The Soviet Experience
Russia's road to communism
The Bolshevik revolution refers to the activity of Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik party. Together with the left wing revolutionaries, Lenin lead a bloody coup d’état against the provisionary government.
Russia was to become a constitutional monarchy. The czar would be controlled by the Parliament (Duma), that he had dissolved in 1916. In those days, the provisional government included, among others, prince Lvov, the historian Milyukov, and the social-democrat lawyer Kerensky, both liberals and moderate socialists. It was a liberal revolution that resulted in the proclamation of the Republic. The government pledged to control the war efforts more efficiently.

Czar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate because of in-house tensions. A provisional government was formed, uniting liberals and moderate socialists that promised to lead the war efforts more efficiently. The real power was held by the socialist leaders of the Sankt Petersburg Soviet. They wanted to end the conflict through a general peace, without “annexations or war compensations”. This perspective would not have been accepted by neither the Germans nor the Allies.

Grand Duke Michael refused to take power. By his refusal begins that what historians call the “dual power” between the newly constituted “Provisional Duma Committee” and the “Provisional Executive Committee”.

Czar Nicholas II, with the provisional government's approval, recommended his brother, Grand Duke Michael, as the next czar. The nominee was appreciated not only by the soldiers, the peasants and the working class, but also by the leading class of Russia.

Most of the october bolshevik “revolution” representatives were in the Western world: Trotsky in New York, Lenin and Zinoviev in Switzerland. Trotsky admitted afterhand that: “The revolution surprised us in deep sleep, just like the foolish virgins in the Gospel”.

The February Revolution is about the people’s discontent with some of the decisions imposed by the authorities: the idea of food rationing cards. It was manifested by protests, and it gradually became a revolution. The lack of bread and of other basic foods together with the defeats on the front and the difficult working conditions created a situation that was impossible to control.

For three days in a row worker’s processions take place. Men and women from the suburbs invade the capital’s downtown streets. No severe incidents occur.

The czar abdicates, but the Grand Duke Michael does not succeed in imposing his authority. The power splits between The Provisional Duma Committee and The Soviet Executive Committee, which was dominated by socialist parties. The new established government lead by Prince Lvov is recognized by the allies. It will promulgate a set of laws that offer citizen liberties for the first time in Russia like freedom of the press, association and reunion.

The czar sends a telegrams with the order to terminate the unrest. The fourth manifestation against the government would result in 150 deaths. Because the soldiers refuse the officers are those who shoot the unarmed people. During the following night several regiments revolt and fraternize with the crowd. They take hold of the most important buildings and begin a marsh to capture the Winter Palace.

Kerenski meets with the participants in the insurrection on behalf of the Duma deputies that were in session at the Tauride Palace. Violence erupts among the crowd and the soldiers leading to over 1500 victims in a few days. The victims were mostly officials, symbols of a regime confused by a powerless and incapable autocracy, coupled with the suffering caused by the war.

On the countryside it begins the fight of the peasants against the noblemen that owned the land. In the cities, especially in Petrograd and Moscow, the workers of various sectors go on strike. They also organize militarily.

The Bolshevik revolution influenced the development of the First World War. Russia was eliminated from the war due to the internal events, the Bolshevik revolution and subsequently, due to the civil war. The Bolshevik revolution refers to the activity of Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik party. Together with the left wing revolutionaries, Lenin lead a bloody coup d’état against the provisionary government.

Russia was very affected by the huge loss of life on the battlefield, but also because of the economical crisis. Czar Nicholas II was not able to manage the in-house situation. The people were incited and the strong revolutionary ideas lead to the regime change. The bolshevik party takes power through a peasant revolution with strong anarchist aspect.

The Kerensky government continues the military operations, despite its internal frictions. The economy collapses. Half of the factories close and the unemployment rate increases dramatically. Russia is on the verge of national bankruptcy. The poor classes organise themselves into soviets. Lenin, helped by the growing soviets’ pressure and the German Secret Service, returns to Russia in the summer for the final blow.

The goal of the new regime, constructed on Marxist-Leninist ideology, was to establish a new society without classes - the communism. The method to implement this new society required the abolishment of private property and the bourgeoisie. Everybody that opposed the new regime was to be terminated through terror and repression.

