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Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (Russian: Влади́мир Ильи́ч Ле́нин), original surname Ulyanov (Улья́нов) (April 22 (April 10 (O.S.)), 1870January 21, 1924), was a Russian revolutionary, the leader of the Bolshevik party, the first Premier of the Soviet Union, and the founder of the ideology of Leninism.

"Lenin" was one of his revolutionary pseudonyms. He is believed to have created it to show his opposition to Georgi Plekhanov who used the pseudonym Volgin, after the Volga River; Ulyanov picked the Lena which is longer and flows in the opposite direction. He is sometimes erroneously referred to in the West as "Nikolai Lenin", though he has never been known as such in Russia.


Early life

Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) circa 1887
Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) circa 1887

Born in Simbirsk, Russia, Lenin was the son of Ilya Nikolaevich Ulyanov (1831 - 1886), a Russian civil service official who worked for increased democracy and free universal education in Russia, and his liberal wife Maria Alexandrovna Blank (1835 - 1916). Like many Russians, he was of mixed ethnic and religious ancestry. He had Kalmyk ancestry through his paternal grandparents, Volga German ancestry through his maternal grandmother, who was a Lutheran, and Jewish ancestry through his maternal grandfather (converted to Christianity). Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) himself was baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church.

Vladimir distinguished himself in the study of Latin and Greek. In May of 1887 his eldest brother Alexander Ulyanov was hanged for participation in a plot threatening the life of Tsar Alexander III. This radicalized Vladimir and later that year he was arrested, and expelled from Kazan University for participating in student protests. He continued to study independently and by 1891 had earned a license to practice law.

Lenin's mugshot, Dec. 1895
Lenin's mugshot, Dec. 1895


Rather than settle into a legal career, he became more involved in revolutionary propaganda efforts and the study of Marxism, much of it in St. Petersburg. On December 7, 1895, he was arrested and held by authorities for an entire year, then exiled to the village of Shushenskoye in Siberia.

In July 1898, he married Nadezhda Krupskaya, who was a socialist activist. In April 1899, he published the book The Development of Capitalism in Russia [1] . In 1900, his exile ended. He travelled in Russia and elsewhere in Europe and published the paper Iskra as well as other tracts and books related to the revolutionary movement.

He was active in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP), and in 1903 he led the Bolshevik faction after a split with the Mensheviks that was partly inspired by his pamphlet What is to be Done? [2] . In 1906 he was elected to the Presidium of the RSDLP. In 1907 he moved to Finland for security reasons. He continued to travel in Europe and participated in many socialist meetings and activities, including the Zimmerwald Conference of 1915.

On April 16, 1917, he returned to Petrograd from Switzerland following the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II, and took a leading role within the Bolshevik movement, publishing the April Theses [3] . After a failed workers' uprising in July, Lenin fled to Finland for safety. He returned in October, inspiring an armed revolution with the slogan "All Power to the Soviets!", against the Provisional Government. His ideas of government were expressed in his essay "State and Revolution" [4] , which called for a new form of government based on the worker's councils, or soviets.

Head of the Soviet state

Lenin in his Kremlin office, 1918
Lenin in his Kremlin office, 1918

On November 8, Lenin was elected as Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars by the Russian Soviet Congress. Faced with the threat of German invasion, Lenin argued that Russia should immediately sign a peace treaty. Other Bolshevik leaders, such as Bukharin, advocated continuing the war as a means of fomenting revolution in Germany. Trotsky, who led the negotiations, advocated an intermediate position, calling for a peace treaty only on the conditions that no territorial gains on either side be consolidated. After the negotiations collapsed, Germany launched an invasion that resulted in the loss of much of Russia's western territory. As a result of this turn of events, Lenin's position consequently gained the support of the majority in the Bolshevik leadership, and Russia signed the eventual Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, under disadvantageous terms (March 1918).

