Vladimir Lenin


Lenin’s real name was Vladimir Illych Ulyanov. He changed it to Lenin while on the run from the secret police to avoid arrest. Lenin’s importance to Russia’s history cannot be overstated; in November 1917, Lenin established the first communist government when he overthrew the Provisional Government. Russia had the first communist government in the world.

Lenin lead the Russian Communists to power in November 1917. Strictly this should read Russian Bolsheviks as the party Lenin had joined as a young man split in two in 1903. Those who left the party were few in number and became known as the Mensheviks. The majority stayed with Lenin and they became known as the Bolsheviks which means majority in Russian.

Lenin was born in 1870. His family was reasonably well off and Lenin wanted for nothing. At school, Lenin was a very gifted pupil but bossy. In 1887, Lenin’s elder brother – Alexander – was arrested for plotting to kill the tsar (king) of Russia. He was hanged. The people where Lenin lived refused to have anything to do with the family as Alexander had brought great shame on the town. At this time nearly all Russians saw the tsar as a god. It is claimed that when Lenin heard about the execution, he said “I’ll make them pay for this. I swear I will.” Many years later, Lenin’s wife said that it was this event that turned Lenin into a revolutionary with a desire to rid Russia of the system that had been responsible for Alexander’s execution.

In 1887, Lenin was expelled from his university for starting a student riot. In 1890, he got into another university and got a law degree in one year when the course usually took three years. He became a lawyer. He also started to visit communists in the city of St. Petersburg.

In 1895, he went on a visit to Europe. When he returned he brought back communist books and leaflets. This was strictly forbidden in Russia and he was arrested and sent to prison. He was exiled to an area called Siberia. He had to stay there until 1900. After his release, he spent much of his time out of Russia living in Europe. He produced a newspaper called “Iskra” (The Spark) which was smuggled into Russia by supporters of Lenin. He worked very long hours working out the detail of how to bring down the Russian government.

However, his face was too well known by the secret police for Lenin to have been safe in Russia. In 1914, he moved to Switzerland still planning how to bring down the Russian government.

So what did Lenin believe in?

He felt that the rich abused the poor and that they should help them; he believed that anybody making a profit was abusing everybody else; he believed that everybody was equal; he wanted a government that truly represented the people; he wanted the overthrow of the Russian government as it supported a system that kept the huge majority of Russian people in misery

His beliefs were developed from those of a man called Karl Marx who is considered the father of communism. Lenin saw what the Russian government was like in 1905 when 150,000 protesters peacefully went to the Winter Palace – home of Nicholas II – in St. Petersburg, and were fired on by the tsar’s soldiers. A thousand people were killed and the actions of the soldiers was blamed on Nicholas. All they had been protesting about was the lack of food in Russia.

Lenin realised that the millions of poor Russians were incapable of organising themselves if only because they had had no education. Therefore, it was his idea to form an elite group of intellectuals to lead them on their behalf. It was these type of people who gathered around Lenin.

The March 1917 revolution which lead to the fall of Nicholas II took Lenin by surprise. He was still in Switzerland. By the end of the year he was in charge of Russia. How did this occur?

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