Lenin’s rise to power transformed Russia into a state of misfortune, of which Stalin would build upon and intensify after Lenin’s death.

A black and white image of Lenin and Stalin seated together.Stalin’s regime may have proved to be one of the bloodiest in history, however what historians tend to neglect is that Stalin was simply continuing the dark and bloody path that Lenin indeed created before him. Following his rise to power, Lenin had transformed Russia into a state of misfortune, of which Stalin was able to build upon and intensify after Lenin’s death. This depressing state stemmed directly from the political, economic and social agendas of the Bolshevik party, or dare we say more so from the main Bolshevik leader himself.  By studying both primary and secondary sources, what becomes clear is a stark contrast between pre-revolutionary Russian society and the succession of bloody regimes that followed revolution in October 1917. To the people of the backwards pre-revolutionary society under the Tsar, their existence could be seen as a walk in the park when compared to the famines, terror, brutality and adversity that would plague Lenin’s revolutionary society, once hoped by some Russians to be a saving grace. And no one in October 1917 could have imagined the horrors that such revolutionary society was capable of producing after its leader, Lenin, died so suddenly in 1924, leaving the vicious reigns open for the once little-known Stalin to snatch up and retain for 20 long, painful years.

In the month of May, 1846, the Tsar acquired the crown of Russia, establishing the countries formal government that will remain intact until the revolutionary year of 1917. This government would be an autocracy, a form of governing Russia had experienced for over 200 years, in which the leading Tsar yielded dictatorial powers, and as such all government decisions were in his hands, as were his responsibility for them. Surprisingly, it would be this great power and responsibility that would eventually lead to the Tsar’s downfall, with the final Tsar’s (Nicholas II) mainstream image being shattered as a result of a decision resulting in government forces open firing on 100,000 unarmed, peaceful protesters during what is now known as the “Bloody Sunday” event of 1905. Foreign media covered the story, and as even more protests and strikes came about later in the year (organized by workers counsels known as “Soviets), the Tsar ordered “any means necessary”1 to crush them. The Russian people’s faith in the Tsar was now non-existent, and a revolutionary mood now swept throughout the country2 . In 1914 the Tsar was granted a reprieve with the coming of WW1, when patriotism swept the country, and people suddenly forgot about revolution in favour of supporting the Tsar. However, this reprieve was short lived, as Russia suffered successive humiliating defeats and the loss of over 4 million lives at war. This, combined with the humiliating defeats of the Russo-Japan War, pushed the people’s toleration to the limit, and this time – it broke; large strikes and riots followed3 . In perspective, this would be the revolutions catalyst; the Russian people would no longer accept the Tsar as their leader, and in turn provided the opportunity for a support base if anyone new was to come forward and take control. The Russian people were now eager to seriously listen to revolutionary ideas; unhappy with their current old, unbalanced and out-of-touch governing body.

Russia’s economic, and in turn social conditions weren’t too positive either, and in fact they too were ideal for revolution. Russia was in a state of backwardness, and was living a life that “Europe had abandoned years ago”4 . In the mid-19th Century, 95% of Russian population were peasantry/lower class, only 4% were middle class and a tiny 1% was upper class/nobility5 . This huge class inequality was largely due to the traditional manner of governing, evident in the fact that the Tsar’s true professional title was “landowner”6 .  The Russian masses, the Peasantry, were ignorant of politics and uneducated, instead they knew how to starve and fear authority7 . At this time they were sick of being controlled by the unsympathetic landlords and their oppressive government, and when hope came in 1861 with the abolishment of Serfdom, they simply discovered they had traded one set of masters –the landlords- for another, the bureaucratic state. Tsar Nicholas II recognized the need for Russia to advance, so in the early 1900’s he began industrializing Russia under the direction of Witte (Minister of Finance). This caused the proletariat to expand rapidly as peasants gave up the countryside and moved to cities to work in factories; hoping for a better life. However a better life was not to be found, instead these new workers were forced to dwell in new overcrowded, unhygienic industrial centres, and had to work in harsh conditions for low wages without any State protection from exploitation8 . In fact, they were often forced to be paid in goods. The means of production was in the hands of the landlords and factory owners; in many ways the peasants had exchanged one form of bondage for another...many worse off than when they were slaves9 .

These substandard living and working conditions would be accentuated by war, so too would the state’s backwardness and need of rapid industrialization. During the 1905 Russo-Japan War, Russia’s backwardness allowed the soldiers to be slaughtered due to their unadvanced weaponry. Back at home, the Russian people suffered increased taxes, food shortages and longer work hours. The same occurred during WW1 from 1914; Russia’s backwardness led to successive defeats, huge loss of life which led to soldier desertion. At home Russia’s rail system was so pathetic that food could not be distributed to cities, leading to food shortages and even starvation. In addition to this, war caused inflation to rise rapidly, making essential goods more expensive. Being crowded together in industrial areas during these harsh times, “people [inevitably] met and discussed political issues, and it was from these areas of discontent that they learnt the word “revolution””. It is this situation that forms an immediate background to the growth of Marxism, and the essential role that workers would play in the revolution. Marxists target the proletariat as a support base, and it was at this time, a time of hardship and despair, that this group was most willing to listen. In addition to this convenient situation, the increasing numbers of soldiers disserting the army also contributed to the revolutionary mood; without a new government coming into place, the Tsar would immediately place these people up for execution at the conclusion of the war. Revolution was now becoming a life or death situation for select members of Russian society, and in turn pressure was building.

