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Vladimir Lenin

Russian politician, communist theorist, and founder of the Soviet Union (1870-1924)

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Vladimir Lenin
Владимир Ленин
Lenin in July 1920
Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Soviet Union
In office
6 July 1923 – 21 January 1924
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byAlexei Rykov
Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Russian SFSR
In office
8 November 1917 – 21 January 1924
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byAlexei Rykov
Member of the Russian Constituent Assembly
In office
25 November 1917 – 20 January 1918[a]
Serving with Pavel Dybenko
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
ConstituencyBaltic Fleet
Personal details
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov

22 April [O.S. 10 April] 1870
Simbirsk, Russian Empire
Died21 January 1924(1924-01-21) (aged 53)
Gorki, Moscow Governorate, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Political party Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) (1918–24)
Other political
League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class (1895–1898)
(m. 1898)
Alma materSaint Petersburg Imperial University
Central institution membership

Military offices held

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov[b] (22 April [O.S. 10 April] 1870 – 21 January 1924), better known by his alias Lenin,[c] was a Russian revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. He served as the first and founding head of government of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1924 and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924. Under his administration, Russia, and later the Soviet Union, became a one-party socialist state governed by the Soviet Communist Party. A Marxist, he developed a variant of this communist ideology known as Leninism.

Born to a moderately prosperous middle-class family in Simbirsk, Lenin embraced revolutionary socialist politics following his brother's 1887 execution. Expelled from Kazan Imperial University for participating in protests against the Russian Empire's Tsarist government, he devoted the following years to a law degree. He moved to Saint Petersburg in 1893 and became a senior Marxist activist. In 1897, he was arrested for sedition and exiled to Shushenskoye for three years, where he married Nadezhda Krupskaya. After his exile, he moved to Western Europe, where he became a prominent theorist in the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). In 1903, he took a key role in the RSDLP ideological split, leading the Bolshevik faction against Julius Martov's Mensheviks. Following Russia's failed Revolution of 1905, he campaigned for the First World War to be transformed into a Europe-wide proletarian revolution, which as a Marxist he believed would cause the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement with socialism. After the 1917 February Revolution ousted the Tsar and established a Provisional Government, he returned to Russia to play a leading role in the October Revolution in which the Bolsheviks overthrew the new regime.

Lenin's Bolshevik government initially shared power with the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, elected soviets, and a multi-party Constituent Assembly, although by 1918 it had centralised power in the new Communist Party. Lenin's administration redistributed land among the peasantry and nationalised banks and large-scale industry. It withdrew from the First World War by signing a treaty conceding territory to the Central Powers, and promoted world revolution through the Communist International. Opponents were suppressed in the Red Terror, a violent campaign administered by the state security services; tens of thousands were killed or interned in concentration camps. His administration defeated right and left-wing anti-Bolshevik armies in the Russian Civil War from 1917 to 1922 and oversaw the Polish–Soviet War of 1919–1921. Responding to wartime devastation, famine, and popular uprisings, in 1921 Lenin encouraged economic growth through the market-oriented New Economic Policy. Several non-Russian nations had secured independence from the Russian Empire after 1917, but three were re-united into the new Soviet Union in 1922. His health failing, Lenin died in Gorki, with Joseph Stalin succeeding him as the pre-eminent figure in the Soviet government.

Widely considered one of the most significant and influential figures of the 20th century, Lenin was the posthumous subject of a pervasive personality cult within the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991. He became an ideological figurehead behind Marxism–Leninism and a prominent influence over the international communist movement. A controversial and highly divisive historical figure, Lenin is viewed by supporters as a champion of socialism and the working class while critics have emphasised his role as founder and leader of an authoritarian regime responsible for political repression and mass killings.

