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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lenin, Vladimir Ilich

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LENIN (originally Oulianov), VLADIMIR ILICH (1870-), Russian Communist leader, was born in Simbirsk in 1870, his father being an official of middle rank—a district inspector of schools. His elder brother, Alexander, was an active member of the terrorist party of the “Will of the people.” In 1887 he planned with some friends to assassinate Emperor Alexander III. by the explosion of an infernal machine: the plot was discovered and Alexander Oulianov was hanged together with four of his accomplices. Vladimir entered the university of Kazan as a student of law, but was expelled for taking part in revolutionary agitation. He went to St. Petersburg and passed his bar examination there. He did not practise long, but joined a secret organization of professional revolutionists. Towards the end of the 'nineties he was arrested, escaped and went abroad. He had joined the Social Democratic movement which in those days was spreading widely in Russia. Plekhanov and Struve were at that time the chief exponents of Marxism: they adopted the teaching of Karl Marx as regards the necessary sequence of economic stages—feudalism, bourgeois individualism, capitalism, proletarian upheaval. In that scheme the rise and growth of capitalism was considered to be a necessary preliminary to social revolution, and it was thought that Russia had hardly entered that stage: therefore it was not ripe for a social upheaval. Lenin was in agreement with these views for some time. But while Struve, and to a less degree Plekhanov, were induced by this admission to seek an alliance with Liberal intellectuals in their struggle against Tsarism, Lenin (as he had taken to calling himself), together with Martov, Axelrod and other fiery spirits, forsook the Liberal platform and strove for a violent outbreak of a downright class war. This produced a split in the ranks of Social Democracy between the Majority and Minority sections (Bolsheviks and Mensheviks). This split, first apparent in the Congress of 1903, gradually widened. At the third Congress in 1905 it led to the formation of two parties, the Bolsheviks meeting in London, and the Mensheviks in Geneva.

The revolution of 1905 saw Lenin again in St. Petersburg, and he worked a good deal behind the scenes, inciting to violence, advising a boycott of the Duma, hostility to the Cadets, etc. But he did not play any part in the Soviet of workmen, and disappeared as soon as it became clear, after the crushing of the outbreak in Moscow, that the troops and the people were not on the side of the revolutionaries.

During his second stay abroad (1906-17) Lenin published several pamphlets and books which attracted a good deal of attention. In the Two Tactics (1905) he had announced that terrorism was inevitable as a weapon in the hands of revolutionists. He said among other things: “The Jacobins of contemporary social democracy—the Bolsheviks—desire that the people, that is the proletarians and peasants, should settle the reckoning of Monarchy and Aristocracy in plebeian fashion—by ruthlessly annihilating the enemies of freedom.”

The disillusionment as regards material means for improving the life of mankind had given rise in many minds to a quest for religion, and this mystic current had attracted men like Struve, Bulgakov, Berdiayev and others. Lenin regarded such strivings as a betrayal of the claims of the labouring class. His book on Materialism and Empiric Criticism (1909) heaps abuse on idealistic philosophers and religious teachers of all schools and creeds. He does not enquire into the abstract right and wrong of any case, but subjects it to the acid test of proletarian interests. He quotes Lafargue with approval: “The working-man who eats a sausage and is paid five francs a day knows quite well that his employer robs him, and that a sausage tastes well and is good food.” “Not at all,” says a bourgeois sophist (let it be Pierson, Hume or Kant), “the working-man's opinion on this question is a personal view, a subjective view; he would have been quite as justified in thinking that the employer is his benefactor and that the sausage is hashed leather, for he is unable to know a thing as it is (Ding an Sich).”

The period of reading and writing was also a period of propaganda in which Lenin was not troubled by any scruples. He rather preferred to have to do with common criminals like Malinovsky, Radek or Peters. Malinovsky had been caught in committing burglary and forgery. This gave a handle to the Petersburg secret police, and they employed him as a spy and agent provocateur. He managed to get into the Fourth Duma through the joint protection of Bieletzky, the Russian Fouché, and Lenin. It would be wrong to suppose that Lenin drew profits from the misdeeds of his associates. His one passion was lust of power, and he was not in the least attracted by gain. He was guided rather by the motto: Je prends mon bien où je le trouve. This feature of his character served him well when the World War brought about the long-expected upheaval of European society. Lenin was one of the leading spirits of the Zimmerwald and Kienthal meetings, and urged a general revolt of the workmen of all countries against the war. But he rightly felt that the social catastrophe would be most likely to break out in Russia, as the worst governed and the least civilized country. Therefore he upheld to the full extent of his influence the cause of Germany against the Entente. “As things actually are,” he said in Oct. 1914, in his organ published at Geneva, “it is impossible, from the point of view of the international proletariat, to say which would be the lesser evil for Socialism, an Austro-German defeat or a Franco-Russo-English defeat. But for us, Russian Social Democrats, there can be no doubt that, from the point of view of the working-classes and of the toiling masses of all the Russian peoples, the lesser evil would be a defeat of the Tsarist monarchy. We cannot ignore the fact that this or that issue of the military operations will facilitate or render more difficult our work of liberation in Russia. And we say: ‘Yes, we hope for the defeat of Russia because it will facilitate the internal victory of Russia—the abolition of her slavery, her liberation from the chains of Tsarism.’ ”

He and his associates found ready support from the funds at the disposal of the German secret service. And it came to pass that the Kaiser, who deemed himself the champion of monarchical principle in Europe, should assist him and his retinue to reach Russia after the overthrow of the Tsar. From that point his career up to 1921 is merged in the general history of Russia (see Russia), where he established himself as president of the Soviet Government. (P. Vi.)