This short essay is a study of the life of Lenin. V.I. Lenin was one of the great Socialists. Lenin was probably the greatest Socialist of the 20th century. Lenin stood for Socialism, for Revolutionary Socialism, for Socialist Revolution, for workers’ politics, for workers’ struggle, for workers’ liberation, for internationalism, for solidarity, and for opposition to war and imperialism. Lenin was both a great man and a great revolutionary. He was the greatest revolutionary of his time. His leadership of the Russian Revolution of 1917 led to the first workers’ state — the Soviet Union. The revolutionary ideas and revolutionary politics of Lenin are still a useful base for thinking about working-class politics and working-class power — in the struggle for Socialism. In an age of crisis, imperialism, and war, such as today, the basic politics of Lenin are still needed.
Vladimir Lenin, 1870-1924, was the greatest revolutionary of the 20th century — due to his leadership of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Russian Bolshevik Party. His ideas and his leadership have clearly shaped the 20th century, and the historical development of the struggle for Socialism. His leadership of the October Revolution (1917), and his political thought, make him vital for understanding the revolutionary struggle for Socialism. Born in Simbirsk, Russia, in 1870, Lenin came from a middle-class Russian family. Originally Lenin’s name was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov. He adopted the name ‘Lenin’ in 1901. His father, Ilya Ulyanov, 1831-1886, was a schoolteacher and school inspector. His brother, Aleksandr Ulyanov, 1866-1887, was also a revolutionary — who was executed after a failed assassination attempt on Tsar Alexander III. Lenin became a Socialist and a Marxist in the late 1880s and early 1890s and studied law in Kazan (1887) and in St. Petersburg (1890-1892). He became actively involved in the politics of Russian Social Democracy in 1893. In 1895 Lenin helped to form the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, one of the first serious Marxist groups in Russia. In 1895 Lenin was arrested by the Tsarist authorities and exiled to Siberia in 1897. During his time in prison and exile, Lenin began to write his first major articles, essays, and books. In 1900, at the end of his Siberian exile, Lenin left Russia and became involved in building the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (1898). During the 1890s and 1900s Lenin built up the struggle for a revolutionary Socialist party in Russia, leading to the Bolshevik-Menshevik split of the RSDLP (1903) and the formation of the Bolshevik Party (1912) — which became the Russian Communist Party after the October Revolution. In 1905, Lenin returned to Russia to take part in the Russian Revolution of 1905 but left again in 1907 after the victory of the Tsarist counter-revolution. After the outbreak of the First World War, in 1914, Lenin attempted to rally the movements of international Socialism to the struggle against the war. He was a major figure of opposition to the First World War. In 1917 after the outbreak of the February Revolution, and the overthrow of the Tsar, Lenin returned to Russia in April 1917. Over the course of 1917 Lenin built up the revolutionary power of the Russian working class, and the Bolshevik Party, which led to the victory of the October Revolution in late 1917 and the formation of the Soviet Union in 1922. Lenin became the head of the Soviet government in 1917 and successfully led the defence of the Revolution in the Russian Civil War of 1917-1922. Lenin successfully led the new Soviet government until suffering a series of strokes in 1922-1924. In January 1924 Lenin died.
Lenin was a great revolutionary. Lenin lived and struggled over a century or so ago, but his ideas remain revolutionary. He was a man who became committed to Socialism in the decades prior to the First World War. He was a man who was committed to actually achieving Socialism. His struggles in the 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, and in the Russian Revolution of 1917, make him one of the most important political thinkers of modern times. Indeed, the whole development of Socialism, both as theory and as practice, owes a great deal to Lenin.1 His life, his ideas, his struggle, his theory of politics, his theory of revolution, his theory of Imperialism, and his revolutionary thought, are crucial to any understanding of Socialism.2 Lenin is second only to Marx in terms of his importance to the struggle for Socialism. The ideas of Lenin are the basis of the struggle for Socialism. A century after his death he remains a hero and an inspiration to millions of workers and millions of Socialists.3
Lenin was a great man. So long as Capitalism exists, and the potential for Socialism exists, Lenin will still retain some relevance — both for political reasons and for revolutionary reasons. Aspects of Lenin’s thought might be out of date, by contemporary standards, but the crucial aspects of Lenin’s thought still remain relevant.4 The key areas of Lenin’s thought, Lenin’s politics, Lenin’s Socialism, and Lenin’s theory of Imperialism, can still help in the struggle for Socialism. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, far from relegating Lenin’s ideas to the dustbin of history and the dustbin of politics, has perhaps helped to resurrect him and his revolutionary thought. Freed from the fact that his name was associated with the failures of the Soviet Union, and Stalin’s betrayals, Lenin and Lenin’s ideas can now be rescued and reused for future Socialist politics and future attempts at Socialist politics. In times of crisis and chaos, such as we live in today, Lenin’s politics can still be used to help develop Left politics and Socialist politics. In many ways Lenin helps to provide Socialists with a method of analysis and a method of organisation. In revolutionary terms, the ideas of Lenin remain part of the ideas of revolution.
1. V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, (1917)
2. V.I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, (1916)
3. G. Lukács, Lenin: A Study on the Unity of his Thought, (1924)
4. C. Hill, Lenin and the Russian Revolution, (1947)
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This post was written by R.G. Williams