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. According to Adam B. Ulam, the author of Lenin and the Bolsheviks (1965): "The family life of the Ulyanovs is usually described in terms of cloying sweetness. The parents loved but did not spoil their children. The children in turn loved their parents; each child had a special affection for the brother or sister closest in age, but he also loved the rest...the Ulyanovs were taught at an early age to be self-reliant and that they helped around the house."
Lenin was educated at the Simbirsk Gymnasium. His headmaster was Fyodor Kerensky, the father of Alexander Kerensky. Although Lenin despised the conservative views of his teachers he still managed to do well in his examinations. While at school he developed a love for history and languages.
Lenin's brother, Alexander Ulyanov studied natural sciences at St. Petersburg University. He was an excellent student and at first he took no interest in politics and told a fellow student in 1886: "It is absurd, even immoral, for a man who has no understanding of medicine to cure the sick. How much more absurd and immoral it is to seek to heal social ills without understanding their cause."
Lenin idolized his older brother but was dismissive of his lack of interest in politics: "Alexander will never be a revolutionist. On his last summer visit home he spent his time preparing a dissertation on Annelides and worked constantly with his microscope. A revolutionist cannot possibly devote so much time to the study of Annelides." Ulyanov's studies won him a gold medal in zoology.
Alexander Ulyanov suddenly changed his mind and became the leader of a group of St Petersburg student terrorists. In secret meetings at his apartment plans were laid to kill Alexander III on 1st March 1887, the sixth anniversary of the assassination of his father, Alexander II. Ulyanov also prepared a manifesto to the Russian people, to be published immediately after the Tsar's death. It began: "The spirit of the Russian land lives and the truth is not extinguished in the hearts of her sons. On.... 1887, Tsar Alexander III was executed."
As David Shub, the author of Lenin (1948), has pointed out, the secret police was aware of the conspiracy. "The date was advanced several days when the terrorists learned that the Tsar was planning to leave for his summer palace in the Crimea. Assassins were planted in the square before St Isaac's Cathedral. But the Tsar did not appear and at twilight the conspirators returned to their underground headquarters. Ulyanov then heard that on 28 February the Tsar was to drive along the Nevsky Prospect, probably to attend memorial services at his father's crypt in the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul. Once more the terrorists waited, but no Tsar's carriage appeared. The secret police, suspecting an assassination plot, had warned the monarch to remain in the Winter Palace. Hours later the terrorists left their stations along the Nevsky and met in a tavern. One of them, Andreiushkin, had been shadowed for days by detectives. They followed him to the tavern, where he and his comrades were seized."
In Ulyanov's possession they found a code-book with a number of incriminating names and addresses, including that of the Polish revolutionary leader, Josef Pilsudski. Over the next few days hundreds of suspects were picked up in various cities and towns throughout Russia, the police having obtained the key to the code by torturing one of the terrorists. They singled out fifteen men, including Alexander Ulyanov, for trial. The charge: conspiracy to assassinate the Tsar.
Alexander Ulyanov's mother, Maria Alexandrovna, wrote a letter to Tsar Alexander III and asked for permission to see her son. The Tsar wrote in the margin of the letter: "I think it would be advisable to allow her to visit her son, so that she might see for herself the kind of person this precious son of hers is." During her visit Ulyanov told his mother that he was sorry for the suffering he had caused her but admitted that his first allegiance was to the revolutionary movement. As a revolutionist, he had no alternative but to fight for his country's liberation.
At his trial Alexander Ulyanov refused to be represented by counsel and carried out his own defence. In an attempt to save his own comrades, he confessed to acts he had never committed. In his final address to the court Ulyanov argued: "My purpose was to aid in the liberation of the unhappy Russian people. Under a system which permits no freedom of expression and crushes every attempt to work for their welfare and enlightenment by legal means, the only instrument that remains is terror. We cannot fight this regime in open battle, because it is too firmly entrenched and commands enormous powers of repression. Therefore, any individual sensitive to injustice must resort to terror. Terror is our answer to the violence of the state. It is the only way to force a despotic regime to grant political freedom to the people." He stated that he was not afraid to die as "there is no death more honourable than death for the common good".
Ulyanov's mother pleaded with her son to ask for imperial clemency. He refused, although some of his co-defendants petitioned the Tsar and their death sentences were commuted. Helen Rappaport, the author of Conspirator: Lenin in Exile (2009): "On 8 May, having been lulled into a false sense of security that their sentences were to be commuted, the men were woken at 3.30 a.m. and informed that they were to be executed in half an hour's time. The prison officials had been so secretive in the construction of the gallows during those intervening three days that none of the prisoners in the isolation block had known. But they only had room for three gallows, which had been made up in sections, outside the prison, and silently assembled near the main entrance, without so much as a single blow of an axe being heard. As the rest of the prisoners slept the heavy sleep of those with an eternity on their hands, the commandant, priest and guards accompanied the five prisoners in single file to the place of execution. The condemned men were offered the consolation of a priest but all refused. There being only three gallows, they had to hang them in two batches... The sack was thrown over their heads and the stools kicked from under them. The condemned in Russia were not yet accorded the merciful death of the trapdoor, but a slower one, by strangulation."
When the St Petersburg newspaper carrying the news of Ulyanov's execution reached his family in Simbirsk, the 17 year-old Lenin was reported as saying "I'll make them pay for this! I swear it." Joel Carmichael, the author of A Short History of the Russian Revolution (1976), has pointed out, Lenin and other young intellectuals in Russia turned away from terrorism to the ideas of Karl Marx: "Perhaps the chief appeal that Marxism held for the Russian intelligentsia, even more so than for the intellectuals of other countries, was its combination of a powerful messianic yearning with an appearance of scientific methodology. It offered youthful enthusiasts the best of both worlds. Their ardent desire to change the world was fortified by sound, or seemingly sound, scientific reasons as to why this was not only possible, but was, even more seductively, inevitable. As far as Russia was concerned, Marxism may be summed up as the contention that Russian history is a part of world history and that, because of this, Russia must pass through capitalism in order to reach the future socialist society. It was not the peasantry, Marxists thought, that would be able to lead the march to socialism, but the industrial working class. Terrorism had to be abandoned as a tactic that was both futile and, in view of the objectively developing social forces, superfluous. The main task of the revolutionary leaders was to be the creation of a disciplined working-class party to conduct Russia into the promised land."
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 confidently 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 passing his law exams in 1891, Lenin started practising law in Samara.
Lenin returned to St. Petersburg in 1893. 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. When Lenin returned to Russia, Lenin and a group of friends, including 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. His close colleague, 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, Vera Zasulich, Yuri Piatakov and Evgenia Bosh. Another revolutionary, Clara Zetkin, arranged for Iskra to be printed in Leipzig. The newspaper 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. Lenin now lost control of Iskra and therefore launched his own newspaper, Vperyod (Forward).
Lenin's supporters in the Social Democratic Labour Party 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 came under attack from the Marxist philosopher, Rosa Luxemburg. In 1904 she published Organizational Questions of the Russian Democracy, where she argued: "Lenin’s thesis is that the party Central Committee should have the privilege of naming all the local committees of the party. It should have the right to appoint the effective organs of all local bodies from Geneva to Liege, from Tomsk to Irkutsk. It should also have the right to impose on all of them its own ready-made rules of party conduct... The Central Committee would be the only thinking element in the party. All other groupings would be its executive limbs." Luxemburg diagreed with Lenin's views on centralism and suggested that any successful revolution that used this strategy would develop into a communist dictatorship.
Lenin 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 justified the action with the words: "In politics there is only one principle and one truth: what profits my opponent hurts me and vice versa."
