Which factor had the greatest bearing on Russia’s international relations (foreign policy) in the period 1900 to 1941; ideology or economic considerations?

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Last updated: May 2, 2019

During the period 1900 to 1941, there were three main factors that had bearing on Russia’s foreign policy. These factors are; ideological concerns, economic considerations and issues with security. All these factors are equally as important in the period 1900 to 1941; which includes Tsarist Russia, Lenin’s time in power and Stalin’s reign. At various times, a factor was of more importance.

For example, ideology was of extreme importance to Lenin as he was setting up a new Communist state. This essay looks at these three periods and will attempt to establish which factor played the most important role in Russia’s foreign policy at that particular time.Between 1900 and 1917, Tsar Nicholas was Russia’s head of state. The multi-national empire was an autocracy which exercised tight control over its people. The main economic focus of the period was rapid industrialisation of the country which began in 1890. This was essential for Russia to catch up with the West where countries such as Britain and France had been industrialised for some time. This rapid industrialisation resulted in a huge and volatile working class which would provide a basis for revolution in 1917. From an ideological point of view, the introduction of a Duma after the 1905 Revolution is key.

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The fact that the Tsar was forced to introduce a level of public involvement in the running of his country is an indicator of how his control of the empire was slipping. However, this by no means meant that the 1917 Revolution was expected; Lenin and other revolutionaries remained in exile and censorship in Russia prevailed. Leading on from this, the First World War proved disastrous for Tsar Nicholas. The main reason he entered the war was to preserve the security of Russia as it was invaded by the Germans. It also helped Russia develop closer links with Britain and France which would boost Russian trade. All in all, the most important factor bearing on Russia’s foreign policy between 1900 and 1917 was economic.

Once Lenin took control after the 1917 October Revolution, Russia and the driving forces behind its foreign policy changed dramatically. Lenin made such a huge impact on the world during his time as the leader of the first ever successful communist revolution; the impression he left was predominately ideological and this was also the factor which played a huge role in his foreign policy. The exportation of communism was devised by Trotsky and supported by Lenin during the period 1917 to 1924. It was known as “The Permanent Revolution” and enjoyed brief success in Hungary, Slovakia and Bavaria. The Comintern was set up to influence and aid other European Communist parties.On the economic side, once the Civil War ended, Lenin chose to make a dramatic about-turn in economic policy from War Communism to NEP. Benefits and social reforms were created for women and there was a huge drive to improve illiteracy. These changes served to challenge the West’s rumours that Communism was a terrible thing and improved Russia’s standing on the world’s stage.

Security was also an important factor in protecting the new Communist state. During the Civil War between 1919 and 1921, foreign armies aided the Whites. Their campaign, however, was unsuccessful; but the threat of international interference in Russia’s domestic affairs was always something on Lenin’s mind and it did play a role in the foreign policy decisions he made. In this period, ideology was probably the most important driving force behind Lenin’s foreign policy.

With the death of Lenin, came the leadership of Stalin and even more changes to Russia’s domestic and foreign policies. His economic changes are said to have had the greatest impact upon Russia. Stalin discarded NEP and introduced a policy of rapid industrialisation via a number of his famous “5 Year Plans”. The result of this was that Russia became the world’s second greatest industrial power.

Therefore, economic considerations were a key element to the development of Stalin’s foreign policy. Stalin knew that the USSR had ideological enemies who may attack at any time so when considering the extent to which ideology and security affected Stalin’s foreign policy one must look at his change in policy from The Permanent Revolution to “Socialism in One Country”. Lenin and Trotsky’s Comintern experienced being downgraded in importance. The result of this was a more secure USSR in Stalin’s eyes.

In conclusion, these three distinct periods in Russia’s history between 1900 to 1941 were characterized by the need to industrialize, strict control within Russia and the desire to prevent being attacked from the East or the West. The three different leaders went about achieving their goals in different ways but in the end the economic, security and ideological factors were all of significance when developing foreign policy.

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