The ideals put into practice by Lenin and the Bolsheviks during the revolutionary period ultimately transpired once again during the post-revolutionary period...

...under the direction of STALIN.

A poster depicting Stalin and Lenin working on the same plans.Every political party is driven by a set of comprehensible ideologies that are usually accepted by the majority of the party’s members, and before and during holding power, everything possible is done to gain popular appeal for them amongst the state’s people. However, what becomes apparent is that ideals preached before revolution do not eventuate in the same form, or possibly even at all, after revolution, and this is particularly true in regards to the Russian Revolution. The Marxist ideologies that gained a degree of acceptance before revolution would be vastly different to what the Marxist-driven Bolshevik party would implement when they finally obtained power. These significant Marxist ideologies that presented a Communist, utopian society to the Russian people included the following: a withering of the state apparatus, a classless society, communal control of the means of production and a dictatorship of the proletariat. The party also foretold a worldwide communist revolution. It would become apparent that none of these ideals would eventuate as originally told, and before revolution even occurred, the ideologies were in fact altered to include the ideas that there was no need for parliamentary democracy, and that the party must develop itself to become strong. To historians today, it is clear that Marxist ideologies were at the hands of a manipulative, inexperienced party who at many times appeared in over their heads. The ideals that truly transpired would become known as Marxist-Leninism, and it was these ideals put into practice by Lenin and the Bolsheviks during the revolutionary period that ultimately transpired once again during the post-revolutionary period under the direction of Stalin. This recurrent adverseness of ideologies ultimately had unfavourable effects on Russia politically, socially and economically, as the party’s two leaders between 1917 and 1953, Lenin and then Stalin, struggled to juggle between original ideals and what seemed contradictory but necessary action. Both Lenin and Stalin over time proved that they had a common goal: to spread communism to the world, and both followed the adverse set of Marxist ideals known as Marxist-Leninism that ultimately delivered anything but the promised Communist utopia to the Russian people.

After coming to power in 1917 through the October Revolution, in which the Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional government by storming and taking control of the Winter Palace, the Bolshevik Party inherited a dire economic situation that was greatly accentuated by the country’s participation in WW1. The only solution, in Lenin’s view, was to pull out of the war, as the party said they would do, by signing the extremely harsh treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which would result in a loss of 32 percent of Russia’s agricultural land, 34 percent of its population and 54 percent of its industry.1 Inadvertently, this caused Russia’s economy to sink lower rather than improve. Another blow came just months later with Civil War in June 1918. The Civil War saw the Bolsheviks opponents unite against them under the banner “ White Army”, which included internal threats such as the Mensheviks, and foreign intervention by Great Britain, France and the USA. The White Army hoped to crush the Bolsheviks and bring Russia back into the First World War. During this time, Lenin was attempting to implement Socialism into Russia, however due to the ever growing necessity to gain an upper hand in the war, this socialism inevitably transformed into “War Communism”; a clear and direct economic policy aimed at concluding the war as victors. The nationalisation of land and industry, direction of labour and abolition of private trade were all included in this policy. Incidentally, these measures were a direct contrast to Marxism and Communist ideals, and were the first clear detraction from Marxism under the banner “Marxist-Leninism”. Essentially the Bolsheviks gave themselves dictatorial powers, and set the scene for what would be authoritarian rule from this time forward. Direct comparisons and contrasts between Lenin/Bolsheviks and Stalin in this regard will be made later. What must be noted and emphasized now is that such rule, which becomes the essential foundation for most of the party’s practiced ideals, began almost immediately after seizing power, and that it indeed did originate from Lenin and the Bolsheviks. The extent and ferocity in which this type of rule was practiced is emphasized in the party’s handling of the food crisis. The development of War Communism in 1918 entailed the violent seizure of food from the peasantry as a solution to this crisis, leading to an extreme drop in productivity that plunged the nation into famine in 1921. Over 5 million died in the famine2 , and lead to an uprising by sailors in March of the same year, which was violently crushed by the CHEKA. From this scenario, the effects of such authoritarian rule become clear – it provides the party with limitless militant and political power, rash decisions can be made and quickly implemented with devastating effects, and the Russian people generally object to, but have no choice but to abide by, such extreme rule. Unfortunately for the Russian people, it is in fact this rule that developed and intensified over the course of Lenin and Stalin’s reign.