According to bolshevik mythology, a few hundred revolutionaries assaulted the Winter Palace, despite the protection ensured by the Cossacks and a female regiment. The attack signal was marked by a fire shot from the Aurora battleship. The revolutionaries arrested the Kerensky government. The bolsheviks, together with their allies, took over the governmental buildings and other strategic locations in Petrograd, the Russian capital, nowadays called Sankt Petersburg. In two days a new government lead by Lenin is formed.

In the 1818 elections for the Constituent Assembly the bolsheviks gained 175 seats out the 707. The revolutionary-socialists gained 410 seats. The bolsheviks held the majority in the large cities, the military and the working centers as they relied on the industrial working class. They were not that successful for the large masses of farmers ruled by the revolutionary-socialists. Shortly after the revolution, the communists tried to take the power in Finland, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria but their attempts failed.

Czar Nicholas and his family were arrested. They were forced to stay under house arrest at their summer home in Tsarskoye Selo. From there, the imperial family members were deported to Tobolsk, a remote area in Siberia. After the revolution, they were taken to Ekaterinburg, their last residence. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, framed a plan to assassinate the czar and his entire family. The firing squad was led by Yakov Yurovsky. The family was executed at nighttime.

Lenin returned secretly to Petrograd and lead the Red Army to overthrow the Provisional Government. The soviet dictatorship is established. Lenin became the dictator of the first marxist state in the world.

The bolsheviks killed Tsar Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and their children. The four princesses, Olga, 22 years, Tatiana, 20 years, Mary, 18 years, Anastasia, 16 years and Tsesarevich Alexei, 14 years. Four servants were also killed.

The bolsheviks arrest the opposition party leaders, both of the left or right parties. The banks and the private owned accounts are nationalized, together with the Church properties. The government annuls all the external debts. The soviets take control of the factories.

The installation of communism in Russia was made possible by the discontent of the population on imperial administration, the social and national crises. It came to power through revolution with the help of the masses, especially the workers’ class.

Since the coronation of Michael Romanov in 1613, the dynasty reigned over a vast empire stretching from Central Europe to the Pacific and from the Arctic Ocean to Afghanistan. The Romanov dynasty the second and last imperial dynasty of Russia that lasted for 304 years.

The obituaries of the Constituent Assembly often mention that the arguments of the bolsheviks against the institution were absolutely false legally and morally but politically solid. The new government made peace with Germany. Internally, it nationalized the industry and had to deal with a devastating civil war in the beginning of 1918 against the czar forces.

After taking power, the communists took a series of radical actions. The Decree on peace - a separate peace made with Germany in Brest-Litovsk. The Decree on land - the nationalization of the entire land resources of the country. The Decree on nationalities - their right to decide their own fate. Lenin had installed the proletarian dictatorship, based on the Red Army and the CEKA political police – The Extraordinary Commission to Fight Counter-revolution, subsequently NKVD, and KGB.

The parliamentary government was rejected and the Duma abolished. There was a bloody civil war, characterized by the battle between the “Reds” and the “Whites”. The “Whites” were sympathizers of the old regime and they were militarily supported by the Triple Entente.

Soon, the proletariat dictatorship would become the dictatorship of the Communist Party. The Red Army organized by Leon Trotsky defeated the “Whites” also through the war communism, a blending of terror and revolutionary enthusiasm.

Lenin, the first leader of the soviet state, died. His body was embalmed and placed inside a mausoleum near Kremlin in Moscow. Stalin managed to impose himself before the leadership of the party. In the Political Office, he promoted his faithful allies, Molotov, Voroshilov, and Kalinin. After the 14th congress, the Party begins to gradually eliminate its opponents.

Russia, which was a federative soviet republic, was also joined by other state formations established upon the same pattern: Ukraine, Byelorussia, three Caucasian republics: Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. In Central Asia, People’s Republic of Bukhara and of Horezm was established.

The politics of war communism is established, according to which the market economy and the goods-money rapports are prohibited.

