World in the Grip of an Idea: 5. Russia - The Revolution Commences

In this series, Dr. Carson examines the connection between ideology and the revolutions of our time and traces the impact on several major countries and the spread of the ideas and practices around the world.

What was the Bolshevik Revolution?

This became a momentous question as soon as the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in the fall of 1917. It was at the outset a pressing question for those people within the Russian Empire who fell under the sway of the Bolsheviks (who proceeded shortly to change their name to Communist). The question has not diminished over the years but has rather gained in importance as communism has spread over the world. There are now at least 19 countries containing over a billion souls now under the power of communist parties. The revolutions going on in these lands are mostly patterned after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. To know the Bolshevik Revolution and its extended aftermath, then, would be to know much about communist revolution.

The Bolshevik Revolution—and all communist revolutions—must be examined at every stage from two different and often irreconcilable angles. One is the angle of ideology. This angle entails the Marxian mythology with its overlay of Leninism and whatever other interpretations may be involved. It contains its own peculiar language, its vision of history, its heroes and villains. The other angle is the reality of what is actually happening. The ideology can be understood, so long as it is kept in a separate compartment. So, too, we may suppose that we understand the reality apart from the ideology.

This latter point must be denied, however. This approach leads to continual misunderstanding of communism. Those who persist in viewing communism this way will interpret the acts of the leaders in such terms as the quest for power, expansionism, and other such historically familiar motives. It is not that communist leaders may not be moved by such aims; it is rather that their aims are clothed in and inseparable from the ideology. There is a continual interplay between ideology and actuality. The interplay is probably most often one of cause and effect; ideology is the cause usually, and the reality is the effect. To look at a communist revolution without taking into account the ideology is like surveying the damage done on Eniwetok Atoll without knowing that a hydrogen bomb was exploded there.

It is important, then, to grasp the pattern of the Bolshevik Revolution. It is equally important to make a running account of the interplay between ideology and actuality. Ideology was not only at work in the events in Russia from 1917 onward, but it was also being shaped and hardened by the particular turns of events. To put it another way, communist ideology today is largely Marxism plus the Russian experience as the latter has been ideologized. A topical approach is more appropriate to an account, then, than a strictly chronological one.

1. The Violent Seizure of Power

On October 25 (Julian calendar), 1917, the Bolsheviks gained control over the points of power in Petrograd, the capital city of the Russian Empire. The climactic event was the storming and taking of the Winter Palace by armed force on the evening of the 25th and the early morning of the 26th. The Winter Palace was the headquarters of the Provisional Government, and the cabinet was in session there even as Bolsheviks fought their way through the labyrinth of corridors and rooms to where they were. A guard entered the chamber where the cabinet was meeting.

Kishkin, the Governor-General, did not seem to know whether the Palace had actually been occupied. "It is taken," the cadet replied. "They have taken all the entrances. Everyone has surrendered. Only this room is being guarded. What does the Provisional Government order?"

"Tell them," said Kishkin, "that we don’t want bloodshed, that we yield to force, that we surrender."1

So it was, with hardly a whimper, that the government fell.

In the next several weeks, the Bolsheviks consolidated their control. Prime Minister Aleksandr Kerensky escaped from Petrograd just as the revolt was coming to a head. He sought to gather an army to retake the capital, but he could muster only seven hundred soldiers from the once vast armies of Russia, and this force was turned back by Bolshevik forces only a few days after the storming of the Winter Palace. Moscow fell to the Bolsheviks with no greater struggle than had occurred in Petrograd. Local soviets (councils) had for months held dominant positions throughout much of the empire. It was only necessary for Bolsheviks to dominate these in order to come to power, which they were usually able to do rather quickly.

