Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Biography

  • Born 10 April 1870, died 21 January 1924
  • His real name was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, but he changed it to Lenin as a revolutionary pseudonym.
  • Son of a rare middle class Russian family under the Tsar—well-educated and received law degree.
    In 1887, his brother was hanged after an attempted assassination of Tsar Alexander III. This act radicalized Lenin.
  • Arrested in 1895 and sent to Siberia for radical propaganda against the Russian state.
  • 1900-1917 Lenin is in and out of Russia; periodically exiled and allowed to return. This is his most productive philosophical period, before the Revolution and Russian Civil War.
  • Led Russia in the Revolution of 1917 and through the Russian Civil War. Diminished impact on Russian governance after 1921, when he suffered the first of 4 strokes.
  • Warned colleagues about the danger posed by Stalin in his last papers.

Lenin’s Most Important Works

  • The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1900)
  • What is to be Done? (1906)
  • The State and Revolution (1917)
  • Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder (1920)

Lenin’s Re-imagination of Marxist Theory

  • Vanguard Party– Necessary class consciousness could only be developed thought the efforts of a leading party, a vanguard, who would inculcate the values of communism and lead the revolution. The purpose of the Leninist vanguard party is to establish a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat; supported by the working class, the vanguard party would lead the revolution to depose the incumbent Tsarist government, and then transfer power of government to the working class, which change of ruling class — from bourgeoisie to proletariat — makes possible the full development of socialism
  • Democratic Centralism– As Lenin described it, democratic centralism consisted of “freedom of discussion and criticism, unity of action”. In effect, the party should freely debate issues before making decisions, but once a decision was made, the party should act in a unified means.
  • Imperialism-Lenin believed that imperialism was the highest form of capitalism. Lenin believed that the advanced industrialized nations were avoiding revolution by forcing their excess production to colonies and exploiting the resources of those nations. Essentially, Lenin believed that Marx failed to anticipate the impact of imperialism and added this to his theory. He wrote, “the outcome of the struggle will be determined by the fact that Russia, India, China, etc,. account for the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe. And during the last few years it is this majority that has been drawn into the struggle for emancipation with extraordinary rapidity, so that in this respect there cannot be the slightest doubt what the final outcome of the world struggle will be. In this sense the complete victory of socialism is fully and absolutely assured.”
  • Necessity of Revolution-Before the Revolution, despite supporting political reform (including Bolsheviks elected to the Duma, when opportune), Lenin proposed that capitalism could ultimately only be overthrown with revolution, not with gradual reforms — from within (Fabianism) and from without (social democracy) — which would fail, because the ruling capitalist social class, who hold economic power (the means of production), determine the nature of political power in a bourgeois society.
  • War Communism-Forced war effort to develop communism and win the war in Russia—harsh measures combined with education/indoctrination. The goals of the Bolsheviks in implementing war communism are a matter of controversy. Some commentators, including a number of Bolsheviks, have argued that its sole purpose was to win the war. Lenin, for instance, said that “the confiscation of surpluses from the peasants was a measure with which we were saddled by the imperative conditions of war-time.” [3] Other commentators, such as the historian Richard Pipes, the philosopher Michael Polanyi,[4] and the economists such as Paul Craig Roberts [5] or Sheldon L. Richman,[6] have argued that War communism was actually an attempt immediately to eliminate private property, commodity production and market exchange, and in that way to implement communist economics, and that the Bolshevik leaders expected an immediate and large scale increase in economic output. This view was also held by Nikolai Bukharin, who said that “We conceived War Communism as the universal, so to say ‘normal’ form of the economic policy of the victorious proletariat and not as being related to the war, that is, conforming to a definite state of the civil war”


Additional Resources

  • Lenin Biography
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