How did the Bolsheviks retain power in the crisis years from October 1917 to March 1921?

It had taken 13years of campaigning but Lenin finally got his reward. By January 1918 the Bolshevik party had control of Russia’s two biggest cities, Moscow and Petrograd and was giving the orders. Lenin had seen many rulers fall by not delivering what they had promised. For Lenin to succeed he had to make a change or at least seem to make a change. His main promises were the April Thesis with the promise of, “Bread, peace and land.” As soon as he got into power Lenin settled the problem with the war and immediately began negotiating with the Germans. But it cost Russia some of its best land but it was what the people wanted. This sorted out the peace on the international front but now he had to sort the problem of the Civil War.

Many people wonder how he did survive this period, as the odds were greatly stacked against him. But he did have a few things, which helped him greatly. Trotsky’s’ management of the Red Army was superb compared to the Whites which lacked co-ordination and communication. Lenin also banned all Anti-Bolshevik press; he made small changes to things such as the working day and set up the Cheka, which was instrumental in the Red Terror. Not only this but Lenin had to try and cope with an extremely fragile economy. He did this by instigating War Communism, which added to him staying in power for the crisis years.

The people were fed up with war and wanted the country to b in a state of peace. One of Lenin’s slogans was peace and peace was what he intended to give them. The problem facing Lenin was how to fulfil this promise with minimal expense. Lenin was hoping that there would be a revolution in Germany and therefore would make them lower their preparations or even let them off the hook altogether. Lenin clung on to this hope until it became clear that a German revolution would not be happening in the near future and then he gave into the Germans demands. They paid a very hefty price for succumbing to the Germans losing territory such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and parts of Russian Poland with Independence to the Ukraine, Georgia and Finland and further losses to Turkey. Worse was yet to come for Russia as the Germans demanded around 6,000 million marks and lost one third of their agricultural land, four fifths of their coal mines and half of their industrial plants. This was bad for the Bolsheviks as the majority of their support came from the workers and so lost a lot of support. Russia was left bruised by the treaty of Brest-Litovsk but at least they were out of the war, which was what the people wanted and what Lenin had promised.

After sorting the international problems Russia faced, Lenin now had to return to restoring order back into Russia. Although Lenin in theory was ruling the whole of Russia him and the Bolsheviks only controlled a tiny portion of it. Russia was huge and it was impossible to govern it all even though he had the support of Russia’s two main cities. He had the support of the people of Moscow and Petrograd but this was nothing compared to the rest of the population who mostly lived in the rural land of Russia as peasants. These peasants did not feel the Bolsheviks were treating them fairly so they joined forces with other anti-Bolshevik groups to create the civil war. They called themselves the Whites as opposed to the Bolshevik Reds. With the Bolsheviks so heavily out-numbered it looked certain that they would not keep control of Russia. But this didn’t happen and was mostly down to the sheer cunning of Trotsky who arranged the Red Army. He used the railroads to great effect by sending troops from one front to the next in a quarter of the time it would take the Whites. These trains were able to take the Bolsheviks from A to B in a straight line compared to the Whites who had to go round the perimeter. This kept troops morale high as they didn’t have to go on pointless marches that take days to complete.

Another reason for the Bolsheviks survival was the fact that the Whites weren’t very well organised. They consisted of ex Tsarists, ex-Duma members, ex-Provisional Government members, Mensheviks, Peasants, nobles, the middleclasses and foreigners. The only thing that kept the Whites together was their hatred for the Bolsheviks. If they had defeated the Bolsheviks I think there would have been another civil war as there were so many different groups of people with different views. Trotsky’s famous saying that at one time he was “fighting on seventeen different fronts” was no doubt an advantage as it was easy for him to move his troops with the railroads compared to the Whites who faced with long treks around the perimeter of the Bolshevik stronghold.

Just because they were unorganised it does not mean that the Whites were pushovers so they needed a force to protect them. Trotsky was the genius who arranged a much better army than the Whites using his internal lines of communication. It was called the Red army and Trotsky employed 25,000 Ex-Tsarist officers, a risky option. However they maintained their loyalty because their families were being held hostage and killing deserters. This was very similar to the Red Terror, which was spreading around the country. Lenin set up the Cheka, the Russian secret police that had the job of killing any Counter Revolutionaries or spies that they cam across. By contrast, the Cheka, within three years of establishment, had a strength of 250,000 full-time agents… By 1918-19 the Cheka was averaging 1,000 executions a month for political offences alone.1 Although this treatment was in many ways cruel and irrational it did prove to be very effective in disciplining the Red army. The Cheka was employed to carry out executions and brutal punishments on al who did not agree with his ideas, this was the Red Terror. Lenin did not see anything wrong with terror and he saw it as the only way of instigating the law and order he wanted.

