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differences. Lenin’s character had many key strengths. One of his
major strengths was that he was a great intellectual. Indeed Lenin was
one of the leading Russian writers and thinkers of the period
publishing many works. Lenin was unquestionably brilliant and a great
organiser. He was also exceptionally hard working and one hundred
percent dedicated to his cause. He had this natural ability to “seize
the moment”. History illustrates so many times this was vital to the
Bolshevik success. For example because of continuing war and famine,
and break down of law and order, were not being dealt with by the
Provisional Government, he knew they were a “weak target”. He seized
the moment by ordering revolution. His leadership transformed the
Bolshevik party from a small/minority party to take and hold power.
Stalin’s character had many strengths but also weaknesses. In contrast
to Lenin, Stalin was comparatively dull. He could not in any way match
the intellectual ability of Lenin. However like Lenin, Stalin was a
good organizer, and hard working and absolutely dedicated.
Another positive aspect of Lenin’s character was that he was not vain,
and an important strength was that he trusted his close colleagues and
allies. For example Trotsky created the Red Army and Lenin showed his
complete trust in Trotsky by giving him a free hand in military
matters. These attributes contrast markedly with those of Stalin.
Unlike Lenin, Stalin was rude and ambitious. He was very vain and
excessively neurotic. For example, although he was the undisputed
leader of Russia by 1930, he became terrified/neurotic that others
wanted to overthrow him. He frequently got rid of rivals even if they
were of no threat to him. Unlike Lenin, Stalin trusted no one and ran
One of the other great strengths of Lenin, was that he commanded great
respect and personal loyalty. This loyalty allowed him to change
policies even when they were unpopular within the Bolshevik Party. An
example is the struggle over NEP (New Economic Policy).
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concerning the NEP were so divisive that the Party may well have split
over it, had it not been for Lenin’s great moral authority and his
ability to “command personal loyalty”. Lenin always had a realistic
approach to his problems. Lenin’s realism demanded that political
theory take second place to economic necessity. Lenin was pragmatic
and was able to change his policies. A good example was his adoption
of war communism to win the civil war, and then to introduce the NEP
afterwards to help the economy recover. Lenin knew the NEP was a
retreat from the principle of “State Control” of the economy. His
pragmatic character comes out in the statement in 1921 to the party
concerning NEP: “let the peasants have their little bit of capitalism
as long as we keep power”. Stalin by contrast did not command such
personal loyalty. People were in the main ‘loyal’ to Stalin through
fear. I believe that Stalin was also quite pragmatic, but only when it
suited his own ambitions and interests. For example Stalin helped the
Republicans during the Spanish Civil war by supplying them with
weapons whereas the Fascists were helped by Hitler. However, Stalin
did make a Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 and agreed for the division of
Poland between the USSR and Germany. Stalin wanted to defer war, as
the USSR was not ready. He was similarly pragmatic in signing a
neutrality pact with Japan in April 1941, hoping this would allow the
USSR time to build up its industrial strength.
Both Lenin and Stalin could be brutal and merciless. However they
differed in their motives and scale of brutality. Lenin certainly
could be ruthless when the situation required him to be so. An example
is implementing “War Communism” which caused great suffering but which
he considered to be a great necessity of the time. Other examples are
setting up CHEKA and Labour Camps and putting down rebellions such as
the Krondstadt Naval Base mutiny of 1921. This was despite the fact
they had supported the communists in1917. However in my opinion Lenin
did not remotely approach Stalin when it came to the barbarous,
callous, and merciless treatment metered out to the people. Indeed few
people in history can compare with Stalin in terms of shear
ruthlessness and evil. Stalin’s ruthlessness was for the benefit of
Stalin. His ruthless character is shown throughout his reign of terror
in destroying Leftists and Rightists in the 1920’s and the 1930’s. For
example by 1939 approximately 3 million people were dead and 9 million
were political prisoners through his orders. He masterminded the
“Gulag” where millions would die in labour camps for trivial offences.
