The Bolshevik rule from 1917 to 1924 Essay
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15b. Assess the view that the Bolshevik rule from 1917 to 1924 was shaped more by circumstance in Russia than by the party’s ideology?
The Bolshevik party’s control of Russia after the revolution was not absolute they had many enemies and a counter revolution was always a possibility in their minds, Lenin even faced betrayal within his own party, even though his party had power, there was a fine line between power and absolute failure.
Edward Acton’s book the “Rethinking of the Russian Revolution” published in 1990, Acton states that “To stress the responsiveness of the Bolshevik Party to pressures from below is not to deny the significance of the lead given by Lenin.
His ability to combine theory with practice was unique” Acton is pointing out that without Lenin the party would struggle to even have gained power, but Acton makes a contradictory point stating that “On the other hand, he [Lenin] was in no position to impose policy on the party. Again and again, his colleagues on the central committee showed themselves to be capable of opposing him”. This bring an interesting point that Lenin spent so long getting the Bolsheviks into power, and now it seems the party were prepared to stab their leader in the back.
Acton goes on to talk about Lenin’s ideology “Lenin’s vision of the future was closely based upon Marx’s celebration of the decentralised and direct democracy of the Paris commune of 1871 and he spelled it out in state and revolution in the summer of 1917” This idea would give little prominence to the party. Lenin’s ideal according to Acton was that the Soviet would be led by intellectually superior group of people divorced from society, but this never happened as it was mainly workers and soldiers.
Acton shows that the party, once it gained power, wouldn’t do as Lenin wished because the rest of the party wanted power. Lenin had failed to interpret one very important piece of any society. There will always be greed and a lust for power for those that don’t have it.
John Laver book, “Lenin” which was published in 1994 addresses Lenin’s view towards the different Nationalities of the Russian Empire, now by this point Russia had lost its influence and political power in Finland which had become fully independent. Russia still controlled at this point the Baltic’s states (which it would later lose power in) Ukraine was another area Lenin controlled, but there were independence movements gaining prominence in Ukraine at this time.
Laver states that “Lenin addressed the problem of the nationalities in April 1917”. “He declared that all nations in the old empire had the right of secession, although he expected that such a policy would win the trust of the non-Russians who would want to remain in a multi-national Soviet state which cared for the interests of all working class people whatever their nationality”. Maybe this was arrogance on Lenin’s part expecting different people to just conform to a state which most of the nationalities did not elect and some did not want the Bolsheviks in power.
Laver goes onto state a major problem for the old-Russia “He [Lenin] appears to have been surprised by the strength of national feeling which emerged, because he quickly came round to the idea that a federal state was a possibility”. “The national groups would not accept a total union which would imply Russification, a subordination of their own interests and character to Russian interests.
Lenin creates the People’s commissariat of National Affairs to manage relations with the nationalities, run by Joseph Stalin a Georgian. Laver goes on to state about the Commissariat “His task was to mediate in disputes between national groups. Although the republics exercised theoretical powers, in practice Russia dominated the federation. Which was precisely what Stalin wanted” Stalin himself was resented by many party members. When he joined the party Stalin had a thick Georgian accent and was mocked for this within the party. Maybe he wanted people within the party to respect him but by the end Stalin disowned his Georgian nationality and believed Russia was superior to Georgia.
According to Laver “Lenin became increasingly concerned about the way that Stalin rode roughshod over national aspirations in Georgia (his homeland)”. “Lenin complained about the ‘Great Russian Chauvinism’ but was too ill to fight for his cause”. “Lenin’s influence was evident in the 1923 Constitution which deliberately referred to a ‘Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ without specifically mentioning Russia. But Lenin had not fought hard enough”. Laver goes on to state that “Stalin’s perception of the Constitution prevailed. However in the reality of Soviet Russia under Lenin was that the state was never as totalitarian as it appeared on paper. Local centres of influence remained and Moscow could never exercise complete control over the provinces”.
Laver’s point is that Lenin for one made the mistake of appointing Stalin a man that hated his own nationality to deal with a large issue in Georgia and the fact that Lenin in the early 1920’s was a very sick man. It was clear to a lot of party member that he would not last long. But why did Lenin appoint Stalin, was it because Lenin created this position very late after the revolution and the only person left for the job was Stalin, two other non-Russians within the party where Trotsky & Zinoviev though by this point both held high positions within Russia.
When compared with Acton, the points Laver makes are in accord. They held that the party was holding back real change, and that you could view Stalin’s appointment by Lenin as a similar appointment to Kerensky appointing General Kornilov to control the military.
Richard Pipes work ‘Russia under the Bolshevik Regime 1919-1924’ which was published in 1994 goes on to consider the success of Lenin’s policies. Pipes state’s that “Once it had proven impossible to export communism (Trotsky’s main goal), the Bolsheviks in the 1920s dedicated themselves to constructing a socialist society at home. This endeavour failed as well”. “Lenin had expected through a combination of expropriations and terror to transform his country in a matter of months into the world’s leading economic power”.
