The Rise of Communism in Russia
Unless we accept the claim that Lenin's coup d'tat gave birth to an entirely new state, and indeed to a new era in the
history of mankind, we must recognize in todayÕs Soviet Union the old empire of the Russians -- the only empire that
survived into the mid 1980ÕsÓ (Luttwak, 1).
In their Communist Manifesto of 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels applied the term communism to a final stage of
socialism in which all class differences would disappear and humankind would live in harmony. Marx and Engels claimed
to have discovered a scientific approach to socialism based on the laws of history. They declared that the course of
history was determined by the clash of opposing forces rooted in the economic system and the ownership of property.
Just as the feudal system had given way to capitalism, so in time capitalism would give way to socialism. The class
struggle of the future would be between the bourgeoisie, who were the capitalist employers, and the proletariat, who were
the workers. The struggle would end, according to Marx, in the socialist revolution and the attainment of full communism
Socialism, of which ÒMarxism-LeninismÓ is a takeoff, originated in the West. Designed in France and Germany, it was
brought into Russia in the middle of the nineteenth century and promptly attracted support among the countryÕs
educated, public-minded elite, who at that time were called intelligentsia (Pipes, 21). After Revolution broke out over
Europe in 1848 the modern working class appeared on the scene as a major historical force. However, Russia remained
out of the changes that Europe was experiencing. As a socialist movement and inclination, the Russian Social-Democratic
Party continued the traditions of all the Russian Revolutions of the past, with the goal of conquering political freedom
As early as 1894, when he was twenty-four, Lenin had become a revolutionary agitator and a convinced Marxist. He
exhibited his new faith and his polemical talents in a diatribe of that year against the peasant-oriented socialism of the
Populists led by N.K. Mikhiaiovsky (Wren, 3).
While Marxism had been winning adherents among the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia for more than a decade
previously, a claimed Marxist party was bit organized until 1898. In that year a ÒcongressÓ of nine men met at Minsk to
proclaim the establishment of the Russian Social Democratic WorkerÕs Party. The Manifesto issued in the name of the
congress after the police broke it up was drawn up by the economist Peter Struve, a member of the moderate Òlegal
MarxistÓ group who soon afterward left the Marxist movement altogether. The manifesto is indicative of the way
Marxism was applied to Russian conditions, and of the special role for the proletariat (Pipes, 11).
The first true congress of the Russian Social Democratic WorkersÕ Party was the Second. It convened in Brussels in the
summer of 1903, but was forced by the interference of the Belgian authorities to move to London, where the proceedings
were concluded. The Second Congress was the occasion for bitter wrangling among the representatives of various
Russian Marxist Factions, and ended in a deep split that was mainly caused by Lenin -- his personality, his drive for
power in the movement, and his ÒhardÓ philosophy of the disciplined party organization. At the close of the congress
Lenin commanded a temporary majority for his faction and seized upon the label ÒBolshevikÓ (Russian for Majority),
while his opponents who inclined to the ÒsoftÓ or more democratic position became known as the ÒMensheviksÓ or
minority (Daniels, 19). Though born only in 1879, Trotsky had gained a leading place among the Russian
Social-Democrats by the time of the Second party Congress in 1903. He represented ultra-radical sentiment that could
not reconcile itself to LeninÕs stress on the party organization. Trotsky stayed with the Menshevik faction until he joined
Lenin in 1917. From that point on, he acomidated himself in large measure to LeninÕs philosophy of party dictatorship,
but his reservations came to the surface again in the years after his fall from power (Stoessinger, 13).
In the months after the Second Congress of the Social Democratic Party Lenin lost his majority and began organizing a
rebellious group of Bolsheviks. This was to be in opposition of the new majority of the congress, the Menshiviks, led by
Trotsky. Twenty-two Bolsheviks, including Lenin, met in Geneva in August of 1904 to promote the idea of the highly
disciplined party and to urge the reorganization of the whole Social-Democratic movement on Leninist lines (Stoessinger,
The differences between Lenin and the Bogdanov group of revolutionary romantics came to its peak in 1909. Lenin
denounced the otzovists, also known as the recallists, who wanted to recall the Bolshevik deputies in the Duma, and the
ultimatists who demanded that the deputies take a more radical stand -- both for their philosophical vagaries which he
rejected as idealism, and for the utopian purism of their refusal to take tactical advantage of the Duma. The real issue was
LeninÕs control of the faction and the enforcement of his brand of Marxist orthodoxy. Lenin demonstrated his grip of the
Bolshevik faction at a meeting in Paris of the editors of the BolsheviksÕ factional paper, which had become the
headquarters of the faction. Bogdanov and his followers were expelled from the Bolshevik faction, though they remained
within the Social-Democratic fold (Wren, 95).
