Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Russian: Влади́мир Ильи́ч Улья́нов; IPA: [vlɐˈdʲimʲɪr ɪˈlʲjitɕ ʊˈlʲjanəf]), alias Lenin (/ˈlɛnɪn/;Russian: Ле́нин; IPA: [ˈlʲenʲɪn]) (22 April [O.S. 10 April] 1870 – 21 January 1924) was a Russian communist revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. He served as head of government of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic from 1917 to 1924 and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924. Under his administration, Russia became a one-party socialist state; all land, natural resources, and industry were confiscated and nationalized. Ideologically a Marxist, his political theories are known as Leninism.
Born to a wealthy middle-class family in Simbirsk, Lenin gained an interest in revolutionary leftist politics following the execution of his brother in 1887. Expelled from Kazan State University for participating in protests against the Russian Empire's Tsarist regime, he devoted the following years to a law degree and embraced Marxism. In 1893 he moved to Saint Petersburg and became a senior figure in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). Arrested for sedition and exiled to Shushenskoye for three years, there he married Nadezhda Krupskaya. After his exile he moved to Western Europe, where he became a prominent party theorist through his publications. In 1903, he took a key role in a RSDLP schism over ideological differences, leading the Bolshevik faction against Julius Martov's Mensheviks. Encouraging insurrection during Russia's failed Revolution of 1905, he later campaigned for the First World War to be transformed into a Europe-wide proletarian revolution, which as a Marxist he believed would result in the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement with socialism. After the 1917 February Revolution ousted the Tsar and established a Provisional Government, he returned to Russia to campaign for the new regime's removal by a Bolshevik-led government of the soviets.
Lenin played a leading role in the October Revolution of 1917, which overthrew the Provisional Government and established a Bolshevik administration, the Council of People's Commissars, with Lenin as its Chairman. Suppressing rival parties, they established a one-party state under the new Russian Communist Party. This administration withdrew Russia from the First World War by signing a punitive treaty with the Central Powers, granted temporary independence to non-Russian nations under Russian control, and oversaw radical land redistribution. Fierce opposition to Bolshevik rule resulted in the Russian Civil War from 1917 to 1922, in which Lenin's government proved victorious, partly through the use of the Cheka, Red Terror, and labor camps. In 1921 Lenin proposed the New Economic Policy, a mixed economic system of state capitalism that started the process of industrialisation and recovery from the Civil War. Surviving several failed assassination attempts, Lenin sought to promote world revolution, thereby creating the Communist International. In 1922, Russia joined former territories of the Empire in becoming the Soviet Union, with Lenin as its head of government. In increasingly poor health, Lenin expressed concern regarding the bureaucratisation of the regime and the growing power of his successor, Joseph Stalin, before dying at his home in Gorki.
Recognised as one of the most significant and influential historical figures of the 20th century, Lenin remains a controversial and highly divisive world figure. Admirers view him as a champion of working people's rights and welfare whilst critics see him as the founder of a totalitarian dictatorship responsible for civil war and mass human rights abuses. Held in high esteem as a founding father of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991, he remains an ideological figurehead behind Marxism–Leninism and a prominent influence over the international communist movement.
Lenin's father, Ilya Nikolayevich Ulyanov, was a former serf's son but studied physics and mathematics at Kazan State University, later teaching at the Penza Institute for the Nobility. Ilya married Maria Alexandrovna Blank in the summer of 1863. Hailing from a relatively prosperous background, she was the daughter of an apostate Russian Jewish physician, Alexander Dmitrievich Blank, and his German-Swedish wife, Anna Ivanovna Grosschopf. Dr. Blank had insisted on providing his children with a good education, ensuring that Maria learned Russian, German, English and French, and that she was well versed in Russian literature. Soon after their wedding, Ilya obtained a job in Nizhny Novgorod, rising to become Director of Primary Schools in the Simbirsk district six years later. Five years after that, he was promoted to Director of Public Schools for the province, overseeing the foundation of over 450 schools as a part of the government's plans for modernisation. Awarded the Order of St. Vladimir, he became a .
The couple, now nobility, had two children, Anna (born 1864) and Alexander (born 1868), before Vladimir "Volodya" Ilyich was born on 10 April 1870, and baptised in St. Nicholas Cathedral several days later. They would be followed by three more children, Olga (born 1871), Dmitry (born 1874) and Maria (born 1878). Another brother, Nikolai, had died in infancy in 1873. Ilya was a devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church and baptised his children into it, although Maria – a Lutheran – was largely indifferent to Christianity, a view that influenced her children. Both parents were monarchists and liberal conservatives, being committed to the emancipation reform of 1861 introduced by the reformist Tsar Alexander II; they avoided political radicals and there is no evidence that the police ever put them under surveillance for subversive thought. Every summer they holidayed at a rural manor in Kokushkino. Among his siblings, Vladimir was closest to his sister Olga, whom he bossed around, having an extremely competitive nature; he could be destructive, but usually admitted his misbehaviour. A keen sportsman, he spent much of his free time outdoors or playing chess, and excelled at school, the disciplinarian and conservative Simbirsk Classical Gimnazia.
Ilya Ulyanov died of a brain haemorrhage in January 1886, when Vladimir was 16. Vladimir's behaviour became erratic and confrontational, and shortly thereafter he renounced his belief in God. At the time, Vladimir's elder brother Aleksandr (Sacha) Ulyanov was studying at Saint Petersburg University. Involved in political agitation against the absolute monarchy of reactionary Tsar Alexander III which governed the Russian Empire, he studied the writings of banned leftists like Dmitry Pisarev, Nikolay Dobrolyubov, Nikolay Chernyshevsky and Karl Marx. Organising protests against the government, he joined a socialist revolutionary cell bent on assassinating the Tsar and was selected to construct a bomb. Before the attack commenced, the conspirators were arrested and tried. On 25 April 1887, Sacha was sentenced to death by hanging, and executed on 8 May. Despite the emotional trauma brought on by his father and brother's deaths, Vladimir continued studying, leaving school with a gold medal for his exceptional performance, and decided to study law at Kazan University.
University and political radicalism: 1887–93
Upon his entering Kazan University in August 1887, Vladimir and his mother moved into a flat, renting out their Simbirsk home. Interested in his late brother's radical ideas, he joined an agrarian-socialist revolutionary cell intent on reviving the People's Freedom Party (Narodnaya Volya). Joining the university's illegal Samara-Simbirsk zemlyachestvo, he was elected as its representative for the university's zemlyachestvo council. In December he took part in a demonstration demanding the abolition of the 1884 statute and the re-legalisation of student societies. He was arrested by the police. Accused of being a ringleader, he was expelled by the university, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs placed him under surveillance, exiling him to his Kokushkino estate. There, he read voraciously, becoming enamoured with Chernyshevsky's 1863 novel What is to be Done? Disliking his radicalism, his mother persuaded him to write in September 1888 to the Interior Ministry for permission to study abroad. The request was refused, but the Ministry allowed him to return to Kazan, where he settled on the Pervaya Gora with his mother and his brother Dmitry.
In Kazan, he joined another revolutionary circle, through which he discovered Karl Marx's Das Kapital (1867). It exerted a strong influence on him, and he grew increasingly interested in Marxism. Wary of his political views, his mother bought an estate in Alakaevka village, Samara Oblast – made famous in the work of poet Gleb Uspensky, of whom Lenin was a great fan – in the hope that her son would turn his attention to agriculture. However, he had little interest in farming or farm management, and his mother soon sold the land, keeping the house as a summer home.
