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- The personal background of Lenin
- The role played by Lenin in the Soviet Union
- The ideologies of Lenin
Key Facts And Information
Let’s find out more about Lenin!
- Lenin was the founder and leader of the Russian Communist Party. From a young age, he was interested in politics and was especially fascinated by Marx and Engels’ ideologies.
- During the Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party, the party split into Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. Lenin joined the latter. Prior to his death, he wrote in his will that he did not want Stalin to succeed him. Instead, he wanted Trotsky to take the lead.
- Lenin is the pseudonym of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov. He was born into a middle-class family in Simbirsk – a small town on the Volga River – on the 22nd of April, 1870.
- His father was in charge of a public school and was awarded by the Tsar for his service, while his mother was a cultured musician (Collier’s Encyclopedia).
- In his early childhood, Lenin immediately demonstrated that he was a good student. Although his father died suddenly in 1886, Lenin and his family were able to live a dignified life thanks to his father’s pension and the income from a property they owned (Collier’s Encyclopedia).
- In 1887, another tragedy hit the seventeen-year-old Lenin: his brother Aleksandr (who at the time was studying at the University of St. Petersburg) was arrested because of his adherence to a revolutionary party, and was hanged two months later after he was accused of wanting to harm Tsar Alexander III. Aleksandr was three years older than his brother, who he was also very fond of (Collier’s Encyclopedia).
- In 1887, Lenin started attending the University of Kazan and was expelled the same year for taking part in a political demonstration. Moreover, he had been obliged by the government to stay in a town near Kazan. He lived there with some friends and family until 1888 when he moved to a city called Samara.
- Here, he dedicated himself to various studies including law, Russian economics, and languages such as French, English, Italian, Polish, Swedish, and above all German (which allowed him to read Marx and Engels) (Collier’s Encyclopedia).
- In 1893 he moved to St. Petersburg where he became a ‘professional revolutionary’ and despite the beliefs of his opponents – the People’s Party – that Russia would ‘remain an agricultural country’, Lenin started developing his own ideology and wrote: ‘the Russian worker, rising the top of all democratic elements will overthrow absolutism and will lead the Russian proletariat (side by side with the proletariat of other countries) by a direct road of open struggle toward the victorious communist revolution’ (Collier’s Encyclopedia).
- Lenin’s objective was that of promoting Marx’ word. It was only after recovering from pneumonia which hit him in 1885 (and which almost killed him), that he travelled for four months across Europe (specifically Switzerland, Paris and Berlin), where he met other important revolutionaries of that era.
- Once he returned to St. Petersburg, Lenin founded The Union for the Liberation of the Working Class, i.e. an underground revolutionary group which shared Marxist ideologies. It was in this group that Lenin met and collaborated with his future wife, Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya (Collier’s Encyclopedia).
- Lenin's political activity got him arrested in the same year, and imprisoned for fourteen months. During this time, Lenin dedicated himself to reading works by revolutionary writers, the writing of his book 'The Development of Capitalism in Russia', and the drafting of his ‘party program’ (Collier’s Encyclopedia).
- During his exile in Siberia from 1897 – 1900, Lenin ‘received books, magazines, pamphlets, and newspapers, and he maintained a voluminous correspondence with his family, friends, and fellow revolutionaries’ (Collier’s Encyclopedia).
- According to his wife Nadezhda – who was also exiled in Siberia until 1901 – for Lenin ‘the years of exile were not bad [since they] were years of serious study’ (Collier’s Encyclopedia; citing Krupskaya).
- Once he was out of exile, Lenin moved to Munich where at the end of 1900 he published two magazines: the Iskra (“The Spark”) and the Zarya (“Dawn”). These magazines made it into Russia, where they were distributed illegally.
- In 1903, following the Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party, Lenin witnessed the party splitting into the Bolsheviks (which he led), and the Mensheviks (to whom he lost his magazine, Iskra).
- However, between 1905 and 1912 he launched four other papers: V Peyod (“Forward”), Novaya Zhizn (“New Life”), The Proletarian, and Pravda (which was taken over by Stalin in 1917) (Collier’s Encyclopedia).