Vladimir Lenin Intro articles: 50

Early life

Childhood: 1870–1887

Lenin's childhood home in Simbirsk

Lenin's father Ilya Nikolayevich Ulyanov was from a family of serfs; his ethnic origins remain unclear, with suggestions being made that he was of Russian, Chuvash, Mordvin, or Kalmyk ancestry.[2] Despite this lower-class background, Ilya had risen to middle-class status, studying physics and mathematics at Kazan Imperial University before teaching at the Penza Institute for the Nobility.[3] Ilya married Maria Alexandrovna Blank in mid-1863.[4] Well educated, she was the daughter of a wealthy GermanSwedish Lutheran mother, and according to some sources a Russian Jewish father who had converted to Christianity and worked as a physician.[5] According to historian Petrovsky-Shtern, it is likely that Lenin was unaware of his mother's half-Jewish ancestry, which was only discovered by his sister Anna after his death.[6] Soon after their wedding, Ilya obtained a job in Nizhny Novgorod, rising to become Director of Primary Schools in the Simbirsk district six years later. Five years after that, he was promoted to Director of Public Schools for the province, overseeing the foundation of over 450 schools as a part of the government's plans for modernisation. His dedication to education earned him the Order of St. Vladimir, which bestowed on him the status of hereditary nobleman.[7]

An image of Lenin (left) at the age of three

Lenin was born in Streletskaya Ulitsa, Simbirsk, now Ulyanovsk, on 22 April 1870, and baptised six days later;[8] as a child, he was known as Volodya, a diminutive of Vladimir.[9] He was the third of eight children, having two older siblings, Anna (born 1864) and Alexander (born 1866). They were followed by three more children, Olga (born 1871), Dmitry (born 1874), and Maria (born 1878). Two later siblings died in infancy.[10] Ilya was a devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church and baptised his children into it, although Maria, a Lutheran by upbringing, was largely indifferent to Christianity, a view that influenced her children.[11]

Both parents were monarchists and liberal conservatives, being committed to the emancipation reform of 1861 introduced by the reformist Tsar Alexander II; they avoided political radicals and there is no evidence that the police ever put them under surveillance for subversive thought.[12] Every summer they holidayed at a rural manor in Kokushkino.[13] Among his siblings, Lenin was closest to his sister Olga, whom he often bossed around; he had an extremely competitive nature and could be destructive, but usually admitted his misbehaviour.[14] A keen sportsman, he spent much of his free time outdoors or playing chess, and excelled at school, the disciplinarian and conservative Simbirsk Classical Gimnazia.[15]

In January 1886, when Lenin was 15, his father died of a brain haemorrhage.[16] Subsequently, his behaviour became erratic and confrontational and he renounced his belief in God.[17] At the time, Lenin's elder brother Alexander, whom he affectionately knew as Sasha, was studying at Saint Petersburg University. Involved in political agitation against the absolute monarchy of the reactionary Tsar Alexander III, Alexander studied the writings of banned leftists and organised anti-government protests. He joined a revolutionary cell bent on assassinating the Tsar and was selected to construct a bomb. Before the attack could take place, the conspirators were arrested and tried, and Alexander was executed by hanging in May.[18] Despite the emotional trauma of his father's and brother's deaths, Lenin continued studying, graduated from school at the top of his class with a gold medal for exceptional performance, and decided to study law at Kazan University.[19]

University and political radicalisation: 1887–1893

Upon entering Kazan University in August 1887, Lenin moved into a nearby flat.[20] There, he joined a zemlyachestvo, a form of university society that represented the men of a particular region.[21] This group elected him as its representative to the university's zemlyachestvo council, and he took part in a December demonstration against government restrictions that banned student societies. The police arrested Lenin and accused him of being a ringleader in the demonstration; he was expelled from the university, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs exiled him to his family's Kokushkino estate.[22] There, he read voraciously, becoming enamoured with Nikolay Chernyshevsky's 1863 pro-revolutionary novel What Is to Be Done?[23]

Lenin's mother was concerned by her son's radicalisation, and was instrumental in convincing the Interior Ministry to allow him to return to the city of Kazan, but not the university.[24] On his return, he joined Nikolai Fedoseev's revolutionary circle, through which he discovered Karl Marx's 1867 book Capital. This sparked his interest in Marxism, a socio-political theory that argued that society developed in stages, that this development resulted from class struggle, and that capitalist society would ultimately give way to socialist society and then communist society.[25] Wary of his political views, Lenin's mother bought a country estate in Alakaevka village, Samara Oblast, in the hope that her son would turn his attention to agriculture. He had little interest in farm management, and his mother soon sold the land, keeping the house as a summer home.[26]

Lenin came under the influence of Karl Marx.

