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The Rise of Communism in Russia

“Unless we accept the claim that Lenin?s coup d?tat gave birth to an

entirely new state, and indeed to a new era in the history of mankind, we must

recognize in today?s Soviet Union the old empire of the Russians — the only

empire that survived into the mid 1980’s” (Luttwak, 1).

In their Communist Manifesto of 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

applied the term communism to a final stage of socialism in which all class

differences would disappear and humankind would live in harmony. Marx and

Engels claimed to have discovered a scientific approach to socialism based on

the laws of history. They declared that the course of history was determined

by the clash of opposing forces rooted in the economic system and the ownership

of property. Just as the feudal system had given way to capitalism, so in time

capitalism would give way to socialism. The class struggle of the future would

be between the bourgeoisie, who were the capitalist employers, and the

proletariat, who were the workers. The struggle would end, according to Marx,

in the socialist revolution and the attainment of full communism (Groiler’s

Encyclopedia).

Socialism, of which “Marxism-Leninism” is a takeoff, originated in the

West. Designed in France and Germany, it was brought into Russia in the middle

of the nineteenth century and promptly attracted support among the country’s

educated, public-minded elite, who at that time were called intelligentsia

(Pipes, 21). After Revolution broke out over Europe in 1848 the modern working

class appeared on the scene as a major historical force. However, Russia

remained out of the changes that Europe was experiencing. As a socialist

movement and inclination, the Russian Social-Democratic Party continued the

traditions of all the Russian Revolutions of the past, with the goal of

conquering political freedom (Daniels 7).

As early as 1894, when he was twenty-four, Lenin had become a

revolutionary agitator and a convinced Marxist. He exhibited his new faith and

his polemical talents in a diatribe of that year against the peasant-oriented

socialism of the Populists led by N.K. Mikhiaiovsky (Wren, 3).

While Marxism had been winning adherents among the Russian

revolutionary intelligentsia for more than a decade previously, a claimed

Marxist party was bit organized until 1898. In that year a “congress” of nine

men met at Minsk to proclaim the establishment of the Russian Social Democratic

Worker’s Party. The Manifesto issued in the name of the congress after the

police broke it up was drawn up by the economist Peter Struve, a member of the

moderate “legal Marxist” group who soon afterward left the Marxist movement

altogether. The manifesto is indicative of the way Marxism was applied to

Russian conditions, and of the special role for the proletariat (Pipes, 11).

The first true congress of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party

was the Second. It convened in Brussels in the summer of 1903, but was forced

by the interference of the Belgian authorities to move to London, where the

proceedings were concluded. The Second Congress was the occasion for bitter

wrangling among the representatives of various Russian Marxist Factions, and

ended in a deep split that was mainly caused by Lenin — his personality, his

drive for power in the movement, and his “hard” philosophy of the disciplined

party organization. At the close of the congress Lenin commanded a temporary

majority for his faction and seized upon the label “Bolshevik” (Russian for

Majority), while his opponents who inclined to the “soft” or more democratic

position became known as the “Mensheviks” or minority (Daniels, 19).

Though born only in 1879, Trotsky had gained a leading place among the

Russian Social-Democrats by the time of the Second party Congress in 1903. He

represented ultra-radical sentiment that could not reconcile itself to Lenin’s

stress on the party organization. Trotsky stayed with the Menshevik faction

until he joined Lenin in 1917. From that point on, he acomidated himself in

large measure to Lenin’s philosophy of party dictatorship, but his reservations

came to the surface again in the years after his fall from power (Stoessinger,

13).

In the months after the Second Congress of the Social Democratic Party

Lenin lost his majority and began organizing a rebellious group of Bolsheviks.

This was to be in opposition of the new majority of the congress, the

Menshiviks, led by Trotsky. Twenty-two Bolsheviks, including Lenin, met in

Geneva in August of 1904 to promote the idea of the highly disciplined party

and to urge the reorganization of the whole Social-Democratic movement on

Leninist lines (Stoessinger, 33).