The culminating act of the Bolshevik seizure of power came with the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly which met in January, 1918. Ever since the abdication of the Czar there had been talk of holding general elections, assembling a parliament, drawing up a constitution, and regularizing the government. The elections were held late in 1917. Even with freedom of campaigning curtailed and the Bolsheviks in power in many places, they still did not do well. The Bolshevik candidates received less than one-fourth of the total vote cast. The Socialist Revolutionary Party got a plurality of the votes and of deputies elected to the assembly.2 The question then became whether or not the Bolsheviks would convene the assembly. The Bolshevik, Uritsky, put it this way: "Shall we convene the Constituent Assembly? Yes. Shall we disperse it? Perhaps; it depends on circumstances."³ It was permitted to hold one meeting, but the Bolsheviks used force to prevent it when the Assembly tried to meet again. The Bolshevik Party held such reins of governmental power as existed in the Russian Empire.

How had the Bolsheviks been able to seize power? They were, after all, a minority party. The soviets, which brooked so large during 1917, were not even creations of the Bolsheviks for the most part. The party itself consisted of only a tiny portion of the vast population of Russia. The answer can be reduced to a single word—Violence! It was the willingness of the Bolsheviks to employ violence that offers the immediate explanation of how they came to power. It distinguished them from the Mensheviks. It distinguished them from the majority of the Socialist Revolutionaries. (A minority, called left S-R’s, joined with the Bolsheviks.)

The Bolshevik use of violence may be sufficiently illustrated here by what happened when the Constituent Assembly met for its first and only session. On the day that it was to meet, the Bolsheviks called out large numbers of soldiers and sailors loyal to them to surround, guard, and control the Tauride Palace where the meeting was to be held. Even before the Assembly met, a crowd that had gathered outside was fired upon, and several were killed. The crowd dispersed, obviously intimidated by the killings. What then occurred has been described this way:

The Tauride Palace was an armed camp. All doors were closed except the main entrance. The entrance hall was crowded with armed soldiers and sailors, who examined the credentials of the deputies and amused themselves by commenting aloud on whether it was preferable to shoot, hang or bayonet the deputies.4

There was an attempt when the deputies had gathered in the hall to conduct the session according to Russian tradition. The custom was for the oldest member to preside during the organization. This task fell to a man by the name of Sergey Shvetsov, who was a Socialist Revolutionary. But the Bolsheviks would not have it so:

Suddenly there was an uproar. Everyone was shouting at once, the guards were hammering their rifle butts on the floor, the Bolshevik deputies were pounding their fists on the desks and stamping their feet, while Bolshevik soldiers in the public galleries coolly aimed their rifles at the unfortunate Shvetsov. . . . He had just time to say "I declare the Constituent Assembly open," and to ring his bell, when the bell was snatched from him. In place of the towering white-haired Shvetsov there was the small, dark, black-bearded Yakov Sverdlov, who announced amid cries of "Hangman!" and "Wash the blood off your hands!" that the Bolshevik Executive Committee . . . had authorized him to declare the Constituent Assembly open.5

Some organization and activity was permitted, but the Bolsheviks finally grew weary and turned out the lights. Thus began and ended representative government in the Soviet Union.

Violence triumphed, and in its train came the Terror, but let that wait for now. Marx and Engels had envisioned the need for violent overturn of governments in order to bring about the revolution but for different reasons than prevailed in Russia. Indeed, Marx had not believed it possible that the first communist revolution would occur in Russia. The man who conceived the possibility, prodded it into being, contrived a theory for it, and led it was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, known to the world as Nikolai Lenin, though he was also known as V.I. Lenin, and until his death was called "Ilyich" by those who knew him.

2. Leninism

According to Marxian theory, Russia was not even close to being ripe for a communist revolution in 1917. It was, in the lingo of both progressivism and Marxism, a "backward" country. The population was preponderantly rural, and most people made their living by farming. The strides in industrialization before World War I had, it is true, increased the number of industrial workers in such centers as Petrograd and Moscow, but they were still only a small portion of the population. This situation did not fit into the Marxian theory of revolution. If a communist revolution was to be a proletarian revolution, and Marxism envisioned nothing else, Russia did not have the one ingredient essential to it—a proletarian majority.

