Vladimir Lenin in 1914

Vladimir Illich Ulyanov (later known as Lenin) was born in Simbirsk, Russia, on 10th April, 1870. His father, Ilya Ulyanov, a local schools inspector, held conservative views and was a devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church. Lenin was deeply influenced by the revolutionary political views of his older brother, Alexander Ulyanov, who introduced him to the ideas of Karl Marx.

Lenin was educated at the Simbirsk Gymnasium. His headmaster was F. I. Kerensky, the father of Alexander Kerensky. Although Lenin despised the conservative views of his teachers he still managed to do well in his examinations.

In 1887 Lenin's brother, Alexander Ulyanov, a member of the People's Will, was executed for his part in the plot to kill Tsar Alexander III. As the brother of a state criminal, attempts were made to stop Lenin from entering university. Eventually he was allowed to study law at Kazan University.

While at university Lenin became involved in politics. After one protest demonstration he was arrested and taken to the local police station. One of the police officers asked: "Why are you rebelling, young man? After all, there is a wall in front of you." Lenin replied: "The wall is tottering, you only have to push it for it to fall over."

Lenin was now expelled from Kazan University and so he went to St. Petersburg and studied as an external student. After qualifying in 1893 he practised law in the capital. He continued his involvement in politics and in 1895 went to Switzerland to meet George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Vera Zasulich and Lev Deich and other members of the Liberation of Labour group.

On his return to St. Petersburg, Lenin and his friends Jules Martov and Nadezhda Krupskaya, formed the Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class.

In 1896 Lenin was arrested and sentenced to three years internal exile in Siberia. Nadezhda Krupskaya joined Lenin in Shushenskoye and they married in July, 1898. While living in exile Lenin wrote The Development of Capitalism in Russia, The Tasks of Russian Social Democrats, as well as articles for various socialist journals. Lenin and Krupskaya also translated from English to Russian, The Theory and Practice of Trade Unionism by Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb.

Released in February, 1900, Lenin, Nadezhda Krupskaya and Jules Martov decided to leave Russia. They moved to Geneva where they joined up with George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod and other members of the Liberation of Labour to publish Iskra (Spark). The paper was named after a passage from a poem: "The spark will kindle a flame". Others who joined the venture included Gregory Zinoviev, Leon Trotsky and Vera Zasulich. Another revolutionary, Clara Zetkin, arranged for Iskra to be printer in Leipzig.

Iskra now became the official journal of the Social Democratic Labour Party, an organization that attempted to unite all socialist groups in favour of the overthrow of the autocracy in Russia.

In 1902 Lenin published a pamphlet, What Is To Be Done? where he argued for a party of professional revolutionaries dedicated to the overthrow of Tsarism. He continued to argue the case for a small party of activists with a large fringe of non-party sympathizers and supporters at the Second Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party held in London in 1903.

His long-time friend, Jues Martov, disagreed believing it was better to have a large party of activists. Martov won the vote 28-23 but Lenin was unwilling to accept the result and formed a faction known as the Bolsheviks. Those who remained loyal to Martov became known as Mensheviks.

Those who supported Lenin included Gregory Zinoviev, Joseph Stalin, Anatoli Lunacharsky, Mikhail Lashevich, Nadezhda Krupskaya, Alexei Rykov, Yakov Sverdlov, Mikhail Frunze, Maxim Litvinov, Vladimir Antonov, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Gregory Ordzhonikidze, and Alexander Bogdanov. Whereas George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Leon Trotsky, Lev Deich, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, Vera Zasulich, Irakli Tsereteli, Moisei Uritsky, Noi Zhordania and Fedor Dan supported Jules Martov.

Lenin now lost control of Iskra and therefore launched his own newspaper, Vpred (Forward). He returned to Russia during the 1905 Revolution but unlike Leon Trotsky and the Mensheviks, he made little impact on its development and failed to gain much support from the emerging trade union movement.

In 1907 Lenin abandoned hope for an imminent armed uprising and called on Bolsheviks in Russia to participate in the elections for the Third Duma.

Lenin also spent a great deal of time finding ways of raising money for the party. He secured large donations from Maxim Gorky and Sava Morozov, the Moscow millionaire. This was not the main source of income. The armed hold-ups of Bolsheviks gangs provided much more.

One raid on the Tiflis Post Office raised 250,000 roubles. The gang used bombs during the robbery and several people were killed. When George Plekhanov, one of the leaders of the Mensheviks, heard that the Bolsheviks were behind the robbery he declared: "The whole affair is so outrageous that it is really high time for us to break off all relations with the Bolsheviks."