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, Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and other Bolsheviks moved to France and settled in a small village just outside of Paris. He was also joined by Yuri Piatakov and Evgenia Bosh. However, under the influence of Bosh, Piatakov fell out with Lenin on the "national question". As Kathy Fairfax, the author of Comrades in Arms: Bolshevik Women in the Russian Revolution (1999) has pointed out: "With her Ukrainian experience Bosh felt that nationalism of proletarian internationalism while Lenin considered that the nationalism of the oppressed had a revolutionary potential, especially in the tsarist empire."
They were joined by Inessa Armand. According to Nadezhda Krupskaya: "She (Inessa) was a very ardent Bolshevik and soon gathered our Paris crowd around her." 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 Prague conference in 1912 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. 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. Malinovsky became known as an eloquent and forceful orator. Before making his speeches he sent copies to Lenin and S. P. Beletsky, the director of Okhrana.
Inessa Armand became very close to Lenin. According to Bertram D. Wolfe, the author of Strange Communists I Have Known (1966): "She had a wider culture than any other woman in Lenin's circle (at least until Kollontay became an adherent of his during the war), a deep love of music, above all of Beethoven, who became Lenin's favorite too. She played the piano like a virtuoso, was fluent in five languages, was enormously serious about Bolshevism and work among women, and possessed personal charm and an intense love of life to which almost all who wrote of her testify." Others like Angelica Balabanoff thought that she became too much a follower of Lenin: "I did not warm to Inessa. She was pedantic, a one hundred per cent Bolshevik in the way she dressed (always in the same severe style), in the way she thought, and spoke. She spoke a number of languages fluently, and in all of them repeated Lenin verbatim."
After being elected in October, 1912, Roman Malinovsky became the leader of the group of six Bolshevik deputies. Lenin argued: "For the first time among ours in the Duma there is an outstanding worker-leader. He will read the Declaration (the political declaration of the Social Democratic fraction on the address of the Prime Minister). This time it's not another Alexinsky. And the results - perhaps not immediately - will be great."
Malinovsky was now in a position to spy on Lenin. This included supplying Okhrana with copies of his letters. In a letter dated 18th December, 1912, S.E. Vissarionov, the Assistant Director of Okhrana, wrote to the Minister of the Interior: "The situation of the Fraction is now such that it may be possible for the six Bolsheviks to be induced to act in such a way as to split the Fraction into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Lenin supports this. See his letter (supplied by Malinovsky)".
Rumours continued to circulate that Roman Malinovsky was a spy working for Okhrana. This included an anonymous letter sent to Fedor Dan about Malinovsky's activities. When Elena Troyanovsky was arrested in 1913 her husband wrote a letter claiming that if she was not released he would expose the double agent in the leadership of the Bolsheviks. S. P. Beletsky later testified that when he showed this letter to Malinovsky he "became hysterical" and demanded that she was released. In order that he remained as a spy Beletsky agreed to do this.
According to Bertram D. Wolfe in 1913: "He (Malinovsky) was entrusted with setting up a secret printing plant inside Russia, which naturally did not remain secret for long. Together with Yakovlev he helped start a Bolshevik paper in Moscow. It, too, ended promptly with the arrest of the editor. Inside Russia, the popular Duma Deputy traveled to all centers. Arrests took place sufficiently later to avert suspicion from him... The police raised his wage from five hundred to six hundred, and then to seven hundred rubles a month."
Bukharin wrote to Lenin claiming that when he was hiding in Moscow he was arrested by the police just after a meeting with Malinovsky. He was convinced that Malinovsky was a spy. Lenin wrote back that if Bukharin joined in the campaign of slander against Malinovsky he would brand him publicly as a traitor. Understandably, Bukharin dropped the matter.
Nadezhda Krupskaya later explained: "Vladimir Ilyich thought it utterly impossible for Malinovsky to have been an agent provocateur. These rumors came from Menshevik circles... The commission investigated all the rumors but could not obtain any definite proof of the charge." Instead of carrying out an investigation into Malinovsky, Lenin launched an attack on Julius Martov and Fedor Dan, who he accused of acting like "gossipy old women".
In 1913 Lenin and Nadezhda Krupskaya moved to Galicia in Austria. He organized a conference of Bolshevik leaders in Zakopane in August. It was later discovered that of the twenty-two men who attended, five, including Roman Malinovsky, were Okhrana agents. In the autumn of 1913, Inessa Armand joined Lenin in Galicia. According to Angelica Balabanoff, Inessa and Lenin were now lovers: "Lenin loved Inessa. There was nothing immoral in it, since Lenin told Krupskaya everything. He deeply loved music, and this Krupskaya could not give him. Inessa played beautifully his beloved Beethoven and other pieces... He had had a child by Inessa." This story is also supported by the testimony of Alexandra Kollontai.
Nadezhda Krupskaya wrote about her relationship with Inessa Armand in her book, Reminisces on Lenin (1926): "In the autumn (of 1913) all of us became very close to Inessa. In her there was much joy of life and ardor. We had known Inessa in Paris, but there was a large colony there. In Krakow lived a small closely knit circle of comrades. Inessa rented a room in the same family with which Kamenev lived... It became cosier and gayer when Inessa came. Our entire life was filled with party concerns and affairs, more like a student commune than like family life, and we were glad to have Inessa... Something warm radiated from her talk."
In 1914 another Bolshevik leader, Nikolai Bukharin, became convinced that Roman Malinovsky was a spy. David Shub has argued: "There was a wave of arrests among the Bolsheviks in Moscow. Among those rounded up was Nikolai Bukharin... Bukharin, then a member of the Moscow Committee of the Bolshevik Party, had distrusted Malinovsky from the start, despite the latter's assiduous attempts to win his confidence. For Bukharin had noticed several times that when he arranged a secret rendezvous with a party comrade, Okhrana agents would be waiting to pounce on him. In each case Malinovsky had known of the appointments and the men whom Bukharin was to meet had been arrested."
Bukharin wrote to Lenin claiming that when he was hiding in Moscow he was arrested by the police just after a meeting with Malinovsky. He was convinced that Malinovsky was a spy. Lenin wrote back that if Bukharin joined in the campaign of slander against Malinovsky he would brand him publicly as a traitor. Understandably, Bukharin dropped the matter.
In June 1914 Lenin published an article in Prosveshchenie : "We do not believe one single word of Dan and Martov.... We don't trust Martov and Dan. We do not regard them as honest citizens. We will deal with them only as common criminals - only so, and not otherwise... If a man says, make political concessions to me, recognize me as an equal comrade of the Marxist community or I will set up a howl about rumors of the provocateur activity of Malinovsky, that is political blackmail. Against blackmail we are always and unconditionally for the bourgeois legality of the bourgeois court... Either you make a public accusation signed with your signature so that the bourgeois court can expose and punish you (there are no other means of fighting blackmail), or you remain as people branded... as slanderers by the workers."
Roman Malinovsky resigned from the Duma on the outbreak of the First World War and against the orders of the Bolsheviks he joined the Russian Army. He was wounded and captured by the German Army in 1915 and spent the rest of the conflict in a prisoner of war camp. Surprisingly, in December 1916, the Bolshevik newspaper, Sotsial Demokrat, reported that Malinovsky had been "fully rehabilitated" for his past crime of "desertion of his post".
Lenin was appalled by the decision of most socialists in Europe to support the war effort. He now devoted his energies to campaign to turn the "imperialist war into a civil war". This included the publication of his book, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. Lenin broke with the Marxist conception of history which saw every society passing through feudalism, then capitalism, before socialism could be established and insisted that conditions existed to make a successful revolution possible. Along with his close collaborators, Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, Lenin arranged for the distribution of propaganda that urged Allied troops to turn their rifles against their officers and start a socialist revolution.
