During his lifetime, Lenin made many important decisions and policies which affected every citizen of Russia, although they did not always have a positive impact on them, they did eventually serve as a benefit to their country. Some of the impacts were short-term whereas some were quite long-term ones and I am now going to analyse the impact of every one of Lenin’s policies and decisions on the different classes of the Russian population. I will begin my essay with an introduction to Lenin’s career and outline the major decisions that he made.
Vladimir Ulyanov better known as Lenin, was born in Simbirsk in 1870. He had been deeply affected by the execution of his brother who had been involved in an assassination attempt on Alexander II. This incident sparked Lenin’s deep resentment of the Tsar’s tyrannical rule and he became involved in a number of revolutionary activities and demonstrations to overthrow the present Government. Lenin’s struggle against the Government was also based upon the idea of Karl Marx theory of communism and the overthrowing of the noble class by the workers to create a socialist society. In 1900 Lenin joined the Social Democratic Party and later became a leading member of the Bolsheviks, when it was divided into the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.
Lenin worked in the Bolsheviks for many years anxiously looking for opportunities to overthrow the Tsar’s rule and create and was often arrested and sent into exile for his activities by the Tsar’s secret police. After a series of revolutions Lenin finally got his chance in 1917. Lenin from his place of exile urged the Bolshevik leaders to seize power at once and but they refused to do so. Lenin then returned to Petrograd in disguise and spent the night of 23rd October arguing and persuading the Bolsheviks leaders to seize power and they eventually gave in to his demands and the Bolsheviks managed to seize power of Russia on November 7th 1917. Lenin then introduced communism to Russia and as the new ruler steered he steered his country towards prosperity and success until his death in 1924.
At the time of the March Revolution the leader of the Bolsheviks, Lenin, was in exile in Switzerland. He wanted to start another revolution in Russia to create a new form of Government. When Lenin reached Petrograd on 16th of April 1917, he made a speech to the Bolsheviks demanding several things. An end to the war with Germany, distribution of all land to peasants, nationalization of banks, a change in the Bolshevik’s name to Communists, no support for the Provisional Government and all power to the Soviets.
In 1918 Lenin sent Trotsky to meet the Germans to negotiate a peace treaty, as Lenin had promised an end to the war with Germany and it was important that he carry out his promises otherwise him support would disappear. The result was the harsh treaty of Brest-Litvosk in March 1918 and it was one of the harshest treaties ever made as Russia had to give away all her Western lands which included sixty-two million people, farm land, railways and iron ore and coal. A fine of 300 million gold roubles also had to be paid to Germany.
After peace with Germany had been established Russia came into conflict with another war but this time it was a civil war. The Bolsheviks controlled a small part of Russia and their enemies were determined that they should not remain in power for long. This was the beginning of a vicious civil war which was to tear Russia apart. They were three main sides; The Reds – Bolsheviks or communists, The Whites – opponents of the Bolsheviks, tsarists, nobles middle-class constitutional democrats and Socialist Revolutionaries and The Greens – independent groups of nationalists, peasants or bandits who roamed Russia at this time. During the Civil war the Bolsheviks took strict measures to organize industry and food supplies in the areas under their control. They had two aims: to keep the Red Army supplied with food and weapons, and to introduce a new form of communism, these were known as War Communism.
There were five aspects of War Communism:
1. All factories with more than ten workers to be nationalized and would be told exactly what to produce.
2. All workers under Government control. Strict discipline and punishment measures were introduced in factories. Unemployed to join ‘Labour armies’
3. Private trading was banned, peasants sold their surplus food to government, couldn’t sell to make a profit.
4. Use of money was abolished, people were to barter instead.
5. Food was strictly rationed.
In March 1921 after a military revolt in the navy, Lenin realised that a change of policy was needed and War Communism was abandoned to introduce the New Economic Policy was introduced or NEP. The NEP said that:
1. Peasants could sell their surplus food for profit again.
2. Peasants who increased their food production would pay less tax.
3. Factories with fewer than twenty workers would be given back to their owners.
4. People could use money once again
The NEP was a very controversial change in Lenin’s policy and it brought the disapproval of many Bolshevik leaders who labeled it as a step back to capitalism, but Lenin said that by taking one step backwards they would later be able to take two steps forward towards communism. By 1925 the NEP began to work. As these figures show, food production went back up to the level it had been before the Great War while industrial output increased dramatically.
