“Ulyanov’s short life is well known to men in every country among every race. But the longer biography of Lenin has still to be written, rewritten and retraced.”Vladimir Mayakovsky
On April 22nd 150 years ago today, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was born to an upper middle class working family in Simbirsk, Russia. He would go on to forever change the course of history for his country, and the world.
Forged through struggle
Vladimir Ilyich’s revolutionary story began when his older brother Aleksandr Ulyanov was arrested and hung for the attempted assassination of Tsar Alexander the III. He was given the chance for amnesty, but only if he refuted his revolutionary ideas and apologized to the Tsar. He refused and was quoted as saying…
“Among the Russian people there will always be a dozen people who are so devoted to their ideas and so passionately feel the misfortune of their homeland that it makes no sacrifice for them to die for their cause. Such people cannot be intimidated by anything.”Aleksandr Ulyanov
Inspired by his brother, Vladimir Ilyich delved into revolutionary ideas to save his homeland from degradation, but he had not yet found Marx. Being the brother of a revolutionary made Vladimir Ilyich a marked man, and this would cause him great trouble during his first year at University, which would eventually lead him to Marxism.
Educating a Revolutionary
It was not until 1887 when Vladimir Ilyich participated in a student strike and was subsequently expelled from Kazan University and exiled to Kokushkino that he would began his study of the two revolutionary thinkers that would have a large impact on his life, Nikolai Chernyshevsky and Karl Marx. Vladimir Ilyich supported by his mother would go on to educate himself and receive permission from the authorities to take the law examinations at St. Petersburg University and receive the ability to practice law. He lived in and around the Samara region for a number of years and mainly took poor peasants as clients to help in their legal battles against oppressive landlords. Here Vladimir Ilyich first took part in many revolutionary circles and continued his studies of Marxism, eventually producing a Russian translation of Marx and Engels’ “Manifesto of the Communist Party”. Here Vladimir Ilyich also published his first work entitled “New Economic Developments in Peasant Life”.
In 1893 Vladimir Ilyich moved to St. Petersburg in order to take part in the revolutionary circles in that city. During his time in Petersburg Vladimir Ilyich helped form a Marxist group entitled League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, which was created to help unify some of the looser circles in the city; in addition to establishing closer connections with the “Emancipation of Labor group” formed by Russian Marxist abroad. After trips abroad visiting other Russian Marxists Vladimir Ilyich was arrested for the first time and after sitting in a cell for up to a year without a trial, he was sentenced to exile in the Siberian village of Shushenskoye. He is followed by his fellow revolutionary Nadezhda Krupskaya who will marry Vladimir Ilyich and become his life long partner.
A Revolutionary Theory Breeds a Revolutionary Party
After his first arrest and exile Vladimir Ilyich continued his revolutionary work all across Russia and Western Europe. He worked with other revolutionaries to found a newspaper called “Iskra” which means “the spark” in Russian. “Iskra” would help serve as the mouthpiece for the new Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, this Party was an attempt to unite the Marxist circles across Russia into a true revolutionary party. This party however had many troubles, and would soon be faced with a split between two opposing factions, the Mensheviks led by Maratov, and the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Ilyich. Vladimir Ilyich’s Bolsheviks believed in concepts such as the Vanguard of the revolution and violent revolution, and encouraged many extreme tactics such as bank robberies. Over the years the split in the party hardened, basically forming two distinct entities. During this time Lenin and Krupskaya both lived abroad and continued to direct Bolsheviks within the Russian Empire.
The Great October Socialist Revolution
The Great War of 1914 plunged the Russian Empire into crisis, with numerous defeats and humiliations at the hands of the Germans and Austrians. This made the situation rip for the exploitation of the numerous Russian revolutionaries across Europe, including Vladimir Ilyich. In February of 1917 the Tsar was forced to abdicate the throne which created a power vacuum in Russia. Vladimir Ilyich fearing the Bolsheviks would miss their chance at seizing power traveled from Switzerland where he was currently staying across war torn Europe through the German Empire and Sweden into Russia. The trip was aided by money from the German government which hoped to send Vladimir Ilyich to Russia to further destabilize the country. Once Vladimir Ilyich arrived he immediately began a campaign in order to increase Bolshevik popularity and demand no cooperation or confidence in the Provisional government which was now ruling Russia. His campaign for the Bolsheviks to seize power in the name of the Soviets finally yielded results when on October 10th the Central Committee of the party voted on an armed uprising, passing a resolution which stated..
