During 1917 to 1924 Russia was experiencing vast political, economic and social change that began with the Bolshevik revolution. Various factors, particularly the First World War, had left Russia in a disastrous state where the nation, lacking unity and political control, was confronting tremendous social unrest and facing a major uprising. During this state, the Bolsheviks who had just seized control, undertook numerous extensive measures to establish their authority including the declaration of initial reforms, the signing of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, fighting a Civil War, instigating War Communism, commencing the red terror and finally, implementing the New Economic Policy (NEP). All of these actions were each extremely significant in aiding the Bolsheviks in their quest to consolidate power during the period 1917-1924.
The year 1917 was the beginning of Russia??™s perpetual internal struggle as the revolution sparked major social, political and economic changes. With the return of Lenin, the Bolsheviks had swept the nation with revolutionary ideology that would start their rise to power through his popular slogans of ???Bread, Peace, Land??™ and ???all power to the Soviets??™. Lenin??™s ???April Thesis??™ in 1917 was a crucial step toward change as he called for a worldwide revolution, an end to the war and an end to the provisional government. The Bolsheviks used the opportunity of mass popular support to grasp power and trigger a revolution. This however was not the end to Russia??™s problems and instead was the beginning of more complicated circumstances. The war with Germany still existed but now worker??™s industrial production began to fall rapidly, food production was plummeting and soon Russia was embraced by a devastating famine leading Russia to the brink of economic collapse. Various factions had led to the rise of counter revolutionary actions and soon after, Russia faced civil war. As Bolshevik control gave Russia traits of a corrupt police state, social unrest grew and revolt was imminent. The Bolsheviks now faced the problematic and colossal task of augmenting their hold on power.
Immediately after the revolution, the Bolsheviks began their process of consolidation power by introducing initial reforms to calm Russia??™s turbulent situation throughout November 1917 to March 1918. Russia official government became SOVNARKOM or ???The Council of People??™s Commissars??™. The peace decree was an important initial reform as Lenin aimed to dissolve the hostilities with Germany as he recognised the war to be the major cause for the variety of the nation??™s problems after the provisional government had failed to end the war. Next was the Land Decree which attempted to solve the anarchy in the countryside by granting the peasants the right to seize land and declaring that all land was to be owned collectively by the state. Although the Bolshevik were reluctant to do this, it was a necessary reform as opposing the peasants??™ demands would cause another revolution. Despite this decree, historian Martin McCauley argues that the main supporter of the Bolsheviks remained to be the working class and not the peasantry. Other reforms for the people of Russia involved the improvement of working conditions as workers now controlled the factories where working hours were restricted to 8 hours maximum and offered benefits such as unemployment pay, old age pensions and sickness benefits. The armed forces were also democratized as officers were under control of the Army Soviets and Soldiers Committees and had to be elected. These social changes and reforms however were not the end to Russia??™s problems as the Bolsheviks also incorporated various political reforms including the implementation of the revolutionary justice system. Under this legal system, anyone who opposed the Bolsheviks was often considered an ???enemy of the state??? and was usually eliminated through the Cheka. The Cheka created an atmosphere of terror, intimidation and conformity, using the brutal measures to give the Bolsheviks power. Although some of these changes did not stay true to communist ideology, these initial reforms were essential to the Bolshevik consolidation of power as they extended Bolshevik control and influence in Russia.
