How did Vladimir Lenin Rise To Power?

Vladimir Lenin

Undoubtedly in the ranks of the turbulent 20th century’s decades a few names emerge as some of the most significant key revolutionaries known in the history of mankind: Lenin, Mandela, Stalin, Hitler, Mao to name a few. Yet some of them share and spread out that specific spirit able to spark a fire on a global scale, conquer minds and inspire millions of people effectively having them bent to their absolute will. But what does it take to be a true revolutionary and change the fate of those millions, to define the very course of the history itself and/or even shape entire countries? How does one bring down emblematic well-established ‘status quos’ and regimes to build one’s own upon former remains and ashes? What is it like to be a true visionary, to lead, inspire and motivate millions of people to follow you?

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (later known as Lenin as he solely nicknamed himself) was one of the leading political figures in the course of the 20th century. He was the revolutionary thinker behind the USSR idea (a.k.a. The Great Soviet Union), fought to materialize it and masterminded the Bolshevik bloody takeover of power in Russia after World War One. And although Lenin died in his mid-50s, his ideas influenced and marked the following generations’ fate, development and lives for quite many decades that came after.

Lenin’s Early Life

Vladimir Lenin in 1887

Lenin was born on 22 April 1870 in Simbirsk on the Volga River into a well-educated family. Once he excelled at school, he chose to pursue a law studies and career. However, later in university, angered and influenced by the cruel public execution of his brother (being a member of a revolutionary group himself) at the hands of the ruling Tsarist regime, Lenin became far more radical in his thinking.[1] That event, together with his father’s death, marked a turning point in young Lenin’s life and broadly determined his path of the future revolutionary we know today.

Shortly after these critical events, Lenin was expelled from the university for his active participation in student protests against Tsarist regime and was forced to continue his law studies as an external student at St. Petersburg University. Around that time he also became passionately interested in Karl Marx’s works. Unsurprisingly, even before concluding his education, young Lenin joined the Marxists groups at the age of 21 as to become a professional revolutionary. Lenin quickly got involved with Marxist societies and radical groups and even published several writings of his own. Almost all of them were immediately banned and restricted by the ruling regime, declared illegal and only passed from hand to hand. And because he caught the eye of the Russian radicals, Lenin was declared “enemy of the state” by the Russian police. He was mercilessly chased by the Tsarists for his radical views and ideas and soon he was arrested and exiled to Siberia. During his Siberian exile Vladimir adopted the famous “Lenin” pseudonym himself – the nick-name he’s become best known for[2]

Lenin - the Young Revolutionary

Vladimir Lenin plays chess with Alexander Bogdanov in 1908

Once Lenin was released, he continued to passionately work on his views regarding social imbalance and formed the famous Bolsheviks group of supporters – a major faction of Russian Marxists, later shaping the whole Communist Party.[3] The synthesis of Lenin’s views combined together with those of Karl Marx created what we now know as “Marxism-Leninism” or the basis of whole Communist doctrine throughout the 20th century.

His teachings attracted more and more passionate followers and were not popular with the Russian authorities at all – he was, after all, against the ruling Tsarist regime and class divisions in society. Vladimir aimed at total state ownership of goods, abolishing Tsarists privileges, equal rights for all and lack of workless personnel - even if that meant going to extremes like poets serving in army or getting involved with peasant work. As the tension grew, Lenin decided to leave the country for security reasons and move to Western Europe. He spent there most of the subsequent decade and a half and continued to play a key role also in the international revolutionary movement.

Away from Russia he created his own propaganda means and won even more followers on his side. [4] Aided by foreign funds, Lenin actively challenged the established doctrine, policy and institution of the ruling Tsarist regimes. Vladimir quickly learnt, that the real force was within the proletariat – workers, soldiers and peasants – masses who would become his revolution’s weapons and dictatorship’s instruments later.

