Eighty years on from the October Revolution

Le Monde diplomatique, November 1997

The USSR in fifteen key dates

7 November 1917: the storming of the Winter Palace in Petrograd gives the signal for the Russian Revolution.

1918–22: with the Brest-Litovsk Treaty (3 March 1918), Russia withdraws from hostilities with Germany, but is soon plunged into civil war.

30 December 1922: establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

21 January 1924: death of Lenin.

1928-34: the realism of the New Economic Policy (NEP) gives way to collectivisation of the rural economy, on Stalin's initiative, while the first five-year plan initiates a period of fast-track industrialisation. Economic growth makes it more possible to meet social priorities such as housing, education, health etc.

1 December 1934: the assassination of a communist official, Sergei Kirov, unleashes a bloody repression. The Moscow trials (of Zinoviev and Kamenev in 1936, General Tukhachevsky in 1937 and Nikolai Bukharin in 1938) are accompanied by thousands of arrests and deportations.

23 August 1939: non-aggression pact with Germany.

21 June 1941-8 May 1945: Hitler's onslaught on Russia. Defensive until the victory at Stalingrad (February 1943), the Great Patriotic War—which was to result in 20 million dead in the Soviet Union—would finally carry the Soviet Army through to Berlin.

5 March 1953: death of Stalin.

February 1956: in his report to a closed session of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), Nikita Khrushchev denounces Stalin's crimes. This “thaw” is accompanied by tentative proposals for reforms.

October 1964: the arrival of the triumvirate led by Leonid Brezhnev begins the period which, twenty-five years later, was to be described as the period of “stagnation”. The regime's inability to embark on global reforms led to a slowing of economic growth and exacerbated the technological lag in relation to the West. Deteriorating standards of living, which became particularly marked as from the late 1970s, threatened the regime's power base.

March 1985: after the two general secretaries of the transition period, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, Mikhail Gorbachev takes over the helm of the CPSU. In the name of perestroika (restructuing) and glasnost (transparency), he undertakes to reform the system, but without abandoning its basic principles. This (real) change in political climate is not sufficient to halt the country's decline.

9 November 1989: the fall of the Berlin Wall releases a wave which will eventually sweep away all the regimes of Eastern Europe.

21 August 1991: an aborted conservative putsch results in the declining influence of Mikhail Gorbachev and the rise of Boris Yeltsin, who is elected to the Russian presidency in June.

8 December 1991: the presidents of Russia, the Ukraine and Byelorussia announce, in Minsk, that the Soviet Union “no longer exists”.