In September 1889, the Ulyanov family moved to the city of Samara, where Lenin joined Alexei Sklyarenko's socialist discussion circle.[27] There, Lenin fully embraced Marxism and produced a Russian language translation of Marx and Friedrich Engels's 1848 political pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto.[28] He began to read the works of the Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov, agreeing with Plekhanov's argument that Russia was moving from feudalism to capitalism and so socialism would be implemented by the proletariat, or urban working class, rather than the peasantry.[29] This Marxist perspective contrasted with the view of the agrarian-socialist Narodnik movement, which held that the peasantry could establish socialism in Russia by forming peasant communes, thereby bypassing capitalism. This Narodnik view developed in the 1860s with the People's Freedom Party and was then dominant within the Russian revolutionary movement.[30] Lenin rejected the premise of the agrarian-socialist argument, but was influenced by agrarian-socialists like Pyotr Tkachev and Sergei Nechaev, and befriended several Narodniks.[31]

In May 1890, Maria, who retained societal influence as the widow of a nobleman, persuaded the authorities to allow Lenin to take his exams externally at the University of St Petersburg, where he obtained the equivalent of a first-class degree with honours. The graduation celebrations were marred when his sister Olga died of typhoid.[32] Lenin remained in Samara for several years, working first as a legal assistant for a regional court and then for a local lawyer.[33] He devoted much time to radical politics, remaining active in Sklyarenko's group and formulating ideas about how Marxism applied to Russia. Inspired by Plekhanov's work, Lenin collected data on Russian society, using it to support a Marxist interpretation of societal development and counter the claims of the Narodniks.[34] He wrote a paper on peasant economics; it was rejected by the liberal journal Russian Thought.[35]

Vladimir Lenin Early life articles: 64

Revolutionary activity

Early activism and imprisonment: 1893–1900

In late 1893, Lenin moved to Saint Petersburg.[36] There, he worked as a barrister's assistant and rose to a senior position in a Marxist revolutionary cell that called itself the Social-Democrats after the Marxist Social Democratic Party of Germany.[37] Publicly championing Marxism within the socialist movement, he encouraged the founding of revolutionary cells in Russia's industrial centres.[38] By late 1894, he was leading a Marxist workers' circle, and meticulously covered his tracks, knowing that police spies tried to infiltrate the movement.[39] He began a romantic relationship with Nadezhda "Nadya" Krupskaya, a Marxist schoolteacher.[40] He also authored the political tract What the "Friends of the People" Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats criticising the Narodnik agrarian-socialists, based largely on his experiences in Samara; around 200 copies were illegally printed in 1894.[41]

Lenin hoped to cement connections between his Social-Democrats and Emancipation of Labour, a group of Russian Marxist émigrés based in Switzerland; he visited the country to meet group members Plekhanov and Pavel Axelrod.[42] He proceeded to Paris to meet Marx's son-in-law Paul Lafargue and to research the Paris Commune of 1871, which he considered an early prototype for a proletarian government.[43] Financed by his mother, he stayed in a Swiss health spa before travelling to Berlin, where he studied for six weeks at the Staatsbibliothek and met the Marxist activist Wilhelm Liebknecht.[44] Returning to Russia with a stash of illegal revolutionary publications, he travelled to various cities distributing literature to striking workers.[45] While involved in producing a news sheet, Rabochee delo (Workers' Cause), he was among 40 activists arrested in St. Petersburg and charged with sedition.[46]

Lenin (seated centre) with other members of the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class in 1897

