** Communism : the early Soviet state








Communism: The Early Soviet State (1917-25)


Figure 1.--Here we see Russians standing in a long queue to buy meat. As you can see, consumers were not high on Soviet economic priorities. For Soviet leaders, consumers were basically an inconvenience when most of the econmy was orientedf towad building a powerful military. This photigraph was takjen in Ufa, the capital and largest city of the Republic of Bashkortostan (commonly called Bashkiria) in Russia, just west of the southern Ural Mountains.

The Bolsheviks proceeded to found not only a socialist economy, but a repressive police state under Lenin and more importantly Stalin. This was inevitavle, because a socialist ciommand ecoomy as invisioned by Lenin and the Bolsheviks is only possible if repressive firces of the state can be enployed. Lenin had promissed that the suspension of bourgeois freedoms was to be temprary during the Revolution and Civil War. He promissed the Russians that they were creating a state which would allow greater freedoms than anything experienced in the Western bourgeois democracies. On the contrary, Lenin played a part in creating the foundation for a totalitarian police state. Here the Bolsheviks can not be uniquely faulted. They at first simply recreated their version of Tsarists institutions which included a secret police (the Ocrana). arbitrary arrest and courts, and Siberian exiles at hard labor. Under Lenin and especially Stalin, however, the Soviets created a much more efficent police states than the Tsars ever imagined. What were determined to be counter revolutionaries and class enenies were early targets. class enemies and The Bolsheviks launched an atheist campaiign. The Bolseviks which created the Soviet state would eventually become takgets of Stalin's NKVD, consumed by the Revolution and totalitarian system they created. they created.

Civil War

The abdication of the Tsar and subequent Civil War led to distructive fighting between Reds and Whites (1918-22). Foreign governments intervened to assist the whites. The Red Army fought to retain the old Rusian imperial borders, but lost Finland, the Baltics Republic and large areas of White Russia to Poland. The Red Army, despite these losses, did emerge victorious in the battles with the Whites. The old Imperial Army was shatered by the Germans. Many soldiers mutinied and killed their officers. People's Commisar for War Leon Trotsky organized a new Red Army, recruiting massive numbers of peasants and workers. The Red Army without trained officers performed poorly in the early phases of the fighting. Leon Trotsky played a msajor role in fashioning the Red Army into an effective fighting force. The Bolsheviks attached political officers to all Red Army units to keep warch over the officers (many who had been in the old Imperial Army) and explain Communism to the largely illiterate peasant recruits. The Bolsheviks were especially concerned with the younger generation, untained by the Tsarist past and capitalism. The War and the Civil War affected agricultual production. Food shortsages were widespread. Large numbers of children orphaned in the fighting were particularly at risk. As in Europe, American food again played a role in saving millions of children.

Famine

Millions of Russians were killed in the Civil War, both soldiers and civilians. The World War I and the Civil War which followed it, devestated Russuia. Agricultural and industrial production was a fraction of pre-War levels. Estimates suggest that industrial production was about 15 percent of pre-War levels. Agricultural producion was only about 35 percentof pre-War levels. And the disruptions resulting from the War were made even worse as a result of a drought (1020-21). Horses needed on the farm became difficult to find. This is important because at the time, Russian farms were not meganized. Tractors were almost entirely unknown. Cattle during the same period declined from 58 million to 37 million. Many were appropriated by the warring armies. One estimate indicates the number of horses declined from 35 million to only 24 million (1920). Food shortages were widespread. Not only had agricultural production declined, but the peasants were unwilling to sell their harvest for paper money which was essentially worthless. The distribution of essential commodities virtually broken down. The country's ransportation system was badky damaged by the fighting, further complicating the food situation. Large numbers of children orphaned in the fighting were sarticularly at risk. The American relief mission was overseen by Herbert Hoover. As in Europe, American food again played a role in saving millions of children and adults (1921-22). One author claims that the American food deliveries may have even saved the Soviet regime. [Salisbury, p. 442.] There were indeed worker strikes as well as a Navy mutiny at Krondstadt (February 1921). We are not sure the American relief saved the Bolshevik regime. There is no doubt, however, that it saved millions of Russians. This American undertaking was written out of Russian history by Soviet historians during the Stalinist era. As a result, few Russians know about it today. The famine and other economic failures led to Lennin instituting the New Economic Policy (1923).

Socialist Economy


The Chekka

The Bolsheviks proceeded to found not only a socialist economy, but a repressive police state under Lenin and more importantly Stalin. This was inevitavle, because a socialist ciommand ecoomy as invisioned by Lenin and the Bolsheviks is only possible if repressive firces of the state can be enployed. Lenin had promissed that the suspension of bourgeois freedoms was to be temprary during the Revolution and Civil War. He promissed the Russians that they were creating a state which would allow greater freedoms than anything experienced in the Western bourgeois democracies. On the contrary, Lenin played a part in creating the foundation for a totalitarian police state. Here the Bolsheviks can not be uniquely faulted. They at first simply recreated their version of Tsarists institutions which included a secret police (the Ocrana). arbitrary arrest and courts, and Siberian exiles at hard labor. Under Lenin and especially Stalin, however, the Soviets created a much more efficent police states than the Tsars ever imagined. What were determined to be counter revolutionaries and class enenies were early targets.

