Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (April 22 1870 – January 21, 1924) who used the alias Nikolai Lenin (most likely a reference to the river Lena), was a Russian revolutionary, first leader of the Soviet Union, and the namesake of Leninism. He was born in Simbirsk and died in Leninskie Gorki; after a series of strokes exacerbated by an attempted assassination. His embalmed body is on permanent exhibition, in Moscow.

Lenin was the son of a civil service official, and distinguished himself in the study of Latin and Greek. In May of 1887 his eldest brother Alexander was hanged for participation in a plot on the life of Tsar Alexander III. This radicalized Lenin and later that year he was arrested, and expelled from Kazan University for participating in student protests. He continued to study independently and by 1892 had earned a license to practice law.

However, rather than settle into a legal career he became more involved in propaganda efforts, and the study of Marxism, much of it in St. Petersburg. On December 7, 1895 he was arrested and held by authorities for an entire year, then exiled to Siberia.

In July of 1898 he married N.K. Krupskaya and in April of 1899 he published the book The Development of Capitalism in Russia. In 1900 his exile ended. He travelled in Russia and elsewhere in Europe, and published the paper Iskra as well as other tracts and books related to the movement.

He was active in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP), 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 partipated in many socialist meetings and activities.

In April 1917 he returned to Petrograd following the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II, and took a leading role within the Bolshevik movement, publishing the April Theses. After a failed Bolshevik insurrection in July, Lenin fled to Finland for hiding. He returned in October to successfully lead an armed coup against the Kerensky provisional government.

On November 8, Lenin was elected as Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars by the Russian Soviet Congress. Faced with the threat of German invasion, Lenin urged that Russia sign the proposed harsh peace treaty, though the failure of the Russian delegation to do so resulted in the loss of much of the country’s westerrn territory in the eventual Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918). In August 1918 he survived an assassination attempt by Fanny Kaplan.

Lenin combined the existing factions into one communist party, presiding over the defeat of anti-Bolshevik armies in the Russian Civil War (1918-20). In March 1921, on Lenin’s initiative, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was adopted, allowing limited private enterprise, in an attempt to rebuild industry and especially agriculture. But the same month saw the suppression of an uprising among sailors at Kronstadt (“the Kronstadt rebellion”).

In May 1922 Lenin had his first stroke. He was left partially paralyzed and his role in government declined. After a second stroke in December the Politburo ordered that he be kept in isolation. The assassination attempt earlier in his life also added to his health problems. In March 1923 he suffered a third stroke and was left bedridden and no longer able to speak. Lenin died of a fourth stroke in January of 1924. The city of Petrograd was renamed Leningrad in his honour: this remained the name of the city until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

After his first stroke he published a number of papers indicating future directions for the government and criticising Stalin, Party general secretary since April 1922; however, some of these were suppressed for decades and after his death Stalin gained control of the Party.

Lenin was known for his great intellect (he was a friend of Albert Einstein at one point) and modesty. While he was kind in personal matters, he was hard-willed in political matters and was not above exiling, imprisoning, and executing thinkers and artists who opposed his regime.

Scroll to Top