Vladimir Lenin (real name Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, 22 April 1870 [10 April in the Julian calendar] – 21 January 1924) was a Russian communist revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. He served as the ethnically-mixed leader of the Bolsheviks, known for his stylish goatee and powerful forehead.
Born to a wealthy middle-class family in Simbirsk, he was, according to most accounts, actually relatively uninterested in politics until the day his brother was executed for participating in a failed plot to kill Tsar Alexander III. This changed Lenin's life, and he devoted his life to the revolutionary cause. The authorities did not tolerate his 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. During Red October, Lenin led the insurrection that toppled the weak, vacillating and unpopular Provisional Government that was formed after the February Revolution ended Tsarist Russianote . Whether or not he ordered the massacre of the Romanovs (deposed Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarevich Alexei, Anastasia Romanova and the others) on July 17, 1918 in Yekaterinburg remains a mystery concealed deep in Soviet archives.
A large part of Lenin's popularity came from his slogan "Peace, Land, Bread", which had great appeal for a population devastated by years of war and privation. He pulled Russia out of World War I and formed the world's first socialist state, which would become the Soviet Union. This was not received well by many other rulers and governments, and a lot of people in Russia itself, which led to foreign intervention and the Russian Civil War. 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 on the Red Square in Moscow, where his body is still on display. While Lenin would've been the first to admit that he was a fallible human capable of making mistakes and that the cause was more important than any one person (including him), shortly after his death, a bizarre cult of personality ensued that endured to the end of the Soviet Union and was exploited and encouraged by his successors (particularly Stalin) for their own political ends.
Lenin transformed Marxism, which led "orthodox" Marxists, such as Georgy Plekhanov, to denounce him. Lenin argued, pace Marx, that a communist revolution can take place in a feudal nation without the bourgeois revolution and industrialization that Marx argued were the Required Secondary Powers for the development of socialism, and later communism. Lenin justified this with his book, Imperialism: The Later Stage of Capitalism to explain that capitalism had advanced to a superior stage that Marx had not foreseen, in which capitalism could penetrate countries that had not made a bourgeois revolution and therefore created the conditions for a socialist revolution. As a revolutionary tactician, Lenin argued for the creation of a vanguard of professional revolutionaries to organize and lead the events, and his insistence on committed revolutionaries to serve in the vanguard rather than form coalitions led to the split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, both terms that he invented. Given that "bolshoi" means big and thus the terms, while accurately reflecting one vote held at the party conference at which the split occurred never accurately reflected actual pre-1917 party membership numbers (and the "Mensheviks" never seriously fought being called the "minor faction"), Lenin proved then as in other instances his aptitude for framing things in a propagandistically advantageous way. As a revolutionary strategist, his utopian dream saw the Russian Revolution as a detonator for global movements; Red October would trigger a revolutionary wave in developed nations. But the suppression of attempts to establish Soviet-style revolutions in Germany, Hungary and other countries, and the devastation of the Russian Civil War halted this strategy. After the Civil War, Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP) which allowed market forces to resume in the Soviet Union and became the first attempt at a mixed economy. While Lenin himself admitted that the NEP was a departure from what he had previously advocated, he justified it on pragmatic grounds as a "temporary" measure (whether that was his true intention must remain unknown as he died with the policy still in place) and Lenin was indeed willing to do ruthlessly pragmatic things if he thought those helped the cause. Perhaps his most striking act of ruthless pragmatism was accepting the "train ticket" the arch-reactionary German government - a country his native Russia was at war with - offered him in order to get to Russia in time for his planned revolution.
His social policies included considerable rights for Russia's minorities and an organized campaign to stamp out Antisemitism in the Soviet Union, which was the most extensive anti-racist policy mounted in Russia up to that point.note He supported minority religions such as Russian Muslims and also promoted a policy of affirmative actions in the aim of undoing the forced Russifications of regional cultures in the former empire and he supported the maintenance of national cultures across the Soviet Union. Internationally, he favored Communist engagement with democratic processes in developed nations and castigated the German Communist Party for not participating in Parliamentary elections. He also recommended British communists to seek an electoral pact with the Labour Party, saying if they accepted then the British Communists would be able to more easily approach the rank-and-file workers in Labour and convince them of communism, and if they rejected then the Labour Party leaders would be showing themselves up as favouring the capitalists over workers unity. This was not because he believed such processes could bring about socialism, as they were according to Marxism, controlled by the bourgeoisie no matter how democratic appearing. The point was to use these as platforms to advocate for socialism and expose their real character as tools of the bourgeoisie.
On the other hand, Lenin emphasized the need for violence and terror to overthrow the old order, which resulted in the Red Terror. Many, many people were tortured and executed without proper trial, sent to labor camps, imprisoned or forcibly deported. The victims ranged from regular Whites to any left-wing 'revisionists' who disagreed with the idea of proletarian dictatorship and a vanguard party. In 1918, he passed the Decree on the Separation of Church and State, depriving many churches of their rights, and allowing for the seizure of their property. Clergy members and laypeople alike who resisted were arrested or killed. Lenin and his supporters justified this ruthless suppression of dissent with the ignominious end of the "Paris Commune", an abortive attempt to form a socialist state in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War which Marx had famously argued was "too soft" on opponents and not disciplined enough, so Lenin and Co. tried to avoid that mistake, thereby making a dozen more of the opposite extreme.
