The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power 1917-24


The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power 1917-24

The Establishment of Government & Power

Government of Russia: Problem: The change from a bourgeois to a proletarian economy could not be achieved overnight. The Bolshevik government would continue to use the existing structures until the transition had been completed and socialist system could be adopted. Many Bolsheviks wanted the immediate introduction of a sweeping revolutionary policy, but the Bolsheviks lacked support across the country outside major cities of Moscow & Petrograd. Solution: The problems in Russia restricted the choice of action. Lenin's government introduced three decrees that were meant to define its approach to national policy. Decree on Peace, October 1917 - This was not so much a decree as an appeal to the warring nations to enter into talks for 'a democratic peace without annexations'. Decree on Land, November 1917 - Gave Bolshevik approval to the reality of what had been happening in the countryside since the February Revolution; in many areas the peasants had overthrown their landlords and occupied their property. Decree on Workers' Control, November 1917 - During 1917, factories had been taken over by workers, but they didnt run the workers efficiently. The result was a serious fall in industrial output. The decree accepted the workers' takeover, but at the same time it instructed the workers committees to maintain 'the strictest order and discipline' in the workplace.

War: Problem: Bolsheviks had promised end to war in all their key slogans; war deeply unpopular, drain on national resources. The military exhaustion of Russia made it impossible to fight on successfully. Solution: They negotiated peace, led by Trotsky. Trotsky hoped that within a short time the German armies would collapse on the western front and revolutions would follow in Germany. He was determined to make the peace talks a protracted affair. He wanted to buy time for Bolshevik agitators to exploit the mutinies which the strain of war had produced in some units of the Austro-German armies. This approach got the slogan 'neither peace, nor war'

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The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power 1917-24

Solution: Hence, this led to Treaty of Brest-Litovsk 1918.

The terms of the treaty:

  • A huge slice of territory - amounting to 1/3 of European Russia - was ceded to Germany or its allies.
  • The land was lost by Russia - about a million square kilometres - contained a population of 45 million people.
  • Russia was required to pay three billion roubles in war reperations

Land: Problem: Peasant seizing illegally seizing land across Russia. Solution: Passed Decree on Land, confiscating private land and putting it in hands of peasants.

Constituent Assembly: Problem: Lenin was determined not to allow elections to undermine the Bolsheviks' newly gained power. However, the October revolution had come too late to prevent the elections to the All Russian Constituent Assembly from going ahead in November as planned. TThere would be backlash if the elections did not go ahead, especially as before October they had attacked Keresky for postponing them. The results showed:

  • They had been outvoted by nearly two to one by their major rival, the SR's (they won 175 seats to their 410)
  • They had won only 24% of the total vote.
  • They had gained barely 1/4 of the seats in the assembly

Solution: Lenin had no need for an assembly, and it was non-bolshevik it would almost  certainly make life difficult for his government. He dissolved the assembly in January 1918 at gunpoint by the Red Guards. A few members tried to protest, but resistance evaporated. Lenin said: the elections were rigged and results did not reflect will of people ; Russia became a one party state.

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The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power 1917-24

Civil War and Foreign Relations 1918-24

Causes: - military opposition from opponents unwilling to accept absolute rule by a minority party. Left wing groups such as the SR's/Mensheviks wanted to remove Bolsheviks because they were not being represented; Russia was a one party state. Other liberal parties like Octobrists wanted to remove them because they wanted a democracy with freedom. Kadets wanted a constitutional monarchy with an elected assembly. Other countries like France, Britain supported opponents because they opposed communism.

Who was on each side?

Reds (Bolsheviks): Had on clear aim; to stay in power. The 'Workers and Peasants Red Army' was formed from Kronstadt sailors and Red Guards, volunteers and soldiers from former imperial army.

Whites: Made up of liberals, former tsarists, nationalists and separatists (separate nation from Russia), SR's. Few wanted tsar back, but some supported military dictatorship until Bolsheviks were defeated. SR's wanted constituent assmebly . Only thing in common was being anti-bolshevik.

