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0101Rurik, Founder Of Rus20110418A major new history series begins this week which traces the development of Russia over a period of 1,000 years.
The first five weeks take the listener from the beginning of the Russian state in 862 A.D.
up to the cataclysmic revolution of 1917.
Martin Sixsmith, who writes and presents the series, was the BBC's Moscow Correspondent in 1991.
The series begins with a vivid recording of his report on the events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
As he says: 'I remember with absolute clarity my conviction that the dissolution of the Communist Party after seventy years in power, meant the monster of autocracy was dead in Russia, that centuries of repression would be thrown off and replaced with freedom and democracy.
But I was wrong.
The country is stable and relatively prosperous now, but democracy and freedom again take second place to the demands of the state: the spectre of autocracy is again haunting Russia.
Back in 1991, in the grip of Moscow's euphoria, I'd forgotten the lesson of history - that in Russia things change...
only to remain the same.
Attempts at reform, followed by a return to autocracy, had happened so often in Russia's past that it was very unlikely things would be different this time.
'
In this first programme, Martin travels to the northern city of Novgorod.
It was there that, ancient history has it, the warring Slav tribes invited Rurik to come and bring order.
He was the first iron fist, and he gave Rus-sia its name.
But, as Martin Sixsmith points out, already by the late ninth century, two key leitmotifs of Russian history are beginning to emerge - the tendency towards autocracy, and the urge for aggression and expansion.
Today Russia spans eleven time zones and is home to a hundred nationalities and a hundred and fifty languages.
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke production for BBC Radio 4.
In a major new series Martin Sixsmith traces 1,000 years of Russian history.
0102A Church For The State2011041920140317The first of these selected episodes from Martin Sixsmith's history of Russia reflects on the earliest times, in the 10th century, when Kiev was the capital of all the Russian states. It was a period called Kievan Rus and, among the legacies it left through the centuries and up to the present day, were the choice of religion and the Cyrillic language.
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke production for BBC Radio 4.
Russia in its earliest history was a disorderly group of tribes which followed pagan religions.
As Rurik's descendant Vladimir took control in the 10th century AD, two priorities emerged, the choice of a religion that would bind the state together and the choice of an alphabet that would cement the religion in place and become a common language for the people.
As Martin Sixsmith relates, 'Russians have been Orthodox Christians for so many centuries that we tend to take it for granted.
But Russia came close to adopting another religion - Islam.
If Russia had chosen Islam, history could have been very different - not only for Russia, but for all of us in Western Europe too.' It was said that Russia only rejected Islam because of its ban on alcohol, which was a step too far for the thirsty Russians.
And, as for the language, the Russians owe that to two missionary Saints, Cyril and Methodius.
They based their alphabet partly on Ancient Greek, and created a unifying language for Church and State, one which allowed the people access to the Bible and thus to the message of Christianity.
By the 10th century Russia had established a new capital in Kiev, now the capital of Ukraine, and from there sent traders and envoys west into Europe and east into Asia.
It was a period when the nation found a stability, but Vladimir had 12 sons, and a fratricidal war would inevitably follow.
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
Martin Sixsmith explores the significance of Russia's adoption of Christianity.
0103Prince Igor And The Polovtsians2011042020140318The second of these selected episodes from Martin Sixsmith's history of Russia continues the earliest story of Russia's relationship with Ukraine.
From the 10th to the mid-13th centuries, Kiev is the centre of power and the culture and politics of Kievan Rus has brought stability to the emerging nation. But internal squabbles among the princes of different states, and warring tribes on the borders, threaten to destroy what has been achieved.
Even so, these smaller battles were about to be dwarfed by a far bigger threat, which would eventuall bring down Kiev and move the capital to Moscow.
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke production for BBC Radio 4.
Russia with its long and vulnerable borders would be a continual prey to aggressive forces.
Rivalry and disunity within conspired to undermine any proper defence.
In this episode Martin Sixsmith cites one of Russia's most treasured myths, the lyric poem 'The Lay of Prince Igor', which describes the hopeless courage of Prince Igor as he sets off in 1185 with a small band of men to defeat the Polovtsians.
As Martin says, 'Every Russian schoolchild knows its strange, disturbing images and its rhythmic, muscular verse.
It was a mainstay of the Russian oral tradition, intended to be memorised and recited as patriotic propaganda.
But far from being a celebration of victory, the Song of Igor is a dire warning of the perils of national disunity.'
The composer Borodin would further its fame with his opera 'Prince Igor' which contain the famous Polovtsian Dances.
The music retold the legend, and throughout Russian cultural history artists in the fields of music, art and literature would continually revisit their nation's rich heritage.
In Soviet times these stories often acted as propaganda for the Communist State, and Martin Sixsmith in this episode cites the 1938 film 'Alexander Nevsky' by director Sergei Eisenstein, recounting the defeat of the Teutonic knights in 1242, which was used by Stalin to this end.
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
Russia struggles to survive as the warring Polovtsians threaten its borders.
0104The Mongol Yoke20110421In 1240, the Mongols arrived at the capital of the Russian lands, the great city of Kiev.
After a week-long bombardment that breached the city walls, the Mongols poured in, wreaking death and destruction.
It was to change the course of Russian History.
Isolated from Europe, Russia missed out on the Renaissance, and Martin Sixsmith argues, "She would never fully catch up with its intellectual, cultural and social values.
Instead, a profound admiration for the Mongol model of an autocratic, militarised state began to enter the Russian psyche.This legacy was so deeply assimilated that its influence has marked the way the country is governed right down to the present day."
The widely accepted view is that the Mongol period was a national catastrophe and the absolutist state model it implanted in Russia was her great misfortune.
But drawing on the writings of the great historian Nikolay Karamzin, Sixsmith suggests the political unity it created among the Russian lands outweighed all the negative effects.
He visits Kulikovo Pole, where the Russians marked their the first military victory against the Mongols.
In national folk memory this is the place to which Russians came disunited and left as a nation.
Alexander Blok, the great Symbolist poet writing 500 years later, sees it as the starting gun for a millennial clash of opposing religions and values that would define Russia's historical identity.
The country united around what soon become a national religious myth -the belief that Rus had been chosen by God for a historic mission - and a consciousness of being a unified nation in opposition to external enemies.
And, as we'll see, the leader of that newborn Russia would no longer be Kiev, but Moscow.
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke production for BBC Radio 4.
The Mongol hordes invade Russia.
0105Moscow - The New Capital20110422In 1453, the Fall of Constantinople and destruction of the Christian Byzantine Empire by the Turks left Russia the sole remaining leader of the Orthodox faith.
Directly exposed to the expanding empire of Islam it was a time of immense fear but also of opportunity, and Moscow used the crisis to further its claim to religious and political supremacy.
A mystical prophetic text, known as The Legend of the White Cowl, began to circulate, claiming to consecrate Moscow as the Third Rome, the true guardian of God's rule and causing great excitement among the population.
Martin Sixsmith suggests the prophecy was in fact a forgery created for political purposes.
Moscow had begun to emerge a century earlier under the canny Ivan Kalita or Ivan Moneybags, whose wheeling and dealing carved out a rich and powerful place for his city and himself.
He persuaded the Mongols to name him Grand Prince and pre-eminent ruler of the Russian lands.
The word 'Tsar' was created by his heirs, derived from 'Caesar', and 'Sovereign of all the Russias.'
But the departure of the Mongols had left a power vacuum, and there were three contenders vying to fill it: Lithuania, Poland and the northern city of Novgorod, which had avoided direct Mongol occupation, and preserved the old quasi-democratic values of Kievan Rus.
Moscow needed to deal with each of them, and it did so slowly, creating a fragile national unity under Ivan III's unbending autocracy.
It gave him the strength he needed to embark on an unparalleled campaign of territorial expansion, initiating the relentless empire building that would continue unabated to the twentieth century.
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith charts the rise of Moscow and the reign of Ivan the First.
0106Ivan The Terrible20110425The major new history of Russia series began last week in the 9th century with a collection of warring tribes.
It looked at the events that laid the foundations of the Russian nation, the adoption of Christianity and the lasting influence of the Mongol invasion.
This week Martin Sixsmith discovers the emerging forces that will make her the largest and longest-lived territorial empire in modern history.
He begins with Ivan the Terrible who centralises power in the Tsar, enslaving peasants and nobles alike.
Martin Sixsmith paints a vivid portrait of one of Russia's most familiar Tsars, and uses Eisenstein's film Ivan The Terrible to explore the tenets of absolute autocracy that have characterised Russian rule ever since.
This 'iron fist' which created a major obstacle to reform, and separated Russia ever further from Western Europe.
He cites Ivan's correspondence with Elizabeth I, who by the 1550s was Russia's sole foreign ally.
'Ivan's letters', he says, "sound almost like love letters."
Ivan the Terrible is remembered as a wild-eyed, slightly deranged figure.
But his legacy also had its positive side.
Under his leadership, Russia expanded for the first time beyond the lands occupied by orthodox, ethnic Russians.
It conquered the Tartar khanate of Kazan, laying the foundations for the greatest contiguous empire on earth.
Astoundingly, Russia would grow by 50 square miles a day for the next three centuries, until by 1914 it occupied eight and a half million square miles - a multiethnic, multilingual state spanning more than one seventh of the globe.
Today, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia still spans eleven time zones and is home to a hundred nationalities and a hundred and fifty languages.
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith paints a portrait of Ivan the Terrible, the Tsar with absolute power.
0107Enter The Romanovs20110426Pushkin's play and Mussorgsky's Opera Boris Godunov tell the story of Russia's Time of Troubles, which resulted from an absence of legitimate power.
After the death of Ivan the Terrible, who left no succession, the throne had been fought over and authority undermined.
For 20 years at the start of the 17thc, famine, revolt, economic devastation and foreign invasions came close to destroying the Russian state forever.
From the foot of the statue in Moscow placed in their memory, Martin Sixsmith tells the story of the 2 men who saved Moscow from the predatory Poles.
They were Mínin and Pozharsky - one of them a Russian prince, the other a merchant.
They raised a militia and saw off the invaders, allowing a new dynasty, the Romanov family, to fill the power vacuum.
They would rule until overthrown by the Bolsheviks 300 years later.
Glinka's patriotic National Anthem, written two centuries later, celebrates the rise of this new autocratic dynasty.
The Romanovs, as Martin Sixsmith points out, could have created a new style of governance in Russia.
"The nobility might have seized the moment to insist on a role in running the country, similar to the one enjoyed by the English barons since the time of Magna Carta.
But they didn't.
Instead, the talk was of the need for an absolute ruler, unshackled by restrictions on his authority, and invested with the monolithic power necessary to safeguard national security." One more opportunity to temper the autocracy that would dog Russia for centuries had slipped by with nothing changed.
The need for unity and security was paramount.
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith describes how a new dynasty, the Romanovs, claimed absolute power.
0108East Into Siberia20110427By 1613 when the Romanovs came to power, Russia was already a multiethnic empire.
It was the wealth of that very empire - the northern forests, the agriculture of the Asian south, the mineral riches of Siberia - that had given Muscovy the strength to survive its recurring crises.
It was this relationship between the Russian state and the Russian empire - its original Slavic population and its expanding multi-ethnic one - that became an ever more crucial factor in moulding her future identity
In this episode Martin Sixsmith visits the eastern fringe of the Ural Mountains to tell the story of Siberia - its staggering vastness that has spawned legends of space, and emptiness and freedom.
He uses the dashing Cossack Yermak - whose memory endures in Russian folk poetry and popular ballads - to show how Siberia became a vital part of Russia's growing empire transforming Muscovy from a state on the brink to a nation of unequalled riches.
But the other, darker side to Siberia is also evoked in the poems of Yevgeny Yevtushenko and in Shostakovich's Opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk with its poignant evocation of the convict road that so many Russians - including Dostoevsky, Lenin, Stalin, Mandelstam and Solzhenitsyn, would tread over the next four centuries.
He also tells the story of the Old Believers who broke away from the Orthodox Church and whose heirs still gather today.
They opposed the hijacking of religious belief by a centralised state-sponsored hierarchy and were part of a daunting set of problems that the new tsar, Peter the Great, had to tackle and tackle fast.
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith tells the story of how Siberia became a key part of Russia's empire.
0109Peter The Great20110428A threatening grassroots rebellion, commemorated in Shostakovich's The Execution of Stenka Razin, immediately foreshadows the reign of one of Russia's greatest Tsars, and the architect of its future.
Peter the First, later known as The Great, was crowned as a nine year old boy.
