We can learn a lot about the two characters from their childhood experience. Lenin was born into a middle class family while Stalin was the son of a poor cobbler. Lenin had a far more comfortable childhood than Stalin, the latter was beaten by his father and I think these experiences actually made him stronger and this helped him become a brutal dictator. Also he learned early to hide his true feelings and to bide his time, this definitely helped him succeed as a strong politician.
The childhood experience that most affected Lenin was the hanging of his brother in 1887 for plotting to assassinate Tsar Alexander III. This seemed to turn him against the Tsarist regime and from here he started to read the works of Karl Marx. Stalin also read Marx and this tells us they have very similar beliefs. Both wanted to achieve communism and they believed the Tsar should be overthrown and Russia to become first a socialist and then a communist country.
It could be said that their characters were very similar. Stalin is famed for his purges and the taking of the grain from the peasants for his collectivisation. This led many people’s view that his character was an evil one while Lenin was a good, gentle man. But he too took grain from the peasants for ‘War Communism’. Also his secret police, the CHEKA arrested tortured and executed those who opposed the Bolsheviks.
But Stalin’s killings were on a far bigger scale. By the end of Lenin’s reign around 250,000 people had been executed while purges resulted in 7 million being shot in 1935-1941 alone.
Perhaps the greatest summing up of Stalin’s character was the name he gave himself, Stalin. He was actually born Iosef Dzhugasvelli. Stalin actually means ‘steel’ and his strength proves that he was a man of steel. For example when the Germans kidnapped is son during WW2 he refused a German offer to exchange his son.
Although Lenin and Stalin had the same ultimate goal, communism, they had very different ideas about achieving it. Lenin believed that by teaching the Russian people the glories of Communism he could then get everyone on his side and Communism would be great for the Russian people. By contrast Stalin forced everyone to believe in Communism by sending them to a gulag if they didn’t.
Both were skilful politicians who knew how to use their strengths to get what they wanted and both most importantly had strong enough characters and strong enough beliefs to control the world’s biggest country.
Some think that Lenin was a modest man who had no personal ambition, Davis Shub said in ‘Lenin: an autobiography’ that “no dictator in history was less vain”.
Other historians see him as a ruthless man who used terror to stay in power. Maxim Gorky, a writer and Lenin’s friend said Lenin had a “lack of morality and a merciless, lordly harshness towards the lives of the masses.”
But there is no doubt that Lenin had a huge impact on Russia and the Russian people.
Without Lenin Russia would probably not of become a communist country in November 1917. He was the main person who encouraged the Russians to seize power, many thought they had to wait.
For many Russian people communism was a good thing. Peasants were able to take land from their owners. At first the Bolsheviks the peasants were useless but Lenin realised they were important to the revolution. Trotsky, a fellow Bolshevik described the Russian peasants as “the pack-animals of history”. Lenin stole the land policy from the social revolutionaries, this put the peasants on the Bolshevik’s side. This shows Lenin’s ability to change his policies to get the Russian people on his side.
But Lenin’s policies were not all positive for the Russian peasants who made up the majority of the population. The famine of 1921, where millions died, was mainly due to Lenin’s policies, in particular ‘War Communism’. This meant that the government controlled industry and the economy, the aim was to keep the Red Army supplied with foods and weapons so it could win the civil war.
War Communism worked in this sense, for Russia it was a success, the Reds defeated the Whites. But for the Russian people, War Communism led to famine. War Communism was not the only factor, Lenin had no control over the drought of 1920 and 1921 but it was the seizing of the grain from the peasants for the Army which was the main cause. Lenin ordered the CHEKA (his secret police) to take all the surplus grain. This led to the farmers planting no more than they needed because they knew they could not sell it. The total amount of grain that was grown in 1921 was half the amount grown in 1913.
Lenin also pulled Russia out of the First World War, for Russia this had a good and bad impact. They lost a lot of land and industry in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk although they did gain some of it back within a year. On the other hand, by pulling out of the War he saved money, lives and possible humiliation. For the Russian people, pulling out of the War was a good thing, millions of soldiers were dying which put morale down.
