How significant a role did Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin play in the development of the Communist state between October 1917 and 1953?

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Jessica Ellis

How significant a role did Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin play in the development of the Communist state between October 1917 and 1953?

Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin were all influential in the development of Russia during this period; in particular Lenin who helped the Bolsheviks take control and it could be said that he was the forefather of Stalinism. However the individuals were not the only factors that changed the face of Russia and the changes implemented cannot be based purely on their personalities. They must be considered in the context of not one war but four – the Civil War, World War One, World War Two, and the Cold War. Alongside this were economic reasons such as the stagnation at the end of the 1920s and fall back on traditional Russian history which influenced the development of the state.

Lenin is often considered almost solely responsible for the October Revolution and consolidation of the Bolshevik rule, however there were other factors at play. These included the will of the people and failure of the Provisional Government – most significantly perhaps was its attitude to the war. Read argues that ‘the popular movement thrust Lenin and the Bolshevik party leadership into power in October’ suggesting the people were the driving force behind the change in leadership. This idea is backed up by the July Days where over 30,000 members of the public led demonstrations in Petrograd against the war, low wages and the Provisional Government. This government failed for a number of reasons, including its own liberalisation of censorship which meant it could no longer mould public opinion and its refusal to pull out of World War One. This meant the country was in desperate need of strong leadership, provided by the Bolsheviks. However Lenin’s influence cannot be underplayed and the revolution was a ‘classic coup d’état’ according to Pipes; Lenin made the key decisions as to its timing and strategy.

The Bolsheviks remained in power through the Civil War mainly due to Lenin’s leadership and Trotsky’s employment of the Red Army; however the divisions of their opponents aided the Bolsheviks in defeating them. Service gives evidence of Trotsky’s involvement ‘The Red Guards, under Trotski’s guidance, were hard at work organizing the siege of the Winter Palace.’ Trotsky influenced the outcome of the Civil War; by conscripting former Tsarist officers to direct the troops, touring the front in his famous ‘armoured train’ and using terror to encourage the troops to do his bidding – ‘units may and must perish in their entirety but not retreat’ – he was able to take victory for the Reds. However other factors played a large part in why the Communists won; the Whites failed to win popular support, were divided not only geographically but also politically, and had severe supply shortages and a failed military strategy as their forces did not work together. This suggests Trotsky was not the most important factor that led to the Red victory.

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There have been many explanations put forward for the Stalinist dictatorship, not least of which is that Stalinism was the logical extension of Leninism. Due to the large number of similarities between the two regimes this stance was often taken by anti-Communist historians during the Cold War. Richard Pipes argued that ‘the despotic powers that Stalin exercised were put in place by Lenin’ which is true in some respects, such as Lenin’s liberal use of terror in attacking the bourgeoisie, creating the Cheka (the forefather of the NKVD) and erecting forced labour camps for opponents. Lenin was also the father ...

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