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The Bolsheviks in Power
The Bolsheviks under Lenin faced huge difficulties in trying to consolidate their hold over
what had been the tsarist empire. They can be identified as 4 questions:
Could the Bolsheviks survive at all?
If so, could they extend their control over the whole of Russia?
Could they negotiate a swift end to the war?
Could they bring economic stability?
The traditional soviet view was that after the Bolsheviks had taken power from Lenin, they
turned Russia into a socialist society. Few historians now accept that was what happened.
Lenin's policy is now seen as been having a pragmatic adjustment to the harsh realities of
From the beginning the Bolsheviks struggled for their survival. This was because before
1917, they had spent their time preparing for the revolution and gave little thought to how
affairs would be organised once revolution had been achieved.
It had always been a Marxist belief that after the triumph of the proletariat, the state would
`wither away'. Trotsky had expressed this simple faith at the time of his appointment in
October 1917 as commissar for Foreign Affairs when he said `all we need ro do is issue a few
decrees then shut up the shop and go home'. But the circumstances were not to allow such
a relaxed approach to government.
The Distribution of Power
Lenin claimed that the October Revolution was a taking of power by the Soviets; it was in
fact a seizure by the Bolsheviks. Nevertheless, Lenin persisted with the notion that the
Sovnarkom had been appointed to govern.
According to this view, the distribution of power in revolutionary Russia took form in a
pyramid with the Sovnarkom at the top.
The reality was altogether different. Traditional forms of the government had broken down in
1917 with the fall of Tsardom and the overthrow of the PG. this meant the Bolshevik ruled
de facto not de jure and they were in a position to make up their own rules, and since not all
the Soviets were dominated by the Bolsheviks, who in any case were a minority party, Lenin
had no intention of letting true democracy get in the way.
From the beginning, whatever the claims may have been about the Soviets' being in
authority, it was the Bolsheviks who held power. The key body was the Central Committee
of the Bolshevik party. In a sense, Sovnarkom was a wing of the Bolshevik party.
The Central Committee derived its authority from the All-Russian Congress of the Bolshevik
Party whose locally elected representative voted on policy. In practice, the Congress and
local parties did as they were told. This was in keeping with Lenin's insistence that the
Bolsheviks operate according to democratic centralism, a formula that guaranteed that
power was exercised from the top down, rather than the bottom up.
The Bolsheviks' Early Measures
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In Bolshevik theory, the October Revolution marked the victory of the proletariat over the
Bourgeoisie over socialism and capitalism, but theory didn't give much immediate assistance
in the circumstances of late 1917.
Before the October Revolution, Lenin had written against capitalists and landlords, but
produced few plans to replace them. It can be understood that his policy after 1917 was
pragmatic and that change from bourgeois to proletarian economy couldn't be achieved
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This measure was largely concerned with authorising what had already occurred. During 1917
a large number of factories had been taken over by the workers. However, the workers'
committee that were then formed seldom ran the factories efficiently which results in a
serious fall in industrial output.
The decree accepted the workers' takeover, but at the same time it instructed the workers'
committees to maintain `the strictest discipline' in the workplace.
Passing decrees was one thing, enforcing them was another.…read more