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Vladimir Lenin

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Lenin, a thrilling action biopic coming to a theater near you.
His purpose, to save the world; his method, to blow it up.
Winston Churchill[1]
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Opiates for the masses
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Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Владимир Ильич Ульянов) (22 April, 1870–21 January, 1924), better known as Vladimir Lenin, was a Russian communist revolutionary who played a leading role in the overthrow of the Russian provisional government in during the October Revolution of 1917. He subsequently became the dictator of Russia and then the Soviet Union.

Though he was still in exile in Switzerland when the Russian monarchy was overthrown, Lenin arrived in time to take command of the second and more important phase of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Although widely believed to have given the order to kill the Tsar and his family to keep them out of the hands of anti-communist forces, current evidence holds that he had no action in it beyond approving of the executions after they had taken place.[2]

Lenin's Bolshevik government initially shared power with other leftists and popularly elected officials, but he quickly centralized power underneath his party and became the dictator of a one-party regime. Lenin's leadership came during a tumultuous and violent time. Russia had been ravaged by the Central Powers during World War I, and Lenin decided that it was better to sign the extremely harsh Treaty of Brest-Litovsk than continue the losing war.[3] This did not bring peace, as the Russian Civil War was still ongoing, pitting Lenin's Red Army against the anti-communist White Army and Russia's former Entente allies.[4] Lenin ordered the Red Terror, a wave of arrests, attacks, and murders committed by state security forces against tens of thousands of people to eliminate internal opposition during the war.[5]

Before the civil war was even finished, Lenin expanded hostilities by attacking Poland in an attempt to expand his revolution to Western Europe.[6] Lenin won the civil war but suffered a costly defeat against the Poles.

After peace finally broke out, Lenin was able to turn his attention entirely to domestic policy. To address Russia's severe economic problems, he implemented some limited market reforms called the New Economic Policy. (According to certain Marxist thinkers, the NEP was needed to diminish and eventually eliminate the worker-peasant divide. In their view, this needed to be abolished as part of the transition to communism, as Russia still had a large peasant population at the time.) He then reunited Russia with those parts of its territory that had broken away after the revolution, forming the Soviet Union in 1922.[7] Around the same time, he started expelling intellectuals and their families from the new country.[8] Lenin then died of poor health, and he was succeeded as Soviet leader by Joseph Stalin, who was much worse.

Notwithstanding his world history-making role, Lenin was punished in death by having his funeral requests denied and his wax-filled corpse put on eternal display so we can rebuild him once we have the technology in Moscow.[9] As the first person to put Karl Marx's ideas into practice on a national scale, Lenin is especially revered among the hard-left, despite founding the Cheka (although the apparatus for secret police had existed since the days of the Tsar), militarizing labor at the cost of thousands of people being displaced, bringing about the Red Terror and brutally crushing anarchist uprisings.

Paint the town red[edit]

Not a single problem of the class struggle has ever been solved in history except by violence. When violence is exercised by the working people, by the mass of exploited against the exploiters — then we are for it!
—Vladimir Lenin, 1918.[10]

Departing from Marx, Lenin dropped the idea of direct democracy. He also started nationalizing major companies while granting workers more autonomy and benefits on behalf of the government. However, Marx's idea was to let workers run the industries themselves and let the socialist state "wither away". A bunch of bitter monarchists and peasants (not together, of course) tried to overthrow Lenin and his Bolshevik Party, which led to the Russian Civil War and the harsh policies of war communism. Such policies led to the total control of the economy and government by one party, which could not be accused of corruption (for fear of execution or imprisonment). Indeed, the differences between Marxism and Leninism are significant. Joseph Stalin later cranked these up to 11, especially with the cult of personality Stalin constructed around Lenin (and eventually around himself). Lenin was adamant that a personality cult should not be built around him due to Marxist doctrine, which dictates that classes led history, not "Great Men".

Still, Lenin did manage to accomplish several genuinely good things. He was the man who took Russia out of World War I (and brought it into the internecine Russian Civil War) and (at first) brought in some degree of democracy. Women were given voting rights and allowed to attend university, as were Jews, effectively enabling Ayn Rand to go to university and dedicate the rest of her life to bringing about the fall of communism, homosexuality was legalized[11], abortion too (the first state to do this, actually) and the Soviet government began to implement universal education projects (that, "coincidentally", were also convenient places to spread pro-Soviet propaganda).

While Leninism usually refers to Lenin's Bolshevik revolutionary model, Marxism–Leninism is the ideological/political platform developed by Stalin during his ascendancy and rule. With its Stalinist tweaking, Marxism–Leninism became the most influential form of Marxism, spread to the communist parties of the world through the Third International.

Lenin is also widely credited with articulating one of the first strong critiques of imperialism. However, note that his theorization bears a remarkable similarity to that in an earlier work by the liberal J.A. Hobson. Also, note that Lenin launched invasions of Poland and the oil-rich Caucasus states. These countries had only recently become independent after Tsarist Russia's collapse and were not appreciative of yet another Russian attempt to dominate them. Though the invasion was successfully repelled in Poland's case, all three Caucasus states fell to the Red Army. Today, Lenin remains a highly controversial figure in all of these countries. The same is true of several former Soviet states like Ukraine and the Baltic states, which have torn down most of the Lenin statues the Soviet Union built in these countries.

