Family Background & Early Years
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was born on 22 April 1870, in Simbirsk, Russian Empire. He was the third of the six children born to Ilya Nikolayevich Ulyanov and Maria Alexandrovna Blank.
His father was a prominent Russian schoolmaster who received numerous honors for his work in the field of education. His mother, the daughter of a Jewish doctor, was well-versed in Russian literature. She insisted that her children receive quality education.
Lenin’s elder brother Aleksandr was a gold medalist from ‘St. Petersburg University.’ He later became involved in political agitations against Tsar Alexander III. He organized several protests and was subsequently arrested on charges of conspiracy against the Tsar. He was executed on 20 May 1887.
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Early Radical Activities & Exile
Though he was distraught after the deaths of his father and his elder brother, Lenin continued his studies and received a gold medal for his exceptional performance in school. He started pursuing law at the ‘Kazan University’ in 1887.
At the university, he became interested in his late brother’s ideologies. He started taking part in student protests and was consequently expelled. Around this time, he became influenced by Karl Marx and joined ‘St. Petersburg University,’ where he completed his law studies and later cleared the bar exams.
In 1892, he was appointed as a barrister, but continued to devote his time to radical political activities. He formulated ideas for the application of the Marxist ideology to reform Russia. He soon became a member of the ‘Social Democrats’ group, which was run by a cell member named S.I. Radchenko.
In a few years, revolutionary cells in Russia grew manifold. By 1894, Lenin had become the leader of a cell. He then wrote his first political treatise titled ‘What the Friends of the People Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats.’ Despite being banned, the treatise sold over 200 copies illegally.
He was soon arrested along with his coworkers for his revolutionary activities and was exiled to Siberia for three years. In Siberia, he met his future wife Nadezhda Krupskaya.
As their radical works were constantly monitored by the Russian constabularies, Lenin and Nadezhda moved to Munich, Germany for a brief period, where they continued their Russian propaganda.
In 1900, he launched a newspaper called ‘Iskra,’ meaning the ‘Spark,’ expediting the prevalent Russian-Marxist movement and bringing the non-Russian Marxists into the revolution.
The Russian Revolution, Re-Exile & World War I
In 1904, Russia was at war with Japan. The war had an intense impact on the Russian society, causing people to object and call for a political reform.
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Lenin seized the opportunity and returned to St. Petersburg in 1905 to support the ‘Russian Revolution.’ Subsequently, he was elected as the president of the streamlined ‘Russian Social Democratic Labor Party’ (RSDLP).
In order to end the ‘Russian Revolution’ and pacify the agitated Russian citizens, Tsar Nicholas II formed a legislative assembly known as the ‘Duma.’ However, Lenin was far from satisfied with the formation of the new assembly and moved to Geneva, Switzerland in 1905.
During his voluntary exile in Switzerland, he traveled throughout the Europe and partook in numerous socialist-Marxist activities. He even authored ‘Materialism and Empirio-criticism’ which was published in 1909.
At the outbreak of ‘World War I,’ most ‘Social Democratic’ parties supported the war efforts in their respective homelands, but Lenin’s views of the war were far from supportive. In order to get away from the war chaos, he returned to Switzerland where he joined the ‘Zimmerwald Conference,’ an anti-war socialist conference group.
In 1917, Lenin authored ‘Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,’ presenting a fusion of ideologies of other revolutionaries like Rudolf Hilferding, Karl Kautsky, and John A. Hobson. His work also described the prevalent capitalist competition of ‘World War I.’ He believed that the participation of the French and the British in ‘World War I’ was largely influenced by their imperialistic and capitalistic interests and that Russia was being used as a puppet.
In the beginning of 1917, Tsar Nicholas II had to abdicate the throne. Amidst growing unrest, an interim government came to power. During this time, Lenin was still in Zurich. When he learnt about the new development, he was determined to return to his homeland and strengthen the revolution.
On April 16, 1917, he returned to Petrograd, Russia and was welcomed by an overwhelming crowd. He addressed the crowd and spoke about the significance of the impending ‘Russian Revolution.’ ‘Hail to the Global Socialist Revolution,’ he stated.
He called for a new socialist revolution. Even though he was met with fierce opposition, he managed to spread anarchy all over Russia with the help of his supporters. He used his oratory abilities to great effect and it worked its magic on the already infuriated Russian crowd.