But while the above combination of adverse political, economic and social conditions made Russia ripe for revolution, the Tsar and his “government” had put into place something which no revolutionary government would, a Duma – effectively a voice for the people. As mentioned previously, the Tsar yielded dictatorial powers within Russia, however whilst still holding on to such powers, in 1905 he reluctantly gave into heavy political pressure and granted Russia its first constitution, and soon after granted permission to form government – the Duma10 . Nicholas II also bowed down to pressure from Chief Minister Witte, who advised the Tsar to publish what was known as the October Manifesto. By doing so, the Tsar granted freedom of conscience, speech, meeting and association. In addition to this, it was promised that no person would be imprisoned without trial, and furthermore, no law could become operative without approval of the Duma11 . Following this, opposing political parties quickly emerged from their previously illegal, underground activities; never in Russian history had so many political organizations existed at the same time.12 It is apparent that it seems for the first time the Tsar gave into public pressure and heeded to the advice of persons outside his exclusive traditional family and associates, suggesting that his political views were progressively changing to suit the new and changing society around him.

However, whilst his plan for the Duma would assumingly be successful from the onset, it was constantly hindered by the large number of political parties involved, especially the radicals amongst them. Therefore to combat this problem, the Tsar, for the sake of his own government, was forced to dissolve and alter the Duma 3 times between 1906 and 1912; quite considerable considering the urgency for success due to the countries instability during this time(in particular due to war)13 .  This instability, and radicalism by opposition, is extremely evident in the outbreak of terrorism and assassination during the same period, prompting the Tsar to call on his prime minister, Petr Stolypin to eliminate the threat of terror as soon as possible. He did so by initiating quick military trials for suspected terrorists, however in 1911 he too was fatally assassinated by a terrorist14 . It is safe to say that if it wasn’t for the burden of war and the radicalism present during this time, the Tsar would have remained in power for much longer and he could have been more closely linked with the successes of the Duma. But nonetheless, the power of the people’s voice through the Duma was surely realised in the revolutionary time of March 1917, when following pressure from this political institution, the Tsar stepped down with no strife – the people spoke and he obeyed, a remarkable feat after 200 years of uncompromising autocratic rule of Russia.

With only the provisional government in place as a result of the Tsars abdication, the prime opportunity to take leadership, in formal and non formal manners, was now, and one significant man who recognized this was Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Lenin was born on the 22nd of April, 1870, into a family of mixed ethnicity, to a father who was an official in public education who desired democracy within Russia, and was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church soon after birth. However Lenin’s ordinary family life was cut short at only 16 years old, when his father died suddenly of a cerebral haemorrhage. A year later, Lenin’s brother was arrested and executed for participating in a terrorist plot to assassinate the leading Tsar, and because she was with him at the time of the arrest, Lenin’s sister was banished to a small village outside of Kazan. It is said that this traumatic time in his life is what radicalised Lenin, and within his official Soviet biographies he describes it as being central to choosing the revolutionary way of life.15   In the same year Lenin enrolled at Kazan State University, where he first became interested in the works of Karl Marx. It would seem that instantly he became a marked man; insisting that he found a “scientific” basis to socialism, and attempted to convert everyone around him to Marxism.16 His radicalism advanced when he became involved in student protests, and was even arrested for his public demonstrations, which eventually was a large contributing factor in his expulsion from the university. It was during this time that his extreme fanatical and callous drive for revolution transpired, highlighted by the fact that he distinguished himself in Latin and Greek, and insisted on learning German, French and English17 ; it seems no one was to be left untouched by his revolutionary ideas, and that nothing was going to get in his way of succeeding. This notion is further accentuated by his diligent effort in attaining likability amongst everybody he could, anybody who was willing to listen; Lenin was very friendly, especially with children and his wife...[he] walked around streets...to see the poverty and conditions of the lower and working class18 . Yet whilst portraying such a caring image, his file with the police grew larger resulting in prison time, repeated exiles and was for the last time exiled to Siberia during the Tsar Governments crackdown on radicals and terrorists19 , whom of which severely hindered the Tsars positive change of governing and the irrefutable growth of Russia under it. Lenin was a radical, defiant, an extremist and a man self absorbed in his own power hungry set of ideologies; a notion that would surely be proved in his infamous return to Russia in 1917 with his pedestal; his defiant party, the Bolsheviks.

The Bolshevik party formed at the Second Party Congress in 1903, when the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party split, with another major faction splitting being the Mensheviks. This split however was never truly final until the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions permanently broke off relations in 1912; up until then the Bolshevik faction’s progress was dramatically slowed due to undecided members constantly switching sides and causing havoc in decision making sessions. It was during this chaotic time that Lenin transpired as a leading figure within the party acting as a figurehead for true supporters of Bolshevism, and in many ways can even be held responsible for the Bolsheviks formation, as the feud which ultimately split the MRSDLP was enticed by his radical and defiant insistence that only professional and serious revolutionaries be allowed to join the party20 . It was also during this time that the significant character Leon Trotsky emerged; at first supporting the Mensheviks, only to soon turn “non-factional” up until 1917 when he joined Lenin and the Bolsheviks for revolution. This would prove to have a huge impact on Russia, as it would be Trotsky who leads the Bolsheviks to victory in the Civil War as head of the Red Army, and therefore ensuring their place as dictators of the Russian people for years to come21 .

Formerly, the Bolshevik party and its members were heavily basing their revolutionary plans on the works and ideas of Karl Marx, and in turn believed they were working towards achieving a Marxist society within Russia. In its final stages, a Marxist state would be characterized by: a classless society, the withering of the state apparatus, the dictatorship of the proletariat and communal control of the means of production. The Bolshevik party believed that it was in theirs, and the countries, best interest for their revolution to be carried out by a small, tightly disciplined group; of which would exclusively be made up of professional revolutionaries. The party believed that the revolution needed to be achieved in the name of the proletariat, yet it also believed that it could only achieve this by working independently from this working class; purely on their behalf. However, by 1917 Lenin had further shown his defiant and self absorbed nature by modifying the Bolshevik ideologies to form what is now known as Marxist-Leninism, in which Lenin dictated that: a strong party would implement Marxism, there was a need for the state apparatus to operate in the transitional period and that there was no need for parliamentary democracy22 . It must be noted that these alterations to Marxism not only extended the party’s duration of power after the revolution, but also increased their power to dictatorial levels due to the lack of opposition that would result from such changes; the first of many acts that will compliment Lenin’s power-hungry personality. This power-hungry personality would fuel his extreme drive for seemingly instant revolution, and would place the Marxist ideologies, the very basis of the party, second on his agenda.

