Model History Essay

Extract from 2015 Examiner's Report

The following answer to Question 3d. is an exceptional response and scored at the top of the high range. It establishes the viewpoint of the source and is fully focused on a discussion of its merits as a representation of the period, through comparison to other views and an impressive range of evidence. The source is therefore a springboard for discussion beyond the source. It shows an excellent ability to infer meaning from the source and consistently analyses carefully selected and relevant evidence, from the whole of the question time frame (1918–1924) throughout the answer. 2015 VCE History: Revolutions examination report © VCAA Page 9 Russia, Question 3d.

This representation provides an extremely inaccurate depiction of the support industrial workers and peasants gave to the Bolsheviks from 1918 to 1924. The Bolsheviks maintained power through what Volkogonov has described as ‘the most repugnant means…mass terror against their own people’ enforced through the Cheka under Felix Dzerhzinsky. Pipes concurs that ‘the machine gun had become for [the Bolsheviks] the principle instrument of political persuasion’. Thus, the industrial workers and peasants can be seen not to have given their support to the Bolsheviks, having been persuaded by their political arguments as implied in the document, rather the Bolsheviks had resorted to violent intimidation of opposition as the only means of retaining power.

The Bolshevik policy of war communism (1918-21), adopted, according to Figes ‘as a means of making civil war’ alienated these classes from the Bolsheviks. Under this policy, industrial production fell to 33% of 1913 levels, at 2004 million tonnes, while grain requisitioning induced famine from 1921-22 in which 5 million people died, and resulted in grain production falling to 50% of 1913 levels, 37.6 million tonnes in 1921. The pursuance of this policy led to the militarisation of labour, resulting in the Bolsheviks losing the support of the industrial working class, while grain requisitioning (such as that in the Samara region, the amount requisitioned exceeded the surplus harvested by 30%) alienated the peasants. Rosenberg summarises this situation ‘after October nothing seemed to have changed for the better’. This analysis is affirmed by Volkogonov who states ‘the Bolsheviks could provide nothing chaos, civil war, hunger and terror’.

The Kronstadt Revolt (26 February-17 March 1921) is a principle example of diminished support for the Bolsheviks. The Kronstadt sailors, whom Trotsky had earlier described as ‘the reddest of the red’, presented a petition demanding suffrage and improved conditions for the Russian people, and staged a revolt. This demonstrated that the Bolsheviks’ policies had caused them to lose support of even their most natural allies, the ‘proletariat’ and demonstrates that ‘the Bolsheviks had turned into tyrants’. This demonstration of profound loss of support for the Bolsheviks clearly invalidates the source’s suggestion that worker and peasant were united in support of the Bolshevik policy.

The industrial workers and peasants may be said to have been more inclined to support the Bolsheviks, in the way suggested by the source after the introduction of the New Economic Policy (1921-24) under which the workplace was demilitarised and grain requisitioning was replaced by ‘a tax in kind’ which Lenin described as ‘the proper socialist exchange of goods’. Under this policy, the average wage rose from 10.2 roubles per month to 20.8 by 1924, industrial output increased to 4660 million tonnes in 1924.

Thus, the NEP staved off popular discontent which had emerged from war communism and may be said to have inclined the industrial working class and peasants to support the Bolsheviks as shown in the document, but this support was, nevertheless, according to Pipes ‘not wholehearted…[and] established through fear’. Thus the source provides an inaccurate depiction of the support given to the Bolsheviks by these social groups.

There are two principle elements that a 'To what extent...' essay question should include.

The first is detailed source evidence and extra material, to support your argument. Let's use an example essay question here to demonstrate. In a history exam, the essay might ask: “To what extent was the character of Charles II responsible for his problems with parliament?".

The student is being asked to do two things here: to show an in-depth knowledge of Charles II's character, and to analyse which specific aspects of his character may have affected his political relationships.

Incorporating detailed evidence will always demonstrate how much you know of the subject matter, and will help to support the angle and strength of your argument.

The second element is linking to wider issues, topics or arguments that support your point of view. For example, in this particular history essay, a student could refer to other historical events that were responsible for problems between Charles II and parliament, but which were not related to his character.

Drawing on other factors in this way helps to increase the significance of your argument, and will round out your essay fully.

These two elements of analysis – including detailed evidence and linking to wider ideas – can be used to answer any 'To what extent...' question. In other words, when answering this type of essay question, keep the general structure the same and change the the appropriate information in the right places.

Remember also to analyse your evidence as you weave your argument. Do this by answering questions like, 'how significant is your evidence in supporting your argument?' and, 'what are the potential weaknesses that this evidence carries?'.

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