Lenin - staying in power and overall achievements

Past Questions:
Paper 3
  • “Lenin abandoned ideology in order to gain and consolidate power.” To what extent do you agree with this statement? (Nov 2010)

  • Analyse the causes and immediate consequences (up to 1921) of the October 1917 Russian Revolution. (Nov 2009)

  • “The Bolshevik state under Lenin between 1918 and 1924 was a ruthless dictatorship, caring little for the Russian people.” To what extent do you agree with this statement? (Nov 2008)

  • Compare and contrast the roles of Lenin and Trotsky in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and in the foundation of the new Soviet State until 1924. (May 2007)

  • For what reasons, and in what ways, was a Marxist/Communist state set up in Russia between 1918 and 1928? (May 2006)

  • Compare and contrast the part played by Lenin and Trotsky in the development of the USSR between 1918 and 1924. (Nov 2005)

  • Lenin wrote, “One step forward two steps back; it happens in the lives of individuals, and in the history of nations.” To what extent can this quotation be applied to Lenin’s revolutionary career and his rule of the USSR 1918 to 1924? (May 2005)

Paper 2 SPS
  • Discuss (a) the support for, and (b) the ideology of, one left-wing ruler of a single-party state. (May 2010)

  • Analyse the nature and extent of internal opposition and the methods used to deal with this opposition by one of the following single-party rulers: Lenin; Hitler; Mao. (Nov 2009)

  • To what extent was the ruler of one single-party state successful in achieving his aims? (May 2008)

  • Evaluate the successes and failures of one ruler of a single-party state. (May 2007)

  • Assess the methods used by either Lenin or Perón to maintain his regime. (May 2007, May 2005)

  • How successful was either Lenin (1917 -1924) or Mussolini (1922-1943) in solving the problems he faced? (May 2005)

MARKSCHEME notes for these questions.

What were Lenin's aims and ideology? What did he hope to achieve?

  • Lenin wanted to seize power to establish a "dictatorship of the proletariat" to achieve Communism.
  • Spread socialist consciousness among the workers.
  • Destroy and crush all non-socialist idea, especially bourgeois ideas.
  • Spread a Communist revolution around the world!

However, when first gaining power Lenin realised the importance of first securing his rule, before moving towards a socialist state, in order to not trigger a Civil War as soon as the Bolsheviks had seized power in October 1917.
What were his chief policies enacted to try and realise these aims?
Short term:
Lenin could not afford the popular tide of aspirations that had led to the failure of Tsardom as well as the PG, so he gave the people whatthey wanted in order to secure support for his reign:
  • Land Reform- Gave the peasants the right to take over the estates of the gentry, without compensation to the landlords, and for themselves decide the best way to divide it up. This however, went against Bolshevik idealogy and was the start of the "kulak problem" that Stalin was later to be faced with.
  • Workers' control decree- gave the workers the right to control production and finance and supervise management. This was neither in line with Bolshevik ideaology and nationalisation of industry. Furthermore, the production sharply fell as the management could not be handled.
  • Rights of the people of Russia decree- Gave the right to self-determination to national minorities in the former Russian empire. However, it is important to keep in mind that Lenin did not have control over these vast areas anyways!
- All of the decrees above went against Lenin's longer-term aims of Bolshevik ideology however through this he did manage to achieve his short term aims of securing power and stablizing the regime in order to prepare for the coming Civil War. As historian Edward Acton states; " No Russian government had ever been more responsive to pressure from below or less able to impose its will upon society".

  • Dealing with opposition- One of the first measures enacted by Lenin was closing down opposition press. The Bolsheviks themselves who had pumped enormous amounts of money into their own newspaper in 1917 knew the harm that it could cause them. Closed down opposition parties, starting with the Kadets who had done fairly well in elections for the Constituent Assembly, and by May 1918 all other parties had been banned.

Longer term:
  • War Communism- helped Lenin achieve his aims of controlling Russia and move towards a more socialist state. The industry was nationalised, grain requisitioning from the peasants to be able to fight the civil war, banning of private trade, labour discipline and the Red Terror. All helped Lenin and the Bolsheviks win the Civil War and so securing their power as well as carry out Bolshevik ideology.
  • CHEKA- Secret police to crush opposition and also created concentration camps- machinery of terror! Paritcularly active on the countryside through grain requisitioning, thousands of peasants arrested and Cheka was "at war with the peasants". 1918-1920, 300,000 people killed by the Cheka! This helped Lenin centralise the power and was also an aspect of war communism as grain requisitioning is in large parts what made the Bolsheviks able to win the Civil War.
  • Class Warfare- Lenin encouraged class warfare as a way to intimidate the middle class into submission. The legal system was replaced with "revolutionary justice"; randon, class persecution. This was one of the most "authoritating" aspects of Lenin's reign however it was aprt of his plan to make the society more egalitatian- wish to end privilige and introduce fairer society- i.e. scrapping of titles. In this sense class warfare was definelty a tool to carry out bolshevik ideology.

What methods did he use to stay in power and maintain control of the country after 1917? Which of these was most effective and why?

  • War Communism: Made Lenin able to win the civil war and secure his power. It is therefore very possible to argue that Lenin's rise to power was not complete until after the civil war when he had full control over the country.

  • NEP- The impact on the Russian people after war Communism left the peasants starving due to grain requisitioning and horrible working conditions for the workers. After the Kronstadt Revolt in march 1921; "The flash that lit up reality better than anything else", Lenin realised the society needed to be stabilized and introdúced the New Economic Policy.
- Successes: Stabilized the Russian economy and by 1922 there was brisk trade in the markets and the industrial production made a rapid recovery- factory output rose by almost 200% frm 1920-23. The peasants did well- great deal of trade between the villages and this greatly reduced opposition from the countryside. Many western countries also saw this as a step back frmo Communism and started to invest money in Russia- lifted the economy even further.
- Failures: It was a huge step back frmo Bolshevik ideology and went back to capitalism instead of forward to socialism. The development of Nepmen- private traders- who handled as much as 3/4 of the retail trade.
Overall the NEP was a great step back frmo Lenin's ideologies and therefore prevented his long-term aims of a socialist society. But on the other hand it did fullfill his shorter term aims by securing the regime from the widespread opposition that arose during War Communism. Furthermore, no political changes were made, only economical, and therefore it can be seen as a big short-term success for Lenin and the party. As Bukharin stated; "economic concessions to avoid political concessions".
Which of his aims did Lenin achieve in any degree? What were his key successes?

  • Lenin managed to achieve his aims in securing power over Russia and established a single-party state.
  • He managed to crush opposition and through the Civil War secured his position as the leader of Russia and could therefore start to move towards a socialist society.
  • Through clas warfare, Lenin also achieved his aims in crushing all (most) socialist ideas!

Which of these aims were not achieved, or only to a small degree? What were his key failures?

  • Lenin failed with his overriding aim of establishing a socialist society and by the time of his death, the government was in no way near possible to let the state wither away".
  • Lenin also greatly failed by achieving a world wide socialist revolution as this never happened, and by the time of Stalin's rule, the hope of this has greatly diminished.

Overall judgement and historiography - what impact did Lenin have, and did he play a unique role in history?