The Consolidation of Bolshevik Power
1917: First Bolshevik
The Formation of the Soviet Government
and Its First Acts
1917: Treaty of Brest Litovsk
Treaty of Brest Litovsk
The ruined fortress town of Brest Litovsk, deep behind German
lines in occupied Poland, was selected by the Central Powers
(Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey) as the site to
conduct negotiations with the new Soviet government. There, on
December 2, 1917 an armistice was signed, but it would not be
Pokrovskii, Ioffe, Trotsky at
Lenin addressing a crowd in
In the early hours of October 26, 1917 the rump Second Congress of the Soviets adopted a proclamation drafted by
Lenin which declared the Provisional Government overthrown and laid out the new soviet government's program: an
immediate armistice "on all fronts," transfer of land to peasant committees, workers' control over production, the
convocation of the Constituent Assembly, bread to the cities, and the right of self-determination to all nations
inhabiting Russia. That very evening the Congress met for a second time and took three actions: decrees
on peace and land, and the formation of a new government.
The decree on peace called on the belligerent powers to cease hostilities and commit themselves to no annexations or
indemnities. It also appealed to the workers of Britain, France and Germany to support the Soviet's decision, that is, in
effect, to put pressure on their respective governments to enter into negotiations for a just peace. The land decree that
Lenin composed took its brief from the SR program and the peasant "mandates" that had been delivered to the All-
Russia Congress of Peasant Deputies in May. It proclaimed that "private ownership of land shall be abolished forever"
so that land could "become the property of the whole people, and shall pass into the use of those who cultivate it." By
recognizing what already had occurred in many parts of the country, the decree legitimized the new government in the
eyes of the peasants.
Finally, the Congress approved the formation of the new governing body presented by Lenin, the Council of People's
Commissars (Sovnarkom). It consisted of all Bolsheviks, including Lenin as chairman and thus head of the
government, Trotsky as commissar for foreign affairs, and Stalin as commissar for nationality affairs. The Congress
also selected a new Central Executive Committee (TsIK), which was to exercise full authority in between congresses.
Sixty-two of the 101 members of the TsIK were Bolsheviks, 29 were Left SRs, and the remaining ten were divided
among Menshevik-Internationalists and other minor socialist groups. The exact relationship between Sovnarkom and
the TsIK and the extent to which the rest of the country would recognize these decisions remained unclear for some
time to come.
until March 3 (NS), 1918 that a formal treaty was issued. Even thereafter, military action continued for
several months, as the German army pushed further and further into territories nominally under Soviet
Initially, the Soviet government's strategy, as
articulated by Trotsky, its commissar for
foreign affairs, was "neither war nor peace."
That is, assuming that the capitalist world
was on the brink of exhaustion and that
Soviet defiance would rouse the oppressed
masses of Europe to revolution, Trotsky
argued (against the opposition of Lenin) that
the negotiations should be used for
propaganda purposes. However, after the
Germans resumed military operations on February 18 (NS) and presented stiffer demands that
included an end to the Soviet presence in Ukraine and the Baltic provinces, Lenin achieved a majority
in the party's Central Committee in favor of accepting the enemy's terms. Thus, the Treaty of Brest
Litovsk provided the fledgling Soviet government with
a "breathing spell," in effect buying it time by
This bow to expediency did not go down well with
many Bolsheviks, not to speak of their sympathizers
in Europe or Russia's war-time allies who had feared
just such a separate peace. At the Bolsheviks'
Seventh Congress, the treaty was denounced by
Nikolai Bukharin and other so-called Left Communists
as a capitulation to imperialism. It also was anathema
to the Left SRs who, having supplied several
commissars to Sovnarkom in December, withdrew
them in protest and voted against the treaty at the
Fourth Congress of Soviets.
The results in the
dissolved the assembly
The Civil War
Causes of the Civil War
Events of the Civil War 1918–1921
• The war lasted 3 years.
• White armies led by Generals Yudenich and Denikin attacked Russia
from the west, Admiral Kolchak from the east.
• The Tsar and his family were put to death.
• The Red Army defeated Kolchak in 1919 – after this the British,
American and French armies went home.
• The civil war caused shortages, famine and disease - millions died.
There were many cruel atrocities.
• The last White army in Russia was defeated in the Crimea in 1920.
• The Red Army invaded Poland in 1921, but was defeated and driven
• In 1922 The Tenth Party Congress declared the Union of Soviet
White propaganda poster representing
the Bolsheviks as a fallen communist
dragon and the White Cause as a
Collapse of Russian Empire
• Decree on Nationalities allowed national minorities chance to govern
• Many territories declared independence from RSFSR
• Central Siberian Region Soviet rejected Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
• 33 sovereign governments in Russia (June 1918)
• Growth of political opposition, e.g. Union for Defence of the Motherland &
Liberty (Jan 1918)
• SRs and Mensheviks excluded from Constituent Assembly &Sovnakom
(Executive Committee of Soviets) joined anti-Bolshevik alliance, ‘Whites’
• Western allies angry with Russia’s withdrawal from WWI
• Churchill sent £100m of supplies to help Whites
• French govt sent 7 million francs to Kaedin, leader of Cossacks.