One of the key ideals of the Bolshevik revolution was to instigate an immediate worldwide Communist Revolution once a firm foundation of power was established within Russia, however a common misconception is that this ideal disappeared after Lenin died and Stalin came into power. Rather, it is fact that both Lenin and Stalin wished to spread communism worldwide, however they both had different methods of doing so, and both leaders had different degrees of success. Lenin and the Bolsheviks believed that for a worldwide revolution to occur, Germany would have to fall to Communism first. Because of this, the Bolsheviks, upon seizing power in Russia, almost immediately sent revolutionaries into Germany to fuel Communist efforts. These revolutionaries were increased over time, and were instructed to focus their efforts on the German lower class, a majority, and spread the idea that their only way to a better life was through Communism. It would appear the Bolsheviks efforts in Germany were making an impact, as in 1923 enough support were consolidated for an attempt at uprising. However this attempt was crushed by German forces and a crackdown on Communists was initiated around the country. Whilst Communist efforts were fuelled in Germany, Lenin also sent the Red Army into Poland to try and spread the Bolshevik’s message. However, Polish forces stopped their advance, and effectively stopped any possible Communist revolution throughout Europe – any hope of an immediate worldwide revolution was now gone3 . But whilst Lenin’s plans were hindered and then halted with his death, Stalin continued in the party’s attempt at worldwide revolution by reforming the idea into Socialism In One Country, where he would develop Russia into a superpower through his Five Year Plans that other non-communist countries would be envious of4 . Rather than forcefully spreading Communism to the world as Lenin attempted, Stalin wanted the world to come to Communism themselves; theoretically a much more efficient and viable solution. Although, Stalin at the same time tried to push for Communism in Germany, but failed like Lenin when he had to abandon these efforts in 1933 when the Nazi’s came to power5 . Such idea suggests Stalin’s success, if any, with Socialism In One Country is debatable.  Nonetheless, it is clear that the ideal of world revolution introduced by Lenin and the Bolsheviks transpired once again under the direction of Stalin; it did not disappear like some suggest, it simply worked under a different façade.

One of the most intriguing and desirable aspects of the Communist utopian society was the idea of no governing body, which according to the Bolsheviks would occur through the withering of the State apparatus. So, it is right to assume that the Russian people were shocked at the conclusion of the Civil War, when the Bolsheviks, now the Communist Party, developed a one party, authoritarian state in which they ruled through fear and intimidation. This was done in fear that another counter revolution would occur. This one party state was established by dissolving the Constituent Assembly in January of 1918, and further enforced soon later by declaring opposing political parties illegal. Ultimately the Russian people had been silenced; now there was absolutely no political, or legal, platform from which the people could oppose the government.  In fact, in 1921 opposition was also silenced within the Communist party itself with the banning of all factions that existed within it, and soon after the Kronstadt uprising was used as an excuse to exile, imprison or execute any remaining suspected anarchists6 . The main instrument for this brutality, fear and intimidation was the Cheka – the secret police. During the Civil War, the Cheka killed 250,000 opposing Russian civilians alone7 , thousands more during the infamous Red Terror and in 1918 murdered the entire Tsar family to ensure no person could ever claim the throne again. Use of such terror was in direct contrast to the teachings of Karl Marx, however, Lenin clearly thought such brutal measures were vital in ensuring the survival of the revolution. Lenin increased his party’s power and efficiency by centralising the government, evident in the renaming of the Soviet state in 1922 as the USSR. This new centralised government possessed immediate decision making abilities that allowed it to implement and pursue with policy at an alarming rate. Lenin had quickly created a government inhospitable to opposition; one that would ensure no counter revolution would occur for decades.