For a decade and a half he was shamelessly manipulated by relatives and regents in a violent, bloody power struggle.
It left him with a burning conviction that Russia must change.
Martin Sixsmith describes his relentless energy and fierce determination, which would make him the most influential ruler in Russian history.
Only Lenin would come close to him in the impact he had on society and power.
Peter the Great was a giant, both physically - he was six foot seven inches tall - and intellectually.
He combined intelligence and wit with an unremitting penchant for debauchery.
With his band of close associates he formed The All-joking, All-drunken Synod of Fools and Jesters, with extravagant rituals of feasting and drunkenness and savage mockery of the church.
But, "beneath it all, like Shakespeare's Prince Hal", Martin Sixsmith insists, "he maintained an unwavering seriousness of intent and acceptance of his destiny."
He had inherited urgent problems, but with an eye on the West (he travelled incognito to London, Oxford and Manchester), he reformed the way Russia was governed.
He created its first civil service, built a new capital city and brought the Russian calendar into line with the rest of the world.
He constructed a modern army and a navy that saved Russia from the very real threat of foreign invasion, and turned a nation in danger of self-destructing into a European great power, with a vast, stable empire able to support her international ambitions.
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith paints a portrait of Peter the Great, the architect of Russia's future.
0110A Window On The West20110429Peter the Great's major legacy, visible in all its splendour today, is the city of St Petersburg.
He wanted to found a new capital city, named after St Peter the Apostle.
He chose an inhospitable northern marshy bank of the River Neva, and raised up a formidable showpiece of architecture and city-planning.
St Petersburg became a grand statement loaded with symbolic resonance of renewal and adventure.
It would inspire future generations, including the greatest of all Russian writers, Alexander Pushkin.
His epic poem The Bronze Horseman opens with an elegant love letter to the European face of St Petersburg and her ousting of the old, Asiatic leaning Moscow.
From the city's streets Martin Sixsmith describes the "never-ending boulevards and even vaster squares; the surreal White Nights when darkness is banished and the city takes on its magical aura of ethereal beauty." Peter himself talked of a 'great leap from darkness into light' and the city became known as a 'window on Europe' and the defining metaphor of Peter's reign.
But, the first clues that Peter's reforms might not be all they seem come in the very way he set about building this place.
While the city rose gleaming and splendid, its foundations - laid on gigantic crates of stones sunk by slave labourers into the boggy mire - were literally full of the dead.
Just as at the end of Pushkin's The Bronze Horseman, praise for Peter is tinged with horror, Martin Sixsmith asks how European Peter really was in terms of democracy, justice and the rule of law.
He knew change was vital because of the tensions in society - the peasant revolts were a symptom of a system straining at the seams - but he wanted to control that change, and certainly didn't want reforms that would weaken the autocratic power he himself wielded.
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith visits St Petersburg, Peter the Great's 'window on the West'.
0111Catherine, Lover And Reformer20110502Peter the Great died on the 8th of February 1725.
He was 52 years old, had reigned for forty of those years and transformed Russia from a struggling, landlocked state to a major and still expanding empire.
But he died without appointing an heir.
At the start of week 3 of BBC Radio 4's major new History series, Russia - The Wild East, Martin Sixsmith traces the power struggles after the death of Peter, until another Great leader emerges.
While Peter the Great had laid the foundations of Russia as a European power, it was under Catherine the Great that Russia became Europe's most feared superpower.
One of the reputations that Catherine acquired was of a woman with a healthy interest in sex, but this shouldn't overshadow her reforming zeal.
She modernised the legal system, took ideas from the great Enlightenment thinkers Diderot and Voltaire, and learnt by heart long passages from Montesquieu's iconic manifesto of constitutionalism, on the separation of powers, civil liberties and the rule of law.
"It seemed to many," Martin Sixsmith suggests, "that Russia was preparing to boldly go where few others would dare to tread - having been the most backward of the European powers, she now appeared to be leading the way to the enlightened future."
But an ingrained fear of vulnerability lay beneath this show of strength, and Catherine followed an aggressive programme of expansion especially to the south.
It provided a buffer against enemies on her borders, but sowed the seeds of ethnic tensions that still exist today, and a careful observer would have realised even at this stage that Catherine was setting very clear limits to the extent and nature of the changes she was prepared to allow.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith assesses Catherine the Great's reputation abroad and legacy at home.
0112Rebellion And Punishment20110503Catherine's great passion was for Prince Potemkin and he became her closest confidant and supporter.
Catherine had flirted with the liberal values of the European Enlightenment, but a popular uprising sent her scuttling back to the harshest forms of autocracy.
Alexander Pushkin's classic tale, The Captain's Daughter, captures the apocalyptic atmosphere of the Pugachev Revolt in which hundreds of thousands of peasants, factory workers and serfs turned against their masters.
Landowners were massacred and their estates ransacked.
It was a foretaste of the revolutionary terror that was about to sweep away the monarchy in France and it gave Catherine nightmares.
But, unlike revolutionary America or France where the people were demanding ever more radical changes to society, in Russia the spark for revolt was a reaction against reform, and Catherine the great reformer became the great reactionary, abandoning ideals of liberty, equality and rule of law.
Instead of giving power to the people, as Voltaire and Diderot had hoped, Catherine finally endorses the old system of autocracy - uncontrolled authority in the hands of one person, namely herself.
Martin Sixsmith argues that this is the nub of Russian history, "that Russia is too big and too unruly ever to be suited to democracy, and that only the iron fist of uncompromising, centralised autocracy can keep such a disparate centripetal empire together and maintain order among her people.
It's the same rationale," he says, "enunciated by Rurik and Oleg, by Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great...
that would later be used by the nineteenth century tsars, by the Communist regime in the twentieth century and by Vladimir Putin in the twenty first.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith tells how a fierce rebellion turns Catherine from reformer to reactionary.
0113Napoleon Marches East20110504It is the year 1812 and Napoleon's armies are marching eastwards, bringing the message of revolution to Russia.
The French Enlightenment and the revolution of 1789 had had supporters and opponents among Russians.
But when Napoleon turned his sights on Moscow, the threat to the Motherland spurred them to forget their differences, forget their grievances and unite.
Against the backdrop of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and drawing on Tolstoy's War and Peace to illustrate Russia's deep seated fear of invasion, Martin Sixsmith reveals that the preservation of the nation became the overriding imperative, just as it had been at Kulikóvo Pole in 1380, just as it would be at Stalingrad in 1942.
But, before the victory came the bungling.
Catherine's successor and unloved son, Paul the First, was murdered in 1801 by a group of disgruntled Guards officers, and his twenty three year old son Alexander was summoned and told it was time for him to 'grow up and start to rule.'
The gap between Russia's ruler and the Russian people had grown dangerously wide and Alexander feared revolution if it were not addressed.
So his reforms were aimed at engaging the population in the interests of the state, giving them a stake in society, and creating patriotism and civic consciousness in a resentful population.
But even then, his advisor Mikhail Speransky wrote about "the dead hand of autocracy" that had stifled every attempt to reform it, and Martin Sixsmith draws pertinent parallels with Russia today.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
0114Decembrist Revolt20110505A haunting French lament and readings from Tolstoy's War and Peace underpin Martin Sixsmith's storyline as Napoleon's forces are chased from Russia.
This, just like World War Two, was a people's war in defence of the motherland - furious, patriotic, and ultimately successful.
The war however, bred further desire for radical change: serfs demanded freedom; peasants demanded the land, and the regular soldiers who pursued Napoleon all the way back to Paris, had seen a world their rulers would prefer them not to see.
The discontent and the yearning for change would germinate and spread, before flowering in the most dramatic circumstances.
After the liberal impulses of his youth, the French invasion and the spread of domestic opposition panicked Alexander I into a dour, slightly paranoid conservatism.
The unrest that simmered during his lifetime exploded spectacularly when he died.
The Decembrist Revolt over the succession - partly inspired by the American Revolution - demanded a constitutional monarchy and the abolition of serfdom.
The uprising seemed to have been a shambolic, if heroic, failure.
But it was an ominous warning to the new Tsar, Nicholas I, that all was not well in his empire.
He responded by reinstating the old Muscovite tradition of absolute autocracy, strengthened the secret police, cracked down on dissent and introduced draconian measures to suppress political opposition.
But, the harsh treatment of those who led the revolt - many were sent to Siberia and the five ring-leaders hanged - rallied public opinion to their cause, and in a country where poets have long been venerated as the conscience of the nation, Alexander Pushkin's sympathetic verses about the Decembrists did much to establish them as iconic standard bearers of the will for freedom.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
How victory against Napoleon bred further desire for radical reform.
0115Defeat And Disaffection2011050620140319Martin Sixsmith charts the tensions that have often surfaced between Russia and its southern states.
In this episode, chosen from his 2011 series on the history of Russia, Martin shows how successive rulers have battled to keep Georgia, Ukraine, Chechnya and the Caucasus under their control.
The confrontation became international in the mid-19th century when France and Britain decided they needed to restrain Russia's naval expansion into the Mediterranean at Sebastopol, and launched the Crimean War.
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke production for BBC Radio 4.
The problems of reform in European Russia are mirrored in its hugely expanded, multiethnic, disparate empire.
Today these outlying countries provide dangerous flashpoints and this programme begins with Martin Sixsmith's news reports in the 1980's and 90's about the escalating conflicts in the south of the USSR.
He then looks back at the seeds sown centuries earlier and argues that their roots can be understood only through the long view of Russian history.
Possession of southern territories including the Ukraine and the Crimea accelerated Russia's rise to Great Power status- and contributed to a sense of national pride that helped glue together a fractious empire, but it wasn't without it's costs.
Comparing Pushkin's Prisoner of the Caucasus and Lermontov's Hero of our Time, Sixsmith looks at Russia's brutal conquest of the Caucasus.
He draws a vivid portrait of General Yermolov who remains today a figure of hatred and revulsion, a symbol of Russian genocide.
This memory is a spur to some of the appalling atrocities of recent history that Chechen fighters have inflicted on captured Russian soldiers.
Part of the reason Russia was willing to pay such a heavy price for domination of the Caucasus was as a defence of her vulnerable southern frontiers.
Here the Persians, Turks and - increasingly - the British were jostling for territory.
The decline of the Ottoman Empire provoked the onset of the Great Game, with Russia and Britain facing off in a struggle to fill the power vacuum.
The defeat of Russia in the Crimean War marked Russia's decline as the dominant European power, while at home it sparked public dissatisfaction that would be exploited by the emerging forces of revolutionary opposition.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
Martin Sixsmith shows how the iron fist crushes nationalism in Russia's overblown empire.
0116The Downtrodden Serfs20110509Over 700 years successive Tsars had extended the grip of Russia on new territory.
The Empire needed a huge peasant class to work the land, and out of this need came the underdog of Russian society - 17 million serfs, or, as they were also called, souls.
The plight of the serf pricked the conscience of the Russian intelligentsia, and for writers they were a fact of life that in the 19th century became a cause.
As pressure for change mounted, this programme traces the role serfdom has played in the history of Russia.
As early as Kievan times in the 11th and 12th centuries, slaves were a valuable commodity.
In many ways serfdom had been a relatively benign arrangement between landowner and peasant - and despite the many stories of brutality, the music that emerged is surprisingly joyful.
"The inherited willingness to pull together in the face of shared problems helped the nation expand into an empire and defend itself against its enemies," argues Martin Sixsmith.
"But it also hindered the development of private property, political freedoms and the law-governed institutions that Western Europe was beginning to take for granted."
In the 19th century serfdom had developed into the worst form of slavery and by the 1850's abolition was under serious discussion in Russia and America.
An emerging Russian intelligentsia expressed their own guilt over the horrors of serfdom.
But unpicking centuries of class division would have to wait for the 20th century before it erupted.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
As pressure for change mounts, Martin Sixsmith traces the role of serfdom in Russia.
0117The Murder Of The Tsar20110510The cultivation of Russia's great lands depended on the labour of millions of serfs, and they had for hundreds of years been at the very bottom of the social ladder.
But, under a new Tsar, it seemed, at last, that their lowly place was going to change.
On March the 3rd 1861 Alexander II took a step that many tsars before him had considered taking, but had always drawn back from.
The Manifesto on the Emancipation of the Serfs did something that had petrified previous rulers: it offered freedom to twenty three million Russians who for centuries had been little more than slaves.
The liberation of the peasants was the biggest shake-up in Russian society since the time of Peter the Great.
It affected nearly every member of the population, placed the whole economic and social structure on a new footing, and created shock waves that would rumble through the nation for decades.
