Discuss: "Communists and Tsars ruled Russia in the same way during the period 1825–1945."

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On the face of it, the establishment of the Soviet Union represented a clean break with the Russian Empire of the previous centuries. Yet to some extent, Communist rule in the Soviet Union showed marked similarities with its Tsarist forebear, displaying a remarkable degree of continuity. For one thing, a centralized system of government was retained; indeed, under the Communists it was strengthened. The Tsarist state, though often cruel, lacked the ruthless efficiency of the Soviet Union. It can be argued that the authoritarianism of the Tsars developed over time into the totalitarianism of Stalin.

In substance, if not in form, Lenin and Stalin came to be regarded in much the same way as the Tsars. The Tsar had absolute power, granted to him, it was believed, by God. Although the Soviet Union was officially an atheist state, there was something unmistakably god-like about how Lenin and Stalin were treated. Both generated their own fanatical personality cults in which anything less than fawning submission was regarded as a sign of counter-revolutionary tendencies. They, like the Tsars, enjoyed absolute power, with the difference that their control was much more comprehensive, backed up by an apparatus of state terror.

Serfdom existed in the Russian Empire until the institution was abolished by Tsar Alexander II in 1861. Serfs were similar to slaves, though not quite the same. For one thing, they were still Russian citizens, and as such were required to give compulsory military service. Prisoners in penal colonies were used as slave labor to work on engineering projects, especially in the remote parts of Siberia. This unfortunate legacy of Tsarist rule was taken to the next level under the Soviet Union. Millions of slaves—mainly political prisoners—toiled away in the gulags, or prison camps, and on massive projects such as the notorious Belomor Canal.

Over time, Russian chauvinism with regards to the empire's subject peoples revived under Stalin despite the Bolsheviks' emancipatory rhetoric when it came to national self-determination. The USSR, no less than the old Russian Empire, was controlled for the ultimate benefit of Russia. National self-determination was no more acceptable to Stalin than it had been to the Tsars. The security needs of Mother Russia came first, and it was deemed necessary, therefore, to maintain firm control of the remotest parts of the world's largest country.