Repression in Russia 1855 to 1964

Looks at the use of the secret police, the army, censorship, propaganda and reform as methods of repression throughout the period.

  • Created by: Kate :)
  • Created on: 30-05-12 11:18

Secret Police under the Tsars

Alexander II - The Third Section:

  • exiled opponents however Alexander II thought it was too harsh and downgraded to Okhrana

Alexander II, Alexander II, Nicholas II - The Okhrana:

  • lasted until 1917 when headquarters burnt down (by opposition)
  • Alexander III used Okhrana for spying on,arresting and imprisoning/exiling opposition
  • Used increasingly when SRs and SDs took off as infiltrating agents and executioners.
  • Not used by the Provisional Government from February to October 1917 - they fell from power
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Secret Police under Lenin

Lenin - The Cheka:

  • specific role of dealing with those opposed to the revolution
  • shifted towards clamping down on groups considered to be showing counter-revolutionary behaviour e.g. those associated with the SRs
  • used terror to victimise people not only for their actions but more generally just for who they were
  • very ruthless - e.g. execution of entire Romanev family in 1918, they implemented the red terror which involved enforcing War Communism (grain requisitioning), the elimination of the Kulaks, labour camps and militarisation of labour.
  • Disbanded after the Civil War in 1922 and replaced by OGPU who were not a brutal but still maintained a presence that instilled fear on the general population.
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Secret Police under Stalin

Stalin - The NKVD:

  • reversion back to Cheka form of repression although created an even more apparent form of terror
  • crucial to the imposition of the purges and show trials
  • great rigour and intensity used to gather evidence againt conspirators (e.g. encouraging family members to report on one another)
  • gathered evidence against members of the Communist party e.g. Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev and most were executed e.g Trotsky in 1940.
  • helped organise the Gulags with over 40 million people sent their throughout Stalin's rule
  • Even came under suspicion of being conspiratorial e.g. Yezhov blamed for emergence of an anti-purge campaign in 1938. Eventually NKVD was purged of 20,000 members
  • Disbanded in 1943
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Secret Police under Khrushchev

Khrushchev - MVD:

  • another version of the NKVD under the control of Beria, Khrushchev was worred that he was planning a coup against senior politician and ordered for Beria's arrest - hee was later executed
  • this provided opportunity to break away from the  past and reshaped the secret police so that they were less threatening.
  • Reorganised into two departments in 1954 - one which was a more refined and rationalised version of the original MVD which was to be solely responsible for dealing with crime and civil disorder. The other was the KGB.

Khrushchev - KGB:

  • focused on the internal and external security of the USSR
  • used to spy on enemies and gather intelligence during the Cold War
  • use of Gulags largely disappeared and the torture of dissedents stopped
  • by 1960, only 11000 counter-revolutionaries in captivity
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The Use of the Army 1855-1917

  • Alexander II's army had 1.4 million men who were mainly conscripts from the serf class serving 25 years. However Crimean War (1853-6) showed this was not efficient as 800,000 withdrew due to poor health. Dismal performance and Emancipation of the Serf's (1861) led to some important military reforms - army were not used by Alexander to combat opposition.
  • Alexander III increasingly used the army as a peace-keeping force due to Russification. However sometimes soldiers contributed to disturbances e.g. Kishinev in 1903 when Cossacks joined in on attacks on Jews
  • Nicholas II continued to use army as a peace-keeping force however was criticised as sometimes they appeared to use excessive force e.g. Bloody Sunday in 1905 where they opened fire on peaceful protesters killing 200 people and wounding 800.
  • Army used frequently from 1905 to 1917 to dismantle strikes, protests and riots
  • Provisional Government continued to deal with opposition forcefully, however troops deserted.
  • Army formed the basis of the opposition to Provisional Government leading to their fall from power.
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The Use of the Army 1917-1964

  • deployed to maintain stability and consolidate power after the October 1917 revolution
  • used to deal with flash strikes by civil servants and financial workers
  • Red Army formed by Trotsky in 1917 - enabling the Bolsheviks to win the Civil War consisting of 5million conscripts by the end compared to just 500,000 white army soldiers.
  • Used to impose War Communism
  • Trotsky still faced problems of desertion despite the more disciplined approach to army leadership e.g. Kronstadt Rebellion in 1921 - however rebels captured and executed/exiled
  • helped to implement economic polict under Stalin as part of collectivisation
  • implemented the purges, creating the Great Terror - however over 40% of army members included in purges themselves as Stalin suspicious
  • major military casualties in WW2 - very little civil unrest at this time but was mostly dealt with by NKVD
  • army focused on solving international conflicts under Khrushchev so were not greatly used to deal with opposition Mostly used abroad e.g. Hungary 1956 and Prague Springs 1968.
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Censorship under the Alexander II and Alexander II

Alexander II:

  • Russia experienced glasnost (policy of openess) when censorship was relaxed in 1865 however the government still retained the right to withdraw publications thought to retain 'dangerous orientation'
  • Government departments also published information on official items resulting in 1836 books being published and the Russian translation of Marx was published.
  • It was relatively easy to print material that questioned the role of government especially when it comes to economic and social problems.

