From Tsardom to Communism: Russia, 1914–1924

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  • Created by: Phoebe
  • Created on: 05-06-13 15:17

Why was Russia so difficult to govern?

  • The empire was huge, and communications were poor
  • 150 million people, 172 ethnic groups to govern with different languages
  • People hated being ruled by Tsar, and called it "the prison of nations"
  • Old fashioned and "backwards" - in 1914 in still used the Roman calendar when most other nations used the Gregorian Calendar, so it was out of sync 
  • In most of Russia there was no modern transport system, and most roads were primitive mud tracks
  • Railway track did not come close to satisfying transport needs
  • MASSIVE gap between the rich and the poor. 4/5 of people were penniless peasants
  • Economy was technologically backwards and mainly based on subsistence farming and despite this the countryside was regularly swept by famine
  • After 1900 there were signs of industrialisation - but the early years were very problematic, as large numbers of peasants migrated into Russia's new towns only to find poverty, overcrowding, pollution and poor working conditions in factories
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Structure of Russian Society

Tsar - autocratic ruler

Nobility - governors


(persuaded people that the Tsar had been chosen by God)

Okhrana (army) 

kept control of people using violence

Middle Class


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The Government of Tsar Nicholas II


  • It was the belief that he had the divine right to rule - that he had been "chosen" by God
  • He and his wife were totally committed to Russia, loved the country and served it loyally
  • He was a kind, loving family man
  • He had a quick mind and learnt easily


  • Nicholas II was an autocrat - he made the rules, there was no government
  • His rule was enforced at a local level by councils called zemstvos
  • He used his Okhrana to keep the people under control
  • The Orthodox Church was closely linked to the Tsar and supported his way of ruling - many of the peasants and workers were taught to see the Tsar as their "little father"
  • As a ruler, he was quite weak, out of touch, foolish and indecisive - generally quite unsuited for the job as he didn't know enough about his country
  • Media was censored, as opposition to the Tsar was not tolerated
  • Nicholas was very anti semitic, and encouraged violence against Jews
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Opposition - Socialist Revolutionaries


  • Get rid of the Tsar and his government
  • Give all land to peasants for farming in communes and form thousands of peasant communities

Supported by: Peasants


  • Propaganda encouraging revolution
  • Violent terroist acts intended to collapse the government
  • Killed seven important governmet officials
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Opposition - Social Democrats (Mensheviks)


  • Overthrow the Tsar and create a Socialist State

Supported by: Workers in cities and large towns, and students

1903 - Party split over tactic they thought would bring about revolution.


  • Party should be mass organisation which everyone could join
  • Mass party would grow until it eventually took power
  • Would work with other groups like trade unions to improve wages and working conditions
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Opposition - Social Democrats (Bolsheviks)


  • Party should be a small, secret, tightly disciplined group of professional revolutionaries who would seize power when the time was right
  • Large parties could be infiltrated by spies - instead, revolutionary cells of 3-4 people organised strikes and demonstrations
  • Led by Lenin 
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Opposition - Liberals


  • Free elections and a parliament to run the country
  • The Tsar to be a consitutional monarch like the one in England
  • Cvil rights - freedom of speech, worship and conscience

Supported by:

  • Middle and Educated classes (teachers, doctors, lawyers and some industrialists
  • Some members of the gentry

Tactics: Meetings, speeches, discussions, publishing articles and books calling for change

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Causes of the 1905 Revolution - Long Term

  • Economic Problems
  • Tsar would not share his power
  • Poor harvests, industrial slump
  • Poor working conditions - workers wanted higher wages and shorter hours
  • Poor living conditions - land was divided up
  • Russia too big to rule
  • Russia too divided to function
  • Disunited - too many different faiths and languages
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Causes of the 1905 Revolution - Short Term

  • Rising oppositions - Socialist Revolutionaries, Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and Liberals
  • 1905-05: Russia defeated in war with Japan
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Causes of the 1905 Revolution - The Trigger

  • 22nd January 1905
  • 200,000 people marched in St Petersburg
  • March was peaceful, and led by a priest
  • Marchers were spimply asking Tsar to improve working conditions
  • Children were also marching


