How Far Had Lenin Achieved His Aims by the Time of His Death in 1924?

  By Kristian Ola, 21 January 2006; Revised
Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, was the leader of the Bolshevik party and the head figure of the Russian revolution of 1917. During his reign from 1917 to 1924 he ruthlessly  pursued his aims toward the creation of a socialist workers’ paradise with the help of his secret police. For this man the end justified the means and his idealism did not blind him from pragmatic solutions. Although Lenin would from time to time do a complete U-turn with his policies and introduce something which was in stark contrast with the principles of Marxism, he never lost sight of his goals. Such contradictions often caused rifts and disagreements even within the tightly-knit Bolshevik party, but it seems that the sheer will-power and determination of Lenin kept the movement together and enabled the Russian revolution and its survival and triumph in the Civil War that followed.

Lenin’s aims were many and varied. In the beginning of the 20th century, the most obvious one was to start a revolution in Russia and overthrow the old system in place of a socialist system. For this Lenin decided that he needed an elite cadre of professional revolutionaries willing to dedicate their entire existence to the cause of the revolution. Lenin and the Bolshevik party played an important role in the events that led to the revolution and abdication of the Tsar. Lenin, however, did not want to work within the provisional government which was quickly established encompassing the former Duma parties and politicians. He was not a man of compromise. In November of 1917 the Bolsheviks, after quietly assuming control over several newly established military institutions and gaining the support of soldiers, toppled the provisional government and began to secure and consolidate Bolshevik control over all government institutions and thus all aspects of society. Lenin sought to achieve a position for himself and the Bolshevik from where they would be able to direct the Russian nation and Russian society towards the socialist paradise.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Lenin had to on more than one occasion deviate from the ‘party line’ and the Marxist doctrine in order to achieve short-term goals which would then enable the continuation of the (never-ending) march towards socialist utopia. Some of the higher principles of Marxism had to be shelved and the primary objective was to defeat the White forces and save the revolution. Lenin and the Bolshevik Party introduced War Communism in 1918 (although the term was coined as late as 1921), which aimed at bringing all industry, resources and labour (man-power) under direct control of the centralized state, thus making it possible to direct all resources as effectively as possible towards the goal of winning the war. This was achieved, although for a terrible human and material cost.

The ideal of a money-free economy proved to be difficult to realize, and so after some initial experimentation, the rouble was fixed to the Gold Standard. However, the industrial sector, although brought under state control with relative ease, performed abysmally, initially plummeting 70% because management was transferred away from capitalist owners to state-employees who often knew little about management. Also the lack of any kind of incentives played a role. Another difficulty Lenin encountered was the ‘petty bourgeois’, who owned their own land and were conservative by nature. The fact that this class made up around 80% of the populace made things much harder, as they were not urban workers. They had different values, different socio-economic situation and different interests. Lenin had a most "Leninist" solution to this dilemma: incorporate the petty bourgeois into the rest of the working class by making them state employees through coercion and vast collectivization projects (although these would come into full effect later). Bolshevik policies caused a drop of 60% in agricultural output (compared to pre-war levels) and forced Lenin to re-think his policies. There was a Civil War going on and he was forced to make some fairly significant concessions to the land-owning peasantry (the Kulaks) in his New Economic Policy. Of course, once the Reds had won the Civil War and the Bolsheviks had a firm grip on power, the Kulaks as a class would be eliminated mercilessly. The triumph of Lenin and the Reds in the Civil War was a major achievement and it enabled the revolution to live on under the ‘fatherly guidance’ of the Bolsheviks.

The New Economic Policy is a good indication of Lenin’s tactics: he was realistic and determined enough to give in on ideological matters in order to secure material, tactical and practical gain for the Bolshevik Party. The NEP was intended to encourage increased food production among Kulaks, i.e. it made it profitable to produce and to own land. Lenin had no qualms about letting the “peasants have their little bit of capitalism” as long as the Bolshevik Party would “keep power” securely in their hands. It was Lenin’s authority and his determination that made sure the NEP was approved by the rest of the Party members, many of whom were uneasy with these concessions to capitalism. The fact is that Lenin recognized the necessity of these reforms or “concessions” and as the only option to avoid famine and further instability in the country-side. The NEP was a temporary solution that only postponed the eventual conflict that arose from the contradiction between official party policy and ‘realistic’ policy, which still helped to maintain separate socio-economic classes and allowed for private property.

Lenin definitely achieved more than many could have hoped for. He helped mastermind the socialist revolution in Russia, he masterminded the Bolshevik take-over, he kept the socialist state intact through a Civil War and emerged victorious, and he had secured absolute control for the Party, which now only had to socially engineer Russia into a socialist utopia. Lenin, of course, never came to see this utopia, but considering the odds and the circumstances, his followers were in an ideal position to do so, if they only possessed his determination and his ruthlessness in pursuing that utopia. Lenin’s followers, however, did not take Russia down that road, and Lenin already had an inkling, that not all were as committed to the cause as he was, in his last years.