The Rise of Communism In Russia


"Unless we accept the claim that Lenin's coup d'etat 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, 1).

 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, 

 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. MartinÕs 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.


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