Crisis + Opportunism = Dictatorship. This equation sums up how Lenin took control of Russia in 1917. The 2 crises’ were World War I and The Civil War and Lenin had the opportunism. He seized the opportunity in the October Revolution to establish a dictatorship. But, although these were the important ingredients, Lenin still had to hold onto power. To consolidate his position he “turned Marxism on its head.” As said. Lenin himself said, “The vacillation of the petty bourgeoisie is no accident; it is inevitable, for it logically follows from their class stand. The war crisis has strengthened the economic and political factors that are impelling the petty bourgeoisie, including the peasantry, to the left.” This shows that Lenin himself agreed that the war was the crisis that helped him to power. Lenin modified his beliefs to help him consolidate his position, as J A Longley said, “Lenin was a practical revolutionary.” Meaning he wasn’t just a bloody revolutionary, he also used his brains to keep him in power.
The First World War, which was a chatasrophe for Russia, this created mutiny in the army and strikes, which altogether made everyone lose faith in the Tsar. On 15 March 1917, the Tsar abdicated and the Dumas Provisional Government took control. The Provisional Government promised its allies it would continue the war, one of the main reasons people lost faith in the Tsar. They tried to settle the country down, so they could allow free elections to take place and elect a permanent government. It was a very cautious approach for a country that had just participated in a revolution. Another factor was the Petrograd Soviet. The Provisional Government could take no decisive action without the support of the Soviet, as it had control of the railways and postal services. It had already set up military and food supplies commissions. It claimed to act on behalf of the workers’ and soldiers’.
While he was in Finland, Lenin had heard of the March Revolution. He was frustrated, as he knew this was a chance , but he also knew the allies would not let him pass through France. In the end the Germans allowed him and a small group of socialists to pass through Germany in a sealed train. This shows Lenin’s determination and how he used politics to his advantage to get what he needed. On the 3rd April, Lenin finally arrived in Petrograd. He spoke to the Social Democrats the next day and ordered there to be no co-operation with the Provisional Government at all. He remarked that Russia should “not be a parliamentary republic,… but a republic of Soviets of Workers’, Agricultural Labourers’ and Peasants’ Deputies throughout the whole country from top to bottom.” His persuasiveness, one of Lenin’s key attributes, won the party around, and he also kept an understanding, that the Soviets would only take over when the Bolsheviks had a majority in them. Another show of Lenin’s genius when it came to bargaining and persuading. However, after persuading his own party, other socialists still believed Lenin to be a madman. His plan had partly backfired, as he now put himself under isolation, his party only numbered 26,000 which was a large minority. In July 1917 riots broke out in Petrograd, but The Provisional Government used troops to end the riots and ordered Lenin’s arrest. However, Lenin used the influence he still had to escape back to Finland in disguise.
During Kornilovs putsch in September 1917, Kerensky was in an impossible situation. Kornilovs army looked like winning, and Kerensky had to choose to surrender or turn to the only people that could help him, The Bolsheviks, in the Petrograd Soviet. Kornilovs troops refused to fire on the Soviets and Kornilovs coup failed. But the Kerensky government was now doomed.
Lenin was now convinced that the time was right for a Bolshevik seizure of power. On 10th October Lenin secretly travelled to Petrograd and argued with 12 members of the Bolshevik committee that time was right. Opposition came from Kamanev and Zinoviev who were keen followers of Marx and argued that Russia was still at the beginning of the bourgeois stage in the Marxist sequence. This is where Lenin started modifying Marx to his own country. Marx was meant for Germany, Lenin adapted it to work for Russia. Lenin drove the rest of the to his view and found an ally in Trotsky. During the 6th November the Red Guards, led by Trotsky took control of post offices, bridges and the State Bank. Kerensky awoke to find the Bolsheviks in control of most of Petrograd. There was little opposition to the Red Army and they eventually stormed the Winter Palace, placing under arrest the ministers the Provisional Government. Lenin then announced, through the Petrograd Soviet, this statement, “The Provisional Government has been overthrown. The cause for which the people have fought has been made safe: the immediate proposal of a democratic peace the end of landowners rights, workers control over production, the creation of a Soviet Government. Long live the revolution of workers, soldiers and peasants.” In this announcement, Lenin shows his skill of telling the people that he is representing them. He speaks to the majority of the population, the people that now have the power and tells them he is their leader. The way in which the Bolsheviks had succeeded shocked many, but SJ Lee sums up how the revolution succeeded by saying, “Lenin was the overall planner of the revolution: he also dealt with internal decision within the party and provided tight control, a degree of discipline and unity which the other parties lacked.” Lenin promised the people what the wanted, and what the Provisional Government was not providing, “Bread, Peace and Land.” He also made the slogan “All land to the south.” Showing that he was the leader of the proletariat.