  • Tsar ordered troops to shoot marchers, and around 1000 people were killed
  • This day came to be known as "Bloody Sunday"
  • Bloody Sunday triggered the 1905 Revolution
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1905 Revolution Timeline

  • January: Revolution triggered by Bloody Sunday
  • February: Strikes spread to other cities. Grand Duke Sergei assasinated
  • March-May: Tsar blamed for losing Japanese War. Demands made for better government. Sailors on battleships mutinied, which worried government - could other sections of army follow?
  • May-June: Other social groups demanded change - middle class liberals wanted an elected parliament, freedom of speech, the right to form political parties etc. National groups (Poles and Finns) demanded independence, and Jews wanted civil rights
  • June-July: Peasant riots became widespread. Land was seized and landowners houses were LOCKED AND BURNT
  • September: Peace Treaty with Japan signed. Soldiers now free to stop unrest, and as Tsar paid well and promised better conditions, they remained loyal to him
  • October: ALL opposing groups unite demanding change. 
  • 26th October: St Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Deputies formed. Reps meet to coordinate strike action. Soviets formed in other cities = GREAT threat to Tsar's government
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The October Manifesto

30th October 1905: Tsar had to choose whether to give in to rebels or use force. He gave in, and issued the October Manifesto, which promised:

  • a parliament (Duma elected by people)
  • civil rights (freedom of speech and conscience etc)
  • uncensored media and rights to form political parties

So the Liberals and Middle Class believed they had won democracy, stopped all protests and supported the government.

December: With all the troops back in Russia, the Tsar decided to take back control. He used force to close down the St Peterburg Soviet and crush an armed uprising in Moscow. He sent out troops to take revenge on workers and peasants who had rioted and bring them back under control.

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1905-1914: Did life improve?


  • Economy improved and increased in output
  • Peasants bank set up to provide loans for farmland
  • Production of grain increased
  • Industrialisation improved


  • Stolypin was appointed to deal with violence. Thousands were hung
  • Dumas were dissolved after a few weeks for being too "radical"
  • Vast majority of country still poor 
  • Working and living conditions still poor
  • Okhrana still active
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  • Came from remote village
  • Claimed to have "healing powers", and allegedly cured the Tsar's son, Alexis, of haemophilia. 
  • Apparently a sex maniac who was ALWAYS drunk
  • Had a lot of influence over the Tsarina, who had influence over the Tsar
  • Rasputin was not popular with the public, and all this gossip had a negative effect on the already unstable Royal Family.
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Steps to Revolution 1914-1917

1. Effects of the War on soldiers:

  • 8 million wounded, injured or taken prisoner by March 1914
  • Around 25% of army deserted
  • Lack of basic equipment, transportation and food etc
  • Loss of morale :- loss of faith in Tsar
  • Bad leadership by officers, who were unfeeling and ineffective
  • Spectacular defeats

2. Effects of the War on Russians at home:

  • Male peasants had been drafted into army :- food shortages
  • Coal and industrial materials were short :- factories closed :- unemployment
  • Shortages meant that people were cold AND hungry 
  • Prices rose BUT wages didn't, even though hours were made longer
  • MORE war casualties - more morale loss
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Steps to Revolution 1914-1917

3. Turning point - a terrible mistake

  • September 1915: Tsar took over running of war and went to "the front-line" himself
  • This meant he was blamed for war defeats
  • Tsarina Alexandria left in charge - she was mistrusted due to her German background
  • Tsarina had a close relationship with Rasputin, which lead to further collapse of her reputation
  • Tsarina didn't work with the Duma, and replaced able ministers with friends of Rasputin's who did what they were told
  • Incompetent ministers were changed so frequently nobody organised food, fuel and other supplies for the city
  • Railway system fell to chaos and train loads of food were left rotting in the sidings
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Steps to Revolution 1914-1917

4. Losing support

  • The middle and upper class of society and even the aristocracy began to lose faith in the monarchy
  • They disliked the Tsarina, hated Rasputin and blamed the Tsar for their problems
  • 1916 was a bad winter
  • Railway lines iced up
  • Hardly any food or fuel reached Petrograd
  • Prices rocketed
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Steps to Revolution 1914-1917

