Explain Trotsky’s Contribution to the Success of the Bolsheviks up to 1922

Trotsky played a significant role in the success of the Bolsheviks from the October Rising in 1917 and right through the civil war that followed.At the beginning of the 20th Century Russia was ruled by a Tsar who had complete power over the country. There were no elections and no democracy at all.

80% of the population were peasants who lived in very poor conditions. When they were freed in 1861 they were given land which they had to pay the government back for. This left them in debt and very envious of the landed gentry. The nobility made up 1% of the population but owned 25% of the land. Industrialisation had been slow and conditions for the workers were bad.There were three sets of opposition at that time the Cadets who wanted democracies like those in Britain, France and the USA, and the Social Revolutionaries who wanted to seize the land of the rich and share it out among the peasants, and the Social Democrats who were followers of Karl Marx. The Russian Social Democrats divided in 1903 into the Mensheviks who wanted a large party including industrial workers and trade unions, and the Bolsheviks who wanted to build a party of dedicated professional revolutionaries. The leader of the Bolsheviks was Lenin.

The Tsar was against any form of opposition so most of the Social Democrats lived in exile abroad. 1905 saw an uprising against the lack of democracy and the Tsar’s government. The Tsar made some concessions but these did not last long. By early 1917 there were many strikes and protests, the Tsar abdicated and a Revolution began. Peasants seized land, workers took over control of factories, and soldiers mutinied or deserted. At this time Lenin returned to Russia and called on the Bolsheviks to seize power.

In July huge anti-war demonstrations in Petrograd gave the Bolsheviks an opportunity to try to seize power, but without enough support they were crushed. The government remained in chaos and Lenin argued that the Bolsheviks could not wait and on the 12 September Lenin wrote ‘History will not forgive us if we do not assume power’. On 7 October he returned to Petrograd and planted the idea amongst the other Bolsheviks of a coup. Although it was Lenin’s plan it was Trotsky who actually organised what became the October Rising.At that time Trotsky had just been elected to the chairmanship of the Petrograd Soviet, and he drafted the plans to overthrow the provisional government. He trained a small, skilled group of Red Army officers, soldiers and industrial workers. When Lenin gave the order for the uprising to begin Trotsky directed the Red Guards to seize the most important sites such as the railway stations, telephone exchanges, banks and post offices.

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Although the Bolsheviks had now taken power by force it did not mean that they were popular, in fact they probably had only about 250,000 supporters. In November the Bolsheviks set up a government called the Council of People’s Commissars. Lenin was chairman, and Trotsky was Commissar for War. They passed important decrees abolishing all class distinctions and all distinctions of rank in the Armed Forces, all land belonging to the Tsar and the church and the nobility was given to the peasants, workers should any work a 48-hour week, all factories were to be taken over by the workers and all banks and foreign trade were to be taken over by the government acting in the name of the workers.

They also proposed equal rights for women. At the same time Lenin set up his own secret police the Cheka who were given power to a rest and execute opponents without trial.The Bolsheviks held free elections to a Constituent Assembly in January 1918 but after winning only 175 seats out of 707 Lenin surrounded the building with Red Guards and closed the Assembly.

In order to make peace with Germany Lenin sent Trotsky to talks at Brest-Litovsk. Trotsky tried to delay decisions while they waited in hope that the Russian Revolution would inspire other revolutions all over Europe. In the end Trotsky signed an agreement signing over 27% of the best farmland, 70% of iron and coal industries and 25% of the people. Trotsky returned to Russia to a civil war. On one side were the Communists, as the Bolsheviks were now called, who were known as the Reds because of their flag. On the other side were the Whites who were a combination of groups who disagreed with the Communists.

The Whites were helped by countries like Britain, France, USA, and Japan who wanted to stop the spread of communism.Lenin showed his trust in Trotsky by giving him total control of the Red Army of all military matters. Trotsky was a dynamic leader who travelled the country in an armed train which was his military headquarters. He turned a small and disorganised group into a large and successful fighting force of 3 million men.

In spite of opposition from other Bolsheviks he recognised that they needed professional soldiers to train his inexperienced men, and turn them into effective soldiers. For this he used ex-Tsarist officers. To make sure that these men remained loyal he attached a communist commissar to each one.

The commissars were dedicated Communists who went everywhere would be officers and reported on their political correctness. No military order could be carried out without the agreement of the commissar. This unique formation became part of the structure of the Red Army and was a brilliant idea of Trotsky’s. It meant that he could use the skill and knowledge of highly trained men to achieve the communist aims. Trotsky was a very hard task monster. He controlled by fear and the death sentence was given for desertion or disloyalty.

