August 25, 2003

Russia 1917, Part Two

As stated in my Friday post, Lenin's Red Guards stormed the provisional government's headquarters in Petrograd. By November 8, the provisional government of Russia had fallen to the Bolsheviks. After the revolution, the Bolsheviks put Vladimir Lenin into power. Delivering on his promise to end the country's involvement in World War I, Lenin called for peace talks with Germany and ended the fighting on the Eastern Front. However, the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, signed March 3, 1918, dictated harsh and humiliating terms to Russia. The country was forced to give up vast territories including Finland, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldavia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Meanwhile, Russians had elected officials to a parliamentary assembly, but the results were unfavorable to Lenin. Only 168 of the 703 deputies were Communists, so he had troops bar the deputies from convening and the assembly was permanently disbanded. Instead of the proletariat rule he had promised, Lenin established a dictatorship based on the Cheka, the Communist secret police. This despite his previous arguments that after a proletarian revolution, the state's police and bureaucrats would disappear.

Furthermore, the radical social reforms he had promised took the form of government takeover of Russia's industries and the seizure of farm products from peasants. Lenin's hard-handed tactics--combined with the hostility towards the Brest-Litovsk Treaty--created opposition to the Communists, or "Reds." The "White" army was organized to oppose the Communists and civil war ensued. In September 1918 Lenin was almost assassinated, and his supporters retaliated with what was to be known as the Red Terror.

The Red Army was built up to a three-million-strong force. The White army was scattered around Russia and had difficulty coordinating operations across vast distances. The White generals also had difficulty assuring the populace that there was no intention to restore the Tsar and his government. The war was bitter, with both sides committing atrocities to terrorize the opponent into submission. The former Imperial family was murdered to show the Red Army there was no turning back. The civil war devastated the economy even further and famine spread through central Russia. Troops robbed the peasants, taking the food they needed and destroying the rest to keep them from the enemy.

By mid-1920 the Red Army had captured the last White stronghold, the Crimea. The Whites were defeated, but the revolution was not over. Lenin believed it had hardly begun. However, he faced new opposition once the Whites were vanquished.

He hoped to abolish private property and capitalism completely, replacing them with a socialist economy and a modern, industrial Russia. He had tried to abolish money but still gave preferential treatment to key members of the new communist regime. This did not stop with the end of the civil war, and many ordinary supporters felt betrayed by the privileged group.

Peasants across Russia had also come to hate the abuses of the Red Army. They had not supported the Whites, but now they formed peasant "Green" forces to fight the Reds. These rural uprisings were smashed. In March 1921 sailors and dockworkers in Kronstadt, once called "the reddest of the red" by Lenin since they had spearheaded the 1917 revolution, rose up against the dictatorship of Lenin's "red bourgeoisie." The Kronstadt Rising was also smashed by the Red Army.

The Soviet Union was officially formed in 1922 when Russia joined with Ukraine, Belarus, and the Transcaucasian Federation (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. These republics were later joined by nine others. In 1924 Lenin died of a stroke, but the atmosphere of internal repression, suspicion of outsiders, and regimentation of everyday life that he established would last for generations.

Posted by Jennifer at August 25, 2003 10:05 PM