Special Report

Every Russian (and Soviet) Head of State Since Peter the Great

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Lev Kamenev
> Title: Chairmen of the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets
> In office: 1917

Lev Kamenev joined the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party in 1901 and its Bolshevik arm in 1903. After the February Revolution in 1917, Kamenev served as the first chairman of the Central Executive Committee of All Russian Congress of Soviets and headed the Bolsheviks first Politburo. A one-time ally of Josef Stalin, Kamenev fell out of favor with Stalin and was later falsely accused of being a part in an assassination plot against him. In the hopes of saving his family, Kamenev confessed to the charges but was shot. The Soviet Supreme Court cleared him of charges in1988.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Yakov Sverdlov
> Title: Chairmen of the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets
> In office: 1917-1919

Son of a Jewish engraver, Yakov Svedlov was active in the Bolshevik revolution from an early age. His organizational skills led to his election as chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the All Russian Congress, which elevated him to the titular head of the Bolshevik state. A close ally of Lenin, Svedlov believed in a centralized party hierarchy, with all decision-making concentrated in the Central Committee.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Michail Vladimirsky
> Title: Chairmen of the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets
> In office: 1919

As a student at the Imperial Moscow University, Michail Vladimirsky agitated for Maxist reforms. He briefly left Russia for Switzerland, but returned to become Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Congress following the death of Yakov Sverdlow in 1919. He also served as chairman of the Gosplan (the State Committee for Planning) of the USSR from 1926 to 1927 and People’s Commissar of Public Healthcare of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic from 1930 to 1934. He supported Stalin against dissidents Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharim.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Vladimir Lenin
> Title: Chairman of the Council of the People’s Commissars of the Russian SFSR / Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union
> In office: 1917-1923 / 1923-1924

Perhaps no leader has shaped Russia’s modern history more than Vladimir Lenin. He founded the Russian Communist Party (the Bolsehviks) and became the first head of the Soviet State. His inspiration for revolutionary politics was said to be the hanging of his brother, Alexandr, for allegedly trying to assassinate Tsar Alexander II. A strict follower of Marxism, Lenin started the revolution that deposed Nicholas II. After the revolution of 1917, Lenin oversaw a three-year civil war, during which he prohibited political opposition and nationalized all manufacturing and industry. Following an assassination attempt, Lenin began a campaign to execute his oppoents and followers of the former tsar. His death paved the way for Joseph Stalin, a man Lenin distrusted, to ascend to power.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Joseph Stalin
> Title: General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union / Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union
> In office: 1922-1952 / 1946-1953

Although Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, who rebranded himself as Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (inventing his last name based on “stal,” the Russian word for “steel”), led his country to victory in World War II, he is remembered today for a brutal totalitarian reign that reportedly killed 20 million citizen and silenced individual liberties. With an iron fist , he industrialized the nation, but also established a system of Gulag work camps where millions perished. He made the Soviet Union a nuclear power in 1949, and died of a stroke (though some scholars think he may have been poisoned) in 1953.

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