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Associated Press

Happy Birthday, Vladimir Lenin, Russian Revolutionary and Leader

April 22, 2010
by Liz Colville
Vladimir Lenin was a Marxist revolutionary who led the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and was integral in the formation of the Soviet Union, the world’s first communist state.

Lenin’s Early Days

Lenin was born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk), Russia, on April 22, 1870 (April 10 in the Julian calendar). Living in Simbirsk until the age of 17, Lenin was the son of an inspector, llya Nikolayevich, who later became the director of the school district in the province of Simbirsk.

Lenin’s family was middle class, “highly-educated” and held “democratic views and principals,” says the Lenin Museum of Moscow. His parents “imparted to their children a hostility toward all violations of human rights, an active hatred for servile psychology and an active readiness to struggle for higher ideals, free society and equal rights.”

Lenin’s older brother Aleksandr had a powerful influence on him; Aleksandr was hanged in 1887 for taking part in a failed plot to kill Czar Alexander III in 1881.

The same year of his brother's death, Lenin became a student of law at Kazan University, where he began studying the work of Karl Marx. In December, he was arrested for participating in revolutionary activities and exiled to Kokushkino, where he remained for a year. Back at university, Lenin excelled, graduating with high honors and passing the exam to enter law school at St. Petersburg University in 1891.

Lenin became a Marxist during this time. He was arrested in 1895 and exiled to Siberia, where he met and married fellow revolutionary Nadezhda Krupskaya, who would later have a central position in Lenin's party and government.

Lenin’s Notable Accomplishments

After 1900, the couple moved to Western Europe, where Lenin published revolutionary works and adopted the pseudonym “Vladimir Lenin.” The philosophies and plans of Lenin were published profusely in revolutionary papers he founded, with “What Is To Be Done?” of 1902 being perhaps the most famous piece of writing.

In 1903, at the second congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party in London, the party split into two factions: the old-guard Mensheviks and the more radical Bolsheviks, led by Lenin.

Lenin took part in the Russian Revolution of 1905, which led to the introduction of a constitutional monarchy with a state legislature. However, after Czar Nicholas II began to rescind the reforms of the revolution, Lenin went into exile in 1907, spending the next 10 years in Europe.

He returned to Russia in 1917 after Czar Nicholas was dethroned and replaced by a provisional government. Leon Trotsky joined the Bolshevik Party in 1917 and organized the Red Army, comprised mainly of armed proletariat. The Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional government and seized control of Russia in the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917. Lenin, the chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, became head of the new Russian state.

The Bolshevik government faced opposition from conservative and pro-czarist factions, known as the “Whites.” Opposition mounted after the government sign a harsh peace treaty with Germany in March 1918, propelling Russia into civil war. Trotsky's Red Army defeated the Whites, crushing most resistance by 1920.

The Rest of the Story

Lenin became very ill in 1922 and had a bullet from a 1918 assassination attempt successfully removed from his neck. But a month later, he became paralyzed and could no longer speak. Suffering two strokes in the next two years, Lenin again became mute and died on Jan. 21, 1924.

During Lenin’s illness, Josef Stalin, general secretary of the Communist Party, began to consolidate power in the central government. Lenin feared for the future of the Soviet Union under Stalin, but he could little to stop Stalin’s rise to power.

Stalin’s brutal regime ruled Russia for nearly three decades after Lenin’s death. Many critics of Lenin say that he paved the way for Stalin’s dictatorship through his own repressive and totalitarian policies.

Lenin biographer David Remnick writes, “Lenin introduced to the 20th century the practice of taking an all-embracing ideology and imposing it on an entire society rapidly and mercilessly; he created a regime that erased politics, erased historical memory, erased opposition. In his short career in power, from 1917 until his death in 1924, Lenin created a model not merely for his successor, Stalin, but for Mao, for Hitler, for Pol Pot.”

Notable Russian author Maxim Gorky was a friend, critic and supporter of Lenin. In an essay written after Lenin's death, Gorky wrote, “I cannot think of another man who towered so high over every-one else, but was able to resist the temptations of ambition and retain a vital interests in the ‘common people.’ He had a magnetic quality that won the hearts and sympathies of the working people.”

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