European History

Start Free Trial

How did Vladimir Lenin (and the Bolsheviks) maintain power in Russia?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

After Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized control of the Russian government in late 1917, they maintained power in a number of ways. Their tight organization with Lenin as president was a key to their success. Not one of the other parties vying for power was as organized and focused.

...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

After Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized control of the Russian government in late 1917, they maintained power in a number of ways. Their tight organization with Lenin as president was a key to their success. Not one of the other parties vying for power was as organized and focused.

One of the first things that Lenin did that helped the communists strengthen their power was to withdraw from the war with Germany. World War I was being fought at the time, and not only had it been ruinous for Russia, but also continuing involvement would bleed resources and distract the Bolsheviks from consolidating internal power. Russia and the Central Powers agreed on an Armistice in December 1917. The Germans continued to advance into Russia, but in early 1918, the Russians and Germans signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which gave a significant amount of Russian land to Germany. However, it enabled Lenin to change focus from the war front to the home front.

During the civil war that followed the Bolshevik takeover, Lenin instituted a policy known as War Communism. This involved the socialization of all industry and manufacturing and the requisition of grain from peasants for his army. The result was disastrous for the Russian people, and Lenin was forced to temporarily back off from this radical approach to the economy.

To help control the Russian people, Lenin formed the Cheka, a secret police force that helped stifle opposition from other political parties and rivals from within the communist party. The Cheka massacred approximately 100,000 people in late 1918 during a purge known as the Red Terror.

Another measure that Lenin and the Bolsheviks took in 1918 to maintain power was to assassinate the Russian tsar and his family.

Once the civil war was over, in 1922, a treaty between Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Lenin won and consolidated his power through the Russian Civil War, in which his Red Army, led by Bolshevik revolutionaries but populated in part by conscripts, defeated the enemies of the Revolution, who ranged from moderate socialists to royalist reactionaries. In the process, he used, and would continue to use terror to maintain and strengthen the state. Lenin established a secret police organization called the Cheka, which was instrumental in the so-called Red Terror in which thousands of state enemies were arrested and either executed or exiled.

Lenin continued to use terror throughout the rest of his political life. After victory was achieved in the Civil War, he turned to dissident factions within the Bolsheviks, sending many of them to forced labor camps, and he brutally cracked down on peasant protests. But he also won the loyalty of the Russian people, specifically the peasants, by empowering them to occupy lands formerly held by nobles. He also proved flexible and willing to compromise when he implemented the New Economic Plan, or NEP, which allowed for some market reforms. And through his reforms, he provided many Russian people, including women, with an education that helped to create a class of bureaucrats that were loyal to the state.

But ultimately, Lenin seized, maintained, and consolidated power through force and terror. While his efforts in this regard would pale in comparison to his successor, Joseph Stalin, it could also be argued that they paved the way for them.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team