Lenin wrote, “One step forward two steps back; it happens in the lives of individuals, and in the history of nations.” To what extent can this quotation be applied to Lenin’s revolutionary career and his rule of the USSR 1918 to 1924?

From the 2005 IBDP Paper 3 markscheme:

This quotation (from one of Lenin’s many political works) is meant to give candidates a structure to use, after thinking through Lenin’s career and regime. They should be able to relate the quotation to his revolutionary career – for example, exile, hopes raised and dashed, return to Russia (by kind permission of the Germans) after the first 1917 revolution, then forced to flee, success in the second revolution, but failure in elections to the Constituent Assembly, control by force, then civil war. This theme could be continued. The Civil War was won but War Communism had to be replaced by the New Economic Policy and continued use of terror. Perhaps the greatest step backwards for USSR in Lenin’s eyes was his early illness and incapacitation and knowing the problems of finding a suitable successor.
The above are some suggestions, but of course keep an open mind and credit all attempts according to their worth.

[0 to 7 marks] for unsubstantiated generalizations.
[8 to 10 marks] for narrative of Lenin’s career and rule with implicit focus on quotation. 

[11 to 13 marks] for better focus on the quotation.
[14 to 16 marks] for genuine attempts to apply the quotation, and assess it.
[17+ marks] for a critical interpretation and judgement of the quotation in relation to Lenin’s revolutionary career and rule.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was a man who lived and breathed the revolution. He was a man who dedicated his life to transforming Russia into a state based on his own unique brand of Marxist ideology: Bolshevism. Nevertheless, Lenin’s quest for the creation of a socialist Russian state was by no means straight forward, as demonstrated by his quotation: “One step forward, two steps back; it happens in the lives of individuals, and in the history of nations.” Presumably, Lenin is referring to the various setbacks that he himself had experienced during his revolutionary career, causing Lenin to have to deviate from the path that his ideology has told him to follow. The problem is, this interpretation of the quote is merely an assumption. As Richard Pipes argues, Lenin was an enigma and thus is, even today, difficult to understand. Perhaps the best way to understand what Lenin is referring to in this quote is to examine his politics, as someone, who lives and breathes the revolution, would be defined by the policies that he himself had set up. Thus, by examining key moments during Lenin’s political career, including the 1917 constituent assembly election, Fanya Kaplan’s attempted assassination of Lenin and the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP), we can determine the relevance of this quote on Lenin’s revolutionary career.

The October revolution where Lenin seized control of the Russian state from the provisional government, largely thanks to the support of the Kronstadt sailors, who stormed the winter palace on the 7th of November, 1917, seizing power from the provisional government and transferring it to a group of Bolshevik dominated soviets. This victory could perhaps be seen as Lenin’s greatest success: he was able to gain power over Russia and have his Bolshevik party have genuine political influence. Nevertheless, the voice of the people who, according to American journalist John Reed, whose views are often considered biased as he was a close supporter of Lenin, in his account, Ten Days that Shook the World, had supported Lenin following the revolution as he was met, at a speech soon after, by “a thunderous wave of cheers.” This shows us that Lenin not only had advanced his ideological position by putting himself in a position of influence, he had also succeeded, according to John Reed, in securing the approval of the majority of the Petrograd populace. Nevertheless, these people would expect Lenin to keep his promises made that July for free elections to be held, something that occurred under a month after the October revolution. The results of the election was, internally, a major setback for Lenin as the Bolshevik party won a mere 23.5% of the seats at the assembly, while the Socialist revolutionary party won 40% of the seats. This was a set back, even a step backwards for Lenin, as it made a couple of points exceedingly clear. First, the results of the election contradict the views expressed by John Reed that the October revolution was a popular uprising. Although the support for the Bolsheviks was certainly noticeable, the belief that the Bolsheviks, and through that Lenin himself, had come to represent the ideals of the people, was undermined by the fact that a greater fraction of the population had put their faith in a separate party altogether. This lends wait to the arguments of the notoriously anti-Russian historian Richard Pipes, who argues that the October revolution, rather than it being Lenin’s crowning glory where he had finally seized control for the Russian people, as has been the Marxist view, but rather had been an illegal coup performed by a small group of radicals without the real support from the Russian people. Indeed, t is important to remember that the granting of the peoples’ wish for a free democratic election was hardly unique to the Bolshevik party, but instead it was a central party line for nearly every single revolutionary party following the February Revolution and that Kerensky himself had promised them prior to the October revolution. A second and perhaps more pressing setback to Lenin caused by the results of the 1917 elections was that, when the Constituent Assembly was due to meet in January, 1918, the Bolshevik’s would be far from a majority power. Indeed, as Rex Wade argues in his account of the 1917 Russian Revolutions, during the law-making process and early life of the Assembly, it would be the majority power of the Social-Revolutionary party who would determine the outcomes of the assembly, as the Bolshevik party would be a minority party; an influential minority, but a minority nevertheless. This was clearly unacceptable to Lenin, who, having gain such influence less than 6 months previously, dissolved the Assembly a mere day after its first convening. This means that it could be argued that the actual setback for Lenin that these results caused was minimal, as by February, 1918, Lenin was as influential in his now dictatorial position as he had been immediately following the October revolution. The negative results in the voting was negated simply by the ignoring of the democratic process and the beginning of the red terror dictatorial movement. Nevertheless, from an ideological standpoint, this was still a regression for Lenin, who, on numerous occasions has been quoted saying that democracy was an indispensable part of socialism. Thus, by choosing to ignore democracy, although Lenin was able to consolidate his position as Russia’s leader, he also deviates from the basic Marxist ideology upon which his rule has been founded, thus causing a regression away from his ideal goals, or, as is stated in the quote, two steps back despite the step forward that was the October revolution.

