“at gave birthto an entirely new state, and indeed to a new era in the history of
mankind, we must recognize in today’s Soviet Union the old empire of
the Russians — the only empire that survived into the mid 1980’s”
In their Communist Manifesto of 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich
Engels applied the term communism to a final stage of socialism in
which all class differences would disappear and humankind would live
in harmony. Marx and Engels claimed to have discovered a scientific
approach to socialism based on the laws of history. They declared that
the course of history was determined by the clash of opposing forces
rooted in the economic system and the ownership of property. Just as
the feudal system had given way to capitalism, so in time capitalism
would give way to socialism. The class struggle of the future would be
between the bourgeoisie, who were the capitalist employers, and the
proletariat, who were the workers. The struggle would end, according
to Marx, in the socialist revolution and the attainment of full
communism (Groiler’s Encyclopedia).
Socialism, of which “Marxism-Leninism” is a takeoff, originated
in the West. Designed in France and Germany, it was brought into
Russia in the middle of the nineteenth century and promptly attracted
support among the country’s educated, public-minded elite, who at that
time were called intelligentsia (Pipes, 21). After Revolution broke
out over Europe in 1848 the modern working class appeared on the scene
as a major historical force. However, Russia remained out of the
changes that Europe was experiencing. As a socialist movement and
inclination, the Russian Social-Democratic Party continued the
traditions of all the Russian Revolutions of the past, with the goal
of conquering political freedom (Daniels 7).
As early as 1894, when he was twenty-four, Lenin had become a
revolutionary agitator and a convinced Marxist. He exhibited his new
faith and his polemical talents in a diatribe of that year against the
peasant-oriented socialism of the Populists led by N.K. Mikhiaiovsky
While Marxism had been winning adherents among the Russian
revolutionary intelligentsia for more than a decade previously, a
claimed Marxist party was bit organized until 1898. In that year a”congress” of nine men met at Minsk to proclaim the establishment of
the Russian Social Democratic Worker’s Party. The Manifesto issued in
the name of the congress after the police broke it up was drawn up by
the economist Peter Struve, a member of the moderate “legal Marxist”
group who soon afterward left the Marxist movement altogether. The
manifesto is indicative of the way Marxism was applied to Russian
conditions, and of the special role for the proletariat (Pipes, 11).
The first true congress of the Russian Social Democratic
Workers’ Party was the Second. It convened in Brussels in the summer
of 1903, but was forced by the interference of the Belgian authorities
to move to London, where the proceedings were concluded. The Second
Congress was the occasion for bitter wrangling among the
representatives of various Russian Marxist Factions, and ended in a
deep split that was mainly caused by Lenin — his personality, his
drive for power in the movement, and his “hard” philosophy of the
disciplined party organization. At the close of the congress Lenin
commanded a temporary majority for his faction and seized upon the
label “Bolshevik” (Russian for Majority), while his opponents who
inclined to the “soft” or more democratic position became known as the
“Mensheviks” or minority (Daniels, 19).
Though born only in 1879, Trotsky had gained a leading place
among the Russian Social-Democrats by the time of the Second party
Congress in 1903. He represented ultra-radical sentiment that could
not reconcile itself to Lenin’s stress on the party organization.
Trotsky stayed with the Menshevik faction until he joined Lenin in
1917. From that point on, he acomidated himself in large measure to
Lenin’s philosophy of party dictatorship, but his reservations came to
the surface again in the years after his fall from power (Stoessinger,
In the months after the Second Congress of the Social Democratic
Party Lenin lost his majority and began organizing a rebellious group
of Bolsheviks. This was to be in opposition of the new majority of the
congress, the Menshiviks, led by Trotsky. Twenty-two Bolsheviks,
including Lenin, met in Geneva in August of 1904 to promote the idea
of the highly disciplined party and to urge the reorganization of the
whole Social-Democratic movement on Leninist lines (Stoessinger, 33).
