During the period between 1917 and 1924, Lenin was able to consolidate and maintain power for both the Bolshevik party and himself. Lenin’s strengths and weaknesses lie in his ability to use force and compromise, to establish control within Russia and can be assessed through the decisions he made and the implementations of them on Russia.
Lenin’s strengths can be seen in his ability to end the war with Germany; defeat opposition both politically and in the Civil War, under the Red Terror; his ruthlessness and determination in being able to force through unpopular decisions and change policy when necessary, as well as the introduction of the NEP following the period of war communism.
However, what can be seen as strengths can also be interpreted as weaknesses; Lenin’s unwillingness to compromise with other parties and the dissolution of the Constitute Assembly arguably led to the Civil War; war communism although it perhaps got Russia through the war, resulted in a famine that killed five million people.
Lenin had many strengths as leader of Russia between 1917-24, as aforementioned his determination and flexible policies enabled him to establish Bolshevik control over Russia as well as secure Russia economically, however, Lenin’s ruthlessness caused the deaths of millions in the Civil War, famine and under the Red Terror and consequently also proves to be one of his main weaknesses. Lenin’s unwillingness to compromise or work with other socialist, driven by his pursuit of power, undoubtedly was a major weakness of his leadership and consequently instigated opposition to him and the Bolsheviks.
The Bolsheviks only won 24% of the total vote for the election of the Constituent Assembly in November 1917, with the Soviet Revolutionaries winning the almost double the amount. Lenin however, was not a democrat; he was a revolutionary and so he used the Red Guards to dissolve the Assembly in January 1918. Lenin’s outlawing of all other parties and considering that the Bolsheviks had only a limited grip on Russia in the early days after the October Revolution, meant civil war was highly likely.
They were bound to face military opposition from their wide range of opponents such as the SRs or old tsarist supporters, who were not prepared to accept absolute rule from a minority party. Conversely, it is debated that Lenin’s lack of co-operation was one of his strengths; by banning other parties; in the long-term the Bolshevik party was strengthened. Lenin arguably was convinced that his forces would win a civil war and that in winning they would wipe out all their opponents, military and political.
Lenin’s lack of compromise meant he created opposition to the Bolsheviks and caused the deaths of over five million Russians in the Civil War. In terms of the Bolshevik security his ruthlessness can be seen as a strength, however, in terms of leader of Russia it is a clear weakness. Had Lenin been able to compromise in a socialist coalition Russia may well have been re-established as a democratic state with full representation of the people.
Lenin was pragmatic; a utopian thinker, but one who was able to adjust his policies in the interests of political survival. However, while his willingness to change policy when necessary was a strength, the way that Lenin enforced this change at times displayed a weakness. An example of Lenin’s strength and of his willingness to compromise was the New Economic Policy. This was accepted at the tenth party congress in1921 and it ended the forced grain requisition of War Communism, allowing peasants to sell surplus grain at local markets.
It also reintroduced market forces into the Russian economy as private trade was legalised, despite the fact that the Bolsheviks came into power promising to end capitalism in Russia. Lenin now accepted that it was necessary to form an alliance between the workers and the peasants, hence the hammer and sickle on the Soviet flag, and to introduce a new stage into the transition to socialism. Although he was forced into this change, due to the devastating famine in the Volga region and the revolts in Tambov and Kronstadt, NEP was a victory for Lenin’s pragmatism, showing that he knew when to change things.
This pragmatism did not replace Lenin’s overall ideological aims though, and he was still determined to build socialism. But he accepted that ‘only an agreement with the peasantry can save the Socialist revolution in Russia until the revolution has occurred in other countries. ’ As leader of Russia, Lenin’s pragmatism enabled him to sacrifice his long term aims in order to achieve success in the short term, ad secure Bolshevik rule, therefore it can be seen as a strength.
Lenin’s incredible self-belief was at the core of his political personality, one could argue that this was his greatest strength and greatest weakness, as it gave him the dynamism to achieve what he did, but also led him to impose his own views at times when compromise and co-operation would have been beneficial. The Ban on Factions curtailed democratic debate within the party and various groups were denounced for ‘deviationist’ practices. Rather than debate issues, Lenin would use force to coerce unwilling party comrades into agreeing with him.
This approach was extended outside the Bolshevik party during the Civil War, and was a policy that led to a ruthless persecution of non-Bolsheviks, known as the Red Terror, including the murder of the Romanovs in July 1918. While this was a reaction to the violent counter-revolutionary war launched by the tsarist old order, the White Terror, Lenin’s willingness to use extreme violence as a means of ensuring that the Bolsheviks got their way was a definite weakness.
This lack of freedom for groups to argue for alternative ideas concerning the transition to socialism now meant that there was no right to criticise the Communists outside the party and little room to criticise Lenin inside it. While reasons for the shift from debate to dictatorship can found in the terrible socioeconomic, political and material conditions in which the Bolsheviks were trying to construct socialism, they can also be found in Lenin’s willingness to use undemocratic and dictatorial methods to ensure he got his own way.
Lenin’s excessive self-belief ultimately meant that there would be little room for discussion or disagreement. It also led to a reliance on extreme violence and dictatorial methods, instead of democratic debate, to solve difficult problems; policies which began during the Civil War and which continued to be used afterwards by means of the Cheka. Despite the fact that he sometimes knew when to compromise, Lenin’s heavy-handed, oppressive measures greatly undermined his overall aim; the construction of socialism in Russia.
When assessing Lenin’s strength one can take the perspective of the Bolshevik party; whereby Lenin’s ruthlessness and lack of compromise successful strengthened and consolidated their one-party rule over Russia by the end of 1924, or the perspective of Lenin as leader of Russia as a whole; whereby Lenin’s undemocratic ideology denied the country a representative form of government and ultimately cost the lives of millions in the Civil War, Red Terror and widespread famine caused by war communism.
To conclude, Lenin’s strengths can ultimately be seen as his weaknesses; his inability to compromise led him to dissolve the constitute assembly, and consequently Lenin secured Bolshevik party but arguably triggered the start of the Civil war and so can be seen as a major weakness. Lenin’s self-confidence meant opposition to the Bolsheviks was destroyed however; it led to a reign of terror and the deaths of millions. His one major strength was his pragmatism, in being willing to forfeit his own ideologies in order to maintain power.