While so. Lenin, since his return to Finland station

While Lenin’s Bolshevik government may have promised to
break away from the regime it replaced, the reality for many Russians was an
existence that was far harsher than anything that had transpired before, it was
apparent by early 1918 that the social revolution envisaged by ordinary people
and the political vision held dear by the Bolsheviks were drifting apart. Lenin
emulated his predecessors, then surpassed them in brutality and autocracy. The
Bolsheviks’ use of terror and the odious practice of taking hostages supported
the belief that Lenin ‘had no more time for democracy than the Tsars had’
(Orlando Figes) in their merciless putting down of the Kronstadt rebellion. Their
banning of political opposition, dissolution of trade unions, dissolution of
religion and most astonishingly their suspension of civil liberties
demonstrated the Bolsheviks were not only as repressive and reactionary as the
old regime but arguably more so.

Lenin, since his return to Finland station on Aril 3 1917
had advocated for Russia to withdraw from World War 1, a conflict he labelled
as ‘Bourgeois’ and ‘imperialist’ in nature alongside meaningless for the proletariat,
whom were being used as cannon fodder and exploited in furthering imperialist
expansion by capitalist governments. Trotsky, as Commissar of Foreign Affairs,
negotiated with German High Command from December through to February, in the
small town of Brest-Litovsk in Poland and succeeded in establishing an
armistice on December 15. The cease fire was an attempt to stall the peace
treaty whilst Bolshevik agitators harassed the German Eastern front with
propaganda calling for an uprising of the working class, hopes of causing a
mutiny and eventual revolution in Berlin.
The armistice lasted until 18 February, When German High Command, growing tired
of Trotsky’s stalling launched an offensive of 700,000 troops. The Bolsheviks
were thrown in disarray, fearing the advancing German army may capture
Petrograd, the capital was shifted to Moscow on 12 March. A new Peace Treaty
was issued by Germany, far harsher than prior to Trotsky’s stalling of
negotiations, and on 3 March the Sovnarkom accepted Germany’s demands and
signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In doing so, the new Bolshevik government
was to pay three million roubles in compensation and conceded approximately one
million square kilometres between the Baltic and Black sea. This meant
sacrificing 32 percent of Russia’s farmland, including the Ukraine, which was
the countries major source of grain along with 89 percent of its iron ore and
coal reserves and 54 percent of its industrial enterprises. Economic
difficulties were exacerbated by the ensuing loss of fertile grain-producing
areas and much valued mining regions. For Lenin and Trotsky, the treaty
reflected their ideas of ‘world communism’, but such ideals were not similarly
held by the people, who were to become the victims of conflict and starvation.
This forfeit, most notably of grain and coupled with the already poor harvest
of 1917 and grain requestioning of Bolshevik forces was to plunge Russia into
famine that would constitute 9.5 million deaths by 1921. This was to prove
catalyst to the development of socio-economic issues that would shape
opposition to the Bolshevik party and develop into full civil war.

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Resistance against the new Bolshevik regime developed
quickly, Anti-Bolshevik armies were already building momentum as early as
December 1917, with Tsarist Generals such as Korlinov gathering a volunteer
army of traditional conservatives from the Don Cossack region to oppose the
Bolshevik Government. On 30 August 1918, an assassination attempt was made on
Lenin’s life by Ukraine born Fanny Kaplan. Although Lenin survived two shots,
one to the neck, he was rendered in a fatal condition. This had a major effect
on Bolshevik policy, signifying the introduction of the Red Terror as counter
revolution was now real, active and dangerous and its justification through
Bolshevik propaganda. On 1 September a Bolshevik newspaper published: “For the
blood of Lenin… let there be floods of blood of the Bourgeoisie – more blood,
as much as possible.” Its implementation was designed to defeat enemies of the
government and proved to be at the heart of Bolshevik mentality throughout the
civil war that followed.
Further Bolshevik opposition began to mount throughout the following months
from across Russia, White armies, although not united began applying pressure
from all sides. Admiral Kolchak, a former admiral of a Black sea fleet under
the Tsarist regime, despised socialism which led to his establishment of an
anti-Bolshevik government in Siberia posed a serious Eastern threat to Moscow
with over 100,00 troops and heavy funding from allied forces. Further advances
came from General Deniken from the south and General Miller from the North.
Peasants also began rising against the new Moscow government, and although not
united were given the name Green armies. Their demands were for greater
autonomy from Moscow, Lenin’s government wanted national unity whilst the
Greens wanted local independence, but they shared no allegiance with the
conservative White armies. The civil war primarily became a clash between
varying different versions of the revolution.
External threats too began to mount, as Allied countries refused to recognise
the treaty of Brest-Litovsk and supported White armies in hopes they would
bring Russia back into the war. The catalyst for foreign intervention was
Lenin’s declaration on 18 January that all foreign debts were cancelled
‘unconditionally and without exception’ which led to the Allies being robbed of
80 billion roubles in gold. Great Britain alone had spent 70,000,000 pounds by
August 1919 in opposition to communist rule. The policies imposed by the
Bolsheviks in order to mobilise the nation into civil war were labelled as ‘war
communism.’ At its core was forced conscription to either the Red Army or to
the industry and the forced confiscation of grain and food, named
requisitioning, an agenda which was to prove tragic and fatal to the people of
Russia.  The Red army, under the
leadership of Trotsky was to prove too much for the Whites and eventually won
out due to the fractured and disorganised nature of the oppositional forces and
their central position of Moscow which allowed equipment, war supplies and the
hub of the railway system to be controlled by the Reds.

