The Fate and Justification of those who opposed the Revolution
During the time of Revolution in Russia, the main leaders were Stalin Trotsky and Lenin. During their reign they dealt with those who resisted the revolution using various methods, most of which were very brutal. The most common methods used by these leaders were: arrest, terror, imprisonment, transportation to Siberia, execution, torture, exile and liquidation. The use of such measures to strike out at those who opposed the revolution were justified in many ways by Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin.
When Lenin and the Bolsheviks came to power the situation in Russia was very unstable as was the position that the party held. Lenin was willing to take any measures he saw necessary, no matter how brutal, to ensure the success of his revolution and party. Almost as soon as Lenin came to power he implemented a reign of terror. Lenin saw the use of terror as a necessity and soon after the coup in October 1917 he asked Kamenev How can one make revolution without executions? [Laver (1994:62)]. Given the fact that the Bolsheviks were a minority when they came to power and that they had many political opponents such as the Mensheviks and the Socialist revolutionaries it is probably correct of Lenin to say that terror and subsequently executions were unavoidable. Later Lenin stated to Trotsky: Do you really think that we will be victorious without using the most cruel terror? [Laver (1994:62)] This comment suggests that Lenin may not have agreed wholly with the use of terror but maintained that it was necessary for the success of the revolution. Lenin was so convinced that the use of terror would ensure the success of the revolution that in December 1917 he authorized the feared Dzerzhinsky to set up the Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Speculation (CHEKA). The CHEKA was responsible for Dealing with suspect political opponents, saboteurs and other counter-revolutionaries. The CHEKA Dealt with these opponents of the revolution with varying measure ranging from arrest to murder. Lenin took full responsibility for the actions of the CHEKA and justified its use as a force to counter the opposition s terror, that is combating terror with terror.
Lenin also initiated a class war aimed at the kulaks or richer peasant farmers. This war began in August 1918 when Lenin issued the following order aimed at these kulaks because they were resisting his regime, in particular the requisition of food:
Ruthless war must be waged on the kulaks! Death to them! Hatred and contempt for the parties that support them
The workers must crush the kulak revolts with an iron hand, for the kulaks have formed an alliance with the foreign capitalists against the toilers of their own country.
(Civil War in the Villages, August 1918)
[Quoted in Laver (1994: 62)]
Lenin has justified his actions against the kulaks by fabricating a relationship between them and the foreign capitalist the enemy of any Marxist believer. No such relationship existed the kulaks were simply unhappy because their harvest was being taken forcibly from them by food requisitioning units. Some groups such as the Tambov Greens fought back effectively for a short time until the army was called in and a massacre occurred. Lenin s class war against the kulaks was mostly successful. When an assassination attempt was made on Lenin and another party member on the 30th of August 1918 Lenin stepped up his terror campaign and many executions followed often supported by little evidence. In a party speech soon after Lenin continued to justify his use of terror:
The CHEKA is putting into effect the dictatorship of the proletariat, and in this sense it is of inestimable value. Outside of force and violence, there is no way to suppress the exploiters of the masses. This is the business of the
CHEKA and in this lies its service to the proletariat.
Also during the civil war Lenin issued many orders to his generals and other leaders in all areas of Russia. An example of such an order instructed these leaders to put in place ruthless mass terror against the kulaks, priests and white guards . [Thomas Mcandrew (1995: 90)] Lenin maintained that these acts of terror were being carried out because these classes of people were enemies of the proletariat and therefore must be crushed.
On the 1st of March 1921 a rebellion broke out on the Naval base at Kronstadt. The sailors on the Kronstadt base were rebelling against the Communist party because they claimed that the workers had received far worse treatment under the Communist rule than in the time of the Tsar. The sailors claimed that the workers had suffered greater enslavement [Thomas Mcandrew (1995: 100)] under the rule of the Communists and demanded that the Communists be removed and that the Soviets be given back the power they once had. Trotsky was responsible for putting down the revolution. He did so very ruthlessly. He sent waves and waves of troops over the frozen water that surrounded the base. CHEKA machine guns were placed behind the advancing troops to ensure that there was no cowardice or changing of sides. Thousands of sailors were killed during the fighting. However Trotsky ordered the massacre of some 15000 defenders without trial after the fighting had stopped with the Red Guard victorious. Trotsky gave no public justification for this massacre. Lenin on the other hand offered an explanation for the retaking of Kronstadt. Soon enough Lenin justified his actions by branding the rebellion as counter-revolutionary, inspired by the agents of foreign governments and Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary dissenters. [Laver (1994:76)] On the 26th of March in an interview Lenin dismissed the rebellion as a very petty incident. [Laver (1994:76)] Apart from the Civil war, the Kronstadt uprising was the first large uprising against the Communists since they secured power some years earlier. It also had a large demoralizing effect because the same garrison of sailors had greatly aided the Bolshevik coup in October 1917.
When Lenin died in January 1924 there was a void left at the top of the Communist party ranks. This void remained open for some time with a power struggle occurring mainly, but not exclusively, between Stalin and Trotsky until Stalin effectively secured power in December 1929. After dealing with all of his political opponents from within the party Stalin s firsts opposition from out side of the communist Party was an old class enemy of Lenin s the kulaks. Stalin had implemented a policy of collectivization which meant the striping of land from all peasants and uniting the land to be farmed by large collective groups of peasants. For obvious reasons in the majority of cases the kulaks were not willing to give up there land. Even if they were ready to join a collective farm they were not permitted to do so. The kulaks were either exiled to different parts of Russia or imprisoned in concentration camps or Gulags. It is believed that many millions of kulaks died during the process of collectivization. Stalin justified this class war by stating We have passed from the policies of restricting the exploiting tendencies of the kulaks to the policy of eliminating the kulak class. [Laver (1993:34)] He maintained the view that there was no room for this exploiting class in the new collective system. With the coming of collectivization and the five-year plans came another enemy of the state. Those who failed to meet the often unreasonable quotas set by the communist Party s shock workers or Stakhanovites were branded saboteurs or wreckers and subsequently arrested and either imprisoned or executed.
Stalin began a massive terror campaign in December of 1934. Although he had been using terror since the beginning of his reign, terror of such a large scale had never been used. This terror campaign, also know as the party purges, was no longer aimed solely at the bourgeoisie specialists [Laver (1993:43)] rather it was widened to include original members of the Bolshevik party, officers in the army, members of the bureaucracy, other party members and the intelligentsia. It is believed that 20 million people were arrested with up to 7million of these being executed. Stalin never personally justified his actions but his propaganda simply suggested that there were traitors amongst the population and that they must be rooted out. Some historians have also stated that another reason why Stalin carried out the purges was that he was paranoid of opponents that did not exist and that he was afraid that groups were plotting to topple his reign at any time.
There was much opposition to the Russian Revolution during the critical period, consolidation period and post revolutionary society. In order to be considered opposition groups did not necessarily have to actively oppose anything. The leaders during these times went to great lengths and spared no brutality to crush those who opposed the revolution. They justified their actions against these people and groups in various ways ranging from being saboteurs to being counter-revolutionaries.