On 21 January 1924, Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, died aged only 53, having suffered three severe strokes.
‘Today I shot at Lenin’
On 30 August 1918, Vladimir Lenin survived an assassination attempt. His would-be killer, 28-year-old Fanny Kaplan, a Socialist Revolutionary, shot at him three times, hitting Lenin twice – in the jaw and the neck. Interrogated by the Cheka, the state’s secret police, Kaplan said, ‘Today I shot at Lenin. I did it on my own. I will not say from whom I obtained my revolver. I will give no details.’ She was executed on 3 September. Lenin survived but was weakened by his injuries which, less than six years later, contributed to his early death.
One of the bullets fired into Lenin by Kaplan was only removed in April 1922. The effect of his wounds, together with the strains of revolution, civil war, uprisings and forging a new country, took its toll on Lenin. His workload as head of state was enormous but in latter years he suffered increasingly from fatigue and headaches. He suffered his first stroke in May 1922 which deprived him of speech and impeded his movement. Six months later he returned to work, albeit on a lighter schedule.
In December 1922, while recuperating, Lenin wrote his ‘Testament’, in which he proposed changes to the structure of the party’s Central Committee and commented on its individual members, including Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin. His most severe criticism was reserved for Joseph Stalin whom he had in April 1922 appointed the party’s General Secretary. Lenin was regretting his haste, questioning the amount of authority placed in Stalin’s hands. Continue reading
In December 1922, while recovering from a stroke, Bolshevik party leader, Vladimir Lenin, wrote his 600-word ‘Testament’ in which he proposed changes to the structure of the party’s Central Committee and commented on its individual members, comments that caused turmoil within the party leadership following his death in January 1924.
Lenin began his Testament with his concerns over the open antagonism between Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, fearing that their hatred of each other would cause a split within the Centre Committee: ‘Relations between them make up the greater part of the danger of a split,’ he wrote. He suggested doubling the membership from 50 to 100.
But it is Lenin’s judgements on individual members of the Centre Committee that make his Testament such a fascinating document. Leon Trotsky, for example, is described as ‘distinguished not only by outstanding ability. He is personally perhaps the most capable man in the present C.C., but he has displayed excessive self-assurance and shown excessive preoccupation with the purely administrative side of the work.’
Of Nikolai Bukharin, Lenin wrote, he is ‘rightly considered the favorite of the whole Party, but his theoretical views can be classified as fully Marxist only with the great reserve, for there is something scholastic about him.’
There’s also mention of Georgy Pyatakov who is, in Lenin’s words, ‘unquestionably a man of outstanding will and outstanding ability, but shows far too much zeal for administrating and the administrative side of the work to be relied upon in a serious political matter.’
Kamenev and Zinoviev
A summary of the October Revolution of 1917.
The Russian tsar, Nicholas II, had been disposed following the February Revolution of 1917 to be replaced by a provisional government, headed by Alexander Kerensky, and aided and hampered in equal measure by the various councils of workers, or ‘soviets’. These soviets comprised of representatives of various socialist parties, including the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. The relatively obscure Bolshevik party, headed by the charismatic Vladimir Lenin, may have preached ‘All power to the Soviets’, but their real aim was for one-party rule.
‘History will not forgive revolutionaries for procrastinating’
The provisional government’s grip on power was tenuous and Lenin (pictured), sensing the time was ripe for a takeover, urged immediate action. On 6 November 1917, he wrote:
‘The situation is critical in the extreme. It is absolutely clear that to delay the insurrection now will be inevitably fatal. I exhort my comrades with all my heart and strength to realize that everything now hangs by a thread, that we are being confronted by problems that cannot be solved by conferences and congresses but exclusively by the people, the masses, by the struggle of the armed masses. We must at all costs, this very evening, this very night, arrest the Government… We must not wait! We will lose everything! History will not forgive revolutionaries for procrastinating when they can be victorious today, while they risk losing much, in fact, everything, tomorrow.’
The October Revolution in Petrograd (modern day St Petersburg) on 7 November 1917 (25 October, Old Style) was not, in fact, the first socialist uprising within the Russian empire. Two days before, Jaan Anvelt, an Estonian Bolshevik, led a successful uprising in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
‘The Dustbin of History’
Vladimir Lenin was born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov on 22 April 1870 in the town of Simbirsk (renamed Ulyanovsk in Lenin’s honour following his death in 1924). The third of six children, Lenin was born into a middle-class family, his father being an inspector of primary schools, a fact Lenin never tried to hide.
In 1887, Vladimir Lenin’s older brother, 21-year-old Alexander Ulyanov, was involved in an attempt to assassinate the tsar, Alexander III, for which in May 1887, he was hung. The event shocked the seventeen-year-old Lenin and certainly radicalized him. As the brother of an executed terrorist, Lenin was kept under police surveillance as he took his place to study law at Kazan University in Tatarstan. While at university, Lenin became involved in politics and, after one student riot, was arrested. One of the arresting officers asked him ‘Why are you rebelling, young man? After all, there is a wall in front of you,’ to which Lenin replied, ‘The wall is tottering, you only have to push it for it to fall over.’
Lenin the Lawyer
In February 1917, at the height of the First World War, the Russian tsarist government was overthrown and the tsar, Nicholas II, was forced to abdicate. A provisional government took power, a coalition of ex-Duma members and moderate socialists – Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, but it could only exist with the powerful support of the workers, represented by councils or ‘soviets’. Between them, the provisional government and the soviets, they ran the country as a ‘dual power’.
Many Russian workers felt they’d been sold short – they’d expected that the February Revolution and the overthrow of the tsar would bring about the end of Russia’s participation in the war. But instead the government was intent on continuing the war. The provisional government seemed no less bourgeois than the Romanovs.
‘All power to the Soviets!’
Workers and soldiers took to the streets brandishing the slogan, ‘All power to the Soviets!’ meaning an abolition of the dual power. From 16–20 July (by the Gregorian calendar), half a million workers and soldiers rebelled demanding an immediate end to the war. The demonstration became known as the ‘July Days’. Continue reading
8 March 1917 saw the February Revolution on the streets of Russia’s then capital, St Petersburg. Rupert Colley summarizes the events leading up to the revolution, the revolution itself and the abdication of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II.
(Up until January 1918, Russia used the ‘Old Styled’ Julian Calendar that was 13 days behind our Gregorian calendar, hence the revolution of 8 March is referred to as the ‘February Revolution’.)
Twelve years earlier, the Russian Revolution of 1905, triggered by the events of Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg, heralded the beginning of the end for the Russian tsar, Nicholas II. Strikes and insurrection crippled the country eventually forcing Nicholas to introduce his ‘October Manifesto’: ‘The disturbances and unrest in St Petersburg, Moscow and in many other parts of our Empire have filled our heart with great and profound sorrow… Fundamental civil freedoms will be granted to the population, including real personal inviolability, freedom of conscience, speech, assembly and association.’