Lenin argued that "the slogan of peace is wrong - the slogan must be, turn the imperialist war into civil war." Lenin believed that a civil war in Russia would bring down the old order and enable the Bolsheviks to gain power. This brought him into conflict with Rosa Luxemburg. In 1915 Luxemburg published the highly influential pamphlet, The Crisis in the German Social Democracy. Luxemburg rejected the view of the Social Democratic Party leadership that the war would bring democracy to Russia: "It is true that socialism gives to every people the right of independence and the freedom of independent control of its own destinies. But it is a veritable perversion of socialism to regard present-day capitalist society as the expression of this self-determination of nations. Where is there a nation in which the people have had the right to determine the form and conditions of their national, political and social existence?"
Luxemburg also pointed out that Germany was also fighting democratic states such as Britain and France: "Germany certainly has not the right to speak of a war of defence, but France and England have little more justification. They too are protecting, not their national, but their world political existence, their old imperialistic possessions, from the attacks of the German upstart." To Luxemburg, this was an imperialist war and could not be turned into a war of political liberation.
In the pamphlet Rosa Luxemburg quoted Friedrich Engels as saying: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.” She added: "A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism.... The world war today is demonstrably not only murder on a grand scale; it is also suicide of the working classes of Europe. The soldiers of socialism, the proletarians of England, France, Germany, Russia, and Belgium have for months been killing one another at the behest of capital. They are driving the cold steel of murder into each other’s hearts. Locked in the embrace of death, they tumble into a common grave."
The Mensheviks agreed with Luxemburg and favoured working with other reform groups to develop a democratic state. As Victor Serge pointed out: "The Mensheviks seemed to me to be admirably intelligent, honest and devoted to Socialism, but were… completely overtaken by events. They stood for a sound principle, that of working-class democracy, but in a situation fraught with such mortal danger that the stage of siege did not permit any functioning of democratic institutions."
Lenin thought the best way to achieve a socialist revolution was to keep the war going and sent Inessa Armand to the International Socialist Bureau conference in Brussels "to do battle with such large figures" such as Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg, George Plekhanov, Leon Trotsky, Julius Martov, Emile Vandervelde and Camille Huysmans. As Bertram D. Wolfe pointed out: "He counted on her mastery of all the languages of the International, her literal devotion to him and his views, her steadfastness under fire."
In September 1915, Nicholas II assumed supreme command of the Russian Army fighting on the Eastern Front. This linked him to the country's military failures and during 1917 there was a strong decline support for his government. The country's incompetent and corrupt system could not supply the necessary equipment to enable the Russian Army to fight a modern war. By 1917 over 1,300,000 men had been killed in battle, 4,200,000 wounded and 2,417,000 had been captured by the enemy.
The war also had a disastrous impact on the Russian economy. Food was in short supply and this led to rising prices. By January 1917 the price of commodities in Petrograd had increased six-fold. In an attempt to increase their wages, industrial workers went on strike and in Petrograd people took to the street demanding food. On 11th February, 1917, a large crowd marched through the streets of Petrograd breaking shop windows and shouting anti-war slogans.
On 26th February Nicholas II ordered the Duma to close down. Members refused and they continued to meet and discuss what they should do. Michael Rodzianko, President of the Duma, sent a telegram to the Tsar suggesting that he appoint a new government led by someone who had the confidence of the people. When the Tsar did not reply, the Duma nominated a Provisional Government headed by Prince George Lvov.
The High Command of the Russian Army now feared a violent revolution and on 28th February suggested that Nicholas II should abdicate in favour of a more popular member of the royal family. Attempts were now made to persuade Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich to accept the throne. He refused and on the 1st March, 1917, the Tsar abdicated leaving the Provisional Government in control of the country.
Lenin was now desperate to return to Russia to help shape the future of the country. The German Foreign Ministry, who hoped that Lenin's presence in Russia would help bring the war on the Eastern Front to an end, provided a special train for Lenin and 27 other Bolsheviks to travel to Petrograd.
When Lenin returned to Russia on 3rd April, 1917, he announced what became known as the April Theses. Lenin attacked Bolsheviks for supporting the Provisional Government. Instead, he argued, revolutionaries should be telling the people of Russia that they should take over the control of the country. In his speech, Lenin urged the peasants to take the land from the rich landlords and the industrial workers to seize the factories. Leon Trotsky gave Lenin his full support: "I told Lenin that nothing separated me from his April Theses and from the whole course that the party had taken since his arrival." The two agreed, however, that Trotsky would not join the Bolshevik Party at once, but would wait until he could bring as many of the Mezhrayontsky group into the Bolshevik ranks. This included David Riazanov, Anatoli Lunacharsky, Moisei Uritsky, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko and Alexandra Kollontai. Trotsky officially joined the Bolsheviks in July.
Lev Kamenev led the opposition to Lenin's call for the overthrow of the government. In Pravda he disputed Lenin's assumption that the bourgeois democratic revolution has ended," and warned against utopianism that would transform the "party of the revolutionary masses of the proletariat" into "a group of communist propagandists." A meeting of the Petrograd Bolshevik Committee the day after the April Theses appeared voted 13 to 2 to reject Lenin's position. Robert V. Daniels, the author of Red October: The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 (1967) has argued that Lenin now set about changing the minds of the Bolsheviks. "He was distinctly a father-figure: at forty-eight, he was ten years or more the senior of the other Bolshevik leaders. And he had a few key helpers - Zinoviev, Alexandra Kollontai, Stalin (who was quick to sense the new direction of power in the party), and, most effective of all, Yakov Sverdlov."
The journalist, Harold Williams rejected the idea that Lenin could play an important role in affairs: "Lenin, leader of the extreme faction of the Social Democrats, arrived here on Monday night by way of Germany. His action in accepting from the German government a passage from Switzerland through Germany arouses intense indignation here. He has come back breathing fire, and demanding the immediate and unconditional conclusions of peace, civil war against the army and government, and vengeance on Kerensky and Chkheidze, whom he describes as traitors to the cause of International Socialism. At the meeting of Social Democrats yesterday his wild rant was received in dead silence, and he was vigorously attacked, not only by the more moderate Social Democrats, but by members of his own faction. Lenin was left absolutely without supporters. The sharp repulse given to this firebrand was a healthy sign of the growth of practical sense of the Socialist wing, and the generally moderate and sensible tone of the conference of provincial workers' and soldiers' deputies was another hopeful indication of the passing of the revolutionary fever."
Ariadna Tyrkova, a member of the Constitutional Democrat Party, commented: "He (Lenin) was a Marxist for whom the theory of the class-struggle was an irrefutable dogma, entitling its adepts to hold in contempt all scruples of conscience and all demands of logic. From his youth his revolutionary work was characterised by the spirit of cold intrigue and by the cruel arrogance of a man convinced that he was the bearer of absolute truth, and, therefore, absolved from all moral obligations. Ambitious and domineering, utterly unscrupulous in his choice of means, Lenin acted upon the principles of Divide et impera and sowed discord among his own party. It was he who broke up the party into the two factions of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks at the beginning of the twentieth century. The difference between those factions lies chiefly in their tactics, or rather in their moral standard."
Albert Rhys Williams got to know Lenin during this period. He later argued: "He was the most thoroughly civilized and humane man I ever have known, as nice a one as I ever knew, in addition to being a great man." Williams was convinced that the Bolsheviks would become the new rulers: "The Bolsheviks understood the people. They were strong among the more literate strata, like the sailors, and comprised largely the artisans and labourers of the cities. Sprung directly from the people's lions they spoke the people's language, shared their sorrows and thought their thoughts. They were the people. So they were trusted."
