Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic

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The Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, or RSFSR, formed on November 7, 1917, was one of the four original republics in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) when the latter was founded by treaty in December 1922. The RSFSR's establishment was later confirmed in the 1924 constitution. The other three were Ukraine, Belorussia (now called Belarus), and Transcaucasia (divided in 1940 into Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia). Even after ten more republics were added, for a total of fifteen republics, the RSFSR remained the largest, with more than half the population and three-quarters of the USSR's territory (6,591,000 square miles). Moscow was the capital of both the RSFSR and the USSR as a whole. Situated in Eastern Europe and North Asia, the RSFSR was surrounded on the east, north, and northwest by the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic Oceans. It had frontiers in the northwest with Norway and Finland, in the west with Poland and the three Baltic republics (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia), and in the south with China and Outer Mongolia and the Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine. In the new Soviet Union, which geographically replaced the old Russian Empire, the name Russia was not officially used. Lenin and other Bolshevik authorities intended to blend the national and the international to recognize each nationality by granting autonomy to national groups, while binding these groups together in a higher union and allowing new groups to enter regardless of historic frontiers. In 1922 the expectation of world revolution was still alive. Thus, the founding of the USSRand the RSFSR within itwas a decisive step toward uniting the workers of all countries into one World Soviet Socialist Republic.

Although Lenin supported national self-determination as a force to undermine the tsarist empire, he adopted federalism rather late, as a response to Ukrainian and Georgian attempts to establish truly independent republics. The Red Army crushed these attempts in 19201921, but such use of brute force and the specter of Great Russian chauvinism troubled Lenin. He and others pressed for the federalization not only of the sovereign republics within the USSR, but also the federalization of the RSFSR. By 1960 the RSFSR consisted of fifteen "autonomous soviet socialist republics" (ASSRs), six territories (krai ), forty-nine regions (oblast ), six autonomous oblasts, and ten national districts (okrug ). The federal structure undoubtedly gave some dignity, self-respect, and sense of equal cooperation to many of the numerous nationalities.

In the late 1980s, partly due to the perestroika, glasnost, and new thinking (novomyshlenie ) policies of the incumbent general secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet republicsincluding and especially the RSFSRbegan to challenge the legislative authority of the Soviet Communist Party and the "Moscow center." By October 1990, fourteen republics had passed declarations of either independence or sovereignty over USSR laws. The RSFSR's declaration of sovereignty and the rising popularity of Boris Yeltsin (elected chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR in May 1990 and then president of the RSFSR in June 1991) were key factors in prompting Gorbachev to attempt to replace the original 1922 union treaty with a new document giving the republics more power. This in turn prompted hardliners in the Kremlin to stage a coup in August 1991. When it failed, Yeltsin's power and influence eclipsed Gorbachev's. Yeltsin convened with leaders of Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan in Alma Ata in December 1991 to declare the nullification of the 1922 union treaty and announce the official extinction of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev publicly confirmed the latter on December 25, 1991. The RSFSR is now called the Russian Federation.

See also: russian federation; union of soviet socialist republics


Fitzsimmons, Thomas, ed. (1974). RSFSR, Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Gilbert, Martin. (1993). Atlas of Russian History, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hosking, Geoffrey. (1993). The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union from Within, 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sakwa, Richard. (2002). Russian Politics and Society, 3rd ed. New York: Routledge.

Johanna Granville