Although the April Theses consisted of four main points, its effect on the population was widespread and it was a positive impact for almost everyone. Every point in the theses was exactly what everyone wanted to hear and it helped to build support for the Bolsheviks.
The peasants were delighted that they would be given the opportunity to own their land. Until 1861 most of the majority of peasants had been serfs, owned by their masters. In 1861 they had been freed and were allocated a share of land which they could buy with money loaned by the Government. But they had to pay off the loans over many years. Moreover, the amount of land they got was often barely enough to survive or let alone pay off loans. The situation was getting worse by 1900 because their population was growing fast and there was not enough land for everyone because the nobles owned a quarter of the land in Russia. So when Lenin came into power, a decree was passed in November taking all the land away from the Tsar and the old landlords. Land was given to the peasants who would form committees to divide it up fairly. There was finally enough land for the peasants to farm on and they were now capable of producing large yields of crop and earning a profit by selling surplus food.
The end to the War Dictatorship 1918 came as a relief to the peasants, as the majority of them had been forced to fight in the war, leaving their families and farms behind. They then quickly returned home from the warfront when Lenin’s policy to distribute all land to the peasants was revealed and began to take their share of the land.
Between 1918 and 1921, when war communism was introduced by Lenin, the peasants had their farms raided by the Cheka to seize surplus food and use it to feed the Red Army. Lenin desperately needed food to feed the workers and because the peasants were unwilling to sell their grain it had to be taken by force. Those found hoarding supplies were punished harshly. The peasants resisted, and this became a bitter struggle. Many peasants decided to produce less grain because they saw no point in producing any because they knew it would simply be taken away. War Communism grew hatred of the Bolsheviks amongst the peasants.
When the NEP was introduced by Lenin in 1922 after witnessing the disaster of war communism, peasants were allowed to sell their surplus food to the public and no longer had their food seized by the Government. The peasants were able to make a profit by selling their food and the production of grain rose from 37.6 million tonnes to 73.3 million tonnes (S.H.P p68 Source 6). The profit that the peasants made from selling their surplus food helped to lift them out of the poverty which they had previously gone into during the war communism. However the NEP was far from a total success, the peasants found prices for manufactured goods high and were unwilling to sell their grain for money because they couldn’t buy much with it. While some peasants became rich buying up land and animals, many remained poor and continued to use backward methods of farming
The factory workers were equally happy with the April Theses as the end to war would mean that the factories would re- open and they could return back to work. During the war with Germany, coal and industrial materials were short causing factories to close down leaving their workers unemployed. Supplies for the army were busy being transported by trains to the war front and because of that there was no means of transport to bring raw materials into the cities. The closing of the factories lead to unemployment and even greater poverty. An end to the war would mean that raw materials would once again be able to reach the cities and the factory workers could return to their jobs. It would lift the unemployment and provide them with wages to buy goods, even though the prices were rising continually. In 1918 when the war finally ended the factory workers were finally freed from their war duties and they returned back to their jobs
When war communism was introduced in the cities the state took control of industry and told factories what to produce. The factories had been handed over to the control of workers’ committees in 1917, but the committees didn’t run them very well. When Lenin put in his new mangers, and strict discipline was imposed on all the factory workers, life became hard for them. The new rules made their jobs tougher and they were under constant pressure from their new management. This action also grew resentment of Lenin and the Bolsheviks amongst the factory workers and all working classes.
War communism had finally been lifted 1922 and the smaller factories were returned to their former owners. They were allowed to sell their goods they made and make a profit. As a result factories were given an incentive to produce more and make a profit so the industrial output increased dramatically. Production of coal rose from 9 million tonnes to 35 million tonnes, steel production rose from 0.2 million tonnes to 4 million tonnes and cloth production rose from 105 million tonnes to 1688 million tonnes (S.H.P p68 Source 6). The factory workers benefited from this boom in production and they received higher wages than before and got more benefits. The average monthly wage of workers rose from 10.2 roubles to 25.2 roubles (S.H.P p68 source 6).