Alexander III:

  • Reactionary rule resulted in a clampdown on publications
  • Officials censored written material before it was published
  • Certain newspapers, journals and educational instituations were closed down
  • However some artistic and creative works were prompted especially if deemed to be patriotic e.g. music from Tchaikovsky.
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Censorship under Nicholas II

Nicholas II:

  • Reversion to the glasnost that had been in place under Alexander II occured with 10,691 books published in 1894.
  • Considerable expansion of the press (89 newspapers).
  • Prepublication censorship disappeared although subversive material could still be closed down
  • Details of what was being debated in the Dumas were sometimes omitted or changed e.g. when correspondance from Rasputin was being analysed
  • Russia had joined the other major Western nations in contributing to a worldwide media network
  • Changed slightly during WW1 when troops gained their 'news' from foreign broadcasts
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Censorship under Lenin


  • abolished the press freedom altogether so as to suppress 'counter-revolutionaries'. If people opposed this they were repressed by the Military War Committee
  • Agitation and Propaganda Department founded in 1921 to create an idealised picture of Russian life. Schools, cinemas, radios and libraries all under constant surveillance to ensure populace had no access to counter-revolutionary material
  • Writers who supported the new regime flourished and the Association of Proletarian Writers was formed to support them e.g. Shokolov
  • However writers who predicted the coming of a totaliterian stare were labelled subversive and were victimised
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Censorship under Stalin


  • censorship taken to a new level and by 1932 all literary groups close down including APW; anyone wanting to write had to joing the Union of Soviet Writers
  • At the first congress of USW in 1934 it was announced that all material had to be produced under socialist realism (showing the success of communism)
  • All work had to be written in a language that the bulk of the population would understand and had to be approved by the party
  • Some writers had to change their beliefs to fit in with USW e.g. Pasternak; the one who rebelled were arrested, sent to exile or executed
  • High degree of censorship continued throughout WW2 as Stalin was especially concerned to doctor information on the rest of the world
  • Writers focused on glorifying Russia's achievements and the concept of the New Soviet Man
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Censorship under Khrushchev


  • censorship eased in a similar way to Alexander II and Nicholas II
  • Books and libraries were profilerated with 135,000 libraries by 1959.
  • Newspapers flourised with a total readership of 60 million by the 1960s although the most popular papers were those focused on the government
  • However even with far greater accessibility the news was still slightly distorted
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Propaganda 1855-1917

Alexander II and Alexander III:

  • use of propaganda closely linked to censorship although propaganda not used as a tool of repression until after 1905

Nicholas II:

  • advisors attempted to promote his image through pamphleteering, portraits, photos and staged events
  • tercentenary celebrations of the Romanev dynasty designed to raise the popularity of tsarist rule
  • significant increase in the number of pictures in circulation to show the Tsar was in control during WW1 - considered crucial to do this given how disastrously the war was going
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Propaganda after 1917

Communists used propaganda far more effectively than the Tsars

  • Slogans - used to get message across whole population e.g. 'All Power to the Soviets' - similar to Nicholas II with use of pamphlets to inculcate people with their ideology
  • Personality - purposely engendered by Lenin and Stalin to present them as heroes and to be worshipped with unquestioned loyalty. This was implemented in a variety of ways e.g. the display of Lenin's body in Red Square
  • Newspapers - main newspapers e.g Pravda were propaganda tools e.g. under Stalin used to promote the achievments of the 5 year plans
  • The arts - emphasised the rold of the 'little man' and traditional values. Anything veering from the norm e.g. jazz was banned
  • Groups - youth groups set up to protect againts 'degeneracy of bourgeois culture'. Members encouraged to report on others and help implement collectivisation. Membership increased 5 fold from 1929 to 1941.
  • Stakhanovite Movement - encouraged workers to work harder by offering rewards to those who did e.g. holidays
  • Film and cinema - used to promote 5YPS and collectivisation, however use of cinema relaxed under Khrushchev
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Use of Reform under the Tsars

  • tended to implement social, political and economic policies to appease opposition
  • Alexander II hoped that the Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861 would mean the serfs were happier and be more reluctant to riot
  • Nicholas II introduced the Duma in 1905 to quieten those fighting for constitutional reforms
  • Provisional Government passed liberal reforms e.g. dismantling the Okhrana hoping to increase stability
  • However none of these seemed to work, the more freedom the Russian people had the more they wanted
  • People believed reforms did not go far enough as were still left with a highly authoritarian rule
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Use of Reform under the Communists

  • Communists used reform to deal with opponents in a more direct fashion
  • War Communism, collectivisation and the 5 year plans all combined with repressive measures to ensure that they were successfully implemented
  • Little scope to question efficay of these reforms as there had been with the Tsars
  • Made clear that sacrifices had to be made for the good of the mother land e.g. with collectivisation
  • Anyone who disagreed was exiled or executed
  • Reforms had a double benefit for rulers after 1917 as both stimulated economic growth and kept opposition in check
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For anyone who is looking at this now - the army were used under Alexander II to put down opposition - they were called approximately 200 times between 1855-1860 to put down peasant uprisings

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