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A History of Communism in the USSR

Karl Marx had expected his theories on communism to be tested in Germany, the United Kingdom, or some other highly industrialized country. But it was in relatively agricultural Russia that Communists first succeeded in setting up a Communist-controlled government.

During the late 1800’s, Russia began to modernize. Although the country was still largely agricultural, its industry began to flourish. As industrialization increased, discontent grew among the rising middle class and workers in the cities. In addition, a series of bad harvests in the 1890’s caused starvation among the peasants. During this period, revolutionary activity grew, and radical ideas-including Marxism-became popular.

In 1898, Marxists founded the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. The party split into two groups in 1903. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, accepted his idea of a small Communist Party made up of professional revolutionaries. The Mensheviks wanted the party to have wider membership and to reach decisions through democratic methods.

In 1905, large numbers of Russians revolted against the czar and forced him to establish an elective assembly. During the next several years, the government enacted some reforms. But World War I (1914-1918) created more problems for Russia. The nation suffered heavy troop losses on the front and food shortages at home. In 1917, the people overthrew the czar. A democratic provisional (temporary) government was set up.

In autumn 1917, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, seized power and established a Communist government. When the Bolsheviks took over, they had fewer than 300,000 members in a country of more than 160 million people. The coup succeeded partly because the provisional government leaders did not want to withdraw from the war, and they could not carry out reforms while the war continued. The Bolsheviks also succeeded because of their effective organization and their appealing slogans, such as “Bread, Peace, Land.”

Lenin led Russia from 1917 until his death in 1924. For a short time, Lenin let the peasants keep farmland they had seized. He permitted workers to control the factories and to play important roles in local government. But the government soon tightened control and forced the peasants to give the government most of their products. The government also took over Russian industries and set up central management bureaus to run them. In addition, the state created a secret police force called the Cheka.

Soon after Lenin came to power, Russia made peace with Germany, but from 1918 to 1920 Russia was torn by civil war between Communists and non-Communists. The Communists defeated their rivals, who were divided and poorly organized. From the start, Lenin used force and terror against his political opponents. By 1921, conditions had become disastrous throughout the country. Peasant and sailor revolts broke out, and famine threatened. The world war, revolution, and civil war had brought Russia near economic collapse.

In 1921, realizing the need for a change in policy, Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP). The NEP called for Communists to cooperate with certain groups who were considered enemies of Communism. These included shopkeepers, peasants, engineers, scholars, and army officers. Russia’s economy recovered steadily under the NEP. In 1922, the country became known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), or the Soviet Union.

By the time Lenin died in 1924, the Soviet Union had become a one-party state. All non-Communist political parties had been banned, and all public organizations-such as professional associations and labor unions-had become tools of the Communists.

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    On February 5, 2009 at 12:38 pm


    A History of Communism in the USSR

    by Verity, Oct 19, 2008
    Karl Marx had expected his theories on communism to be tested in Germany, the United Kingdom, or some other highly industrialized country. But it was in relatively agricultural Russia that Communists first succeeded in setting up a Communist-controlled government.

    During the late 1800’s, Russia began to modernize. Although the country was still largely agricultural, its industry
    began to flourish. As industrialization increased, discontent grew among the rising middle class and workers in the cities. In addition, a series of bad harvests in the 1890’s caused starvation among the peasants. During this period, revolutionary activity grew, and radical ideas-including Marxism-became popular.

    In 1898, Marxists founded the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. The party split into two groups in 1903. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, accepted his idea of a small Communist Party made up of professional revolutionaries. The Mensheviks wanted the party to have wider membership and to reach decisions through democratic methods.

    In 1905, large numbers of Russians revolted against the czar and forced him to establish an elective assembly. During the next several years, the government enacted some reforms. But World War I (1914-1918) created more problems for Russia. The nation suffered heavy troop losses on the front and food shortages at home. In 1917, the people overthrew the czar. A democratic provisional (temporary) government was set up.