To get around this difficulty, Lenin developed several stratagems, mostly theoretical but tied in to some extent with the actual situation. By so doing, he wrenched Marxism off its supposed historical course and gave it a new direction. It was a fateful shift for the world, for it laid the groundwork for communist revolutions in industrially backward countries, which is where they have mostly occurred, and took Marx off the hook, so to speak, for the errors in his predictions about advanced countries. The doctrinal result is known as Leninism, though it is generally accepted by the communist faithful as orthodox Marxism.

Lenin attempted to patch over the gaping theoretical hole by proclaiming that the revolution in Russia was part and parcel of an imminent world-wide revolution. The time was right for that, he declared. Imperialism was the final stage of capitalism. World War I was the death agony of the last imperial thrust of moribund capitalism. In the midst of or in the wake of the war would come the inevitable communist revolution everywhere. The situation was ripening for revolution in Germany, and if Germany went, could the rest of the world resist? (It is easy to forget now how closely Marxian theory was tied to the German situation.) With the tide of history rolling shoreward to bring world revolution, what did it matter in the scheme of things if it rolled over Russia first? Except, it mattered a great deal to V.I. Lenin; it must come first in Russia. Why? There is an obvious answer. Lenin was Russian, and he was the chosen vessel to usher in the world revolution. No other will quite do.

A Man Possessed

Lenin was like a man possessed from the moment he arrived at the Finland Station in Petrograd in April of 1917. Indeed, he may have been obsessed for years, but the obsession appeared now to have him in its control. If an artist had been charged with the task of painting a portrait of a man possessed, he would have done well to choose Lenin as a model. Lenin looked the part with his wide forehead, large head, and penetrating eyes. He was cold, hard, determined, and often appeared to be devoid of ordinary human weaknesses. (After strenuous sessions when debates had gone on late into the night and sleep for most could hardly await a bed, Lenin could be found engrossed in reading or writing.) Time and again during the months from April to October, 1917, Lenin threatened defiance of all the party organs if he would not have his way. This childishness was a product, plausibly, of his obsession.

Now a case can be made, and has been, indeed, was made at the time, that Lenin was an agent of the German Imperial Government. It is fact that he and his entourage were shipped through Germany in a sealed train by the government. It is also known that the Bolshevik Party received money from the German government.6 Moreover, Lenin’s activities might have been little different from what they were had he been a paid German agent. From the moment he arrived in Russia he worked toward getting Russia out of the war. He labored also to undermine what remained of the morale in the army. Once the Bolsheviks seized power they acted as quickly as they could to end the war with Germany, which they accomplished with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in early 1918. Even those of less than average inclination to suspicion might suspect collusion from these circumstances.

But there is a better explanation than the German-agent theory, and it accounts for more of the facts. It is this. Lenin believed he had discerned the course of history, not the course of history in some general and theoretical way as Marx had, but its very unfolding before his eyes. The long-awaited revolution was ready to take place. Lenin believed himself to be riding the wave of history to its cresting, and when the moment came he must be at the helm to direct the course of the craft. The best evidence for this is his attitude and behavior in the weeks, days and hours just before October 25, 1917.

Lenin knew as well as anyone that the authority of the Provisional Government which had always been tenuous was deteriorating. It might have been toppled in July had the Bolsheviks directed the forces at their command during the demonstrations. General Kornilov attempted a "counter-revolution" in August, but it failed. Lenin had to go into hiding in August to keep from being arrested by the government. From that time on he became more and more insistent that the Bolsheviks must overturn the government. In early October, he wrote:

Comrades! Our revolution is passing through a highly critical time. This crisis coincides with the great crisis of a growing worldwide socialist revolution and of a struggle against world imperialism. The responsible leaders of our party are confronted with a gigantic task; if they do not carry it out, it will mean a total collapse of the internationalist proletarian movement. The situation is such that delay truly means death.7

He had become almost hysterical by October 24:

Comrades: As I write these lines on the evening of the 24th, the situation is impossibly critical. It is clearer than clear that now, in truth, a delay in the uprising is equivalent to death. . . .

The bourgeois onslaught of the Kornilovists, the removal of Verkhovsky, show that we cannot wait. We must, no matter what, this evening, tonight, arrest the government, after we disarm the cadets. . . .

