Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia, 1900-1941
Relevance to exams
o Paper 1: The USSR under Stalin, 1924-1941:
- Struggle for leadership
- Collectivisation, agricultural policies
- Five Year Plans, industrialisation, rearmament
- Nature of Soviet state, constitution, extent of Stalin’s power, cult of personality
- Purges, impact on society
- Foreign relations, USSR & Nazi Germany, Nazi-Soviet Pact
o Paper 2:
- 1. Causes, Practices and Effects of War: Russian civil war, Russia in WWI, WWII
- 3. Rise and Rule of Single Party States:
Origins of single-party states:
Conditions which produce the state
Emergence of leader: aims, ideology, support
Establishment of single-party states:
Methods – force, legal
Form of government, ideology
Totalitarianism, treatment of opposition
Rule of single-party states:
Role of education/arts/media/propaganda
Status of women/minorities/religious groups
Regional and global impact:
As factor in Cold War
o Paper 3:
- 13. Tsarist Russia to Communist USSR:
Nature of tsarism; Nicholas II, 1894-1917
Growth of revolutionary opposition and Soviets
1905 Revolution, reforms and reaction, 1905-1914; impact of WWI
1917 February Revolution; Provisional Government
1917 October Revolution
Formation of Soviet state, Lenin, Trotsky, civil war, communism, NEP
Power struggle & emergence of Stalin in 1929
- 16. Totalitarian Europe, 1922-1953: Stalinist Russia:
Nature of one-party states, ideologies, repression, propaganda and state control
Stalin in power, 1928-1953: domestic and foreign policies
- USSR, 1941-1995:
USSR during WWII
Breakdown of wartime alliance & the Cold War
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 1
Summary of origins of the single-party state
Long-term weaknesses of monarchy leading to 1917 revolutions
o Failure to match military strength of European great powers, e.g. Germany, France
o Failure to address widespread peasant poverty
o Failure to achieve levels of industrialisation reached by west-European states
o Inability to broaden its political support through programme of constitutional reform – the monarchy
refused to share any power with its subjects until 1905 Revolution.
Long-term military causes of 1917 revolutions
o Russia had formerly been a strong military empire, defeating Napoleon under Alexander I – during the 19th
century, however, Russia fell behind the other Great Powers
o Russia’s backwardness highlighted in Crimean War (1854-56) – its forces were humiliated on home soil by
British and French.
o Russia’s military backwardness and lack of industrialisation exposed in Russo-Japanese War (1904-05)
o Russia was unprepared for WWI when it broke out in 1914.
Long-term socio-economic causes of 1917 revolutions
o Agricultural backwardness:
- Serfs had only been liberated by Alexander II in 1861, and rural poverty was still a huge cause of
- Peasant unrest grew due to:
Chronic land shortage
Rapidly growing peasant population
Low literacy rate
Burden of redemption payments due to landlords from the peasants
o Late but very rapid industrialisation:
- Russia had been falling far behind industrialising countries – USA, Britain, Germany
- 1890s the government initiates rapid industrialisation programme to retain status as great military
power and to catch up to other Great Powers
- By 1900 it was world’s 5th industrial power, though still behind GB, France, Germany, US
- World recession in 1900 stuck Russia badly, largely due to its dependence on foreign investment –
would have a direct effect on 1905 Revolution
- Rapid industrialisation caused strain on country – huge rural-to-urban migration caused crowding
and immense urban population growth in St Petersburg, Moscow and other cities
- Industrialisation caused social tensions in urban areas, and worsened plight of the peasants who had
to pay large taxes to fund the industrialisation
- Rural unrest grew with series of famines in 1890s
Long-term political causes of 1917 revolutions
o Monarchy was an autocracy until 1905 Revolution – political parties were illegal
o During 19th century, growing sections of educated classes were feeling alienated from monarchy because it
refused to share power – meanwhile other European monarchies were granting elected assemblies or
o Political opposition:
- The Liberals:
Grew under Alexander II, whose hopes for reform were raised by Alexander’s
emancipation of the serfs
The zemstva reform (1864), which introduced self-government, aroused hopes for an
elected duma, which Alexander II dashed.
No chance for constitutional reform after the assassination of Alexander II – Alexander III
and Nicholas II followed reactionary courses, completely opposed to sharing power, even
with educated classes.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 2
- The Revolutionaries: two types of revolutionary movement emerged under Alexander II – unlike
the Liberals, the revolutionaries sought to overthrow the monarchy.
Populists, later Social Revolutionaries (SRs):
Aimed at peasant revolution, which would see transfer of land from monarchy and
nobility to the peasant masses.
Social Revolutionary Party founded in 1901, led by Victor Chernov.
SRs campaigned for universal suffrage and a peasant revolution – involved in
peasant risings in 1902
Karl Marx’s ideas attracted growing number of Russian intellectuals from 1883
Sought to transform Russia through revolution of the industrial proletariat
1898, Russian Social Democratic Labour Party established, Lenin a founding
The Russian Marxists were very argumentative – remained divided throughout
period up to 1917 Revolution, some arguing for socialist revolution and others for
improving conditions for proletariat
Social Democrats split in 1903 – Mensheviks and Bolsheviks
Late imperial Russia, 1894-1917
The Land, the people and Tsardom
o Russian geography and peoples:
- The Russian Empire was huge, with most of the population concentrated in European Russia.
- The size of Russia tended to give an impression of strength, but this was misleading.
- The population was made up of a mix of races, languages, religions and cultures.
- Russian governments had had problems controlling such a varied population over such vast
o The tsar:
- The Romanov Dynasty lasted from 1613 to 1917 – under the Fundamental Laws of the Empire, the
tsar was given unlimited autocratic power, and that his rule was ordained by God
- The tsar’s absolute rule was exercised under three official bodies – they were not elected, but
appointed, nor did they govern, but merely advised. The bodies were subordinate to the tsar and
had no authority over him – he made final decisions regarding governmental and legal matters.
The Imperial Court (group of advisors directly responsible to the tsar)
The Cabinet of Ministers (ran various government departments)
The Senate (supervised operation of the law)
o Political backwardness:
- Russia had barely advanced politically compared to other European powers – by beginning of 20th
century, all major western-European states had form of democratic/representative government
- There was no parliament, political parties were illegal, the tsar could not be opposed in
government, and there was no free press but government censorship.
Liberal ideas (e.g. limitations on powers of rulers, greater freedom for the people) were not
openly expressed – thus, supporters of reform went underground.
The state used the tsarist secret police – Okhrana – to infiltrate oppositionist groups and
execute raids, arrests, imprisonments and executions. The Okhrana had unlimited powers
of arrest and was answerable only to the tsar.
Use of the katorga – the precursor to Gulag system – camps in remote Siberia where
dissidents were forced to do hard labour.
Lack of free speech drove political activists towards extremism, e.g. the assassination of
Alexander II in 1881
o Russian orthodox church:
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 3
- Was one of the great pillars of the Russian system, and supported tsarist claim to absolute authority
- Russian orthodoxy = branch of Christianity independent of outside authority such as the papacy
since 15th century.
- Had become deeply conservative body opposed to political change and determined to maintain
tsarist system in its reactionary1 form – used its spiritual authority to teach Russian population that
obedience to the tsar, who governed by divine right, was demanded of them.
- Highly detached from the industrial population
o Social structure of tsarist Russia: small commercial, professional and working classes and huge majority of
o Russian economy:
- Russia was industrially backward, as indicated by its small industrial worker population.
- Existing industry was small-scale: Russian iron production in the Urals, textile production in
Moscow and St Petersburg; smelting works, cottage industry in villages.
- Russia had an undeveloped transport system which hindered industrial expansion.
- Lack of effective banking system – made it difficult for Russia to raise large-scale capital, hindering
investment and entrepreneurialism.
- Despite 80% of the population being peasants, an efficient agrarian economy had failed to develop.
- Much of Russian territory was poor farming country, lacking suitable climate and soil for crop-
growing or cattle rearing – arable farming restricted mainly to Black Earth region stretching from
Ukraine to Kazakhstan.
- Emancipation Decree of 1861 had released peasants from serfdom, allowing them to buy land – but
the price had been too high – high price due to lack of enough fertile land to meet demand and the
government’s taxation of land sales.
- Peasants were able to buy land by borrowing from government fund – but they were then
burdened by large mortgage payments that would take generations to repay.
o Peasant problem:
- The governing class made up only 1% of the population, and it was heavily prejudiced against
granting rights to the masses.
- Peasants made up over 80% of population, were generally illiterate and uneducated – their size and
manner meant that they were regarded with fear and contempt by governing elite, who saw them
as ‘dark masses’ who must be controlled by repression. Elite were unwilling to improve conditions
for peasants, in case it might threaten their own privileges.
o Russian army:
- Lower ranks of army largely filled through conscription, which was often used as punishment for
- Life in the armed forces was brutal for common soldiers/sailors – army was notorious for its
discipline and poor conditions.
- Military camps had been set up in remote regions, and worked more as penal camps rather than
- It was believed the army must be large due to Russia’s large territory – this meant the government’s
annual expenditure was largely geared towards the military (around 45%), which was huge
compared to areas such as education.
- Weaknesse of army: higher ranks made up of the aristocracy – commissions bought and sold –
weakened fighting force, as shown by Crimean War (1854-6)
- Army mostly used for suppressing disturbances within the empire or on its borders (e.g. Turkey)
o The bureaucracy:
- Civil service was a corrupt bureaucracy – suffered from nepotism2 and incompetence, which
accounted for Russia’s backwardness.
- The civil service was privileged and incompetent, yet controlled the lives of the Russian masses –
the law, government, police and militia were controlled by the civil service.
1 Reactionary: resistant to any form of progressive change
2 Nepotism: corrupt practice of distributing positions and offices to one’s family and friends rather than to those of merit.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 4
- Challenges could not be made to system, as any challenges were lost in bureaucratic procedures.
The problem of reform in imperial Russia
o Barriers to reform:
- Disagreement in the government elite over Russia’s character as a nation – there were differences
between the ‘Westerners’ (who believed Russia had to adopt the best features of the political and
economic systems of Western Europe) and ‘Slavophiles’ (who regarded Western values as
corrupting – they wanted to revel in the Slav culture and Russia’s separate historical tradition)
- Autocracy – reform had to come from above, as there were no representative institutions.
Generally, tsars were not progressive, but reactionary – they were unwilling to implement
measures that would weaken their own authority.
- Result was that reform was piecemeal, rather than a systematic programme of change – reform
usually sprang from national crisis or humiliation (e.g. Alexander II’s accession during Crimean
o Local government reform:
- After the emancipation of the serfs, Alexander II set up elected rural councils (zemstvos) – they
were not truly democratic – as the voting regulations weighed against the poor, thus putting
zemstvos power in the hands of the landowners – but provided Russia with form of representative
government, which created hope for those seeking extension of political rights.
- Authorities placed emphasis on the mir (the traditional village community), which officials saw as a
local organisation providing effective means of keeping order and collecting taxes, mortgage
o Legal reforms:
- Aim was to simplify the cumbersome court procedures whose delays had led to corruption and
- Alexander II relaxed controls over the press and universities – greater freedom of expression
encouraged development of intelligentsia.
o Limited nature of the reforms:
- Alexander used reform to lessen opposition to tsarism – reforms were not introduced for the sake of
reform, but to prevent revolution.
- Alexander II may have introduced reform, but he remained an autocrat – fearful of his power being
compromised, he abandoned reformist policies and returned to oppression.
- Alexander II’s assassination by the ‘People’s Will’ meant his son, Alexander III, implemented even
harsher oppression, which earned the title of ‘the Reaction’:
Powers of Okhrana extended
Censorship of press extended
Universities brought under strict government control (University Act, 1887)
Independence of local councils decreased and government officials allowed to interfere in
decision-making (Zemstva Act, 1890)
Early reign of Nicholas II, 1894-1905
o Pressing issues and questions at accession of Nicholas II:
- Growth of opposition in Russia to tsarist system
- Russia’s need to modernise to be able to compete with other European nations
- Would Nicholas II be progressive or reactionary?
o Nicholas II’s upbringing:
- Nicholas II was influenced by his father – Alexander III had reacted strongly to his father’s
assassination through reactionary policies.
- Had been tutored at court by Konstantin Pobedonostsev:
Pobedonostsev was known for his repressive attidudes, conservatism and distate for all
forms of democracy.
He argued against participatory government and emphasized that autocracy was the only
possible government for Russia.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 5
- Reform begun under Alexander III and continued by Nicholas II
- Severely reduced influence of non-Russian minorities within the empire by emphasizing
superiority of Russians.
- Aim: to impose Russian language, culture, values, religion on all peoples within Russia.
- Discrimination against non-Russians became more public in 1890s – state interference became
widespread and systematic in the education, religion and cultures of non-Russians
- Heavy social, political and economic restrictions were imposed on Jewish population
- Used as scapegoats for Russia’s difficulties – pogroms (persecutions of Jews involving wounding or
killing, destruction of property) had been long traditions in Imperial Russia.
- Under Nicholas II the number of pogroms increased sharply, prop of his regime’s active
encouragement of persecution of Jews.
o The response to Nicholas II’s policies:
- Nicholas II’s tight controls led to opposition becoming more organised – political parties formed.
