Bolshevik and Stalinist Russia 1918-56

HideShow resource information

The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power Under Lenin

  • Bolsheviks were a Marxist revolutionary party founded in 1903 and led by Vladimir Ulyanov
  • In October Revolution of 1917m had cleverly exploited the troubled situation in Russia that followed the fall of tsardom in February 
  • Managed to outmanoevre their opponents and seize power
  • Once in government, Bolsheviks faced huge difficulties in trying to consolidate their hold over the Russian nation
  • These can be identified over 4 basic 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 Russia's war with Germany?
  • Could they bring economic stability to Russia?
1 of 68

The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power Under Lenin

  • Before 1917, Bolsheviks had spent time in preparing for revolution
  • had given little thought to how affairs would be organised when this was achieved
  • had always been a Marxist belief that after the triumph of the proletariat the State would "wither away"
  • Leon Trotsky who played a central role in the Bolshevik seizure of power expressed this simple faith at the time of his appointment in October 1917 as Commissar for Foreign Affairs

Structure of power under the Bolsheviks

  • Lenin claimed the October Revolution had been a taking of power by the soviets
  • In fact it had been a seizure of power by the Bolshevik party
  • Nevertheless, Lenin persisted with the notion that Sovnarkom had been appointed to govern by the Congress of Soviets
  • According to this view, distribution of power in revolutionary Russia took the form of a pyramid with Sovnarkom at the top 
2 of 68

The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power Under Lenin

The stucture of power under the Bolsheviks:

  • Reality was altogether different
  • with the fall of the tsardom in 1917, traditional forms of government had broken down
  • this left the Bolsheviks in a position to make up their own rules
  • Key body was the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party
  • It was this organisation, under the direction of Lenin, that provided the members of the government
  • In theory, Central Committee derived its authority from the All-Russian Congress of the Bolshevik Party 
  • Locally elected representatives voted on policy
  • In practice, Congress and the local parties did as they were told
  • This kept in line with Lenin's insistence that the Bolshevik Party operate according to the principle of democratic centralism which guaranteed that power was exercised from the top down rather than the bottom up 
3 of 68

The Bolshevik's early measures

  • October Revolution had marked the victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, or socialism over capitalism
  • Hard slog lay ahead if the Bolsheviks were truly going to transform the Russian economy
  • Lenin had written powerfully against oppressive landlords and cqpitalists before October Revolution
  • Had produced little by way of a coherent plan for their replacement
  • Policy after taking power was based on the facts of the situation rather than theory
  • Bolshevik government would continue using existing structures until the transition had been completed and a fully socialist system adopted
  • Transitional stage referred to as state capitalism 
  • Lenin aware many Bolsheviks wanted the immediate introduction of a sweeping revolutionary policy
  • Stated that new regime didn't possess the power to impose this
  • War against Germany and Austria had brought Russia to the point of economic collapse
4 of 68

Decree on Land and on Workers' Control

  • Immediately after coming to power, new government introduced 2 measures
  • usually these measures are regarrded as having initiated Bolshevik economic policy
  • These were both issued in November 1917
  • Decree gave Bolshevik approval to what had happened in countryside since February revolution
  • In many areas, peasants had overthrown their landlords and occupied their property
  • Decree on Workers' Control largely concerned with authroising what had already occurred
  • During 1917, large number of factories had been taken over by workers
  • Workers' committees that were then formed rarely ran the factories efficiently
  • this resulted in serious fall in industrial output
  • decree accepted workers' takeover but instructed workers' committee to maintain strict order and discipline in the workplace
  • In December, Vesenka was set up "to take charge of all existing institutions for the regulation of economic life"
  • Presided over a number of important developments such as banks being nationalised, foreign debts being cancelled and transport less chaotic
5 of 68

Dissolution of the Constituent Assembly

  • Lenin never worried much about how many people supported the Bolsheviks
  • Numbers did not concern him
  • He had no faith in democratic elections
  • Primary objective was not to obtain mass support but create a capable party to seize power when the opportune moment came
  • After successful October 1917 coup, Lenin was dtermined not to allow elections to undermine Bolsheviks' new power
  • October Revolution had come too late to prevent elections for the All-Russian Constituent Assembly
  • When results came through by the end of the year, the results weren't pleasing for the Bolsheviks 
  • Lenin had originally supported idea of a Constituent Assembly because it offered a way of weakening the Provisional Government that had replaced the tsar in February 1917
6 of 68

Reasons for dissolution

  • Lenin's first act of violence in January 1918 has to be viewed in context
  • Bolshevik's hold on power was precarious 
  • Prospects of Bolshevik survival seemed slim
  • Strong and widespread opposition in the country
  • Russia was still at war with Germany
  • Allies were all set to interfere should Russian government make a separate peace
  • Bolsheviks not prepared to consider power sharing in this atmosphere
  • Lenin justified Bolshevik action by arguing that original reason for electing an Assembly had been achieved by creation of sovite government in October Revolution
  • Lenin claimed it was corrupt and that elections had been rigged by the SRs and the Kadets
  • Desperately vulnerable position the Bolsheviks were in, surrounded by enemies on all sides, demanded the sternest of measures
7 of 68

The Russian Civil War 1918-20

A class war?

  • conflict began in summer of 1918
  • was principally a military struggle between Bolsheviks (Reds) and their political enemies (the Whites)
  • Included parties who had been outlawed or suppressed by the new regime and monarchists looking for tsarist restoration
  •  Bolsheviks presented the struggle as a class war, was never simply this
  • Sheer size of Russia meant local/regional considerations predominated over larger issues
  • disruption provided a cover for settling old scores and pursuing personal vendettas
  • Ironic that Bolshevik rule was seen as another attempt to reassert Russian authority over the rest of the country
  • Number of Russia's national minorities such as Ukrainians and Georgians fought in the war to establish their independence from Russia
8 of 68

Russian Civil War

A war over food?

