Bolshevik Rule 1917 – 1924
The Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917 didn’t result in them having instant control of the country. They were faced by several massive problems which they would need to overcome quickly if they were to retain power and develop their socialist state. These problems were, in no particular order:
- – War with Germany
- – Opposition from supporters of the Provisional Government
- – Divisions within the Socialist movement
- – The Economy
Dealing with problems
War with Germany
The continuation of the war with Germany had caused lots of problems for the Tsarist Government and these had not got any better under the Provisional Government. The war caused problems in the cities as it drained the economy of workers, contributed to the food shortages suffered in many cities and it did little to improve morale. For the new Bolshevik regime, the war was also an unwanted diversion. They knew that they could not continue to fight the Germans, at the same time as they tried to overcome armed resistance to their newly formed government.
How did the Bolsheviks solve the problem? They negotiated with the Germans. The Bolsheviks hoped to settle a peace settlement that would allow them to concentrate their efforts on taking control of Russia. The Germans though were well aware of the frailties of the Bolshevik Government and insisted on Russia giving up huge areas of land in return for Peace. After German forces made moves to reopen fighting, the Bolsheviks found themselves in a position where they had little choice but to accept the German terms. lenin himself threatened to resign if the party didn’t accept the terms offered by Germany. As a result, the Treaty of Brest Litovsk was signed between Germany and Russia.
Results of the Treaty: The Bolsheviks were free to concentrate on Russian affairs. They had kept their promise of Peace not War. However, much of the best Agricultural land in the former Russian Empire had been lost as a result of the Treaty, which added to the economic and agricultural problems.
Image: The Russian delegation at Brest – Litovsk
Opposition from supporters of the Provisional Government
The Bolsheviks were threatened by armies of supporters of the Provisional Government, Tsarists and troops from other European countries who were opposed to the Bolshevik regime. They fought against these in the Russian Civil War.
Divisions within the Socialist Movement
The Bolsheviks were one of several socialist groups in Russia. After the seizure of power, Lenin organised new elections which were intended to create a socialist government that he would lead. The elections resulted in the Social Revolutionaries gaining 370 seas and the Bolsheviks 170. Instead of accepting the results, Lenin used soldiers to close parliament when it first met in 1918, and had anyone who complained arrested or shot. Following this, rule was by the party. Opposition was not tolerated and a new secret police force, the Cheka, was established to find and ‘deal with’ people who may oppose the regime.
The Economy was a problem in a number of ways. Firstly, it was failing to provide the things that people and industry needed. Second, it was a market based economy, which is hugely different from a socialist ideal. Third, the Bolsheviks were at war, firstly with Germany and then against their opponents in the Civil War.
The solution was to introduce War Communism. This economic policy did several things:
- It nationalised industry (made government responsible for it, rather than having private owners)
- Rationing was introduced
- Strikes were made illegal
- People were forced to work
- Transport was heavily controlled
- Agriculture was placed under Bolshevik control and crops were seized and sent to towns
This was intended to ensure that the Bolsheviks could win the Civil War whilst maintaining the support of workers – which meant that food and supplies had to be available in towns and cities. The policy lasted until 1921, when it was replaced by the New Economic Policy.
The other main feature of this period was the introduction of policies designed to turn Russia into a socialist country. These included laws that:
- Banned the church
- Aimed at improving literacy
- Encouraged Science
- Allowed Abortion