“at gave birthto an entirely new state, and indeed to a new era in the history ofmankind, we must recognize in today’s Soviet Union the old empire ofthe Russians — the only empire that survived into the mid 1980’s”(Luttwak, 1).In their Communist Manifesto of 1848, Karl Marx and FriedrichEngels applied the term communism to a final stage of socialism inwhich all class differences would disappear and humankind would livein harmony.
Marx and Engels claimed to have discovered a scientificapproach to socialism based on the laws of history. They declared thatthe course of history was determined by the clash of opposing forcesrooted in the economic system and the ownership of property. Just asthe feudal system had given way to capitalism, so in time capitalismwould give way to socialism.
The class struggle of the future would bebetween the bourgeoisie, who were the capitalist employers, and theproletariat, who were the workers. The struggle would end, accordingto Marx, in the socialist revolution and the attainment of fullcommunism (Groiler’s Encyclopedia).Socialism, of which “Marxism-Leninism” is a takeoff, originatedin the West. Designed in France and Germany, it was brought intoRussia in the middle of the nineteenth century and promptly attractedsupport among the country’s educated, public-minded elite, who at thattime were called intelligentsia (Pipes, 21).
After Revolution brokeout over Europe in 1848 the modern working class appeared on the sceneas a major historical force. However, Russia remained out of thechanges that Europe was experiencing. As a socialist movement andinclination, the Russian Social-Democratic Party continued thetraditions of all the Russian Revolutions of the past, with the goalof conquering political freedom (Daniels 7).As early as 1894, when he was twenty-four, Lenin had become arevolutionary agitator and a convinced Marxist.
He exhibited his newfaith and his polemical talents in a diatribe of that year against thepeasant-oriented socialism of the Populists led by N.K. Mikhiaiovsky(Wren, 3).While Marxism had been winning adherents among the Russianrevolutionary intelligentsia for more than a decade previously, aclaimed Marxist party was bit organized until 1898. In that year a”congress” of nine men met at Minsk to proclaim the establishment ofthe Russian Social Democratic Worker’s Party. The Manifesto issued inthe name of the congress after the police broke it up was drawn up bythe economist Peter Struve, a member of the moderate “legal Marxist”group who soon afterward left the Marxist movement altogether.
Themanifesto is indicative of the way Marxism was applied to Russianconditions, and of the special role for the proletariat (Pipes, 11).The first true congress of the Russian Social DemocraticWorkers’ Party was the Second. It convened in Brussels in the summerof 1903, but was forced by the interference of the Belgian authoritiesto move to London, where the proceedings were concluded. The SecondCongress was the occasion for bitter wrangling among therepresentatives of various Russian Marxist Factions, and ended in adeep split that was mainly caused by Lenin — his personality, hisdrive for power in the movement, and his “hard” philosophy of thedisciplined party organization. At the close of the congress Lenincommanded a temporary majority for his faction and seized upon thelabel “Bolshevik” (Russian for Majority), while his opponents whoinclined 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 placeamong the Russian Social-Democrats by the time of the Second partyCongress in 1903.
He represented ultra-radical sentiment that couldnot reconcile itself to Lenin’s stress on the party organization.Trotsky stayed with the Menshevik faction until he joined Lenin in1917. From that point on, he acomidated himself in large measure toLenin’s philosophy of party dictatorship, but his reservations came tothe surface again in the years after his fall from power (Stoessinger,13).In the months after the Second Congress of the Social DemocraticParty Lenin lost his majority and began organizing a rebellious groupof Bolsheviks. This was to be in opposition of the new majority of thecongress, the Menshiviks, led by Trotsky.
Twenty-two Bolsheviks,including Lenin, met in Geneva in August of 1904 to promote the ideaof the highly disciplined party and to urge the reorganization of thewhole Social-Democratic movement on Leninist lines (Stoessinger, 33).The differences between Lenin and the Bogdanov group ofrevolutionary romantics came to its peak in 1909. Lenin denouncedthe otzovists, also known as the recallists, who wanted to recall theBolshevik deputies in the Duma, and the ultimatists who demanded thatthe deputies take a more radical stand — both for their philosophicalvagaries which he rejected as idealism, and for the utopian purism oftheir refusal to take tactical advantage of the Duma. The real issuewas Lenin’s control of the faction and the enforcement of his brand ofMarxist orthodoxy.
