The Rise of Communism in RussiaUnless we accept the claim that Lenin’s coup gave birthto an entirely new state, and indeed to a new era in the history ofmankind, we must recognize in today’s Soviet Union the old empire of theRussians — the only empire that survived into the mid 1980’s? (Luttwak,1). In their Communist Manifesto of 1848, Karl Marx and FriedrichEngels applied the term communism to a final stage of socialism in whichall class differences would disappear and humankind would live inharmony. Marx and Engels claimed to have discovered a scientificapproach to socialism based on the laws of history.
They declared thatthe course of history was determined by the clash of opposing forcesrooted in the economic system and the ownership of property. Just asthe feudal system had given way to capitalism, so in time capitalismwould give way to socialism. The class struggle of the future would bebetween the bourgeoisie, who were the capitalist employers, and theproletariat, who were the workers. The struggle would end, according toMarx, in the socialist revolution and the attainment of full communism(Groiler’s Encyclopedia). Socialism, of which ?Marxism-Leninism? is a takeoff, originatedin the West. Designed in France and Germany, it was brought into Russiain the middle of the nineteenth century and promptly attracted supportamong the country’s educated, public-minded elite, who at that time werecalled intelligentsia (Pipes, 21).
After Revolution broke out overEurope in 1848 the modern working class appeared on the scene as a majorhistorical force. However, Russia remained out of the changes thatEurope was experiencing. As a socialist movement and inclination, theRussian Social-Democratic Party continued the traditions of all theRussian Revolutions of the past, with the goal of conquering politicalfreedom (Daniels 7). As early as 1894, when he was twenty-four, Lenin had become arevolutionary agitator and a convinced Marxist.
He exhibited his newfaith and his polemical talents in a diatribe of that year against thepeasant-oriented socialism of the Populists led by N. K. Mikhiaiovsky(Wren, 3). While Marxism had been winning adherents among the Russianrevolutionary intelligentsia for more than a decade previously, aclaimed Marxist party was bit organized until 1898. In that year a?congress? of nine men met at Minsk to proclaim the establishment of theRussian Social Democratic Worker’s Party. The Manifesto issued in thename of the congress after the police broke it up was drawn up by theeconomist Peter Struve, a member of the moderate ?legal Marxist? groupwho soon afterward left the Marxist movement altogether.
The manifestois indicative of the way Marxism was applied to Russian conditions, andof the special role for the proletariat (Pipes, 11). The first true congress of the Russian Social DemocraticWorkers’ Party was the Second. It convened in Brussels in the summer of1903, but was forced by the interference of the Belgian authorities tomove to London, where the proceedings were concluded. The SecondCongress was the occasion for bitter wrangling among the representativesof various Russian Marxist Factions, and ended in a deep split that wasmainly caused by Lenin — his personality, his drive for power in themovement, and his ?hard? philosophy of the disciplined partyorganization. At the close of the congress Lenin commanded a temporarymajority for his faction and seized upon the label ?Bolshevik? (Russianfor Majority), while his opponents who inclined to the ?soft? or moredemocratic position became known as the ?Mensheviks? or minority(Daniels, 19). Though born only in 1879, Trotsky had gained a leading placeamong the Russian Social-Democrats by the time of the Second partyCongress in 1903.
He represented ultra-radical sentiment that could notreconcile itself to Lenin’s stress on the party organization. Trotskystayed with the Menshevik faction until he joined Lenin in 1917. Fromthat point on, he acomidated himself in large measure to Lenin’sphilosophy of party dictatorship, but his reservations came to thesurface again in the years after his fall from power (Stoessinger, 13). In the months after the Second Congress of the Social DemocraticParty Lenin lost his majority and began organizing a rebellious group ofBolsheviks. This was to be in opposition of the new majority of thecongress, the Menshiviks, led by Trotsky. Twenty-two Bolsheviks,including Lenin, met in Geneva in August of 1904 to promote the idea ofthe highly disciplined party and to urge the reorganization of the wholeSocial-Democratic movement on Leninist lines (Stoessinger, 33).