In September 1889, the Ulyanovs moved to Samara for the winter, where Vladimir contacted exiled dissidents and joined Alexei P. Skliarenko's discussion circle. Both Vladimir and Skliarenko adopted Marxism, with Vladimir translating Marx and Friedrich Engels' 1848 political pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto, into Russian. He began to read the works of the Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov, a founder of the Black Repartition movement, concurring with Plekhanov's argument that Russia was moving from feudalism to capitalism. Becoming increasingly sceptical of the effectiveness of militant attacks and assassinations, he argued against such tactics in a December 1889 debate with M.V. Sabunaev, an advocate of the People's Freedom Party. Despite disagreeing on tactics, he made friends among Party members, in particular Apollon Shukht, who asked Vladimir to be his daughter's godfather in 1893.
In May 1890, Mariya convinced the authorities to allow Vladimir to undertake his exams externally at a university of his choice. He chose the University of St Petersburg, and obtained the equivalent of a first-class degree with honours. The graduation celebrations were marred when his sister Olga died of typhoid. Vladimir remained in Samara for several years, in January 1892 being employed as a legal assistant for a regional court, before gaining a job with a local lawyer. His work focused primarily on disputes between peasants and artisans. He devoted much time to radical politics, remaining active in Skylarenko's group and formulating ideas about Marxism's applicability to Russia. Inspired by Plekhanov's work, Vladimir collected data on Russian society, using it to support a Marxist interpretation of societal development and increasingly rejecting the claims of the People's Freedom Party. In the spring of 1893, Lenin submitted his paper on "New Economic Developments in Peasant Life" to the liberal journal Russian Thought, but it was rejected and appeared in print only much later.
Early activism and imprisonment: 1893–1900
In autumn 1893, Lenin moved to Saint Petersburg. There, he worked as a barrister's assistant and rose to a senior position in a Marxist revolutionary cell calling themselves the "Social Democrats" after the Marxist Social Democratic Party of Germany. Publicly championing Marxism among the socialist movement, he encouraged the foundation of revolutionary cells in Russia's industrial centres. He befriended Russian Jewish Marxist Julius Martov, and began a relationship with Marxist schoolteacher Nadezhda "Nadya" Krupskaya. By autumn 1894 he was leading a Marxist workers' circle, and was meticulous in covering his tracks, knowing that police spies were trying to infiltrate the revolutionary movement. Although he was influenced by agrarian-socialist Pëtr Tkachëvi, Lenin's Social-Democrats clashed with the Narodnik agrarian-socialist platform of the Socialist–Revolutionary Party (SR). The SR saw the peasantry as the main force of revolutionary change, whereas the Marxists believed peasants to be sympathetic to private ownership, instead emphasising the revolutionary role of the proletariat, or urban workers. He dealt with some of these issues in his first political tract, What the "Friends of the People" Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats; based largely on his experiences in Samara, around 200 copies were illegally printed.
Lenin hoped to cement connections between his Social-Democrats and Emancipation of Labour, a group of Russian Marxist emigres based in Switzerland, soon visiting Switzerland to meet group members Plackhanov and Pavel Axelrod. He proceeded to Paris to meet Paul Lafargue and to research the Paris Commune of 1871, which he saw as an early prototype for a proletarian government. Financed by his mother, he stayed in a Swiss health spa before traveling to Berlin, where he studied for six weeks at the Staatsbibliothek and met Wilhelm Liebknecht. Returning to Russia with a stash of illegal revolutionary publications, he traveled to various cities distributing literature to striking workers. Involved in producing a news sheet, The Workers' Cause, he was among 40 activists arrested and charged with sedition.
Refused legal representation or bail, Lenin denied all charges against him but remained imprisoned for a year before sentencing. He spent this time theorising and writing, focusing his attention on the revolutionary potential of the working-class; acknowledging that the rise of industrial capitalism in Russia had led large numbers of peasants to move to the cities, where they became proletariat, from a Marxist perspective he argued that they would gain class consciousness and then violently overthrow Tsarism, the aristocracy, and the bourgeoisie to establish a proletariat state that would move toward socialism.
In February 1897, he was sentenced without trial to 3 years exile in eastern Siberia, although granted a few days in Saint Petersburg to put his affairs in order; he used this time to meet with the Social-Democrats, who had renamed themselves the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. His journey to eastern Siberia took 11 weeks, for much of which he was accompanied by his mother and sisters. Deemed only a minor threat to the government, he was exiled to a peasant's hut in Shushenskoye, Minusinsky District, where he was kept under police surveillance; he was nevertheless able to correspond with other subversives, many of whom visited him, and permitted to go on trips to hunt duck and snipe and to swim in the Yenisei River.
In May 1898, Nadya joined him in exile, having been arrested in August 1896 for organising a strike. Although initially posted to Ufa, she convinced the authorities to move her to Shushenskoye, claiming that she and Ulyanov were engaged; they married in a church on 10 July 1898. Settling into a family life with Nadya's mother Elizaveta Vasilyevna, the couple translated English socialist literature into Russian. Keen to keep abreast of the developments in German Marxism – where there had been an ideological split, with revisionists like Eduard Bernstein advocating a peaceful, electoral path to socialism – Ulyanov remained devoted to violent revolution, attacking revisionist arguments in A Protest by Russian Social-Democrats. He also finished The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899), his longest book to date, which offered a well-researched and polemical attack on the Social-Revolutionaries and promoted a Marxist analysis of Russian economic development. Published under the pseudonym of "Vladimir Ilin", upon publication it received predominantly poor reviews.
Munich, London and Geneva: 1900–05
His exile over, Ulyanov settled in Pskov. There, he began raising funds for a newspaper, Iskra (The Spark), a new organ of the Russian Marxist party, now calling itself the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). In July 1900, Ulyanov left Russia for Western Europe; in Switzerland he met other Russian Marxists, and at a Corsier conference they agreed to launch the paper from Munich, where Lenin relocated in September. Containing contributions from prominent European Marxists Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Kautsky, and Leon Trotsky, Iskra was smuggled into Russia illegally, becoming the country's most successful underground publication for 50 years. Ulyanov adopted the pseudonym "Lenin" in December 1901, possibly taking the River Lena as a basis. Under this pseudonym, he published the political pamphlet What Is to Be Done? in 1902; his most influential publication to date, it dealt with Lenin's thoughts on the need for a vanguard party to lead the proletariat to revolution.
Nadya joined Lenin in Munich, becoming his personal secretary. They continued their political agitation, with Lenin writing for Iskra and drafting the RSDLP program, attacking ideological dissenters and external critics, particularly the SR. Despite remaining an orthodox Marxist, he came to accept the SR's views on the revolutionary power of the Russian peasantry, accordingly penning the 1903 pamphlet To the Village Poor. To evade Bavarian police, Lenin relocated to London with Iskra in April 1902, there becoming good friends with Trotsky. While in London, Lenin fell ill with erysipelas and was unable to take such a leading role on the Iskra editorial board; in his absence the board moved its base of operations to Switzerland.
The 2nd RSDLP Congress was held in London in July. At the conference, a schism emerged between Lenin's supporters and those of Julius Martov. Martov argued that party members should be able to express themselves independently of the party leadership; Lenin disagreed, emphasising the need for a strong leadership with complete control over the party. Lenin's supporters were in the majority, and Lenin termed them the "majoritarians" (bol'sheviki in Russian; thus Bolsheviks); in response, Martov termed his followers the minoritarians (men'sheviki in Russian; thus Mensheviks). Arguments between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks continued after the conference; the Bolsheviks accused their rivals of being opportunists and reformists who lacked any discipline, while the Mensheviks accused Lenin of being a despot and autocrat. Enraged at the Mensheviks, Lenin resigned from the Iskra editorial board and in May 1904 published the anti-Menshevik tract One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. The stress made Lenin ill, and to recuperate he went on a rural holiday. The Bolshevik faction grew in strength; by the spring, the whole RSDLP Central Committee was Bolshevik, and in December they founded the newspaper (Forward).
