Bolshevik Russia



In  November 1917 the Bolsheviks set up an extreme Communist state.   It implemented Communist principles, but it also brought in a 'dictatorship of the proletariat', where terror was used to force people to live like Communists.

       The Bolsheviks needed to establish firm rule because their control of Russia was threatened by a Civil War.



Reed Brett on Bolshevik Russia


Lenin's rule    

The Cheka      

Brest Litovsk      

War Communism  


Soviet propaganda 

Russian posters (YouTube)


- BBC debate-podcast on Lenin  


What kind of state did Lenin set up 1917–1921?

(Great Big Changes Create Terrible War)  

1.  Government changes

Elections were held in November 1917 for a new government – the Assembly. The Bolsheviks won 175 seats and the Social Revolutionaries won 370 seats.   When it met in 1918, Lenin used the Red Guards to close it, and killed anybody who objected.   Instead, Lenin ruled by decree 

= change from autocratic government to government by the party

2.  Brest-Litovsk

One of the Bolsheviks' first acts was to pass the Decree on Peace calling for an end to the war with Germany (1917).   The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk gave much of Russia’s best agricultural and industrial land to Germany – Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania 

= peace not war.

3.  Communist state

Lenin introduced Communist laws:

  • Land was taken from the tsar and nobles and given to the peasants.

  • Factories were put under the control of elected committees of workers.

= peasants owned their land & workers owned their factories.

4.  Communist society

Lenin tried to make Russian society communist:

  • Banned religion, destroyed churches and killed priests.

  • A Labour Law gave workers an 8-hour day, unemployment pay and pensions.

  • There was a huge campaign to teach everyone to read.

  • Education: Science was encouraged, and useless subjects like Latin and History were banned.

  • Free love, divorce and abortion were allowed.

= different morality and style of life.

5.  Terror

The Bolsheviks created a totalitarian state:

  • The CHEKA (secret police) arrested, tortured and killed all opponents.

  • The Tsar and his family were killed (or were they?)

  • All newspapers were censored.

  • Lenin called this ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ (a dictatorship was needed until Russia was changed into a Communist country)

= terror/ no political freedom

6.  War Communism

The Bolsheviks’ enemies tried to destroy the government, so in 1918-1921 the new government had to fight a Civil War.   During the war, especially severe rules were introduced, called ‘War Communism’:

  • Larger factories taken over by the government.

  • Military discipline in factories and strikers shot.

  • Prodrazvyorstka - Peasants had to give all surplus food to the government.

  • Rationing.

= very harsh tyranny.

Source A

Bolshevik artists produced 3,600 propaganda posters in three years - this poster lists the ‘Ten Commandments of the Proletarian’, urging people to live according to Communist principles.     


Source B

This Bolshevik poster reads: ‘Beat up the noblemen – and don’t forget the lords.’




How did life change for Russian people after 1917, including:

a.   the nobles;

b.   factory workers;

c.   peasants?




Source C

On November 7 (October 25 according to the Old Calendar), 1917 a new new page was opened in the book of world history.   It was written by the revolutionary workers, peasants and soldiers of Russia who proclaimed the country a Republic of Soviets.   It marked the beginning of a new era ...

            In 1917 the peoples of our country began the building of a new society, the first of its kind.

Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, What is the Soviet Union (1980)

A propaganda booklet sent free to British teachers at the height of the Cold War.   It claimed: '"Information for Peace and International Friendship" is the motto of the Novosti Press Agency'


Source D

In November 1917 a group of people called Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, overthrew the government.   They said that they were doing it for the proletariat (or working class) ...

            However, in spite of all the seemingly good things that Lenin introduced there is much for which he and the Bolsheviks have been criticised...   He had been in power only for a few days when he decided to ban all newspapers apart from those that supported the new government...   Most decisions were taken by a small group of men called the Politburo.   Lenin refused to negotiate with the soviets, who were the elected representatives of the workers and in whose name the Bolsheviks had come to power.   Remember the slogan he used - All power to the soviets?

L Hartley, the Russian Revolution (1980)

A British school textbook published at the height of the Cold War.