In accepting that the soviets were the only legitimate form of a worker's government, Lenin shut down the Russian Constituent Assembly. The Bolsheviks lost the vote there, with the Socialist Revolutionary Party winning the election and later breaking up into a pro-soviet Left SRs and anti-soviet Right SRs factions. The Bolsheviks had majority support in the Congress of Soviets and they formed a coalition government with the left wing of the Socialist Revolutionaries. However, their coalition collapsed after the Social Revolutionaries opposed the Brest-Litovsk treaty, and they joined other parties in seeking to overthrow the government of the soviets. The situation degenerated, with non-Bolshevik parties (including some of the socialist groups) actively seeking the overthrow of the soviet government. Lenin responded by (unsuccessfully) trying to shut down their activities.

On August 30, 1918, Fanya Kaplan, a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, approached Lenin after he'd spoken at a meeting and was on his way to his car. She called out to Lenin, and when he turned to answer, fired three shots, two of which struck him in the shoulder and lung. Lenin was taken to his private apartment in the Kremlin, and refused to venture to a hospital, believing other assassins would be waiting there. Doctors were summoned, but decided that it was too dangerous to remove the bullets. Lenin eventually recovered, though his health declined from this point, and it is believed that the incident contributed to his later strokes.

In March, 1919, Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders met with revolutionary socialists from around the world and formed the Communist International. Members of the Communist International, including Lenin and the Bolsheviks themselves, broke off from the broader socialist movement. From that point onwards, they would be known as communists. In Russia, the Bolshevik Party was renamed the "Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)", which eventually became the CPSU.

Meanwhile, a civil war raged across Russia. A wide variety of political movements and their supporters took up arms to support or overthrow the soviet government. Although many different factions were involved in the civil war, the two main forces were the Red Army (communists) and the White Army (monarchists). Foreign powers such as France, Britain, United States and Japan also intervened in this war (on behalf of the White Army). Eventually, the Red Army won the civil war, defeating the White Russian forces and their allies in 1920 (although smallerer forces remained for several more years).

In the later months of 1919, successes against White Russian forces convinced Lenin that it was time to spread the revolution to the West, by force if necessary. The newly independant Second Polish Republic was under strong influence of Polish statesman Józef Piłsudski, who envisioned a federation (the "Federation of Międzymorze") to comprise Poland, Lithuania, western Ukraine (centered at Kyiv) and other Central and East European countries emerging from crubmling empires after the First World War, with goal of creating an entity able to restrain any imperialistic intentions of both Russia and Germany. When Poland begun securing its eastern territories annexed by Russia in the partitions of Poland in late 18th century, and clashed with Bolshevik forces for dominance on Ukraine and nearby provinces, with [German Revolution|revolution in Germany]] and Spartacist League on the rise, Lenin viewed this a perfect time and place to "to probe Europe with the bayonets of the Red Army." The Polish-Soviet War begun in 1919. Lenin saw Poland as the bridge that the Red Army would have to cross in order to link up the Russian Revolution with the communist supporters in the German Revolution, and to assist other communist movements in Western Europe. However those plans were crippled along with the Red Army in the Battle of Warsaw and the Peace of Riga was signed on signed with Poland in March 18, 1921.

The long years of war had taken their toll on Russia, however, and much of the country lay in ruins. In March 1921, Lenin replaced the policy of War communism (which had been used during the civil war) with the New Economic Policy (NEP), in an attempt to rebuild industry and especially agriculture. But the same month saw the suppression of an uprising among sailors at Kronstadt ("the Kronstadt rebellion").

Nadezhda Krupskaya, Lenin, and American journalist Lincoln Eure in the Kremlin, Feb. 1920
Nadezhda Krupskaya, Lenin, and American journalist Lincoln Eure in the Kremlin, Feb. 1920

Premature Death

Lenin's health had already been severely damaged due to the intolerable strains of revolution and war. The assassination attempt earlier in his life also added to his health problems. In May 1922, Lenin had his first stroke. He was left partially paralyzed (on his right side) and his role in government declined. After the second stroke in December of the same year, he resigned from active politics. In March 1923 he suffered the third stroke and was left bedridden and no longer able to speak.

Lenin died on January 21, 1924. Rumors of Lenin's syphilis sprang up shortly after his death. The official cause given for Lenin's death was cerebral arteriosclerosis, or a stroke (his fourth), but out of the 27 physicians who treated him, only eight signed onto that conclusion in his autopsy report. Therefore, several other theories regarding his death have been put forward. For example, a posthumous diagnosis by two psychiatrists and a neurologist recently published in the European Journal of Neurology claimed to show that Lenin died from syphilis.

