During the history of the Soviet Union, there was no such office as "Leader of the Soviet Union". The designation General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the most common title used by the men in the "leadership" position for most of the country's history, but there were exceptions, and ambiguity abounded. Because the history of the Soviet political structure can be so confusing, and its titles cumbersome and inconsistent, this article uses the simplified title of "leader".

Vladimir Lenin wanted the executive of the Soviet Union to be a collegiate body dominated by the Communist Party. Throughout the 1920s, however, Joseph Stalin shaped the minor bureaucratic position of General Secretary into the party's de jure leader, and in turn made the office into the Soviet Union's de facto leader. Even though Stalin was not formally re-elected to the position by the 17th Party Congress in 1934, he remained the Soviet Union's undisputed ruler, becoming the country's head of government in 1941. He never became the de jure head of state.

After Stalin's death in 1953, the country was ruled by a troika of Georgy Malenkov, Lavrenty Beria, and Vyacheslav Molotov. However, Malenkov and Molotov joined forces with Nikita Khrushchev, and ousted Beria, who was tried for crimes against the state, convicted, and executed in short order. Malenkov initially succeeded to all of Stalin's titles, but the Party, determined to prevent another absolute ruler, forced him to resign from most of those offices within a month. Malenkov remained the country's head of government, and Khrushchev became the party leader under the title "First Secretary". Malenkov's tenure was an economic disaster. Within two years, Khruschchev wrested power from Malenkov, becoming the sole leader. Like Stalin, Khrushchev served a term as the country's head of government from 1958 to 1964, though, like Stalin, his true power stemmed from his First Secretary position.

When Khrushchev was deposed in 1966, the office of General Secretary was re-created by Leonid Brezhnev. The party leaders attempted to check Brezhnev's powers, much as they had in 1953. Throughout the remainder of the 1960s, the collective rule held. But by 1977, Brezhnev had succeeded in expanding the powers of the General Secretary, and had become the Soviet head of state, thereby insuring his status as dominant leader for the remainder of his life.

The combination of General Secretary and head of state was continued by Yuri Andropov (1983-1984) and Konstantin Chernenko (1984-1985). Mikhail Gorbachev became the General Secretary in 1985, but he did not become head of state until 1989. Among the many reformations Gorbachev initiated was the reorganization of the executive office and the adoption of a presidential system. Gorbachev was elected as the first (and only) President of the Soviet Union in March 1990. For the remainder of his term as country's leader, Gorbachev built up the power of the presidency and decreased the power of the party. After Gorbachev survived a coup attempt in 1991, he saw no choice but to step away from the General Secretary position altogether, resigning from that office in 1991, but remaining President until the country collapsed in December 1991.

The Hot WarEdit

Under Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union pressed to victory against the Nazis in World War II, but subsequently saw its great cities devastated by atomic fire during World War III, a conflict in which Stalin perished.

Upon Stalin's death, MGB head Lavrenti Beria took power over the nation, but only held it for a few weeks. Under circumstances not immediately clear to the rest of the world, Vyacheslav Molotov wrested power from Beria. Molotov signed an armistice with the NATO powers, freeing Soviet forces to put down separatist movements in the Warsaw Pact client states.

Leader Title Term
2 Iosef Stalin Stalin General Secretary of
the Communist Party
3 Lavrenti Beria Beria General Secretary of
the Communist Party
A few weeks in June, 1952
4 Vyacheslav Molotov Molotov General Secretary of
the Communist Party
Incumbent at series end, January 1, 1953

Joe SteeleEdit

Vladimir Lenin oversaw the establishment of the Soviet Union with the former Russian Empire at its nucleus. After his death, he was succeeded by Leon Trotsky, who imposed an authoritarian regime in the pursuit of engineering a global Marxist revolution. Trotsky oversaw his country's triumph over Nazi Germany during World War II, and expanded the USSR's reach into Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

Trostky and U.S. President Joe Steele shared a deep hatred for each other that lasted until Steele's death in 1953.

Leader Title Term
1 Vladimir Lenin Lenin Unknown 1922-1924
2 Leon Trotsky Trotsky1 Unknown 1924-
Incumbent at novel's end, 1953


Joseph Stalin had ruled the Soviet Union for nearly 20 years when first World War II broke out. Before the war could be ended, the global situation became more dire with the arrival of the Race, whose Conquest Fleet invaded Earth, forcing former enemies to become allies of necessity. Stalin's mixture of stubbornness and ruthlessness helped insure his own country's survival when the fighting stopped in 1944.

