Some historians believe that Lenin’s initiation of the Red Terror, which was a response to a failed assassination plot was an act of a dictator. Volkogonov describes Lenin using ‘inhumane terrorist methods7’ which interprets qualities of a dictator. Volkogonov argues that Lenin immediately resorted ‘to the prison, the concentration camps, exile, the firing squad, hostages and blackmail8’ This implies that Lenin’s use of the Red Terror to establish censorship and to limit resistance and hostility to the new regime from opposing parties describes Lenin as a dictator because he was using violence and terror to suppress opposition. This is further supported by the fact that 800 were executed without trial and therefore displays a regime filled with terror, violence and disregard for anyone who doesn’t agree with their beliefs. Volkogonov also claims that the Red Terror was ‘a path of violence and universal suspicion that was to become typical of twentieth-century tyrannies thereafter.9’ This shows that the historian Volgokonov believes that Lenin was a dictator through the use of The Red Terror because it suppressed political freedom in Russia whilst heightening Lenin’s own lust for power. Thus, showing that Lenin was a dictator because he resulted to using violence and terror to protect his regime.
However, Volkogonov may be exaggerating the extent of The Red Terror due to not sharing soviet beliefs himself and therefore, may hold biased views. Whilst the Red Terror was an example of Lenin using force to establish control, the role of the NEP was an example of Lenin using compromise which shows that the extent of Lenin being a dictator is challenged. Historian John Laver vocalizes that ‘Under NEP peasants were freed from the threat of requisitioning and were allowed to engage in private enterprise10’ This shows that Lenin himself was prepared to change some of his communist beliefs in which he saw would better society. In Laver’s own words the NEP was ‘at worst an outright betrayal of Marxism11’ which shows that Lenin sincerely believed in doing what was right for the people, thus showing he was a revolutionary hero. Lenin was prepared to go against his own beliefs and Laver proclaim that ‘NEP was never a comfortable fact of life for the Communist Party12’ which shows that Lenin put the happiness of the people before himself and his party. Christopher Hill proclaims that ‘Lenin knew the Russian people and valued their traditions13’ which supports the idea that Lenin was prepared to go against his own cabinet and views to arguably satisfy the people who are his main concern, thus showing he was a revolutionary hero.
Many historian’s view Lenin as a dictator through the creation of the CHEKA. This was a secret police force which helped to imprison, interrogate and execute anyone who opposed the Communist regime. This harsh method of using power to install terror and resilience was seen as an embodiment of a dictatorship for many historians. Laver states that the CHECKA ‘arrested suspected political opponents, saboteurs and other counter-revolutionaries14’ which shows that they used harsh and violent means in order to protect Communism and anyone who defied it. Laver describes the CHEKA in a frightening portrayal of ‘terror met terror15’ and as a ‘regime of terror against enemies of the people16’ showcasing his belief that Lenin was a tyrant who lusted for power in expense for people’s trust and lives. Therefore, Lenin was a dictator because he used violence to oppress opposition and to heighten his own power as a result. Volkogonov supports Laver in the ideal that CHEKA was established to maximize Lenin’s dictatorship as he believed that the ‘theory of revolution proposed nothing other than these inhuman terrorist methods17’ which supports the idea that Lenin was a dictator because he was eager to use harsh methods to establish control and protect his party from threat of opposition.
However, historians like Christopher Hill declare that The Red Terror and the CHEKA were important temporary measures to shield against instability and were forced upon during certain circumstances. The historian Marcel Liebman states that the Lenin’s motives were ‘to defend the Soviet power against the attacks of counter revolutionaries18’ This is evident in the creation of The Red Terror, which was a result of an attempt to murder Lenin and this gave him the initiative to defend himself through the creation of The Red Terror. Therefore, The Red Terror was arguably a necessary retaliation to the opposition Lenin faced as a leader. Thus, Lenin could not be seen as a dictator; Lenin established The Red Terror because of threat to his position and so The Red Terror was merely a response. Lenin’s reaction was simply what any other regime facing opposition would have taken.