We cannot wait! We may lose everything!8

Lenin was beside himself. Though he was repeatedly refused permission to come out of hiding and take up his work at Bolshevik headquarters, he finally ignored it and went there anyhow. From that moment, he took direct leadership of the revolution which he forged.

Minority Rule

Whether there was a world revolution or not—there was not—, the fact remained that the Bolsheviks were a minority in Russia. They had promised land to the peasants and peace—withdrawal from the war—to everyone, particularly soldiers, but these promises did not secure a majority. The Bolsheviks still lacked a substantial "proletariat" as well as numerical majority.

Leninism entails making a revolution by imposing the will of a minority on the majority. Lenin, in fact, was contemptuous of majorities. Majorities, he declared, were simply means by which the "bourgeois" deceived the masses. The "important thing is not the number, but the correct expression of the ideas and policies of the really revolutionary proletariat. "9 In answer to the complaint of socialist opponents, he wrote:

They have not understood that a vote within the framework, the institutions, within the habits of bourgeois parliamentarism, is part of the bourgeois state apparatus, which must be smashed and broken up from top to bottom in order to realize the dictatorship of the proletariat, for the transition from bourgeois democracy to proletarian democracy.

They have not understood that all serious questions of politics are decided, not at all by votes, but by civil war, when history places the dictatorship of the proletariat as the order of the day.¹º

"Civil war" is the key to understanding communism, but how Lenin conducted it successfully with a minority needs to be grasped.

3. The Leverage Principle and Party Rule

Lenin did not develop the theory of party rule simply as an expedient when it turned out that the Bolsheviks were a minority in Russia. His task might have been easier had he had a majority in the Constituent Assembly, but it might not have. He should be believed when he says that majorities do not matter to communism (except for propaganda purposes), for communism must be imposed on the populace however elections turn out. The instrument for doing this would be the tightly knit, disciplined, and relatively small party. Lenin had for several years prior to 1917 been attempting to develop the core of such a party in Russia. He had also developed a justification of it within the outer bounds, at least, of Marxism. Alfred G. Meyer has summarized the theory this way:

The Leninist conception of the party is derived from this acknowledged superiority of socialist theory (consciousness) over the spontaneous movement of the working class. The party is conceived as the organization, incarnation, or institutionalization of class consciousness. In it, historical will and purposiveness are to acquire domination over unguided and irrational instinct and drift. . . . The task of the party is "to make the proletariat capable of fulfilling its great historical mission. . . . The party exists for the very purpose of going ahead of the masses and showing the masses the way. "11

Even despite themselves, no doubt.

The manner in which the power of the party is exercised is a variation of the leverage principle. Whether the phrase has ever been used in connection with communism or not, it is a useful one for visualizing what is done. In financial circles, the leverage principle involves the use of a relatively small amount of money to control and profit from something much more expensive. For example, one might buy a $100 stock by putting up $20 in cash and borrowing the rest. Suppose that the next day the stock goes to $120; it might be sold, and the investor would have doubled his money. In communism, the leverage principle is the means by which a party composing a tiny minority controls and manipulates the whole populace.

Bolshevik Leverage

The Bolsheviks showed themselves astute at using leverage from the outset. Even the adoption of the term, "bolshevik," was a leverage maneuver. The term means majority. Yet at the Social Democratic gathering where the followers of Lenin adopted the title many votes were taken and those who came to call themselves Bolsheviks won only one. Nonetheless, thereafter they claimed the prestige of being the majority. Bolsheviks maneuvered successfully to gain leverage in the soviets even before the revolution. They used the practice of having a political commissar in military units from the outset. They were not long in extending the practice of having such a person in factories, on collective farms, and so on. The secret police, which were reorganized as the Cheka by the Bolsheviks, were a prime example of leverage.