Fanya Kaplan’s attempted assassination was another major setback in Lenin’s revolutionary career, although the setbacks that this incident caused were perhaps more of a personal nature. Following a speech at a workers’ factory on August 30th, 1918, Lenin was approached by Kaplan, who shot at him three times, hitting him twice. Lenin, severely wounded, was treated at the Kremlin for fear of a further assassination attempt. Kaplan, following interrogation by the Cheka, stated that she believed Lenin to be a traitor following his dissolving of the constituent assembly and outlawing of political parties. This clearly shows that there was still a lot of political unrest amongst the Russian populace concerning Lenin’s policies. Clearly the Bolshevik party did not have the support of the Russian people, who resented the Bolsheviks taking away the democracy that the Russian people had so bitterly fought for in 1917. On the other hand, the actual attempted assassination of Lenin may not have proven to be an actual setback in this regard, as is detailed in a letter written by diplomat Leonid Krasin in 1918, where he states that the survival of Lenin had reaffirmed many former enemies’ belief that he was the only man capable of holding Russia together. Richard Pipes thus argues that as a result the attempted assassination consolidated Lenin’s position as a leader, as evidenced by the letter. Nevertheless, Lenin experienced a couple of major setbacks following the assassination attempt. First, physically, Lenin’s health began to deteriorate following his grievous injuries, especially considering that he had a bullet lodged in his neck up until 1922. These injuries, combined with Lenin’s 14 hour working days, caused his health to rapidly deteriorate leading up to a series of strokes. This was a setback for Lenin, as it caused him to deteriorate intellectually as well as physically, as evidenced by Yuri Felshtinsky in his account of Russia from 1917-1924, where he describes how Lenin was not able to read for long during 1921 due to his injuries aggravating him. This was a setback, as it directly impeded Lenin’s ability as an effective leader, thus limiting his capabilities and ushering in his death that left behind him a fractured cabinet and, as argued by Trotsky in his book A Revolution Betrayed, an incomplete revolution. A second setback that the failed assassination attempt caused for Lenin was that it caused the red terror to begin in earnest, with political opponent arrested and executed and freedoms of speech and gathering oppressed. Although this could be seen as a positive step forward for Lenin as a way of consolidating his power and eliminating future threats, from an ideological perspective, as well as when considering Lenin’s career as a revolutionary, this reign of terror looked to be a further regression away from the Marxist views upon which Lenin had built his revolution. Instead, the red terror movement that had been sparked in reaction to Kaplan’s failed murder attempt marked a progression of the Bolshevik party towards the position of a dictatorship similar to fascist states that would appear a decade later in Italy and Germany (ironically). Thus, in terms of looking at Lenin’s revolutionary career, the red terror, combined with Lenin’s beginning of deterioration in health, marked two steps away from the Revolutionary path that Lenin had treaded up until October, 1917, and thus could be considered as two steps backwards for the step forward that the further consolidation of the Bolshevik regime had achieved.

A final key moment in Lenin’s political and revolutionary career, and perhaps the greatest ideological step backward for Lenin was the introduction of the New Economic Policy in 1921. Following the 1921 famine caused by Lenin’s War Communism policy, where farmers chose not to produce food as it would merely be seized by the red army and where an unknown amount of people died, estimated at anywhere between 2 million and 10 million, Lenin realised that he had to stabilise the Russian economy that had been ruined by 8 years of war, if he wanted Russia to develop and recover. The NEP encouraged the establishment of small private businesses, promoted, alongside the 1922 constitution, the independence of other soviet republics, and reinstated many industrial experts and former Tsarist officials in leading economic positions throughout Russia. Thus the NEP was seen by many politicians surrounding Lenin, most notably the charismatic Leon Trotsky himself, as a betrayal of the ideals of 1917. The NEP essentially re-established the bourgeois that the Soviet revolutionaries had attempted to destroy in 1917. Furthermore, the NEP encouraged the peasantry to sell their produce for profits, a capitalist belief that was at odd with the Marxist beliefs held by the Bolshevik party. On the other hand, many Bolsheviks were in favour of the NEP, most notably Bukharin, who saw the NEP as essential concerning the stabilization of Russia and its development out of the dire situation that it found itself in. Nevertheless, the controversial policy resulted in a divide in opinions forming within the politburo itself, creating a fractured government, while the NEP itself, as argued by economist Carl Brinkmann, was only a short term solution that only allowed for the stabilisation of the economy, where central issues concerning the risks of over-industrialisation, as alluded to by George Kennan and Theodore von Laue, were far from being addressed. As a result, the NEP marked a step backwards for Lenin, away from his Marxist ideology into the realms of the “enemy” ideology of capitalism and leaving behind a fractured cabinet and only a short-term solution. Thus, by seeking to take the step forward and stabilise Russia’s economy, Lenin was forced to take a step back, moving still further away from the ideologies upon which he based his revolution in 1917, while simultaneously fracturing his own party.

The quote “One step forward, two steps back; it happens in the lives of individuals, and in the history of nations” could be considered applicable to a whole range of key events throughout Lenin’s revolutionary career. It portrays how Lenin was forced to compromise and, in search of pragmatic resolutions to issues facing him, he was forced to move away from the ideological path that he had initially based his revolutionary dream upon. While on the one hand, Lenin was able to advance through an democratic electoral defeat, a failed assassination attempt and a stricken economy and was thus able to consolidate the rule of his Bolshevik party, the ideals that his party had once championed were, by 1921, long gone due to his constant need to regress away from his ideological journey.


I would like to say that I found this essay rather trying to write. The essay has ended up being very narrative as I was not sure about how to structure it in a way that make it more about arguing different points.

Originally the title of a 1904 pamphlet on the subject of the Bolshevik-Menshevik split, this quote is too early for Lenin to be applying it to himself or Russia. Instead this phrase has the qualities of a forecast. In examining whether it is possible to apply it in retrospect the first aspect that must be clarified is if there were set backs and progress, as Lenin’s quote implies. Next, since Lenin mentions only one step forward for every two steps back, i.e. a net retreat rather than advance, it must be considered whether there were more, or greater set backs than progress. Lastly the given task begs the question of how to measure these failures and successes. To achieve this, Lenin’s aims must equally be taken into account and the successes measured in comparison to the aims.

