Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, known by his alias Vladimir Lenin or just simply Lenin, was a Russian communist revolutionary born the 22nd of April, 1870 in Simbirsk Russia who, with the help of the political party he founded, the Bolsheviks, quickly rose to prominence in the Russian political scene in the midst of World War I after a lifetime of rapid political radicalization. He, with the help of various other Marxist Russian revolutionaries, helped define what would be Russia for the next century, and paved the way for the world’s first Marxist state in the form of the Soviet Union. Like many political revolutionaries, Lenin’s radicalization began at an early age – specifically in his collegiate years after he was arrested, and expelled from the university he was attending, Kazan University, after being accused of being the “ringleader” in a student demonstration against the government’s restrictions on student societies , which were banned in Russia at the time. As part of the punishment for his supposed crimes, he was forced back to his family’s estate1. There, without the restraints of being required to study, he became familiar with various pro-revolutionary readings including What Is To Be Done?, a novel by Nikolay Chernyshevsky, and his political mindset began to develop rapidly.
After being permitted access to the city of Kazan once again by the Interior Ministry, Lenin officially began his revolutionary career by becoming involved with, and joining a Marxist students’ circle – one organized by a Marxist revolutionary named Nikolai Fedoseev1. In this circle of revolutionary-minded young students, he was first introduced to Karl Marx, his ideology, and his writings, setting him on his path towards these Marxist ideals that would later define the government he would create. In late 1889, Lenin and his family moved to a city called Samara where he found and joined a socialist discussion circle organized and run by a revolutionary named Alexie Sklyarenko – perhaps Lenin’s most defining moment in terms of his political beliefs as there he would fully embrace, and accept the concepts of Marxism. He worked on, and finished a Russian translation of the political pamphlet The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and began reading the works of various Marxists and philosophers including Georgi Plekhanov, Karl Kautsky, Joseph Dietzgen, Alexander Herzen, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
Throughout the next several years, Lenin stayed in Samara where he would continue with his political radicalization. In late 1893, Lenin moved to Saint Petersburg, later Petrograd, where he would rise to a senior position in a Marxist revolutionary cell called the “Social-Democrats” after the Marxist Social Democratic Party of Germany2. A year later, Lenin would lead a Marxist worker’s circle2. In 1895, Lenin was arrested and imprisoned for a year, then would spend the next three years in exile in Serbia . Though he was under constant supervision by the secret police, he was still able to communicate with other revolutionaries, and would continue developing his political theories. After his term of exile was up, Lenin moved to Western Europe where he would continue his revolutionary activities where, in London, he along with other Russian Marxists established the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDWP)2. Though the members of the RSDWP all had similar political views, and wanted a socialist government to be installed in Russia, not everyone were able to agree on the way in which said socialist government would be established.
Two groups formed – Lenin’s Bolsheviks, who advocated militarism in a violent upheaval to the Russian government, and the Mensheviks, who advocated a democratic movement towards a socialist Russian government . Though these two opposing groups were still both apart of the RSDWP and had stayed that way for several years after its formation, Lenin made the split official at a Bolshevik conference in 1912 . After the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1905, Lenin was able to return to Russia where he would begin to form a coalition of followers that would help with his eventual government takeover. Lenin was able to fund his revolutionary activities through various ways – donations from a few Russian millionaires that supported his cause such as Maxim Gorky and the Sava Morozov, and criminal stunts pulled by Bolshevik gangs such as robberies, and hold ups. Lenin’s plan was to use these funds to print political propaganda that, coupled with the known hatred the people of Russia had for the established monarchy in Russia and the war (World War I), would fuel an ultimate takedown of the government. And, as Lenin and much of his followers and allies were against the war, they hoped, correctly, that they would win the support of the Russian people. As time went by, Lenin waited for more and more hatred to build up for the war, and so for the government.
Meanwhile, the Russian economy was in complete shambles as it was hopelessly trying to keep up with the costly war efforts causing riots and strikes to break out in Petrograd in March of 1917 over the scarcity of food and other supplies. Factory workers striked causing shortages in the weapons being produced for the war effort, farmers striked causing even more shortages in food, and, eventually, dispirited soldiers began to strike. On March 15, 1917, Czar Nicholas II abdicated the throne, ending the czarist rule in Russia that had been sustained for centuries.
These strikes and riots were known as the February Revolution – the first of two revolutions in 1917. The revolution replaced the Russian Council of Ministers with a Russian Provisional Government under Prince Georgy Lvov, though this provisional government was destined to fail as, similar to the already overthrown monarchy, supported, or at least did not condemn the first World War. Though Lenin was forced to leave the country due to being labeled a government threat and German agent, he continued his support of the withdrawal from the war by the Russian government. This allowed Lenin’s ideas to gain popularity among the Russian people as they began to side with the Bolsheviks slogan of “Peace, Land, Bread!”.
