He is the founder and the guiding spirit of the Soviet Republics – a communist philosopher, ardent disciple of Karl Marx, leader of the Bolshevik Party and the mastermind of the 1917 October Revolution. Some consider him a prophet, others a tyrant; there are those who call him a saint, many more – a devil. What is certain is that Lenin played an enormous role in the history of the 20th century. He reshaped Russia and had millions of people bent to his will. Lenin applied communist ideas to real life and his “experiment” forever changed the face of the world.
The communist experiment
Lenin didn’t have a clear plan for his economic model. The workers’ control over the factories led to an almost complete paralysis of production, massive stealing and was threatening hunger. Lenin declared the dictatorship of War Communism – the “war” part was needed to explain the severe implementing of the order.
The word “trade” was banned; “exchange” was used instead (i.e. a fur coat for several pounds of flour).
Soviet authorities introduced “prodrazvyorstka” – food apportionment, the state defined the volumes of products that peasants had to give to the state. By 1922 it included the whole specter of agricultural products.
Lenin ordered everyone to work and failure to do so was punished by execution.
A new bureaucratic body was created – the Labor Committee.
Public work was also obligatory and overwhelming – everything from building bridges to chopping wood – everyone had to be involved, from workers to poets and scientists.
Inflation was skyrocketing. Workers were paid 26 rubles a day whereas a pound of bread cost nearly 170. Working hours were 14 to 16 hours a day.
Transport was free but it hardly worked, commodities were free but they didn’t function.
By 1920 production was by seven times less than in 1913 and the volumes of railway services fell to the levels of 1880.
But the most dramatic cost of the experiment was the loss of 10 million lives.
In 1921 famine erupted in the Volga Region. It was caused by a number of reasons, including a severe drought that hit the country and the desperate condition of the country’s agriculture due to the First World War and Civil War and “prodrazvyorstka.” In many regions peasants staged riots, killing the representatives of the Bolshevik authority. Up to 40 million people were starving. There were reports of cannibalism. The number of orphans and child crime grew drastically. The Soviet government had to turn to foreigners for humanitarian aid. The League of Nations was not in a hurry to help; between the two evils, the famine and Bolshevism, they chose the former as a weapon against the latter. The Norwegian explorer Fridthof Nansen managed to organize humanitarian aid and funds, along with the American company APA.
The Famine largely stopped in 1922, in some regions in 1923. The total death toll was at least 5 million people.
The Country’s economy was collapsing and Lenin undertook urgent measures. He turned to a New Economic Policy – NEP. The main goal was to introduce reforms based on the old system, not by breaking it. Soon enough it yielded results. The Soviet government got rid of “prodrazvyorstka” and labor duty. Free trade was legalized again as well as small businesses, which were allowed to hire people. The banking system was resurrected and partial privatization was permitted. War communism didn’t disappear, but was gradually yielding its position. Although the economy was showing signs of recovery, the majority of communist activists, and sometimes Lenin himself, treated the new policy as “inevitable evil.” Fearing the comeback of capitalism, they wanted to wrap up the program as soon as possible and did so after Lenin was no longer in power.
Some Soviet scholars, particularly in the sixties (years of “Thaw”), liked to say that Stalin distorted Lenin’s ideas. Of course the scale of atrocities undertaken by Stalin is larger in comparison to Lenin’s, but Lenin set the trend. The fact is that it was Lenin who gave birth to concentration camps, declared a hunt against the Russian intelligentsia and clergy and laid the grounds for a totalitarian state.
Unlike Stalin Lenin did not persecute Jews. In 1919 he recorded a speech on Jews: “…Shame on accursed Tsarism, which tortured and persecuted the Jews. Shame on those who foment hatred towards the Jews, who foment hatred towards other nations.”
Lenin’s order to Dzerzhinsky, 1 May 1919: “…it is needed to get done with the priests and religion as soon as possible. Arrest the priests as the enemies of revolution and saboteurs, execute them without mercy everywhere you spot them. As many as you can! Churches should be shut down. The cathedrals have to be sealed and used as warehouses. “
Ironically, a man who unleashed a massacre of Orthodox priests was a Baptized Orthodox Christian. Throughout 1922 alone at least eight thousand priests, monks and nuns were executed according to Lenin’s orders.
It’s hard to explain his despise for the Russian intelligentsia, particularly taking into consideration the fact that Lenin was part of this circle. In 1922 he launched a campaign to deport prominent scientists and public figures.
The famous Russian poet Boris Pasternak wrote about Lenin: “He struck out hard… His words, which all men heard too well, were traced in the blood of great events. He was their voice, their proclamation… Alone, he ruled the tides of thought, and through that mastery – the State.”
The “tides of thought” that Lenin ruled were those of the country’s working class. And with the right words, they quickly recognized the intelligentsia as their enemies. Many of those who weren’t deported were later arrested or executed. In eight years (1917-1925) nearly two million people fled the country; the majority of them never came back.
Revolution accelerated women’s emancipation. Some of the reforms were inspired by Inessa Armand who was believed to be Lenin’s mistress. Lenin declared equality between men and women.
From the record of his meeting with Clara Zetkin in 1920: “Women’s incipient social life and activities must be promoted, so that they can outgrow the narrowness of their philistine, individualistic psychology centered on home and family … In the sphere of sexual relations and marriage, a revolution is approaching … There can be no real mass movement without the women … We cannot exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat without having millions of women on our side. Nor can we engage in communist construction without them. We must find a way to reach … the mass of women, who feel themselves exploited, enslaved and crushed by the domination of the men…”
Emancipation though wasn’t welcome all over Russia. In Central Asia, where plural marriage was an old-time tradition, it was introduced by force.
It is important to note that it was also a practical and desperate measure, conditioned by a drastic fall in men’s population after the First World War, the Civil War, the Spanish flu pandemic and the Famine.
Soviet Russia under Lenin was the first country in the world that legalized homosexuality and abortion. Although Stalin changed it back to Tsarist standards.
Learn, learn and learn!
Lenin launched a massive propaganda campaign for education. Nine years of secondary education were free and compulsory for everyone (the system is kept to this day). At the beginning of the 20th century the literacy level among men was 35,8%, women – 12,4%. By 1939 the literacy level in Soviet Russia reached 70%. The Soviet Union ranked among the countries with the highest literacy levels.
~ Courtesy Russiapedia