His ruthlessness continued throughout the Second World War up until
his death. Lenin was ruthless for a cause, but was not psychotic. Lady
Astor once asked Stalin how long he would go on killing people for. He
replied “ as long as necessary”. This shows his evil character. “Death
solves all problems. No man, no problem”. This again illustrates
murder poses no problem for Stalin.
In terms of their beliefs both believed in Marxism. Marx saw
Capitalism as wrong and history as a process of change. They therefore
both believed in violent revolution by the workers after which the
means of production would be for every ones benefit and shared
(Communism). Lenin believed passionately in the ideals of communism
even though he would ‘dilute’ these if conditions dictated he do so
(e.g. advocating NEP). Stalin by contrast ran everything. His
policies were often completely different from Communist ideas. People
loyal to Stalin (e.g. Party apparatchiks) received privileges,
holidays, houses etc. Lenin believed he was working for the people and
was liked by many. By contrast Stalin only worked for Stalin. Unlike
Lenin, he had no illusions that he was working for the people. Stalin
did not care if he was liked of not.
A major difference between the beliefs of Lenin and Stalin was the
concept of World Revolution. For Communism to survive in Russia there
had to be world revolution. Lenin set up the Communist International
(Comintern) in 1919 to spread communism. Lenin believed strongly in
exporting revolution whenever possible. For example in 1920 the Red
army marched into Poland, hoping the Polish workers, would rise
against their government. However, the Poles drove the Russians out.
He thought this reversal, together with the failed communist
revolutions in Germany and Hungary, showed the time was not ripe. He
did not however abandon his long-term beliefs in “world revolution”.
Stalin by contrast believed firmly in the concept of “Communism in one
country”. Although Stalin encouraged revolution this was only if it
did not prove detrimental to the Soviet Unions interests.
Before the Russian Revolution, Russia was ruled by the Tsar. The Tsar
was an all-powerful autocratic ruler. He ruled without parliament, and
most of the countries wealth and land was owned by a small noble
class. Lenin played a central role in the fall of the Tsarist System.
He was a leader of a small party, the Bolsheviks, but his brilliant
leadership, opportunism, and organizational skills allowed his party
to seize and hold onto power. It is unlikely that without Lenin the
Bolshevik party would have succeeded in taking control of the
Revolution and Russia. Whereas the Provisional Government wanted
compromise, Lenin wanted Revolution. In Lenin’s April theses he urged
Revolution. He called for an end to the ‘Capitalist War’, and demanded
that power should be given to the Soviets- elected comities of
workers, peasants, and soldiers. He demanded a Revolution against the
Provisional Government as soon as possible, and in October/November
1917 he took power. After Lenin took power he established a communist
system of government, which continued to impact the lives of Russians
till almost the end of the 20th century.
Although Lenin was in power for only six years much change occurred
during this time impacting on Russia and its people.
· When Lenin took power the peasants were given the Tsar’s and the
Church’s lands. The factories and industries were put into the hands
of the workers.
* Almost immediately after the revolution Lenin took Russia out of
the First World War. However Lenin had to agree to the Treaty of
Brest-Litvosk in 1918. The treaty meant that one-quarter of
Russia’s population and land, and much of Russia’s heavy industry,
iron and coal, was lost to Germany. However some lands were
subsequently re-gained after Germany was defeated.
* Lenin’s activities in1917-1918 made him many enemies. The Civil
War broke out in 1918 and lasted until 1920. Lenin was determined
and ruthless in defeating the whites. He introduced “War
Communism”. This made sure the army and towns were fed in order to
win the war. People’s rights were severely restricted and it had a
major effect on their lives. i) Farms and factories were put under
control and private trade was banned; ii) Peasants were forced to
give food to soldiers (Red Army) and also provide food for
industrial workers. Many peasants objected to this and were either
killed or sent to forced labour/prison camps; iii) Workers rights
were stamped upon. Industrial workers were not allowed to strike
and everyone (16-60 years of age) except sick and elderly had to
work; iv) The secret police (CHEKA) repressed, hunted down, and
murdered those who threatened the state. Although the Red Army won
the Civil War, the effects of Lenin’s War Communism was famine and
decline (from1920-1921> 7 million people died of starvation,
workers abandoned towns, and industry declined). There were many
revolts and mutinies due to Lenin’s War Communism, (e.g. Kronstadt
Mutiny of 1921) which Lenin ordered to be put down ruthlessly.
