The Russian political scene in 1917


Few observers of the Russian political scene would have predicted the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917. Fewer still would have predicted that the Bolsheviks would actually hold onto power and put the tsarist empire back together as the USSR.The Bolsheviks were able to become the new rulers of the old tsarist empire through a combined effort by Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin of propaganda, force, and terror.

Throughout the summer of 1917, the Bolsheviks had appealed very effectively to the workers and soldiers of Petrograd, markedly increasing their popular support. By October the Bolsheviks had gained a fragile majority in the Petrograd Soviet. Once the Bolsheviks achieved the majority, Trotsky, a Lenin supporter, convinced the Petrograd Soviet to form a special military-revolutionary committee in October and to make him its leader. He then insisted that the Bolsheviks reduce their opposition to their coup by taking power in the name not of the Bolsheviks but of the more popular and democratic soviets. In November, militants from Trotsky's committee joined with Bolshevik soldiers to seize government buildings and pounce on members of the provisional government. Then at the congress of the soviets, the Bolshevik majority declared that all power had passed to the soviets and named Lenin head of the new government, thus marking the Bolshevik's seizure of power.

Lenin's rule was more focused on gaining support for the Bolsheviks and was able to do so through a massive propaganda campaign. By late 1917 democracy had given way to anarchy. In Lenin and Trotsky, the Bolsheviks had an utterly determined and truly superior leadership, which both the tsarist and provisional government lacked; by 1917 the Bolsheviks had succeeded in appealing to many soldiers and urban workers, people who were exhausted by war and eager for socialism, through their "peace, land and bread propaganda campaign. At the time the Bolsheviks rose to power, Russia was still involved in World War I. Lenin promised to end the very unpopular war and eventually did so with the Brest-Litvosk treaty. With peace, Lenin escaped the certain disaster of continued war and was able to pursue his goal of absolute political power for the Bolsheviks.

Lenin also distanced himself and the Bolsheviks from the unpopular old regimes by moving the capital back to Moscow and pursuing a propaganda campaign that focused on changing Russian culture and making communism not just a job, but a life style. During Lenin's reign, the definition of ethical was changed and redefined as anything that helps communism, the family was redefined, and there was creation of new Soviet lifestyle with new names, such as Ninel, Vladen, and Melor. He created a society where anything against the Bolsheviks was against the revolution. Everyone had to live, breathe and die for the party and be a communist at all hours of the day; communism became a way of life.

Once Lenin died in 1924, Stalin continued with spreading communism. Stalin's regime not only expanded Soviet state power, but he also carried out a crash program of forced industrialization and agricultural collectivization. Under his rule the Soviet state extended its capacity to rule over all regions of the country and in all aspects of social life. Under Stalin, the vast state hierarchies of military and police power were built up, together with factories, mines, power stations, highways, canals, and railroad lines; large numbers of schools, clinics, an cultural and scientific institutions were built; whole cities, like Magnitogorsk, were constructed and Moscow was remade. With collectivization and dekulakization Stalin was able to forcefully bring socialism to the countryside and to the rest of the empire. Collectivization was the forcible consolidation of individual peasant farms into large, state-controlled enterprises. Collectivization forced the Soviets not in the cities to communize. Dekulakization liquidated the kulaks, the "better-off peasants, as a class by stripping the kulaks of land and livestock. Dekulakization ridded the countryside of the peasant and fermented a class war.

Through the establishment of the Red Guard, the Cheka, and the Central Control Commission (TsKK), and concentration camps, Stalin created fear among the Soviet people and was able to silence any opposition. In August 1936 sixteen prominent Old Bolsheviks confessed to all manner of plots against Stalin in spectacular public trials in Moscow. In 1937 the secret police arrested a mass of lesser party officials and newer members, also torturing them and extracting more confessions for more show trials. In addition to the party faithful, union officials, managers, intellectuals, army officers, and countless ordinary citizens were struck down. These highly publicized purges sent a warning to the Soviet people that no one was secure and that everyone had to serve the party and its leader with redoubled devotion.

