top of page

Lenin's USSR

Vladimir Lenin was a Russian communist revolutionary and head of the Bolshevik Party who rose to prominence during the Russian Revolution of 1917, one of the most explosive political events of the twentieth century. The bloody upheaval marked the end of the oppressive Romanov dynasty and centuries of imperial rule in Russia.


The Bolsheviks would later become the Communist Party, making Lenin leader of the Soviet Union, the world’s first communist state.  The methods he used would become the template for 20th Century authoritarian states throughout the rest of the century.  These likewise provide us with our first example of an Authoritarian State for Paper 2....

Click above for timeline of key events of Lenin's life, with links to main works and ideas....
Authoritarian States checklist

Emergence of authoritarian states

  • Conditions in which authoritarian states emerged: economic factors; social division; impact of war; weakness of political system

  • Methods used to establish authoritarian states: persuasion and coercion; the role of leaders; ideology; the use of force; propaganda

Consolidation and maintenance of power

  • Use of legal methods; use of force; charismatic leadership; dissemination of propaganda

  • Nature, extent and treatment of opposition

  • The impact of the success and/or failure of foreign policy on the maintenance of power


Aims and results of policies

  • Aims and impact of domestic economic, political, cultural and social policies

  • The impact of policies on women and minorities

  • Authoritarian control and the extent to which it was achieved


Who was vladimir ilyich ulYanov?


In Our Time - BBC radio broadcast series covering a whole range of academic subjects including History with key thinkers and academics in the fields and topics under discussion

Lenin episode - 1st broadcast 1999 - "For some time, in some intellectual quarters in the West, Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov - also known as Lenin - was regarded as an understandable revolutionary, perhaps a necessary revolutionary given the actions of the Tsars, certainly a sympathetic revolutionary compared with his successor - Stalin. He became an icon in Russia - his body unburied, lying in Red Square in a state of permanent, imminent resurrection. The Russian Presidential Elections take place at the end of the month, and the Acting President, Vladimir Putin, promised that if he won he would finally take the body of Lenin from Red Square and bury him. But whether the country will be able to escape the extraordinary influence of the man, his ideas and his machinery of oppression is another matter. In his short period in power between 1917 and 1924 Vladimir Illyich Lenin invented the one party state, developed a model to export communism around the world and built a completely original political system that remained intact for over seventy years. What drove him and enabled him to achieve success?Robert Service, lecturer in Russian History and Fellow of St Anthony’s College, Oxford and biographer of Lenin; Vitali Vitaliev, author, columnist, broadcaster former Soviet Journalist of the Year."

Listen to the above podcast and answer the attached questions in the document attached above in ? box icon

russian revolutions + lenin's rise to power

I) How far did 1905 change Imperial Russia?


Ideologies on display by 1905 in Russia

Pol spectrum - Bs Ms SRs Libs Westernizers Slavophiles


Group activity - click right hand image for card sort activity:

- effective engines for change by 1905

- effective blocks to change by 1905

- can be seen as promoting + blocking change


Which of these were most responsible for 1905 Revolution?

How did the regime survive 1905?  

How did events change Russia?  How far was 1905 a watershed year?  

What would the political opponents of the Tsar have learnt from 1905?

mir populism.jpg

II) TWE did WWI change the course of Russian history?

Scan read the attached article by clicking on the coin on the right...

Compare your reading from the article 'Romanovs and Russia' with your reading from textbook photocopies on WW1


- What factors that led to the collapse of the Romanovs stayed the       

  same both before and during the war...?

- What factors only arrived or were made unbearable by the progress of    war..?

Make a judgement and answer the enquiry question above...

Using this book review above, add to your knowledge about the author of the article, Charles Emmerson....

Paper 1 Source Skills - OPCVL is always asked as Q3 on your P1

- OPCVL your source...who wrote this source and why?

- What are its values + limitations (use content as proof..)

One way we can improve our appreciation of who and why is to read reviews of the author's previous work; research the author themselves; establish where they get their sources from; use their language + findings to work out how they see history...

