Lenin - Biography of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov

Lenin - Biography of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov

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Lenin was a Russian politician and founder of the U.S.S.R. An uncompromising follower of Marxism and revolutionary action, he theorized during his exile the theory of dictatorship of the proletariat as an intermediate stage to reach communism. Convinced that a revolution is possible in Russia then engaged in the First World War, he will prepare and lead the revolution of October 1917. At the head of the government, he will impose peace with Germany at the cost of immense concessions territorial and work for the establishment of a new state of totalitarian type: the Soviet Union.

Lenin's youth

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, known as Lenin, was born in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk) on April 22, 1870. From a middle-class family, he was the son of the school inspector of the government of Simbirsk. Her brother, Alexander, who was part of the populist group Narodnaia Volia and participated in revolutionary plots, was to be hanged in 1887, following an attempted assassination of Alexander III. This family drama doubtless contributed to Lenin's revolutionary vocation. Coming to Kazan to study law, he too became an activist and was expelled from the university after a few months (Dec. 1887). It was in St. Petersburg that he took his exams (1891). The era of populism was now over, and it was to Marxism, which Plekhanov had introduced to Russia, that the young Ulyanov turned immediately.

Installed in St. Petersburg in 1893, he studied in depth the doctrine of Marx, to which he had to refer constantly throughout his life, seeking, in all circumstances, arguments and quotes likely to confirm his theses. . His temperament led him to the problems of revolutionary practice and tactics. He was very early distrustful of the optimistic illusions in which so many Russian socialists of the 1890s indulged; he never envisioned that the revolution could spontaneously emerge from the masses by the virtues of propaganda alone. Around 1895 he organized one of the first social democratic circles in the Russian capital, the Union for the Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class, but he was arrested (December 21, 1895), spent more than a year in prison and was deported. in Siberia. It was there that he married a revolutionary activist, Nadejda Krupskaya (July 22, 1898), and wrote one of his major works, The Development of capitalism in Russia.

The exile of a revolutionary leader

Having completed his sentence in Siberia, he went into voluntary exile in July 1900, stayed in Germany, Pans, London, but above all in Switzerland. In Munich, in December 1900, he published the first number of his newspaper, Ylskra (The Spark), then he wrote his pamphlet, What to do? in 1902, in which he clarified his conception of revolutionary tactics: he called for a break with "primitivism", that is to say with the practice of isolated circles, folded in on themselves. In opposition to the majority of the Social Democrats, he endeavored to show that a socialist revolution was possible without further delay in Russia, provided it was prepared and led by a small, centralized and disciplined party of "professional revolutionaries", and that, contrary to Marx's outlook, the alliance of the workers and the peasant masses was achieved.

The Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Party, which was held in London from July 30 to August 23, 1903, was to mark a decisive turning point in the life of Lenin (he had adopted this pseudonym at the end of 1901) and in History of the movement. revolutionary. Taking advantage of the fact that several of his opponents had already left the Congress, Lenin narrowly imposed his views: his supporters therefore took the name of Bolsheviks ("the majority", but they remained in fact in the minority in the party), while his opponents , the Mensheviks (“minorities”), led by Axelrod and Martov, continued to maintain that the socialist revolution must inevitably be preceded by a bourgeois democratic revolution. Lenin opposed this thesis by stressing the role that the peasantry should play in the future Russian revolution.

This Leninist idea of ​​the alliance of workers and peasants brought an important correction to the prospects advanced long ago by Marx: it allowed Russia to make its revolution before capitalism had reached its full development in this country; it also made it possible to exclude the support of the bourgeoisie. The revolutionaries had to exploit the peasant aspirations to share land (Bolshevik Congress in London, April-May 1905) to establish a “revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”. This term of "dictatorship of the proletariat", which Marx and Engels had already used, but by leaving it in the vague, Lenin was going to give it a concrete content, in the light of the failure of the revolution of 1905, to which, of course. that he had returned to Russia in November 1905, he himself did not take an important part.

He hoped that the revolution would spread to the countryside and that the close alliance of the workers' proletariat and the peasantry would isolate the liberal bourgeoisie. But the peasants, still attached to the tsarist power, remained passive. For the time being, this failure put the lie to the views of Lenin, whom the Mensheviks accused of being a utopian.

Lenin had to accept reunification with the Mensheviks (Stockholm Congress, April-May 1906), and, with the support of the Polish and Latvian Socialists and the Jewish Bund, he obtained a slim majority at the Fifth Social Democratic Congress (London, May -June 1907). During this period, Lenin fought both against "Otzovism", which wanted to give up all possibilities of legal action, and against "liquidationism", which claimed on the contrary to completely abandon illegal and clandestine action. In December 1907 Lenin returned to exile, where he would remain for ten years, until the revolution of 1917. It was again in Switzerland that he made his main stay. In 1912, at the Prague conference, he broke definitively with the Mensheviks and organized his own party.

