Assess the role of Lenin in the initial success of the Bolshevik revolution.
It cannot be doubted that Lenin played a historically significant role as a leader in the initial success of the Bolshevik revolution in October 1917, but for the most part the Bolshevik revolution claimed its initial success due to a combination of various other factors including Russia’s economic backwardness, widespread discontent within society, political instability as a dual authority of the Provisional Government and Petrograd Soviet emerged after the collapse of the tsarist regime as well as the poor decisions taken by the Provisional Government. Lenin’s significance is hence reduced by being placed within the wider context. Thus, these respective factors must be deeply considered when assessing the role of Lenin in the initial success of the Bolshevik revolution.
Lenin with his enormous political skill articulated what the masses demanded. Without him the turnout of events would have been vastly different. It is of great importance to comprehend that Russia’s economic backwardness remained existent after the March revolution of 1917 as food, fuel and raw material shortages effectively influenced both a significant increase in goods’ prices and low wages for workers. In fact, Russia found itself in urgent need of both industrialization and modernization to cope with these problems. This resulted in widespread discontent and unrest within society since the Provisional Government attempted to counteract this problematic issue by taking grain away from the peasants. However, the peasants responded by seizing the noble’s land and eventually murdering their landlords. As the Provisional Government sent troops to take back the land, the peasants grew even more enraged. The massive seizure of land considered by Lenin was not strictly in line with the Marxist theory. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that it secured the peasants’ loyalty to the Bolsheviks. In this ‘manner of opportunism, Lenin showed considerable political skill’ and thus played an important role in the initial success of the Bolshevik revolution.
Despite, one might point out Lenin’s remarkable ability to understand the complex decisions faced by the Provisional Government and his iron will that allowed him to exploit the ruthlessness the Provisional Government was lacking. The Provisional Government allowed freedom of speech and the press, and released political prisoners which essentially played out in favor of the Bolsheviks. Lenin used freedom of the press as a tool of propaganda in the belief that ‘With the aid of the newspaper, a permanent organization will take shape…will engage, not only in local activities, but in regular general work, and will train its members to follow political events carefully, appraise their significance and their effect on various strata of the population, and develop effective means for the revolutionary party to influence those events.’ As a matter of fact, in printing and distributing millions of newspapers, the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin, ran its own propaganda machine, including the newspaper ‘Pravda’ (‘Truth’), which got their ideas, such as the gist of the ‘April Theses’ (‘Peace, Bread, Land‘, all power to the Soviets; state ownership of factories and banks) across a popular mass and as such Lenin could encourage revolt within Russian society. Howbeit, not only Lenin but the circumstances dominating in Post-March-Revolution Russia asserted an initially successful Bolshevik revolution.
The emergence of a dual authority comprised of the competing Petrograd Soviet and the Provisional Government as a result of the March revolution of 1917, is to be regarded as a significant contributing factor in paving the initial success of the Bolshevik revolution.
Obviously, the existence of a dual authority comprised of the Petrograd Soviet and the Provisional Government became a source of conflict, due to their competing interests particularly regarding Russia’s participation in World War One. While the Petrograd Soviet made of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies wanted Russia to desert out of World War One, the Provisional Government tried to proceed with the war. Seeing that Soviets’ demands stood in exact opposition to the Provisional Government, the Soviet ordered the military to disobey the Provisional Government which resulted in both mass desertions of soldiers, naval mutiny and this turned out in favor of the Bolsheviks who had many members in key positions within the construct of the Petrograd Soviet. By October 1917 the Petrograd Soviet was dominated by the Bolsheviks - although the Soldiers Section was Menshevik-dominated. Kerensky, on the other hand the leader of the Provisional Government was secretly concerned about this development because it was legitimate political rival for power. The Bolshevik revolution was led successfully by the Bolsheviks who using their influence in the Petrograd forces organized the armed forces, in particular their powerful, private army the Red Guards to overthrow the Provisional Government in November 1917.
Most importantly, it must be considered that the incapability of the Provisional Government to make conscious, reasoned political decisions also to a great extent was the main catalyst of the Bolshevik revolution as it drove the Soviets to support the Bolsheviks. Undeniably, the Provisional Government had to restore the whole apparatus of government, satisfy the enormous and complex demands that had driven the first revolution and to decide whether to continue in the war and how this was achieved if it were so. The decision to proceed in World War One however proved to be disastrous considering the continuous involvement in World War One promoted both inflation and hunger in Russia and seemed major evidence that decisions were poorly taken at the top of the Provisional Government by Kerensky. According to Emsley& Englander the leader of the Provisional Government ‘Kerensky was unable to establish and maintain control in Russia arguably because of his determination to continue the war in the teeth of popular hostility.’ This indeed is a conspicuous contributing factor in patronizing Bolshevik success in the revolution.
Conclusively, an assessment of ‘Lenin’s role in the initial success of the Bolshevik revolution’ exemplifies to us that the initial Bolshevik success indeed resulted from a combination of various factors including Russia’s economic backwardness, widespread discontent within society, political instability as a dual authority of the Provisional Government and Petrograd Soviet emerged after the collapse of the tsarist regime as well as the poor decisions taken by the Provisional Government. Thus, Lenin’s role in the Bolshevik revolution is reduced by being placed within the wider context, revealing in itself that the Bolshevik revolution only functioned successfully in the face of the circumstances, existing in Russia after the March revolution of 1917.