Documents released after the fall of the U.S.S.R, along with memoirs of Lenin's physicians, suggest that Lenin was treated for syphillis as early as 1895. Documents also suggest that Alexi Abrikosov , the pathologist in charge of the autopsy, was ordered to prove that Lenin did not die of syphillis. Abrikosov did not mention syphillis in the autopsy; however, the blood-vessel damage, the paralysis and other incapacities he cited are typical of syphilis. Upon a second release of the autopsy report, none of the organs, major arteries or brain areas usually affected by syphillis were cited.

In 1923, Lenin's doctors treated him with salvarsan, the only drug at the time specifically used to treat syphilis, and potassium iodine , which was also customary at the time in treating the disease.

The city of Petrograd was renamed Leningrad in his honor; this remained the name of the city until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, when it reverted to its original name, St Petersburg.

Lenin's preserved body is on permanent display in Moscow.
Lenin's preserved body is on permanent display in Moscow.

After his first stroke, Lenin published a number of papers indicating future directions for the government. Most famous of these is Lenin's Testament, which among other things criticized top-ranking communists such as Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin. Of Stalin, who had been the Communist Party's general secretary since April 1922, Lenin said that he had "unlimited authority concentrated in his hands" and suggested that "comrades think about a way of removing Stalin from that post". These sharp criticisms of the internal party were not more widely released.

During the early 1920s the Russian movement of cosmism was quite popular and there was an intent to cryogenically preserve Lenin's body in order to revive him in the future. Necessary equipment was purchased abroad, but for a variety of reasons the plan was not realised. Instead his body was embalmed and placed on permanent exhibition in the Lenin Mausoleum in Moscow.

Despite Lenin's expressed wish shortly before death that no memorials be created for him, various politicians sought to better their own position vicariously by association with Lenin after his death, and his character was elevated to almost mythical status, with statue after monument after memorial springing up in his honor.

Lenin's brain study

Lenin's brain was removed before his body was embalmed. The Soviet government commissioned the well-known German neuroscientist Oskar Vogt to study Lenin's brain and to locate the precise location of the brain cells that are responsible for genius. The Institute of Brain was created in Moscow for this purpose. Vogt published a paper on the brain in 1929 where he reported that some pyramidal neurons in the third layer of Lenin's cerebral cortex were very large. However the conclusion of its relevance to genius was contested. Vogt's work was considered unsatisfactory by the Soviets. Further research was continued by Soviet team, but the work on Lenin's brain was no longer advertised.

Modern anatomy no longer believes that morphology alone can determine the functioning of the brain.

See also

Selected works

  • The Development of Capitalism in Russia
  • What Is To Be Done?
  • One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
  • Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution
  • Materialism and Empirio-Criticism
  • The Right of Nations to Self-Determination
  • Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism
  • The State and Revolution
  • The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky
  • Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder

Further reading

  • Revolution at the Gates: A Selection of Writings from February to October 1917 by V. I. Lenin, Slavoj Zizek (Editor), Verso Books, ISBN 1859846610
  • Louis Fische r, The Life of Lenin, ISBN B00005W8VC (This is an number; many other options are available through ABE)
  • Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism
  • Robert Service, Lenin: A Biography
  • John Gooding , Socialism In Russia: Lenin and His Legacy, 1890-1991
  • Dmitri Volkogonov , Lenin: A New Biography

External links

  • Lenin Internet Archive - extensive site with lots of writings, biography, and many photographs
  • Reminiscences of Lenin by N. K. Krupskaya
  • Impressions of Soviet Russia, by John Dewey
  • Lenin Biography from Spartacus Educational

Preceded by:
Aleksandr Kerensky as Head of the Provisional Government of 1917

Leaders of Russia / Leaders of the Soviet Union

Succeeded by:
Josef Stalin
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about Vladimir Lenin

Last updated: 02-02-2005 13:03:18
Last updated: 02-27-2005 19:20:41