Russia made a separate peace with Germany, after its great pressure. After the peace, Russia loses about a third of its tillable area, which centralized about three quarters of the country industry. Starvation was one of the impacts of peace. Starvation mainly affected the workers in the great industrial centers, the main support of the Bolsheviks. The separate peace concluded by Lenin’s and Trotsky’s Russia allows the Germans to move numerous troops in the western battlefield.

The Bolsheviks were forced to yield despite the harsh conditions by signing the peace agreement of Brest-Litovsk with the Central Powers. Russia exits the war. The Eastern Front collapsed.

Lenin, the main leader and ideologist of the Bolsheviks had substantiated the concept that Russia could also achieve the victory of a socialist revolution, which would be exploited by a party consisting of revolutionaries by profession, the Bolshevik Party.

Because of the disagreements the negotiations lasted a long time. Russia was losing a quarter of its territories, a third of its population, and a great part of its industrial and agricultural capacity. They also had to pay compensations. The Germans had denounced the truce and continued the hostilities.

The communists stated that the objective of their political regime was the edification of a socialist society as a first stage of communism, where people, freed from exploitation, multilaterally develop their personality.

The methods were the dissolution of private property to eliminate the economic illegalities and the institution of proletariat dictatorship as a violent method to defeat the resistance against the new society.

The Bolsheviks were the winners of the attrition warfare. The war was fought between the new-formed Bolshevik government and the anti-Bolshevik forces. The unfavorable Treaty from Brest-Litovsk signed with Germany persuaded the anti-Lenin socialists to separate from the Bolsheviks and to join the voluntary army of the Whites under Anton Denikin’s command. After the Bolshevik’s coup, the main objective of the Soviet state was the acknowledgement of the new state of Russia, and of the Soviet Union.

While the Bolsheviks were keeping control over the center of the country, the anti- Bolsheviks were gaining ground in Ukraine and Omsk, where Aleksandr Kolceak and other factious groups united to fight against the Red Army. The fights between the communists caused chaos between the Allies. This generated a general confusion and even attenuated the forces of the Russian Whites and of the Ukraine Nationalists. After several initial military successes against the Red Army, the Whites’ forces led by Kolceak were already defeated by the early 1920s.

Trotsky managed to construct a powerful army, the Red Army, by mandatory recruitments performed under terror and through propaganda. The territory controlled by them was uniform and included the important industrial centers, Moscow and Petrograd, and the military materials stores. The most important armies was the one in Caucasus led by general Denikin, the one in Siberia led by marshal Kolceak, and the one in Estonia under the command of general Yudenich.

To face the civil war, the communists took several extraordinary actions, known as “war communism”: long scale nationalizations, private trade elimination and compulsory labor institution. In 1921, the Bolsheviks would give up this tactic. Other Whites troops lead by Nikolai Yudenich failed in trying to conquer Sankt Petersburg. The last line of resistance of the Whites in Crimea, under the command of Pyotr Wrangel, Denikin’s successor, was defeated, putting an end to the Russian Civil War.

The Czechoslovak Legion, deeply involved in the fight against the Bolsheviks, consisted of 40.000 Czech and Slovak prisoners, armed in Siberia to fight against Austria-Hungary. With the revolution and at the conclusion of the peace, they left to continue the fight in the western front. On their way, Trotsky ordered the local soviets to disarm them. The Legion sometimes managed to control the entire trans-Siberian railway and several important cities in Siberia. After the proclamation of independence in Czechoslovakia, the Czech soldiers left.

Following Lenin’s statement on the right of self-determination of the nations within the empire, numerous nationalities declared themselves independent. It was the case of Ukrainians or of Cossacks who lived along Don River and who created local, anti-Bolshevik governments. Hoping that it would occupy the western side of Russia, Poland attacked in the spring of 1920. After an impetuous advance, the Polish troops were defeated. The peace that ended the conflict, signed at Riga, was however favorable for Poland: the Bolsheviks were still fighting

The Socialist Revolutionaries or SRs constituted the dominant political party in Russia. They entered in conflict with the Bolsheviks because of Lenin’s will to communize the villages by force. Helped by the Czechoslovak Legion, they created a government in Samara City, their command center. The Greens were the rebellious peasant groups. Their number decisively influenced the fate of battles. They were fighting against the Whites and the Reds. They tended to support the Reds who assured they would keep the lands allotted to them after the Febru

During the civil war, the former Russia allies of the World War I, USA, England, France, and Japan sent troops to occupy certain areas in order to defend the munitions stores provided to Russia between 1914 and 1917. After 1917, such stores were in danger of being captured by the German army. The allied troops were not real participants to the battles within the civil war, but they allowed “Whites” access to such stores.

