During the history of the Soviet Union, there was no such office as "the Leader" of the nation. The General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, who was the head of the party, also frequently doubled as the de facto national leader position for most of the country's history, but there were exceptions, and ambiguity abounded. Because the Soviet political structure was so confusing, and its titles quite cumbersome and inconsistent, this article uses the simplified title of "leader".

Vladimir Lenin wanted the executive of the Soviet Union to be the Council of People's Commissars, 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 1964, the office of General Secretary was re-created by Leonid Brezhnev in 1966. 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 Union's 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 reforms Gorbachev initiated was the reorganization of the executive office and the adoption of a semi-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.

This article lists the known leaders found in the fictional works of Harry Turtledove. Leaders who served before the point of divergence of a given alternate history work, and are mentioned in passing, should not be listed here. Stories set in OTL may reference past leaders, or even the sitting leader (usually Stalin), but unless the leader's role in the story is specifically fictionalized, they do not belong here.

The Gladiator[]

In one alternate explored by Crosstime Traffic, a mid-20th-century break-point[1] led to the Soviet Union winning the Cold War and communism dominating the globe in the 21st century.

Known leaders:

  • Stalin.jpg

Joseph Stalin was still revered throughout the world as a hero of the USSR and of global Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism in 2097.[2]

  • Putin.jpg

Vladimir Putin was the General Secretary at the turn of the 21st century, and was remembered as one of the great leaders of communism, along with Lenin and Stalin.[3] Implicitly, it was under Putin that the Cold War was won. Putin died around 2027, and his successors are all unnamed.

The Hot War[]

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 shrouded in secrecy, Vyacheslav Molotov wrested power from Beria. Molotov signed an armistice with the NATO powers, freeing Soviet forces to put down separatist movements in its client states.

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

Joe Steele[]

Vladimir Lenin oversaw the establishment of the Soviet Union with the former Russian Empire at its nucleus. Upon his death, Lenin 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.

Trotsky 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.jpg Unknown 1922-1924
2 Leon Trotsky Trotsky1.jpg Unknown 1924-
Incumbent at novel's end, 1953


Iosef Stalin had ruled the Soviet Union for 15 years when World War II broke out. As the war raged on, 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. Vycheslav Molotov, who had served as Foreign Commissar since 1939, succeeded Stalin as General Secretary. 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. In 1963, NKVD head Lavrenty Beria attempted a coup against Molotov, imprisoning him for about 24 hours before the Soviet Red Army toppled Beria. Subsequently, Molotov was far more dependent upon Marshal Georgy Zhukov to ensure 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.jpg General Secretary of
the Communist Party
3 Vyacheslav Molotov Molotov.jpg General Secretary of
the Communist Party
- Lavrenty Beria Beria.jpg N/A Acting leader for about 24 hours in 1963
(3) Vyacheslav Molotov Molotov.jpg General Secretary of
the Communist Party
4-? Unnamed Unknown 1986-2032

Other Leaders[]

Turtledove has altered Soviet leadership in a few other timelines.

In "Liberating Alaska", which has a likely Point of Divergence in the 1860s, Vladimir Lenin founded the Soviet Union, and was succeeded as in OTL by Joseph Stalin, who is incumbent at the story's end in 1929.

In addition to the foregoing, Lenin is referenced posthumously in "The Last Word", set in S.M. Stirling's Draka timeline

In addition to the above examples, Stalin is or was the Soviet ruler in a substantial number of works, including In the Presence of Mine Enemies, The Man With the Iron Heart, "Or Even Eagle Flew", "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 the 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 the other works in the list, 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 as in OTL, but died that same year under suspicious circumstances; his successor is unnamed.

"Powerless" is set in a 21st century where the USSR dominates the globe, with no specific POD indicated. Lenin and Stalin are memorialized in reverence, and one character appears to be named for Nikita Khrushchev, but all subsequent holders of high office go unnamed.

Historical Leaders in Non-Leadership Roles[]

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

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 holds 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 is briefly referenced in The Hot War: Armistice as the USSR's ambassador to Czechoslovakia, where he is assassinated in August 1952.

Mikhail Gorbachev, identified only by his patronymic "Mikhail Sergeyevich", appears in the Worldwar franchise's Colonization: Aftershocks and the standalone novel The Two Georges as a protocol officer stationed in North America. His later life in Worldwar is not addressed, while The Two Georges depicts him as a citizen of the Russian Empire in a timeline where the Soviet Union never existed.  

See also[]


  1. Turtledove has stated that he didn't really have a single break-point for this alternate in mind. He just wanted to depict a world dominated by the USSR.
  2. The Gladiator, pg. 8, HC.
  3. Ibid.