Tsar spangled banner

Russia has a long history of national anthems. In the times of the Imperial Russia, “The Prayer of the Russians” which was then morphed into “God Save the Tsar” was chosen as anthem (source and source). These anthems interestingly were modeled after British “God Save the King” and “Rule Britannia” as well as other anthems from France and the Netherlands (source). Even before the official anthem was chosen, religious and military songs were used to honor the state such as “How Glorious is our Lord” and “Let the Thunder of Victory Rumble. After the February Revolution in 1917, the “Worker’s Marseillaise” taken from the French “La Marseillaise” was used as an anthem briefly until the October Revolution when the Bolsheviks changed the tune to the anthem of revolutionary socialism called “L’Internationale” (source and source). Fun fact: “La Marseillaise” is also where The Beatles All You Need Is Love comes from.

This latest installment of the national anthem lasted until 1943 when the Comintern was dissolved. The national anthem was historically associated with the Comintern, and Stalin didn’t want any connection. These actions were very representative of Stalin’s character who often wanted to police thought to increase control and power by sort of rewriting history in a way. It’s also very indicative of the times where this was seen as a period of restructuring – a shift from some of the liberating themes that originally drove the Bolsheviks to more socially conservative roles with the intent of end goal being control. Stalin wanted to reshape and recreate the ideal Soviet citizen as representative in the new anthem that was more focused on Russian national pride as opposed to more worldly communist themes about revolution (source).

Consequently, Stalin held a contest for a new anthem. Unfortunately, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky were all returning videotapes at the time and were unable to compete, but Alexander Alexandrov however make the cut. Alexandrov not only incorporated elements of his song “Life Has Become Better” (source and source) but also sampled a young Travis Scott’s Sicko Mode who was one of his favorite aspiring artists. Sergey Mikhalkov provided accompanying lyrics that highlighted relevant struggles of WWII and the Great Patriot War as well as a very subtle nod to the commander in chief (source). I’m sure it didn’t influence his decision on which tune he selected. It’s quite easy to miss if not examined closely.

“We were raised by Stalin to be true to the people,
To labour and heroic deeds he inspired us!” source

The new anthem was approved and would be appropriately named as the National Anthem of the Soviet Union (source). The Stalin lyrics were removed after his death during de-stalinization however (source).

Below I’ve posted past Soviet anthems and the songs that influenced them as they evolved chronologically.

“Let the Thunder of Victory Rumble” 1791
Lyrics by Gavrila Derzhavin and music by Osip Kozlovsky
“Rule, Britannia!” 1740
Lyrics by James Thomson and music by Thomas Arne
“God Save the King”
“The Prayer of Russians” more commonly known as “God Save the Tsar” 1816
Lyrics by Vasily Zhukovsky and music of God Save the King
“La Marseillaise” 1792
Written by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle
“Worker’s Marseillaise” 1875
Lyrics by Pyotr Lavrov
“Le Internationale” 1871
Lyrics by Eugene Pottier and music by Pierre De Geyter
“Life has become better” 1935
Written by Alexander Alexandrov
“State Anthem of the Soviet Union”

It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry

With WWI, the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War out of the way, the Soviets finally felt they had some free time and the resources to further their campaign of industrialization by modernizing its cities with the latest technology to try to make them efficient and clean for the productive use of the masses. Stalin clearly understood the value of the investment as other cities were doing the same with the creation of the London Underground in 1890 and the Chicago L in 1897 source. Trying to catch up with the rest of the world, the Soviets first began experimenting with a trolley system even with Stalin’s fear that they would all tip over. Although not entirely green of course, Stalin did however see the value of investing in electric transportation which wouldn’t pollute as much as other alternatives.

A Lazar Kaganovich and a young Nikita Khrushchev were responsible for the management when the construction began in the early 1930s with their reputation and jobs on the line if ended in failure source. They worked closely with Britain specialists as project planners who already proved their expertise with their own successful construction prior while Russian workers were responsible for all the manual labor. At first, the Soviets asked for the help of Germans but eventually went with the Britons.

These A-type trains were the first to be used in circulation.

By Mos.ru, CC BY 4.0, Link

Full resources were funneled into this massive project trying to complete it as swiftly as possible permitting the temporarily close off large sections of the city which would be inconvenient in the short term but more important larger stake benefits. These routes closer to already established transportation modes would last until Stalin with the help British technology approved deeper excavation that wouldn’t disrupt city life source. Again, at first elevators were used, but as more efficient technology was developed such as escalators which could move more people more effectively, they got the funding.

This station shows how emphasis wasn’t only placed on pragmatic value but also on the artistic beauty.
By A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons ยท WikiPhotoSpace) – Own work, FAL, Link

I think this is a common theme throughout the whole project: Stalin was willing to invest in the best technology that would prove most useful in the long term while taking some initial drawbacks. Stalin was always willing argue that the ends justify the means allowing for the Soviet Union to industrialize rapidly whereas more moderate leaders probably wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what he did in such a short time. Others also probably would’ve been scared of such an accountability and wouldn’t want to risk being such a controversial leader with possible conspiring enemies. I believe this is really what separates Stalin in that it seemed he embraced this character who was willing to make the hard decisions that nobody else wanted to deal with.