The signing of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk was on March 1918 was a vital measure taken by the Bolsheviks in their course of establishing their rule. Initially there was a political divide between what was to be done with the war. Trotsky called for neither going to war nor agreeing to peace however Lenin saw the threat the continuation of the war posed to the Bolshevik state as historian Adam Ulam claims that he believed the German and western powers could jointly seek to destroy the Bolshevik state. The signing of the treaty was extremely significant on an immediate political level as it indicated that the Bolsheviks stayed true to their promise and ended the war. This pleased the working class and the peasantry however the treaty of Brest-Litovsk also brought with it drastic consequences to Russia. Immediately Russia lost 32% of its agricultural land, 34% of its population and 54% of its industry leaving Russia in a more backward state than ever before. The treaty also caused great political tension in Russia between the left socialist revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks. Leonard Schapiro supports this view as he claims the treaty brought a permanent break between the two parties. With these relations destroyed, the Left Socialist Revolutionaries began revolting. These revolts ultimately led to counter revolutionary forces gathering to destroy the Bolshevik regime. The treaty of Brest-Litovsk was thus critical in consolidating power for the Bolsheviks as it ended conflicts with Germany giving them increased support from the working class and peasantry; however despite this it led to the formulation of future problems such as the civil war.
Following the augmentation of counter revolutionary forces in Russia, the Bolsheviks were on the verge of civil war and victory in this was a major factor in the Bolsheviks consolidation of power. By mid-1918 the Bolsheviks were fighting a full-scale civil war that composed of multiple sides including the ???Reds??™, ???Whites??™ and ???Greens??™. The Reds were essentially the pro Bolshevik forces including the workers and peasants red army that was reorganised by Trotsky in 1918 to include former red guard units, workers and peasants, sailors from Kronstadt and some men from the former tsarist army. The Whites were the direct opposition to the Reds and served as anti-Bolshevik forces. They comprised of various forces including members of other political groups, monarchists or rightists, liberalists, national separatist groups and they were also supported by allied intervention forces. The greens were primarily peasant armies who fought against both forces as they were concerned with protecting their local areas. Throughout the course of the civil war the year 1919 was the most dangerous time as the White forces, led by Denikin, made serious advances into Russia and put the Bolsheviks on the verge of collapse. However the Bolshevik forces held off the Whites and by 1920 the Reds took the initiative, destroying much of the White forces. By 1921 the Reds had officially won the civil war. Success was due to numerous factors, the most significant being the unity they had formulated. Unlike the Whites who were fighting for various political reasons, the Reds fought for a single cause- to protect Russia from invading forces. Leadership was poor in the White forces and they suffered from lack of communication and coordination as the forces were widespread unlike the Reds that had control of a smaller area containing industry which provided supply of resources and recruits. Trotsky was also a key figure for the Reds in the civil war as he was able to construct and structure an efficient fighting force and provided morale support to the soldiers on the battlefield. Thus, the Red victory was a significant one for the Bolsheviks as it was critical to their process of consolidation of power as they were able to fight off the enemy forces and regain control of Russia.
War Communism was an essential aspect to the Bolsheviks consolidation of power as the victory in the civil war would have been impossible without these policies. War Communism refers to the series of policies introduced by Lenin at the start of the civil war in mid-1918 to deal with the disastrous economic and military situation that the Bolsheviks faced. It involved reinforcing extreme measures of state control and state terror. It was introduced primarily to ensure the survival of the Bolshevik regime. It would achieve this by addressing the low food production due to uncooperative nature of the peasants, and the low factory output needed for weapons. One of the first changes it presented was the state control and nationalisation of all industry. This would address the industrial problems and ensure factory output was consistent to keep the army fighting. Following this was the end of the market economy leaving the state in full economic control, leading to a class based rationing system. This was also introduced to ensure the majority of supplies were distributed to the soldiers and workers with very little given to the Burzhui. One of the most significant effects of War Communism was the socialising of land which forced peasants to work for the state as their produce was requisitioned and controlled by the state. This led to widespread violence as the peasants revolted for being deprived of their land and the Cheka was used to achieve control through brutal force. The impact of war communism was mostly devastating. Sever violence, both organised and unorganised, had increased and the massive expansion of direct government control led to a centralised bureaucracy. Most significantly starvation engulfed the nation. Historian Gordon Greenwod emphasises that War Communism??™s impact was largely tragic and that ???its outcome was the disastrous famine of 1921???. Although from a Bolshevik perspective, War Communism was a success. It had effectively kept the army supplied and in the long term gave the Red forces the fighting chance that led to victory. This is supported by David Christian who claims that it ???did the job of supplying towns and armies??? and that ???in this sense, it was a success???. Therefore despite the damaging repercussions of War Communism, it was still a major element of the Bolshevik consolidation of power as it was successful in leading the Red forces to victory in civil war and securing the nation from outside threats.