The differences between Lenin and the Bogdanov group ofrevolutionary romantics came to its peak in 1909. Lenin denounced theotzovists, also known as the recallists, who wanted to recall theBolshevik deputies in the Duma, and the ultimatists who demanded thatthe deputies take a more radical stand — both for their philosophicalvagaries which he rejected as idealism, and for the utopian purism oftheir refusal to take tactical advantage of the Duma. The real issuewas Lenin’s control of the faction and the enforcement of his brand ofMarxist orthodoxy. Lenin demonstrated his grip of the Bolshevik factionat a meeting in Paris of the editors of the Bolsheviks’ factional paper,which had become the headquarters of the faction.
Bogdanov and hisfollowers were expelled from the Bolshevik faction, though they remainedwithin the Social-Democratic fold (Wren, 95). On March 8 of 1917 a severe food shortage cause riots inPetrograd. The crowds demanded food and the step down of Tsar. Whenthe troops were called in to disperse the crowds, they refused to firetheir weapons and joined in the rioting. The army generals reportedthat it would be pointless to send in any more troops, because theywould only join in with the other rioters.
The frustrated tsarresponded by stepping down from power, ending the 300-year-old Romanovdynasty (Farah, 580). With the tsar out of power, a new provisional government tookover made up of middle-class Duma representatives. Also rising to powerwas a rival government called the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ andSoldiers’ Deputies consisting of workers and peasants of socialist andrevolutionary groups. Other soviets formed in towns and villages allacross the country. All of the soviets worked to push a three-pointprogram which called for an immediate peas, the transfer of land topeasants, and control of factories to workers.
But the provisionalgovernment stood in conflict with the other smaller governments and thehardships of war hit the country. The provisional government was sobusy fighting the war that they neglected the social problems it faced,losing much needed support (Farah, 580). The Bolsheviks in Russia were confused and divided about how toregard the Provisional Government, but most of them, including Stalin,were inclined to accept it for the time being on condition that it workfor an end to the war. When Lenin reached Russia in April after hisfamous ?sealed car? trip across Germany, he quickly denounced hisBolshevik colleagues for failing to take a sufficiently revolutionarystand (Daniels, 88). In August of 1917, while Lenin was in hiding and the party hadbeen basically outlawed by the Provisional Government, the Bolsheviksmanaged to hold their first party congress since 1907 regardless. Themost significant part of the debate turned on the possibility forimmediate revolutionary action in Russia and the relation of this to theinternational upheaval.
The separation between the utopianinternationalists and the more practical Russia-oriented people wasalready apparent (Pipes, 127). The Bolsheviks’ hope of seizing power was hardly secret. Boldrefusal of the provisional Government was one of their major ideals. Three weeks before the revolt they decided to stage a demonstrativewalkout from the advisory assembly. When the walkout was staged,Trotsky denounced the Provisional Government for its allegedcounterrevolutionary objectives and called on the people of Russia tosupport the Bolsheviks (Daniels, 110).
On October 10 of 1917, Lenin made the decision to take power. Hecame secretly to Petrograd to try and disperse any hesitancies theBolshevik leadership had over his demand for armed revolt. Against theopposition of two of Lenin’s long-time lieutenants, Zinovieiv andKamenev, the Central Committee accepted Lenin’s resolution whichformally instructed the party organizations to prepare for the seizureof power. Finally, of October 25 the Bolshevik revolution took place tooverthrow the provisional government.
They did so through the agency ofthe Military-Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. Theyforcibly overthrew the provisional government by taking over all of thegovernment buildings, such as the post office, and big corporations,such as the power companies, the shipyard, the telephone company. Theendorsement of the coup was secured from the Second All-Russian Congressof Soviets, which was concurrently in session. This was known as the?October Revolution? (Luttwak, 74) Through this, control of Russia wasshifted to Lenin and the Bolsheviks. IN a quick series of decrees, the new ?soviet? governmentinstituted a number of sweeping reforms, some long overdue and somequite revolutionary.
They ranged from ?democratic? reforms, such as thedisestablishment of the church and equality for the national minorities,to the recognition of the peasants’ land seizures and to openlysocialist steps such as the nationalization of banks. The ProvisionalGovernment’s commitment to the war effort was denounced. Four decreeswere put into action. The first four from the Bolshevik RevolutionaryLegislation were a decree on peace, a decree on land, a decree on thesuppression of hostile newspapers, and a declaration of the rights ofthe peoples of Russia (Stossenger, 130). By early 1918 the Bolshevik critics individually made theirpeace with Lenin, and were accepted back into the party and governmentalleadership.