After Lenin ended War Communism following the end of the Civil War, he introduced this NEP (New Economic Policy). He introduced it because he said that the Soviet economy in 1921 was in “poverty and ruin”. The NEP encouraged “freedom of trade” and “freedom for the small private owner”. This is encouraging entrepreneurs so it looks like capitalism, this does not follow Marxist theory and Communism. For Russia and more importantly Communism it is a step towards the capitalist Western world. But for the Russian people it was a success, grain and coal production increased because of it.
For the Russian people, Lenin’s “Red Terror” was an awful thing, the CHEKA arrested, tortured and executed those who opposed the Communists. This led to Russia becoming a one party state, he did not let opposition parties even have meetings. In addition the Communist Party censored all media such as newspapers. After Lenin’s death, these things were weapons that Stalin was able to use for his tyranny. For Russia you could say this was a good thing because it meant Communism could have no opposition which gave leaders the right to do what is best for Russia, although not necessarily the Russian people as the millions who died under Stalin’s brutal reign were going to find out.
At 50, Stalin was the undisputed leader of Russia and he, Lenin before him, was going to have a huge impact on Russia and the Russian people.
In 1953, the year of his death Stalin had turned Russia into a world superpower and had helped the Soviet Union grow by taking over a string of Eastern European states. But in the same time he had killed as many as 20 million of his own people and destroyed individual freedom and failed to promote individual prosperity for the Russian people.
Perhaps the most important thing that Stalin did was his industrialisation of Russia. He said in a speech in 1931 that “either we [industrialise] or they crush us”. He helped Russia to catch up with the Western world and for Russia this was a great thing, Russia needed to industrialise because it meant that firstly, it would be self-sufficient and not rely on the West and secondly, Russia would be able to defend herself against other countries. Finally, it could be said that Russia needed to industrialise to prove to the Western world that Communism worked.
In Russia industrialisation worked but at a huge cost. There was less food because it was sold abroad, this led to famine. Industrialisation meant that millions of Russians moved into cities with factories, this led to housing problems. Many people had to sleep in incredibly cramped dormitories and some even in tents, this was particularly bad because of the harsh winters.
But things did improve in the cities and the standard of living in many cities grew to levels the Russian proletariat had never known before. For example, in Magnitogorsk, a large industrial city, had 90,000 theatre seats.
With industrialisation came collectivisation. This meant that the government everything, most importantly this meant the farms. Instead of different people owning small bits of land, the government took them over and joined them into vast collective farms. The people who used to own the farms, the Kulaks (land-owning peasants) were sent to gulags (labour camps).
Stalin sent many people to these gulags. In just three years the number of prisoners in these camps increased from 30,000 to, as some historians have said, as many as twenty million. For Russia, this was a positive thing, the prisoners were brilliant workers, you did not need to pay them or give them houses. For example, the Belomer Canal was built by 300,000 prisoners in just 20 months. This was incredible since the canal was 1,500 kilometres long and was made without machinery. Stalin hailed it as a great success of Communism but it was at the price of over 100,000 lives.
The reason that there were so many people in gulags was because of Stalin’s purges. Anyone who Stalin thought was against him, his secret police captured and sent to gulags without trial. Sometimes they did have a ‘show’ trial, the person always had to plead guilty otherwise they would be tortured or their families hurt.
For Russia, this was good because people did what they were told and could not question the government. Therefore they could not do what they wanted. But for the Russian people, the purges and the secret police meant there was no freedom of expression. There was only one newspaper and that was controlled by the Communist party. Only certain books were published and other political parties were banned.
Yet not everything Stalin did was bad for the Russian people. For example, the health care system vastly improved and during much of Stalin’s time in power, the USSR had more doctors per person than Great Britain.
In Russia under Lenin religious worship was allowed but made very difficult by churches being taken over and stripped of valuables and many were burned down. Under Stalin things were much the same until after World War II. The Church helped the government to win. For the Russian people this was a great thing for it allowed more freedom. For Russia however it was a step back from Communism, after all Marx had called religion “the opium of the masses”.