Lenin immediately set up the Council of Peoples Commissars, using the word Peoples cleverly. In the space of a month, a number of decrees were passed that aimed to strengthen the Bolsheviks grip on power. Lenin knew that if he did not deliver, the same fate would be waiting for him that had Kerensky. On 8th November, Russia asked for peace with Germany, bringing about the end of what Lenin knew had been the downfall of the Tsar and the Provisional Government. He gave the country peace. He also handed over any land belonging to the Tsar, Church and nobles to the peasants. Lenin’s stance on land disturbed many socialist groups, who stood for the end of private ownership, as Marx had said. But Lenin’s tactical manoeuvre, although upsetting some Socialists, gave the peasants what they wanted, it was a tactical manoeuvre, another case of Lenin adapting Marx to suit Russia and his situation. Many Bolsheviks believed that this would lead to a growth of Capitalist farmers who would become opposition, but Lenin knew he needed to keep in power, and was willing to do things gradually. On 12th November, Lenin and the Sovnarkom decreed that the working day was to be limited to 8 hours and he made new rules about overtime and holidays. This pleased another group he needed the support of, the workers. Then on 14th November he added to their pleasure by decreeing that Workers were to be insured against illness or accident. After he had begun to please the people he needed, Lenin began to bring terror and propaganda into his dictatorship.
On 1st December, Lenin banned all non-Bolshevik newspapers. This meant the only propaganda getting through to the people was his and he could dictate exactly what the people knew. It was his first step in creating a one party state. On 11th December, Lenin ordered that all leaders of the Cadets were to be arrested and that the party was banned, this got rid of his main opposition.
In December 1917 Lenin formed the Cheka. The ‘Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counter-Revolution and Sabotage’ was Lenin’s political police force. Its name says its purpose and it was given the brief of keeping the Bolsheviks in power using any methods. Its leader, Felix Dzerhinsky, stated that “We stand for organised terror – this should be frankly stated.” The Cheka used any methods it could to wipe out opposition to the Bolsheviks. In Poltova the Cheka impaled eighteen monks and burnt at the stake peasants who had rebelled. In Voronezh they placed the naked prisoner in barrels punctured with nails and then set it in motion and in Kharkov the Cheka scalped their prisoners and took the skin, like gloves, off their hands. This shows Lenin’s determination to stay in power. He was not afraid to use terror, or murder, to keep himself in power and wipe out every single opposition.
Lenin had promised free elections, and he had done all he could to try and gain support for the Bolsheviks. As promised, elections were held in late 1917. The Bolsheviks did not gain a majority in the elections, their rivals, the Social Revolutionaries, had gained 370 seats, the Bolsheviks had 175. When the assembly opened on the 18th January 1918, the Bolsheviks made up just under a quarter of the assembly. Lenin solved this problem in a typically direct style. He faced the problem full on and in order to get what he wanted, he sent the Red Guards in to close the assembly down. Instead, Lenin now used the Congress of Soviets as a puppet to pass his laws, Lenin believed he was establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat, which in time would give way to full communism.
Lenin now ordered Trotsky to go and make a peace with the Germans. This was presented as an honourable thing to do. In November 1917, Trotsky made his way to Brest-Litovsk, he stated, “The Russian Revolution will not bow its head before German imperialism…The Bolsheviks will sign only an honourable peace.” This was not true, Lenin stated, “All demands can and should be granted.” The peace that was eventually signed, was the most humiliating peace in Russia’s modern history. The treaty was signed on March 3rd. Russia had lost Ukraine, Finland, Poland and the Baltic’s. As Adam B. Ulam said, “Three centuries of Russian territorial expansion were undone.”
Part of Lenin’s eagerness to get out of the war was due to his feeling that the Whites, with the assistance of Allied powers, would make a move against him. This was proved true in the summer or 1918. Armed resistance to the Bolsheviks had occurred ever since the October Revolution, but had never gained the focus or publicity to gain any momentum. What brought the ‘Civil War’ to a beginning was a 40,000 strong Czech legion, who had fought on the side of the Russians to help get independence from Austria-Hungary. After the signing of The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, they found themselves isolated and attempted to rejoin the allies to help gain international support for the founding of a Czech state. The Soviets did not like this and they started to challenge the legion as it made its way through Russia. This encouraged all the other ‘White’ or ‘Green’ groups, to come out openly against Leninist rule. Many separate armies of resistance were formed across Russia. The many different political, regional and national loyalties across Russia made the Civil War a very complex war. Apart from the White armies ambition to overthrow Bolshevik rule, they fought as separate detachments and never bound together in a single aim. None of them would sacrifice their singular aims for a joint effort. Lenin decided to concentrate all his troops in western Russia instead of spreading, like the Whites. He kept Petrograd and Moscow, the admin. Centres of Russia, throughout the war. These were also the industrial centres, which meant the Whites could not stop the munitions supplies getting through to the Red Army. This was a clever military tactic by Lenin, he sacrificed bits of land as he knew he would get them back as long as he kept his places of importance.
