Bolshevik Revolution Essay, Research Paper
The Bolshevik revolution occurred in November of 1917, its aim was to create a workers paradise and a dictatorship of the proletariat. By 1930, the Bolsheviks had imposed a totalitarian rule over Russia. This period can be divided into two distinct eras. Firstly, there was the period from 1917-1924, which included the decision to seize power, the civil war and a consolidation of power under the new economic policy. The second period occurred after Lenin’s death, where opposing factions emerged in the party, and a leadership struggle occurred. Out of this, Stalin emerged as an authoritarian leader and used various forms of terror and economic policy to gain complete control by 1930.
When examining the period between 1917 and 1924, an important theme question is developed by Russell Cowie, he asks, “how were the Bolsheviks, a subdivision of the Russian Social Democrat Party, able to impose their will upon the whole of the former Russian Empire by 1923? ” Certainly, the Bolsheviks were an obscure and radical political party before the revolution of March 1917, and played little part in the overthrow of the Tsar. They did however see it as a step towards the dictatorship of the proletariat. “The Marxists found themselves in the paradoxical position of welcoming the revolution as bourgeois, liberal and capitalist and deferring the idea of socialism to some time in the future. ”
Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik party returned from exile in April 1917, while a member of the intelligentsia, he also appeared to read the general mood of the people acknowledging that they were more interested in food rather than the decrees of the Provisional Government such as freedom of speech. He developed simplistic slogans such as “Peace, bread, land,” and “All power to the Soviets” to appeal to the Russian proletariat. According to V. Serge, Lenin has the “ear of the man in the street, and of the man in the factory and in the barracks! His whole genius consists only in his ability to say what these people want to say but don’t know how to say. ”
Lenin’s genius combined with the harsh conditions suffered in the cities during the first world war, and the failure of the provisional government meant that the Bolsheviks were able to gain a majority of in both the Petrograd and Moscow soviets by October 1917. The Provisional Government became increasingly separate from mainstream society, because it continued the war and misread the mood of the people who “said that all the party had managed to do during its term of office was put up tram fares. ”
Consequently, Lenin demanded that the Bolsheviks seize power because, “the Bolsheviks, having obtained a majority in the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ deputies of both capitals can and must take state power into their own hands.” After threatening to resign, the party reluctantly gave in to Lenin, who claimed that “History will not forgive us if we don’t take power now.” On November 7, red guards raided the winter palace, headquarters of the Kerensky Government and arrested the members of the Provisional Government. That evening, at the Second All Russian Congress of Soviets, Lenin announced that the Bolsheviks had taken power and the November revolution was complete. According to Simon Welfare, “it had been a virtually bloodless coup, and it was over very quickly. ”
The Bolshevik revolution was from above, it was not a spontaneous uprising. According to Welfare, “there was one Bolshevik for every six hundred Russians. ” This explains why, “In January 1918 Russia’s Bolshevik Government had a precarious hold on power. The key question of who could establish military superiority remained to be resolved and the Government’s decrees were not accepted as binding. ” This precarious position was further exacerbated by the Constituent assembly, which was subsequently dissolved by Lenin, the threat posed by Germany, the Civil war and War Communism.
A Constituent assembly had been promised under the Provisional Government and all though reluctant, Lenin permitted elections to go ahead, the result was a resounding victory for the Right SR’s, who gained 370 seats as opposed to the Bolsheviks 175. The Bolsheviks received their support in the industrial centres of Russia, they viewed the peasants as part of a feudalistic system, that would ultimately be destroyed. This limited the support base for the Bolsheviks explains why less than a quarter of the population voted for them. On January 18-19, the Constituent assembly met, and there was wide spread criticism of the Bolshevik usurpation of power. Red guards and groups of sailors under Lenin’s orders dissolved the constituent assembly and single party state was formed. Despite minority support, they did have the support of the armed forces, which meant that they were able to stay in power.
