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Lenin and Terror

There is no doubt that the real ideologist and initiator of terror was Lenin himself. His notion of a popular revolution, which followed very much the pattern of France in 1793, implied a wide use, only on a greatly enlarged scale, of all means of terrorism. He not only created the Cheka, but constantly and publicly rationalized the use of extreme violence, and instigated and prodded the Cheka leadership to greater activity.

It would he an error to underestimate the role of coercion, V.I.Lenin, resting upon the experience of the Soviet State in the first years of its existence, stated: "The dictatorship of the proletariat was successful because it skillfully combined coercion and persuasion. The dictatorship of the proletariat does not fear coercion and the sharp, decisive, and merciless expression of State coercion, for the leading class, which had been most oppressed by capitalism,, has the right-'to carry out 'this coercion since it is doing so in the name of the interests of ail working people and all who have been exploited and has at its disposal means of coercion and persuasion not available to any of the former classes, even though . they', did;have incomparably greater material resources for propaganda and ägitatiohihäii we did," (V.I.Lenin, Collected Works, Vol 311 pages 465-466.)

To Lenin, the role of the Communist party, being the same as the dictatorship of the working class, meant ". . . power based directly upon force and unrestricted by any laws." [ Lenin, "The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky" (November 10, 1918), Selected Works, vol. VII, p. 123.]

In previous revolutions, Lenin said, violent suppression of the overthrown powers was insufficient ; the Russian revolution would go deeper and continue the process of violence for a longer time. "The misfortune of previous revolutions has been that the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses, which sustained them in their state of tension and gave them the strength ruthlessly to suppress the elements of disintegration, did not last long." [Lenin, "The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government" (March-April 1918), Selected Works, vol. VII, p. 338. ]

Lenin emphasized the high esteem in which he held the Cheka when he appeared at a meeting of Cheka personnel on the first anniversary of the November revolution. He praised highly the work of that agency. "The important thing for us is that the Extraordinary Commissions are directly exercising the dictatorship of the proletariat, and in that respect their services are inestimable. There is no way of liberating the masses except by forcibly suppressing the exploiters. That is what the Extraordinary Commissions are doing, and therein lies their service to the proletariat." [ Lenin, "Speech at a Meeting and Concert for the Staff of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission" (November 7, 1918), Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1927-45), vol. XX3II (1945), p. 289. ]

Lenin systematically advised and instructed his comrades, subordinates and even foreign Communists (the Hungarian) to resort to executions on a larger scale. In Petrograd, for example, the Communist leadership hesitated to apply "mass terror" as retaliation for the assassination of M. M. Volodarski.

On June 26, 1918 Lenin wrote the following letter to Petrograd: [Lenin.. "To G. Zinoviev" (June 20, 1918), Sochineniya (Works) (4th ed.; Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe Izdatelstvo Politicheskoi Literatury (State Publishing]

"Also to Lashevich and other members of the TsK [Central Committee]. Comrade Zinoviev! Only today we heard in the Central Committee that the workers of Petrograd wanted to react to the murder of Volodarsky by mass terror and that you (not you personally but the members of the Central Committee living in Petrograd and the members of the Petrograd Committee) restrained them.

I protest categorically!

We are compromising ourselves: even in the resolutions of the Soviets we threaten to apply mass terror, but when a situation really arises, we put brakes on revolutionary mass initiative that is entirely justified. This is im-possible!

The terrorists will consider us milksops. The situation is warlike. We must encourage the energy and the mass character of terror against the counter-revolutionists, particularly in Petrograd, whose example is decisive.

Regards! Lenin. "

On August 9, 1918, Lenin instructed the Soviet of Nizhni-Novgorod ( now Gorki ) as follows : "It is obvious that a white-guardist uprising is being prepared in Nizhni. You must make an intense effort, appoint a troika [a team of three] of dictators, immediately proclaim mass terror, shoot and deport hundreds of prostitutes who intoxicate soldiers, former officers, etc. . . . You must act fast: mass perquisitions. Shooting for keeping of arms. Mass deportations of mensheviks and unreliables. Change the guard at the warehouses, appoint reliable ones. Yours Lenin."