- State’s reactionary policies led to many political and national groups bcoming increasingly
Economic reform, 1893-1914
o 1890s – Industry grew rapidly, gaining the title ‘the great spurt’ – a major reason for the growth was
increase in coal output in Ukraine and oil in the Caucasus.
o The growth was due to private enterprise, but was sustained by deliberate government policy – but, the
government’s motives were military, not economic, as economic expansion was a means of improving the
strength of the Russian forces (growing industry would produce more war materials)
o Sergei Witte, Minister of Finance (1892-1903) aimed to modernise Russian economy to level that could
compete with Western nations:
- State capitalism:
Witte believed modernisation needed to be achieved through state capitalism3 – wanted to
follow examples of industrial revolutions of western Europe and USA
Witte saw Russia’s relationship with western Europe as one of colony and mother country
– Russia provided cheap, agricultural products and did not trade as an equal.
Witte emphasized need of capital for investment in industry – negotiated foreign loans and
investments, and imposed heavy taxes and high interest rates in Russia.
Limited import of foreign exports – imposed tariffs to protect Russia’s infant industries (e.g.
1897 – Russian currency put on the gold standard in order to aid financial stability which
would encourage foreign investment in Russia.
Rising prices due to tariffs and the increased value of the rouble affected Russian consumers
- Importance of railways:
Witte saw modernisation of economy as being dependent on development of an effective
railway system, which would encourage foreign trade – resulted in huge increase in lines
and rolling stock between 1881 and 1913.
Trans-Siberian Railway constructed 1891-1902 from Moscow to Vladivostok:
Intended to connect remoter regions of central/eastern Russia with industrial west,
thus encouraging migration of workers to where they were needed.
Sections of it still incomplete by 1914, and did not greatly improve east-west
Was more an impressive project rather than economically worthwhile.
- Russia experienced large economic growth – but it was low considering the huge population
- Witte’s problems:
Witte’s policies aided Russia’s economic growth, but there were problems:
3 State capitalism: Direction and control of the economy by the government, using its central power and authority.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 6
Witte made Russia too dependent on foreign loans, investments.
Neglected light engineering areas (e.g. machine tool production) in focussing on
heavy industry – less development/modernisation in manufacturing
Paid no attention to Russian agricultural needs
Though Witte can be criticised, he faced a number of problems:
Military commanders demanded priority in economic planning, which interfered
with Witte’s schemes for railway expansion, etc.
Witte’s freedom of action restricted by resistance to change of the court and
government – he was disliked by royal court and government, who gave him little
support – tsar forced him to resign in 1903
- End of the ‘great spurt’:
Trade recession at beginning of 20th century had serious consequences on Russia:
Amounted to widespread unemployment
Huge rural-to-urban migration had led to overcrowding and poor conditions in the
cities, though workers endured due to higher wages – but now the recession meant
that workers became unemployed, discontented contributing to growth of social
unrest from 1900 to 1917
Few workers had gained from industrial expansion:
o Were at mercy of employers due to weak trade unions and minimal
protection of workforce
o Had barely benefited from greater circular flow of income
o Inflation grew by 40% between 1908 and 1914, yet wages rose minimally
o Dissatisfaction with conditions emphasized by huge growth in number of
- How strong was the economy by 1914?
Until WWI, Russia was in process of becoming a modern industrial state, where it
could compete on equal terms with advanced countries – as shown by increased
industrial production, growth of labour force and foreign investment.
Compared to developments in other countries, Russian growth was too limited to
create genuine industrial base.
1914 – 80% of population were still peasants – undermines idea that there’d been
significant industrial development.
Opponents of Tsardom
o Populists (Narodniks):
- Believed tsarist regime must be overthrown by peasant masses – idea was unrealistic, as peasant
masses were not interested in political revolution.
- Movement originated from 1870s, leaders drawn from middle and upper classes.
- Leaders felt need to educate peasant masses into awareness of their revolutionary role – involved
Populists travelling from universities to countryside to live with peasants and turn them into
- Populist peasant education attempt rarely successful
- Some Populists turned to terrorism in desperation – the ‘People’s Will’ founded in 1879 with aim of
murdering members of ruling class
- ‘People’s Will’ assassination of Alexander II weakened Populist movement – murder of the
reformist tsar discredited reform itself, thus justifying repression imposed after assassination.
o Social Revolutionaries (SRs):
- Social Revolutionary Party grew out of Populist movement – Populists had tried to widen concept
of the ‘people’ during the ‘great spurt’ to include peasants and other elements of society.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 7
- Victor Chernov played key role in formation of SR party in 1901:
Became its leader
Member of intelligentsia
Sought to provide firmer base for Populism than its earlier passionate but vague ideas had
- SRs were weakened by internal disagreements – division between Left Social Revolutionaries and
Right Social Revolutionaries
- 1901-1905: SRs dominated by terrorist faction – responsible for over 2000 political assassinations in
this time period, which did little to bring about desired link with urban workers.
- 1905 Revolution more beneficial to liberals than revolutionaries – an effect was that the more
moderate Right SRs gained more influence over party policy – from 1906 they gained greater
support from professional classes, trade unions and All-Russian Union of Peasants.
- SRs were most popular party with peasants, largely due to land policy.
- Hugely divided – left wing believed party ignored industrial workers, right believed policy was
unworkable in current Russian conditions – meant party was collection of radical groups rather
than united party.
- SRs were party with largest popular following until party was outlawed by Bolsheviks after 1917
o Social Democrats (SDs):
- Created in 1898 with aim to achieve revolution by following ideas of Karl Marx – Marx argued that
critical determinant of human behaviour was class struggle – the process was called ‘the dialectic4’
- SDs believed the contemporary industrial era marked final stage of the dialectical class struggle –
revolutionary victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie was imminent
- Once the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ had begun, reactionaries would be obliterated, eliminating
class struggle and resulting in a harmonious society.
- George Plekhanov:
First important Russian Marxist revolutionary – ‘father of Russian Marxism’
Translate Marx’s writings into Russian
SD Party formed under his leadership in 1898
Some found Plekhanov too theoretical in his approach, wanting more active revolutionary
programme – Vladimir Lenin argued this.
1870 – Born to minor aristocratic family of Jewish ancestry
His brother’s execution in 1887 for his role in attempted assassination of Alexander
III intensified Lenin’s revolutionary attitude
Was on tsarist list of ‘dangerous person’s by age of 17 – exiled to Siberia in 1897
Had studied Marx’s writings before age of 20
Impact on SDs:
Upon return to western Russia in 1900, he began turning the SDs into what he
though was truly revolutionary.
Set up newspaper Iskra (the Spark) with Julius Martov, which he used to forward
his views to party members.
Criticised Plekhanov for being more interested in reform than revolution – argued
the SDs under Plekhanov were following policy of ‘economism5’ rather than
turning workers into revolutionary force to overthrow capitalism.
Lenin wanted living/working conditions to get worse to encourage proletariat
1902 – Lenin wrote pamphlet What Is To Be Done?:
4 The Dialectic: the violent struggle which takes place in nature and in human society between opposites.
5 Economism: putting the improvement of the workers’ conditions before need for revolution.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 8
o Insisted that revolution had to be organised by party of dedicated,
professional revolutionaries – they had the duty to direct the workers
towards true socialism.
o Membership should not just be made up of a broad group of anti-tsarist
- Bolshevik-Menshevik split (1903):
Dispute between Lenin and Plekhanov came to climax at second congress of SD Party in
1903 – Lenin made an issue of who had a right to belong to the SD Party (he wanted to
force members to choose between his and Plekhanov’s views)
Divide grew between Lenin and Martov – Martov agreed with Plekhanov about
membership, and thought behind Lenin’s tactics was determination to become party
After series of votes, the party split – Bolsheviks led by Lenin, Mensheviks by Martov.
Were to conflicting Marxist parties by 1912:
o Russia not ready for proletarian revolution – bourgeois stage had to occur
o Party should be a mass organisation, with membership open to all
o Decisions should be made through open, democratic discussion within
party, decisions made by voting
o Wanted to support trade unions in pursuing economism
o Wanted alliance with all revolutionary and bourgeois liberal parties
o Ripe for revolution
o Party should be tight-knit, exclusive organisation of professional
o Decisions made by Central Committee of the party – democratic
Democratic centralism: Lenin’s belief that true democracy in
Bolshevik Party lay in obedience of its members to the authority
and leaders, as only the leaders were sufficiently educated in the
science of revolution to understand what needed to be done =
allowed Lenin great power.
o Wanted no cooperation with other parties.
o Dismissed economism and wanted to turn workers into revolutionaries.
- Lenin and the Bolsheviks:
1904-17: Lenin largely absent from Russia (Finland, France, Switzerland and Austria) and
his visits to Russia were rare – he gave instructions to Bolsheviks from exile, but his
leadership played minor role in Russia before 1917.
Bolshevik tactics before 1917:
Lenin and other exiles set up training schools for revolutionaries who were then
smuggled back to Russia to infiltrate worker organisations, e.g. trade unions
Bolsheviks still in Russia raised money for party – often involved
Money spent on printing anti-tsarist leaflets, newspapers
Despite activity, Bolsheviks were considered minor challenge to tsarist regime by
Membership was small and Mensheviks outnumbered them before 1917
o ‘Great spurt’ of 1890s saw development of small class of industrialists, lawyers, financiers – in these groups
liberal ideas for Russian modernisation grew.
- Dated from October Manifesto of 1905, which created the duma
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 9
- Octobrists were group of moderates, basically loyal to tsar – believed in maintenance of Russian
empire, and saw creation of duma as major constitutional advance
- Members mainly from commercial, industrial and landowning interests
Aims were rather restricted
Establishment of authoritative regime which would work together with representatives of
Did not want stagnation or revolution
- Were classified as bourgeois reactionaries by the revolutionaries – however, the did want changes
to tsarist regime, but did not want to overthrow it.
o Constitutional Democrats (Kadets):
- Created at time of 1905 Revolution – made up of liberal intelligentsia, e.g. progressive landlords,
industrialists, professionals, academics.
- Wanted Russia to develop as constitutional monarchy in which tsar’s powers could be restricted by
democratically elected constituent assembly
Ending of censorship
Abolition of mortgage repayments on land
Recognition of trade unions and right to strike
Introduction of universal, free education
Full equality, civil rights for all citizens
All-Russian Constituent Assembly.
Causes of 1905 Revolution
Long-term: 1905 marked the first time the government had been faced with a combination of three main opposition
classes – the industrial workers, peasantry and reformist middle-class.
o Growing peasant unrest:
- Large-scale peasant uprisings in Ukraine from 1902 – risings across Russia by 1904.
- Peasants wanted more land and lower taxes.
- Reasons for unrest:
High taxes (to fund industrialisation)
Redemption dues (to pay for land they acquired after emancipation)
Bad harvests from late 1890s
Growing peasant literacy – meant peasant risings were more coordinated
o Industrial unrest:
- 1900-1905 recession led to high unemployment, wage cuts
- Poor living/working conditions of urban workers led to strikes in 1890s – from mid-1890s, Marxists
revolutionaries played role in organising strikes
- Rapid industrial growth ended abruptly in 1899 due to international financial crisis and bad
harvests in 1897-1901, leading to fall in government tax revenue.
- Chief of Moscow Police, Zubatov, organised official trade unions to try and channel working class
discontent – resulted in unions organising large-scale strikes
o Discontent over tsarist system:
- Repression: prisons overflowing with innocents, kartoga, Okhrana, censorship, lack of freedom of
religious and political expression, lack of strong and competenet government
o Growing political opposition:
- 1850s onwards saw growing professional middle-class, from which most opposition leaders came
- SD Party set up in 1898 – proletariat revolution
- SR Party set up in 1901 – peasant revolution
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 10
- Liberals angered by Russo-Japanese War failure and formed Union of Liberation – organised reform
banquets in 1904, but tsar only made vague promises of reform
o Growing unrest among minorities:
- Resentment due to policy of Russification carried out by Alexander III and Nicholas II.
o Russo-Japanese War, 1904-05:
- Motives for going to war:
To pursue expansionist policy in Far East to make up for Russia’s decline in Europe
To obtain ice-free port, all Russia’s major ports being icebound during winter months
To distract attention from Russia’s domestic troubles by rallying nation in a patriotic
- Path to war:
Russians saw Japan as inferior nation, unable to match Russia – expected easy victory
against the ‘little yellow monkeys’
Territorial disputes between Russia and Japan over Manchuria and Korea were long-term
1904, Russia rejected Japanese proposal for settling the rival claims to Korea – Russian state
hoped this would provoke a military response, and it did – Japan attacked Russian fleet in
January 1905 – Port Arthur fell to Japan after long siege.
February 1905 – Japanese seize key Manchurian town of Mukden.
May 1905 – Russian Baltic fleet destroyed at Tsushima after having taken eight months to
reach it – this was Russia’s ultimate humiliation in the war.
Treaty of Portsmouth – Russia agreed to withdraw forces from Manchuria and accept
Japanese control of Korea and Port Arthur.
- Reasons for defeat:
Russian military commanders had not prepared effectively – did not understand their
enemy nor the territory – their unimaginative strategies allowed Japan to outmanoeuvre
Lack of adequate reinforcements or supplies due to long distance over which forces and
materials had to be transported – Trans-Siberian Railway, still incomplete in areas, was not
Russia had underestimated Japan, thinking it inferior:
Japan was not backward as Russia had imagined – it had seen major reforms aimed
at Western-style modernisation under Emperor Meiji.
Japanese army/navy far better prepare, equipped than Russian forces
- Results of the Russian defeat:
Defeat at hands of a supposedly inferior, small Asian country was a national humiliation
Incompetence of the government was revealed by failure, worsening social unrest
Effects of the war on the home front, e.g. rising prices, bread shortages, money fuelled into
military and not other areas, Russian soldier casualties – worsened social discontent.
o Bloody Sunday:
Orthodox priest, Father Georgy Gapon, led peaceful march of workers and their families to
Winter Palace in St Petersburg.