• USA, Japan, Italy, Canada sent troops
Breakdown of law & order
• Class warfare broke out – mobs and armed solidiers roamed Petrograd.
• Peasants acting illegally seizing land without official sanction
• Arbitrary arrest & imprisonment by Cheka
• Loss of Ukraine – ‘bread basket of Russia’ as part of Tr. of B-L exacerbated
• Soaring inflation
• Kulaks accused of grain hoarding
Why The Bolsheviks Won The War
were disunited and thousands of miles apart, so Trotsky could
fight them one by one.
was a brilliant war leader and strategist, so the Red Army had
Many Russians were Communists, who believed they were
fighting for a better world. Others fought for them because
they hated foreign (British, American and French) armies
invading Russia. This made the Bolshevik soldiers fervent and
4. War Communism
The Bolsheviks nationalised the factories, and introduced
military discipline. Strikes were made illegal. Food was
rationed. Peasants were forced to give food to the
government. This gave the Bolshevik armies the supplies
The Cheka murdered any Whites they found – more than
7000 people were executed, and Red Army generals were
kept loyal by taking their families hostage – so the
Bolsheviks were united.
The Bolsheviks had control of the main cities of Moscow and
Petrograd (with their factories), control of the railways (vital),
an army of 300,000 men, very strict army discipline, and
internal lines of communication – giving them the advantage
in the war.
Arise, ye slaves who know starvation!
Shake off the curse that binds the earth!
Our reason boils with indignation,
And makes us die to gain new birth.
We'll tear down our planet's false
Then build a better world anew,
While he who lived in humble station
Will stand erect, as is his due.
The Internationale was the national anthem
of the USSR. Its words explain why the
western governments were so hostile to
Bolshevik propaganda poster of
Trotsky slaying the counter-
revolutionary dragon, 1918
The Kronstadt Mutiny
Effects of Kronstadt
The Kronstadt rebellion had two key effects:
1.Many socialists all over the world lost
faith in the Bolshevik revolution, which
they now saw as a repressive regime.
2.Lenin realised that he would have to
relax War Communism, or he was going
to provoke a revolution which would
throw out the Bolsheviks; this was why
he invented the ‘New Economic Policy’.
The sailors at the Kronstadt naval base had long been a source of radical dissent. Mutinies had
taken place during the 1905 Revolution and played an important role in persuading Nicholas II to
issue his October Manifesto.
The Kronstadt sailors were also active in the overthrow of Nicholas II in the February Revolution. A
large number of the sailors were Bolsheviks and during the October Revolution they took control of
the cruiser, Aurora, and sailed it up the River Neva and opened fire on the Winter Palace.
According to Bertram D. Wolfe: "They jailed their officers without trial in the same hell holes that
had been used to discipline them, and drowned or bloodily lynched many. Leon Trotsky later
claimed: "The most hateful of the officers were shoved under the ice, of course while still alive...
Bloody acts of retribution were as inevitable as the recoil of a gun."
By 1921 the Kronstadt sailors had become disillusioned with the Bolshevik government. They were
angry about the lack of democracy and the policy of War Communism. On 28th February, 1921, the
crew of the battleship, Petropavlovsk, passed a resolution calling for a return of full political
Lenin denounced the Kronstadt Uprising as a plot instigated by the White Army and their European
supporters. On 6th March, Leon Trotsky announced that he was going to order the Red Army to
attack the Kronstadt sailors. However, it was not until the 17th March that government forces were
able to take control of Kronstadt. An estimated 8,000 people (sailors and civilians) left Kronstadt
and went to live in Finland.
Official figures suggest that 527 people were killed and 4,127 were wounded. Historians who have
studied the uprising believe that the total number of casualties was much higher than this.
According to Victor Serge over 500 sailors at Kronstadt were executed for their part in the rebellion.
Nikolai Sukhanov reminded Leon Trotsky that three years previously he had told the people
of Petrograd: "We shall conduct the work of the Petrograd Soviet in a spirit of lawfulness and of full
freedom for all parties. The hand of the Presidium will never lend itself to the suppression of the
minority." Trotsky lapsed into silence for a while, then said wistfully: "Those were good days."
Why was War
The Red Army needed to be
supplied with food and weapons
to help it fight the Civil War
against the Whites.
The Bolsheviks were
Communists. They wanted to
take control of industry and food
production in Russia.
What was War
The Bolsheviks took control of factories,
mines, workshops and railways.
Workers were forced to work in factories.
Grain was taken from the peasants using
The Bolsheviks took control of the banks.
Private trade was not allowed.
Food was rationed.
Why did War Communism
Peasants hid grain. Many peasants were arrested or shot.
Fall in food production
Peasants grew less grain. This led to a famine in 1921.
