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Russian Revolution, Lenin and Stalin

1. Background

Image: Protesters during Russian Revolution

By the 20th century, there was a rise in the political movements based on the ideas of socialism. With the beginning of World war, though the socialist ideas followed a downward trend but again it came to the forefront with the Russian Revolution in 1917.

2. Causes of Russian Revolution

2.1 Political Causes

The most significant cause of the revolution was the underlying discontent within the Russian society against the corrupt and inefficient rule of monarchy. Moreover, the Duma (Russian parliament) which was established as a response to public protests that broke out in 1904, turned out to be a powerless entity and was soon dismissed by the King.

The humiliating defeat of Russia in 1904 at Japanese hands also acted as deciding factor to the cause of revolution. Japan imposed a surprising defeat on Russia and managed to take control of the Korean Peninsula to meet its colonial ambitions and support industrialisation.

In addition to these situations, the decision of the Russian monarch to push Russia into World War 1 despite lack of public support, too prepared the ground for revolt. This was aided by the major military setbacks of Russia during the World War 1. Further, as Germany imposed naval blockades, Russia faced food shortages and high inflation. To lift the morale of the masses, the Russian Tsar himself went to the battlefield. However, it could not change the situation.

The administration in Russia was also corrupt. The rise of Rasputin, the mystic healer, within the Russian monarchy, in a short time, signified the corruption and nepotism within the administration.

2.2 Economic Causes

Image: Streets during the Russian Revolution

Russia was yet to witness an industrial revolution. With huge dependence on agriculture, the unemployment increased in Russia as the war proceeded. Moreover, the urban centres and the early industries in Russia were filled with problems like long working hours, low wages, lack of social security etc. This led to discontent among workers in these centres.

Further, although serfdom was abolished in 1861 and serfs were no longer tied to the land, the redistribution of land was not carried. Most of the lands were still owned by big landlords, and deep inequalities existed.

The low growth rates and low wages also persisted in the agricultural sector. Even though serfdom was abolished, very few opportunities were available for employment beyond agriculture.

2.3 Military Causes

During the World War 1, the Russian army was under-equipped and technologically inferior compared to their German counterparts and the soldiers were also not paid salaries on time. This led to discontent amongst them.

Further, the constant defeats witnessed by Russia on the battlefield complicated the matters, leading to more discontent among the people.

All these together led to the Russian revolution with a slogan that demanded ‘Land, Peace and Bread’ for the masses and the overthrow of the monarchy.

3. Major Events in Revolution (February to October 1917)

In 1883, the Russian Social Democratic party was established by George Plekhanov.  Later it united many socialist groups and turned into the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). However, in 1898, over the issues of organisation and polity, the party split into:

  • Bolsheviks, which were led by Vladimir Lenin.  Lenin believed in the overthrow of monarchy and the section of the capitalist class. He wanted to establish a single-party communist regime and put the ideas of Marx into practice. Bolsheviks had a major presence amongst the worker unions, especially in the urban centres.
  • Mensheviks, led by Alexander Kerensky, aimed to overthrow the monarchy and establish a multiparty democratic political system. It had a relatively larger support base.

3.1 February Revolution              

Image: February Revolution

On February 8, 1917, the protests broke out when a group of women marched out against the prevailing issues of food shortages and high prices.  These women were joined by the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. The King sent an army to suppress protests. However, a section of the army also joined protestors, which led to wider public discontent.

Following this, Tsar Nicolas II abdicated the throne, and a provisional government was established in February 1917. It was led by the Mensheviks and supported by the army. The new government did not withdrew troops from the war with the hope to win. Rather, it pushed in 2 lakh additional troops.

As Russia continued to suffer reverses, public protests broke out against Menshevik’s failure to withdraw Russia from World War 1 and address the underlying economic issues. Seeing the opportunity, the Bolshevik’s camp, which had strong control over Petrograd Soviet, resorted to flash strike and strike work.

3.2 October Revolution

Lenin staked a claim to power when the Kerensky government couldn’t meet the demands of the people, i.e., end to the war, land to the tiller, equal rights to non-Russians, and control of industry by the workers etc. On the other hand, Mensheviks were removed and Bolsheviks (Lenin) assumed the power.

