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The Global Soviet Union, 1917-1991


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • ConvenorSimon Huxtable
  • Assessment: one essay of 5000-5500 words (100%)

Module description

'Workers of the world, unite!' With those words, Marx and Engels concluded the Communist Manifesto and cemented the idea that national belonging should give way to global working class solidarity. In 1917, inspired by their words, a revolutionary movement took power which established Moscow as communism’s international epicentre. This module examines the Soviet Union’s global entanglements, and asks how its plans for world revolution shaped the twentieth century. Over ten weeks, we will explore the changing focal points of Soviet foreign policy, and consider how a changing domestic and international climate shaped the Kremlin’s policy-making. Throughout the module, we will see how Soviet global ambitions were imprinted on individual lives, shaping the experiences of American engineers in Magnitogorsk, Soviet tourists in London, and African students in Moscow.

In the first half of the course we will focus on communism’s global dimensions from the Communist Manifesto to the end of World War II. We will examine the Kremlin’s support for world revolution through the Comintern, its involvement in anti-imperialist and anti-racist struggles, and ask why Soviet internationalism turned inwards during the 1930s. The post-war conjuncture offered new opportunities to spread communist ideas but also tested Moscow’s leadership. The second part of the course, which runs from 1945 to the Soviet collapse, will examine how Mao and Tito challenged Soviet supremacy, discuss Khrushchev’s policy of ‘peaceful coexistence’ with the west and support for de-colonisation, and ask why communist regimes became passionate advocates for global free trade.

The module draws on a variety of primary and secondary sources, and examines the global Soviet Union from political, economic, social and cultural history perspectives. We will ask how the global and national dimensions of Soviet history coincide, and assess the role of transnational methodologies in understanding the Soviet Union’s global role.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Communism Without Borders (Introductory Session)
  • 'Workers of the World Unite'
  • The Global Revolution
  • Race
  • Cosmopolitanism, Terror and the Spanish Civil War
  • The Communist Challenge to Soviet Hegemony
  • Peaceful Coexistence and its Limits
  • Decolonisation and the Global Cold War
  • Socialist Trade
  • The Global 1989 and the Afterlives of the Soviet Union

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • understand the Soviet Union's changing global role across the twentieth century
  • have analysed tensions between the Soviet Union's professed values and everyday practices
  • discussed how Soviet global ambitions were imprinted on individual lives
  • explored the relationship between the national and global dimensions of Soviet policy.