April 22, 2021
Today is great Russian leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s 151st birth anniversary!
He was of medium height, quite bald, except for the back of his head, with a reddish beard. The features of his face were striking—slanted eyes that looked piercingly at others, and high cheek-bones under a towering forehead. The rest of his appearance was deceptively ordinary. Indeed, he was suspicious of intellectuals and felt most at home in the company of simple folk. Having been brought up in the tradition of the Russian nobility, Lenin loved hunting, hiking, horseback riding, boating, mushroom hunting, and the outdoor life in general. Widely considered one of the most significant and influential figures of the 20th century.
(Lenin at the left)
Lenin’s father Ilya Nikolayevich Ulyanov was from a family of serfs. Despite this lower-class background, Ilya had risen to middle-class status, studying physics and mathematics before teaching at the Penza Institute for the Nobility. Ilya married Maria Alexandrovna Blank. Well educated, she was the daughter of a wealthy German–Swedish Lutheran mother, and according to some sources a Russian Jewish father who worked as a physician. According to historian Petrovsky-Shtern, it is likely that Lenin was unaware of his mother’s half-Jewish ancestry, which was only discovered by his sister Anna after his death. Soon after their wedding, Ilya obtained a job in Nizhny Novgorod, rising to become Director of Primary Schools in the Simbirsk district. Lenin was born in Simbirsk, now Ulyanovsk, on 22 April 1870. He was the third of eight children, having two older siblings, Anna (born 1864) and Alexander (born 1866). Two later siblings died in infancy. Ilya was a devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church and baptised his children into it, although Maria, a Lutheran by upbringing, was largely indifferent to Christianity, a view that influenced her children.
Both parents were monarchists and liberal conservatives. Every summer they holidayed at a rural manor in Kokushkino. Among his siblings, Lenin was closest to his sister Olga, whom he often bossed around. A keen sportsman, he spent much of his free time outdoors or playing chess, and excelled at school.
Death of Father, killing of brother
In January 1886, when Lenin was 15, his father died of a brain haemorrhage. Subsequently, his behaviour became erratic and confrontational and he renounced his belief in God. At the time, Lenin’s elder brother Alexander, whom he affectionately knew as Sasha, was studying at Saint Petersburg University. Involved in political agitation against the absolute monarchy of the reactionary Tsar Alexander III, Alexander studied the writings of banned leftists and organised anti-government protests. He joined a revolutionary cell bent on assassinating the Tsar and was selected to construct a bomb. Before the attack could take place, the conspirators were arrested and tried, and Alexander was executed by hanging in May. Despite the emotional trauma of his father’s and brother’s deaths, Lenin continued studying, graduated from school at the top of his class with a gold medal for exceptional performance, and decided to study law at Kazan University.
University and political radicalisation: 1887–1893
Upon entering Kazan University in August 1887, Lenin moved into a nearby flat. There, he joined a zemlyachestvo, a form of university society that represented the men of a particular region. This group elected him as its representative to the university’s zemlyachestvo council, and he took part in a December demonstration against government restrictions that banned student societies. The police arrested Lenin and accused him of being a ringleader in the demonstration; he was expelled from the university, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs exiled him to his family’s Kokushkino estate. There, he read voraciously, becoming enamoured with Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s 1863 pro-revolutionary novel What Is to Be Done?
Lenin’s mother was concerned by her son’s radicalisation, and was instrumental in convincing the Interior Ministry to allow him to return to the city of Kazan, but not the university. On his return, he joined Nikolai Fedoseev’s revolutionary circle, through which he discovered Karl Marx’s 1867 book Capital. This sparked his interest in Marxism, a socio-political theory that argued that society developed in stages, that this development resulted from class struggle, and that capitalist society would ultimately give way to socialist society and then communist society. Wary of his political views, Lenin’s mother bought a country estate in Alakaevka village, Samara Oblast, in the hope that her son would turn his attention to agriculture. He had little interest in farm management, and his mother soon sold the land, keeping the house as a summer home.
A Marxist movement had developed in Russia during the last decade of the nineteenth century. It was a response to the rapid growth of industry, cities, and the proletariat (a group of lower-class workers, especially in industry). They aimed for a revolution that would transform Russia into a democratic republic. Lenin’s writings and work focused on the role of the proletariat as promoters of this revolution. However, he also stressed the role of intellectuals (people engaged in thinking) who would provide the movement with the theories that would guide the revolution’s progress. When the leaders of Russian Marxism gathered for the first important party meeting in 1903, these ideas clashed with the idea of a looser, more democratic workers’ party that was promoted by Lenin’s old friend Iuli Martov (1873–1923). This disagreement over the nature and organization of the party was complicated by many other conflicts, and from its first important gathering Russian Marxism split into two factions (opposing groups).The Bolsheviks and Mensheviks disagreed not only over how to organize the movement but also over most other political problems.
In 1905 an uprising now known as the Revolution of 1905 occurred in Russia. Widespread revolt against the Russian czar’s government spread throughout the country, but was eventually put to an end by the government. This revolt among the Russian people surprised all Russian revolutionary leaders, including the Bolsheviks. Lenin managed to return to Russia only in November, when the defeat of the revolution was practically certain. But he was among the last to give up.
Bolshevism and Marxism
Since about 1905 the international socialist movement had begun also to discuss the possibility of a major war breaking out among European nations. In 1907 and 1912, members met and condemned such wars in advance, pledging not to support them. Lenin had wanted to go further than that. He had urged active opposition to the war effort and a transformation of any war into a proletarian revolution. When World War I (1914–1918; a conflict involving most European nations, as well as Russia, the United States, and Japan) broke out, most socialist leaders in the countries involved supported the war effort. For Lenin, this was proof that he and the other leaders shared no common aims or views. The break between the two schools of Marxism could not be fixed.
During World War I (1914–18) Lenin lived in Switzerland. He attended several conferences of radical socialists opposed to the war. He read a large amount of literature on the Marxist idea of state government and wrote a first draft for a book on the subject, The State and Revolution. He also studied literature dealing with world politics of the time and wrote an important book, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, in 1916.
Lenin in 1917
It took a good deal of negotiation and courage for Lenin and a group of like-minded Russian revolutionaries to travel from Switzerland back to Russia through the enemy country of Germany. Fluent in many languages, Lenin spoke Russian with a slight speech defect but was a powerful public speaker in small groups as well as before large audiences. A tireless worker, he made others work tirelessly. He tried to push those who worked with him to devote every ounce of their energy to the revolutionary task at hand. He was impatient with any other activities, including small talk and discussions of political theories.
Lenin’s Bolshevik government initially shared power his administration redistributed land among the peasantry and nationalised banks and large-scale industry. It withdrew from the First World War by signing a treaty conceding territory to the Central Powers, and promoted world revolution through the Communist International.His administration defeated right and left-wing anti-Bolshevik armies in the Russian Civil War from 1917 to 1922 and oversaw the Polish–Soviet War of 1919–1921. Responding to wartime devastation, famine, and popular uprisings, in 1921 Lenin encouraged economic growth through the market-oriented New Economic Policy. Several non-Russian nations had secured independence from the Russian Empire after 1917, but three were re-united into the new Soviet Union in 1922. His health failing, Lenin died in Gorki, with Joseph Stalin succeeding him as the pre-eminent figure in the Soviet government.
While he studied law in St. Petersburg he learned about the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.To talk or write about Marxism positively was illegal in Russia, and Lenin was arrested for that and sent to prison in Siberia. This punishment was harsh because Siberia is known for being very cold and isolated, and almost impossible to escape.
Exile in Siberia
In July 1898, when he was still in Siberia, Lenin married Nadezhda Krupskaya. In 1899 he wrote a book he called The Development of Capitalism in Russia. In 1900, Lenin was set free from prison and allowed to go back home. He then traveled around Europe. He began to publish a Marxist newspaper called Iskra, the Russian word for “spark” or “lightning”. He also became an important member of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, or RSDLP.
Bolshevik and Menshevik
In 1903, Lenin had a major argument with another leader of the party, Julius Martov, which divided the party in two. Lenin wanted to establish socialism right away, rather than establishing capitalism first and then making the transition to socialism. Martov disagreed, he wanted to cling to the Classical Marxist idea that in order to achieve socialism, you must go through capitalism first. People who agreed with Martov were called Mensheviks (meaning “the minority”). The people who agreed with Lenin were called Bolsheviks (“the majority”).
The meeting shut down when a lot of the groups argued whether or not to support the war. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were one of only a few groups who were against the war because of their Marxist ideas. In 1903, he took a key role in the RSDLP ideological split, leading the Bolshevik faction against Julius Martov’s Mensheviks. Following Russia’s failed Revolution of 1905, he campaigned for the First World War to be transformed into a Europe-wide proletarian revolution, which as a Marxist he believed would cause 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 play a leading role in the October Revolution in which the Bolsheviks overthrew the new regime.
These ideas include: Democratic Centralism, also known as the idea of the vanguard party. Like other communists, Lenin wanted to see a socialist revolution led by the working class. But he thought the workers needed strong leadership in the form of a Revolutionary Party based on Democratic Centralism.