Vladimir Ilich Lenin was born on April 22, 1870 as Vladimir Ilich ULANOV but like many of his Marxist contemporaries (such as Stalin), he changed his surname to something which he thought rung more romantic.

He was born into a well-to-do Simbirsk family.1

In 1887, Lenin's older brother was arrested and executed for terrorism. The execution marked Lenin as the publicity of the event prevented him from gaining admission to the Kazan University law School. But by 1892, he received his law degree, admittedly by correspondence courses, from St. Petersburg University.

There is little record of Lenin having ever practised law. Indeed, within a few years of his graduation, he had moved to St. Petersburg and was deeply enamoured by Marxism, and the then-utopian models of government, socialism and communism.

Vladimir LeninThus began a long strategy of leading loose gangs of Marxists in the numerous states of what would become the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Often, Lenin had the groups meet outside of Russia - in Prague, Warsaw, Paris, Finland and London, where he lived in self-imposed exile, fearing imprisonment should he set foot in Russia. In the intervening periods, he would occasionally and secretly slip back into Russia.

Inevitably, he was arrested in December 1896.

He accepted his martyr's sentence, a prerequisite for his revolutionaries, and was exiled to Shushenskoe, Siberia.

Lenin used this time to complete his intellectual application of Marxism to a prospective Russian state. He read extensively, and wrote letters to his many fellow Marxists, such as Josef Stalin and another lawyer, Leon Trotsky, all the while extolling the virtues of Marxism but also fomenting violent upheaval.

He wrote The Development of Capitalism in Russia, in which he argued that a Marxist Russia had to learn to live with capitalism.

In 1900, his exile ended and he promptly left Russia again, for five years, and buried himself in Marxist organization, mostly through the publication of political newspapers and pamphlets. One of his brochures, called What Is To be Done?, seemed to promote the idea of paid revolutionaries - mercenaries by any other definition.

In all, he was clearly inspired by the anti-monarchy French revolution as he proliferated incendiary pamphlets and La Marsellaise became the unofficial anthem of Russian revolution.

Clearly, albeit from a safe distance outside the country, he was promoting a revolution against the capitalistic and monarchical Russian government.

In 1903, the Marxist organization split. Lenin was unable to lead the large social-democrat organization he had helped create and a dramatic split resulted. The resulting factions became known to history as Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin sided with the Bolsheviks.

In 1905, after a number of violent outbreaks, the weak and sickly Tsar, Nicholas II blinked and issued a basic constitution called the October Manifesto. Lenin though it opportune to return to Russia but in November of 1905, the secret police dogged him and he was soon back in Finland.

As he receded into temporary obscurity, the Russian Revolution spirit grew. Lenin coached Stalin in Georgia to rob and murder to fan the flames and line the coffers of the revolution.

When the Tsar abdicated in 1917, Lenin returned to Russia and after a few nerve-wracking months when he feared for his life at every turn, he managed to wrest the forefront of Russian politics. While other parties squabbled and equivocated, his Bolsheviks not only seized power but held on to it, through the improvised October Revolution.

Before the end of 1917, Lenin was head of the Russian state, bearing the socialist title of Chairman of the Soviet of People's Commissars.

However, the nation fell apart with widespread famine and industrial collapse, while Lenin dillydallied with Marxism, a popular political theory but one never before applied to human society.

Lenin ordered the nationalization of all major industries. He created a new Red Army and oversaw the expropriation of arable land from the elite to peasant collectives.

His iron fist rule raised revolt and civil war broke out in July of 1918, which Lenin just barely managed to quell.

In 1918, he barely survived an assassination attempt, as his earlier theories of politics by murder came back to haunt him.

By 1922, Vladimir Lenin, a recognized world leader and mostly adored by his Russian peoples, began to suffer from debilitating strokes. He tried to name a successor but his preference was not clearly stated. His feeble attempts, in his last days, to prevent Stalin from taking over failed, a man he had come to despise. His failure to prevent Stalin from becoming his successor may have been his gravest error.

Lenin died in January 21, 1924 with the new USSR well ensconced as the first world government based upon the theories of Karl Marx.

REFERENCES:

  • Duhaime, Lloyd, The Law's Hall of Fame
  • Note 1: The city of Simbirsk was renamed Ulyanovsk in 1924, to honour Lenin, aka Vladimir Ulanov.
  • Read, C., Lenin, Vladimir Ilich, Encyclopedia of Russian History, Volume 2 (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004), pages 849-854.
  • Montefiore, S.S., Young Stalin (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007)