But what made the leverage principle work to enable a small party to control the whole? How, for example, could a single political commissar control a military unit? The answer is simple enough. The leverage was exerted by intimidation, violence, and terror. Intimidation, violence, and terror are not incidental to communism; they are central and essential. They are its modus operandi. There are those who believe that Lenin’s insistence on attacking on October 25 arose not so much from its necessity in taking over the government, which might have capitulated anyhow, but from the desire to resort to violence. It is plausible enough. Only by letting loose violence would the party have the necessary means at its disposal. And, in a land under the sway of violence, the man who is the most ruthless, determined, and arbitrary in employing it is king. Unrestrained use of intimidation and violence is, of course, the method of gangsters, but even gangsters must have a head or leader. The leader is the one who initiates the violence and thus dominates those around him. As indicated in an earlier article, communist rule is gangsterism plus ideology. Lenin was the ideologue personified; when he began to initiate violence he became also the leader of the gangsters.

4. Personal Dictatorship

Almost immediately following his death in 1924 Nikolai Lenin was transformed into a virtual god by his followers (and even, it is said, by many who were not communists within Russia). The veneration of him went beyond all bounds. In death he became what he never was during his lifetime—all things to all men, the gentle persuader, the tolerant leader, the incarnation of a benign and beneficent communism. In fact, Lenin was the first dictator of the twentieth century, and he was a model of what made the term hated and despised. He was a dictator in practice, and developed a theoretical justification for it.

No sooner had the Bolsheviks seized power than Lenin began to rule by decree. It was the most personal and direct manner of rule. Much of it was done by telephone, for his desk was covered by the instruments. Examples of rule by decree abound, but one will have to suffice here. The following, issued in December, 1917, was supposed to remove all inequalities in the army:

1. To do away with all ranks and titles from the rank of corporal to that of general inclusive. The army of the Russian Republic is henceforth to be composed of free and equal citizens bearing the honorable title of "soldier of the revolutionary army";

2. To do away with all privileges and the external marks formerly connected with the different ranks and titles. . . .12

Evidence that Lenin instituted terror survives in messages which he sent out. The following was sent in August, 1918:

Your telegram received. It is necessary to organize an intensive guard of picked reliable men to conduct a merciless mass terror against kulaks, priests and White Guards. . . .

More explicitly, he wrote to the Soviet of Nizhni Novgorod in the same month:

An open uprising of White Guards is clearly in preparation in Nizhni Novgorod. You must mobilize all forces, establish a triumvirate of dictators, introduce immediately mass terror, shoot and deport hundreds of prostitutes who ply soldiers and officers with vodka. Do not hesitate for a moment. You must act promptly: mass searches for hidden arms; mass deportations of Mensheviks and security risks.¹³

Telegrams are given to being terse, but even after that is taken into account it is clear that Lenin did not ameliorate the severity of his death sentences by wishing that God might have mercy on the souls of the victims.

When two or three people are gathered together, even in the name of the Lord, one of them is likely to disagree with the others all too soon. Such disagreement is equally likely in secular affairs, and is certain where such an overweening concept is involved as concerting all activity to achieving felicity on earth. In short, the idea which holds the world in its grip is a subtle prescription for dictatorship, for only thus could all effort be concerted, if it could be done at all. Personal dictatorship is even more clearly required by communism. The violence and terror are supposed to be justified by the ends to be attained by the revolution. These, in turn, are certified by an orthodoxy of ideology. Such orthodoxy can only prevail when one man prescribes and all others accept or are beaten into submission.

Lenin put it somewhat differently, but the conclusion was about the same. He called his theory of dictatorship "Democratic Centralism." His meaning is fairly clear from this description of it:

The party is in a position in which the strictest centralism and the most stringent discipline are absolute necessities. All decisions of higher headquarters are absolutely binding for the lower.14

A scholar has characterized Lenin’s views in this way: "We come closer to the real issue when we realize that all discussion was suspect to him, because it was a waste of time and because it might threaten the unity of the party in action."15 When Lenin had wrought revolution, idea had become actuality, and those who differed were proposing to argue with reality. When the reality is a gun, the debate is closed. Lenin sent a telegram to Communists in Novgorod about something that they had done with which he disagreed. The message contained these words: "I warn you that I shall have the chairmen of the guberniya executive committees, the Cheka and members of the executive committee arrested for this and see that they are shot."16 Fortunately for them, he didn’t go through with it.

