The moment Lenin stepped into power, he knew what he wanted. All along, ever since the start, Lenin had wanted a Proletariat Revolution, which had been acheived, and then a Dictatorship of the Proletariat, in which he would rule on their behalf. His government would have complete power and the people would not have any opportunity to decide if they wished to be controlled by other parties. Marx had said in his writings that this was necessary to put down all opposition and put Communist reforms into place.
All political parties had been banned and party committees were set up all over to govern Russia. The most important committee was the Central Committee, made up of 3 sub-committees called the Orgburo, the Politburo and the Secretariat. When Lenin promised that a Consituent Assembly would be formed, he fulfilled his promise by holding elections immediately. However, it met only once and was disbanded shortly after.
The Bolsheviks had a secret police known as the Cheka. A Polish-born Communist by the name of Felix Dzerzhinsky was appointed the head of the Cheka. Their job was similar to that of the Okhrana, to hunt down opponents and critics of the Bolsheviks. These people were arrested, jailed, tortured and killed. The Cheka attacked many groups, including the Liberals, the Mensheviks and the SRs.
The Russian Civil War
The Civil War occurred from 1918-1921. After a few months of victory in the revolution, the Bolsheviks were faced with a new threat...power from within Russia itself. These included Tsarists, Liberals, SRs and Mensheviks. They formed a large group that they called the White Army.
Causes of the Civil War
The Whites hated the Bolsheviks, as they could see how the Bolsheviks were so successful and victorious in theuir revolutionary activities and how they now had power to control Russia. They hated the Bolsheviks for this. The Whites, however, all had different political purposes and ideals, thus making them disunited and less effective. The Reds were organised and united for the cause to keep the Bolsheviks in power.
Foreign countries like France, Britain, Japan, the USA and Poland got involved in the war for many different reasons.
(i) At first, many countries got involved because they hoped a new government would aid them in the war against Germany. Even though Germany was defeated later on, they continued intervention, showing that this was not a very major reason.
(ii) A more major reason was probably their fear and hatred of the Bolsheviks as they anticipated the spread of Communism into Europe if they were allowed to carry on, maybe even thoughout the world. They hoped that defeating the Reds would halt this spread.
(iii) For Poland, they wished to regain some former lands that Russia had taken from them previously.
(iv) Russia's former allies in World War I had provided them with military supplies, stored in the northern ports of Murmansk and Archangel. They were anxious to retrieve it and not let it be used by the Communist Bolsheviks.
(v) The French were annoyed as the Bolsheviks refused to pay foreign debts left behind by the Tsar's government when he borrowed money to finance the war.
Course of the Civil War
Reasons for Bolshevik Victory
Trotsky was probably one of the most important reasons why the Bolsheviks won. He had tremendous military skill and leadership. He was in charge of the Red Army and he worked hard to build up into a strong and skilful military force. By reintroducing conscription to provide more manpower, and making use of experts from the Tsar's army, he helped the Red Army achieve so much.
Another reason was the strategic location of the Bolshevik headquarters. They controlled central Russia, which made it easier for them to organise and coordinate their defence. The Whites, on the other hand, were spread all over and it was difficult to coordinate and communicate due to the long distances.
The Bolsheviks were much more committed to their cause of the Red victory than the Whites were. Not only were they fighting for the Communist cause, they were also defending the newly-established Communist state. However, the Whites, who were not originally from one cause, had divided loyalties. They often quarreled amongst themselves and could not defeat the Bolsheviks decisively.
The Whites had the support of the foreign powers such as France and Britain. On the other hand, the Bolsheviks presented themselves as an extremely patriotic nationalist cause, fighting for the rights of Russia. The Whites were thus very unpopular due to their foreign links.
The Bolsheviks had a lot of support from the peasants, much more than the Whites had. This was because the Whites treated the peasants very harshly in the areas they controlled. Furthermore, they had close ties with the old aristocracy, which led to even more hatred.
The most important economic reason was Lenin's implementation of war communism. His plan was very important as it ensured that the military received its necessary supplies on time.
Lenin's political leadership was, of course, a very important reason. His decision to introduce war communism was one of the most critical to the Red Army victory. In contrast, the Whites had ineffective and weak leadership provided by the different leaders of varied beliefs and ideals.
Lenin hoped to move gradually into Communism through economic reforms. The Civil War increased the need for this to be implemented, as the soldiers needed food and other supplies. The peasants also had to supply the Red Army with food to continue fighting. The Reds needed clothes and other equipment if they wanted to win the war. As such, Lenin made the critical and crucial decision to introduce a great economic programme to help the Bolsheviks win the war. This programme was known as War Communism.
War Communism in terms of Agriculture
Communism was implemented in terms of agriculture in 1917, to supply the soldiers with enough food later on. The first measures of peasant land seizure were put in place, followed by nationalisation of all land - meaning the state now owned the land. However, it was put under the peasants' control, basically meaning that they had the use of the land and they could do whatever they liked with it.
Insufficient grain was reaching the cities for certain reasons, so the government introduced grain requisitioning. Excess food (as deemed by the government) was seized, often with Cheka support. THe government paid a very low price for this grain and there was, of course, widespread resistance to this. Most peasants would rather burn their crops and kill their livestock than hand them over to the Cheka. However, being found out would mean terrible consequences for the offenders. This resulted in an acute shortage of food and a great famine in 1920 and 1921 respectively. About 7.5 million Russians died from starvation and disease during the civil war.
War Communism in terms of Industry
All large-scale businesses were nationalised too, and without compensation. This was extended to all businesses with ten or more people by the end of 1918. In conjunction with communism, all private trade was abolished. The government controlled the people's food with ration cards and the workers were paid through food rations. The workers were directed where to work and strikes were made illegal.
Although the industries did function and the Red Army was supplied, industrial production declined. Starving workers went into the countryside to look for food and the distribution and trasnportation system was in such bad shape that the extra strain put on them by the civil wars caused them to collapse almost completely. Factories had to close down as raw materials were not reaching them on time and fuel was in short supply. There had been many illegal strikes by the time the civil war ended, as workers had become increasingly dissatisfied with War Communism.
Impact of War Communism
Although War Communism helped the Bolsheviks to win the civil war, it was a VERY unsuccessful economic programme, which caused the near-collapse of the Russian economy in 1921. There was a lot of resentment among the peasants and the workers, as can be seen from the numerous large-scale uprisings and riots in the coutryside and towns.
War communism had introduced the people to two key features of the Communist state: nationalisation of land and businesses, and government planning and control of the economy. However, it was clearly evident that the plan was not working, so Lenin dropped War Communism in 1921 and instead adopted the New Economic Policy (or NEP).
Lenin's NEP was implemented to rebuild the Russian economy. Basically, some old capitalist forms of trading were reintroduced. Private ownership of smaller industries was permitted, but communism in the form of government control over industries such as banking and power supplies was still present.
The NEP was quite a success until the 1920s, when Lenin died. His successor decided not to continue with the NEP after that.
Events that led to the Revolution
Stalin vs. Trotsky