The differences between Lenin and the Bogdanov group of
revolutionary romantics came to its peak in 1909. Lenin denounced
the otzovists, also known as the recallists, who wanted to recall the
Bolshevik deputies in the Duma, and the ultimatists who demanded that
the deputies take a more radical stand — both for their philosophical
vagaries which he rejected as idealism, and for the utopian purism of
their refusal to take tactical advantage of the Duma. The real issue
was Lenin’s control of the faction and the enforcement of his brand of
Marxist orthodoxy. Lenin demonstrated his grip of the Bolshevik
faction at a meeting in Paris of the editors of the Bolsheviks’
factional paper, which had become the headquarters of the faction.
Bogdanov and his followers were expelled from the Bolshevik faction,
though they remained within the Social-Democratic fold (Wren, 95).
On March 8 of 1917 a severe food shortage cause riots in
Petrograd. The crowds demanded food and the step down of Tsar. When
the troops were called in to disperse the crowds, they refused to fire
their weapons and joined in the rioting. The army generals reported
that it would be pointless to send in any more troops, because they
would only join in with the other rioters. The frustrated tsar
responded by stepping down from power, ending the 300-year-old Romanov
dynasty (Farah, 580).
With the tsar out of power, a new provisional government took
over made up of middle-class Duma representatives. Also rising to
power was a rival government called the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’
and Soldiers’ Deputies consisting of workers and peasants of socialist
and revolutionary groups. Other soviets formed in towns and villages
all across the country. All of the soviets worked to push a
three-point program which called for an immediate peas, the transfer
of land to peasants, and control of factories to workers. But the
provisional government stood in conflict with the other smaller
governments and the hardships of war hit the country. The provisional
government was so busy fighting the war that they neglected the social
problems it faced, losing much needed support (Farah, 580).
The Bolsheviks in Russia were confused and divided about how to
regard the Provisional Government, but most of them, including Stalin,
were inclined to accept it for the time being on condition that it
work for an end to the war. When Lenin reached Russia in April after
his famous “sealed car” trip across Germany, he quickly denounced his
Bolshevik colleagues for failing to take a sufficiently revolutionary
stand (Daniels, 88).
In August of 1917, while Lenin was in hiding and the party had
been basically outlawed by the Provisional Government, the Bolsheviks
managed to hold their first party congress since 1907 regardless. The
most significant part of the debate turned on the possibility for
immediate revolutionary action in Russia and the relation of this to
the international upheaval. The separation between the utopian
internationalists and the more practical Russia-oriented people was
already apparent (Pipes, 127).
The Bolsheviks’ hope of seizing power was hardly secret. Bold
refusal of the provisional Government was one of their major ideals.
Three weeks before the revolt they decided to stage a demonstrative
walkout from the advisory assembly. When the walkout was staged,
Trotsky denounced the Provisional Government for its alleged
counterrevolutionary objectives and called on the people of Russia to
support the Bolsheviks (Daniels, 110).
On October 10 of 1917, Lenin made the decision to take power. He
came secretly to Petrograd to try and disperse any hesitancies the
Bolshevik leadership had over his demand for armed revolt. Against the
opposition of two of Lenin’s long-time lieutenants, Zinovieiv and
Kamenev, the Central Committee accepted Lenin’s resolution which
formally instructed the party organizations to prepare for the seizure
Finally, of October 25 the Bolshevik revolution took place to
overthrow the provisional government. They did so through the agency
of the Military-Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. They
forcibly overthrew the provisional government by taking over all of
the government buildings, such as the post office, and big
corporations, such as the power companies, the shipyard, the telephone
company. The endorsement of the coup was secured from the Second
All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which was concurrently in session.
This was known as the “October Revolution” (Luttwak, 74) Through this,
control of Russia was shifted to Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
In a quick series of decrees, the new “soviet” government
instituted a number of sweeping reforms, some long overdue and
some quite revolutionary. They ranged from “democratic” reforms, such
as the disestablishment of the church and equality for the national
minorities, to the recognition of the peasants’ land seizures and to
openly socialist steps such as the nationalization of banks. The
Provisional Government’s commitment to the war effort was denounced.
Four decrees were put into action. The first four from the Bolshevik
Revolutionary Legislation were a decree on peace, a decree on land, a
decree on the suppression of hostile newspapers, and a declaration of
the rights of the peoples of Russia (Stossenger, 130).