Winning the war was perhaps Stalin’s greatest achievement. Russia proved that they could stand up to the West. However Stalin did not make it easy. He had killed 25,000 senior officers during the purges, this meant poor leadership and as a result millions of soldiers died in battle.
In my opinion Stalin should have tried everything to stop the War because although they won, the cost was enormous. An incredible 20 million died and 70,000 villages destroyed.
The one thing Stalin did that most helped the war effort was to move factories to beyond the Ural mountains. This meant they could continue making weapons whilst fighting the War and they could not be attacked by the Germans. For Russia this was a very good, if expensive, thing. For the Russian people, however, this meant many had to move to another place, this could often uproot whole societies.
Stalin undoubtedly had a huge impact on Russia. He also made a greater impact on the lives of more people than anyone else this century, if not in history.
Both Lenin and Stalin had a huge impact on Russia and her people and this makes them both incredibly important in Russian and indeed world history. It is very difficult to say however who is the more important figure.
Obviously Lenin is important because without him there would have been no revolution in November 1917. He persuaded the other Bolsheviks to seize power, many of them had been waiting and waiting. During Lenin’s reign he did many things that made him an important figure in Russian history. He helped win the civil war between 1918-1921, however Stalin also won a war, World War II. But although they both won wars, they were both at a huge cost. For Stalin many towns were destroyed and also factories. Lenin needed to keep the army supplied with food and weapons and he did this with his ‘War Communism’ policy. This meant government took over businesses and some farms. The CHEKA also took lots of grain from farms so the Army could be fed. This led to the Great Famine of 1921.
Stalin’s collectivisation also caused a famine. They did this so they could get grain to sell abroad to finance industrialisation. Industrialisation is one of the things Stalin will be remembered for, when people look back at Russian history. He made Russia an industrialised country, which meant Russia could defend itself from other countries, also they could become self-sufficient and not rely on the West.
The two famines in these times resulted in many deaths, which can be indirectly attributed to both Lenin and Stalin.
They are both however directly attributed to the killing of the people killed by the CHEKA and the ORKANARA, the secret police of Lenin and Stalin respectively. Lenin and Stalin both arrested, tortured and executed those who opposed them. Trotsky, Lenin’s assistant in the Parliament, said that the CHEKA “shoot [those] who are trying to restore the capitalist way of life”. Both Lenin and Stalin used Communism as a justification for many of their actions, particularly their killings. Stalin killed and sent to prison a vast amount of people, fare more than Lenin. But Lenin’s CHEKA still killed 100,000s of people, Stalin killed more than 10 million it is estimated by some historians. Obviously this makes him a very, very important figure in Russian history. One reason Stalin killed far more was because he was in power for far longer, 24 years as opposed to Lenin’s 7, it is important to consider this when you see who is the more important figure.
Considering the short space of time, Lenin did a huge amount and no one in Russian history has done so many important things in so little time. Due to the amount of time Stalin had in power he had longer to do what he wanted. For example the Health System improved by an enormous amount and although life was hard for workers in the factories at first, the quality of life improved, some knew houses even had running water and electricity.
When thinking about whom is the most important figure, it is important to think about what would have happened if they had not been alive. In my opinion if Lenin had of not been there in 1917 eventually the communists would of taken over, but perhaps not as early. Many of their policies would also have been the same because most were obvious, common sense policies. I think ‘War Communism’ was an obvious one, as was the NEP that followed and not just Lenin would have thought of it.
By contrast Stalin change many policies that Lenin had introduced and nobody else would have done this in my opinion. For example, a man who could of been leader instead of Stalin, Trotsky believed that the ultimate goal was to spread communism whereas Stalin believed that he should make Russia a powerful country, with a hug army and a great amount of heavy industry.
Also none of the other leaders who may of taken power believed that they should send so many people to prison an kill so many in his purges.
So in my opinion Stalin was the most important figure because he individually had the power and used it to control Russia while Lenin was helped greatly by his government. In addition Stalin had far longer to exert power and he changed the face of Russia. But there is no way that you should forget the extraordinary role Lenin played in Russian history