The 1905 Revolution and its aftermath: 1905–14
"The uprising has begun. Force against Force. Street fighting is raging, barricades are being thrown up, rifles are cracking, guns are booming. Rivers of blood are flowing, the civil war for freedom is blazing up. Moscow and the South, the Caucasus and Poland are ready to join the proletariat of St. Petersburg. The slogan of the workers has become: Death or Freedom!"
In January 1905, the Bloody Sunday massacre of protesters in St. Petersburg sparked a spate of civil unrest known as the Revolution of 1905. Lenin urged Bolsheviks to take a greater role in the events, encouraging violent insurrection. In doing so he adopted SR slogans regarding "armed insurrection", "mass terror", and "the expropriation of gentry land", resulting in Menshevik accusations that he had deviated from orthodox Marxism. In turn he insisted that the Bolsheviks split completely with the Mensheviks, although many Bolsheviks refused and both groups attended the 3rd RSDLP Congress, held in London in April 1905. Lenin presented many of his ideas in the pamphlet Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, published in August 1905. Here, he predicted that Russia's liberal bourgeoisie would be sated by a transition to constitutional monarchy and thus betray the revolution; instead he argued that the proletariat would have to build an alliance with the peasantry to overthrow the Tsarist regime and establish the "provisional revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry".
In response to the Revolution of 1905, Tsar Nicholas II accepted a series of liberal reforms in his October Manifesto, at which Lenin felt it safe to return to St. Petersburg. Joining the editorial board of Novaya Zhizn (New Life), a radical legal newspaper run by Maria Andreyeva, he used it to discuss issues facing the RSDLP. He encouraged the party to seek out a much wider membership, and advocated the continual escalation of violent confrontation, believing both to be necessary for a successful revolution. Although he briefly supported the idea of reconciliation between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, at the 4th Party Congress in Stockholm, Sweden in April 1906 the Mensheviks condemned Lenin for supporting bank robberies and violence. A Bolshevik Centre was set up in Kuokkala, Grand Duchy of Finland, which was then a semi-autonomous part of the Empire, before the Bolsheviks regained dominance of the RSDLP at its 5th Congress, held in London in May 1907. However, as the Tsarist government disbanded the Second Duma and its secret police, the Okhrana, cracked down on revolutionaries, Lenin fled Finland for Switzerland.
Alexander Bogdanov and other prominent Bolsheviks decided to relocate the Bolshevik Centre to Paris, France; although Lenin disagreed, he moved to the city in December 1908. Lenin disliked Paris, lambasting it as "a foul hole", and while there he sued a motorist who knocked him off his bike. Here, Lenin revived his polemics against the Mensheviks, who objected to his advocacy of violent expropriations and thefts such as the 1907 Tiflis bank robbery, which the Bolsheviks were using to fund their activities. Lenin also became heavily critical of Bogdanov and his supporters; Bogdanov believed that a socialist-oriented culture had to be developed among Russia's proletariat for them to become a successful revolutionary vehicle, whereas Lenin favoured a vanguard of socialist intelligentsia who could lead the working-classes in revolution. Furthermore, Bogdanov – influenced by Ernest Mach – believed that all concepts of the world were relative, whereas Lenin stuck to the orthodox Marxist view that there was an objective reality to the world, independent of human observation. Although Bogdanov and Lenin holidayed together at Maxim Gorky's villa in Capri, Italy, in April 1908, on returning to Paris, Lenin encouraged a split within the Bolshevik faction between his and Bogdanov's followers, accusing the latter of deviating from Marxism.
In May 1908, Lenin lived briefly in London, where he used the British Museum library to write Materialism and Empirio-criticism, an attack on Bogdanov's relativist perspective, which he lambasted as a "bourgeois-reactionary falsehood". Lenin's factionalism began to alienate increasing numbers of Bolsheviks, including close Lenin supporters Alexei Rykov and Lev Kamenev. The Okhrana decided to exploit his factionalist attitude by sending a spy, Roman Malinovsky, to become a vocal supporter and ally of Lenin within the party. Various Bolsheviks expressed their suspicions regarding Malinovsky to Lenin, although it is unclear if the latter was aware of the spy's duplicity; it is possible that he used Malinovsky to feed false information to the Okhrana.
In August 1910, Lenin attended the 8th Congress of the Second International – an international meeting of socialists – in Copenhagen as the RSDLP's representative, following this with a holiday in Stockholm with his mother. With his wife and sisters he then moved to France, settling first in Bombon and then Paris. Here, he became a close friend to the French Bolshevik Inessa Armand; their friendship continued until 1912, with some biographers suggesting that they had an extra-marital affair. Meanwhile, at a Paris meeting in June 1911 the RSDLP Central Committee decided to move their focus of operations back to Russia, ordering the closure of the Bolshevik Centre and its newspaper, Proletari. Seeking to rebuild his influence in the party, Lenin arranged for a party conference to be held in Prague in January 1912, and although 16 of the 18 attendants were Bolsheviks, he was heavily criticised for his factionalist tendencies and failed to boost his status within the party. Then moving to Krakow in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, a culturally Polish part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he made use of Jagellonian University's library to conduct his ongoing research. There, he was able to stay in close contact with the RSDLP operating in the Russian Empire, convincing the Duma's Bolshevik members to split from their parliamentary alliance with the Mensheviks. In January 1913, the Bolshevik Joseph Stalin – whom Lenin referred to as the "wonderful Georgian" – visited him, with the pair discussing the future of non-Russian ethnic groups in the Empire. Due to the ailing health of both Lenin and his wife, they moved to the rural area of Biały Dunajec, before heading to Bern, Switzerland for Nadya to have surgery on her goiter.
First World War: 1914–17
"The [First World] war is being waged for the division of colonies and the robbery of foreign territory; thieves have fallen out–and to refer to the defeats at a given moment of one of the thieves in order to identify the interests of all thieves with the interests of the nation or the fatherland is an unconscionable bourgeois lie."
Lenin was in Galicia when the First World War broke out. The war pitted the Russian Empire against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and due to his Russian citizenship, Lenin was arrested and briefly imprisoned until his anti-Tsarist credentials were explained. Lenin and his wife returned to Bern, before relocating to Zurich in February 1916. Lenin was angry that the German Social-Democratic Party was supporting the German war effort – a direct contravention of the Second International's Stuttgart resolution that socialist parties would oppose the conflict – and thus saw the Second International as defunct. He attended the Zimmerwald Conference in September 1915 and the Kiental conference in April 1916, urging socialists across the continent to convert the "imperialist war" into a continent-wide "civil war" with the proletariat against the bourgeoisie and aristocracy.
In September 1917, Lenin published Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, in which he argued that imperialism was a product of monopoly capitalism, as capitalists sought to increase their profits by extending into new territories where wages were lower and raw materials cheaper. He believed that competition and conflict would increase and that war between the imperialist powers would continue until they were overthrown by proletariat revolution and socialism established. At this time, he devoted much time to reading the works of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Aristotle, all of whom had been key influences on Marx. In doing so he rejected his earlier interpretations of Marxism; whereas he had once believed that policies could be developed on the basis of predetermined scientific principles, he now believed that the only test of whether a policy was right or not was through practice. Although still perceiving himself as an orthodox Marxist, he began to divert from some of Marx's predictions regarding societal development; whereas Marx had believed that a "bourgeoisie-democratic revolution" of the middle-classes had to take place before a "socialist revolution" of the proletariat, Lenin believed that in Russia, the proletariat could overthrow the Tsarist regime without the intermediate revolution. In July 1916, Lenin's mother died, but he was unable to attend her funeral. Her death deeply affected him, and he became depressed, fearing that he would not live long enough to witness the proletariat revolution.
