In 1917 the world saw the biggest change in the social, political and economic system of Russia. This event is known as the Russian Revolution (or the Bolshevik / October Revolution). The revolution forced Nicholas II to resign and transformed the Russian Empire into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or the Soviet Union. During this period of time, Russia’s traditional monarchy and Tsarist system was abolished and replaced with the world’s first Communist state. Lenin played a key role in the Russian Revolution and the communist leader brought many social, political and economic reforms.
In November 1917, Lenin took over Russia and a series of reforms were introduced to institute a new social system in accordance with communist ideology. To establish this new legislation, Lenin ended the reign of oppressive Tsarist Russia, the Russian Provisional Government and placed the Bolsheviks in charge of what was now no longer Russia, but the Soviet Union. In order to spread the message of communism throughout the Soviet community, Lenin completely changed the way education, literature, cinema and music were portrayed.
WW1 had placed the people of Russia in a position where there was a major scarcity of resources, widespread famine and collapse in economy. Nonetheless, Vladimir Lenin was confident in the economic revival of the Soviet Union. In 1917, four days after the October Revolution, Lenin incorporated the eight hour working day which dramatically improved the working condition of Russia’s population. Three years later, Lenin introduced free universal healthcare to all citizens of nation and it is clear that this would have made immediate positive effects on the quality of life for the Soviet community.
The Bolsheviks believed that ‘it was through the classroom that they could condition the mind and the behaviour of children and thus create the new soviet citizens’ (Anonymous, Lenin’s Social Reforms 1917-1924). In 1919, Lenin instituted free education throughout Russia. In doing so, the Bolsheviks aimed at ‘eliminating the autonomy of universities, doing away with the university faculties, especially the humanities whose curricula would clash with communist ideology, to put an end to the ‘elitist’ character of higher education, to develop vocational education’ (Anonymous, Lenin’s Social Reforms 1917-1924)
Lenin and his Soviet members also believed that the role of women would be critical for the success of revolution. At a Women’s Congress in 1918, he stated that ‘the experience of all liberation movements has shown that the success of a revolution depends on how much the women take part in it’ (Zetkin, 1920, The Women’s Question). Lenin sought to improve women’s rights and their social status. To achieve this, Lenin made the right to divorce, rights to maternity leave, voting, education, standing for office and abortion all legal practices for women within Russia. Soon after his reforms ‘women broadly participated in the Revolution and Civil War as militants, soldiers, police officials, and workers’ (Zetkin, 1920, The Women’s Question). Thus, Lenin helped lower the inequality between both genders.
Though the Russian Revolutions had many benefits, the event brought along with it many social downfalls. Freedom was eradicated throughout Russia and the states took total control of the media this included, newspapers, cinema, and literature. Those who attempted to listen or read anything in a manner that did not glorify the Soviet, were severely punished. All independent newspapers were closed down, and in June 1922 restriction of all publications and imagery was placed under the control of Narkompros but strangely enough the Publications of the Communist Party and its affiliates were exempt. Because of the strict censorship in Russia, the population simply saw any ideas of independence as being pointless. Church leaders were arrested, murdered and the USSR destroyed nearly 70000 churches as the Soviet leaders could not have anyone else being opposed to his position. However, religion was not the only thing abolished; many of Russia’s talented people had been executed as they were also seen as a threat to the reputation of the USSR. This was only the beginning of the rebellion and when Lenin’s successor, Stalin came into ruling the leader introduced even more sever censorship laws to further ensure that the government controlled the mind and the social development of the ‘communist citizen’.
During the Russian Revolution, there was a substantial gap between the rich and poor. Due to population growth, taxes and crop failures, the pheasants lived in widespread poverty and famine. The wealthy land owners and nobles lived a luxurious life but were the minority and only made up 20% of the Russian Empire.
A string of unsuccessful campaigns brought corruption to the monetary structure of Russia. The annual economic growth had fell from 8% to 1.4%. Wages were low, working conditions were bad and because trade unions were banned throughout Russia, many people went on strike. The widespread economic crisis had hit the people of Russia so hard that ‘sons of the family had to spend part of the year either working for hire on nobleman’s estates or labouring in factories’ (Classroom Video, 1998, The Russian revolution: from the last Tsar to Lenin). There was a huge demand for food. Wealthy peasants called Kulaks were stockpiling their grain holding up for higher prices so causing extreme food shortages. Many Kulaks opposed the idea of collectivism and many burnt their grain and killed their animals to avoid handing them over to the Government.
Lenin realised that ‘only by coming to an agreement with the peasants can we save the socialist revolution’ (Victor Serge, 1945, Memoirs of a Revolutionary) from ‘the seven years of turmoil and economic decline’ (Mosley, unkown, Russian Revolution of 1917). In March 1921 he introduced the ‘New Economic Policy.’ His plan was to allow Russia to recuperate from the War Communism. Lenin made agreements with peasants to permit them to keep or sell any food they hade left after the Red Army Soldiers had taken a specific amount. Through the New Economic Policy, smaller factories were given back to their previous owners and because the farmers now had a choice to sell their harvest, they had an incentive to produce more grain. Thus agricultural production increased greatly and finally the Russian economy began to recover. The after effects of the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the Russian Civil war, were devastating on Russia’s economy. However, with the revival strategies of Vladimir Lenin, Russia began to financially recover and by 1925, during the stir of Lenin’s NEP a ‘major transformation was occurring politically, economically, culturally and spiritually.’
With the Russian revolution conducted by Lenin, the USSR soon turned into a world superpower and the activist’s government style still influences communist governments today ‘ China, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, and Laos.