev Era: Thaw at Home and Cold War Abroad

Discussion Topics

Stalin died on March 3, 1953. How much do you think his legacy continued and how much do you think his heirs were able to begin again with a fresh slate? How complete do you think Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization turned out to be? What do you think were his intentions? Be prepared to analyze his 20th Party Congress speech in depth (in Sakwa). What were some consequences (both intended and unintended) of his speech? In 1961 the CPSU claimed that the national question had indeed been “solved” - what do you think? In 1962 the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. faced one of the worst crises of the Cold War era, the Cuban Missile Crisis. What were some of the causes, both short and long-term? In 1964 Khrushchev was ousted—what was significant about this?


The Brezhnev Era

Discussion Topics

What were some of the causes and manifestations of the deep distrust between the US and the USSR in the Brezhnev years? Why did Brezhnev and his leaders seek to undo so many of Khrushchev’s reforms? What was their “social contract” with the people?

20 Gorbeshev’s Political Revolution  

The Yeltsin Years: Politics and Economics

Student Presentations

Each student will summarize their research (3 minutes), showing how their findings developed from the presentation they made during Session 16.

Discussion Topics

Economic reform in early post-Soviet Russia entailed quite a paradox: Should capitalism “evolve” or should it be imposed from above? What conditions did it require for takeoff? Why did the Yeltsin administration run up head long against Parliament in 1992–1993? What happened in the aftermath of that standoff? How did the oligarchs enrich themselves in these years?

Paper 3 due

Politics in the Yeltsin Years—How Russia Really Works

Discussion Topics

Compare the Bolshevik political methods of obtaining power and ideas about economics with the theory and practices outlined in Ledeneva. Key concepts you should be able to explain include: Informal practices; chernyi piar (black PR) and manipulative campaigning; kompromat (compromising information); informal politics.

23 Centralization Under Putin  
24 Medvedev, Anti-Putin Protests, and Putin 3.0  
25 Russia’s Wars in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria Outline on Putin’s symbolic politics due
26 Review  

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2016
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments