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Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Vladimir Lenin


Vladimir "Volodya" Ilych Ulyanov was born on April 22, 1870 in the Russian city of Simbirsk (renamed Ulyanovsk in 1924) on the Volga. He adopted the name of Lenin in December 1901 to hide his identity from the police, possibly taking the River Lena as a basis.

Vladimir was the son of Ilya Nikolaevich Ulyanov (1831 - 1886), who held a responsible position in the education service, When Vladimir was four his father was promoted to be director of schools.  He worked for increased democracy and free universal education in Russia.

His liberal mother, Maria Alexandrovna Blank (1835 – 1916), was a doctor's daughter of respectable land-owning stock, a pure Russian of Mongol origin.

Like many Russians, Vladimir was of mixed ethnic and religious ancestry. He had Kalmyk ancestry through his paternal grandparents, Volga German ancestry through his maternal grandmother, who was a Lutheran, and Jewish ancestry through his maternal grandfather, who had converted to Christianity.

Vladimir was brought up in a middle class environment, his family employed a cook and a nanny. The whole family were passionate about croquet.

As a toddler, little Vladimir kept falling over and banging his head on the floor. His family thought it was because he was too top heavy with a large head and short legs.

Vladimir aged four

Ilya Ulyanov died of a brain hemorrhage in January 1886, when Vladimir was 16. The grieved Vladimir's behaviour became erratic and confrontational, and shortly thereafter he renounced his belief in God.

Lenin's elder brother Aleksandr was hanged in 1887 for taking part in a plot to assassinate Tsar Alexander III. None of the family had any idea that scholarly, apparently unworldly Alexander was a member of The People’s Will, a radical terrorist group.

This radicalized Vladimir and put him and the rest of family under constant suspicion from the Tsarist police.

Vladimir distinguished himself in the study of Latin and Greek. In his final year at Simbirsk High School, he came first in the final exams and won a gold medal.

He enrolled in University of Kazan to study law but was arrested, and thrown out for participating in student protests.

Vladimir was unable to get into any other university but continued to study independently. Eventually, in 1890 St Petersburg accepted him to read law as an external student. He graduated the next year, obtaining the equivalent of a first-class degree with honors, earning a license to practice law.


On qualifying from St Petersburg University Lenin was employed as a legal assistant for a regional court, before gaining a job with a local lawyer. His work focused primarily on disputes between peasants and artisans.

In autumn 1893, Lenin moved to Saint Petersburg, where he worked as a barrister's assistant and rose to a senior position in a Marxist revolutionary cell calling themselves the "Social Democrats" after the Marxist Social Democratic Party of Germany.

Having been influenced by the writings of Karl Marx, Lenin abandoned all thoughts of making law his life time career and committed himself to the working class struggle.


Lenin first learned about the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels  when he was a law student.

During the early 1890s, Lenin and his fellow comrades met together for "Pancake Teas" which were in reality socialist discussion groups. "You need to break a few eggs to make an omelette" Lenin later said.

By autumn 1894 Lenin was leading a Marxist workers' circle in St Petersburg. He had to be meticulous in covering his tracks, knowing that police spies were trying to infiltrate the revolutionary movement.

Between 1895 and 1900 Lenin spent a year in prison and four years in Shushenskoya, Siberia, charged with sedition.

On his return from exile Lenin began publishing Iskra (The Spark), a Marxist newspaper from Munich. Containing contributions from prominent European Marxists Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Kautsky, and Leon Trotsky, Iskra was smuggled into Russia illegally, becoming the country's most successful underground publication for half a century.

The first issue of Iskra
Between 1902-03 Lenin stayed for a year at 30 Holford Square, London in order to evade the Bavarian police.. He spent most of his time studying in the  nearby British Museum.

While in London, Lenin fell ill with erysipelas and was unable to take such a leading role on the Iskra editorial board; in his absence the board moved its base of operations to Switzerland.

In 1903 Lenin was again sentenced to exile to the frozen north. However a friendly doctor gave him the necessary poor health certificate that enabled him to live in the comparatively more comfortable south of Siberia.