Lenin demonstrated his grip of the Bolshevikfaction 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 inPetrograd. The crowds demanded food and the step down of Tsar. Whenthe troops were called in to disperse the crowds, they refused to firetheir weapons and joined in the rioting. The army generals reportedthat it would be pointless to send in any more troops, because theywould only join in with the other rioters.
The frustrated tsarresponded by stepping down from power, ending the 300-year-old Romanovdynasty (Farah, 580).With the tsar out of power, a new provisional government tookover made up of middle-class Duma representatives. Also rising topower was a rival government called the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’and Soldiers’ Deputies consisting of workers and peasants of socialistand revolutionary groups. Other soviets formed in towns and villagesall across the country. All of the soviets worked to push athree-point program which called for an immediate peas, the transferof land to peasants, and control of factories to workers.
But theprovisional government stood in conflict with the other smallergovernments and the hardships of war hit the country. The provisionalgovernment was so busy fighting the war that they neglected the socialproblems it faced, losing much needed support (Farah, 580).The Bolsheviks in Russia were confused and divided about how toregard the Provisional Government, but most of them, including Stalin,were inclined to accept it for the time being on condition that itwork for an end to the war. When Lenin reached Russia in April afterhis famous “sealed car” trip across Germany, he quickly denounced hisBolshevik colleagues for failing to take a sufficiently revolutionarystand (Daniels, 88).In August of 1917, while Lenin was in hiding and the party hadbeen basically outlawed by the Provisional Government, the Bolsheviksmanaged to hold their first party congress since 1907 regardless. Themost significant part of the debate turned on the possibility forimmediate revolutionary action in Russia and the relation of this tothe international upheaval.
The separation between the utopianinternationalists and the more practical Russia-oriented people wasalready apparent (Pipes, 127).The Bolsheviks’ hope of seizing power was hardly secret. Boldrefusal of the provisional Government was one of their major ideals.Three weeks before the revolt they decided to stage a demonstrativewalkout from the advisory assembly. When the walkout was staged,Trotsky denounced the Provisional Government for its allegedcounterrevolutionary objectives and called on the people of Russia tosupport the Bolsheviks (Daniels, 110).
On October 10 of 1917, Lenin made the decision to take power. Hecame secretly to Petrograd to try and disperse any hesitancies theBolshevik leadership had over his demand for armed revolt. Against theopposition of two of Lenin’s long-time lieutenants, Zinovieiv andKamenev, the Central Committee accepted Lenin’s resolution whichformally instructed the party organizations to prepare for the seizureof power.Finally, of October 25 the Bolshevik revolution took place tooverthrow the provisional government. They did so through the agencyof the Military-Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. Theyforcibly overthrew the provisional government by taking over all ofthe government buildings, such as the post office, and bigcorporations, such as the power companies, the shipyard, the telephonecompany. The endorsement of the coup was secured from the SecondAll-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” governmentinstituted a number of sweeping reforms, some long overdue andsome quite revolutionary. They ranged from “democratic” reforms, suchas the disestablishment of the church and equality for the nationalminorities, to the recognition of the peasants’ land seizures and toopenly socialist steps such as the nationalization of banks. TheProvisional Government’s commitment to the war effort was denounced.Four decrees were put into action.
The first four from the BolshevikRevolutionary Legislation were a decree on peace, a decree on land, adecree on the suppression of hostile newspapers, and a declaration ofthe rights of the peoples of Russia (Stossenger, 130).By early 1918 the Bolshevik critics individually made theirpeace with Lenin, and were accepted back into the party andgovernmental leadership. At the same time, the Left and Sovietadministration thus acquired the exclusively Communist character whichit has had ever since. The Left SR’s like the right SR’s and theMensheviks, continued to function in the soviets as a more or lesslegal opposition until the outbreak of large-scale civil war in themiddle of 1918. At that point the opposition parties took positionswhich were either equally vocal or openly anti-Bolshevik, and oneafter another, they were suppressed.The Eastern Front had been relatively quiet during 1917, andshortly after the Bolshevik Revolution a temporary armstice wasagreed upon.