No reprieve from such a fierce government was offered when Stalin took power after Lenin’s death either, in fact such dire circumstances were only intensified. Stalin established a totalitarian dictatorship, in which he only ever elected those devoted to his own beliefs and goals, giving the impression that the entire nation supports him. From this pedestal Stalin could impact all areas of society, and put to use heavy propaganda to mould peoples thoughts regarding his policies and himself; developing what is known as the “cult of the great leader” that presented Stalin as a father of the nation; “For us, Stalin was an idol”8 . He continued Lenin’s previous tirade of fear and intimidation, using the NKVD, his secret police, to enforce obedience. “Show trials” (public persecution) were used to show punishment in action, and between 1936-38 used the NKVD to purge as much opposition as possible, with Soviet records stating that during 1937-38, 681,692 people were executed – averaging 1,000 brutal executions a day9 . By 1938, Stalin made sure he was the only original member of the 6 leading Bolsheviks to survive10 . This wrath of brutality and violence effectively consolidated Stalin’s power; terrifying the Russian people into unconditionally accepting him as leader, to the extent that people were afraid to stop clapping after each of his speeches11 . Overall, both Lenin and Stalin terrified their party’s and the Russian people into undying support, giving themselves free reign of the country. What seems like countless amounts of people being killed, creating a society where no one, not even those closest to Lenin or Stalin, would dare oppose, or disappoint their leader in constant fear of death– truly an extremely morbid, misfortunate existence for the Russian people. With that being said, why would both leading bodies go to such extreme measures to sustain power if this power was intended to one day be withered? The answer to this question is simple: they wouldn’t. Lenin never intended on relinquishing power, well at least not after gaining it, and it was this ideal from the revolutionary period that transpired once again under the direction of Stalin in the post-revolutionary period – Lenin had created a fortified power base that became too good to give up, too easy not to give up.

Another intriguing aspect of the Communist utopian society preached by the Bolsheviks was a classless society, where there is communal control over the means of production. However, as history has repeatedly told, there is a distinct correlation between the existence of affluent classes and a thriving economy, as it is those with wealth and influential status that encourage and in many ways control prosperity, if even only to add to their own already substantial funds. With that being said, it is right to define a Communist society as having no classes and therefore no economy whatsoever, ultimately a disaster waiting to happen – an idea which both Lenin and Stalin both came to believe, and neither allowed communal control over the means of production either. In 1918 after an assassination attempt on Lenin’s life, the infamous event known as “Red Terror” occurred; a brutal crackdown on anyone opposing the Bolsheviks, in which thousands were massacred. Thousands more also died for being in the wrong class; for being “kulaks” or wealthy peasants.12 However, this would be Lenin’s only attempt at removing classes, and his implementation of the New Economic Policy in 1921 saw a retreat from this ideology. The NEP itself was a retreat from socialism; it returned a degree of capitalism and private enterprise to the economy, along with the restoration of the currency. It meant that any business with less than 20 workers could be privately owned, whilst the government owned the rest including key industries such as heavy industry and transport. These freedoms produced a new class of rich businessmen known as “NEPmen”, whose perseverance and drive to make a profit stabilised the economy by the mid 1920’s; returning it to healthy 1913 levels13 .

In Stalinist Russia, the Great Purge era saw the purge of over 3 million of the opposing Kulaks, NEPmen and bourgeoisie, who were either shot or died morbidly in prisons.14 Peasant retaliation plunged Russia into famine once again, killing over 5 million, and thousands more who were shot trying to steal food. This occurred during the implementation of Stalin’s 5 year plans, in which Stalin aimed to make Russia a superpower; making other countries envious of his Communist nation. The first five year plan entailed the re-nationalization of all land and industry, meaning the luxury of consumer goods was lost and Russians lost their individuality (same clothes, cars etc.), and the collectivization of farming, meaning private farming was abolished and the peasantry were forced to farm on organized, government owned farms – no longer could they make a profit off their work. The second five year plan saw heavy industry and public works projects involving forced labour rapidly expanded, and the creation of the Stukanov class who managed and set production targets, which workers had to meet or faced consequences. This class drove the economy and in turn were distinguished. The third five year plan focused on gearing the country towards war; the meganization of the armed forces. A clear similarity between these two circumstances exists; both Lenin then Stalin only purged distinguished classes when they threatened the Communist Party in some way, only to allow the creation of new classes such as NEP and Stukanov sometime after, not to mention the existence of favoured police and military classes such as the Cheka, NKVD and army. With that being said, it is clear that the ideal of tolerating classes for the good of the State implemented by Lenin and the Bolsheviks transpired once again in the post-revolutionary period under the direction of Stalin, not to mention the ideal of not relinquishing control of means of production to the workers.