The Bolsheviks lay the basis of Communist International abbreviated as Comintern, an organization meant to be an instrument to coordinate the communist activities around the world. Actually, this coordination had to be a blind submission of all communist organizations to Moscow. The declared purpose of the Comintern was to fight “by all means, and with the help of armed forces to overthrow the international bourgeoisie and to create an international soviet republic as a transition stage towards the full abolishment of the State”.

Any communist organization that wanted to adhere to the International should first unconditionally accept a series of 21 terms. “The 21 terms” were officially called the Terms of Admission into Communist International. They were conceived so as the global communism could get a strictly hierarchical and a military structure – with Moscow on top of it – entirely subordinating all the communist organizations to Kremlin.

The parties had no own will and initiative, being forced to adopt the same positions like those of the Bolshevik party. Thus, the activists of the Comintern were nothing but de facto executants of the soviet orders. Such submission to Moscow was to be one of the main reasons that made the communist parties in most of the European countries be prohibited by law. Moreover, the submissive adoption of the politics imposed by Moscow was to irremediably ruin the image of the communist parties in the public opinion.

The Comintern was officially dissolved in May, 1943. Stalin took a propagandistic action to prove his good will to his Allies, Roosevelt and Churchill, who were still skeptical to USSR. Afterwards, in 1947, The Communist Information Bureau would be founded – abbreviated as Cominform, an inheriting organization of the International, which would however play a less important role.

The leaders in Kremlin announced the establishment of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic, USSR. The USSR coat of arms was the symbol of the globe covered by another symbol of the hammer and sickle. On the top there was a red star with five corners surrounded by a wreath of grains tied with red ribbons. The inscription “Proletariats of the world, unite!” was written in the languages of the first countries of the USSR republic.

The First Congress of the Soviets was summoned and adopted the Union Treaty, signed by the representatives of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belorussia and Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. The Union Treaty was the basis of the creation of the USSR. It was founded the State Commission for the General Planning, which needed to elaborate five-year plans. The state control was implemented by the five-year plans in all industrial branches.

The Central Executive Committee consisted of 371 delegates who proportionally represented the population of the Union. They were elected by the Congress. The Central Executive Committee needed to meet in ordinary sessions four times a year whenever it was summoned at the request of the union government, known as the Soviet of the People’s Commissaries, or at the request of one of the republics’ Central Executive Committee.

Regarding the federal structure of the USSR, Lenin’s proposal failed to meet Stalin’s wish. Stalin wanted Georgia, his native land, and other independent states to remain within the Russian Federative Republic. Lenin enforced his position according to which USSR should include Ukraine, Belarus, and Transcaucasia (consisting of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan). But, he granted them a greater autonomy to make the soviet power forget the military nature of the globalization of such republics.

The Soviet Union managed to get out of isolation by participating at the economic conference from Genoa. After that, the Treaty of Rapallo was signed, and then the Trade Agreement between USSR and Germany. In 1924, after the Great Britain officially acknowledged the Soviet Union, France, Italy, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Greece, Mexico, and China did the same. In 1925, Japan established normal relationships with the USSR. The United States (1933), but also a range of East-European countries, continued to ignore USSR.

The first constitution of USSR was adopted in order to politically stabilize the new formation. The supreme body of the state power, the legislative power was the Union Congress of the Soviets, and the Central Executive Committee (CEC) was to be the main executive body, which was functioning between the congresses.

In 1940, Estonia, Lithonia, and Lithuania were annexed, as well as Bessarabia (the future Moldavian SSR) and the Northern Bucovina (comprised by the Ukrainian SSR), thus USSR including 15 republics.

The sessions of the Central Executive Committee were to run in turns in one of the republican capitals, in the order set by the Executive Committee Chair.