It being clear, in my opinion, that there was a regular succession of “steps forward” and “steps back” – a glance at Lenin’s timeline alone confirms this -, a focus will be set on answering the question about the relative prevalence of failures over successes.

Before analysing “One step forward, two steps back” in respect to a chronology of events, it is important too take look at at least one of the factors that influenced Lenin’s failures and successes from the beginning. Many of the set backs in Lenin career and revolution were due to his different approach to Marxism. Marx predicted that there were going to be two revolutions wherein the “bourgeois-democratic revolution” and several decades of capitalist development would be in power until the working class would be sufficiently advanced to revolt and install a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, a socialist system. This socialist system was a worldwide system that would be instated through gradual worldwide revolution. Not exactly opposed to this, but thinking along different lines, Lenin argued that workers had no need to wait and should form alliances with peasants, soldiers and national minorities to overthrow the government. He thought that the communist party was to have a key role as the vanguard of this process by educating the developing proletariat. In addition to this Lenin was convinced that a revolution in Russia would act as a trigger to revolution in more economically developed nations. As A.J.P. Taylor argues: “Lenin made his revolution for the sake of Europe, not for the sake of Russia, and he expected Russia’s preliminary revolution to be eclipsed when the international revolution took place.”

Looking at Lenin’s revolutionary career, the succession of exiles which he experienced, first in Siberia (1897 to 1900) then in Western Europe (1900 to 1905 and 1907 to 1917) can be argued as being setbacks, for Lenin was not in Russia and therefore did not have the possibility to work as actively on planning revolution as if he had been. Nonetheless, he was taking part in many congresses and meetings, creating the communist newspaper “Iskra” (meaning spark) as well as writing some of his major works, including “What is to be done?” and “One step forwards, two steps back”. A “step forward” in the same period is the Bolshevik-Menshevik split in 1903 which occurred due to a disagreement about a problem that lay deeply embedded in different ideologies concerning the party’s role and the necessity of an alliance between the workers and the peasants rather than the bourgeoisie. Luckily for Lenin, the Bolsheviks could win a majority due to some of the Menshevik supporters walking out on the assembly and in this way leaving the majority to the Bolsheviks. From this moment onwards Bolsheviks and Mensheviks formed two separate parties with different aims and approaches to ruling Russia as is clear from Lenin calling the Mensheviks “Traitors of the Marxist state”.

One of Lenin’s “steps forwards” can be attributed to Germany wanting to cause havoc in Russia, during the First World War, by releasing a Bolshevik revolutionary in to its midst. On hearing about the Revolution in February 1917, Lenin was lucky enough to be transported from Switzerland back to Russia on a “sealed” train. Having written his “April Theses”, summarizing his revolutionary aims in ten short points on the way, the first thing Lenin did once back in Petrograd, was to proclaim them and urge for them to be fulfilled. His demand for a transformation from a bourgeois revolution to a proletariat revolution, was translated to the workers and peasants in the slogan “All power to the Soviets”. Clearly the revolution had taken a big “step forward” and was gradually forcing its way towards power.

This success was soon to be overshadowed by the July Days, an event about which historians have very different views. Whilst some, like Richard Pipes argue that this uprising was planned and initiated by Lenin, others, like Robert Service believe it was improvised and spontaneous, an opportunity for Lenin to “test the waters”. Either way, there was a decisive decrease in Bolshevik popularity, leading Lenin to flee Russia and hide in Finland, as the Provisional Government blamed the Bolsheviks for the unrest and reported Lenin as a German spy. All in all, the July Days were undoubtedly another setback in Lenin’s revolutionary career.

Having been driven underground after July, the Bolsheviks did not relent, kept planning their rule and debating whether to take the “legal” road to power or try seizing it with violence, a strategy that Lenin favoured and which triumphed in the end.  They now were facing the biggest “step forward” in the revolution.  On Lenin’s return, aided by the Kronstadt Sailors the Bolsheviks took control of the government in the October Revolution.

In conclusion in regard to Lenin’s revolutionary career, it must be said that there was actually a prevalence of “steps forward” over “steps back” seeing as Lenin succeeded in his aim of a workers revolution in alliance with peasants, soldiers and national minorities without a prolonged period of bourgeois government.

Once in control of the government, Lenin started laying out the foundations for the Bolshevik rule of Russia. To establish a communist state, ruled by Soviets, Lenin’s preliminary aims were the consolidation of power, the destruction of counter-revolutionaries, the breaking of civil resistance and the taking control of the industry, trade and land.

Unfortunately a major setback was pending. As mentioned earlier, Lenin had pushed to commence the revolution in October, thinking that the workers and peasants were sufficiently developed to support Bolshevik revolution. However this was not a recipe that would keep the Bolsheviks in power, as the majority of workers and especially peasants supported other parties such as the Social Revolutionaries. In attempts to consolidate power Lenin had made the Social Revolutionaries a minor part of the government, created the “Cheka” and shut down several hostile newspapers. Nonetheless in the elections to the Constituent Assembly in November 1917, with 175/700 seats the Bolsheviks were a minority of 24% whereas the Social Revolutionaries had 370/700 seats and a majority of 48%. The Bolsheviks were not going to let these elections count as a failure. Lenin ordered the first Constituent Assembly, on the 18th of January 1918, to be broken up by the Red Guards, justifying his actions by explaining that this was actually the highest form of democracy, as the Bolsheviks new exactly what the people wanted and there was therefore no need for an elected parliament. According to Trotsky Lenin said: “In the end it was best that it happened so.”

Tightly interwoven with the failure of the elections, the next setback dawned on the Bolshevik rule in December 1917. It was not long before the Bolsheviks were facing military opposition in form of nationalistic forces and foreign intervention, not to forget the strongly opposed Social Revolutionaries, that were far more popular in rural areas. The Civil War, consisted of the Social Revolutionaries forming the “whites”, supported by Russia’s world war one allies, fighting the Bolsheviks, the “reds”. A major setback for the history of Russia as a nation, the Civil War was just as well a “step back” in the career of Lenin as an individual.