After a failed coup against the temporary government in August 1917, he fled to Finland with his followers, fearing imprisonment. Some of his loyal supporters were taken aback when he suggested an armed rebellion.
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On October 1917, Lenin returned to Russia and started ‘October Revolution’ which ultimately led to de facto transfer of power to the revolutionary forces. After the armed rebellion overthrew the provisional government and established the Bolshevik government, the ‘Soviet Council of People’s Commissaries’ was created and Lenin was made its leader. It was during this time that he issued one decree after another pertaining to the supply of land to peasants and handing over control of the factories to the workers.
He signed a peace treaty with Germany, which caused resentment among his fellow party members. The peace treaty failed and the Germans attacked Russia, leaving Lenin no choice but to shift the Soviet Government headquarters from Petrograd to Moscow on March 1918.
The Russian economy was badly affected by the end of the war. In order to promote its quick recovery, he initiated the ‘GOELRO’ plan, the first ever national recovery directive. He also established a number of health care and educational institutions and advocated civil rights for women.
On December 20, 1917, the ‘Cheka,’ an emergency commission, was created to defend the ‘Russian Revolution.’ Lenin publicized the commission over radio and gramophone.
The same year, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia were annexed to Russia. He defended these forceful annexations and called it a geopolitical move that intends to protect these countries from impending attacks.
After Lenin was grievously injured in two of his assassination attempts, he signed execution orders of a number of Tsarist ministers and civil guards whom he believed were conspiring against him and his Bolshevik government.
A campaign of mass killings, oppression, and torture, referred to as ‘Red Terror,’ ensued and continued throughout the 1920s. This new campaign was challenged by the ‘White Terror Revolution’ which targeted anti-monarchists and Jews.
The estimated number of people killed during the ‘Red Terror Revolution’ ranged from over 50,000 to one million. To avoid economic collapse, the Bolshevik government launched ‘war communism’ through a Bolshevik campaign called ‘prodravyorstka,’ according to which agricultural produce from farmers was confiscated. This produce was used to feed the Bolshevik armies and was sent to war-struck cities.
This campaign infuriated the white people. However, Lenin did not stop and continued with the implementation of ‘prodravyorstka.’
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The Red-White civil war left Russia in ruins. Nearly five million were dead and millions were left homeless.
In 1921, he abolished the ‘war communism’ campaign and introduced a more liberal ‘New Economic Policy’ which helped stabilize the Russian economy. To propagate his ideology throughout the world, Lenin advocated a world revolution and set up the ‘Comintern,’ an international communist organization in Moscow.
He also chaired ‘Council of Peoples Commissars,’ a top government body, which brought about immense social reforms. He resigned from his position in 1923, after suffering a series of strokes.
‘What is to be Done?,’ which was published in 1863, is regarded as one of his most influential works. Some of his other significant works that promoted ‘Marxism-Leninism’ are ‘Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,’ ‘The State and Revolution,’ ‘April Theses,’ and ‘Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder.’
One of Lenin’s greatest works was the ‘New Economic Policy,’ which was established to revive the Russian economy by means of foreign trade, nationalization, and agriculture produce requisition.
Personal Life & Legacy
Vladimir Lenin met Nadezhda Krupskaya in Siberia and married her in 1898.
During his lifetime, he suffered three strokes, which eventually led to his resignation. The strokes severely affected the right side of his body. He was left mute and bed-ridden in the later part of his life until his death on January 21, 1924. It was later established that he passed away due to hemorrhagic stroke.
Three days after his death, millions of mourners from across the Soviet Union thronged to see his mortal remains before it was shifted to the mausoleum. A number of Communist leaders like Stalin, Trotsky, and Kalinin were present at his funeral.
Petrograd was renamed ‘Leningrad’ in his honor. The name was unchanged till 1991.
Many statues of Lenin were erected across Europe and many places and structures were named after this Russian leader.
The ‘852 Wladilena’ asteroid was named in his honor.
Vladimir Lenin’s life story was adapted into several films and television series, such as ‘Three Songs about Lenin,’ ‘All my Lenins,’ and ‘Fall of the Eagles.’
This famous USSR leader worked tirelessly for 14 to 16 hours a day.
Following his demise, his body was embalmed, mummified, and put on display at Red Square in Moscow.
This prominent revolutionary leader suffered a series of strokes. A year before his death, he asked Stalin to poison him, should his condition deteriorate.
He wrote a number of books and articles without the help of a stenographer or secretary.