An end to the war was almost as beneficial to the middle class as it was to the factory workers. This was because the middle class were mostly bankers, merchants and rich capitalists who owned the industrial works, the end to the war with Germany would mean that their businesses could once again resume as normal and raw materials could reach the cities for their factories once again. The war had forced many of their factories and businesses to close down as most of their workers had gone to the war front to fight in the war and they could now return to their jobs.
The above conditions were made possible when the end to the war finally came in 1918. Although the middle class were not poor they were however suffering from the inflation that was in the market. The shortages of factory goods had lead to the prices of goods to rise continually and the middle class found it to be very expensive to buy essential items for themselves and the end to the war meant that the situation will eventually stabalise and the prices would return back to normal.
This situation was however to return in 1918 again due to the implication of war communism. Food was rationed, but people could only get a ration card if they were working. The bread ration was sometimes as lows as 200 grams a day. The other way of getting food was through the illegal Black Market. Money became virtually useless and people often found themselves trading their possessions for food or goods. The middle class lost most of their belongings during this period and had to live with barely enough food to survive each day.
When the war communism had finally ended in 1922, the middle classes were finally able to use money again to buy food for themselves and other items. The presence of new traders called ‘Nepmen’ or capatilists, made food and goods appear once again in the market and there was enough for everyone. New shops and restaurants were created as a result and the middle class thoroughly benefited from the return of goods and services in the market. Some of the middle class that owned factories or ran an industry were able to continue their businesses and create profits and provide more goods for the market.
Not everyone however, was happy with the April Theses, especially not the nobles and the Royal family. Their land had been stripped off them and distributed amongst the peasants. The nobles had kept so much of the land after 1861 and had larger estates. The peasants had to work on their estates to earn extra money. Although the nobles made up just over one percent of the population they owned almost a quarter of all the land. The nobility also lost the privileges which they had before the Bolshevik Government took over and it was the respect and proper treatment which they received due to their class. The Sovnakom had all titles and class distinctions abolished – no dukes or lords the title comrade for everybody. The nobility did not take to his too kindly, they were accustomed to the influence that they had on everyone due to their class and now they were treated equally
The end to the war in 1918 did not have much effect on the nobility as it had no direct influence on them. But in one aspect it did have some impact on them, because after the war the peasants were coming to the countryside to collect their share of land which had been promised by Lenin in the April Thesis and the land that they were receiving was to be land that was owned by the nobility. The nobility as a result lost one of their most valuable assets to the peasants and received nothing in compensation. During the war communism period the rich and the nobility also suffered from the inflation of goods. “The former rich were found selling their last items. The formerly richest and most spoiled are now satisfied if they get some black bread and potatoes each day. A former owner of a palace in Moscow, was given, as his place of residence, the bathroom of his former home” (S.H.P p62 source 2)
The introduction of the NEP in 1922 was by far one of the best policies for the nobility which the Bolshevik Government had ever implied during their rule. The ‘Nepmen’ or capitalists opened new factories and businesses in Russia which provided the rich and the nobility the opportunity to invest in them and earn a lot of money from their association with it. The nobility and the rich took maximum advantage of the return to capitalism and used it to accumulate large amounts of wealth for themselves which they had previously lost during the war.
The April Theses was perhaps the most beneficial for the Russian economy and agriculture. An end to the war meant that raw materials and supplies could now be transported to the cities once again and factories can re-open and continue their business, their employees would also be able to return from the war front and come back to their jobs. The distribution of land amongst the peasants meant that they would have more land to farm on and they could use more modern techniques to grow food. It would lead to an increase in agricultural production and peasants would now have enough food to survive on. They would also have the choice of selling their surplus food to create a profit for themselves and they would be much better off financially. The peasants would now be happy and their support will grow for the Bolsheviks, which will be highly favourable because they made up more than three-quarters of the population.
The end to the war in 1918 gave the Russian economy and agriculture a chance to recover from the devastation that had been done to it during the war. The value of the rouble had fallen dramatically to pitiful levels and the prices of goods in the market were at an all time high. The factories which had been closed down as a result of the war had also been very damaging to the economy and exports of goods had been ceased altogether. The absence of peasants from their farmland meant that crop harvests were low and there was a risk of a severe food shortage. The economy and agricultural situation needed some dramatic changes to bring them back to normal before it was too late for Russia.
