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Russian History: XX century

Russian History: XIX сentury

A Short Biography of V. I. Lenin

VLADIMIR ILYICH LENIN was born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov on April 22, 1870 in the city of Simbirsk on the Volga River. Like "Stalin" for Dzhugashvili, "Lenin" is one of several pseudonyms used by Mr. Ulyanov. Just as "Stalin" is said to be from the Russian root word "stal," meaning 'steel,' "Lenin" is based on the Russian root word "Lena," the name of a peaceful Siberian river that Lenin discovered during one of his exiles. His father, a dedicated school teacher, and his mother, a long-time social worker instilled in Lenin the desire to better the lives of those around him. Although his methods may be questioned today, he worked toward this goal his whole life. In 1887, Lenin's brother was convicted of an attempted assassination on the Tsar and was hanged for his crime. His brothers activity may have sparked Lenin's interest in revolutionary activity because at this time, Lenin began studying the writings of Marx and Chernoshevsky. Also in 1887, Lenin graduated from the gymnasium and moved on to the University of Kazan. He first came into contact with revolutionary groups at that time. Lenin didn't even finish the year before he was expelled in December of the same year and placed under police surveillance for his involvement in a demonstration. In 1888, after a short exile, Lenin moved back to Kazan and contacted the Marxist groups for the first time. In 1889, Lenin moved from Kazan to Samara. In 1890, at the age of 20, Lenin translated the Manifesto of the Communist Party into Russian.

Studying externally (by correspondence), Lenin received his law degree from the University of Saint Petersburg in 1891 scoring first in his class. He then went on to practice law for a short time in Samara before he turned his attentions fully to revolutionary activities.

From 1893 to 1902, Lenin studied the problems of revolutionary change in Russia. Through many incidents, it became evident that the workers of Russia were not spontaneously developing their radical consciousness capable of causing political change as Marx had predicted. The peasants too weren't reacting well to the radical appeals of various agitators. It was at this time that Lenin began developing what was later to be called "Leninism." His theory was to manually cultivate radical awareness through agitation of the workers and peasants by one organized revolutionary party.

In 1893, Lenin travelled to St. Petersburg and read Marx to several of his friends. He contacted the workers for the first time here. It was at this time that he began using the pseudonym "Lenin." In 1894, Lenin became head of the "Social-Democrats of St. Petersburg" and publishes his first work, "What the 'Friends of the Country' Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats."

Lenin took his first overseas trip in 1895. He visited Switzerland, where he came in contact with Plekhanov's "Emancipation of Labour" group, Berlin, and Paris. Shortly after his return to St. Petersburg, he formed the "League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class," or "League of Struggle" in short. The first pamphlets and brochures are distributed and in December, Lenin is arrested for the first time and exiled to Siberia for three years.

Lenin continued to publish articles, reviews and translations in 1897 while still in exile. He also worked on his exhaustive "Development of Capitalism in Russia," which was completed in 1899. It was also during this exile that Lenin met and married Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya in 1898. It was with her that Lenin translated Volume One of Industrial Democracy by Sydney and Beatrice Webb. In 1900, his exile came to an end.

Lenin went abroad again in 1900 and, with the help of Plekhanov, initiated the first part of his plan--the first issue of "Iskra" (Spark), Lenin's revolutionary newspaper designed to stir up radical consciousness, was published in Munich. Lenin stressed a system of social democracy instead of political democracy stating that political democracy would undoubtedly be dominated by the bourgeoisie which would inevitably oppress the workers and peasants due to their very nature. In 1902, this period of Lenin's work culminated in his work, "What Needs To Be Done." He also organized the Bolshevik wing of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party at this time. The term Bolshevik comes from the word "bolshenstvo," meaning "the majority," whereas, opposingly, the word "Menshevik" is from the word "menshenstvo," meaning "the minority." These terms came about due to a vote held at the 2nd Party Congress in 1903 concerning the future direction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, the results of which put Lenin and his faction on top as the majority. The main difference between the two was the Bolsheviks' push for an 'armed overthrow' of the bourgeoisie government versus the Mensheviks' desire to change things by peaceful democratic means, a strictly Marxist view. The Mensheviks, in essence, had larger numbers than the Bolsheviks. This fact was overcome, however, when a portion of the Congress walked out during the proceedings decreasing the Mensheviks voting numbers and giving the Bolsheviks the edge. The Congress went from July 30 through August 23. It started in Brussels but later moved to London. Although Lenin gained the majority decision in the vote on the future direction of the party, he lost the majority on the editor board of the 'Iskra' newspaper and on November 1, resigned from the board. He would later create the newspaper 'Vperyod,' (Forward!) to further his revolutionary ideas. The first issue of this was published in Geneva in 1905.

It was during this period of his work that Lenin became known for his undying dedication to revolutionary activities. He became known also for his masterful political tact as he fought for control of the Party committees and publications even while in exile. In April, the third Party Congress was held with Lenin at the head. The Mensheviks did not participate in this Congress. Lenin was kept in exile in several European cities most of the time until 1917. He was released for a short period of time during and after the revolution at the end of 1905 but was soon exiled again in December 1907. In 1906, the fourth Party Congress, known as the "unity" Congress due to the participation of both the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, was held in Stockholm. Lenin was again the chairman of the Congress. The 5th Party Congress was held less than a year later in May of 1907 in London. In July of that same year, Lenin became the representative of the Russian Social Democrats on the Socialist International Bureau. A month later in August, he participated in the Stuttgart Congress of the Socialist International.

