Who was he: Communists as well as non-communists consider Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) the greatest revolutionary statesman in history. Lenin was the greatest revolutionary thinker following Marx. In 1902 he adopted the name Lenin as his definitive name of war, which he derived from the Siberian Lena River.
Ulyanov practiced law for a few years in Samara, focusing on land-ownership cases, and developed some insight into the social and economic conditions of the peasants. Having moved to St. Petersburg in 1893, in 1895 Lenin founded the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, which was made up of all the Marxist groups in the city. Lenin was arrested in 1895 for plotting against the Tsar and sent to jail for 14 months. In 1897, Lenin was exiled to Siberia and in 1899 published the book The Development of Capitalism in Russia. That work was one of 30 theoretical works Ulyanov wrote while in exile.
In 1900, Lenin moved to Munich and co-founded the newspaper Iskra (Spark). He also published books and articles about revolutionary politics while recruiting for the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). The RSDLP held its first congress in 1898 while Lenin was still in exile. The political work written by Lenin was so clandestine that Vladimir Lenin assumed several aliases, settling on Lenin in 1902.
The Second Congress of the RSDLP was held in 1903, and it was the meeting that broke the party into two factions: The Bolshevik (majority) faction, led by Lenin, and the Menshevik (minority) faction, led by Martov. Lenin promoted overthrowing the regime by using a worker-peasant alliance while Martov wanted an alliance between the working class and liberal bourgeoisie. A third faction, led by Trotsky, believed that the working class alone could produce the revolutionary change needed in the country.
In 1906, Lenin was elected President of the RSDLP, but resumed exile in 1907 after a tsarist defeat of the revolution. Lenin was living in Western Europe when he developed Leninism, and called it urban Marxism in 1917. Lenin believed that a socialist revolution would be achieved by taking power from the parliamentary Provisional Government. In his April theses Lenin said: "No support for the Provisional Government ... Not a parliamentary republic – to return to a parliamentary republic from the Soviets of Workers' Deputies would be a retrograde step – but a republic of Soviets of Workers', Agricultural Labourers' and Peasants' Deputies throughout the country, from top to bottom."
Lenin's health declined after being shot by a member of the Socialist Revolutionaries in 1918. Two bullets were lodged in his body and it was deemed too dangerous to remove them. After the shooting Lenin decided he needed someone to help him control the Communist Party and at the 1922 Party Conference suggested a new post of General Secretary should be created. Stalin was the choice. Stalin's political opponents didn't understand the position and supported his nomination, thinking the post of General Secretary was nothing more than "a mouthpiece for Lenin."
However, when Lenin was immobilized Stalin made full use of his power and at a Party Conference he was given permission to expel certain unsatisfactory Party members. Stalin removed thousands of Trotsky supporters, which cleared the way for new leadership of the party. By 1922, Stalin's position grew and he disagreed with Lenin over foreign trade. Stalin's position was accepted by the Central Committee. As Lenin began to realize that Stalin was taking over party, Lenin asked Trotsky for support and the Central Committee's decision was overturned at the next meeting.
After Stalin called Lenin's wife, accusing her of endangering her husband's life by allowing him to write letters while he was ill, Lenin dictated a letter to his secretary that served as his last will and testament. In the letter he warns the Party about Stalin, saying: "Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated enormous power in his hands: and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution. I therefore propose to our comrades to consider a means of removing Stalin from this post and appointing someone else who differs from Stalin in one weighty respect: being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite, more considerate of his comrades."
In 1923, a few days after writing the letter Lenin suffered his third stroke. He lived for another ten months but was unable to speak or write and died in January 1924.
Although history correctly attributes massive slaughter to Stalin's cruelty, the mass murdering did not begin with him. Lenin was the instigator of these tactics during the Russian Civil War. Richard Pipe's The Unknown Lenin documents (from Soviet archives) the brutal orders that Lenin would send to region Bolshevik commanders to publicly hang hundreds of people as an example of terror for others, and hold innocent family members as hostages. He also was the initiator of the GULAG prison system in 1918; and based on his only relatively lenient treatment under the Czarist system of exile in Siberia, he insisted on a harsh and cruel "new" system.
Background: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) was born into a middle class family in 1870 in the town of Simbirsk, which was in the Russian Empire, and was of Russian, German and Swedish descent. An intelligent and conscientious student who loved chess and reading, Ulyanov enjoyed the writings of Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Pushkin, Nikolay Nekrasov and Ivan Turgenev. At an early age Ulyanov became interested in the protorevolutionary writings of Nikolay Dobrolyubov, Alexander Herzen, Vissarion Belinsky and Dmitry Pisarev.
In 1887, when Lenin's oldest brother was hanged for taking part in an assassination attempt on Alexander III and his sister was banished from the village for her part in the plot, he was transformed into a political radical at the ripe age of 17. Young Lenin was politically influenced by Nikolay Chernyshevsky's 1863 novel, What is to be Done?, and by the writings of Georgi Plekhanov.
In 1887, Lenin entered Kazan University and began studying law, especially interested in the works written by Freidrich Engel and Karl Marx. When Lenin was subsequently involved in a student riot and expelled from the university he came under constant police surveillance since he was the brother of a known terrorist. Lenin was permitted to study at the University of St. Petersburg in 1890, and in 1892 earned a first class diploma in law, and was noted as an intellectually distinguished student in Greek and Latin as well as in German, English and French.
Lenin died in January 1924 after having suffered three strokes, unable to speak or write the last ten months of his life.