In the early 1890s, Lenin abandoned his law career to devote himself to Marxist study and the provocation of revolutionary activity among Russian workers. Arrested and exiled to Siberia in 1897, he later traveled to Western Europe, where in 1903 he established the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party. The Bolsheviks were a militant party of professional revolutionaries who sought to overthrow the czarist government and set up a Marxist government in its place.
In 1905, workers rebelled across Russia, but it was not until 1917, and Russia’s disastrous involvement in World War I, that Lenin realized that the opportunity for Communist revolution had come. In March 1917, the Russian army garrison at Petrograd defected to the Bolshevik cause, and Czar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate. Lenin immediately left Switzerland and crossed German enemy lines to arrive at Petrograd on April 16, 1917. Six months later, under his leadership, the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, and Lenin became virtual dictator of the country. However, civil war and foreign intervention delayed complete Bolshevik control of Russia until 1920.
Lenin’s government nationalized industry and distributed land, and on December 30, 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was established. Upon Lenin’s death in early 1924, his body was embalmed and placed in a mausoleum near the Moscow Kremlin. Petrograd was renamed Leningrad in his honor. Fellow revolutionary Joseph Stalin succeeded him as leader of the Soviet Union.