In contrast, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, concluding peace with Germany, in March 1918, perceived by many as one of Russia’s greatest failures of the First Word War, was for Lenin necessary and not of immediate importance as he believed that the vast annexed amounts of land would be part of Russia’s territories again when it won over Germany, and the two states joined. Enabling the Bolsheviks to defeat the “whites” and ending the Civil War is also an event that clearly is categorized as a “step forward”.

On the other hand many setbacks also ensued. First of all Lenin’s failed assassination by Fanya Kaplan on the 30th of August 1918, which interestingly enough was in one way a small “step forwards” as it helped the Bolsheviks portray Lenin as a superhuman ruler, was also an immense step back, as it set a strain on Lenin and his ability to rule. In the long-term it inhibited Lenin in establishing a Socialist State because of a succession of brain haemorrhages that slowly diminished Lenin strength and intellectual capabilities.

Not to be forgotten is the Red Terror that Bolsheviks official instituted in September 1918, in order to keep power and rule Russia the way they believed was right. The terror and violence Bolsheviks laid hands to can be understood two different ways. On the one hand it is clear that Bolsheviks were to a certain extent forced to use violence to stay in power, because they were a minority. On the other hand however, it has been argued, for example by Pipes, that Lenin had always been in favour of resorting to terror. This is evidenced in his establishment of the “Cheka” before it was even needed.

The famine of 1921, which resulted from a combination of severe winters, the war depredations and Bolshevik policies, is an event that threw long shadows not only on Russia’s history but also upon Lenin’s rule, as it was the cause for so many deaths as well growing dissatisfaction in the way Lenin was ruling Russia. Partly in response to this Lenin initiated the New Economic Policy in March 1921. This new policy’s main innovation was the legalisation of small private businesses that enabled farmers and workers to make profits. Although this certainly was a “step forwards” in Russia’s development towards an economically more stable state, it was not one of Lenin’s aims and therefore is more likely to be seen as a failure in consideration of his rule.

In conclusion, the period from 1917 to 1924 seems to have been dominated by failures instead of successes, in regard to Lenin’s rule, as well as Russia as a nation. The depredations of the Terror, the suffering of the Russian people and the many deaths in civil war and famine clearly represent this. However that Lenin died at this point, without leaving the successor of his choice behind him, was perhaps the biggest setback of all. Therefore, it is with the words of Winston Churchill regarding Lenin’s death that I have chosen to end this essay:

“The Russian people were left floundering in the bog. Their worst misfortune was his birth, their next worst – his death.”

“Lenin Lived! Lenin Lives! Lenin Will Live Forever!” this was a quote proclaimed from a man named Christopher Read. Therefore, I think that this quote underlines that even though Vladimir Ulyanov was from the beginning increasingly esteemed, sometimes hated, Lenin became on of the most widespread, universally recognizable icons of the twentieth century. Moreover, Marxism-Leninism, became the basic ingredient of the twentieth century most vigorous “Revolutionary Cocktail”, as Christopher Read stated in his book “Lenin: A Revolutionary Life”. Therefore, I would argue that even though Lenin took one step forward and two steps back, for the sake of Russia and his revolution, “The death of Vladimir Ulyanov was by no means the end of Lenin”. Nevertheless in this essay I will Asses Lenin’s successes and failures while applying it to his revolutionary career and his rule of the USSR in 1918 to 1924.

The Australian-American historian, Sheila Fitzpatrick argues during Lenin’s revolutionary career and his rule oft he USSR between 1918 to 1924 he created a new breed of citizens, which she labels as “homo sovieticus”. I would argue that this would be called “Productionism”. Russia had to establish the conditions, which were theoretically required for it to have come to power in the first place. He wanted to put every effort into developing the economy to a high level output. Therefore, in January 1918 the declaration of right of working exploited people had talked about the introduction of universal labor conscription. This would mean that workers would be enrolled and posted wherever they were needed. The idea behind this was to legislate a universal duty to work in order o force the bourgeoisie into forms of useful labor. Moreover, Lenin claimed that labor must be organized in a new way; new forms of incentive to work and some sort of meekness to labor must be created. Next, Lenin decided to link women’s rights closely with releasing mothers into the labor force. He did this by „collectivizing“ traditional family tasks, such as cooking, laundry, taking care of infants and instead making women be able to spend more time at work. On the 19th of November 1918 Lenin stated that the Revolution would „Abolish all restrictions on women’s rights and previously of a slave; women had been in the position of a slave; women have been tied tot he home and only socialism can save them from this“. Moreover, Lenin wanted that the proletariat get a better education as educated workers would serve the productionist cause tot he full. He also wanted that there was the development of political consciousness in the workers as only a politicized worker would be able to play a full part in the project of socialist construction. Furthermore, I totally agree with Fitzpatrick as for Lenin the Russian population made a huge step forwards. The Russian workers were primarily interested in getting themselves and their children out of the working class. Nevertheless, Fitzpatrick believes that “Despite their reservations about sexual liberation, the Bolsheviks had legalized abortion and divorce shortly after the Revolution and were popularly regarded as enemies of the family and traditional moral values.“ Not only did Vladimir Lenin brace the labor force and the education system but he also promised “Peace”. As Lenin needed an elevation into a position of power this meant that Lenin hat to make decisions and consequences over the question of war. “Peace” policies were a crucial part in attracting support, as no one wanted war. Throughout the country there were many different sorts of slogans like “War to a victorious conclusion”.  Russia was still at war, and the terms demanded by Germany for peace were harsh. However, on the 3rd of March Lenin signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in which Germany took vast tracts of land, population, infrastructure and mineral resources. However, this gave Lenin a certain “Breathing Space” which would suggest that he wouldn’t have to worry of a German invasion during his rule of the USSR. Clearly, after he signed the treaty there was still a major opposition to Lenin, calling itself the Left Communists. Nevertheless, not only did Lenin face pressure from within the Party, the entire Left Social Revolutionaries favored a revolutionary war. Their argument was therefore that the Treaty of Brest-Litvosk was the clearest proof of the Bolsheviks being “German Agents”. Therefore, on the 6th of July they assassinated the German ambassador, Count von Mirbach, as they denounced the real dictator of Russia. However, these denunciations were wrong. Lenin stated that he would have paid any price, which he was worth paying in the short run for the revolution to survive.

