The Rise of Communism in Russia

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-Unless we accept the claim that Lenin+s coup d+Ätat 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,


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.,


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,


Stoessinger, John G., Nations in Darkness. Boston: Howard Books,


Wren, Christopher S., The End of the Line. San Francisco:

Blackhawk Publishing, 1988.