The “dictatorship of the proletariat” was a term used by Marxists that referred to the transitional state between capitalism and communism, where the current political system, influenced heavily by the bourgeoisie, would be literally replaced by a dictatorship of the proletariat. This does not refer to the concentration of power by one dictator, rather the organized proletariat class as a whole; The first step on the path to the workers' revolution is the elevation of the proletariat to the position of ruling class.15 Such transitional period was an ideal heavily preached by the Bolsheviks before revolution, but as they held power longer and longer, it became clear that the party would not relinquish power to the proletariat. Rather, power struggles occurred within the Bolshevik party itself, encouraging Lenin to ban party debate and faction formation in 1921, allowing himself great control over the party; essentially its dictator16 . “A dictatorship of the communist party” had developed rather than the proposed “dictatorship of the proletariat”. This did not go without opposition from the Russian people however; staunch supporters of the revolution in 1917, Kronstadt naval base sailors, held an uprising calling for “soviets without communists”. These were genuine socialists rebelling against Lenin who had obviously detracted from Marxist ideology to a large degree, as this opposition was from some of the party’s first supporters. Lenin did learn from the episode, this military class act in fact influenced him to implement the NEP17 . In the words of Plekhanov. “Lenin re-defined the dictatorship of the proletariat as dictatorship OVER the proletariat”18 . After Lenin’s death, Communist Party members fought for this dictatorship, with Stalin coming out on top, and using the Great Purge to execute all those who could possibly compete with him. As mentioned previously, by the end of the Great Purge, Stalin stood as the only survivor of the original leading Bolsheviks of the October Revolution. 19 With that being said, it becomes clear that Lenin’s “Dictatorship of the Communist Party” was an ideal that once again transpired in the post-revolutionary period under the direction of Stalin; Lenin established a dictatorship over the proletariat that was too powerful to resist, so much that he crushed opposition to it from the sailors, and it would appear Stalin could not resist it either, intensifying it as his leadership progressed.

Whilst analysing ideals historians tend to focus particularly on ideologies. It must be noted that ideals also include attitudes, standards and principles. As a matter of principle, it is important to note that both Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and Stalin consistently used propaganda to influence the Russian people and shape their minds and thoughts; more so Stalin than Lenin. One of the most significant, and tremendously successful uses of propaganda by Lenin and the Bolsheviks was during the Civil War, when Lenin introduced a morale building campaign to aid in conscription efforts, in which the parties propaganda efforts were put into overdrive, where they took control of all media and preached anti-west and anti-capitalistic ideas to the Russian people. This resulted in a massive surge in recruitment, where recruits grew in their thousands and died in their thousands, which ultimately allowed the now Communist Party to take the upper hand20 . The most apparent use of propaganda by Stalin is of course in his application of the “cult of the great leader”, where he brainwashed the Russian people into believing that he was wise, benevolent and never wrong – a father of the nation; “For us, Stalin was an idol”21 . With that said, it is clear that Lenin and the Bolsheviks originally instigated the use of propaganda to shape the minds of the people, and this ideal ultimately transpired once again in the post-revolutionary period under the direction of Stalin, who must have appreciated its tremendous success when used before him.

Within Marxist-Leninism, one of the most distinct ideals is that all opposition should be crushed; that there is “no need for democracy”. It has already been consistently established here that both Lenin and Stalin crushed all political opposition, and just about any other opposition for that matter, however what tends to be ignored by historians is Lenin and Stalin’s attitudes and principles towards Religion. According to Marxist ideologies, Religion is the exploitation of human ignorance and credulity22 . It becomes apparent that both Lenin and Stalin persecuted Religion at some stage, particularly the Orthodox Church, only to attempt to manipulate religion for their own gains later on. During the Civil war, Lenin and the Bolsheviks harshly persecuted religious institutions regarding them as a threat to the regime, however after the wars conclusion it is said that the party manipulated religious texts to spread communist ideas, in particular the Koran. After Stalin came to power, he used the NKVD to persecute religious institutions with no remorse. Continuous persecution during the 1930’s led to Religion’s near extinction in Russia; by 1939 the number of active religious institutions numbered in the low hundreds (down from 54000 in 1917)23 . During WW2 however, Stalin instigated the revival of religious organizations as a tool of patriotism, essentially a branch of propaganda for the war efforts, from which the Russian people were influenced to feel positively about the war and in turn support it. Lenin and Stalin removed the Russian peoples last place for solace, hope and alternative ways of thinking, and when revived used religions as a branch of power. This was a pattern of action and principle first instigated by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, only to ultimately transpire once again under the direction of Stalin, who incidentally had the opportunity to witness its sheer extent of manipulative power before him.

