RUSS218-22S2 (C) Semester Two 2022

The Soviet Experiment and Its Aftermath

15 points

Start Date: Monday, 18 July 2022
End Date: Sunday, 13 November 2022
Withdrawal Dates
Last Day to withdraw from this course:
  • Without financial penalty (full fee refund): Sunday, 31 July 2022
  • Without academic penalty (including no fee refund): Sunday, 2 October 2022


The emphasis is on Russia's 20th century Communist experience and its many legacies in the fast-changing post-Soviet society. Together we will examine the causes of the Bolshevik Revolution and the greatest social experiment in the history of humankind that followed it. The course will explore the roots of Stalinism, the causes and consequences of Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, the space race and other Cold War competitions between the superpowers, Gorbachev's reforms and the collapse of the USSR. Was the end of the Communist rule in the Soviet Union predetermined?

This is a course about Soviet Communism, the greatest social experiment in the history of humankind—from its utopian origins in Marxist ideology and violent beginning in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 through to its collapse in 1991 and the legacies that it left behind. Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks pursued a lofty goal: they wanted to push Russia and the world onto what Marx and Engels said was to be the next stage of historical development: a society in which there will be no social injustice, no rich and no poor, where everyone will have equal rights and prosper by working freely and happily for the benefit of all. Was this goal ever achievable? Why did the road to Communist paradise have to go through the hell of totalitarianism and the Gulags? Could the experiment be saved after Stalin? Why did the Soviet colossus crumble so swiftly under Gorbachev? Was the end of the Communist rule in the Soviet Union predetermined? Together we will look for answers to these crucial questions.

The first part of the course will examine the beginnings of Soviet Communism, its roots in the ideology of Marxism and the causes of Bolshevik victory in the revolution 1917 and the Civil War that followed. We will also investigate the experimental nature of Bolshevik transformation of the Soviet society in the 1920s.

The second part of the course will focus on the roots of Stalinism and what many historians regard as a second revolution orchestrated by Stalin in 1929-1934 in which Soviet Russia was industrialized at an enormous human cost. We will examine Russia’s darkest hour of terror in 1936-38 and consider why and how Stalin’s economic and political machine was vindicated by Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II and what this victory meant for the Soviet Union and the rest of the world.

The third part will cover the period from 1953 to 1991 during which a succession of Soviet rulers attempted to rescue and relaunch the experiment compromised by totalitarian terror. We will examine Khrushchev’s de-Stalinisation and policy of peaceful coexistence with the capitalist West. Among other things, we will look at the space race and other Cold War competitions between the superpowers. This section will conclude with an examination of how Gorbachev attempted to breathe life into the stagnating regime in the late 1980s and why instead of reviving the USSR, his reforms ended with the collapse of the Soviet empire and of the entire Soviet experiment.

Part four will trace the years of post-Soviet transition in which Russia has been trying to recover from 74 years of Communist rule. How do Soviet legacies continue to haunt Russia to this day?

Learning Outcomes

  • Upon successful completion of the course, students in RUSS218/HIST274/EURA214 will:
  • acquire a broad knowledge of 20th-century Russian history and thus enhance their awareness of influences and trends in global history and the political and cultural development of a number of Eurasian nations that made up the Soviet Union;
  • be able to understand the ideological foundation of the Soviet project, as well as causes of Bolshevik success and of the ultimate failure of the Communist system
  • gain insights into the dynamics of the post-Communist developments in Russia and other former Soviet republics
  • develop an awareness of theoretical and historiographical debates on the topics covered in the course.

    Skills include:
  • managing your work and time;
  • research: locating information and using the Library, electronic and other resources; interpreting primary sources;
  • comprehension: essay writing;
  • analysis: identifying parts of an argument and how they fit together; assessing the adequacy of evidence and the logic of the argument;
  • evaluation of historical arguments: understanding different interpretations of Russian history; recognising different modes of historical writing (historiography);
  • basic scholarly conventions: referencing, compiling bibliographies, use of quotations, avoiding plagiarism, and;
  • oral presentations: developing confidence in small group discussion;
  • all of the above will help the students to develop knowledge and attributes sought by employers that can be used in a range of applications.


Any 15 points at 100 level from EURA, HIST, or
RUSS, or
any 60 points at 100 level from the Schedule V of the BA.


Equivalent Courses

Course Coordinator

Evgeny Pavlov

Textbooks / Resources

Required Texts

Suny, Ronald Grigor; The Soviet experiment : Russia, the USSR, and the successor states ; 2nd ed;

Course links

Library portal
The full Course Outline is available on LEARN (only for students enrolled in this course).

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $799.00

International fee $3,600.00

* All fees are inclusive of NZ GST or any equivalent overseas tax, and do not include any programme level discount or additional course-related expenses.

Minimum enrolments

This course will not be offered if fewer than 20 people apply to enrol.

For further information see Language, Social and Political Sciences .

All RUSS218 Occurrences

  • RUSS218-22S2 (C) Semester Two 2022