By the end of 1920 the Civil War had been won, peace had been made with Poland and foreign troops had left Russia. Although, just when the communist government should have been celebrating victory over the whites it found themselves thrown into another series of conflict. In 1920 there were hundreds of peasant risings. According to Orlando Figues “By March 1921 Soviet power in much of the countryside had ceased to exist”. This would suggest that requisitioning had turned millions of peasants against the communist regime. Nevertheless, at the same time strikes broke out which threatened the regime in the cities and industrialized areas. The result of these strikes turned into mass demonstrations, in which soldiers and sailors joined. The communists had won the civil War but their methods had lost them the support of the people. Lenin noticed that the most serious threat came from the Kronstadt sailors. This was quite ironic as it was the sailors that had taken to the stress of Petrograd to demonstrate for the Soviet government in the July Days and had played a key role in the Bolshevik siege of power in October 1917. However, sooner or later Lenin noticed that the “Pride and glory of the Russian Revolution”, as Leon Trotsky stated was now more a threat than a help to the soviet government. This was called the Kronstadt Mutiny of 1921 and started when demonstrations started in Petrograd and quickly spread to Kronstadt on the 28th of February. When some communist members started to support the demands to hold new soviet elections, release political prisoners and end the grain requisitioning Lenin realized he had to stop or else his revolutionary career would come to an end. Therefore, Lenin and the government had to act swiftly by mandating Leon Trotsky to crush the rebellion. However, the first attack failed, but eventually 50,000 Red Army Troop recaptured the island base after an attack over the ice killing 10,000 Red troops. Nevertheless, I would conclude by saying this was a huge step forward for Lenin as he had won the civil war and had destroyed the opposition fighting against the communist regime. Therefore, I believe that the statement from John Reed best describes and justifies Lenin’s response to the resistance “Instead of being a destructive force, it seems to me that the Bolshevik were the only party in Russia with a constructive program and the power to impose it on the country.”

However, it can be argued that Lenin also took some steps back and therefore dwindling Russia power. A major step backwards for Russia was the so-called term “War-Communism” that Lenin practiced in 1918-1921. This was were the government took full control of economic life. Moreover, all production was to be concentrated on the war effort. Therefore, factories committees lost the ability to manage their workplaces. Next, production collapsed as the transport of goods and raw materials was totally disrupted by the Civil War. The Allies also blockade the communist territory and prevented it receiving foreign trade. This lead people without work or food and therefore the population of Moscow and Petrograd was halved. It is clearly seen in the statistics that of the 2.6 million workers in Russia in 1917, only 1.2 were left in 1920. Soon peasant communities fiercely resisted the grain requisition of 1918. This occurred as many rejected growing more crops than they needed for their own consumption. Nevertheless, these peasants also refused to join the state collective farms the government set up. This therefore made a crisis of food supply and forced requisitions squads to enter villages and forcefully take the grain so that the army and cities were fed.

Moreover, the most drastic step backwards that Russia took was when she was hit by a famine on a terrifying scale. Dmitri Volkogonov described the famine in a horrific way by stating “The famine … was appalling. People were eating dead bodies, although the Politburo banned any mention of cannibalism in the press“. Therefore, this quote suggests that peasants had either eaten any reserves or seen them confiscated by the requisition squads. The worst famine for 30 years was therefore a combination of government policy and climate. In 1920 Ukraine grain production fell to 20 per cent of its pre-war total. Today historians still estimate the numbers of deaths that this horrible famine caused. Some state that around 5 million died and others state 10 million casualties but we must also include people that died from disease such as typhus and cholera. This was then the result of millions of people tramping across the country in the search of food. However, we must take in consideration that without the help of Herbert Hoover, who raised money from the American people and used it to redistribute food and grain, an estimated of 14 million people would have died in addition with the 5 or 10 million.

All in all, the Bolshevik had won the Civil War, but it was largely a war of their own making. I would argue that if they had not insisted on a one-party dictatorship there would have been no war with the whites. However, it could be argued that even though Russia took a few steps back by winning the civil war but finding that they had lost the support oft he population, the introduction of war communism, the horrific famine and the introduction oft he New Economic policy, Nevertheless, focusing on the question I would argue that this quote would not apply to Lenin’s revolutionary career and his rule of the USSR 1918 to 1924 as Robert Service states that “And yet, while Lenin was cunning and untrustworthy, he was also dedicated to the ultimate goal of communism. He enjoyed power; he lusted after it. He yearned to keep his party in power. But he wanted power for a purpose. He was determined that the Bolsheviks should initiate the achievement of a world without exploitation and oppression.” I think that this would suggest that even though he was a harsh dictator he always had a goal in mind of changing Russia and making them a powerful nation.

Lenin died on the 21st of January 1924, as the leader of the USSR. He had come to power seven years before on the 25th of October 1917 through the Bolshevik revolution. To assess how successful his work had been between 1918-1924 it is necessary to establish a basis to which one can compare his developments. On April 4th 1917 Lenin published his slogan of “Peace, Bread, Land”, his promise for the workers and peasants if he were to come to power. In order to assess to what extent he was successful (one step forward) and to what extent he was unsuccessful (two steps back) we can identify and analyze the extent to which he came closer or further to his goal of “Peace, Bread, Land” for Russia by 1924.

