Vladimir Ilich Lenin (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Lenin adapted Marxist theory to the politics of late imperial Russia, creating and leading the Communist Party, which eventually seized power in November, 1917. From 1918 until his death in 1924, he was the main architect of the new socialist state that became the model for world communism.
Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov, better known by his revolutionary name Lenin, was born in the Volga city of Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk) on April 22, 1870. His father was a regional school inspector, a government post that gave the family hereditary noble status. His mother, Maria Aleksandrovna Blank, was from a family broadly classified as “upper bourgeois.” Lenin was their third child and second son and was followed by the birth of three more children, two girls and another boy. All but two survived to adulthood and became members of the revolutionary movement.
Lenin’s childhood was uneventful. His mother, the heart of the family, looked after the children’s education, instilling in all a lifelong enjoyment of learning. The household also enjoyed a certain amount of individual freedom that allowed the children to explore the limits of their provincial world. This serene family life was shattered in 1886 with the sudden death of the father, followed the next year by the arrest of the eldest son, Aleksandr, in the capital of St. Petersburg, where he was attending the university. Aleksandr was...
(The entire section is 2037 words.)
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Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin founded the Russian Communist party and led the 1917 Russian Revolution, which placed the Bolshevik party in charge of the government. The establishment of the Soviet Union can be traced to Lenin's study of revolution and the ruthless imposition of a one-party state based on Lenin's interpretation of Marxism. The Russian Revolution also profoundly affected U.S. society and politics.
Lenin was born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov on April 22, 1870, in Simbirsk, a town on the Volga River. The son of a government official, Lenin was a bright student. He entered Kazan University at Kazan in 1887. That same year his brother Alexander Ulyanov was hanged for taking part in an unsuccessful plot to kill Czar Alexander III, of Russia. Lenin was deeply influenced by his brother's actions. Within three months, he was expelled from school for protesting the lack of freedom in the university. He moved to St. Petersburg and entered St. Petersburg University, from which he graduated with a law degree in 1891.
During his academic period, Lenin studied the works of KARL MARX and his political philosophy, Marxism. In 1893 Lenin joined the Social Democratic group, which believed in Marxist principles. A gifted writer and speaker, Lenin soon traveled to Western Europe to meet with other Marxists. He was arrested by the czar's police in 1896 for revolutionary activities and sent...
(The entire section is 916 words.)
Lenin, Vladimir (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
[APRIL 10, 1870ANUARY 21, 1924]
Russian revolutionary, leader of the Bolshevik (later Communist) Party, and first ruler of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Vladimir Lenin was born Vladimir Ilich Ulianov and assumed the pseudonym of Lenin in 1900. His father was a school inspector in the central Russian town of Simbirsk, where Lenin was born on April 10, 1870. His older brother, Alexander, was executed in 1887 for his involvement in a failed assassination attempt on the life of Tsar Alexander the Third. Lenin's initial involvement in politics reflected his loyalty to the memory of his dead brother and his devotion to the ideals of equality and justice.
Lenin studied and then briefly practiced law before devoting himself to the revolutionary socialist doctrine of Marxism, beginning in 1893. Lenin married a fellow revolutionary, Nadezhda Krupskaia, after being sentenced in 1895 to his first period of internal exile. On the run from tsarist authorities, Lenin played little part in the unsuccessful 1905 revolution, and from 1907 to 1917 he lived outside of Russia. In 1903 Lenin assumed the leadership of the Bolsheviks, initially one of two factions of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, which was founded in 1898 (the other faction was called the Mensheviks, of which Leon Trotsky was an important leader). Lenin devoted his time to party organization duties and writing in an effort to win control over and give direction to the splintered left-wing opposition to the tsar.
Lenin was so appalled when Europe's socialists supported their countries' participation in World War I that he rejected the label of social democracy and adopted the term communist, in its place. The new name was a reference to the failed revolutionary government of the Paris Commune of 1871.
In 1917 Lenin was living in exile in Switzerland. He was as surprised as nearly everyone else by the sudden and total collapse of the tsarist government in March of that year, but quickly made plans to return home. The German government, seeing an opportunity to add to the chaos in Russia, allowed Lenin to travel on its railway back to Russia, and Lenin arrived there in April 1917. In that month he published his April Thesis, which virtually declared war on the Russian Provisional Government, the liberal but unelected ruling body that had taken over from the tsar. Lenin's genius lay in riding a wave of mounting discontent directed at this provisional government, which foolishly launched a new military offensive, failed to hold elections, and delayed crucial land reform.
At the fall of the tsarist government, the Russian population numbered more than 150 million people, but Lenin's Bolshevik Party boasted only twenty thousand members. Within six months of his return from exile, however, Lenin had greatly expanded his base of support and was in a position to bid for power. With the aid of the former Menshevik, Leon Trotsky, the Bolsheviks won control of the Petrograd garrison and on October 25, 1917, Lenin seized power from the enfeebled Provisional Government.
Lenin shrewdly justified his violent seizure of power as merely a transfer of authority to the soviets, the popular councils elected by workers and soldiers that sprang up everywhere after the fall of the tsar. Lenin declared the formation of a Soviet government, withdrew Russia from World War I, and invited the peasants to take charge of the land that had formerly belonged to the nobles, state, and church. At the same time, Lenin's government quickly moved to shut down opposition political parties and to censor the press, introduced conscription for the Red Army, and requisitioned grain from the peasants in order to fight the bloody Russian Civil War of 1918920. In January 1918, Lenin closed down the Constituent Assembly after the Bolsheviks won only 24 percent of the popular vote. In 1918, Lenin renamed the Bolshevik Party as the Communist Party.