As Lenin and Stalin were both willing to manipulate the Russians people’s last, personal place of solace – Religion, it is right to suggest that these two leaders cared little about their people. Ideally, evidence suggests that both leaders recognized their citizens as statistics rather than individuals, emphasized in their attitude towards vigorous forced mass labour. This idea first surfaces at a trade union congress in April 1918, in which Trotsky declared that:

                   labour..obligatory for the whole country, compulsory for every worker is the basis of socialism [and that its militarisation was no emergency measure]… The unions should discipline the workers and teach them to place the interests of production above their own needs and demands.24 However, with Lenin’s sudden death, the Bolshevik party never actually instigated such forced labour on a large scale, as the foundation was already laid it is right to suggest that it would have been pursued sometime in the future. The man who did pursue it was Stalin, who instigated it as a part of his five year plans in order to fuel rapid public works expansion. It would seem Stalin refused to sympathize with these workers to any degree, forcing them to work in inhospitable conditions where meeting deadlines became more important than meeting the needs of the individual;

If we stopped working we would freeze to death...If a man wanted to relieve himself, he would take off his mitten and his hand would freeze, then he would take “it” out and “it” would freeze... many had to be amputated..there would be no medicine, the soldiers would simply get out their pliers and cut it off25
With Stalin almost fanatical about his rapid industrialization and building projects, and employing countless amounts of labour, in a way it became almost impossible to meet the needs of the individual. But nonetheless, the very notion that the projects reached these levels, and with the above unthinkable quote in mind, the attitudes of both leaders towards the Russian people is very clear – the working individual is simply a number rather than a human being with a valued life; an attitude/ideal that was initially instigated by Lenin and the Bolsheviks only to ultimately once again transpire under the direction of Stalin in the post revolutionary period. To Lenin and the Bolsheviks, forced labour was a concept waiting to be practiced, but to Stalin it became a proven concept waiting to be pushed to its limits.

The detachments from Marxism by Lenin and the Bolsheviks became enshrined under the banner “Marxist-Leninism”, which ultimately were the ideals implemented by the party during the revolutionary period, and ultimately transpired once again in the post-revolutionary period under the direction of Stalin. These adverse, consistent ideals include the unbeatable desire not to wither the state apparatus, not enforcing a classless society due to classes direct correlation to a prosperous economy, not relinquishing power of means of production to the public due to obvious economic benefits, and not transitioning to a “dictatorship of the proletariat” (rather to sustain power a “dictatorship over the proletariat” formed). In addition to this, Marxist-Leninist ideal of “no need for democracy” consistently transpired, along with the principle of using propaganda for manipulation and the view of the Russian citizens as statistics rather than individuals. These consistent adverse ideals had unfavourable effects on Russia; in particular socially where the Russian people lost all individuality, luxury of consumer goods, solace of religion and were forced to lives of fear and unconditional acceptance of their leader – with the constant threat of death looming over their heads. In reality, Lenin and Stalin created equal societies, both plagued with the pattern of prosperity followed by discontent (or reversed). But what remains questionable is if this infamous pattern would have continued if Lenin lived, or if Lenin really did still intend on remaining true to the Marxist works he had become infatuated with as a child?


1 Steve Phillips (2000) Lenin and the Russian Revolution

2 Jones, Andrew. SparkNote on The Russian Revolution (1917–1918). <>

3 Dangerous Liaison [Video] Granada

4 Corin, Fiehn (2002) Communist Russia Under Lenin And Stalin

5 Dangerous Liaison op.cit

6 “Did Lenin Lead To Stalin” <>

7 Andrew and Mitrokhin (1999) The Sword and the Shield

8 Peoples Century – Red Flag 1917 [Video]

9 Pipes, Richard Communism: A History (Modern Library Chronicles)

10 “The Great Purge” <>

11 People’s Century – Red Flag 1917 op.cit

12 Jones, Andrew. Op.cit

13 Service, Robert (1997). A History of Twentieth-Century Russia.

14 People’s Century – Red Flag 1917 op.cit

15 Marxists (1993) “The Civil War In France”, Ch.5 Available at:

16 “Did Lenin Lead To Stalin” op.cit

17 Jones, op.cit

18 Georgi Plekhanov Selected (1974) Philosophical Works in Five Volumes

19 “The Great Purge” op.cit

20 Cameron, James Lenin – Men Of Our Time [Video] Granada

21 Peoples Century – Red Flag 1917, op.cit

22 Rius (1976) Marx For Beginners

23 “Stalin, Joseph – encyclopaedia article about Stalin, Joseph” <,+Joseph>

24 “Did Lenin Lead To Stalin” op.cit

25 People’s Century – Red Flag 1917, op.cit


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