Lenin’s role and influence within the Bolshevik party would be put to the test during the year of 1917; the year of highs and lows for the party that would finally see them claim leadership of Russia and set out on their revolutionary goals. The revolutionary year began with “International Women’s Day” in February; a large, peaceful gathering of women calling for “peace” (regarding WW1) that suddenly overnight turned into a fanatical, remorseless display of violence that appears to have required government forces to use gunfire to disperse; however the event got worse when 80,000 soldiers mutinied and mercilessly engaged in widespread looting23 ; disloyal soldiers of which would aid Lenin and the Bolsheviks in future attempts at revolution. In March came the historical and noble abdication of the Tsar after pressure from the Duma, resulting in the creation of a provisional government that would prove to be a disappointment to the Russian people. Instead of withdrawing from the war and focusing on improving Russia, the new government chose to place even more attention on the countries war efforts; in these circumstances, it would be right to assume that a sense of regret soon set about the Russian people. In April, Germany would seal Russia’s fate by placing Lenin, and a number of other revolutionaries, on a sealed and guarded train that would transport them to Russia. This was a desperate bid to destabilise Russia, and force it out of WW124 ; however ultimately they also significantly aided in the creation of successive bloody leaderships that would haunt Russia and its people for decades. Hardly off the train, Lenin asked the Party comrades, ‘Why didn’t you seize power??’ And at once he comes out with his April Thesis...he is called mad and delirious25 . His April Thesis called for “Peace, Land and Bread”, the statement that publically established a basic understanding of the party’s intentions that proved to be very powerful and acceptable message amongst the Russian people, especially due to the fact that the people were already unhappy with their new government and the Bolsheviks were the only political party willing to pull out of the war, making it central to any opposition to the government. The former referenced quotation clearly demonstrates Lenin’s radical, extreme and self-absorbed nature, and in particular displays his tremendous desire for power. This and possibly even Lenin’s brutality are further displayed in the seemingly immediate instigation of large, violent street demonstrations in an attempt to gain power, however all fail. This notion is again displayed in the July Putsch, where Lenin and the Bolsheviks cold-heartedly exploited the soldier’s discontent and willingness for peace by persuading them to help take over the Petrograd Soviet by force. Again, this attempt at revolution failed miserably; frontline soldiers quickly restored order and many Bolshevik leaders were rightfully arrested, seriously damaging the party’s credibility26 .

A man of great significance who gained much exposure during this time was Alexander Kerensky, who went from acting as a liaison between parties within the Duma, to Minister of Justice, to Minister of War and then finally eventuated as the Prime Minister. He was in theory the Duma’s last opportunity to remain in power, and in turn was also the greatest opposition to the Bolsheviks and their plans. However, surprisingly Kerensky would help the Bolsheviks more than he would hinder them. In June of 1917, it was Kerensky who ordered the army to undertake a new offensive along the Austrian front; a decision that resulted in a humiliating defeat for Russia. It was the anger and discontent that stemmed from this that the Lenin and the Bolsheviks were able to exploit and pursue with the July Putsch27 . Kerensky would “help” the Bolsheviks again during the time of the Kornoliv Affair; where Kerensky became involved in vicious debates and confusion regarding Russia’s future leadership. Fearing a military coup, Kerensky sought aid from the Bolsheviks; an act that irreparably damaged Kerensky’s reputation, and allowed the Bolsheviks to significantly build up their weaponry, which would prove to be great preparation for the October Revolution ahead, and in turn significantly aided in the creation of successive bloody regimes in the near future.

When October came, an argument was brewing within the Bolshevik Party as to whether or not they should seize power at the end of the month; with Lenin wanting to seize power as soon as possible, while others cautiously wanted to wait. Zinoviev and Kamenev, respected and leading Bolsheviks, sent an urgent letter opposing the uprising; “To call at present for an armed uprising means to stake on one card not only the fate of our party, but also the fate of the Russian...revolution”. However, Lenin, being radical, extreme and self absorbed, fiercely insisted for Revolution at the end of October in a letter to the other Bolshevik leaders;

              “The situation is extremely critical. Delaying the uprising now really means death...We must at any price [this month], arrest the Ministers, having disarmed the military cadets etc. We must not wait! We may lose everything!... The government is tottering! We must deal it the death blow at any cost!”
Lenin’s sheer desire for power and a brutal manner in doing so are both demonstrated here, and on October 25th these desires would become reality. By the early hours of this morning, armed Bolshevik battalions had already ruthlessly seized key areas of Petrograd, such as train stations and banks, and at nightfall, a deadly cannon was used to signal the Bolshevik’s armed insurgents to storm the Winter Palace in what was intended to be a violent showdown, but instead it would seem those inside were so petrified they put up little resistance28 . Lenin and the Bolsheviks successfully overthrew the Provisional Government, and did so consistent with the pre-revolution ideology of the party; the coup was carried out by a small group of organized revolutionaries. These revolutionaries were led by Trotsky, with the advantageous support of the brutal Red Guard and the soldiers that mutinied under the Tsar and provisional government. However, while their actions in the city were highly organized, a stark contrast was displayed in the outlying districts with chaos and lack of communication within the party evident. It is also important to note the lack of discipline in the Bolshevik party, in which its leader, Lenin, consciously disobeyed instructions to stay in hiding until after the coup; an action that once again reflects his radical and self absorbed nature. From this day the Bolsheviks leadership of Russia was able to come into place under Lenin, and it would seem that almost immediately the violence that was intended to consolidate the party’s power during the October 25th revolution would instead be swept amongst the innocent Russian people; and it was from this day that Lenin was able to go to work creating what was to be a state of misfortune within Russia.