Greens:Peasant armies, often made up of army deserters.Some fought for Bolsheviks, some against. Concerned with protecting their area from armies.

Events: Hostilites were sparked by the Czech legion who wanted to win recognition for an independent Czech state. They wanted to fight with russian army against Austrians/Germans. They did not want to cross enemy lines so were transported along the Trans-Siberian railway. They mistrusted Bolsheviks and they clashed on railways. Bolsheviks tried to disarm them; they resisted, took control of large sections of the railway. The Civil war was started in 1918.

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The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power 1917-24

  • SR's organised uprisings in central Russia
  • White volunteer army led by General Denikin had been formed from outlawed Kadets and tsarist loyalits
  • In Siberia, white army formed under Admirial Kolchak
  • In Estonia, ex-tsarist general Yudenich formed a white army

White and Green weaknesses:

  • Some wanted to fight for a united Russia, some wanted independence, restoration of the monarchy; not bound by a single aim
  • Whites were divided - arguements amongst socialist groups, liberals and monarchists.
  • Geographically isolated from eachother
  • Lack of co-ordinated strategy
  • Peasants in the army treated much worse than volunteers
  • Did not support the demands of Nationalist groups
  • Insisted peasants wouldd have to give land back to pre 1917 owners once war was over
  • Leaders had characteristics of old tsarist army; soldiers deserted
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The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power 1917-24

Reds Strengths:

  • Foreign intervention was an easy target for propoganda
  • TROTSKY MILITARY LEADERSHIP; Trotsky had organised the army into a skilled fighting force. He inspired and rallied troops
  • Ideologically united
  • Remained in control of Russia, Moscow and Petrograd. Could move troops and munitions using railway network.
  • Brutal treatment of populations drove the peasants into the arms of  the Reds.
  • Controlled land which contained many armaments factories from WW1.
  • Single unified command structure, rather than a range of competing ideas
  • Many supporters wanted to  protect the gains of 1917

Role of Trosky:

  • Created the 'Workers and Peasants Red Army'. Within months of Bolshevik consolidation, the pass of mass desertion accelerated and Lenin concluded the only way to prevent restoration of the police is to create a peoples militia.
  • Army made into an effective fighting force with the arrival of strong discipline
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The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power 1917-24

  • Army  drew its strength from the support of masses
  • Trotsky inspired confidence in the workers to make them feel the civil war was their war.
  • Made sure to appoint military commissars to each until to ensure they remained politically correct; also good way of feedbacking important information
  • Removed soldier committees which dominated army units and allowed soldiers to elect officers themselves. This allowed for the reintroduction of ranks and saluting, which further allowed harsh order with the death penalty; stopped mass desertion, soldiers from selling equipment


  • A large majority were peasants as they opposed the land redistribution of the Whites. Lacked same strength as Reds; a fact Trotsky acknowledged was central to their victory. Peasants could be called whenever they were threatened.
  • Peasants made up 80% of population; outnumbered Whites. They provided food and transport 890,000 registered between June 1918-February 1919.
  • Got support from separatists  as a result of Decree on Nationalism, giving hope they would have greater freedom.
  • Support from workers; Bolsheviks could give them liberation. Two million during 1919 with a further two million by end of 1920. Links to trotsky; gave speeches and travelled in armoured train. Had additional benefit
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The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power 1917-24

of because the front lne units which Trotsky visited would often be isolated for months , thus morale raised. 

Factors for the failure of the whites & the victory of Reds

  • Support, trotskys leadership, unity and organisation, geographical factors

How and why did Bolsheviks relations with other countries change 1918-24?

  • Failure of foreign interventions in the civil war:

French: Got involved because Bolsheviks did not pay back foreign debts/froze all assets in Russia. Regarded this as international theft. Took lead in intervention:

- 1918, British land forces entered southern Russia and british warships entered russian baltic waters and the black sea, where they were joined by french naval vessels. 

- French also established a major land base around the sea port of Odessa

- April 1918, Japanese troops occupied Russias port. Later joined by France, Britain, USA & Italy. 