The differences between Lenin and the Bogdanov group of revolutionary

romantics came to its peak in 1909. Lenin denounced the otzovists, also known

as the recallists, who wanted to recall the Bolshevik deputies in the Duma, and

the ultimatists who demanded that the deputies take a more radical stand –

both for their philosophical vagaries which he rejected as idealism, and for

the utopian purism of their refusal to take tactical advantage of the Duma.

The real issue was Lenin’s control of the faction and the enforcement of his

brand of Marxist orthodoxy. Lenin demonstrated his grip of the Bolshevik

faction at a meeting in Paris of the editors of the Bolsheviks’ factional paper,

which had become the headquarters of the faction. Bogdanov and his followers

were expelled from the Bolshevik faction, though they remained within the

Social-Democratic fold (Wren, 95).

On March 8 of 1917 a severe food shortage cause riots in Petrograd.

The crowds demanded food and the step down of Tsar. When the troops were

called in to disperse the crowds, they refused to fire their weapons and joined

in the rioting. The army generals reported that it would be pointless to send

in any more troops, because they would only join in with the other rioters.

The frustrated tsar responded by stepping down from power, ending the 300-year-

old Romanov dynasty (Farah, 580).

With the tsar out of power, a new provisional government took over made

up of middle-class Duma representatives. Also rising to power was a rival

government called the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies

consisting of workers and peasants of socialist and revolutionary groups.

Other soviets formed in towns and villages all across the country. All of the

soviets worked to push a three-point program which called for an immediate peas,

the transfer of land to peasants, and control of factories to workers. But the

provisional government stood in conflict with the other smaller governments and

the hardships of war hit the country. The provisional government was so busy

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 to regard

the Provisional Government, but most of them, including Stalin, were inclined

to accept it for the time being on condition that it work for an end to the war.

When Lenin reached Russia in April after his famous “sealed car” trip across

Germany, he quickly denounced his Bolshevik colleagues for failing to take a

sufficiently revolutionary stand (Daniels, 88).

In August of 1917, while Lenin was in hiding and the party had been

basically outlawed by the Provisional Government, the Bolsheviks managed to

hold their first party congress since 1907 regardless. The most significant

part of the debate turned on the possibility for immediate revolutionary action

in Russia and the relation of this to the international upheaval. The

separation between the utopian internationalists and the more practical Russia-

oriented people was already apparent (Pipes, 127).

The Bolsheviks’ hope of seizing power was hardly secret. Bold refusal

of the provisional Government was one of their major ideals. Three weeks

before the revolt they decided to stage a demonstrative walkout from the

advisory assembly. When the walkout was staged, Trotsky denounced the

Provisional Government for its alleged counterrevolutionary objectives and

called on the people of Russia to support the Bolsheviks (Daniels, 110).

On October 10 of 1917, Lenin made the decision to take power. He came

secretly to Petrograd to try and disperse any hesitancies the Bolshevik

leadership had over his demand for armed revolt. Against the opposition of two

of Lenin’s long-time lieutenants, Zinovieiv and Kamenev, the Central Committee

accepted Lenin’s resolution which formally instructed the party organizations

to prepare for the seizure of power.

Finally, of October 25 the Bolshevik revolution took place to overthrow

the provisional government. They did so through the agency of the Military-

Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. They forcibly overthrew the

provisional government by taking over all of the government buildings, such as

the post office, and big corporations, such as the power companies, the

shipyard, the telephone company. The endorsement of the coup was secured from

the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which was concurrently in session.

This was known as the “October Revolution” (Luttwak, 74) Through this, control

of Russia was shifted to Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

IN a quick series of decrees, the new “soviet” government instituted a

number of sweeping reforms, some long overdue and some quite revolutionary.

They ranged from “democratic” reforms, such as the disestablishment of the

church and equality for the national minorities, to the recognition of the

peasants’ land seizures and to openly socialist steps such as the

nationalization of banks. The Provisional Government’s commitment to the war

effort was denounced. Four decrees were put into action. The first four from

the Bolshevik Revolutionary Legislation were a decree on peace, a decree on

land, a decree on the suppression of hostile newspapers, and a declaration of

the rights of the peoples of Russia (Stossenger, 130).

