What if the Soviet Union became truly Democratic-Socialist?

I am not incredibly knowledgable in this area, so this is more of a question of inquiry. What would happen if the Totalitarian ideology of Soviet leninism and stalinism never manifested, or was snuffed out by opposing forces? Would the West and the Nazis develop a strong hatred of Communism, or would Fascism be more feared? Would business owners be able to effectively fear-monger an undoubtedly imperfect but resoundingly better system? Would the Soviets spread their ideology, or liberalize quicker than 1990? Would they even win WW2 without Stalin's brutal breakneck push towards industrialization?
 
A lot depends on how it came about, how it was done

But if this "democratic socialist" USSR was actually socialist (there's sometimes confusion over what democratic socialism is, and whether it just refers to basically social democracy or a type of actual socialism), I could see it still getting a lot of opposition from the fascists and business interests

This alternate USSR may run into issues due to internal divisions, with various different sorts of leftists running into conflicts that might weaken the state. Alternatively, maybe it starts off with some sort of leftist coalition of Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries, Anarchists, and so on that manages to do some sort of demsoc compromise in order to hold together, idk if that would be all that realistic given the personalities involved, but maybe it could be a possibility

Regarding "Would they even win WW2 without Stalin's brutal breakneck push towards industrialization?"...

As it turns out, Stalin was arguably counterproductive at industrialization. There's arguments on whether collective farming could work, but at least it appears that his rapid collectivization with the existing conditions at the time just hurt the agricultural sector rather than helped it. Which is important because the USSR was basically fueling their industrialization in no small part by buying stuff from the West with grain exports - with a more cautious and gradual collectivization of agriculture that doesn't hurt the industry so much, perhaps the USSR could speed up the industrialization via more purchases and/or less issue from famine. Furthermore, things like the military purges left the army in a bad way at the start of the war, and there had also been issues with various technical experts and R&D figures being purged - a less repressive USSR, even if it was a bit industrially behind the USSR of OTL, might be able to make up for it with a better trained and equipped military

But I do wonder about how well the thing could hold together given the various different leftist elements and factions that would be at play, and given the sort of economic and other struggles and dangers that led to things like the Leninist NEP and other matters. The USSR was in a very strained position at its birth. If we could change the starting scenario, perhaps throw in a longer lasting western front of WWII that ends in areas like Germany and central europe also having communist revolutions, and also going in the more democratic socialist rather than authoritarian direction, it could potentially remove a lot of the strain from the USSR by giving it more friendly neighbors, and potentially also aid it economically (due to being able to get economic aid and technical know-how from more industrialized allies), as well as perhaps some additional benefit from countries like Germany, starting off from a more democratic position than Tsarist Russia, being better prepared for working out the kinks and difficulties of the new sort of socialist democracy, with the more democratic USSR being able to kinda learn from example, or something along those lines. But that's broadening the scenario from just "a democratic USSR"
 
My timeline, Beauty Before Bedlam (link below in my signature), has essentially this as its POD. Vladimir Ulyanov is out of the picture by 1917 and so in the aftermath of the February Revolution, the Socialist Revolutionaries team up with the Social Democrats in the Petrograd Soviet and organize successful elections to a Constituent Assembly, like in OTL. There's nothing like the October Revolution, instead the Assembly takes supreme power under Victor Chernov, signs a separate peace with the Central Powers and fights off a much weaker resistance during the Russian Civil War. It's all over with deaths only in the tens of thousands and most folks stay in the country rather than flee.

Chernov takes the blame for the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and is replaced by Vladimir Zenzinov, a more right-wing, but relatively moderate Socialist Revolutionary. The Central Powers still lose. The Hungarian Revolution results in a stable authoritarian socialist government that defies the Treaty of Versailles for a time with Russia as its ally. The elections of 1922 result in a new constitution that devolves more power to the constituent republics and gives the union its more popular name, the Federation of People's Republics. Nikolai Bukharin wins the chairmanship in 1924 and basically leads the union very similar to what happened with the New Economic Policy, with more trade, more people and without the political repression or harassment of so-called "kulaks". Stalin becomes the governor of Georgia and reverses his name back to Josef Jugashvili. Alexandra Kollontai, Maria Spiridinova, Leon Trotsky, Alexander Shlyapnikov and Sergei Medvedev are founding members of a more successful radical socialist group called the Worker's Party which wins a parliamentary majority in 1928.

The Great Eurasian War, as it is called after the name is popularized by US Presidents Norman Thomas and Burton Wheeler in succession, does see the People's Federation come close to full-on collapse. However, they are wealthier, have a higher population and they have benefitted from more trade and technology. Chairman Trotsky essentially establishes voluntary collectives and expands the military budget significantly to prepare for a confrontation with the Axis Powers even though he's stopped short of declaring war until 1943. The Wehrmacht don't expect to just kick the Federation's door down like they thought they could do with the Soviet Union, they instead go directly for the oil of Baku and the city burns. Unable to use the fuel of the Caspian Sea to keep the panzers running and the food growing back home, the Greater German Reich is eventually defeated, although the rest of the Allied Powers do help end the war. The People's Federation keeps most of the territory up to the Rhine under its control and in the 1950s they even absorb Ireland, China and Cuba as full members.
 