The reform was long overdue.
Peasant unrest had been growing since the end of the Napoleonic invasion, turning to violent uprisings during and after the recent military disaster of the Crimean War.
The Manifesto is full of pleas for restraint that betray the very real fear of conflict.
But as Martin Sixsmith points out, the Emancipation was 'a botched job - too little, too late - it disappointed and angered nearly everyone'.
And in 1881 an extremist revolutionary threw a bomb at the Tsar's carriage with fatal results.
"Why," asks Sixsmith "did the man who brought emancipation, peace and the possibility of democracy in Russia end up with his legs blown off, his face shattered, bleeding to death?' The question's all the more poignant because in the minutes before he set off on his last, fatal carriage ride Alexander had just put his signature on a document that could have changed Russia forever.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith describes how liberal intentions ended in the Tsar's murder.
0118Seeds Of Revolution20110511In 1881 an assassin's bomb, thrown into the carriage carrying Tsar Alexander II, ended his life with an act of extreme violence.
Despite Alexander's good intentions of reform, anger over the power of the ruling class had blazed into the open.
The punishment for the assassins was unsparing.
Following on from the assassination, Martin Sixsmith looks at the origins of the revolutionary movement in Russia - and where it would lead.
He begins with Camus' description of the execution of Alexander II's assassins in St Petersburg.
The perpetrators belonged to the People's Will Movement, which had declared a merciless, bloody war to the death.
Sixsmith looks at the rise of socialism through the writers of the time, such as Chaadayev and Herzen.
Their diagnosis of Russia's social and political backwardness crystallized a deep-seated ideological schism.
By the 1840s both Westernisers and Orthodox Slavophiles agreed change was needed - it was just that they had very different ideas of the form it should take, and they missed their chance.
In a few turbulent years, the cautious liberals were swept away by a new generation of angry radicals - Men of the Sixties - "much less squeamish and much readier to use violence to impose their views".
Nikolai Chernyshevsky's book What Is To Be Done? published in 1864 determined the future of the whole revolutionary movement.
The plot glorifies the 'new men', disgusted by tsarist society and selflessly dedicated to socialist ideals.
The love affair of the two principal characters climaxes not in bed, but in the founding of a women's cooperative.
Its glorification of 'cold blooded practicality and calculating activity' set the tone for the violence of the coming years and Lenin himself regarded it as a pivotal precursor of Bolshevism.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith charts the course towards revolution as the 19th century draws to a close.
0119Censorship And Suppression20110512The assassination of Alexander II in March 1881 resulted in sheer panic amongst the ruling elite - revealed in the private correspondence between Konstantin Pobedonostsev, the right wing conservative adviser of the new tsar, and Alexander III.
Within days of ascending the throne, Alexander denounced his father's plans for a quasi-liberal constitution, thus signalling the end of yet another of Russia's brief flirtations with the ideas of liberal democracy and a return to the autocratic rule, which has always been her default position.
In an argument which Martin Sixsmith suggests is as relevant today as it was in 1881, Pobedonostsev contends that the vast size of Russia and its many ethnic minorities mean Western style democracy can never work there.
Under his influence, censorship was tightened, the secret police reinforced and thousands of suspected revolutionaries packed off to Siberia.
Ethnic tensions were met with a campaign of forced Russification which fostered resentment and sowed the seeds of future conflict in regions like Ukraine, the Caucasus, central Asia and the Baltic Provinces.
Alexander wanted to unify the country by turning a Russian empire into a Russian nation, with a single nationality, a single language, religion and sovereign authority.
He had a pathological fear of political opposition and was quick to declare emergency rule, suspend the law and restrict civil liberties.
For a while revolutionary activity was driven underground, and to the countryside.
But it never went away and it returned with a conviction that if the people were not ready for revolution it must be brought about and imposed on society by a clique of dedicated professionals.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Amid pressure for change Martin Sixsmith charts what drove subversive activity underground
0120The Last Tsar20110513It is the turn of the century and the days of Imperial Russia are numbered.
Nicholas II was crowned in May 1896.
Nearly 1400 men, women and children were crushed to death in the crowds at his coronation, which was quickly seen as a bad omen.
Within a year, disturbances had broken out in Russian universities and the Socialist Revolutionaries were disrupting government by murdering senior government ministers close to the Tsar.
Double agents used their privileged position to mount further assassinations.
By the end of 1904, Russia was close to turmoil and a strike at the Putilov Engineering works in St Petersburg spread quickly to other factories.
Within a month a hundred thousand workers had downed tools.
Dmitry Shostakovich's eleventh symphony - The Year 1905 - portrays the bloody culmination of the strikes on Sunday the 9th of January, when soldiers opened fire on protesters bringing a petition to the Tsar, leaving more than a hundred dead in the snow.
And trouble at home was soon to coincide with disaster abroad.
Aggressive expansionism in the far-east had brought Russia into conflict with Japan, and the catastrophe of Tsushima in which Russia lost eight battleships and four cruisers, with 4000 men dead and 7000 taken prisoner.
That and the uprising in Odessa, immortalised in Eisenstein's film Battleship Potemkin, dealt Tsarism an immortal blow from which it would never recover.
Suddenly the mighty tsarist system didn't look so mighty after all.
The resulting concessions introduced by the Tsar were seen as an admission of the regime's fragility.
As Martin Sixsmith hints, 'It wouldn't take much for the whole edifice to come crashing to the ground.'
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Trouble at home and disaster abroad weaken the Tsar fatally as Martin Sixsmith reveals.
0121Too Little, Too Late20110516In the final week of the first part of BBC Radio 4's major new series on the History of Russia, the momentum is all towards revolution.
After centuries of unbending autocratic government Nicholas II creates an embryonic parliament - an astounding leap forward.
Unrest abates and the economy recovers.
Martin Sixsmith reflects, "For a brief moment the vision of the Russian empire as a sort of British constitutional monarchy looked enticingly possible.
Had it been offered earlier and more willingly - it might just have worked."
Instead it is seen as too little too late.
Sixsmith stands where the revolutionaries stood and paints this picture: "On the 18th of October 1905, a young Jewish intellectual with a small goatee beard, a thick head of black hair and intense dark eyes rose to address an unruly assembly of striking workers here in the Technological Institute in Saint Petersburg." That man was Lev Bronstein, better known by the pseudonym Leon Trotsky.
He and Lenin were agitating for the whole Tsarist system to be swept away.
After the assassination of his uncle, Tsar Nicholas retreats from public view for eight years, but remains under the influence of his wife and her faith in the maverick and dissolute holy man, Grigory Rasputin.
When the Prime Minister is assassinated at Kiev Opera House, imperial Russia's last attempt at political liberalism comes to an irrevocable end.
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith signals the first appearance of Trotsky.
The Revolution gathers pace.
0122The Centre Weakens20110517Tsar Nicholas 2nd's reign at the beginning of the 20th century had already been marked by the shedding of workers' blood, and political weakness.
Revolutionary voices had been raised, and an unstable Europe would break out into the First World War.
The seeds of instability had been sown 40 years before, but it would be Nicholas who would reap the disastrous harvest.
Martin Sixsmith tells the story of Russia's part in the First World War through Solzhenitsyn's novel August 1914.
Solzhenitsyn takes issue with Tolstoy's belief that individuals cannot shape history and argues that there was nothing inevitable about the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
Greater determination and better leadership could have made things turn out very differently.
Sixsmith comments, "In many respects 1914 was a last opportunity for the tsarist regime to save itself.
The war was popular and its cause had united many elements of a divided society.
For a brief moment, peasant resentment and workers' demands took second place to the overriding imperative of defending the motherland.
But the mood of national unity was soon to be shattered by political shenanigans, tsarist incompetence and further setbacks on the battlefield."
By 1917 patience with the Tsar had run out, the strain of the war effort led to food shortages, profiteering and inflation.
The hated figure of Rasputin had been assassinated the previous year but it was not enough to save the monarchy.
Discontent was turning to revolt.
Sixsmith concludes, "The unity of 1914 was long gone; the old myths of loyalty to the tsar could no longer hold society together.
Tsarism was rotting from within and the only question was who or what would trigger its collapse."
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith describes the last chance of imperial Russia and the Tsar to survive.
0123The Year 1917 Dawns201105181917 is the year etched into Russian history.
The First World War had caused disillusion amongst the military and the workers.
Tsar Nicholas the 2nd believed blindly in his autocratic right to rule, but enemies were all around him, and the eventual victor - Lenin - was biding his time at a safe distance.
Shostakovich's Symphony 'The Year 1917' provides the backdrop for this most momentous year in Russian History.
The February Revolution of 1917 was, like the earlier peasant revolts of Stenka Razin and Pugachev, a spontaneous uprising against a hated regime.
Contrary to the Soviet account of the period, Martin Sixsmith argues "It was unplanned, uncoordinated, and the professional revolutionaries were left trailing in its wake."
But, with his kingdom crumbling, Tsar Nicholas the Second is portrayed, through letters to his wife Alexandra, as strangely detached.
He barely mentions the revolution that was about to end Tsarism in Russia, as if willing it to go away by concentrating on other, minor inconveniences.
Finally the Romanov dynasty, that had begun in the heroic glory of 1613 and celebrated its third centenary with great pomp just four years previously, came to an end in the banality of a provincial railway siding where Nicholas was forced to resign.
In the Tauride Palace in Saint Petersburg from where Martin Sixsmith tells the rest of the story, Nicholas's portrait was unceremoniously ripped from the wall of the Duma chamber.
Sixsmith walks from the palace's right wing, where the Duma deputies announced they were creating a new government, to the left wing where hundreds of workers, soldiers and peasants were gathering - the two groups jostling to fill the vacuum.
The time was crying out for someone to seize the initiative; he was already waiting in the wings.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith plots the course of revolution that marks the end of Russian Tsarism.
0124Lenin's Return20110519Chaos follows the abdication of the Tsar, and it is into this chaos that Lenin returns from exile.
The programme opens with a series of telegrams from the German foreign ministry which reveal that Berlin saw Lenin as a 'secret weapon', a 'dangerous virus' that would foment revolution forcing Russia to withdraw from the war, and so the Germans put him on the legendary sealed train bound for St Petersburg.
But Lenin was most certainly not in control.
No one was in control.
Tsarism had collapsed but the revolutionaries were far from united.
The Provisional Government was trying to create Russia's first western style law-governed state: their "liberal idealism was impeccable," muses Martin Sixsmith, "but the middle of a world war with revolutionary chaos on the streets was not the easiest moment to introduce democracy."
The opposition was divided between the Mensheviks who wanted to go through a phase of capitalist democracy before true revolution ushered in the nirvana of socialism.
The Bolsheviks, at that stage minor players, had more idea of what they wanted to destroy than what they wanted to create.
But Lenin seized the moment: "All power to the soviets!" was his dramatic conclusion that has resonated through Russian history.
He was already plotting a Bolshevik coup to take control and boldly promised Land, Peace, Bread and Freedom.
This gave him the popular support he needed to have a real chance of taking power.
But then he ran away.
Sixsmith draws on comments by Nikolai Valentinov, a friend of Lenin, which hint at a manic depressive side to Lenin's character to explain it.
It puts things on hold, the Bolsheviks go underground, but by October, the pressure for change was unstoppable.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith charts the chaotic progress of the Revolution.
Can Lenin seize the prize?
0125 LASTRevolution!20110520The signal for the Revolution was given on October 25th by the battleship Avrora, still moored at the St Petersburg quay where she was anchored in 1917.
In the concluding programme of the first half of BBC Radio 4's major history of Russia, Martin Sixsmith argues that between the February and October Revolutions of 1917, Russia missed her only chance for real change.
He says, '1917 has long been seen as a turning point in Russian history.
February put an end to tsarist rule and October inaugurated the era of proletarian socialism.
But I believe the real chance for change came in the brief period between the revolutions.
The Provisional Government was committed to the introduction of liberal parliamentary democracy, respect for the law and individual civil rights.'
But the Provisional Government did not survive, and under Lenin and Communism, the country's 1000 year history of autocracy would continue.
Sixsmith quotes the writer Vassily Grossman who says, 'In 1917, the Russian soul had been a slave for a thousand years...
the path of freedom lay open, but Russia chose Lenin.'
Sixsmith identifies widely differing versions of the events of 1917, untangling the myth and the reality.
Eisenstein's iconic film 'October' dramatizes the storming of the Winter Palace, but in fact it was defended by a smattering of teenage cadets.
There wasn't much heroism or bloodshed, and it was all over in 24 hours.