5. The Revolution Begins

  • The workers wanted political changes as well as food and fuel
  • 7th March: 40,00 workers from the Putilov engineering works went on strike for higher wages
  • 8th March: International Women's Day - thousands of women joined strikers in demonstrations all over the city
  • In the two days that followed, thousands of people joined in demanding food, fuel, better conditions and a new government
  • The Tsar ordered the demonstrations to be put down by force
  • Rodzianko (Duma leader) sent telegram saying situation was at breaking point
  • Tsar ignored this message, and didn't take any notice
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Steps to Revolution 1914-1917

6. The army takes sides:

12th March:

  • Soldiers in Petrograd refused to fire on crowds
  • Some regiments shot their officers and joined demonstrations
  • They had had enough of the war and the way they were treated
  • This made the 1917 demonstrations different to any that had previously occurred
  • Army and people marched to the Duma to demand that it take control of the government
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Steps to Revolution 1914-1917


  • Nicholas II tried to get back to Petrograd, but it was too late
  • Railway workers refused to let his train into the city
  • 15th, on this train, the Tsar decided to abdicate in favour of his brother, Michael
  • But the people had had enough of the royal family once and for all
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Why was the Tsar forced to abdicate in March 1917

Long term causes:

  • Russia large and difficult to govern
  • Poor communications
  • Lots of different languages and nationalities
  • Rubbish Tsar
  • Class division
  • Wealth division
  • Economic backwardness
  • Bad industry
  • Political opposition
  • Russo-Japanese war FAILED
  • 1905 revolution
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Why was the Tsar forced to abdicate in March 1917

Short term causes:

  • Anger over Rasputin
  • Bad winter of 1916
  • Morale low, people hungry
  • Inflation and lack of food and fuel
  • Royal family lose support among wealthy and influential
  • Tsarina left in charge: Rasputin changed ministers, nothing got done, so no food etc
  • Failure to deliver promises in October Manifesto
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Why was the Tsar forced to abdicate in March 1917


  • Soldiers abandon Tsar and join protestors
  • Loss of support of the Duma
  • Protests in March 1917
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The Provisional Government and Soviet

  • The people had demanded that the Tsar abdicate and the Duma took charge
  • They formed a Provisional Government
  • The PG would run the country until elections were hold to choose a government and decide how Russia was to be ruled
  • As the PG was formed, the Petrograd Soviet also took shape
  • Workers and solders sent representatives to form a soviet to look after their interests
  • The Soviet issued Order No. 1, which gave them control of the army
  • The PG was the official government, but could only carry out decisions if the Soviet agreed
  • Political prisoners were freed
  • There was freedom of the press, speech, the right to strike
  • Social discrimination and the death penalty were ended
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Problems for the Provisional Government

  • War with Germany -shortages, inflation, defeats
  • People wanted it to end, but Russia needed support of Allies
  • Opposition - Bolsheviks, Menshevisk, Socialist Revolutionaries
  • They were only temporary, and needed a new government
  • Adapting to democracy
  • Land reform, peasant unrest - couldn't give land to peasants, wanted new govnt. to decide
  • Needed support of army
  • Petrograd Soviet controlled them
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How did the Bolsheviks seize power?

Timeline 1917:

  • Lenin returned to Petrograd and announces April Theses
  • -no co-operation with the PG
  • -end war immediately
  • -land given to peasants
  • -Soviets should take power
  • Support grows with slogan "Bread, Peace and Land"
  • However, Bs were still outnumbered by Ms and SRs
  • Only Bs opposed the war
  • July 1917, Kerensky launched major attack on Germany
  • Terrible defeat led to the July Days, when people protested between the 16th and 17th July about the war
  • They turned to the Bolsheviks (the only party that opposed the war) for support
  • Bs weren't ready to seize power
  • Kerensky sent troops to break up rioting, and framed Lenin as a German spy (he was forced into hiding)
  • Had the Bolsheviks missed their chance?
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How did the Bolsheviks seize power?