Food shortages and famine
There were food shortages in towns.
Fall in factory production
The number of goods produced by factories did not increase as a result
of War Communism.
The sailors at the Kronstadt naval base revolted against the Bolshevik
government in 1921. They wanted an end to War communism.
Following the tsar’s abdication, the Imperial Family (pictured
in 1913) was kept under house arrest first in the Alexander
Palace in TsarskoeSelo, 15 miles south of Petrograd, then,
from August 1917, in Tobolsk in Western Siberia. In April
1918, they were transferred to Yekaterinburg in the Urals and
kept in a former merchant’s house, known by the Bolsheviks
obscurely as the ‘House of Special Purpose’.
In July 1918, a legion of Czech troops were closing in on the
town, and the Bolsheviks, fearing the Romanovs might be
In December, 1917, Felix Dzerzhinsky was appointed as Commissar for Internal Affairs and head of the All-Russian
Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (Cheka). As Dzerzhinsky later commented:
"In the October Revolution, I was a member of the Military Revolutionary Committee, and then I was entrusted with the
task of organizing the Extraordinary Commission for the Struggle against Sabotage and Counterrevolution I was
appointed its Chairman, holding at the same time the post of Commissar for Internal Affairs."
Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky argued that unless internal opposition to the government was removed the White Army
would win the Civil War. The Constituent Assembly was closed down and political parties such as the Cadets, Mensheviks
and the Socialist Revolutionaries were banned. Strict censorship was also introduced with all anti-Bolshevik newspapers
being closed down.
Political repression was intensified after two incidents in August, 1918. MoiseiUritsky, chief of the Petrograd Secret Police
was assassinated by a student and two weeks later Fanya Kaplan shot and severely wounded Vladimir Lenin. These
violent acts were blamed on the Socialist Revolutionaries.
Joseph Stalin, who was in Tsaritsyn at the time, sent a telegram advocating an "open and systematic mass terror" against
those responsible. The advice of Stalin, who had used these tactics successfully in Tsaritsyn, was accepted and in
September, 1918, Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka, instigated the Red Terror. It is estimated that in the next few
months 800 socialists were arrested and shot without trial. In the first year the official figure, almost certainly an
underestimate, suggested 6,300 people were executed without trial.
Yekaterinburg's "Church on the Blood", built on the spot where the Ipatiev House once stood
Following the tsar’s abdication, the Imperial Family (pictured in 1913) was kept under house arrest first in the Alexander
Palace in TsarskoeSelo, 15 miles south of Petrograd, then, from August 1917, in Tobolsk in Western Siberia. In April
1918, they were transferred to Yekaterinburg in the Urals and kept in a former merchant’s house, known by the Bolsheviks
obscurely as the ‘House of Special Purpose’.
In July 1918, a legion of Czech troops were closing in on the town, and the Bolsheviks, fearing the Romanovs might be
rescued and become a rallying point for their enemies, decided to act, probably under the orders of Bolshevik leader,
Vladimir Lenin. Around midnight on 17 July 1918, the family was awakened, told to get dressed and washed, and taken
down to the basement of the house.
Alexandra’s request for a couple of chairs was granted. The former royal couple sat down, with the 13-year-old Alexei
sitting on his father’s lap (both wore soldiers’ shirts and caps) and the girls gathered behind their mother. Also with them,
the family doctor and three servants that had remained loyal to the last. YakovYurovsky, in charge of the house, led in a
squad of executioners and read a short statement announcing the order for execution. An incredulous Nicholas said,
‘What?’ before being shot dead by Yurovsky. The squad opened fire. But Alexandra and her daughters had, over the
weeks, sewn their jewellery into their undergarments (lest they could be used for bartering at some point) and thus to a
degree were protected from the bullets. But they were finished off by bayonet and finally a shot each to the head.
After the civil war, Lenin revised his economic policy and introduced the New
Economic Policy (NEP). Through this, peasants were allowed to sell some of
their produce for profit and small traders were allowed to run businesses.
The NEP: how successful was Lenin's attempt to set up a Communist
In 1921, the Kronstadt sailors - who had been the Bolsheviks fiercest supporters -
mutinied, demanding an end to War Communism. Trotsky put down the rebellion, but
Lenin was worried - if the Kronstadt sailors had been pushed too far, how long would it
be before the rest of the country rose up and threw out the Bolsheviks? The civil war
was won. It was time to pull back.
Lenin brought in what he
called the New
Peasants who had been
forced to hand
over all their produce to
the war effort - were
allowed to keep some
to sell for profit - some
(the kulaks) became
quite rich. Small traders
called Nepmen were
allowed to set up
businesses. At the same
time, local nationalities
who had been forced to
follow a strict Communist
line were allowedto
bring back their own
language and customs. Churches, mosques and bazaars were re-opened.
The economy picked up, and people were much happier. But many old Bolsheviks said
Lenin had sold out to capitalism, and left the party.