- 1919, troops from Japan and UA occupied Siberia. 

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The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power 1917-24

Not co-ordinated attacks and little co-operation between interventionists. The declared motive of them was protection of their own interests, Objective of Czechslovakia, Finland, Poland to gain independence. Such efforts of the foreign forces made to co-operate with Whites came to nothing. 

- By end of 1919, french/usa troops had been recalled and by 1920 all other western troops had left. Japanese remained until 1922.

Role of Comintern

- Communist international, a body set up in Moscow in March 1919 to organise worldwide revolution. 

- The french and british in particular were alarmed by its creation, and by the spread of revolution in Germany and central europe. 

War against Poland 1920

- Encouraged by failure of interventions to expand authority outside Russia. Red army marched to Poland, expecting polish workers to rise in rebellion against own government. Poles drove Red army back across border. Soviet morale damaged; forced Bolsheviks to rethink international revolution. LED TO

Lenin's approach to foreign affairs

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The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power 1917-24

He adoped a realistic approach.The polish reverse, foreign interventions and failure of revolutions in Germany/Hungary showed time was not right for world revolution, capitalish nations still strong. Bolsheviks adjusted foreign policy to meet new situation; Comintern continued to call for revolution, but soviet russia would soften international attitude. 

Treaties of Rapallo/Berlin 1922/26

- USSR and Germany united as pariah relations: under Treaty of Versailles, Germany had reperations imposed/denied right to rearm. Russia earned hostility of capitalist countries by renouncing Russia's debt calling people to overthrow their governments. 

- In the face of French insistence Russia repay tsarist debts and Germany accept reperations, both countries proceeded to negotiate Rapallo and 'promised to co-operate in a spirit of mutual goodwill in meeting the economic needs of both countries':

  • Russia would provide German forces with military training grounds and resources.
  • In return, Russia granted trading rights in Germany.

1926, Treaty of Berlin. This non-aggression pact confirmed main terms of Rapallo.

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The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power 1917-24

Failure of Anglo-soviet Treaty 1924

- Britain agreed to advance a £30 million loan to the soviet union. The soviet union would pay compensation for the british financial assets the Bolsheviks had seized after October revolution 1917. 

- Failure because of Zinoviev letter: Dailymail published article titled 'Soviet plot: Red propaganda in Britain: Revolution urged in Britain'. Underneath was letter written by Zinoviev, chief of Comintern. Urged members of British Communist party to inflitrate Labour party under the cover of the treaty and use it to bring down British state. Zinoviev siad white russian emigres wrote the letter - resulted in labour election defeat as some saw Labour and Russia too close. treaty never ratified.

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The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power 1917-24

War Communism and NEP 1918-21

What is war communism?

- A series of restrictive economic measures intended to replace state capitalism that Bolsheviks had operated during first months in power. To control the situation after civil war. Every aspect of life had to be subordinated to win civil war. 

What were the policies of war communism?

  • Communists sent out requisition squads to take all "surplus" food without paying: Lenin gave orders for 100 kulaks (Bolshevik term for peasants) to be hung to terrify population. Knowing surplus would be confiscated, peasants only produced bare minimum to feed themselves. LED TO A FAMINE BY 1921. Grain harvests in 1920/21 produced less than half of 1913. Over 5 million starved to death.
  • Rationing was introduced - higher rations for workers and soldiers, least for the bourgeoisie
  • Strict labour discipline was introduced - fines, rations and payment only for produced goods
  • All private trade was banned
  • Nationalisation of industry (state take over and run all factories): Issuing of Decree on Nationalisation which brought major industries under government control. Did not increase production as imposed duirng industrial disruption with civil war. 
  • Workers' committees were replaced by factory managers chosen by the party
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The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power 1917-24

What were the causes of War Communism?