Refused legal representation or bail, Lenin denied all charges against him but remained imprisoned for a year before sentencing.[47] He spent this time theorising and writing. In this work he noted that the rise of industrial capitalism in Russia had caused large numbers of peasants to move to the cities, where they formed a proletariat. From his Marxist perspective, Lenin argued that this Russian proletariat would develop class consciousness, which would in turn lead them to violently overthrow tsarism, the aristocracy, and the bourgeoisie and to establish a proletariat state that would move toward socialism.[48]

In February 1897, Lenin was sentenced without trial to three years' exile in eastern Siberia. He was granted a few days in Saint Petersburg to put his affairs in order and used this time to meet with the Social-Democrats, who had renamed themselves the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class.[49] His journey to eastern Siberia took 11 weeks, for much of which he was accompanied by his mother and sisters. Deemed only a minor threat to the government, he was exiled to a peasant's hut in Shushenskoye, Minusinsky District, where he was kept under police surveillance; he was nevertheless able to correspond with other revolutionaries, many of whom visited him, and permitted to go on trips to swim in the Yenisei River and to hunt duck and snipe.[50]

In May 1898, Nadya joined him in exile, having been arrested in August 1896 for organising a strike. She was initially posted to Ufa, but persuaded the authorities to move her to Shushenskoye, claiming that she and Lenin were engaged; they married in a church on 10 July 1898.[51] Settling into a family life with Nadya's mother Elizaveta Vasilyevna, in Shushenskoye the couple translated English socialist literature into Russian.[52] Keen to keep up with developments in German Marxism, where there had been an ideological split, with revisionists like Eduard Bernstein advocating a peaceful, electoral path to socialism, Lenin remained devoted to violent revolution, attacking revisionist arguments in A Protest by Russian Social-Democrats.[53] He also finished The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899), his longest book to date, which criticised the agrarian-socialists and promoted a Marxist analysis of Russian economic development. Published under the pseudonym of Vladimir Ilin, upon publication it received predominantly poor reviews.[54]

Munich, London, and Geneva: 1900–1905

Lenin in 1916, while in Switzerland

After his exile, Lenin settled in Pskov in early 1900.[55] There, he began raising funds for a newspaper, Iskra (Spark), a new organ of the Russian Marxist party, now calling itself the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP).[56] In July 1900, Lenin left Russia for Western Europe; in Switzerland he met other Russian Marxists, and at a Corsier conference they agreed to launch the paper from Munich, where Lenin relocated in September.[57] Containing contributions from prominent European Marxists, Iskra was smuggled into Russia,[58] becoming the country's most successful underground publication for 50 years.[59] He first adopted the pseudonym Lenin in December 1901, possibly based on the Siberian River Lena;[60] he often used the fuller pseudonym of N. Lenin, and while the N did not stand for anything, a popular misconception later arose that it represented Nikolai.[61] Under this pseudonym, he published the political pamphlet What Is to Be Done? in 1902; his most influential publication to date, it dealt with Lenin's thoughts on the need for a vanguard party to lead the proletariat to revolution.[62]

His wife Nadya joined Lenin in Munich and became his personal secretary.[63] They continued their political agitation, as Lenin wrote for Iskra and drafted the RSDLP programme, attacking ideological dissenters and external critics, particularly the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SR),[64] a Narodnik agrarian-socialist group founded in 1901.[65] Despite remaining a Marxist, he accepted the Narodnik view on the revolutionary power of the Russian peasantry, accordingly penning the 1903 pamphlet To the Village Poor.[66] To evade Bavarian police, Lenin moved to London with Iskra in April 1902.[67] He became friends with fellow Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky.[68] Lenin fell ill with erysipelas and was unable to take such a leading role on the Iskra editorial board; in his absence, the board moved its base of operations to Geneva.[69]

