1917 - 1924
From Revolution of Russia –
Communism of Soviet Union
The All-Russian Congress
• The Bolsheviks remained a significant minority within the
broad group of Communists & Social Revolutionaries. The AllRussian Congress of Soviets (June 1917) showed the following
(C) W. McSweeney 2011
August-November 1917:
Total Revolution
Failing Provisional Government:
Bolsheviks Seize Power:
Due to deeply-unpopular shortages,
combined with the continuing
sacrifices, at home and at the war
front, The Provisional Govt. began
to lose its grip on control of the
newly-democratic, yet highlyunstable Russia.
• *October 25th – Bolsheviks seized
principal buildings of Petrograd.
• Lvov appoints Kerensky in August.
• Lenin installed as Chairman of the
new Bolshevik Russian
• Kerensky formed a unpopular
coalition government of Liberals
& Moderate Socialists.
• Seized the Winter Palace – HQ of
Kerensky’s Provisional
• Lenin & Bolsheviks still only
controlled area around Petrograd.
*November 7th on Gregorian
(C) W. McSweeney 2011
Lenin’s Russia
Over the next 6 years, Russia would be
transformed through a series of
strategies & events:
1. Consolidating Bolshevik supremacy in
2. Lenin & the Treaty of Brest – Litovsk
3. The Russian Civil War 1918 – 1921
4. Lenin’s War Communism
5. The Kronstadt Rebellion
6. The Comintern
7. The New Economic Policy
(C) W. McSweeney 2011
The First Days of Leninism
• Lenin believed that Western Europe would soon be swept by
International Communism. In fact, this was a goal of the
Bolsheviks.* (Comintern)
• Therefore, he concluded that Peace was the priority cause – “Peace,
Land, Bread”
• In order to achieve peace, Lenin had to withdraw all Russian forces
from World War I. He personally ‘drove through’ the harsh terms of
the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
• Bolsheviks were still a minority within the larger family of
Communists & Social Revolutionaries.
(C) W. McSweeney 2011
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
(March 1918)
Trotsky (negotiating for Russia)
initially walked out on excessive
German demands – “No Peace, No
• Russia ceded Poland & her Baltic
lands to Germany & AustriaHungary.
• Russia also recognised the
independence of the Ukraine &
• Trotsky resented these severe
losses, but in Lenin’s mind, it
mattered little and he insisted on
Russia’s acceptance. Russia lost:
 30% of agricultural land
 30% of population
 50% of industry
(C) W. McSweeney 2011
Consolidating Bolshevik Control
1918 – 1920
Consolidating Economic
Once in power, Lenin & the
Bolsheviks began seizing businesses,
banks & property.
They nationalised all these private
entreprises & assets.
Church property & nobles’ land was
seized. All private property was
Consolidating Political
Elections, scheduled by the Provisional Govt. were
allowed to go ahead. However, the Bolsheviks
only gained 175 seats out of 700.
Lenin closed the democratic Assembly after one day
in January 1918.
The new Bolshevik secret police – ‘Cheka’ arrested & executed all those who protested or
criticised Lenin and/or Bolsheviks – who now
called themselves ‘Communists’
After a failed assassination attempt on Lenin,
Bolshevik forces launched a ‘Red Terror’
campaign in late 1918, rooting out all resistance
to Bolshevik control.
Women got the vote.
Land was given to the peasants.
of the Proletariat’?
(C) W. McSweeney 2011
Russian Civil War 1918 - 1920
Reds v. Whites
The Reds were the Bolsheviks (Communists) and believed in
revolution through armed insurrection coupled with political
organisation. Their single-handed closing down of all democratic
assemblies & crushing of opposition through the ‘Red Terror’, while
introducing Nationalisation, served to provoke a massive backlash
from other groups in opposition to them.
The Whites were mainly the Mensheviks who believed in slow, gradual
& peaceful transformation of society. They opposed bitterly the
methods and single-handed rule of the Reds and were joined by
Tsarists & Social Revolutionaries in a bid to oust the new Bolshevik
(Communist) Government.
They would receive outside aid (money & armies) from the
USA, France, Britain & Japan.*
‘Whites’ associated with being anti-Russian – foreign aid &
(C) W. McSweeney 2011
Russian Civil War 1918 - 1920
Lenin’s ‘War Communism’
Lenin introduced ‘War
Communism’ during the Civil War
struggle. Bolsheviks effectively
controlled only Petrograd &
Moscow at beginning of Civil War.
This involved seizing food for
factory workers to feed factory
workers in Petrograd & Moscow.
The Red Guards were central to this
State requisition (‘requisition squads’
Whites’ Confusion
Efforts by the Whites were
confused due to their different
backgrounds and aims:
 Tsarists – Return to Tsar Rule?
 Cadets – Return to Liberal
 Social Revolutionaries/
Mensheviks – Pure Socialism?