“An armed uprising is inevitable, and that the time for it is fully ripe.”Central Committee of the RSDLP(B)
On October 25th old style (November 7th) the Bolshevik party seized power in the name of the Soviets for the Russian people, in what would hence be known as the “Great October Socialist Revolution.”
Victory in the Civil War
Lenin’s party immediately began building the ground works for a new socialist state, staying true to the Bolshevik slogans of Land, Peace, and Bread! However, despite this and despite the long years of Lenin’s struggle finally bearing fruit, Lenin, the Party, and the Country had yet to face its greatest threat, Civil War and Foreign intervention. The new Soviet Government was faced with invasion from German Imperialist forces, French, British, Japanese and American armies. Additionally, the anti-communist in Russia had united under the banner of the “White army” and allied with the interventionist to over throw the Bolsheviks and hang their leaders, including Lenin. However, due to the leadership of the party, which was forged by the hands of Lenin and the working class of Russia, the new revolutionary Soviet government defeated all the enemy forces against the odds, and proclaimed victory in 1922.
Lenin would pass on January 21st 1924 after suffering complications from numerous strokes. After his death Lenin was deified by the Soviet people and Soviet State. I say this because the cult of Lenin that was pervasive throughout all of the Soviet period was a product of state policy and legitimate admiration for Lenin. His hometown Simbirsk was renamed to Ulyanovsk in his honor, as well as the Soviet Union’s second largest city Petrograd which soon became Leningrad. Lenin was held up as an example for every Communist to uphold, stories of him were told to school children and awards named in his honer were granted to only the most excellent Soviet citizens. A statue of Lenin appeared in every Soviet town square, which would usually be called Lenin square. His image was iconic and pervasive, ending up on Party cards, posters, schools, theaters, and money. Not only did cities bear his name but so did anything and everything else, from the USSR’s largest stadium to the Soviet Union’s first nuclear icebreaker. However, the Soviet Unions most impressive homage to Lenin is his Mausoleum which sits on Red Square. Upon his death in 1924 his body was embalmed for the Soviet people to come and see him, however the procession had no end. To make sure his body could be seen by all the Soviet Government decided to have his body permanently embalmed and placed on Red Square. The Soviet Government spend millions of Rubles on developing embalming techniques in order to keep Lenin looking like Lenin for decades.
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 Lenin has remained a popular figure in Russian history. In the 1990’s Russian President Boris Yeltsin attempted to have the mausoleum removed and Lenin buried, however he faced too much opposition and only succeeded in having funding cut to the upkeep of the mausoleum and having the honor guard removed. Despite this Russian Communist and the doctors responsible for the upkeep of the body continued to raise money for the upkeep of Lenin until funding was restored to the mausoleum. Lenin also served as the model communist internationalist, with many nations not just the USSR celebrating Lenin. There are statues and monuments to Lenin throughout China, Vietnam, and Cuba, with his portrait appearing next to their national heroes along with Karl Marx. These nations also adopted similar cults to their own respective leaders. For example in Vietnam, the cult of Ho Chi Minh is based on the cult of Lenin. With the Vietnamese building a mausoleum and embalming Ho Chi Minh based on the practices of the Soviets, and the same is true for the Chinese and Koreans. Lenin’s name still commands great respect in Russia today, even though his widespread admiration has long since disappeared in the minds of many Russians. To Russian communist and communist all across the world his teachings still serve as the guide for the fight against world capitalism and imperialism.
Other Lenin Media
A photographer went around Russia to try and document all of the nations Lenin statues, there are some really interesting ones in there collection found here.
The 100th anniversary of Lenin which the Soviet Union celebrated in 1970 was a momentous occasion. One of the things they did were plant hundreds of tree’s in the shape of “Ленину 100 лет” which means “100 years of Lenin”. They called it a living monument.
RT or Russia Today uploaded some very odd but funny videos for Lenin’s 150th birthday! I encourage you to check them out. They are titled “Ilyich and Coronavirus”
Clark, Ronald. Lenin: the Man behind the Mask. Bloomsbury Reader, 2012.
“Death of Lenin.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 4 Jan. 2016, soviethistory.msu.edu/1924-2/death-of-lenin/.