Following Lenin's death in 1924, Joseph Stalin came to power. Stalin suppressed all political opposition to his rule inside the Communist Party and inaugurated a command economy. As a result, the country underwent a period of rapid industrialization and forced collectivization, which led to significant economic growth, but also led to a man-made famine in 1932–1933 and expanded the Gulag labour camp system originally established in 1918. Stalin also fomented political paranoia and conducted the Great Purge to remove his actual and perceived opponents from the Party through mass arrests of military leaders, Communist Party members, and ordinary citizens alike, who were then sent to correctional labor camps or sentenced to death.
In the mid-1980s, the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, sought to further reform and liberalize the economy through his policies of glasnost and perestroika. The goal was to preserve the Communist Party while reversing economic stagnation. The Cold War ended during his tenure and in 1989, Warsaw Pact countries in Eastern Europe overthrew their respective Marxist-Leninist regimes. In particular, the indecisive action of the Eastern European rulers after the Pan-European Picnic caused the fall of the Iron Curtain, which shattered the formerly powerful communist unity. This led to the rise of strong nationalist and separatist movements inside the USSR as well. Central authorities initiated a referendum—boycotted by the Baltic republics, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova—which resulted in the majority of participating citizens voting in favor of preserving the Union as a renewed federation. In August 1991, a coup d'état was attempted by Communist Party hardliners. It failed, with Russian President Boris Yeltsin playing a high-profile role in facing down the coup, resulting in the banning of the Communist Party. On 25 December 1991, Gorbachev resigned and the remaining twelve constituent republics emerged from the dissolution of the Soviet Union as independent post-Soviet states. The Russian Federation (formerly the Russian SFSR) assumed the Soviet Union's rights and obligations and is recognized as its continued legal personality.
Image 23Map showing greatest territorial extent of the Soviet Union and the states that it dominated politically, economically and militarily in 1960, after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 but before the official Sino-Soviet split of 1961 (total area: c. 35,000,000 km2) (from Soviet Union)
Image 24American, British, and Japanese Troops parade through Vladivostok in armed support to the White Army (from Russian Revolution)
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Let a man find himself, in distinction from others, on top of two wheels with a chain — at least in a poor country like Russia — and his vanity begins to swell out like his tires. In America it takes an automobile to produce this effect.