In the months after revolution, Lenin and the Bolsheviks diligently worked to bring about their message of “peace”, and in doing so they signed the Brest-Litovsk Treaty which effectively pulled Russia out of WW1; an act that was unthinkable by both the Tsar and provisional governments and for good reason too. By pulling out of WW1 via such treaty, Lenin caused Russia to suffer immensely as the country’s borders were changed greatly due to vast territorial losses, which included the handover of civilians, which included important tax payers, and some of Russia’s most significant new industry29 .  What Lenin clearly thought was a small price to pay for peace had the potential to devastate Russia’s vital growth up until this point; a fate that was almost certain just months later when the party that promised to take Russia out of war plunged the country into one again with the coming of Civil War in June 1918. The Bolshevik party had never had majority support, evident in the fact that they lost their own nationwide elections the month after the October Revolution30 , and now their opponents, the majority, came against them in force from many different directions spanning all over the country. Their opponents united and were known as the White Army, which included internal threats such as the Mensheviks, and foreign intervention by Great Britain, France and the USA. The White Army hoped to crush the “temporary madness” of the Bolsheviks and bring Russia back into the First World War, where both the Tsar and provisional government thought Russia’s presence was absolutely necessary. Russia turned into a battleground. People were rationed, geared towards war [once again]..it was one world, communism, verses the rest...Russia was almost entirely taken over31 . The Bolsheviks, or Communist Party as they were now known, faced almost unbeatable odds, and by introducing military conscription the month before the Civil War, they ensured the Russian people faced these odds too.

However this conscription was not extremely effective until Lenin introduced a morale building campaign, in which the parties propaganda efforts were put into overdrive, where they took control of all media and preached anti-west and anti-capitalistic ideas to the Russian people. This resulted in a massive surge in recruitment, where recruits grew in their thousands and died in their thousands, which ultimately allowed the now Communist Party to take the upper hand32 . Eventually the White Army was crushed, and the war was officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Riga, where Lenin sacrificed even more land in what he saw as another small sacrifice for peace. But at the conclusion of the war, images of peace were difficult to find as the country had been reduced to nothing; in which 3,000,000 people were homeless as the Russian people scratched for survival33 . The nation had to be almost completely rebuilt from its foundations; the only working piece of machinery left was a captured British tank.34 Even the Communist Party’s own newspaper expressed an extremely bleak outlook on the crisis, with the Pravda reporting: The workers of the towns and some of the villages choke in the throes of hunger. The railways barely crawl. The houses are crumbling. The towns are full of refuse. Epidemics spread and death strikes -- industry is ruined.35 With this image in mind, Russia could only be rebuilt by hand, and even this would prove to be strenuous as the country’s population, and in turn manpower, also took a tremendous blow. From the time Russia entered WW1 up until the conclusion of the Civil War, 20 million Russians had lost their lives due to the terrors of war36 . It is estimated that 15 million of these lives were lost during the Communist Party’s Civil War37 ; a figure that belittles the 5 million that died under the Tsar and provisional government. The Communist Party had managed to allow 3x as much war deaths to occur in a shorter time span than those of the Tsar’s causalities, which accentuates the idea that the Communist Party were extremely unorganized, and their inability to govern, let alone efficiently control their armed forces, was also highlighted during this time. Within months of taking power, the Communist Party had already impaired their pre-revolutionary promise of “peace, land and bread”; in fact they seem to have done the complete opposite. Lenin’s radical and self absorbed nature had forced the party into a set of circumstances that they were simply not ready for; pre-revolution, Lenin isolated the Bolshevik party by ignorantly refusing to cooperate with ideas of other groups, as demonstrated in the tiff that caused the split of the MRSDP in 1903, which placed them in a weak position after the October Revolution and ultimately provided the opportunity for his opposition to induce Civil War months later. Lenin’s decisions broke up families and destroyed livelihoods due to vast land loss and countless loss of life, and crippled Russia to an almost irreparable state forcing millions to scratch for survival. Within months of coming to power, Lenin had already reduced Russia to a state of misfortune.

Although the Communist Party had consolidated their power using brutal force in the Civil War, the party that now officially spoke for the people had never had majority support, and now had to fight for survival once more by implementing certain political measures to avoid suffering another counter revolution. Taking no chances, Lenin created a one-party state, in which the Communist Party ruled through fear and intimidation. This one party state was established by dissolving the Constituent Assembly in January of 1918, and further enforced soon later by declaring opposing political parties illegal. Ultimately the Russian people had been silenced; under the Tsar the Russian people had a political voice through the state Duma which proved to be very powerful in 1918 with the Tsar’s abdication, however now there was absolutely no political, or legal, platform from which the people could oppose the government. In fact, in 1921 opposition was also silenced within the Communist party itself with the banning of all factions that existed within it, and soon after the Kronstadt uprising was used as an excuse to exile, imprison or execute any remaining suspected anarchists38 . Fear and intimidation was used to try and ensure no opposition was pursued in any other form either, with the government’s main instrument in this area being the Cheka - the secret police. During the Civil War alone, the Cheka managed to execute a colossal 250,000 civilians who opposed the revolutionary government39 , compared to only 14,000 killed by the Tsarist equivalent, the Okhrana40 . One of the most notable uses of the Cheka was during the time of the “Red Terror”, where a brutal crackdown occurred on all opposition, including those apart of the wrong class such as wealthy peasants and “kulaks”, after an assassination attempt on Lenin’s life, resulting in thousands being massacred. One of the most infamous of killings that Lenin initiated was in 1918, when he directed the Cheka to kill the entire Tsar family; even those members who had little or no role in governing whatsoever – such as children. Killing the entire Tsar family ensured that no member could claim the throne ever again, and killing them within months of obtaining power accentuates Lenin’s desperation for absolute consolidation of power.