But although, much like the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the
policy of war communism reflected an eventual victory for the Bolshevik party,
the reality for the people of Russia was far from successful, as Pipes points
out, ‘Terror may have saved communism but it totally corroded its soul,’ the
country was left in ruins. Lenin was no longer faced with military opponents,
the greatest dangers were now economic devastation, social chaos and
ideological disillusionment. Of 10 million deaths during the period of war, 9.5
million were from famine and disease, Industrial output had fallen as low as 15
percent whilst agricultural as love as 60 percent, additionally a year of
draught and frost exacerbated the shortages. Grain requisitioning in the
province of Samsara between 1919 and 1920 exceeded 30 percent of the harvest
surplus. The famine became acknowledged by the international community as a
humanitarian disaster and British and American aid was accepted reluctantly by
a humiliated communist regime which saved an estimated 14 million peasants from
The communist party also issued strict policies against the richer peasants,
whom the labelled ‘kulaks.’ They were blamed for the rising high prices of
grain and accused of hoarding it, but the lack of a grain is far more likely
due to the Bolsheviks War Communism agenda removing any incentive for peasants
to produce a surplus. As a result, food supplies fell as peasants produced only
enough to feed their families and Red Army forces, alongside the Cheka,
brutally, under order from Lenin, publically murdered suspected Kulaks.

The Cheka, chaired by Dzerzhinsky, became a significant
instrument of the ‘Red Terror’ in gaining political control and forcing
compliance to the Bolshevik government. Established in December 1917, it was
originally a 15 man investigatory body but by February 1919 it had the power to
conduct trials and executions and by 1921 consisted of 100,000 men whose
primary goal was to root out and end counter revolution and political
opposition. The overall number of executions carried out by the Cheka during
the three years of civil war amounted to 140,000 with another 140,000 killed in
the process of eliminating peasant and other uprisings. In comparison, the
Tsars equivalent, the Okhrana had executed only 14,000 in a period 50 years.
Lenin’s regime was beginning to mirror the Tsars more and more every day, and
whilst the Bolsheviks continued to dictate Russia from Moscow, those who once
supported them now detested the party and deplored its policies. Even the
Kronstadt sailors, who in October 1917 had been a bastion and vanguard of
support for the Bolsheviks since 1905, began to critically question the

Tension at Kronstadt gradually mounted and led to their
eventual drafting of grievances in a petition and political attack on the
communist party on March 1 1921, which was to escalate to a social crisis that would
demonstrate the sheer brutal and autocratic nature of Lenin’s communist party.
Strikes in Petrograd and Moscow were compounded when the sailors from Kronstadt
began to challenge the very legitimacy of the regime. Military threats began to
mount against the Bolshevik party, and the sailors had proven a trained and
formidable force in the past. Lenin was menacing in his hasty actions to launch
his two most feared weapons against the sailors, the Cheka and the Red Army.
Together both fierce mechanisms of the communist party constituted 60,000 men
who launched a final and successful attack across the ice on the garrison of
16,000 sailors on 17 March 1921.
The core issue of the rebellion was ideological rather than military. Although
the Bolsheviks united many under the flag of patriotism, the people who Lenin
had claimed to be representing were now actively and openly opposing him,
willing to die for the fight against Bolshevism and ironically were fuelled by
Marx’s directive that ‘you have nothing to lose but your chains!’. As Figes
states, the defeat of the sailors was direct proof of the tragic reality of
socialism. ‘The suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion had a shattering effect
on the socialist of the world. There could be no more conclusive proof that the
Bolsheviks had turned into tyrants.’

Although the Kronstadt threat had been quelled, Lenin was
still faced with a severe economic crisis, his solution, announced at the Tenth
Congress of the Communist Party in Moscow 8-16 March 1921, was the introduction
of a New Economic Policy (NEP). Described as ‘State Capitalism’, it was
introduced in order to ‘kick start’ the economy and perhaps best described as
capitalism that was restrained, controlled and exploited. For Lenin, the NEP
was equivalent to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, an unfortunate but necessary
step as he acknowledged in March before, its introduction, to the congress ‘we
are barely holding on.’ Although, this introducing was an ideological backflip
for the party and sparked the debate of pragmatism against idealism, for
traditional communists, the NEP was nothing short of treason and many viewed it
as a petty contradictory attempt to claw at retaining power and although
conditions improved, any faith in strong leadership diminished with its
introduction and the bitter effects and fatalities of War Communism were still
a reality for much of Russia.

Throughout the Red Terror and upon their seizure
of power in October 1917, the Bolsheviks consolidated their dictatorship over
Russia through violent enforced compliance to the Communist regime. Whilst the
party survived the civil war, it was the proletariat, whom Lenin had so
prominently promised to defend, that suffered the brutalities of the Treaty of
Brest-Litovsk, War Communism and Red Terror. Any hope that had existed in
February 1917 was now crushed by another oppressive regime of which the people
were tragically neglected and trampled.