* By 1920/1921 there was major economic problems and unrest. Now the
Civil War had been won, it was necessary for Lenin to keep support
of the people and to keep control of the public opinion. So Lenin
decided to change the Communist Policy. In 1921 Lenin introduced a
“New Economic Policy”(NEP) to restore order and prosperity (in
particular Russia’s urgent need for food) after years of suffering
through the Tsar, Revolution, Civil War, and War Communism. The
NEP impacted in a major way on Russians lives as it essentially
reversed ‘War Communism’. Basically NEP involved allowing; i)
peasants to sell excess food (and pay tax on profits); ii) small
businesses, e.g. shops, that were not under ‘state control’ could
make a profit; iii) Important/ key industries under state
ownership/control e.g. coal, steel, transport, stayed in the state
control but salaries were increased to encourage greater
efficiency. Although Lenin did not see the full impact of his NEP,
this by the late 1920’s allowed economic recovery and more
prosperity for people.
* Under Lenin more hospitals were built and medical care was free.
* Marriage laws were relaxed and divorce could be had for the
* Women were given the same opportunities as men in education and
* Despite economic difficulties, more schools were built. The strict
classroom discipline of the Tsarist days was abandoned. In order
to arouse the pupil’s interest and sense of responsibility, they
were often allowed to organize the school routine themselves. At
the worst, this lead to teachers struggling for survival among
unruly pupils; but at the best it brought a spirit of friendliness
and co-operation into the classroom.
* Universities were opened to the intelligent child from a
working-class family but closed to the child of a former factory
manager or landowner.
* Religion was permitted, but strongly discouraged, by Lenin’s
Communists. Many churches were turned into schools or warehouses
and priests were placed in the lowest group of non-working
In summary, although Lenin was in power for only a short period of
time he had an immense influence on the lives of ordinary Russian
citizens and on the nature of the society that would succeed him. He
led Russia through revolution taking land from the Tsar and his
followers and putting the means of industrial production into the
hands of the workers. He succeeded in taking Russia out of the Great
War, won the Civil War, and made sweeping social changes benefiting
his people. However, the Civil War and Lenin’s policy of War Communism
created severe stress in the country at large, leading to revolts and
riots, strikes and unimaginable human suffering. In addition, on the
negative-side he also introduced measures to severely restrict
people’s freedom and introduced a repressive secret police. Despite
these negative aspects, on balance I consider Lenin’s contribution was
“Lenin did more than any other political leader to change the face of
the twentieth-century world. The creation of Soviet Russia and its
survival were due to him”(AJP Taylor).
Joseph Stalin had an enormous impact on Russia and the Russian people.
He became leader after the death of Lenin. The NEP had made sure
progress but more rapid growth was needed for the USSR to catch up
with the West. This was central to Stalin’s policy of ‘Socialism in
one country’. As Stalin summed up the situation “We are fifty or a
hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make up this
leeway in ten years. Either we do it or they crush us”, Stalin 1931.
Development of Industry
To set about achieving modernisation, a series of Five-Year plans were
drawn up by Gosplan, the state planning organisation, and Lenin’s NEP
was ended by Stalin. These plans set ambitious targets for production
in the vital heavy industries (coal, iron, oil, and electricity). The
first Five-Year Plan ran from 1928 to 1933, and was followed by a
second one in 1937. During this period, Stalin’s aim ‘to catch up with
and out-distance America’ was not reached; but though not all targets
of the Plans were hit, the overall achievement was tremendous.
Although success was often grossly exaggerated, nevertheless, in less
than ten years the USSR had almost doubled its industrial output.