The second RSDLP Congress was held in London in July 1903.[70] At the conference, a schism emerged between Lenin's supporters and those of Julius Martov. Martov argued that party members should be able to express themselves independently of the party leadership; Lenin disagreed, emphasising the need for a strong leadership with complete control over the party.[71] Lenin's supporters were in the majority, and he termed them the "majoritarians" (bol'sheviki in Russian; Bolsheviks); in response, Martov termed his followers the "minoritarians" (men'sheviki in Russian; Mensheviks).[72] Arguments between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks continued after the conference; the Bolsheviks accused their rivals of being opportunists and reformists who lacked discipline, while the Mensheviks accused Lenin of being a despot and autocrat.[73] Enraged at the Mensheviks, Lenin resigned from the Iskra editorial board and in May 1904 published the anti-Menshevik tract One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.[74] The stress made Lenin ill, and to recuperate he went on a hiking holiday in rural Switzerland.[75] The Bolshevik faction grew in strength; by the spring, the whole RSDLP Central Committee was Bolshevik,[76] and in December they founded the newspaper Vpered (Forward).[77]

Revolution of 1905 and its aftermath: 1905–1914

In January 1905, the Bloody Sunday massacre of protesters in St. Petersburg sparked a spate of civil unrest in the Russian Empire known as the Revolution of 1905.[78] Lenin urged Bolsheviks to take a greater role in the events, encouraging violent insurrection.[79] In doing so, he adopted SR slogans regarding "armed insurrection", "mass terror", and "the expropriation of gentry land", resulting in Menshevik accusations that he had deviated from orthodox Marxism.[80] In turn, he insisted that the Bolsheviks split completely with the Mensheviks; many Bolsheviks refused, and both groups attended the Third RSDLP Congress, held in London in April 1905.[81] Lenin presented many of his ideas in the pamphlet Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, published in August 1905. Here, he predicted that Russia's liberal bourgeoisie would be sated by a transition to constitutional monarchy and thus betray the revolution; instead he argued that the proletariat would have to build an alliance with the peasantry to overthrow the Tsarist regime and establish the "provisional revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry."[82]

The uprising has begun. Force against Force. Street fighting is raging, barricades are being thrown up, rifles are cracking, guns are booming. Rivers of blood are flowing, the civil war for freedom is blazing up. Moscow and the South, the Caucasus and Poland are ready to join the proletariat of St. Petersburg. The slogan of the workers has become: Death or Freedom!

—Lenin on the Revolution of 1905[83]

In response to the revolution of 1905, which had failed to overthrow the government, Tsar Nicholas II accepted a series of liberal reforms in his October Manifesto. In this climate, Lenin felt it safe to return to St. Petersburg.[84] Joining the editorial board of Novaya Zhizn (New Life), a radical legal newspaper run by Maria Andreyeva, he used it to discuss issues facing the RSDLP.[85] He encouraged the party to seek out a much wider membership, and advocated the continual escalation of violent confrontation, believing both to be necessary for a successful revolution.[86] Recognising that membership fees and donations from a few wealthy sympathisers were insufficient to finance the Bolsheviks' activities, Lenin endorsed the idea of robbing post offices, railway stations, trains, and banks. Under the lead of Leonid Krasin, a group of Bolsheviks began carrying out such criminal actions, the best known taking place in June 1907, when a group of Bolsheviks acting under the leadership of Joseph Stalin committed an armed robbery of the State Bank in Tiflis, Georgia.[87]

Although he briefly supported the idea of reconciliation between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks,[88] Lenin's advocacy of violence and robbery was condemned by the Mensheviks at the Fourth RSDLP Congress, held in Stockholm in April 1906.[89] Lenin was involved in setting up a Bolshevik Centre in Kuokkala, Grand Duchy of Finland, which was at the time a semi-autonomous part of the Russian Empire, before the Bolsheviks regained dominance of the RSDLP at its Fifth Congress, held in London in May 1907.[90] As the Tsarist government cracked down on opposition, both by disbanding Russia's legislative assembly, the Second Duma, and by ordering its secret police, the Okhrana, to arrest revolutionaries, Lenin fled Finland for Switzerland.[91] There, he tried to exchange those banknotes stolen in Tiflis that had identifiable serial numbers on them.[92]