Lenin accused those Bolsheviks who were still supporting the government of Prince Georgi Lvov of betraying socialism and suggested that they should leave the party. Some took Lenin's advice, arguing that any attempt at revolution at this stage was bound to fail and would lead to another repressive, authoritarian Russian government.
Joseph Stalin was in a difficult position. As one of the editors of Pravda, he was aware that he was being held partly responsible for what Lenin had described as "betraying socialism". Stalin had two main options open to him: he could oppose Lenin and challenge him for the leadership of the party, or he could change his mind about supporting the Provisional Government and remain loyal to Lenin. After ten days of silence, Stalin made his move. In the newspaper he wrote an article dismissing the idea of working with the Provisional Government. He condemned Alexander Kerensky and Victor Chernov as counter-revolutionaries, and urged the peasants to takeover the land for themselves.
On 8th July, 1917, Alexander Kerensky became the new leader of the Provisional Government. In the Duma he had been leader of the moderate socialists and had been seen as the champion of the working-class. However, Kerensky, like his predecessor, George Lvov, was unwilling to end the war. In fact, soon after taking office, he announced a new summer offensive.
Soldiers on the Eastern Front were dismayed at the news and regiments began to refuse to move to the front line. There was a rapid increase in the number of men deserting and by the autumn of 1917 an estimated 2 million men had unofficially left the army. Some of these soldiers returned to their homes and used their weapons to seize land from the nobility. Manor houses were burnt down and in some cases wealthy landowners were murdered. Kerensky and the Provisional Government issued warnings but were powerless to stop the redistribution of land in the countryside.
Lenin welcomed these developments and it became clear to Alexander Kerensky that the Bolsheviks posed a real threat to his government. On 19th July, Kerensky gave orders for the arrest of Lenin as well as Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Anatoli Lunacharsky, and Alexandra Kollontai. The Bolshevik headquarters at the Kshesinsky Palace, was also occupied by government troops.
A Bolshevik spy in the Ministry of Justice discovered what was going to happen and Lenin was able to escape to nearby Helsingfors where he was hidden by a secret socialist, the local chief of police. He was protected by Ivar Smilga, chairman of the Regional Committee of the Russian Soviets in the city. Lenin managed to escape and commented: "All hopes for a peaceful development of the Russian Revolution have definitely vanished. The objective situation is this: either a victory of the military dictatorship with all it implies, or a victory of the decisive struggle of the workers." While in Finland Lenin completed State and Revolution. In the book Lenin explained his ideas of the kind socialist government he would like to see in Russia.
After the failure of the July Offensive on the Eastern Front, the prime minister, Alexander Kerensky, replaced General Alexei Brusilov with General Lavr Kornilov, as Supreme Commander of the Russian Army. The two men soon clashed about military policy. Kornilov wanted Kerensky to restore the death-penalty for soldiers and to militarize the factories. Kornilov responded by sending troops under the leadership of General Krymov to take control of Petrograd. Alexander Kerensky was now in danger and was forced to ask the Soviets and the Red Guards to protect Petrograd. The Bolsheviks, who controlled these organizations, agreed to this request, but Lenin made clear they would be fighting against Kornilov rather than for Kerensky.
Within a few days Bolsheviks had enlisted 25,000 armed recruits to defend Petrograd. While they dug trenches and fortified the city, delegations of soldiers were sent out to talk to the advancing troops. Meetings were held and Kornilov's troops decided not to attack Petrograd. General Krymov committed suicide and Kornilov was arrested and taken into custody.
Lenin now returned to Petrograd but remained in hiding. On 25th September, Kerensky attempted to recover his left-wing support by forming a new coalition that included more Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. However, with the Bolsheviks controlling the Soviets and now able to call on 25,000 armed militia, Kerensky's authority had been undermined.
On 12th September 1917, Ivar Smilga took a message from Lenin to Petrograd. It included the following orders: "Without losing a single moment, organize the staff of the insurrectionary detachments; designate the forces; move the loyal regiments to the most important points; surround the Alexandrinsky Theater; occupy the Peter-Paul fortress; arrest the general staff and the government; move against the military cadets, the Savage Division, etc., such detachments as will die rather than allow the enemy to move to the center of the city; we must mobilize the armed workers, call them to a last desperate battle, occupy at once the telegraph and telephone stations, place our staff of the uprising at the central telephone station, connect it by wire with all the factories, the regiments, the points of armed fighting, etc. Of course, this is all by way of an example, to illustrate the idea that at the present moment it is impossible to remain loyal to the revolution without treating insurrection as an art."
Joseph Stalin read out the message. Nickolai Bukharin was one of those who attended the meeting: "We gathered and - I remember as though it were just now - began the session. Our tactics at the time were comparatively clear: the development of mass agitation and propaganda, the course toward armed insurrection, which could be expected from one day to the next.... The letter was written very forcefully and threatened us with every punishment. We all gasped. No one had yet put the question so sharply. No one knew what to do. Everyone was at a loss for a while. Then we deliberated and came to a decision. Perhaps this was the only time in the history of our party when the Central Committee unanimously decided to burn a letter of Comrade Lenin's. This instance was not publicized at the time." Lev Kamenev proposed replying to Lenin with an outright refusal to consider insurrection, but this step was turned down. Eventually it was decided to postpone any decision on the matter.
Leon Trotsky was the main figure to argue for an insurrection whereas Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Alexei Rykov and Victor Nogin led the resistance to the idea. They argued that an early action was likely to result in the Bolsheviks being destroyed as a political force. As Robert V. Daniels, the author of Red October: The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 (1967) has explained why Zinoviev felt strongly about the need to wait: "The experience of the summer (the July Days) had brought him to the conclusion that any attempt at an uprising would end as disastrously as the Paris Commune of 1871; revolution was was inevitable, he wrote at the time of the Kornilov crisis, but the party's task for the time being was to restrain the masses from rising to the provocations of the bourgeoisie."
Morgan Philips Price, a journalist working for the Manchester Guardian, watched Lenin and Leon Trotsky closely during this period: "Lenin struck me as being a man who, in spite of the revolutionary jargon that he used, was aware of the obstacles facing him and his party. There was no doubt that Lenin was the driving force behind the Bolshevik Party... He was the brains and the planner, but not the orator or the rabble-rouser. That function fell to Trotsky. I watched the latter, several times that evening, rouse the Congress delegates, who were becoming listless, probably through long hours of excitement and waiting. He was always the man who could say the right thing at the right moment. I could see that there was beginning now that fruitful partnership between him and Lenin that did so much to carry the Revolution through the critical periods that were coming."
On 7th October, 1917, Lenin sent out another message to the Bolshevik Central Committee: "In our Central Committee and at the top of our party there is a tendency in favor of awaiting the Congress of Soviets, against an immediate uprising. We must overcome this tendency or opinion. Otherwise the Bolsheviks would cover themselves with shame forever; they would be reduced to nothing as a party. For to miss such a moment and to await the Congress of Soviets is either idiocy or complete betrayal.... To wait for the Congress of Soviets, etc., under such conditions means betraying internationalism, betraying the cause of the international socialist revolution."
Lenin thought the details of an uprising would be simple. "We can launch a sudden attack from three points, from Petrograd, from Moscow, from the Baltic Fleet... We have thousands of armed workers and soldiers in Petrograd who can seize at once the Winter Palace, the General Staff building, the telephone exchange and all the largest printing establishments... The troops will not advance against the government of peace... Kerensky will be compelled to surrender." When it was clear that the Bolshevik Central Committee did not accept Lenin's point of view he issued a political ultimatum: "I am compelled to tender my resignation from the Central Committee, which I hereby do, leaving myself the freedom of propaganda in the lower ranks of the party and at the party congress."