Production from Stalin's Five-Year Plan
(thousand million kwh)
The cost of Stalin’s Five- Year Plans was paid by the suffering of it
workers. New industrial zones, towns, and cities were set up-often
with poor quality housing. Long hours were worked for low pay and
higher wages were offered to foreign workers with special skills
required to work on new schemes. Bonuses were given for workers who
could improve upon production targets as an inspiration to others, but
these were often unrealistic targets for most workers. Much of the
work was done by forced Labour Camps of criminals and political
prisoners. The targets were propaganda tools-the government said
they’d been broken but often it’s hard to tell how much was really
achieved and how much was just propaganda. The workers were constantly
bombarded with propaganda posters, slogans, and radio broadcasts.
Often production was increased at the expense of quality. In many
cases output figures were complete lies, and were falsified out of
Changes in Agriculture
When Stalin took over as leader, agriculture was mainly being carried
on by peasants working their own plots. It was vital to increase the
food supplies to workers in the towns and cities or the Five-Year
Plans wouldn’t succeed. Small-scale peasant farming was inefficient.
Stalin forced peasants to collectivise (land was pooled together). The
peasants resisted this change, so Stalin decided to use force. Stalin
saw the Kulaks, the rich peasants, as the main enemies of change. Many
of those who lost their farms were sent to do forced Labour in
Siberia, or were shot. By 1934 about three quarters of the peasants
farms had been brought into collectives, but this change was brought
about at a tremendous cost. The amount of food produced fell sharply.
Many peasants slaughtered their animals rather than give them to the
collectives. The number of Russian cattle and horses fell by half
between 1929 and 1923. The new system did not work at first and a bad
harvest combined with Kulaks destroying crops and animals caused a
serious famine. The number who starved to death is unknown but it
probably ran into many millions. Stalin’s second wife Nadya committed
suicide during this time in 1932, driven to despair by the suffering
of the Russian people. The peasants showed their resentment by doing
the least possible work on the farms, and working hard on their small
private plots. In 1938, although the private plots made up only 3% of
the area farmed, they contained over half the cattle. The peasants
continued to resent Stalin and were afraid of Communist Power.
Development of Soviet Agriculture 1928-1940
Agriculture under Stalin 1928-1940
Collective farm households
Sheep and Goats
By the late 1930’s many Soviet workers had improved their conditions
by acquiring well-paid skilled jobs and earning bonuses for meeting
targets. However life and factory discipline under Stalin was strict.
There were no payments for the unemployed since they were sent
straight to another job. So unemployment was almost non-existent. For
people unable to work due to illness there were sickness payments
provided they had a good record at work. In 1932 a generous system of
old age pensions was established. Heavy industry was given priority,
which meant there were fewer consumer goods such as clothes, and
radios, which ordinary people wanted to buy. Most people lived in
houses provided by the State, but these were often over crowded.
Normal life was very harsh.
The role of women changed greatly under Stalin. To help meet
industrial targets, Stalin established thousands of new crèches and
day care centres so mothers could work. By 1937 40% of industrial
workers were women. Many new hospitals and clinics were built. Large
numbers of doctors were trained, over half of them were women. By 1940
the USSR had more doctors per head of population than Great Britain.
Education became free and compulsory for all. So many more schools
were built, and by 1934 all children between the ages of 7 and 14 went
to a Seven Year School. After the age of fourteen, education laid
particular stress on technical subjects, which were directly connected
with the Five-Year Plan. Discipline was tightened throughout the
educational system, because Stalin did not approve of the liberal
methods in many schools. Stalin invested huge sums of money into
training schemes based in colleges and in the work place. Adults were
not neglected. The problem of illiteracy was tackled, and between 1920
and 1940, fifty million adults learned how to read and write.
Stalin believed that the easy divorces caused crime amongst young
people and stricter marriage laws were reintroduced. He also
ruthlessly repressed religion. Christians were persecuted as a
political threat to Communism, and Priests were murdered or exiled. In
1929 the Church was banned from any activity except leading worship.
In the Republics of Central Asia Muslim leaders were imprisoned or
deported, and pilgrimages to Mecca were banned.
Health and Education under Stalin 1928-1941
Doctors and Dentists
Death rate per Thousand
Terror and Purges
Stalin was one of the most tyrannical dictators the world has known.
