In the years immediately following their accession to power in 1917, the Bolsheviks took measures to prevent challenges to their new regime, beginning with eliminating political opposition. When the freely-elected Constituent Assembly did not acknowledge the primacy of the Bolshevik government, Vladimir Lenin dissolved it in January 1918. The Left Socialist Revolutionary Party, which protested the action, withdrew from the Bolshevik coalition in March, and its members were automatically branded enemies of the people. Numerous opposition groups posed military threats from various parts of the country, placing the survival of the revolution in jeopardy. Between 1918 and 1921, a state of civil war existed.
Bolshevik policy toward its detractors, and particularly toward articulate, intellectual criticism, hardened considerably. Suppression of newspapers, initially described as a temporary measure, became a permanent policy. Lenin considered the Constitutional Democrats (Kadets) the center of a conspiracy against Bolshevik rule. In 1919, he began mass arrests of professors and scientists who had been Kadets, and deported Kadets, Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, and Nationalists. The Bolshevik leadership sought rapidly to purge Russia of past leaders in order to build the future on a clean slate.
These harsh measures alienated a large number of the intellectuals who had supported the overthrow of the tsarist order. The suppression of democratic institutions evoked strong protests from academics and artists, who felt betrayed in their idealistic belief that revolution would bring a free society. Writers who had emigrated shortly after the revolution published stinging attacks on the new government from abroad. As a result, further exit permits for artists were generally denied.
The disenchantment of the majority of intellectuals did not surprise Lenin, who saw the old Russian intelligentsia as a kind of rival to his “party of a new type,” which alone could bring revolutionary consciousness to the working class. In his view, artists generally served bourgeois interests, a notion that fueled the persecution of intellectuals throughout the Soviet period.
Letter from Lenin to Gorky
Translation of letter
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