TOK - Different views in history are labelled interpretations and often get classified into different schools of thought.  The study of this is called historiography + is a key part of your IB course....

- How can we determine the value of varying historical interpretations?

III) Why was there a revolution in February 1917?

Click on this picture of the 1917 Provisional Govt to access reading on WWI and the February Revolution

IV) How did Lenin see the world + what did he want to achieve?

Lenin had grown up in a Russia dominated by repressive Tsars intent on securing their power against the backdrop of a rapidly changing world.  He had been radicalised following the execution of his idolised older brother for treason, and spent his adult life advocating revolution and revolt against the Romanovs.

His ideology was Marxist, with a firm belief in the predetermination of history and the rise of the working classes.  However, Karl Marx had written his books in an already industrialised Great Britain, having based his conclusions on observations of the working classes lives there.

Lenin's challenge was to apply those ideas to a pre-industrialised Russia with its vast agrarian population and conservative values.  How was he to politicise a people with no sense of political identity???

Click on the summary below to find out how Lenin met his challenge....

Now read Lenin's own words in these sources below - which clauses or quotes best get across to the reader his beliefs??

Explain your choices - how does he manage it?

Social-Democracy is the combination of the working-class movement and socialism. Its task is not to serve the working-class movement passively at each of its separate stages, but to represent the interests of the movement as a whole, to point out to this movement its ultimate aim and its political tasks, and to safeguard its political and ideological independence. Isolated from Social-Democracy, the working-class movement becomes petty and inevitably be comes bourgeois. In waging only the economic struggle, the working class loses its political independence; it becomes the tail of other parties and betrays the great principle: “The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.” V Lenin - The Urgent Tasks of our Movement (1900)

"The history of all countries shows that the working class exclusively by its own efforts is able to develop only trade union consciousness."

V Lenin - What is to be Done (1902)

"It must be observed that in Great Britain the tendency of imperialism to split the workers, to strengthen opportunism among them and to cause temporary decay in the working-class movement, revealed itself much earlier than the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries; for two important distinguishing features of imperialism were already observed in Great Britain in the middle of the nineteenth century—vast colonial possessions and a monopolist position in the world market. Marx and Engels traced this connection between opportunism in the working-class movement and the imperialist features of British capitalism systematically, during the course of several decades." 

V Lenin - Imperialism, the highest stage of Capitalism (1916)

              - Chapter VIII Parasitism + Decay of Capitalism 

By 1900, Lenin had risen to prominence as a Marxist activist and having spent 3 years in Siberian exile for sedition, left Russia for Switzerland where he founded the highly successful Marxist newspaper Iskra.  It was during this exile from Russia that he composed his most influential works, including his seminal work 'What is to be Done?' (1902), a reworking of a Populist classic text.


This work is seen to contain the key ideas he had  about adapting Marx's ideas in order to make Marxism work in Russia.  However there are other interpretations about what Lenin meant in his analysis contained within 'What is to Done?'....

‘Lenin Rediscovered: What is to be Done? In Context’ - Lars T Lih (Brill; 2006)

Lih's work has challenged the orthodox and long-standing idea that Lenin set out to change Marx because he mistrusted the proletariat.  Click on the icon on the right to access an edited book review and access his arguments......

- How are Lenin's ideas re-evaluated and why?  How far do you trust the reviewer?

TOK - Assess the challenges facing historians in producing knowledge

- this type of question features in your Reflection section of your History IA

- it will also prove useful in Y14 TOK Coursework, especially your essay

- How certain can we be about historical knowledge? 

V) TWE was Lenin responsible for the success of the October Revolution 1917?

Click on the icon to access pages explaining how Lenin went on to put his ideas into practice:

- Lenin + the first Communist Revolution II - Planning for Leninism

- Lenin + the first Communist Revolution III - Russian Revolution

- Lenin + the first Communist Revolution IV - Russian Coup


Using the links provided, explore Orlando Figes' explanation concerning the collapse of the Provisional Government.

On the left, select evidence and explanations that point to Lenin and his tactics being responsible for this collapse.

