Communist Russia

Thanks to T H for contributing the notes!

Background Info:

  1. At the time of WWI (1914-1918), the Russian Empire was the largest in the world.

  2. Russia was ruled by the Tsar and a group of nobles.

  3. However, the Tsar was losing popularity among the Russians during WWI.

  4. The Tsar was forced to give up his power during the February Revolution.


A. Impacts of WWI & The Fall of Tsar

1. Demand for the war to end:

  1. Faced food & coal shortages.

  2. Without coal, people have to endure several winter seasons.

  3. Many resorted to the same source of limited food supply, causing the wait for food to be long.

  4. Tsar Nicholas II was blamed for taking direct command of the army in 1915, as he caused many soldiers to deserted.

  5. In 1916 alone, 1.5 million out of the 13 million who joined who deserted.

  6. By 1917, there was little respect for the Tsar and soldiers did not see any point to continuing to fight.

2. Demand for land:

  1. Peasants want a fairer distribution of land.

  2. The Social Revolutionaries helped these peasants by seizing land by force and redistributing among the peasants.

3. Demand for Food:

  1. Crops from the countryside have to be sent to the cities and the military.

  2. This causes over usage of transport system to deliver food, and this led to food shortages in the cities.

  3. "Bread" riots then arises throughout the country as workers demanded more food.

  4. Inflammation of food prices.

Such hardships caused by WWI on the Russian people and the inability to resolve the hardships will eventually lead to the fall of the Tsar monarchy and this opened the opportunity for other ideas like democracy or communism to be seen new alternatives by the Russians.

B. Unpopularity & Fall of the Provisional Government

1. Decision to keep Russia in WWI:

  1. The Provisional Government feared that turning their backs on WWI may threaten the peace treaty with the Germans.

  2. Used up resources that could have been used to improve the lives of Russians.

  3. Large numbers of soldiers were demoralized by continuing military setbacks.

  4. Support for the Bolsheviks grew.

2. Land forms were not carried out:

  1. The Provisional Government included members who were rich landowners who had a vested interest in delaying or stopping redistribution of land.

  2. The peasants, who made up the majority of the Russian people, were dissatisfied with the slow pace of redistribution.

  3. Hence peasants murdered or chased away the landowners to seize the land for themselves.

3. Struggle for Power with the Soviets:

  1. The Soviets are groups of Russian workers, peasants and soldiers who had organised themselves into councils that would govern an area.

    • E.g. the Petrograd Soviet took charge of the city's food supplies on 12 March & gave Russians food.

The inabilities of the Democratic Provisional Government to meet the demands of the people caused them to be disappointed with democracy and to support communism with the forms of Communist Bolsheviks and its Red Army instead.

C. Strengths of the Communist Bolsheviks and Red Army

  1. The Red Army was disciplined & united compared to their enemies.

  2. Manpower of the Red army increased to ~300 000men.

  3. Had much support from the navy and Russian Army.

  4. They also had support from major industrial cities such as Petrograd & Moscow.

  5. Relatively more popular than Provisional Government.

The promises made by Lenin, the leader of Communist Bolsheviks, to improve the lives of the Russian people made those people support Communism and the increased strength of the Red Army ensure that their opponents could be easily crushed.


A. BG Info:

  1. When Lenin died in 1924, there was a struggle to replace him as the new leader of Soviet (Communist) Russia.

  2. Trotsky was widely considered as the most possible successor due to his strong influence in the Red Army and contributions to the October Revolution.

  3. However, by 1929, Stalin managed to get rid of Trotsky and became the new leader of Russia.

B. Outwitting his rivals

1. Stalin pretended to be close to Lenin:

  1. He held the role of chief mourner at Lenin's funeral.

  2. He gave Trotsky the wrong date of the funeral, making other enraged with the thinking that the most likely successor is actually disrespecting Lenin.

2. Stalin formed alliances:

  1. Kamenev & Zinoviev wanted Stalin's support in eliminating Trotsky for the leadership of the Communist Party, hence they formed an alliance.

  2. However, after that, he found new alliances to dispose them too.

3. Stalin abuses his power as Secretary-General:

  1. He had the power to appoint Party officials.

  2. Hence, many key party officials owed their position to him and were loyal to him.

  3. Controlled the central Party machine & the local Party committes. Thus, his influence was spread even more broadly among rank and file members.

  4. Packed a 1925 Party meeting to vote that Trotsky to be removed from his post.

By outwitting his rivals, Stalin was able to establish his power base very firmly to ensure that he was recognize by both the Communist party and the Russian masses as the succesor to Lenin as Russia's new leader.

C. Weakness of Trotsky

  1. Complacent about building support within the party.

  2. Drew support from a narrow base, which comprises of only youths, students & his Red Army.

  3. His idea of world revolution was not supported by many.

  4. Before he joined the Bolsheviks, he made many anti-Lenin speeches.

  5. He was also once a member of Mensheviks, a rival of Bolsheviks.

Trotsky's weaknesses gave Stalin the opportunity to be regarded by both the Communist party and the Russian masses as a better choice as the successor to Lenin as Russia's new leader.


A. BG Info:

  1. Stalin wanted to transform the Soviet Union into a modern industrial state.

  2. He believed that the country needs to develop rapidly to be prepared for an attack from non-communist countries.

  3. He focused on developing heavy industries such as steel, metallurgy,chemicals,oil,coal & electricity

  4. Under Stain's rule, industrialisation progress came with very high human costs.

B. Stalin's industrialisation reforms

1. Poor work conditions:

  1. There are unrealistic production targets & appalling work conditions.

  2. e.g. of work conditions:

    1. Workers could be transferred from one place of work to another without their agreement

    2. could be dismissed if they missed a single day of work.

