Vladimir Ilich Lenin (1870 - 1924)
Born on April 10, 1870 this son of a Russian nobleman was to have a profound effect on the future of Russia and, indeed, the world. His father had been the son of a serf who had risen to post of inspector of schools in Simbirsk. While his mother was the daughter of land owning physician.
In school he proved himself to be very bright though he suffered alienation because of it. However, he excelled in his studies. He also enjoyed reading and writings of Goethe and Turgenev would affect him for the rest of his life.
Two major tragedies occurred which had an acute effect on the young Lenin (then Ulyanov). In 1886 his father died from a cerebral haemorrhage, the following year his brother, Alexander, was hung for plotting to assassinate Tsar Alexander III. Lenin renounced religion and the political system. Added to this he was the brother of dead revolutionary and found many doors closed to him. He finally managed to be accepted in a Kazan University where he studied law. This was to be shortlived as he was expelled for attending a peaceful protest some three months later. He was ostracised from the academic world. He studied the law on his own and passed the exam, coming first in a class of 124 in 1891.
Rise to Power
He moved to St. Petersburg in 1893 where he practised law. While there he began developing a Marxist underground movement. He grouped members into six member cells. By this means industrial conditions were investigated, statistics compiled and pamphlets written. It was also through these groups that he met his future wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, who he married in 1898.
He travelled to Switzerland to meet like minded Social Democrats in 1895. While there he talked with Georgi Plekhanov. They argued over the means of bringing about change in Russia. Plekhanov wanted to include the liberal middle class; Lenin favoured the rise of the proletariat. This disagreement led to the eventual split of the Social Democratic party into Mensheviks and Bolsheviks.
When Lenin returned to Russia he carried with him illegal pamphlets, he wanted to start up a revolutionary paper. On the eve of its publication he and other leaders were arrested. He served fifteen months in prison. After this term he was exiled to Siberia and it was there that he and Krupskaya were married. Having finished their period of exile in 1900 they left for Switzerland where they finally managed to establish their paper, Iskra (Spark). During his years in Switzerland he rose to a position of power in the Social Democratic party. His uncompromising views were a core cause for the split in the party.
The 1905 St. Petersburg Massacre spurred Lenin to advocate violent action. The Massacre itself occurred when Cossacks fired on peaceful protesters led by Father Georgi Gapon. This event led to several uprisings in Russia. Lenin returned to Russia for two years but the promised revolution did not happen as the Tsar made enough concessions to mollify the people. Lenin went abroad again.
1917 was to finally see the revolution in Russia. In fact two revolutions occurred in this year. In March steelworkers in St. Petersburg went on strike. It grew until thousands of people lined the streets. The Tsar’s power collapsed and the Duma, led by Alexander Kerensky, took power. Lenin made a deal with the Germans; if they could get him safely back to Russia, he would take power and pull Russia out of the war. Kerensky was to fall over this same issue. He refused to take Russia out a war in which they were suffering severe losses and causing brutal hardship at home. Lenin came to power in October after a nearly bloodless coup.
Lenin in Power
At age forty seven Vladimir Ilich Lenin was named president of the Society of People’s Commissars (Communist Party). The problems of the new government were enormous. The war with Germany was ended immediately (his battle cry had been “Bread not War”). Though Russia lost the bread basket of the Ukraine to Germany this was soon regained when Germany was ultimately defeated in the war. Land was redistributed, some as collective farms. Factories, mines, banks and utilities were all taken over by the state. The Russian Orthodox Church was disestablished.
There was opposition and this led to a civil war in 1918 between the Mensheviks (Whites) and the Bolsheviks (Reds). Despite being supported by Britain and the U.S.A. the whites were defeated after a bitter struggle.
From 1919 to 1921 famine and typhus ravaged Russia and left over 27 million people dead. To counter these disasters Lenin put into effect the New Economic Plan. This plan embraced some capital ideas (limited private industry) in order to revitalise the flagging economy. However he was never to see the full effect of his measures
Decline and Death
In May 1922 Lenin suffered the first of a series of strokes, less than a year later he suffered a second one. In his two remaining years he tried correct some of the excesses of the regime. He saw that it would be necessary to learn coexistence with capitalist countries and eliminate the inefficiency of his bureaucracy. He also tried to ensure that Trotsky and not Stalin succeeded him. In this endeavour he failed. Stalin was far too clever and astute even for Lenin. 1923 saw him decline further as he had another stroke which left him paralysed and speechless. He never fully recovered and died of a cerebral haemorrhage on January 21, 1924.