How important was Lenin compared to Trotsky in the Bolshevik coming to and consolidating power between 1917 and 1924? Essay

How important was Lenin compared to Trotsky in the Bolshevik coming to and consolidating power between 1917 and 1924? Russia is extremely large but much of the land is barren. As a result Russia experienced many problems, especially due to its backward nature. As Russia was a vast empire it was difficult to control and resulting in many revolutions. The Russian Revolution was the series of revolutions in Russia in 1917, which destroyed the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union. Until 1917, Russia was an autocracy. However in March 1917, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated and a Provisional Government was set up by the Duma, which was expected to share power with the Petrograd Soviet. The Social Democratic Party was an important revolutionary group which followed Karl Marx’s ideas of Socialism, which he referred to as ‘the sharing of wealth’. In 1903 the party split due to a difference in attitude into the Bolsheviks which were led by Lenin and the Mensheviks. Up until 1917, Lenin ruled the party from abroad and between 1914-1917 his political contribution was vital. Although Lenin remained outside Russia, he organised the party until the revolution broke out in 1917 and developed the practical application of his Marxist philosophies. Throughout his time abroad he would smuggle pamphlets, newspapers and propaganda into Russia in order to spread awareness of the party and Marxism. For the same purpose in the 1930s, he started a newspaper called Iskra (The Spark). His editorial post for this communist newspaper proves he was a great revolutionary thinker. On Lenin’s arrival back into Russia, he made a speech, which later became known as the April Thesis. Source 4 which was written by V.Serge who we know is a Bolshevik supporter, highlights the fact that Lenin’s April Thesis managed to win the hearts and mind of many Russians. He said, ‘what these people what to say, but don’t know how to say’, showing that Lenin was a great public speaker. This view is also evident in source 10, which emphasizes the power of Lenin’s speeches which ‘inspired workers and soldiers’ and as a result ‘membership began to grow rapidly’. This source, on the history of the USSR, was written by a Soviet writer and most likely in support of Lenin.

Lenin’s timing was perfect as the Provisional Government was on the verge of a collapse. It failed to carry out major reforms and as a consequence many Russians began to reject them. Not only did they fail to help the citizens, they kept Russia in WW1. Many people felt that the Tsar was responsible for the food shortages, and when he abdicated they assumed the Provisional Government would resolve their problems however as they kept Russia in the war, it inevitably led to the fact that “week by week food became scarcer” (Source 2, John Reed) and as a result Russians began to hate them. This source is an extract from an American Journalist’s book, who was a communist. However we know that his first hand book of the Revolution is slightly inaccurate as it can be exaggerated; this is evident as he says ‘in the chill rain’. Additionally when Russia failed in its attack on Austria many people weren’t happy with the Provisional Government and were tired of failure. Their opponents such as Lenin and the Bolsheviks benefited greatly as the Provisional government abolished the Okhrana and introduced censorship of press, thus gaining the public’s hearts through propaganda and freedom of speech. These factors weakened the Provisional Government and provided an entry for Lenin and the Bolsheviks. The Kornilov Revolt was yet another affair which helped the Bolsheviks come to power as heroes and the defenders of the revolt because in actual fact they had saved the Provisional Government. Additionally they came out of it as an armed and disciplined fighting force. Therefore, by October 1917, the Bolsheviks were stronger then they had ever been before as a consequence the Bolsheviks gained on several different accounts. Not only did they gain support from the Russian public, many Bolshevik political prisoners were released in order to fight for Kornilov and his supporters. Furthermore the weapons given to the Bolsheviks by Kerensky were not needed to fight off Kornilov’s advancing troops in August; they were kept by the Bolsheviks and used in their own successful armed insurrection of October 1917. In the October Revolution, the Bolshevik party, led by Lenin, and the Soviets workers, overthrew the Provisional Government in Petrograd. It was a carefully planned political coup by Lenin with Trotsky carrying out the actual execution, which established the Bolsheviks as the political leaders of Russia. During 1917, Lenin came across several problems, such as: opposition, the First World War and the food shortages due to the war. However through Lenin’s promise of ‘Peace, Bread and Land’ he gained many supporters as he promised an end to the war, equal amounts of land to everyone and Russia becoming more productive. During this revolution both Trotsky and Lenin worked together in order to succeed. Hence they were equally important.

