Vladimir Lenin

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Lenin at his desk in the Kremlin.

Vladimir Lenin, born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, (22 April 1870 - 21 January 1924), was a revolutionary and Marxist theorist who was the leader of the Bolsheviks, a Marxist party in Russia. He was elected the head of government of the Russian Soviet Republic in 1917, on the eve of the October Revolution. He played a key role in the founding of the Soviet Union. The reception of his theory and practice by the Marxist community has been mixed and he remains a controversial figure, with a range of criticisms about both his thought and actions. After his death, the leadership of the USSR would quickly claim adherence to "Leninism", an ideology based on his ideas and writings.


In 1903, Lenin led a split in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, which was then divided in two major factions: the Mensheviks ("minoritarians"; led by Julius Martov) and the Bolsheviks ("majoritarians"; led by Lenin).

Return from exile[edit]

Willi Münzenberg, a German Communist political activist and publisher who knew Lenin, wrote about his return to Russia after exile:

As soon as the February Revolution broke out in Russia a committee for the return of the Russian émigrés living in Switzerland was formed in Zurich. But when it was learned that France and England would hinder some of the political groups among the émigrés, especially the Bolsheviks, from returning to Russia, the committee communicated by telegraph with Milyukov to obtain passage through Germany on conditions of exchange for a corresponding number of German war prisoners or Germans interned in Russia. The negotiations dragged on. It therefore occurred to the émigré circles to get in touch with the German Embassy in Berne through the Swiss Social-Democrats and to negotiate the terms on which the Russian émigrés might be allowed to pass through Germany. […] Lenin weighed all the political consequences that the journey through Germany might have and foresaw that his factional enemies might make use of this fact, but kept saying: “We must go at all costs, even if we go through hell.” […] All the demands of the departing political group were accepted: the railway carriage was granted exterritoriality, the passports were not to be checked, the passengers were to be admitted to the carriage regardless of their views on the question of war and peace, etc.[1]

The claim that Lenin was a spy began in July 1917, when the Provisional Government denounced him for supposedly being one, issuing a warrant for his arrest. The Entente for their part played into this claim, relying on forged materials, mainly the Sisson Documents, to demonize the Bolsheviks in general and trying to justify intervention in Soviet Russia as part of the war against Germany.


There was no fundamental disagreement that Lenin had with Stalin when he wrote his testament. He simply argued that Stalin had amassed a lot of power in his hands and he wasn't sure if Stalin would use it properly, and that his rude behavior was not permissible for someone in his position (General Secretary.)

Stalin, Ordzhonikidze and Dzerzhinsky did get into a feud with some Georgian officials, to which Lenin criticized the behavior of the former three as reminiscent of Great-Russian chauvinism, but this was based on behavior, not really divergent views on politics.

In 1917, the Bolsheviks provided the primary leadership for the October Revolution, which deposed the provisional government and replaced it with a soviet republic (democracy by workers' councils).

Theory and contributions to Marxist thought[edit]

Lenin developed his own variant of Marxism, which was called "Leninism" for the first time by Julius Martov in 1904.[2] According to this ideology, humanity would eventually reach communism, becoming a stateless, classless, egalitarian society of workers who were free from exploitation and alienation, who controlled their own destiny, and abided by the principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs".[3] According to Soviet historian Dmitri Volkogonov, Lenin "deeply and sincerely" believed that the path he was setting Russia on would ultimately lead to the establishment of this communist society.[4]

Lenin's Marxist beliefs led him to the view that society could not transform directly from its present state to communism, but must first enter a period of socialism, and so his main concern was how to convert Russia into a socialist society. To do so, he believed that a "dictatorship of the proletariat" was necessary to suppress the bourgeoisie and develop a socialist economy.[5] He defined socialism as "an order of civilized co-operators in which the means of production are socially owned",[6] and believed that this economic system had to be expanded until it could create a society of abundance.[7] To achieve this, he saw bringing the Russian economy under state control to be his central concern, with — in his words — "all citizens" becoming "hired employees of the state".[8] Lenin's interpretation of socialism was centralized, planned, and statist, with both production and distribution strictly controlled.[9] He believed that all workers throughout the country would voluntarily join together to enable the state's economic and political centralization.[10] In this way, his calls for "workers' control" of the means of production referred not to the direct control of enterprises by their workers, but the operation of all enterprises under the control of a "workers' state".[11] This resulted in what some perceive as two conflicting themes within Lenin's thought: popular workers' control, and a centralized, hierarchical, coercive state apparatus.[12]

On Organization[edit]

On Political Economy[edit]


Later Works[edit]


  1. They Knew Lenin: Reminiscences of Foreign Contemporaries, 1968, pp. 85-86
  2. Volkogonov, Dmitri (1994). Lenin: Life and Legacy. London: HarperCollins. p. 409. ISBN 978-0-00-255123-6. 
  3. Sandle, Mark (1999). A Short History of Soviet Socialism. London: UCL Press. p. 41. doi:10.4324/9780203500279. ISBN 978-1-85728-355-6. 
  4. Volkogonov, Dmitri (1994). Lenin: Life and Legacy. London: HarperCollins. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-00-255123-6. 
  5. Sandle, Mark (1999). A Short History of Soviet Socialism. London: UCL Press. p. 35. doi:10.4324/9780203500279. ISBN 978-1-85728-355-6. 
  6. Shub, David (1966). Lenin: A Biography (revised ed.). London: Pelican. p. 432. 
  7. Sandle, Mark (1999). A Short History of Soviet Socialism. London: UCL Press. p. 41. doi:10.4324/9780203500279. ISBN 978-1-85728-355-6. 
  8. Sandle, Mark (1999). A Short History of Soviet Socialism. London: UCL Press. p. 42-43. doi:10.4324/9780203500279. ISBN 978-1-85728-355-6. 
  9. Sandle, Mark (1999). A Short History of Soviet Socialism. London: UCL Press. p. 41. doi:10.4324/9780203500279. ISBN 978-1-85728-355-6. 
  10. Sandle, Mark (1999). A Short History of Soviet Socialism. London: UCL Press. p. 38. doi:10.4324/9780203500279. ISBN 978-1-85728-355-6. 
  11. Sandle, Mark (1999). A Short History of Soviet Socialism. London: UCL Press. p. 43-44, 63. doi:10.4324/9780203500279. ISBN 978-1-85728-355-6. 
  12. Sandle, Mark (1999). A Short History of Soviet Socialism. London: UCL Press. p. 36. doi:10.4324/9780203500279. ISBN 978-1-85728-355-6. 
  13. Lenin, Vladimir. What is to be done?, 1902.
  14. Lenin, Vladimir. Imperialism: the Highest State of Capitalism, 1917.
  15. Lenin, Vladimir. The State and Revolution, 1917.
  16. Lenin, Vladimir. Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, 1920.