6. The Soviet Union and Russia: Essay frames and writing exercises

This page contains a variety of essay writing exercises and essay plans for this topic.

Task One

Essay practice: Introductions

Discuss the reasons why Stalin rather than Trotsky had become leader of the Soviet Union by 1929

Consider the following two introductions to this essay title.

In pairs decide what you like about each one. How would you improve each one?

Click on the eye to get examiner comments on the introductions and then write your own introduction to this essay.

Example One

After Lenin’s death in 1924, a power struggle surfaced which would last until 1929 ending with Joseph Stalin’s emergence as the sole leader of Russia. This incident can be seen as the result of a combination of both Stalin’s personal qualities and of mistakes made by his opponents. Numerous factors favoured Stalin in his political campaigns such as his vast power base in the Communist Party, his personal merits, the numerous mistakes made by his opposition, and his frequent strokes of luck. This essay will describe how Stalin exploited these elements in order to achieve his ultimate goal – leadership of the Party.

There is a good context here and the student has made it clear as to the points that they will be covering in the essay. However, note that the essay title names Trotsky and the last sentence implies that the student is not going to be addressing the exact title that has been given! Also telling the examiner that you will be answer the question is not very useful - in your last sentence you could set out your key argument, which factor/s are the most important.

Example Two

In 1924, Lenin died and within two years Stalin was the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union with all opposition to him crushed. This previously unregarded Secretary, with seemingly no outstanding qualities had come out on top in a tense power struggle involving some of the greatest Russian intellects at the time. So how did ‘comrade card-index’ become one of the most feared men in the entire world, taking control of the second greatest super-power at the time, when his fellow party members though him little more than clerk? With hindsight, and the benefits of several perspectives into the matter, we can see that although helped greatly by the incompetence of his rivals, and benefiting surprising luck, Stalin demonstrated great political skill and cunning, in the power struggle for Lenin’s position of leader.

Be careful of rhetorical questions - you should be giving answers not restating the question! Also be careful of exaggerations and of maintaining accuracy. Russia was not 'the second greatest super-power' at all in this period. Again Trotsky has not been mentioned - it seems these students have learnt an essay about Stalin's rise to power and have not adapted it to the actual question being asked on the paper!

Introductions exercise: Discuss the reasons why Stalin rather than Trotsky had become leader of the Soviet Union by 1929

Task Two

Essay frame

In pairs, plan out the following essay. Click on the eye for hints. There is also a PDF version of the frame below.

To what extent did Stalin’s domestic policies strengthen the USSR between 1928 and 1941?


Command term: To what extent..

This means you need to give two sides to the argument.


You will need to identify the domestic policies that you will be covering in the essay and Stalin’s aims with regard to some of these policies. Also state your overall argument.

Section one

Start with the perspective given in the actual question i.e. how the USSR was strengthened.


  • Growth of industry in the Five Year Plans – statistics will be needed here!
  • Rearmament
  • Education

For the alternative view, consider:

  • Impact of collectivisation, particularly in the short term
  • Impact of purges on productivity and in particular with regard to the army

You might also want to consider:

  • The human cost of strengthening the USSR
  • The fact that the USSR was able to survive the Nazi onslaught

You will need to include statistics and detailed evidence to support your points. Also try to find quotes from historians that will help give evidence to support your points.

  Essay frame: To what extent did Stalin's domestic policies strengthen the USSR between 1928 and 1941?

The following task is to help develop students' understanding of what makes a good introduction and what makes good paragraphs. The paragraphs can be seen by clicking on the eye The exercise is as a PDF worksheet below as well.

Task Three

Essay practice: introductions, paragraphs, conclusions

Consider the following essay question:

To what extent should Stalin’s economic policies be considered a success for the Soviet Union?

Below you will find an introduction and a series of paragraphs for this essay question (written by different students)

Look at the introduction

1. Which bit of this introduction gives contextual background to the question? (highlight in one colour.  Is there enough background – is there anything you would add or change?)

2. Where does the introduction link directly to the question to show the reader that they are going to be specifically answering this question? (highlight in a different colour)

Now look at paragraphs 1, 2 and 3

1. Highlight the opening sentences to these paragraphs.

Do they act as a ‘signpost’ for the rest of the paragraph? (i.e. can you tell what the paragraph is going to be about?) Do they link back to the wording of the question?

