Vladimir Lenin

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Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Lenin (born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov [1]) (1870-1924) was the leader of Russian Communism and an important theoretician of Marxism. Coming to power in 1917 he became dictator of the Soviet Union. All over the Soviet Union and even to some extent some Western countries, there were statues and paintings honoring his memory; some were removed when Communism collapsed in 1991.

Contents

Early Life

Lenin was born on April 22, 1870 (later to be celebrated as Earth Day) to a middle class Russian family; his parents were school teachers. In 1889, he became a Marxist after his older brother was hanged for the murder of Tsar Aleksandr II. Lenin obtained a law degree shortly afterwards, and by 1895 was a subversive who was arrested and sent to a prison in Siberia as punishment. He was in exile 1900-1917. He collaborated with Georgy Plekhanov and others to set up the clandestine newspaper Iskra (The Spark), designed to "ignite" radical consciousness. In the pages of Iskra, Lenin denounced any alliance with liberals or other elements of the bourgeoisie because they would keep power in the hands of the middle class. He emphasized social democracy--equality of condition, rather than political democracy, as the basis for individual freedom. His major theoretical publication was the pamphlet "What Is to Be Done?" (1902). In 1903 he organized and controlled the "Bolshevik" wing of the Russian Social Democratic Labor party, fighting the opposition "Mensheviks." Lenin, like his populist predecessors in the Russian radical movement, stressed the need for a small elite vanguard to lead the revolution

Despite disapproval of the Mensheviks, Lenin's followers continued to raise money through a mixture of bank robberies, kidnapping, extortion, terrorism, and murder. Unlike the leaders of other Marxist organizations, Lenin did not spent the money on his own lifestyle and carefully strengthened his movement.

With German help he returned to Russia after the Tsar abdicated in March 1917 and a short-lived liberal democracy allowed for free elections. At the time, most Bolsheviks were more interested in using the ballot box to gain political power. Lenin rejected elections,and declared, "History will not forgive us if we do not take power now."

Revolution

In 1917 Lenin opposed Russia's continued participation in World War I and advocated proceeding directly to a socialist revolution, bypassing bourgeois rule. He rejected cooperation with the Provisional Government and drove some old Bolsheviks out of the party, while coopting many younger, more radical members. Joseph Stalin, Grigori Zinoviev, and others rallied to Lenin's side during the elections to the party's Central Committee during the 7th Party Conference in April 1917 and became the new leadership. The Bolsheviks were allowed free expression of disagreements until a decision by the Central Committee was reached, and then no opposition or disagreement was permitted. Lenin now ruled the Bolsheviks from his base in Petrograd (St. Petersburg).

In October 1917, Lenin masterminded a coup d'etat which overthrew the Provisional Government which had replaced the Russian Empire. In what historian Simon Sebag Montefiore has described as a comedy of errors, the Winter Palace was shelled and the Provisional Cabinet was placed under arrest by a mixture of Red Guards and radical sailors from the Kronstadt Naval Base.

Dictator

Lenin ruled the Soviet Union under Marxism-Leninism, until 1922, when he had a debilitating stroke and retired.


A wide campaign of "education" was undertaken to show the people why "workers' rule" meant, in practice, managers' rule. Where necessary, the education by the word was supplemented with education by firing squad or concentration camp or forced labour battalion. [2]

In 1918 Lenin ordered to kill all prostitutes.[3]

Death

Lenin, a workaholic who avoided vacations and downtime, died in 1924 following a series of progressively more serious strokes. Joseph Stalin was his even more brutal successor.

Interpretations

Lenin on revolution

Before 1917, Lenin thought that revolution was more likely to break out in Russia than in any other country on the continent, and he expected the outbreak of other revolutions in Europe, or at least in Central Europe, after the Russian Revolution. During the Civil War he considered a short period of War Communism as an extension of the revolutionary situation from which a direct path might open toward socialism. However, after the failure of War Communism he returned to his earlier viewpoint, that is, to the necessity of a transition period. This was reflected in the New Economic Policy (NEP) - which meant a transition including both private enterprise and a market economy. Stalin deemed the transition favored by Lenin to be too dangerous, because it carried with it the threat of a defeat and an eventual restoration of capitalism

Dictatorship of the proletariat

see also Dictatorship of the proletariat Lenin saw the Marxist concept of the "Dictatorship of the proletariat" in terms of a dictatorship exercised not by a democratically chosen majority but by a vanguard minority revolutionary party, ruthlessly controlled by a few leaders like himself. He eventually accepted the need for a state bureaucracy, and his more extreme opposition to the bourgeoisie led him to favor their exclusion and disenfranchisement to the benefit of the urban working class.