Atheist Campaign

The Soviet Communist state launched the first atheist campaign in history. There had been many campaigns against specific religions, but never befor a state-organized campaign against all religions. The atheist campaign began as soon as the Bolheviks seized power, but obly with the end of the Civil War did the Soviet state organize a systematic campaign against religion. The Soviet Union and Communist states in general were openly hostile to religion and officially atheist. The intensity of the aheist campaigns they launched varies, but during the Bolshevist and Stalinist era the Soviet campaign was intense. The Soviets took the Marxist position that there was no God. It was far more than a metaphysical matter. They consideed religion a crime and a way of opressing the people. Marx wrote, "Religion is the opium of the people." [Marx] It was a phrase repeated by Lenin. Under Lenin and the Bolsheviks Marx's words were converted into a systematic, often brutal campaign to religion from the life of the people. Religion had been very important in Russian life, especially the Orthodox faith. The primary focus was on Christinity, but there were other religiins in the Soviet Union, including judaism and Islam. The Soviet secret police comenced aabage campaign to destroy religion. It included the confiscation of church property, tearing down churches, arresting and murdering clergymen and nuns, and discouraging the practice of religion in many ways. [Gorbachev, pp. 20-21.] This began nefore Stalin seized control of the state. Undr Stalin's NKVD such actions could be organized with chilling effiency. The historiam nof Salinist oppression writes, " Religious believersm of course, were being arrested uninterruptedly. (there wre nevertheless, certain special dates and peak periods. There was 'a night of struggle against religion' in Leningrad on Christmas Eve, 1929, when they arrested a large part of the religious intelligencia and held them--not just until morning eiher. And there was certainly no 'Chrostmas Tale.'" [Solzhenitsyn, p. 50.] The hostility to religion continues in the surviving Communist countries (Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam).

Economic Collapse


New EconomicPolicy (1921-28)

Bolshevik leader Vladamir Lenin adopted the Новая экономическая политика (New Economic Policy -- NEP) to get Russian economy functioning again (1921). The economy was in tatters adter the the Civil War and application of War Communism. A terrible famine set in killing millions. American food relief had prevented famine in Europe after World War I. Lenin refused American food aid until the famine in Russia reached such proportions that in could no longr be ignored. With great reluctancee, he finally allowed the Americans to deliver food relief to his starving people. Throuhout history famines have been primarily the result of weather, mostly drought. This changed in the 20th century with the rise of the great totalitarian regimes. Communism and Fascism (both Socilist variants) became the primary causeof famines. Food aid fronCapitalist countries led by America became the primary source of food for famine stricken countries. American food deliveries as in the rest of Eutope saved millions of starving people in Russia. American food aid did not reinvigotate the economy. The Russian famine was in large measure the result of War Comminism. The Bolsheviks crased food from the peasantry. he peasantry resonded by reducing their oamtings and harvests. Lenin decided on adesperate measure -- turn to capitalism. The NEP was a series of market neasures (i.e. market reforms meaning capitalism) designed as a temporaily reintroduce limited private owenership back into the Russian economy. One might ask, if socailism was such an effective economic system, why were market reforms needed. (The answer of course as the Chinese Communists discovered in the 1970s that socialism destroys wealth and capitalism crerates wealth.) The NEP was designed to attract the capital needed for economic activity. Lenin's plan was to partly restore the capitalist economy at the lowest level until the Russian economy was strong enough to sustain socialism. This of course meant that capitalism was a stronger economic systems as the Asian Tigers and China would would eventually realize. The 10th Congress of the All-Russian Communist Party approved the NEP (March 21, 1921). Here Lenin's support was vital. There was, however, opposition. This came from the left-wing of the Party which was opposed to any reappearance of capitalism which they bfought so hard to destroy. Lenin initated the NEP with the within a month by intriducing the Tax In Kind policy (April 25, 1921). It repalaced the 'surplus-food appropriation' with a fixed tax that would be announced in advance. The tax would be small and affordable. This was vital becaise the economy was primarily based on agriculture. The rural peasantry made up the vast proprtion of the Russian population, but the Revolution had been largely led by the urban proletariat. The NEP allowed small-scale private econoimic activity, but only at the lowest level of economy--small shops and local markets. Foreign trade,and the leasing of enterprises were also permitted. The NEP was a considerable success. The НЭПман (NEPman) was born. This coiuld be a person involved in any kevel of capitalist activity. This could be peasant selling on the local market and little shop owner up to larger merchant activirt in the cities. They became the subject of desire and envy. Lenin died (1924) He had been the chief propnent and support for the NEP. The fact that the NEP resulted in increased production and relative prosperity does not seem to have entered into Stalin's thinking. Stalin who was gaining control of the Party and Soviet state had other goals in mind, namely the absolute control of the Soviet economy and rapid industrialization. Stalin replaced the NEP with the First Five Year Plan (1928). Stalin assessment was that the NEP was not only a mistake in the first place, but had gone too far with free-market activity. There were others in the Bloshevik leadership that the NEP could have led to a permanent Soviet capitalist economy, anethma to the mkers of the Revolution. Stalin not only terminated the NEP, but alsop most of the Old Bolsheviks who were targetted in the Great Terror.

Death of Lenin


Rise of Stalin


The Old Bolsheviks

The Bolseviks which created the Soviet state would eventually become takgets of Stalin's NKVD, consumed by the Revolution and totalitarian system they created. they created.

Sources

Gorbachev, Mikhail. On My Country and the World (Columbia University Press: New York, 2000).

Marx, Karl. Deutsch�Franz�sische Jahrb�cher (1843). Marx wrote this as part of the introduction to a book that criticized philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's 1820 book, Elements of the Philosophy of Right. The journal had a print run of only about 1,000. The phrase only became well known after the creation of the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism.

Solzhenitsyn, Alexsanddr I. Trans, Thomas P. Wjitney. The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-56: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (Harper & Row: New York, 1973), 660p.






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Created: 4:27 AM 3/25/2018
Last updated: 10:14 AM 4/11/2021