(one name only) was one of his revolutionary pseudonyms. He later
changed his name from Vladimir Ulyanov to Vladimir Lenin. He was
sometimes referred to as "Nikolai Lenin" by Western anti-Communists
and in the foreign press, but he was never known by this name in
are various theories on his pseudonym's origin and he himself
is not known to have ever stated exactly why he chose it. It is
likely to relate to the River Lena, in parallel to leading Russian
Marxist Georgi Plekhanov, who used the pseudonym Volgin after
the Volga River. It has been suggested that Lenin picked the Lena
as it is longer and flows in the opposite direction, but Lenin
was not opposed to Plekhanov at that time in his life. However,
it certainly does not relate to the Lena execution, because the
pseudonym predates this event.
Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) circa 1887Born in Simbirsk, Russia (now
Ulyanovsk), Lenin was the son of Ilya Nikolaevich Ulyanov (1831–1886),
a Russian civil service official who worked for progressive democracy
and free universal education in Russia, and his liberal wife Maria
Alexandrovna Ulyanova (1835–1916). Lenin was of mixed ethnic
addition to being Russian, he also 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 (who converted to Christianity). Vladimir
Ulyanov (Lenin) himself was baptised into the Russian Orthodox
distinguished himself in the study of Latin and Greek. Two tragedies
occurred early in his life. The first occurred when his father
died of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1886. The following year, in
May of 1887, his eldest brother Alexander Ulyanov was hanged for
participation in a plot threatening the life of Tsar Alexander
III. This, in turn, radicalized Vladimir. His official Soviet
biographies have this event as central to Lenin's revolutionary
exploits. A famous painting by Belousov, We will follow a different
path, reprinted in millions of Soviet textbooks depicted young
Lenin and his mother grieving the loss of elder brother Alexander.
phrase "We will follow a different path" meant that
Lenin chose the right way to succeed in the revolution, which
was based on a Marxist approach. Indeed, at that time Lenin became
interested in Marxism, got involved in student protests and later
that year was arrested. He was then expelled from Kazan University.
He continued to study independently and by 1891 had earned a license
to practice law.
Upon graduation, Lenin took on a job as an assistant to a lawyer.
He worked for several years in Samara, Russia, then in 1893 moved
to St. Petersburg. Rather than settling into a legal career, he
became more involved in revolutionary propaganda efforts and the
study of Marxism. On December 7, 1895, he was arrested and held
by authorities for fourteen months, then exiled to the village
of Shushenskoye in Siberia.
July 1898, he married Nadezhda Krupskaya, who was a socialist
activist. In April 1899, he published the book The Development
of Capitalism in Russia. In 1900, his exile ended. He travelled
in Russia and elsewhere in Europe. Lenin lived in Zurich, Geneva,
Munich, Prague, Vienna and London and during his exile founded
the newspaper Iskra. He also wrote a number of articles and books
related to the revolutionary movement. At this period, he started
using various aliases, finally settling upon Lenin.
was active in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP;
????? in Russian), 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?. 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 Prague Party Conference
of 1912 and the Zimmerwald Conference of 1915. When Inessa Armand
left Russia and settled in Paris, she met Vladimir Lenin and other
Bolsheviks living in exile, and is believed to have become Lenin's
partner during this time. Lenin later moved to Switzerland.
the First World War began in 1914, and the large Social Democratic
parties of Europe (at that time self-described as Marxist), comprising
luminaries such as Karl Kautsky, supported their various countries'
war efforts, Lenin was shocked, at first refusing to believe that
the German Social Democrats had voted for war credits. This led
him to a final split with the Second International, which was
composed of these parties. Lenin himself adopted an 'unpatriotic'
position, stating the goal as the defeat of the Tsarist government
in the war.
the 1917 February Revolution in Russia and the overthrow of Tsar
Nicholas II, Lenin knew he needed to travel back to Russia as
soon as possible. But he was isolated in neutral Switzerland as
the first World War was raging and it would not have been easy
to travel through Europe. But the Swiss Communist Fritz Platten
managed to negotiate with the German government so that Lenin
and his company would be allowed to travel through Germany in
a sealed train.