But it was the beginning of a power struggle between competing revolutionaries, and, in the next part of his history, coming to BBC Radio 4 in the Summer, Martin Sixsmith will describe how the Bolsheviks would consolidate their monopoly on power.
They would create a repressive Communist state that would last for over seventy years until it was, in 1991, overturned.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
A history of Russia, written and presented by Martin Sixsmith.
0201Twelve Hours Of Democracy20110711Martin Sixsmith continues his major series tracing 1000 years of Russian history.
He begins part two of 'Russia: the Wild East' amidst the whirlwind of the 1917 revolution.
At this great flashpoint in Russia's past, he concludes, as we saw in part one that things seem to change radically, only to revert to old stereotypes with spellbinding regularity.
The next five weeks show how these recurring patterns help us understand modern Russia, and modern Russians.
Sixsmith quotes Boris Pasternak's novel Doctor Zhivago which captures the cruelty, chaos and violence of 1917.
It starts with positive and hopeful imagery anticipating a new beginning, the new order Russia had long yearned for - 'Freedom dropped out of the sky' writes Pasternak and Sixsmith reflects "It's a feeling I remember myself, from another turning point in Russian history 1991, when I witnessed the defeat of the hardline coup against the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev.
For the victorious demonstrators I mingled with on the bullet riddled Moscow streets, freedom did indeed seem to have dropped from the sky".
While Pasternak captures the speed and violence with which expectations of a new world were crushed in 1917 Sixsmith reflects on the pragmatic necessity underlying Lenin's ruthlessness and on the fatal attraction Lenin held for a Russian people who naively thought he was bringing them freedom.
In light of later Russian historiography, which continued to revere Lenin even as it denounced Stalin for the crimes of the Soviet system, Sixsmith paints a picture of the first Bolshevik leader.
It was he, not Stalin, who founded the one party state, created the feared secret police and the Gulag system of forced labour camps and who first gave the order for summary executions of suspected political opponents
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producer: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith's major series tracing 1000 years of Russian history resumes.
It is 1917.
0202Murder Of The Royal Family20110712In the second programme of Part 2 of 'Russia- the Wild East' Martin Sixsmith outlines the growing menace facing the Bolsheviks at home.
The tsarist regime may have toppled, but supporters of the old order wanted revenge.
Even before the war with Germany ended, a violent civil war was threatening to erupt.
The conflict between Bolshevik Reds and Tsarist Whites was immensely bloody, the atrocities committed by both sides appalling and its consequences terrible.
Sixsmith stands at the spot in Yekaterinburg where the last tsar of Russia met his fate and draws on an eyewitness account of the execution by an ad hoc firing squad.
Recent research suggests the decision was taken personally by Lenin to prevent Nicholas II being rescued and used as a rallying point for the White cause.
The Red's were surrounded and outnumbered but Lenin stirred up his forces with passionate speeches and Trotsky pulled off an incredible volte face when he routed the White Army stationed at Gatchina 30 miles North of Petrograd.
The defence of Petrograd made Trotsky an iconic, terrifying figure, but his own memoirs quoted by Sixsmith, suggest it was a close run thing.
Petrograd was renamed in his honour and was called Trotsk until he fell from grace in 1929.
Germany's defeat in the World War allowed the Bolsheviks to recoup much of the territory they'd ceded when they withdrew from the war, although the Bolsheviks had to appeal to old fashioned Russian nationalism to defeat the advancing Poles.
After peace with Poland Trotsky was able to annihilate the remains of the White Army in the Crimea, immortalised in Bulgakov's play Flight in which two departing White officers discuss the destruction of the old Russia, and the utter failure of the struggle to save her from the Bolshevik yoke.
Producers: Anna Scott-Brown & Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith recounts how civil war rages as Lenin tries to consolidate power.
0203Terror20110713Gunshots ring out in a dramatic black and white Soviet feature film while Martin Sixsmith stands at the spot where Fanny Kaplan tried to kill Lenin in August 1918.
It unleashed the 'Red Terror' in which 100's maybe 1000's of so-called class enemies were executed for no other crime than their social origin.
In the name of Lenin's future Utopia, an estimated half a million people were eliminated in 3 years.
Famine, conflict, typhus and economic devastation were bringing the country close to collapse and shortly before he himself starved to death, the philosopher Vasily Razanov wrote presciently: "With a clank, a squeal and a groan, an iron curtain has descended over Russian history".
With his regime tottering, Lenin was quick to abandon his promises of freedom, justice and self-determination, replacing them with what came to be known as War Communism - harsh, enslaving and repressive.
Forced labour was systematically imposed on the population; industry nationalized, private enterprise banned; food rationed and Russian society transformed into an increasingly militarized dictatorship.
The Bolsheviks rallied the masses - no longer seen as agents of the revolution but as an expendable resource to be exploited in the great experiment of building socialism - to their cause by giving them the licence to plunder and murder the castigated richer peasants or kulaks who had kept the rural economy going.
Agriculture regressed, cities starved and a 70,000 strong Peasant Army emerged, (reminiscent of the great historical revolts of Razin and Pugachev) prepared to fight for freedom and the right to the land.
It took 100,000 troops to massacre the rebels with poison gas as they hid in the forests.
But things were getting to the point where terror alone could not solve the problem.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
By Martin Sixsmith.
An attempt on Lenin's life leads to harsh reprisals and near-anarchy.
0204The People's Revolt20110714With the party divided, workers and peasants disaffected, and food running out, Russia was teetering on the brink of another revolution, and in March 1921 an event of such colossal importance forced the Bolsheviks to rethink the whole way they exercised power.
Martin Sixsmith picks his way through the "crumbling, deserted and rather eerie warren" of massive stone fortifications on an island in the Gulf of Finland: Kronshtadt.
In the 1917 revolution, the Kronshtadt sailors rose up and murdered their tsarist officers and helped storm the Winter Palace.
But by 1921, things had changed.
The mood was ugly and the sailors' anger was directed against the Bolsheviks.
They drew up a manifesto claiming the Communists had lost the trust of the people, demanding the release of political prisoners, freedom of speech and free elections open to all parties.
Lenin realised it was make or break for the Bolsheviks and sent Trotsky to crush the Kronshtadt revolt whatever the cost.
The fortress eventually fell to the Bolsheviks, and fifteen thousand rebels were taken prisoner, to face immediate execution or a lifetime in the camps.
The immediate crisis was over, but Kronshtadt was a warning that Lenin could not ignore.
When he addressed the Party Congress just days after the Kronshtadt rebellion, Lenin promised a new era of milder, more humane government.
His New Economic Policy - or NEP as it became known - would soften the dictatorial control of the state, reintroducing some elements of capitalism to try to improve the nation's disastrous economic conditions.
In economic terms it was the only way to placate the people, and although it was an ideological bombshell that split the party, it gave Lenin the precious time he needed to consolidate his hold on power.
Historical Consultant - Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Anna Scott-Brown and Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
By Martin Sixsmith.
Lenin is forced to offer the Kronshtadt rebels his New Economic Policy
0204The People's Revolt20110715With the party divided, workers and peasants disaffected, and food running out, Russia was teetering on the brink of another revolution, and in March 1921 an event of such colossal importance forced the Bolsheviks to rethink the whole way they exercised power. Martin Sixsmith picks his way through the "crumbling, deserted and rather eerie warren" of massive stone fortifications on an island in the Gulf of Finland: Kronshtadt.
In the 1917 revolution, the Kronshtadt sailors rose up and murdered their tsarist officers and helped storm the Winter Palace. But by 1921, things had changed. The mood was ugly and the sailors' anger was directed against the Bolsheviks. They drew up a manifesto claiming the Communists had lost the trust of the people, demanding the release of political prisoners, freedom of speech and free elections open to all parties. Lenin realised it was make or break for the Bolsheviks and sent Trotsky to crush the Kronshtadt revolt whatever the cost. The fortress eventually fell to the Bolsheviks, and fifteen thousand rebels were taken prisoner, to face immediate execution or a lifetime in the camps. The immediate crisis was over, but Kronshtadt was a warning that Lenin could not ignore.
When he addressed the Party Congress just days after the Kronshtadt rebellion, Lenin promised a new era of milder, more humane government. His New Economic Policy - or NEP as it became known - would soften the dictatorial control of the state, reintroducing some elements of capitalism to try to improve the nation's disastrous economic conditions. In economic terms it was the only way to placate the people, and although it was an ideological bombshell that split the party, it gave Lenin the precious time he needed to consolidate his hold on power.
Historical Consultant - Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Anna Scott-Brown and Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
By Martin Sixsmith. Lenin is forced to offer the Kronshtadt rebels his New Economic Policy
0205The Death Of Lenin And Rise Of Stalin20110715Stalin crushes all opposition to emerge as Lenin's successor - despite Lenin's attempts to warn colleagues against him. The revolution was only 7 years old when Lenin died, but his cult had already been established and with it a belief that communism in Russia had a holy destiny to change, educate and perfect the human species. The baton had passed from church to party, but the message and methods were the same.
Emerging from Lenin's Mausoleum, Sixsmith reflects: "the dimmed lights, the chilly silence, the reverential guards - all tell you that this is the very epicentre of a messianic force which spread its tentacles across the whole world. The Party would lead the people from the grim, corrupted present to a cleansed, harmonious future. But in return it demanded unquestioning obedience: any deviation or dissent would be mercilessly punished".
Stalin abandoned the idea of world revolution, but not the model of an all-powerful centralized autocrat. And, if world revolution had been put on hold, communism still had to be secured at home. The newly formed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was made up of a hundred or so national groups, and not all of them were convinced. Many nationalities, pressing for independence under the tsars, expected the revolution to grant it to them. Lenin favoured patience, understanding and sensitivity, but Stalin set the tone when he responded to Georgian demands for greater independence by sending in the Red Army. The Georgia Affair was an indication that the rhetoric of greater freedom for the national minorities ran counter to the increasingly centralised structure of state and party rule. This fatal contradiction would cause decades of smoldering conflict and, ultimately, the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Historical Consultant - Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
By Martin Sixsmith. Stalin crushes all opposition to emerge as Lenin's successor.
Stalin crushes all opposition to emerge as Lenin's successor - despite Lenin's attempts to warn colleagues against him.
The revolution was only 7 years old when Lenin died, but his cult had already been established and with it a belief that communism in Russia had a holy destiny to change, educate and perfect the human species.
The baton had passed from church to party, but the message and methods were the same.
Emerging from Lenin's Mausoleum, Sixsmith reflects: "the dimmed lights, the chilly silence, the reverential guards - all tell you that this is the very epicentre of a messianic force which spread its tentacles across the whole world.
The Party would lead the people from the grim, corrupted present to a cleansed, harmonious future.
But in return it demanded unquestioning obedience: any deviation or dissent would be mercilessly punished".
Stalin abandoned the idea of world revolution, but not the model of an all-powerful centralized autocrat.
And, if world revolution had been put on hold, communism still had to be secured at home.
The newly formed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was made up of a hundred or so national groups, and not all of them were convinced.
Many nationalities, pressing for independence under the tsars, expected the revolution to grant it to them.
Lenin favoured patience, understanding and sensitivity, but Stalin set the tone when he responded to Georgian demands for greater independence by sending in the Red Army.
The Georgia Affair was an indication that the rhetoric of greater freedom for the national minorities ran counter to the increasingly centralised structure of state and party rule.
This fatal contradiction would cause decades of smoldering conflict and, ultimately, the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
By Martin Sixsmith.
Stalin crushes all opposition to emerge as Lenin's successor.
0206Collectivisation2011071820140320Stalin's five year plan was to bring disaster to the farming communities and peasants in the Soviet Union in the 1930's.
In this episode from his history of Russia, Martin Sixsmith shows how collectivisation produced famine on an unimaginable scale. Millions of people starved to death - the majority of them in Ukraine.
Producer: Anna Scott-Brown and Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke production for BBC Radio 4.
was Stalin's flagship policy, crucial to the creation of the New Soviet Man, moulded in the ways of socialism, and he couldn't afford to see it fail.
But his confident announcement of victory, celebrated in the 1930s musical 'The Rich Bride' (a sort of Ukrainian 'Oklahoma!') was premature.
Martin Sixsmith draws on the memories of 84 year old Masha Alekseevna, who witnessed the drive to collectivise Soviet agriculture with the eyes of a startled child.
The problem for the Bolsheviks was that they'd never had much support in the countryside.
For millions of ordinary peasants collectivisation meant swapping the yoke of the private landlords for the new yoke of the state and thousands of towns and villages rose up in revolt.
25,000 shock troops - class-conscious urban workers, former soldiers and young communists - were sent to bring the countryside to heel.
Sixsmith travels to Veryaevo, 250 miles SE of Moscow, where one of the fiercest rebellions took place and resentment and resistance bubbled on even after the authorities regained control.
The immediate result of collectivization was appalling, widespread famine - described in contemporary reports by British diplomat Gareth Jones, and Malcolm Muggeridge, one of the few Western journalists courageous enough to travel to the affected areas and report the truth.
Just as Soviet cinema was turning out films about happy singing peasants, cases of cannibalism were increasingly being reported in the Ukraine, where 6 to 8 million people died.
Stalin hadn't forgotten the civil war when some Ukrainians had welcomed the Polish invaders and he doubted the loyalty of non Russian nationalities.
His suspicions would grow, until they ripened into the purges that would leave their dreadful mark on the rest of the decade.
Historical Consultant - Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producer: Anna Scott-Brown & Adam Fowler
Collectivisation leads to widespread famine.
6 to 8 million Ukrainians die of starvation.
0207Industrialisation20110719Martin Sixsmith stands at the restored 'People's Economic Achievements Exhibition' in Moscow.
He remembers visiting as a child when "proud guides delighted in showing us foreigners round the extravagantly decorated pavilions showcasing the achievements of Soviet industry and technology." He then recalls the subsequent years of decay.
"What a perfect metaphor," he says, "for the meteoric rise and subsequent sorry fall of the Soviet Union's mighty industrialization programme."
Stalin launched his first Five Year Plan in 1928, tapping into centuries-old fears of Russian vulnerability and the spectre of powerful enemies at the gates, to mobilise the nation in the face of overwhelming odds: "We are 50 or 100 years behind the advanced countries.
We must make up this distance in ten years...
Either we do it, or they will crush us!"
The Five Year Plans set impossibly high targets and punitive timetables, but in spite of everything, the Soviet people rose to the challenge: output doubled and the Soviet Union became the world's second largest industrial producer.
The surging energy of those years is captured in Mosolovs 'The Iron Foundry', and the iconic music Vremya Vperyod- Time Go Faster, which would introduce Soviet TV news bulletins up until 1991.
But, as early as 1934 the reality was a sorry one.
Despite Soviet propaganda which created a new national mythology (its heroes workers such as Alexei Stakhanov, a coalminer who mined a 102 tons of coal in one shift) when targets were not met, workers were branded 'wreckers' and saboteurs while relentless purges instilled constant anxiety -a great motivating factor, identified by playwright Alexander Afinogenov in his remarkably outspoken play 'Fear'.
Historical Consultant - Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producer: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Stalin's Five Year Plans modernise the economy but create misery for the people.
0208Socialist Realism20110720"My husband was like the little bird in the old Russian poem: they capture him and squeeze him by the throat -and then they tell him to sing!" Irina Shostakovich tells Martin Sixsmith.
"They banned his music, he lost his job.
But he wrote his secret revenge, his music".
For this programme, Sixsmith has spoken to those who lived through the persecution of the Stalin years - writers, composers and henchmen of the regime - to try to understand the role of art in a time of fear.
"It allowed us to keep alive our freedom of memory and independence of thought in the dark years when 'they' were trying to reduce us to nothing..." says Yevgeny Pasternak of whose father, Boris, Stalin wrote on his police file: 'Leave that cloud-dweller in peace'.
Sixsmith tells the stories of Anna Akhmatova who committed her verse to memory and burned the manuscripts; Osip Mandelstam who let rip - just once - with savage unguarded hatred for Stalin, was arrested and sent to the Gulag where he died; theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold who was tortured in the cells of the Lubyanka.
The poet Vladimir Mayakovsky epitomises the destiny of many who loved the revolution, and then, desperately out-of-love, committed suicide; and Sergei Prokofiev who fled abroad only to find he could live neither in his native land nor outside it.
On his return, he was denounced by Tikhon Khrennikov, the head of the Soviet Composers' Union, and like Miaskovsky and Khatchaturian forced to make a humiliating public recantation for his musical 'crimes'.
When Khrennikov spoke to Sixsmith shortly before his death he fiercely rejected suggestions that he'd been a willing accomplice in the repression of musical life: "When I said No! it meant No.
But - what else could I have done? Stalin's word was law."
Historical Consultant - Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producer: Anna Scott-Brown & Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
The doctrine of Socialist Realism subordinates the creative arts to the will of the state.
0209Show Trials20110721Sergei Kirov had been a loyal ally of Stalin in the 1920s, but his popularity made Stalin regard him as a rival.
Martin Sixsmith visits the "rather sumptuous 5 room apartment" in St Petersburg from which Kirov left for work on December 1st 1934.
He never arrived.
Rumours that Stalin ordered Kirov's murder would persist for many years; the next day Stalin personally interrogated the assassin, forcing him to sign a statement that he had acted as part of an opposition plot led by Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev.
Within days 100s of people were arrested and executed without trial and in the following years Stalin used the Kirov murder as a pretext to exterminate 100s of 1000s of people whom he considered enemies or potential enemies.
Leading Bolsheviks were arrested and tortured until they confessed to imaginary crimes against the state; the Soviet Union was gripped by fear; denunciations proliferated.
Executions could be ordered without a judge.
Families were held responsible for the crimes of a relative, and children were taught to inform on anyone they suspected of disloyalty to Stalin.
The Tale of Pavlik Morozov, a schoolboy who denounced his own father was compulsory reading in schools; plays, paintings and an opera inculcated the message that loyalty to one's family is less important than loyalty to the state.
With the murder of Trotsky who, from his in exile in Mexico had kept up a vendetta against Stalin, in 1940, Stalin had achieved his goal of removing all actual or potential rivals for power.
But the purges of the 1930s had disastrous consequences.
Millions died, the economy suffered, national security was undermined, and Stalin had destroyed the cream of the Soviet Union's armed forces at the very moment that the clouds of world war were gathering on the horizon.
Historical Consultant - Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producer: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Millions are to die, as Stalin begins his purges of political enemies, real and imagined.
0210The Faustian Pact20110722Archive footage recreates the arrival of the German Foreign Minister in Moscow on the 23rd of August 1939.
As the Kremlin bells chimed midnight, Germany and Russia signed a treaty of non-aggression, guaranteeing that each remain neutral if the other attacked a third nation.
Martin Sixsmith observes, "The Pact was a cynical marriage of convenience, and it meant old enmities had to be reversed." Wolfgang Leonhard, a young German living in Moscow at the time recalls: "On the same day all anti-fascist books were taken out of the libraries.
All anti-Nazi films were taken out of the cinemas.
There was no mention even of the existence of fascism any more." Poland was the biggest loser and within weeks had been invaded by Germany in the West and Russia in the East.
The Nazi-Soviet pact shocked the world; would lead to the deaths of millions and the division of Europe, but it was not to last.
When the weakness of the Red Army was revealed, after a humiliating retreat from Finland, Germany responded.
Operation Barbarossa, the largest invasion in history, began on the 22nd of June 1941.
The army was unprepared and Stalin collapsed in a state of debilitated despair.
It was 10 days until Stalin pulled himself together to address the nation, appealing to old 'bourgeois' values of nationalism and patriotism, urging a divided, discontented people to come together to defend their country: "This war is not an ordinary war.
It is a great war of the entire Soviet people against the German fascist forces.
This is a national war in defence of our country." It worked.
But it would be a brutal and terrible fight to the death that revived Russia's deep-seated fears of national annihilation and conditioned the way its people thought of their country and of themselves for many years to come.
Historical Consultant - Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producer: Anna Scott-Brown and Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Stalin signs an accord with Hitler that will enslave half of Europe.
0211The Great Patriotic War20110725The words of Konstantin Simonov's poem 'Wait for me and I shall return,' is an anthem of loss, courage and yearning for the terrible months that followed the outbreak of war in 1941.
Untrained volunteers fought with pikes and sticks, entire divisions were wiped out, but the Red Army did not collapse as Hitler had predicted.
One General reported, "It is increasingly plain we have underestimated the Russian colossus...
if we destroy a dozen, the Russians present us with a dozen more." Neither did the Soviet people welcome the Germans as saviours.
Some Baltic states, where the invaders were seen as allies helping to throw off the Soviet yoke, greeted German soldiers with bread and salt, but they were repaid with brutality.
Martin Sixsmith visits the suburb of Kiev that witnessed the biggest single massacre of the holocaust, immortalized in Yevgeny Yevtushenko's epic poem 'Babi Yar'.
A heartrending account of one woman who survived is set against music from Shostakovich's 13th Symphony that uses the words of the poem.
But German casualties were mounting.
As winter approached, Hitler urged his generals to capture the major Soviet cities.
By early November the exhausted Germans were within 50 miles of Moscow.
600 miles and two fifths of the Soviet population were under enemy control, but the people's determination to fight was passionate.
Stalin evoked heroes of the past to inspire new Russian heroes, but Sixsmith reflects, "their motives were not always the ones the Kremlin desired: people were fighting not for Stalin, not for the revolution or the Soviet Union, but for the Russian land." In the hit song of 1942 Napolean speaks to Hitler from the grave saying 'I'll move over and you can join me down here." The Soviet Union had been facing annihilation, but it had survived.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke production for BBC Radio 4.
Stalin evokes heroes of the past to inspire Russian heroism against Hitler.
0212Redemption Through Blood20110726Having retreated from Moscow, Hitler focused on capturing the oilfields of the Caucasus, penetrating farther into Russia than any western army.
Stalin urged the Red Army to greater sacrifices: "we must throw back the enemy whatever the cost.
Those who retreat are traitors.
and must be exterminated on the spot." 150,000 soldiers were executed for cowardice.
Those who survived were sent to penal battalions "to redeem by blood their crimes against the Motherland," drawing on the deep-seated Russian belief that the individual must sacrifice himself for the good of the state.
Women took the strain in industry and agriculture, overtime was obligatory, holidays suspended and the working day increased to 12 hours.
Food supplies were limited; the author Fyodor Abramov wrote of "little girls with runny noses" working in the forests: "you didn't dare come back without fulfilling your quota! Not on your life! "The front needs it!"' Hitler had pledged to make Leningrad a terrifying symbol of Nazi invincibility and for 900 days the city was shelled nonstop and starved of fuel and food.
One in three of the city's 2.5 million inhabitants starved to death.
Martin Sixsmith stands in the concert hall where Shostakovich's 7th Symphony, which he dedicated to "our struggle against fascism...our coming victory over the enemy and to my native city, Leningrad..." was first performed on August 9th 1942.
So many members of the orchestra had died in the siege that amateur players were brought in to fill their seats, and the brass section was given special rations to give them the strength to play.
But the performance was a triumph.
It was broadcast on national radio and then around the world as a symbol of the strength of Soviet resistance that would eventually defeat the Nazi menace.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Anna Scott-Brown & Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
The Siege of Leningrad epitomises the courage of the Soviet people.
021320110727Victory at Stalingrad in February 1943 turned the tide of the war.
For 6 months, 2 million soldiers had battled for a city that was already in ruins.
German conscripts recorded the brutality of the combat: "Stalingrad is no longer a city...
Even the hardest stones cannot bear it.
Only men endure." Soviet forces were trapped in a thin strip of land on the edge of the Volga.
But for all the horror and all the losses, they did not retreat.
The world watched: if Stalingrad could be held, it seemed the war could be won.
At last, a counter offensive trapped 300,000 enemy troops in a sealed enclave christened the 'cauldron'.
When the Germans finally surrendered only 90,000 of them remained alive.
Just 5,000 would make it home.
The retreat westward gathered pace and 6 months later Hitler ordered his final offensive on the eastern front.
Martin Sixsmith visits Kursk where the "biggest tank battle in history" dealt Hitler his final body blow.
Within a year, the Germans had been driven out of the Soviet Union.
The Red Army swept westwards to Warsaw.
Andrzej Wajda's 1957 film 'Kanal' depicts the final harrowing hours of the destruction of Warsaw by the Nazis, but its anger is also directed against the Soviets, who allowed 50,000 civilians to be wiped out to secure the future dictatorship of Communism.
In mid-April, the Soviet assault on Berlin began.
The Nazi capital was pounded with more shells than the Allied bombers had dropped on it in five years.
A week later the Hammer and Sickle was planted on the roof of the Reichstag.
On the 9th of May, Stalin told the Soviet nation Germany had surrendered.
"Our mighty nation - our mighty people - have triumphed over the forces of German imperialism...
All our sacrifices, all our suffering and all our losses have not been in vain."