Alexander Bogdanov and other prominent Bolsheviks decided to relocate the Bolshevik Centre to Paris; although Lenin disagreed, he moved to the city in December 1908.[93] Lenin disliked Paris, lambasting it as "a foul hole", and while there he sued a motorist who knocked him off his bike.[94] Lenin became very critical of Bogdanov's view that Russia's proletariat had to develop a socialist culture in order to become a successful revolutionary vehicle. Instead, Lenin favoured a vanguard of socialist intelligentsia who would lead the working-classes in revolution. Furthermore, Bogdanov, influenced by Ernest Mach, believed that all concepts of the world were relative, whereas Lenin stuck to the orthodox Marxist view that there was an objective reality independent of human observation.[95] Bogdanov and Lenin holidayed together at Maxim Gorky's villa in Capri in April 1908;[96] on returning to Paris, Lenin encouraged a split within the Bolshevik faction between his and Bogdanov's followers, accusing the latter of deviating from Marxism.[97]

Lenin undertook research at the British Museum in London.

In May 1908, Lenin lived briefly in London, where he used the British Museum Reading Room to write Materialism and Empirio-criticism, an attack on what he described as the "bourgeois-reactionary falsehood" of Bogdanov's relativism.[98] Lenin's factionalism began to alienate increasing numbers of Bolsheviks, including his former close supporters Alexei Rykov and Lev Kamenev.[99] The Okhrana exploited his factionalist attitude by sending a spy, Roman Malinovsky, to act as a vocal Lenin supporter within the party. Various Bolsheviks expressed their suspicions about Malinovsky to Lenin, although it is unclear if the latter was aware of the spy's duplicity; it is possible that he used Malinovsky to feed false information to the Okhrana.[100]

In August 1910, Lenin attended the Eighth Congress of the Second International, an international meeting of socialists, in Copenhagen as the RSDLP's representative, following this with a holiday in Stockholm with his mother.[101] With his wife and sisters he then moved to France, settling first in Bombon and then Paris.[102] Here, he became a close friend to the French Bolshevik Inessa Armand; some biographers suggest that they had an extra-marital affair from 1910 to 1912.[103] Meanwhile, at a Paris meeting in June 1911, the RSDLP Central Committee decided to move their focus of operations back to Russia, ordering the closure of the Bolshevik Centre and its newspaper, Proletari.[104] Seeking to rebuild his influence in the party, Lenin arranged for a party conference to be held in Prague in January 1912, and although 16 of the 18 attendants were Bolsheviks, he was heavily criticised for his factionalist tendencies and failed to boost his status within the party.[105]

Moving to Kraków in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, a culturally Polish part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he used Jagellonian University's library to conduct research.[106] He stayed in close contact with the RSDLP, which was operating in the Russian Empire, convincing the Duma's Bolshevik members to split from their parliamentary alliance with the Mensheviks.[107] In January 1913, Stalin, whom Lenin referred to as the "wonderful Georgian", visited him, and they discussed the future of non-Russian ethnic groups in the Empire.[108] Due to the ailing health of both Lenin and his wife, they moved to the rural town of Biały Dunajec,[109] before heading to Bern for Nadya to have surgery on her goitre.[110]

First World War: 1914–1917

The [First World] war is being waged for the division of colonies and the robbery of foreign territory; thieves have fallen out–and to refer to the defeats at a given moment of one of the thieves in order to identify the interests of all thieves with the interests of the nation or the fatherland is an unconscionable bourgeois lie.

—Lenin on his interpretation of the First World War[111]

Lenin was in Galicia when the First World War broke out.[112] The war pitted the Russian Empire against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and due to his Russian citizenship, Lenin was arrested and briefly imprisoned until his anti-Tsarist credentials were explained.[113] Lenin and his wife returned to Bern,[114] before relocating to Zürich in February 1916.[115] Lenin was angry that the German Social-Democratic Party was supporting the German war effort, which was a direct contravention of the Second International's Stuttgart resolution that socialist parties would oppose the conflict, and saw the Second International as defunct.[116] He attended the Zimmerwald Conference in September 1915 and the Kienthal Conference in April 1916,[117] urging socialists across the continent to convert the "imperialist war" into a continent-wide "civil war" with the proletariat pitted against the bourgeoisie and aristocracy.[118] In July 1916, Lenin's mother died, but he was unable to attend her funeral.[119] Her death deeply affected him, and he became depressed, fearing that he too would die before seeing the proletarian revolution.[120]