The peace that Lenin had promised came on the 3rd of March 1918 in the form of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Unfortunately, the treaty was very harsh on Russia and a source of unpopularity for Lenin amongst many Russians. Russia lost one third of its empire; territories from the Baltic to the Black Sea were now under German control, including Ukraine, the so-called “bread basket” of Russia. With this land the Russians lost 45 million people, from a total population of 150 million, almost a third of their population. Above all this, Russia was required to pay 3 billion rubles in war reparations. Lenin supported this decision by arguing “Russia can offer no material resistance because she is exhausted by three years’ war,” and followed the motto “peace at any cost.” He also believed that the conditions of the treaty, though severe, would be eliminated once the West defeated the Central Powers. According to General Paul von Hindenburg who was present at the peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk “Lenin and Trotsky behaved more like the victors than the vanquished, while trying to sow the seeds of political dissolution in the ranks of our army.”
Though the terms of this treaty were a major setback for Russia – one step forward by achieving peace sending them two steps back due to the treaty’s harsh conditions – Lenin was proven right. Only eight and a half months after the signing of the Treaty, the Germans were forced to completely abrogate it in order to be able to sign an armistice with the British, French and Americans.

However, whilst the aspect of peace from WW1 had been secured, the promise of peace in general was far from completion. On the 20th of December in 1917 Lenin established the Cheka, a secret police that was to suppress any opposition to the Bolsheviks, under the leadership of Felix Dzerzhinsky. This group also played a large role in the Red Terror, which began officially in September of 1918. The term “red terror” refers to the mass killings, torture and systematic oppression conducted by the Bolsheviks after seizing power in Petrograd and Moscow. This, and many further aspects of the Bolshevik regime, such as the forcible dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in January of 1918, and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ultimately resulted in the Russian Civil War between 1918 and 1921. The Red Army represented the Bolsheviks and was organized and controlled by War Commissar Trotsky, whilst the opposition, the Whites was a rather miscellaneous group of supporters of the Romanovs, ex-Tsarists, and moderate socialist groups. The Reds won the war in 1921, however this was at the cost of approximately 15 million lives, certainly not indicating an atmosphere of peace in Russia between 1918-1921. Thus, though the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, in other words peace at the Western Front, brought Russia one step forward, the resulting hostilities which would accumulate with tension created through other events, and resulted in the Russian Civil War, definitely took the development of peace two steps back.

Lenin’s next initiative, “Bread”, he attempted to tackle through the implementation of War Communism. One of the key aspects of war communism in regards to bread was grain requisition. Grain requisition was the forceful requisition of grain from the peasants at prices that amount from little to nothing determined by the Communist government. The idea was to “squeeze the peasants” in order to be able to provide food the workers in the cities such as Petrograd and Moscow. This initiative however went severely wrong, as the peasants began to produce very small amounts of food, enough to feed their own family, in order to rebel against the government. The requisition squads would confiscate even these small amounts of food however – resulting in a famine in Russia by 1921. This famine killed approximately 6 million Russians; in other words, half the number of people who died during the Civil War had starved to death. Even Pravda, the official Bolshevik newspaper, admitted that 1 out of 5 Russians were starving during this time. Thus Lenin’s attempt to bring Russia one step forward, through “true socialism”, as Bukharin called War Communism, resulted in a famine pulling Russia two-steps back.

In March of 1921, however, the Kronstadt Sailors (previously described by Trotsky as “the heroes of the revolution”) rose up against the Bolshevik regime. The spokesman for the demonstrating Kronstadt sailors, Petrechenko is quoted to have said “I myself was a communist, and I call on you, Comrades, drive out these false Communists who set worker against peasant and peasant against worker.” Lenin labels the Kronstad rebellion as the event that “lit up reality like a lightning flash”. As a response to this, he decided to change the countries economic policy, and in the same year, the New Economic Policy was introduced. The New Economic Policy was a positive development for the USSR in the sense that it allowed peasants to sell their surplus grains in the free market, such that they retrieved their incentive for producing grain and gradually terminated the famine. This was one step forward for the Russians because it eliminated hunger to large extent, and also improved workers wages and the value of factory output due to the other measures of the NEP. On the other hand however, it was two steps back for the Bolsheviks, as it was leaning towards capitalism rather than War Communism that was according to many “true socialism”. Thus by 1924 Lenin did achieve his goal of providing more bread for the USSR, but at the cost of betraying the communist ideology.

The issue of land was tackled from the very start by the “Decree on Land & Worker’s Control” passed in November of 1918. This officially gave the peasants the land that they had already taken over since the abdication of the Tsar. Land Reform is generally seen as a success of the Bolshevik’s as they did indeed give peasants ownership of the land between 1918-24. However, this ownership put emphasis on the different classes of peasants, as there was a more affluent class of peasants known as the Kulaks. Although the official Soviet view was that the Kulaks were classes of peasants that were hoarding their grain to themselves and were therefore well off, Western historians such as Michael Lynch disagree and believe that Kulaks were simply the “more efficient” farmers. The Kulaks were then targeted by Lenin, in order to “instill fear” amongst peasants. This meant that although the peasants now had their own land, with grain requisition and the civil war, including red terror, they did not have much freedom as to how they could use it and benefit from it. However, the New Economic Policy allowed for the extension of this freedom, and peasants could now sell surplus grain, making land reform once again valuable to the peasants. Thus in the case of land reform, by 1924 it continued to be effective, and it does not fit into the mold of “one step forward two steps back”, because even if land reform was not very beneficial at first, it was still better for the peasants because they no longer had to pay tenure on their land. Thus this step forward was a continuous positive point for the regime and did not draw the USSR two steps back.

In conclusion, Lenin’s concept of “One step forward two steps back” is widely applicable to his achievements for the USSR between 1918-1924 to a large extent. It is clearly visible that throughout his revolutionary career, with every attempted step forward he encountered many setbacks, some of which he was able to tackle and others, which remained unresolved by the point of his death.  