Intent was to deliver petition to tsar, requesting better living and working conditions –
marchers were still loyal to tsar, and believed he would listen – many carried icons of the
Tsar was not present at Winter Palace, and the march induced panic in the police forces –
marchers fired on and charged by cavalry, causing approx. hundreds of deaths.
The events damaged tsar’s image as the ‘Little Father’
Opponents of the regime depicted the events as a deliberate massacre of unarmed
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 11
- Results: sparked off widespread outbreak of disorder
Events of 1905 Revolution
o Bloody Sunday sparks off strikes, which spread across Russia in all major cities and towns
o Terrorism against government officials and landlords spread to the countryside (largely organised by SRs)
o Public buildings in towns and private estates in the country attacked
o Land and properties seized by peasants
o Unrest and government’s difficulties to control disorder encouraged non-Russian minorities to assert
- Georgia declared itself independent state
- Poles demanded autonomy
- Jews pressed for equal rights
o There were several instances of disloyalty in the armed forces – some troops disobeyed orders and refused
to fire on unarmed strikers and peasants.
o Potemkin mutiny:
Sailors of the battleship Prince Potemkin protested while at sea at having to eat rotten food
and drink foul water
Sailors elected representative to approach captain with their complaints, whose response
was to have him shot
In response, crew mutinied – killed several officers and took over ship
However, the captains managed to maintain control on the other ships forming the Black
Sea naval squadron, meaning Potemkin was on its own.
Potemkin crew hoped to arouse support on land, and thus sailed to port of Odessa where
serious anti-government strike was taking place – mutineers were hailed as heroes, and
authorities became enraged, and troops were made to disperse the crowds, killing many
Mutiny worried the government, despite it being limited to one ship – the lack of loyalty in
the armed services was worrying, and Witte worried returning troops from the Russo-
Japanese War would join in the revolution.
o June 1905 - Tsar Nicholas II turned back to Sergei Witte:
- Witte made Chairman of the Council of Ministers (effective head of tsar’s government)
- Witte negotiated peace terms with Japan
- Organised the October Manifesto
- In 1906 Nicholas II would once again dismiss Witte, who would never again have a prominent
position in Russian politics – shows that Nicholas II was out of touch with Russia’s needs, as Witte
was one of the few able men in his government
o July 1905 – liberals set up Kadet Party, led by Paul Miliukov – party demanded an elected duma
o By autumn:
- Industrial unrest had grown into a General Strike
- There were widespread peasant rebellions
- Risings among non-Russian nationalities
- Workers formed themselves into elected soviets (councils made up of elected representatives)
- Soviets began as organisations to represent workers’ demands for better conditions – but would be
bases for political agitation
- October: St Petersburg Soviet formed, with Trotsky as chairman.
- November: Moscow Soviet formed
o Concession was unavoidable, and the government wanted to divide the opposition forces by giving ground.
o Tsar issued October Manifesto:
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 12
- Written by Sergei Witte
- Accepted the creation of a legislative duma (which would appease the liberals)
- Promised to introduce range of civil rights – freedom of speech, assembly and worship, legalising of
o November: government announces that mortgage repayments were to be progressively reduced and then
abolished completely (resulted in immediate decline in lawlessness in the countryside, and decrease in
number of land-seizures)
o Suppression of industrial workers:
- Strikers violently suppressed by returned forces
- December – St Petersburg Soviet HQ stormed and ringleaders, including Trotsky, arrested
- Moscow Soviet also suppressed
o April 1906 – Witte negotiates large loan from France, which made the government more secure
o 1906 saw upturn in world trade, contributing to Russian industry recovery
Significance of 1905 Revolution
o Notable features:
- Revolutionaries played a minor role in revolution – none of the SDs, apart from Trotsky, made an
- Tsarist regime survived revolution remarkably unscathed:
Mutinies in armed services did not spread or continue after war
Loyal troops returned from war to destroy soviets
Peasants and liberals were very ready to accept government’s concessions
October Manifesto lacked significant concessions
Duma was never intended to be, nor did it become a limitation on tsar’s autocratic powers
(e.g. no laws could come into force without his approval)
Government’s response to 1905: Stolypin, land reform and the dumas
Stolypin and land reform
o Peter Stolypin:
- Appointed President of the Council of Ministers in July 1906
- Dedicated to strengthening stardom in the time of crisis
- Political conservative
- His guiding principle was suppression first, then followed by reform
- Believed industrial progress could not solve Russia’s need to feed the rapidly growing population:
There had been a ‘rural crisis’ in the late 19th century – land shortage and overpopulation of
Problem deepened bad harvests in 1890s, severe famines 1891-1897
Scheme allowing state mortgages to freed serfs had not created the desired peace
o De-revolutionising the peasantry:
- Peasants had joined 1905 Revolution partly due to fear that government would seize their land due
to late mortgage payments
- Government realised this fear and thus bought off the peasants by announcing the abolition of the
repayments – ‘de-revolutionising’ the peasants
o Agricultural reform:
- Stolypin sought to restore the peasants’ sense of security through reforms – wanted to create
prosperous, productive peasants whose new wealth would make them support the tsarist regime:
Farmers urged to replace inefficient strip system with fenced fields based on western-
Land Bank established to provide funds for independent peasants to buy land
Schemes for large-scale voluntary resettlement with the aim to populate remoter areas, e.g.
Siberia, and render them agricultural areas – allowed peasants to leave the mir (village
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 13
o Weaknesses of Stolypin’s land reforms:
- Only 20% of peasants left communes, as peasants were reluctant to leave the security for the
uncertainty of individual farming - and agricultural productivity remained low
- Only 5% of peasants were making a profit by 1914
- Reforms did not tackle problem of rural overpopulation – problem of land shortage continued
- Conservatism of peasants prevented them from embracing progressive change
- Stolypin’s reforms had little chance of success due to the backwardness of agricultural methods and
the peasantry, as well as the little time he had to make any changes
- Stolypin argued he needed 20 years of peace for Russia to become stable – but he was assassinated
in 1911, giving him only 5 years, and WWI in 1914 gave only 8 to his reforms
The Dumas, 1906-14
First duma, April-June 1906
o Limitations to duma’s influence:
- The successful negotiation of a loan from France meant that the duma would be less likely to be
able to exercise financial hold over the government.
- Nicholas II’s promulgation of the Fundamental Laws (the first Russian constitution):
Declared that the tsar had supreme autocratic power.
Decalred that the duma would be bi-cameral6 – one chamber would be an elected lower
house, the other a state council with majority appointed by tsar – existence of second
chamber with right of veto deprived elected duma of any real power.
Declared that duma could not appoint government’s ministers, nor were they responsible
to the duma.
Gave tsar right to dissolve the duma as he pleased.
o The Vyborg appeal:
- Result was that duma met in bitter mood
- Elections had led to assembly being dominated by reformist parties – they criticised government for
going back on its promises and demanded that the duma’s rights and powers be increased.
- After two months, Nicholas II dissolved the duma
- In frustration, Kadet and Labourist deputies assembled at Vyborg, Finland to draw up an appeal
urging Russians to defy their government by refusing to pay taxes and disobeying conscription
- Response from Russian people was not one of widespread passive disobedience, but scattered
violence – gave government excuse for retaliation, and the Vyborg deputies were arrested and
debarred from re-election to the duma.
- This was prelude to Stolypin’s fiercely repressive policies – martial law was proclaimed and military
courts were used to suppress disturbances – led to over 2500 executions during Stolypin’s time in
office (the hangman’s noose became known as ‘Stolypin’s necktie’)
- This Kadet failure of 1906 left the party humiliated, and discredited the liberal cause – allowed light
and right to argue that Russia’s salvation needed to be gained through revolution or extreme
reaction, not reform.
Second duma, February-June 1907
o The Vyborg appeal led to the Kadets losing half their seats, which were filled by the SDs and SRs – made
new assembly strongly anti-government
o There was considerable disagreement within the duma (due to internal divisions among the parties) and
between it and the government:
- Stolypin was willing to work with the duma to make introduce the necessary reforms, but found
his land reforms opposed.
6 Bi-cameral: a parliament made up of two chambers or houses, an upper and a lower.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 14
- Tsar particularly angered by the duma’s attack on the imperial army’s organisation and deployment
– SD and SR deputies were accused of engaging in rebellion, and the duma was dissolved.
Third duma, November 1907 – June 1912
o The tsar had not decided to get rid of the duma, despite hostility in the first two, because:
- Foreign policy: tsar wanted to project image of Russia as democratic
- Duma had been rendered submissive by government’s rigging of electoral system – new laws
restricted the vote to the propertied classes (peasants and industrial workers lost out).
o Electoral laws meant that the new duma was dominated by right-wing parties less critical of the tsar, unlike
the previous two dumas where radicals had had large majority.
o Stolypin found the new duma more cooperative, enabling him to pursue land reforms without opposition.
o Duma was not entirely subservient:
- It questioned ministers and discussed state finances.
- It used its committee system to make important proposals for modernising armed services.
Fourth duma, November 1912 – August 1914
o Dominated by right-wing parties willing to cooperate, as with the third duma.
o Fourth duma less openly obstructive, but still critical of tsar – influenced the average Russian into
o Achieved social reform work, but was unable to make a greater contribution to development of Russia due
to the blindness of the tsarist government.
Growing tensions in Russia, 1911-14
o The ministers appointed by the tsar after Stolypin’s assassination were incompetent, and they simply carried
on with further repression – the regime’s terror tactics between 1911 and 1914 were an effect of, but also a
cause of dramatic increase in public disorder, which eventually reached the level of 1905.
o Lena Goldfields incident, 1912:
- Demands from the miners in the Lena Goldfields, Siberia, for better wages and conditions were
resisted by the employers – police arrested strike leaders as criminals.
- Issue became larger issue of trade union rights in Russia
- Troops fired on strikers in Lena, killing/injuring many miners
- From Lena Massacre onwards there was a growing strike movement
o Anger among the moderates:
- Even moderate parties began to despair of government’s dealing effectively with problems in
- Leader of the Octobrists told his party conference in 1913 that their attempts to achieve peaceful
transition to a new order had failed, and that Russian people were being driven towards revolution.
World War One
Long-term reasons for Russian entry into WWI
o Russian Empire was concerned about maintaining his European frontiers – felt especially threatened by
central and south-eastern Europe.
o Developments which alarmed Russia:
- Growth of a united Germany – Russia feared German unification (1871) meant central Europe was
dominated by powerful, ambitious nation, eager to expand eastwards.
- Formation of Austria-Hungary (1867) – Russia concerned Austria would build on new strength as
joint empire by expansionist policy in south-east Europe.
- Decline of Ottoman Empire – Russia’s worried that as Turkey weakened, Russia would be
challenged by aggressive national movements seeking independence from Turkish rule –
threatened Russian interests in Balkans
Two main considerations influenced Russian attitude towards Balkans:
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 15
Long tradition of Russian duty to protect Slav Christian peoples of the Balkans
from oppression by their Turkish Islamic masters.
75% of Russia’s grain exports were shipped through the Straits of the Dardanelles –
thus, it was necessary to ensure the Straits did not come under control of hostile
o Russian relations with Germany, France and Britain:
- Russia had been consistently defensive, unwilling to take diplomatic initiative, but willing to enter
into alliances that protected its western borders.
- In particular, Russia did not want its control over its buffer state between Russia and Germany,
Poland, to weaken.
- After dismissal of Bismarck in 1890, Germany adopted more aggressive form of diplomacy – led to
splitting of Europe into two opposed camps – Germany showed intention of joining with Austria in
asserting German influence in Balkans – frightened Russians into looking for agreements with
other powers to counter-balance Austro-German threat.
- Franco-Russian Convention, 1892:
Common fear of German aggression brought France and Russia together, despite their
traditional dislike of each other – Russia feared diplomatic isolation.
In the convention, the partners promised to give military support to the other should it go
to war with Germany.
Economic cooperation also improved relations – France funded Russia’s ‘great spurt’.
- Triple Entente, 1907:
Franco-Russian alliance expanded to include Britain, despite Anglo-Russian relations
having been strained for decades (hostility had risen due to imperial rivalries in Asia).
Germany embarked on major naval programme seen as a threat to Britain’s security and
empire – pushed Britain to seek alliance with France and Russia.
In Anglo-French Entente (1904), Britain and France had agreed to abandon old rivalry –
now Britain and Russia did the same.
The Russian defeat in the Russo-Japanese War was partly responsible for driving Russia
into the alliance – defeat re-directed Russia’s attention to the west rather than east, and
made Russia keener to form protective agreements with friendly European powers.
o Russia’s relations with Austria-Hungary:
- 1908 – Austria-Hungary annexed Balkan state of Bosnia, resulting in Russian protest – the Russians
and Austro-Hungarians agreed that Russia would accept the Austrian takeover of Bosnia if Austria-
Hungary would recognise the Russian rights in the Straits – Russia upheld this agreement, but
Austria-Hungary did not.
- From this period on, relations steadily deteriorated.
- Question of Serbia:
Bosnia contained many Serbs, and Austro-Hungarian annexation stirred fierce Serbian
Russia backed it in demanding compensation, viewing itself as the defender of Serbia and
the Slavic people.
Germany aggressively defended Austria, and warned Russia not to interfere.
