How significant was Lenin between the years 1902-1918 to the formation of the Bolshevik Government?

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By “formation of the Bolshevik Government” (BG), we are referring to the October Revolution (OR) and lead up to it. Lenin’s significance throughout the timeframe, 1902-1918, to the formation of the BG has been characterised by theoretical and written works, outlining the Bolsheviks Party’s policy and methods, as well as impressive leadership in calling for, and achievement of, a socialist revolution. Yet, one must consider the influences and achievements of other individuals and factors; which undoubtedly aided the communists in their plight against the Provisional Government (PG).    

The adaptation of Marxism by Lenin to suit Russian circumstances, allowed him to apply Marxist principles to a social and economic context for which they had not been intended for. In Marxist theory, before a proletariat uprising could occur, first a Bourgeois Revolution (BR) must establish parliamentary democracy and full scale industrialisation, while removing feudalism and Absolute Monarchy. Russia, on the other hand, was still an autocratic, totalitarian, state with no civic freedoms; coupled with a feudal system: no revolution could happen until a BR was achieved. The Mensheviks wanted to have an alliance with the Liberals in order to bring about said revolution.1 Lenin refuted this idea, however, at the RSD’s Second Party Congress in 19032: his position being that the Liberals would make a deal with the monarchy. He laid out his views on Marxism in What Is To Be Done in 1902 – ‘adapting’ the principle of revolution from below into revolution from above. In other words he advocated the recruiting of “professional revolutionaries”3 – who would form a “Vanguard Party”4 – reflecting the views of the workers, while at the same time excluding the “organisation of workers”5 or trade unions from the political side of the struggle (see source 1). Conversely, Marx had in 1868 asserted that “trade unions were the schools of socialism.”6 Lenin’s response was that the party should be comprised of purely professional full time activists, as they would have the experience and understanding to make it more difficult for the police to track them down; while the workers should participate in the economic struggle for higher wages. Lenin deemed this approach necessary as he was not content to wait for several decades while the BR was consolidated – partly because as the Social Revolutionaries (SR) were “uninterested in the intellectual necessities of Marxism”7, they would thus instigate an uprising when it suited them. Additionally, the proletariat were insufficiently large in number for Marx’s next stage, a communist revolution, to take place yet, so by bringing the revolution forward Lenin out manoeuvred fellow communists and the SR. The SR in particular were dangerous since their proposed land reforms gained them the support of the peasantry – numbering 97 million in 1897.8 Lenin’s trained party activists, or “professional revolutionaries”9, would therefore undertake the planning of the revolution and then, when the timing was right, prompt the proletariat into action before the other parties could act. Marx seemed to offer his support for this party policy in The Communist Manifesto published in 1848, it has been pointed out by official USSR theorists, by indicating the need for trained party activists – he stated that “the Communists...have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march”10 (see source 2). One must be careful when using Marx to justify Lenin’s actions, as the USSR theorists may have taken out of context the original meaning, in order validate their regime. Overall, Lenin’s adaptation of Marxism allowed a backward country in the midst of a BR to cut out 10 to 20 years of rapid industrialisation, and consequently the need for a large proletariat to secure a communist revolution; as under original Marxist theory. Lenin as a result achieved something thought impossible by fellow Marxists.

The writing of the April Theses in April 1917, proved to be of considerable significance in the gaining of support for the Bolshevik party (BP). Within the document, Lenin stresses there must be no cooperation with the PG (see source 3). In saying so, he had distanced himself from the SR and Mensheviks that had gone into government with the liberals, leaving his party as the only true radical one, and leaving the “socialists (in government) to become discredited in the eyes of the masses who saw them as tools of the conservative classes.”11 Lenin had a similar view, asserting that the “capitalists gleefully rubbed their hands at having found helpers against the people in the persons of the ‘leaders of the Soviets (Mensheviks)’”12 (see source 4). One can argue that Lenin had no reason to slander the Mensheviks for effect, since the source is Lenin’s own personal notes. However, the writings were translated into English during the 1960s in Moscow, at the height of the Cold War, so the motives of the interpreter, and whether they had any reason to alter them as a form of propaganda, must be considered. In addition, Lenin expressed his wish to end the war with Germany (see source 3); seen through his demand for incessant anti-war propaganda and once again isolating the Bolsheviks from the pro-war PG – a tact decision considering the unpopularity of the institution. Thus, the views put forward in the Theses reflected those of the Russian proletariat and peasantry – placing the BP at the forefront of the political scene: “membership (of the party) rocketed” from around 100,000 to really 500,000.13 Therefore, one can credit Lenin for bringing the previously small Bolsheviks party, to the forefront of the revolution; winning votes and minds.

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The Kornilov Coup of 1917 presented the Bolsheviks with an opportunity to strengthen and improve their position before the coming revolution. General Kornilov, dissatisfied with the PG over what he and other Generals saw as failure to suppress the threat from the left and the need for military discipline, was removed from the position of Commander-in-Chief by Kerensky for allegedly conspiring to carry-out an anti-revolution “right-wing coup.”14 Kornilov issued a manifesto denouncing the Bolsheviks in the Soviets and demanding continued resistance to Germany,15 and at once began an advance on Petrograd in order “to hang the German supporters and spies”16 ...

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