Lenin was active in the 1905 Russian Revolution. When it failed, he was forced to leave Russia.

When World War 1 broke out, Lenin was captured in Krakow, Galicia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and imprisoned. He might have been shot as a Russian spy by the Austrians if the Socialist mayor of Vienna, hadn’t believed the Bolshevik was a greater danger to the Russians than he was to the Austrians.

After being released, Lenin relocated to Switzerland. In February 1916 he moved into a crowded house at Spiegelgasse, Zurich. A nearby sausage factory emitted such an unpleasant whiff that Lenin retreated to the Central Library as often as possible.

When there was a renewed outbreak of revolution in 1917, which had evolved from a strike of metal workers Lenin was still in Switzerland. A passer-by informed him about the Tsar's abdication, so Lenin and a group of his followers returned to Russia in a train provided by the Germans to take the reins of the Russian Revolution. They were greeted at St Petersburg station on April 16, 1917 by a great reception.

On the night of October 24, 1917, Lenin, disguised with a wig, rode with a friend in an empty streetcar to where the Bolshevik rebels were gathered. He persuaded them to attack the ministers in the Winter Palace. This kicked off the Bolshevik Red Guards takeover of buildings in Russia, among the first events associated with the October Revolution.

On his way to the Winter Palace, Lenin had been stopped by a government patrol, who mistook him for a harmless drunk.

The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and Trotsky overthrew the provisional government and announced that Russia was a socialist country. On November 8, 1917, Lenin was chosen as President of Russia, the world's first communist leader.


A hard worker as President, Lenin worked night and day until his health slowed him down

Not a fiery speaker, Lenin spoke to his comrades as if they were family. He had a speech impediment which led a comical sound to his consonants.

Lenin appointed the first ever female Minister of State in the world, an Alexandria Kollantay, who became the Commissar of Social Welfare in 1917.

Lenin owned a luxurious Rolls Royce with skis and half-tracks for travel on Russian snow. The Communist President instructed his chauffeur while driving along country lanes to drive faster. His chauffeur remonstrated that he didn’t want to kill any stray chickens. Lenin lost his temper complaining that the chauffeur had a “unnecessary reverence” for roadside chickens.

Lenin was greatly affected by the state execution of his brother, Alexander. As a result he opposed execution as a political weapon, instead he eliminated opponents by administrative murder.

Lenin's communist regime starved to death hundreds of thousands of peasant children by cynically taking away their seed grain. Also hundreds of thousands of his potential enemies died in the concentration camps that he set up in frozen north Russia. Lenin believed that human rights shouldn't get in the way of the progress of the working class and between 1917-21, ten million were murdered during his reign of terror.

The Orthodox Easter coincided with the socialist May Day festival. Ten times as many Muscovites celebrated Easter rather than the socialist day. The lesson was not lost on Lenin and his fellow atheistic Bolsheviks.

Between 1921 and 1923 more than 8,000 monks, nuns and priests "disappeared". Many icons were destroyed and churches were turned into grain stores or cowsheds or simply blown up. By the fifth anniversary of the Russian Revolution the Communist party under the leadership of Lenin had a total grip of the country.


His modification of traditional Marxist doctrine to fit conditions prevailing in Russia became known as Marxism-Leninism, the basis of Communist ideology.

The first words he wrote under the pseudonym Lenin were: "The Party isn’t a ladies’ finishing school. Revolution is a messy business."

Lenin believed the way to a Russians heart was through their stomach. The Bolsheviks had an influential slogan "bread, peace, land.". Lenin himself said "no amount of political freedom will satisfy the hungry masses."

A militant anti smoker. on his triumphant return from exile Lenin forced his comrades to smoke in the toilet.

Lenin saw the propaganda advantages of the cinema after the 1917 revolution. He said “the art of film is for us the most important of all arts.”


Lenin used to say his favorite recreation was reading at London's British Museum and he wished he could always live near it.

Lenin said of a Chekov story: "When I had read the story to the end, I was filled with awe. I could not remain in my room and went out of doors. I felt as if I was locked up in a ward too."

