Many historians today like to gloss over Vladimir Lenin
and concentrate on Josef Stalin
instead, to a point that most people associate Stalin to dictator but see Lenin is some kind of benevolent father figure who died too early. Seattle
even put up an old statue of Lenin downtown. The city might as well pay homage to Hitler, because Lenin is personally responsible for the massacre of millions of Russians
The Bolshevik Revolution was in reality not much more than an opportunistic grab for power in a time of chaos by a small group of radicals. At the end of the October 1917 the Bolshevik Party numbered less than 2000 members. But their promise of immediate property redistribution and violent action against the "oppressive classes" appealed to workers displaced by war. The Bolsheviks realized that their position was shaky and saw terror as the only way to cement their hold on power. Lenin did not give the opposition any time to organize their forces. The Bolsheviks began to openly incite civil war.
Lenin ordered the creation of a device to enforce the "iron fist of the dictatorship of the proletariat", or Lenin's whim. The term "dictatorship of the proletariat" was an obscure reference used by Karl Marx in a few of his letters; most historians agree that he meant to use the term as an analogy. Lenin thought it was catchy, so he applied it in all his decrees. He ordered Feliks Dzershinsky to oversee an extraordinary committee to "liquidate any counterrevolutionary activities". This organization eventually became the Cheka, the feared Bolshevik secret police.
The Cheka were highly active during the Russian civil war, from 1918 to 1920. During this period the Cheka carried out massive deportations and executions of any "suspect elements". This included political groups such as the Mensheviks, Social Democrats, anarchists, but it also included many others: striking workers, merchants, peasants resisting the Bolshevik theft of their crops, and the kulaks, a vague term that meant all non-poor peasants but was also a codeword for a Menshevik. Lenin was paranoid; he saw any dissent as proof of a "massive Menshevik conspiracy". Here is a telegram to the head of the Penza soviet on 10 August 1918, following a peasant riot against Red Army conscription:
Comrades! The kulak uprising in your five districts must be crushed without pity. The interests of the whole revolution demand such actions, for the final struggle with the kulaks have now begun. You must make an example of these people. (1) Hang (I mean hang publicly, so people can see it) at least 100 kulaks, rich bastards, and known bloodsuckers. (2) Publish their names. (3) Seize all their grain. (4) Single out the hostages per my instruction in yesterday's telegram. Do all this so that for miles around people can see it all, understand it, tremble, and tell themselves that we are killing the bloodthirsty kulaks and that we will continue to do so. Reply saying that you have received and carried out these instructions.
P.S. Find tougher people.
Thus began the Red Terror, Lenin's reign of terror. On September 5 1918 Lenin legalized cheka terror with a decree titled "On Red Terror". With the Cheka and the Red Army under his command Lenin massacred millions of Russians suspected of "treason" against the Bolshevik dictators. Their methods were brutal. The Red Army would sometimes simply surround a village in a pro-Menshevik area and shoot everyone. Most of the time entire families with suspect backgrounds would be sent to concentration camps in Eastern Russia. In areas with Menshevik partisans, the Cheka would gather hostages from families and execute them in an effort to draw out the rebels. People would also be arrested for simply "belonging to an enemy class" or being "socially undesirable", and executed. Stalin learned well; he used the same methods for his own purges.
For comparison's sake, one can look at the stark differences between the Tsarist regime and the first year of Bolshevik rule. Official records show that from 1825 to 1917 the number of political executions totaled to 6321. The highest yearly figure was 1310 executions in 1906, the year of reaction against the 1905 revolution. The Ezhenedelnik VChK, the Cheka's weekly periodical, reported that over 10000 people have been executed in the last 4 months of 1918 alone.
The Cossacks living near the Don and the Kuban were farmer-warriors with a strong streak of independence. When they refused to give up their land to the Bolsheviks, Lenin ordered the wholesale massacre of the Cossacks. He justified this genocide, known later as "De-Cossackization", with these words: "In view of the experiences of the civil war against the Cossacks, we must recognize as the only politically correct measure massive terror and a merciless fight against the rich Cossacks, who must be exterminated and physically disposed of, down to the last man." In February 1919 alone the Cheka reported the executions of over 8000 Cossacks and twice as many deportations to the East. The rich farming lands of the Don were emptied to make way for collective farms. Recent estimations guess at between 300000 to 500000 deaths out of a population of no more than 3 million.
Even with the end of the civil war Lenin continued his murderous rampage. The most notable example was the "pacification" of the miners in the Tambov province that revolted against inhumane working hours and the unreasonable rationing of food. Order No. 171, dated 11 June 1921 and signed by Lenin, Dzershinsky and other cheka notables, stipulated:
- Shoot on sight any citizens who refuse to give their names.
- District and Regional Political Commissions are hereby authorized to pronounce sentence on any village where arms are being hidden, and to arrest hostages and shoot them if the whereabouts of the arms are not revealed.
- Wherever arms are found, execute immediately the eldest son of the family.
- Any family that has harbored a bandit is to be arrested and deported from the province, their possessions are to be seized, and the eldest son is to be immediately executed.
- Any families sheltering other families who have harbored bandits are to be punished in the same manner, and their eldest son is to be shot.
- In the event that bandit families have fled, their possessions are to be redistributed among peasants who are loyal to the Soviet regime, and their houses are to be burned or demolished.
- These orders are to be carried out rigorously and without mercy.
Thousands died. There was never any solid popular support for the Bolsheviks, through the use of mass terror Lenin beat Russia into submission. By 1923 most resistance has been crushed, and there was a pause in the war between the Bolsheviks and Russian society. Lenin died in 1924, leaving a power vacuum and setting the stage for a second bloodbath.