What Pipes refers to is the growing disloyalty of once loyal followers but that is common of any government or party that has just gained power throughout the history of politics. Pipes goes onto state “Lenin had expected the communist party to provide disciplined leadership to the nation: instead he saw political dissent which he had muzzled in the country, resurface within his own party”. “As the workers turned their backs on the communists and the peasants revolted, staying in power required unremitting resort to police measures”.
According to Pipes “The voluntary union of nations turned into an oppressive empire. Lenin’s speeches and writings in the last two years reveal, besides a striking paucity of constructive ideas, barely controlled rage at his political and economic impotence: even terror proved useless in overcoming the ingrained habits of an ancient nation”. Pipes ends by stating “The question of how such a flawed regime succeeded in maintaining itself cannot be met with the answer that it had the support of the people”
Pipes make’s some relevant points that Lenin had lost support and more importantly his own party was stabbing him in the back as Laver points out with the example of Stalin and a point Acton make’s that the party would oppose Lenin because they wanted power above all else. Though Pipes interpretations are quiet frequently bias against the Soviet Union, Bolsheviks and Lenin.
Pipes claims that terror was used and implemented by Lenin himself however Lenin was unwell at this point within his life and was pushing new policy to create the great society that Marx’s had dreamed of when he wrote the communist manifesto. Pipes, does not mention Lenin’s illness, also he fails to mention any of the positive change that Lenin tried to implement which Laver and Acton point out. A clear sign of bias is shown by Pipes, though what he says is true he misses so many parts of the story and therefore his interpretation can be heavily discredited.
Robert Service takes a different route looking at Lenin’s original ideology and theory in his book ‘Lenin’ in critical companion to the Russian Revolution 1914-1921, published in 1997. In this book Service states that “Lenin’s greatest institutional innovation was the inception of the one-party state was held rigidly in place by Lenin; and he would allow not the slightest derogation from its precepts”. According to Service “Lenin advocated dictatorship and terror. In the State & Revolution (written in 1917) he went out of his way to disown any absolute commitment to either ‘democracy’ or ‘freedom’. ‘Democracy’, according to Lenin, was simply a transitional form of state organisation”.
The ultimate objective of Marxism according to Service was a society in which the state had eroded away. “This would involve a total absence of exploitation or oppression” “The need for any state even a democratic one, would have disappeared”. Service goes onto state that “Civic rights grounded in constitution, law and customary tolerance were a matter of indifference to Lenin. This ideological heritage left a deep imprint upon the Bolshevik consciousness”.
Service draws from Marxist idea’s that those who don’t conform must be taken out of the equation, this in service’s interpretation has been taken literally by Lenin it begs the question that if Lenin was willing to go out of his way to control the people why did Lenin simply not eliminate Stalin and those who stood in Lenin’s way
In conclusion this question draws information from 4 contradictory interpretations; Acton & Lever seem to be kind to Lenin as a leader pointing out betrayals within his own party, whilst Pipes & Service paint Lenin as a dictator a totalitarian figure. The reason these historians contradict each other is that Acton makes the point that Lenin supported Marx’s idea of a decentralised government and direct democracy, whilst in contradiction Service states that Lenin disowned any notion of democracy or freedom, So we have two historians in a contradictory standoff.
Whilst continuing this point Richard Pipes looks at Lenin as a villain in terms of turning the Union he created had become an oppressive empire but a point made by Laver is that it was in fact Stalin who was in charge of managing the different nationalities and when Lenin published his idea of the USSR because Stalin ran this important organisation it was Stalin’s interpretation of the new USSR constitution that prevailed to keep the Bolsheviks in power.
In conclusion, Lenin’s work based upon Marx’s of work Communism of industrialised western European nations like Britain and Marx’s homeland Germany, also considering that his book the communist manifesto was written in industrialised Manchester it struggled to suggest what an arable based nation could do with Marx’s theory.
Stalin’s appointment by Lenin is also a factor turning the nationalities against the Bolsheviks Stalin had his way after Lenin’s constitution was interpreted by Stalin to give him a free pass to crush the different nationalities and oppress those who had been oppressed by the Tsar and the provisional government before hand.
The difficulties with communication across the country factors in with education with most people outside the major cities not having the ability to read it meant that the Bolshevik message was limited in a way. The education of the people is also a factor because if people like the surf’s could not read how were they to know what was going on in the country, it left the Bolsheviks with a large problem if the people didn’t understand what they were trying to do then how could they support him.
Really the conclusion drawn from the interpretations is one of surprise that no one came along and just overthrew the Bolsheviks not for lack of trying however in history it looks like the Bolsheviks were overthrowing Lenin.