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Lenin

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Lenin

Vladimir Lenin was the leader Russian Revolution which ushered in over 70 years of Communist rule. So how did Lenin bring this about? What were his initial policies when he came to power? How did he change the Russian citizens' way of life? Let's get into this, comrade!

Vladimir Lenin Biography

Let's look at a timeline of Lenin's life, some facts and his participation in Russian politics.

DateEvent
1870Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov was born to a middle-class family. He later became known as Vladimir Lenin.
1887Lenin's brother Aleksandr was hanged by the Tsarist government for a conspiracy to assassinate Emperor Alexander III. This inspired Lenin to become a revolutionary. He enrolled at Kazan University to study law but was expelled for joining an illegal student body. He eventually was allowed to sit his exams and graduate in 1891.
1898The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDWP) was formed by Lenin and other Marxists to organise the new political ideology for Marxism.
1903The RSDWP split into Bolsheviks (led by Lenin) and Mensheviks.
1905First Russian Revolution. Tsar Nicholas II conceded to the uprising which aimed to limit the powers of the Tsar.
1914The First World War broke out. Lenin took the stance that WWI was a war for European imperialism that socialists could not support.Worsening economic conditions as the war went on.
1917February Revolution. The Provisional Government, made up of liberal nobles, took power. October Revolution. The Bolsheviks succeed in overthrowing the Provisional Government.
January 1918Lenin attempted to implement a democracy. After the Bolsheviks failure in the elections, Lenin declared a new Soviet government with his position as Chairman. He established the first secret police known as the Cheka.
March 1918Russia and the Central Powers signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, withdrawing Russia from WWI.
1918 to 1921Russia descended into a Civil War. Lenin's policies and decrees included "War Communism", which took all grain from peasants and redistributed it according to need in the war. 5 million peasants died from a famine.
March 1921Lenin's Soviet Government introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP) which allowed certain capitalist concessions to the peasants regarding their grain. Lenin also introduced the Decree Against Factionalism, which banned opposition to Soviet policies.
1922Lenin's Russian Communist Party were successful in the Civil War. A treaty was signed between Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Transcaucasus to form the Union of Soviet Republics: the USSR.
1924After a series of strokes, Lenin died.

Lenin Politics

Lenin brought about a period in Russian history unlike any other - one dedicated to Communism. His belief in his politics was so strong as to overthrow the provisional government and instate a Communist regime.

Lenin's ideas of Communism were heavily influenced by the political writer Karl Marx. Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto in 1848 and Das Kapital in 1867 to set out his political ideology of Communism, also called Marxism. Marx's political theories were based on his experience of living in Britain, which was living through a capitalist era.

Capitalism is a stage in Marx's economic determinism which described how the economy works. The means of production, such as factories or farms, are owned by the bourgeoisie. The workers are exploited and paid as little as possible to maximise the profits of the owners.

Marx noticed that in Britain there was a growing divide between those who owned labour (e.g. factory owners) and those who provided it (e.g. factory workers). These two groups roughly corresponded to the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

The bourgeoisie are the owners of the means of production, such as factories or farms, and profit from the exploitation of the proletariat. The proletariat are the peasants and industry workers who operate the means of production but do not profit from it, earning a wage which is dictated by the bourgeoisie.

According to Marx's economic determinism, the proletariat (the workers) would rise up against the bourgeoisie (the owners) and establish a socialist government.

The subsequent proletariat or worker rulership would educate the middle classes that equality was better than private ownership. This socialist society would then evolve into a completely classless communist state. It is important to note that Marx's economic determinism was not a historically-based prediction for the future but rather an abstract theory on how a Communist state might be formed.

What was Marx's theory of economic determinism?

This theory stated that societies could go through a series of changes to reach communism, which Marx saw as the ideal economic state. The 6 stages were:

1. Primitive communism - hunter-gatherer human societies with relative equality.

2. Imperialism - Emperors owned all the land. As the Emperor granted land to the nobility, a land-owning aristocracy was born.

3. Feudalism - land-owning aristocracy exploited peasants who work but do not own the land. Society developed and underwent industrialisation, like in Britain.

4. Capitalism - the bourgeoisie who owned the means of production (e.g. factories) exploited the proletariat or workers.

5. Socialism - the proletariat would rise up to overthrow the bourgeois government.

6. Communism - middle class were educated to value equality over private ownership. Money and government would dissolve and a united humanity would live in harmony.

But unlike Britain, which had developed from feudalism to capitalism, Russia remained a feudalist society. In Russia, lack of industrialisation meant that there was a significant lack of a proletariat (industrialised workers). How did Lenin adapt Marx's abstract works to the on the grounds reality of Russia?