In 1918, Lenin withdrew Russia from World War 1 and ceded major Russian territories in Western Russia under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. It was done with the aim of securing peace with Germany, ending the naval blockades and focusing on internal economic and political challenges.

The internal challenges for Russia were too many. On the economic front, it experienced high prices, unemployment, lack of industrialisation, and low agricultural productivity etc; And on politically, as Bolshevik’s were trying to firm their grip over Russia, it resulted in a bitter civil war from 1918 – 1921.

The civil war was fought between ‘Red shirts’ and ‘White shirts. Red shirts were the armed fighting units of Bolsheviks while the White Shirts were an armed coalition of Mensheviks and royalists which enjoyed financial and other support from Britain and France.

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4. Effects of the Russian Revolution

The Russian revolution led to the formation of USSR which provided people with several rights especially the Right to education and work flowing directly from the constitutional rights.

Moreover, the property of clergy and Nobility were confiscated.

The government support for socialism, further, which led to the establishment of the Communist International (Comintern), and USSR stood as a leader of communism. The socialist revolution in Russia also taught people around the world that the political freedom has no meaning without social and economic freedom, and supported many movements against imperialism.

5. Vladimir Lenin

Image: October Revolution

In 1918, to deal with the immediate issues of food shortage and high prices, Lenin introduced the economic policy of War Communism. Further, to make the cheap food supply available in the urban areas, the state claimed to procure food grains from the rural areas and make them available at little or no cost in the urban areas.

However, the state procured food grains from rural areas without any financial compensation. The commodities from the urban areas were also made available in rural areas without / minimal cost. Lenin emphasised that War Communism was a temporary measure to overcome the immediate food shortages, and peasants would be rewarded with the redistribution of land in future.

By 1921, peasants started becoming impatient, and wider public protests broke out in Kronstadt, a naval port in Northern Russia. It was also supported by the sections of the navy. It came to be termed as Kronstadt mutiny. The mutiny was suppressed soon, and more than 20,000 people were killed. Given the wider public resentment against this policy, Lenin now considered relaxing the restrictions of War Communism.

5.1 New Economic Policy

The New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced in 1921. Under this policy, restrictions on the private ownership were relaxed and the peasants were allowed to sell their produce in the market.

The restrictions on private ownership in small industries in urban areas were also relaxed. However, the state still owned larger industries and did major economic planning. In the conflict of Red Shirts and White Shirts, the White Shirts were eventually subdued, and the Bolsheviks consolidated their hold.

5.2 Contribution of Lenin

Lenin died in 1924. He contributed greatly in laying down the foundation of the Russian Revolution and Russia’s withdrawal from the World War 1. He implemented War Communism to address the immediate food shortages and to consolidate the Bolshevik hold within Russia. All these events eventually led to the formation of USSR in 1921. Lenin’s death followed a major power struggle between Trotsky and Stalin.

6. Joseph Stalin

Image: Stalin (1878 – 1953) ruled USSR from 1928 -1953

6.1 Stalin’s Policies and their Role in the Soviet Union

A. Political Policies

Stalin was an authoritarian ruler whose primary objective was to consolidate his hold over the Communist Party and the Soviet Union. To achieve this objective, he launched a bitter crackdown upon his opponents, even within Bolshevik/Communist camp.

In 1928, Stalin forced Trotsky into exile and got him assassinated in 1940 in Mexico.

Further, from 1934 – 1938, he undertook the great purge to imprison his rivals within the communist party and forced his critics into labour camps. Stalin also replaced all the top military generals within the navy and Armed forces, and there was no freedom of speech to criticise the policies of the Soviet Union or Stalin.

B. Economic Policies

Stalin aimed to catch up with the west in terms of industrial growth. Therefore, from 1928 onwards, a state-led model of economic planning was adopted which was termed as GOSPLANs, a model of Five Year Plans aimed to bring rapid industrialisation.

From the period 1928 – 1933, the first five-year plan was introduced which focused on industries as well as agriculture, setting out modest targets.  By the end, these were largely achieved.

From 1933 – 1937, in the second five-year plan, a strong focus was kept on the Iron and steel industries. Following their growth, overall industrial growth picked up during this period.

On the other hand, the Western capitalist powers suffered from The Great Depression during this period and the Soviet Union embarked upon a plan of rapid industrialisation.

