The initial difficulties faced by the new Soviet Union were so severe that its survival seemed almost miraculous”. The remains of the czarist regime left Lenin to face a country wrought with war, devastated economically.
Russia’s involvement in World War I, followed by its Civil War, wide spread famine, and a change in political and social ideology were the problems confronting Lenin after the October Revolution. Lenin did succeed in ending both the war with Germany and the Civil War for Russia. Yet, the economic and social aspects of the revolution can be more critically assessed.
Lenin knew the importance of ending Russian involvement in World War I. On March 3, 1918 Russia lost 1/3 of its fertile farm lands, 1/3 of its population, 2/3 of its coal mines and oil fields and 1/2 of its heavy industry to German peace terms. Though the treaty of Brest-Litovsk was harsh, the terms were annulled once the Allied powers defeated Germany.
Lenin managed to end the war that had for so long depressed Russia’s resources and morale. He succeeded in focusing on the severe internal problems of the new government, and in “saving the socialist republic” . One of the largest problems that Russia faced prior to the October Revolution was finally ended, though its effects were still to be felt.
Almost immediately afterwards, in 1918, Civil War begins. The battling White Army divided amongst different leaders and interests left the Red Army, led by Trotsky victorious. Lenin does succeed in eliminating opposition to the Soviet Union in November of 1920. As in the case of the World War, a simple end to the fighting did not signify an end to the devastation that had been left as a consequence.
The economic and social problems that arose from the end of the czarist regime were dealt with by Lenin initially unsuccessfully. War communism, a forced socialized economic policy began with the confiscation of surplus grain. It then extended to all other products. Abusive detachments fought peasant resistance with the terror of the Red Army, and in 1919 when they gained control, with the Extraordinary Commission (Cheka).
What Lenin had thought would bring the triumph of communism rendered only misery and disorder. The Kronstadt Revolt in February, 1921 is an example of the indignation felt by those that saw the Bolshevik’s policies as too oppressive. Finally, Lenin sees that a transition period is necessary, and denounces war communism for its impractical severity. Up until this point the disastrous economic and social problems of the nation were not dealt with successfully.
Both World War I and the Civil War left rampant destruction in Russia’s agricultural production. Drought as well as the failure of war communism led to wide spread famine. At this point, Lenin introduced gradual economic measures that began as agricultural policies. According to British historian E.H. Carr, Lenin’s New Economic Policy increased from food production to trade, to the most “profound evil”: industrial policy. He states that the essential nature of the NEP was the negation and reversal of war communism policy.
Lenin described the NEP as a retreat in order to attack again. After seven years the NEP succeeded in returning agriculture and industrial production to 1913 levels. Yet in his book From Lenin to Stalin (1930s), Victor Serge a former communist criticizes the NEP. He points out that the NEP merely restored the appearance of prosperity to Russia. This prosperity was for many “distasteful and often disquieting”. It meant a reversal to capitalist corruption, confusing those that had learned to accept the harsh terms implied by revolution.
Yet, I cannot agree completely with Serge. Lenin knew how essential a transitional period was for a Russia in ruin. The NEP, though not entirely successful in solving all the problems that came after the October Revolution, did manage to bring a better standard of living for many, as is affirmed by historians Strayer and Gatzke.
Lenin faced complex problems after the initial triumph of the October Revolution subsided. He was left with a foreign war to end, and a domestic one to quell. Both terminated victoriously only on an ideological level. The massive devastation that the new government confronted was aggravated by harsh war communism policy.
With the gradual increase of Lenin’s New Economic Policy came controversy and some emergency relief. Ultimately at the time of Lenin’s death, the Soviet Union was still plagued, though perhaps not as severely, by economic and social distress.
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