On March 8 of 1917 a severe food shortage cause riots in Petrograd. The crowds demanded food and the step down of
Tsar. When the troops were called in to disperse the crowds, they refused to fire their weapons and joined in the rioting.
The army generals reported that it would be pointless to send in any more troops, because they would only join in with
the other rioters. The frustrated tsar responded by stepping down from power, ending the 300-year-old Romanov
dynasty (Farah, 580).
With the tsar out of power, a new provisional government took over made up of middle-class Duma representatives.
Also rising to power was a rival government called the Petrograd Soviet of WorkersÕ and SoldiersÕ Deputies consisting
of workers and peasants of socialist and revolutionary groups. Other soviets formed in towns and villages all across the
country. All of the soviets worked to push a three-point program which called for an immediate peas, the transfer of land
to peasants, and control of factories to workers. But the provisional government stood in conflict with the other smaller
governments and the hardships of war hit the country. The provisional government was so busy fighting the war that they
neglected the social problems it faced, losing much needed support (Farah, 580).
The Bolsheviks in Russia were confused and divided about how to regard the Provisional Government, but most of them,
including Stalin, were inclined to accept it for the time being on condition that it work for an end to the war. When Lenin
reached Russia in April after his famous Òsealed carÓ trip across Germany, he quickly denounced his Bolshevik
colleagues for failing to take a sufficiently revolutionary stand (Daniels, 88).
In August of 1917, while Lenin was in hiding and the party had been basically outlawed by the Provisional Government,
the Bolsheviks managed to hold their first party congress since 1907 regardless. The most significant part of the debate
turned on the possibility for immediate revolutionary action in Russia and the relation of this to the international upheaval.
The separation between the utopian internationalists and the more practical Russia-oriented people was already apparent
The BolsheviksÕ hope of seizing power was hardly secret. Bold refusal of the provisional Government was one of their
major ideals. Three weeks before the revolt they decided to stage a demonstrative walkout from the advisory assembly.
When the walkout was staged, Trotsky denounced the Provisional Government for its alleged counterrevolutionary
objectives and called on the people of Russia to support the Bolsheviks (Daniels, 110).
On October 10 of 1917, Lenin made the decision to take power. He came secretly to Petrograd to try and disperse any
hesitancies the Bolshevik leadership had over his demand for armed revolt. Against the opposition of two of LeninÕs
long-time lieutenants, Zinovieiv and Kamenev, the Central Committee accepted LeninÕs resolution which formally
instructed the party organizations to prepare for the seizure of power.
Finally, of October 25 the Bolshevik revolution took place to overthrow the provisional government. They did so through
the agency of the Military-Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. They forcibly overthrew the provisional
government by taking over all of the government buildings, such as the post office, and big corporations, such as the
power companies, the shipyard, the telephone company. The endorsement of the coup was secured from the Second
All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which was concurrently in session. This was known as the ÒOctober RevolutionÓ
(Luttwak, 74) Through this, control of Russia was shifted to Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
IN a quick series of decrees, the new ÒsovietÓ government instituted a number of sweeping reforms, some long overdue
and some quite revolutionary. They ranged from ÒdemocraticÓ reforms, such as the disestablishment of the church and
equality for the national minorities, to the recognition of the peasantsÕ land seizures and to openly socialist steps such as
the nationalization of banks. The Provisional GovernmentÕs commitment to the war effort was denounced. Four decrees
were put into action. The first four from the Bolshevik Revolutionary Legislation were a decree on peace, a decree on
land, a decree on the suppression of hostile newspapers, and a declaration of the rights of the peoples of Russia
By early 1918 the Bolshevik critics individually made their peace with Lenin, and were accepted back into the party and
governmental leadership. At the same time, the Left and Soviet administration thus acquired the exclusively Communist
character which it has had ever since. The Left SRÕs like the right SRÕs and the Mensheviks, continued to function in
the soviets as a more or less legal opposition until the outbreak of large-scale civil war in the middle of 1918. At that point
the opposition parties took positions which were either equally vocal or openly anti-Bolshevik, and one after another,
they were suppressed.