Autumn 1917 - a second chance - The Kornilov Revolt

  • Kerensky appointed General Kornilov to be head of army
  • Kornilov decided to "deal with" the revolutionaries and establish his own government
  • His ordered his Cossack troops to march on Petrograd
  • Kerensky panicked and begged the Bolsheviks for help
  • He supplied the Red Guard (who had been training secretley) with rifles
  • Red Guard arrived to defend Petrograd, but Cossack troops never came
  • Railway workers had stopped their trains, and workers and other soldiers persuaded them not to fight
  • However, the Red Guard kept their rifles, and the Bolsheviks were now seen as the "saviours" of Petrograd, with support at an all time high
  • The Bolsheviks won an overall majority to the Petrograd Soviet, and elected Leon Trotsky chairman
  • Support for PG fell lower - peasants seized land, with Kerensky's punishment brigades causing more hatred, soldiers deserted, food was rationed and prices rose
  • Lenin sent word from Finland tellings Bs to seize power, but they refused
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How did the Bolsheviks seize power?

  • Lenin returned on 23rd October and spent the night convincing the others to seize power
  • They eventually gave in
  • Trotsky persuaded Lenin to wait rather than start straight away
  • They planned their attack in the Smolny Institute, a former girls' school
  • 7th November - Red Guards took control of bridges, main telegraph office, railway and power stations
  • Nobody stopped them, it was very low key
  • The next day, the Red Guard continued to seize key places, such as the State Bank
  • All seemed normal - shops and factories were open, trams were runnung
  • Nobody took much notice, and assumed that the Bs would be defeated as soon as Kerensky arrived with his troops
  • But Kerensky had already left the city...
  • The Red Guard moved onto the Winter Palace, where the PG was meeting
  • Most of the Cossacks guarding the Palace had left, leaving a few cadets and the Women's Death Battalion, who offered little resistion
  • When the Bolsheviks found the PG, they surrended immediately
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What did the Bolsheviks do?

  • Lenin began peace talks with Germany. In March 1918 the Treaty of Brest Litovsk was signed. Peace was achieved, but Russia lots vast amounts of agricultural and industrial land
  • Land Decree issued - land was seized from rich landowners and given to the peasants - this made the Bolsheviks very popular
  • Lenin renamed the Bolsheviks as the Communist Party in order to have more appeal the Russian people
  • The Bolsheviks held elections for a new Parliament (Constituent Assembly) in November 1917
  • The SRs won and Lenin shut down the Constituent assembly in January 1918
  • All banks and industry were taken over by the government
  • Workers' committees were put in control of factories
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What did the Bolsheviks do?

  • Lenin intended to make Russia a one party state, a communist dictatorship
  • He set up a secret police force, the Cheka, to spy on opponents
  • The Cheka enforced Red Terror, arresting and executing over 50,000 enemies
  • The Communists abolished all titles and introduced new laws improving working conditions
  • To tackle food shortages, the Cheka were sent into the countryside to forcibly requisition supplies
  • The Communists banned other political parties and took control of the media
  • Set up new government, the Council of People Commissars (the Sovnakom) with Lenin as Chairman, Trotsky as Commissar for Foreign Affairs and Stalin for Nationalities
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The Civil War

The Reds: The Communist Party  (the Bolsheviks) The Whites: Basically ALL opposers of the Reds, united in their common goal to get rid of the Communists:

  • Landowners who lost land when it  was given to peasants
  • Religious groups who opposed the loss of church property
  • Royalists who wanted the Tsar back
  • Mensheviks and SRs (who won the elections)

All of the Whites hated each other, but worked together to get rid of the Reds

The Communist Party (in the middle of Russia) were surrounded by enemies

ALSO: Foreign countries were opposed to the Reds because:

  • they pulled out of the war (Allies)
  • they were afraid of communism
  • they wouldn't pay their debts
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Why did the Reds win - Geographical Factors

The Reds:

  • Held central area of Russia, had most of the industry which could produce munitions and war supplies
  • They also had control of railways between Petrograd and Moscow and the rest of the country
  • This means they could send troops quickly to any place in the battle area