By early 1918 the Bolshevik critics individually made their peace with

Lenin, and were accepted back into the party and governmental leadership. At

the same time, the Left and Soviet administration thus acquired the exclusively

Communist character which it has had ever since. The Left SR’s like the right

SR’s and the Mensheviks, continued to function in the soviets as a more or less

legal opposition until the outbreak of large-scale civil war in the middle of

1918. At that point the opposition parties took positions which were either

equally vocal or openly anti-Bolshevik, and one after another, they were

suppressed.

The Eastern Front had been relatively quiet during 1917, and shortly

after the Bolshevik Revolution a temporary armstice was agreed upon. Peace

negotiations were then begun at the Polish town of Brest-Litovsk, behind the

German lines. In agreement with their earlier anti-imperialist line, the

Bolshevik negotiators, headed by Trotsky, used the talks as a discussion for

revolutionary propaganda, while most of the party expected the eventual return

of war in the name of revolution. Lenin startled his followers in January of

1918 by explicitly demanding that the Soviet republic meet the German

conditions and conclude a formal peace in order to win what he regarded as an

indispensable “breathing spell,” instead of shallowly risking the future of the

revolution (Daniels, 135).

Trotsky resigned as Foreign Commissar during the Brest-Litovsk crisis,

but he was immediately appointed Commissar of Military Affairs and entrusted

with the creation of a new Red Army to replace the old Russian army which had

dissolved during the revolution. Many Communists wanted to new military force

to be built up on strictly revolutionary principles, with guerrilla tactics,

the election of officers, and the abolition of traditional discipline. Trotsky

set himself emphatically against this attitude and demanded an army organized

in the conventional way and employing “military specialists” — experienced

officers from the old army.

Hostilities between the Communists and the Whites, who were the groups

opposed to the Bolsheviks, reached a decicive climax in 1919. Intervention by

the allied powers on the side of the Whites almost brought them victory.

Facing the most serious White threat led by General Denikin in Southern Russia,

Lenin appealed to his followers for a supreme effort, and threatened ruthless

repression of any opposition behind the lines. By early 1920 the principal

White forces were defeated (Wren, 151). For three years the rivalry went on

with the Whites capturing areas and killing anyone suspected of Communist

practices. Even though the Whites had more soldiers in their army, they were

not nearly as organized nor as efficient as the Reds, and therefore were unable

to rise up (Farah, 582).

Police action by the Bolsheviks to combat political opposition

commenced with the creation of the “Cheka.” Under the direction of Felix

Dzerzhinsky, the Cheka became the prototype of totalitarian secret police

systems, enjoying at critical times the right the right of unlimited arrest and

summary execution of suspects and hostages. The principle of such police

surveillance over the political leanings of the Soviet population has remained

in effect ever since, despite the varying intensity of repression and the

organizational changes of the police — from Cheka to GPU (The State Political

Administration) to NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) to MVD

(Ministry of Internal Affairs) to the now well-known KGB (Committee for State

Security) (Pipes, 140).

Lenin used his secret police in his plans to use terror to achieve

his goals and as a political weapon against his enemies. Anyone opposed to the

communist state was arrested. Many socialists who had backed Lenin’s

revolution at first now had second thoughts. To escape punishment, they fled.

By 1921 Lenin had strengthened his control and the White armies and their

allies had been defeated (Farah, 582).

Communism had now been established and Russia had become a socialist

country. Russia was also given a new name: The Union of Soviet Socialist

Republics. This in theory meant that the means of production was in the hands

of the state. The state, in turn, would build the future, classless society.

But still, the power was in the hands of the party (Farah, 583). The next

decade was ruled by a collective dictatorship of the top party leaders. At the

top level individuals still spoke for themselves, and considerable freedom for

factional controversy remained despite the principles of unity laid down in

1921.

Works Cited

Daniels, 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. New

York: 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.


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