At the Crossroads of Lenin and Stalin

Map of the USSR portraying 1922-1928

Map of the USSR portraying 1922-1928

(( Soviet Union 1922-1928 : Socialist republics – National powers. Digital image. Hisatlas – Map of Soviet Union 1922-1928. Accessed February 21, 2016. ))


During the Russian Civil War, nationalist uprisings and criticisms left Bolshevik leadership with some important questions and decisions to make. They had to determine whether to grant different ethnicities and nationalities sovereignty, how to cope with those that did not receive as such, and how to make the union of soviet socialist republics stronger and well-connected. Both Lenin and Stalin, in the form of personal writing, shared their thoughts on these issues.


Lenin seemed to take an approach not too dissimilar to the ancient Romans: when ruling over another group of people, keep their systems and leadership intact, so long as they provided troops and worked within the greater economic system.[1] Lenin understood that to oppress a minority population led to resentment and an unwillingness to work with the system in place. Furthermore, he claimed to see beyond nationalities in a sense, declaring being a proletariat the superior identifying characteristic. Moreover, if groups worked together long enough, their origins will cease to matter.


Stalin argued in a similar manner, but used Western and pseudo-socialist nations to juxtapose where his Communist ideology was superior.[2] He criticized the others for being hypocritical in its views towards imperialism: while they were willing to allow for “self-determination” of their colonies, they refused to acknowledge the similar poor treatment minorities received in the home countries. Furthermore, Stalin criticized the other countries’ warping of “self-determination” to the point where a minority ethnicity or nationality could receive their cultural freedom, but still essentially had to maintain political and economic submission to the mother country. Stalin also asserted the fusion of nationalist revolution against colonialism and imperialism with proletariat revolution against capitalism.


However, what Stalin failed to acknowledge were the minority groups under control of Russia at the time.[3] He avoided discussing the people of Georgia, Armenia, and the like. Perhaps because Stalin himself was Georgian and had managed to become a higher up in the Bolshevik Party, he saw no reason for Georgians not to be a part of Russia. In any case, it is at this point where Stalin differed from Lenin, leading to a course of action in which Lenin eventually condemns Stalin in his writing. Lenin acknowledged the nationality differences within the future USSR, and seemed to prepare to figure out how to solve the problem.


That being said:

  1. Lenin dictated that being a proletariat in a communist mindset superseded all other forms of identification. In a capitalist system, what gets valued more – economic class or nationality? Does it depend on the class?
  2. Lenin and Stalin wrote these points during the Russian Civil War. Do you think their points would have changed had they been written afterwards?
  3. How did Stalin’s attacks on imperialism fit into the global context at the time (1921)?

[1] Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich. “Lenin on Nationality Policy.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 2015. Accessed February 21, 2016.

[2] Stalin, Joseph. “The Presentation of the National Question.” The Presentation of the National Question. Accessed February 21, 2016.

[3] Stalin wrote in 1921, meaning that it was still Russia at the time.

War Communism and the New Economic Policy – the Bolsheviks’ Experiments with Economics

As the Russian Civil War (1917-1922) neared its end, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky sought to utilize the war energy and spirit to help improve the economy. Under their leadership, the Bolsheviks began to convert military units into “labor armies.” The first of these troops to be converted was the Third Red Army, which became the First Labor Army in 1920. The troops new orders, as evidenced by Trotsky’s “Order to the Third Red Army – First Labor Army,” and Lenin’s “Decree on the First Revolutionary Labor Army,” were to help laborers in tasks of carpentry, blacksmithing, and farming. Furthermore, armies and laborers shared food and registered each worker and item produced. Trotsky and Lenin meant for the system to be organized and working within the framework already set up by locals. These orders are filled with Marxist ideology, especially in their valuation of equality, unity, and the spread of knowledge. However, it seems this system did not work as well as Trotsky and Lenin had hoped, because only a year later, Lenin introduced new economic policy.


This “New Economic Policy” (NEP) acted as a significant shift in direction, perhaps best indicated by the chart below.




The biggest change between the old War Communism, and the New Economic Policy was the introduction of a tax-in-kind. According to a document put forth by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, the tax-in-kind was percentage-based, progressive, and precisely timed.[2] After the government collected the tax, laborers could use the surplus for consumption and exchange, or trading with the government for other items of consumption and agricultural machinery.


In other documents, such as the “All-Russian Central Executive Committee, The Right of Private Property in Commerce and Industry” and “Law on Land Tenure and Use. May 22, 1922,” Lenin especially utilized and emphasized a rational system. The documents meticulously lay out what items could be considered private property and what could be contracted.[3] They also specifically attend to landowning, and the types of land-tenure an agricultural community could have.[4] In allowing a community to elect which type of land-tenure to use, the law enabled the laborers to choose. Furthermore, the documents dictate that if one is unable to fulfill their duty, they will be able to hire help, or if one enters the military, the community will take care of the land for him/her. However, the documents appear a little too idealistic in their expectations for people to think rationally, and perhaps this is why Stalin retracts many of the policies in 1929.