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov later dubbed Lenin in Munich could be seen as a visionary. Some of the ideas he had were decades ahead of their time and sometimes seemed to defy communist ideas. But there were always ideas that took Russia a few steps back for every step it took forward. The education system, the pension system, and making women equal were all very progressive idea for their time. However when he limited what could be taught in schools, made religion a taboo, and war communism he took huge steps backwards.
In 1917 years before the “ steps forward” War Communism was enacted by the Bolsheviks. They enacted this because of the Civil War that was going on. This meant that the government could go to farmers and cease their land or animals for resources, or that they could force people to work for hours on end for minimal pay and food. If the people refused to comply they were shot or beat within an inch of their life. A journal entry from a Russian farmer at the time supports this, “ When the men came by and demanded our cattle my brother refused. The soldiers then proceeded to beat him with the butt's of their guns.”How is this a step forward? How could Lenin claim to be helping the Russian people? People were also limited religiously as well. Lenin felt that religion was holding people back. He banned religious teachings in schools and took away the churches credibility. Monks and priest were alienated and targeted in order to discredit them. The League of Militant Atheist was put to gather to cause physical harm to the monks and priest and eventually bring them down. Education was also hindered. Of course it was a huge step forward to allow a public education system but it was definitely a few steps backwards in respect to how they ran them. “Useless” subjects such as ancient languages and history were banned and all the focus was put into the sciences. The teachers also had to stick to a very strict curriculum to ensure that the right material was taught. This paints a pretty clear picture.
In 1922 a Labour law was passed that instated eight hour work days, two weeks paid holiday a year, and social benefits such as sick pay or maternity leave. This was a huge step froward for Russia seeing as under the Tsars rule there were no clear work hours. Soviet Russia was being progressive compared to other part of the world. Women were put on the same level as men, the could vote, work, and have a say over what happens with the money. Marriage was now more relaxed and people could be married and divorced with extreme ease. Abortions were even legal. All this was at a time when in most parts of the world men
and the church controlled the aspects of day to day life. Only one other country allowed women to vote and for people to receive a pension and that was in Germany. By 1923 the Constitution gave the people the right to vote.But for all this good there is bound to be some bad. In 1924 1.24 million workers out of the industrial work force were un employed and 8.5 million workers in total were un employed in Soviet Russia. ( One worker out of every seven ) This would consequently lead to severe famine. And even though the people had the right to vote the Communist was always in power. So for the steps Lenin had take forward he has also took steps backwards.
Both before and after the civil war there had been some good and bad ideas. Of course the people embraced the good. At first it seemed like Lenin was going to keep good on his promise of Peace Bread and Land. But as time went on they all came to notice that there was a catch to all of this. He would give these gifts to the people but they would only be to a certain extent. A middle class Russian was quoted saying, “ I’m happy that I can send my boy to school. We are originally from Ukraine. When I heard that he could not learn Ukrainian in school it angered me greatly.” By denying people the right to learn languages like that he in turn restricted their heritage. But it seemed to suit his dream of world communism. By having one official language and course of action every would be equal. The new economic policy that Lenin's party had put into place did help a lot though. The New Economic Plan ( NEP ). By the time Lenin died the coal production, the average wage of the workers had, and the production of steel also increased. But the amount of grain harvested did drop majorly. Of course none of these numbers even came close to what they were before the civil war.
Lenin had ideas for Russia that were ahead of their time. But unfortunately they were backwards in some aspects. The fact that the people gained more civil liberties was truly impressive but how the state hindered them was appalling by toads standards. The quote, “One step forward two steps back; it happens in the lives of individuals, and in the history of nations.”, applies to this situation on more than one level. It most definitely reflects Lenin's revolution career.


Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov was a man who had a vision to lead Russia as the first newly formed communist state. Throughout his revolutionary reign Lenin continued to take steps towards his ultimate goal of a communist utopia. In this essay I would like to concentrate on how Lenin’s actions resulted in his own ideological hypocrisy and how it is important for our understanding of the quote. The failure to achieve a popular majority in the constituent assembly and, as Lars T. Lih argues in his essay published in the 1991 Slavic Review, the failure of war communism could all been thought as attempts to save or improve Russia but ultimately seen as setbacks to Lenin’s ideological dream. 

In 1917, after the overthrow of the provisional government, Lenin achieved his opportunity to take hold of the government. The people demanded that Lenin would keep his promises and hold a democratic election creating a new government for the people. However with winning only 175 seats for the Bolshevik Party and 370 for the Socialist Revolutionaries, Lenin took the constituent assembly hostage with help of the Kroonstad sailors. This event accorded power to Lenin but the Russian people saw this as a betrayal. Peter Kropotkin, social philosopher, author and an advocator of the socialist revolution, evidenced this betrayal by writing to Lenin saying: “Vladimir Ilyich, your concrete actions are completely unworthy of the ideas you pretend to hold.” Lenin’s newly formed dictatorship government could be seen as another step back from the reason that this was a complete, and perverted deviation to his former ideology which he himself uttered as: “democracy is indispensible to socialism”.

In the same year Anti-Bolshevik uprisings and independent seeking Russian citizens, like Pols, Finns and Estonians, led to the Russian Civil War. Lenin claimed That War Communism was “a measure with which we were saddled by the imperative conditions of war-time”, however many historian’s Like Richard Pipes and Michael Polaniv say that it was a way to “jump start” the Communist economy and soften the initial blow to the Russian people by introducing it in the midst of war. Nikolia Bukahrin, a Soviet politician, states: "We conceived War Communism as the universal, so to say 'normal' form of the economic policy of the victorious proletariat and not as being related to the war, that is, conforming to a definite state of the civil war”. War communism introduced, obligatory labour work for all abled bodied (ages 12 up), longer work hours and harsh working conditions for factory workers, requisition of any agricultural crop from peasants. The Cheka enforced all policies and all diktats were punishable by death or forced labour in governmental camps for a given amount of time. In result of the newly instated War Communism, peasants started refusing to cooperate in producing food. Immigration from the cities to the countryside grew (72% loss of citizens in Petrograd) since there was a higher chance of obtaining food, resulting in a lessened industrial work force. Worker strikes and peasant rebellions had begun to spread, it was reported by the Cheka that 118 different peasant uprising occurred in February 1921 alone. A further explanation to the revolts was the Kroonstad rebellion, who were considered the “reddest of the reds”, decided to take up arms against the newly formed Bolshevik regime.

The situation Lenin found himself was dire and closely as troublesome as the Civil War itself, David Christian a noted historian comments in his book “Power and Privilege”, “the crisis had undermined the loyalty of the villages, the towns and finally sections of the army. It was fully as serious as the crises faced by the tsarist government in 1905 and February 1917”. It would only take the NEP or the New Economic Policy which was enacted only in 1921 to calm down the social and economic downfall. This brought with it a more capitalist ideology and one of the only ways to combat the poverty in the country.