Use of such terror was in direct contrast with the teachings of Karl Marx, the Communist party’s accepted set of ideologies. However, Lenin clearly thought such brutal measures were vital in ensuring the survival of the revolution. It was this method of governing that impaired Lenin’s implementation of socialism, as he constantly placed ideology second to consolidating power and strengthening the state; a method which many communists disagreed with. Lastly, Lenin increased his party’s power and efficiency by centralising the government, evident in the renaming of the Soviet state in 1922 as the USSR. This new centralised government possessed immediate decision making abilities that allowed it to implement and pursue with policy at an alarming rate. Lenin had quickly created a government inhospitable to opposition; one that would ensure no counter revolution would occur for decades. Dissent had been silenced in and outside the Communist Party, the Russian people were controlled through fear and intimidation as their government harnessed limitless power forcing them to bow down to any command; a state of misfortune for the Russian people that if opposed would result in almost certain death.  Worse – the authoritarian government Lenin created provided a perfect platform from which Stalin’s totalitarian dictatorship could be established, and the violent executions and other brutal measures to silence dissidents from within and outside the party made certain the logic behind Stalin’s purges and ruthless leadership was already in place; ensuring that much more misfortune was to overcome the Russian people in the future.

After coming to power in 1917, the Bolshevik Party inherited a dire economic situation that was greatly accentuated by the country’s participation in WW1. The only solution, in Lenin’s view, was to pull out of the war by signing the extremely harsh treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which would result in a loss of 32 percent of Russia’s agricultural land, 34 percent of its population and 54 percent of its industry.41 A number of Bolshevik members disagreed with Lenin’s idea, however when he threatened to resign over the issue all members suddenly agreed42 ; an act which further fortified Lenin’s leadership status and his crucial role in the revolution. As a result of Lenin’s self-absorbed decision, Russia’s economy sank even lower into dire straits. The coming of Civil War saw the economy sink even lower, and it was at this time that Lenin was attempting to turn capitalism into socialism, however due to the ever growing necessity to gain an upper hand in the war, this socialism inevitably transformed into “War Communism”; a clear and direct economic policy aimed at concluding the war as victors. The nationalisation of land and industry, direction of labour and abolition of private trade were included in this policy. It entailed the violent seizure of food from the peasantry after lacklustre attempts by the Bolsheviks to deal peacefully with them (paying them nothing or pittance), leading to an extreme drop in agricultural productivity throughout the country. When one of Russia’s worst droughts hit in 1921, it aggravated the issue to a natural disaster level, which when combined with the inattentiveness of the government at the time who recognized the problem too late, it resulted in over 5 million innocent lives being lost through famine43 . For comparison, the worst similar disaster (crop failure) in Tsarist Russia was in 1982, during a time of relative stability and only resulted in 400,000 deaths. The stark contrast between these two governments handling of the issue is staggering. It is believed that Lenin refused to acknowledge the problem, and in turn sent no aid, which increased the initial death toll dramatically.44 The ferocity of this famine, especially with no government aid, is evident in the international relief efforts that surrounded it, with aid coming from countries such as Britain and America, but worse, Lenin initially rejected this aid for his starving civilians which fed over 10 million people45 . By and large, Lenin engineered this famine and failed to take responsibility for it, which needlessly caused millions more innocent civilians to die almost immediately after the conclusion of an even bloodier event, the Civil War. The Civil War had already crippled Russia and a state of misfortune was already at hand; this seemingly careless act on behalf of Lenin appears to have been served only to intensify this morbid state, and cause even greater pain for the Russian people.

Whilst in such event the Communist Party did express their desire to control the Peasantry to their advantage, sending a clear message to Stalin that it was amongst the Communist ideals to do so, the party did seem to learn from their mistake of “war communism”, and quickly attempted to resolve it by implementing the New Economic Policy in its place in 1921. The NEP returned a degree of capitalism and private enterprise to the economy, along with the restoration of the currency. Under the NEP, the State owned the larger, key industries of the country including heavy industry, communications and transport, while it allowed businesses with less than 20 workers to be owned and run privately, from which the State would collect money through taxes. This idea goes against the ideologies of Marxism, and the party, as while private ownership of small business was allowed, private ownership of key industry and infrastructure was not, meaning that communal control of the means of production had not been fully realised as Marx had intended. Initially, the NEP proved wonders for both society and the economy. The discontent that had previously plagued the peasantry had now faded, and by late 1921 the government was able to provide “bread” to the general public without force46 . The NEP allowed farmers to make a profit from their work, while a certain percentage of it went to the government as tax. This accentuated the hard work of the farming community, and dramatically improved their relations with the government. The general public also received a morale boost, as shops, restaurants, cafes etc. opened up in all directions, providing them with a social life and a sense of freedom. In addition to this, the country’s buildings and infrastructure that was damaged during the war was now being rebuilt, and Russia was becoming more technologically advanced as Lenin seeked to electrify the country. Foreign trade also increased which improved relations with Western countries and saw western goods begin to enter the Russian market. By the mid-1920’s the economy had reached healthy 1913 levels47 . However, the NEP was far from a total success story, and in many cases this good life was short lived. While some peasants became quite rich buying up land and animals, the majority remained poor and continued to use backwards methods of farming which would ensure that they would get left behind in the technological revolution. Eventually many peasants stopped selling their produce as the money simply was not worth it; they could not afford the new manufactured goods that had flooded the market. Surprisingly, unemployment remained a serious problem too, and associated with this was a soaring crime rate.