When World War I began, he was deeply disappointed by the attitude of the various socialist parties, which in their respective countries rallied to the "Sacred Union". For his part, he called for revolution in the face of the enemy, and he analyzed the economic causes of the conflict in Imperialism, supreme stage of capitalism. The war ended in dividing the Russian socialists: while the Tsarist government, in the name of national defense, attacked the Bolshevik party in Russia and arrested almost all the members of the central committee as well as the Bolshevik deputies in the Duma, Plekhanov rallied to the Sacred Union. Emigrants, Lenin and Zinoviev kept their freedom of action and carried out ardent defeatist propaganda. They participated, with Trotsky, in the conferences of pacifist socialists organized in Zimmerwald (September 1915) and Kienthal (April 1916).

Lenin's return to Russia

It was in Switzerland, in Zurich, that Lenin heard the news of the revolution of February 1917. He addressed his comrades in Russia, to encourage them, his Letters from afar and he looked for a way to get back to Russia. Thanks to the efforts of Swiss socialists, the German imperial government, which awaited the collapse of its Russian adversary from the revolution, agreed to allow the Bolsheviks - Lenin and his wife, Zinoviev, Radek - to pass through its territory in a sealed wagon. Via Sweden and Finland, Lenin then reached Petrograd, where he made a triumphant arrival on April 16, 1917.

He published his "April thesesWhich troubled the Bolsheviks themselves by their radicalism: Lenin refused to cooperate with the provisional government, he advocated immediate peace, fraternization with German soldiers, the absolute exercise of power by the Soviets, hand of the factories by the workers, of the land by the peasants. After the unrest of July 1917, Kerensky, who had become Prime Minister in place of Prince Lvov, ordered the arrest of Lenin, who had to take refuge in hiding in Finland. He then wrote The State and the Revolution, in which, going beyond immediate problems, he completed the definition of his "dictatorship of the proletariat": without renouncing the ultimate horizon of classless society where all constraint would disappear, with the State itself. - even, he insisted on the need for a transitional phase which would consolidate the revolution by substituting for the “bourgeois state” the state of the “proletariat armed and organized as a ruling class”. Like any state, the proletarian state, according to Lenin, is "an organized machine for the oppression of one class by another"; its mission is to eliminate the old ruling classes.

October Revolution and founding of the USSR

Returning from Finland in October 1917, Lenin saw the failure of the bourgeois revolution. With Russia having no choice but between military dictatorship (Komilov sedition, September 1917) and that of the Soviets, the Bolsheviks had to seize their chance without further delay. Despite the reluctance of Trotsky and the opposition of Zinoniev and Kamenev, Lenin ordered the Central Committee to immediately prepare for the insurrection. This broke out on November 7, 1917. During the hours of the fighting, Lenin maintained an impressive calm, already entirely focused on the problems of building the new regime. Appointed the day after the revolution president of the Council of People's Commissars, he immediately issued four decrees, announcing immediate peace and the collectivization of land, placing industrial enterprises under workers' control and recognizing the rights of the nationalities of the Russian Empire. to decide their fate.

Resolved to resort to force to maintain the "dictatorship of the proletariat", he broke all legal opposition with a coup d'état by dissolving, after a single session, the Constituent Assembly, where the Bolsheviks, despite the October Revolution, were very much in the minority (January 1918). He applied terror to the counter-revolutionary elements and crushed the Socialist-Revolutionary movement. In the economic field, it was forced by the facts to temporary compromises: "war communism", which, by carrying out too hasty socialization, had finished ruining Russia and provoked serious agitations (Kronstadt mutiny, February- March 1921), was replaced in March 1921 by a "new economic policy" (NEP). This, by a partial return to private property and capitalist modes of production, would allow, from 1922, a recovery in production. He thus inaugurated the opportunism which his successor, Joseph Stalin, was to make the principle of his internal and external policy.

The end of Lenin

A first stroke on May 25, 1922 forced him to reduce his activity considerably, while a second stroke on December 16 left him half paralyzed. However, he recovered a little and continued to work. It was in the small country house he lived with his wife near Moscow, in Gorky, that a final attack struck him down on January 21, 1924, at the age of fifty-three. His embalmed body is still on display in a mausoleum in Moscow's Red Square, one of the few symbols of the Soviet era that has not yet been destroyed.

Leader of the USSR until his death, Lenin was the soul of the Bolshevik revolution. His responsibility for the future development of communism is debated: admittedly Lenin would undoubtedly have condemned the Stalinist dictatorship, but he also helped to prepare it by the intransigence he showed in his call for class struggle, often in contempt of the universal values.


- Lenine, The inventor of totalitarianism, by Stéphane Courtois. Perrin, 2017.

- Lenin: The Permanent Revolution, by Jean-Jacques Marie. Tallandier, 2018.

- Lenin, biography of Hélène Carrère d'Encausse. Plural, 2013.

Video: Lenin at 150: The legacy of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov