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After almost twenty years of hardship from the Five Year Plans, the purges, and World War II, the Soviet people were hoping for a freer, more prosperous life. But those hopes were quickly dashed as the Cold War began.

Stalin launched a fourth Five-Year Plan in 1946 to bring a quick recovery from the wartime destruction, and announced that austerity, hard work, and rigid discipline would continue for some time to come. He pointed out that the ultimate enemy of the Soviet Union, capitalism, was still around, and that "so as capitalism existed, the world would not be free from the threat of war." Therefore Soviet citizens would have to be ready for yet more sacrifices and dangers.

1956 Soviet labour poster - Night is not an obstacle for work. In other words - To reach your goal work day and night.Always preoccupied with security, Stalin spent the postwar years further strengthening his control over the country. He was so thorough at this, in fact, that the years 1945-53 are the most repressive in Soviet history. Western art, literature, clothing and lifestyles (even jazz) were banned, and foreign tourists were not allowed to visit the USSR until 1958. During and immediately after the war 1,250,000 people from seven ethnic groups of dubious loyalty (Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Kalmucks, and four smaller minorities from the Caucasus) were accused of collaboration with the Nazis and deported to Central Asia and Siberia.

Soviet labour poster.The unruly Ukrainians were next on Stalin's blacklist, but even he had to concede that there were not enough trains in the USSR to get rid of all 40 million of them. Stalinist rule was toughest in those areas that had just come under Soviet rule since 1939, and the Catholics living in those areas were regarded as untrustworthy and forced to join the Orthodox Church. This resulted in a strange spectacle as the officially atheistic Soviet state threw its powers of coercion behind the Orthodox clergy.

At the same time came new episodes of anti-Semitism. Officially it was justified on the grounds that many Jews in the Red Army had defected to the West from East Germany, and Stalin suspected that Soviet Jews were sending military secrets to their relatives in the United States. But little actual persecution took place until the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. This was because many Israelis were socialists and/or immigrants from the USSR, giving Stalin some hope that Israel would join the Soviet Bloc after independence; the USSR even voted for the 1947 UN mandate that created the Jewish state. But because Israel is a parliamentary democracy, the Israelis have preferred to ally themselves with the West almost from the beginning. The final blow came when the first Israeli ambassador to the Soviet Union, Golda Meir, came to Moscow and received an enthusiastic welcome from Soviet Jews that made Stalin intensely jealous. Jewish organizations were suppressed by the state, and Jews in the Communist Party were removed from their posts. To avoid comparisons with the pogroms of the tsars, Stalin called this campaign "anti-Zionism."

Soviet labour poster.In February 1953, nine doctors, most of them Jewish, were accused of poisoning Andrei A. Zhdanov (the Leningrad party chief and Stalin's favorite minister from 1934 to 1948), and of plotting to do in other generals and Politburo members. During the previous year Stalin called his henchmen spies, and Molotov lost his position as foreign minister because of his Jewish wife; she was sent to a labor camp without her husband even protesting. Alleged "Titoists" and "Zionists" were already being arrested andput on trial in eastern Europe. A new wave of purges, especially an anti-Jewish one, appeared to be beginning, and plans were made to deport all Soviet Jews to an autonomous region set aside for them on the border of Manchuria. But fate intervened; Stalin died of a cerebral hemorrhage on March 5, 1953. The politburo quickly released the victims of "the Doctor's Plot."

Soviet era poster promoting education.

In 1970s, Leonid Brezhnev, as general secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), had become the next prominent Soviet leader.

Decades of imperfect one-man rule convinced the Kremlin that no Soviet leader should be allowed to wield as much power as Stalin and Khrushchev did, so the Politburo gave the positions of premier and secretary-general to two different members, Alexei N. Kosygin and Leonid I. Brezhnev. The arrangement worked for most of the 60s, with Kosygin running the government and Brezhnev running the Party; during this time Kosygin was the more visible of the two because of his trips abroad. But Russia's political traditions, shaped by a psychological need for a single strong father figure, gradually reasserted themselves. By 1970 the technocratic Kosygin had been pushed out of the limelight by the party man, Brezhnev.

There were many changes in domestic policies under Brezhnev & Kosygin, but Soviet foreign policy remained pretty much the same.

Brezhnev's tenure was marked by a determined emphasis on domestic stability and an aggressive foreign policy. The country entered a decade-long period of stagnation, its rigid economy slowly deteriorating and its political climate becoming increasingly pessimistic.

Seventies are generally known as the years of stagnant stability in the USSR.

If the Soviet economy stagnated under Brezhnev, the armed forces never had to go hungry. Every year the defense budget increased; indeed, it has been estimated that the amount spent on defense, space, and nuclear energy may have been as high as 20-25% of the GNP. Since most of the manned and unmanned space missions carried military payloads of one sort or another, the space program also got everything it wanted.(17) By 1968 the Soviet nuclear arsenal had grown to match that of the United States, but the buildup continued without interruption, until the Soviet Union had the largest war machine in history.

When Breshnev died in 1982 he was succeeded as general secretary first by Yuri Andropov, head of the KGB, and then by Konstantin Chernenko, neither of whom managed to survive long enough to effect significant changes. In March of 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary, the need for reforms was pressing.



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