How Successfully Did Lenin Establish Communist Rule 1918-1924?
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Lenin used many different means to attempt to make his Communist ideal work in Russia. He, effectively, utilised propaganda, pragmatism and a certain amount of good luck to keep his reign secure, and also to make sure that it was likely to stay secure for a good many years to come. His pragmatism was shown in his quick change of economic policy after the Kronstadt mutiny, even though it meant him turning away from the basic tenets of the Communist idea. The fact that Communism actually lasted until the late 1980s show that his initial work in establishing it was, by definition, successful.
One of the things that made Lenin such a successful leader of Communism was the fact that he was able to change his ideas to suit what he needed to do with the country, disregarding the protests of others to do what was best for the regime. An excellent example of this is his change from War Communism to the NEP (New Economic Policy). War communism caused the peasants to manufacture less food for the State, as they had no incentive to make any surplus due to the fact that it would all be taken away no matter if they worked hard or not. It was also causing ructions in the armed forces, Lenin’s staunchest supporters, culminating in the mutiny at the Kronstadt naval base. This caused Lenin to realise that a change of policy was called for. In March 1921, he introduced the NEP, which was a dramatic change in policy. It encouraged trade between peasants, and was in essence a very Capitalist idea. By doing this, Lenin gave the peasants the incentive to work which under war communism they had not had, as they had the chance to earn money. Despite being seen as a betrayal of communism by many of his comrades, it was actually a very astute move, as it gained the support of the peasants again.
One way that Lenin established Communism so successfully was by reversing many of the Tsar’s and the Provisional Government’s decisions. One such example was when he came to power in 1918. Russia was in the midst of World War I, and things were going very badly. Due to the failures of the previous two administrations to pull out of the war, Lenin was faced with a dire situation when he came to power. He immediately pulled out of the war, believing it was better to cut their losses than to try and get them back and possibly lose more. He did not, however, agree to a peace treaty with German, as some would say he should have done. He believed that Germany was soon to go under a Communist revolution, and so sent Trotsky to negotiate with the Germans with the express instruction to spin the talks out for as long as possible. This did not work though, and Lenin was forced to give up 25% of his best farming land in the Brest-Litovsk treaty, a loss which could have been worse had it not been for his propaganda machine working overtime to stop the Russian public from rebelling over this near capitulation to the Russian’s oldest enemies.
However, not all of Lenin’s decisions were good ones. To appear true to his word, in 1917 he held free elections for all. Unfortunately for Lenin, the Communists did not receive the majority of the vote, as he had feared would happen. The Social Revolutionaries ended up with the majority of the vote, with double the amount of seats in the Constituent Assembly than the Bolsheviks had. Lenin dealt with this problem in his typically direct style. He sent his Red Guards to close the Assembly soon after it had opened, and despite small protests, also crushed by the Guards, the Assembly was forgotten. This was a small blip in Lenin’s judgement, which was, fortunately for him, easily solved and did not cause too much damage to his campaign.
He was also not able to establish power without any opposition. At the end of 1918, many anti-Bolshevik forces had united to attempt and crush the Bolshevik movement, comprising of forces from outside and inside or Russia (the Whites). The Bolsheviks (or Reds) were at an immediate disadvantage, as their only real stronghold in Russia was in the west, and most of the rest of the country was sympathetic to the Social Revolutionaries. The Whites were however, not united at all and could not cope with the commited Bolsheviks. They had no real aims, except the vague one of overthrowing the Bolsheviks, and no communication, making it hard for them to work together. The Reds on the other hand, under the brilliant leadership of Leon Trotsky, were able to pick the different White factions off quickly, and so therefore were able to win the war. Trotsky was able to command the respect of the men, and the Cheka (Russian secret police) helped by threatening to execute any White sympathisers found in Red territory. The Reds came through the Civil War and afterwards they commanded more respect than ever before, and due to their convincing victory, and the terror that they had created during it, people were much less likely to think abut rebelling.
Lenin was always conscious of public opinion in relation to how he could successfully establish Communism. Shortly after he came to power, he issued some decrees which he hoped would put the public on his side. They succeeded in that way, and put the Bolsheviks on a very good platform to move forward and do some of the things above which without some public opinion they would have found hard. Some of the things that he did were to lessen the power of the church, which up until then had been a great force in the life of many of the peasants, and for the Bolsheviks to succeed they needed to have no opposition whatsoever. They also achieved this by banning the opposition political party and all non-Bolshevik newspapers. To appeal to the general worker and peasant, they also introduced a 48-hour week and insurance against injury or illness for them, something which no other previous government had done. This caused the general public to feel more inclined towards the new Government, and helped Lenin in his quest to establish Communism in Russia.
In conclusion, I believe that Lenin was very successful in establishing Communist rule. Despite making some bad decisions, such as holding free elections and trying to stall in negotiations with the Germans, they were more than often solved to the advantage of Russia, and caused no lasting damage for Lenin’s regime. Even if the idea was not Communist, it was always used to keep the Communist dream alive, and to secure its existence for the next 70 years.