Perhaps the worst aspect of the NEP was the growth of a class of rich businessmen; appropriately named the “NEPmen”. The introduction of this new class worked against the “classless society” ideology of Marxism, and infuriated many communists as it appeared to be a step back from communism/socialism and a step towards capitalism. They disliked the fact that the driving force for smaller industries was to make a profit, and that these NEPmen had the power to hire men to work for them; “it was all too much like the old days”. In particular, the idea that these NEPmen were making money out of the labour of others did not sit well with these angry communists, as it went against the communist idea that everyone should work their fair share. In fact, perhaps the only socialist ideas communicated through the NEP was when the government encouraged collective farming and the move away from private ownership, however predictably the Russian people ignored these ideas in favour of the profitable life that was also offered to them. Lenin was continuing to detract from communist principles in favour of consolidating power and strengthening the economy, an idea that was deliberate and evident when he said he was prepared to “let the peasants have their little bit of capitalism as long as we keep the power”.48 The further Lenin moved away from his party’s founding ideologies, more things would have to be fixed when it was time for true socialism to be realised, and in turn meant that any successes forming from these detachments from socialism would certainly be short-lived. Essentially this means that Lenin gave the NEPmen, and for some time many sections of the peasantry too, a great life that had already been set up to be ripped away from them when true socialism came into play. For those peasants who remained poor, a target was placed on their head as their backwards methods of farming made them unable to transition into true socialism efficiently, making them stand out as a group that needed to be “fixed”. Lenin may not have created a state of misfortune at this time, although many peasants did continue to live such life, and in fact he did some good by initiating the redevelopment of Russia, but instead he ensured that a state of misfortune would be had when true socialism, or a more socialist leader such as Stalin, came into play. It would be at this time that the Russian people’s, in particular that of the NEPmen, sense of security would be crushed, as Lenin’s detachments from socialism would be forcefully removed from the face of Russia.

Although Lenin and the Communist Party allowed the gaps in class to remain to a significant degree, what they did recognize was the education crisis that was present throughout the country, where 80% of the population, most notably the peasants, were illiterate.49 In an attempt to curb these figures, the Communist Party made sure all people received an education, even the peasants, by even going as far as sending young activists to the countryside to teach. However while education was a key aspect in such mission, so too was spreading propaganda, and in turn developing more loyalty and support from the Russian people. The extent to which this propaganda campaign was effective was amazing, establishing a sense of loyalty to Lenin previously thought of as unthinkable; “when Lenin said the country needed engineers, I thought it was my holy mission to do so”50 . At the same time, the Communist Party attempted to establish gender equality in Russian society, which also appears to have succeeded immensely; “I thought I was equal to any man”51 . Yet despite all the talk of equality, the state was still dictated by one man. But despite the fact that Lenin encouraged significant growth in social areas such as these, he once again detracted from his party’s ideologies in regards to religion. Marxist ideologies dictate religion as the exploitation of human ignorance and credulity52 , and in turn should be abolished within Marist states. However, the only true harsh measures taken against religion in Russia, in particular the Orthodox Church, were during the Civil War, but even then worship was permitted to continue most of the time. Lenin and the Communist Party even attempted to associate themselves with religion, by in one case attempting to spread communist ideas using parts of the Koran. Lenin’s decision to tolerate and not abolish religion was a direct violation of Marxist principles, and gave the Russian people, in particular those closely affiliated with religious institutions, a false sense of security that would be crushed when true socialism, or a more socialist leader such as Stalin, came into play. Lenin by no means created misfortune in this area at the time, however ensured that the powerful religious institutions within Russia, and their significant members, would be crushed under the Stalin regime who actually followed that all opposition must be outlawed under Marxism-Leninism.

Contrary to what many historians may think, the idea of forced labour, even militarisation of labour, within socialist Russia surfaced during Lenin’s reign, however due to the chaos associated with Civil War, and the detachment from socialism and relaxed nature of the New Economic Policy, the idea was never put to mainstream use. This is evident in the fact that unemployment rates remained a significant problem even under the NEP, which mainstream forced labour could have fixed;  a method that would ensure all members of the socialist society work their fair share. The ability for such measures surfaced in April 1918, where at a trade union congress Lenin pointed out “the necessity of recognising the dictatorial authority of single individuals for the purpose of carrying out the soviet idea”53 . Trotsky also declared that labour..obligatory for the whole country, compulsory for every worker is the basis of socialism and that its militarisation was no emergency measure.54 The same year Trotsky published his “War Communism and Terrorism”, in which he said The unions should discipline the workers and teach them to place the interests of production above their own needs and demands.55 Although these measures were never initiated in a mainstream manner, the opportunity for them to be was always a possibility, and as the centralised government had almost immediate decision making abilities, these measures too could have been implemented almost immediately. With that being said, Lenin not only gave himself the ability to instigate misfortune amongst the Russian people in such a way, he also gave the same opportunity to anyone that would succeed him. Stalin would be the first to harness such ability, in brutal ways that were possibly even unthinkable by Lenin at the time.

In the year of 1924, Lenin’s death left behind a legacy of pain and suffering; he not only repeatedly brought the Russian people into a state of misfortune, but also ensured that such misfortune would be seen again in unimaginable ways in the future, when his detachments from socialism would be fixed in brutal ways by an unsympathetic ruler. This ruler would be Stalin, however he was not Lenin’s preferred choice. Close to his death, Lenin did not trust Stalin at all, and in his testament expressed his sheer desire for Trotsky to take over leadership. Lenin even went to the extent of discussing with Trotsky the idea of purging Stalin and his followers56 ; this extreme action suggesting Lenin’s great concern for the future of his party, and potentially even the fate of the Russian people. However these ideas were put to rest when in late 1923 a final stroke rid Lenin of the power of speech, ensuring that nothing could be done to stop the even more radical Stalin from standing alone as leader of Russia by 1930.