A possible timeline could be that Lenin never returned to Russia. Without Lenin, a more moderate candidate like Julius Martov, Viktor Chernov, or maybe even less radicalized Trotsky (kinda unlikely) would take control of the October revolution and actually stay true with their promises. Elections would be held, just like in real life but with a weaker Bolshevik result, most likely giving the Mensheviks or maybe a Trotsky-backed Mezhraiontsy better results. The Russian civil war would most likely happen, but it would be much more Reactionary and less popular than then OTs Civil war. It would end quicker, possibly ending in late 1919 and at the latest end in 1921. After this Russia could end up in a lot of different scenarios, ranging from a Mexican-style One Party Dictatorship to a successful Democratic Socialist Country that has never really existed for very long in real life.
 
One idea that I have worked on in my spare time is having Alexei Kosygin emerge on top of the Soviet leadership, which was in contention during the late 60s/early 70s, though Brezhnev had a slight edge overall. Kosygin was a proponent of market economics in the Soviet Union, somewhat similar to Deng Xiaoping. Kosygin starts off Soviet economic reform about 15 years earlier than OTL.
Then, during the 80s, Gorbachev ascends in the leadership, and without a war in Afghanistan, rules over a more stable and prosperous Soviet Union. As a reformist he may relax some restrictions on free speech and voting, but I’m not sure if you could really ever have democratic government in Russia. Today’s Russian democracy is a facade and ruled by oligarchs, and Russia replaced its totalitarian Tsar with communist autocrats in the 1910s. I think the issue with Russia is that their population was much more agrarian and uneducated for most of history, especially when compared to the rest of Europe, and because of this, power rests only in the hands of a few.

Just my two cents.
 
One idea that I have worked on in my spare time is having Alexei Kosygin emerge on top of the Soviet leadership, which was in contention during the late 60s/early 70s, though Brezhnev had a slight edge overall.
I think to get a sovjet state more or less inline with ideas of democratic socialism the 60s and especially 70s are already to late, because the sovjet union was from the ground up build as a system incredibly vulnerable to authocratic tendencies. With a point of departure after Stalin you might get a "nicer" and/or more prosperous SU, but I would guess that the indroduction of the kinds of true freedom neccessary for a demsoc system would collapse the old order completly and result in something totally different emerging in the short run.
The problem you already mentioned is that the russian empire of the early 20th century is also not realy a state with good premises for the emergence of a truly democratic system on any kind...
If you somehow manage to produce such a state (maybe by somehow introducing ideas of democracy of the masses earlier in russian history or something?), I think it would have tremendous potential if its managed at least semi-competently and can avoid beeing crushed by outside forces as all the other demsoc experiments in history. The sovjet union already acchieved a few remarkable things (including a significant increase in quality of life) even with their repressive and extremly inefficent government style.
 
I think to get a sovjet state more or less inline with ideas of democratic socialism the 60s and especially 70s are already to late, because the sovjet union was from the ground up build as a system incredibly vulnerable to authocratic tendencies. With a point of departure after Stalin you might get a "nicer" and/or more prosperous SU, but I would guess that the indroduction of the kinds of true freedom neccessary for a demsoc system would collapse the old order completly and result in something totally different emerging in the short run.
The problem you already mentioned is that the russian empire of the early 20th century is also not realy a state with good premises for the emergence of a truly democratic system on any kind...
If you somehow manage to produce such a state (maybe by somehow introducing ideas of democracy of the masses earlier in russian history or something?), I think it would have tremendous potential if its managed at least semi-competently and can avoid beeing crushed by outside forces as all the other demsoc experiments in history. The sovjet union already acchieved a few remarkable things (including a significant increase in quality of life) even with their repressive and extremly inefficent government style.
I think the best shot for a democratic socialist Russia is for the Russian Republic to make a white peace with the Central Powers right after taking power and abolishing the monarchy. Keeping the war going alienated the far left of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, though this may open up a different outcome in World War I as the Central Powers can now send all their troops westward, two months before America's entry into the war. Facing the full strength of the German Army, I am not sure if the Entente can hold them back for long, even if American Expeditionaries begin landing in France. So you could end up with an entirely different Europe just by having the SR Party make peace with the Central Powers.
 
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A lot of the USSR's totalitarian tendencies were simply the evolutions of autocratic holdover measures implemented during its early and extremely turbulent days (War Communism and the factionalism ban being the biggest examples). Taking the earlier proposal of the Brest-Litovsk treaty would have probably made a world of difference in that regard.

The initial German demands were simply the Baltics, Finland and Poland. However the Russians thought the war could still be turned around and refused to accept it, later leading to an even harsher beatdown and the loss of Belarus, Ukraine and Bessarabia on top of the initial demands.

Lenin saw where the wind was blowing and was adamantly demanding the Reds to accept the earlier treaty, which would have greatly helped the Bolsheviks against the Whites down the line, due to Ukraine and Belarus being under their control. Having earlier access to Ukrainian grain means the Soviets do not need to implement the severely harsh policies of War Communism to ensure military food security.

Germany was going to lose the war anyway, so with a faster victory against the Whites, the Bolsheviks would have an easier time reintegrating the Baltics and Finland as the Kaiserreich collapses. It might also turn the tide onto the Bolshevik's side in the Polish-Soviet war (which ended in an extremely unlikely Polish victory). So even with a temporary state of fragmentation, the Soviets could have restored the Tsarist borders and be left with a far stronger economy and demographics. A less desperate economy may eventually leave them with a far less repressive domestic situation that can be butterflied into democratic socialism far easier than OTL.
 
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