Another problem was the armistice signed on December 15, 1917, which ended Russia’s involvement in the First World War. The treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on March 16, 1918 and meant that Russia underwent a humiliating loss of territory including Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Lenin’s wisdom probably saved the Bolshevik’s, he claimed that “to carry on a revolutionary war, an army is necessary, and we do not have one. It is a question of signing the terms now, or of signing the death sentence of the Soviet Government three weeks later. ” The humiliating conditions angered many because this was not the “peace without annexations and indemnities as promised,” and “for what purpose had millions given their lives? ”
Lenin had to continually walk a political tightrope, and his decisions often infuriated a country who had little patience after four years of war. Due to this the Bolsheviks found a vast array of enemies trying to remove them from power. These included landowners and the surviving nobility of the previous Tsarist regime, Socialist revolutionaries who refused Bolshevik leadership, Kadets, Mensheviks and international forces who wished to continue Russia’s war with Germany, these enemies were collectively known as “Whites.” Trotsky was appointed Commissar of war and formed a red workers and peasants army, which grew to 5 million men by 1921.
The ultimate Bolshevik success in the Civil war from 1918-1921 was due to the lack of cooperation between the white forces, the fact that most peasants saw the White army as a return to Tsarism and the harsh treatment of the Whites by their Commander in chief, Admiral Kolchak.
While the civil war allowed the Bolsheviks to consolidate their power, it also meant harsh economic conditions under war communism whose main aim was to maintain order, organise food and ensure food supplies. The main concept of war communism was the centralisation of power, which meant that the Government’s role was paramount in the economic decision-making of the state. War communism had two major policies of importance, firstly, the nationalisation of industry under control of the Supreme Economic Council and secondly the Government’s program of grain requisitioning.
The nationalisation of industries was supposed to increase industrial production. However the opposite occurred. According to Kochan and Abraham, “between 1917 and 1920 over half the urban working class actually disappeared, either through death in the Civil War, as a result of famine, or by returning to their villages. ” Another source indicates that ” in 1920 industrial input had decrease to only one seventh of that in 1913. ” For a party which was based on the proletariat and widespread industrialization this had a devastating effect.
Another reason for the desertion of the cities was the lack of food supplies. Under the Government’s program, peasants had to surrender their crops to the state. This led to passive resistance, where peasants destroyed crops and livestock in protest. In 1921 there was a widespread famine, which affected 30 million people, resulting armed uprisings all over Russia, yet “the Bolsheviks showed little concern for their plight, and would have welcomed their decimation in the process of creating a classless state. ”
In March 1921 the Kronstadt naval base, traditionally mutinied a communist stronghold mutinied. “In bloody hand-to-hand fighting the red soldiers managed to put down a revolt by red sailors. It was a traumatic turning point in the Party’s history. ”
Fearing counter-revolution, Lenin introduced a New Economic Policy at the Tenth Party Congress, not only did it abolish the forced requisition of food from peasants, it allowed for some freedom of enterprise. Obviously this was a movement towards capitalism, but in doing so Lenin ensured that the threat to Bolshevik party subsided. According to Lenin, the NEP would “stimulate the economic exchange of peasant produce and that is something we need to do desperately, ” and the movement towards capitalism was a “tactical retreat.”
The NEP restored some prosperity to Russia. A new class of Nepmen or private traders grew and money was once again used as a medium of exchange after the barter system, which developed during war communism. According to Y. Kushin, “anti – Soviet revolts ceased the new economic policy strengthened the alliance between workers and peasants. ” The NEP was continued until 1928 and had a stabilizing effect on the economy, it consolidated the Bolsheviks until Lenin’s death in 1924.
