top of page
Lenin and the Bolshevik Party

Modern History (Year 12) - Internal Divisions and Crises

Ben Whitten

Role of the Bolsheviks

  • Bolsheviks were a revolutionary party, committed to the ideas of Karl Marx – they believed that the working classes would, at some point, liberate themselves from the economic and political control of the ruling classes

  • Once they had achieved this, a genuine socialist society based on equality could be established

  • The Bolsheviks however differed from the Mensheviks in that they believed that this revolution should move more quickly as the workers were not ready to rule themselves

  • Hence, the Bolsheviks would form a Dictatorship of the Proletariat to hold power until Russia was modernised

  • The Proletariat were the original supporters of the Bolsheviks and tended to be industrial workers

  • At the time of the February Revolution, which overthrew the Tsar, the Bolsheviks were still relatively weak – most of their leaders, including Lenin, were in exile in Switzerland

  • The chances of the Bolsheviks ever attaining power in Russia seemed remote

  • In late 1917 however, Bolshevik leader Lenin decided that the conditions in Russia were ripe for revolution

Role of Lenin

  • In April 1917, assisted by Germans, Lenin returned to Russia from Switzerland

  • At once he took control and direction over the Bolsheviks – he prepared to seize power using a clear plan

  • First the Bolsheviks had to gain control of the Petrograd Soviet

  • Then they would take power in the name of the Soviet

  • The process would then be repeated in other cities

  • Lenin’s energy and drive convinced the Bolsheviks to agree on this course of action

  • For the plan to work, it was necessary to increase Bolshevik support within the Soviets

  • Lenin developed Bolshevik policies with this aim in mind – these policies were outline in his April Theses

The April Theses


  • Lenin declared “all power to the Soviets” – this showed that the Bolsheviks did not believe in the existence of the Provisional Government or an elected national assembly

  • Lenin also promised “Peace, Land and Bread” to the masses

    • Peace

      • Lenin could see that the Russian people wanted an end to the war – the Bolsheviks declared that they would make peace with the Germans

    • Land

      • Bolshevik support was concentrated in the cities – they had very little support among the peasants who made up the vast majority of the population

      • By offering them land, Lenin ensured that the peasants stayed neutral when the Bolsheviks made their bid for power

    • Bread

      • Lenin claimed that the Bolsheviks could solve food shortages that existed in the towns and cities

  • However, the influence of the Bolsheviks was limited until Autumn 1917 – the Petrograd Soviet was dominated by Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, while the Provisional Government remained in control of Russia

Leon Trotsky


  • Lenin was actively supported by Leon Trotsky

  • In September, Trotsky became chairman of the Petrograd Soviet and was head of the Military Revolutionary Committee – the MRC was established to protect Petrograd and allowed socialists to infiltrate the army

  • Trotsky had great organisational and improvisational skills – his position in the Soviet allowed him to create the Red Guard, a Bolshevik militia formed from armed factory workers, soldiers and sailors

  • Lenin returned to Petrograd in early October, determined to seize power quickly – the Provisional Government had announced that elections would take place in November and he was certain that the Bolsheviks would perform poorly

  • Trotsky took charge of planning the Bolshevik coup that was intended for the end of October

bottom of page