Crisis threatened to develop into war, but none of the countries wanted war in 1909 –
Russia backed off from open confrontation, but emphasised Germany and Austria as the
- Balkan Wars (1912-13):
1909-1914: Russia continued to be involved in Balkan nationalist politics – aim was to
prevent Austria-Hungary from gaining major advantage in region.
Tactic was to persuade various nationalities in region to form coalition against Austria –
Russia had some success, with Balkan nationalism leading to series of conflicts – the Balkan
Outcome of wars favoured Russian and not Austrian interests – Serbia doubled in size and
saw Russia as an ally and protector. But Russia’s gains were marginal.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 16
Short-term reasons for Russian entry into WWI
o Russia was wary of war after defeat in Russo-Japanese War, and foreign policy had been defensive after
1905 – joined France and Britain in Triple Entente as a precaution against the alliance of the Central Powers
(Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey)
o Assassination of heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Franz Ferdinand, by Serbian nationalists made it
virtually impossible for Russia to remain out of the European conflict:
- Russia saw itself as the protector of the Slav people of the Balkans.
- Russia also wanted free access to the Mediterranean
- Wanted to be in position to defend Russian Black Sea coasts against hostile naval forces through the
Bosporus (narrow waterway linking Black Sea with the Dardanelles)
- One month after assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia – Russia hoped that
mobilising its armies would force Austria to withdraw, without Russia having to go to war:
Russian forces still seen as a formidable army – the ‘Russian steamroller’ – Russia’s immense
- Nicholas II wrote series of personal telegrams to his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II in order to try and
avoid war with Germany – but there was a sense in which the two emperors were being carried
along by events beyond their control.
o Russian mobilisation plans:
- Two mobilisation schemes:
Partial – based on plans for limited campaign in the Balkans against Austria-Hungary:
But, a worry was that a partial mobilisation would leave Russia defenceless against
Germany, if it should attack Russia’s Polish borders.
Full – based on plans for a full-scale war against both Germany, Austria-Hungary
A worry was that a full mobilisation would be seen as a provocation by Germany.
o German mobilisation plans:
- German government warned that if Russia fully mobilised, Germany would have to do the same:
Schlieffen Plan was based on concept of eliminating danger of a two-front war against
France and Russia by using blitzkrieg tactics in France – a swift victory was key.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 17
Thus, Nicholas II’s order to fully mobilise was not one that would repel Austria-Hungary,
but precipitated full German mobilisation.
Germany demanded on 31 July that Russians cease mobilisation – Russians did not reply by
next day, so Germany declared war, followed by Austria-Hungary on August 5th.
1914 June 28 Assassination of Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo
July 28 Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia
July 30 Russian full mobilisation orders given
July 31 Germany demands Russian cessation of mobilisation
Aug 1 Germany declares war on Russia
Aug 5 Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia
Russia at war
o Outbreak of war in 1914 initially enhanced Nicholas II’s position:
- Tsar became symbol of Russia’s resistance
- St Petersburg was patriotically changed to ‘Petrograd’
- The Russian war effort went well at first – quick mobilisation, Russian troops quickly crossing into
o Setback for Bolsheviks:
- Lenin was bitter in his criticism of the socialist parties who abandoned their policies to commit
themselves to national war effort.
- Lenin called on revolutionaries to transform the ‘imperialist war’ into a civil war – but the mood in
Russia was not right.
- Bolsheviks had to flee or go into hiding, having been classed as traitors and German agents because
of their opposition to the war.
- Had the war gone well for Russia, it is likely the Bolsheviks would have disappeared as a political
o Russia’s problems:
- Three years of total war put too much of a strain on Russian economy – during 1914-1917 the
political, social, and economic institutions of Russia were increasingly incapable of meeting
demands of war.
- Impact of the war:
By 1914 Russia was financially stable – currency on the gold standard and had
largest gold reserves in Europe.
1914-17: government expenditure rose from 4 to 30 million roubles
Increased taxation and huge borrowing from abroad only partially raided the
capital Russia needed.
Gold standard abandoned to allow more money to be printed – enabled wages to be
paid in short-term, but led to severe inflation in long-term.
1914-1916: wages doubled, food and fuel prices quadrupled.
Government made sale of vodka illegal, and thus lost much tax revenue, as it had
had monopoly on vodka sale.
Peasants had difficulty sustaining agricultural output due to requisitioning of
horses and fertilisers by military for war effort, and also due to decrease in farming
hands, as peasants were sent to the front.
Food shortages not an immediate problem – grain production began to fall in 1916,
partly because inflation made trading unprofitable so that peasants started hoarding
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 18
Food supplies to civilians decreased due to priority of military: soldiers had first
claim on the limited food supplies, and they had priority over transport, which
meant less food could be supplied to civilian areas.
Urban areas suffered the most from hunger and famine – Petrograd especially
badly hit due to remoteness from food-producing areas and swelling refugee
Wartime shortages mainly due to disruption of transport system – the growth of
the railways from 1881 to 1914 did not meet the demands of war.
Attempt to transport millions of troops/supplies to the front created pressure –
signalling system on which railway system depended broke down, blocked lines
and train engine breakdowns/lack of coal were commonplace.
By 1916 the railway system had virtually collapsed – hundreds of stations incapable
of handling freight.
By 1916, Petrograd and Moscow receiving only one third of supplies they needed.
Significant military reform had taken place since Russo-Japanese War, but the
reforms weren’t due for completion until 1917 – Russian army still behind German
army due to difference in their industrial bases.
The Russian army was a mighty force – 15.3 million of the population mobilised by
Army’s major weakness was lack of equipment:
o Not due to lack of military spending or resources, but poor administration
and lack of liaison between government and departments responsible for
o Poor transport system meant poor distribution of resources.
o Had only planned for 3 month campaign – Ministry of War had no plans
for wartime production of munitions, assuming their stocks were adequate
Lack of skill:
o Army had formerly been made up of trained professionals with three-year
o Army transformed into huge body of poorly-trained conscripts drawn from
o Lacked enough trained officers
Serious shortages evident from 1916 – lack of guns, ammunition, shells, boots,
Role of tsar:
Nicholas II took personal command of the Russian army as Commander-in-Chief
on August 22nd, 1915:
o Made him personally responsible for Russia’s poor performance in the war.
o Left government in hands of tsarina Alexandra and Rasputin, and meant
Nicholas II (based at army HG in Mogilev) was far away from his ministers
and the duma.
By 1916 civilian and military morale was very low due to:
o Food shortages
o Poor performance, defeats in the war
o High casualty rate
o Poor conditions in cities, countryside and army
Result was a high desertion rate and increasing opposition towards the tsar.
Growth of opposition to tsardom
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 19
o By 1916, tsar seen as inept political and military leader – the first moves in the February Revolution were
not made by revolutionary parties, but the members of the Russian society who had been the tsar’s
supporters in 1914, but who had become disillusioned by his incompetence by winter of 1916.
o The government continually changed its ministers in hope of finding a successful cabinet – all ministers
were incompetent, lacking statesmanship, and concerned with their personal interests.
o Duma recalled:
- August 1914 – duma had shown its total support fro tsar by voting for its suspension during war.
- By 1915 duma was demanding its own recall due to poor Russian military performance.
- Nicholas II allowed duma to reassemble in July 1915.
o Formation of a ‘progressive bloc’:
- Nicholas II rejected duma’s proposal to replace his incompetent cabinet with members drawn from
the duma – by doing so, the tsar destroyed his last opportunity of retaining support of the
progressive parties in the duma.
- Denied a direct voice in national policy, 236 of the 422 duma deputies formed a ‘Progressive Bloc’
made of Kadets, Octobrists, Nationalists and the Party of Progressive Industrialists – along with this
the SRs voted in their favour in all duma resolutions that criticised government’s handling of war.
- Initially, Bloc did not directly challenge tsar’s authority, but tried to get him to make concessions –
he refused, and viewed Bloc as an enemy and not a friend.
- With Nicholas II’s unwillingness to listen to the Bloc, they became a source of political resistance
rather than support.
o Role of Rasputin:
Grigori Rasputin was self-ordained holy man from Russian steppes – notorious for sexual
decadence, which made him irresistible to many women.
Seldom washed or changed his clothes – added to his sexual attraction.
Invited to court by tsarina Alexandra, who wanted him to heal the ailing tsarevich, Alexei,
His ability to improve Alexei’s condition made some think he had super-human powers, a
‘starets’ (hold man) – Alexandra thought he did the work of God, and he became her
His behaviour made him bitterly resented at the imperial court.
With Nicholas II absent from most of 1915 onwards, Alexandra and Rasputin became the
effective heads of government – made it difficult for people to support the tsardom, which
was being run by ‘the German woman’ and a debauched ‘mad monk’.
Aristocratic conspirators murdered Rasputin due to resentment and a wish to save the
Rasputin seemed invincible: poisoned by arsenic, shot point-blank, battered with a steel
bar, thrown in the river Neva.
- Rasputin’s importance:
He deserves credit for reorganising the army’s medical supplies system – he showed
common sense and administrative skill that Russia needed – it was his competence that
His prominence in the tsarist system convinced many that the system was not worth
o Disorder before revolution:
- There had been a number of challenges to the tsarist system in 1916 – Octobrists in the duma had
demanded removal of unwanted ministers and generals.
- Growing hostile feelings among the peasantry and proletariat.
- By February 1917, serious outbreaks of unrest were imminent.
- Discipline in army was beginning to break down due to:
Death of many officers
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 20
Loss of morale due to major retreat from German advance, and 1.7 million soldier deaths, 8
million wounded and 2.5 million POWs taken.
- 18 February – full-scale strike started by workers at the Putilov steel works in Petrograd – the
strikers were joined on the streets by more workers, who were angered by a rumour of further
bread supply cuts.
- 23 February – International Women’s Day brought thousands of women on to the streets to join
protesters demanding food and end to the war:
Factories occupied by strikers
Attempts to disperse workers hindered by growing sympathy among police for the
- Breakdown of order:
Tsar informed of disturbances through tsarina’s letters – he ordered commander of the
Petrograd garrison, General Khabalov, to restore order – but Khabalov replied that the
situation was uncontrollable, as troops were disobeying orders, police and militia were
fighting each other or joining demonstrators.
26 February – most of the Petrograd garrison troops had deserted.
Rodzianko informed tsar that only a major concession offered hop of preserving imperial
power – tsar replied by dissolving duma.
The duma formally dissolved, but a group of 12 members disobeyed orders and remained in
session as a ‘provisional committee’ – an open constitutional defiance of the tsar.
Alexander Kerensky (lawyer and a leading SR member in the duma) called for tsar to
abdicate, or suffer being deposed.
- Petrograd Soviet:
27 February – first meeting of the Petrograd Soviet of Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Worker’s
Deputies – the moving force behind this was the Mensheviks
The two self-appointed bodies – provisional committee representing reformist elements of
old duma, and Petrograd Soviet representing striking workers and rebellious troops –
became the de facto government of Russia.
This alliance was the beginning of what Lenin called the ‘dual authority’ – would last until
October – they called for the old system to be destroyed, and a constituent assembly to be
formed, elected by universal suffrage.
- Tsar’s abdication:
Tsar’s remaining ministers fled Petrograd – Rodzianko then advised tsar that only his
abdication could save the monarchy.
28 February – tsar tried to return to Petrograd, thinking his presence would have a calming
effect, but the train was intercepted by mutinous troops who forced it to divert to Pskov.
At Pskov, generals from the stavka (high command of Russian army) and representatives of
old duma met tsar to inform him of seriousness of situation in Petrograd made it dangerous
and futile for him to return – they advised abdication.
2 March – Nicholas II abdicated, and renounced the throne on behalf of his son – decree of
abdication nominated his brother, Grand Duke Michael, as new tsar, but Michael refused
the title on pretext that it had not been offered by a constituent assembly – in truth, he did
not want the poisoned chalice.
2 March – by default the Provisional Committee (now the Provisional Government)
became responsible for governing Russia.
4 March – tsar’s abdication publicly proclaimed, bringing end to revolution.
o Character of the revolution – not a revolution from below, but a collapse from within!
- Role of Bolsheviks:
Completely absent from revolution, as had been case in 1905 – most leaders in exile, Lenin
in Switzerland and had not been in Russia for a decade.
Given long absence from Russia and difficulties of communication due to war, Bolshevik
knowledge of the revolution was fragmentary and unreliable – thus, they were surprised by
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 21
Two months before, Lenin had said that he did not expect to experience the proletarian
revolution he worked towards.
- Role of Petrograd:
The revolution was overwhelmingly limited to Petrograd, but accepted willingly by the
rest of Russia.
There were few casualties in the revolution compared to those happening in the war –
Trotsky argued this showed there were few willing to save the old regime.
What brought the fall of the Romanov dynasty?
Strikes and demonstrations in Petrograd did not cause the revolution.
The earliest rejection of the tsar came from his old supporters:
o Highest-ranking officers first advised tsar to abdicate.
o Aristocratic members of duma refused to disband on tsar’s orders.
It was loss of support from old supporters, and tsar’s failure to resist that brought
about his fall.
- Role of the war:
The length of the war weakened the system heavily: high casualty rate, inflation, poor
communications system, hunger and deprivation.
These problems were being dealt with poorly by incompetent ministers and tsar – they
could not cope with the economic, political and psychological strains of the war
Problems brought about loss of morale and sense of hopelessness.
1917 October Revolution
Build-up to revolution
o The Dual Authority:
- Provisional Government, led by Prince Lvov, was old duma in new form – one major weakness was
that it had not been elected (it had come into being as rebellious committee of the old duma) –
thus, it had no legitimate authority, as it had no constitutional claim upon Russian loyalty.