On 10th October, 1917, Stalin supported the resolution proposed by Lenin that the Central Committee prepared for an armed insurrection. Only Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev opposed the measure. When they explained their reasons for taking this decision in the semi-Menshevik paper Novaia Zhizn , and therefore revealing the Bolshevik plan to the government, Lenin called for them to be expelled from the party. Stalin defended Zinoviev and Kamenev and insisted they remained as members of the Central Committee.
The Bolsheviks set up their headquarters in the Smolny Institute. The former girls' convent school also housed the Petrograd Soviet. Under pressure from the nobility and industrialists, Alexander Kerensky was persuaded to take decisive action. On 22nd October he ordered the arrest of the Bolshevik Military Revolutionary Committee. The next day he closed down the Bolshevik newspapers and cut off the telephones to the Smolny Institute.
At a secret meeting of the Bolshevik Central Committee on 23rd October 1917, attended by Lenin, Grigori Sokolnikov, Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Alexandra Kollontai, Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky, Yakov Sverdlov, Moisei Uritsky, Ivar Smilga, Victor Nogin, Felix Dzerzhinsky and Andrey Bubnov. Lenin insisted that the Bolsheviks should take action before the elections for the Constituent Assembly. "The international situation is such that we must make a start. The indifference of the masses may be explained by the fact that they are tired of words and resolutions. The majority is with us now. Politically things are quite ripe for the change of power. The agrarian disorders point to the same thing. It is clear that heroic measures will be necessary to stop this movement, if it can be stopped at all. The political situation therefore makes our plan timely. We must now begin thinking of the technical side of the undertaking. That is the main thing now. But most of us, like the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries, are still inclined to regard the systematic preparation for an armed uprising as a sin. To wait for the Constituent Assembly, which will surely be against us, is nonsensical because that will only make our task more difficult."
A long and bitter discussion followed Lenin's summons to insurrection. Trotsky claimed that Lenin's proposal for immediate revolt met with very little enthusiasm: "The debate was stormy, disorderly, chaotic. The question now was no longer only the insurrection as such; the discussion spread to fundamentals, to the basic goals of the Party, the Soviets; were they necessary? What for? Could they be dispensed with? The most striking thing was the fact that people began to deny the possibility of the insurrection at the given moment; the opponents even reached the point in their arguments where they denied the importance of a Soviet Government."
On 24th October 1917 Lenin wrote a letter to the members of the Central Committee: "The situation is utterly critical. It is clearer than clear that now, already, putting off the insurrection is equivalent to its death. With all my strength I wish to convince my comrades that now everything is hanging by a hair, that on the agenda now are questions that are decided not by conferences, not by congresses (not even congresses of soviets), but exclusively by populations, by the mass, by the struggle of armed masses… No matter what may happen, this very evening, this very night, the government must be arrested, the junior officers guarding them must be disarmed, and so on… History will not forgive revolutionaries for delay, when they can win today (and probably will win today), but risk losing a great deal tomorrow, risk losing everything."
Leon Trotsky supported Lenin's view and urged the overthrow of the Provisional Government. Lenin agreed and on the evening of 24th October, orders were given for the Bolsheviks to occupy the railway stations, the telephone exchange and the State Bank. The following day the Red Guards surrounded the Winter Palace. Inside was most of the country's Cabinet, although Kerensky had managed to escape from the city.
The Winter Palace was defended by Cossacks, some junior army officers and the Woman's Battalion. At 9 p.m. The Aurora and the Peter and Paul Fortress began to open fire on the palace. Little damage was done but the action persuaded most of those defending the building to surrender. The Red Guards, led by Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, now entered the Winter Palace and arrested the Cabinet ministers.
On 26th October, 1917, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets met and handed over power to the Soviet Council of People's Commissars. Lenin was elected chairman and other appointments included Leon Trotsky (Foreign Affairs) Alexei Rykov (Internal Affairs), Anatoli Lunacharsky (Education), Alexandra Kollontai (Social Welfare), Victor Nogin (Trade and Industry), Joseph Stalin (Nationalities), Peter Stuchka (Justice), Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko (War), Nikolai Krylenko (War Affairs), Pavlo Dybenko (Navy Affairs), Ivan Skvortsov-Stepanov (Finance), Vladimir Milyutin (Agriculture), Ivan Teodorovich (Food), Georgy Oppokov (Justice) and Nikolai Glebov-Avilov (Posts & Telegraphs). As chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, Lenin abolished private ownership of land and began distributing it among the peasants. Banks were nationalized and workers control of factory production was introduced.
The journalist, Louise Bryant, had difficulty arranging an interview with Lenin. She commented in her book, Six Months in Russia (1918) that it took her several weeks before he agreed to see her. "He is a little round man, quite bald and smooth-shaven. For days he shuts himself away and it is impossible to interview him." She compared him with Alexander Kerensky who she had met several times: "Kerensky has personality plus... one cannot help but be charmed by his wit and his friendliness... On the other hand, Lenin is sheer intellect - he is absorbed, cold, unattractive, impatient at interruption... Lenin has tremendous power; he is backed by the Soviets... Lenin is a master propagandist. If any one is capable of manoeuvring a revolution in Germany and Austria, it is Lenin... Lenin is monotonous and through and he is dogged; he possesses all the qualities of a chief, including the absolute moral indifference which is so necessary to such a part."
After Nicholas II abdicated, the new Provisional Government announced it would introduce a Constituent Assembly. Elections were due to take place in November. Eugene Lyons, the author of Workers’ Paradise Lost: Fifty Years of Soviet Communism: A Balance Sheet (1967), pointed out: "The hopes of self-government unleashed by the fall of tsarism were centered on the Constituent Assembly, a democratic parliament to draw up a democratic constitution. Lenin and his followers, of course, jumped on that bandwagon, too, posing not merely as advocates of the parliament but as its only true friends. What if the voting went against them? They piously pledged themselves to abide by the popular mandate." Pravda claimed: "As a democratic government we cannot disregard the decision of the people, even if we do not agree with it. If the peasants follow the Social Revolutionaries farther, even if they give that party a majority in the Constituent Assembly, we shall say: so be it."
The balloting began on 25th November and continued until 9th December. Despite the prevailing disorders and confusion, thirty-six million cast their secret ballots in parts of the country normal enough to hold elections. In most of the large centers of population, the voting was conducted under Bolshevik auspices. Yet twenty-seven of the thirty-six million votes went to other parties. A total of 703 candidates were elected to the Constituent Assembly in November, 1917. This included Socialist Revolutionaries (299), Bolsheviks (168), Mensheviks (18) and Constitutional Democratic Party (17).
As David Shub pointed out, "The Russian people, in the freest election in modern history, voted for moderate socialism and against the bourgeoisie." Most members of the Bolshevik Central Committee, now favoured a coalition government. Lenin believed that the Bolsheviks should retain power and attacked his opponents for their "un-Marxist remarks" and their criminal vacillation". Lenin managed to pass a resolution through the Central Committee by a narrow margin.
Five members of the Bolshevik Central Committee, Victor Nogin, Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Alexei Rykov and Vladimir Milyutin submitted their resignations. On 4th November, 1917, the five men issued a statement: "The leading group in the Central Committee... has firmly decided not to allow the formation of a government of the soviet parties but to fight for a purely Bolshevik government however it can and whatever the sacrifices this costs the workers and soldiers. We cannot assume responsibility for this ruinous policy of the Central Committee, carried out against the will of a large part of the proletariat and soldiers." Nogin, Rykov, Milyutin and Ivan Teodorovich resigned their commissariats. They issued another statement: "There is only one path: the preservation of a purely Bolshevik government by means of political terror. We cannot and will not accept this."
