17.7 The Soviet Union Under Stalin

By 1921, Lenin and the Communists had won the civil war that followed the Russian Revolution. They were then faced with the enormous task of rebuilding Russian society. Millions of Russians had died since the outbreak of World War I, from fighting and from famine, and Russia was in a state of chaos. Lenin's policy of “war communism” outraged the people and brought the Russian economy to the brink of collapse.

Photo of a mass of people in winter clothing outdoors in a snowy square, holding up a banner of Vladimir Lenin.

One million Russians attended Lenin's funeral march in Red Square. His death set off a power struggle within the Soviet Union.


  • Explain how Stalin built a command economy in the Soviet Union.
  • Describe how Stalin used terror to build a totalitarian state.
  • Analyze Stalin's use of propaganda to control thought and the arts.
  • Summarize the characteristics of Soviet society under Stalin.
  • Understand the goals of Soviet foreign policy.

Key Terms

  • command economy
  • collective
  • kulak
  • Gulag
  • socialist realism
  • Osip Mandelstam
  • Boris Pasternak
  • russification
  • atheism
  • Comintern

Stalin Builds a Command Economy

That year, Lenin introduced his New Economic Policy, which allowed limited capitalism. This brief compromise with capitalism helped the Soviet economy recover and ended the armed resistance to Lenin's government.

Stalin Takes Charge

Lenin died in January 1924. Tens of thousands of people lined up in Moscow's historic Red Square to view his body. Lenin's widow, Nadezhda Krupskaya, had wanted to bury him simply next to his mother. But Joseph Stalin wanted to preserve Lenin's body and put it on permanent display. In the end, Lenin's body was displayed in Red Square for more than 65 years. By preserving Lenin's body, Stalin wanted to show that he would carry on the goals of the revolution.

In fact, Stalin moved the Soviet Union in directions Karl Marx had never foreseen. Marx had predicted that under communism the state would eventually wither away. Instead, Stalin turned the Soviet Union into a totalitarian state controlled by a powerful and complex bureaucracy. For almost 30 years, Stalin held more power than any other leader in history.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments