This one follows on from the last posting about the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. As I noted there, the man seen as driving that revolution was Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924). In many commentators' views he was the man without which that particular revolution would not have come about and certainly even if it had, the Bolsheviks would not have won through to become Russia's sole political party for more than sixty years. As I noted too, Lenin only lived two years beyond the creation of the USSR and died in January 1924, at the age of 53. Lenin survived two assassination attempts in January 1918 and in August 1918. In the latter case two bullets entered his body, one remaining until it was removed in April 1922 and Lenin had his first stroke the following month. He was in ill-health and partially paralysed until his death. He had a stroke in December 1922 leading him to resign from office and a third in March 1923 which rendered him dumb.
In his last months Lenin was critical of all the other leading Bolsheviks, the men who had been likely to succeed him: Josef Stalin, Leon Trotsky, Nikolai Bukharin, Lev Kamenev, Georgy Pyatakov and Grigory Zinoviev. Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoview jointly ruled the USSR after Lenin's death. Lenin saw that, as Secretary-General, i.e. in charge of administration, Stalin held immense power and felt he was unsuited for that role. In late 1922 he advised that Stalin be manoeuvred out of the position. By not anointing a clear successor Lenin made it possible for Stalin to retain and increase his power. In addition, Lenin had left it too late, by April 1923 when his 'testament' about the Bolshevik leaders was supposed to be delivered he was too ill. By criticising so many of the leaders, none had an interest in allow the testament to become public knowledge and so it could not be used to depose Stalin.
Of course, by 1928 Josef Stalin had seen off all of Lenin's other successors and became dictator of the USSR until his death in 1953 and oversaw the execution and brutal imprisonment of millions of people as well as engineering famines that killed millions more, particularly in the Ukraine. Stalin wiped out almost a whole generation of Communist Party officials and wrecked the lives of millions of ordinary people. His purges so weakened the Red Army that when the Germans invaded the USSR in 1941 they were able to reach Leningrad and Moscow with little difficulty and with a more focused attack and better preparation may have defeated the USSR and certainly expelled Soviet forces from European Russia. Of course Nazi Germany also carried out extermination and by allowing Soviet forces to be pushed back so far exposed the millions among the population of the areas occupied by the Germans to arrest, deportation and execution, notably Jews but also many Christian and Marxist Russians. Stalin also uprooted entire nations of people; over 3.3 million people were moved notably Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Chechens, Balkars, Ingush, Kalmyks, Karachays and Koreans, but also Poles and Balts from regions the Soviets had overrun in 1920 and 1940. It is estimated that 43% of relocated people died from malnutrition. It is estimated that in total, 10-20 million civilians died under Stalin whether through execution (all prisoners in the gulags, i.e. prison camps, in western Russia were executed as the Germans advanced) or maltreatment either in the camps or being transported to them. Stalin's death toll far exceeds that of Hitler's primarily because he was in power for 25 years compared to Hitler's 12 years.
People argue that Stalin's forced industrialisation in the 1930s allowed the USSR to ultimately defeat the Germans and take control of half of Europe so avoid another invasion by the Germans as had happened in 1914 and 1941. However, it is clear that without the execution of 16 of the 20 highest ranked generals; 50 out of 57 Army Corps commanders (usually lieutenant-generals) and 154 out of 186 Division commanders (usually major-generals) and the loss of many men and women who would have gone into the ranks, the Red Army would have been in a far stronger position to at least slow if not halt the German invasion. In addition, whilst many Soviet citizens fought as partisans against the Germans, others notably in the Baltic States and the Ukraine which had suffered under Stalin were willing to collaborate with the invaders against the Red Army. Stalin only won loyalty through terror and an enthusiatic volunteer is deemed to be worth two pressed men if not more. Ironically, in feeling he had to do all these things to protect the legacy of the Bolshevik Revolution he put it at greatest risk.
So, how would things be different if Stalin had not been able to come to power? Of course Stalin might have been assassinated or killed during the Russian Civil War or the Russo-Polish War; he could have been disgraced following his blunders as a commander on that latter war in 1920. However, it seems likely that the most effective way of removing Stalin would be if Lenin had remained in reasonable health longer. Let us say that the bullets fired at Lenin August 1918 go wide or the second one goes into his shoulder (the first had hit his arm) rather than the join between his jaw and neck or that he is snatched out of their path as he had been in January. Without the injury it is likely that Stalin would not have experienced the strokes of 1922-3 and whilst it was clear that he was exhausted by five years of fighting, he could have continued in power. If he had lived to 63, another ten years and still not a great age then, so dying in 1934, then history would have been very different.