The Cheka, the Russian acronym for the Extraordinary Commission for the Struggle against Counter-Revolution and Sabotage, was established on December 7, 1917, as the government's instrument of terror in its fight against political enemies. When Lenin was badly injured in a failed assassination attempt on August 30, 1918, his government quickly responded with the September 5, 1918, announcement of a policy of Red Terror that would take the form of arrests, imprisonments, and murders, triggering a civil war. Historian Richard Pipes has estimated that the Russian Civil War claimed two million combat deaths, two million deaths from epidemics, and five million deaths from famine. Another two million or more, mostly drawn from the bettereducated classes, fled in the face of the violence. Their departure drained the country of its already small pool of experienced leaders, managers, and entrepreneurs. The final death toll of the Russian Civil War exceeded the eight million deaths of World War I.
Lenin believed that socialism was irreversible, and he admired the revolutionary spirit of the Russian working class, but he despaired of its economic and cultural backwardness. Karl Marx had predicted that socialism would triumph first in an advanced capitalist country like Britain or Germany, but Lenin hoped to lead the way and believed that the establishment of a Soviet government in Russia would inspire similar revolutions elsewhere in Europe. In August 1920, Lenin urged the Red Army to move rapidly to occupy Poland as a first stage in an attack upon the postwar settlement established by the Treaty of Versailles. For Lenin Russia was no more and no less than a staging post on the road to world revolution.
When the Red Army proved unable to defeat Poland and Communism failed to inspire a successful revolution in Germany, Lenin, retreated to a more cautious set of policies. In 1921 he initiated the New Economic Policy (NEP). Peasants were subjected to minimum taxation and allowed to trade their surpluses, whereas the government maintained its control of large industry and foreign trade. In December 1922, Lenin renamed his revolutionary state as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Meanwhile, working-class protestors who demanded greater democracy, such as the Kronstadt mutineers in 1921, were brutally suppressed. The same fate awaited dissident factions within the Bolshevik Party, which were banned at the Tenth Party Congress of 1921. Before Lenin's death in 1924, the Soviet Union's first labor camps were set up on the remote Solovetsky Islands, and by the following year the population of these camps reached 6,000 prisoners. Under Stalin, these camps would evolve into the notorious Gulag, through which more than 20 million forced laborers would pass. During Lenin's rule compulsory collective farms never became policy, but he created the system of repression that, under Stalin, would lead not only to collectivization but also the extermination of kulaks (wealthy landholders).
Lenin suffered his first stroke on May 26, 1922, and died of a cerebral hemorrhage on January 21, 1924. Unlike Stalin, Lenin had never encouraged a personality cult. Nevertheless, after his death his body was embalmed and put on public display in Red Square. A cult celebrating the "living Lenin" was encouraged and pressed into service by his successors to add legitimacy to their rule. For sixty years, Russians read a sanitized version of Lenin's life. Documents that portrayed him in an unfavorable light were banned until after the Gorbachev era (1985991). For more than sixty years, Russian readers did not know that Lenin was happy to accept money from the German government in 1917 or that he probably ordered the murder of the tsar and the entire royal family in Ekaterinburg on July 16, 1918.
Both during his life and after his death, critical views of Lenin circulated. Bertrand Russell visited the Russian leader in 1920, and came away disturbed by Lenin's seeming indifference to the human suffering and loss that had taken place during the Russian Civil War. Other critics characterized him as an intelligent but humorless and intolerant fanatic. Since the fall of communism, archival documents dating from his rule tend to confirm previously existing impressions of the man and his rule. Nevertheless, historians are still divided over Lenin and his legacy. John Gooding, Roy Medvedev and Neil Harding consider Lenin to have pursued worthy ideals that were grotesquely distorted by the subsequent dictatorship of Stalin. Martin Malia, on the other hand, has argued that it was Lenin's championing of a wildly impractical strain of Marxism that condemned Russia to its failed communist experiment. Pipes has described Lenin as embodying the hubris of Russia's intelligentsia, who were willing to sacrifice millions of lives for the sake of their utopian fantasies. According to Pipes, Lenin's system of government was the model whose features were copied not only by Stalin, but also by Benito Mussolini, Adolph Hitler and Mao Tse Tung.
Lenin was a prolific writer. His first essay appeared in 1894 and his collected works amounted to fifty-five volumes. In What Is To Be Done, Lenin argued for a strongly centralised party of professional revolutionaries. Critics have found in What is to be Done the germ of the idea for a one-party state. Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) argued that finance capital had reached its final irrational phase and a new wave of revolutions was to be expected. State and Revolution (1917) is the most utopian of Lenin's writings, in that it hints at the Marxist vision of the good life after capitalism. His last pamphlets, including Better Fewer But Better (1923) suggest a less radical Lenin who is ready to accept a more evolutionary political path for the Soviet Union.
Lenin's fanatical commitment to his ideals in the face of immense human suffering must be viewed within the context of the repressive tsarist political system that preceded him and the pointless slaughter that took place throughout Europe during World War I. These events confirmed for Lenin that parliamentary democracy was a sham concealing the horror of war and repression. Abandoning all democratic constraints upon the activities of his revolutionary government, Lenin moved Europe and the world further along the road towards the mass killings of the later twentieth century.
SEE ALSO Gulag; Kulaks; Stalin, Joseph; Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Gooding, John (2002). Socialism in Russia. Lenin and his Legacy, 1890-1991. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave.
Harding, Neil (1977). Lenin's Political Thought. London: Macmillan.
Malia, Martin (1994). The Soviet Tragedy: A History of Socialism in Russia, 1917991. New York: Free Press.
Pipes, Richard (1994). Russia under the Bolshevik Regime, 1919924. London: Harvill.
White, James D. (2001). Lenin: The Practice and Theory of Revolution. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave.