Useful Notes: Vladimir Lenin

Sometimes, history just needs a little push.

"Russia's greatest misfortune was his birth. Their next greatest was his death."

The ethnically-mixed leader of the Bolsheviks, known for his stylish goatee and powerful forehead. Lenin (real name Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, 1870-1924) was, according to most accounts, actually rather uninterested in politics until one day when his brother was executed for participating in a failed plot to kill the Tsar. This was a breaking point in Lenin's life, and he quite literally devoted his life to the communist cause (he was known to work 14 hours a day or more). Of course, the authorities did not tolerate his agitation and anti-monarchist activity and he soon ended up in jail, then in Siberia, before finally fleeing the country and ending up living in Switzerland. His chance would finally come in 1917, when the Germans, hoping he'd cause havoc (but not thinking he'd actually succeed) allowed him to return to Russia. Ironically, while this did lead to German victory over Russia in World War I, it also led to the opposite happening 25 years later.

During Red October, Lenin led the overthrow of the government that overthrew Tsarist Russia, pulled Russia out of WWI and formed the world's first (allegedly—many Marxist theorists have denounced the USSR) socialist state (excluding the short-lived Paris Commune). This was not received well by many other rulers and governments and a lot of people in USSR itself, which led to foreign intervention and the Russian Civil War. As a result of this, most of Lenin's time as leader was spent at war. An assassination attempt resulted in his health deteriorating rapidly, until he was finally paralyzed by a series of strokes and forced to withdraw from politics. He died shortly after and was, against his wishes and that of his wife, mummified and interred in a mausoleum.

Although devastated by wars, coups, assassinations, famine, foreign intervention and a host of other ills, the Soviet Union nonetheless managed to recover near the end of Lenin's reign, and would grow into a superpower under his eventual successor, Josef Stalin. Lenin did not want Stalin to be his successor (or rather, he eventually came to oppose the idea), considering Stalin to be vulgar, chauvinistic and power-hungry, and considering Leon Trotsky to be a more worthy successor (though he was critical of all potential successors, just not nearly as much as he was critical of Stalin). Note that Lenin didn't actually want Stalin removed from the party as a whole, but only from its Central Committee.

Today, he has been somewhat overshadowed by his successors, and in media he usually doesn't appear personally; instead, one can often see his image on statues, posters, banners etc. in just about any communist setting. Incidentally, Lenin led a rather spartan life and was against any sort of Personality Cult being formed around him. Stalin, however, had different ideas and had Lenin's body mummified and put in a mausoleum and his image on just about everything related to the Communist Party or state.

Lenin was a prolific author, and his collected works consist of more than 40 volumes, each one a Door Stopper. The most famous works include What is to be Done?, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, The State and Revolution and the April Theses. For those interested in learning more about Lenin's political ideas, the basics can be found here.

It's possible to draw quite a few parallels between Lenin and Maximilien Robespierre, the (in)famous leader of the French Revolution. This comparison was made by none other than Leon Trotsky himself, though Lenin himself, while he respected Robespierre considered Danton his true favorite of the French Revolutionaries, considering him the greatest tactician of that era. The major differences is that the French Revolutionaries, unlike Lenin were mere nobodies who found careers within the event and neither of them planned or dreamed an event of that scale (which was in its origins, a spontaneous, leaderless crowd uprising) or envisioned their course and actions once it began. In contrast, Lenin was a professional revolutionary who dreamed, planned and achieved a Revolution through will, vision and charisma.

Tropes as portrayed in fiction:

  • Historical Hero Upgrade: In Soviet media, and to a lesser extent in modern Russian media. Not to mention the number of Russians who still like him. For much of the 20th Century he was highly admired as a national liberator in China, India, Vietnam and different parts of the world.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: In most non-Soviet media, especially American media.
  • Iconic Outfit: Traditionally depicted wearing a suit, a dark-red necktie and a newsboy cap.

Appears in the following works:

  • Old Major in Animal Farm is based partly on Lenin and partly on Karl Marx. His skull being put on display is a clear analog to Lenin's tomb.
  • Is a major player in the British television drama Fall Of Eagles - played by Patrick Stewart, no less!
  • Appears as an NPC in Ultima: Martian Dreams.
  • October: Ten Days That Shook the World by Sergei Eisenstein
  • Nicholas and Alexandra, an American historical drama from 1971.
  • Taurus by Aleksandr Sokurov (of Russian Ark fame) shows Lenin in his final days at his Dacha, with dementia setting in.
  • A huge number of Soviet movies and documentaries, too numerous to mention here.
    • Likewise a huge number of unintentionally hilarious note  propaganda works depicting him as a brave young lad, playing with children from an orphanage, humbly standing in queue, etc. etc.
  • He's the default leader of the Russians in Civilization II.
  • The protagonist of Robert Bolt's play State of Revolution (1977). Bolt portrays Lenin as "a great man possessed of a terrible idea."
  • The German film Goodbye Lenin puts him in the title, although the film begins with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Later, we see a statue of him being carried off by a helicopter.
  • Appears in the Season 2 finale of the Epic Rap Battles of History, where he raps against Rasputin The Mad Monk, Josef Stalin, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Vladimir Putin.
  • He appears in The Prayer Warriors Threat of Satanic Communism as the Disc One Final Boss for the Prayer Warriors after they travel back in time to restore the Tsar to power. He is called "John Lennon" (and by his full name, at that) every time he is mentioned.
  • The Simpsons: One episode reveals The Soviet Union never disbanded for real. When they ended the masquerade, Lenin rose from his grave claiming he needed to crush capitalism.
  • Appears along with Karl Marx, Mao Zedong and Che Guevara in the "World Forum" sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus, where what appears to be a panel on communism turns out to be a quiz show.
  • The main goal of the Mad Scientist Big Bad of The Big Red Adventure (a sequel to Nippon Safes Inc) is to resurrect him to bring forth a new age of prosperity for the Soviet Union. He succeeds, but Lenin becomes a TV host instead.
  • In Timeline-191, former Marshland's huntsman Cassius acts as Lenin's analogue in the Congaree Socialist Republic, fighting to free the Confederacy's enslaved black population from its aristocratic white overlords and preaching about the dictatorship of the proletariat and the need for class consciousness while executing anybody he sees as an oppressor.
  • An elderly Lenin going by his real name appears in the alternate history novel Warlord of the Air, having never come to power.
  • One album of the Spirou and Fantasio comic series involves the heroes working to stop a plot by their Arch-Enemy Zantafio to steal and ransom Lenin's mummified corpse. As it turns out, the body on display in Lenin's Mausoleum isn't actually Lenin's at all, but a double put on display due to the sheer fragility of the real corpse. The KGB is depicted as having a selection of mummified Lenin doubles to display in the mausoleum, and the real reason they got Spirou and Fantasio to work at stopping Zantafio was because they feared he would cause a national uproar by revealing the deception. The actual Lenin's corpse is implicitly destroyed at the end of the book due to Fantasio sneezing on it.