What is interesting is that though he had no need to manoeuvre as Stalin was to do 1924-8, to oust rivals for supreme power, by 1922 Lenin was falling out with all the other leaders of the Communist Party. It may be that even if he had survived beyond 1924, that Stalin, who in our world made alliances first with Kamenev and Zinoviev against Trotsky and then with Bukharin against Kamenev and Zinoviev before ultimately turning on Bukharin, would have been able to pull off something similar with Lenin. However, as Lenin had shown in 1917, he was the master of political manoeuvring and given that he had spotted the dangers of Stalin as early as 1922, he would have had him marginalised and removed. Of course, Lenin would have had to deal with the other leaders, but the organising force would have gone when Stalin was sent to run some remote province of Siberia. We can write Stalin out of the picture, but it still leaves questions over who would have succeeded Lenin when he finally died, in this alternate world, in 1934. Trotsky had been born in 1879, Kamenev and Zinoviev in 1883 and Bukharin in 1888 so would have been 45-55 at the time of Lenin's death, so the right age to assume power. Of course, by then they may have been disgraced and removed from standing. We probably know too little of Lenin's personality outside revoultionary and wartime but it seems that given he put his doubts about these men in a testament rather than send the Cheka against them as he could have done, suggests he approached party colleagues differently to how Stalin did. Stalin had these four men either executed or assassinated, 1936-40. Of course, as we saw with later Soviet leaders someone unexpected might have come to the fore by 1934, in the way Nikita Khrushchev and Mikhail Gorbachev were to do. Of course, another candidate, in our world, Stalin's first party victim, was Sergey Kirov, born in 1886 and due to his immense popularity in the Communist party, murdered in 1934. While Kirov had been loyal to Stalin initially, he began to diverge in attitude to repression especially of leading party members.
In terms of policy Kirov can be seen as Lenin's heir. While he supported the police state of the USSR he wanted a more moderate approach especially in terms of rapid industrialisation and collectivisation of farms. In some ways in the mid-1930s this was like advocating a return to the New Economic Policy (NEP) that Lenin introduced in March 1921 which stepped back from the requisitioning of War Communism which had been pursued up until then and also allowed low-level private business, a little like what the Chinese government permitted in the 1980s-90s. Lenin recognised when a policy, though ideologically pure, was proving counter-productive and remembered, unlike Stalin, that starvation was what had brought down the Tsarist regime. Lenin was no less harsh than Stalin, but he did not have the degree of personal fanaticism that drove Stalin like Mao to carry on policies that harmed even loyal Communists.
There were two key points of tension with Soviet policy. One was the economy. Stalin adopted the approach of rapid, heavy industrialisation and to achieve this and to suppress what he imagined to be as the key class enemies, the kulaks or rich peasants, he nationalised agriculture reducing the USSR's food production severely and leading to famine. Whilst it is true that Stalin achieved industrialisation he probably made that success harder than it needed to be because he damaged the supply of food that the growing industrial labour force needed. Stalin was paranoid, certainly, and that meant that he could not see that even the kulaks by the early 1920s were poor and all they wanted was to restore their farms after seven years of war. Of course 'kulak' was a loose term and was simply a stick to beat those people Stalin wanted to eliminate. For Stalin, as for Hitler and Mao, an ideological victory was far more important than actually improving the efficiency of their countries. Now, Lenin saw things slightly differently. He knew that the Communists could not retain power if they worked the economy of the USSR as hard as the Tsar and the Provisional Government had done 1914-17, hence the NEP. I envisage that Lenin in the late 1920s and into the 1930s would have steadily nationalised more and more of the economy including agriculture, but probably without the very brutal approach of Stalin. Of course full scale land reform disrupts agriculture and farming in Russia needed modernisation, but millions of people did not need to starve to death to achieve it. So, a Lenin regime would not necessarily have diverged from Stalin's goal, but the pace would have been different and Lenin seemed aware that to get people working well needed the carrot as well as the stick whereas Stalin only saw the stick and if it did not work he got a larger stick.