2. Do the paragraphs give detailed evidence to support the argument made in the opening sentence? Give examples

3. Is too much detail given as evidence in places or is it too generalised/inaccurate? Are there statistics to support judgements on the economy? Are historians' views included? Highlight any issues with the evidence

4. Does the final sentence of each paragraph come back to the question and restate the argument being made?

Now look at the conclusion

5. Does it come back to the question and answer it?


The main aim of Stalin’s rapid industrialisation was to convert the Soviet Union into a modern, industrialised state in ten years. In order to make this work, he carried out ‘collectivisation’ and the Five Year Plans which aimed to convert the USSR from an agrarian and weak country dependent on capitalist countries, into an industrial and powerful country, fully self-reliant and independent of world capitalism. Stalin’s economic policies can be considered a success as they brought the Soviet Union forward into the world of modernised industrialisation and allowed it to survive the Nazi invasion in 1941. However, the human costs that went along with them were so tremendous that the overall success of the policies is debatable.

Paragraph 1

Stalin’s Five Year Plans were a success for the Soviet Union in that they ensured that heavy industry expanded on a huge scale thus laying the basis for a much stronger country. One element of this was Magnitogorsk, the socialist city of the future; peasants and workers flooded to such projects as this as they wanted to contribute to the modernisation of the country. Stalin’s first Five Year Plan focused on building new steel works, dams to provide power and factories for producing machinery. Impressive achievements were made including the creation of the Moscow Metro and the Soviet Union was able to survive the impact of the Great Depression that was affecting the West. The Five Year Plans also involved using ideas from the West; experts from companies such as Ford arrived and helped the Soviet Union to modernise. All of these factors meant that the Five Year Plans were a success for the Soviet Union.

Paragraph Two:

However, it can also be argued that Stalin’s economic policies were not a total success for the Soviet Union. Grain harvests dropped dramatically during the early 1930s when grain was most needed and did not recover to their 1928 levels until the late 1930s which is damning evidence for the failure of this economic policy. The peasants killed their livestock in protest at the collectivisation policy which only worsened the agricultural chaos. More important however was the abysmal human cost of the plan. C. Ward explains: ‘the whirlwind which swept across the countryside destroyed the way of life of the vast majority of the Soviet people.’ Amid the dramatic drop in productivity, no grain was released to feed the starving masses.  Above all, those who refused to cooperate were either shot or imprisoned – including the most effective farmers, the Kulaks, which further contributed to the disastrous levels of production. Clearly, Stalin’s achievement of collectivisation is weakened by the horrendous costs of his policy, and is thus debatable in terms of its success for the Soviet Union.


In conclusion, Stalin had some successes with his economic policies, and even though his plans often failed to reach their targets and were affected by confusion, waste and inefficiency, it can be said without hesitation that Stalin’s speedy industrialisation of the USSR was a significant achievement and that by the tie of the Nazi invasion, it was a modern industrialised country which could fight back against the Nazis. However, the human cost of this speedy industrialisation was terrible; millions died during these years and this makes it hard to conclude that Stalin’s policies were truly successful for the Soviet Union. Therefore, it can be argued that Stalin’s policies were successful in terms of the industrialisation of the Soviet Union but they were not successful for the people of Russia, as many of them died during the process and living conditions remained appalling.

Introduction, paragraph and conclusion exercise:  To what extent should Stalin's economic policies be considered a success for the Soviet Union?

The following task is to get students to consider different approaches to the same question.

Task Four: Essay Frame

Consider the following essay question and the approach given here. Can you think of an alternative approach to structuring this question?

Discuss the impact of Stalin’s domestic policies on the USSR from 1929 to 195

Intro:  Set up specific the specific economic, political and social policy aims of Stalin. Set out parameters re. ‘impact’ on USSR

Main Body:  

            Paragraph One       Economic aims; methods & policies      Success: positive impact

            Paragraph Two       Political aims; methods & policies         Success: positive impact

            Paragraph Three    Social aims; methods & policies            Success: positive impact

            Paragraph Four      Economic aims; methods & policies      Failure: negative impact

            Paragraph Five       Political aims; methods & policies         Failure: negative impact

            Paragraph Six         Social aims; methods & policies            Failures: negative impact

           Conclusion You need to address the specific essay question and answer it.  What was the main impact of Stalin’s domestic policies on the USSR?

An alternative approach:

      Paragraph 1:  Economy pre-war

Aims and evidence of success and failure… Historiography

Paragraph 2 Economy during war and post-war

Evidence:  Aims and evidence of success and failure…Historiography

Paragraph 3  Political pre-war

Aims..and evidence of success and failure..Historiography

Paragraph 4       Political during war and Post-war

     Aims..and evidence of success and failure..Historiography

      Paragraph 5       Social / cultural pre-war

      Paragraph 6       Social / cultural  during war and post war

Conclusion You need to address the specific essay question and answer it.  What was the main impact of Stalin’s domestic policies on the USSR?

