To what extent did Lenin honor his promises?
When Lenin published his April theses he began using the quote ‘peace bread and land’ as a promise to the Russian people if he was their leader. This slogan was used, alongside many, to drive the Bolsheviks into power after the October revolution. However, they weren’t exactly what the people expected, nor did the Bolsheviks expect the response they got from the people. This essay aims to discuss the extent of the Bolsheviks keeping their promises.
Lenin stuck to many of his promises, which he had made before and during the revolution. One of the Bolshevik ideals is that there will be work for everyone, and fairer working conditions. After the revolution, Lenin made several changes to industrial workers lives. In November he made it law that ‘A maximum 8 hour day and 48 hour working week for industrial workers’ and ‘employment insurance introduced for workers, for injuries, illness and unemployment’. These changes were very beneficial for the industrial workers, as now they have free employment insurance, which helped many sick workers keep their jobs, and millions more to secure jobs. In addition the maximum 8h workload per day meant that workers weren’t allowed to work ridiculous hours, and have more leisure time. Later in December, the factories were all put under the control of the workers committees instead of being run by factory bosses. This allowed workers to have more of a say over the changes being made in the factory as they now had the power to do so. Lenin certainly kept to his promises in the extent of improving workers lives.
Lenin also honored his promise of providing peace, bread and land to the people of Russia admirably. In November a decree was passed taking all of the land away from the Tsar and the old landlords. This land was then given to the peasants, who were asked to form work committees and divide the land up fairly between each other. As of this, Lenin delivered his promise to make peasants lives better by providing them more land, as they would have more land to farm on in the countryside and more to work on in the cities. Lenin put an absolute priority on providing food into the cities. This meant that a lot less people in the cities were starving from starvation or had to struggle to get enough food. Lenin delivered on his promise to deliver food to the cities. When it came to peace talks, Lenin sent Trotsky to negotiate a peace treaty with the Germans. Although initially walking out from the talks as the Germans wanted too much land, Trotsky was sent back and eventually negotiated a peace deal, ending Russia’s involvement in the war. This meant that Russia’s resources wouldn’t have to be depleted on the army on the front, and could be more focused on people in Russia. Lenin delivered his promise for peace bread and land honorably to the people of Russia.
Finally Lenin stuck to his promise made to improve people’s lives in general in Russia, and make changes to the social class. In November it was passed that ‘all titles and distinctions abolished- no dukes or lords, instead the title comrade for everyone’. This meant that there was an end to the social classes that Russia had used for hundreds of years. There was no more autocracy, no more peasants; everyone was now a comrade, now equal in each other’s eyes. It was also passed in November that ‘women are equal to men’, which was also another substantial move forward. This meant that women had just as equal rights as men did, and it could not be argued that one was inferior to another. In December, Lenin then allowed divorces to be made easier, and marriages did not have to be in churches, which meant that non-Christians could be married outside the church, and it was a lot easier for people to separate if they weren’t happy with someone. These changes made people a lot happier and improved their lives for the better, and therefore meant that Lenin was honoring his promises.
However, Lenin made changes to the Russian government, which could be seen as going back against his revolutionary promises. Several reforms that the Bolsheviks made could have been seen as them taking away the general public freedom. In November, all non-Bolshevik newspapers were banned, significantly reducing the freedom of press in the country. In addition, the Liberal party (the Cadets) was banned, all banks were taken over and then ran by the government, and church lands were confiscated. This meant that a lot more of the free organizations were becoming government run. This could be seen as Lenin going back against his ‘all power to the Soviets’ promise as the government confiscated and ran more public organizations.
Furthermore, when Lenin honored some of his political promises, there was always a negative effect caused by it. By honoring his promise to deliver food to the cities, many peasants who refused to sell their produce had it confiscated by state police from them, which meant that they didn’t get as much money as they deserved for it. This made the Bolsheviks not as popular in the countryside with the peasants. After honoring his promise to hold elections in Russia, the Socialist Revolutionaries gained a majority in the duma, with the Bolsheviks coming 2nd. The Bolsheviks then closed down the duma at gunpoint on the 6th of January 1918, and claimed complete control of the government. As a result the Bolsheviks showed that they weren’t going to be as democratic as promised, and would rule by force if necessary. Also, when Lenin was negotiating a peace treaty, he gave up 27% of Russia’s land, including some of the best farming land and 62million people (1/6 of the population). Many natural resources were also lost, including 74% of the iron ore and coal mining areas. This meant that, by honoring some of his promises, Lenin had made Russia a lot weaker, therefore meaning he didn’t honor his promises as well as he should have.
Finally Lenin introduced a new secret police force, which made life in Russia very uncomfortable. The Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police, was set up in December 1917, with their headquarters in Moscow. They were deemed as unpopular when set up, but were considerably hated during the ‘red terror’ period, which occurred after an assassination attempt on Lenin, and saw people who spoke out against the Bolsheviks arrested, and many shot without trial. As a result, Lenin’s promise for peace wasn’t really a reality, as many people feared the government on a day-to-day basis. Overall Lenin honored many of his promises. He delivered his slogans ‘peace, bread and land’ and improved people’s lives across Russia. He got rid of the social class system, making everyone equal, and gave women equal rights. However, he did only do this to an extent, giving up 27% of Russia’s land, shutting down the duma after elections not in his favor, and setting up the Cheka, who introduced the ‘red terror’. In my opinion I don’t believe that Lenin honored his promises correctly, as there were too many negatives after he came into power over the positives.