At first in accordance with Lenin’s orders there were no ranks or saluting or special titles. But Trotsky realised that without firm discipline and Army was less effective. He introduced the word commander to replace officer, and put back the usual titles of rank with the word ‘Comrade’ added.Trotsky raised numbers within the Army by forcing people to join in areas under communist control. People who were suspected of supporting the opposition were used as labourers behind the lines. The peasants were unreliable and in spite of the heavy punishments often deserted so Trotsky decided that the only reliable fighters would mostly come from the workers. He put them into special units which became the elite corps or shock troops of the Red Army, and they quickly became heroes.

He succeeded in inspiring many of the men that they were on a communist mission to create a new world. This inspirational ability was very valuable and it kept morale high in the ranks. Trotsky was also very clever in the way he saw that the railways were crucial. By having control of the railway he could quickly move his troops to areas of defence or attack.It can be seen that Trotsky was very influential in the success of the Communists in the Civil War showing excellent skills as an organiser (of the October Rising) and leader and creator of the successful Red Army.

Jocelyn WhiteExplain why Stalin, and not Trotsky,emerged as Lenin’s successorOf the two contenders it was Trotsky who was the more obvious to be the successor to Lenin on his death. He had battled closely alongside Lenin to make the Bolsheviks the winners of the civil war that followed the October coup, and was a significant member of the Party intelligent and hard working. On the other hand Stalin was the man who had his eye completely focussed on the leadership battle above anything else. He was subtle, ruthless and manipulative in getting what he wanted. It was these traits that led to his success.

Leon Trotsky’s real name was Lev Dadovitch Bronstein. He was born in 1879, and was the son of Jewish farmers. As a teenager he became a revolutionary and was sent to exile in 1902. He escaped and after joining the Social Democrat Party he worked abroad as a journalist. Following the October Revolution of 1905 (a reaction to the Tsar’s autocratic, incompetent and cruel government, bad harvests resulting in hunger in the countryside and unemployment and wage cuts in the cities). Trotsky returned from exile. At this point he showed greater allegiance to the Mensheviks, who favoured a more democratic style of communism including industrial workers and trade unions. He was a respected intellectual and a powerful orator, which enabled him to become one of the leading political figures at the time.

When Lenin arrived in Petrograd in April 1917 he found the Bolsheviks to be few in number and playing a minority role.Trotsky left the Mensheviks to join Lenin and others to oppose the government, and promote the Bolshevik ideals of an immediate end to the war, socialisation of the government and transfer of state power to the Soviets. Lenin was a powerful leader, and with Trotsky at his side providing strong organisational skills he was successful in taking power in October 1917. The achievements of the Red Army in the civil war that followed were also due to Trotsky’s extraordinary skills. However Trotsky was not just a man who joined a party because he thought it would succeed. He believed in most of Lenin’s policies, and when he didn’t (as when he wanted to use force on the peasants to give up grain to the government rather than follow Lenin’s plans for the New Economic Policy [NEP] which allowed them to keep come profits independently) he was not afraid to be seen to disagree.Stalin was also born in1879. His real name was Joseph Djugashvili, and his parents were working class Georgians.

His childhood was harsh and unprivileged. Like Trotsky he became a revolutionary and was arrested several times by the Tsarist secret police. It was while he was in prison that he changed his name to Stalin (man of steel). He attended the Bolshevik conference in Finland in 1905 and in 1912 was appointed by Lenin to the Central Committee of the party. In 1917 he became to infiltrate the influential areas of the revolution. He became editor of Pravda the Bolshevik journal, leader of the Petrograd Soviet. Although he was not a very public figure he was establishing internal political influence. From 1922 he held the post of general secretary to the party’s Central Committee, which gave him considerable access to and control over party membership.

Lenin was shot in an assassination attempt in 1918 and the fact that two bullets remained lodged in him contributed to a severe stroke in 1922. This did not stop him from continuing to lead the communist party but clearly made him consider what would happen if he should die. In 1922 he wrote a ‘Political Testament’ in which he said, “Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated enormous power in his hands.

I am not sure he always knows how to use that power wisely. On the other hand Comrade Trotsky… is probably the most able man in the Central Committee, but too self-confident, too attracted by administration.” The following year he added, “Stalin is too crude…

Therefore I propose comrades to find a way to remove Stalin and appoint a man more patient, more loyal, more polite, more attentive to comrades.” The following January he died. It can be seen that he had clear views on the two people who ended up as opponents in the battle for leadership, and that it was not Lenin’s opinion that Stalin was necessarily the best choice.After Lenin’s death most Bolshevik’s were aware of Trotsky’s intellectual abilities and talents, but they were also suspicious of him. He had not always been a Bolshevik and his late conversion from being a Menshevik, and it was thought that he was not a true communist. His ‘self-confidence’ mentioned by Lenin was certainly a disadvantage as it meant that he kept aloof from party members in the last months of Lenin’s life. He did not recognise a need to create a popular following, a role Stalin was pursuing actively.