The Eastern Front had been relatively quiet during 1917, and shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution a temporary armstice
was agreed upon. Peace negotiations were then begun at the Polish town of Brest-Litovsk, behind the German lines. In
agreement with their earlier anti-imperialist line, the Bolshevik negotiators, headed by Trotsky, used the talks as a
discussion for revolutionary propaganda, while most of the party expected the eventual return of war in the name of
revolution. Lenin startled his followers in January of 1918 by explicitly demanding that the Soviet republic meet the
German conditions and conclude a formal peace in order to win what he regarded as an indispensable Òbreathing spell,Ó
instead of shallowly risking the future of the revolution (Daniels, 135).
Trotsky resigned as Foreign Commissar during the Brest-Litovsk crisis, but he was immediately appointed Commissar of
Military Affairs and entrusted with the creation of a new Red Army to replace the old Russian army which had dissolved
during the revolution. Many Communists wanted to new military force to be built up on strictly revolutionary principles,
with guerrilla tactics, the election of officers, and the abolition of traditional discipline. Trotsky set himself emphatically
against this attitude and demanded an army organized in the conventional way and employing Òmilitary specialistsÓ --
experienced officers from the old army.
Hostilities between the Communists and the Whites, who were the groups opposed to the Bolsheviks, reached a decicive
climax in 1919. Intervention by the allied powers on the side of the Whites almost brought them victory. Facing the most
serious White threat led by General Denikin in Southern Russia, Lenin appealed to his followers for a supreme effort, and
threatened ruthless repression of any opposition behind the lines. By early 1920 the principal White forces were defeated
(Wren, 151). For three years the rivalry went on with the Whites capturing areas and killing anyone suspected of
Communist practices. Even though the Whites had more soldiers in their army, they were not nearly as organized nor as
efficient as the Reds, and therefore were unable to rise up (Farah, 582).
Police action by the Bolsheviks to combat political opposition commenced with the creation of the ÒCheka.Ó Under the
direction of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the Cheka became the prototype of totalitarian secret police systems, enjoying at critical
times the right the right of unlimited arrest and summary execution of suspects and hostages. The principle of such police
surveillance over the political leanings of the Soviet population has remained in effect ever since, despite the varying
intensity of repression and the organizational changes of the police -- from Cheka to GPU (The State Political
Administration) to NKVD (PeopleÕs Commissariat of Internal Affairs) to MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) to the now
well-known KGB (Committee for State Security) (Pipes, 140).
Lenin used his secret police in his plans to use terror to achieve his goals and as a political weapon against his enemies.
Anyone opposed to the communist state was arrested. Many socialists who had backed LeninÕs revolution at first now
had second thoughts. To escape punishment, they fled. By 1921 Lenin had strengthened his control and the White armies
and their allies had been defeated (Farah, 582).
Communism had now been established and Russia had become a socialist country. Russia was also given a new name:
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This in theory meant that the means of production was in the hands of the state.
The state, in turn, would build the future, classless society. But still, the power was in the hands of the party (Farah, 583).
The next decade was ruled by a collective dictatorship of the top party leaders. At the top level individuals still spoke for
themselves, and considerable freedom for factional controversy remained despite the principles of unity laid down in
Daniels, Robert V., A Documentary History of Communism. New York:
Random House Publishing, 1960.
Farah, Mounir, The Human Experience. Columbus: Bell & Howess Co.,
Luttwak, Edward N., The Grand Strategy of the Soviet Union. New
York: St. MartinÕs Press, 1983.
Pipes, Richard, Survival is Not Enough. New York: S&S Publishing,
Stoessinger, John G., Nations in Darkness. Boston: Howard Books,
Wren, Christopher S., The End of the Line. San Francisco:
Blackhawk Publishing, 1988.
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