- Role of Petrograd Soviet:
Weakness of Provisional Government was that its authority was limited by its unofficial
partnership with the Petrograd Soviet.
Soviet was not initially hostile – there was considerable cooperation, some people were
members of both bodies (e.g. Kerensky)
Soviet did not intend to be an alternative government – it regarded its role as a supervisory,
ensuring that interests of soldiers, workers were understood by the Provisional
In uncertain times after February Revolution, PG often seemed unsure of its authority,
giving Soviet greater prominence.
Soviets were rapidly set up in major cities/towns in Russia after February Revolution – in
early stages they were not dominated by Bolsheviks, so the soviets did not necessarily
oppose the PG.
Petrograd Soviet’s ability to restrict PG’s authority was revealed, e.g by the Soviet Order
Stated that the orders of the military commission of the duma were only to be
obeyed if they did not contradict the orders/decrees of the soviet
Importance of ‘Soviet Order Number 1’:
o Decrees of the PG regarding military affairs were only binding if approved
by Petrograd Soviet.
o Government has little power if it does not have control of the army – so
this order showed PG had little power.
o Thus, PG forced to compromise with the Soviet – between February and
April this worked well – no major disputes
- Political cooperation:
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 22
Elation in Petrograd after the revolution aided in lessening party differences – the
happiness in the streets made political groups feel Russia had entered into period of
freedom – during this period, cooperation was much more easily achieved.
Willingness to maintain state authority came largely due to the desire not to allow the
collapse of tsardom to slip into anarchy.
Cooperation also easier due to initial broad political representation in the PG and Soviet
compared to later – moderates had bigger influence than SRs or SDs in the first meetings of
the Soviet, and all parties (save Bolsheviks and monarchists) were represented in PG in first
Cooperation would become more difficult with time – PG moved more to the right, and
Soviet to the left.
- Early achievements of Provisional Government:
Initial political cooperation allowed PG to achieve some progressive reforms:
Official pardon and release for political prisoners
Recognition of trade unions
Introduction of 8-hour day for industrial workers
Replacement of tsarist police with a ‘people’s militia’ (volunteer law-enforcement
officers drawn from ordinary people)
Abolition of Okhrana
Abolition of death penalty
Granting of full civil and religious freedoms, e.g. freedom of the press
Preparations for election of a constituent assembly
Note: these reforms did not touch on the problems of land or the war, which would destroy
the relationship of the dual authority.
PG’s coercive ability weakened by its abolition of Okhrana, death penalty and censorship.
o Bolsheviks return:
- Impact of Stalin and Kamenev:
Stalin one of first to arrive due to having been in Siberia.
Because of their standing in the Party, Stalin and Kamenev became the leading voices
among Petrograd Bolsheviks.
Both initially took an anti-Lenin stance, who was still in exile.
Stalin and Kamenev ignored Lenin’s instructions, which were:
To turn the war into an international class war
Bolsheviks should infiltrate armies of the combatant nations and encourage soldiers
to turn weapons against their officers as first step towards overthrowing their
Bolsheviks must not cooperate with PG or other parties.
Stalin and Kamenev argued international war negotiations were the best policy to seek.
Kamenev insisted on cooperation with PG and other parties.
There was a wide difference in view between Lenin and Stalin and Kamenev – Kamenev
and Stalin were advancing ‘accommodationism’ (idea that Bolsheviks should accept the
situation following the revolution, cooperating with PG and being prepare to work with
other parties) – Lenin would reject this upon return.
Kamenev dominated Bolshevik discussions at this time, and Stalin followed along with
- Lenin’s return in April:
Germans helped Lenin return to Russia in a sealed train, hoping to weaken Russia’s war
effort by stirring up revolution.
Ever since outbreak of war in 1914, Lenin’s opponents accused him of being a German
agent – in fact Germans did five money to Lenin and the Bolsheviks
Before Lenin’s return the Bolsheviks had accepted events of February – had been
willing to work with other reformist parties, but Lenin changed this.
Lenin condemned PG and called for its overthrow in second revolution:
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 23
o He argued February had not been a real revolution, as Russia still did not
have political freedom but now had a ‘parliamentary-bourgeois republic’
(Lenin saw PG as unrepresentative, and claimed it simply replaced tsar
with reactionary duma)
o April 4 – Lenin issues his April Theses, spelling out future Bolshevik policy
o Lenin condemned all that had happened since tsar’s abdication – to
surprise of Bolsheviks who had been in Petrograd, and thought they’d be
praised for their work.
o Lenin insisted Bolsheviks must:
Abandon cooperation with other parties
Work for true revolution entirely by their own efforts
Struggle to transfer power to the workers
Demand that authority pass to the soviets
o Lenin had ulterior motive in demanding power to the soviets – they were a
power-base by which the Bolsheviks could obtain power in the name of
o Lenin put forward simply the Bolshevik aims through slogans – these
problems, he argued, were what the PG would not be able to solve, as the
ministers of the PG were only interested in their own class – Lenin wanted
government to be replaced with the soviets:
Peace, Bread and Land
All Power to the Soviets
o Provisional Government and its problems:
- Major problem was the war:
PG had to continue war due to financial reasons – it relied on supplies and war-credits
from western allies, and Russia was virtually bankrupt after tsardom.
The propertied classes that made up the PG were also keen on territorial gains from the
war, e.g. Constantinople
PG’s preoccupation with war prevented it from dealing with Russia’s social and economic
- Government crisis:
The question of the war brought about the first big rift between Petrograd Soviet and PG:
14 March – Petrograd Soviet had released an Address to the people of the whole
world – called for peace without annexations or indemnities7.
PG accepted the Address, yet Milyukov (foreign minister) pledged to the Allies
that Russia would continue in war until Germany was defeated.
April – series of violent demonstrations directed against Milyukov broke out in
May – Milyukov and Guchkov (War Minister) resigned, showing divisions within
Kerensky became War Minister in new cabinet, and 6 leading Mensheviks and SRs
joined – PG hoped that new apparent shift to left would ease relationship with the
Soviet – instead this worsened the relationship.
- Emergence of Kerensky:
Lvov stayed as nominal head of government, but Kerensky had major influence.
Kerensky, as War Minister, campaigned for Russia to embrace conflict with Germany as a
struggle to save the revolution – he travelled to the front to deliver speeches to the troops:
Government’s problems worsening:
The attempt to turn the war into revolutionary crusade was unrealistic – Russian
war effort was worsening, no longer had a chance of fighting successful war.
7 Indemnities: payment of war costs demanded by the victors from the losers.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 24
Kerensky persisted with the war, despite loss of support and reality.
Major ‘Kerensky Offensive’ launched in June failed, further weakening morale –
soldiers encouraged to disobey orders by Bolsheviks, making them no match for
Germans – whole regiments mutinied/deserted.
General Kornilov called on PG to halt Russian offensive to direct its energies to
crushing SDs and SRs at home.
Kronstadt: Sailors and workers defied central authorities by setting up own
government – this encouraged some revolutionaries into thinking time was ripe for
an uprising – the July Days.
- The July Days:
Signs of government’s loss of control:
Spread of soviets
Worker-control of the factories
Widespread seizure of land by peasantry
Creation of breakaway national minority governments, e.g. Ukraine
The Ukrainian question helped provoke the July Days – upon learning that a PG group of
representatives in Kiev had offered Ukraine independence, Kadet ministers resigned,
protesting that only all-Russian constituent assembly could decide this.
This ministerial clash coincided with large-scale street demonstrations in Petrograd – the
demonstrations turned into direct challenge to PG due to the government’s mounting
problems and failure of Russian offensive.
Failure of rising:
Rising was confused, disorderly – demonstrators fell out amongst themselves,
Soviet members reluctant to make bid for power were physically attacked.
Rising’s disunity made it easy for PG to crush it – troops called up from the front
scattered the demonstrators, restored order.
Who started the rising?
o Bolsheviks started the uprising, but later tried to disclaim responsibility for
o Trotsky argued it had been started by Mensheviks and SRs.
o The workers and sailors of Kronstadt had risen spontaneously, and
Bolsheviks had joined to aid them.
Consequences of rising:
Rising revealed number of important points:
o Opposition movement was disunited
o Bolsheviks were still far from being dominant revolutionary party
o PG still had strength to put down armed rising
The PG’s still having strength raised spirits of the PG and credited Kerensky – he
was made Prime Minister on July 8th.
Kerensky immediately targeted Bolsheviks:
o Closed Pravda
o Lenin fled to Finland
o Trotsky and Kamenev arrested
o Launched propaganda campaign portraying Lenin and Bolsheviks as
traitors and German agents
- The land question:
PG failed to understand the masses’ view on the land problem:
Land shortage was major problem in Russia
Was main reason for peasant unrest
February Revolution made peasants think they would soon see major land
redistribution – but this did not happen, encouraging many peasants to seize land
from landlords, which resulted in more problems:
o Led to more desertions – peasant soldiers wanted to join in
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 25
o Decrease in food supplies, as estates seized by peasants were often the most
PG had no real immediate answer to the problem:
Had set up a Land Commission to redistribute land, but this had made little
Promised redistribution of land once Constituent Assembly met – but PG kept
….yet, peasantry was not prepared to wait!
Majority of PG’s member came from landed classes – unlikely to be enthusiastic about
policies threatening their own positions.
Bolshevik position on the land question:
The Bolsheviks had dismissed the peasantry as lacking true revolutionary initiative
– they focussed on proletariat revolution.
Upon return to Russia, Lenin had stated that it would be pointless to make alliance
with the backward peasantry.
But Lenin made a tactical adjustment:
o He could not ignore disruptive behaviour (land seizures) of 80% of the
o Lenin stated that the conditions after the tsardom had fallen created a
situation in which the peasantry were acting as a revolutionary force.
o Thus, Lenin adapted Marxist theory and added peasants to the proletarian
Lenin then stole the SRs’ land policy – ‘Land to the Peasants’ – this meant
Bolsheviks recognised peasant land-seizures as legitimate, which greatly increased
Bolshevik support in the countryside.
- Kornilov Affair:
o Right-wing officer
o Had never accepted February Revolution – wanted to destroy socialist
enemies (destroy revolutionaries, disperse Petrograd Soviet) within Russia
before defeating the Germans
August – German advance began to threaten Petrograd – Kornilov declared Russia
was about to topple into anarchy and that the PG was in danger of a socialist
Kornilov informed Kerensky that he was bringing his loyal troops to Petrograd to
save the PG from rebellion.
o Publicly condemned Kornilov’s advance.
o Ordered Kornilov to surrender his post and placed Petrograd under martial
o Fearful of attack from Kornilov, he called on all loyal citizens to defend the
o Bolsheviks released from prison/came out of hiding and collected weapons
issued by PG to all willing to fight.
Kornilov abandoned advance once he learned that the railway workers refused to
operate the trains to bring the army to Petrograd, and that a mass worker’s militia
had formed to oppose him.
Had been able to present themselves as defenders of Petrograd and the Revolution
– this diverted attention away from their failure in the July Days.
The attempted coup had revealed PG’s political weakness and vulnerability to
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 26
o Political shift in Petrograd:
- Bolsheviks recovered well from July Days and gained from Kornilov Affair – by mid-September
they had gained majority in Petrograd and Moscow Soviets because:
Attendance of the meetings of the soviets had diminished:
Major advantage to Bolsheviks, as their dedication meant they continued to turn
up in force while members of other parties attended irregularly.
This meant Bolsheviks exerted influence out of proportion to their numbers.
o Lenin’s strategy:
- From exile in Finland, Lenin constantly appealed to his party to prepare for overthrow of PG – he
claimed his earlier statement had been correct (that the PG would become increasingly reactionary
as it failed to solve the war and land problems.)
- Lenin argued:
The Soviet was the only hope for the revolutionaries.
Bolsheviks could not wait – must seize power while PG was most vulnerable.
‘History will not forgive us if we do no assume power.’ (12 September)
- Lenin’s urgency was due to his concern over two upcoming events, which would limit Bolshevik’s
freedom of action:
October – meeting of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets:
Lenin argued that by overthrowing PG under banner ‘All Power to the Soviets’, the
Congress would not reject the new authority.
November – election for Constituent Assembly:
Once in existence, it would be difficult to challenge the Assembly.
Lenin argued it was impossible to know how well Bolsheviks would do in
elections, so they had to gain power before so they could undermine the results if
o The ‘pre-parliament’:
- In order to lessen danger to his government, Kerensky announced plan for creation of a ‘pre-
Would have authority to advise the PG.
Would be a body drawn from variety of parties, so would represent a greater range of
- Lenin condemned this as manoeuvre to strengthen PG’s power – Bolshevik members of the Soviet
entitled to attendance of the pre-parliament walked out.
o Lenin returns to Petrograd:
- Lenin urged party to prepare for revolution after Bolshevik success in undermining pre-parliament.
- However – some Bolsheviks in the Central Committee (CC) of the party did not think the time
- 7 October – Lenin returned to Petrograd to enforce his will:
His presence did not produce total unity, though it stiffened Bolshevik resolve
Spent next 2 weeks at CC meetings trying to convince his party that time was ripe.
- 10 October – CC voted for armed insurrection, but did not elect a date.
o Kerensky makes first move:
- Rumours of imminent Bolshevik coup had been circulating.
- Article written by Zinoviev and Kamenev, arguing that it was too early to overthrow PG, worried
Kerensky – he took article as meaning that a date for the insurrection had already been set.
