“Lenin was the critical factor in the Bolshevik consolidation of power”
To what extent is this statement an accurate reflection of the Bolshevik consolidation of power 1917 to 1924?
Vladimir Lenin was a highly critical factor within the Bolshevik consolidation of power; therefore, the statement is an accurate reflection of the period 1917-1924. Though many other factors, such as the Leon Trotsky and the weaknesses/unpopularity of the Provisional Government played a significant role within the consolidation, it was Lenin’s strong leadership, ideology and pragmatism during this period that enabled the Bolsheviks to strengthen and maintain control. Lenin’s role within the consolidation is evident through his significant contributions to the October Revolution, his implementation of various socio-political reforms, his signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, his actions during the Civil War and War Communism, and his implementation of the New Economic Policy.
The presence of Lenin within the October Revolution was highly critical to the accumulation and consolidation of Bolshevik power. ‘Had Lenin not managed to come to Petrograd…the October Revolution would not have taken place. Lenin was the “engine driver of revolution”, orchestrating (with Trotsky) the Bolshevik takeover and seizure of power from the weaker Provisional Government, leaving himself as head of a new Bolshevik administration. As the October Revolution laid the groundwork for Bolshevik control - marking the inception of the first Russian communist government - it was a highly critical event, elevating Lenin’s role by emphasizing the significance of his ideology (Leninism) and pragmatism, which underpinned all Bolshevik action.
Lenin’s importance within the early periods of consolidation is evident through his key role implementing various social and political reforms. In order to maintain power, Lenin needed to convince Russia that the Bolsheviks were more capable than the Provisional Government, which “had no popular mandate and little popular support.” To do this, Lenin needed to deliver on his promises of “Peace. Bread. Land.” Lenin initiated a series of decrees, partly intended to please the population and slowly introduce them to communist society. These decrees focused on the liberation and elevation of the peasantry, as it was his belief that through the rise of the peasants to that of equal standing with the proletariat, they would develop a new class consciousness and seek to transition to socialism despite only recently achieving capitalism (through Permanent Revolution). These decrees and reforms included the land decree (re-distribution of land to the peasants), workers decrees (8-hour working days and worker-committee-owned factories), educational reforms (including free education), women’s rights, independence of Russian-occupied nationalities (such as the Baltic states), and the Peace Decree, which addressed one of the most imperative of Russia’s problems – It’s unpopular involvement within World War I (WWI). The decree pressured the other governments involved to end the war so that Lenin could deliver his promise of “Peace.” A principal component of this was the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was highly significant within consolidation as it enabled Russia to focus on internal problems without worrying about the external enemies of WWI, Germany. Though the treaty was highly divisive amongst the Bolsheviks, when Trotsky’s “neither Peace nor War” failed as a German revolution did not occur, Lenin’s way was eventually followed – Accept all the terms of a peace treaty, no matter how harsh, in order to gain time. Lenin argued that any losses to Germany – a nation on the “doorstep ” of socialist revolution – would be temporary. The signing of the Treat of Brest-Litovsk was a critical component of the consolidation as it allowed Russia to focus on internal problems, such as the economic crisis and food shortages (caused by WWI). As it was Lenin who convinced the Bolsheviks of the Treaty’s necessity it is clear that Lenin played a crucial role within it’s signing, and therefore consolidation. However this peace did not last long due to the onset of the Russian Civil War (1917-1922).
Lenin’s role was crucial within the success of the Bolsheviks during the Civil War, a critical aspect of consolidation. After gaining power, the Bolsheviks faced massive resistance in the form of the White Army; a diverse group (including Tsarists, Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries and 255,503 foreign troops) formed through mutual opposition of the Bolsheviks due to resentment of Bolshevik policy limiting their power, for example the closing down of the Constituent Assembly in the case of the Social Revolutionaries, after they had won the election 370-175. Though the role of Trotsky was more critical during this time, as his leadership and ruthlessness as Commissar-of-War (a position awarded to him by Lenin) inevitably led to Bolshevik victory, Lenin was still crucial as many organizational responsibilities (such as overseeing the “Red Terror”, whereby Bolshevik opposition and “kulaks” were massacred) fell to him as party leader. One solution implemented by Lenin was War Communism.
Lenin’s War Communism (1918-1921) was highly critical to the consolidation as it enabled the Bolshevik’s to win the Civil War. War Communism refers to the socio-economic policies implemented by Lenin at the time, their aim being to maintain supplies for the Red Army, at the expense of ordinary citizens. During War Communism, every aspect of working life was controlled. Businesses and factories were nationalized, strikes were forbidden, food was rationed (approximately 1/10th of British war rations) and peasants were forced to give their surplus produce to the government, as, according to Lenin; they were “saddled by the imperative conditions of war-time .” Lenin was critical to consolidation as his War Communism succeeded in meeting the immediate needs of the Bolsheviks during the Civil War, leading to victory. However, the effects of War Communism were severe.
War Communism left the economy devastated, with many disenfranchised from the Bolsheviks. War Communism “undermined the loyalty of the villages, the towns and finally sections of the army .” This damaged relationship led to many uprisings between 1920-1921 (Krondstadt Rebellion 1921) with a reported 118 separate uprisings during February 1921 alone. These uprising were critical as they enabled Lenin to understand that in order to consolidate power they would have to change the socio-political and economic structure of Russia. To achieve this, at the Tenth Congress of the Communist Party (1921), Lenin proposed his New Economic Policy (NEP).
The NEP was crucial to the consolidation as it showed the flexibility of Lenin in terms of ideology. After the Civil War, Lenin’s top priority was to stabilise the country. “We had to show the peasants that we could and would quickly change our policy to alleviate their want ” Through the NEP, Lenin targeted the grievances of Russia by stopping grain requisitioning, shortening the working hours, giving trade unions (limited) freedom to operate, and letting peasants and small businesses trade freely to make a profit, therefore stimulating the economy (however the “commanding heights of the economy ” were still state controlled). This, however, came at the expense of many key Bolshevik beliefs.
Though Lenin saw the NEP as a necessary stage to amalgamate Bolshevik power and introduce socialism, many Bolshevik members saw the concessions to capitalism as a betrayal. Lenin’s authority and determination during this time is what convinced the Bolshevik party to introduce the policy, as Lenin argued that these reforms were vital in order to avoid famine and further instability, along with being a step towards socialism. The reality was that it would be impossible to introduce socialism to a post-civil-war Russia as the socio-economic and political grievances of the time were too great. The NEP was a practical “retreat” from socialism, which relaxed the tensions of Russia and led to an improved economy, leading to an increase in Bolshevik support, and therefore power. As it was Lenin who implemented the NEP it is clear that his role within the consolidation was highly critical.
Through his influence over October Revolution, his implementation of various social and political reforms, The Civil War and War Communism, and the NEP, it is clear that Lenin’s role within the Bolshevik consolidation of power was highly significant. Though other factors contributed to the consolidation, Lenin invariably either contributed to their success as a factor through collaboration (in terms of Trotsky) or by capitalizing on them to his own advantage (in terms of the Provisional Governments weaknesses). In this way it is evident that Lenin was the critical factor as his leadership and ideology underpinned all Bolshevik action, to the extent that without Lenin, the actual accumulation of power would have never occurred.