More to Explore
Page 2 of 2
The Revolution of 1905 & WWI
Lenin’s call was soon supported by events on the ground. In 1904 Russia went to war with Japan. The conflict had a profound impact on Russian society. After a number of defeats put a strain on the country’s domestic budget, citizens from all walks of life began to vocalize their discontent over the country’s political structure and called for reform.
The situation was heightened on January 9, 1905, when a group of unarmed workers in St. Petersburg took their concerns directly to the city’s palace to submit a petition to Emperor Nicholas II. They were met by security forces, who fired on the group, killing and wounding hundreds. The crisis set the stage for what would be called the Russian Revolution of 1905.
Hoping to placate his citizens, the emperor issued his October Manifesto, offering up several political concessions, most notably the creation of an elected legislative assembly known as the Duma.
But Lenin was far from satisfied. His frustrations extended to his fellow Marxists, in particular the group calling itself the Mensheviks, led by Julius Martov. The issues centered around party structure and the driving forces of a revolution to fully seize control of Russia. While his comrades believed that the power must reside with the bourgeoisie, Lenin passionately distrusted that segment of the population. Instead, he argued, a real and complete revolution, one that could lead to Socialist Revolution that could spread outside of Russia, must be led by the workers, the country’s proletariat.
From the Mensheviks’ point of view, however, Lenin’s ideas really paved the way for a one-man dictatorship over the people he claimed he wanted to empower. The two groups had sparred since party’s Second Congress, which had handed Lenin’s group, known as the Bolsheviks, a slim majority. The fighting would continue until a 1912 party conference in Prague, when Lenin formally split to create a new, separate entity.
During World War I Lenin went into exile again, this time taking up residence in Switzerland. As always, his mind stayed focus on revolutionary politics. During this period he wrote and published Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), a defining work for the future leader, in which he argued that war was the natural result of international capitalism.
In 1917, a tired, hungry and war-weary Russia deposed the tsars. Lenin quickly returned home and, perhaps sensing his own path to power, quickly denounced the country’s newly formed Provisional Government, which had been assembled by a group of leaders of the bourgeois liberal parties. Lenin instead called for a Soviet government, one that would be ruled directly by soldiers, peasants and workers.
In late 1917 Lenin led what was soon to be known as the October Revolution, but was essentially a coup d’état. Three years of civil war followed. The Lenin-led Soviet government faced incredible odds. The anti-Soviet forces, or Whites, headed mainly by former tsarist generals and admirals, fought desperately to overthrow Lenin’s Red regime. They were aided by World War I Allies, who supplied the group with money and troops.
Determined to win at any cost, Lenin showed himself to be ruthless in his push to secure power. He launched what came to be known as the Red Terror, a vicious campaign Lenin used to eliminate the opposition within the civilian population.
In August 1918 Lenin narrowly escaped an assassination attempt, when he was severely wounded with a pair of bullets from a political opponent. His recovery only reinforced his larger-than-life presence among his countrymen, though his health was never truly the same.
Despite the breadth of the opposition, Lenin came out victorious. But the kind of country he hoped to lead never came to fruition. His defeat of an opposition that wished to keep Russia tethered to Europe’s capitalist system, ushered in an era of international retreat for the Lenin-led government. Russia, as he saw it, would be void of class conflict and the international wars it fostered.
But the Russia he presided over was reeling from the bloody civil war he’d helped instigate. Famine and poverty shaped much of society. In 1921, Lenin now faced the same kind of peasant uprising he’d ridden to power. Widespread strikes in cities and in rural sections of the country broke out, threatening the stability of Lenin’s government.
To ease the tension, Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy, which allowed workers to sell their grain on the open market.
Lenin suffered a stroke in May 1922, and then a second one in December of that year. With his health in obvious decline, Lenin turned his thoughts to how the newly formed USSR would be governed after he was gone.
Increasingly, he saw a party and government that had strayed far from its revolutionary goals. In early 1923 he issued what came to be called as his Testament, in which a regretful Lenin expressed remorse over the dictatorial power that dominated Soviet government. He was particularly disappointed with Joseph Stalin, the general secretary of the Communist Party, who had begun to amass great power.
On March 10, 1923, Stalin’s health was dealt another severe blow when he suffered an additional stroke, this one taking away his ability to speak and concluding his political work. Nearly 10 months later, on January 21, 1924, another stroke hit him, and he passed away that evening in the village now known as Gorki Leninskiye. In a testament to his standing in Russian society, his corpse was embalmed and placed in a mausoleum on Moscow’s Red Square.
Biography courtesy of Bio.com
Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!
Keep up with the latest History shows, online features, special offers and more.Sign up