Lenin’s Role In The Bolshevik Consolidation Of Power
i) Lenin’s role in the Bolshevik consolidation of power.
The Coalition government, that had been in place since the February Revolution of 1917, had to face more and more problems. The Kornilov Affair and the July Days did not go to their best interest, and their popularity was simply going down the sewer by October. It was exactly that month that Lenin thought the time to be right for a Bolshevik takeover. So in October 1917 the Bolsheviks replaced the Coalition Government. This is known as the October Revolution. However, all the problems the Coalition Government faced did not disappear and on top of that Lenin was facing huge opposition from the Soviets, which even became a civil war.
The Bolsheviks overcame the struggles of the first 6 months after the October Revolution by simply giving in into the worker’s and peasant’s requests. This was one of the party’s policies that were based on Lenin’s April thesis. To be exact the April thesis included legitimating the peasant’s seizure of land. The Land decree states further that land could not be bought sold or rented as it belonged to the entire people. Although the peasantry has been taking over these estates anyway, it was still a good strategic move to make by Lenin because he got the peasants by his side and it makes him credible. The next decree that the Sovnarkom (of whom Lenin was the chairman) passed was the Workers Control Decree, which gave the workers total control over the factories, which was also Lenin’s plan and was stated in his April Thesis. The other main decree was the Peace decree, where the Bolsheviks and Germany agreed on peace terms. This also was Lenin’s intent from the start and was not only stated in the April Thesis but was also stressed by Lenin.
There was still a lot of opposition from the bourgeoisie and the former Coalition Government. Lenin took care of that problem by introducing “class warfare”, which was basically legitimating that the bourgeoisie was terrorised by the proletariat and the Cheka. He did also purge the civil servants by the use of the Cheka, as they usually were unwilling to co-operate with the Bolsheviks. He took care of his political opposition by holding the Constituent Assembly but dissolving it after a day.
Due to the civil war and the lack of industrial products the peasants did not send grain to the cities although the soldiers and workers need the food. At this time War Communism was introduced, by Lenin and happily agreed to by most of the other Bolsheviks. With it came Grain requisitioning, which was that special requisitioning squads were send to the country side to collect the grain from the peasants, who very soon did not grow anything anymore. Private trade unions were banned too, not enough consumer goods were produced and a huge black market developed. Industry was nationalised and managed by so called “specialists” that were basically the former owners of the factories. This was an important measure to do, as the workers produced an enormous chaos by giving them massive pay rises. Labour discipline was introduced. This meant that coming too late or being absent will be fined, and Internal Passports, to stop urban-rural migration, and Workbooks, which were needed for rations, were introduced. Also an important part to War Communism was the Red Terror, which was that anyone could be arrested for being a bourgeois or for counter-revolutionary action. No one knew what was meant by “counter-revolutionary action” and therefore it was very effective as no one would come to the idea of saying anything negative about those times.
After the Bolsheviks had won the Civil War the Russian industry and agriculture was in ruins. So Lenin persuaded the other members of the Politbureau to pass the New Economic Policy (NEP), this policy re-introduced private trade and low-scale private enterprises (like shoe making). Grain requisitioning was abolished and replaced by a “tax in favour” (then later to a tax in money because of the scissors crisis) which was that a certain percentage of grain belonged to the government and the rest to the peasants, any surplus they had was allowed to be sold openly on the market. This was a step back to capitalism and not liked by many Bolsheviks, but Lenin argued that it was only a temporary solution.
Therefore we can conclude that Lenin did play a very important role in the Consolidation of Bolshevik power, as it was due to him that the Soldiers in the civil war had enough supplies of food due to grain requisitioning. He was also important because it was to him that Russia dropped out of the “Great” war and that the Russian economy revived under the NEP.
ii) Was Lenin a dictator by intent or by circumstance?
Lenin surely worked towards a takeover as we can see from his actions. These included the April Thesis that had brought the Bolsheviks a great deal of popularity, as they specially wanted to give in into the Russian population’s request (land, bread and an end to the war). Especially Lenin’s speaking abilities contribute to the fact that he was a dictator by intent. This is shown in the following quote by a time witness and Historian N.N. Sukhanov*: “Lenin was a very good orator, not an orator of the consummate, or of the luminous image…, but an orator enormous impact and power…”. Without his talent he wouldn’t have been able to persuade the Bolshevik party to accept his April Thesis, to take over the Russian government and to introduce the New Economic Policy, which all was crucial for the Bolsheviks gaining and staying in power. Lenin’s contribution to the war is of great value in this argument too. Trotsky was on the front fighting and taking care every thing goes by plan. Lenin however was sitting back in Petrograd (later Moscow) and took care of the “day to day” business, which included taking care that war communism was going by plan too. As the civil war was fought on two fronts (the internal and the open front) it was crucial for the Bolsheviks to stay in power and especially for Lenin to stay dictator that war communism (and especially class warfare) were going as planed. As Lenin believed once the middle class and his political opposition was gone then there would be no problem keeping Russia under his control.
However there were many circumstances that made the time ideal for anyone to take power. One of these circumstances was that the Soviet and the Provisional Government were unwilling to make any kinds of concessions that might have saved their support from the Russian population. Another circumstance was the Kornilov affair where Alexander Kerensky (the head of the Provisional Government) called on a former tsarist General called Kornilov to restore law and order in the streets of Petrograd. Kornilov saw this as a perfect opportunity to try a putsch and marched with his men to Petrograd. The Provisional Government called on the Bolsheviks to prevent the putsch, which happened due to the rail workers union and Bolshevik spies. The interesting part to the Kornilov affair was that Kerensky had banned the Bolsheviks and Bolshevik newspapers the year before. So Kerensky and the Provisional Government lost a lot of support. As we can see the Bolsheviks were the only opposition to a weak and unsupported government, due to the mistakes of the provisional government. Even when the Provisional Government and the Soviet had the last chance to restore their power in Russia they failed (this was due to the civil war). They lost badly against the Bolsheviks, although these were fighting on 4 fronts (the polish army, the Denikin Army [Whites], the Kolchak army [Whites] and the Yudenich army [also whites]). This is due to the good location the Bolsheviks had (they were controlling the cities and all communication routes) and the not unified armies of the Whites (Provisional Government and the soviet).
As we can see, it is a hard question to answer whether Lenin was a Dictator by intent or by circumstance. Even Historians disagree about it. R. Service for example wrote in his Book “Lenin: Individual and Politics in the October Revolution”*² that “There were other mighty factors at work as well in Russia in 1917. The conditions for a seizure of power with the sanctions of exhausted workers, war-weary soldiers and angry peasants could hardly have been more favourable…”. C. Read states in his book “From Tsar to Soviet: The Russian People and their Revolution”*³ that “…the ‘Bolshevik’ structure of the party boiled down to Lenin’s domination of it.” However I believe that it was more the circumstances that made Lenin a dictator, as due to all the mistakes the Coalition Government and especially Kerensky made everyone would have been able to seize power, it was just a lucky circumstance for Lenin that he was there during the time.
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*- Communist Russia under Lenin and Stalin. Page 133. Source 8.12
*²- Communist Russia under Lenin and Stalin. Page 133. Source 8.13
*³- Communist Russia under Lenin and Stalin. Page 133. Source 8.10