Stalin died nine years later. He was succeeded as General Secretary by Vycheslav Molotov, who had served as Foreign Commissar since 1939. Molotov was a more cautious leader than Stalin, avoiding conflict and military "adventurism". However, he did not engender the same level of fear in his subordinates that Stalin had. He faced a coup attempt from NKVD head Lavrenty Beria in 1963. Molotov was imprisoned for about 24 hours before the Soviet Red Army toppled Beria. Subsequently, Molotov was far more dependent upon Marshal Georgy Zhukov to insure his own position. When Molotov died in 1986, he was the last politician of the original Race invasion left.

Leader Title Term
2 Iosef Stalin Stalin General Secretary of
the Communist Party
3 Vyacheslav Molotov Molotov General Secretary of
the Communist Party
- Lavrenty Beria Beria N/A Acting leader for about 24 hours in 1963
(3) Vyacheslav Molotov Molotov General Secretary of
the Communist Party
4-? Unnamed Unknown 1986-2032

Other LeadersEdit

In addition to the works above, Joseph Stalin is or was the ruler of the Soviet Union in a substantial number of Harry Turtledove works, especially those set during World War II or with a Point of Divergence involving that war, including In the Presence of Mine Enemies, The Man With the Iron Heart, "The Phantom Tolbukhin", "Ready for the Fatherland", and The War That Came Early.

In In the Presence of Mine Enemies, the Axis Powers won World War II. While the details are vague, it appears that Stalin was killed in the 1940s, and the Soviet Union was dissolved about the same time. In "The Phantom Tolbukhin", the Soviet Union barely exists in 1947 after a successful Nazi conquest, but Stalin is reportedly still ruling whatever remnant persists. In "Ready for the Fatherland", set in 1979, Stalin dies in March 1953 as in OTL, and his successors are unnamed. In all of the other works listed, Stalin remains in power at the conclusion of the work.

A World of Difference is set in 1989. Leonid Brezhnev was in power at the relevant POD in 1976, and is referenced. Mikhail Gorbachev took power in 1985, but died that same year under suspicious circumstances; his successor is unnamed.

In The Gladiator, set in 2097, the Soviet Union won the Cold War. Turtledove has admitted that he did not write the story with a specific break point in mind. Vladimir Putin is referenced as having been General Secretary at the turn of the 21st century (and was presumably the specific leader who won the Cold War), and is a hero of communism along with Lenin and Stalin.

Historical Leaders in Non-Leadership RolesEdit

Several historical leaders have appeared in the works of Harry Turtledove in a capacity other than as de facto leader of the USSR.

An alternate form of Joseph Stalin appears as the title character of the novel Joe Steele and its short source story. In both works, Stalin is born as an American named Joe Steele and becomes President. In the Southern Victory installment American Empire: The Center Cannot Hold, Stalin is referenced contemporarily (by the loose translation "Man of Steel") as a "Red" general in a version of the Russian Civil War. He fails to overthrow the Tsars, with the result that the Soviet Union never exists in that timeline.

Nikita Khrushchev is in his OTL role of party leader of the Ukraine in the Worldwar franchise, The War That Came Early, and The Hot War. The War That Came Early ends with Stalin still in power; the other two have Khrushchev passed over in favor of other candidates after Stalin's death. In "The Phantom Tolbukhin", Khrushchev is a commander in the guerrilla war against the Germans who occupy the all-but-defunct Soviet Union in 1947; that story ends with Stalin apparently alive and in hiding.

Yuri Andropov has a brief cameo in The Hot War: Armistice as the Soviet ambassador to Czechoslovakia, where he is assassinated in August 1952.

Mikhail Gorbachev, identified by his patronymic "Mikhail Sergeyevich" with no last name, appears in the Worldwar franchise's Colonization: Aftershocks and the standalone novel The Two Georges as a protocol officer stationed in North America. There is no reason to think he became leader in Worldwar, while The Two Georges depicts him as a citizen of the Russian Empire in a timeline where the Soviet Union never existed.  

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