Russia Photo Turn back the clock
The Communists promise to modernize Russia, but the revolution that puts them in power (1917-1921) does the opposite. Railroads, mines, and factories lie in ruins; by 1921 industrial output stands at a fraction of Russia's feeble pre-revolutionary levels. The Soviet economy is so weak that the onset of global depression in the late 1920s barely registers. Scores of millions live much as they did under the tsar – miserably. The army, too, is technologically backward. Few of its tanks run reliably, and fewer still have basic amenities such as radios.
Russia Photo Lessons learned
On May Day 1918, victorious revolutionary Vladimir Lenin parades the tsar's warplanes in a public exhibition of power. The planes are obsolete, but never mind – Lenin is committed to improving them. Lenin's government invites Germany – banned from flying after World War I – to build secret airfields near Moscow. Aided by the Germans, the Soviet fleet develops a world-class bomber, the Tupolev TB-3. By the mid-1930s, only the United States builds warplanes more rapidly.
What goes up must come down
Lenin's death in 1924 opens a path to power for Josef Stalin, who is afraid to fly. Though he keeps most of Lenin's aviation research and training programs in place, Stalin distrusts the air force, and feels increasingly threatened as its power grows. Between 1936 and 1939, he orders half the air force's top officers imprisoned or executed, replacing them with loyal but inexperienced officers. After two decades of progress, the Soviet aviation program takes a big step backward.
Russia Photo Life sentences
Stalin can't build a better economy than the capitalists, but he can build better prisons. He fills them with his perceived enemies: artists and intellectuals; independent-minded soldiers and Party members; and commoners who dare to speak out about Stalin's failed farm collectives and Five-Year Plans. During the Great Purge of the 1930s, tens of millions disappear into the gulags, where they're forced to build power plants, railroads, factories, and mines. Prison labor drives Soviet industrial capacity sharply upward, but Stalin reserves most of the gains for the military. Consumer goods remain scarce, and the masses go on as before – shabbily sheltered and clothed, subsisting on black bread, and under constant threat of arrest.
The survival instinct
Stalin dismisses warnings of an imminent Nazi invasion in the spring of 1941, and discounts the invasion even after it begins. By the time he reacts, the Germans have destroyed more than 2,000 Soviet aircraft on the ground and inflicted thousands of civilian casualties. With the situation desperate, he rallies the people. The Germans have better planes, tanks, and guns, but the Soviets have superior endurance. Despite terrible losses, Stalin's forces push the Nazis all the way to Berlin, helping to force their surrender. What they lack in technology, the Russians make up for in sheer determination.

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