- Kerensky sparked off the revolution:
23 October – closed Bolshevik newspapers, Pravda and Izvestiya
Began rounding up leading Bolsheviks
These events led Lenin to order the beginning of the revolution
o Trotsky’s role:
- Lenin had the great influence behind the October Revolution, but Trotsky planned it.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 27
- Key to Trotsky’s success in organising uprising was his chairmanship of Petrograd Soviet:
9 October – Soviet set up Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC) to organise defence of
Petrograd against German/internal Kornilov-type attack.
Trotsky realised Bolshevik control of MRC would allow them control of Petrograd – so he
used his influence to become accepted as one of the troika appointed to run the MRC.
Thus, Trotsky had effective military force at his disposal – plus, it was a legitimate force.
- Upon Lenin’s order for uprising to begin, Trotsky directed Red Guards in seizure of key vantage
points in Petrograd (e.g. bridges, telegraph offices).
o Collapse of PG:
- Few casualties:
PG had few military forces to call on.
The Petrograd garrison did not come to PG’s aid – desertions had left it down to few loyal
officer-cadets, small group of Cossacks and unit of female soldiers.
Red Guards approaching Winter Palace met with no resistance – they simply persuaded the
few leftover guards to lay down their arms.
The sounding of guns signalled by the crew of the cruiser Aurora, moored in the River
Neva, convinced remaining members of the government that resistance was futile – many
ministers, including Kerensky, had already fled.
o Bolsheviks take power:
- Speed and ease at which power fell into Bolshevik hands surprised even Lenin.
- 27 October – All-Russian Congress of Soviets met for first session – the chairman, Kamenev,
informed the delegates that Bolsheviks were now supreme authority in Russia, that Petrograd
Soviet had seized power in their name.
- Kamenev read out 14 names of new Sovnarkom (government/cabinet) – all Bolsheviks or left SRs,
and Lenin was the head of the list of Commissars – the new leader in the name of the Congress.
- Mensheviks and right SRs walked out of Congress, protesting it was not seizure of power by the
Soviets, but a Bolshevik coup.
Reasons for Bolshevik success
o Trotsky said key factors to Bolshevik success were:
- Failure of Petrograd garrison to resist
- Existence of the MRC
o PG weaknesses:
- Failure of PG to rally effective military support in October Revolution was due to its political
failures over the past months.
- PG was not hated by Russian people, but it did not arouse enthusiasm.
- PG had not resolved Russia’s problems, which lost it support and meant it was not worth struggling
- PG was never meant to be a long-term government – it was an interim government before
introduction of an all-Russian Constituent Assembly.
- PG had not made sustained effort to destroy Bolsheviks:
Had only been a few arrests.
They had been more worried about attack from the left – they expected a tsarist reaction
against the revolution.
Lenin not seen as much of a threat for most of 1917because Bolsheviks were not militarily
o Weaknesses of non-Bolshevik parties:
- The other parties did not mount serious threat to Bolshevik leadership of the Revolution from
February to October because they had accepted February as the real revolution – meant it made
sense for them to cooperate with PG, which claimed to represent progressive forces of Russia.
- Revolutionary parties, e.g. SRs, were thus willing to form coalition with Kadets and await election
of Constituent Assembly – gave Bolsheviks a propaganda weapon, as Lenin argued that the socialists
had sold out to the bourgeoisie.
- Other parties also weakened by their support of the war – saw it as Russia’s duty to defeat
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 28
Saw February Revolution as marking critical stage in class war, when bourgeoisie
had overthrown old feudal forces – this was the necessary prelude, said Marx, to
revolution of proletariat.
BUT – Mensheviks felt they must align themselves with other parties and work for
consolidation of bourgeois revolution as Russia did not yet have proletariat big
enough to be revolutionary force.
Once consolidation was complete, they would turn to proletarian uprising.
o Bolshevik ruthlessness:
- None of the other parties were as well-equipped as the Bolsheviks to exploit the crises facing Russia
- The Bolsheviks were dedicated revolutionaries:
Scornful of all other parties, ideas
Totally loyal to Lenin
o How far was Bolshevik success due to Lenin?
- Credit for Lenin:
Despite his frequent absence from February to October, he continued to dominate actions
in the Party.
He had been able to persuade the party to agree to an uprising.
April Theses were attractive to Russian people.
His policy of opposing the PG meant that the Bolsheviks became more popular as the PG
lost support – all other parties supported the PG.
His revision of Karl Marx’s line on the peasants gained Bolsheviks more peasant support, as
well as support from some SRs, as Lenin had used their land policy.
Trotsky assessed that the revolution would have happened if he himself had not been there,
but not if Lenin had been absent or not in command.
- Other factors:
What had helped prepare ground for revolution was increase in Petrograd factories of
workers’ committees who were not necessarily pro-Bolshevik, but anti-government – so,
when the challenge to the PG came, the people of Petrograd did not support the PG.
Trotsky’s organisation of the insurrection and role in the MRC.
Historical interpretations of the October Revolution
o Communist Party’s view:
- Was inevitable result of class struggle
- Stresses brilliance of Lenin’s leadership
- Was a popular revolution, inspired and organised by Bolsheviks
o Liberal view:
- Ruthless Bolsheviks took advantage of collapse of PG authority to seize power
- October Revolution was a coup d’etat by Bolsheviks who had only limited popular support.
- Bolsheviks were successful because of their organisational skills and leadership of Lenin and
o Revisionist view:
- Emphasis on importance of revolution from below – there was a growing popular movement
(characterised by growing influence of soviets) that would have overthrown PG without Bolshevik
- Bolsheviks exploited this popular revolution to their advantage and betrayed the people by
imposing single-party dictatorship, suppressing workers’ movement.
Bolshevik consolidation of power, 1917-24
Bolsheviks in power
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 29
o In power, Bolsheviks had difficulty in consolidating their hold over the old tsarist empire – the questions to
be asked were:
- Could they survive?
- If so, could they extend control over all of Russia?
- Could they negotiate swift end to WWI?
- Could they bring economic stability to Russia?
o The Soviet view is that after the October Revolution, the Party transformed Russia into a socialist society by
following a set of planned, pre-prepared reforms
- Historians do not accept this now – they agree Lenin’s policy was a pragmatic8 adjustment to the
harsh realities of the situation.
o Initially, Bolshevik regime was engaged in struggle for survival, because before 1917 they had always
planned for revolution, but had not prepared for what would happen afterwards.
o Traditional Marxist belief stated that state would ‘wither away’ after the Proletariat revolution – Trotsky
echoed this in October 1917, but it would never happen.
o Distribution of power:
- Lenin claimed the Bolsheviks had taken power in the name of the Soviets – but it had really been
- But Lenin persisted on arguing that Sovnarkom had been appointed by the Congress of Soviets –
this would mean distribution of power in Russia would take pyramid-form, with Sovnarkom at the
top, with authority drawn from the Russian people who expressed their will through the Soviets:
- In reality:
The Bolsheviks did not rule by legitimate legal right, as the traditional forms of
government had broken down with the fall of tsardom and the PG.
So, Bolsheviks had ability to make up their own rules – and Lenin would be unwilling to
allow for true democracy, as not all the soviets were dominated by Bolsheviks.
The idea that the Soviets had taken power was a façade.
The key body was actually the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party – this is where
the members of Sovnarkom came from.
8 Pragmatic: an approach in which policies are changed and modified according to circumstance rather than in keeping
with a fixed theory.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 30
o Bolshevik’s early measures:
- Before October Revolution, Lenin had argued against landlords and capitalists – but he had no plans
for how to replace them.
- Thus, it is understandable that his policy after the Revolution was pragmatic.
- Lenin argued change from bourgeois to proletarian economy would take time – the Bolsheviks
would use the existing structures until the transition could be completed:
This stage was called ‘state capitalism’ – where the Bolsheviks maintained the main pre-
revolutionary economic structures from 1917 to 1918
- Immediate problems:
Many Bolsheviks wanted immediate introduction of revolutionary policy – but Lenin
asserted that new regime did not have enough power to do so.
Presently Bolsheviks only have authority in Petrograd and Moscow – they would need
wider political/military control before they could leave behind the prevailing structure.
The war had brought Russia close to economic collapse:
Huge shortage of raw materials, investment capital meant low industrial
Transport system crippled
Food crisis worsened after October Revolution upon ceding of Ukraine to Germany
Lenin’s economic policies from 1917 on were aimed at dealing with these problems,
especially food crisis.
Even though Lenin emphasised important of industrial workers, he understood that the
mass of the population, the peasantry, were the food producers – how best could they be
persuaded/forced to provide enough food?
- ‘Decree on Land’, November 1917:
Decree gave Bolshevik approval to peasants having overthrown landlords and seized
The decree ruled that private ownership would be abolished – that land would be
confiscated and would become the property of the people.
- ‘Decree on Workers’ Control’, November 1917:
During 1917, many factories had been taken over by the workers.
But, the workers’ committees that had formed ran the factories inefficiently,
leading to fall in industrial output.
Decree accepted workers’ takeover, but also instructed committees to maintain strict order
and discipline in the workplace.
As the workers’ committees were not all dominated by Bolsheviks, this was difficult to
impose – they would need to gain greater control.
- Setup of Vesenkha, December 1917:
Vesenkha: the Supreme Council of the National Economy
First step towards establishing framework of state direction of the economy.
Set up to take charge of all existing institutions for the regulation of economic life.
Initially, was unable to exercise full authority, but it did preside over important
Banks and railways nationalised
Foreign debts cancelled
Transport system made less chaotic
- Creation of the Cheka, 1917:
Lenin was determined to impose absolute Bolshevik rule by suppressing political
Cheka was better-organised, more efficient from of the Okhrana.
Purpose was to destroy ‘counter-revolution and sabotage’ – these terms came to be very
broad, basically meaning that all that the Bolsheviks disapproved of could be punished.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 31
Dissolution of the Constituent Assembly
o Lenin had no faith in democratic elections:
- He saw them as tricks by which bourgeoisie maintained power.
- Thus, he was not concerned about gaining mass support – he wanted to be able to create a party
capable of seizing power
- This is why he had refused to support the PG.
o After October Revolution, Lenin was keen not to allow elections to undermine the new Bolshevik power –
but the Revolution had come too late to prevent the elections to the All-Russian Constituent Assembly in
o Results of the elections:
- Bolsheviks had been outvoted by nearly 2:1 by the SRs
- Bolsheviks had won only 24% of total vote
- Bolsheviks had gained barely ¼ of the seats
- Constituent Assembly gathered in January 1918 – after one day’s session it was dissolved at
gunpoint by Red Guards
- Some members tried to protest, but it was futile
- This crushed the dreams of liberals and reformers.
- Would not be another democratic body in Russia for 70 years!
o Lenin’s motives for destroying Assembly:
- Originally Lenin had supported a Constituent Assembly, as it would weaken the PG – but now he
had no need for it.
- It was overwhelmingly non-Bolshevik, which would make things difficult for the Party
- One possibility would have been to work with the Assembly – but Lenin was a revolutionary, not a
democrat – he did not want cooperation, he wanted to crush opposition
- Lenin’s dissolution of the Assembly was due to fact that Bolshevik hold on power was weak:
Widespread opposition to them in Russia
Still at war with Germany, and foreign intervention likely if Bolsheviks chose to sign a
- Lenin’s justification for the dissolution:
He argued the original reason for electing the Assembly had been to establish an all-
Russian representative body, which Lenin argued had already been done by the Bolsheviks.
The people’s will had expressed itself in the Revolution – so there was no need for the
Argued the elections had been rigged by the SRs and Kadets – thus, the results supposedly
did not reflect the wishes of Russian people
o Reactions to the crushing of the Assembly:
- Caused unease among some of his own supporters, e.g. a leading intellectual of the Party, Maxim
Gorky, saw it as a seizure of a wish the Russian people had had for a long time – a Constituent
Assembly and democracy.
- Many foreign communists appalled by the event, e.g. Rosa Luxembourg
- These criticisms did not affect Lenin – he was focussed strengthening the Party, which was trying
to impose itself on Russia, and was surrounded by enemies – he justified his actions through
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk 1918
o Disagreement between Lenin and Trotsky:
- Both wanted to end the war
- But they argued over how this would be achieved – Lenin wanted immediate peace, Trotsky a
o When Lenin had returned to Russia in April 1917, he had argued for the war to be turned into an anti-
imperialist revolutionary war.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 32
- Some Bolsheviks and Left SRs still pressed for this
o Now Lenin reasoned that:
- Russia’s military exhaustion made it impossible to fight successfully.
- If Germany won, then it would retain the Russian territory it now had
- If Germany eventually lost to the Allies, Russia would regain its occupied territory
- Thus, it was pointless to continue fighting
o One reason for Lenin seeking an armistice was that the Bolshevik was still receiving revenue from Germany
– it wanted to maintain these payments
o Trotsky’s view:
- He agreed with Lenin that Russia had no chance of a successful fight
- But he was determined to stall peace talks because he believed the German armies might soon
collapse on the Western Front and revolution would break out in Germany
- He wanted more time for the Bolsheviks who were trying to encourage uprisings, and were
exploiting mutinies in the Austro-German armies.
o Bolshevik tactics at Brest-Litovsk:
- Trotsky’s view of ‘neither peace, nor war’ was intended to confuse and enrage Germans at Brest-
- Trotsky continually ignored traditional etiquette of European diplomacy in order to show his
contempt for the ‘bourgeois propriety’ – he used deliberately disruptive tactics, for example:
Yawning loudly while German delegates were speaking
Starting private conversations with colleagues instead of listening
Would ignore the point under discussion and give revolutionary speeches praising the
Revolution and calling for Germany to rise in revolution.