The Whites:

  • Scattered around central area, often separated by hundreds of miles between different armies
  • Communications were difficult - and often the generals didn't want to talk
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Why did the Reds win - Aims

The Reds:

  • Stay in power
  • Build a new Socialist society

The Whites:

  • All different aims
  • Some wanted the Tsar back
  • Some wanted a military dictator
  • Others wanted constitutional government or revolutionary changes
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Why did the Reds win - Leadership and Unity

The Reds:

  • Led by Trotsky, who was superb
  • He built up the Red Army from nothing, introduced conscription for men over 18
  • He brought in 50,000 experienced former Tsarist officers and appointed political Commissars (******** Bolsheviks) to each unit of men
  • This ensured the officers and soldiers carried out their orders
  • Trotsky was brave, and accompanied his army of hand-picked soldiers on the train to areas where fighting was hardest

The Whites:

  • Lacked good leaders - commanders were cruel, disrespectful, drunkards and druggies
  • Generals did not trust each other and would no co-ordinate their attacks
  • This allowed Reds to pick off White armies one by one
  • Inside armies people fought due to their different aims and beliefs
  • Revolutionaries found it hard to co-operate with Tsar supporters
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Why did the Reds win - Foreign Intervention

The Whites:

  • Had advantage
  • Were supported by Britain, France, Japan and USA (+ more)
  • Countries sent forces to help them
  • They did not want Communism spread into Europe
  • Supplies and armaments were valuable
  • Borrowed troops were not - they were tired of war, and some European soldiers were sympathetic to the Bolshevik cause
  • The Allied intervention was half-hearted and ineffective

The Reds:

  • Were actually helped by foreign intervention
  • They portrayed the Whites as being used by foreign CAPITALIST powers
  • They themselves were the defenders of ordinary Russian people from foreign invasion
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Why did the Reds win - Peasant Support

The Reds:

  • Peasants supported Reds because they said they could keep their land
  • Most of the armies were made up of peasants

The Whites:

  • Lost support of the peasants 
  • They made it clear that they would restore land to old landowners
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The role of Trotsky

  • Completely revamped the Red Army
  • Turned an untrained bunch of peasants into a ruthless fighting squad in a very short space of time
  • Ensured a minimum amount of deserters and unloyal soldiers by making it very clear than one wrong move=death
  • Kept records of soldiers' s families so they could be blackmailed
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What happened to the Tsar?

  • The fam was kept under house arrest, and moved away to the country for "safety"
  • Tsar was a problem for the Reds - if he escaped, he could unite White forces, if he was murdered he would become a martyr
  • Decision: KILL HIM
  • 17th July 1917 - fam was open fired on by soldiers (girls had to be finished off by bayonets)

What the Reds did:

  • Kept quiet about murder - they were trying to make peace with Germany, and the dead Tsarina and her children had German blood

What the Whites did:

  • Used the murder to get support - many Russians and foreign governments were horrified
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War Communism


In the towns:

  • State took control of industry and told factories what to produce (arms)
  • Lenin put his people in charge of factories and imposed strict discipline
  • Food was rationed, but people could only get a ration card if they worked
  • Money became virtually worthless, and made people turned to trading

In the countyside:

  • Lenin needed food to feed workers
  • Peasants didn't want to sell their food for worthless money
  • The Cheka was sent to seize surplus food
  • Those found hoarding supplies were punished harshly
  • Peasants decided to produce less grain, as it would be taken


  • Cheka became for violent - people opposing government were arrested and shot without trial or sent to labour camps
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1921 - Effect of War Communism

  • Many workers and peasants began to think that the workers' state was worse than the government of the Tsar which they had been so pleased to get rid of
  • The economy of Russia was in ruins
  • Industrial production had fallen disastrously under WC
  • Crime increased
  • Agricultural process had collapsed
  • The disruption of the war and forced grain requisitioning had led to low grain harvests, as peasants had seen little point in growing food
  • In 1921 even less grain was grown due to a drought
  • This led to a horrendous famine, which killed up to 5 million people
  • Opposition was growing
  • A group called the Workers' Opposition formed, demanding higher wages, better industry, more food and workers' control of the country
  • They objected to the use of the Cheka to scare the people into submission
  • March 1921 sailors at the Kronstadt naval base staged an uprising because life under Communist dictatorship was worse than death
  • They had been strong Bolsh. supporters, but swapped sides - Trotsky had to use troops to crush the and 20,000 men killed and wounded
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Why was War Communism brought to an end?