World War I Fatigue

Russian prisoners after the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Tanneburg in 1914

In 1917, exhausted by World War One, Russia was up for a change. It was the perfect chaos moment for Lenin to return home. He was additionally funded by the Germans who hoped that he would undermine the Russian war efforts. Instead of arrested and exiled again, Lenin was warmly welcomed home and supported by other radical thinkers (e.g. Leon Trotsky) he led the Bolsheviks in the bloody violent Red October Revolution. Lenin, much to his own surprise, effectively ended the Russian Empire rather easily and established the Soviet state that would soon become a global superpower. Masses loved him, he had won their full support and devotion with his speeches and “illegal” writings calling for a change. In the following almost three years of civil war, the Bolsheviks assumed total control of the country. Vladimir acted as the first head of this new socialistic regime and was the architect of the USSR itself. Lenin also commanded and led the famous Red Army - established immediately after the 1917 October Revolution. [5]

Lenin proved decisive and ruthless from the very beginning: he neglected his fellow countrymen sufferings and mercilessly crushed any opposition or riots. The Red Army or as it was also commonly referred to - The Great Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army - was raised by Lenin’s Bolsheviks to oppose the various military collectively known as the White army during the Russian Civil War. After 1922 the Red Army became the army of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics established by the new regime. In February 1946 it effectively transformed, embodied and led the Soviet Armed Forces or Soviet Army. Historically, the Red Army is also credited as being the decisive land force in the Allied victory in World War II during the operations on the Eastern Front.

Lenin’s Cult of Personality

Lenin had an amazing power over the crowds – he was a great orator with truly inspirational power. From early age Vladimir was capable of effectively transmitting and simplifying any complicated matter to the masses until people lost their will and eventually got their minds enslaved. But make no mistake: some may celebrate Lenin as a defendant of workers’ rights, but he was much more decisive and prepared to cause horrific mass suffering and sacrifice countless human lives in the pursuit of Communist goals. Millions of free-will poets, philosophers or priests lost their life or were forced to emigrate.[6]

Lenin’s absolute authoritarian regime soon gained lots of opponents and he narrowly survived a few assassination attempts. In one of these attempts, Vladimir was severely wounded and his long term health was affected. However, Lenin was a true workaholic, which in effect further ruined his health. In May 1922 he suffered a stroke from which he never fully recovered. He lost his power of speech and his right arm and leg were paralyzed. In December came another stroke. The third followed in March 1923 and turned him into a living corpse. Lenin died on 24 January 1924. His corpse was embalmed and emblematically placed in a mausoleum in his memoriam on Moscow's Red Square. St Petersburg was named Leningrad (The City of Lenin).

Conclusion

If we measure greatness by the power of will and the scale of damage, then Lenin was truly by all means one of the most remarkable politicians. He destroyed one powerful empires to create another based on extreme violence. In many ways he defined the development of world history throughout the 20th century. Certainly, Lenin was the founder of the idea and the guiding spirit of the Soviet Republics for many decades that followed - a communist philosopher, disciple of Karl Marx, a leader of the Bolshevik (Communist) Party and the mastermind of the 1917 Red October Revolution.

Some may consider him a defender, others - a tyrant; some call him a saint, many more – a devil. But all in all Lenin played an enormous role in the history of the 20th century. He applied communist ideas to real life and his “experiment” forever changed the face of the world. Not only did he reshape all Russia but also had millions of people bent to his will, changing the very course of history in his own regard. Lenin was the first revolutionary dictator of the century with influence on a global scale. He was not the last and paved the way for Stalin, Hitler, Mao and many others that followed as his Marxism-Leninism ideas and works were refreshed and broadly adopted afterwards during the Cold War. Nonetheless, it took over 70 years and millions of lives to put an end to Lenin’s era and forced utopia.

References

  1. Lenin’s older brother - Aleksandr Ulyanov, was involved with “Narodovoltsy” – a revolutionary terrorist society and in 1891 he was arrested and executed for taking part in an assassination plot against Tsar Alexander III.
  2. Throughout his life Lenin often used many different pseudonyms for work or for security reasons
  3. Initially establishing the so-called Russian Social Democratic Worker's Party and later – Communist Party.
  4. E.g. published his legendary newspaper “Iskra” (“Spark”) in Munich with the motto “From Spark to Flame!”
  5. A.k.a. Red October or Bolshevik Revolution
  6. Church was almost completely banned.

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