Published on December 14, 2007
Lenin in Power: Lenin in Power Chronology of Events The Bolsheviks only had minority support, at most only about 4-5 million people out of a population of 140 million. The Bolsheviks had wanted an end to the Kerensky government, an end to privilege and solidarity of the masses. They wanted a: ‘classless, stateless and religion less’ society that was ‘collectivist and egalitarian’. 2 convictions drove them, that their isolation would end and that their popularity would increase. They were hoping socialist revolution would come to other countries to end their isolation and that their policies would lead to increased popularity for them. In reality neither of these would be achieved and the Bolsheviks ended up replacing one tyranny with their own. They never had popular support and they used the same methods as the Tsarist regimes in order to remain in power. These methods were terror, suppression of opposition and the use of a large bureaucracy with a vested interest in maintaining them in power. The Marxist aim of the proletariat governing themselves was never achieved. The Bolsheviks only maintained power by compromising on their principles. Lenin in Power: Lenin in Power November 1917 there were elections to the Constituent Assembly. The Bolsheviks only got 10 million votes (24% of the vote). The SR’s got 16 million votes (37%), the Mensheviks only received 1.5 million votes and the Kadets around 2 million. 4/5ths of voters chose Socialist parties. December 1917 there was an armistice with Germany. But the German demands were too great for the Bolsheviks to bear and they rejected them. This led to the Germans going on the offensive and they advanced deep into the Ukraine. December 1917 the Cheka is set up and banks are nationalised. Also, the left SR’s join SOVNARKOM (Council of People’s Commissars). Lenin was supposed to abolish the 3 pillars of the ‘bourgeois state’ (Gooding): 1) Police 2) Army 3) Bureaucracy. The truth was that they the Communists relied on all 3 to maintain their rule throughout the Soviet era. In this sense they were no different than Tsarist governments. Lenin in Power: Lenin in Power January 1918, the Red Army is set up. It was set up with Trotsky as leader and eventually numbered more than 5 million! It was run with ‘Iron Discipline’ and operated no differently than a Tsarist army would have done, nothing like you would expect from a government which had sought to overthrow the old privileges and systems. The one major difference was the use of Commissars to enforce discipline. They had the power to execute soldiers who disobeyed orders. The Civil war was to go on until 1921, the Bolsheviks ultimately won because they controlled the main powerbase in the country in western Russia around the chief cities of Moscow and Petrograd. This meant that Trotsky could make effective use of the railway systems that operated out of these major conurbations. The Bolsheviks also won because they were more united a force than the Whites who were spread in the south/south east of the country, the far north and Siberia. Also, the foreign intervention proved a useful propaganda tool for the Communists. The Whites had the advantage of access to officers from the old order but were ultimately unable to unite to defeat the Communists. Lenin in Power: Lenin in Power February 1918, the Basic Law on the land is introduced. March 1918, the Bolsheviks rename themselves the Russian Communist Party. Lenin had to sue for peace in order to preserve the government and so the ignominious Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was reluctantly signed on the 3rd of March 1918. Under this treaty Russia lost heavily, it lost Poland, Finland and the Baltic States and Ukraine became self-governing: ‘Thus by a stroke of the pen it lost two-fifths of the old Russia’s industrial resources, three-quarters of its coal and iron mines, and much of its richest agricultural land’. April 1918, the Germans establish a puppet government in Ukraine under Skoropadsky. May 1918, the Czechoslovak Legion revolts. Lenin in Power: Lenin in Power June 1918 Mensheviks and Right SR’s are excluded from the Soviets: ‘From the summer of 1918 the new state became to all intents and purposes a one-party one.’ June 1918, an SR government is established in Samara. Massive industrial nationalisation begins. A decree on the committees of village poor is issued. The aim was to get poorer peasants to assist in seizing resources from richer peasants. The Bolsheviks wanted to use class differences to achieve their aims in the countryside, but they did not realise that no such class divide existed among peasants. Instead of assisting officials to requisition food etc…the peasants opposed the outsiders coming in to acquire their resources. The Bolsheviks eventually accepted that this policy had failed and abolished the committees in December 1918. The Left SR’s are suppressed in July 1918. The Tsar and his family are shot. In November 1918 the German government collapsed and Pravda even declared that, “the world revolution