Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
The Soviet Security State, 1917-Present
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminars / Tutorials 11 x 2 hour seminars


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 1 x 3,000 word essay  50%
Semester Assessment 1 x 3,000 word essay  50%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Critically evaluate the role of Communist security and intelligence services in carrying out the policies of their regimes.
2. Discuss the historical origins and development of the Soviet Union's security and intelligence services, and of those created on the model of the Soviet services.
3. Analyse how and why the role of security and intelligence services in Communist totalitarian states differed from that of such services in democratic states.
4. Evaluate how well Communist security and intelligence services collected and analysed intelligence, and the extent to which their operations benefited the regimes they served.
5. Critically evaluate the historical, political and moral significance of what Communist security and intelligence services did and the legacy of these deeds today.
6. Evaluate methodological and historiographical problems in the study of Communist security and intelligence services.
7. Evaluate the significance of the history of Communist security and intelligence services to the study of intelligence as a whole.


This module is designed to strengthen the Department's provision of teaching in the fields of intelligence studies and international history. The history of Communism is a key part of the international history of the twentieth century; the Soviet Union's security and intelligence services played a key role in the history of Communism. They were essential to keeping the Soviet regime in power, to persecuting its victims at home and to implementing its policies both at home and abroad. The twentieth century was the most calamitously bloody century in mankind's history; the Soviet Union's security services, and those set up in its image, bear a large share of the responsibility for that. The module therefore addresses key themes of intelligence and international history.

Brief description

The module examines why the Soviet Union's security and intelligence services were founded, in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and how they developed under successive leaders of the Soviet Communist Party. It analyses why they were so important to the Communist regime, comparing their role in a totalitarian state with the smaller roles of security services in democratic states. It investigates foreign intelligence collection as well as domestic security operations. The course explains key parts of the history of the Soviet security services, such as their role in the Civil War of 1918-1920, Stalin's Great Terror, mass deportations of population during and after the Second World War and the extension of Soviet security control to Eastern Europe from 1944. It explains how and why Soviet security and intelligence changed after Stalin's death in 1953 and examines how they were affected by the reform programmes of Nikita Khrushchev and Mikhail Gorbachev. The module investigates the reform of Soviet security and intelligence in the newly-democratic Russia of the 1990s and its key role in the pseudo-democratic Russia of today. In addition to examining the Soviet Union's own security and intelligence services, the module analyses the sister services created on the Soviet model. It also examines how the archives of some of these services have been opened in the course of the democratization process which has taken place in Central and Eastern Europe since 1989.


1. Introduction and administration
2. Leninism and the Cheka
3. Stalinism, the Great Terror, the GULag and the NKVD empire of the 1930s and 1940s
4. Soviet foreign intelligence, 1917-1951: from the Comintern to the `Rote Kapelle' and the Cambridge Five
5. Imperial security: taking over and controlling
6. Soviet Intelligence's involvement in foreign policy and active measures: from the Stalin era to Brezhnev's time
7. The post-Stalinist KGB within the USSR; the war on dissidence; counter-intelligence
8. Soviet foreign intelligence, 1951-1991
9. The little brothers: the security and intelligence services of the satellites
10. From Gorbachev to Putin: the decline and restoration of Soviet state security; the opening of state security archives in Central and Eastern Europe
11. Overview and conclusion

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number N/A
Communication Students will learn how to present their ideas both orally and in writing and how to present their arguments most effectively. They will come to understand the importance of accurate information and clear communication and how to utilize these. They will know how to use the many sources of information available and how to use the most appropriate form of communication to best advantage. They will learn to be clear in their writing and speaking and to be direct about aims and objectives. They will learn to consider only that which is relevant to the topic, focus and objectives of their argument or discussion. This module will particularly test aural and oral communication skills as it involves an assessed presentation. Students will also be required to submit their report in word-processed format and the presentation of work should reflect effective expression of ideas and good use of language skills in order to ensure clarity, coherence and effective communication.
Improving own Learning and Performance The module aims to promote self-management but within a context in which support and assistance is available from both the convenor and fellow-students alike. Students will be expected to improve their own learning and performance by undertaking their own research and exercising their own initiative, including searching for sources and deciding (under guidance) the direction of their coursework and presentation topics. The need to conduct a seminar presentation and to meet coursework deadlines will focus students' attention on the need to manage their time and opportunity resources well. Students will be obliged to reflect on their own performance in the presentations (key strengths and weaknesses measured against the published criteria) in a form which will be appended to the written version of their seminar presentation.
Information Technology Students will be expected to submit their work in word-processed format. Also, students will be encouraged to search for sources of information on the Web, as well as seeking sources through electronic information sources (such as Web of Science and OCLC). Students will also be expected to make use of the resources that will be available on Blackboard.
Personal Development and Career planning This module is designed to hone and test skills of use to students in their working lives, particularly giving presentations, listening, thinking and responding to spoken presentations. Moreover, the written work includes writing a presentation which is a common task in the workplace. Students will be encouraged throughout to reflect on their performance and to consider lessons for future application; this is tested in the written reflection on their performance, a compulsory element of the seminar presentation.
Problem solving Independent problem-solving will be one central goal of the module; the submission of an essay and preparation of a seminar presentation will require that students develop independent research skills as well as problem-solving skills. The ability of students to solve problems will be developed and assessed by asking them to: adopt differing points of view; organize data and estimate an answer to the problem; consider extreme cases; reason logically; construct theoretical models; consider similar cases; look for patterns; divide issues into smaller problems. A final examination will ensure that an assessment of students' ability to work alone can be undertaken.
Research skills Students will be required to undertake independent research for all elements of the assessed work. This will involve utilizing media and Web sources, as well as more conventional academic texts. Students will in part be assessed on their ability to gather appropriate and interesting resources and materials.
Subject Specific Skills Students have the opportunity to develop, practise and test a wide range of subject-specific skills that help them to understand, conceptualize and evaluate examples and ideas on the module. These subject-specific skills include: - collecting and understanding the wide range of data relating to the module - ability to evaluate competing perspectives - demonstrating subject-specific research techniques - applying a range of methodologies to complex historical and political problems
Team work Students will undertake team exercises in the seminars and the convenor will encourage students to work in teams outside them. Blackboard facilities such as the discussion board will also be used.


This module is at CQFW Level 7