Lenin and the Russian Revolution

It was Russia’s tragedy, writes Leonard Schapiro, that a greater man than Stalin supplied Stalin with the means to put his nightmare Utopia into practice.

No revolutionary leader's career lends itself to such a wide range of speculation as that of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. For, although he lived long enough to achieve the power for his party that he had striven for all his life, and long enough to put his imprint on the shape of the future Soviet State, his career was cut short at the moment when his influence could have been most decisive.

In March 1921, at a time when Communist power was threatened by internal resistance from peasants and workers alike, and the Communist leadership assailed by rank-and-file opposition, Lenin was at the height of his vigour. At the Tenth Party Congress he laid down the economic and political guide-lines designed to save the Communist monopoly of power which he had worked hard to establish against an increasingly Socialist but not Communist-oriented country.

The New Economic Policy swept aside the extensive doctrinaire measures, known as ‘War Communism’, which had proved a disastrous failure, in favour of limited free enterprise and peasant initiative. Inside the party, unanimity was established by force: dissenting factions were prohibited on pain of expulsion, and severe restrictions were imposed on freedom of discussion.

N.E.P. is now no more than a memory, in some ways the memory of a golden age: but the iron rules of party discipline form the basis of the Soviet Communist Party to this day. Within a year of these momentous transformations, Lenin was an ailing man. His interventions in politics became less frequent and less effective, and his advice was on occasions quietly ignored. In 1923, two years after the Tenth Congress, a second stroke removed him from all public activity until his death on January 21st, 1924.

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