  • The Civil War meant few factories were producing civilian goods
  • Russia suffered from soaring inflation, money became worthless
  • Bolsheviks needed to feed soldiers/workers to win war but could not
  • The population of moscow and st petersburg fell by half between 1918-21
  • Lenin saw it as a temporary measure to win civil war, others saw it as pure communism

What were the effects of War Communism?

  • Over 5 million starved to death in a famine 1920-21, cannibalism also reported
  • The ruthless policy provided some extra food for cities, but left peasants angry
  • KRONSTDAT UPRISING - Workers revolted at Kronstadt in 1921 in protest at brutality
  • Risk of another civil war in 1921 as it was failing
  • Lenin decided to replace it with NEP in 1921
  • Peasants did not want to accept money for produce, workers had few possessions to exchange so began to go hungry
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Why did War Communism end?

Economic Problems: Hyperinflation - the scarcity of goods and the governments policy of continuing to print banknotes abolished the value of money. The use of money was abolished altogether. War communism did not lead to economic growth e.g. 29.0 millions of tonnes of coal 1913 and 8.9 in 1921. Oil at 9.2 millions of tonnes in 1913, and 3.8 in 1921. This links to peasant opposition because the government sent requisition squads to seize produce, hence leading to their opposition. 

Peasant Opposition: They were resistant to central government. Kulaks - Bolshevik term for rich, exploiting peasants. Bolsheviks claimed they were hoarding their grain stocks to keep prices high, but this was not true. Peasants were unwilling to create more food until the government was willing to pay for it. Despire Cheka units terrorising, peasants still made little food. Links to economic problems as this cause production to stop.Not improving their standard of living, promised them 'peace, bread and land'. 

Opposition from some Bolsheviks: Widespread anti-Bolshevik uprisings from 1920-21. Direct reaction against brutality of requsitioning. They believe it represented true revolutionary communism. Also opposed because of failure of economy to recover and the famine. Led to a change in policy because Lenin was worried about development of opposion within party/workers.

Opposition from workers - Kronstadt: Lenin became worried about development of opposition among workers. Alexander Shiyapnikov and Alexandra Kollontai were two prominent Bolsheviks who led a 'workers' opposition' group to protest against excesses of war communism. They accused party members of losing touch with proletariat.

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Thousands of Petrograd workers crossed to the naval base on Kronstadt, linking up with sailors and dockers to demonstrate for greater freedom.They claimed in a workers state, like the Bolsheviks claimed russia to be, workers should be better off not worse, than tsarist state. They forwarded their grievances to government in the Kronstadt Manifesto which demanded Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, rights for trade unions, release of left wing political prisoners etc. Importance - The workers and sailors had been the great supporters of the Bolsheviks in 1917; they were socialists who were appaled by the betrayal of the workers cause. Consequences: Angered by the demands, Trotsky ordered the Red Army to crush them. An ultimatum was given but this was rejected so 60,000 red army troops stormed the Kronstadt base. Ring leaders were condemned as white reactionaries and shot. Cheka hunted down. Lenin justified this by saying the rising had been the work of bourgeois enemies of October Revoltution. To avoid embarassment of another challenge, Lenin decided to soften War communism.

NEP: Intended primarily to meet Russias need for food. Lenin judged if peasants could not be forced, must be persuaded. The decree was published in 1921: - Central economic control to be relaxed by allowing more local level decisions to be made. - Requisitioning of land to be abandoned and replaced with a tax in kind which was the surrendering of a certain amount of produce, equal to a fixed sum of money. - Peasants allowed to keep food surpluses and sell for profit. - Public markets to be restored. - Money which had been abolished under war communism to be reintroduced for trading. - Small scale industry given back to owners, but large scale still nationalised. 

"NEPmen" - Those who gained from free trading permitted, for example rich peasants, retailers, traders etc. It was creating a new class of profiteers.

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Bolshevik divisions over NEP: - Trotsky saw it as the degeneration of Bolshevism, abandoning Communism and betraying October Revolution. Disliked NEP men. Lenin took steps to prevent the party being torn apart. At the same party congress in which NEP had been announced in 1921, he introduced a resolution 'On Party Unity' which forbade factionalism. The objective was to stifle objections to NEP by preventing 'factions' from criticising government. Lenin made it impossible for doubting members to challenge policy. 

