With the rise of communism in Russian during the early part of the 20th century, one of the major political and ideological forces of modern history entered onto the world stage. Prior to the Bolshevik Revolution in October of 1917 and a precursory revolution in February of the same year, Russian was politically organized under a traditional autocratic system with Tsar Nicholas II as its monarch. Ideologically, the Tsar was firmly grounded in a highly conservative and autocratic view of society based on Divine Right. He saw himself as divinely ordained to rule over his people and was infallible in doing so. Russian citizens were expected to respect the hierarchical power structures as they existed and show self-restraint and deference to their communities. As with most monarchical governments, the existing political and social order was a product of God’s presence and left minimal room for democratic impulses of the population. Also during this time, Russia was entangled in World War I as a result of Nicholas II’s belief that participating in the conflict and struggling against an outside enemy would restore social cohesion and quell dissent over poor living and working conditions for the vast majority of the people.
In February of 1917, workers in Petrograd organized strikes and eventually the Tsar mobilized the military to squash the riots. Troops began to mutiny and join rioters which quickly led to the dissipation of the Tsarist government’s power. Immediately following the Tsar’s abdication, the Petrograd Soviet and the Provisional Government vied for control of Russia’s political structure. However, both powers were constructed around democrat, socialist, and radical ideas; all of which signaled a sea change for Russian society in comparison to the monarchy of the Tsar. Within this tenuous balance of power and struggle, the Bolshevik Party would come to power under the guidance of one of the great revolutionary figures of the 20th century, Vladimir Lenin.
Ideologically, the Bolshevik Party under Lenin found its main inspiration in the philosophy of Karl Marx. As Marxism is a deeply materialistic philosophy, the religious sentiments which necessarily accompany monarchy and helped solidify Nicholas II’s power dissolved within Russia. In theory, this new movement would be a radically democratizing force by moving the center of agency in Russian society from the singular monarch to the collectivized will of the people. Lenin aimed to achieve this politically by establishing soviets which were local governmental bodies composed of laborers and peasants. These drastic political changes were deeply rooted in the philosophical underpinnings of Marxism’s suspicion of centralized government being an oppressive arm of capital and relocating nodes of power within the revolutionary class, the proletariat. Lenin built upon Marx and developed his theory of the “vanguard party,” a group of revolutionary intellectuals that would represent the proletariat’s interests in a way not possible for the mass of workers. Politically, this would eventually lead to the oppressive dominance and ubiquity of the Soviet Party in Russian society and would be used ruthlessly by Joseph Stalin.