[1] Comparison Between War Communism and the New Economic Policy. Digital image. The New Economic Policy. Evaluate. Accessed February 14, 2016. New Economic Policy. Evaluate.

[2]V. I. Lenin, “All-Russian Central Executive Committee, The Tax in Kind. March 21, 1921,” Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1934), Vol. XXXII, pp. 214-228.

[3] “All-Russian Central Executive Committee, The Right of Private Property in Commerce and Industry. May 22, 1922,” Russian Information and Review. Vol. I, No. 20 (15 July 1922), pp. 478-479.

[4] J. Meisel and E. S. Kozera, eds., “Law on Land Tenure and Use. May 22, 1922,” Materials for the Study of the Soviet System (Ann Arbor: G. Wahr Pub. Co., 1953), pp. 133-138.

The Demise of the Romanov Dynasty

After over three hundred years of Russian rule by the Romanov Dynasty, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated his throne in March of 1917. The Russian leader was facing popular unrest over an enormous wealth gap and then chose to thrust his nation into an expensive and bloody war against Germany. Nicholas’ rule had experienced an uprising in 1905 which persuaded him to call a supposedly representative body known as a Duma, but the Tsar’s refusal to accept any of the body’s proposals only fueled discontent among the people. By 1917, Nicholas “recognized that it [was] for the good of the country that [he] should abdicate the Crown of the Russian State and lay down the Supreme Power.” ((Abdication of Nikolai II)) The Tsar blamed the domestic strife for further stunting the war efforts, but he claimed that “the moment [was] near when our valiant Army, in concert with out glorious Allies, will finally overthrow the enemy.” ((Abdication of Nikolai II)) Despite his apparent optimism, he decided to leave the Crown to his brother Mikhail Alexandrovich, who was equally hesitant about shouldering the burden of the Russian State. Mikhail dubbed the power bestowed on him as a “heavy task” ((Declaration from the Throne by Grand Duke Mikhail)) and left control to a provisional government. He hoped to avoid further public outcry by promising the populace a role in deciding what type of government would next rule over Russia.

The First Provisional Government proposed a liberal set of guidelines in the wake of the Tsar’s downfall. The people the cabinet presided over were meant to have freedom of speech, relative freedom of religion, universal suffrage, the power to elect those who will hold office, and universal pardons for anyone accused of political crimes. ((The First Provisional Government)) It would not hold true to its promise of a direct vote for the constitution and form of government that would lead Russia. Multiple provisional governments would be established before the so called Bolshevik Revolution just a few months later in November of 1917. The Revolution was technically a bloodless coup, orchestrated by Vladimir Lenin who would hold power until his death.


Lenin – Mouthpiece for the Future

Vladmir Lenin, a Russian Communist and revolutionary, was one of the most crucial, yet controversial, individuals of the twentieth century. Despite being born into a wealthy middle class family, he became interested in socialism and communism after Russian officials executed his brother in 1887.[1] Lenin wrote the text, What is to Be Done, just before the split of his party, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, into the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.[2] In his writing, Lenin depicted the type of revolutionary and system of organization that he wanted most and thought would work the best. He argued that the list of potential revolutionaries should be as wide and public as possible, that is, inclusive not solely of the working class, but others that wanted to join the cause as well. Lenin envisioned having revolutionaries based in multiple sectors of society. Furthermore, Lenin wanted his revolutionaries to treat the situation as an additional profession, if not their only profession. That meant that individuals who wished to become revolutionaries had to go through training and learn the necessary skills to be reliable and efficient. Lenin believed that if revolutionaries were trained, the organization would be harder to track down and it would allow more people to join up.  Lastly, Lenin emphasized that revolutionaries need to be willing to organize and work together, promoting stability; and thus allowing leaders to maintain continuity. Lenin concluded with a plea that demonstrated that too many current “revolutionaries” were using excuses and were not trained enough to complete their assignments. With his efficient system in place, Lenin believed that the revolution would work out better and that there would be no excuses for failure.

What makes Lenin’s theories so intriguing is that he essentially wants his revolutionaries to be trained like police officers or those in the military. While Lenin was not the first necessarily to propose this idea, it is apparent that other revolutions do not carry this form of revolutionary organization. Peasants and factory workers carried out the French Revolution. Factory workers especially pushed through the Revolutions of 1848. What’s further intriguing is that Lenin lays out a modern take on how to carry out a revolution. From the French resistance movement in WWII to the Chinese Communist Revolution, future revolutionaries follow Lenin’s guidelines. Furthermore, terrorist cells today are run on the exact same principles: include everyone you can who is willing, train them well, and respect authority, so as to keep stability and continuity. While Lenin may not be the first to try these tactics, it is his role as a mouthpiece to and for the future that makes his ideas so important.


Question for Commenters: Are there any other examples of those who may follow Lenin’s ideas on what it means to be a revolutionary?

[1] “Vladmir Lenin.” Wikipedia. Accessed March 24, 2015.

[2] Ibid.