Red Wedding[edit]

Lenin found fault with everybody likely to succeed him, including Leon Trotsky, but he explicitly said Stalin should not be considered, ironically citing brutality. Lenin may also be the first guy to get mad about a dude emailing his wife (he cc'ed comrades K. and Z.).[12] A trailblazer in so many ways.

If Lenin had lived a little longer, the rumor is he would expel Stalin from the party, but frankly, nothing would have changed. If given a chance, Lenin's right-hand man would have ruled in the same way as Stalin did. Trotsky approved of all the counter-revolutionary policies of Lenin: one-man government, state control of unions and councils, the Cheka, denying Soviet colonies the right to secede, banning all other political parties, and ending freedom of the press/speech. The apparatus set up by the Bolsheviks meant that a Stalin was likely sooner or later.

After Lenin's death, Stalin liked to portray himself as his best friend and chosen ruler, although Lenin himself expressed on his death bed not to let Comrade Stalin take control.[13] However, Stalin managed to oust the competition. Later, Trotsky mysteriously turned up with an ice axe in the back of his head after fleeing to Mexico.

Amadeo Bordiga called Stalin the "gravedigger of the revolution" to his face while visiting Moscow.

The power of the written word[edit]

Lenin was a prolific writer throughout most of his life and was a firm believer in the power of the written word,[14]:35-36 resulting in the massive 45-volume V.I. Lenin: Collected Works.[15] (Unfortunately, he was a very dull writer, like Marx.) Daniel Kalder calls Lenin "the father of dictator literature".[14]:1 Two days after the October Revolution, Lenin issued a censorship decree as a "temporary measure".[14]:35-36

Modern admirers[edit]

Some members of the Democratic Socialists of America are still fans of Lenin after all these years. The Jacobin MagazineWikipedia wrote an article arguing that Lenin and the Bolsheviks were just trying to survive the war against the Whites as if the millions of deaths (around ten times more than the American Civil War 60 years before) were just a contingency.[16] Of course, the article doesn't mention that Lenin came into power through a coup, and after a major defeat in the 1917 Russian Constituent Assembly electionWikipedia, he disbanded the Constituent Assembly and proceeded to rule the country as a one-party state with all opposition parties outlawed. The article also ignores that the October Coup (or, to quote the article, the "glorious October Revolution") didn't take the Tsar from power (that happened during the February Revolution). Another article published by the same magazine claimed that much that Lenin represented "has become buried treasure" and that he's "a transitional figure of deep importance".[17] Indeed, he was.

The former co-chair of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, the young section of the DSA, Ajmal A, also wrote an article explaining how the youth has a lot to learn from Lenin's political program.[18] According to Ajmal:

There’s much to learn from this revolutionary social-democratic tradition. But, today, YDSA should focus on a particular aspect of it: the role of students in socialist organizing and the purpose of the political program.

Some conservatives in the United States are also extremely fond of quoting Lenin, either to tie his words to the tactics of their opponents or to boast how smart their own tactics are (by saying they come from Lenin):

You know, Putin believes in the old Lenin adage that you probe with bayonets, when you find mush you push, when you find steel you stop. Under Obama and Clinton, we found a lot of mush, over the last few years. − Gov. Scott Walker (WI)[19]

Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that's my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment. − Steve Bannon[20]

Many non-conservatives find this completely understandable.


See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. "Churchill on Lenin". Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  2. "No proof Lenin ordered last Tsars murder".
  3. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Alpha History.
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War.
  5. The Red Terror. Alpha History.
  6. Polish-Soviet War 1920-1921. International Encyclopedia of the First World War.
  7. See the Wikipedia article on Treaty on the Creation of the USSR.
  8. See the Wikipedia article on Philosopher's ships.
  9. Inside Lenin’s Mausoleum And The Best-Preserved Corpse On Earth. All That's Interesting.
  10. Report On The Activities Of The Council Of People’s Commissars.
  11. Seriously: "Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia: The Regulation of Sexual and Gender Dissent (review)". However, Stalin recriminalized it.
  12. "Strictly personal". Copies to Kamanac and Zionviev.
  13. See the Wikipedia article on Lenin's Testament.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy by Daniel Kalder (2018) Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 1627793429.
  15. V.I. Lenin: Collected Works (1972) Foreign Languages Publishing House
  16. The Lies We Tell About Lenin
  17. The Anti-Colonial Revolt Was Key to Lenin’s Vision of Revolution
  18. Lenin’s Relevance Today
  19. Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark, "Probe with bayonets': Why so many politicos are cribbing from Lenin". CS Monitor. 17 August 2015.
  20. Ronald Radosh. "Steve Bannon, Trump's Top Guy, Told Me He Was a 'Leninist'". The Daily Beast (22 August 2016, 1:00 AM ET).