When the Constituent Assembly opened on 5th January, 1918, Victor Chernov, leader of the Socialist Revolutionaries, was elected President. Nikolai Sukhanov argued: "Without Chernov the SR Party would not have existed, any more than the Bolshevik Party without Lenin - inasmuch as no serious political organization can take shape round an intellectual vacuum. But Chernov - unlike Lenin - only performed half the work in the SR Party. During the period of pre-Revolutionary conspiracy he was not the party organizing centre, and in the broad area of the revolution, in spite of his vast authority amongst the SRs, Chernov proved bankrupt as a political leader. Chernov never showed the slightest stability, striking power, or fighting ability - qualities vital for a political leader in a revolutionary situation. He proved inwardly feeble and outwardly unattractive, disagreeable and ridiculous."
When the Assembly refused to support the programme of the new Soviet Government, the Bolsheviks walked out in protest. Later that day, Lenin announced that the Constituent Assembly had been dissolved. Soon afterwards all opposition political groups, including the Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and the Constitutional Democratic Party, were banned in Russia.
Maxim Gorky pointed out: "For a hundred years the best people of Russia lived with the hope of a Constituent Assembly. In this struggle for this idea thousands of the intelligentsia perished and tens of thousands of workers and peasants. On 5th January, the unarmed revolutionary democracy of Petersburg - workers, officials - were peacefully demonstrating in favour of the Constituent Assembly. Pravda lies when it writes that the demonstration was organized by the bourgeoisie and by the bankers. Pravda lies; it knows that the bourgeoisie has nothing to rejoice in the opening of the Constituent Assembly, for they are of no consequence among the 246 socialists and 140 Bolsheviks. Pravda knows that the workers of the Obukhavo, Patronnyi and other factories were taking part in the demonstrations. And these workers were fired upon. And Pravda may lie as much as it wants, but it cannot hide the shameful facts."
During this period John Reed spent time with Lenin: "A short, stocky figure, with a big head set down in his shoulders, bald and bulging. Little eyes, a snubbish nose, wide, generous mouth, and heavy chin; clean-shaven now, but already beginning to bristle with the well-known beard of his past and future. Dressed in shabby clothes, his trousers much too long for him. Unimpressive, to be the idol of a mob, loved and revered as perhaps few leaders in history have been. A strange popular leader 'a leader purely by virtue of intellect; colourless, humourless, umcompromising and detached, without picturesque idiosyncracies - but with the power of explaining profound ideas in simple terms, of analysing a concrete situation. And combined with shrewdness, the greatest intellectual audacity."
Several of the communist leaders in Germany, including Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were arrested and imprisoned during the First World War. While in prison Luxemburg wrote The Russian Revolution, where she criticized Lenin for using the dictatorial and terrorist methods to overthrow the government in Russia. "Terror has not crushed us. How can you put your trust in terror."
Once again this work showed that she was opposed to the activities of the Bolsheviks. She quotes Leon Trotsky as saying: "As Marxists we have never been idol worshippers of formal democracy.” She replied that: "All that that really means is: We have always distinguished the social kernel from the political form of bourgeois democracy; we have always revealed the hard kernel of social inequality and lack of freedom hidden under the sweet shell of formal equality and freedom – not in order to reject the latter but to spur the working class into not being satisfied with the shell, but rather, by conquering political power, to create a socialist democracy to replace bourgeois democracy – not to eliminate democracy altogether."
Rosa Luxemburg went onto argue: "But socialist democracy is not something which begins only in the promised land after the foundations of socialist economy are created; it does not come as some sort of Christmas present for the worthy people who, in the interim, have loyally supported a handful of socialist dictators. Socialist democracy begins simultaneously with the beginnings of the destruction of class rule and of the construction of socialism. It begins at the very moment of the seizure of power by the socialist party. It is the same thing as the dictatorship of the proletariat. Yes, dictatorship! But this dictatorship consists in the manner of applying democracy, not in its elimination, but in energetic, resolute attacks upon the well-entrenched rights and economic relationships of bourgeois society, without which a socialist transformation cannot be accomplished. But this dictatorship must be the work of the class and not of a little leading minority in the name of the class – that is, it must proceed step by step out of the active participation of the masses; it must be under their direct influence, subjected to the control of complete public activity; it must arise out of the growing political training of the mass of the people."
It has been claimed that in the months following the Russian Revolution, the head of the American Red Cross in Russia, Raymond Robins met Lenin on average three times a week. The two men had a series of debates on politics. On one occasion Lenin said to Robins: "We may be overthrown in Russia, by the backwardness of Russia or by foreign force, but the idea in the Russian revolution will break and wreck every political social control in the world. Our method of social control dominates the future. Political social control will die. The Russian revolution will kill it everywhere." Robins dismissed this idea of the future: "But my government is a democratic government. Do you really say that the idea in the Russian revolution will destroy the democratic idea in the government of the United States?... Our national government and our local governments are elected by the people, and most of the elections are honest and fair, and the men elected are the true choices of the voters. You cannot call the American government a bought government."
Lenin replied: "I'll tell you, our system will destroy yours because it will consist of a social control which recognizes the basic fact of modern life. It recognizes the fact that real power today is economic and that the social control of today must therefore be economic also.... This system is stronger than yours because it admits reality. It seeks out the sources of daily human work-value and, out of those sources, directly, it creates the social control of the state. Our government will be an economic social control for an economic age. It will triumph because it speaks the spirit, and releases and uses the spirit, of the age that now is. Therefore, Colonel Robins, we look with confidence at the future. You may destroy us in Russia. You may destroy the Russian revolution in Russia. You may overthrow me. It will make no difference. A hundred years ago the monarchies of Britain, Prussia, Austria, Russia, overthrew the government of revolutionary France. They restored a monarch, who was called a legitimate monarch, to power in Paris. But they could not stop, and they did not stop, the middle-class political revolution, the revolution of middle class democracy, which had been started at Paris by the men of the French Revolution of 1789. They could not save feudalism. Every system of feudal aristocratic social control in Europe was destined to be destroyed by the political democratic social control worked out by the French Revolution. Every system of political democratic social control in the world to-day is destined now to be destroyed by the economic producers' social control worked out by the Russian revolution."
Lenin liked discussing politics with Arthur Ransome. The journalist later wrote: "Not only is he without personal ambition, but, as a Marxist, believes in the movement of the masses... His faith in himself is the belief that he justly estimates the direction of elemental forces. He does not believe that one man can make or stop the revolution. If the revolution fails, it fails only temporarily, and because of forces beyond any man's control. He is consequently free, with a freedom no other great leader has ever had... He is as it were the exponent not the cause of the events that will be for ever linked with his name."
Ransome told Lenin that a Marxist revolution was unlikely to take place in Britain. Lenin replied: "We have a saying that a man may have typhoid while still on his legs. Twenty, maybe thirty years ago, I had abortive typhoid, and was going about with it, had it some days before it knocked me over. Well, England and France and Italy have caught the disease already. England may seem to you untouched, but the microbe is already there."
Lenin also demobilized the army and announced that he planned to seek an armistice with Germany. In December, 1917, Leon Trotsky led the Russian delegation at Brest-Litovsk that was negotiating with representatives from Germany and Austria. Trotsky had the difficult task of trying to end Russian participation in the First World War without having to grant territory to the Central Powers. By employing delaying tactics Trotsky hoped that socialist revolutions would spread from Russia to Germany and Austria-Hungary before he had to sign the treaty.
After nine weeks of discussions without agreement, the German Army was ordered to resume its advance into Russia. On 3rd March 1918, with German troops moving towards Petrograd, Lenin ordered Trotsky to accept the terms of the Central Powers. The Brest-Litovsk Treaty resulted in the Russians surrendering the Ukraine, Finland, the Baltic provinces, the Caucasus and Poland.