This opportunity finally presented itself in 1922 when the NEP was introduced by Lenin as part of drastic measures to lift Russia back on to its feet again. The dose of capitalism had provided the economy and agriculture an incentive to make big profits, so factory owners pushed their workers to produce high levels of output and peasants worked hard to produce surplus crops to sell for a profit. By 1926 the economy had reached pre-1914 levels and massive new investment was needed to turn the Soviet Union into a modern industrialized country. Farming in Russia had improved enormously as well. “In a single year the supply of food and goods jumped from starvation point to something nearly adequate and prices fell accordingly” (S.H.P p68 source 4). The NEP had succeeded in reviving Russian agriculture and the economy.
The April Theses out rightly denied any support for the Provisional Government and claimed that no one should cooperate with it and instead give all power to the Soviets. This came as an insult to injury to the Provisional Government as it already suffered from the criticism it received from the Russian public. When the Provisional Government came into power, they decided to continue with the war as they knew the Germans would make them pay a heavy price if they surrendered and they also didn’t want to lose the support of their allies. But the war continued to go badly for Russia and soldiers began to desert in ever-increasing numbers. Food and fuel remained short as the war drained the country’s resources. The people were getting fed up with the war and desperately wanted it to end. The Provisional Government also made no attempt to solve the problem of land with the peasants. The Provisional Government felt that this was such an important issue that it should be given to the properly elected government of Russia. They therefore didn’t have the support of the peasants and hatred gradually grew of the Provisional Government and the fact that the April Theses declared no cooperation with them completely destroyed their authority.
The peace treaty signed between Russia and Germany in March 1918 marked the end in the war and was an important event which helped to prove Lenin’s dedication and commitment to his promises which he had made in the April Thesis. The public heaved a big sigh of relief at the end of the war and support from all classes steadily grew for Lenin and his Government.
However, Lenin’s support was not to stay for long when the Civil war began in 1918. The policy of war communism which Lenin brought forward during this period was to bring crisis all over the region. Cities were in chaos, agriculture had collapsed and the economy was sinking. The Russian public was not happy with the situation and blamed Lenin for their suffering. As a result a group called the ‘Workers’ Opposition was formed, demanding higher wages, better conditions, more food and worker’s control of industry. The situation was to reach a peak in March 1921 when sailors at the Kronstadt naval base staged an uprising because of the poor living conditions under Communist dictatorship. The sailors had formerly been strong supporters of the Bolsheviks in 1917 but now were against them.
The uprising of the sailors was a turning point during the civil war period and it was a shock to the Government. Lenin had no choice but to improve the economic situation in Russia and then introduced the NEP in 1921 which he hoped was the solution to the problems that Russia was facing. Many Communists were however unhappy about what they saw as a return to capitalism but Lenin persuaded the Party to accept the NEP for the time being. The majority realised that these measures were needed to revive the industry and get more food produced.
Although there was no point in the April Theses that mentioned anything about civil rights, there was still a little more civil freedom and liberties than there was before the Bolsheviks took control. During the regime of the Tsar opposition was not tolerated and the Okhrana or secret police dealt with anyone who criticized the Government. The secret police had spies and agents everywhere. Dissidents soon found themselves in jail or exiled to Siberia. When the Bolsheviks took over there were no such secret police and the public possessed some for of civil rights but that was not for long, before the Bolsheviks introduced their own form of secret police which was worse than the Tsar’s.
Civil liberties in Russia didn’t change however after the war ended in 1918 and neither improved. Some of the decisions made by the Sovnakom in their first few months in power denied the public some of their civil rights. The ban on all non-Bolshevik newspapers and political parties showed that there was still no sign of any rights for the public. People were still being deprived of the right to question the Bolshevik’s actions and they didn’t have any freedom of speech to voice their opinions either.