At this time and immediately following Lenin’s death Stalin was busy cultivating the cult of ‘Leninism’, and painting himself as the staunchest and most faithful follower. Trotsky’s disagreements with Lenin over policy, particularly the setting up of the NEP put him at a great disadvantage. Although he was clearly talented and able Trotsky was not popular and refused to try to present himself in an appealing light.By contrast Stalin was working hard to become known amongst the party members and his position as general secretary to the Central Committee gave him every opportunity to do so. His blameless and steadfast political support of the Bolshevik movement contrasted favourably with Trotsky’s early political history, and his outward hero-worshipping of Lenin endeared him further. He carefully set up and organised Lenin’s funeral as a great event at the same time telling Trotsky the wrong date so that he would look as if he didn’t care for or honour the previous honoured leader.

Stalin continued with his manipulative tactics. In May 1924 Stalin organised the opposition to Trotsky’s proposal for series of plans to result in rapid industrialisation of Russia.He won over two of Lenin’s former inner cabinet, Zinoviev and Kamenev, and with their help managed to get Trotsky dismissed as Commissar for War. Zinoviev and Kamenev put forward ideas for investing in industry and controlling food prices but Stalin labelled this ‘Trotskyism’ and got Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky to denounce the two.

He then replaced them with his own supporters Kirov and Molotov. When Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev joined forces against Stalin and the NEP they were expelled from the Politburo. When Trotsky tried to overthrow Stalin in 1927 He was expelled from the party and exiled. Two years later Stalin banished him from the country and was undisputed leader.So it was through his extraordinary skills of manipulating people and events, that Stalin managed to overcome the opposition of the more able man Trotsky who was no match for his trickery and deceit.

Jocelyn WhiteThe following were equally important reasons why Stalin was able to hold on to power in the Soviet Union:The purges and show trialsThe secret policePropaganda and the cult of the personalityStalin’s economic policyExplain how far you agree with this statementCertainly each of the subjects mentioned above played a significant role in enabling Stalin to maintain control of the Soviet Union, but it was their interaction that was the deciding factor.It was Lenin who set up the Cheka or secret police to deal with opposition. Its aim was to combat ‘counter-revolution’ by terror. During the civil war it increased its powers and was first known as the OGPU before becoming the NKVD. I t was the main tool for supervising the most important and dangerous projects of Stalin’s five-year plans.

Anyone caught speaking out against the Plans, or against Stalin himself, was severely punished and informants were everywhere. Because people were so frightened they would even inform on their own families. Sentences were extremely harsh, usually between ten and twenty-five years in a labour camp. Prisoners were often used to work on industrial projects such as dams, canals and factories; the Moscow underground system was built by prisoners.

The conditions were terrible and frequently dangerous (safety precautions were ignored), with prisoners working long hours without decent food, and thousands died. The NKVD did not care and just replaced the dead with others. In the 1930s eight and a half million people were arrested and many were never heard of again. By using the secret police in this way Stalin prevented any opposition gaining a foothold amongst the ordinary people who were terrified to voice, or even listen to, any criticism. This was a very effective way of maintaining power through fear.Stalin was always very sensitive to criticism or disagreement with his ideas. He also disliked the idea that anyone could be popular. He manipulated the Central Committee during the early years after Lenin died to remove his opponents from positions of authority.

In order to consolidate his position he 1935 he began what became known as the ‘purges’ and ‘show trials’. In December 1934 Sergei Kirov was assassinated and, although many believe that Stalin himself was behind his death, Stalin used the event to blame other leading communists who he wanted to get rid of. In the first stage the senior ranks of the party were not touched and the fourteen men executed for Kirov’s murder were all minor figures.

Two significant figures Kamenev and Zinoviev were imprisoned for ‘opposition’, and two others Kuibyshev and Gorky inexplicably died. It would look as though Stalin was warning his political opponents that he was a man to fear and hoping to retain his powerful position through intimidation. He also appointed his own supporters to important posts. Two years later Stalin was again feeling under pressure and he stepped up the purges.

He arrested Kamenev and Zinoviev and 14 others on charges of plotting and terrorist activities, and following their trials, in which they inexplicably and openly confessed, were executed.The next stage seems to have been triggered by the acquittal of two of Stalin’s greatest rivals, Bukharin and Rykov. The head of the NKVD was replaced by a man who immediately renewed charges against Bukharin and Rykov, as well as other prominent Bosheviks. These latest trials also resulted in the deaths of people prepared to speak against Stalin or his policies and were followed by a purging of the Red Army in which 80% of the high ranking officials lost their post and often their lives. The ‘show trials’ were held for political purposes to convey a message to the public and other officials. The result of the purges was that Stalin’s political position was now almost unchallengeable. All opposition in the party and the army had been crushed, and Stalin was now surrounded by his supporters.Propaganda and the cult of the personality were important weapons in Stalin’s armoury to deflect opposition and criticism.