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This revolution was successful for numerous reasons, not just because of Lenin and Trotsky’s planning and execution. Lenin and the Bolsheviks succeed in October 1917 as the Provisional Government had lost all support, Lenin’s message of ‘Peace, and Land’ was exactly what the people wanted to hear as they were all sick of the war, hunger and hardships. The Bolsheviks were also popular due to the fact that they had managed to defeat Kornilov. Trotsky contributed throughout the revolution on several different accounts. He became the leader and organized the Red Guards and additionally he took full responsibility for their recruitment and discipline. Moreover he coordinated the military operations, planned all the details of the seizure of power and motivated the Bolshevik supporters. Source 11 proves this contribution from Trotsky and states that the success “is owed mainly and above all the comrade Trotsky”.

The source was written by Stalin who is clearly in favour of Trotsky in this source. However it is debatable whether this source is trustworthy as from a historian’s point of view I am aware of the fact that Stalin wasn’t really a fan of Trotsky as after Lenin’s death, in order to achieve full power of Russia, he completely eliminated Trotsky, by eliminating him from all Soviet records and photographs. Source 16 also states that ‘the Bolshevik party was strengthened by Trotsky’s entry’. Accordingly these sources are in favour of Trotsky in comparison to Lenin and argue that he had the greatest effect on the revolution. This is also seen in source 8, however it also argues that without Lenin the revolution may have been ‘postponed or failed’, demonstrating that Lenin was ultimately the motivator and implementer for this political coup. The Cheka was a secret police force set up by Lenin in December 1917. They arrested people who were thought to be dangerous and anyone who was anti-Communist could be arrested, tortured or even executed without a trial. The use of terror to control people was to become a feature of their new regime. Lenin created the Cheka in order to help maintain his position as a leader and to create a one party state and moreover he wished to perpetuate the Totalitarian state in order to carry out his Communist ideologies. The Cheka was an instrument of control, which used fear and ambiguity to keep the Russian people obedient. Hence it is evident that one way Lenin managed to gain control of Russia was through the use of terror tactics against the enemies of Bolshevism.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk had to be signed on harsh terms with Germany in March 1918. Lenin knew that he needed to sign it as he was aware of the fact that he wasn’t able to defeat his opponents in Russia and Germany at the same time. He knew that he had to bring Russia out of the war in order to prevent an end to Communism in Russia. The fact that Lenin was able to persuade his party and Trotsky, who was adamant on not signing the treaty until the terms were less harsh, to accept the treaty proves what a great persuader he was. If Lenin had not intervened there is a large possibility that Trotsky would have given in to the terms and therefore continued to push for less harsher terms. As a result the situation would have worsened as the war would have continued, leading to more shortages and more hatred directed towards them from the Russians. It was therefore appropriate for Lenin to sign the treaty on those terms. The Civil War was the first attempt to overthrow the Bolsheviks from power, led by Trotsky; it further strengthened and centralized Bolshevik power. The Civil war was fought between Lenin and the Communists (the Reds) and those who wanted to overturn the revolution (the Whites). The Whites were supported by foreign forces from Britain, France, Japan and the USA, countries that were alarmed at the possible spread of communism. In 1921, the Reds emerged triumphant and claimed their victory. This success was largely because of the creation of the Red Army. They were supported by numerous peasants and workers as they were promised land by the Reds whilst the Whites only promised to restore land back to its original owner. However their success was also due to the fact that the forces that were against Lenin in the Civil War were never a united group, as each of them had different agendas from wanting to fight the Reds. The Whites were disunited and disorganized. Another factor which also greatly influenced the success of the Reds was the fact that they controlled the two main cities in Russia, Moscow and Petrograd, which contained all the main communication centres in them including rail lines. During the Civil War Lenin made Trotsky Commissar for War, who organised The Red Army. He was a brilliant leader who instilled into his men a belief in what they were fighting for. Furthermore he made sure that the Red Army was a united fighting force by constantly delivering supplies, giving encouragement, and directing their movements. He used ex-tsarist officers who had experience in leading men and fighting battles in order to ensure strict discipline. Trotsky’s tough leadership of the new Red Army proved
decisive in the victory over the Whites. War Communism coincided with the Civil War. It involved the state taking control of factories and appointing managers to run them. The work was hard, discipline was strict and food was rationed. Peasants were required to allow the Cheka to seize their surplus grain. However many peasants hid food or preferred to grow less rather than give it away for free. Only after its failure did Lenin make a tactical retreat to a more moderate New Economic Policy which included capitalist features to regain hold on power. Source 18 argues that during Lenin’s War Communism, he used “crude” methods which had negative results. This source is anti-Communist as it is from the West during the Cold War from a British Historian. Nonetheless this historian is also a supporter of Marxism and in this source it is evident that he isn’t fully against Lenin as he states “We are better able to appreciate” showing that although Lenin used ruthless methods, they were beneficial to Russia. In 1921, War Communism was replaced by the New Economic Policy (NEP) as Lenin was aware of the fact that in order to survive and regain popular support he would need to change the economy otherwise his communist regime would be overthrown. Lenin hoped that NEP would give Russia ‘a breathing space’ to get back on its feet. Most of the Communist Party saw the need for NEP. However some felt as if it was a step back towards the old capitalist system and a betrayal of communism. Nonetheless by 1925 the NEP was a success. However it did raise some concerns as some peasants, the Kulaks, became rich, while ‘Nepmen’ or businessmen made a profit in the towns. In conclusion, the Bolsheviks managed to consolidate power through strong leadership and force by Lenin and Trotsky. However Lenin was more important between 1917 and 1924 than Trotsky, because in my opinion Trotsky was somebody who “followed the directive he got from Lenin” (Source 12) and therefore his importance is debatable as many could have done his job of simply carrying out orders. In source 12, Nikita Khruschev doesn’t praise Trotsky for his role in seeking and training the commanders for the Red Army. Instead this Soviet leader argues that in actual fact Trotsky didn’t do anything s Lenin told him who to get and these men were already trained. In this source, Khruschev is clearly not in favour of Trotsky, however this source was written straight after Stalin’s Communist USSR and therefore is likely to praise Lenin and mention Trotsky as nothing but a traitor.