  • On occasion, fighting was desperate struggle for food
  • Famine provided a backdrop to the Civil War
  • Breakdown in food supplies resulted in whole areas of Russia remaining hungry
  • Failure of new regime to sort this out was an important factor in creating the initial military opposition vs Bolsheviks in 1918
  • Fractured transport system was another problem
  • March 1918 - Brest-Litovsk Treaty was signed
  • Bread ration in Petrograd reached lowest allocation ever of 50g per day
  • June: workforce in Petrograd had shrunk by 60%
9 of 68

Impact of the war on the Bolsheviks

  • Civil War proved to be one of the great formative influences on the Bolshevik Party
  • Attempts at government took place during period of conflict in which survival was at stake
  • development of the party and the government has to be set against this background


  • Revolution had been born in war
  • government had been formed in war
  • of all members of Communist Party in 1927, 1/3 had joined in years 1917-20 and fought in the Red Army
  • Created tradition of military obedience and loyalty


  • No regime placed in the Bolshevik predicament between 1917 and 1921 could have survived without resort to authoritarian measures
10 of 68

War Communism (1918-21)

  • War Communism is best understood as another aspect of the Red Terror
  • Series of harshly restrictive economic measures that Lenin began to introduce in summer 1918 instead of system of state capitalism
  • Chief reason for adopting it was desperate situation created by the Civil War
  • Lenin judged that the White menace could be met by tightening of authority in the regions that the Reds controlled
  • change of strategy had to be seen as part of the terror that the Bolsheviks imposed in these years
  • Every aspect of life, social, political, economic had to be subordinated to the task of winning the Civil War
11 of 68

War Communism (1918-21)


  • first step towards War Communism as a formal policy was taken in June 1918
  • Existence of Cheka ant the Red Arrmy enabled Lenin to embark on a policy of centralisation
  • Decree of Nationalisation was issued in June 1918
  • within 2 years, brought practically all major industrial enterprises in Russia under central government control
  • Nationalisation did nothing to increase production
  • imposed at a time of severe industrial disruption
  • Military needs came first when supplies ere distributed
  • Result: many industries were starved of essential resources
  • Situation made more serious by factories being deprived of manpower
  • Populations of Moscow and Petrograd dropped by a half between 1918 and 1921
  • Government policy of printing currency notes effectively destroyed the value of money
  • War Communism tightened Bolshevik grip on industry but didn't lead to economic growth
12 of 68

War Communism (1918-21)


  • For Lenin, major purpose of War Communism was to tighten government control over agriculture and force the peasants to provide more food
  • this proved difficult
  • government blamed the resistance on the Kulaks who were hoarding their grain stocks in order to keep prices artificially high
  • was untrue, there was little hoarding
  • peasants saw no point in producing more food until the government was willing to pay a fair price for it
  • government condemned peasants as counter-revolutionaries
  • between 1918-1921, requisition squads systematically terrorised the countryside
  • Kulaks were targeted for particularly brutal treatment
  • Lenin ordered them to be "mercillessly suppressed"
  • Result reverse to what was intended, even less food became available
13 of 68

War Communism (1918-21)


  • By 1921, combination of requisitioning, drought and general disruption of war had created a national famine
  • grain harvests of 1920 and 1921 produced less than half that gathered in 1913
  • Matters became desperate for the Bolsheviks to the extent they wre prepared to admit there was a famine and also accept foreign assistance
  • outstanding contribution from America provided food for 10 million Russians
  • Lenin resented having to accept aid and ordered the American Relief Association to withdraw from Russia in 1923 after 2 years work there
  • Lenin positively welcomed the famine as providing an opportunity to increase his attack on the Orthodox Church
14 of 68

War Communism (1918-21)

End of War Communism:

  • By 1921, grim economic situation undermined original justification for War Communism
  • During its operation, industrial and agricultural production had fallen alarmingly
  • Didn't mean policy became unpopular among Bolsheviks themselves
  • There were many who believed War Communism represented true revolutionary communism
  • They saw it as true socialism in action as it involved:
  • Centralising of industry
  • ending of private ownership
  • the persecution of peasants
15 of 68

The New Economic Policy (NEP)

  • NEP was intended by Lenin to meet Russia's urgent need for food
  • War Communism had failed to deliver the goods
  • State terror had not forced the peasants into producing larger grain stocks
  • Lenin judged that if peasants could not be forced, they must be persuaded
  • Despite deep agreements that would emerge in the Bolshevik Party over the NEP, the grim economic situation in Russia led the delegates giving unanimous support to Lenin's proposals when they were first introduced
  • Decree making NEP offocial government policy was published in Spring 1921
  • Essential features were:
  • Central economic control to be relaxed
  • Requisitioning of grain to be abandoned and replaced by a tax in kind
  • Peasants were to be allowed to keep food surpluses and sell them for a profit
  • public markets were to be restored
  • money to be reintroduced as a means of trading
16 of 68

The New Economic Policy (NEP)

  • Lenin aware that new policy marked a retreat from the principle of state control of the economy
  • restored a mixed economy in which certain features of capitalism existed alongside socialism
  • knowing how uneasy it made Bolsheviks, Lenin stressed the NEP was only a temporary concession to capitalism
  • Adoption of NEP showed that Bolshevik government since 1917 was unable to create a successful economy along purely idelogical lines
  • Lenin told party members it made no sense for Bolsheviks to pretend they could pursue an economic policy which didn't take the circumstances into account
  • Lenin's realism demanded that political theory took second place to economic necessity
  • Was this that troubled members such as Trotsky 
  • Disturbed them that the peasants were being given in to and that capitalist ways were being tolerated
  • a main complaint was that the reintroduction of money and private trading created a new class of profiteers whom they called "Nepmen"
17 of 68

The New Economic Policy (NEP)

Party Unity

  • NEP become contentious issue among Bolsheviks that Lenin took firm steps to prevent the party being torn apart over it
  • Object of his proposal was to prevent "factions" within the Party from criticising government or Central Committee decisions
  • Accompanying resolution condemned the "Workers Opposition" which was a group that had been heavily involved in the Kronstadt Rising
  • 2 resolutions on party unity provided a highly effective means of stifling criticism of the NEP
  • At same time as Lenin condemned factionalism, he also declared all political parties other than Bolsheviks now outlawed in Soviet Russia
  • Lenin's annoucements made it extremely difficult for doubting members to criticise NEP openly since this would seem to be challenging the Party itself
  • Bukhrain believed that the greater income the peasants would have, the industry would stimulate industry since their extra money would be spent on buying manufactured goods
18 of 68