& system of forced quotas.)
By 1920, the skill of Leon Trotsky had
transformed the Red Guards into the Red
Army, which was highly-motivated,
unified & well-fed. The Civil War was
effectively won.
(C) W. McSweeney 2011
Red Guards seized food from
agricultural peasants, but in 1920 a
famine occurred after they refused
to grow food.
‘War Communism’ & Civil War
Kronstadt Rebellion (March 3, 1921)
Roots of Kronstadt Rebellion
The harshness of the Bolsheviks towards the
peasants especially during the Civil War, left many
people wondering just what kind of ‘social justice’
they had supported in revolution. Also, the
Bolsheviks were the smallest group of reformers at
the All-Russian Congress of 1917. Legitimacy?
The effects of ‘War Communism’ on the peasants
especially aroused anger in otherwise supportive
groups, such as the Russian sailors.
The closing of the new democratic Assembly in
January 1918 aroused deep anger & suspicion
amongst many peasants, soldiers & sailors.
While most peasants, soldiers & sailors supported
vast reforms of the old Tsar system, they were
afraid of replacing ‘one tyrant with another’.
The Petropavlovsk
The famed rebellion of the battleship ‘Potemkin’ during
the 1905 Revolution was an uncomfortable comparison
for the Bolsheviks while they attempted to suppress the
Kronstadt Rebellion, led by Stephan Petrichenko
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Kronstadt Naval Base
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St Petersburg/Petrograd/Leningrad
Kronstadt Rebellion
"I am simultaneously giving orders to prepare
for the suppression of the rebellion and
the subjugation of the sailors by armed
force. All responsibility for the harm that
may be suffered by the peaceful
population will rest entirely on the heads
of the White Guard mutineers. This
warning is final.“
L.Trotsky, L.Kamenev, Ultimatum to
"We have one answer to all that: All power to
the Soviets! Take your hands off them - the
hands that are red with the blood of the
martyrs of freedom who fought the White
Guards, the landowners and the
Note the reference by Trotsky & Kamenev to the
“..White Guard mutineers.”
Note also the response by the Kronstadt rebels –
“All Power to the Soviets”…. “Take your hands off
them” – “the hands that are red with the blood of
…martyrs…who fought the White Guards, the
landowners and the bourgeoisie”
Both sides accused the other of being enemies of
the people and of the broad revolution in 1917.
Kronstadt Naval base had a long and chequered
reputation of being ‘independent’ & revolutionary.
The famous 1905 incident of the Potemkin was
probably the most memorable incident of anti-Tsar
revolt during that period, later to be immortalised
in the film ‘The Potemkin’ (1925).
During the 1917 Revolution, naval ships had
participated in crushing General Kornilov’s failed
retrograde attack on Petrograd.
- Kronstadt Izvestiya, No.6.
(C) W. McSweeney 2011
Kronstadt Rebellion – True
Communism or Counter-Revolution?
Demands of Kronstadt Sailors – A
Broader Consensus
On February 27, 1921, the Petrograd Strike
Committee had issued the following demands to
Lenin’s Bolshevik Government:
“The whole policy of the government must undergo a
thorough change, and first and foremost the
workers and peasants must have their freedom.
They do not want to follow Bolshevist leaders;
they want to decide their own lot for themselves.
You must therefore put forward the following
demands urgently and in an organized way:
Kronstadt Naval base was only the
most prominent centre of antiBolshevism during the early years of
the new Russia.
The Petrograd Soviet had issued a
damning indictment (only 5 days
before the Kronstadt Rebellion) of
Lenin’s ‘War Communism’ but more
importantly, had openly criticised
Lenin for the abolition of democratic
rights & institutions.
“The release of all socialist and non-party
workers who have been arrested.”
“The abolition of the state of siege.”
“Freedom of speech, the press, and meeting for
all working classes.”
“Free voting in new elections for the factory
committees, trade unions and Soviets.”
(C) W. McSweeney 2011
Kronstadt Postscript
• Lenin & the Bolsheviks eventually crushed the mutiny in Kronstadt
on the night of March 16th, 1921. Conspirators, sailors & fishermen
were executed for their part in the mutiny.
• This represented the last significant effort to oust Bolshevism or
alter its excessively dictatorial position and ideology.
• Showed the deep division & contrast between the popular uprising
of the February Revolution of 1917, the more limited revolution of
October 1917 & ultimately the narrow, despotic rule of Bolshevism
during the Russian Civil War & Kronstadt Mutiny.
• The policies of ‘War Communism’, the closing of the National
Assembly in January 1918 and suppression of democratic rights by
the ‘Cheka’ had all contributed to the mutiny in Kronstadt.