Meanwhile, the Allies needed to try and get Russia back into the war, as Germany now could concentrate all its troops on the western front. In march 1918, after the signing of Brest-Litovsk, the allies took action and occupied Murmansk and Archangel in the White Sea. This was the beginning of a two year war during which armed contingents from many different countries occupied parts of European, central and far-eastern Russia. However, like the other White forces, no single aim united the foreign armies. Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the USA wanted each to protect their individual interests, such as debts and anti-Bolshevism. Czechoslovakia, Finland, Lithuania, Poland and Romania all wanted their own territorial independence. Most of the forces were as suspicious of each other as they were of the Bolsheviks and had their own rivalries. The armies never joined together to make a joint offensive, allowing the Red Army to take on one after the other and by the end of 1920 most of the foreign contingents had left Russia.
Lenin used the civil war as a huge piece of propaganda, he used the opportunity to present the party as the saviour of the nation, using the enemy as the ‘foreign usurpers.’ This countered what some people thought was cowardice in the treaty of Brest-Litovsk and proved to the people that the Bolsheviks would not give in. Lenin also used his victory as a starting point to winning back the faith of any party members who were not totally happy with the way he was adapting Marx.
During the civil war, Lenin adopted a realistic approach to attempting to spread Marx throughout Europe. He said, ‘Our foreign policy while we are alone and while the capitalist world is strong consists in our exploiting contradictions.’ He knew that he needed to consolidate his power in Russia before trying to spread communism to other countries, as many other Bolsheviks wanted. He knew revolution in many other countries was currently unattainable and the party needed to walk before it could run. Lenin played on the countries differences and he used Soviet policy towards the countries to keep them as apart as possible. The Civil War also helped Lenin gain support through his forces. Half a million new troops joined the Red Army during the war and this helped Lenin gain military obedience and loyalty.
During the Civil War Lenin had abandoned State Capitalism and had introduced many new economic policies, known as ‘War Communism.’ Although War Communism was an economic policy, it could also be seen as Terror, which we will see Lenin was not afraid to use. Lenin had judged that for the Bolsheviks to continue their rule, he needed to engage oppressive policies. Lenin used the Cheka to implement any of his policies, and they did this in a typically ruthless way, disposing of anyone who as much as thought against the Bolsheviks. Lenin now knew that with them, he had the power and the means of enforcing Bolshevism on the people, while still presenting it as their saviour. The Decree of Nationalisation in June 1918 brought nearly all the major industrial businesses in Russia under central government control, meaning Lenin had control over what went where, with priority going to the military. This also meant that supplies were not given to the industries not deemed essential. Many factors, such as inflation and lack of manpower, meant that although Lenin tightened his grip on industry, economic growth did not follow. For instance, in 1913 the industrial output of coal was 29million tons. In 1921 it had dropped to 8.9 million. The same could be said for just about every major industry. But the most important reason for War Communism was the terrible food shortages. Government control over agriculture was deemed a necessity to try and force the peasants to provide more food. The peasants had decided not to send their grain into the towns until the government had paid for it, this was deemed by Lenin to be a counter-revolutionary defiance, which made Lenin order an official sanctioning of violence if the peasants did not give the government what it wanted. Between 1918 and 1921 the government sent many representatives into the countryside to requisition food using what ever methods were needed. However the peasants realised that any surplus grain from what they needed would be confiscated and started producing only the bare minimum. This created, by 1921, a famine. The drastic fall in food production, caused by requisitioning, drought and war forced Lenin to respond against peasant rising by introducing the NEP at the tenth party congress in 1921.
The Civil War had helped Lenin introduce the 1 leader, 1 party state that he so desperately needed, in order to get what he wanted. He used any means possible in order to get this.
Both wars were of huge importance to Lenin and the Bolshevik party. Their revolution had come at a time of world war, which was the main factor in them coming to power. The civil war helped the consolidate power. They learned how to govern under the hardest conditions possible, and they succeeded in keeping power in a time of huge disruption and chaos. The revolution was born in war and the dictatorship was formed in war. The wars were the crises’ that Lenin needed to grab total power. Both the wars would have a great impact on the way Lenin took and consolidated total power.