Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin had just finished speaking at a factory in Moscow, when Fanya Kaplan, a member of the Social Revolutionary party shot him twice. Lenin, the leader of the Bolsheviks was seriously wounded, but survived the attack. The attempted assassination basically set off a “gang war” of sorts, although to a much larger degree…a Civil War, really. That war, known as Red Terror, set off a wave of reprisals by the Bolsheviks against the Social Revolutionaries and other political opponents. As Russia fell deeper into civil war, thousands of people were executed. This had been coming since 1887, but would not fully materialize until the assassination of Petrograd Cheka leader Moisei Uritsky and the attempted assassination of Vladimir Lenin.
Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov was born on April 22, 1870, in Simbirsk, Russian Empire. After his brother was executed in 1887 for plotting to assassinate Czar Alexander III, Ulyanov became interested in the revolutionary cause, also adopting the pseudonym…Lenin. He decided to study law and upon completion, took up practice in Petrograd, which is now Saint Petersburg. In Petrograd, Lenin began to associate with people from the revolutionary Marxist circles. Soon, he was organizing a Marxist group in the capital to enlist workers to the Marxist cause. He called the new group, “Union for the Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class.” Following the December 1895, arrest of Lenin and the other leaders of the Union, Lenin was jailed for a year. Upon his release, he was exiled to Siberia for a term of three years.
After his term in jail, and the subsequent exile, Lenin went to Western Europe in 1900, where he continued his revolutionary activity. In 1902, while in Western Europe that he published a pamphlet titled “What Is to Be Done?,” which argued that only a disciplined party of professional revolutionaries could bring socialism to Russia. Of course, most of us know that Lenin was working in the shadows to get back into the Russian Marxist system. In 1903, he met with other Russian Marxists in London and established the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDWP), but while he tried really hard, there was discord from the start. There remained a split between Lenin’s Bolsheviks (Majoritarians), who advocated militarism, and the Mensheviks (Minoritarians), who advocated a democratic movement toward socialism. There is a saying, about a house divided…it just can’t stand. These two groups increasingly opposed each other within the framework of the RSDWP, and Lenin made the split official at a 1912 conference of the Bolshevik Party.
After the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1905, Lenin made his move, and returned to Russia. The revolution, which consisted mainly of strikes throughout the Russian empire, came to an end when Nicholas II promised reforms, including the adoption of a Russian constitution and the establishment of an elected legislature. Then, when order had been restored, as often happens in government, the czar nullified most of these reforms. That forced Lenin to go into exile again in 1907.
Lenin was opposed to World War I, which began in 1914, calling it “an imperialistic conflict” and called on “working-class” soldiers to turn their guns on the capitalist leaders who “sent them down into the murderous trenches.” Lenin was pushing for a socialist agenda by appealing to the middle-income people who felt like they should be given a handout by the government to supplement their income. Little did they know that socialism is never the best solution. War is always hard on the countries involved, but World War I was an unprecedented disaster for Russia. The Russian casualties were greater than those sustained by any other nation in any previous war. The war also left the economy hopelessly disrupted by the costly war effort. By March of 1917, things had gotten so bad that riots and strikes broke out in Petrograd over the scarcity of food. To make matters worse, army troops who had lost confidence in the leadership joined the strikers, and on March 15 Nicholas II was forced to abdicate, which brought to an end centuries of czarist rule. Following the February Revolution, so named because of Russia’s use of the Julian calendar, power was shared between the ineffectual Provincial Government and the soviets, or “councils” of soldiers’ and workers’ committees.
German authorities allowed Lenin and his lieutenants to secretly cross Germany en route from Switzerland to Sweden in a sealed railway car, after the outbreak of the February Revolution. The hope was that the return of the anti-war Socialists to Russia would undermine the Russian war effort, which had been continued under the Provincial Government. Lenin began to push for the overthrow of the Provincial Government by the soviets, an act for which he was condemned as a “German agent” by the government’s leaders. Forced to escape to Finland in July, his call for “peace, land, and bread” met with increasing popular support, and the Bolsheviks won a majority in the Petrograd soviet. Then, in October, Lenin secretly returned to Petrograd, and on November 7th the Bolshevik-led Red Guards took down the Provisional Government and proclaimed soviet rule.
Following the coup, Lenin became the virtual dictator of the world’s first Marxist state. His government made peace with Germany, nationalized industry, and distributed land but beginning in 1918, it all began to fall apart. The nation sank into a devastating civil war against czarist forces. In 1920, the czarists were defeated, and in 1922 the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was established. Upon Lenin’s death in early 1924, his body was embalmed and placed in a mausoleum near the Moscow Kremlin. Petrograd was renamed Leningrad in his honor. After a struggle of succession, fellow revolutionary Joseph Stalin succeeded Lenin as leader of the Soviet Union. The Lenin years were finally over.