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Red Star Rising: The Soviet Union, 1917–45

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The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the consequent establishment and consolidation of the Soviet Union (USSR) was one of the most significant and momentous developments in the world in the twentieth century.

This course examines the circumstances which led to the Revolution, before considering the various factors that shaped the dramatic history of the Soviet Union.

From its formation, through to the end of the Second World War and the onset of the Cold War, by which point the USSR had emerged as a global superpower.

You do not need any previous knowledge of the subject. The module is organised chronologically, drawing out key themes and debates that continue to have a pertinence in the uncertain political circumstances of the twenty-first century.

The syllabus covers:

  • Week 1 - Tsarist Russia in the early Twentieth Century
  • Week 2 - 1917: year of Revolution
  • Week 3 - war Communism, 1918-21
  • week 4 - The New Economic Policy (NEP), 1921-8
  • Week 5 - the rise of Stalin
  • Week 6 - cultural revolution and the first Five-Year Plan, 1928-31
  • Week 7 - Stalinism and Soviet Society
  • Week 8 - terror, purges and show trials, 1936-8
  • Week 9 the Great Patriotic War, 1941-5
  • Week 10 - conclusion: the USSR as a Cold War superpower.

Learning and teaching

Learning and teaching are undertaken by means of small group work. This is a 10-credit course, so there will be 10, two-hour meetings once a week (20 contact hours in total) which will include group discussion, exercises, source analysis and presentation of material on video and/or DVD.

The aim is ensure that the classes are enjoyable and stimulating for all. This will encourage the development of knowledge and understanding of the topics and ideas discussed in the course.

Coursework and assessment

You will be assessed on essays or other equivalent written assignments to a total of 1500 words demonstrating an understanding of core elements of the course material.

To award credits we need to have evidence of the knowledge and skills you have gained or improved.

Some of this has to be in a form that can be shown to external examiners so that we can be absolutely sure that standards are met across all courses and subjects.

You will not have formal examinations but you may have class tests. You may be asked to write assignments, keep a course journal or put together a portfolio.

Our assessments are flexible to suit the course and the student. The most important element of assessment is that it should enhance your learning.

Our methods are designed to increase your confidence and we try very hard to devise ways of assessing you that are enjoyable and suitable for adults with busy lives.

Reading suggestions

Essential texts

  • Read, Christopher, War and Revolution in Russia, 1914-1922: The Collapse of Tsarism and the Establishment of Soviet Power (Basingstoke, 2012).
  • Read, Christopher, From Tsar to Soviets. The Russian People and Their Revolution (London, 1996).
  • Suny, Ronald G., The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States (New York, 2010).

Recommended reading

  • Brovkin, Vladimir, Russia after Lenin: Politics, Culture and Society, 1921-1929 (1998).
  • Figes, Orlando, A People's Tragedy: the Russian Revolution, 1891-1924 (London, 1997).
  • Fitzpatrick, Sheila, Everyday Stalinism. Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s (New York, 1999).
  • Fitzpatrick, Sheila, The Russian Revolution (Oxford, 2008).
  • Gill, Graeme, Symbols and Legitimacy in Soviet Politics (Cambridge, 2011).
  • Hosking, Geoffrey, Russia and the Russians. From Earliest Times to 2001 (London, 2001).
  • Kenez, Peter, A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End (Cambridge and New York, 2006).
  • Priestland, David, Stalinism and the Politics of Mobilization: Ideas, Power, and Terror in Inter-War Russia (Oxford, 2007).
  • Rabinowitch, Alexander, The Bolsheviks in Power. The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd (Bloomington, 2007).
  • Read, Christopher, The Making and Breaking of the Soviet System: An Interpretation (Basingstoke, 2001).
  • Roberts, Geoffrey, Stalin's Wars. From World War to Cold War, 1939-1953 (New Haven, CN, and London, 2006).
  • Ryan, James, Lenin's Terror. The Ideological Origins of Early Soviet State Violence (London and New York, 2012).
  • Rzhevsky, Nicholas, The Cambridge Companion to Modern Russian Culture, 2nd Edition (Cambridge, 2012).
  • Shearer, David R., Policing Stalin's Socialism. Repression and Social Order in the Soviet Union, 1924-1953 (New Haven, CN, and London, 2009).

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.