The New Economic Policy (NEP)

Success of the NEP

  • Most convincing reason for the party to accept the NEP proved to be a statistical one
  • production figures suggested that the policy worked
  • By the time of Lenin's death in 1924, Soviet economy begun to make amarked recovery
  • Lenin's claim that under the NEP, Bolsheviks would still control the "commanding heights of the economy"
  • NEP produced an economic blance, while trade and agriculture were largely in private hands, the State dominated Russian industry
  • NEP was not a total success
  • It's opponents criticised it on the grounds that the balance appeared to have achieved was notional rather than real
  • Fact that industry failed to expand as quickly as agriculture
  • Nepmen may have done well but there was high unemployment in urban areas
  • NEP would continue to be a matter of division among the Bolsheviks long after Lenin's death
  • Despite disputes, remained official Soviet policy until finally jettisoned by Stalin in 1928 by introducing collectivisation schemes
19 of 68

Soviet Society under Lenin

Culture and the arts

  • In Russia after the Revolution there was much talk of creating a new type of human being
  • claim was that the Bolshevik triumph had liberated the people from the weaknesses that had tainted preious societies
  • people were now ready to be moulded into a new species
  • Lenin reported to have said "man can be made whatever we want him to be"
  • Trotsky claimed that the aim of the Communist State was to "produce a new, improved version of man"
  • critical aspect of what Lenin and Trotsky believed was that this process would not happen of its own accord 
  • it would have to be directed and people would have to be moulded, culture would have to be shaped
  • result was, after a brief period of artistic freedom, culture came under State control
20 of 68

Religion under Lenin

  • Having come to power, Lenin put the Marxist notion that religion was "the opium of people" into action
  • Revolutionary Russia was to be a secular state with no place for organised religion
  • this intention was declared in the Decree on Separation of Church and State
  • the measure had 2 aims
  • 1) to break the hold of the clergy
  • 2) to undermine the religious faith of the peasants for whom the Bolsheviks had a particular distaste as representing the most backward features of old Russia
  • the main terms of the decree were
  • Church properties wree no longer to be owned by the clergy but by local Soviets from whom churches would have to be rented for public worhsip
  • clergy were no longer paid salaries or pensions by the state
  • Church was no longer to have a central organisation with authority over local congregations
  • Religious teaching was forbidden in schools
21 of 68

Women and the family

  • Firm Marxist belief that women were abused under capitalism
  • principal instrument of their subjection was marriage 
  • one sided social contract turned women into victims since it made them property of their husbands
  • in the 2 years after 1917, decrees had been introduced which included innovations such as:
  • legal divorce if either partner requested it 
  • recognitions of illegitmate children as full citizens
  • legalisation of abortion
  • the state responsible for the raising of children
  • these changes derived from the notion that "love" was a bourgeois concept based on a false view of relations between sexes and parents and children
  • believed that once such romantic nonsense was recognised for what it was, a structured and ordered society would follow
22 of 68

Lenin's legacy

  • Between 1922 and 1924, Lenin suffered a series of strokes which left him partially paralysed and unable to speak
  • he had no opportunity to prepare for his succession due to his ill state during the last 2 years of his life
  • gave no clear indication of the type of government that should follow him
  • problem was that Lenin not only failed to name a replacement but also prevented other choices being made by pointing out weaknesses in all other likely candidates in Lenin's testament
  • In his last writings in 1923, he warned comrades against allowing the party and government to lose their revolutionary character
23 of 68


  • This was Lenin's greatest legacy to Soviet Russia
  • he returned Russia to the absolutism that it had known under the tsars
  • In that sense, Bolshevism was a continuation and not a break with Russia's past
  • Main tresults of Lenin's authoritarian rule after 1917 were:
  • a one party state - all parties other than Bolsheviks had been outlawed
  • Bureaucratic state - despite Bolsheviks' original belief in withering away of the State, central power increased under Lenin and number of government institutions and officials grew
  • Policy state - the Cheka was the first of a series of secret police organisations in Soviet Russia whose task was to impose government control over the people
  • Ban on factionalism - prevented criticism of leadership within the party. Was in efect a prohibition of free speech
  • Destruction of trade unions - with Lenin's encouragement, Trotsky had destroyed the independence of trade unions
  • Politicising of law - under Lenin law not operated as means of protecting society and the individual but an extension of political control
  • system of purges and show trials were to become a notorious feature of Stalinism 
  • concentration camps - developed as part of the Red Terror 
  • Prohibition of public worship - Orthodox churches had been looted then closed
24 of 68

Stalin's Rise to Power 1924-9

The Roots of Stalin's Power

  • Historians used to accept that Stalin's career pre- 1924 was unimportant
  • Stalin was very highly regarded by Lenin and played a central role in the Bolshevik Party 
  • before 1917, Bolshevik Party had been only a few thousand strong
  • Lenin had known the majority of members personally
  • He had been impressed by Stalin's organising ability and willingness to obey orders
  • Once described him as "that wonderful Georgian"
  • with Lenin's backing, Stalin had risen by 1912 to become 1 of the 6 members of the Central Committee 
  • Had also helped to found the Party's newspaper, Pravda
25 of 68

Stalin's Rise to Power 1924-9

October Revolution and Civil War

  • Having spent the war years in exile in Siberia, Stalin returned to Petrograd in March 1917
  • His role in the October Revolution is difficult to disentangle
  • Official accounts were a mixture of distortion and invention
  • Stalin was loyal to Lenin after the latter's return to Petrograd in April 1917
  • Lenin instructed the Bolsheviks to abandon all cooperation with other parties and to devote themselves to preparing a seizure of power
  • As a Leninist, Stalin was opposed to "October Deserters" such as Kamanev and Zinoviev
  • Stalin's non-Russian background proved invaluable during periods of crisis and civil war
  • Lenin believed that Stalin was well qualified for the role of Commissar for Nationalities as he was Georgian
  • As Commissar, Stalin became  ruthless Bolshevik organiser for whole of Caucasus region during Civil War from 1918-1920
26 of 68

