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V.I. LENIN
1870-1924
Russian revolutionary, founder of Bolshevism, and major force behind the founding of the USSR. Born in the Volga region, the son of a school inspector named Ulyanov, he was deeply influenced by his brother Aleksandr, who was executed in 1887 for plotting to kill the czar. Lenin abandoned the law to devote himself to Marxist study and agitation among workers, and was arrested and exiled to Siberia in 1895. There he married Nadezhda K. Krupskaya. In 1900 they left Russia for W Europe; about this time he took the name Lenin. Lenin's insistence that only a disciplined party of professional revolutionaries could bring socialism to Russia (expressed in his 1902 pamphlet What Is to Be Done?) led the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' party, meeting in London in 1903, to split into two factions: the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, and the Mensheviks (see BOLSHEVISM AND MENSHEVISM). Lenin returned to Russia on the outbreak of the 1905 Revolution but left in 1907. He continued to write and to engage in Social-Democratic party politics in W Europe. When WORLD WAR I began he saw it as an opportunity for worldwide socialist revolution. In March 1917 the RUSSIAN REVOLUTION broke out and he returned to Petrograd, where in November (October according to the Old Style) he led the Bolsheviks in overthrowing KERENSKY's provisional government. As chairman of the Council of People's Commissars he became virtual dictator; his associates included STALIN and TROTSKY. Among the Soviet government's first acts were the signing of the Treaty of BREST-LITOVSK with Germany and the distribution of land to the peasants. The Bolsheviks (who became the Communist party) asserted that the October Revolution had created a proletarian dictatorship; in fact, it was the party that ruled. Political opposition was suppressed, but civil war, complicated by foreign invasion and war with Poland, continued until late 1920. In 1919 Lenin established the Third International, or COMINTERN, to further world revolution. His policy of war Communism, prevailing until 1921, brought extensive nationalization, food rationing, and control over industry. In an attempt to boost the economy, he launched the NEW ECONOMIC POLICY (NEP), which allowed some private enterprise. Lenin's death in 1924 precipitated a power struggle in which Stalin was victorious. Lenin's main contributions to Marxism were his analysis of IMPERIALISM and his concept of a revolutionary party as a highly disciplined unit. He was one of the greatest and most practical revolutionists of all time.