Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution - essay

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Evaluate Lenin’s contribution to the success of the Bolshevik
Revolution in November 1917?
Lenin played a crucial role in the success of the November Revolution. He did not
create the discontent which permeated Russian society in 1917, but he did devise
slogans and strategies to win disaffected groups over to the Bolshevik Party.
By the beginning of 1917, the Tsarist regime was facing insurmountable problems.
The peasants were demanding land; the workers wanted higher wages and better
working conditions; the middle class wanted political reforms to make Russia a true
constitutional democracy; and all three classes were demanding an end to the war.
More than anything, it was the war which brought an end to Tsarism and set the
scene for the Bolshevik Revolution. By 1917, casualties numbered in the millions,
and the lack of food and fuel on the home front led to hunger and privation. The Tsar
was unable to solve these problems, and was soon overthrown in a popular uprising.
What emerged was a system of dual power, based on the workers’ soviets (councils)
and the Provisional Government. The soviets represented the peasants, workers and
soldiers. The Provisional Government represented the aristocratic and middle classes.
Lenin understood that the Provisional Government would only survive if it met the
popular expectations which were unleashed by the fall of Tsarism. However, the
Provisional Government saw itself as a caretaker institution only, and was unwilling
to introduce long-term policies or to end the war. It was also divided on matters of
policy and ideology, and so was unable to respond to the demands being made of it.
Lenin took advantage of the these weakness, garnering support from the soldiers,
peasants and workers with his slogan ‘End the war; Land to the Peasants; All Power
to the Soviets’. At the same time, he transformed the Bolshevik Party into an
instrument for revolution. He did this by providing it with an ideological justification
for insurrection (the idea that backward nations like Russia were also ripe for socialist
revolution) and by subordinated it to his will (thereby overcoming its conservatism).
Another successful strategy he implemented was to refuse to deal with the
Provisional Government. This policy enabled the Bolsheviks to retain their political
credibility when that government collapsed following the military defeat in Galicia
and the Kornilov coup.
Of course, the Bolsheviks’ success was not all Lenin’s doing; there was also a good
deal of luck involved. In particular, General Kornilov’s decision to march on the
capital forced the Provisional Government to arm the Petrograd Soviet, increasing
support for the Bolsheviks and giving them the guns they needed for the insurrection.
The final straw came in November, when the Petrograd garrison switched its
support, leaving the Provisional Government defenceless. All the Bolsheviks had to
do was seize the key points in the city and declare themselves the government.
To his credit, Lenin realised that such a coup could look like a naked grab for
power. Hence, he arranged for the uprising to coincide with the All Russian Congress
of Soviets, thereby allowing the Bolsheviks to take power in the name of the people’s
elected representatives.
Hence, Lenin’s contribution to the Bolsheviks seizure of power was enormous. It
was he who provided the ideological basis for the revolution, he who forged the
Bolshevik Party into an instrument for insurrection, and he who determined the
political strategy to be pursued. Without him, there would almost certainly have been
no November Revolution.