By early 1918 the Bolshevik critics individually made their
peace with Lenin, and were accepted back into the party and
governmental leadership. At the same time, the Left and Soviet
administration thus acquired the exclusively Communist character which
it has had ever since. The Left SR’s like the right SR’s and the
Mensheviks, continued to function in the soviets as a more or less
legal opposition until the outbreak of large-scale civil war in the
middle of 1918. At that point the opposition parties took positions
which were either equally vocal or openly anti-Bolshevik, and one
after another, they were suppressed.
The Eastern Front had been relatively quiet during 1917, and
shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution a temporary armstice was
agreed upon. Peace negotiations were then begun at the Polish town of
Brest-Litovsk, behind the German lines. In agreement with their
earlier anti-imperialist line, the Bolshevik negotiators, headed by
Trotsky, used the talks as a discussion for revolutionary propaganda,
while most of the party expected the eventual return of war in the
name of revolution. Lenin startled his followers in January of 1918 by
explicitly demanding that the Soviet republic meet the German
conditions and conclude a formal peace in order to win what he
regarded as an indispensable “breathing spell,” instead of shallowly
risking the future of the revolution (Daniels, 135).
Trotsky resigned as Foreign Commissar during the Brest-Litovsk
crisis, but he was immediately appointed Commissar of Military Affairs
and entrusted with the creation of a new Red Army to replace the old
Russian army which had dissolved during the revolution. Many
Communists wanted to new military force to be built up on strictly
revolutionary principles, with guerrilla tactics, the election of
officers, and the abolition of traditional discipline. Trotsky set
himself emphatically against this attitude and demanded an army
organized in the conventional way and employing “military specialists”
— experienced officers from the old army.
Hostilities between the Communists and the Whites, who were the
groups opposed to the Bolsheviks, reached a decicive climax in 1919.
Intervention by the allied powers on the side of the Whites almost
brought them victory. Facing the most serious White threat led by
General Denikin in Southern Russia, Lenin appealed to his followers
for a supreme effort, and threatened ruthless repression of any
opposition behind the lines. By early 1920 the principal White forces
were defeated (Wren, 151). For three years the rivalry went on with
the Whites capturing areas and killing anyone suspected of Communist
practices. Even though the Whites had more soldiers in their army,
they were not nearly as organized nor as efficient as the Reds, and
therefore were unable to rise up (Farah, 582).
Police action by the Bolsheviks to combat political opposition
commenced with the creation of the “Cheka.” Under the direction of
Felix Dzerzhinsky, the Cheka became the prototype of totalitarian
secret police systems, enjoying at critical times the right the right
of unlimited arrest and summary execution of suspects and hostages.
The principle of such police surveillance over the political leanings
of the Soviet population has remained in effect ever since, despite
the varying intensity of repression and the organizational changes of
the police — from Cheka to GPU (The State Political Administration)
to NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) to MVD (Ministry
of Internal Affairs) to the now well-known KGB (Committee for State
Security) (Pipes, 140).
Lenin used his secret police in his plans to use terror to
achieve his goals and as a political weapon against his enemies.
Anyone opposed to the communist state was arrested. Many socialists
who had backed Lenin’s revolution at first now had second thoughts. To
escape punishment, they fled. By 1921 Lenin had strengthened his
control and the White armies and their allies had been defeated
Communism had now been established and Russia had become a
socialist country. Russia was also given a new name: The Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics. This in theory meant that the means of
production was in the hands of the state. The state, in turn, would
build the future, classless society. But still, the power was in the
hands of the party (Farah, 583). The next decade was ruled by a
collective dictatorship of the top party leaders. At the top level
individuals still spoke for themselves, and considerable freedom for
factional controversy remained despite the principles of unity laid
down in 1921.
Daniels, Robert V., A Documentary History of Communism. New York:
Random House Publishing, 1960.
Farah, Mounir, The Human Experience. Columbus: Bell & Howess Co.,
Luttwak, Edward N., The Grand Strategy of the Soviet Union. New York:
St. Martins Press, 1983.
Pipes, Richard, Survival is Not Enough. New York: S&S Publishing,
Stoessinger, John G., Nations in Darkness. Boston: Howard Books,
Wren, Christopher S., The End of the Line. San Francisco: Blackhawk