The decision increased opposition to the Bolshevik government and General Lavr Kornilov now organized a Volunteer Army. Over the next few months other groups who opposed the Soviet regime joined the struggle. Eventually these soldiers who fought against the Red Army during the Civil War became known as the Whites.
Those that joined the White Army included the Cadets, who wished to continue the war against the Central Powers. Some Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries that were opposed to the dictatorial powers of the new regime also joined the resistance. Others who opposed the Bolsheviks included landowners who had lost their estates, factory owners who had their property nationalized, devout members of the Russian Orthodox Church who objected to the government's atheism and royalists who wanted to restore the monarchy.
The White Army initially had success in the Ukraine where the Bolsheviks were unpopular. The main resistance came from Nestor Makhno, the leader of an Anarchist army in the area. Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, led the Red Army and gradually pro-Bolsheviks took control of the Ukraine. By February, 1918, the Whites held no major areas in Russia but it was not until late 1920 that the Civil War came to an end.
On 2nd November, 1918, Roman Malinovsky crossed the Russian border and turned up in Petrograd. He visited the Smolny Institute, the Bolshevik headquarters, on three days running, demanding to be taken to see Lenin. On the third day, Gregory Zinoviev saw him and ordered his arrest. He was taken to Moscow for trial and Nikolai Krylenko was appointed as prosecutor.
Vladimir Burtsev interviewed Malinovsky and he told him: "When the Revolution triumphed in Germany and Russia and the possibility of participating prominently in political activities was lost to him forever, he decided to go back and die, rather than to flee into the obscurity of an Argentina or a similar place of refuge. Of course, he could have committed suicide, but he preferred to die in the view of everybody, and had no fear of death."
At his trial Roman Malinovsky admitted he had been a spy and commented: "I am not asking for mercy! I know what is in store for me. I deserve it." After a brief trial was found guilty and executed that night. The historian, Bertram D. Wolfe, has asked the following questions: "How much did Lenin know of Malinovsky's past? Why did Lenin exonerate Malinovsky in 1914, against the evidence and against the world? Why did he rehabilitate him in 1916? Why did Malinovsky return to Russia when Lenin was in power? Did he count on Lenin? Why did Lenin then not lift a finger to save him?"
Lenin's policy of War Communism during the Civil War created social distress and led to riots, strikes and demonstrations. After the Kronstadt Uprising he responded by introducing the New Economic Policy. Farmers were allowed to sell food on the open market and were allowed to employ people to work for them. Those farmers who expanded the size of their farms became known as kulaks. Factories employing less than twenty people were denationalized and could be claimed back by former owners.
Lenin was shot by Dora Kaplan, a member of the Socialist Revolutionaries, on 30th August, 1918. Two bullets entered his body and it was too dangerous to remove them. Kaplan was soon captured and in a statement she made to Cheka that night, she explained that she had attempted to kill him because he had closed down the Constituent Assembly. In a statement to the police she confessed to trying to kill Lenin. "My name is Fanya Kaplan. Today I shot at Lenin. I did it on my own. I will not say whom I obtained my revolver. I will give no details. I had resolved to kill Lenin long ago. I consider him a traitor to the Revolution. I was exiled to Akatui for participating in an assassination attempt against a Tsarist official in Kiev. I spent 11 years at hard labour. After the Revolution, I was freed. I favoured the Constituent Assembly and am still for it."
On 2nd September, as Lenin's life hung in the balance, Arthur Ransome, a British journalist, wrote an obituary hailing the founder of Bolshevism as "the greatest figure of the Russian Revolution". Here "for good or evil was a man who, at least for a moment, had his hand on the rudder of the world". Common peasants who had known Lenin attested to his goodness, his extraordinary generosity to children. The workers looked up to him, "not as an ordinary man, but as a saint". Without Lenin, Ransome concluded, the soviets would not perish, but they would lose their vital direction.
Lenin recovered from his wounds but his health remained poor. Lenin found the disagreements over the New Economic Policy exhausting. Lincoln Steffens interviewed Lenin after he was shot by Kaplan: "Lenin was impatient with my liberalism, but he had shown himself a liberal by instinct. He had defended liberty of speech, assembly, and the Russian press for some five to seven months after the October revolution which put him in power. The people had stopped talking; they were for action on the program. But the plottings of the whites, the distracting debates and criticisms of the various shades of reds, the wild conspiracies and the violence of the anarchists against Bolshevik socialism, developed an extreme left in Lenin's party which proposed to proceed directly to the terror which the people were ready for. Lenin held out against them till he was shot, and even then, when he was in hospital, he pleaded for the life of the woman who shot him."
Inessa Armand contracted cholera and died at the age of forty-six on 24th September 1920. Angelica Balabanoff recorded that: "Lenin was utterly broken by her death... He was plunged in despair, his cap down over his eyes; small as he was, he seemed to shrink and grow smaller. He looked pitiful and broken in spirit. I never saw him look like that before." Alexandra Kollontai added: "He was not able to go on living after Inessa Armand. The death of Inessa hastened the development of the sickness which was to destroy him."
Clare Sheridan, the British artist, met Lenin for the first time on 7th October, 1920. She later recalled in her book, Russian Portraits (1921): "Lenin was sitting at his desk. He rose and came across the room to greet me. He has a genial manner and a kindly smile, which puts one instantly at ease. He said that he had heard of me from Kamenev. I apologised for having to bother him. He laughed and explained that the last sculptor had occupied his room for weeks, and that he got so bored with it that he had sworn that it never should happen again. He asked how long I needed, and offered me today and tomorrow from 11 till 4, and three or four evenings, if I could work by electric light. When I told him I worked quickly and should probably not require so much, he said laughingly that he was pleased."
During the session Lenin expressed his dislike of her cousin Winston Churchill: "I asked if Winston was the most hated Englishman. He shrugged his shoulders, and then added something about Churchill being the man with all the force of the capitalists behind him. We argued about that, but he did not want to hear my opinion, his own being quite unshakeable. He talked about Winston being my cousin, and I said rather apologetically that I could not help it, and informed him that I had another cousin who was a Sinn Feiner. He laughed, and said That must be a cheerful party when you three get together. I suppose it would be cheerful, but we have never all three been together! During these four hours he never smoked, and never even drank a cup of tea. I have never worked so long on end before, and at 3.45 I could hold out no longer. I was blind with weariness and hunger, and said good-bye. He promised to sit on the revolving stand tomorrow. If all goes well, I think I ought to be able to finish him. I do hope it is good. I think it looks more like him than any of the busts I have seen yet. He has a curious Slav face, and looks very ill."
The sailors at the Kronstadt Naval Base had long been a source of radical dissent in Russia. Mutinies had taken place during the 1905 Revolution and played an important role in persuading Nicholas II to issue his October Manifesto. The Kronstadt sailors were also active in the overthrow of Tsar in the February Revolution. A large number of the sailors were Bolsheviks and during the October Revolution they took control of the cruiser, Aurora, and sailed it up the River Neva and opened fire on the Winter Palace. According to Bertram D. Wolfe: "They jailed their officers without trial in the same hell holes that had been used to discipline them, and drowned or bloodily lynched many. Leon Trotsky later claimed: "The most hateful of the officers were shoved under the ice, of course while still alive... Bloody acts of retribution were as inevitable as the recoil of a gun."