Wilhelm II himself is thought to have expected Lenin to cause
political unrest back in Russia and end the war on the Eastern
front. While on German territory, Lenin was not allowed outside
the train. Once past Germany, Lenin continued by ferry to Sweden
and the rest of the trip was arranged through Scandinavia by the
Swedish Communists Otto Grimlund and Ture Nerman.
April 16, 1917, he returned to Petrograd and took a leading role
within the Bolshevik movement, publishing the April Theses. The
April theses called for an uncompromising opposition to the provisional
government. Initially by this lurch to the left Lenin isolated
his party. However, this uncompromising stand meant that the Bolsheviks
were to become the obvious home for the masses as they became
disillusioned with the provisional government, and with the luxury
of opposition the Bolsheviks were freed of the responsibility
for any consequences from the implementation of their policies
(Christopher Read: From Tsar to Soviets pp151–153).
Aleksandr Kerensky and other enemies of the Bolsheviks accused
Lenin of being a paid German agent. On this allegation co-leader
Leon Trotsky held a defense speech on July 17, saying: "An
intolerable atmosphere has been created, in which you as well
as we are choking. They are throwing dirty accusations at Lenin
and Zinoviev. … Lenin has fought thirty years for the revolution.
I have fought twenty years against the oppression of the people.
And we cannot but cherish a hatred for German militarism. ...
I have been sentenced by a German court to eight months’
imprisonment for my struggle against German militarism. This everybody
knows. Let nobody in this hall say that we are hirelings of Germany."
a failed workers' rising 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", which called for a new form
of government based on workers' councils, or soviets. In this
work he also claimed that ordinary workers should, in principle,
be capable of running a factory or government. He emphasized,
though, that to be able to govern the state, a worker should "learn
communism." He furthermore insisted that a member of the
government should be paid no more than the salary of an average
of the Soviet state
On November 8, Lenin was elected as the 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, of "No War, No Peace", calling
for a peace treaty only on the conditions that no territorial
gains on either side be consolidated.
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.
On March 3, 1918, Lenin removed Russia from World War I by agreeing
to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, under which Russia lost significant
territories in Europe.
the Bolsheviks lost the elections for the Russian Constituent
Assembly, Lenin became skeptical and used his military guards
to close the first session of the Assembly on January 19. Later,
the Bolsheviks organized a counter-Assembly, the third Congress
of Soviets, allowing themselves and their allies over 90% of the
seats. They formed a coalition government with the left wing of
the Socialist Revolutionaries.
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 to these conspiracies by shutting down their activities
and jailing or shooting some of the members of the opposing parties.
though Lenin supported and helped to form a "Soviet democracy,"
it is often argued by Lenin's opponents on the right, like Kautsky,
and on his left, like Kollontai, that he countermanded proletarian
emancipation and democracy (workers' control through the soviets
or workers' councils). It is argued that this paved the road to
Stalinism. Many of the institutions and policies Stalin used such
as secret police, labor camps, and executions of opponents were
already in use under Lenin's regime.
Leon Trotsky argued that a direct correlation cannot be made between
Lenin and Stalin because this perspective ignores many external
factors, such as the turmoil of revolution and civil war during
Lenin's leadership. Further Trotsky claimed that a "river
of blood" separated Lenin from Stalin's actions because Stalin
executed many of Lenin's old comrades and their supporters, grouped
in the Left Opposition. This was indeed to include Trotsky himself.
Leninist vision of revolution demanded a professional revolutionary
cadre that would both lead the working masses in their conquest
of power and centralize economic and administrative power in the
hands of a workers' state. From the spring of 1918, Lenin campaigned
for a single individual to be put in charge of each enterprise
(contrary to most conceptions of workers' self-management).
S.A. Smith wrote: "By the end of the civil war, not much
was left of the democratic forms of industrial administration
promoted by the factory committees in 1917, but the government
argued that this did not matter since industry had passed into
the ownership of a workers' state." During the civil war,
democracy would become concentrated within the Bolshevik party
and later the politburo of the CPSU.
protect the newly established Bolshevik government against counterrevolutionaries,
Lenin's regime created a secret police, the Cheka, immediately
after the revolution. The Bolsheviks had planned to hold a trial
for the former Tsar for his crimes against the Russian people,
but in August 1918 when the White Army was advancing on Yekaterinburg
(where the once royal family was being held), Sverdlov made a
quick decision to execute the Tsar and his family right away,
rather than having them being taken by the Whites. Sverdlov later
informed Lenin about this, who agreed it had been the right decision,
since the Bolsheviks would rather not have let the royal family
become a banner for the White Movement.
