Russia 1917-85- government

Bolshevik aims

  • Bolshevik Party established in 1903
  • They wanted of get rid of the Tsarist regime
  • Chaos of October 1917 Revolution gave them the oppurtunity to get rid of upper and middle classes and replace the capitalist system with socialism
  • Karl Marx's view of historical change:
    • Primitive communism
    • Feudalism
    • Capitalism
    • Socialism
    • Communism
  • Bolsheviks seized power in October 1917 by storming the Winter Palace, which was portrayed as a mass uprising from the workers, despite the Bolshevik Party only having 300,000 members at the time
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Creation of a one-party state

  • By 1921 all other political parties were banned
  • Had to seize power by force due to lack of support
  • Constituent Assembly called in January 1918 to support other parties, so Lenin dissolved the Assembly and established the All-Russian Congress of Soviets which supported the Bolsheviks
  • The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk 1918 took Russia out of WW1, causing national humiliation and the loss of control of Baltic States
  • The Russian Civil War was Reds (Bolsheviks) vs Whites (other parties, liberals, national minorities, military leaders, etc) but Whites were weaker due to them being made up of many different groups
  • As a result of the war the Bolshevik state became highly centralised and Bolsheviks have made use of terror
  • Civil war saw a Party membership growth of 430,000 by 1921
  • 'On Party Unity' put forward at Tenth Party Congress, 1921
  • Kronstad mutiny (uprising of sailors) and Tambov Rising (uprising of peasants) both in 1921
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Nature of government under Lenin


1. Sovnarkom- Council of People's Commissars, cabinet at the top of the government .

2. Central Executive Committee- oversaw work of the government and its administration

3. All-Russian Congress of Soviets- supreme law making body of the state


1. Politburo- 7-9 leading members of the party, made key decisions affecting policy

2. Central Committee- 30-40 members chosen by Party Congress to represent its members

3. Party Congress- made up of representatives of local party branches

4. Local Party Branches- each headed by a Party secretary

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Growing centralisation of power

  • Lenin chaired the Sovnarkom and was a Politburo member but his power was limited from 1922 due to severe illness
  • Nomenklatura system- drawing up lists of approved party employees who were loyal
  • Soviet Constitution 1924 tightened authority of the Communist Party and made Russia into the USSR
  • Terror implemeneted by Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka
  • Red Terror was 1921-22
  • Cheka responsible for 200,000 executions between 1917 and 1923
  • NEP led to party factions
  • Stalin appointed General Secretary in 1922
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Stalin's elimination of opponents

  • As General Secretary, Stalin had access to 26,000 personal files on Party members and could gather information and influence
  • His opponents were:
    • Trotsky, the obvious successor (Left)
    • Zinoviev, Party Secretary in Leningrad (Left)
    • Kamanev, Party Secretary in Moscow (Left)
    • Bukharin, Lenin's 'golden boy' (Right)
  • Left expelled from Politburo for forming factions
  • The Right were identified by name and removed from their posts
  • Stalin (middle) remained in the dominant position
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Purges of 1930s

  • Secret police carried out surveillance, arrests and executions and ran labour camps
  • By 1935, 22% of the Party had been removed from their posts with absurd accusations
  • Kirov's murder was the catalyst for more purging of large sections of the Party
  • Trial of the Sixteen- August 1936, Zinoviev and Kamanev
  • Trial of the Seventeen- 1937, purge of Party officials who were accused of working for Trotsky
  • Trial of the Twenty-One- 1938, purge of the Right
  • In the 1937-38 there were purges in the Red Army
  • Secret Police purged, with Yahoda purging 3000 of his own personel in 1936
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Stalin's power over party and state

  • By the mid 1930s, Politburo meetings wereonly held nine times a year
  • Soviet Consttituion of 1936- gave everyone the vote but listed restrictions on the rights of citizens so that nothing xould threaten to Communist Party
  • Despite his control Stalin had personal limits so couldn't control every issue and some Politburo members expressed concern over Stalin's brutality
  • At a local level purges were determined by local pressures
  • During the war use of terror reduced and the Party used Propaganda  to mobilise people for the war effort
  • From 1945-53 Stalin implemented 'High Stalinsim'- terror was used to enforce control and concessions were withdrawn
  • Stalin relied on politcal scheming to divide potential rivals
  • He may have been planning another major purge before he died
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Khrushchev's attempts at reform and de-Stalinisati

  • Khrushchev became the First Secretary of the Communist Party in 1953
  • In his Secret Speech in 1956, Khrushchev accused Stalin of developing a cult of personality, acting as a tyrant, using unnecessary terror and making economic mistakes
  • As a part of de-Stalinisation;
    • decision making was decentralised
    • secret police were brought under party control
    • two million poitcal prisoners were released by 1960
  • Khrushchev was nearly removed in 1957, but the Central Committee (packed with his allies) voted against it
  • Stalin's body was removed from Red Square, major purge of local Party secretaries, limit of three years in-post introduced
  • Khrushchev removed from his post by Central Committee in 1964
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Growing the political stagnation

  • By 1980 the Party structures were so deeply entrenched that they were hard to change even where there was the will to
  • the Soviet Union was a 'vast system grinding to a halt'
  • By 1984, 7/11 Politburo members were over 70
  • Andropov succeeded Brezhnev in 1982
  • Andropov wanted to target party corruption, but lacked the charm to do so
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