has begun”. Lenin in Power: Lenin in Power From late 1918 people were put into concentration camps. There were mass arrests and indiscriminate violence and murder. January 1919 – Politburo set up with 5 members: Kamenev, Zinoviev, Trotsky, Lenin and Stalin. In March 1919 the Comintern (Communist International) was set up in Moscow. In Hungary and Bavaria Soviet republics were temporarily established. April 1919 – Kolchak’s advance is halted. Denikin offensive begins August 1919 – Red Army evacuates Ukraine. December 1919 – Red Army recaptures Kiev. Lenin in Power: Lenin in Power January 1920 – Labour armies established. Allies end blockade of Soviet Russia. February 1920 – Kolchak executed. April 1920 – Military hostility with Poland increases. February 1921 – NEP introduced. March 1921 – Kronstadt mutiny. Tenth Party Congress confirms NEP and bans internal opposition such as Workers’ Opposition group and other factions. ‘By 1921 then, the Bolsheviks had crushed their opponents to right and left. But though they ruled securely, the country they ruled over was in ruins.’ Lenin in Power: Lenin in Power 800,000 people were killed in fighting in 1917. Possibly another 200,000 in red or white terror. 2 million died of typhus or typhoid in 1919-20, many others starved to death. 2 to 3 million people fled Russia. ‘the total population loss during the period of revolution and civil war rises to between seven and ten million. No other nation in modern times had suffered such a catastrophe.’ (Gooding) Lenin in Power: Lenin in Power In terms of society, landlords were no more and their houses were in ruins. Most artists and intellectuals fled. The middle classes sank down into the masses. The church was disestablished in January 1918. This meant it no longer received state funding and no longer controlled schools. Priests were also no longer allowed to vote. Many churches were destroyed and priests killed, but Lenin understood the popularity of priest amongst their local congregations so stopped short of systematic destruction of the clergy. This was to come in the late 1920’s. The destruction of the privileged classes did not mean any improvement in conditions for the working classes. The economy collapsed under the Communists. Money was no longer used as there was little to buy, bartering became more of the norm. Transport became free as the system broke down. In the summer of 1918 large-scale industry was nationalised, by 1920 small-scale industry was also nationalised. The Supreme Council of the National Economy controlled economic activity. Lenin in Power: Lenin in Power During the first 10 months of Soviet rule one-third of factories were closed. By 1921 heavy industrial production was only 20% of its 1913 size. ‘No other nation had suffered so rapid and complete a collapse of its productive capacity. As for national income, that had fallen by 1921 to less than half – about 40 per cent – of what it had been in 1913…the economic activities which produced these ravages became known as war communism’. (Gooding). The Bolsheviks had hoped that the proletariat would grow but as the economy collapsed so did the size of the proletariat. In 1917, the 2 capitals had 4 million people. In 1920, both had 1.5 million between them. The situation was worse in Petrograd. Factory closures led to people fleeing to the countryside in search of work and food. Some people got jobs in the government, others were conscripted into the Red Army. Many just starved to death. Out of 3 million industrial workers in 1917, by 1920 there were only 1 million left. Lenin in Power: Lenin in Power The country was becoming ‘de-industrialized and de-proletarianized’. The workers were reverting to peasant lifestyles and by the ‘end of the civil war the Communist Party had an even smaller social base in the country than the slender one it had had in October 1917.’ By 1921 the Russians began re-conquering areas they had previously had to give self-rule to. Areas such as the Ukraine and Caucasus. By 1918 less than 5% of peasants were without land. Despite this by the summer of 1920 there was open revolt in the countryside as the Communists were trying to requisition produce. Although most peasant opposition was localized in the Ukraine and Western Siberia large armies did form amongst the peasants. They were ultimately defeated as most were local. By early 1921 there were strikes and demonstrations in Moscow and Petrograd. End of February/early March 1921 the Kronstadt mutiny began. Lenin in Power: Lenin in Power 1922 – Lenin falls seriously ill. Show trials of SR’s begin. 1922-3 Lenin writes his political testament. He warns against allowing Stalin too much power. He wanted to reduce the bureaucracy but Stalin was an ‘arch-bureaucrat’. As General Secretary he had a lot of power. His bully-boy nature had already been illustrated when, with the help of fellow Georgian Ordzhonikidze, he forced Georgia to become a Soviet Republic. 1924 - Lenin dies. USSR formed. Petrograd is renamed Leningrad. Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin harass Trotsky.