The February Revolution and the July Days: 1917
In February 1917, the February Revolution broke out in St. Petersburg – recently renamed Petrograd – as industrial workers went on strike over food shortages and deteriorating factory conditions. The unrest spread to other parts of Russia, and fearing that he would be violently overthrown, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated. The State Duma took over control of the country, establishing a Provisional Government and converting the Empire into a new Russian Republic. When Lenin learned of this from his base in Switzerland, he celebrated with other dissidents. He decided to return to Russia to take charge of the Bolsheviks, but found that most passages in to the country were blocked due to the ongoing conflict. He organised a plan with other dissidents to negotiate a passage for them through Germany, with whom Russia was then at war. Recognising that these dissidents could cause problems for their Russian enemies, the German government agreed to permit 32 Russian citizens to travel in a train carriage through their territory, among them Lenin and his wife. The group traveled by train from Zurich to Sassnitz, proceeding by ferry to Trelleborg, Sweden, and from there to Helsinki, Finland, before taking the final train to Petrograd.
On arriving at Petrograd's Finland Station, Lenin gave a speech to Bolshevik supporters condemning the Provisional Government and again calling for a Europe-wide proletariat revolution. Over the following days he spoke at Bolshevik meetings, lambasting those who wanted reconciliation with the Mensheviks and revealing his April Theses, an outline of his plans for the Bolsheviks which he had written on the journey from Switzerland. He publicly condemned both the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries – who dominated the influential Petrograd Soviet – for supporting the Provisional Government, denouncing them as traitors to socialism. Considering the government to be as equally imperialist as the Tsarist regime, he advocated immediate peace with Germany and Austria-Hungary, rule by soviets, the nationalisation of industry and banks, and the state expropriation of land, all with the intention of establishing proletariat government and pushing toward a socialist society. The Mensheviks conversely believed Russia to be insufficiently developed to transition to socialism and accused Lenin of trying to plunge the new Republic into civil war. Over the coming months he campaigned for his policies, attending the meetings of the Bolshevik Central Committee, prolifically writing for the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda, and giving public speeches in Petrograd aimed at converting workers, soldiers, sailors, and peasants to his cause.
Sensing growing frustration among Bolshevik supporters, Lenin suggested an armed political demonstration in Petrograd to test the government's response. However, amid deteriorating health, he left the city to recuperate in the Finnish village of . The Bolsheviks' armed demonstration, the July Days, took place while Lenin was away, but upon learning that demonstrators had violently clashed with government forces he returned to Petrograd, there calling upon Bolshevik supporters for calm. Responding to the violence, the government ordered the arrest of Lenin and other prominent members of the Bolsheviks, raiding their offices, and publicly alleging that he was a German agent provocateur. Evading arrest, Lenin hid in a series of Petrograd safe houses. Fearing that he would be killed, Lenin and fellow senior Bolshevik Grigory Zinoviev then escaped Petrograd in disguise, relocating to Razliv. It was here that Lenin began work on the book that became The State and Revolution, an exposition on how he believed the socialist state would develop following the proletariat revolution, and how from that point on the state would gradually wither away leaving a pure communist society. He began arguing for a Bolshevik-led armed insurrection to topple the government, although at a clandestine meeting of the party's central committee this idea was rejected. Lenin then headed by train and by foot to Finland, arriving at Helsinki on 10 August, where he hid away in safe houses belonging to Bolshevik sympathisers.
The October Revolution: 1917
In August 1917, while Lenin was in Finland, General Lavr Kornilov, the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army, sent troops to Petrograd in what appeared to be a military coup attempt against the Provisional Government. Premier Alexander Kerensky turned to the Petrograd Soviet – including its Bolshevik members – for help, allowing the revolutionaries to organise workers as Red Guards to defend the city. The coup petered out before it reached Petrograd, however the events had allowed the Bolsheviks to return to the open political arena. Fearing a counter-revolution from right-wing forces hostile to socialism, the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries who then dominated the Petrograd Soviet had been instrumental in pressurising the government to normalise relations with the Bolsheviks. However, both the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries had lost much popular support because of their affiliation with the Provisional Government and its unpopular continuation of the war, with the Bolsheviks capitalising on this, and soon the pro-Bolshevik Marxist Trotsky was elected leader of the Petrograd Soviet. In September, the Bolsheviks gained a majority in the workers' sections of both the Moscow and Petrograd Soviets.
Recognising that the situation was safer for him, Lenin returned to Petrograd. There, he attended a meeting of the Bolshevik Central Committee on 10 October, where he again argued his case that the party should lead an armed insurrection to topple the Provisional Government. This time, he was successful in his argument, and the motion was ratified with ten votes against two. Those critical of the plan, Zinoviev and Kamenev, expressed the view that Russian workers would not support a violent coup against the existing regime and that there was no clear evidence for Lenin's assertion that all of Europe was on the verge of proletarian revolution. The party began plans to organise the offensive, holding a final meeting at the Smolny Institute on 24 October. This was the base of the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC), an armed militia largely loyal to the Bolsheviks that had been established by the Petrograd Soviet during Kornilov's alleged coup.
In October, the MRC were ordered to seize control of Petrograd's key transport, communication, printing and utilities hubs, doing so without bloodshed. Bolsheviks had laid siege to the government in the Winter Palace, succeeding in overcoming it and arresting its ministers after the Bolshevik ship Aurora opened fire on the building. While the insurrection was taking place, Lenin gave a speech to the Petrograd Soviet announcing that the Provisional Government had been overthrown. The Bolsheviks declared the formation of a new government, the Council of People's Commissars or "Sovnarkom"; although Lenin initially turned down the leading position of Chairman, suggesting Trotsky for the job, the other Bolsheviks refused to accept this and ultimately Lenin relented. Lenin and other Bolsheviks then attended the Second Congress of Soviets, held over 26 and 27 October; there they announced the creation of the new government, but were condemned by Menshevik attendees, who lambasted the Bolshevik seizure of power as illegitimate and warned of civil war. In these early days of the new regime, Lenin avoided talking in explicitly Marxist and socialist phraseology, fearing that in doing so he might alienate much of Russia's population, instead focusing on the idea of a country controlled by the workers. At this point, Lenin and many other Bolsheviks were expecting proletariat revolution to sweep across Europe, either in the coming days or, at most, in the coming months.
Consolidating power: 1917–18
"To All Workers, Soldiers and Peasants. The Soviet authority will at once propose a democratic peace to all nations and an immediate armistice on all fronts. It will safeguard the transfer without compensation of all land – landlord, imperial, and monastery – to the peasants' committees; it will defend the soldiers' rights, introducing a complete democratisation of the army; it will establish workers' control over industry; it will ensure the convocation of the Constituent Assembly on the date set; it will supply the cities with bread and the villages with articles of first necessity; and it will secure to all nationalities inhabiting Russia the right of self-determination... Long live the revolution!"
Lenin had argued in a newspaper article in September 1917:
The peaceful development of any revolution is, generally speaking, extremely rare and difficult ... but ... a peaceful development of the revolution is possible and probable if all power is transferred to the Soviets. The struggle of parties for power within the Soviets may proceed peacefully, if the Soviets are made fully democratic
The October Revolution had been relatively peaceful. The revolutionary forces already had de facto control of the capital thanks to the defection of the city garrison. Few troops had stayed to defend the Provisional Government in the Winter Palace. Most citizens had simply continued about their daily business while the Provisional Government was actually overthrown.