Stalin's Rise to Power 1924-9

Lenin's Testament

  • Although Stalin had been totally loyal to Lenin, there were 2 particular occasions when he had aroused Lenin's anger
  • After the end of the civil war, Stalin had been off hand and dismissive in discussions with the representatives from Georgia
  • Lenin had to intervene personally to prevent the Georgians leaving angrily
  • On another occasion, the matter was more personal
  • Stalin called Lenin's wife a whore
  • the very day that Lenin was informed of this, he dictated his testament as a direct response
  • his main criticism was that Stalin has "concentrated enormous power in his hands"
  • In a later post-script, Lenin stressed Stalin's rudeness which was unacceptable in a General Secretary who had to be a person of fact to prevent divisions developing within the Party
  • Lenin was too ill during the last year of his life to be politically active and at his death had taken no formal steps to remove Stalin with the Testament not being made public
27 of 68

Stalin's Rise to Power 1924-9

Stalin's position in 1924

  • In the uncertain atmosphere following Lenin's death, number of pieces of luck helped Stalin promote his own claims
  • would be wrong to ascribe his success wholly to good fortune
  • the luck had to be used
  • where he may have lacked brilliance, he didn't lack ability
  • qualities of perseverance and willingness to undertake laborious admin work were suited to the times
  • Government of Russia had 2 main features, Council of Peoples' Commissars and the Secrettariat
  • Both bodies were staffed and controlled by the Bolshevik Party
  • As government grew in scope, certain posts previously considered insignificant began to provide their holders levers of power
  • had not ben the intention 
  • in this context, Stalin's previous appointments to key posts in both government and Party proved vital 
28 of 68

Stalin's Rise to Power 1924-9

Stalin's position in 1924

  • Stalin's positions were
  • Liaison officer between Politburo and Orgburo, this placed him in a unique position to monitor both Party's policy and Party's personnel
  • Head of Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate. This position entitled him to oversee the work of all government departments
  • General Secretary of the Communist Party 
  • this enabled him to build up personal files on all members of the Party
  • nothing of note happened that Stalin did not know about

Lenin enrolment

  • Stalin gained advantage of recent changes in the structure of the Communist Party
  • Between 1923-1925, Party set out to increase number of true proletarians in its ranks
  • Resulted in membership rising from 340,000 in 1922 to 600,000 in 1925
  • new members predominantly poorly educated and politically unsophisticated but fully aware that priveleges that came with party membership
29 of 68

Stalin's Rise to Power 1924-9

Attack on factionalism

  • Another lasting feature of Lenin's period that proved to be of great value to Stalin was what was known as the "attack upon factionalism"
  • Referred to Lenin's condemnation in 1921 of divisions within the Party
  • What this rejection of factionalism did was frustrate any seriuos attempt to criticise Party decisions or policies
  • Became exremely difficult to mount legitimate opposition with the CPSU
  • Stalin benefited greatly by the ban on criticism of the Party line

The Lenin legacy

  • was an accompanying factor that legitimised Stalin's position
  • Stalin became heir to the "Lenin legacy"
  • This meant the tradition of authority and leadership Lenin had established during his lifetime
  • Lenin became a godly figure 
  • If a party member could assume the mantle of Lenin and appear to carry on his work would establish a formidable claim to power, which is what Stalin began to do
30 of 68

The Power Struggle after Lenin's Death

Lenin's funeral 

  • Immediately after Lenin's death, the Politburo publicly proclaimed their intention to continue as a collective leadership 
  • Behind the scenes, competition for individual authority had already begun
  • Stalin gained advantage by being the one to deliver the oration at Lenin's funeral
  • Sight of Stalin as leading mourner suggested continuity between him and Lenin
  • Trotsky was absent from the funeral
  • Was difficult to understand why he didn't appreciate the importance of appearances following Lenin's deaht 
  • Trotsky claimed Stalin told him the wrong date for the funeral but this was untrue
  • Trotsky was well aware of the danger that Stalin represented
31 of 68

The Power Struggle after Lenin's Death

Trotsky's character

  • Trotsky had a complex personality
  • One of the figures in history who can be said to have been their own worst enemy
  • Despite gifts and intellectual brilliance he had weak features which undermined his chances of success
  • He suffered from a severe lack of judgement at times
  • A possible reluctance is that he was Jewish
  • Trotsky knew that Russia had a deeply ingrained anti-Semitism
  • His race therefore made him an outsider
  • Example of this is when he rejected the post of Deputy Chairman from Lenin 

Suppression of Lenin's testament

  • was a dangerous hurdle in Stalin's way
  • if it were to be published, Stalin would be gravely damaged by it's contents
  • however, other members would be effected 
  • nearly all members of the Politburo had reason for suppressing the Testament
32 of 68

The Power Struggle after Lenin's Death

Attitudes towards Trotsky

  • Kamanev and Zinoviev joined Stalin in an unofficial triumvirate within the Politburo
  • their aim was to isolate Trotsky by exploiting his unpopularity with large sections of the Party
  • The new proletarian members were hardly the type of men to be impressed by the cultured Trotsky
  • Attitude of Party members towards Trotsky was an important factor in the weakning of his position
  • Trotsky was flamboyant and brilliant while his rival unspectacular and methodical
  • Trotsky was the type of person who attracted either admiration or distaste but seldom loyalty
  • Never matched comparable political support to Stalin
  • Trotsky failed to build a power base within the Party which gave him the appearance of an outsider
  • the fact that he was previously a Menshevik also didn't help his cause greatly
33 of 68

The Power Struggle after Lenin's Death


  • Despite attacks upon him, Trotsky attempted to fight back
  • Issue he chose was bureaucratisation
  • defined this as the abandonment of genuine discussion within the party and the growth in the centralised power of the Secretariat
  • Trotsky had good reason to think he had chosen a powerful cause
  • in Lenin's last writings, he had warned the Party against the creeping dangers of bureaucracy
  • Trotsky's condemnation of the growth of bureaucracy coupled with an appeal for a return of Party democracy
  • expanded his arguments in a series of essays, in one of which he criticised Kamanev and Zinviev for their past disagreements with Lenin
  • Assault was ill judged as it invited retatliation
  • His Menshevik past and diversion of Leninism were highlighted in a number of books and pamphlets
34 of 68

