August 30, 1918. Czar Nicholas II has been dead for six weeks. His former empire is awash in a state of civil war between the Bolshevik Red Army struggling to hold on to the shrinking Russian industrial heartland, while the Allied-backed White Movement advances.
On this day, Communist leader Vladimir Lenin visits Moscow’s Hammer-and-Sickle Munitions Plant to give a speech to raise the morale to the staff. Also there is former Social Revolutionary Fanny Kaplan. Since the October Revolution the previous year, it has become clearer and clearer to her associates that Lenin’s cry of “All power to the Soviets” really means “All power to the Bolshevik Party”. From shutting down the Constituent Assembly when his ticket didn’t win a majority to the failed Left-SR Uprising the previous month, the Simbirsk-born radical was, to her, an enemy of the Russian Revolution.
As the Bolshevik leader returns to the car that brought him to the factory, Kaplan makes her move. In her pocket is a Browning pistol. She charges toward him, but is a little slow on the draw. It’s enough time for a factory worker to come between her and Lenin. He tackles the SR activist, whose gun fires a single bullet into the man, killing him.
Kaplan is immediately arrested and interrogated by the Cheka. She is killed by a bullet to the head three days later. The man who saved Lenin’s life, identified as Sergei Vladimirovich Braskinev, is commemorated in years to come as a martyr by the Soviet government.
This is the stage set: a world in which Fanny Kaplan’s botched assassination of Lenin is even less successful than in OTL. From my studies of the man’s life and early Soviet history, I’ve been able to amass several ideas of what most likely would happen, based on my own insight, and accrue a number of questions to go alongside them.
1. Lenin lives longer.
In OTL, Kaplan shot at Lenin three times: one bullet passed through his coat, one punctured a lung, and one was lodged in his throat. Even though the man survived, historians agree that the wounds accelerated his decline in health, eventually forcing him to retire from the Party in 1922 and finally die early in 1924. This factor is thrown out of the picture now that not a single bullet hits him.
· Recently it was discovered that Lenin had syphilis. He was also known to have poor sleeping habits, too. What effect would this have had on his longevity?
2. The New Economic Policy continues.
After two revolutions the same year and a civil war that followed, the ruble had been devalued to the point of uselessness. Many Communists at the time argued that money was, indeed, useless in a socialist society and had a bartering system called War Communism set up. It proved to be unsustainable, causing riots in places like the Tambov region and the Volga Famine of 1921-22, in which 5,000,000 died from hunger. While Lenin used the latter to confiscate church property, the American Relief Administration was feeding millions of Russians in the area a day; Lenin would accuse the Americans of spying on them and attempting to foment anti-Communist sentiment. In response, War Communism was replaced with the New Economic Policy: a form of state capitalism serving as a “temporary retreat” in order to allow the economy to recover. The NEP allowed for private businesses to be formed and attracted badly-needed foreign money to the country. In OTL, the NEP would eventually be replaced by Stalin’s first Five-Year Plans. In 1932-33, this push to overhaul Soviet agriculture and industry would result in the Holodomor in Ukraine, an artificial famine with a death toll double that of 1921-22. With a healthier Lenin still in power after 1924, the NEP would continue.
· If the small-scale capitalism of NEP continues and one could own a small business until it grew big enough for the government to take control of, what incentives could be used for NEPmen to give up their businesses? Would a sort of rebellion among NEPmen be possible?
· Considering that the NEP was intended as a breathing spell before the next phase of the revolution, how long would this “temporary fix” be in effect for? Until the Great Depression, perhaps? It could be seen that Black Tuesday would be used by this alternate Lenin as proof that capitalism was dead and suspend NEP?
3. Stalin is removed from the CPSU
In OTL, following Lenin’s retirement from the Party in 1922, a triumvirate consisting of Lev Kamenev, Grigoriy Zinoviev, and Joseph Stalin was formed to replace him. The people, meanwhile, viewed Red Army founder Leon Trotsky as the ideal successor to Lenin. Few suspected the boring "Comrade Card-Index" to amount to go anywhere, but through brilliant planning, Stalin outmaneuvered his rivals and emerge as the unquestioned leader of the USSR by at least 1927. What followed was a personality cult the likes of which the world had never seen, purges of the Party and the military (which almost led to Soviet defeat during Operation Barbarossa), and a push to modernize Soviet industry and agriculture. Lenin, toward the end of his life, didn’t like Stalin and actually tried to get him kicked out of the Party, a fact that wasn’t made public to the USSR until the Khrushchev era. In this reality, Stalin does get sacked.
· What would happen to Stalin if he is removed? What about his OTL cronies like Molotov and Beria? Bear in mind that at the Tenth Party Congress, in OTL, Lenin announced a ban on all official opposition groups within the Communist Party, slashing membership to about 50% and rendering the remainder subservient to the decisions of the central committee. Is it too much of a stretch to say that a saner, small-scale purge of some kind could occur?
· Would there still be a push to industrialize the USSR, though not to the same extent? The Five-Year Plans were believed, by some to have been originally Trotsky’s idea before being stolen by Stalin. George Orwell seemed to hold to his theory with Snowball versus Napoleon over the windmill in Animal Farm. If NEP were to be thrown out after the Crash of 1929 (see above), would that replace it?
(And since we’re on the subject of Stalin…)
4. No “Socialism In One Country”
Karl Marx predicted that the Revolution would have started in a heavily-industrialized country like France or Britain, discarding agrarian Russia as having any merit in that regard. Lenin argued that peasants counted as the proletariat, too, a move that contemporary Communists scoffed at. After the Revolution of 1905, though, Lenin was convinced that a socialist revolution could occur in Russia under the right circumstances; he would go on to describe 1905 as a “dress rehearsal” for his putsch in November 1917. It seemed as if something was about to happen. In addition to the turmoil in 1917 Russia, the Irish rebelled against the British the year before and half the French army had mutinied that April. After he took over Russia, Lenin sought to spread socialism around the world. His government backed the Finnish Red Guards in their civil war, attempted to conquer Poland, and set up a satellite nation in Mongolia. In 1919, he’d founded the terrorist organization Third International, or Comintern, with the goal of spreading Communist revolution across the globe and establishing the worldwide Communist state Marx envisioned. All of this was turned on its head in OTL by Stalin’s “Socialism In One Country” doctrine, stressing that socialism should be consolidated within Soviet borders and foreign nations would follow based on their example. Nothing much happened, and the chief gains to the Second World occurred through the aftermath of World War II. With Lenin around longer, the stance of “Perpetual Revolution” would be retained.
· How would a prolonged Lenin administration affect Soviet attempts to foment revolution outside Russia? Let’s say that he wanted to take advantage of the post-WWI economic hardship in Germany. Would instigating a civil war or revolution be possible? It could potentially lead to an early rise of Hitler, considering he used "Jew-Bolshevism" as the boogeyman to promote the bulk of the Nazi agenda. The question of a Polish victory occurring as it had in OTL leads me to question the validity of such an idea over land, but by ship through the Baltic is also a possibility.
· What effects would it have on relations between the USSR and foreign nations if they kept doing this?