Originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2011

The final 25 episodes from the landmark BBC Radio series. Martin Sixsmith brings his first-hand experience of reporting from Russia to this fascinating narrative, witnessing the critical moment when the Soviet Union finally lost its grip on power.

Martin Sixsmith continues his history of Russia, picking up where he left off during the tumultuous events of 1917, and tracing its re-emergence as one of the world’s most powerful nations.

After the whirlwind of the revolution, the Bolsheviks struggle to consolidate their victory amid civil war and popular disenchantment. To rescue the economy and save the regime, Lenin makes concessions to the people. But after his death, Stalin embarks on forced collectivisation and industrialisation.  Five Year Plans and great purges condemn the Soviet people to conditions worse than those experienced under the Tsars. Nikita Khrushchev reverses the worst excesses of Stalinism, and in 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev embarks on radical reforms of the communist system. They unleash unforeseen consequences that sweep him from power and destroy the USSR.

Martin Sixsmith brings his firsthand experience of reporting from Russia in 1980s and 90s to his narrative, witnessing the critical moment when the Soviet Union lost its grip on power. He asks if the recurring patterns of Russian history can help us understand what has happened since 1991, when the promise of Western style democracy roused so many hopes for change.

Eyewitness accounts, archive recordings and personal testimony enliven his narrative. Readings from Russian authors and historians, from Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Vasily Grossman to contemporary newspaper reports, enrich the series, together with music by Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and others.

Running Time: 5hrs 40mins

Written & Presented by MARTIN SIXSMITH


Historical Advice by PROF. GEOFFREY HOSKING
Additional Research by DANIEL SIXSMITH

Readers: David Warner, Peter Dickson, Mike Hayley, Gabrielle Glaister, Peter Guinness, Max Bollinger, Richard Albrecht, Terence Longdon, Yuri Klimov, Frank Stirling and Jonathan Oliver

©2011 Ladbroke Productions (Radio) Ltd. Text copyright © Martin Sixsmith


The Rise of the Bolsheviks
Episode 26: Twelve Hours of Democracy
After the revolution the Bolsheviks grab power from the constituent assembly

Episode 27: Murder of the Royal Family
Civil war rages as Lenin tries to consolidate power

Episode28: Terror
His regime tottering, Lenin abandons promises of freedom

Episode 29: The People’s Revolt
Lenin crushes popular uprisings but offers economic concessions

Episode 30: Long Live the King
After Lenin’s death Stalin crushes all opposition to emerge as his successor

Stalin’s Iron Fist
Episode 31: Collectivisation
Collectivisation leads to widespread famine

Episode 32: Industrialisation
Stalin’s Five Year Plans modernise the national economy but create hardship for the people

Episode 33: Socialist Realism
Creative arts are subordinated to the demands of the State

Episode 34: Show Trials
Stalin begins his purges of political enemies, real and imagined

Episode 135: The Faustian Pact
Stalin signs an accord with Hitler that will enslave half of Europe

War and (Uncertain) Peace
Episode 36: The Great Patriotic War
Stalin evokes heroes of the past to inspire Russian heroism against Hitler

Episode 37: Redemption through Blood
The Siege of Leningrad epitomises the courage of the Soviet people

Episode 38: Glory to our Great Victorious People
Russia drives the Germans back to Berlin and defeat

Episode 39: The Spoils of War
Hopes of greater freedoms after the war are crushed by Stalin

Episode 40: The Iron Curtain
East and West square up to each other

Cold War
Episode 41: The Doctor’s Plot / Nation in mourning
Stalin dies before he can carry out his next round of purges

Episode 42: The Secret Speech / Scramble for Power
Nikita Khrushchev denounces Stalin’s record as Stalin’s henchmen vie to take his place

Episode 43: The Rise and Fall of Khrushchev
Initial triumph in the space race is followed by economic failure

Episode 44: The Brezhnev years
Stagnation and dissent

Episode 45: The shape of things to come
Gorbachev takes power and we learn a new word: Glasnost

Episode 46: Gorbachev vs. Yeltsin
Yeltsin becomes Russian President and challenges the authority of Gorbachev’s USSR

Episode 47: August 1991/Moscow Coup
Gorbachev survives a coup attempt but the USSR does not

Episode 48: Brave New World?
After the collapse of the USSR Boris Yeltsin’s reforms lead to chaos

Episode 49: Return of the Fist
Vladimir Putin comes to power

Episode 50: The Lessons of History
Will Russia always return to the rule of autocracy?




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Martin Sixsmith


Adam Fowler/Neil Gardner


Adam Fowler/Anna Scott-Brown




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