The Power Struggle after Lenin's Death


  • Trotsky's reputation was further damaged by the issue of the NEP
  • Lenin had introduced it as a replacement for the severe economic controls known as War Communism
  • Lenin admitted the NEP was a relaxing of strict socialism but indicated that he regarded it as temporary
  • At the time of his death, question was being asked whether the NEP was to last indefinitely
  • Unhappy party members saw its continuation as a betrayal of the revolutionary principle
  • objected to the policy of giving preferntial treatment to the peasantry
  • they argued that the peasants were being allowed to slow down the pace of Soviet Russia's advance of a truly prolerarian state
  • Critics of NEP broadly referred to as Left Communists while those who supported it known as Right Communists
35 of 68

The Power Struggle after Lenin's Death


  • NEP debate was 1 aspect of how the Soviet Union should plan for the future
  • This would have been a demanding issue regardless of whether there had been a power struggle
  • If the USSR were to modernise and overcome its poverty it would have to industralise
  • recent history had shown a strong industrial base was essential for a modern state
  • quarrel was not over whether the USSR should industrialise but over the speed at which it did it
  • Russia was rich in natural resources but these had yet to be effectively exploited
  • Bolsheviks had been willing to borrow however few countries after 1917 were willing to risk the dangers of investing in revolutionary Russia
  • Only usable resource therefore was the Russian people themselves, 80% of whom were peasants
  • if Soviet Union was to industrialise it would have to be by persuading the peasant population to produce a food surprlus that could be sold abroad to raise capital for industrial investment
  • Both Left and Right agreed this was the only solution 
  • The Right was content on persuasion whereas the Left demanded that the peasantry be forced into line
  • It was Trotsky who most clearly represented the view of the Left on this
36 of 68

The Power Struggle after Lenin's Death

"Permanent Revolution"

  • What inspired Trotsky's politics was his belief in Permanent Revolution which was made up of a number of key ideas
  • Revolution was not a single event but a permanent and continuous process in which risings took place from coutnry to country
  • events in Russia since 1917 were simply a first step towards a worldwide proletarian revolution
  • individual nations did not matter, it was the interests of the international working class that were paramount
  • true revolutionary socialism could be achieved in the USSR only if an international uprising took place
  • Trotsky believed that the USSR couldn't survive alone in a hostile world
  • With the vast population and undeveloped proletariat,, Russia would prove incapable of "holding her own against conservative Europe"
  • Contended that immediate task of the USSR was to "export revolution" which would be the only way to guarantee its survival
37 of 68

The Power Struggle after Lenin's Death

Socialism in One Country

  • Stalin countered Trotsky's notion of Permanent Revolution with his own concept of Socialism in One Country
  • this meant that the nation's first task was to consolidate Lenin's revolution and the rule of the CPSU by turning the USSR into a modern state
  • Soviet Union must therefore work:
  • to overcome present agricultural and industrial problems by its own unaided efforts
  • to go on to build a modern state equal of any nation in the world
  • to make the survival of the Soviet Union an absolute priority even if this meant suspending efforts to create international revolution
38 of 68

The Defeat of Trotsky and the Left

Kamanev and Zinoviev

  • Kamanev and Zinoviev were motivated by a personal dislike of Trotsky who had tried to embarrass them by reminding the Party of their failure to support Lenin in October 1917
  • With Trotsky weakened, Stalin turned to the problem of dealing with these 2 key figures who could be seen as potential rivals
  • They created a trap for themselves
  • Zinoviev called for the NEP to be abandoned and for restrictions to be reimposed on the peasants along with enforced industrialisation 
  • Their view formed the basis of what was termed the United Opposition but appeared to be indistinguishable from old Trotskyism
  • Stalin's control of the Party machine proved critical
  • Stalin and supporters combined to outvote the bloc and Kamanev and Zinoviev were dismissed from their posts as Soviet Chairmen to be replaced by 2 of Stalin's staunchest allies, Molotov and Kirov
39 of 68

The Defeat of Trotsky and the Left

Trotsky exiled

  • Trotsky still did not admit defeat
  • in 1927, on the 10th anniversary of the Bolshevik rising, he tried to rally support in a direct challenge to Stalin's authority
  • Even fewer members of Congress than before were prepared to side with hiim and he was again outvoted
  • Complete failure led to acceptance by Congress of Stalin's proposal that Trotsky be expelled from the Party altogether
  • Internal exile order against him in 1927 was followed 2 years later by total exile from the USSR
  • Stalin's victory over Trotsky was not primarily a matter of principle
  • Stalin won because Trotsky lacked a power base
  • Trotsky had greater intellectual gifts and was a superior speaker and writer but it counted for little against Stalin's grip of the Party machine
  • Difficult to see how Trotsky could mount a serious challenge against his rival after 1924
40 of 68

The Defeat of the Right

  • Major representatives of the Right were Rykov, Tomsky and Bukharin who loyally served Stalin in his outflanking of Trotsky and the Left
  • Politically the Right were by no means as challenging to Stalin as the Trotskyite bloc had been
  • What made Stalin move against them was that they stood in the way of industrial and agricultural schemes that he began to implement in 1928

Collectivisation and industrialiation

  • Historians uncertain whether Stalin decided the answer to Soviet Union's growth problem was to impose collectivisation and industrialisation
  • Having defeate  the Left politically he may have felt free to adopt their economic policies 
  • For some time it had been the view of Bukharin and the Right that it was unnecessary to force the pace of industrialisation in the USSR
  • argued it would be less disruptive to let industry develop its own momentum
  • peasants should not be controlled and oppressed as this would make them resentful and less productive
41 of 68

The Defeat of the Right

Weaknesses of the Right


  • their economic arguments were not unsound but they appeared timid and unrealistic
  • plea for soft line with peasants did not accord with the needs ot the Party
  • Stalin able to suggest that the Right were guilty of underestimating crisis facing the Party and the Soviet Union