Lenin, also used other tactics to stop dissidents. Freedom of speech was greatly reduced, and the CHEKA (All Russian extraordinary committee for combating counter-revolution, sabotage and speculation). 12,733 people were executed between 1918 and 1921. Also, at the Tenth Party Congress Lenin introduced a resolution that banned fractions inside the party because it “will lead in fact to the weakening of harmonious work” and would “deepen division. ”
Trotsky also played an important role as leader of the red army. Under the NEP, Russia was prospering and there was minimal internal strife inside the party, Lenin’s death on January 21, 1924 was to change all this.
During 1922 and 1923, Lenin suffered two debilitating strokes, and before his death in 1924, became increasingly concerned about his successor. In Lenin’s testament, he claimed that the opposing ideologies, between “the two most able leaders of the Central Committees might, quite innocently lead to a split. ” In fact, an unofficial triumvirate between Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev was established before Lenin’s death to block Trotsky.
The party structure was such that an enormous amount of power was concentrated in the Politburo, and especially in the hands of the General Secretary. Stalin was appointed to this position in April 1922. As general secretary, Stalin became the only voting member of all three bodies (Politburo, Orgburo and Secretariat) concerned with the day-to-day running of the party. According to Thomas, “he was uniquely placed to control the passage of business in the Politburo, and the appointment of people to responsible positions Stalin’s ultimate victory lay in the influence he gained over the party’s personnel. ”
Stalin’s first manoeuvre, in the leadership struggle was to isolate Trotsky in the Politburo. Trotsky advocated “world revolution,” as he believed that revolution needed to occur internationally. To counter this, Stalin formulated “socialism in one country,” which called for a concentration on consolidating the communist state in Russia, rather than endangering the revolution. He also called for an end to the NEP and rapid industrialisation under five year plans. After Zinoviev and Kamenev had advocated “Socialism in one country,” and Trotsky ceased to exist as a major threat, the Triumvirate broke up.
Zinoviev reversed his stance at the Fourteenth Party Congress, and formed The Left Opposition along with Trotsky and Kamenev. Stalin appeared to be standing alone with his “Socialism in one country” doctrine, but he moved to join The Rightists who were supported by Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky who advocated the continuation of the NEP and the evolution of socialism. This clearly opposed his socialism in one country stance but Stalin obviously saw the Left Opposition as a greater threat. The rightist resolution was adopted by 559 votes to 65 and Zinoviev, Kamenev and Trotsky were expelled from the Politburo in 1926.
The Duumvirate between Stalin and Bukharin was broken by 1927, when Stalin gained a significant majority in the Politburo. He claimed that “We have internal enemies. We have external enemies. This comrades must not be forgotten a single moment. ” He then began a concerted expel right wing deviationists and by 1929 Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky had been expelled from the party. “By 1929 Stalin controlled the Politburo and was the undisputed master of the Soviet Union. ”
Economically, Stalin launched a campaign against a class of peasants called Kulaks who had benefited under the NEP and whom he claimed were distorting grain prices. This was know as “Dekulakisation” and was a euphemism for the liquefaction of the Kulaks. The campaign became such that any person who opposed the Bolsheviks in the countryside was labelled a Kulak. At least 4.5 million people were dekulakised.
In 1928, Stalin also announced his five-year plans, where collectivisation of farms was a major point. This meant that “never again could peasant agriculture hold the state to random. ”
In conclusion, the period between 1917-1924 was a period where the Bolshevik party survived through smart and calculated decisions by Lenin, whose great ability was managing to apply Marxism to Russia. Yet after Lenin’s death, the party seemed to fall in upon itself, and Stalin especially seemed to manipulate his position for his own personal gain. What’s more, he did this all in the name of Communism, but his own self – interest sounds remarkably like capitalism. In Animal Farm, George Orwell claimed that “All pigs are created equal, but some are created more equal than others.” This statement could definitely be applied to Stalin and his rule.” By 1929, Stalin was undisputed leader of the Soviet Union, and with the OGPU (formerly the CHEKA) working to catch dissidents, the Bolsheviks or what was left of them had complete control of Russia by 1930, but at what cost to the aims of the revolution?