The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, which gave rise to the Soviet Union, was the product of a particular historical time and place, and of the antagonisms between its supporters and its opponents. In History of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky writes in his chapter "Peculiarities of Russias's development," that "the fundamental and most stable feature of Russian history is the slow tempo of her development, with the economic backwardness, primitiveness of social forms and low level of culture resulting from it." The considerable economic growth during the late nineteenth century still left the Russian Empire trailing behind Britain, France, and Germany in terms of economic power. In that century, Russia was a divine-right monarchy. The Soviet state was founded October 1917.
The political machinations of the soviet state were largely given shape by Vladimir Lenin, and were adopted by lands in Eastern and Central Europe, China, Indochina, North Korea, and Cuba. Moreover, much of the developing world adopted different versions of its one-party rule and vertically integrated (top-down) state micromanaged economy. During Lenin's lifetime, Bolshevik followers viewed him as a secular saint who set the country, as well as the world, on the path towards socialism. Others condemned the revolution, writing: "A revolution is a rising of all the people…But here what we have? Nothing but a handful of poor fools deceived by Lenin and Trotsky….Their decrees and their appeals will simply add to the museum of historical curiosities…." (Reed 165)
The Bolshevik Party represents the main force involved in the abandonment of Russia's former course for that of another. The justification they oft used pointed to Marx's dialectical notion that a clash of opposites brings about a new synthesis. The revolution aimed to institutionalize a new process of cultural production, which served to hasten the spread and implementation of radical social ideas and change consciousness by achieving two goals: to use a new aesthetics that was anxious to depart from old traditions and, simultaneously, to engineer such experiments and innovations under the guide of the vanguard party. In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, Lenin wrote in a letter that the Communists "must strive with clear consciousness to control [the cultural process] in order to form and define its results." (Yurchak 12)
In his "Reminiscences of Lenin," Nadezhda Krupskaya wrote:
The seizure of power in October had been carefully thought out and prepared by the Party of the proletariat -- the Bolshevik Party. The uprising during the July days had started spontaneously, but the Party, keeping a sober mind, had considered it premature. The truth had to be faced, and that truth was that the masses were still unprepared for an uprising. The Central Committee therefore decided to postpone it. It was no easy thing to restrain the insurgents whose fighting blood was up. But the Bolsheviks did their duty, painful though it was, for they appreciated the vital importance of choosing the right moment for the insurrection.
In Russia, the latter half of the nineteenth century was a rebellious time period. Russia suffered defeat by Britain and France in the Crimean War of 1853-1856. Tsar Alexander II (1853-1856) embarked upon the Great Reforms as a means of addressing perceived shortcomings arisen during the war. Serfdom was abolished in 1861, an act which liberated more than twenty million peasants -- near slaves -- from aristocratic, clerical or royal owners. Alexander II created, also, a judicial system which featured trial by jury, as well as elective local and regional governmental institutions to provide schooling and other services. He spearheaded fiscal reform, opened up censorship laws, and initiated measures to improve upon education at all levels, for all classes.
To be sure, the Great Reforms failed to do away with Russia's hereditary class privilege, in which nobles, merchants, priests, as well as lower-class city residents above peasants in law, education and economic life. These inequalities, despite not being repealed, lost their justification amidst an atmosphere of democratic reform, and so served as a source of discontent for the general population.
During the time after the reforms and leading up to the revolution, the availability of public education spread rapidly. The number of pupils in primary and secondary schools rose more than tenfold -- from 955,000 in 1860 to 9,656,000 in 1914. In higher education, enrollments increased upwards of fifteen-fold. The 1897 census showed that 29% of men and 13% of women in the Empire were literate. Literacy among the younger generations, especially males, and among urbanites was on the rise. In 1920, over three-fourths of the population of St. Petersburg -- the capital of Russia -- was literate, and over two-thirds of Moscow's population. Despite the increased educational opportunities, an ongoing debate in the historiography hinges upon whether or not pre-Revolutionary Russia would have failed economically if the Bolsheviks had not come to power, for Russia, at that time, endured political and economic hardship.
The autocracy's intellectual critics came to be known as the intelligentsia. While Lenin was young, the intelligentsia consisted of two main groups: One being liberals, who sought a Russian parliamentary democracy akin to that of England, and the other being populists, who worked for an egalitarian society based on Russia's traditional peasants communes, the village councils of heads of households that periodically divvying up the farmland according to the number of working males in the household.
In the last decade of the nineteenth century, as Lenin started participating in politics, revolutionary action was merely a hobby for individuals. Over time, however, he and many of his contemporaries worked to turn this hobby into a profession. Many active and ambitious Russians hedged a bet on the future in favor of revolutionary activities over other vocations. Many believed, as did Lenin, that they would know what to do with such power, once they acquired it. Early Marxists in Russia foresaw an industrialized Russia of the future, with the proletariat, or working class, at the helm. These persons were excited by the industrialization and urbanization in Russia at the time.
While Populism and Marxism have certain key features in common, such as fundamental utopianism, they were near opposites. Partial to social reform as opposed to political reform, Populists, it might be argued, saw individuals as historical actors, impinging on the trajectory of history. Marxists, on the other hand, analyzed historical development, based in classes, as if it were a science. Lenin and the others, furthermore, were stalwarts for strong state power. Populists oft argued against capitalist industrialization, while Marxists, despite being generally anti-Capitalist, championed capitalist industrialization as the fourth of Marx's five socioeconomic stages of development (primitive, slave-holding, feudal, capitalist, and communist). Therefore, this step was crucial to the future appearance of a communist society. (Brooks 8)
Lenin diverged from Marx and Engels with respect to the stages of history. Marx and Engels argued that every society had to go through a feudal and then a bourgeois (capitalist) stage to reach proletarian rule: Lenin wanted Russia to advance more rapidly. Although the proletariat constituted only a tiny minority of the population, Lenin hoped to use the state to realize the promise of proletarian revolution. At first, Lenin expected backward Russia to be rescued by revolutions in more advanced countries. When these revolutions did not materialize he was eager to create a socialist society in Russia alone. Lenin began organizing workers in the early 1890's, while writing anti-populist pamphlets and working with Marxist organizations. (Brooks 10)
While in Siberia, Lenin finished his first book, a semi-academic study, The Development of Capitalism in Russia. Published under the pseudonym "Ilin," the book was a success, earning Lenin a reputation as an economist. His thesis that capitalism was transforming rural Russia by dividing the peasants into rich and poor seemed indisputable to many young people, who had grown up amidst rapid change. The more energetic and successful peasants were adopting new implements and tools, such as iron plows and harrows, as well as improving their houses with brick stoves and tin roofs. They even donned machine-made clothing. The populists bewailed the corruption of rural life, but Marxists applauded this confirmation of Marx's schema in which the rise of capitalism foreshadowed the future proletarian revolution. (Brooks 12)
In 1902's What is to Be Done? Lenin shared his ideas in roughly one hundred pages. He desired an elite conspiratorial party of professional revolutionary leading the masses to socialism. He expressed his faith that a few "wise men" could lead the proletariat in the coming revolution. Within months, Lenin led his own faction to victory at the Second Congress of the fledgling Russian Social Democratic Workers Party. At the Second Congress, which took place in Brussels and London during the summer of 1903, Lenin's factions, which favored an underground elitist party over a mass party outvoted their opponents who were dubbed Mensheviks (the minority), and took the name Bolsheviks (majority). The tags stuck, although the Bolsheviks soon lost the majority. In What Is To Be Done, Lenin penned: (Brooks 42)
We are marching in a compact…