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Vladimir Ilych Lenin ( 1870 - 1924 )  Category ( Political_Leaders ) [suggest a correction]
 

LeninVladimir Lenin was born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov in 1870 tsarist Russia to a family of the minor nobility. Lenin was a Russian revolutionary, a socialist politician, the main leader of the October Revolution, the first head of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic, and from 1922 the first leader of the Soviet Union. His contributions to Marxist theory are commonly referred to as Leninism. Most revolutionaries took a different name for safety and political reasons, though Ulyanov kept his given name of Vladimir and his patronymic, Ilyich.

Like many Russian families, the Ulyanov's were of mixed ethnicity, including Russian, Mordovian, Kalmyk, Volgan German, Swedish, and Jewish. He was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church. Lenin's father died of a cerebral hemorrhage when Lenin was sixteen. The next year his oldest brother, Alexander, was arrested and hanged for participating in a terrorist bomb plot that threatened the life of Tsar Alexander III. His sister, Anna, may also have been involved and was banished to the family's country estate. These tragic events traumatized and radicalized Lenin, and a number of his biographers consider his loss as being central to his life's revolutionary track. Rather than follow in the terrorist footsteps of his brother, Lenin chose instead to pursue popular revolution. As he became interested in Marxism, he was involved in student protests and was subsequently arrested.

He was expelled from Kazan University for his political ideas, though he continued to study independently. Later he was permitted to return to his studies, and by 1891, he had been admitted to the Bar. He was awarded a first class degree in law by the University of Saint Petersburg, but was also distinguished in Latin and Greek, as well as learning basic German, French, and English. He opened his own law practice for a time but in 1893 he moved to St. Petersburg to become involved in revolutionary propaganda efforts. In 1895 he was arrested, held for fourteen months, and then sent to exile in Siberia.

In 1898 he married socialist activist Nadezhda Krupskaya and published the book, The Development of Capitalism in Russia. In 1900 his exile ended, and he began to travel throughout Russia and the rest of Europe. While living abroad he co-founded the newspaper Iskra ("The Spark"). It was about this time that he began to use the alias, "Lenin." He became active in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party and in 1903 led the Bolshevick party after splitting from the Mensheviks. The division inspired Lenin to write his famous pamphlet, "What Is to Be Done?," which focused on his revolutionary strategy. Revolution continued to foment in Russia, as it had for centuries, but the failure of the Russian army in World War I and the ineffectual leadership of Tsar Nicholas II led to an angry populace.

In February 1917, a revolution took place and the tsar abdicated. Lenin knew it was time to return and assume a role of leadership. He arrived at Petrograd to a tumultuous reception and instantly took a leading role within the Bolshevik movement. In November of that same year the Provisional Government led by Alexander Kerensky was overthrown, the Winter Palace was stormed, and Soviet rule was officially begun. That month Lenin was elected as the Chair of the Council of People's commissars by the Russian Congress of Soviets. He immediately went to work modernizing the country, which had previously been kept back and held down by the Imperial government, which was not interested in progress. First he made peace with Germany and pulled Russia out of the war. Lenin insisted that the entire country become electrified, that all citizens have access to free education up to the university level, free health care, easy divorce, rights for women, and other major reforms. He also cleverly employed the power of film, sending agit-prop trains to the far reaches of the enormous continent. Every village would have a cinema, where Soviet ideas and ideals would be on display. He worked tirelessly to make major improvements to every aspect of Soviet life, though he was a tyrant as well, expecting everything to go his way and for all parties to agree with him.

Lenin survived an attempt on his life, but his health had already begun to fail, largely due to the strains associated with the life of a revolutionary. In 1922 he had his first stroke, which left him partially paralyzed. His role in government declined. A second stroke later that year led to his resignation from active politics. In early 1923 he suffered a third stroke and became bedridden for the remainder of his life, no longer able to speak. After his first stroke he dictated a number of papers to his wife. Most famous of these is "Lenin's Testament," where he warned the Party to beware of Stalin and to under no circumstances grant him unlimited power. He even suggested that "comrades think about a way of removing Stalin" from the various posts he held. Lenin died in Moscow in 1924 at the age of fifty-three. His papers stated that he wished to be laid to rest with his family, but Stalin and others were intent on creating a myth; so the famous mausoleum in Red Square was built, and Lenin's body was preserved and placed in a glass casket, where it still can be viewed today.

Photo: V. I. Ulyanov during his arrest in connection with the case of the St. Petersburg "League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class." See Marxists.org.


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