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Anna Scott-Brown & Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
At huge cost, Russia drives the Germans back to Berlin and defeat.
0214The Spoils Of War20110728Victory had been a remarkable national achievement and a chance for national unity that might have healed a fractured society.
But instead Stalin used the war as a pretext, to carry out a cynical campaign of ethnic engineering against those nationalities he viewed with suspicion: ethnic Soviet Germans were deported to Siberia; hundreds of thousands of Chechens, Ingush, Kalmyks and Tartars were expelled from their homes; anti-semitism, briefly forgotten during the war resurfaced.
People who expected their heroism to be rewarded with freedom and the right to participate in the running of their country found the party-state apparatus had reasserted its grip on power and did not intend to let go.
Major Yershov, in Vasily Grossman's novel Life and Fate, sums up the hopes of the nation: "He was certain that he was not only fighting the Germans, but fighting for a free Russia: certain that a victory over Hitler would be a victory over the death camps of the Gulag where his father, his mother and his sisters had perished..." Instead, the state was seeking to suppress the very qualities it had encouraged during the years of fighting.
Courage, initiative and enterprise were deemed dangerous, former soldiers were regarded as a potentially hostile force, freedoms (religious and artistic) granted during the war were swiftly withdrawn, and the regime acted to prevent unrest in the only way it knew how - by sending potential troublemakers to the Gulag.
Set against Shostakovich's Anti-Formalist Rayok, written in private having been forced to publicly recant, Martin Sixsmith concludes, "if nothing had changed after the war, if Soviet society was simply going back to the old ways, the question inevitably arose in many people's minds of what exactly they'd been fighting for."
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Anna Scott-Brown and Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Hopes of greater freedoms after the war are crushed by Stalin.
0215The Iron Curtain20110729In 1946 Winston Churchill defined the realities of post-war Europe and etched an image in the world's imagination: "an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.
Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe...
This is certainly not the liberated Europe we fought to build up, nor is it one which contains the essentials of permanent peace."
Martin Sixsmith argues, "there were genuine fears that Stalin had designs on the West, but the allies had a crucial advantage: the atomic bomb." The motherland was defenceless and Stalin exhorted Igor Kurchatov, leader of the Soviet nuclear programme: "Build us an atomic weapon in the shortest possible time! You must build the bomb to save us from a grave danger." Kurchatov called his team 'soldiers' in a new scientific war.
They were driven hard and lived under the threat of reprisals if they failed to deliver.
Then on the 29th of August 1949, the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic weapon in the deserts of Kazakhstan.
Neither side could now prevail unscathed.
When the Western Powers merged their half of divided Germany into a new semi-independent state, the Federal German Republic, the Soviet sector became a separate, socialist state and to underline the split, the Soviet authorities halted all Western shipments into Berlin, an "island of capitalism in a sea of communism" which irritated Stalin.
It was the first flashpoint of the post war years and Khrushchev later said Stalin was "prodding the capitalist world with the tip of the bayonet".
But he hadn't counted on the West's determination.
The Berlin airlift forced Stalin to capitulate.
On the 12th of May 1949, Moscow lifted the blockade but it left a legacy of bitterness and mistrust.
The Cold War had begun.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Anna Scott-Brown and Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
East and West divide up Europe, Russia develops the bomb and the Cold War begins.
0216The Doctor's Plot20110801By the late 1940s, the Soviet Union was the most powerful force in Europe, but Stalin faced a wave of discontent in the states annexed after the war and when Mao Zedong formed the People's Republic of China in 1949 was eager to conserve his place as the leader of world communism.
He encouraged conflict between North and South Korea but had to appeal to Mao for help when the US came to the South's aid. It was a tactical failure for Stalin. In early 1952 Stalin's personal physician, Vladimir Vinogradov, told the Soviet leader he was suffering from hypertension and sclerosis of the arteries, and if wished to avoid death he must retire from public activity. Stalin saw this as part of a plot to remove him from power. The New York Times correspondent in Moscow, Harrison Salisbury, writes: "on the 13th of Jan, we picked up Pravda and found the announcement of the doctors' plot, as it was so called... it was the most sinister news I read while I was in Moscow."
As a result of Stalin's paranoia, hundreds of innocent doctors were arrested, a new show trial was prepared, and top party leaders including Mikoyan, Molotov and Beria feared they were among the targets. It never happened. Martin Sixsmith walks around Stalin's secret Dacha on the outskirts of Moscow, "a set of high metal walls surrounding a hidden compound where you can glimpse the roofs of some dark brick buildings," and describes Stalin's death of a massive stroke. Newspapers were printed with black borders and Soviet radio replaced its transmissions with funereal music.
For thirty years, the Soviet people had been subjugated to the cruellest tyranny, but they spoke of feeling 'orphaned' by Stalin's death. It held out the possibility of freedom. But for a numbed, subjugated nation, freedom was far from easy to grasp.
Producers: Anna Scott-Brown and Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Communism's star rises, but Stalin dies before he can carry out his next round of purges.
He encouraged conflict between North and South Korea but had to appeal to Mao for help when the US came to the South's aid.
It was a tactical failure for Stalin.
In early 1952 Stalin's personal physician, Vladimir Vinogradov, told the Soviet leader he was suffering from hypertension and sclerosis of the arteries, and if wished to avoid death he must retire from public activity.
Stalin saw this as part of a plot to remove him from power.
The New York Times correspondent in Moscow, Harrison Salisbury, writes: "on the 13th of Jan, we picked up Pravda and found the announcement of the doctors' plot, as it was so called...
it was the most sinister news I read while I was in Moscow."
As a result of Stalin's paranoia, hundreds of innocent doctors were arrested, a new show trial was prepared, and top party leaders including Mikoyan, Molotov and Beria feared they were among the targets.
It never happened.
Martin Sixsmith walks around Stalin's secret Dacha on the outskirts of Moscow, "a set of high metal walls surrounding a hidden compound where you can glimpse the roofs of some dark brick buildings," and describes Stalin's death of a massive stroke.
Newspapers were printed with black borders and Soviet radio replaced its transmissions with funereal music.
For thirty years, the Soviet people had been subjugated to the cruellest tyranny, but they spoke of feeling 'orphaned' by Stalin's death.
It held out the possibility of freedom.
But for a numbed, subjugated nation, freedom was far from easy to grasp.
0216The Doctor's Plot20110802Communism's star rises, but Stalin dies before he can carry out his next round of purges.
0217The Secret Speech - Scramble For Power20110802When Stalin died in March 1953, the USSR was militarily strong, but economically fragile.
Beria, Molotov, Malenkov and Khrushchev assumed the collective leadership of the Soviet Union but the struggle for supremacy had begun.
Khrushchev and Malenkov accused Beria of being a British spy.
His execution sparked unrest in labour camps across the county - at Kengir in Kazakhstan, 13,000 political prisoners and former Red Army men seized power and demanded justice.
The new men in the Kremlin set up an inquiry to expose the abuses that had sent innocent millions to the Gulag.
The report found all four had acquiesced in the abuses, but Nikita Khrushchev decided the facts could not be kept secret.
"If we don't tell the truth," he told the politburo, "We'll be forced to do so in the future.
And then we won't be the people making the speeches - we'll be the people under investigation." His report to a session of senior party officials, now referred to as Khrushchev's secret speech, portrayed Stalin as a murderer, a coward and a bungler.
The myth of the mighty infallible ruler was debunked; Communist orthodoxy was shaken, and with it the ethical basis of the whole Soviet system.
Khrushchev's speech fanned the flames of the independence movements - Polish workers went on strike; in Hungary the crisis was deeper and limited concessions encouraged demands for much more.
But powerful colleagues opposed Khrushchev's de-Stalinisation programme.
Martin Sixsmith visits Asbest in Western Siberia to which Lazar Kaganovich was humiliatingly sent after his failed bid to overthrow Khrushchev.
The plotters all escaped with their lives, signalling the end of Stalinist terror, but Khrushchev's unpredictable nature left its mark on the erratic course of the country in the years ahead.
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Khrushchev denounces Stalin's record as Stalin's henchmen vie to take his place.
0218The Rise And Fall Of Khrushchev20110803Martin Sixsmith walks down Cosmonauts Alley in Moscow where plaques and statues commemorate the achievements of the Russian space programme.
He uses archive recordings from 1961 when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.
The USSR had beaten the US, and Khrushchev claimed vindication: "once-illiterate Russia has pioneered the path into space.
Let everyone who has sharpened their claws against us know this!" He was determined to prove the USSR equal to the US, but he struggled to modernize and the Soviet Union remained a police state.
He insisted the era of socialist struggle was over and fancifully predicted Communist perfection by 1980.
Having committed himself to big improvements in living conditions he had to start delivering, but Shostakovich's operetta Cheryomushki shows just how far the Soviet Dream had diverged from the reality of everyday life.
The economy was slow to respond to Khrushchev; with few incentives to work hard, people joked 'they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.' With agriculture failing to meet the country's needs, Khrushchev embarked on a series of disastrous grand schemes but still had to cut the defence budget to buy food.
Perceived military vulnerability lead to thawing relations with the West, but Khrushchev continued to bluff and intimidate.
He told Western ambassadors that the triumph of communism was inevitable.
"Like it or not," he said, "history is on our side.
We will bury you." But humiliation in Cuba undermined his authority.
While on holiday on the Black Sea in October 1964, he was summoned to Moscow and forced to resign.
"I'm old and tired", he told a friend.
"Let them cope by themselves.
I've done the main thing.
The fear has gone now; we can talk as equals.
That is my contribution."
Producers: Anna Scott-Brown and Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Khrushchev puts Gargarin into space but will resign in ignominy.
0219The Brezhnev Years20110804Leonid Brezhnev's 'era of stagnation' returns the country to the stifling conservatism of the past, plunging the USSR into crisis.
Speaking freely was risky and repression worsened after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia when Soviet demonstrators were beaten up and sent to jail, although their courage inspired new generations of dissidents.
The March of the Communist Brigades trumpets Soviet power: "Working hard every day is a holiday for us..." the workers sing, but the whole economy needed a radical overhaul.
As Brezhnev stalled and prevaricated "the USSR began the inexorable decline that would end in collapse, a quarter of a century later," says Martin Sixsmith.
By the end of the 1960s national discontent was increasing in the Soviet republics, but Brezhnev ignored the fault lines that eventually tore the Soviet Union apart, instead he looked for scapegoats.
When Solzhenitsyn wrote An Open Letter to the Soviet Authorities in 1973, urging Brezhnev: "Throw away the dead ideology that threatens to ruin us!" he was banished to the West.
Sakharov, who took up the baton, was given 6 years internal exile.
In 1979 Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan; the arms race resumed bankrupting the USSR, and hastening its collapse 10 years later.
In 1980 Lech Walesa turned a local rebellion into a nationwide struggle for Polish liberty and national dignity.
The people's grievances were suppressed, but would explode again at the end of the decade.
Meanwhile Reagan pressed ahead with his controversial 'Star Wars' missile shield, which left the Soviets vulnerable to an American nuclear strike.
The Kremlin couldn't afford another arms race, but both Brezhnev's successors agreed to increase spending leaving problems for the next Soviet leader that put the country's very survival in doubt.
Producers: Anna Scott-Brown and Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Brezhnev begins the decline that leads to the collapse of the USSR.
0220The Shape Of Things To Come20110805Martin Sixsmith draws on his experience as BBC Moscow Correspondent during Mikhail Gorbachev's leadership of the Soviet Union, which began he says, "with little hint of the tectonic shocks it would unleash." Gorbachev's aim was to revitalize communism, not destroy it.
He had to make radical reforms, which he referred to as perestroika or 'restructuring'.
His first target was to revive the civilian economy, allowing a measure of free enterprise.
Sixsmith remembers being surprised by "the number of restaurants, private bakeries, hairdressers and taxi firms that sprang into existence.
It all seemed remarkably hopeful." But, it aroused fierce opposition, and Gorbachev's military and foreign policies met the same resistance.
To counter conservative opposition, Gorbachev appealed directly to public opinion to back his policies.
Glasnost, or 'openness', intended to give the people access to information in order to prove that the changes he proposed were a good thing: a test case was the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
It was unprecedented and risky and would have momentous, unforeseen consequences.
Attacked by both left and right, Gorbachev needed to shore up his own position.
At the 19th Party Conference in 1988 he proposed replacing the old parliament, with a new body, the Congress of People's Deputies - its Chairman would serve in the new post of President of the USSR, and could be removed only by the parliament, and not a rival faction in the party elite.