C. Social Policies

With the increase in the industrial growth, the employment opportunities and wages witnessed a major increase in the Soviet Union.

Further, the increased employment opportunities, most of the restrictions on the participation of women in the labour force were also removed. The Labour force participation rate of women in the Soviet Union increased drastically from 24-26% in 1928 to 40% in 1940 and to 51% in 1950, much ahead of even western countries.

The Soviet Union also introduced paid maternity leave for women to encourage women workers to carry on their reproductive role as well.  In addition to this, the state-funded and managed crèches were arranged to take care of new-borns as women resumed their labour workforce roles.

Further, the Soviet Union prohibited Church and religious activities, terming them as meaningless distractions, the workers’ wages were increased with fixed working hours and most importantly, the idea of Universal education was introduced for the 6-14 age group.

D. Agricultural Policy

The objective of the agricultural policy was to increase the productivity to deal with food shortages and high prices. Several steps were taken for the same such as land distribution was carried out, which often involved the use of force against Big Landlords.

Stalin also introduced the collectivisation of farms. In this model, the state would provide technology and the capital to increase productivity. The agrarian produce of these collective farms would be procured by the state and the farmers would be paid wages. However, the wages on collective farms could not compete with the industrial wages, due to which the Farmers preferred the latter.

The system, in the end, failed to increase the agricultural productivity between 1928-1938, and the Soviet Union remained dependent upon food imports.

To conclude, we can say that Stalin’s political policies reflected his authoritarian rule.  The relative success of his industrial policies brought about rapid industrialisation in the Soviet Union, converting it into a major industrial, economic and military power to reckon with by the World War II.

7. Summary

Socialism refers to the state controlled model of the economy. After the end of the First World War, it became a buzzing word especially in the Russian mainland where it was put into picture by the 1917 Russian Revolution. This was done mainly because of the corrupt administration practices, prevalence of inequality in the society and the accumulation of the huge war expenses etc. which calls for a complete overhaul of both the economy and the society.

The Russian lands were, thereby, divided among the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks who having their own perspectives supported the cause of the revolution. This division among them was also the cause of occurrence of revolution in two phases – the February revolution and the October revolution.

Though, the revolution in Russia brought many changes in the socio-economic and the political culture of the Russia but it also gave rise to the authoritarian leaders such as Lenin and Stalin who changed the entire structure of Russia both internally as well as externally.

  • According to UPSC Syllabus
  • Includes Previous Year Questions
  • PYQ Analysis
  • Plenty of Maps, Images for Illustration
  • Also useful for State PSC Examinations
  • A must-have book for all UPSC Aspirants

8. Multiple Choice Question

1] Why Duma (Russian Parliament) came into being?
a) As a response to the public protests.
b) To territorially divide Russia
c) Build a Foreign policy for Russia
d) Introduce Socialism.

Show Answer

Ans: a) As a response to the public protests

2] What are the major economic causes of the Russian Revolution?
a) Unemployment
b) Lack of the social security measures
c) Industrial revolution was still not introduced
d) All of the above

Show Answer

Ans: d) All of the above

3] What was the main aim of the Bolsheviks?
a) Establish a single party communist regime
b) Multiparty Democratic political system
c) Authoritarian government
d) Monarchical form of government

Show Answer

Ans: a) Establish a single party communist regime

4] What do you mean by the Red Shirts?
a) Armed coalition of the Mensheviks
b) Fighting units of the Bolsheviks
c) Soldiers of the Tsar
d) None of the above

Show Answer

Ans: b) Fighting units of the Bolsheviks

5] The policy of GOSPLANs was introduced by whom?
a) Tsar
b) Putin
c) Lenin
d) Stalin

Show Answer

Ans: d) Stalin

6] The first year plan was focussed on which of the following thing?
a) Agriculture
b) Iron and steel industries
c) Expansion of Public private partnership
d) None of the above

Show Answer

Ans: a) Agriculture

7] The policy of war communism was introduce by whom?
a) Stalin
b) Lenin
c) Gorbachev
d) Marx

Show Answer

Ans: b) Lenin

8] The Russian Revolution forwarded the idea:
a) Land, Peace and bread
b) Right to life, liberty and Property
c) Equality, liberty and fraternity
d) None of the above

Show Answer

Ans: a) Land, Peace and bread

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