War communism which began in Russia in 1918 further deteriorated the civil liberties of the public. Lenin’s decision on war communism was no to be questioned by the public, they could not speak out against the deplorable conditions and if they did they were dealt with by the secret police and executed or sent into exile. Those who wanted to do something to improve their situation by selling their possessions were prohibited by the Government to do so. Factories were taken over by the Government and workers were put under pressure to produce more and strict discipline was also imposed on them making their working conditions similar to that of a prison camp .The public were forced to live in inhumane conditions without their consent and oppressed by the Government to do as Lenin said. The introduction of war communism saw the beginning of Lenin’s tyrannical rule and dictatorship.
The end of war communism in 1922 and the implication of the NEP brought a slight improvement in civil liberties. Some factories were given back to the control of their owners and people were allowed to use money once again. But people had no gotten the true picture of how Lenin’s rule was like and how similar and almost worse than the Tsar’s rule it was. People knew that they would still be denied civil rights even after war communism was over.
The November 1917 Revolution was the only Revolution in which there was no loss of life. The Bolshevik takeover of Russian cities was done without shedding a single drop of blood. The Red Guards quietly took control of the bridges, telegram offices, railway stations and power stations during the early hours of 7th November. When the Winter Palace was stormed by the Red Guards there was little resistance and all the military cadets and Women’s Death Battalion soldiers surrendered without a fight.
The end to the war meant that there would no longer be any loss of life amongst the soldiers but the damage had already been done, millions of soldiers had died in the war. Wives had become widows and children had become orphans and a result some of them lost their homes and had to face poverty.
War communism saw one of the biggest human tragedies in Russian history. Agriculture had collapsed and the disruption of the war and grain requisitioning had led to low grain harvests. Peasants saw little point in growing food. In 1921 even less grain was grown, because of a drought and this led to a horrendous famine, which killed up to five million people. A massive international aid had to be launched as a result of this.
These terrible events however stopped in 1922 when the NEP was introduced as emergency measures to resolve the situation in Russia. When peasants were given the opportunity to once again sell their surplus grain for profit, the output of grain increased and their was enough food to feed the cities in Russia. While some peasants became rich buying up land and animals, many remained poor and continued to use backward methods of farming
Religion in Russia was not allowed to prosper. Churches in November and December 1917 were confiscated by the state. The Bolsheviks didn’t believe in religion and demolished all forms of religion to create a religion-free Russia .However the Jews were still the minority in the region and faced occasional attacks from troops sent by the Tsar, the revolution did nothing to change that. Painters and Film makers were fascinated with the attack on the Winter Palace and many artists’ impersonations and films reliving the attack were produced.
When Lenin died in January in 1924 at the age of 53, thousands came to attend his funeral and to pay their respects to a man who steered Russia to the road of success. His contributions to the nation were invaluable and he went down in history as one of the greatest rulers of all times. His death also sparked the debate as to who should replace Lenin and the two likely candidates were Stalin and Trotsky. Stalin eventually succeeded in replacing Lenin’s position and became the new ruler.
Lenin’s establishment a single party allowed the ruler to do whatever they wished for Russia without being questioned for their actions. Lenin had also begun the use of terror and violence in his lifetime, to eliminate opposition and criticism to his rule. This included the Cheka and the Red Terror. Although it wasn’t used extensively by Lenin, it did however lay the foundations for Stalin to use as a method to control his opposition and to strike fear into his people’s hearts. However, Lenin did set the basis of Russia’s modernization but he also laid the foundation for Stalin’s dictatorship rule. Lenin being able to use dictatorship rule effectively to accomplish his goals made it appeal to Stalin as well and he crossed the limits of dictatorship rule. Lenin’s creation of the world’s first communist state ruined Russia’s international relations with other countries. Trade and ties were cut off as a disapproval of Communism and Russia became an isolated and an outcast state.
Despite the negative aspects to Lenin’s rule, he is still seen today as an and a great ruler, not only in Russia but all over the world, whether they liked communism or not. Lenin freed the Russian public from the Tsar’s oppressive rule and worked fervently during his lifetime for the sake of his people and the benefit for his country. Lenin improved the conditions of the peasants and gave them land to farm on, he improved the working conditions of worker and gave them extra job benefits such as insurance. It wasn’t a smooth journey for Lenin and he had to face many hurdles and difficulties on the way to accomplish his goals ( as well as the Russian people ) but he managed to combine superior leadership with hard work to change Russia forever.