The first genuinely contested elections in the history of the Soviet Union were set for March 1989.
The communist party had voted - almost inadvertently - to loosen its own grip on power.
But Yeltsin saw the elections as his chance and within months the tide of popular revolution would be lapping at the Kremlin.
Producers: Anna Scott-Brown and Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Mikhail Gorbachev takes power and we learn a new word: Glasnost.
0221Gorbachev Vs Yeltsin20110808Martin Sixsmith remembers the "electric" sessions of the Congress of People's Deputies, after the Soviet Union's first genuinely contested elections in March 1989."As I wandered through the parliament's corridors, meeting openly with former dissidents, I realized that Gorbachev had let the genie of liberty out of the bottle," he says.
Thousands of people took to the streets demanding multi-party democracy and booing Gorbachev.
Boris Yeltsin -Chairman of the newly-created Russian parliament and de facto leader of the Russian Republic was demanding independence.
Gorbachev, as leader of the Soviet Union and nominally the senior figure, struggled to hold the USSR together.
"I'm doomed to go forward and only forward," he told a colleague.
"If I retreat, I will perish..." Hardline communists were also on the attack; 'Gorbymania' in the West gave them leverage, and when Soviet territory was 'lost' as the Berlin wall came down, Gorbachev was derided as a traitor.
The Baltic republics stridently demanded independence and although Gorbachev had publicly renounced coercion, Soviet troops were sent in.
Yeltsin announced he would battle the threat of autocracy with the sword of democracy, proposing free and open elections for a new post of Russian President.
Gorbachev tried to block it, but on 28 March 1991 the battle took to the streets.
Gorbachev was forced to back off; the balance of power was shifting.
In June 1991 Yeltsin was elected President of Russia with a mandate for radical change.
He wanted to end communism and abolish the USSR.
Gorbachev's compromise of a looser confederation of states with considerable autonomy but not control of defence and foreign policy, might have worked.
But before the New Union Treaty could be signed, history would take a dramatic turn.
Producers:Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Yeltsin becomes Russian President and challenges the authority of Gorbachev's USSR.
0222The Moscow Coup2011080920140321In the final selection from his history of Russia, Martin Sixsmith describes the tumultuous events that took place in Moscow in 1991.
He was there as a BBC correspondent as Communist plotters tried to save the Soviet Union. They imprisoned President Gorbachev at his holiday villa and announced that they were saving the country from further reform and openness. They hadn't reckoned with Yeltsin, who climbed on top of a tank stationed outside the Moscow white house and, almost singlehandedly, won back the army and forced the plotters to back down.
This was the end of the USSR. The former republics, Ukraine among them, were free to take their own steps towards a new democratic constitution. But these were steps which would do nothing to alter the tension between Russia and Ukraine that had existed throughout their history.
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke production for BBC Radio 4.
Intermingling memories and on location reporting at the time, Martin Sixsmith recreates the dramatic events of August 1991 when hardline communists removed Gorbachev from power and instituted a State of Emergency.
Standing on the steps of the Russian parliament building he describes Yeltsin climbing onto a tank calling for all citizens to oppose "the anti-constitutional coup that will return us to the days of the Cold War era." Thousands of people ignored curfews and threats to respond; Sixsmith recalls the campfires and people sharing their food, waving the pre-revolutionary Russian flag.
We hear a poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko written for the occasion and of 3 young men crushed by tanks as demonstrators intercepted their advance.
And then on 21st August the coup plotters lost their nerve and the tanks withdrew.
On 22nd August, Gorbachev flew back to Moscow claiming, "This is the victory of perestroika." But he underestimated Yeltsin's heroism and the guilt of the Communist Party that had backed the coup.
The days of reforming and modernizing the Party were over.
The end of the week brought the political showdown that would determine the country's future: Gorbachev stubbornly defended the communist party, but was forced to recognize the entire government had supported the coup and agreed everyone must resign.
Yeltsin moved in for the kill, banning the Russian Communist Party.
The next day Gorbachev addressed the nation, agreeing the Soviet Communist Party, too, should be abolished.
74 years of political domination had come undone in a mere six days.
Forced to accept the inevitable Gorbachev announced his resignation in an emotional television address on Christmas Day.
At midnight on the last day of 1991, the hammer and sickle was taken down from the Kremlin towers.

Gorbachev survives a coup attempt but the USSR does not.
0223Brave New World?20110810The programme opens with a new national anthem full of hope for a country frantically ridding itself of its communist past.
At the time, Martin Sixsmith witnessed the dumping of Moscow's communist statues "here on the grass for the crowds to spit on" and returns to the site to reflect on what actually happened.
President Yeltsin's 'economic shock therapy' freed prices and deregulated trade, but inflation soared to 400%.
In late 1992 every citizen was given a $60 stake in Russia's denationalized industries, but entrepreneurs bought out the people, who were left poorer than ever.
Corruption and violence flourished; wages went unpaid; homelessness and poverty escalated.
When opposition to his policies reached a climax, Yeltsin demanded the right to rule by decree; the Russian parliament refused; Yeltsin dissolved the parliament but the parliament impeached him.
Supporters of the 2 sides clashed on the streets of Moscow and Yeltsin sent in the tanks, destroying his reputation as a democrat and giving the Russian Communist Party a chance.
When it won a clear majority in the elections of 1995 Yeltsin panicked.
Conflict in Chechnya and the failure of the economic reforms had brought Moscow close to bankruptcy so Yeltsin turned to the new oligarchs for a massive injection of cash to save his political skin.
In return he had to hand over Russia's remaining state industries, including steel, gas and oil.
In 1998 oil and gas prices collapsed sending the Russian economy into freefall.
When demonstrators took to the streets, Yeltsin announced his reforms were being suspended, ending Russia's experiment with Western style liberal democracy.
On New Year's Eve he dramatically announced he was stepping down, handing over to his Prime Minister, a little known bureaucrat - Vladimir Putin.
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
After the collapse of the USSR Boris Yeltsin's reforms lead to chaos.
0224Return Of The Fist20110811Vladimir Putin came to power determined to halt economic meltdown and re-establish Russia as a world power.
He achieved both, but at the expense of democracy: parliamentary powers were weakened, those of the president enhanced; opposition parties were harassed, protestors jailed, freedom of the press restricted.
This so called 'managed democracy' was described by critic Lilia Shevtsova as a "smokescreen to conceal the old power arrangements."
Putin revived the trappings of the Soviet era promoting a strong state and the pop song 'Be Like Putin!' shot up the charts.
He took on the oligarchs, forcing them to hand over the TV channel that criticized his handling of the Kursk tragedy when 118 sailors died on board a nuclear submarine; and when the oil magnate Khodorkovsky, started to fund political parties he was arrested on bogus tax charges and sent to a labour camp.
Russia resumed its seat at the world's top table when Putin reclaimed the oil for the state, using his power to ramp up oil and gas prices to Ukraine when angered by Western encroachment in the former Soviet republics.
But after guerrillas seized a school in Beslan, Northern Ossetia, and several of the hostage-takers were Arabs, Putin argued it was proof, that Russia was fighting the same war on international terror as the West.
200 children died, but Putin's response was uncompromising: "the weak get beaten," he said.
Ongoing conflict with Chechnya gave him further chances to demonstrate his toughness, and when Alexander Litvinenko was murdered in London, a commentator on Russian state television compared it to the elimination of Trotsky by agents of Stalin.
"There was a new willingness to rehabilitate the dictator's memory," says Martin Sixsmith.
"Autocracy was back in Russia, and the people liked it."
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Vladimir Putin comes to power determined to re-establish Russia as a world power.
0225 LASTThe Lessons Of History20110812Starting with the relationship between Putin and Medvedev Martin Sixsmith reviews the dichotomy of Russian history: "on the one hand, tantalising hints of democracy and freedom; on the other, hard-bitten conviction that Russia needs strong centralized power to rule her unruly lands." Medvedev has questioned Putin's 'managed democracy' but has failed to free the legislature from the state, and there have been few improvements in Russia's human rights record.
His role in Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia reveals, Sixsmith argues, "the reflexes of an autocrat...
If Medvedev is a liberal, his reformist instincts seem to be curbed by his Prime Minister, Putin, whom most Russians continue to regard as the real leader of the country." So if Russia's past experiments with democracy all ended in failure, what of her prospects now?
Sixsmith notices a recurrent pattern: nearly every attempt at reform has come from 'above;' all have been motivated by an immediate threat to autocracy.
The revolution 'from below' in February 1917 was quickly hijacked by the idealist despots of Leninist socialism, another form of autocracy that lasted for 74 years.
Gorbachev's Glasnost taught the Russian people to have their own opinions and in 1991 it was the people who demanded freedom and democracy - a tectonic shift that opened up new possibilities for the future.
But instead of prosperity and freedom, Russia got economic meltdown, crime and ethnic strife.
The reassertion of autocracy was carried out with the approval of the people, not imposed on them, and the governments of Putin and of Putin-Medvedev are genuinely popular.
Sixsmith questions why liberalism always fails and ends suggesting, "Could it be that centripetal Russia really can be ruled only by the fist of centralized autocracy?"
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith asks whether Russia will always return to the rule of autocracy?
OMNI10120110422Martin Sixsmith begins his major series, telling the story of Russia's journey from a collection of tribes over 1000 years ago to its present place among the world's nations.
Readings by: David Warner, Peter Dickson, Peter Guinness, Mike Hayley, Max Bollinger, Richard Albrecht
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
In a major new series Martin Sixsmith traces 1,000 years of Russian history.
OMNI102Expansion And Autocratic Rule20110429The major new history of Russia series began last week in the 9thcentury with a collection of warring tribes.
It looked at the events that laid the foundations of the Russian nation, the adoption of Christianity and the lasting influence of the Mongol invasion.
This week Martin Sixsmith discovers the emerging forces that will make her the largest and longest-lived territorial empire in modern history.
He begins with Ivan the Terrible who centralises power in the Tsar, enslaving peasants and nobles alike, exploring the tenets of absolute autocracy that have characterised Russian rule ever since.
As the Empire expands, the Russian State is in turmoil.
Martin Sixsmith gives a vivid portrait of Russia's troubled rulers before a new, strong dynasty emerges.
By 1613 when the Romanovs came to power, Russia was already a multiethnic empire.
It was the wealth of that very empire - the northern forests, the agriculture of the Asian south, the mineral riches of Siberia - that had given the emerging nation the strength to survive its recurring crises.
A threatening grassroots rebellion immediately foreshadows the reign of one of Russia's greatest Tsars, and the architect of its future.
Peter the First, later known as The Great, was crowned as a nine year old boy.
Martin Sixsmith describes his relentless energy and fierce determination, which would make him the most influential ruler in Russian history.
Peter the Great's major legacy, visible in all its splendour today, is the city of St Petersburg.
He chose an inhospitable northern marshy bank of the River Neva, and raised up a formidable showpiece of architecture and city-planning.
St Petersburg became a symbol of renewal and adventure, and, owing to its closeness to Europe, was Russia's 'window on the west'.
Readings by: David Warner, Peter Dickson, Peter Guinness, Richard Albrecht, Mike Hayley, Yuri Klimov, Terence Longdon, Jonathan Oliver, Max Bollinger
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith continues the history of Russia, from Ivan the Terrible to Peter the Great
OMNI103The Dangerous Gap Between Ruler And Ruled20110506Peter the Great died on the 8th of February 1725.
He was 52 years old, had reigned for forty of those years and transformed Russia from a struggling, landlocked state to a major and still expanding empire.
But he died without appointing an heir.
At the start of week 3 of BBC Radio 4's major new History series, Russia - The Wild East, Martin Sixsmith traces the power struggles after the death of Peter, until another Great leader emerges.
While Peter the Great had laid the foundations of Russia as a European power, it was under Catherine the Great that Russia became Europe's most feared superpower.
One of the reputations that Catherine acquired was of a woman with a healthy interest in sex, but this shouldn't overshadow her reforming zeal.
She modernised the legal system, took ideas from the great Enlightenment thinkers Diderot and Voltaire, and learnt by heart long passages from Montesquieu's iconic manifesto of constitutionalism, on the separation of powers, civil liberties and the rule of law.
"It seemed to many," Martin Sixsmith suggests, "that Russia was preparing to boldly go where few others would dare to tread - having been the most backward of the European powers, she now appeared to be leading the way to the enlightened future."
But an ingrained fear of vulnerability lay beneath this show of strength, and Catherine followed an aggressive programme of expansion especially to the south.