August 30, 1918, Fanya Kaplan, a member of the Socialist Revolutionary
Party, approached Lenin after he had spoken at a meeting and was
on the way to his car. She called out to Lenin, who then turned
to answer. She immediately fired three shots, two of which struck
him in the shoulder and lung. Lenin was then taken to his private
apartment in the Kremlin, refusing to venture to a hospital since
he believed that 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. It is believed that the incident contributed
to his later strokes.
The Communist government responded to the assassination attempt,
and to the increasingly mobilizing anti-communist offensive of
which it was a component, with the "Red Terror." Tens
of thousands of perceived enemies of the Revolution, many accused
of actively conspiring against the Bolshevik government, were
put in labor camps and up to 200,000 "counterrevolutionary
elements" were executed.
to Orlando Figes, Lenin had always been an advocate of "mass
terror against enemies of the revolution" and was open about
his view that the proletarian state was a system of organized
violence against the capitalist establishment. However, according
to Figes the terror, while encouraged by the Bolsheviks, had its
roots in a popular anger against the privileged. (A Peoples Tragedy:
Orlando Figes 524-5) When in late 1918 Kamenev and Bukharin tried
to curb the excesses of the Cheka, it was Lenin who defended it.
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 become known as communists.
In Russia, the Bolshevik Party was renamed the "Russian Communist
Party (Bolsheviks)," which eventually became the CPSU.
the 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 (Tsarist). Foreign powers such as France, Britain,
the United States and Japan also intervened in this war (on behalf
of the White Army). Eventually, the more organizationally proficient
Red Army, led by Leon Trotsky, won the civil war, defeating the
White Russian forces and their allies in 1920. Smaller fights,
however, continued for several more years.
Army forces, during this tumultous time of war and revolution,
often themselves "behaved with great brutality and cruelty
in areas they controlled. Towns were burned, property destroyed
or stolen, peasant farmers' crops and livestock taken by force
— if people objected, they faced torture and execution."
Far from being dictated by military necessity, Brovkin has argued
that this level of terror was highly counterproductive. Alienation
of the population behind the lines can explain, according to him,
both red and white defeats during the civil war. (Behind the Front
Lines of the Civil War: Political Parties and Social Movements
in Russia, 1918-1922).
the later months of 1919, successes against the White Russian
forces convinced Lenin that it was time to spread the revolution
to the West, by force if necessary. When the newly independent
Second Polish Republic began securing its eastern territories
annexed by Russia in the partitions of Poland in late 18th century,
it clashed with Bolshevik forces for dominance in these areas,
which led to the outbreak of the Polish-Soviet War in 1919.
the revolution in Germany and the Spartacist League on the rise,
Lenin viewed this as the perfect time and place to "probe
Europe with the bayonets of the Red Army." 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 the defeat of Soviet Russia in the
Polish-Soviet War invalidated these plans.
was a harsh critic of imperialism. In 1917 he declared the unconditional
right of self-determination and separation for national minorities
and oppressed nations, usually defined as those nation-states
that were previously subject to capitalist imperial control. However,
when the Russian Civil War was won he used military force to assimilate
the newly independent nations Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan,
arguing that the inclusion of those countries into the newly emerging
Soviet government would shelter them from capitalist imperial
ambitions. This would allow these countries admittance into the
Soviet Union rather than simply forcing them to become part of
Russia as would be in imperialist practices.
long years of war, the policy of War communism, the Russian famine
of 1921, and the encirclement of the first workers' state by hostile
capitalist governments took their toll on Russia, however, and
much of the country lay in ruins. There were many peasant uprisings,
the largest being the Tambov rebellion. After an uprising by the
sailors at Kronstadt in March of 1921, Lenin replaced the policy
of War Communism with the New Economic Policy (NEP), in a successful
attempt to rebuild industry and especially agriculture.