On the right, select evidence and explanations that point towards the collapse having more to do with weaknesses or mistakes of the PG, or forces beyond their control.

Once you have selected your evidence, use these pieces of evidence + explanation plus your notes to produce an essay plan you feel happy to use in a timed environment. 


Your next essay will be on this title and needs writing up in 60 minutes maximum......


consolidation of bolshevik power

I)  How did the Bolsheviks take control of Russia in 1917-18?

From laughing stock to total control


How did the Bolsheviks take control?

How did they then conslidate their power?

  • Left icon - events of October 1917

  • Btm left - Lenin's decisions 1917 on

  • Below   - Lenin's decisons choice sheet

II) How did the Bolsheviks secure victory in the Civil War?

Watch the video clip on the left.


Using just these graphics, note down how the war went between the Bolshevik Reds and their allies, and the anti-Bolshevik whites and their allies

What were the key events in your opinion that allowed the Bolsheviks to win and thus consolidate their power?

Figes argues that the Russian Civil War was the cauldron in which the Bolshevik USSR was created.  It allowed Lenin to develop methods of rule which would allow his version of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat to rule unimpaired.  What would become the apparatus of the state (propaganda; use of terror; cult of personality; economic control; social indoctrination) were all introduced and refined over the war)

However, to what extent was the Civil War this ideological crusade, as opposed to desperate battle for survival?

Use the powerpoint (right) to find points for both sides....

aims + results of policy

I) What was War Communism?
war communism.jpg

What was War Communism?

How did it work?  What were the effects?

How successful was War communism?

  • Watch Jonathan Langley's excellent summary PP on the left...

  • Read Orlando Figes section btm left

  • Watch Russell Tarr's video clip below

Create a mindmap notes diagram answering the key questions above....

II) What was NEP?
nep 99.jpg

What was the New Economic Policy?

How did it work?  What were the effects?

How successful was NEP?

  • Watch the Swarby History  summary PP on the left...

  • Read Orlando Figes sections above 

Create a mindmap notes diagram answering the key questions above....

II) What was the New Soviet Man?

What was the New Soviet Man?  As you can see and watch below, it was the Bolshevik's attempt at social engineering in order to produce.

So how was this social engineering put into practice?

PP on the right slides 8-15 taken from Figes' Revolutionary Russia detail how the Soviet authorities attempted to remould the people into what they hoped would be the ultimate revolutionaries.

- What was the 'New Soviet Man' and why was it so important to Lenin?

- How was this social engineering to be achieved?

- How successful were these policies?

"The "New Soviet man" or "New Soviet person"  , as postulated by the ideologists of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was an archetype of a person with certain qualities that were said to be emerging as dominant among all citizens of the Soviet Union, irrespective of the country's cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity, creating a single Soviet people, Soviet nation. 


 From the early times, ideologists of Communism have postulated that within the new society of pure communism and the social conditions therein, a New Man and New Woman would develop with qualities reflecting surrounding circumstances of post-scarcity and unprecedented scientific development.

For example, Leon Trotsky wrote in 1924 in "Literature and Revolution" about the "Communist man", "man of the future": 


 Wilhelm Reich asked in 1933: "Will the new socio-economic system reproduce itself in the structure of the people's character? If so, how? Will his traits be inherited by his children? Will he be a free, self-regulating personality? Will the elements of freedom incorporated into the structure of the personality make any authoritarian forms of government unnecessary?" 


 Author and philosopher Bernard Byhovsky, Ph.D. writes: "The new man is endowed, first of all, with a new ethical outlook." 


 The Soviet man was to be selfless, learned, healthy, muscular, and enthusiastic in spreading the socialist Revolution. Adherence to Marxism-Leninism, and individual behavior consistent with that philosophy's prescriptions, were among the crucial traits expected of the New Soviet man, which required intellectualism and hard discipline. He was not driven by crude impulses of nature but by conscious self-mastery, a belief that required the rejection of both innate personality and the unconscious, which Soviet psychologists therefore rejected. "

IV) Perspectives on Lenin + Russian Revolution
lenin prop poster ii.jpg
bottom of page