The Soviet Union: Starting at Year Zero

Mansell / Time Life Pictures / Getty

Inspirational Leader
Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov, known by his revolutionary nom de guerre, Lenin, inspired a small cadre of Communist intellectuals to agitate amongst the disaffected workers and soldiers of Petrograd, today's St. Petersburg. In this photo, his close associate Leon Trotsky stands at the right of the podium.

An entire empire careered through darkness with a load of nuclear weapons on board. On the winding road, it could see no farther than the beams of its headlights. And as it raced around the corners, the vehicle was disintegrating.

The world watched the spectacle with complicated feelings: astonishment, relief for the people of the republics in their deliverance from the old life, a certain fascination and some fear about what lay ahead. The event was unprecedented. Never before had a fully matured empire, one superpower of the world's only two, torn loose from its foundations and sped off, at such...

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