Lenin’s will included assessments and considerations on the qualities of the great Bolshevik leaders. Trotsky’s first mistake, after Lenin’s death, was the initiation of the fight against his party comrades who were mainly Stalin’s supporters – they were actually his opponents. Frighten by the Trotskyism incendiary speeches that attempted to the unity of the party, the members of the government, especially Kamenev and Zinoviev allied with Stalin. Separated, criticized, contested, and forced to accept the decisions of Stalin’s people, placed in decisional positions, Trotsky would live a period of decline that would end in exile.

Lenin said that Stalin “centered an incommensurable power in his hands and I cannot tell if he is ready to use it with adequate precaution and authority”.

“The will” was published in the United States of America, and Trotsky was forced by the soviet leadership, which believed that the will harmed the entire Party, to say that the will was a fake, although he had submitted it in person to the communist journalist, Max Eastman. Trotsky had complied with the leadership’s directives.

He also said about Stalin that: “Stalin is too brutal and this deficiency entirely tolerable in the general environment and in the relationships between us, the communists, becomes rather intolerable as a State General. Therefore, I suggest my comrades to think of a method to relieve Stalin of this position and to assign someone else in his place, a person who, in any respects, distinguishes from comrade Stalin only by one advantage, namely a more indulgent, loyal, polite, and close person to his comrades, and less capricious, etc.”.

About Trotsky Stalin said that he was “probably the most capable person in the present Central Committee”, but that he had “an excessive self-confidence and he was attracted by the pure administrative aspect of things”.

Bukharin was characterized as “the most eminent theoretician of the party, and he is rightly considered the favorite of the entire party, but his theoretical positions cannot be fully considered as being Marxist unless with great incertitude”.

Trotsky’s issue was that he believed he was forced by the Lenin’s party discipline rules to struggle inside the party, where he had little chances of success because the position of General Secretary was occupied by Stalin. Stalin’s strategy was the self-promotion as Lenin’s true disciple and to present Trotsky as a traitor Menshevik whose only goal was to dishonor the Leninist heritage.

Soon after Lenin’s death the fight for the succession to the party leadership began. Most of the Bolsheviks, Stalin’s supporters, feared that Trotsky might win as he was the most tenacious supporter of Lenin’s position. Trotsky faced the opposition of the “triumvirate” formed of Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, and Stalin who also got the support of Nikolai Buharin, of Mikhail Tomsky, the leader of the syndicates, and of Alexei Rykov, the head of the government.

Lenin implemented the New Economic Policy, a temporal compromise between communism and capitalism. Small enterprises were liberalized and single shops were reinstalled. After he took the power, Stalin abandoned the New Economic Policy. His final goal was to install a “society without social classes” and to transform the Soviet Union into a great industrial and military power, able to reach the Occident within 10 years and to relaunch the revolutionary process. He resorted to the forced industrialization and collectivization.

The conflict between Stalin and Bukharin was also caused by the crisis of crops in the winter of 1927-1928 that finally marked the end of the New Economic Policy program. Bukharin opposed the collectivization, which made Stalin expel him from the Political Bureau.

The soviet authorities would respond to the crises with requisition methods and sequesters that remind of the civil war. If the policies meant to bring prosperity caused poverty in exchange, there could always be found an explanation: the theory had been misinterpreted, the forces were misaligned, or the officials had made a mistake.

Stalin allied with Bukharin in order to get rid of Kamenev and Zinoviev, who tried to form a “unified opposition” with Trotsky already expelled from the War Commissariat. After the festivities of celebrating a decade of revolution, Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the party.

Trotsky, Stalin’s worst enemy, was by far the most influential critic of the dictator. Stalin, as seen by Trotsky, had no intellect and no brilliance; he was an uneducated provincial who achieved power by bureaucratic manipulations and violence.

The years 1928 and 1929 are crucial for the history of USSR. During this period, Stalin’s last opposition is defeated, i.e. Bukharin’s opposition led within the party. Moreover, the first stage of accelerated industrialization and of rural areas collectivization begins. Such acceleration would mark “the revolution from top to the bottom”, meant to change the Russia’s soviet image over the 1930s.

