By Tim Lambert

His Early Life

Lenin was mainly responsible for creating a totalitarian regime in Russia. Lenin was born into a middle class family in April 1870. His real name was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov. Lenin was a well educated man and in 1892 he qualified as a lawyer.

Meanwhile in 1887 Lenin's older brother Aleksandr was executed for plotting to murder the Tsar.

Lenin became a Marxist. (He declared himself a Marxist in 1889). Marxism was the creation of Karl Marx (1818-1883). According to him society went through an inevitable series of stages ending in Communism. The industrial workers, he said, would inevitably rise up against the capitalists and Capitalism would be replaced by Socialism in which the state would own industry. However the state would 'wither away' leaving a classless society or Communism. Needless to say the promised utopia never materialized.

Like all communists Lenin was an atheist. Marx claimed that religion is an illusion and Lenin was deeply hostile to it.

In 1896 Lenin was sent into exile in Siberia. In 1898 he married Nadezhda Krupskaya. Lenin was released in February 1900. Lenin then spent several years living in different parts of Europe.

Meanwhile a Marxist party was formed in Russia in 1898. At a meeting in 1903 it split into 2 groups. The Bolsheviks (from the Russian word for majority) and the Mensheviks (from the word for minority). However the Bolsheviks were not the majority within the party they were only the majority at one particular meeting.

Then in 1914 came the First World War. In September 1914 the Russian army was severely defeated at Tannenberg. Russia never really recovered. Russia continued to suffer terrible losses and the country 'bled to death'. Eventually the war gave Lenin the opportunity to seize power.

The Russian Revolution

In Russia there were severe shortages on the home front. In March 1917 a shortage of bread in St Petersburg led to riots. This time the soldiers in the city joined the rioters. The Tsarist regime quickly collapsed. The tsar abdicated.

A provisional government made up of deputies from the duma (parliament) which then ruled Russia. A moderate Socialist named Alexander Kerensky became prime minister. However in April 1917 the Germans helped the Bolshevik leader, Lenin to return from exile in Switzerland. In July some Bolsheviks led a premature rising called the July Days. The provisional government claimed Lenin was a German agent and released documents, which were supposed to prove it. The rising fizzled out and Lenin fled to Finland. However he soon returned to Russia having easily refuted the government's claims.

The provisional government lost support because of its failure to end the war, which had cost so many lives and its failure to enact social reforms. Many Russians were impatient for peace and for radical reforms. Lenin appealed to them with his slogan Peace! Bread! Land!

The Bolsheviks had much support among soldiers in Petrograd. On 6 November 1917 the Bolsheviks led them in a revolt in Petrograd. They seized key buildings. On 7 November 1917 they seized the winter palace and arrested most of the provisional government (Kerensky escaped and fled abroad). Lenin and his followers quickly seized central Russia.

Before its downfall the provisional government had arranged for elections to a representative assembly. Lenin let the elections go ahead. However they won only 168 places out of 703 in the assembly. When it was clear the new assembly did not support them the Bolsheviks closed it by force. In other words the Russian people did not want Communism. Instead it was imposed on them by Lenin and his cronies.

Furthermore Lenin had to fight a long civil war before he controlled all of Russia. The war between the 'reds' and the 'whites' lasted until 1921 and it devastated Russia. Worse Russia suffered a severe famine in 1921-1922 in which many people died.

Meanwhile the Tsar and his family were murdered in 1918. They were not the only ones. The Communist secret police the Cheka, killed tens of thousands of people.

During the civil war the Communists simply took food from the peasants by force whenever they needed it. The harsh policies of the Communists provoked unrest. In 1921 there were strikes in Petrograd and mutiny at Kronstadt naval base, which was crushed by force. However Lenin them made a strategic retreat. He announced his 'new economic policy'. The peasants were allowed to grow food and sell it for profit. In the towns some free enterprise was allowed. The Communists only retained control of the 'commanding heights' of industry (the most important ones). The new economic policy helped Russia to recover from the devastation wreaked by civil war.

The Death of Lenin

However time was running out for Lenin. In 1922 he suffered the first of a series of stokes. Vladimir Lenin died on 21 January 1924. He was 53. After his death Lenin was embalmed and his body was put on display.

After the death of Lenin Stalin became the dictator of the Soviet Union and he murdered millions of people. However Communism finally collapsed in the Soviet Union in 1991 and Lenin's dream ended in total failure.

When Lenin died in 1924 the great city of St Petersburg was named after him. However in 1991 it was changed back again.

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