He inflicted Terror and death on the Russian people on an unimaginable
scale. The most terrifying period in Stalin’s rule, known as the
Purges, began in 1934. Stalin murdered his opponents in the party.
Many included former loyal communists, such as Zinoviev and Kamenev.
It was not only leading figures that were murdered. About one third of
the Party were arrested on charges of anti-Soviet activities, and were
either executed or sent to Labour Camps. Similarly the Red Army was
purged. About 25,000 officers and virtually all generals were removed
and executed. The Purges and Terror permeated all of Russian life. All
people were affected. University lecturers and teachers, miners and
engineers, factory managers and ordinary workers all disappeared. It
was said that every family in the USSR lost someone in the purges.
Anyone suspected of disloyalty to Stalin was taken away by the NKVD
(the new secret police). Most were shot or sent to Labour Camps.
People who wanted to avoid arrest did so by providing information
about others-even if it was false. By 1939 between 5 and 10 million
people were dead and between 9 and 18 million were political prisoners
(precise numbers are not known). Stalin built his image as a saviour
of the people. He controlled all information and the media spread his
propaganda. There was no freedom. Huge portraits of Stalin were
displayed everywhere, and the mere mention of his name brought
tumultuous applause. No one liked to stop clapping first; his secret
police might notice. No Tsar in Russian history earned such respect
and fear from his people!
Both Lenin and Stalin are giants in the History of the Soviet Union
and the 20th century. It is difficult to determine which, if either,
was the most singularly important figure.
Lenin’s greatest contribution was his role in establishing a Bolshevik
Government. It was Lenin’s remarkable determination, ruthlessness, and
clarity of vision that enabled the relatively small Bolshevik Party to
seize and hold power. Without his Leadership, and his conception of
the revolutionary party as a disciplined and military-style
organization, it is highly possible that that the Bolshevik party
would not have won the revolution, and the subsequent Communist Soviet
Union may not have been established. Similarly, his brilliant
leadership qualities and determination, and ruthlessness (e.g. “War
Communism”), allowed him and Bolsheviks to preserve their authority
and eventually win the Civil War. As a ‘Revolutionary Leader or
Figure’, Lenin is second to none and in this context clearly surpasses
It is important to bear in mind that Lenin was Head of State for only
six years, compared to Stalin’s reign of almost thirty years. Hence in
terms of a Head of State or Statesman, on balance Stalin was the most
important figure especially in relation to impact on the economy and
daily lives of the ordinary citizen. For example Stalin had a huge
impact on industry by implementing a series of Five-Year Plans. In
under ten years, the USSR had almost doubled its industrial output-but
the price was misery and low living standards for Soviet Workers.
Hence although Lenin laid the foundations of communism, it could be
argued Stalin improved upon them. Similarly Stalin had an enormous
affect on the lives of Russian peasants and destroyed the traditional
peasant way of life by forced Collectivisation. Perhaps his most
infamous role in Russian life was his Purges and reign of Terror. The
‘Great Terror’ continued with varying degrees of intensity until the
1940’s. It extended into all areas of Soviet life, claiming the lives
of many millions of Soviet people, from generals and artists to
ordinary factory workers. Stalin also was a central figure in the
defeat of Nazi Germany and emerged from the war with huge domestic and
international prestige. He dominated the politics of Eastern Europe
after the 2nd World War. Later in life he became obsessed with
American Economic and Military strength. This led to the Cold War and
he attempted to match the military strength of the United States but
he did not possess the economy to achieve this. In doing so he laid
the foundation for the subsequent destruction of the Soviet Union
economy and the communist political system.
In summary, Lenin was the more successful Revolutionary Figure/Leader.
But Stalin’s impact as a State Leader was in my opinion far more
prominent. Stalin had inherited an essentially backward peasant
country in 1929. He bequeathed to his successors a nuclear superpower.
This was achieved at the cost of great human suffering. For this
reason, he is one of the most controversial figures of the Twentieth
century, to some-a Hero Figure, and to others a Tyrannical Villain.
“Like Peter the Great, Stalin, caring nothing for suffering, had
seized Russia by the neck and heaved her into the forefront of the
world’s nations”(N.C. Jackson