In September 1917, Lenin published Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, which argued that imperialism was a product of monopoly capitalism, as capitalists sought to increase their profits by extending into new territories where wages were lower and raw materials cheaper. He believed that competition and conflict would increase and that war between the imperialist powers would continue until they were overthrown by proletariat revolution and socialism established.[121] He spent much of this time reading the works of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Aristotle, all of whom had been key influences on Marx.[122] This changed Lenin's interpretation of Marxism; whereas he once believed that policies could be developed based on predetermined scientific principles, he concluded that the only test of whether a policy was correct was its practice.[123] He still perceived himself as an orthodox Marxist, but he began to diverge from some of Marx's predictions about societal development; whereas Marx had believed that a "bourgeoisie-democratic revolution" of the middle-classes had to take place before a "socialist revolution" of the proletariat, Lenin believed that in Russia the proletariat could overthrow the Tsarist regime without an intermediate revolution.[124]

February Revolution and the July Days: 1917

In February 1917, the February Revolution broke out in St. Petersburg, renamed Petrograd at the beginning of the First World War, as industrial workers went on strike over food shortages and deteriorating factory conditions. The unrest spread to other parts of Russia, and fearing that he would be violently overthrown, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated. The State Duma took over control of the country, establishing the Russian Provisional Government and converting the Empire into a new Russian Republic.[125] When Lenin learned of this from his base in Switzerland, he celebrated with other dissidents.[126] He decided to return to Russia to take charge of the Bolsheviks but found that most passages into the country were blocked due to the ongoing conflict. He organised a plan with other dissidents to negotiate a passage for them through Germany, with whom Russia was then at war. Recognising that these dissidents could cause problems for their Russian enemies, the German government agreed to permit 32 Russian citizens to travel in a sealed train carriage through their territory, among them Lenin and his wife.[127] The group travelled by train from Zürich to Sassnitz, proceeding by ferry to Trelleborg, Sweden, and from there to the HaparandaTornio border crossing and then to Helsinki before taking the final train to Petrograd in disguise.[128]

The engine that pulled the train on which Lenin arrived at Petrograd's Finland Station in April 1917 was not preserved. So Engine #293, by which Lenin escaped to Finland and then returned to Russia later in the year, serves as the permanent exhibit, installed at a platform on the station.[129]

Arriving at Petrograd's Finland Station in April, Lenin gave a speech to Bolshevik supporters condemning the Provisional Government and again calling for a continent-wide European proletarian revolution.[130] Over the following days, he spoke at Bolshevik meetings, lambasting those who wanted reconciliation with the Mensheviks and revealing his "April Theses", an outline of his plans for the Bolsheviks, which he had written on the journey from Switzerland.[131] He publicly condemned both the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries, who dominated the influential Petrograd Soviet, for supporting the Provisional Government, denouncing them as traitors to socialism. Considering the government to be just as imperialist as the Tsarist regime, he advocated immediate peace with Germany and Austria-Hungary, rule by soviets, the nationalisation of industry and banks, and the state expropriation of land, all with the intention of establishing a proletariat government and pushing toward a socialist society. By contrast, the Mensheviks believed that Russia was insufficiently developed to transition to socialism and accused Lenin of trying to plunge the new Republic into civil war.[132] Over the coming months, he campaigned for his policies, attending the meetings of the Bolshevik Central Committee, prolifically writing for the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda, and giving public speeches in Petrograd aimed at converting workers, soldiers, sailors, and peasants to his cause.[133]