The Red Terror was also a key factor in the civil war that was crucial to the Bolshevik consolidation of power. The Red Terror consisted of merciless arrest, torture and execution carried out by the Cheka to eliminate political enemies and anyone who opposed Bolshevik rule. It began officially on the 5th of September and was advocated by Zinoviev when he stated ???we must carry with us 60 million out of the 100 million of soviet Russia??™s inhabitants. As for the rest… they must die???. It was introduced for numerous reasons including the need for state control due to the civil war, the socialist revolutionary uprising, and the attempted assassination of Lenin. The Red Terror was exceedingly used in enforcing the grain requisition factors of War Communism and to destroy Bolshevik political opponents, the bourgeoisie, the Kulaks and those from the former aristocracy. The Cheka over the course of the civil war had grown increasingly important as they began with 35 battalions in mid-1918 which was turned into 31000 employees in the beginning 1921 and by the end of the year, had transformed into 143000 employees. The impact of the Cheka was calamitous as in 1918 there had already been 6300 executions but by the end of the civil war 500000 people had been executed. Despite the crippling social impact, the Red Terror was pivotal to achieving Bolshevik consolidation of power and proved to be the vital organ of War Communism that led to success and victory in the civil war.
The New Economic Policy (NEP) was one of the final and most important measures taken by the Bolsheviks in order to consolidate power. The NEP was introduced almost as a direct result of the Kronstadt rebellion in 1921 where the Kronstadt sailors were infuriated by the food levy and dismayed by Soviet corruption causing them to rebel against the Bolsheviks. They made simple demands for food, freedom of speech and equalisation of wages. The rebellion was suppressed however by Bolshevik forces when 50000 Red troops attacked the sailors on 16-17 of March. This was extremely significant however as the decision to mutiny reflected the loss of one of the Bolsheviks major support base. The NEP was implemented in March 1921 to directly repair society??™s damaged state by subsiding government control to stop the rebellions, improve agricultural production, encourage trade and industry and to put an end to the famine. The primary changes that the NEP encompassed was the return of small privately owned companies to encourage the development of consumer goods, the reopening of small business allowing traders to buy and sell products and also bringing the end to grain requisitioning. These measures were critical in rectifying Russia of the severe wounds made to both society and the economy through War Communism. However Ronald Segal concludes that the NEP had been a rapid success in recovering the economy however it also brought with it a corrupted system due to exploitation. Furthermore, the NEP held contradictory notions as it was clearly representative of a return to capitalism. McCauley provides a strong argument for this point as he claims that War Communism had been a leap into the world of socialism but the NEP was a leap out. Nevertheless the NEP was seen by Lenin as a temporary action to rebuild the shattered economy. Opponents of the Bolsheviks remained to see the NEP as an anomaly of communism as they believed the Bolsheviks who propagated the communist ideology were instead creating a new bourgeoisie. Despite the various perspectives on the motives of the NEP it remained to be critical factor in allowing the Bolsheviks to finally consolidate and augment their power as it mended the disastrous situation that Russia??™s economy and society was facing at the end of 1921.
In conclusion the period of 1917 to 1924 was a time of great social, political and economic turbulence for Russia. The growing political tension and social unrest left Russia on the precipice of demise. It was thus necessary for the Bolshevik regime to take their hold on power and consolidate it to ensure their own survival. The initial reforms of 1917, the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the calamitous civil war, the introduction of War Communism, the Red Terror and the NEP were all significant steps in the Bolsheviks drive for the consolidation of power. These measures although radical and drastic, formulated the key that allowed the ultimate strengthening and augmentation of the Bolsheviks hold on the entire nation of Russia.
Mary Michie – Google Scholar Citations