(C) W. McSweeney 2011
Communist International –
The ‘Comintern’
The Third International, 1919 – 1943:
"by all available means, including armed force, for
the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie
and for the creation of an international Soviet
republic as a transition stage to the complete
abolition of the State.“
Zinoviev –
Chairman of ‘Comintern’
1919 -1928
Aim: To spread Communism to other nations,
particularly focusing on western capitalist
The Comintern assisted and eventually, over a
number of years, began to control the activities
of foreign Communist parties.
(C) W. McSweeney 2011
Lenin’s New Economic Policy
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War Communism
“The collapse of the productive forces surpassed anything of the kind that history had ever
seen. The country, and the government with it, were at the very edge of the abyss.”
- Leon Trotsky
“I ask you, comrades, to be clear that the New Economic Policy is only a temporary deviation, a
tactical retreat.”
- Zinoviev
The harsh realities of War Communism, coupled with the real demands of the peasants as
portrayed by the Kronstadt Rebellion, made it clear to Lenin that War Communism was
neither economically effective nor popular with the peasants.
In response to this, Lenin sought to rescue both the economic well-being of the country and
restore confidence in the Bolshevik Party by introducing a ‘New Economic Policy’. It had
elements of quasi-capitalism, allowing for small businesses to open and allowing peasants
to sell their surplus grain for profit.
(C) W. McSweeney 2011
New Economic Policy
Ostensibly, Lenin wanted to revive the economic well-being of
Russia. In reality, Lenin was aware of the failure of ‘War
Communism’ and wanted to appeal to the peasants for
continued support. He also wanted to ‘defuse’ any
lingering discontent after the death of 1,000 Russian
sailors and the repression by the State in Kronstadt.
New Economic Policy:
1. Tax on peasants’ harvests. (lower than the
terms of War Communism)
2. Peasants allowed to sell excess produce
for profit.
4. Foreign trade & investment was
encouraged in the hope that it would
revive the faltering Russian economy
5. Bonuses were introduced in the workplace
6. A state bank was established & Lenin
directed the formation of a state
economic planning commission –
‘Gosplan’ – to help direct future funding &
development of the Russian economy.
3. Although state control remained on all
large-scale businesses and banking, small
businesses were allowed to open.
(C) W. McSweeney 2011
New Economic Policy
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By 1924, 40% of Russian domestic trade was sourced in private businesses. The economy
flourished with industrial and agricultural output reaching pre-war levels (see graph).
1. The end of restrictions on private small businesses was a blow to die-hard
Communists, yet it reflected the pragmatism of Lenin who realised Russia could
not instantaneously move to ‘pure Communism’. The Communist die-hards saw it
as a betrayal and Lenin faced severe criticism from some quarters.
2. This pragmatism however, stabilised Russia sufficiently in an economic sense to
allow Lenin to pursue the total transformation (politically) of Russia into the USSR.
3. The first attempt at State Planning was introduced under the ‘Gosplan’ & although
it was not in anyway truly Communist (foreign trade, small private businesses) it
did allow Russia to begin catching up on Western countries’ prosperity levels.
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‘Constructivism’ – A Communist
Art Form
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Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
(USSR) - 1922
Treaty of Creation
of the USSR (1922)
The following countries/republics were
unified under the title USSR from
1922 onwards:
Russian, Ukrainian, Byelorussian &
Transcaucasian Soviet Republics
were all amalgamated into the USSR
in 1922.
More states would be subsumed
into the USSR at later dates.
The Constitution of the USSR
codified & made legal the union of
soviet socialist republics in 1924.
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Centralised, Dictatorial Bolshevism of the USSR –
“Dictatorship of the Proletariat?”
By 1921, it became clear that Lenin’s ideal was
one of a centralised, authoritarian Bolshevik
government ruling over the entire Russian
In 1922, Russia became the USSR (Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics), but in reality Russia –
at the centre of the Soviet Union, became the
effective principal state of leadership and
‘What is To Be Done?’ - Lenin, 1902.
In this essay on the future of revolutionary
planning, Lenin does betray his desire to rule
Russia in an authoritarian way.
By the time of Lenin’s death in 1924, the USSR
had been safely founded with the
amalgamation of neighbouring territories into
a larger, unified, politically-centralised
economic power
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Soviet Union in 1924
After Lenin died in 1924, a ‘power
vacuum’ opened up over the leadership
of the Bolshevik Party & the USSR.
This ‘power vacuum’ would define the
course of Soviet History for the next
thirty to forty years. The contenders for
Lenin’s position were mainly two men:
Ideological Battle of Leadership in USSR
Leon Trotsky - a devout believer in ‘International
Socialism’ & head of the Red Army
Joseph Stalin – quiet and introverted, General Secretary
of the Communist Party, he began to favour what he
would eventually call ‘Socialism in One Country’
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Leadership Power Struggle Begins in
- Lenin’s quotes on Socialism, Communism, the
Proletariat & Revolution
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(C) W. McSweeney 2011
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