  • Difficulty experienced by the Right in advancing their views was the same as that which had confronted the Left
  • Bukharin and his colleagues wanted to remain good Party men and it was this sense of loyalty that weakened them in their attempts to oppose Stalin


  • Right only had substanial support in the trade unions
  • Stalin acted quickly and decisively when he realised there might be a sourcce of opposition
42 of 68

Stalin and the Soviet Economy

Revolution from above

  • In theory, 1917 had been a revolution from below
  • Bolshevik led proletariat had begun the construction of a state in which the workers ruled
  • Bukharin and the Right had used this notion to argue that the economy should be left to develop at its own pace without interference from the government
  • Stalin's economic programme ended such thinking
  • Under Stalin, State control was to be total 


  • Would be wrong to regard Stalin's policy as a matter of political expediency
  • Became convinced that the needs of Soviet Russia could only be met by modernisation
  • This meant bringing his economically backward nation up to a level of industrial level that would enable it to catch up with and overtake advanced economies of western Europe and the USA
43 of 68

Stalin and the Soviet Economy


  • Stalin judged that the only way to raise money for Soviet industry was to use the land
  • First step towards this was collectivisation of Russian agriculture
  • involved taking land from peasants and giving it all to the State
  • Peasants would no longer farm the land for their individual profit
  • they would pool their efforts and receive a wage

2 types of farm

  • Collectivisation was defined as the setting up collective and state farms in order to squeeze out all capitalist elements from the land
  • little difference between the 2, both types were to be means by which private peasant ownership would be ended and agriculture made to serve the interests of the Soviet state
  • Reckoned that efficient farming would have 2 vital results
  • it would create surplus food supplies that could be sold abroad and decrease number of rural workers needed 
44 of 68

Stalin and the Soviet Economy

The Kulaks

  • Stalin claimed that was "voluntary" when he introduced collectivisation
  • truth was it was forced on a very reluctant peasantry
  • in a major propaganda offensive, identified class of Kulaks who were holding back workers' revolution by monpolising best land and employing cheap peasant labour to farm it
  • unless they were broken as a class, they would prevent the modernisation of the USSR
  • Kulaks in no sense constituted the class of exploiting landowners described in Stalinist propaganda
  • Notion of a Kulak class was a very powerful one and provided the grounds for the coercion of the peasantry as a whoel
45 of 68

Stalin and the Soviet Economy


  • In some regions the poorer peasants undertook de-Kulakisation with enthusiasm as it provided them with an excuse to settle old scores and give vent to local jealousies
  • Land and property were seized from the minority of better-off peasants and they and their families were physically attacked
  • Renewal of terror served as a warning to the mass of peasantry of the likely consequences of resisting the State reorganisation of Soviet agriculture
  • Destruction of the Kulaks was an integral part of the collectivisation process

Resistance to collectivisation

  • In period between December 1929 and March 1930, nearly half the peasant farms in USSR were collectivised
  • Peasants in their millions resisted
  • Civil war broke out in the countryside
  • many of peasants were allowed to return to their orginial holdings
  • having cleared his name, Stalin restarted collectivisation in a more determined way
46 of 68

Stalin and the Soviet Economy

Upheaval and starvation

  • Behind remarkable figures lay the story of a massive social upheaval
  • peasants either would not or could not co-operate in the deliberate destruction of their traditional way of life
  • consequences were increasingly tragic
  • majority of peasants ate their seed corn and slaughtered their livestock
  • there were no crops left to reap or animals to rear
  • Soviet authorities responded with fiercer coercion which made thins worse
  • Special contingents of party workers were sent from the towns to restore food production levels by working on the land themselves
  • their ignorance of farming only added to the disruption 
  • little grain that was available was exported as surplus to obtain foreign capital that industry demanded 
  • by 1932, situation on the land was catastrophic
47 of 68

Stalin and the Soviet Economy

The success of collectivisation

  • the overall picture remained bleak
  • the mass peasantry had been uprooted and left bewildered
  • despite several severe reprials and coercion, peasants were unable to produce the surplus food that Stalin demanded
  • by 1939, Soviet agricultural productivity had barely returned to the elvel recorded for Tsarist Russia in 1913
  • Most demanding consideration remained the man made famine which killed between 10-15 million peasants in the 1930s


  • Stalin described industrialisation plans for the USSR as an attempt to establish a war economy
  • declared that he was making war on the failings of Russia's past and on the class enemeis within the nation
  • claimed he was preparing USSR for war vs capitalist foes abroad
48 of 68

Stalin and the Soviet Economy

Industrialisation continued

  • Stalin regarded iron, steel and oil as the sinews of war
  • their successful production would guarantee the strength andd readiness of the nation to face its enemeis
  • For Stalin, industry meant heavy industry
  • he believed that the industrial revolutions which made Western Europe strong had been based on iron and steel production
  • USSR would do this by following the path of socialism
  • Stalin had grounds for optimism
  • Happened that Soviet industrialisation drive coincided with the Depression in the Western world
  • Soviet industrialisation under Stalin took the form of a series of Five Year Plans
  • Process began in 1928 and lasted until Stalin's death in 1953
  • there were 5 separate plans in total 

49 of 68

Stalin and the Soviet Economy

The First Five Year Plan 1928-32

  • First FYP laid down what was to be achieved but didn't say how it was to be done
  • Simply assumed that quotas would be met
  • First FYP represented set of targets rather than a plan
  • Local officials and managers falsified production figures to give the impression that their targets had been met
  • For this reason, precise statistfics are hard to determine
  • Stalin encouraged the formulation of an "optimal" plan which reassessed targets upwards
  • New quotas hopelessly unrealistic and stood no change of being reached
50 of 68

Stalin and the Soviet Economy

The first FYP


  • importance of these figures should not be exaggerated
  • at the time it was the grand design and not the detail that mattered
  • Plan was a huge propaganda project and aimed at convincing the Soviet people they were personally engaged in a vast industrial enterprise
  • There was enthusiasm and a commitment among the Soviet citizens and they believed that they were building a new and better world