It thus appeared that all power had been transferred to the Soviets relatively peacefully. On the evening of the October Revolution, the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets met, with a Bolshevik-Left SR majority, in the Smolny Institute in Petrograd. When the left-wing Menshevik Martov proposed an all-party Soviet government, the Bolshevik Lunacharsky stated that his party did not oppose the idea. The Bolshevik delegates voted unanimously in favour of the proposal.
However, not all Russian socialists supported transferring all power to the Soviets. The Right SRs and Mensheviks walked out of this very first session of the Congress of Soviets in protest at the overthrow of the Provisional Government, of which their parties had been members.
The next day, on the evening of 26 October O.S., Lenin attended the Congress of Soviets: undisguised in public for the first time since the July Days, although not yet having regrown his trademark beard. The American journalist John Reed described the man who appeared at about 8:40 pm to "a thundering wave of cheers":
A short, stocky figure, with a big head set down in his shoulders, bald and bulging. Little eyes, a snubbish nose, wide, generous mouth, and heavy chin; clean-shaven now, but already beginning to bristle with the well-known beard of his past and future. Dressed in shabby clothes, his trousers much too long for him. Unimpressive, to be the idol of a mob, loved and revered as perhaps few leaders in history have been. A strange popular leader—a leader purely by virtue of intellect; colourless, humourless, uncompromising and detached, without picturesque idiosyncrasies—but with the power of explaining profound ideas in simple terms, of analysing a concrete situation. And combined with shrewdness, the greatest intellectual audacity.
According to Reed, Lenin waited for the applause to subside before declaring simply: "We shall now proceed to construct the Socialist order!" Lenin proceeded to propose to the Congress a Decree on Peace, calling on "all the belligerent peoples and to their Governments to begin immediately negotiations for a just and democratic peace", and a Decree on Land, transferring ownership of all "land-owners' estates, and all lands belonging to the Crown, [and] to monasteries" to the Peasants' Soviets. The Congress passed the Decree on Peace unanimously, and the Decree on Land faced only one vote in opposition.
Having approved these key Bolshevik policies, the Congress of Soviets proceeded to elect the Bolsheviks into power as the Council of People's Commissars by "an enormous majority". The Bolsheviks offered posts in the Council to the Left SRs: an offer that the Left SRs at first refused, but later accepted, joining the Bolsheviks in coalition on 12 December O.S. Lenin had suggested that Trotsky take the position of Chairman of the Council—the head of the Soviet government—but Trotsky refused on the grounds that his Jewishness would be controversial, and he took the post of Commissar for Foreign Affairs instead. Thus, Lenin became the head of government in Russia.
Trotsky announced the composition of the new Soviet Central Executive Committee: with a Bolshevik majority, but with places reserved for the representatives of the other parties, including the seceded Right SRs and Mensheviks. Trotsky concluded the Congress: "We welcome into the Government all parties and groups which will adopt our programme."
Lenin declared in 1920 that "Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the entire country" in modernising Russia into a 20th-century country:
We must show the peasants that the organisation of industry on the basis of modern, advanced technology, on electrification, which will provide a link between town and country, will put an end to the division between town and country, will make it possible to raise the level of culture in the countryside and to overcome, even in the most remote corners of land, backwardness, ignorance, poverty, disease, and barbarism.
Yet the Bolshevik Government had to first withdraw Russia from the First World War (1914–18). Facing continuing Imperial German eastward advance, Lenin proposed immediate Russian withdrawal from the West European war; yet, other, doctrinaire Bolshevik leaders (e.g. Nikolai Bukharin) advocated continuing in the war to foment revolution in Germany. Lead peace treaty negotiator Leon Trotsky proposed No War, No Peace, an intermediate-stance Russo–German treaty conditional upon neither belligerent annexing conquered lands; the negotiations collapsed, and the Germans renewed their attack, conquering much of the (agricultural) territory of west Russia. As a result, Lenin's withdrawal proposal then gained majority support, and, on 3 March 1918, Russia withdrew from the First World War via the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, losing much of its European territory. Because of the German threat, Lenin moved the Soviet Government from Petrograd to Moscow on 10–11 March 1918.
On 19 January 1918, relying upon the soviets, the Bolsheviks, allied with anarchists and the Socialist Revolutionaries, dissolved the Russian Constituent Assembly thereby consolidating the Bolshevik Government's political power. Yet, that left-wing coalition collapsed consequent to the Social Revolutionaries opposing the territorially expensive Brest-Litovsk treaty the Bolsheviks reached an accord with Imperial Germany. The anarchists and the Socialist Revolutionaries then joined other political parties in attempting to depose the Bolshevik Government, who defended themselves with persecution and jail for the anti-Bolsheviks.
To initiate the Russian economic recovery, on 21 February 1920, he launched the GOELRO plan, the State Commission for Electrification of Russia (Государственная комиссия по электрификации России), and also established free universal health care, free education systems, promulgated the politico-civil rights of women.
Homosexuality and abortion were legalized. No-fault divorce was also legalized, along with universal free healthcare and free education being established.
Establishing the Cheka
On 20 December 1917, "The Whole-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage", the Cheka (Chrezvychaynaya Komissiya – Extraordinary Commission) was created by a decree issued by Lenin to defend the Russian Revolution. The establishment of the Cheka, secret service, headed by Felix Dzerzhinsky, formally consolidated the censorship established earlier, when on "17 November, the Central Executive Committee passed a decree giving the Bolsheviks control over all newsprint and wide powers of closing down newspapers critical of the régime. . . ."; non-Bolshevik soviets were disbanded; anti-soviet newspapers were closed until Pravda (Truth) and Izvestia (The News) established their communications monopoly. According to Leonard Schapiro the Bolshevik "refusal to come to terms with the [Revolutionary] socialists, and the dispersal of the Constituent assembly, led to the logical result that revolutionary terror would now be directed, not only against traditional enemies, such as the bourgeoisie or right-wing opponents, but against anyone, be he socialist, worker, or peasant, who opposed Bolshevik rule". On 19 December 1918, a year after its creation, a resolution was adopted at Lenin's behest that forbade the Bolshevik's own press from publishing "defamatory articles" about the Cheka. As Lenin put it: "A Good Communist is also a good Chekist."
Lenin survived two serious assassination attempts. The first occasion was on 14 January 1918 in Petrograd, when assassins ambushed Lenin in his automobile after a speech. He and Fritz Platten were in the back seat when assassins began shooting, and "Platten grabbed Lenin by the head and pushed him down... Platten's hand was covered in blood, having been grazed by a bullet as he was shielding Lenin".
The second event was on 30 August 1918, when the Socialist Revolutionary Fanya Kaplan approached Lenin at his automobile after a speech; he was resting a foot on the running board as he spoke with a woman. Kaplan called to Lenin, and when he turned to face her she shot at him three times. The first bullet struck his arm, the second bullet his jaw and neck, and the third missed him, wounding the woman with whom he was speaking; the wounds felled him and he became unconscious. Kaplan said during her interrogation that she considered Lenin to be "a traitor to the Revolution" for dissolving the Constituent Assembly and for outlawing other leftist parties.
Pravda publicly ridiculed Fanya Kaplan as a failed assassin, a latter-day Charlotte Corday (the murderess of Jean-Paul Marat) who could not derail the Russian Revolution, reassuring readers that, immediately after surviving the assassination: "Lenin, shot through twice, with pierced lungs spilling blood, refuses help and goes on his own. The next morning, still threatened with death, he reads papers, listens, learns, and observes to see that the engine of the locomotive that carries us towards global revolution has not stopped working..."; despite unharmed lungs, the neck wound did spill blood into a lung.