Leninism as a religion

Lenin's utopian design of a revolutionary community of virtuosi was a typical political religion of an intelligentsia longing for an inner-worldly salvation, a socialist paradise without exploitation and alienation, to be implanted in the backward Russian society at the outskirts of the industrialized and modernized Western Europe. The Russian Revolution of October 1917 accomplished the institutionalization of a political religion combining a political and sacral monopoly of power and belief. Consequently, the Leninist policy of social extermination of political opponents, ideological rivals, and stigmatized social classes became a sacral obligation to be fulfilled by the new ideological orthodoxy. The beginning iconography of a Leninist sacral tradition praised Lenin as a messianic and numinous leader. This process of iconographic work in progress culminated after Lenin's death in the sacral Lenin cult. The Lenin mausoleum served as the monumental centerpiece of sacral rites and practices to be enacted by the Stalinist orthodoxy. Joseph Stalin's invention of a sacral tradition of Marxism-Leninism qualified him as the only true disciple of Lenin. Therefore, Stalin claimed the monopoly of the infallible interpretation of the holy scriptures, summarized in his own dogmatic performances. In this sense, Stalin's Leninism became itself the religion of the Soviet state.[4]

Image and memory

After his death in 1924 Stalin portrayed Lenin as an infallible humanitarian; his writings were viewed as gospel. Museums were devoted to his life and work, cities were named for him, and huge statues and monuments honored his memory. Beginning in 1985, however, the Lenin cult began to crumble. Party chairman Mikhail Gorbachev was a faithful disciple of Lenin, but he now faced the reality that the economically bankrupt Communist state was rapidly decaying. As the Communist nation unraveled, so did the Lenin personality cult. Leningrad residents voted to restore the St. Petersburg name; the once-crowded museums attracted few visitors; and Lenin's philosophy and actions were found less than perfect. In 1991 as Communism fell, the statues and paintings went into cold storage. By 1995 plans were being made to bury Lenin's corpse, which was finally acknowledged to be putrefying just as the remains of any other mortal, as the cult itself fell into "the dustbin of history."[5]

Quotes

  • “The way to crush the middle class is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation.”
  • "The best revolutionary is youth devoid of morals."
  • "A lie told often enough becomes the truth."
  • "The goal of socialism is communism."
  • "There are no morals in politics there is only expedience. A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel."
  • "Give us the child for 8 years and it will be a Bolshevik forever."

See also

Further reading

Biography

  • Clark, Ronald W. Lenin (1988). 570 pp.
  • Service, Robert. Lenin: A Biography (2002), 561pp; standard scholarly biography; a short version of his 3 vol detailed biography
  • Volkogonov, Dmitri. Lenin: Life and Legacy (1994). 600 pp.

Specialized scholarly studies

  • Anderson, Kevin. Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism: A Critical Study (1995) 311 pp.
  • Copleston, Frederick Charles. Philosophy in Russia: From Herzen to Lenin and Berdyaev (1986). 445pp. by a conservative
  • Debo, Richard K. Survival and Consolidation: The Foreign Policy of Soviet Russia, 1918-1921 (1992).
  • Marples, David R. Lenin's Revolution: Russia, 1917-1921 (2000) 156pp. short survey
  • Pipes, Richard. A Concise History of the Russian Revolution (1996) excerpt and text search, by a leading conservative
  • Pipes, Richard. Communism: A History (2003), by a leading conservative
  • Pipes, Richard. Russia under the Bolshevik Regime. (1994). 608 pp.
  • Pomper, Philip. Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin: The Intelligentsia and Power. (1990). 446 pp.
  • Schapiro, Leonard and Reddaway, Peter, eds. Lenin: The Man, the Theorist, the Leader - a Reappraisal (1987). 317 pp.
  • White, James D. Lenin: The Practice and Theory of Revolution (2001) 262pp.

Primary sources

  • Desai, Meghnad, ed. Lenin's Economic Writings. (1989). 363 pp.
  • Pipes, Richard, ed. The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive. (1996). 185 pp.

References

  1. "Vladimir Ilyich Lenin" (Russian: Владимир Ильич Улянов, Ленин) was the pseudonym he used after 1900 to disguise his identity.
  2. James Burnham, The Managerial Revolution, (1940).
  3. http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/aug/09gff.htm
  4. Klaus-Georg Riegel, "Marxism-Leninism as a Political Religion," Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 2005 6(1): 97-126 in EBSCO
  5. Trevor J. Smith, "The Collapse of the Lenin Personality Cult in Soviet Russia, 1985-1995," Historian 1998 60(2): 325-343, in EBSCO
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