By 1921 the Kronstadt sailors had become disillusioned with the Bolshevik government. They were angry about the lack of democracy and the policy of War Communism. On 28th February, the crew of the battleship, Petropavlovsk, passed a resolution calling for a return of full political freedoms. On 4th March they issued the following statement: "Comrade workers, red soldiers and sailors. We stand for the power of the Soviets and not that of the parties. We are for free representation of all who toil. Comrades, you are being misled. At Kronstadt all power is in the hands of the revolutionary sailors, of red soldiers and of workers. It is not in the hands of White Guards, allegedly headed by a General Kozlovsky, as Moscow Radio tells you."
Eugene Lyons, the author of Workers’ Paradise Lost: Fifty Years of Soviet Communism: A Balance Sheet (1967), pointed out: "The hundreds of large and small uprisings throughout the country are too numerous to list, let alone describe here. The most dramatic of them, in Kronstadt, epitomizes most of them. What gave it a dimension of supreme drama was the fact that the sailors of Kronstadt, an island naval fortress near Petrograd, on the Gulf of Finland, had been one of the main supports of the putsch. Now Kronstadt became the symbol of the bankruptcy of the Revolution. The sailors on the battleships and in the naval garrisons were in the final analysis peasants and workers in uniform."
Lenin denounced the Kronstadt Uprising as a plot instigated by the White Army and their European supporters. On 6th March, Leon Trotsky announced that he was going to order the Red Army to attack the Kronstadt sailors. Some observers claimed that many of the victims would die shouting, "Long live the Communist International!" and "Long live the Constituent Assembly!" It was not until the 17th March that government forces were able to take control of Kronstadt. An estimated 8,000 people (sailors and civilians) left Kronstadt and went to live in Finland. Official figures suggest that 527 people were killed and 4,127 were wounded. Historians who have studied the uprising believe that the total number of casualties was much higher than this. According to Victor Serge over 500 sailors at Kronstadt were executed for their part in the rebellion.
Nikolai Sukhanov reminded Leon Trotsky that three years previously he had told the people of Petrograd: "We shall conduct the work of the Petrograd Soviet in a spirit of lawfulness and of full freedom for all parties. The hand of the Presidium will never lend itself to the suppression of the minority." Trotsky lapsed into silence for a while, then said wistfully: "Those were good days." Walter Krivitsky later claimed that when Trotsky put down the Kronstadt Uprising the Bolshevik government lost contact with the people and from then on it would be a path of state terror and dictatorial rule.
Lenin decided he needed someone to help him control the Communist Party. At the Party Conference in April, 1922, Lenin suggested that a new post of General Secretary should be created. Lenin's choice for the post was Joseph Stalin, who in the past had always loyally supported his policies. Stalin's main opponents for the future leadership of the party failed to see the importance of this position and actually supported his nomination. They initially saw the post of General Secretary as being no more that "Lenin's mouthpiece".
Roy A. Medvedev, has argued in Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (1971) that on the surface it was a strange decision: " "In 1922 Stalin was the least prominent figure in the Politburo. Not only Lenin but also Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, and A. I. Rykov were much more popular among the broad masses of the Party than Stalin. Closemouthed and reserved in everyday affairs, Stalin was also a poor public speaker. He spoke in a low voice with a strong Caucasian accent, and found it difficult to speak without a prepared text. It is not surprising that, during the stormy years of revolution and civil war, with their ceaseless meetings, rallies, and demonstrations, the revolutionary masses saw or heard little of Stalin."
Isaac Deutscher, the author of Stalin (1949) has pointed out: "The leading bodies of the party were now top-heavy; and a new office, that of the General Secretary, was created, which was to coordinate the work of their many growing and overlapping branches... Soon afterwards a latent dualism of authority began to develop at the very top of the party. The seven men who now formed the Politbureau (in addition to the previous five, Zinoviev and Tomsky had recently been elected) represented, as it were, the brain and the spirit of Bolshevism. In the offices of the General Secretariat resided the more material power of management and direction."
Soon after Stalin's appointment as General Secretary, Lenin went into hospital to have a bullet removed from his body that had been there since Dora Kaplan's assassination attempt. It was hoped that this operation would restore his health. This was not to be; soon afterwards, a blood vessel broke in Lenin's brain. This left him paralyzed all down his right side and for a time he was unable to speak. As "Lenin's mouthpiece", Joseph Stalin had suddenly become extremely important.
While Lenin was immobilized, Stalin made full use of his powers as General Secretary. At the Party Congress he had been granted permission to expel "unsatisfactory" party members. This enabled Stalin to remove thousands of supporters of Leon Trotsky, his main rival for the leadership of the party. As General Secretary, Stalin also had the power to appoint and sack people from important positions in the government. The new holders of these posts were fully aware that they owed their promotion to Stalin. They also knew that if their behaviour did not please him they would be replaced.
Surrounded by his supporters, Stalin's confidence began to grow. In October, 1922, he disagreed with Lenin over the issue of foreign trade. When the matter was discussed at Central Committee, Stalin's rather than Lenin's policy was accepted. Lenin began to fear that Stalin was taking over the leadership of the party. Lenin wrote to Leon Trotsky asking for his support. Trotsky agreed and at the next meeting of the Central Committee the decision on foreign trade was reversed. Lenin, who was too ill to attend, wrote to Trotsky congratulating him on his success and suggesting that in future they should work together against Stalin.
Joseph Stalin, whose wife Nadya Alliluyeva worked in Lenin's private office, soon discovered the contents of the letter sent to Leon Trotsky. Stalin was furious as he realized that if Lenin and Trotsky worked together against him, his political career would be at an end. In a fit of temper Stalin made an abusive phone-call to Lenin's wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, accusing her of endangering Lenin's life by allowing him to write letters when he was so ill.
After Krupskaya told her husband of this phone-call, Lenin made the decision that Stalin was not the man to replace him as the leader of the party. Lenin knew he was close to death so he dictated to his secretary a letter that he wanted to serve as his last "will and testament". The document was comprised of his thoughts on the senior members of the party leadership.
He was particularly concerned about the growing power of Joseph Stalin: "Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated enormous power in his hands: and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution. I therefore propose to our comrades to consider a means of removing Stalin from this post and appointing someone else who differs from Stalin in one weighty respect: being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite, more considerate of his comrades."
On 4th January, 1923, Lenin added a postscript to his earlier testament: "Stalin is too rude, and this fault... becomes unbearable in the office of General Secretary. Therefore, I propose to the comrades to find a way to remove Stalin from that position and appoint to it another man... more patient, more loyal, more polite and more attentive to comrades, less capricious, etc. This circumstance may seem an insignificant trifle, but I think that from the point of view of preventing a split and from the point of view of the relations between Stalin and Trotsky... it is not a trifle, or it is such a trifle as may acquire a decisive significance." Three days after writing this testament Lenin had a third stroke. Lenin was no longer able to speak or write and although he lived for another ten months, he ceased to exist as a power within the Soviet Union.
Three days after writing this testament Lenin had a third stroke. Lenin was no longer able to speak or write and although he lived for another ten months, he ceased to exist as a power within the Soviet Union. Lenin died of a heart attack on 21st January, 1924. Stalin reacted to the news by announcing that Lenin was to be embalmed and put on permanent display in a mausoleum to be erected on Red Square. Lenin's wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, immediately objected because she disliked the "quasi-religious" implications of this decision. Despite these objections, Stalin carried on with the arrangements.
The funeral took place on 27th January, and Stalin was a pallbearer with Lev Kamenev , Gregory Zinoviev , Nickolai Bukharin , Vyacheslav Molotov , Felix Dzerzhinsky and Maihail Tomsky . Stalin gave a speech which ended with the words: "Leaving us, comrade Lenin left us a legacy of fidelity to the principles of the Communist International. We swear to you, comrade Lenin, that we will not spare our own lives in strengthening and broadening the union of labouring people of the whole world - the Communist International."