5. Civil War

There was a civil war in Russia from 1918 into 1921 between the Reds and the Whites, but that is not the civil war under discussion here, nor did Lenin refer to the conflict between the Reds and Whites in speaking about civil war in an earlier quotation. What is here being called civil war is what communists refer to as revolution. Revolution is too vague and general an appellation; whereas, civil war calls attention to the true character of what was going on. It was a conflict between the Bolsheviks, or Communists, on the one hand, and the customs, institutions, and possessions of the people on the other.

J.P. Nettl emphasized the strangeness of these new rulers by the following description of them:

A Bolshevik was . . . anti-social in the normal sense of the word. He did not communicate readily, he did not seek friends, he did not attempt to make himself agreeable, he had no time for sociability or relaxation as such. Since he believed in a philosophy which was totally incomprehensible to non-Marxists, it was often difficult even to talk to him. . . .

The dichotomy between Party and society in the early days was thus reinforced by a clash of cultures and of language. . .17

Party against society, that was one dimension of the conflict, but there was also Party against the state, Party against the army, Party against religion, Party against the money supply, Party against the family, Party against property, Party against venerable custom and tradition, and Party against everything that had been Russian, Christian, or Western Civilization.

It may not have appeared this way to many people at first. True, there was a great wave of destruction that swept over Russia in the wake of the Bolshevik seizure of power, but many people accepted much of the destruction gladly. The remains of the old regime—the Duma, the Senate (supreme court), and local governments—were destroyed, but if their passing was mourned there is little record of it. The army was destroyed, but most soldiers hardly regretted that. As one historian notes: "The crumbling army was pushed to complete disintegration by decrees ordering election of officers . . . and abolishing all ranks and decorations. What units were left in being were speedily demobilized.18

The system of alliances with the rest of the world was discarded when the Bolsheviks made a separate peace with Germany. The Russian Empire was supposed to be dissolved, and the various nationalities were promised virtual independence. The workers were encouraged to take over the factories and run them. The peasants were bidden to take the land for their own. It looked at first as if the revolutionary promises might be fulfilled, as if a large portion of the populace was to be awarded the spoils of victory.

New Tyranny for Old

But the Bolsheviks gave, and the Bolsheviks took away, almost before the spoils could be grasped. The old state structure was destroyed, but in its stead a new state was built, more autocratic than the old, under the complete control of the Communist Party with no vestige of popular control, with a new secret police to impose its will. The old army was hardly demobilized before a new one was being built. Leon Trotsky forged this new army into fighting trim. Compulsory military training for workers and peasants was established, the death penalty for desertion restored (it having been abolished under the Provisional Government), election of officers ended, and many of the old officers brought back into service.

The only nationality ever to be granted independence was Finland; after that, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin the process of consolidation of the empire was renewed. There were no more foreign alliances, but in their stead the Communist International (Comintern) was set up to foment revolution around the world. The workers did not run the factories for long; the government nationalized the industries, brought back many of the old managers to run them, and commissars representing the Party kept a watchful eye over them. The peasants might own the land, but the government took the produce, or most of it, by simply confiscating it. Even peace was short-lived, for a real civil war between the Reds and the Whites broke out in 1918.

It is not possible to convey the full sweep of the revolutionary thrust of those first months and years. Perhaps the most symbolic event was the movement of the capital from Petrograd to Moscow. Peter the Great had moved it to what was then called St. Petersburg as a part of his program of the westernization of Russia. It was to be Russia’s "window to Europe." Whatever the practical reasons for returning the capital to its ancient seat, the act was laden with symbolic meaning. The Kremlin, the walled city, was an ancient religious center. Its churches were some of the most magnificent of Eastern Christendom.

Religious Symbolism

One might suppose that Moscow and the Kremlin were emblematic of all that the Bolsheviks hated and wished to destroy. So they undoubtedly were, but it never does to forget that the Communists were founding a new religion. What better way to do so than at the seat of the old, and what greater profanation of the old than to locate it in the Kremlin? Comintern and Party agents headquartered there could go forth to convert all nations even as Christian missionaries had done of old.