Peace negotiations were then begun at the Polish town ofBrest-Litovsk, behind the German lines. In agreement with theirearlier anti-imperialist line, the Bolshevik negotiators, headed byTrotsky, used the talks as a discussion for revolutionary propaganda,while most of the party expected the eventual return of war in thename of revolution. Lenin startled his followers in January of 1918 byexplicitly demanding that the Soviet republic meet the Germanconditions and conclude a formal peace in order to win what heregarded as an indispensable “breathing spell,” instead of shallowlyrisking the future of the revolution (Daniels, 135).
Trotsky resigned as Foreign Commissar during the Brest-Litovskcrisis, but he was immediately appointed Commissar of Military Affairsand entrusted with the creation of a new Red Army to replace the oldRussian army which had dissolved during the revolution. ManyCommunists wanted to new military force to be built up on strictlyrevolutionary principles, with guerrilla tactics, the election ofofficers, and the abolition of traditional discipline. Trotsky sethimself emphatically against this attitude and demanded an armyorganized in the conventional way and employing “military specialists”– experienced officers from the old army.Hostilities between the Communists and the Whites, who were thegroups opposed to the Bolsheviks, reached a decicive climax in 1919.Intervention by the allied powers on the side of the Whites almostbrought them victory.
Facing the most serious White threat led byGeneral Denikin in Southern Russia, Lenin appealed to his followersfor a supreme effort, and threatened ruthless repression of anyopposition behind the lines. By early 1920 the principal White forceswere defeated (Wren, 151). For three years the rivalry went on withthe Whites capturing areas and killing anyone suspected of Communistpractices. Even though the Whites had more soldiers in their army,they were not nearly as organized nor as efficient as the Reds, andtherefore were unable to rise up (Farah, 582).Police action by the Bolsheviks to combat political oppositioncommenced with the creation of the “Cheka.” Under the direction ofFelix Dzerzhinsky, the Cheka became the prototype of totalitariansecret police systems, enjoying at critical times the right the rightof unlimited arrest and summary execution of suspects and hostages.
The principle of such police surveillance over the political leaningsof the Soviet population has remained in effect ever since, despitethe varying intensity of repression and the organizational changes ofthe police — from Cheka to GPU (The State Political Administration)to NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) to MVD (Ministryof Internal Affairs) to the now well-known KGB (Committee for StateSecurity) (Pipes, 140).Lenin used his secret police in his plans to use terror toachieve his goals and as a political weapon against his enemies.Anyone opposed to the communist state was arrested. Many socialistswho had backed Lenin’s revolution at first now had second thoughts. Toescape punishment, they fled. By 1921 Lenin had strengthened hiscontrol and the White armies and their allies had been defeated(Farah, 582).Communism had now been established and Russia had become asocialist country.
Russia was also given a new name: The Union ofSoviet Socialist Republics. This in theory meant that the means ofproduction was in the hands of the state. The state, in turn, wouldbuild the future, classless society.
But still, the power was in thehands of the party (Farah, 583). The next decade was ruled by acollective dictatorship of the top party leaders. At the top levelindividuals still spoke for themselves, and considerable freedom forfactional controversy remained despite the principles of unity laiddown in 1921.—Works CitedDaniels, Robert V., A Documentary History of Communism.
New York:Random House Publishing, 1960.Farah, Mounir, The Human Experience. Columbus: Bell & Howess Co.,1990.
Luttwak, Edward N., The Grand Strategy of the Soviet Union. New York:St.
Martins Press, 1983.Pipes, Richard, Survival is Not Enough. New York: S&S Publishing,1975.Stoessinger, John G., Nations in Darkness.
Boston: Howard Books,1985.Wren, Christopher S., The End of the Line.
San Francisco: BlackhawkPublishing, 1988.