    3. had to work seven days a week.

  3. By 1929, there was labour unrest, as workers protested against their conditions.

  4. However, the government responded by taking strict disciplinary action against workers who were underperforming or engaged in sabotage.

2. System of rewards & training for workers:

  1. Salaries were offered based on their performance.

  2. Vacation discounts & medal are awarded to hardworking ones.

  3. Primary education was made compulsory.

  4. New colleges, schools & unis were built for the uneducated labour force.

  5. By 1930s, Russians were able to obtain well paid, high skilled jobs.

3. Changing living conditions:

  1. Initially due to the emphasis on heavy industries, industries that produced basic goods were neglected.

  2. Basic goods were in short supply and had to be rationed, which meant that each family could only buy a fixed amt. of items.

  3. Prices of basic good skyrocketed, causing actual value of workers' salaries to fall by ~50% as they could only buy less with the same amt. of money between 1928 & 1933.

  4. After 1935, production increased and more goods became available. Thus rationing ended in 1936.

  5. Although subject to strict factory discipline & severe punishments, workers received cheap meals & free uniforms.

  6. Free education, subsidised health care & provision of extensive leisure facilities have significantly improved Russians' lives.

C. Stalin's collectivisation reforms

1. Riots & Resistance:

  1. Farmers felt that Stalin is disrupting the traditional way of living that they were used to.

  2. 1,400 of assassinations of Communist Party members in 1928 was reported.

  3. Stalin blamed Kulaks, the richer land-owning farmers, for the previous failure of collectivisation, and ordered their elimination.

  4. Stalin responded to the farmers' attempt to stop forced collectivisation by ordering 17 million horses to be killed.

  5. But, not enough tractors to replace the amount of horses killed.

2. Getting rid of opponents of collectivisation:

  1. Villagers that did not cooperate were forced to be sent to the gulags (labour camps) where they were made to work on Stalin's construction projects.

3. Famine:

  1. Natural disasters like droughts and foods contributed to famines.

  2. Farmers burnt their crops & grew less food to be sent to the Communist officials to preserve their dignity.

  3. >10 million peasants and their families died.

  4. Ukraine is known as the 'bread basket of Russia' which sent food to other parts of Russia that did not produce enough food.

  5. Hence, famine in Ukraine in 1931 also affected Soviet Union areas to suffer food shortages.

Stalin's industrialisation & collectivisation reforms was significant because it resulted in the rapid development of Soviet Union's industrial & agriculture sector. However, many Russians suffered especially during the beginning years of the reforms in which millions of people died from the enforcement of the reforms and also from the famines caused by the reforms.


A. BG info:

  1. Kirov, head of the Communist Party in Leningrad, was shot outside his office.

  2. Stalin accused his political opponents of murdering him & plotting to murder him.

  3. Stalin's secret police (NKVD) arrested millions from 1934 to 1938.

  4. Those who were arrested were either expelled, sent to labour camps or shot at.

B. Stalin's Purges

1. Fear & Suspicion:

  1. NKVD was given a quota in which they had to arrest a min no. of 'enemies'.

  2. No evidence is required for arrests.

  3. False accuses were made frequently especially of intellectuals as they were seen as a threat to Stalin's rule, in which they might have organized other Russians to resist Stalin.

  4. Force innocent people to sign confessions & implicate others.

  5. Comments of Stalin were prohibited.

  6. Causes people to be paranoid of the door knocking at night.

2. Mass Executions:

  1. >20 million Russians were victims of the purges.

  2. Causes fear among people, not daring to oppose him.

  3. Those who had been purged were removed from photographs, as if erasing their existences itself in order to ensure that people left no memory of other potential hopes, and only Stalin as their guide.

3. Religious Persecution:

  1. Russians were not allowed to practise their religion.

  2. Before the Communists took over Russia, most Russians were devout members of the Orthodox Christian Church.

  3. Young Communist party members spread anti-religious propaganda by distributing pamphlets, journals or organising lecture that criticised religion for promoting 'harmful superstition'.

  4. Places for practising religions were then vandalized & leaders responsible for each religion were persecuted.

Stalin's purges allowed him to get rid of all his political opponents who might be a threat to his leadership in RUssia. As a result, no one dared to oppose him for fear of being purged and Stalin was able to have full political control over Russia as its dictator.

C. Stalin's tight control over culture

BG info:

  1. Stalin used education & the arts to control the culture in Russia.

  2. The teaching of history was changed to focus on the importance of Lenin & Stalin.

  3. Wrtiers, artists and musicians were also made to praise him & his programmes.

1. Restrictions on the Arts Scene:

  1. Artists and authors were forced to depict him in a good light.

  2. Arts were used as propaganda for Stalin's programmes such as industrialisation.

  3. This caused lack of variety in the arts of Communist Russia.

2. Cult of Personality:

  1. Portrayed himself as a fatherly, cheerful and popular man.

  2. All offices, classrrooms & factory floors had pictures him. Pictures & statues of him were omnipresent.

  3. Made all successes of the country to be attributed to him.

Stalin attempted to control the mindset of ordinary Russians so as to brainwash them to support him wholeheartedly despite the hardships they had. This further strengthed Stalin's power as the dictator in Russia.