When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917 they were faced with a wide variety of problems. These problems included social, economical, and political problems of the preceding Tsarist era as well as such of the new political regime. Additionally, the country was underdeveloped, not even nearly ready for socialism, and on the verge of Civil War. Having overtaken the country in this situation the Bolsheviks had to take series of political, military, economical and social steps in order to consolidate their power. Below steps takes in these four areas will be discussed in detail.
At the outset the Bolsheviks attempted to solve the internal disagreements of their own party, as they were divided when it came to strategic tactics and policy. Having achieved that to the reasonable extent the party started working on neutralizing the opponents. The Bolshevik party was only one of several parties in the All Russian Congress of Soviets. Thus, Lenin and his followers had to act through the Soviets to achieve their goals. Though, instead of exercising power through the Soviet Congress Lenin chose to create a new government body called Sovnarkom – Council of People’s Commissars, comprising exclusively of the Bolsheviks (Bullock, p. 29-30). This government body became the highest authority of the Soviet system and laid foundation for the future deformation and reorganization of the state (The Bolshevik Revolution).
In the elections to the Constituent Assembly, that were carried out in November, 1917 the Bolsheviks won only 175 seats, while their opponents the Socialist Revolutionaries won 410. After achieving such unfavourable results Lenin declared that the elections to the Constituent Assembly should be considered inapplicable as that Bourgeois Parliament did not represent the views of the people. So, Lenin liquidated the Constituent Assembly stating that Sovnarkom was the only body that represented true democracy and power of the working class. As a result, the Assembly was allowed to meet for one day – on January 5th, 1918.
Having resolved the Constituent Assembly the Bolsheviks continued to consolidate their power politically through eradicating the still existing political opponents. The Bolsheviks limited and then banned (October, 1917) the press of the opposition. They knew how strong the role of press was and it was their goal to prevent openly published protests from centre, right and other socialist parties. In their turn, the Bolsheviks invested vast sums of money in promotion of their press. As a result, the Bolsheviks politically set themselves as the only party of the state.
One of the first acts to consolidate the military power of the Bolshevik government was to stop the World War I that was done following the signing of Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3rd, 1918. It was very hard for Lenin to convince the party to accept the treaty. In accordance with it, Russia lost one-quarter of land and population, such countries as Ukraine, Poland, Transcaucasia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland to Germany, as well as it lost three-quarters of iron and coal and half of industrial plants (Cranfield and Andrews). This was a tough decision to make though Lenin was convinced that the price would be a temporary one needed for greater strategic revolutionary purposes.
Immediately, however, the supporters of Tsarist regime (monarchists, conservatives, liberals, and socialists) broke out an uprising that resulted in years of Civil War that lasted until 1922. Tsarist supporters also known as the “Whites” aided by England, France and the United States were trying to stop the Bolshevik revolution brought about by the “Reds”. The war was fought across the eastern, southern and northern fronts and took away an estimated of 300.000 lives in action (Urlanis, p. 268), not to mention the death of the military commanders and peasants from famine and disease (Andrew and Mitrokhin, p. 28). Having defeated the “Whites” in the Civil war the Communist Party faced no threat to its existence and power. Thus this way party’s political and military powers were consolidated.
To consolidate the power economically and socially, the Bolsheviks came up with a policy known by the name “NEP” – the New Economic Policy. The main goals of this policy was to revive the economy that was collapsing after the blood-spattered Civil War and the hectic period of political instability and win back the wavering support of the peasants and the working class. The New Economic Policy replaced the policies of War Communism that was excised by the party prior to 1921. According to this policy, the peasants were allowed to keep the remaining produced amount after paying the tax, calculated based on the amount of the produced surplus (Fitzpatrick, p. 95). Additionally, NEP gave the people permission to hire workers (Richman, pp. 90-92). Finally, the state allowed for nationalization of some industries as well as accepted foreign investments needed in order to modernize the economy (Richman, p. 93).
Many Bolsheviks disapproved of NEP as they believed that such policy would support the emerging of wealthy peasantry, which is against the main principles of Communism. Though, Lenin justified his plan by stating that in order to implement socialism it is needed to implement capitalism first. The country was not ready for socialism as well as it had to capitalism. Thus, the New Economical Policy was, according to Lenin, a strategic step on the path of building socialism, through creating some elements of capitalism. This plan consolidated the party’s economical power as well as helped the party regain the support of the people (Gellately, pp. 70-1).
To conclude it can be said that the Bolshevik party did manage to consolidate their power politically, militarily, economically and socially. The party wistfully used various push and pull tactics and policies to achieve their goals and gradually neutralize their opponents accomplishing the one-party/ one-power state. The effectiveness of Bolsheviks’ actions cannot be argued. However, what can be argued is whether the actions taken by the Communist party complied with the main principles of Communism stated by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Andrew and Mitrokhin, The Sword and the Shield, Basic books, 1999. P. 28
Andrews, E and Cranfield, C. Russia and the Soviet Union 1917–1941, Charles Sturt University – Education and Communities. Retrieved from http://hsc.csu.edu.au/modern_history/national_studies/russia/russia_key_features3/page61.htm on December 12, 2011
Bullock, D., The Russian Civil War 1918-22, Osprey Publishing, 2008. Pp. 29-30
Fitzpatrick, S., The Russian Revolution, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. P. 95.
Gellately, R., Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe Knopf, 2007. Pp. 70–1.
Richman S. L., “War Communism to NEP: The Road From Serfdom”, Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1981, 5(1).
The Bolshevik Consolidation of Power. Retrieved from http://www.angelfire.com/ult/discuss/consolidation.html on December 12, 2011.
The Bolshevik Revolution. May, 1989. Retrieved from http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-12444.html on December 11, 2011.
Urlanis B., Wars and Population, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1971. P. 26
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