Partly because Lenin spent a good deal of his life outside Russia as an exile and a revolutionary, he stood slightly apart from Russia's traditional ways of operating, which was via an informal network of patronage, friendship and emotion-driven cliques that existed in Tsarist Russia and was still the way many in Russia and the former Russian Empire related to each other. This played a crucial part in the rise of Lenin's eventual successor. General Secretary of the Communist Party Joseph Stalin was a man of an entirely different disposition than Lenin: crude where Lenin was cultured, provincial where Lenin was cosmopolitan, and where Lenin insisted on professionalisation and merit-based leadership, Stalin was more keyed to the informal clique style of Russian bureaucracy. note Lenin's insistence on professional discipline and maintenance of The Chains of Commanding meant that he was also reluctant to openly nominate a successor based on his preferences. 'Real' contenders for the leadership such as Kamyenev and Leon Trotsky were all critiqued by him, who rightly trusted that his thoughts on his successors would have a great influence on the election. His oncoming dementia which left him bedridden and bound at his Dacha (Partly because of the assassination and partly because he was a Workaholic) prevented him from being too involved with the Politburo's hidden factionalism. Like the rest of the top leadership, Lenin had disapproved of Stalin's vulgar, uncouth, and uncultured naturenote but recognized the merit of his diligence and managerial competence all the same. Stalin used his position as secretary to develop a network of connections and patronage, and he successfully used Lenin's vague approval of his managerial abilities and specific criticisms of the other candidates to help win the election. Lenin's wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, came to approve of Stalin's nomination and criticized Trotsky, Kamenev and the Left Opposition in later debates while supporting Bukharin at the same time.
Lenin led a rather spartan life and was against any sort of Personality Cult being formed around him, though eventually he, reluctantly, did submit to posing for photographs intended for mass market use. Upon his death, the Politburo intended to honor his wishes to bury him in Petrograd. When they laid his body in state for public display however, an overwhelming number of people showed up to see him and this eventually led to the creation of ad-hoc measures to meet the growing number of visitors, leading finally to the decision under a committee overseen by Felix Dzherzhinsky to mummify and preserve his body in a Russian constructivist mausoleum on the Red Square in Moscow. In the opinion of later observers, Lenin in effect became a modern secular Orthodox saint whose organic relics possessed holy qualities, and on the anniversary military parade on Victory Day and the October Revolution, senior members of the Politburo would literally stand on the tomb. Upon his death, Lenin's image as Our Founder became a tool for legitimacy for the Communist Party, giving them continuity with other founding figures (such as Peter the Great, hence the renaming of Petrograd to Leningrad five days after Lenin's death, which lasted till the end of the Cold War). He was a prolific author, and his collected works consist of more than 40 volumes, each one a Door Stopper.note His books on imperialism made him a lasting inspiration for anti-colonialist movements and he was admired by the Western intelligentsia as a serious intellectual compared to the more philosophical Marx. As a result of the Cold War, he has been 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.
Critics argued that there was continuity between Lenin and Stalin's policies, but the fact remains that of all of Russia's leaders, Lenin held office for the shortest time than any head of state of the Russian Empire, Soviet Union and the Russian Federation, and his involvement with the government he built was far shorter than that of other revolutionary founders such as Fidel Castro and Mao Zedong. His international reputation is strongest in post-colonial nations in Africa, South America and Asia, where he's still seen and admired as a heroic figure who modernized Russia and succeeded in transforming his country, and his sympathy to sparking revolution in 'developing' countries led him to endorse and create many Third Worldist viewpoints. It's possible to draw quite a few parallels between Lenin and Maximilien Robespierre, though Lenin, while he respected Robespierre considered Danton his true favorite of the French Revolutionaries. The principal difference aside from culture, time, place and agenote , is that the French Revolutionaries were mere nobodies who found careers within a spontaneous event they did not predict, rarely controlled and finally lost direction (and their heads). In contrast, Lenin was a professional revolutionary who dreamed, planned and achieved his vision through intelligence, passionate and lifelong devotion, iron will, unshakeable and dogmatic conviction in the righteousness of his cause, and a charisma that inspired many others to his ideals, and left behind a government that, for better and worse, lasted 74 years and decisively shaped the 20th Century.
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- A Lighter Shade of Black: Even in media that portrays him in a negative manner, he is often portrayed in Western media as a far lesser evil than Stalin. There is definitely truth to this, as Stalin killed far more people than Lenin, although that's also because Stalin got to live longer. Perhaps best summed up in a limerick by Robert Conquest:
There was an old bastard named LeninWho did two or three million men in.That's a lot to have done inBut where he did one inThat old bastard Stalin did ten in.