He used the cult of the personality to increase his popularity as well as to maintain control and power. His picture appeared everywhere and towns were named after him. Statues of him were put up in prominent places, and children were taught to think of him as ‘father’ of Russia. Slogans gave him credit for everything: ‘The country is being led from victory to victory by the steersman of the Party, the great Stalin.’ Every success should be attributed to him personally so he commissioned paintings and drawings to show him at particular sites, such as in front of new dams. He presented himself as having been very close to Lenin by altering photographs to suggest this, or commissioning paintings showing supposed meetings. Propaganda too was used ruthlessly.

The famous picture of the Moscow underground shows the place as being palatial, a monument to him, with no acknowledgement that thousands of prisoners died making it.The press, radio, cinema and publishing were all strictly controlled to prevent any negative comments being communicated, and increasing the element of hero-worship he wanted to induce. He used the NKVD to terrorise people into never uttering a negative word, which enabled the propaganda to work more effectively. The people were so frightened that they didn’t even dare think anything against Stalin. Loyalty was the only safe option. The ‘show trials’ were another form of propaganda which showed Stalin’s power not just over the ordinary people but also over his ‘equals’, other politicians. People were constantly warned of the ‘danger from abroad’ to increase their patriotism.

Government propaganda in the form of posters and on the radio was continually presented to the workers who were told that everything they were doing was helping their country.Stalin’s economic policy was very extreme. Having first presented himself in favour of a slow progression to industrialisation (to oust his left-wing opponents) he went on to introduce his rapid industrialisation programme through his five-year plans. The plan was made by the central planning office called Gosplan.

It laid down production targets for each industry which had to be met by the end of the five year period. Targets were set for every factory, shift and even every worker, and there were severe penalties for those who slacked or did bad work. Although the targets of the first five-year plan were not all met production increased dramatically and by the end of the second five-year plan the results were amazing. The purpose of the plans was each industry was linked to each other and a co-ordinated policy resulted in maximum production. Specially good workers were given the title Stakhovite after a particular miner Alexei Stakhov who shovelled a remarkable 102 tonnes in one shift. He was publicised as a hero and given extra holidays, more food and special privileges. The downside was that the achievements of these Stakhovites was then used to set the targets for the other workers.

The huge changes in industry were matched by changes in agriculture.To raise the production levels more workers were needed. Peasants were needed as factory workers as well as trying to produce food for the country as well as export to raise revenue to buy essential machinery. Stalin introduced collectivism to farming.

A collective was a large combined farm, or kolkhoz, where a group of farmers worked in larger units to make the production more efficient. Tools and animals were shared from a common pool. Collectives were run by a committee with a Communist Party member as the chairman. Crops were grown in particular quantities, some for industry, some to feed the workers and a fixed amount had to be given to the state regardless of the harvest. The collectives were unpopular with the peasants particularly the better off ones, the Kulaks, who had lead very good lives under Lenin’s NEP. Stalin would not put up with any resistance so he drove them from their homes and were forced into labour camps or on to poor land, and many died. Production of grain and meat fell dramatically at the start of the five-year plans and with the state taking much of the harvest famine spread through the countryside.The result of Stalin’s economic policy was that the USSR became an industrial giant.

Although targets were not always met by 1937 production was way ahead of where it had been in 1927.It is therefore my opinion that the statement at the start is largely true. The four factors were not independent of each other, and each would have been less effective in the absence of the others. Stalin’s economic policy was dependent to a large extent on the secret police who were everywhere. If a worker took time off they were fined or humiliated, and anyone making a mistake was accused of sabotage and sent to a prison camp.

Without the NKVD and the control of the media through censorship, and the use of propaganda, such harsh penalties may not have been tolerated by the ordinary workers and peasants. Also without the NKVD the opposition of the kulaks could not have been quashed so speedily.The purges also played a part in Stalin’s ability to push through his economic plans as without removing his political opponents he would have found carrying out his extreme policies more difficult. In turn the purges could not have taken place without the NKVD spying and arresting and carrying out Stalin’s orders. The purges were also used as a propaganda message to the public that opposition would be forcefully dealt with. As well as playing a role in the purges and show trials, propaganda was an essential ingredient in stimulating the Russian people in their superhuman efforts to meet their targets.

Without the purges Stalin could have been prevented from succeeding by political opposition. Without the NKVD Stalin could have been stopped by the peasants or workers rebelling, or by his political opponents. Without his economic policy Stalin would not have been able to turn Russia into a great industrial nation, or provide his people with free medicine and education, or bring agriculture under state control. Throughout all these runs Stalin’s great propaganda machine, and his extraordinary establishing of Stalinist culture that underpins them all.

None could have assured him of retaining power without the others.


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