Lenin Portrait of Karl Marx StudySmarterPhotograph of Karl Marx, the founder of Marxism, Wikimedia Commons

Lenin adapted Marxism in Russia to show how the capitalist phase could be skipped. Lenin wanted a Communist party would represent the proletariat to lead the revolution against the aristocracy. The dictatorship of the Communist party would rely on the proletariat's and the peasants' cooperation to dictate the communist economy. It was an ambitious move that cemented the new ideology as "Marxist-Leninism".

A key difference between Marx and Lenin's drive toward Communism was that Marx believed it would happen organically after a series of revolutions, so the economy would create the communist politics, whereas Lenin was attempting to instigate the move to communism through force, meaning the politics would create the communist economy.

Lenin Politics Domestic changes

Lenin initially wanted to instate the Bolshevik party democratically. He set up the Constituent Assembly after the October Revolution in 1917 to create the new Russian Constitution. Elections were held on 25 November 1917 but the Bolsheviks received only a quarter of the vote. Their rival, the Socialist Revolutionary Party, received a majority of the Assembly with 40% representation.

At the Assembly's first meeting in January 1918, Lenin demanded that the Assembly be led by the Bolsheviks, and upon refusal, ordered that the Soviet-loyal Red Guard dissolve the proceedings. The Bolsheviks then declared Soviet rule with Lenin as the chairman of the Council of People's Commissars.

The Red Guard consisted of volunteers from the proletariat who supported the soviets. Trotsky accumulated these paramilitary organisations, trained them, and used them to defend the Bolshevik interests during the Bolshevik revolution. Once the Bolsheviks seized power, the Red Guard turned into the Red Army to defend the Bolsheviks throughout the Russian Civil War and through subsequent conflicts.

The Bolshevik consolidation of power was achieved through the forced dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and the actions of the Cheka, the secret police. This period was known as the Red Terror. The Russian Civil War broke out in 1918 to try and take down the Bolshevik government, lasting until 1921. Ultimately, it resulted in Lenin's formation of the USSR.

Lenin Imperialism

When Lenin took power in 1917, he immediately began to make his adapted Marxist ideology a reality. This included an anti-imperialist stance against the First World War, which he declared was a war to further entrench imperialism, of which the revolutionised Russia would not be a part. This took the form of a Peace Decree in November 1917, which instigated negotiations with the Central Powers regarding Russia's withdrawal from the First World War.

Imperialism is the ideology that a nation's power can be extended outside of its limits through colonisation and military force. Lenin described imperialism as the highest form of capitalism, exploiting entire countries to gain profits for the home country's bourgeoisie.

It was not until Lenin and the Bolsheviks were officially declared the head of the Russian Soviet government that the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk could eventually be signed in March 1918.

Did you know? At first, Lenin had promised not to concede any of Russia's land or money, but the Central Powers punished Russia dearly in the Treaty. Germany gained a quarter of Russia's land, a third of Russia's population and 6 billion German marks in the deal, justified by Lenin as a concession to an "exhausted" Russia from the fighting.

Lenin Economic Reform

A key slogan shouted by Russians throughout the October Revolution in 1917 was "Peace! Land! Bread!" Lenin took Russia out of World War One, achieving the first part of this popular slogan. Let's now look at how Lenin changed the Russian economy.

The Land Decree declared that all ownership of land was abolished and given to the peasants that worked the land. Many peasants took the land with violent force, which was permitted by Lenin, but damage to property was prohibited as it now belonged to the "whole people" of Russia. As peasants now had control of their land, they had theoretically secured the bread that was made from grain.

Lenin Bolshevik poster 1923 StudySmarterPoster proclaiming "Long live the Russian Communist Party" 1923, Wikimedia Commons

Lenin also decreed that workers would own the factories that they worked in and control the production through the creation of workers' soviets. Russia's industrial economy was now nationalised. However, the Civil War brought about different problems.

Lenin introduced a temporary policy known as "War Communism", which took absolute control of Russia's economy. He nationalised industry and manufacturing and acquired all of the grain production from the peasant farmers in order to send food to the Red Army (the Bolshevik army run by Leon Trotsky). Russia's output was reduced drastically, and although the Bolsheviks were victorious in early 1921, a famine that year killed roughly 5 million peasants due to the lack of grain. This caused great civil unrest and posed a threat to Lenin's government. Various peasant revolts and the Kronshtadt Rebellion in March 1921, where the Russian navy resisted Soviet rule, forced Lenin to partially reverse some of his policies.

Lenin A portrait of Vladimir Lenin from 1918 StudySmarterPhotograph of Vladimir Lenin, Wikimedia Commons

Lenin created the New Economic Policy (NEP) in March 1921 which allowed farmers to sell their surplus goods on a free market for profit. This was clearly a backwards step from socialism to elements of capitalism, but it proved popular as peasants could eat and sell their products and crawl back from famine. This created tension within the Soviet government as it threatened their communist ideologies. It also created a "Kulak" class of middle-class farmers who could now afford a more luxurious lifestyle, and "Nepmen" who bought products wholesale and sold them for profit, a capitalist process that was previously strictly forbidden under Soviet rule.