During his banishment in Siberia, Lenin wrote The Development of Capitalism in Russia. Also, during this time, he translated from Russian to English, with his wife The History of Trade Unionism. At that time Lenin could not speak a word of English.

Lenin later visited London several times and had hired an Irish tutor to teach him to speak English. as a result he spoke the language with an Irish accent.

In 1902 Lenin published the political pamphlet What Is to Be Done? (subtitled Burning Questions of Our Movement), his most influential publication to date. In this work, Lenin called for unity amongst the various revolutionary factions. He maintained that a disciplined party of professional delegates must lead the revolution. The Bolsheviks at the 1903 Democratic Congress accepted this.

In September 1917, Lenin published Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, in which he attacked those socialists who supported World War 1, as he viewed it as a purely "imperialist" struggle.

Lenin wrote his testament, or rather dictated it in his last month. In it he rubbished his successors such as Trotsky and Stalin. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't published until after Stalin's death.


Lenin was a short, stocky figure with a balding head, snub nose, rather Mongolian-like face, oval shaped spectacles and a small pointy red beard.

Lenin didn’t always have a beard, during October 1917 he was clean shaven.

Lenin had a poor dress sense, and frequently his trousers were too long.

He met his wife, a fellow Bolshevik activist, Nadezhda Konstantinova Krupskaya (1869-1939) in the early days of communist meetings. They married while exiled in Siberia in July 1898.

According to some reports, Nadezhda was a tiresome, hypocritical woman, Stalin was particularly impolite to her.

When the glamorous, blonde, curly-haired Bolshevik Inessa Armand left Russia and settled in Paris in 1911, she met Vladimir Lenin and other Bolsheviks living in exile. She became Lenin's mistress.

Lenin had few friends apart from his wife Nadya and his mistress Inessa – who also became close friends with each other.

During his banishment in Siberia, Lenin enjoyed skating during the winter frosts, playing chess (which he continued to play after he'd finished his exile) and gardening.

Lenin admitted, "I can't listen to music too often. It makes me want to say kind, stupid things and pat the heads of people. But now you have to beat them on the head, beat them without mercy."

Lenin owned nine Rolls Royces including the world's only one to be adapted with skis at the front for snow-driving.

In his final years, Lenin had a country home at Gorki, near Moscow.


At the turn of the century the 30 year-old Lenin had a brain ailment and he knew from then he would die young.

For many years Lenin suffered from syphilis whose symptoms includes wild mood swings and it is claimed this may have contributed to his creation of the brutal Red Terror.

Another contributory factor to Lenin's poor health were the several assassination attempts he experienced including one on August 30, 1918 when he was shot and wounded by Dora Kaplan, a young girl from the intellectual class. The shooting took place as he was leaving a Moscow factory. The first shot penetrated Lenin's chest causing hemorrhaging in his chest, the second entered his back causing internal hemorrhaging in the stomach. The Russian leader was also shot and wounded in the spine and head in 1921.

Vladimir Pchelin's depiction of the assassination attempt


Lenin's injuries caused his health to decline to such an extent that last year his arteries started playing up and he had a stroke which took away his powerful intellect and for a time his power of speech. He took a few months of rest, but by 1923 he was suffering from violent headaches on the right side of his head. He was also paralyzed down his right side and restricted to his Gorky home where 40 doctors, nurses and servants attended him.

Lenin died at 18.50 hrs, Moscow time, on January 21, 1924, aged 53, at his estate at Gorki estate of a brain hemorrhage. Most historians agree that the most likely cause of his death was a stroke induced by the bullet still lodged in his neck from the assassination attempt.

Lenin was originally buried in his buttoned up Khaki jacket. Underneath was a rubber wet suit under, which was a solution that kept him from falling apart.

In 1933 a permanent Mausoleum was built in Red Square to contain his body encased in glass.

By the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the embalmed former Russian leader was wearing a blue acrylic tailored three-piece.

Lenin spent only two years in St Petersburg and moved his capital from there to Moscow yet they renamed it Leningrad after him.

Many Russian parents called their children Ninel (Lenin backwards)

Source The Giant book of Facts & Trivia by Isaac Asimov

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