Lenin (1870-1924) was a Russian political thinker who led the Russian Revolution and took over Russia and its empire in 1917. He renamed it the Soviet Union and ruled it till his death in 1924. He made it into the first communist country, remaking society according to the ideas of Karl Marx. He is one of the great figures of the 1900s.
His communist ideas spread to other countries, like China where Mao did the same for China.
In 1903 he founded his own political party, the Bolsheviks, to overthrow the government. People have used “Bolshevik” to mean communist or anyone with political ideas that threatens the established order. The Bolsheviks later became the Communist Party that ruled the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1991.
Lenin was born the son of a schoolteacher in the town of Simbirsk in 1870 as Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov. Lenin is a pen name, not his real name. In 1887 his brother took part in an attempt on the life of the tsar, who ruled the Russian empire in those days. The tsar lived and his brother was put to death. This deeply affected Ulyanov, who wanted to finish what his brother had begun.
In St Petersburg he taught the workers about communism, but the government sent him to prison in Siberia. Here he started using the pen name of Lenin. He was freed in 1905 and went to Germany and later Switzerland.
In 1917, in the midst of the First World War, the tsar fell. A weak democracy took over. Lenin, with the help of Germany, returned to Russia in a sealed train. He had been away for 12 years. He led the Bolsheviks, the larger of the two communist parties. In July he and Trotsky tried to overthrow the government but failed. They tried again in November (October according to the calendar then in use) and succeeded in overthrowing the democracy. He pulled Russia out of the war and, bit by bit, brought peace to Russia.
Before Lenin, Russia was backward compared to Western Europe. Lenin and Stalin (who ruled after him) brought industry to Russia and made it a world power.
Although Marx said the workers would bring the communists to power, Lenin believed that the workers needed leadership, which his party thoughtfully provided. In theory, at least, it ruled for the workers by taking over the banks, the land, the businesses and so on in their name. Lenin said that in time the government would wither away and society by then would be completely communist, a workers’ paradise with equality for all.
Lenin saw the empires of Britain and France as the last stages of the old world order of capitalism, where banks ruled the world.
All this sounded good at the time, but nothing turned out the way Lenin thought. The workers’ paradise never came to be. Capitalism and the great banks in the West did not fall – instead communism did.