It would seem that from the moment Lenin died, Stalin manipulated and outmanoeuvred his opposition within the Communist Party until his supremacy amongst the leadership in 1928, and almost absolute leader of the country after Trotsky’s exile a year later and the beginning of the implementation of his Five Year Plans. Stalin gained some popular appeal by presenting himself as a “man of the people”, and his policy of building “Socialism In One Country” was viewed as a remedy for the devastation left after the wars57 . However for the Russian people, Stalin’s sheer determination to implement true socialism after so many detachments under Lenin would lead to brutal consequences. The dictatorial powers attained by the authoritarian government that Lenin had created allowed Stalin to establish a totalitarian dictatorship, in which he only ever elected those devoted to his own beliefs and goals, giving the impression that the entire nation supports him. From this pedestal Stalin could impact all areas of society, and put to use heavy propaganda to not only mould peoples thoughts regarding his policies, but also their thoughts on himself which developed what is known as the “cult of the great leader” that presented Stalin as a father of the nation; “For us, Stalin was an idol”58 . Like Lenin, Stalin also ruled through fear and intimidation, which he intensified by putting on “show trials” in which people would be publically persecuted, usually for crimes they didn’t even commit, and were heavily propaganda. Obedience was further enforced through the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police that was responsible for political repression throughout the leaders reign. Between 1936-38, Stalin used his secret police to purge what would seem as much opposition as possible, both those who opposed him from within the Communist Party and those who opposed or blocked his plans from outside the party. Within the party, each member knew that no one was safe, Stalin signed death warrant after death warrant...the Secret police interrogated people and forced them to write down names of people who were almost always innocent59 . This radical and extreme “better be safe than sorry” attitude cost the lives of hundreds of thousands, or possibly even millions of people, with official Soviet records stating that during 1937-38, 681,692 people were executed – averaging 1,000 brutal executions a day60 (in contrast to only 250,000 by the Cheka during the entire civil war). By the end of 1938, Stalin would be the only original member of the leading 6 Bolsheviks who instigated the October revolution to survive61 ; which meant official absolute power over Russia. Not only did the Great Purge, as it is now called, complete consolidation of Stalin’s power, it also appears to have terrified the Russian people into unconditionally accepting Stalin as leader; after one of Stalin’s speeches in 1937, clapping went on for a long time because no one wanted to be seen as the first to stop clapping62 . On the whole, Lenin had created a platform from which Stalin was able to attain immense power by establishing a totalitarian leadership, from which he terrified both his party and the Russian population into undying support, allowing him free reign of the country. In particular, Stalin intensified Lenin’s logic of persecuting opposition to fanatical and extreme levels; killing what seems are countless amounts of innocent people, creating a society where no one, not even those closest to Lenin, would dare oppose, or disappoint their leader in constant fear of death– truly an extremely morbid, misfortunate existence.

Almost immediately after gaining almost absolute power in 1928, Stalin began the introduction of his 5-year plans to replace Lenin’s New Economic Plan that severely detracted from socialism. A major aspect of these plans was the collectivization of agriculture, in which the government outlawed private farming because Stalin saw their backward methods of farming as inefficient and a burden on the country63 . Instead of private farming, government forces uprooted and marched 15,000,000 peasants at gun point across the country to inhospitable regions where they were expected to farm on large mechanized farms. 64 This was intended to increase agricultural output, to bring the peasantry under more direct control and to make sure tax collection was correct and efficient. It was no longer possible for them to profit like they did under the NEP, evident in the fact that the kulaks or NEPmen resisted collectivization, knowing they could obtain more money on their own65 . When the collectivization output targets did not reach their estimates, Stalin blamed this on the resistance of the kulaks/NEPmen and decided to liquidate them in an attempt to achieve a classless society as Marxist ideology dictates66 . Over 3 million of the Kulaks, NEPmen and bourgeoisie were either brutally shot by the NKVD or died morbidly in prisons.67 In an act of defence, peasants killed their livestock and destroyed other things, resulting in an immense drop in production that plunged Russia into famine once again. Over 5 million people died directly from the famine, while thousands more died as a result of Stalin signing a policy to shoot anyone who attempts to steal food; “body collectors roamed the streets collecting corpses, and tipped the bodies in a hole regardless if they were already dead or still dying”.68 When these figures are combined, over 8 million innocent people died as a result of this crisis, in contrast to only 5 million dying in Lenin’s famine of 1921. Worse, many historians believe that the area of Ukraine was systematically denied humanitarian aid, and also accompanying the famine was the purging of the Ukraine Communist Party itself where at least 6,000 were executed by government forces69 . By and large, Lenin’s creation of the greedy Kulak and NEPmen class against socialist ideologies inevitably lead to their downfall when Stalin came to power, however it was Stalin himself who called for their brutal liquidation and once again plunged the innocent Russian people into famine where they were forced to suffer and starve under the rich, unsympathetic government. Like Lenin, Stalin chose not to help his people, however in contrast he continued to kill and purge his opposition when innocent civilians were dying around them, therefore intensifying the already misfortunate state which the Russian people had no choice but to unquestionably suffer.

At the same time as collectivization, Stalin’s 5 year plans were also rapidly industrializing and rebuilding Russia. Stalin imposed a vast and complex planned economy, in which every decision would be made centrally, rather than individually. It was through this system that rapid progress was able to be made, and used foreign experts such as British engineer Stephen Adams, to instruct workers and improve their industrial processes. However whilst it is agreed significant progress was made under Stalin, this progress did not come without great hardship. In 1933, the average workers earnings sank to about 1926 levels, and the project was financed almost entirely by Stalin’s government through restraining consumption on the part of an ordinary citizen to ensure that capital was re-invested into industry, and also from the wealth brutally extracted from the kulaks and NEPmen during their liquidation. Building and industrialization projects went out all over the country, which spread tens of thousands of workers across the nation; “we thought the whole economy was ours, that we were working for ourselves”70 . However eventually these projects grew larger and required more workers, which entailed the use of forced labour in order to keep the rapid growth going, where even the average citizen could find themselves alongside thousands of others living and working in appalling conditions. It would seem deadlines became more important than the workers themselves, who found themselves working in freezing conditions during the winter in order to get the job done on time;

          If we stopped working we would freeze to death...If a man wanted to relieve himself, he would take off his mitten and his hand would freeze, then he would take “it” out and “it” would freeze... many had to be amputated..there would be no medicine, the soldiers would simply get out their pliers and cut it off71
. Lenin and Trotsky sanctioned the use of forced labour and even its militarization in 1918, even going as far as expressing that it was in many ways essential to socialism. However, never did they use it in the manner that Stalin did. Stalin intensified these measures and made them mainstream, abusing them in order to fuel his rapid industrialization and building schemes. In the public eye Stalin expressed his unsympathetic nature to the Russian people, by forcing civilians to work in such horrendous conditions with no pay72 . In exchange for growth, Stalin placed many areas of Russian society into a state of misfortune, where the people were forced to work for their lives, sometimes repeatedly, and where the nations “father” truly expressed his feelings towards his “children” – they were figures; figures that would help create his massive, merciless empire.

