The impact of World War II on USSR 1941-45
By the end of 1941, the Germans had captured many of our states and was on the outskirts of Moscow, so we had to adapt quickly. Thankfully, the centralisation of the Soviet economy proved to be effective in mobilizing the resources of the Soviet Union for war. 16% of the population was drafted into the armed forces, including the strongest men from the collectives, so women had to provide the bulk of the agricultural workforce. The government lifted restrictions on cultivation of private plots to provide an incentive for peasants to keep up production. But repression and terror by the Soviet government against our people continued, and so did propaganda. By the end of the war in 1945, we had emerged victorious but at the cost of 20 million Soviet lives, the highest of any countries involved in the war, and over 25 million people left homeless. Everyone around me were either widows, orphans, invalids, or homeless.

Late Stalinism 1945-53
After the war, we were exhausted from the effort required to defeat the German army, and were hoping for a relaxation on the tight governmental control of the Stalinist system, but we didn’t get that. Pre-war policies went back into place and the party leadership reasserted its authority through the use of terror and propaganda again. The development of the Cold War made them even more nervous and “enemy elements” were rounded up to be sent to labour camps. But Soviet industry flourished under strong central planning by the government in the fourth Five-Year Plan… though I heard that conditions in the countryside were slower to improve. Rivalry for Stalin’s position began shortly after the war as well.

Khrushchev and Destalization 1953-64
When Stalin died in 1953, a triumvirate formed between Beria, Malenkov and Khrushchev, but Khrushchev outmaneuvered the other two by 1956. Khrushchev then criticized Stalin in the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956. He felt that the Soviet system had to return to the legality of Leninism and his reforms became known as destalinization but he was careful to ensure that the attention was focused on Stalin and not on the Soviet system. There was a reduction of terror and a move away from rigid control under Khrushchev but that upset some members of the Party so he was removed from the Politburo in 1964—peacefully, for a change.

The Years of Stability 1964-85
Brezhnev came after Khrushchev and he reversed the aspects of destalinization that had upset the party, yet there was no return to the widespread use of terror, thankfully. In many cases Brezhnev actually continued destalinization, like his more tolerant attitude towards the Orthodox Church. Brezhnev also trusted party comrades to do their jobs, instead of exercising as much personal power. The resulting stability made Brezhnev a popular leader, but also led to economic stagnation. His successor Andropov wanted reform but was too ill to follow through his ideas and elected Chernenko in 1984 out of a desperate measure of self-preservation. Chernenko was already in his mid-seventies and died in 1985.

Gorbachev and the end of the Soviet Union 1985-91
Chernenko’s death marked an end to the era of Soviet leaders that rose through ranks of the party during Stalin’s leadership, thus ending last hopes of the Stalinist state. The new leader Gorbachev was from a younger generation with a different outlook. He promoted glasnost (openness), perestroika (economic restructuring that allowed private enterprise) and democratization (to get more people involved in the Communist Party and political debate) which ultimately led to a rejection of Communism itself. By the end of 1991 the USSR had ceased to exist.