Hypocritical and sanctimoniousness pious can all describe Lenin’s actions and how this gave sense of concern and unrest in the Russian people leading to its stumbling back in Lenin’s career, but referring again to David Christian and his comments on War Communism, Lenin’s deeds are elucidated best in his remark-"A government claiming to represent the people now found itself on the verge of being overthrown by that same working class”

Throughout the Soviet Unions early days and Civil War it was was rulled by an Iron fist. All though having enacted harsh conditions and utilized shocking and ruthless maneuvers Lenin pulled through successfully into a new era of Bolshevik rule, and this insurmountable achievement is one that shaped history.


“If you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself.” This is a quote from the revolutionary author Mikhail Bakunin talking about the beginning of Lenin’s communist rule of Russia. This quote shows us that Lenin's early rule was two steps back from the Tsarist regime but it was one step forward for communism. Lenin was in Switzerland when the 1917 revolution broke out on March 8th this was two steps back for himself personally because he felt that he should have been in Russia when the revolution happened so he could lead it and claim power afterwards, however it was one step forwards for the country of Russia. Throughout Lenin's revolutionary and political rule in Russia he experienced the two steps back and one step forward situations many a time. This essay will show that from his exile, to the 1917 revolution in Russia, and his political rule, Lenin often faced situations where he had to make decisions where the outcome was two steps back and one step forward, showing that communism was not going to work right away but it would be a long process.

Lenin was exiled in February 1897 where he was sentenced without trial to three years of exile in Siberia. After he had served his sentence he was banned from St. Petersburg he settled in Pskov, however he would not live here long as in the same year he would settle in western Europe. This was in a sense two steps back for Lenin because he was no longer in Russia where he had actively been trying to spread communism, however it was a step forward for Lenin as well because it meant that he could spread Marxism across western Europe. And he did with his newspaper called the iskra (spark), the first edition was printed in 1900 in Munich which was his current city he was living in. the Iskra was such a success not only in western Europe but also in Russia as it became the most successful “underground” publication for 50 years showing that the people of Russia were interested in what Lenin had to say. Lenin only came back to Russia once between 1900 and 1917 and that was in 1905 to support the revolution but left after the Tsar crushed the revolution.

Lenin's return to Russia in 1917 was a desperate time for him because he was in a rush to get to Russia, because of the revolution. On march 8th the 1917 revolution started with the bread riots and a week later (march 15th) the Tsar Nicholas II abdicated and a provisional government was put in power. This one step back for Lenin because he felt like he should have been in power after the revolution that he knew was going to happen. However the revolution was two steps forward for Russia itself because they had finally gotten rid of the Tsar and were now being led by president Kerensky. When Lenin arrived in Russia on the 3rd of April 1917 in Finland station St. Petersburg he announced his April Thesis. He also wanted the people to take control of the country for themselves but no one believed him. The people had  just had one revolution and felt like they had succeeded as they had achieved their goal to overthrow the Tsar and not to put Lenin in as head of state. “أن الثوره حرب, وهذه الحرب هي الحرب المشروعه الوحيده في العالم” this is a quote from Lenin, in this quote he states that a revolution is a war, and this war is the only legitimate war in the world. This quote shows how obsessed Lenin was with the idea of having a revolution where he would come in power afterwards and then put the country under his rule. However shortly after his arrival in Russia he was forced to flee to Finland for his own protection. This was two steps back for Lenin because it was the revolution that he had always wanted but he was not in power Kerensky was, on the other hand the people of Russia had take a step forwards to solidarity they had achieved what they wanted.

On October 26th Lenin finally achieved what he wanted with the help of the Kronstadt sailors. The sailors took the Aurora down the Volga and shelled the winter palace where currently the provisional government was located. All the members were apprehended except Kerensky who had already left but this was the end for the provisional government and the beginning of Lenin's rule. This was the two steps forward that Lenin needed to take power over the country and even though he promised to have fair elections for the next ruler he knew he could not win and shut down the constituent Assembly. This again was two steps forward for Lenin because now he was the undisputed ruler of Russia and no other party could touch him. However this was a step back for the people of Russia because it would mean that all they had worked for in the revolution would be turned to ash as another undisputed ruler would be ruling the country for the next six years. In 1918 when the civil war broke out Lenin introduced war communism. This was two steps back for Russia because of the civil war the country would be torn apart. Around 10 million people would die as a result. War communism would be a step back for Russia as the people would have almost no rights as Lenin's secret police (the cheka) would come and take all the grain that the farmers had and would buy this for a very low price or shoot the farmers if they would not give them the grain, people had to work 18 hour days in the factories, it was a disaster for the people and they started to realize what type of a ruler Lenin was. The civil war was a disaster not only for Lenin but also the people of Russia suffered under war communism and if they decided to join the army they were likely to die on the front lines. After the war Lenin realized that if he did not do something there was going to be another revolt but to overthrow his rule. As a result of this fear he introduced the N.E.P. (New Economic Policy), with this policy in place people could have small business again, the government could not longer take food from the peasants, the peasants were allowed to sell any surplus they had on food they had to private traders and the government control of factories was relaxed. By Lenin's death in 1924 the N.E.P. had begun to work as the production of coal and steel had risen, the monthly wages has also risen since 1921, however the production of grain had decreased from 1923 to 1924. The N.E.P. was one step back for the governments control of Russia but it was two steps forward for the people and the country itself.

In conclusion Lenin faced a number of situations over his political career where he faced this situation of two steps back and one step forward but he overcame these setbacks and became the single undisputed ruler of Russia. He defeated the whites in the civil war and introduced the N.E.P., but possibly his greatest setback was his illness. This caused him to no longer be able to do everything that he was used to but he continued to lead Russia. Lenin over his political career showed great passion in his work and was the father of Leninism and of communism in Asia, he was despot but with the N.E.P. he showed that he also understood the people.