Historian Richard Pipes reports that "the impression one gains ... is that the Bolsheviks deliberately underplayed the event to convince the public that, whatever happened to Lenin, they were firmly in control". Moreover, in a letter to his wife (7 September 1918), Leonid Borisovich Krasin, a Tsarist and Soviet régime diplomat, describes the public atmosphere and social response to the failed assassination attempt on 30 August and to Lenin's survival:
As it happens, the attempt to kill Lenin has made him much more popular than he was. One hears a great many people, who are far from having any sympathy with the Bolsheviks, saying that it would be an absolute disaster if Lenin had succumbed to his wounds, as it was first thought he would. And they are quite right, for, in the midst of all this chaos and confusion, he is the backbone of the new body politic, the main support on which everything rests.
The Bolsheviks instructed Felix Dzerzhinsky to commence a Red Terror, an organized program of arrests, imprisonments, and killings. At Moscow, execution lists signed by Lenin authorised the shooting of 25 former ministers, civil servants, and 765 White Guards in September 1918.
Earlier, in October, Lev Kamenev and cohort, had warned the Party that terrorist rule was inevitable In late 1918, when he and Nikolai Bukharin tried curbing Chekist excesses, Lenin overruled them; in 1921, via the Politburo, he expanded the Cheka's discretionary death-penalty powers.
The White Russian counter-revolution failed for want of popular support and bad coordination among its disparate units. Meanwhile, Lenin put the Terror under a centralized secret police ("Cheka") in summer 1918. By May 1919, there were some 16,000 "enemies of the people" imprisoned in the Cheka's katorga labour camps; by September 1921 the prisoner populace exceeded 70,000.
During the Civil War both the Red and White Russians committed "atrocities against each other" as well by attacking their supporters. The Red Terror was Lenin's policy (e.g. Decossackisation i.e. repressions against the Kuban and Don Cossacks) against given social classes, while the counter-revolutionary White Terror was racial and political, against Jews, anti-monarchists, and Communists, (cf. White Movement). Such numbers are recorded in cities controlled by the Bolsheviks:
In Kharkov there were between 2,000 and 3,000 executions in February–June 1919, and another 1,000–2,000 when the town was taken again in December of that year; in Rostov-on-Don, approximately 1,000 in January 1920; in Odessa, 2,200 in May–August 1919, then 1,500–3,000 between February 1920 and February 1921; in Kiev, at least 3,000 in February–August 1919; in Ekaterinodar, at least 3,000 between August 1920 and February 1921; In Armavir, a small town in Kuban, between 2,000 and 3,000 in August–October 1920. The list could go on and on.
Professor Christopher Read states that though terror was employed at the height of the Civil War fighting, "from 1920 onwards the resort to terror was much reduced and disappeared from Lenin's mainstream discourses and practices".
While the Russian famine of 1921, which left six million dead, was going on, the Bolsheviks planned to capture church property and use its value to relieve the victims. About the resistance to this, Lenin said: "we must precisely now smash the Black Hundreds clergy most decisively and ruthlessly and put down all resistance with such brutality that they will not forget it for several decades." He also said: "At this meeting pass a secret resolution of the congress that the removal of property of value, especially from the very richest lauras, monasteries, and churches, must be carried out with ruthless resolution, leaving nothing in doubt, and in the very shortest time. The greater the number of representatives of the reactionary clergy and the reactionary bourgeoisie that we succeed in shooting on this occasion, the better" Historian Orlando Figes has cited an estimate of perhaps 8,000 priests and laymen being executed as a result of this letter.
According to historian Michael Kort, "During 1919 and 1920, out of a population of approximately 1.5 million Don Cossacks, the Bolshevik regime killed or deported an estimated 300,000 to 500,000". And the crushing of the revolts in Kronstadt and Tambov in southern Russia in 1921 resulted in large scale executions. Estimates for the total number of people killed in the Red Terror range from 50,000 to over a million.
In 1917, as an anti-imperialist, Lenin said that oppressed peoples had the unconditional right to secede from the Russian Empire; however, at end of the Civil War, the USSR annexed Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Lenin defended the annexations as, "geopolitical protection against capitalist imperial depredations."
To maintain the war-isolated cities, keep the armies fed, and to avoid economic collapse, the Bolshevik government established war communism, via prodrazvyorstka, food requisitioning from the peasantry, for little payment, which peasants resisted with reduced harvests. The Bolsheviks blamed the kulaks' withholding grain to increase profits; but statistics indicate most such business occurred in the black market economy. Nonetheless, the prodrazvyorstka resulted in armed confrontations, which the Cheka and Red Army suppressed with shooting hostages, poison gas, and labour-camp deportation; yet Lenin increased the requisitioning.
After the March 1921 left-wing Kronstadt Rebellion mutiny, Lenin abolished war communism with its food requisitioning, and tight control over industry with a much more liberal New Economic Policy (NEP), which allowed private enterprise. The NEP successfully stabilised the economy and stimulated industry and agriculture by means of a market economy where the government did not set prices and wages. The NEP was his pragmatic recognition of the political and economic realities, despite being a tactical, ideological retreat from the socialist ideal. Politically, Robert Service claims that Lenin "advocated the final eradication of all remaining threats, real or potential, to his state. For Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks he demanded the staging of show trials followed by exemplary severe punishment."
In international terms Lenin spoke of world revolution. The stalemate in the war with Poland and the failures of Communist uprisings in Central Europe brought the realisation that the revolution would come slowly. To get it on track Lenin in 1919 set up the Third International, or Comintern.
Decline and death
Lenin suffered a degree of physical debilitation consequent to the wounds from the attempted assassinations; he retained a bullet in his neck, until a German surgeon removed it on 24 April 1922. He also reported fatigue and headaches; in March 1922 physicians prescribed rest, as it was felt that his demanding schedule contributed to a decline in health.
Upon returning to Petrograd in May 1922, Lenin suffered the first of three strokes, which left him unable to speak for weeks, and severely hampered motion in his right side. By June, he had substantially recovered; by August he resumed limited duties, delivering three long speeches in November. In December 1922, he suffered the second stroke that partly paralysed his right side, he then withdrew from active politics. In March 1923, he suffered a third stroke; it ended his career. Lenin was mute and bed-ridden until his death but officially remained the leader of the Communist Party.
Persistent stories mark syphilis as the cause of Lenin's death. A "retrospective diagnosis" published in The European Journal of Neurology in 2004 strengthens these suspicions.
After the first stroke, Lenin dictated government papers to Nadezhda; among them was Lenin's Testament (changing the structure of the soviets), a document partly inspired by the 1922 Georgian Affair, which was a conflict about the way in which social and political transformation within a constituent republic was to be achieved. It criticised high-rank Communists, including Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, and Trotsky. About the Communist Party's General Secretary (since 1922), Stalin, Lenin reported that the "unlimited authority" concentrated in him was unacceptable, and suggested that "comrades think about a way of removing Stalin from that post." His phrasing, "Сталин слишком груб", implies "personal rudeness, unnecessary roughness, lack of finesse", flaws "intolerable in a Secretary-General".
At Lenin's death, Nadezhda mailed his testament to the central committee, to be read aloud to the 13th Party Congress in May 1924. However, to remain in power, the ruling troika—Stalin, Kamenev, Zinoviev—suppressed Lenin's Testament; it was not published until 1925, in the United States, by the American intellectual Max Eastman. In that year, Trotsky published an article minimising the importance of Lenin's Testament, saying that Lenin's notes should not be perceived as a will, that it had been neither concealed, nor violated; yet he did invoke it in later anti-Stalin polemics.