As early as 1901 Lenin was quoted as saying we have never renounced terror and cannot renounce it. It worked very well making more people scared of the Cheka and the Red army than they were of the Whites. The Cheka’s main job though was as a secret police and agents were sent to all the soviets and find out the names of anyone who had been heard saying something that was not pro-Bolshevik. At the beginning the punishment was not so severe, with lashings being the most likely one. But Lenin ordered a decree stating that the Cheka would now handle all court cases and therefore could not only arrest the convict, but try, sentence and execute him too. This increased the Chekas freedom so execution figures shot up. When the Cheka was set up labour camps started appearing and thousands were sent to them for crimes that they would have got away with in other countries.

However Lenin went further. He ordered to shoot on the spot one in every ten people found guilty of idling. He wanted to show the spectators that he meant business and what he was capable of even if it did mean shooting innocent people. By the end of 1920 the Cheka had carried out over 50,000 death sentences. But Lenin’s character was truly shown when he abandoned the idea of individual guilt and began ordering executions to whole groups of people. He started with exterminating the whole of the bourgeoisie class, killing people due t their upbringing, their parents and their education. Lenin had invented what is now called Genocide.

The Red terror certainly did not gain he Bolsheviks any supporters. It actually lost support even from the people who supported them most. This can be shown in the Kronstadt sailors, who had been the revolutionary hot heads had been left feeling betrayed and had mutinied and rose up against their former leaders. The Bolsheviks killed them before they got more support from the people. Although this was cruel and ruthless it was a good way in keeping law and order in Russia as everybody was too afraid to even consider rising up against them. Lenin also banned all anti-Bolshevik press as he remembers how he used to use propaganda to rise up against the Tsar. He did not want this to happen to him so he employed the Cheka and the notorious Red Terror.

Lenin’s other main problem was the fragile state of the economy that was why he employed war communism to help him. An extreme shortage of bread and industrial goods which was not approved of by the peasants, who took matters into their own hands by seizing land thanks to the Land Decree of Oct. 1917. However they only produced enough food for themselves and produced none for the armies or the cities after all there was nothing in it for them with no industrial goods to exchange the grain for. Factories went into chaos as workers had been given control of running the factories and they did not have an idea of how to do this. The way things were going Lenin did not stand a chance of surviving as the armies and cities were not receiving enough grain to work effectively. Lenin then took a more hands on approach to the economy by ordering requisition gangs, 75 men in strength and armed with three machine guns who came and took the grain by force in order to feed the soldiers and the workers. As for the industry Lenin brought back old managers to use their expertise to produce the goods they needed. Strikes were considered treason and Trade Unions were run by the Bolsheviks. This whole way of running things was called war communism.

The reason the Bolshevik party succeeded in lasting these crucial first years is simple, they were prepared to do what had not been done before r at least in a long time, and that is t be so ruthless. I think Lenin knew that the promises he had made would not all be fulfilled, but he had also seen what had happened to leaders before him and could see himself sliding down the same slope. But Lenin was determined to succeed, and such was his character that he was prepared to do whatever it takes to cling on to his power by using savage force. Lenin must not take all the credit as Trotsky played a huge part in keeping the Bolsheviks in power organising the Red army, which beat a force much bigger than them and was fighting on seventeen different fronts. But Lenin was still the central man when it came to wiping out all the other political parties which was crucial to their survival.

Lenin’s economic reshuffle changed the face of the civil war as war communism although it was unpopular served its purpose at the time and kept the supplies running through to the front line. This was like many of Lenin’s policies as it was hated but it did its job. This made the Bolsheviks hated by a lot of people so if they let the terror and ruthlessness down they would rise up against them. So Lenin had to find a way to let the Red terror die down without letting the people rise up. This was something that had to be sorted out by someone else because Lenin was having many strokes and was not expecting to last long.