- 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 other parts of the world, especially since he was far more sympathetic to what would become Third Worldism than Marx ever was (Marx believed socialist revolutions were only viable in capitalist or industrialized societies; he did not believe a society could "jump" from a feudal or agrarian society to Socialism). Communist revolutionaries such as Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro and socialist ones such as Kwame Nkrumah finding their footing with his writings.
- It should be noted that, strangely enough, Lenin has been almost completely absent from the current Russian public discourse for years. Instead, the entirety of Russian reactionary, nationalist, and gung-ho media vehemently supports and glorifies Stalin as a figurehead for Russia's imperialistic ambitions, revanchism and USSR nostalgia wank; their opponents refrain from invoking Lenin's name as well. The oversimplified, conservative folk version of Lenin nowadays is a crafty, possibly Jewish or German saboteur note who plunged the country into chaos, led it along the road paved with good intentions, and left the reeling nation to be saved and uplifted by Stalin. There is also the fact that Lenin was responsible for leading a revolution which toppled a government, which is not something Russia's current political leaders would prefer to remind people. Only among members of the Russian communist party is Lenin widely celebrated.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Surprisingly averted, even in American media. Actual negative depictions of Lenin in Western movies and TV are extremely rare. Oftentimes, Western works about the Russian Revolution employ a kind of narrative shorthand in which Lenin was the "good" and "moderate" revolutionary, embodying all the positive aspects of the Revolution, while Stalin was the "evil" and "totalitarian" revolutionary, embodying all the negative aspects. Many forget or ignore the fact that the Red Terror began with Lenin, attributing it all to Stalin.
- Iconic Outfit: Traditionally depicted wearing a suit, a dark-red necktie and sometimes, a newsboy cap.
- Our Founder: Busts and statues of Lenin will regularly show up in prominent positions in just about any communist setting. Unless it's set at the end (or after the end) of the Soviet Union, which leads to...
- Toppled Statue: A visual shorthand for the end of the Soviet Union is usually statues of Lenin (or other Communist leaders, or Karl Marx, but primarily Lenin) being toppled or removed, especially in non-Russian former Soviet republics. At one point there were as much statues of Stalin as there were of Lenin, but those of Stalin tended to be removed much earlier than The '90s, due to the De-Stalinization that started in 1953 after his death.
Appears in the following works:Comic Book
- One album of the Spirou & 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- He gets two articles in Our Dumb Century. First, "Pretentious, Goateed, Coffeehouse Types Seize Power In Russia", and then "Lenin Dead of Glorious 'Stroke of the People'"
Live-Action Television & Film
- In general a huge number of Soviet movies and documentaries, too numerous to mention here.
- Likewise a huge number of unintentionally hilarious propaganda works depicting him as a brave young lad, playing with children from an orphanage, humbly standing in queue, etc. etc.
- October: Ten Days That Shook the World by Sergei Eisenstein
- Is a major player in the British television drama Fall of Eagles - played by Patrick Stewart, no less!
- In Nicholas and Alexandra, an American historical drama from 1971, he's played by Michael Bryant.
- Taurus by Aleksandr Sokurov (of Russian Ark fame) shows Lenin in his final days at his Dacha, with dementia setting in.
- 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.
- A good chunk of GoldenEye's Title Sequence is statues of him and other Soviet/communist symbols being toppled or smashed, since it was with this film that the James Bond series truly said goodbye to the Cold War. In the film itself, Bond has an important meeting taking place in a "cemetery" for Soviet statues, most of them being statues of Lenin.
- The German film Good Bye, 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 King's Man, played by August Diehl.
- The 1995 Theo Angelopoulos film Ulysses' Gaze features a colossal broken statue of Lenin being transported by boat on a river.
- The protagonist of Robert Bolt's play State of Revolution (1977). Bolt portrays Lenin as "a great man possessed of a terrible idea."
- Appears as an NPC in Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams.
- He's the default leader of the Russians in Civilization II.
- 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.
- The New Order Last Days Of Europe has an event featuring Lenin's mummified corpse. When playing as one of the many Russian warlords struggling to reunite Soviet Union, conquering the place Lenin's mummy has been stored after the collapse of Soviet Unionnote allows to choose what to do with the corpses. Options depends on your country's ideology, but range from "giving again Lenin a proper burial" to "destroy and desecrate his corpse".
- 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.
- A major focus in season 10 of Mike Duncan's Revolutions podcast covering the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917.
- He appears on the cover art on one of Dan Carlin's Hardcore History World War I episodes that discusses Russia's collapse into revolution. The art depicts him in a Juxtaposed Halves Shot with Uncle Sam◊
- In Histeria!!, he appears as the leader of Red October and gets a song based off of his slogan of peace, land and bread. As you might tell from the uppity nature of the song, Histeria subscribes to the Trotskyite historiographical schoolnote of the Russian Revolution, where Lenin and Trotsky get the Chummy Commies treatment while Stalin is obviously trying to ruin everything.
- 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.