Lenin died at 18.50 hrs, Moscow time, on 21 January 1924, aged 53, at his estate at Gorki settlement (later renamed Gorki Leninskiye). In the four days that the Bolshevik Leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin lay in state, more than 900,000 mourners viewed his body in the Hall of Columns; among the statesmen who expressed condolences to the Soviet Union was Chinese premier Sun Yat-sen, who said:
Through the ages of world history, thousands of leaders and scholars appeared who spoke eloquent words, but these remained words. You, Lenin, were an exception. You not only spoke and taught us, but translated your words into deeds. You created a new country. You showed us the road of joint struggle... You, great man that you are, will live on in the memories of the oppressed people through the centuries.
He alone could have led Russia into the enchanted quagmire; he alone could have found the way back to the causeway. He saw; he turned; he perished. The strong illumination that guided him was cut off at the moment when he had turned resolutely for home. The Russian people were left floundering in the bog. Their worst misfortune was his birth: their next worst his death.
The Soviet government publicly announced Lenin's death the following day, with head of State Mikhail Kalinin tearfully reading an official statement to delegates of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets at 11am, the same time that a team of physicians began a postmortem of the body. On 23 January, mourners from the Communist Party Central Committee, the Moscow party organisation, the trade unions and the soviets began to assemble at his house, with the body being removed from his home at about 10am the following day, being carried aloft in a red coffin by Kamenev, Zinoviev, Stalin, Bukharin, Bubhov and Krasin. Transported by train to Moscow, mourners gathered at every station along the way, and upon arriving in the city, a funerary procession carried the coffin for five miles to the House of Trade Unions, where the body lay in state.
Over the next three days, around a million mourners from across the Soviet Union came to see the body, many queuing for hours in the freezing conditions, with the events being filmed by the government. On Saturday 26 January, the eleventh All-Union Congress of Soviets met to pay respects to the deceased leader, with speeches being made by Kalinin, Zinoviev and Stalin, but notably not Trotsky, who had been convalescing in the Caucasus. Lenin's funeral took place the following day, when his body was carried to Red Square, accompanied by martial music, where assembled crowds listened to a series of speeches before the corpse was carried into a vault, followed by the singing of the revolutionary hymn, "You fell in sacrifice."
Three days after his death, Petrograd was renamed Leningrad in his honour, remaining so until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, when its former name Saint Petersburg was restored, yet the administrative area remains Leningrad Oblast. In the early 1920s, the Russian cosmism movement proved so popular that Leonid Krasin and Alexander Bogdanov proposed to cryonically preserve Lenin for future resurrection, yet, despite buying the requisite equipment, that was not done. Instead, the body of V. I. Lenin was embalmed and permanently exhibited in Lenin's Mausoleum, in Moscow, on 27 January 1924.
Despite the official diagnosis of death from stroke consequences, the Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov reported that Lenin died of neurosyphilis, according to a publication by V. Lerner and colleagues in the European Journal of Neurology in 2004. The authors also note that "It is possible that future DNA technology applied to Lenin's preserved brain material could ultimately establish or disprove neurosyphilis as the primary cause of Lenin's death."
In a poll conducted in 2012 by a Russian website, 48 per cent of the people that responded voted that the body of the former leader should be buried.
Lenin's funeral train consisting of the locomotive and funeral van still containing the original wreaths is preserved at the Museum of the Moscow Railway, Paveletsky Rail Terminal in Moscow.
"We do not pretend that Marx or Marxists know the road to socialism in all its concreteness. That is nonsense. We know the direction of the road, we know what class forces will lead it, but concretely, practically, this will be shown by the experience of the millions when they undertake the act."
Lenin was a Marxist and principally a revolutionary. His revolutionary theory—the belief in the necessity of a violent overthrow of capitalism through communist revolution, to be followed by a dictatorship of the proletariat as the first stage of moving towards communism, and the need for a vanguard party to lead the proletariat in this effort—developed into Marxism–Leninism, a highly influential ideology. Although a Marxist, Lenin was also influenced by earlier currents of Russian socialist thought such as Narodnichestvo. Conversely, he derided Marxists who adopted from contemporary non-Marxist philosophers and sociologists. He believed that his interpretation of Marxism was the sole authentic one. According to later biographer Dmitri Volkogonov, Lenin "deeply and sincerely" believed that the path which he was setting Russia on would ultimately lead to the establishment of a stateless, classless communist society. Robert Service noted that Lenin considered "moral questions" to be "an irrelevance", rejecting the concept of moral absolutism; instead he judged whether an action was justifiable based upon its chances of success for the revolutionary cause.
Lenin was an internationalist and a keen supporter of world revolution, thereby deeming national borders to be an outdated concept and nationalism a distraction from class struggle. He believed that under revolutionary socialism, there would be "the inevitable merging of nations" and the ultimate establishment of "a United States of the World". He opposed federalism, deeming it to be bourgeoisie, instead emphasising the need for a centralised unitary state. Lenin was an anti-imperialist, and believed that all nations deserved "the right of self-determination". He thus supported wars of national liberation, accepting that such conflicts might be necessary for a minority group to break away from a socialist state, asserting that the latter were not "holy or insured against mistakes or weaknesses".
"[Lenin] accepted truth as handed down by Marx and selected data and arguments to bolster that truth. He did not question old Marxist scripture, he merely commented, and the comments have become a new scripture."
He also staunchly criticised anti-Semitism within the Russian Empire, commenting "It is not the Jews who are the enemies of the working people. The enemies of the workers are the capitalists of all countries. Among the Jews there are working people, and they form the majority. They are our brothers, who, like us, are oppressed by capital; they are our comrades in the struggle for socialism."
Lenin believed that representative democracy had been used to give the illusion of democracy while maintaining the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie; describing the representative democratic system of the United States, he referred to the "spectacular and meaningless duels between two bourgeois parties", both of whom were led by "astute multimillionaires" that exploited the American proletariat.
Lenin was a prolific political theoretician and philosopher who wrote about the practical aspects of carrying out a proletarian revolution; he wrote pamphlets, articles, and books, without a stenographer or secretary, until prevented by illness. He simultaneously corresponded with comrades, allies, and friends, in Russia and world-wide. His Collected Works comprise 54 volumes, each of about 650 pages, translated into English in 45 volumes by Progress Publishers, Moscow 1960–70.
After Lenin's death, the USSR selectively censored his writings, to establish the dogma of the infallibility of Lenin, Stalin (his successor), and the Central Committee; thus, the Soviet fifth edition (55 vols., 1958–65) of Lenin's œuvre deleted the Lenin–Stalin contradictions, and all that was unfavourable to the founder of the USSR. The historian Richard Pipes published a documentary collection of letters and telegrams excluded from the Soviet fifth edition, proposing that edition as incomplete.
Personal life and characteristics
"[Lenin's collected writings] reveal in detail a man with iron will, self-enslaving self-discipline, scorn for opponents and obstacles, the cold determination of a zealot, the drive of a fanatic, and the ability to convince or browbeat weaker persons by his singleness of purpose, imposing intensity, impersonal approach, personal sacrifice, political astuteness, and complete conviction of the possession of the absolute truth. His life became the history of the Bolshevik movement."
Lenin believed himself to be a man of destiny, having an unshakable belief in the righteousness of his cause, and in his own ability as a revolutionary leader. Historian Richard Pipes noted that he exhibited a great deal of charisma and personal magnetism, and that he had "an extraordinary capacity for disciplined work and total commitment to the revolutionary cause." Volkogonov believed that "by the very force of his personality, [Lenin] had an influence over people." Lenin's friend Gorky described him as "a baldheaded, stocky, sturdy person", being "too ordinary" and not giving "the impression of being a leader". Biographer Louis Fischer described him as "a lover of radical change and maximum upheaval", a man for whom "there was never a middle-ground. He was an either-or, black-or-red exaggerator." Historian and biographer Robert Service asserted that Lenin had been an intensely emotional young man, who had exhibited a strong emotional hatred of the Tsarist authorities. According to Service, Lenin developed an "emotional attachment" to his ideological heroes, such as Marx, Engels and Chernyshevsky; he owned portraits of them, and privately described himself as being "in love" with Marx.