Additionally this source may or may not be reliable as it was later on translated after Khrushev’s role as a Soviet leader. However Source 16 argues that “the Bolshevik party was strengthened by Trotsky’s entry” .Hence showing that he was the “best known Bolshevik leader”. Overall this source is more trustworthy in comparison to source 12 as it was written by a historian in 1996, after the archives had been opened at the end of the Cold War in 1990. After this period many historians were not under the obligation of following the ideas and limitation which were around previously during Stalin’s Russia or the Cold War. Nevertheless there is no doubt that Trotsky had great skills, such as his organisational and motivational skills. Some may argue that in he was of greater importance as his organisational skill ensured the success of the October Revolution and the Civil War. However, in actual fact without Lenin there is the possibility that there would not have been the October Revolution as he was the motor which drove the Bolsheviks forwards in order to seize power. Even so I still think that Trotsky was important and had some significance, as without him, there is the possibility that the Red Army may not have been very successful in the Civil War. Overall it is evident that Lenin had a greater impact on Russia as till today he is still looked upon as a great hero, who brought change to the country. This fact is visible in Source 33 where AJP Taylor praises him on the whole for his work but also takes into account that he did have faults. In my opinion between 1917 and 1924 Lenin brought change to Russia, some good and some bad. On the whole he did improve Russia however his methods weren’t always beneficial or harmless. For example during the Civil War he refused to share power with any other Socialists, making the war worse. Also he can be viewed upon as ruthless as he used methods such as terror in order to stay in power. Also in order to get what he wanted he was prepared to see Russia suffer (Source 32). However this source also does praise Lenin and argues that he was a very modest dictator. This source was written by a close friend of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s, who did participate in the early revolutions and later on in life he wrote a biography on Lenin, which this extract is from. Therefore this source is likely to be truthful as the writer was close to Lenin, but can also be viewed as controversial and biased. Nonetheless, Lenin was very popular, a good motivator which kept Russia going and had good leadership skills which allowed him to fight bravely and bring freedom to Russia.

Taking everything into account there is no doubt that Lenin was clearly the person who had a greater importance and this is evident through the different changes he brought to Russia.

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