The Bolsheviks did not wait long to begin their assault on the family and religion. In a pamphlet on the family, Alexandra Kollontai, a leading Bolshevik, had this to say:

The family ceases to be necessary. It is not necessary to the state because domestic economy is no longer advantageous to the state, it needlessly distracts women workers from more useful productive labour. It is not necessary to members of the family themselves because the other task of the family—the bringing up of children—is gradually taken over by society.19

Lenin did not go so far. Instead, he acted to remove many supports to the stability of the family. A new marriage code required civil registration of marriages and made religious ceremonies of no account at law. Divorce was made possible on demand by either or both parties. Illegitimate children were accorded the same rights as legitimate children. Both sexes were declared to be equal. Abortion was legalized in 1920 "for so long as the moral survivals of the past and economic conditions of the present compel some women to resort to this operation."20

As to religion, the Party announced in 1919 that it was guided by the conviction that the realization of planned order and consciousness . . . can alone bring with it a complete dying out of religious prejudices. The party aims at a complete destruction of the link between the exploiting classes and the organization of religious propaganda by assisting the effective liberation of the toiling masses from religious prejudices and by organizing the broadest propaganda in favour of scientific enlightenment and against religion.21

But the attack on religion was hardly restricted to propaganda. Church and state were proclaimed to be separate. Church property was confiscated. Church activity in the schools was banned. And there was widespread persecution: some priests were killed, and churches taken over for secular uses.

A Record of Destruction

By 1921, the Russia that had been was virtually in ruins. The old order had been almost completely destroyed, but the bright utopia foretold by communist prophets had not emerged. Much damage had undoubtedly been done by participation in World War I and during the war between the Reds and Whites, but even more of the devastation should probably be charged to the revolutionary thrust. In 1921 industrial production was only about thirteen per cent of what it had been before World War I. Seventy-four million tons of grain had been harvested in 1916 compared with only 30 million tons in 1919, and production continued to decline. The Bolsheviks had almost destroyed the value of the money by drastic increases of the supply (inflation). Famine conditions existed in many areas.

The civil war was over, but new rebellions were already occurring. People were leaving the cities to seek sustenance in the countryside. The population of Moscow had been about 2 million in 1917, but it fell to 800,000 by 1920. The population of Leningrad had been 2,416,000 in 1916; it dropped to 722,000 by 1920. The situation was desperate.

That, then, was the Bolshevik Revolution and its outcome. The Russian people would suffer much more, and, in some ways, worse, as they were beset later by Permanent Revolution, to use Trotsky’s phrase, but for the time being the revolutionary thrust was virtually ended. The Bolshevik Party had already become the Communist Party, and later revolutionary action would not be called or attributed directly to Bolshevism. Lenin restored some freedom of trade with his New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921, and conditions began to improve somewhat.

Having intertwined ideology with developments in the account thus far, it is in order now to sort out the myth from the reality of communism.

Next: 6. The Communist Facade


¹Robert V. Daniels, Red October (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1967), p. 196.

2See Donald W. Treadgold, Twentieth Century Russia (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964, 2nd ed.), p. 157.

³lbid., p. 158.

4Robert Payne, The Life and Death of Lenin (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), p. 431. 5Ibid., p. 433.

6See Daniels, op. cit., p. 40.

7Quoted in ibid., p. 71.

8Ibid., p. 157.

9Alfred G. Meyer, Leninism (New York: Praeger, 1957), p. 35.

¹ºIbid., pp. 69-70.

11pp. 32-33.

¹²Payne, op. cit., p. 414.

¹³Ibid., p. 482.

¹4Meyer, op. cit., p. 99.

¹5Ibid., p. 96.

¹6Payne, op. cit., pp. 480-81.

¹7J.P. Nettl, The Soviet Achievement (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967), p. 64. ¹8Treadgold, op. cit., p. 156.

¹9Quoted in Edward H. Carr, Socialism in One Country, I (New York: Macmillan, 1958), p. 31.

²ºIbid., p. 29.

²¹Ibid., p. 38.

Further Reading