Nov. 7, 1917

The Great October Revolution

A revolutionary Marxist faction called the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, led by Vladimir Lenin. (It took place on Oct. 25 under the old Russian calendar, hence the name.) After a brutal civil war, the Bolsheviks established what became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was the first communist government in the world. The Soviets intended to export communism to the other great industrial nations, which made them pariahs among capitalists.

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (1870-1924) better known as Lenin, addresses his supporters in Moscow on the first anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

June 30, 1929

Founding of Magnitogorsk

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered the construction of a new city that would house the largest iron and steel works in the Soviet Union. It was part of a five-year plan to lift Russia out of its feudal, farming economy and turn it into an industrial giant. Magnitogorsk, in the Ural mountains, was built with help from American engineers, and modeled on Gary, Ind. It became a showpiece of Soviet economic achievement.

But there was another side to the Soviet economy: A man-made famine struck Ukraine, and millions of men and women disappeared into the gulag. Prison labor was employed to dig canals, cut timber, and mine coal.

A workers brigade at the V.I. Lenin Steel Works in Magnitogorsk. (Tass via Getty Images)

May 9, 1945

Victory over Nazi Germany

The Soviets bore the brunt of World War II in Europe. Their eventual triumph has been exploited ever since as a justifying event, one that bestows glory and legitimacy on the U.S.S.R. — and its Russian successor. At the end of the war, Moscow established friendly communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe, creating what Winston Churchill called the Iron Curtain, as the Cold War with the West descended.

Soviet Army soldiers raise their flag over the Reichstag in Berlin on April 30, 1945. (Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)

Oct. 1, 1949

Mao declares Communist victory in China

The long-running conflict between Nationalists and Communists finally came to end with a near-total Communist victory. Mao Zedong, the Communist Party leader, was welcomed in Moscow as the tribune of Asian communism. But it wasn’t long before tensions led to a break, sundering communism’s two most important countries.

Over the decades to follow, millions of Chinese would die in labor camps and from hunger.

July 27, 1953

Korean War ends in stalemate.

With the Japanese defeat in World War II, Korea had been divided between a Communist North, under the wing of the Soviet Union, and a West-friendly South. The Korean War erupted in 1950, pitting Koreans against one another and drawing in the United States and its allies on one side, and the Communist Chinese on the other. It finally ended in a draw, though to this day North Korea presents it as a victory.

A mechanized North Korean unit takes part in the capture of the city of Taejon from U.S. forces in 1950. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service/AP Images)

Nov. 4, 1956

Soviets crush Hungarian uprising

After the death of Stalin in 1953, the advent of Nikita Khrushchev as Soviet leader seemed to portend a thawing of repression. Restive Hungarians, eager to break free of Moscow, staged an uprising that led to the collapse of their government. President Dwight Eisenhower cheered them on. But the United States stood by when the Soviet military poured into the country, smashing the rebellion.

Jan. 1, 1959

Fidel Castro seizes power in Cuba

Castro and his revolutionaries came out of the mountains to overthrow the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista, who had strong links to American organized crime. At first willing to deal with the United States, Castro turned to Moscow for support within a year, in the face of U.S. hostility. American leaders were shocked to see communism take a foothold in the Western hemisphere.

Supporters of rebel leader Fidel Castro carry a painting of their hero during a welcome rally along the Malecón in Havana, after Castro toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista. (Associated Press)

April 30, 1975

Saigon falls

The bloody and protracted war in Vietnam, which had destroyed the administration of Lyndon Johnson and contributed to Richard Nixon’s downfall, ended with a communist victory. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. This was close to the high tide mark of global communism, though few suspected it at the time.

Saigon residents take to the street to welcome communist troops on April, 30, 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War. (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Aug. 31, 1980

Solidarity is formed in Poland

The first independent trade union in postwar Eastern Europe was established at a shipyard in Gdansk, led by, among others, an electrician named Lech Walesa. First the government in Warsaw tried to negotiate with it. Then the union was outlawed. But it never disappeared, and it was to rise up in the pivotal year of 1989.

Lech Walesa, head of a striking workers’ delegation, stands on a makeshift podium to announce the signing of a preliminary contract at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk, Poland. (Associated Press/Reportagebild)

June 4, 1989

Tiananmen Square protests are crushed

Pro-democracy protesters occupied Beijing’s central square, inspired by a program of changes that Chinese leaders had been cautiously pursuing. The challenge was too great for the Communist government, and it sent in troops and tanks to sweep the square clean. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, lost their lives. The lesson was learned, and nothing like it has happened again in China.

A Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east on Beijing’s Cangan Boulevard in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. The man, calling for an end to violence against pro-democracy demonstrators, was pulled away by bystanders, and the tanks continued on their way. (Jeff Widener/Associated Press)

Nov. 9, 1989

Berlin Wall falls

Five months later, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signaled to the Communist East German government that Moscow — concerned with economic decline and the hollowing out of ideological fervor — would not come to its aid in the face of rising popular protests. Solidarity had already taken a seat in the Polish government, and Hungarians were streaming across the border into Austria. But when the Wall came down and Berliners were once again united in joyous demonstrations, it was clear to the world that the communist era in Eastern Europe was over.

Two West German police officers prevent people from approaching as East German national police stand on and near a fallen portion of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 11, 1989. (Gerard Malie/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Aug. 19, 1991

Failed coup in Moscow signals end of U.S.S.R.

Soviet hard-liners attempted to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev out of fear that his policies of glasnost and perestroika — openness and restructuring — were putting their country in danger of falling apart. Their failure gave a major boost to Russia’s foremost anti-Communist, Boris Yeltsin, and it led instead to the outlawing of the Communist Party just weeks later. The Soviet Union did fall apart, and ceased to exist on Dec. 25, 1991.

Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian Federation, speaks from atop a tank in front of the Russian parliament building in Moscow, on Aug. 19, 1991. Yeltsin called on the Russian people to resist a coup attempt by communist hard-liners. (Associated Press)

Aug. 16, 2010

China’s economy overtakes Japan

Government figures released on this day showed that China had surpassed Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy. Beijing’s turn away from Marxism and toward state-sponsored capitalism had been underway for the better part of two decades, and now it was showing dramatic results.

A textile factory in Yiwu, in east China's Zhejiang province, in 2010. (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Sept. 3, 2017

North Korea says it can hit U.S. with hydrogen bomb.

Three generations of leadership by the Kim family have turned North Korea into a rogue state, more of a monarchy than a truly communist nation. The introduction of market reforms — though on a smaller scale than in China or Vietnam — has helped the economy. But hostility toward the West, and especially the United States, has if anything sharpened. North Korea views nuclear arms as the only means by which it can maintain its sovereignty in the face of what it calls American aggression. One hundred years after Lenin seized power in Russia, it is communism’s most prickly redoubt.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gestures toward a metal casing in an official photo that was released as Pyongyang announced Sept. 3 that it has developed a hydrogen bomb which can be loaded into the country’s new intercontinental ballistic missile. (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Design by Joe Moore and Matthew Callahan. Maps by Laris Karklis