Click on the eye below for hints on what to consider regarding Stalin's aims and the areas of content that you could consider for this essay:

•Stalin’s economic aims [1929-41] were to fully industrialise the USSR, and his methods to achieve this were 5 yr plans in industry and collectivisation of agriculture. During the Gt Patriotic War, between 1941 and 1945, the command economy was geared to defeat Nazi Germany. In the post war period Stalin’s economic aims were reconstruction,  to regain and expand the industrial sector and to re-collectivise agriculture [Lysenko]
•His political policies were to gain control of the countryside, consolidate his control over the party and ultimately his own personal dictatorship, his methods were forced collectivisation; political purges, terror and development of a cult of personality. Although during the war Stalin tolerated the delegation of power to his generals and commanders to execute the war, and propaganda was focused against the Nazi’s rather than the west, in the post war period Stalin again aimed to assert his personal dictatorship through… purges...
•Stalin’s social policies aimed to Sovietise society … methods… religion, socialist realism, women, education,  during war toleration of Russian Orthodox Church, promotion of ‘Jewish Committees’ etc. Post-war period Zhdanovism; purge of artists prominent in WW2 e.g. Shostakovich. Anti-semitism.  No freedom of movement / travel.

Task Five: Essay Frame

‘Khrushchev’s policies were a failure at home and abroad’ To what extent do you agree with this view?


You need to explain what Khrushchev’s aims were here regarding domestic and foreign policies. You may also want to make the point that Khrushchev was effectively dismissed in 1964 which would certainly indicate that his polices were a failure. Make a judgement regarding the extent of Khrushchev’s failures.

Main body

Start with ‘failure’ first as this is what is given to you in the question. Here are some opening sentences that could help you

Khrushchev’s policy of de-Stalinisation was a failure in the sense that..

  • Limitations of de-Stalinisation
  • The enemies that he made
  • Hungary

Khrushchev’s economic policies also failed to achieve Khrushchev’s aims…

  • Virgin land scheme
  • consumer goods
  • Attempt at decentralisation

Abroad, Khrushchev’s policy of co-existence ended in a near nuclear show down with the USA…

  • Cuba
  • Berlin
  • Escalating arms and space race
  • Embarrassing actions e.g. banging of shoe

However, although there were many failures, the Soviet Union was a different place to what it had been under Stalin and there were also many successes. For example the terror..

  • ending of fear
  • people released
  • more contact with the West

In the economy, there was impressive industrial growth…

  • Statistics!
  • Agricultural growth at the start

Khrushchev also achieved success in terms of improving the lives of the Soviet people..

  • Housing
  • Consumer goods

In the conflict with the West, Khrushchev put the Soviet Union ahead in certain areas and also created a new atmosphere in the mid 1950s with his policy of ‘peaceful coexistence’..

  • Sputnik, man on moon
  • Austrian State Treaty, meetings with Eisenhower


Come back to your judgment regarding the extent of failure.  Note Jonathan Davis’ comment that ‘for every improvement there was one setback’. Why was this? …..

Essay frame: 'Khrushchev's policies were a failure at home and abroad' To what extent do you agree with this view?

Note that there is an essay frame this essay: Peaceful coexistence had failed by 1961 because the Soviet Union was not fully committed to it’ in this Paper 2 section on the Cold War:  Rivalry, mistrust and accord: essay plans

Task Six

Essay Frame

To what extent was Gorbachev responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union?


Give some context such as the dates when Gorbachev came to power and when the Soviet Union had finally collapsed. Set out the key areas that you will be covering e.g. Gorbachev’s reforms and actions regarding the satellite states, the long-term problems of the economy and issue of nationalism within the republics and satellite states. Also state your overall argument – do you consider Gorbachev to be mainly responsible or were other factors more important?

Section One

Start with what is in the question – Gorbachev.

Gorbachev’s attempts to restructure the economy played a key role in the collapse of the Soviet Union…

Deal with the impact of perestroika – make sure you provide detailed evidence. Statistics will be important here!

In addition, the policy of Glasnost allowed Gorbachev’s reforms to be openly criticised…

Gorbachev’s new approach to governing the Soviet Union and his commitment to end the Brezhnev Doctrine also meant that when the satellite states demanded independence, he did not send in the troops.

Section Two

However, it could also be argued that the long-term economic problem factors were key to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Again – provide detailed evidence here of the stagnation of the economy that had taken place under Brezhnev and how this meant that the economy was already in a weakened state.

It could also be argued that the suppressed nationalism in the Republics and the satellite states contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union …

Section Three

The Reagan school argue that the pressure placed on the USSR during the Second Cold War was also responsible for pushing the Soviet economy to breaking point.


Make sure you come back to answering the question

Essay frame: To what extent was Gorbachev responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union?

Note that there is an graded essay on Gorbachev's role in ending the Cold War here: 2. Rivalry, mistrust and accord: Graded student examples 

All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of our copyright and could result in your account being blocked and legal action being taken against you.