Service stated that Lenin was a man who could be "moody and volatile". According to both Pipes and Fischer, Lenin was intolerant of opposition and often dismissed opinions that differed from his own outright. He ignored facts which did not suit his argument, abhored compromise, and very rarely admitted his own errors. He refused to bend his opinions, until he rejected them completely, at which he would treat the new view as if it was just as unbendable. Although he showed no sign of sadism or of personally desiring to commit violent acts, he endorsed the violent actions of others and exhibited no remorse for those killed by the revolutionary cause. According to Service, Lenin's "criterion of morality was simple: does a certain action advance or hinder the cause of the Revolution?"
"The Lenin who seemed externally so gentle and good-natured, who enjoyed a laugh, who loved animals and was prone to sentimental reminiscences, was transformed when class or political questions arose. He at once became savagely sharp, uncompromising, remorseless and vengeful. Even in such a state, however, he was capable of black humor."
Aside from Russian, Lenin spoke and read French, German, and English. Concerned with physical fitness, he took regular exercise, enjoyed cycling, swimming, and hunting, and also developed a passion for mountain walking in the Swiss peaks. He despised untidiness, always keeping his work desk tidy and his pencils sharpened, and insisted on total silence while he was working. According to Fischer, Lenin's "vanity was minimal", and for this reason he disliked the cult of personality that the Soviet administration had begun to build around him; he nevertheless accepted that it might have some benefits in unifying the movement. After an hour's meeting with Lenin, the philosopher Bertrand Russell asserted that Lenin was "very friendly, and apparently simple, entirely without a trace of hauteur... I have never met a personage so destitute of self-importance."
Despite his radical politics, Lenin took a conservative attitude with regard to sex and marriage. Throughout his adult life, he was in a relationship with Nadezhda Krupskaya, a fellow Marxist whom he married. Lenin and Nadya were both sad that they never had children, although they enjoyed entertaining their friends' offspring. Lenin had no lifelong friends, and Armand has been cited as being his only close, intimate friend.
Lenin was an atheist, and believed that socialism was inherently atheistic; he thus deemed Christian socialism to be a contradiction in terms. He expressed an attitude of cultural superiority between different nations; at the top was Germany, followed by Britain and France, and then Finland, with Russia coming beneath them. Privately, he was critical of his Russian homeland, describing it as "one of the most benighted, medieval and shamefully backward of Asian countries". He was similarly critical of the Russian people, informing Gorky that "An intelligent Russian is almost always a Jew or someone with Jewish blood". From his youth he had wanted Russia to become more culturally European and Western.
In 1922, according to Robert Service, Lenin "advocated the final eradication of all remaining threats, real or potential, to his state. For Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks he demanded the staging of show trials followed by exemplary severe punishment."
Lenin's influence was global. According to Lenin biographer , writing in 1966, it was Lenin's ideas and example that "constitutes the basis of the Communist movement today". Following Lenin's death, Stalin's administration established an ideology known as Marxism-Leninism, a movement which came to be interpreted differently by various contending factions in the Communist movement.
When Lenin died on 21 January 1924, he was acclaimed by Communists as "the greatest genius of mankind" and "the leader and teacher of the peoples of the whole world". Historians like Service have characterised Lenin's administration as a "one-party dictatorship", while Volkogonov termed this "Bolshevik dictatorship" a system of "bureaucratic totalitarianism". Pipes described Lenin as a dictator, however Volkogonov believed that whereas Lenin established a "dictatorship of the Party", it would be under Stalin that the Soviet Union became the "dictatorship of one man".
Historian J. Arch Getty has remarked that "Lenin deserves a lot of credit for the notion that the meek can inherit the earth, that there can be a political movement based on social justice and equality", while one of his biographers, Robert Service, says he "laid the foundations of dictatorship and lawlessness. Lenin had consolidated the principle of state penetration of the whole society, its economy and its culture. Lenin had practised terror and advocated revolutionary amoralism."Time magazine named Lenin one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century, and one of their top 25 political icons of all time; remarking that "for decades, Marxist–Leninist rebellions shook the world while Lenin's embalmed corpse lay in repose in Red Square". Following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, reverence for Lenin declined among the post-Soviet generations, yet he remains an important historical figure for the Soviet-era generations.
Lenin's reputation inside the Soviet Union and its allies remained high until Communism ended in 1989–91. During the upheavals of the 1960s, Service argues, the reputation of Soviet Communism, and of Lenin himself, started slipping as intellectuals and students on the left turned against dictatorship:
- Even the Italian and Spanish communist parties abandoned their ideological fealty to Moscow and formulated doctrines hostile to dictatorship. Especially after the USSR-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the number of admirers of Lenin was getting smaller in states not subject to communist leaderships.
Historian Stephen Lee states:
- instead of guiding Russian history on to a new highway, Lenin had simply shoved it up a cul-de-sac. This is also the point that seems to have been reached by many recent Russian historians, especially Volkogonov.
|“||If the Bolshevik Revolution is—as some people have called it—the most significant political event of the 20th century, then Lenin must for good or ill be considered the century's most significant political leader. Not only in the scholarly circles of the former Soviet Union, but even among many non-Communist scholars, he has been regarded as both the greatest revolutionary leader and revolutionary statesman in history, as well as the greatest revolutionary thinker since Marx.||”|
There is little question that Lenin did influence revolutionaries, including successful ones in China, Vietnam, and Cuba.
As influential as he was in life, Lenin may have been more so in death. Over 100 million have lined up to view his mummified body. His memory has been used to support every change in Soviet policy and every new regime since his death. His theories inspired the successful revolutions of Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong, and Ho Chi Minh; as well as countless other revolutionaries in countries full of oppressed and powerless people.— Vladimir Lenin: Voice of Revolution, A&E Biography, 2005
After Lenin's death, Stalin had all of the deceased leader's writings collated and stored in a secret archive in the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute. Material, such as Lenin's collection of books in Krakow, were also collected from abroad for storage in the Institute, often at great expense. During the Soviet era, these writings would be strictly controlled and very few had access. All of Lenin's writings that proved useful to Stalin would be published, although everything else remained hidden.
Statues and city names
During the Soviet period, many statues of Lenin were erected across Eastern Europe. Although many of the statues have subsequently been removed, some remain standing, and a few new ones have been erected. During Euromaidan several were damaged or destroyed. However, Russian lawmakers from the ruling United Russia party and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) have indicated a proposal to remove all statues of Lenin from Russian cities, with LDPR deputy Aleksandr Kurdyumov citing high maintenance costs and vandalism concerns as some of the main reasons. The proposal is being strongly opposed by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.
Many places and entities were named in honor of Lenin. The city of Saint Petersburg, the site where both February and October revolutions started, was renamed Leningrad in 1924, four days after Lenin's death. In 1991, after a contested vote between Communists and liberals, the Leningrad government reverted the city's name to Saint Petersburg while the surrounding Leningrad Oblast remained so named; like-wise the city of Ulyanovsk (so-named after Lenin's birth name) and the Ulyanovsk Oblast remain so named. Gyumri in Armenia was named Leninakan from 1924 to 1990,Khujand in Tajikistan Leninabad from 1936 to 1991. In space, the 852 Wladilena asteroid was named in his honor.