At the same time, the Left and Soviet administration thusacquired the exclusively Communist character which it has had eversince. The Left SR’s like the right SR’s and the Mensheviks, continuedto function in the soviets as a more or less legal opposition until theoutbreak of large-scale civil war in the middle of 1918. At that pointthe opposition parties took positions which were either equally vocal oropenly anti-Bolshevik, and one after another, they were suppressed. The Eastern Front had been relatively quiet during 1917, andshortly after the Bolshevik Revolution a temporary armstice was agreedupon. Peace negotiations were then begun at the Polish town ofBrest-Litovsk, behind the German lines.
In agreement with their earlieranti-imperialist line, the Bolshevik negotiators, headed by Trotsky,used the talks as a discussion for revolutionary propaganda, while mostof the party expected the eventual return of war in the name ofrevolution. Lenin startled his followers in January of 1918 byexplicitly demanding that the Soviet republic meet the German conditionsand conclude a formal peace in order to win what he regarded as anindispensable ?breathing spell,? instead of shallowly risking the futureof the revolution (Daniels, 135). Trotsky resigned as Foreign Commissar during the Brest-Litovskcrisis, but he was immediately appointed Commissar of Military Affairsand entrusted with the creation of a new Red Army to replace the oldRussian army which had dissolved during the revolution. Many Communistswanted to new military force to be built up on strictly revolutionaryprinciples, with guerrilla tactics, the election of officers, and theabolition of traditional discipline.
Trotsky set himself emphaticallyagainst this attitude and demanded an army organized in the conventionalway and employing ?military specialists? — experienced officers fromthe old army. Hostilities between the Communists and the Whites, who were thegroups opposed to the Bolsheviks, reached a decicive climax in 1919. Intervention by the allied powers on the side of the Whites almostbrought them victory. Facing the most serious White threat led byGeneral Denikin in Southern Russia, Lenin appealed to his followers fora supreme effort, and threatened ruthless repression of any oppositionbehind the lines. By early 1920 the principal White forces weredefeated (Wren, 151). For three years the rivalry went on with theWhites capturing areas and killing anyone suspected of Communistpractices.
Even though the Whites had more soldiers in their army, theywere not nearly as organized nor as efficient as the Reds, and thereforewere unable to rise up (Farah, 582). Police action by the Bolsheviks to combat political oppositioncommenced with the creation of the ?Cheka. ? Under the direction ofFelix Dzerzhinsky, the Cheka became the prototype of totalitarian secretpolice systems, enjoying at critical times the right the right ofunlimited arrest and summary execution of suspects and hostages. Theprinciple of such police surveillance over the political leanings of theSoviet population has remained in effect ever since, despite the varyingintensity of repression and the organizational changes of the police –from Cheka to GPU (The State Political Administration) to NKVD (People’sCommissariat of Internal Affairs) to MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs)to the now well-known KGB (Committee for State Security) (Pipes, 140).
Leninused his secret police in his plans to use terror toachieve his goals and as a political weapon against his enemies. Anyoneopposed to the communist state was arrested. Many socialists who hadbacked Lenin’s revolution at first now had second thoughts. To escapepunishment, they fled. By 1921 Lenin had strengthened his control andthe White armies and their allies had been defeated (Farah, 582).
Communism had now been established and Russia had become asocialist country. Russia was also given a new name: The Union of SovietSocialist Republics. This in theory meant that the means of productionwas in the hands of the state. The state, in turn, would build thefuture, classless society. But still, the power was in the hands of theparty (Farah, 583).
The next decade was ruled by a collectivedictatorship of the top party leaders. At the top level individualsstill spoke for themselves, and considerable freedom for factionalcontroversy remained despite the principles of unity laid down in 1921. Works CitedDaniels, Robert V. , A Documentary History of Communism. New York:Random House Publishing, 1960. Farah, Mounir, The Human Experience.
Columbus: Bell & Howess Co. ,1990. Luttwak, Edward N. , The Grand Strategy of the Soviet Union.
NewYork: St. Martin’s Press, 1983. Pipes, Richard, Survival is Not Enough. New York: S&S Publishing,1975. Stoessinger, John G.
, Nations in Darkness. Boston: Howard Books,1985. Wren, Christopher S. , The End of the Line. San Francisco:Blackhawk Publishing, 1988.