Cultural revolution

  • this term is an appropriate description of the singificance of what was being undertaken under Stalin's leadership
  • This period was seen as a real attempt to create a new type of individual, as if a new species had come into being
51 of 68

Stalin and the Soviet Economy

The First FYP

Successes and achievements

  • First FYP was an extraordinary achievement overall despite rigged figures
  • coal, iron and electrical power supply all increased in huge proportions
  • production of steel and chemicals less impressive
  • output of finished textiles declined
  • striking feature of plan was low priority given to improving material lives of Soviet people
  • no effort made to reward workers by providing them with affordable goods
  • Living conditions deteriorated in this period
  • Accommodation in the towns and cities remained sub-standard 
  • Soviet authorities' neglect of basic social needs was not accidental
  • Plan never aimed to raise living standards and it's purpose was collective, not individual
52 of 68

Stalin and the Soviet Economy

The second and third FYPs

  • Although 2nd and 3rd FYPs were moddelled on the pattern of the first, the targets set for them were more realistic
  • they still revelead the same lack of co-ordination as seen in the first
  • over-production occurred in some parts of the economy with under-production in others
  • this often resulted in whole branches of industry being held up for lack of vital supplies
  • hardest struggle was to sustain a proper supply of materials which led to fierce competition between regions and sectors of industry
  • complaints about poor standards were frequent


  • reluctance to tell the full truth hindered genuine industrial growth
  • no one was willing to admit an error in planning and as a result faults went unchecked till serious breakdowns occurred
53 of 68

Stalin and the Soviet Economy

The Stakhanovite Movement, 1935

  • Party control of newspapers, cinema and radio meant that only a favourable view of the Plans was ever presented
  • Official line was that all was well and workers were happy
  • Support for this claim was provided by the Stakhanovite movement which was exploited by authorities to inspire or shame workers into raising their production levels
  • claimed in August 1935 that Alexei Stakhanov had produced in one 5 hour shift over 14 times his requiredd quota of coal
  • this was seized on by the authorities as a glorious example of what was possible in a Soviet Union guided by Stalin

Workers' rights

  • After 1917, Russian trade unions had become powerless
  • no distinction between interests of government and workers in a truly socialist state
  • Under Stalin's industrialisation programme any semblence of workers' rights disappeared
  • Strikes were prohibited and traditional demands for better pay and conditions seen as selfishly inappropriate in a time of national crisis
54 of 68

Stalin and the Soviet Economy

Strengths of the 2nd/3rd FYP

  • Statistics indicate a remarkable increasein production overall
  • in little over 12 years, coal production had grown 5 times, steel 6, oil output more than doubled
  • most impressive statistic: electricity generation quintupled
  • four key products provided basis for the military economy which enabled them to amass sufficient resources to turn the tables and drive the German army out of Soviet territory
  • Climax was the Soviet defeat of Germany in May 1945


  • Soviet economy remained unbalanced
  • Stalin gave little thought to developing overall economic strategy
  • Modern industrial methods were also not adopted
  • Old, wasteful techniques such as massed labour rather than efficient machines continued to be used
55 of 68

Stalin's Purges

The Early Purges

  • Having gained personal power in Soviet Union by 1929, Stalin spent the rest of his life consolidating and extending his authority
  • Purge was principal weapon for achieving this
  • Stalinist purges were not unprecedented and under Lenin in the early 1920s, tens of thousands of anti-Bolsheviks had been imprisoned in labour camps
  • public trials were a way of exposing industrial "saboteurs"
  • at an early stage, prosecutions had not been restricted to industrial enemies
  • Between 1933 and 1934, nearly 1 million members, over 1/3 of the total membership were excluded from the Party 

Nature of the purges

  • at beginning, purges not as violent or deadly as they became
  • procedure involved handing in Party cards for checking and suspect individuals not having them returned
  • without cards, all priveleges were lost, threat of expulsion was enough to make members conform to official Party policy
  • Under this system, became more difficult to mount effective opposition
56 of 68

Stalin's Purges

The Post-Kirov Purges 1934-6

  • Leningrad - December 1st 1934, Leonid Nicolaev walked into Communist Party HQ and shot dead Sergei Kirov who was the secretary of the Leningrad Soviet
  • Apparent motive was revenge; Kirov had been having an affair with killer's wife
  • Significance went beyond a jealous husband killing his wife's lover
  • strong probability Kirov's murder had been approved, if not planned by Stalin himself
  • Krushchev said in a secret speech that Stalin was almost certainly behind the murder
  • Whatever the truth concerning his involvement, was the case that the murder worked directly to his advantage
  • Kirov was a popular figure in the Party and had been elected to the Politburo
  • Known to be unhappy with the speed and scale of Stalin's industrialisation drive
  • Opposed extreme measures used to discipline Party members
  • Stalin feared he was an outstanding individual that opponents would form affective opposition with
  • within 2 hours of Kirov's murder, Stalin signed a Decree against terrorist acts which meant a fresh purge of the Party had begun, claiming wide circle of Trotskyites and Leftusts were resonsible for the murder
57 of 68

Stalin's Purges

Party membership

  • Interesting coincidence that in 1934, his successful purge was made a great deal easier by the Lenin enrolment 10 years before
  • During the previous 3 years, in the "Stalin enrolment" the CPSU had recruited a higher proportion of skilled workers and industrial managers than at any time since 1917
  • Stalin encouraged this as tightening the links between the Party and those actually operating the first Five Year Plan
  • New members eagerly supported the elimination of the anti-Stalinist elements in the Party
  • It improved their own chances of promotion
  • Competition for good jobs in Soviet Russia was fierce and the  purges always left spaces to be filled
  • Full scale purge that followed Kirov's murder was the work of Yagoda, head of the NKVD
58 of 68

Stalin's Purges


  • Outstanding feature of the post-Kirov purge was the status of many of its victims
  • Prominent among these were Kamanev and Zinoviev who had formed the trumvirate after Lenin's death in 1924 
  • At the time of their arrest, they were accused of engaging in opposition
  • this had no precise meaning therefore could not be answered
  • Arbitrary arrest and summary execution became the norm
59 of 68