Sensing growing frustration among Bolshevik supporters, Lenin suggested an armed political demonstration in Petrograd to test the government's response.[134] Amid deteriorating health, he left the city to recuperate in the Finnish village of Neivola.[135] The Bolsheviks' armed demonstration, the July Days, took place while Lenin was away, but upon learning that demonstrators had violently clashed with government forces, he returned to Petrograd and called for calm.[136] Responding to the violence, the government ordered the arrest of Lenin and other prominent Bolsheviks, raiding their offices, and publicly alleging that he was a German agent provocateur.[137] Evading arrest, Lenin hid in a series of Petrograd safe houses.[138] Fearing that he would be killed, Lenin and fellow senior Bolshevik Grigory Zinoviev escaped Petrograd in disguise, relocating to Razliv.[139] There, Lenin began work on the book that became The State and Revolution, an exposition on how he believed the socialist state would develop after the proletariat revolution, and how from then on the state would gradually wither away, leaving a pure communist society.[140] He began arguing for a Bolshevik-led armed insurrection to topple the government, but at a clandestine meeting of the party's central committee this idea was rejected.[141] Lenin then headed by train and by foot to Finland, arriving at Helsinki on 10 August, where he hid away in safe houses belonging to Bolshevik sympathisers.[142]

October Revolution: 1917

Painting of Lenin in front of the Smolny Institute by Isaak Brodsky

In August 1917, while Lenin was in Finland, General Lavr Kornilov, the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army, sent troops to Petrograd in what appeared to be a military coup attempt against the Provisional Government. Premier Alexander Kerensky turned to the Petrograd Soviet, including its Bolshevik members, for help, allowing the revolutionaries to organise workers as Red Guards to defend the city. The coup petered out before it reached Petrograd, but the events had allowed the Bolsheviks to return to the open political arena.[143] Fearing a counter-revolution from right-wing forces hostile to socialism, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries who dominated the Petrograd Soviet had been instrumental in pressurising the government to normalise relations with the Bolsheviks.[144] Both the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries had lost much popular support because of their affiliation with the Provisional Government and its unpopular continuation of the war. The Bolsheviks capitalised on this, and soon the pro-Bolshevik Marxist Trotsky was elected leader of the Petrograd Soviet.[145] In September, the Bolsheviks gained a majority in the workers' sections of both the Moscow and Petrograd Soviets.[146]

Recognising that the situation was safer for him, Lenin returned to Petrograd.[147] There he attended a meeting of the Bolshevik Central Committee on 10 October, where he again argued that the party should lead an armed insurrection to topple the Provisional Government. This time the argument won with ten votes against two.[148] Critics of the plan, Zinoviev and Kamenev, argued that Russian workers would not support a violent coup against the regime and that there was no clear evidence for Lenin's assertion that all of Europe was on the verge of proletarian revolution.[149] The party began plans to organise the offensive, holding a final meeting at the Smolny Institute on 24 October.[150] This was the base of the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC), an armed militia largely loyal to the Bolsheviks that had been established by the Petrograd Soviet during Kornilov's alleged coup.[151]

In October, the MRC was ordered to take control of Petrograd's key transport, communication, printing and utilities hubs, and did so without bloodshed.[152] Bolsheviks besieged the government in the Winter Palace, and overcame it and arrested its ministers after the cruiser Aurora, controlled by Bolshevik seamen, fired on the building.[153] During the insurrection, Lenin gave a speech to the Petrograd Soviet announcing that the Provisional Government had been overthrown.[154] The Bolsheviks declared the formation of a new government, the Council of People's Commissars, or Sovnarkom. Lenin initially turned down the leading position of Chairman, suggesting Trotsky for the job, but other Bolsheviks insisted and ultimately Lenin relented.[155] Lenin and other Bolsheviks then attended the Second Congress of Soviets on 26 and 27 October, and announced the creation of the new government. Menshevik attendees condemned the illegitimate seizure of power and the risk of civil war.[156] In these early days of the new regime, Lenin avoided talking in Marxist and socialist terms so as not to alienate Russia's population, and instead spoke about having a country controlled by the workers.[157] Lenin and many other Bolsheviks expected proletariat revolution to sweep across Europe in days or months.[158]

Vladimir Lenin Revolutionary activity articles: 120