To what extent did the Bolshevik consolidation of power between 1917 and 1928 compromise the Party’s ideology?



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To what extent did the Bolshevik consolidation of power between 1917 and 1928 compromise the Party’s ideology?
The Bolshevik consolidation of power undoubtedly compromised the Party's ideology, in both economic and political terms. However, it could also be argued that much of what the Party did in the decade after it came to power was perfectly consistent with the principles espoused by Marx and Lenin.
The Bolsheviks’ fundamental beliefs were based on the theories of Marx, who believed that capitalism would be overthrown by a workers’ revolution, and replaced by socialism – a system in which the means of production would be collectively owned, and where political power would reside in the hands of the workers.

Unfortunately, Russia was nowhere near ready for socialism when they staged their coup in 1917. The country was seriously underdeveloped, and within a few months, the Bolsheviks found themselves facing looming civil war. For this reason, Lenin and his colleagues were forced to make decisions which compromised their beliefs.

On the political front, they cracked down on dissent, arresting opposition leaders and closing their printing presses. The also closed the Constituent Assembly (the Duma), once it became clear they could not control its proceedings, ruling instead via the All Russian Congress of Soviets (which they did control).

Once civil war broke out, the Bolsheviks unleashed a reign of terror on their enemies. Freedom and democracy were abandoned in preference to policies which might root out counter-revolution. A secret police force (the Cheka) was established and a system of Revolutionary Tribunals set up, to deal with opponents of the regime. By 1924, the Cheka was estimated to have caused the death of a quarter of a million people. The government’s enemies were completely eliminated.

Every one of these activities contradicted the principles the Bolsheviks had espoused when they came to power in 1917. However, in a wider sense, they were not completely incompatible with the Marxist-Leninist ideology. Marx himself had devised the concept of a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, though he had been vague as to what this might mean. When it became clear that the workers were too few in number to stage an uprising, Lenin formed a ‘vanguard party’ to organise the revolution on their behalf. Hence, he was already considering serious limitations to democracy, even before the Bolsheviks came to power. And, of course, once it became clear that the people did not support the Revolution, the logical conclusion was that the Bolsheviks would have to rule on their behalf.

The end of the Civil War brought an end to War Communism. Lenin now introduced the New Economic Policy, a hybrid system in which elements of socialism were combined with elements of capitalism. There can be no doubt that this represented a retreat from Bolshevik ideology, particularly with regard to agriculture. However, it could be also argued that such a retreat was quite compatible with Marxist theory, as Marx himself recognised that capitalism was necessary before socialism could be achieved. Given that Russia had not yet completed its capitalist stage, Lenin could well argue that NEP was merely bringing this about.


Hence, it can be seen that while the establishment of a one party state and the introduction of NEP did indeed contradict the principles the Bolsheviks had originally espoused, they were not necessarily incompatible with Marxist-Leninist ideology, given Russia’s limited economic development and the small size of its working class.


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