- The last years of Lenin’s life were dominated by strokes. In fact, his first stroke occurred in May 1922, and although he was able to return to work as soon as he recovered, by December of the same year he experienced another stroke which ‘paralysed the right side of his body’ (Collier’s Encyclopedia).
- In March 1923, a third stroke caused him to lose the ability to speak, and on the 21st of January 1924, Lenin died. His body was embalmed and currently rests in a mausoleum (Collier’s Encyclopedia).
- Before delving into Lenin’s ideology, it is necessary to understand the position that Tsar Nicholas II held within Russia. Being Tsar signified holding the absolute power in the Russian Empire.
- Lenin took part in the revolution that overthrew the government of Tsar Nicholas II (1917) and founded the Soviet Union. Throughout the reign of the Tsar, the Russians were not only required to work for over eleven hours a day, but their wage was also the lowest in Europe. When unarmed workers protested against their exploitation in factories, the Tsar’s militia fired and killed them.
- Later on, some reforms were introduced, including the representation of political parties and an elected assembly called the Duma. However, these new measures were useless since (I) the Tsar could dissolve the Duma at any time, and (II) the Tsar still held absolute power.
- In the late 19th century, Russia started to become more industrialised, and Karl Marx’ theories spread amongst the intellectuals in all Europe and Russia.
- Marx (along with Engels) is regarded as the founder of modern Communism, which claimed that the means of productions such as factories should be owned by everyone rather than by a single individual.
- Moreover, Marxism believes that social classes exist and that therefore also the monarchy and the clergy should be abolished, while the economy should be controlled by the central government.
- Once the Bolsheviks gained power, Tsar Nicholas II and his family (including his children) were executed without trial. They justified this action by emphasising the necessity to eliminate any of the heirs of the Tsar since foreign imperialists were trying to restore the monarch and would have given the authority to any of his descendants. In such a case, the people’s efforts would have been in vain, and everything would have gone back to its previous state.
- In essence, Lenin wanted to destroy the current society he was living in, which consisted of the extreme exploitation of the Russian people: most of the population was ‘peasants…[and] some European Marxists viewed Russia as the backward stepchild of Europe which would be one of the last countries to have a socialist revolution’ (Fleming 1989).
- In Russia, 80% of the population were peasants and according to Lenin, they should play a major role in how government is run: therefore, it was necessary to ‘take political power, replace the government of the capitalist class with the rule of the working people’ (Fleming 1989).
- However, not everyone was in favour of Lenin’s ideology: in fact, some Marxists rejected this idea wholeheartedly and believed that if the ‘peasants’ took part in government affairs, then ‘petty-bourgeois ideology’ would infiltrate the system (Fleming 1989).
- To summarise, Lenin’s wanted to:
- ensure democracy for all Russian people (including the working class)
- end the ‘oppression of minority nationalities and women’ (Fleming 1989)
- ensure all citizens had a dignified life that excluded ‘exploitation’ (Fleming 1989)
- tackle capitalism by breaking down the system, i.e. confiscating the large landowners’ lands and ‘abolish private property in order to redistribute them to peasants (Fleming 1989).’
- Lenin collectivised ‘all factories, mines and transports’ in 1918 (Fleming 1989). Councils that defended the workers’ rights and interests were set up.
- Lenin’s ambition was to provide the Russian people with equal opportunities. In fact, he believed that no social class should be more privileged than another. In fact, in the April Theses (1917) published in his magazine Pravda, he stated: ‘the salaries of all officials, all of whom are elective and displaceable at any time, [should] not exceed the average wage of a competent worker’ (Lenin 1917).
Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin
- When Lenin met Trotsky, he was fascinated by the knowledge he held and decided to give him a job on Iskra’s editorial board, writing political articles.
- Iskra’s main goal was to call a Send Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party in order to restructure it. However, Trotsky did not completely agree with Lenin’s politics and believed he would exert dictatorial tendencies that would impose strict policies and instil fear in anyone who dared oppose him.
- This difference in ideology is the reason why the Congress resulted in the division into the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. The Mensheviks – which Trotsky joined – believed that the Russians did not need a leader, but someone that would guide them.
- Therefore, on the one hand Trotsky exhorted the workers to put their tools down, whereas Lenin encouraged a violent and bloody revolt.