In Hungary, a Communist regime under Bela Kun was set up in 1919. In an article entitled "Greetings to the Hungarian Workers" (Prauda, May 29, 1919), Lenin advised the Communist government of Budapest: "... Be firm. If there is vacillation among the socialists who joined you yesterday in their attitude to the dictatorship of the proletariat, or among the petty bourgeoisie, put down the vacillation mercilessly. Shooting — that is the rightful fate of a coward in war. "

A pattern of "revolutionary tactics" — which was the model for Stalin's future Katyn affair — was established by Lenin when he advised E.M.Sklyanski, ranking leader of the Red Army, to organize an assassination of "kulaks [wealthy peasants], priests and landlords," and to place the blame for it on an imaginary peasant guerrilla force. In a "Note to Comrade Sklyanski," written in August 1920, Lenin said: "An excellent idea. Carry it out together with Dzerzhinski. Under the guise of "greens" [peasant guerrillas] (we will later put the blame on them) we will advance 10-20 versts and summarily hang the kulaks, priests, landlords. The premium: 100.000 rubles for each one hanged. "

Even after the end of the civil war, when anti-Soviet uprisings had almost ceased, Lenin continued to insist on the necessity of terrorism. In a letter to Dmitri Kurski, People's Commissar of justice, dated May 17,

1922, he said: " ... I am sending you the draft of an additional paragraph of the Criminal Code. It is a first draft which needs, of course, polishing and rehashing. The main idea, I hope, is clear, in spite of the deficiencies of this first draft: it is openly to proclaim the basis and politically truthful (and not only in a narrow juridical sense) principle which explains the essence and justification of terror, its necessity, its limits.

"The court must not eliminate terror; to promise this would be self- deception or fraud; it must explain and legalize it in principle, clearly, without falsity and without embellishment. It must be formulated most broadly, since only a revolutionary sense of justice and the revolutionary conscience will create conditions for its application on a more or less wide scope.

"With Communist greetings.


"First version:

"Propaganda and agitation or participation in an organization or help to organizations which act (propaganda and agitation) in the direction of assisting that part of the international bourgeoisie which does not recognize the equality of the Communist system of property which will replace capitalism and strives to overthrow it by force, by intervention, blockade, or espionage, by financing of the press, or by similar means is punishable by the supreme penalty, with the alternative, in case of attenuating circumstances, of deprivation of liberty or deportation abroad."

Lenin's closest collaborators shared his views. Though not always prepared to go to the lengths Lenin was prepared to go, they publicly approved and defended the Cheka. Trotsky, for instance, wrote: " . . Terror is helpless — and then only "in the long run" — if it is employed by reaction against a historically rising class. But terror can be very efficient against a reactionary class which does not want to leave the scene of operations. Intimidation is a powerful weapon of policy, both internationally and internally. "

. . . The terror of Tsarism was directed against the proletariat. The gendarmerie of Tsarism throttled the workers who were fighting for the Socialist order. Our Extraordinary Commissions shoot landlords, capitalsts, and generals who are striving to restore the capitalist order. "

Nikolai Bukharin, one of the most prominent Communist leaders, eulogized the Cheka and its first head, Feiiks Dzerzhinski : " Many enemies were destroyed by Dzerzhinski, the iron warrior of our party. "

And Zinoviev : " . . . The beauty and the glory of our party are the Red Army and the Cheka. We have new ethics. Our humaneness is absolute because at its foundation lie the glorious ideals of abolition of every kind of coercion and oppression. We are permitted to do everything because we are the first in the world to lift the sword not for the sake of enslavement and suppression, but in the name of universal liberty and liberation from slavery. "

The end of the Civil War (1918-21), the demobilization of the Red Army, and the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921 brought about a changed atmosphere that seemed incompatible with a terrorist political police. Lenin himself spoke of the need for a reform of the political police, and in early 1922 the Cheka was abolished and its functions transferred to the State Political Directorate (Gosudarstvennoe politicheskoe upravlenie—GPU).

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Page last modified: 05-06-2016 20:41:49 ZULU