    In autumn 1917, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, seized power and established a Communist government. When the Bolsheviks took over, they had fewer than 300,000 members in a country of more than 160 million people. The coup succeeded partly because the provisional government leaders did not want to withdraw from the war, and they could not carry out reforms while the war continued. The Bolsheviks also succeeded because of their effective organization and their appealing slogans, such as “Bread, Peace, Land.”

    Lenin led Russia from 1917 until his death in 1924. For a short time, Lenin let the peasants keep farmland they had seized. He permitted workers to control the factories and to play important roles in local government. But the government soon tightened control and forced the peasants to give the government most of their products. The government also took over Russian industries and set up central management bureaus to run them. In addition, the state created a secret police force called the Cheka.

    Soon after Lenin came to power, Russia made peace with Germany, but from 1918 to 1920 Russia was torn by civil war between Communists and non-Communists. The Communists defeated their rivals, who were divided and poorly organized. From the start, Lenin used force and terror against his political opponents. By 1921, conditions had become disastrous throughout the country. Peasant and sailor revolts broke out, and famine threatened. The world war, revolution, and civil war had brought Russia near economic collapse.

    In 1921, realizing the need for a change in policy, Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP). The NEP called for Communists to cooperate with certain groups who were considered enemies of Communism. These included shopkeepers, peasants, engineers, scholars, and army officers. Russia’s economy recovered steadily under the NEP. In 1922, the country became known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), or the Soviet Union.

    By the time Lenin died in 1924, the Soviet Union had become a one-party state. All non-Communist political parties had been banned, and all public organizations-such as professional associations and labor unions-had become tools of the Communists.

    After Lenin died, leading Communists in the Soviet Union struggled for power. Through plotting and trickery, and by shifting alliances, Joseph Stalin gained complete control of the Communist Party and the Soviet government by 1929. Until his death in 1953, he ruled with an iron hand. The Soviet Union’s economy and influence abroad grew rapidly-but at a great cost in human life and personal freedom at home.

    Stalin established a centrally planned economy in the Soviet Union and, in 1928, began the five-year plans. These were comprehensive economic plans for the country. The first plan included a program that combined small peasant farms into collective farms, large farms owned and controlled by the government. In the early 1930’s, Stalin ordered millions of peasants murdered or exiled when they resisted giving their land to collective farms.

    Many other people opposed Stalin’s policies during the 1930’s. To crush this opposition, Stalin began a program of terror called the Great Purge. Communists suspected of opposing Stalin or his policies were executed or imprisoned. Stalin ordered many of his earlier Communist associates arrested or put to death. Numerous party officials were labeled “enemies of the people” and forced to confess imaginary crimes. The secret police assisted in the purges, in which army officers and citizens from all walks of life were imprisoned, sent to labor camps, or killed. The peak of mass terror came between 1935 and 1938.

    During World War II, such political repression eased somewhat. The Soviet people rallied to defend their country from invading armies of the German dictator Adolf Hitler. But after the war ended, Stalin’s secret police returned to using terror to maintain strict control over the people.

    Shortly after Stalin died in 1953, Nikita S. Khrushchev became head of the Soviet Communist Party. In 1958, Khrushchev also became the head of the Soviet government. He strongly criticized Stalin for his rule by terror. Khrushchev relaxed political control over writers, artists, and scholars. He also introduced reforms designed to improve the productivity and efficiency of the economy. But the reforms resulted in only slow gains.

    In 1964, Communist Party officials forced Khrushchev to retire. Leonid I. Brezhnev replaced Khrushchev as head of the Communist Party. Brezhnev reestablished many of Stalin’s rigid cultural and economic policies but did not return to rule by terror.

    After Brezhnev’s death in 1982, two other leaders briefly headed the government and the party. But no major changes were enacted until Mikhail S. Gorbachev became head of the country in 1985. Gorbachev’s reform policies and the eventual collapse of Soviet Communism are discussed later in this article, in the section ‘The decline of Communism’.
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