- Why did they sign such a devastating treaty?
Lenin and Trotsky were international revolutionaries – they were willing to sacrifice
national interests in the cause of the worldwide rising of workers.
National defeat was not such a bad consequence because of this – even though this
dismayed many Russians and Bolsheviks
- The Russians signed the treaty once it was clear the Germans were willing to march to Petrograd to
overthrow the government.
- Trotsky was able to use the treaty as a nationalist propaganda point:
3 March – under orders from Trotsky, the Soviet representative declared before signing the
treaty that it was not a freely negotiated settlement, but a German ‘Diktat’9 imposed on
- Terms of the treaty:
1/3 of European Russia from the Baltic to the Black Sea (including Ukraine, Russia’s ‘bread
basket’) and containing 45 million people was ceded to Germany and her allies
Russia required to pay reparations of 3 billion roubles
o Lenin’s reasons for signing treaty:
- Though many Bolsheviks disdained the settlement, Lenin argued that:
It was necessary due to Russia’s military and economic exhaustion
Those who wanted to continue fighting were ‘romanticists’ unaware of the reality of the
situation – wars not just won through idealism, but also resources.
Russia could not match Germany’s power
A peace settlement was needed to give Russia breathing space to recuperate
Russia would soon be in a position to take back the territories – this would happen after the
war when a conflict between the capitalist powers would take place
- Lenin had great difficulty convincing the Party – he only gained a majority in the CC by 1 vote.
- Lenin as an ‘international revolutionary’:
He expected workers’ risings to sweep Europe soon
National conflicts would soon be supplanted by the international class struggle
The terms of the treaty were a small price to pay for the soon-to-come world revolution
9 Diktat: a settlement imposed on a weaker nation by a stronger one.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 33
- The ‘Left Communists’:
A number of Bolsheviks – the ‘Left Communists’ – condemned the treaty
Only Lenin’s insistence on the need for party loyalty in time of crisis persuaded them to
accept the treaty.
Had military events not turned in western Europe, serious opposition to Lenin’s leadership
may have continued:
August 1918 – collapse of Germany’s Western Front eventually destroyed
opposition from the Left Communists and Left SRs
The treaty was made meaningless with the total withdrawal of German troops from
The fact that Lenin had been right about the fact that circumstances would soon
make the treaty meaningless strengthened his hold over the party, allowed him to
expel Left SRs from the government
Russian Civil War, 1918-20
o Bolshevik actions made civil war very likely:
- Crushing of Constituent Assembly
- Outlawing all other parties
- Unwillingness to share power
o Bolsheviks had only limited grip on Russia – bound to face military opposition from opponents not willing
to be subjected to absolute rule of a minority party.
o Lenin wanted a destructive civil war:
- It was better to wipe out opposition quickly, rather than face challenges from anti-Bolsheviks, who
were a majority in Russia.
o Lenin knew that Bolshevik cooperation in a coalition would have had consequences:
- Would make successful counter-revolution easier to mount, as the socialist parties would have
popular mandate to govern
- Bolsheviks would have been unable to dominate government since they were a minority compared
o Instead of these consequences, Lenin would pursue policies which would make civil war inevitable.
o Reds, whites and greens:
- Bolsheviks presented the struggle as a class war – but it was not this simple – a number of Russia’s
national minorities (e.g. Georgians, Ukrainians) fought in the war to establish their independence
- Reds: Bolsheviks and their supporters (e.g. Kronstadt sailors)
The Bolsheviks’ opponents – monarchists (wanting tsarist restoration), parties who had
Groups from the national minorities
They were nationalists struggling for independence from central Russian control.
o War about food:
- Failure of new regime to end food crisis was important factor in creating the initial military
opposition to the Bolsheviks:
Poor transport system
Loss of Ukraine to the Germans
- Some fighting was simply desperate struggle for food – famine was backdrop to the Civil War.
o Challenge from SRs:
- The challenges to Russia encouraged open challenge to Bolsheviks from left and right.
- SRs (who had been driven from government by Bolsheviks) organised anti-Bolshevik coup in
10 Moscow: for security reasons, Moscow had replaced Petrograd as the capital in 1918.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 34
Thus, it could be argued that the civil war was begun not as a counter-revolution, but as an
attempted coup by one set of revolutionaries.
- The coup failed but their terrorism came close to success – Lenin narrowly survived two
assassination attempts in July and August:
August – SR fanatic, Dora Kaplan, left Lenin with bullet in his neck which contributed to
his death four years later.
o The Czech Legion:
- Armed resistance to Bolsheviks had occurred from time to time since October 1917 – this was given
focus by the behaviour of the Czech legion in summer of 1918.
- Czech legion: foreign army still in Russia – 40,000 Czechoslovak troops who had volunteered to
fight with Russia in WWI in order to gain independence from Austria-Hungary.
- Legion was isolated after Treaty of Brest-Litovsk – decide to travel to Vladivostok in the hopes of
eventually rejoining Allies on Western Front, thus perhaps winning international support for
formation of independent Czechoslovak state.
- Bolsheviks resented presence of the well-equipped legion arrogantly crossing Russia – local Soviets
began to challenge them, and fierce fighting accompanied their travel along trans-Siberian railway
o Armed resistance spreads:
- Behaviour of Czech Legion encouraged the Whites and other revolutionary/liberal groups to
openly confront regime:
SRs organised uprisings in central Russia, establishing anti-Bolshevik Volga ‘Republic’ at
White ‘Volunteer Army’ (led by General Denikin) had been formed in Caucasus from
tsarist loyalists and outlawed Kadets
Siberia – presence of Czech Legion encouraged formation of White army under Admiral
Estonia – ex-tsarist general, Yudenich, formed White army of resistance
White units appeared in many other regions – speed at which they rose shows limit of
Bolshevik control outside cities of western Russia.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 35
o Bolshevik victory:
- White weaknesses:
Various White armies fought as separate detachments
Armies not bound together by a single aim
Unwilling to sacrifice their individual interests in order to form united anti-Bolshevik front
– thus, Red Army could pick the White armies off separately
When they did consider combining, they were too widely scattered to be able to put
sufficient pressure on Red Army
Whites too reliant on foreign supplies – they seldom arrived on time, in right places and in
Lacked leaders of the quality of Trotsky
- Red strengths:
Remained in control of concentrated central area of western Russia – they maintained
defence by maintaining inner communication and supply lines
The two major cities – Petrograd, Moscow (administrative centres of Russia) – remained in
The areas where they had strongest hold were industrial centres of Russia – access to
munitions, resources unavailable to Whites
Dependence of Whites on foreign supplies allowed Bolsheviks to look like the champions
of Russia, and the Whites as allies of foreign interventionists
Civil War was a war of movement – conflict often dictated by layout of the railway system,
and Bolshevik fight to control the railways aided their victory – allowed them access to
supplies unavailable to the Whites
Red Army well-organised, led by Trotsky
o Trotsky’s role:
- His strategy was simple:
Defend Red Army’s internal lines of communication
Deny Whites opportunity to concentrate large forces in any one location
Prevent Whites from maintaining regular supplies
- Key to this strategy = control of Russia’s railways – means of transporting troops swiftly, in large
numbers to critical areas of defence/attack.
- Once Reds had established effective defence of their main region around Petrograd, Moscow, they
could exhaust enemy and then drive them back.
- Trotsky was constantly on the move to where he had to be on his special train, which functioned
Mobile command post
Propaganda unit, publishing centre
- Trotsky’s train educated, supplied, and linked the fron with the base
o Red brutality:
- Reds and Whites accused each other of atrocities – both sides had actually used terror to crush
opposition in areas they seized.
- Reds imposed terror on civilians – e.g. they offered defeated enemy troops/civilians choice of
enlistment in the Red Army or execution.
- Peasants lost sympathy for Reds after grain-requisitioning during war.
- But Whites were not seen as a better alternative – they also used terror, and could only offer return
to pre-revolutionary past, which was damaging to Whites in terms of the land question.
- Reds emphasized to peasants that they would lose land they’d seized in 1917 if Whites were to win
– this stopped fearful peasants supporting Whites.
o Importance of morale:
- Throughout war, Reds sustained by driving sense of purpose
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 36
- Trotsky as War Commissar may have exercised extreme discipline, but he inspired confidence in
- In contrast: morale seldom high in White armies – the variation in beliefs within White effort
meant Whites often had bitter disputes between each other
- Whites were deeply divided by conflicting interests: e.g. those fighting for national or regional
independence, others for return to strong central government
- Whites lacked leaders like Trotsky, Lenin around which Whites could unite.
o Effects of Civil War on Bolsheviks
Their attempts at government took place during period of conflict
Development of the party and government must be set against this background:
Revolution born in war, and government formed in war
Many Party members had fought in the Red Army
Created tradition of military obedience, loyalty
Civil war had influence in shaping the character of the Communist rule – the military
aspect of early Bolshevik rule left it with a readiness to resort to coercion, rule by command
and centralised administration.
A regime placed in the Bolshevik situation between 1917 and 1921 could not survive
without resorting to authoritarian measures.
Move towards centralism in government increased during Civil War:
Emergencies of war needed immediate day-to-day decisions to be made – led to
effective power moving from CC into the hands of the two key sub-committees,
Politburo and Orgburo which could act with the necessary speed
In practice, the authority of Sovnarkom became indistinguishable from the rule of
these party committees, which was served by the Secretariat.
The foreign interventions, 1918-20
- With collapse of tsardom, Allies were worried new regime might not keep Russia in the war
- If Russia made a separate peace with Germany, the Germans could divert huge military resources to
the Western Front
- Allies wanted to prevent this – offered capital and military supplies to Russia, which were accepted
by the PG
- The PG throughout its 8 months in office kept Russia in the war in return for war-credits, supplies
- Initial response of France, Britain: hoping the new regime might continue with war, they offered
same support that had been offered to PG:
In this sense they were not worrying about ideology or politics – they would fund
whatever group would continue with the war
- Collapse of PG and October Revolution had the effect Germany had hoped for – armistice agreed,
with fighting on Eastern Front stopping in December.
o Allied attitudes harden:
- Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ended hope of Lenin renewing war with Germany – thus, from now on any
British aid going to Russia would go to anti-Bolshevik forces.
- Bolsheviks saw Allies as wanting to destroy them – in same way, Allies saw the Treaty as having
betrayed the Allied cause.
- Result = Allied determination to prevent war supplies, previously loaned to Russia and still stock-
piled there, from reaching German hands
- Soon after Treaty, British, French, US forces occupied Murmansk and Archangel – beginning of 2-
year period during which armed forces from many countries occupied key areas in Russia
- Upon end of WWI in November 1918, Allied attention turned to possibility of full offensive against
Bolsheviks – Winston Churchill and Marshal Foch (French military leader) especially eager
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 37
- Foreign powers alarmed by creation of Comintern11 and spread of revolution in Germany, central
January 1918: Spartacist unsuccessful coup in Berlin
1918-19: Communist republic established in Bavaria
March 1919: Hungary – Marxist government set up under Bela Kun (which would fall 5
o The interventions spread:
- Financial aspect of anti-Bolshevism in western Europe:
Bolshevik regime had declared that it would not repay foreign debts of its predecessors
Nationalised many foreign companies, froze all foreign assets in Russia
This seen as international theft – French especially bitter, due to many French financiers
having invested in Russia. French took lead in proposing international campaign against
1918: British infantry enter southern Russia and occupy part of central Asia
British warships enter Russian Baltic waters and Black Sea, joined by French naval
French establish major land base at Black Sea port of Odessa
April 1918: Japanese troops occupy Vladivostok
August: French, British, US and Italian units join Japanese
Czech, Finnish, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian forces enter Russia
1919: Japan and US occupy parts of Siberia
These interventions were not coordinated attacks – little cooperation between occupiers.
Motive of GB, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, US was legitimate protection of their
Motive of CZ, Finland, Lithuania, Poland, Romania was to achieve separatist aim of gaining
o Failure of the interventions:
- No strong effort made to unseat the new regime – the interventions were resisted relatively easily
- After WWI the interventionists were not prepared to fight long campaign
- Threats of mutiny in some British and French regiments, and trade unionists sympathetic to the
new ‘workers’ state’ would not transport military supplies to Russia
- Interventionists seldom worked together effectively, efforts to work with Whites were half-hearted
and worth little
- Major exception:
National forces backed by Britain crushed a Bolshevik invasion and obliged Bolsheviks to
recognise Estonian, Lithuanian and Latvian independence (until taken over by Stalin, 1940)
- By end of 1920 – all western forces had left and only Japan remained in Russia for duration for Civil
- Propaganda success for Bolsheviks:
The withdrawals were not really military victories for the Bolsheviks, but they portrayed
them as this in propaganda
Bolshevik regime presented itself as saviour of Russia from foreign conquest
Apparent success over Russia’s enemies allowed them to:
Regain some esteem lost by Brest-Litovsk
Make their portrayal of the Whites as agents of foreign powers more credible
o War against Poland:
- Failure of foreign powers in Civil War encouraged Bolsheviks to try and expand their authority
- 1920 – Red Army marched into Poland, expecting workers to rise in rebellion against government.