Lenin continued to write and in 1908, "Materialism and Empirio-Criticism" was published in Moscow. Later that year Lenin moved from his exile position in Switzerland to Paris. Lenin remained in Paris until 1912. Meanwhile, in 1910, he continued his international participation in the Socialist movement by participating in the Copenhagen Congress of the Socialist International. His next accomplishment came in 1911 when his tireless work culminated in the first Party school being formed in Longjumeau near Paris.

In 1912, Lenin moved to Cracow to be closer to the editorial work needed for the new Bolshevik newspaper 'Pravda' (meaning truth). The Bolsheviks also formed their own party in Prague excluding the less assertive Mensheviks. The new newspaper is soon banned in Russia and substitute newspapers are brought in to continue the propaganda.

As a result of the 1905-06 revolution, the Tsar implemented some of the demands of the insurrectioners, including the formation of a Russian Parliament. Although this new institution was not fully empowered to make law, it was a means for Lenin to spread his ideas to politically minded Russians. In 1914, a meeting was held in Cracow to discuss the Bolsheviks' activities in the Parliament. World War I broke out shortly thereafter and Lenin was arrested by the Austrians. He quickly moved back to neutral Switzerland where he wrote many articles and essays urging the Bolsheviks to refuse participation in the war, calling it a capitalist endeavor to control trade markets and resources. Following his lead, the Bolshevik followers all over the country refused to support the government in its war efforts. Lenin also wrote about the collapse of the Socialist International in Europe which had occurred earlier that year.

Lenin continued his efforts against the war by participating in the organization of the left wing of the Anti-war Conference in Zimmerwald which was held in 1915. "Imperialism: The Highest Form of Capitalism" was completed the year after and distributed. This concluded Lenin's series of exiles because the next year, the year of revolution, brought Lenin's fruits to harvest.

In February, the first uprising in St. Petersburg took place causing the abdication of the Tsar and the installation of the Provisional Government under the control of Alexander Kerensky. The revolution was begun officially on April 10 and Lenin began his letters to the committees on April 16 when his "April Theses" appear in 'Pravda,' denouncing the liberal Provisional Government and calling for a socialist revolution. The German government, in an attempt to undermine Russia's ongoing war effort, aided Lenin and his wife in returning to Russia by smuggling him through Germany in a sealed train car. He arrived in Petrograd on April 16, 1917 to a huge gathering of followers at the Finland Train Station. Lenin immediately took up revolutionary actions in St. Petersburg and organized the first insurrection in July of that year. The attempt failed and Lenin was forced to go into hiding in Finland. Acting in reply to the growing revolutionary feelings of his country, he returned to Petrograd in October and the armed insurrection known as the Great October Socialist Revolution began. Through this armed assault and through the actions of Lenin's Military Revolutionary Committees, the Provisional Government was overcome on November 7. Lenin immediately published his decrees on peace and land control and formed the peasant's and worker's government on November 8. That evening, the All-Russia Congress of Soviets convened and Lenin was elected Chairman of the Committee of People's Commissars. Lenin's famous radio broadcast "To All" was aired on November 12.

Lenin quickly began to consolidate his power by organizing all the various revolutionary factions into the Communist Party and outlining his plan to reorganize Russia's economy according to Marxist principles. To free Russia from the outputs of the war, Lenin sent a telegram to the Russian delegation in Brest-Litovsk demanding that they sign the peace treaty. Lenin was backed by the Extraordinary Congress of Soviets and the treaty was signed in 1918. Due to the reactionary "White" forces threatening Lenin's new government, he was forced to organize the Red Army and threw Russia into a 4-year civil war.

In 1919, the Foundation Congress was convened and the Communist International was formed. Lenin continued writing and "Proletarian Revolution" - 1918 and "Left-Wing Communism-An Infantile Disorder" was published in 1919.

The Civil War continued until 1921 and resulted in a famine-stricken country. Faced with these problems, Lenin, in an amazingly unexpected move, departed from strict Marxist policies and implemented the slightly capitalistic New Economic Plan (NEP) which allowed for some foreign trade, placed light industry into private hands and allowed the agrarian peasants to sell some of their produce on the open market.

In 1922, Lenin suffered from his first stroke which left him partially paralyzed. A previous assassination attempt that wounded Lenin also added complications to his health and his activities were severely reduced. It was at this time that an upstart Georgian began to criticize Lenin's departure from Marxist ways and rally support. Having formerly admired Josef Stalin's decisiveness during the Civil War and his writings, Lenin had promoted him. Now seeing Stalin for what he was, Lenin began trying to undermine his power play, and remove him from the government. In Lenin's "Testament," he expresses his displeasure with Stalin, who, through some clever maneuvering, kept this writing from coming to light. "On Co-operation," "Our Revolution," and "Better Fewer, but Better" were also written in 1923.

Throughout 1923, Lenin suffered several other strokes, leaving him bedridden. Lenin died on January 21, 1924 and is still entombed in a mausoleum on Red Square today. 


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