In October of 1917, Lenin secretly returned to Petrograd with the help of several prominent supporters , and began planning an overthrow of the Provisional Government of Russia. Lenin, realizing the growing distaste for the Russian Provisional Government that was only matched by the hatred for the previous monarchy-based government, decided that then was the time to capitalize on his party’s popularity. A vote was called, and the Bolsheviks’ Central Committee voted 10-2 in favor of an armed uprising , Lenin himself claiming that the people of Russia had waited long enough for an armed uprising. They began planning a coup d’état that would overthrow the largely ineffective provisional government, and replace it with the Bolsheviks, and inherently, himself. The Bolsheviks created the “Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee” within the Petrograd Soviet, led by the Petrograd Soviet’s president, Trotsky. The committee included thousands of soldiers, sailors, and armed workers, and gained the support of the capital’s garrison which would, during the coup, stand down and allow the uprising to commence. On the 7th of November 1917, in a revolution called Great October Socialist Revolution officially in Soviet Russia, or more commonly known as Red October, the October Uprising, the Bolshevik Revolution, or Bolshevik Coup by the rest of the world, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Pavel Dybenko, assembled troops loyal to their cause and took key positions throughout the city of Petrograd including roads, bridges, railways, and telephone lines. Guards commissioned by the provisional government, upon hearing of the amount of “Red Guards” (a Bolshevik loyal paramilitary volunteer force) and other Bolshevik supporting troops surrendered and left their posts, allowing the Bolshevik forces to commandeer nearly every worthwhile building in the city in just a mere few days.
Finally, after securing most of the city, the revolutionary army turned towards the Winter Palace which housed most of the cabinet of the provisional government. In a bloodless assault, the revolutionaries were able to infiltrate the palace and arrest the members of the provisional government that had been staying there. However, this quick seize of power did not entirely cement Lenin’s position as the leader of the state as, almost immediately, he faced opposition from every side of the political spectrum. And thus was the start of the Russian civil war. Though Lenin and his new proclaimed government held the capital city of Russia, they were not in control of the vast majority of the rest of Russia. Many at the time even believed that the Bolsheviks would never be able to govern Russia in its entirety, and believed that this new proclaimed government would not last long at all. Lenin, however, began to work towards his goal of a united, Marxist Russia, and immediately began working on consolidating power. The Constitutional Assembly previously declared Russia’s first elected government, which was still active after the upheaval of the provisional government, was one of the first of Lenin’s obstacles in his quest for absolute power in Russia.
When the Constitutional Assembly first met in January of 1918, Lenin sent armed men to disrupt it, effectively destroying a pillar of democracy in Russia, and furthering the Bolsheviks grasp on the country. In a move perhaps designed to gain the favor of the Russian populace, Lenin followed through with his promise of getting Russia out of World War I with the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk . Though this treaty gave up a large portion of west-Russia, he had successfully withdrawn Russia from World War I, and was able to begin focusing on the rebellions that had started popping up in his country. A coalition of “White” armies, together the “White movement”, were formed to combat Lenin’s “Red Army” and though these white armies held various loyalties, these armies were united against Lenin and his new government. With the aid of its western allies, namely the United States, Britain, and France, the white movement was able to win various and key engagements such as the capture of Kazan, and the Soviet westward offensive of 1918-19, and was able to reach Moscow and Petrograd, though they would ultimately fail due to the inability of the White leaders to work together. With the monarchical government out of the way, provisional government, World War I, the combined efforts of the “white” coalition movement with their western allies, and finally the various civilian riots, Lenin was at last able to finish his quest for total, and complete authority over the country of Russia, and all its territories. Unfortunately for himself and his country, his reign was plagued by famine, political unrest, and Lenin’s own illness.
Lenin, after years of trying to gain absolute power, was only able to relish it for a few short years and later died the 21st of January 1924 at the age of 53. Lenin developed from a quiet, intelligent boy enraged by his brother’s execution to one of the most brilliant, ruthless, and outstanding politicians of his era, and every era to follow. Not only was he able to overthrow an entire government with the political party he founded, but he was also able to consolidate the power in that government nearly entirely for himself. Had Lenin lived longer, perhaps he would have achieved his idea of a perfect socialist state. Nevertheless, Lenin’s brilliant tactical mind, his persuasiveness, his cunningness, his indefatigable will, and political agility allowed him to achieve more in those relative few years than many have ever, and will ever achieve in their lifetimes.