Marxist-Leninism ideologies dictate that all opposition to the ruling party should be crushed, and in the era of Stalin what seemed like the only considerable opposition, thanks to Lenin, was religion. Religion, in particular its institutions, was the only thing at the time capable of placing itself above the country’s leader,  and when Stalin was already portraying himself as a god-like figure, clashes were inevitable to occur. Due to the amount of bloodshed, war and other distressing situations that occurred before, and during Stalin’s reign, religious institutions garnered increased strength and increased memberships. Their very presence in society was going against the teachings of Marx, who dictated that such institutions need to be removed. Stalin’s new government recognized these facts and almost immediately began its attacks on it. Continuous persecution during the 1930’s led to near extinction; by 1939 the number of active religious institutions numbered in the low hundreds (down from 54000 in 1917), churches had been levelled, and tens of thousands of priests, monks and nuns were persecuted and killed.73 Village priests were harassed and forced to publically denounce their faith; the priests said in public “there is no God, I have lied to you”.74 By ignoring his party’s ideologies, Lenin gave these religious institutions a false sense of security that allowed them to continue their growth within Russia, which ultimately allowed Stalin to persecute them on such a large scale and without difficulty; it appears they were caught off guard. Sure, Lenin could have instructed their persecution during his own reign, however it is impossible to know whether or not it would have been in such a brutal manner like Stalin. Stalin bloodily removed the Russian peoples last place for solace, hope and alternative ways of thinking; now their only legal God was one who had proved to be bloodthirsty and merciless; one that did not allow them a choice and one that made sure a wrongdoing had a vicious consequence – a state of misfortune that was truly inescapable.

Stalin’s regime would prove to be one of the bloodiest in history; famine and terror killed millions of people, and millions more found themselves exiled to Siberian prisons. However, the terrors, murders, and famines of the 1930s merely served to build on and intensify what Lenin had begun during the Revolution. Both men brutally liquidated the undesired classes; both brutally imprisoned executed their political enemies; both created large- scale famines. Lenin had prepared a dark and bloody path to Stalin's subsequent terrors, and as a result the Russian people were forced to suffer successive periods of grave misfortune; each of which was more intensified than the last. What remains unclear is what would have occurred if Lenin did not die so suddenly in 1924, would he have continued down the detached socialist path and possibly even began to reform as did the Tsar, or would he have in fact, eventually, pursued with the same horrors as Stalin when it came time for true socialism to come into place?


1 Wellis, Orsen. Ten Days That Shook The World [Video] Granada

2 Cameron, James Lenin – Men Of Our Time [Video] Granada

3 Ibid

4  Orsen, op.cit

5 Russian Society In The Nineteenth Century

6 Ibid

7 Ibid

8 Cameron, op.cit

9 Orsen, op.cit

10 Ibid

11 Jones, Andrew. SparkNote on The Russian Revolution (1917–1918). <http://www.sparknotes.com/history/european/russianrev>

12 Ibid

13 “1917 Russian Revolutions” < http://www.thecorner.org/hist/russia/revo1917.htm>

14 Jones, op.cit

15 “Vladimir Lenin” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Lenin>

16 Orsen, op.cit

17 “Vladimir Lenin”, op.cit

18 Orsen, op.cit

19 Ibid

20 “Bolshevik” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolshevik>

21 “Leon Trotsky” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Trotsky>

22 Morcombe and Fielding (1998) The Spirit of Change: Russia in Revolution

23 Jones, op.cit

24 Cameron, op.cit

25 V. Serge (1937) From Lenin To Stalin

26 Jones, op.cit

27 Ibid

28 Orsen, op.cit

29 Cameron, op.cit

30 Jones, op.cit

31 Cameron, op.cit

32 Ibid

33 Ibid

34 Ibid

35 “Russian Civil War” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Civil_War>

36 Andrew and Mitrokhin (1999) The Sword and the Shield

37 Ibid

38 “Did Lenin Lead To Stalin” <http://www.geocities.com/capitolhill/2419/lensta.html>

39 Andrew and Mitrokhin, op.cit

40 Stephen J Lee (1987) The European Dictatorships 1918-1945

41 Steve Phillips (2000) Lenin and the Russian Revolution

42 Ibid

43 “CBC News Indepth: Forces of nature – Tsunamis”  <http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/forcesofnature/natural-disasters.html>

44 Ibid

45 “Russian Famine Of 1921” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_famine_of_1921>

46 Jones, op.cit

47 Ibid

48 Lynch, Michael (2000) Reaction and Revolutions: Russia 1821-1824

49 Peoples Century – Red Flag 1917 [Video]

50 Ibid

51 Ibid

52 Rius (1976) Marx For Beginners

53 “Did Lenin Lead to Stalin”, op.cit

54 Ibid

55 Ibid

56 Jones, op.cit

57 “Stalin, Joseph – encyclopaedia article about Stalin, Joseph” <http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Stalin,+Joseph>

58 Peoples Century – Red Flag 1917, op.cit

59 Ibid

60 Pipes, Richard Communism: A History (Modern Library Chronicles)

61 “The Great Purge” < http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Great+Purge>

62 People’s Century – Red Flag 1917

63 Ibid

64 Jones, op.cit

65 “Stalin, Joseph – encyclopaedia article about Stalin, Joseph” op.cit

66 People’s Century – Red Flag 1917, op.cit

67 Ibid

68 Ibid

69 “Stalin, Joseph – encyclopaedia article about Stalin, Joseph”, op.cit

70 People’s Century – Red Flag 1917, op.cit

71 Ibid

72 Ibid

73 “Stalin, Joseph – encyclopaedia article about Stalin, Joseph” op.cit

74 People’s Century – Red Flag 1917, op.cit


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