Economic results of NEP: The Soviet economy began to make a marked recovery.  Grain Harvest was 37.6 millions of tonnes in 1921 and 51.4 in 1924. Average monthly wage of workers was 10.2 roubles in 1921 and 20.8 in 1924. NEP had produced an economic balance between private traders, the state and coperatives, while agriculture and trade were largely in private hands, the state dominated Russian industry. 

NEP was not a total success. The fact was that industry failed to expand as rapidly as agriculture. The NEPmen may have done well, but there was high unemployment in the urban areas. NEP would continue to be a matter of dispute long after Lenins death until 1928. 

Scissors Crisis 1923 - There was a widening gap between industrial and agricultural prices. Russian agricultural production was in its best shape for more than a decade, grain production and livestock numbers approaching pre-World War I levels. The Soviet government helped by becoming the monopoly purchaser and distributor of grain and setting price levels. This prevented gouging and profiteering and kept food prices low. The industrial sector was progressing far more slowly. Industrialisation required capital, expertise and infrastructure, all of which were in short supply in post-revolutionary Russia. Factories required large amount of labour, however seven years of war and miserable conditions had depleted the nation’s urban workforce. Factories utilised inefficient practices that limited production and drove up costs. Inadequate supplies of essential raw materials such as oil, coal and steel also hampered production. Because of these factors and others, the industrial and manufacturing sectors recovered at a much slower rate than agriculture. 

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Lenin, government and the Communist party

The Cheka: Purpose was to destroy 'counter revolution and sabotage', terms that could stretch to anything the Bolsheviks disappeared. Russian Civil War had made it clear not everyone favoured Lenin/Bolsheviks being in power. Answerable only to Lenin, it was granted unlimited powers of arrest, detention and torture. It hunted down "enemies of the state", and led to what became known as "Red Terror". It was the main instrument Lenin used to terrorise the Russian people into subservience. Historians suggest 200,000 or more were killed by them. Cheka murdered tsar and family in 1918. 

Labour Camps: Felix Dzerzhinsky was remorseless and led the fight against enemies of the state. He set up forced labour camps in which 'enemies of the revolution' were kept. By the time Lenin died, there were 315. Devloped during Red Terror and held White prisoners of war, uncoperative peasants, political priosoners who were considered a threat to authority. Acute hunger and beatings was the regime. 

Show Trials: The Cheka was involved in the arrest of people who were prosecuted in a series of show trials. Between April and August 1922 leading members of outlawed parties were put on public trial before imprisoned. The law operated as an extension of political control. 

Red Army: It became the means by which Lenins Communists imposed their authority on the population. Society became militarised with the insistence on obedience to authority. This was "democratic centralism" - Lenins belief that democracy in the party lay in the obedience of members to the leader. Before 1917 he made it clear that a revolution could not survive if it was not prepared to smash its enemies. 

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Party Authority: Lenin governed Russa through the Communist Party which became increasingly subservient to him. The party under him became the sole source of authority. Government had a series of committees, each one responsible for a particular activity. The role of governemnt was to direct revolution from above, regardless of public support. It was the role of leaders to lead, and party members to follow. 

Lenins legacy - Lenin died in 1924. He gave no indication of what form of government should follow. There were suggestions he favoured collective leadership. Possibly aware of difficulties he was leaving, Lenin warned the party in 1923 in his writings against losing their revolutionary character. 

  • The one party state - all parties had been outlawed by 1922. 
  • The bureacratic state - despite Bolsheviks belief in the withering away of the state, central power increased under Lenin and number of government institutions grew.
  • The police state - The Cheka was the first of a series of secret police organisations.
  • The ban on factionalism - prevented criticism of leadership within the party.
  • The system of purges and show trials were to become a feature of Stalinism
  • Politicising of law - under Lenin the law was operated not as a means of protection but as an extension of political control.
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