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. The bullet was
still lodged in his neck, too close to his spine for medical techniques
of the time to remove. 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 his third stroke and was left bedridden for the remainder
of his life and no longer able to speak.
his first stroke, Lenin dictated a number of papers regarding
the government to his wife. 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." Upon Lenin's death, his wife mailed
his Testament to the central committee, to be read at the 13th
Party Congress in May, 1924.
because the will criticized all of the most prominent figures
in the central committee: Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Trotsky
and Stalin, the committee had a vested interest in not releasing
the will to the wider public. The central committee justified
this by claiming that Lenin had been mentally ill in his final
years and, as such, his final judgments were not to be trusted.
Disregarding the words of Lenin is thought by most to be a fatal
error, however, as he was apparently the only one to recognize
the danger of allowing Stalin to take over party control.
died on January 21, 1924 at age 53. Rumors of Lenin having syphilis
sprang up shortly after his death. The official cause given for
Lenin's death was cerebral arteriosclerosis, or a fourth stroke.
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.
released after the fall of the U.S.S.R., along with memoirs of
Lenin's physicians, suggest that Lenin was treated for syphilis
as early as 1895. Documents also suggest that Alexei Abrikosov,
the pathologist in charge of the autopsy, was ordered to prove
that Lenin did not die of syphilis. Abrikosov did not mention
syphilis 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 syphilis were
1923, Lenin's doctors treated him with Salvarsan, the only drug
at the time specifically used to treat syphilis, and potassium
iodide, which was also customary at the time in treating the disease.
Although he might have had syphilis, so did a large percentage
of Russians at this time. Also, he had no visible lesions anywhere
on his body that accompany the later stages of the disease. Most
historians still agree that the most likely cause of his death
was a stroke induced by the bullet still lodged in his neck from
the assassination attempt.
city of Petrograd was renamed Leningrad in his honor three days
after Lenin's death; 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.
his funeral, Lenin's body was wrapped in the remains of a red
flag preserved from the Paris Commune, an event that he described
as an example of the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat".
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
realized. Instead his body was embalmed and placed on permanent
exhibition in the Lenin Mausoleum in Moscow on January 27, 1924.
Lenin's preserved body is on permanent display at the Lenin Mausoleum
in Moscow. Due to Lenin's unique role in the creation of the first
Communist state, and despite his expressed wish shortly before
his death that no memorials be created for him, his character
was elevated over time to the point of near religious reverence.
By the 1980's, every major city in the Soviet Union had a statue
of Lenin in its central square, either a Lenin street or a Lenin
square near the center, and often 20 or more smaller statues and
busts throughout its territory. Collective farms, medals, hybrids
of wheat, and even asteroids (852 Wladilena) were named after
him. Children were taught stories about "granddaddy Lenin"
while they were still in kindergarden, quite similar to the adulation
accorded to the Founding Fathers in US schools.
the fall of the Soviet Union, the level of reverence for Lenin
in post-Soviet republics has gone down considerably, but he is
still considered an important figure by the people who grew up
during the Soviet period. Many statues of Lenin have been torn
down, but many still remain. The city of Leningrad was returned
to its original name, St. Petersburg, but the surrounding Oblast
still carries his name. The citizens of Ulyanovsk, Lenin's birthplace,
have so far resisted all attempts to revert its name to Simbirsk.
The subject of interring Lenin's body has been a recurring topic
for the last 16 years in Russia.
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 Lenin's supposed "genius".
The study was performed in Vladimir Bekhterev's Institute of the
Brain. 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 the Soviet team,
but the work on Lenin's brain was no longer advertised.
anatomists are no longer convinced that morphology alone can determine
the functioning of the brain.
of Lenin in the Soviet Union
Lenin's writings were carefully censored under the Soviet regime
after his death. In the early 1930s, it became accepted dogma
under Stalin to assume that neither Lenin nor the Central Committee
could ever be wrong. Therefore, it was necessary to remove evidence
of situations where they had actually disagreed, since in those
situations it was impossible for both to have been right at the
same time. Trotsky was a particularly vocal critic of these practices,
which he saw as a form of deification of a mere human being who
could, and did, make mistakes. Later, even the fifth complete
Soviet edition of Lenin's works (published in 55 thick volumes
between 1958 and 1965) left out parts that either contradicted
dogma or showed their author in too poor a light.