When he was 16 years old, Stalin had managed to register at the theological seminary in Tiflis. However, he gave up school gliding into the dark world of the left-wing politics. He kept on being imprisoned and being freed from prison. His violence was not the product of his subconsciousness, but of his Bolshevik commitment to the Marxist-Leninist ideology. Such ideology provided Stalin a deep feeling of safety before the political and economic challenges.

A totalitarian system was installed in USSR, which depended on a powerful repressive system. “The repressions” within the party, started in the late 1920s, were extended over the country, aiming all the soviet citizens. The repressed people were deported in camps for the re-education through labor, intended for the Bolshevik’s political opponents. The Gulag, the Main Camp Administration was created. (Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei) – the term used to name the repressive system.

Since the mid-1930s, the regime had been focused on the control and mobilization of “masses”. The propaganda became more populist-like, being dominated by topics like the concept of “nation”, Stalin’s cult, nationalism, and the images related to prosperity, welfare, and success. In 1935, Stalin’s slogan was: “Life became better, comrades. Life became more joyful”.

Stalin decided on the collectivization of agriculture and ordered “the elimination of the Kulak class”, the rich peasants assigned by the kulak communists, and the local authorities were summoned to confiscate the goods of the enriched peasants and to expel them.

At the end of the 1930s, Stalin was often shown accompanied by people’s “representatives”, an image that formed a contrast with the after war images, where he appeared alone. Stalin set the tone during his speech at the 17th Congress of the “party of winners”, in January 1934, where he asked that the political education of the party members be more emphasized.

External soviet policy became more ambitious. Maxim Litvinov was assigned as the Commissioner for External Relations. He managed to incorporate USSR in the League of Nations, in 1934.

The state control was implemented in all the economy branches through “the five-year plans”. The first five-year plan aimed at overpassing the backward economy. The second five-year plan was directed towards the consolidation of the heavy industry. The third five-year plan was interrupted by the beginning of the World War II and by the need to arm the soviet state.

Germany and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, aimed against USSR. Italy joined the pact in 1937 and Spain in 1939. Hitler pleaded to destroy the communism and aimed at the Eastern territories as they represented natural areas of expansion for Germany.

Stalin built an uncertain and unsafe climate within the party. Millions of prisoners, who were convicted after a brief trial and often in the absence of a law court, would face the horrors of the gulag and of the forced labor camps; hundreds of thousands of people were killed by the secret police. After the massacres of 1934-1935, Stalin became the absolute sovereign of the party. In the following years, the Soviet Union was seized with what was called “The Great Terror’, initiated by Stalin, which affected the entire population. Its dramatic character climaxed in the public trials between 1937 and 1939.

Sergey Kirov, the leader of the party organization, was assassinated in 1934. Stalin used the crime, which was organized by himself, to launch a series of repressions.

Within a meeting in 1932, Viscountess Nancy Astor, the first woman member of the British Parliament, asked Stalin how long he was going to kill people. Stalin cynically answered that he would kill people as long as necessary. The Great Terror of the 1930s caused the deterioration of the military, political, and intellectual elite of the USSR by all sorts of ridiculous accusations of espionage and counterespionage.

His allies, Nikolai Bukharin, Grigory Zinoviev and Kamenev, were all convicted to death during the political purges within the party. Almost all Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1917 were executed just for Stalin to become the sole leader, beloved by the masses of people indoctrinated by the inexhaustible party propaganda.

During the Great Terror, out of 87 army commanders, 57 were executed together with thousands of victims within the under-officers. Only two of the five marshals of USSR survived after the purges, Kliment Voroshilov and Semyon Budyonny.

Stalin’s terror also applied to the cultural and scientific elite. Thousands of artists and scientists were victims of those dark times in the history of USSR. Some of the intellectuals died in the gulag camp system. Neither the Church escaped from Stalin’s cruelty, considering that almost 85% of the priests had been arrested.

The terror became a common feeling of the USSR’s daily life in the 1930s. The scenes with people arrested right in the streets or during the night by the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) were highly prevalent. For Stalin, a person was worth no more than a grain of sand in a huge sandglass.