- Poles saw the invasion as traditional Russian aggression – drove Red Army back across border
- Damaged Soviet morale – made Lenin rethink question of international revolution
11 Comintern: the ’Communist International’, set up in Moscow (March 1919) to organise worldwide revolution.
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 38
o Lenin’s approach to foreign affairs:
- Lenin took realistic approach – world was not ready for revolution:
Failure of Communist revolutions in Germany and Hungary showed this
Failure of attempted Russian invasion of Poland
Foreign interventions in Civil War – capitalist nations too strong
- Lenin’s readjustment of foreign policy:
Bolsheviks would adjust their foreign policy (without discarding their revolutionary
Comintern would continue to call for world revolution
Soviets would soften its international attitude
Foreign policy was going to aim to avoid conflict – Bolsheviks worried about Western
encroachment into Russia (a traditional Russian worry), worsened by European
government hostility towards October Revolution and interference in Civil War
Lenin’s methods, 1917-21:
o Repression from 1918 – 1921 = Red Terror:
- One can argue this was the only response possible to the problems confronting the Bolsheviks – e.g.
need to win Civil War
- Conversely, another view is that terror was a characteristic of Marxism-Leninism:
There was also totalitarian element of Lenin – he had always accepted necessity of terror as
instrument of political control, believed it was needed in order for a Marxist revolution to
- The Terror exercised through Cheka and Red Army.
o The Cheka:
- December 1917 – created under direction of Felix Dzerzhinsky:
Dzerzhinsky did not allow compassion to deter him from task of destroying enemies of
Remorseless attitude – wanted an end to all ‘counter-revolutionaries’
- Operated as law unto itself, answerable only to Lenin – granted unlimited powers of arrest,
detention and torture.
- Used by Bolsheviks to terrorise Russian people into conformity, subservience.
- Murder of Romanovs, July 1918:
Romanovs executed at Ekaterinburg by local Cheka detachment on Lenin’s orders
The shooting without trial was typical of the Cheka:
Basic rules relating to evidence, proof of guilt did not apply under Dzerzhinsky’s
Persecution not only of individuals, but whole classes = a very direct class war
- Some Bolsheviks uneasy about relentless brutality, but not attempts were made to restrict power of
the Cheka – most party members accepted necessity of the terror to deal with the hazardous
Social disorder, famine – all threatened the new regime
o Red Army:
Complemented Dzerzhinsky’s work – used his powers to end independence of trade unions
1920 – workers brought under military discipline equivalent to that of soldiers:
Could not question orders, negotiate their wages/conditions, and could be punished
for poor workmanship/not meeting production targets.
Trotsky saw this as necessary for industrialising
His outstanding achievement was his creation of the Red Army as War Commissar:
Red Army key to Bolshevik survival in Civil War and as instrument of repression
Lenin gave Trotsky full powers in military matters
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 39
Trotsky developed a new Russian fighting force – changed *The Workers’ and
Peasants’ Red Army’ (formed in early 1918) into formidable army of 3 million
Enlisted many ex-tsarist officers to train the soldiers – the officers were
accompanied by ‘political commissars’, party workers who ensured the officers did
what they were supposed to and remained politically correct
Trotsky tolerated no opposition within army – death sentence imposed for
Enforced discipline the army had lost before Trotsky’s appointment as War
Soldiers’ committees and practice of electing officers were abandoned
Trotsky did meet with opposition from Red commanders/commissars over his tactics –
especially with Stalin, who was political commissar in the Caucasus. Their personal
hostility dated from the Civil War.
Conscription enforced in areas under Bolshevik control to meat Civil War’s demand for
Trotsky justified severity of army’s methods by referring to the dangers Russia faced
People with untrustworthy social/political backgrounds still conscripted and made to do
hard labour behind the lines, e.g. digging trenches
Peasants not seen as reliable in a crisis – proved reluctant warriors
Desertion high despite heavy penalties
Bolsheviks mostly saw the dependable units as those made up mostly of workers – they
became the elite corps of the Red Army
- Red idealism:
Among the troops were idealists who believed in the Communist mission to create new
proletarian world = they contributed to the high morale of the Reds
War communism, 1918-21
o Summer 1918 – Lenin began introducing restrictive economic measures known collectively as ‘war
o This was move away from state capitalism – reason for diversion from this was the desperate situation
brought on by the Civil War:
- Lenin judged the Whites could only be beaten with an intensification of authority in Red-
- Thus, part of the change in economic strategy was a part of the Red Terror – every aspect of social,
political and economic life had to be subordinated to task of winning war
o Effect on industry:
- June 1918 – first step towards war communism was centralisation, possible due to existence of the
Cheka and Red Army
- By this point Bolshevik influence had increased in factories due to infiltration of the workers’
committees – helped prepare way for issuing of the Decree on Nationalisation (June) which brought
almost all major enterprises under central government control within two years
- Russia suffering severe industrial disruption due to effects of WWI and now worsening due to Civil
War – resources were being denied to ‘unessential’ industries, as military had first priority
- Industrial shortages worsened by lack of manpower caused by conscription and the migration of
urban inhabitants due to lack of food or to escape the Civil War (populations of Petrograd and
Moscow halved 1918-1921)
- Hyperinflation worsened industrial problems – the inflation had been worsened by scarcity of
goods and government’s continual printing of money:
Result was that though Bolsheviks tightened control of industry, economic growth did not
increase – rouble was worthless
o Effects on agriculture:
- Lenin’s major purpose in war communism was to increase control over agriculture and force
peasants to increase food production:
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 40
But peasants were a conservative class – resistant to central government
Bolsheviks blamed peasant resistance on kulaks – accused of hoarding grain in order to
keep prices artificially high
Truth was that peasants saw no point in producing more food until government was willing
to pay a fair price for it.
- Grain requisitioning:
Government resorted to coercion after being exasperated by recalcitrance of the peasants –
condemned them as counter-revolutionaries and sent Cheka to take grain by force
August 1918 – requisition detachments ordered to seize grain in former landlord-owned
estates and from kulaks
1918-1921: countryside terrorised by requisition squads:
Kulaks targeted and brutally treated
Lenin ordered kulaks to be publicly hanged to terrify population
Result of terrorising was the opposite of what had been hoped – less food became
available, as peasants began only producing enough for themselves, knowing any
surplus would be confiscated
Yet, Bolsheviks continued to believe shortages were due to hoarding
Causes of national famine, 1921:
Disruption caused by war
1 in 5 Russians starving to death
Russians resorting to cannibalism in some areas
Problem was so bad that even Pravda admitted to it, and Bolsheviks sought foreign
assistance to deal with famine (while still blaming Whites and Kulaks for it)
Major contribution for US through American Relief Association (ARA) – food
provided for 10 million Russians
But foreign aid came too late to prevent mass starvation – 5 million deaths due to
Lenin resented accepting aid from ARA and sent it away in 1923 after 2 years
o End of war communism:
- Lenin positively welcomed famine as providing opportunity to destroy Orthodox Church:
1922 – ordered Politburo to exploit famine by shooting priests
Saw this as the only time when church possessions could be confiscated
- 1921 – the terrible economic situation now undermined original justification for war communism –
during its operation industrial and agricultural production had plummeted
- Yet policy was still popular with many Bolsheviks – many saw it as true revolutionary communism
rather than a temporary measure
- Leading party economists, Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, urged for retention of war communism as
main economic strategy – it was ‘true socialism’ as it involved:
Ending private ownership
Squeezing the peasants
- War communism continued even after Red victory in Civil War – in short-term it had produced
results Lenin wanted, but it had increased Bolshevik unpopularity
The Kronstadt Rising, 1921
o Rising was the most serious challenge to Bolshevik control since the Revolution – shocked Lenin and finally
made him consider possible alternative policies to war communism.
o The ‘Workers’ Opposition’:
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 41
- Unrest was a containable problem as long as it was confined to peasants and political enemies of
- What became worrying to Lenin in 1921 was development of opposition to war communism within
Two leading Bolsheviks, Shlyapnikov and Kollontai, led a ‘Workers’ Opposition’ movement
against war communism – accused party leaders of losing touch with the proletariat
- Formation of ‘Workers’ Opposition’, Cheka terror, grain requisitioning and spying on workers’
committees in factories encouraged workers in Petrograd to go on strike (early 1921) – they
Freedom for workers and peasants – didn’t want to live by Bolshevik decrees
Liberation of arrested Socialists and non-partisans
Abolition of martial law
Freedom of speech, press and assembly for labourers
- February 1921 – by now thousands of Petrograd workers had crossed to Kronstadt – linked up with
the sailors, dockyard workers to demonstrate for greater freedom
- Demonstrators argued that in a ‘workers’ state’, that the Soviet state claimed to be, the workers
should be better off than they had been in tsarist times
- Lenin tried to pacify strikers by sending political commissars to Kronstadt – they were met with
o The Kronstadt manifesto:
- March – Kronstadt sailors and workers elected Petrechenko as Chairman of 15-man Revolutionary
Committee which would represent their views to the government – produced a manifesto
New elections to the soviets, held by secret ballot
Freedom of speech, press, assembly
Rights for trade unions, release of imprisoned trade unionists
Ending of the right of Communists to be only permitted political party
Release of left-wing political prisoners
Ending of special food rations for Communist Party members
Freedom for individuals to bring food from country to towards without confiscation
Withdrawal of political commissars from factories
Ending of the Party’s monopoly of the press
- Effect on Bolsheviks:
Was not demands that frightened Bolsheviks, but fact that their greatest supporters were
insisting that the Party return to its former promises
Kronstadt sailors had been heroes of the Revolution in 1917
Kronstadt sailors were genuine socialists previously loyal to the new regime – but they
were now appalled by the behaviour of the Party
Bolsheviks attempted to portray them as White agents
o Rising crushed:
- Trotsky ordered Red Army (under General Tukhachevsky) to cross the ice to Kronstadt and crush
- Ultimatum issued to demonstrators – it was rejected, and thus the Red Army units (60,000 troops)
and Cheka detachments stormed the Kronstadt base
- Kronstadt sailors fiercely resisted, but were defeated after savage fighting
o Aftermath of rising:
- Surviving ringleaders condemned as White reactionaries and shot
- Months after the uprising the surviving rebels who had escaped were hunted, executed by Cheka
- Lenin’s justification for the severity: supposedly the rising had been the work of the bourgeois
enemies of the Revolution
- But Lenin learned a lesson from the rising: to avoid scandal, embarrassment of another open
challenge he decided to soften severity of war communism:
Lenin proclaimed the rising had ‘lit up reality like a lightning flash’
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 42
Became prelude to introduction of NEP aimed at tackling famine, thus decreasing
opposition to Bolshevism
But introduction of NEP would only be an economic concession – political restraint would
The New Economic Policy (NEP)
o Lenin’s aim was to meet Russia’s urgent need for food
o Despite war communism’s supposed revolutionary purity, it had failed to improve food situation –
terrorising had not forced peasants to produce more
o Lenin decided that if peasants could not be forced, they had to be persuaded:
- They had to seek to satisfy the discontented peasants by allowing some freedom for the small
private proprietor and by providing commodities and products
o Despite disagreements over NEP in the Party, the delegates gave Lenin unanimous support due to the
famine and economic situation.
o 1921 – decree making NEP official government policy featured:
- Central economic control to be relaxed
- Requisitioning of grain to be abandoned, replaced by a tax in kind (peasant surrendering certain
amount of produce equivalent to fixed sum of money – this was opposed to complete confiscation)
- Peasants to be allowed to keep their food surpluses and sell them for profit
- Public markets to be restored
- Money to be reintroduced as means of trading
o Introduction of NEP restored a mixed economy with features of capitalism and socialism existing together –
was a retreat from idea of state control of the economy.
o Lenin knew that the NEP made many Bolsheviks uneasy, thus he stressed:
- It was only temporary
- That the party still had control of the large-scale industry, banking and foreign trade (the major
elements of the economy)
- The NEP was crucial to end the food shortage
- It was not a political concession
o Introduction of NEP showed the new regime had been unable to create successful economy along purely
ideological lines – Lenin admitted to this, stated that their economic policy had to also take account of the
o Bolshevik objections to NEP:
- Party members who had seen war communism as proper revolutionary policy disliked how the
introduction of NEP placed political theory in second place, e.g. Trotsky, Preobrazhensky.
- Party members disturbed by fact that the peasants were being allowed concessions – they should be
the ones who were targeted
- Main objection:
Reintroduction of money, private trading was creating new class of profiteers dubbed
‘Nepmen’ (rich peasants, retailers, traders, small-scale manufacturers)
- Lenin took steps to prevent party being torn apart by disagreement over NEP by introducing
resolution ‘On Party Unity’ – the ‘ban on factionalism’:
Was to prevent factions within party from criticising government or CC decisions
Provided means of stifling criticism of NEP
Forming a faction would lead to expulsion from the Party – factionalists could be branded
as disloyal Bolsheviks for opposing central party policy
o Bukharin’s role:
- Bukharin abandoned opposition to NEP and became its most enthusiastic supporter – helped
preserve Bolshevik unity
- Bukharin believed that peasants being allowed to sell surplus would grant them more money which
would lead to stimulation of economy, as the peasants would spend extra income on manufactured
- During Lenin’s last two years, Bukharin was his closest colleague
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 43
o Economic results of NEP:
- Production figures suggested that the policy worked – this became most powerful reason for why
the Party should accept the NEP
- By Lenin’s death in 1924, the economy had begun to recover
- Lenin had been right about the major elements of the economy still remaining in Bolshevik hands –
agriculture and trade was largely in private hands, but industry was dominated by Bolsheviks. This
produced an economic balance
- NEP not total success:
Industry failed to expand as quickly as agriculture
‘Nepmen’ had done well, but there was high unemployment in urban areas
Rise and rule of single-party state in Russia 44