  • By 1921, Russia had fallen into a state of disarray
  • Money became more and more worthless
  • Theft was a daily occurrence
  • Peasants stopped growing food, which led to famine
  • Steel production was down by 4%
  • THE CIVIL WAR FINISHED, therefore they didn't WAR communism
  • Workers' Opposition - better pay + conditions etc
  • Kronstadt Naval Base rising

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New Economic Policy

  • The Kronstadt rising i n March 1921 spurred Lenin to do something
  • He knew that he had to improve the economic situation in Russia. If he didn't, the Communists wouldn't survive
  • In 1921, he introduced an NEP - the main features were:
  • To give the Soviet Union "breathing space", and taking one step backwards in order to take two steps forward
  • Grain requisitioning would be stopped
  • No longer would grain be taken from the peasants by force
  • The peasants would have to give a fixed amount of grain to the government each year as tax
  • Any surplus they produced could be sold on the open market
  • Traders could buy and sell goods (illegals during WC)
  • Smaller factories, particularly those producing consumer good like shoes were returned to their formed owners, and allowed to make a profit
  • Larger industries e.g. coal, steel and transport remained under state control
  • Some larger factories were allowed to sell their profits
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Effects of NEP


  • Electrification of Russia
  • Improved general economic situation
  • Foreign trade increased
  • Production of industrial good and grain increased


  • Many Communists were angry, as they saw features of the NEP as a "return to Capitalism" and did not like the idea of "making a profit", or for richer people having poorer people work for them
  • Prices for manufactured goods were too high for peasants
  • Peasants refused to sell grain for money that wouldn't get them goods
  • Still lots of unemployment and crime
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Was Lenin a Great Leader?


  • Without him there would not have been a revolution in 1917
  • He persuaded the others to seize power
  • He was a superb organised
  • He was modest and had no personal ambition
  • He was a good political speaker
  • He kept the Bs in power after 1917
  • He only used the Cheka when neccessary


  • He seized power without support of population - dictatorship
  • Wouldn't share power with SRs who won the Constituent Assesmbly - made the Civil War much worse than it could have been
  • Used ruthless methods and terror to stay in power
  • Let millions of Russians suffer for his ideas
  • Stop other people from expressing their opinions
  • Made Communist Party an organisation for carrying out orders - members were not allowed to disagree with leaders
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The creation of the USSR

  • The Red Army captured new regions during the civil war
  • They set up communist governments and declared these regions "socialist republics"
  • In 1923 all of these socialist republics were brought together into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)
  • In theory, this new state was a democracy
  • In practice, the Communist Party was the only party
  • Therefore the USSR was run by a dictatorship of the Communist Party
  • By the time Lenin died in 1924, he had made sure that the Communist Party had full control of the country
  • He achieved this goal partly by introducing popular policies, but mainly through force and terror
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In 1921, the Kronstadt sailors - who had been the Bolsheviks fiercest supporters - mutinied, demanding an end to War Communism. Trotsky put down the rebellion, but Lenin was worried - if the Kronstadt sailors had been pushed too far, how long would it be before the rest of the country rose up and threw out the Bolsheviks? The civil war was won. It was time to pull back.

Lenin brought in what he called the New Economic Policy. Peasants who had been forced to hand over all their produce to the war effort - were allowed to keep some to sell for profit - some (the kulaks) became quite rich. Small traders called Nepmen were allowed to set up businesses. At the same time, local nationalities who had been forced to follow a strict Communist line were allowedto bring back their own language and customs. Churches, mosques and bazaars were re-opened.

The economy picked up, and people were much happier. But many old Bolsheviks said Lenin had sold out to capitalism, and left the party.

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Very useful but make sure you know that the Okhrana are the secret police, not the army

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