There were various obstacles the Bolsheviks faced at the time of the October Revolution and after their seizure of power, such as competition with other socialist parties and the growing sentiment of nationalism. There were three important socialist parties, the Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks, and the Socialist Revolutionaries competing for power in Russia after the February Revolution. Each socialist party had their own interpretation of Marxism. The Bolsheviks believed they had the right interpretation, and the only interpretation, for socialist revolution. However, Leninism differed from Marxism; the Bolshevik's social revolution was not the same as Marx's theoretical revolution. Russia was not industrialized, it was agrarian, and it was not a worker uprising, rather a peasant uprising due to want of food and land. And while Marx believed that the workers would get in touch with their class consciousness and realize they were being oppressed and would revolt on their own, Lenin believed workers needed to be taught how to revolt and needed a vanguard party to lead the revolt. Because Leninism differed from Marxism and the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries interpretations, Lenin renamed the Bolsheviks the Communists. By doing so he legitimized the Bolsheviks rule and discredited the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries as communists. Renaming the Bolsheviks, however, was not completely successful in ending the competition with the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks. After the first free elections in 1917, The Socialist Revolutionaries had a clear majority in the Constituent Assembly. So, Lenin permanently disbanded the Constituent Assembly in 1918 to ensure the Bolsheviks would maintain the majority in power.

Another obstacle to the newly formed USSR and communist rule was the rising sentiment of nationalism. At this time, anti-imperialist and nationalist movements were spreading throughout Europe, and once large empires were becoming small nation-states. Lenin was not completely against nationalism but he did not think that the USSR had the time for nationalism since it went against the Bolshevik's main task, to unite on a class level not a nationality level. In "Lenin on Colonial Revolts and Civil War in Imperialist Countries Lenin states "social revolution can occur only in an entire epoch in which the civil war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie in the advanced countries is joined with the whole number of revolutionary democratic and national-liberation movements in the backward and oppressed nations...because capitalism does not develop evenly (Lenin).

The USSR was an imperialist power (even if they did not call themselves one); however, appearing imperialist would cause anti-USSR sentiment in the Russian borderlands. The fifteen republics, or Russian borderlands, were rich in natural resources so, naturally, the USSR had an interest in them. The USSR needed a "legitimate reason to occupy the fifteen republics to prevent itself from appearing imperialist. Stalin claimed the USSR was "liberating the peoples in the Russian borderlands from the imperialists, but in fact they were stripping them of their natural resources. To prevent the USSR from appearing imperialist, Stalin established a policy of korenizatsiia, encouraged national languages, and encouraged nationalism in areas to the East, but only a nationalism that was under Soviet rule. He also created fear among the republics of imperialist rule to mislead the people in the Russian borderlands. He created a sense of urgency to spread communism by claiming that the USSR and Russian borderlands were surrounded by the "enemy and created a competition with capitalism and imperialism. In the article "Stalin on the Mutual Dependence of Central Russia and the Russian Borderlands Stalin stated that since Russia's borderlands, the fifteen republics, were rich in natural resources the imperialists would want to control them: "The so-called independence of the so-called independent Georgia, Armenia, Poland, Finland, and so forth, is only a faade which conceals the complete dependence of these so-called states on one or the other imperialist group...There is no third way (Stalin). Either Russia's borderlands would be controlled by an imperialist power or they could align themselves with the USSR, which promoted their culture and allowed them to participate in the government, and become a soviet state.

Although the Bolsheviks faced obstacles such as the growing sentiment of nationalism in Europe or competition with the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks managed to become rulers of the old tsarist empire and spread the revolution throughout the empire. While Lenin was able to come to power through a massive propaganda campaign, Stalin was able to spread the revolution and maintain rule through forced industrialization and collectivization and a reign of terror.

Works Cited

Lenin, Vladimir. "Lenin on Colonial Revolts and Civil War in Imperialist Countries." Soviet Russia and the East, 1920-1927. Stanford UP, 1964. 45. Print.

Stalin, Joseph. "Stalin on the Mutual Dependence of Central Russia and the Russian Borderlands, October 1920. Soviet Russia and the East, 1920-1927. Stanford UP, 1964. 50-53. Print.

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