Stalin's Purges

The Great Purge 1936-9

  • Might be expected that Stalin's supremacy over the Party would mean the end of the purges, however they increased in intensity
  • Stalin declared that the Soviet Union was in a state of siege
  • 1936- progressive terrorising of the Soviet Union began which affected the entire population
  • One time heroes of the 1917 Revolution and the Civil War were arrested, tried and imprisoned or executed as enemies of the State
  • Right, Left and Centre opposition blocs were established 
  • Stalin's terror programme broke down into 3 sections
  • The purge of the Party
  • The purge of the armed services
  • The purge of the people
60 of 68

Stalin's Purges

The purge of the Party

The purge of the Left

  • prelude to Great Purge of 1936 was a secret letter sent from CPSU HQ warning all local Party branches of terrorist conspiracy 
  • Party officials were instructed to root out suspected agents and sympathisers
  • Once the campaign of denunciation and expulsion had been set in motion in country at large, Kamanev and Zinoviev were put on public trial in Moscow
  • charged with Kirov's murder and plotting to overthrow the Soviet State
  • Physical and mental torture was used and there was a sense of demoralisation at having been accused and disgraced by the Party 
  • The fact that they confessed made it hard for other victims to plead their own innocent
  • Psychological impact of the confessions was profound
61 of 68

Stalin's Purges

The purging of the Right

  • Next major strike was against the "Right deviationists", Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky were put under investigation but not formally charged
  • delay was caused by reluctance of some of the older Bolsheviks in the Politburo to denounce their comraddes 
  • Stalin intervened personally to speed up the process
  • Yagoda was replaced by Yezhov as the Head of the NKVD
  • Meanwhile, case for proceeding vs Bukhrain and the Right was strengthened by revelations at a further show trial in 1937 during which 17 Communists were charged with spying for Nazi Germany
  •  Yezhov and Vyshinsky had the evidence that they needed in order to put Bukhrain and Rykov on trial 
  • fact that Yagoda was also accused showed the speed at which the terror was starting to consume its own people
  • In final speech in court, Bukharin showed extraordinary character of the Bolshevik mentality
62 of 68

Stalin's Purges

Stalin Constitution 1936

  • particular irony attached to Bukharin's execution
  • years previously he had been principal draftsman of the new constitution of the USSR
  • 1936 constitution which Stalin described as "the most democratic in the world" was intended to impress Western Communists and Soviet sympathisers
  • this was the period in Soviet foreign policy where in an effort to offset the Nazi menace of the USSR, Stalin was urging the formation of popular fronts with various left-wing groups in Europe
  • Among the things claimed in Constitution were that:
  • socialism had been established and there were no longer any "classes" in society
  • basic civil rights of freedom of expression, assembly and worhsip were guaranteed
63 of 68

Stalin's Purges

The purge of the armed forces

  • significant development occurred in 1937 when the Soviet military came under threat
  • Stalin's control of USSR wouldn't be complete if the armed services continued as an independent force
  • essential that they be kept subservient
  • knowing that military loyalties might make a purge of the army difficult to achieve, Stalin took the step of organising transfers within the higher ranks to lessen the possibility of centres of resistance
  • When this was done, Vyshinsky announced that a "gigantic conspiracy" had been uncovered in the Red Army
  • in order to prevent a military coup, a secret trial was held and the charge was treason 
  • Tukhachevsky and his fellow generals were shot 
  • Reported that in some army camps, officers were taken away in lorry loads for execution
  • Soviet Navy also purged and Air Force similarly decimated with only 1 senior commander surviving
64 of 68

Stalin's Purges

The purge of the people

  • Stalin's achivementt of the total dominance over Party, goverment and military didn't mark the end of the purges
  • Apparatus of terror was retained and the search for enemies continued
  • purges iused to achieve the goals of the FYPs
  • Purge also way of forcing the regions and nationalities into total subordination to Stalin
  • Show trials had taken place in Moscow and Leningrad and were repeated in all republics of the USSR

Mass repression

  • historians tended to concentrate on the central and dramatic features of the purges such as the show trials and the attack upon the Party and Red Army
  • no area of Soviet life escaped being purged and terror was elevated into a method of government
  • almost every family in the USSR suffered the loss of at least one of its members as a victim of the terror
65 of 68

Stalin's Purges


  • quotas of victims to be arrested were laid down like industrial production targets 
  • people no longer regarded as individuals and it was the numbers and not the names that mattered
  • The terrorising of ordinary people had a specific purpose of frightening the USSR's national minories into abandoning lingering thoughts of challenging Moscow's control 
  • Interrogators themselves became victims and joined those they had condemned in execution cells and labour cmaps
  • Concepts of innocence and guilt lost all meaning during the purges
66 of 68

Stalin's Purges

The Later Purges

  • purges didn't end with the onset of war in 1941 or with coming of peace in 1945
  • had become an integral part of the Stalinist system of government
  • Stalin blamed military failures on internal sabotage and persecuted those held responsible
  • Emerged from the war harder in attitude towards Soviet people and more suspicious of the outside world despite alliances entered into by USSR
  • Soviet prisoners were executed on Stalin's orders and whole communities were made to suffer
  • Allies made the situation worse by agreeing that all realeased prisoners of war should be returned to their country of origin
67 of 68

Stalin's Purges

The Leningrad Affair

  • as he grew older, Stalin became more suspicious of those around him
  • after 1947, dispensed with Central Committee and Politburo and removed semblance of limitation upon his authority
  • initiated another Party purge in 1949, the Leningrad Affair 
  • leading Party and city officials were arrested and tried on charges of attempting to use Leningrad as an opposition base and shot

The doctors plot

  • Soviet Jews were the next section of the population to be selected for purging
  • Anti-Semitism was a long established tradition in Russia and was a factor in the last purge Stalin attempted
  • Early in 1953, officially announced from the Kremlin that a "doctors plot" had been uncovered in Moscow, asserted that Jewish dominated medical centre had planned to murder Stalin and other soviet leaders
  • plans started for major assault on Soviet medical profession but these were prevented by death of Stalin in March 1953
68 of 68


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Russia - 19th and 20th century resources »