The other point of tension was over spreading the revolution beyond Russia. In 1918-20 it looked possible that revolution would break out at least across central Europe. However, it was suppressed by conservative and centralist forces in every state. Only in China did Communism really grow, partly due to the scale of the country and how fragmented it was for much of the 1920s. Even then, despite civil war effectively breaking out in 1927 it was not until 1950 that the Chinese Communists were victorious. Leon Trotsky is the man most associated with wanting to 'internationalise' the revolution. In contrast Stalin came to emphasise 'Socialism in One Country' which meant the focus would be on the USSR itself rather than supporting Communists elsewhere. His policy was patchy. He sold weapons to the elected Republican side in the Spanish Civil War and gave advisors and some aid to the Chinese Communists but was at best ambivalent. He did however, retain Comintern 1919-43, a body which was to promote revolution across the world through providing advice and funds. He only scrapped it as a gesture towards his allies in the Second World War at the time, Britain and the USA.
In 1939 the USSR signed a treaty with Nazi Germany, which in theory should have been its key ideological and geopolitical opponent. Between them the states split Poland and shared out other countries of eastern Europe. Stalin's foreign policy was at best pragmatic and probably in fact simply erratic. Of course, it was an era in which all powerful states turned inwards. The USA was isolationist, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy adopted autarky to make themselves economically independent and Britain and France were as much focused on their empires as on international affairs. In contrast Trotsky wanted to support Communists across the world and develop friendly regimes wherever he could. Falling out with Stalin, Trotsky fled to Mexico which had had its own revolution 1910-17 which led to a left-wing government, It was in Mexico that Trotsky was assassinated.
There is little evidence that Lenin was as keen an advocate of international revolution as Trotsky was. It is likely, that being a Marxist, he believed that other forces would bring about revolution. While I think he would have used internationalist rhetoric, I do not believe he would have pursued a more active policy than Stalin did, though neither do I think he would have become as inwardly-focused as Stalin. Thus, Communist parties across Europe and elsewhere probably would have received consistent funding from the USSR. Assuming Kirov succeeded Lenin then I imagine that the USSR would have given aid rather than simply sold it to the Spanish Republicans, though ultimately even that is unlikely to have helped them to victory.
Though he maintained a secret police force, the Cheka which during the civil war killed hundreds of thousands of people, ironically Lenin extended civil liberties. The USSR was the first country to have a women's department in its government (women had played an important role on both sides in the October Revolution) and to legalise homosexuality. The USSR introduced no-blame divorce and abortion on demand. This was because Lenin was embedded in the Marxist oppostion to bourgeoise moralty and saw that restrictions of the kind that were scrapped were ways of suppressing people, especially women. Stalin, being less a Communist than a simple totalitarian leader reinstated the prohibition of homosexuality something that was banned throughout the remaining history of the USSR.
Lenin might have backed such liberties but he was also an advocate of mass terror. During the civil war he had supported the use of torture and execution by the Cheka and expanded the offensives for which the Cheka could use execution after the civil war was over. Lenin resisted Kamenev's and Bukharin's demands to curb the terror in 1918. It is possible that had he lived longer Lenin would have become very like Stalin and carried out purges and mass terror the way that Stalin did.
What would the USSR be like in 1934 when Lenin died? Of course, Stalin's purges began that year in our world and it is quite likely that they would have been missing from the 1930s of this alternate model. The USSR would be an authoritarian state with a single party, no freedom of speech and a secret police force, but it would not be massacring millions of its own citizens. Its economy would be less industrialised, its farming less collectivised, but perhaps more productive. I think it likely that Lenin in 1934 would have been followed by Kirov who would have pursued a similar line, tempering the nationalisation with some incentives and holding back on out-and-out terror. I think the Lenin and Kirov regimes would not have been overly active in promoting global revolution but they would have supported left-wing groups and ideas like the Popular Front, more consistently than Stalin did. I think Kirov would have baulked at signing the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 and would probably have been more involved in the decisions over the fate of Czechoslovakia in 1938, though suspicions between Britain and France on one side and the USSR on the other would have still be rife. I do not think Kirov would have intervened in 1940 when the Germans overran western Europe but I do think that the USSR would have been in a fitter state to opposed the Germans when they attacked the country in 1941 and there would have been less collaboration with the Germans. Whilst this may have not halted the full force of the Wehrmacht, I believe they would have made much slower progress and probably would not have reached the Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad. Interestingly, with more loyalty to Kirov than Stalin, perhaps the Russian Orthodox Church would not have had the official approval during the war that Stalin gave it and the emphasis would have been on secular aspects.
Overall, Lenin living 10 years longer would not have made Russia a happy and free place but it is likely to have avoided the scale of suffering that Stalin imposed and that would have made a vast difference to millions of peoples' lives. I also think that it would have probably meant the Second World War ending in 1943 with the Red Army seizing Berlin, and the post-war balance in Europe being different to the one we knew.