Lenin, and his two loyal assistants, Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, used this money to print revolutionary literature and newspapers such as Zvezda. Some money was used to gain control some of the unions that were emerging in Russia's main industrial cities. One of Lenin's agents, Roman Malinovsky, was elected as general secretary of the St Petersburg Metalworkers' Union.

In 1911 Lenin, Zinoviev and Kamenev moved to France and settled in a small village just outside of Paris. They set up a Bolshevik Party School where agents were trained before returning to Russia. They also made plans to capture control of the Social Democratic Labour Party at the conference to be held in Prague in January, 1912. This move was unsuccessful and the party split and after that date the Bolsheviks maintained a completely separate existence from the Mensheviks.

At the conference Lenin suggested that Roman Malinovsky should join the Bolshevik Central Committee. Some party members opposed this move, claiming that there were rumours that Malinovsky was an Okhrana agent. Lenin pointed out that these stories had come from Julius Martov and Fedor Dan, two M leaders. He refused to believe the charges and advocated that Malinovsky should also be a Bolshevik candidate for the Duma. After being elected in October, 1912, Malinovsky became the leader of the group of six Bolshevik deputies.

The following year Lenin moved to Galicia in Austria. A conference of Bolshevik leaders were held in Zakopane in August, 1913. It was later discovered that of the twenty-two men who attended, five were Okhrana agents.

On the outbreak of the First World War Lenin was still living in Galicia in Austria. He was arrested in August, 1914 as a Russian spy, but after a brief imprisonment he was allowed to move to Switzerland. At a meeting at Berne he outlined his views on the war. He branded the conflict as imperialist and those socialists who supported the war were betraying the proletariat.

Vladimir Lenin

1. Was highly critical of Nicholas II and the autocracy.

2. Wanted Russia to have universal suffrage.

3. Wanted the Russian government to allow freedom of expression and an end to political censorship of newspapers and books.

4. Believed that democracy could only be achieved in Russia by the violent overthrow of Nicholas II and the autocracy.

5. Was strongly opposed to Russia going to war with Austria-Hungary and Germany.

6. Believed that if Russia did go to war with Austria-Hungary and Germany the Mensheviks, Bolsheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries should try to persuade the Russian soldiers to use their weapons to overthrow Nicholas II.

Primary Sources

(1) Vladimir Lenin, What Is To Be Done? (1902)

An organization of workers must be first a trade organization; secondly, it must be as broad as possible; thirdly, it must be as little secret as possible. An organization of revolutionaries, on the contrary, must embrace primarily and chiefly people whose profession consists of revolutionary activity.

In an autocratic country, the more we narrow the membership of such an organization, restricting it only to those who are professionally engaged in revolutionary activities and have received a professional training in the art of struggle against the political police, the more difficult will it be to catch such an organization.

(2) Joseph Stalin met Lenin for the first time in Finland in December, 1905.

I was looking to see the mountain eagle of our fatherland, a great man; great not only in the political sense, but physically: a tall, big man; for in my youthful enthusiasm I imagined him a giant, a man of martial bearing. I saw a most ordinary looking person, rather shorter than myself - and I am only of medium stature - a man absolutely indistinguishable in any respect whatsoever from the ordinary run of mortals.

(3) Maxim Gorky first met Vladimir Lenin at the Fifth Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party in 1907.

When we were introduced, he shook me heartily by the hand, and scrutinizing me with his keen eyes and speaking in the tone of an old acquaintance, he said jocularly: "So glad you've come, believe you're fond of a scrap? There's going to be a fine old scuffle here."

I did not expect Lenin to be like that. Something was lacking in him. He rolled his r's gutturally, and had a jaunty way of standing with his hands somehow poked up under his armpits. He was somehow too ordinary, did not give the impression of being a leader.

(4) Maxim Gorky letter to Vladimir Lenin in 1909.

I hold you in great esteem, moreover, I like you as a person. But you know, you are very naive in your relationship with people, and your judgment of them is poor. It seems to me, at times, that everybody is for you nothing more than a flute, that you can play on it one time or another as long as it is pleasing you.

You value the individual by the criterion of whether he is useful to you in realizing your aims, views and tasks.

That kind of measure will by necessity create around you some kind of void. This in itself is perhaps not very important, for you are a strong individual. The main thing is that this attitude will unavoidably lead you in the making of mistakes.

(5) Charles Rappaport, a French socialist, knew Vladimir Lenin before the First World War.

We recognized Lenin's achievements. He is a man of iron will and an incomparable organizer of groups. But Lenin regards only himself as a Socialist. Whoever opposes him is forever condemned by him. War is declared on anyone who differs with him. Instead of combating his opponents in the Social Democratic Party by Socialist methods, i.e. by argument, Lenin only uses surgical methods, those of bloodletting.