This simple map clearly shows the metro as it as evolved over the years throughout the Moscow area.

By Sameboat – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The metro turned out successful being of much use in effectively mobilizing people throughout the Moscow area. It proved itself even more valuable as a probably imagined use serving as shelter from the storm of German bombs during WWII. The completed work was named after Kaganovich to Krushchev’s disappointment because he had felt he’d done all of the work source. Unfortunately for Krushchev, he would continue living in the shadows of others throughout Soviet history and would never go on to make a name for himself.

The Men Who Say NEP

NEPmen were business people who took advantage of a disconnect between rural and urban communities dealing with production that was most likely caused by the longer struggles of natural industrialization but especially exacerbated by the famine that occurred between the years of 1921 and 1922. This struggle is also part of what became known as the scissor crisis which tried to illustrate the inequality in production between rural and urban areas. Because of the famine, rural food producing areas weren’t able to maintain enough of a surplus to sufficiently supply both themselves and ship it to urban areas for mass consumption which in turn hindered the possible manufacturing production. This added to the overall famine problem by creating a cyclical pattern where new technologies couldn’t be as would have been more easily produced that would’ve advanced farming to get themselves back to relative stability. The agriculture sector eventually returned to sustainable levels, but the cities continued to have trouble in manufacturing with outdated practices creating a large price imbalance between food and commodities.

In response to this crisis, Lenin introduced his New Economic Policy which shifted the state controlled distribution of grain to a more capitalistic approach where peasants could “dispose of their food surpluses on the open market” (Siegelbaum, The New Economic Policy). This created an opening for those who would be called NEPmen as a new class emerged in the cities from the inability of part of the population to find work after cuts were made to try to make factories more productive. The name of these men and women who instead get the title NEPmenshi isn’t derived from Lenin’s plan itself but from the phrase the New Exploitation of the Proletariat. Taking advantage of the poor conditions troubling the urban areas, they used their entrepreneurial intuitive to fill a gap that would turn out to be beneficial for all. In return, they were “often depicted as fat, greedy and in certain renditions Jewish” (Siegelbaum, Nepmen) because their very existence undermined the whole communist revolution ideology. They were barely tolerated under Lenin, but along came Stalin with his extremities and they became no more.

Under Lenin, they “accounted for almost 75% of the Soviet Union’s retail trade” (Sieglebaum, Soviet State and Society Between Revolutions). As they started to become more and more successful and out-competed their factory worker comrades is when they really started to be hated. The communists feared that they would gain enough power to gain some control in government and turn the Soviet Union to capitalism. To diminish this fear, they were taxed heavily and even “their right to vote was revoked” (Sieglebaum, Soviet State and Society Between Revolution). The NEPmen would continue to survive until 1928 when Stalin replaces Lenin’s policy with his own Five Year Plan.

Who were the Tiflis people and where did they come from?

In this photo, we see the workings of the Tiflis people in what appears to be their natural habitat. This photo, taken circa 1907 – 1915 by the great Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii from the grounds of Saint David Church, illustrates beautifully the historic landscape nestled in the valleys of the Caucasus mountain range of Tbilisi, the largest city and serving capital of present day country of Georgia. The name Tiflis means warm location and was named so for its numerous sulphuric hot springs. In 1936, under soviet control, the name was changed to Tbilisi at the request of modernization.

If these mountains sound familiar, it’s because they probably are. They’re where we get the term that’s so commonly used today: caucasian, the racial term signifying white colored skin. This definition has been muddied and changed throughout history from an ethnic and geographic word simply meant to designate somebody from this region to the more common present meaning of race and european descent.

Now you know whenever you see those boxes on all those government forms designed to signify race, you’re designating that you’ve origins in these specific mountain ranges. However, to different people, the word definitely has different meanings. Since this is the home of the famous Caucasus mountains, this must mean that here we’ll find the true white man with his pure white family, however today some might not even considered these people to be of the shared white race. When people think of caucasian today, they might think of germans or scandinavians, or other western europeans, but this city was home to a different multinational crowd including georgians, armenians, russians, persians, poles, tatars, and jews comprising a hefty population of around 160,000 total people. There were roughly equally number of georgians and armenians making up the largest percent of the population with the next largest ethnic group being the russians.

Fun fact: Joseph Stalin was actually of georgian ethnicity and was born in gori, georgia which is very close just west of then Tiflis.


The early 20th century is when the imperial russia took a liking to this region, consequently the photograph captured depicts a fairly recent russian controlled city of tiflis. However, this first wave of control was also nearly over at the time of the photo as russia was retracting its imperial empire to focus inwards during the civil war that would lead to the newly established soviet union. During this struggle, georgia and neighboring countries of armenia and azerbaijan fought for their independence which did not last long as the soviet union wanted to reclaim the pivotal land between the black and caspian sea.