It provided a buffer against enemies on her borders, but sowed the seeds of ethnic tensions that still exist today, and a careful observer would have realised even at this stage that Catherine was setting very clear limits to the extent and nature of the changes she was prepared to allow.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith assesses Catherine the Great's reputation abroad and legacy at home.
OMNI10420110513Over 700 years successive Tsars had extended the grip of Russia on new territory.
The Empire needed a huge peasant class to work the land, and out of this need came the underdog of Russian society - 17 million serfs, or, as they were also called, souls.
The plight of the serf pricked the conscience of the Russian intelligentsia, and for writers they were a fact of life that in the 19th century became a cause.
As pressure for change mounted, this programme traces the role serfdom has played in the history of Russia.
As early as Kievan times in the 11th and 12th centuries, slaves were a valuable commodity.
In many ways serfdom had been a relatively benign arrangement between landowner and peasant - and despite the many stories of brutality, the music that emerged is surprisingly joyful.
"The inherited willingness to pull together in the face of shared problems helped the nation expand into an empire and defend itself against its enemies," argues Martin Sixsmith.
"But it also hindered the development of private property, political freedoms and the law-governed institutions that Western Europe was beginning to take for granted."
In the 19th century serfdom had developed into the worst form of slavery and by the 1850's abolition was under serious discussion in Russia and America.
An emerging Russian intelligentsia expressed their own guilt over the horrors of serfdom.
But unpicking centuries of class division would have to wait for the 20th century before it erupted.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
As pressure for change mounts, Martin Sixsmith traces the role of serfdom in Russia.
OMNI105 LASTThe Road To Revolution20110520In the final week of the first part of BBC Radio 4's major new series on the History of Russia, the momentum is all towards revolution.
After centuries of unbending autocratic government Nicholas II creates an embryonic parliament - an astounding leap forward.
Unrest abates and the economy recovers.
Martin Sixsmith reflects, "For a brief moment the vision of the Russian empire as a sort of British constitutional monarchy looked enticingly possible.
Had it been offered earlier and more willingly - it might just have worked."
Instead it is seen as too little too late.
Sixsmith stands where the revolutionaries stood and paints this picture: "On the 18th of October 1905, a young Jewish intellectual with a small goatee beard, a thick head of black hair and intense dark eyes rose to address an unruly assembly of striking workers here in the Technological Institute in Saint Petersburg." That man was Lev Bronstein, better known by the pseudonym Leon Trotsky.
He and Lenin were agitating for the whole Tsarist system to be swept away.
After the assassination of his uncle, Tsar Nicholas retreats from public view for eight years, but remains under the influence of his wife and her faith in the maverick and dissolute holy man, Grigory Rasputin.
When the Prime Minister is assassinated at Kiev Opera House, imperial Russia's last attempt at political liberalism comes to an irrevocable end.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler and Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith signals the first appearance of Trotsky.
The Revolution gathers pace.
OMNI201Series 2 Omnibus20110715Martin Sixsmith continues his major series of Russian history amidst the whirlwind of 1917 revolution and the Bolshevik rise to power.
Here, as in part one, Sixsmith argues that things seem to change radically, only to revert to old stereotypes. He stands at the spot in Yekaterinburg where, while the country was engulfed in a bloody civil war, the last tsar of Russia met his fate. He draws on an eyewitness account of the execution by an ad hoc firing squad. Recent research suggests that Lenin took this decision personally to prevent Nicholas II becoming a rallying point for the White cause. Sixsmith reflects on the pragmatic necessity underlying Lenin's ruthlessness and on the fatal attraction Lenin held for a Russian people who thought he was bringing them freedom.
Germany's defeat in the World War allowed the Bolsheviks to recoup much of the territory they'd ceded when they withdrew from the war, but an attempt to kill Lenin led to harsh reprisals and a ruthless war on so-called class enemies. Lenin abandoned his promises of freedom, justice and self-determination, replacing them with what came to be known as War Communism - harsh, enslaving and repressive.
But the Kronshtadt rebellion, with its manifesto claiming the Communists had lost the trust of the people, forced the Bolsheviks to rethink how they exercised power. Trotsky crushed the uprising but Lenin was forced to offer economic concessions. The New Economic Policy (NEP) placated the people, and, although it split the party, gave Lenin the time he needed to consolidate his hold on power. But, just 7 years after the Revolution, Lenin dies to be replaced by the man he had tried but failed to warn his party against - Josef Stalin who increasingly adopted the model of an all-powerful centralized autocrat.
Historical Consultant - Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Martin Sixsmith's history of Russia examines the Bolsheviks' rise to power.
Here, as in part one, Sixsmith argues that things seem to change radically, only to revert to old stereotypes.
He stands at the spot in Yekaterinburg where, while the country was engulfed in a bloody civil war, the last tsar of Russia met his fate.
He draws on an eyewitness account of the execution by an ad hoc firing squad.
Recent research suggests that Lenin took this decision personally to prevent Nicholas II becoming a rallying point for the White cause.
Sixsmith reflects on the pragmatic necessity underlying Lenin's ruthlessness and on the fatal attraction Lenin held for a Russian people who thought he was bringing them freedom.
Germany's defeat in the World War allowed the Bolsheviks to recoup much of the territory they'd ceded when they withdrew from the war, but an attempt to kill Lenin led to harsh reprisals and a ruthless war on so-called class enemies.
Lenin abandoned his promises of freedom, justice and self-determination, replacing them with what came to be known as War Communism - harsh, enslaving and repressive.
But the Kronshtadt rebellion, with its manifesto claiming the Communists had lost the trust of the people, forced the Bolsheviks to rethink how they exercised power.
Trotsky crushed the uprising but Lenin was forced to offer economic concessions.
The New Economic Policy (NEP) placated the people, and, although it split the party, gave Lenin the time he needed to consolidate his hold on power.
But, just 7 years after the Revolution, Lenin dies to be replaced by the man he had tried but failed to warn his party against - Josef Stalin who increasingly adopted the model of an all-powerful centralized autocrat.
OMNI202Stalin's Iron Fist20110722Josef Stalin adopts the model of an all-powerful centralized autocrat as he rules Russia with an iron fist.
Collectivisation destroys the country's agriculture and leads to widespread famine - exploited by Stalin to destroy anti-soviet elements including 6 to 8 million Ukrainians who die of starvation.
Meanwhile Stalin's Five Year Plans, financed by heroic sacrifices on the part of the workers, transform a backward agricultural nation into a modern industrialised one at breakneck speed.
Stalin taps into centuries old fears of Russian vulnerability: "We are 50 or 100 years behind the advanced countries.
We must make up this distance in ten years...
or they will crush us!".
The creative arts are not free from Stalin's stifling grasp either, and Martin Sixsmith recalls speaking with those who lived through the persecution of the Stalin years - writers, composers and henchmen of the regime - to try to understand the role of art in a time of fear.
Stalin himself was becoming more and more paranoid.
The murder of Sergei Kirov - head of Leningrad's Communist party - unleashes paranoia, terror and suffering for millions of people as Stalin begins his extermination of political enemies, real and imagined.
The purges of the 1930s had disastrous consequences, not least that Stalin destroyed the cream of the Soviet Union's armed forces at the moment the clouds of world war were gathering on the horizon.
The non-aggression pact signed with Germany does not save Russia from the war, "more brutal and more terrible than anything seen on the Western Front, perhaps even in the history of war," says Sixsmith.
"It revived Russia's deep-seated fears of national annihilation and conditioned the way its people thought of their country and of themselves for many years to come."
Historical Consultant - Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producer: Anna Scott-Brown & Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Stalin leaves his formidable mark on Russia in the run up to World War II.
OMNI203War And (uncertain) Peace20110729Germany swept across the Soviet Union, but failed to take Moscow before winter, and as Stalin urged the Red Army to ever greater sacrifices, Soviet society became an all-consuming military state.
1 in 3 of the inhabitants of Leningrad died during the 900-day siege when the city was shelled nonstop, but Victory at Stalingrad in February 1943 turned the tide of the war.
The retreat westward gathered pace.
The Red Army pursued the Nazis to Warsaw but let the retreating SS murder 50,000 civilians in order to secure the future dictatorship of Communism.
In mid April the Soviet assault on Berlin began and on May the 9th Stalin told the Soviet nation Germany had surrendered.
"Victory had been a remarkable national achievement and a chance for national unity that might have healed a fractured society," says Martin Sixsmith.
Instead Stalin used the war as a pretext to destroy those nationalities he viewed with suspicion.
People who expected their heroism to be rewarded with freedom and the right to participate in the running of their country, found the party-state had reasserted its grip on power and was not letting go.
Courage, initiative and enterprise were deemed dangerous; former soldiers were seen as a potentially hostile force; freedoms (religious and artistic) granted during the war were withdrawn.
The pre-war suspicion between the Soviet Union and the Western powers returned and Churchill's powerful image of "an iron curtain" dividing Europe came to define the realities of post-war Europe; once Russia developed the bomb neither side could prevail unscathed.
The first flashpoint in this conflict of ideologies centered on Berlin.
The allied airlift forced Stalin to capitulate humiliating the Soviets, which left a legacy of bitterness and mistrust.
The Cold War had begun.
Historical Consultant: Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Producers: Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
25 million Russians die during World War II, but it only brings uncertain peace.
OMNI204Cold War20110805By the late 1940s, the Soviet Union was the most powerful force in Europe, but Stalin faced a wave of discontent in the states annexed after the war and when Mao Zedong formed the People's Republic of China in 1949 was eager to conserve his place as the leader of world communism.
He encouraged conflict between North and South Korea but had to appeal to Mao for help when the US came to the South's aid.
It was a tactical failure for Stalin.
In early 1952 Stalin's personal physician, Vladimir Vinogradov, told the Soviet leader he was suffering from hypertension and sclerosis of the arteries, and if wished to avoid death he must retire from public activity.
Stalin saw this as part of a plot to remove him from power.
The New York Times correspondent in Moscow, Harrison Salisbury, writes: "on the 13th of Jan, we picked up Pravda and found the announcement of the doctors' plot, as it was so called...
it was the most sinister news I read while I was in Moscow."
As a result of Stalin's paranoia, hundreds of innocent doctors were arrested, a new show trial was prepared, and top party leaders including Mikoyan, Molotov and Beria feared they were among the targets.
It never happened.
Martin Sixsmith walks around Stalin's secret Dacha on the outskirts of Moscow, "a set of high metal walls surrounding a hidden compound where you can glimpse the roofs of some dark brick buildings," and describes Stalin's death of a massive stroke.
Newspapers were printed with black borders and Soviet radio replaced its transmissions with funereal music.
For thirty years, the Soviet people had been subjugated to the cruellest tyranny, but they spoke of feeling 'orphaned' by Stalin's death.
It held out the possibility of freedom.
But for a numbed, subjugated nation, freedom was far from easy to grasp.
Producers: Anna Scott-Brown & Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Communism's star rises, but Stalin dies before he can carry out his next round of purges.
OMNI205 LASTCollapse20110812Martin Sixsmith remembers the "electric" sessions of the Congress of People's Deputies, after the Soviet Union's first genuinely contested elections in March 1989."As I wandered through the parliament's corridors, meeting openly with former dissidents, I realized that Gorbachev had let the genie of liberty out of the bottle," he says.
Thousands of people took to the streets demanding multi-party democracy and booing Gorbachev.
Boris Yeltsin -Chairman of the newly-created Russian parliament and de facto leader of the Russian Republic was demanding independence.
Gorbachev, as leader of the Soviet Union and nominally the senior figure, struggled to hold the USSR together.
"I'm doomed to go forward and only forward," he told a colleague.
"If I retreat, I will perish..." Hardline communists were also on the attack; 'Gorbymania' in the West gave them leverage, and when Soviet territory was 'lost' as the Berlin wall came down, Gorbachev was derided as a traitor.
The Baltic republics stridently demanded independence and although Gorbachev had publicly renounced coercion, Soviet troops were sent in.
Yeltsin announced he would battle the threat of autocracy with the sword of democracy, proposing free and open elections for a new post of Russian President.
Gorbachev tried to block it, but on 28 March 1991 the battle took to the streets.
Gorbachev was forced to back off; the balance of power was shifting.
In June 1991 Yeltsin was elected President of Russia with a mandate for radical change.
He wanted to end communism and abolish the USSR.
Gorbachev's compromise of a looser confederation of states with considerable autonomy but not control of defence and foreign policy, might have worked.
But before the New Union Treaty could be signed, history would take a dramatic turn.
Producers:Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Yeltsin becomes Russian President and challenges the authority of Gorbachev's USSR.

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