How far do you agree that the brutality of the Bolsheviks was the main reason why they remained in power in the years 1917–24? This essay shall address the issue of how the far the brutality of Bolshevik Regime ensured the maintaining of it’s power between the years of 1917-24. This essay shall explore topics concerning the ‘Dictatorship Of The Proletariat’, The Cheka, War Communism, The Red Terror and other potential reasons for the Bolsheviks remaining in power. This essay shall also explore the various views put forth by various Historians such as Robert Conquest and Richard Pipes.
The Dictatorship of the Proletariat was an idea advocated by Lenin throughout the course of the initial years of the Bolshevik Regime. The idea stemmed from Marxism where the Proletariat (Industrial Workers) would rise up, overthrow the Bourgeoisie (Wealthy Land/Factory Owners) and take control; hence, ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’. The idea led to the development of ‘Democratic Centralism’ whereby the Party (Bolsheviks) would hold all the power in the state, not the Government itself. This would mean that the regime itself and all of its actions would be justified by the ideology upon which the Party itself was built.
This ideological backing would drive and justify the brutality of the Party itself along with its claim to power after the October Revolution of 1917. The need to maintain the idea of Democratic Centralism would lead to the introduction of the Cheka and the inception of War Communism during the Civil War. The Cheka was the first of a succession of Soviet State Security organisations, it was established by Vladimir Lenin on December 20th 1917. The Cheka was responsible for the suppressing of ‘Counter-Revolutionaries’ as dubbed by Lenin and ‘Chekists’ themselves.
The methods used by the Cheka to suppress this opposition included arrests, kidnapping, torture, murder and the sending of prisoners to labour camps (Gulags). When faced with a ‘counter-revolutionary’ the Cheka could divide them into one of the following sub-groups; a civil serviceman or soldier working for Imperial Russia, Families of officers-volunteers (including children), all clergy, workers and peasants who were under suspicion of not supporting the Soviet government and any other person whose private property was valued at over 10,000 rubles.
Because of the sub-groups (coupled with a degree autonomy) the Cheka had virtually unlimited power and could move against virtually any citizen they wanted to. At the order of Lenin however; the Cheka would perform mass arrests and perform summary executions of ‘enemies of the people’. A particularly bloody encounter in Moscow in April 1918 saw the deaths of 40 Anarchists and over 500 arrests made. The retaliation enacted by the Cheka following the resistance of the Anarchists would come to be known as ‘The Red Terror’.
The Red Terror was a campaign of mass arrests, executions and atrocities enacted by the Cheka at the behest of the Bolshevik Government. The event is disputed to have occurred either between September-October 1918 or to have occurred during the entirety of the Russian Civil War. Actions performed by the Cheka at this time included the tying of White Army officers to planks of wood and feeding them to furnaces, this level of Brutality was enacted in order to suppress further resistance to the Bolshevik Regime and to further dissuade the opposition during the Russian Civil War.
The Red Terror was estimated to have taken between 50,000 up to a 1,000,000 people. The sheer number of executions and imprisonments during this time would only go to show the lengths the Bolsheviks would go to ensure their power was maintained, not only resistance to Imperial Loyalists (Whites) but also their own people as well. The Russian Civil War (1917-1923) saw millions of deaths and millions further starved. The Bolsheviks saw the importance of maintaining their power in the cities in order to maintain power over the country itself.
To keep the people happy thus, they realised they needed to keep the people fed. This led top the eventual inception of War Communism. An economic/agricultural policy incorporated by War Communism was known as Prodrazvyorstka – requisition of agricultural surpluses from peasants in excess of absolute minimum for centralized distribution among the remaining population. This meant that the Bolsheviks could seize whatever food they needed from the countryside towns and villages and distribute it amongst the urban population in cities such as Petrograd and Moscow.
The peasants in the countryside did not, however, always co-operate with the Bolshevik authorities when it came to handing over their grain. In 1921, the sailors at Kronstadt revolted in direct response to slipping living standards and the starvation of people across the country. Soon after the Bolsheviks led an army 10,000 strong to crush the rebellion, one the revolutionaries were defeated around 1,200 to 2,168 were executed in the days following the revolt.
The coupling of the starvation brought about by War Communism and the crushing of revolts following War Commusism showed the Bolshevik Regime to be incredibly brutal when maintaining power during war such as the Russian Civil War. Richard Pipes, an anti-marxist Historian concluded that the Bolsheviks needed their brutality to maintain power because they lacked real popular support. This is backed up by the many revolts that took place, in particular during War Communism, where the Cheka recorded 118 sepreate uprisings in February 1920 alone.
However, Robert Conquest argued that “unprecedented terror must seem necessary to ideologically motivated attempts to transform society massively and speedily, against its natural possibilities. ” This shows thus that Robert Conquest saw the brutality a a neccessity in order to transform the CPSU into a socialist state, thus the Bolsheviks remaining in power. In conclusion, the brutality enacted by the Bolsheviks was the main reason that they remained in power in the years 1917-24.
This is because without the harshness of the Cheka, without War Communism and without the Red Terror, the Bolsheviks would have been overcome with civil dissent and crumbled under the pressure of the Civil War and peasant uprisings. Robert Conquest would agree with that conclusion, as he saw the brutality as a necessity wheras Richard Pipes would disagree as he saw the brutality only as amethod of control, not a reason for the maintaing of power.