The uneasy first few years of Soviet rule had created factions within the government that threatened the Bolshevik decrees. Following the opposition to the NEP, Lenin declared the Decree Against Factionalism in 1921, which punished any groups which criticised the Party's decisions.

Lenin also introduced a number of social reforms:

ThemeReforms
EmploymentThe 8 hour working day.Insurance for unemployment, old age, sickness, and maternity. Support for orphans and widows.
ClassAbolished all social titles in Russia. This eliminated the class divide and introduced the common term of "comrade" to address other members of society.
EducationState control of education, enforcing a communist curriculum but also educating the masses on Soviet ideology. Education was free and compulsory for all 8 to 17 year olds and gender segregation was prohibited.
ReligionThe Russian Orthodox Church, the main religion of Russia at the time, was practically abolished after Lenin came to power, and all church land was seized by the state.
MarriageThe religious status of marriage evolved into a civil arrangement as an anti-religious campaign was launched.
WomenWomen now had the same access to education and employment as men. Women achieved sexual, political and economic equality as women's emancipation was a key part of Lenin's philosophy.

After a series of strokes, Lenin died in 1924. He successfully established the Soviet Union in 1922 and dictated Lenin's Testament, which outlined Lenin's concerns about the potential leaders who would take over. This included Trotsky, Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin. Lenin favoured a collective leadership using a combination of these candidates but died before he could declare his official successor.

Lenin - Key takeaways

  • Lenin became revolutionary after his brother's execution by the Tsarist government.
  • Lenin followed a political ideology of Marxism which stated that Communism was the utopian form of human society.
  • Lenin came to power following the 1917 October Revolution when the Bolsheviks seized control of Russia.
  • The Civil War meant that Lenin introduced War Communism to provide food for the Red Army fighting for the Bolsheviks. This meant that peasants were deprived of grain and resulted in a famine in 1921, killing 5 million people.
  • Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy, a partial return to capitalist ideology, which provided food to peasants through free-market trade. This created opposition within the Communist Party.
  • Lenin died in 1924 and failed to declare an official successor to his rule, resulting in a power struggle.

Frequently Asked Questions about Lenin

Lenin suffered a series of strokes from 1922 which removed his ability to move and speak properly. A third and final stroke happened in 1924, when he died.

Lenin adapted Karl Marx's communist ideology to create Marxist-Leninism. Marx theorised that society organically went through 6 stages of development, resulting in the utopia of communism. Lenin wanted to skip the capitalist stage and bring a feudalist Russia to socialism through a forced revolution. This occurred during the Russian Revolution in 1917 and resulted in the Bolshevik party taking control of Russia and eventually establishing the Soviet Union in 1922.

Leninism, or officially Marxist-Leninism, is an adaptation of Marx's communism for the Russian context. Lenin believed that through a forced revolution Russia could progress from Feudalism to Socialism and skip the capitalist phase. This meant that Russia's minority proletariat population would have to lead a revolt on behalf of the majority peasant population. This resulted in a dictatorship under the communist party on behalf of the proletariat. 

Under "War Communism" during the Russian Civil War (1918-1921), Lenin followed a policy of grain acquisition, which took all grain production from the peasants in order to feed the Red Army to fight for the Bolsheviks. This resulted in a famine in 1921 and killed 5 million people.

Final Lenin Quiz

Question

When did Lenin created the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDWP)?

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Answer

1898

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Question

What was the rivalrous faction to the Bolsheviks within the RSDWP?

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Answer

The Mensheviks

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Question

What was the name of Lenin's secret police?

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Answer

Cheka

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Question

Which Treaty did Russia sign to withdraw from the First World War?

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Answer

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

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Question

How many stages did Marx theorise that human society goes through?

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Answer

6

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Question

Which stage of Marx's theory did Lenin want to skip in Russia to achieve communist utopia?

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Answer

Capitalism

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Question

Why did Lenin send the Red Guard to dissolve the Constituent Assembly in January 1918?

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Answer

The Bolsheviks had not achieved a majority and so took it by force.

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Question

Who took charge of the Red Army in March 1918?

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Answer

Leon Trotsky

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Question

How many peasants died during the 1921 famine following the grain acquisition from War Communism?

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Answer

5 million

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What does NEP stand for?

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Answer

New Economic Policy

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When did Lenin introduce the Decree Against Factionalism?

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Answer

1921

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Why was the term "comrade" introduced?

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Answer

Following the abolishment of social titles

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How did Lenin change education in Soviet Russia?

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Answer

It was made compulsory

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When did Lenin die?

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1924

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How many potential candidates for Soviet Russian leadership were there following Lenin's death?

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Answer

5

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