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Vladmir Ilyich Lenin

Robert Owen

Karl Marx

Friedrich Engels

Eduard Bernstein

Vladmir Ilyich Lenin

Samuel Gompers

Eugene V. Debs

Benito Mussolini

Clement Atlee

Julius Nyerere

Mao Zedong

Deng Xiaoping

Mikhail Gorbachev

Karl blair


Lenin's 'Iskra,' or 'The Spark'
Lenin's 'Iskra,' or 'The Spark' (1900, Library of Congress)

Born Vladimir Ulyanov, Lenin was the scion of a family that had risen within two generations from serfdom to nobility. As a young teenager, he was devastated when his adored older brother, Sasha, was sent to the gallows for his role in a student plot to assassinate the Tsar. Lenin picked up where his brother left off and in 1895, was arrested, imprisoned and ultimately exiled. Lenin reacted to Eduard Bernstein’s gradualism by choosing revolution. In 1900, he founded Iskra or The Spark, an underground newspaper published in Germany to organize a Russian Marxist revolutionary party.

The economic progress of the industrial age had confounded Marx and Engels' prophesy that the workers would grow ever poorer and more desperate. This led many socialists to despair of the ultimate upheaval. But Lenin proposed that a devoted and disciplined “vanguard” could make the revolution on behalf of the workers. This changed the quality of Marxism from a forecast of inevitabilities to a creed of action.

Lenin reading the paper at his desk
Lenin reading the paper at his desk. (circa 1917, Marx Memorial Library)

The first World War gave Lenin the opportunity to put his ideas into practice. In October 1917 Lenin led his revolutionary vanguard to overthrow the provisional government, forming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Socialism achieved its first momentous triumph. Even those socialists who decried Lenin's violent methods or who viewed his state as little more than a caricature of their goals, nonetheless felt strengthened in the conviction that history was flowing from capitalism to socialism. But the debate over the Russian model, and the war's demonstration of the power of nationalism, shattered the movement into numerous shards, some so oddly shaped that their origin was unrecognizable.


For more information, read interviews with:

Richard Pipes
Harvard University
Author, Communism, A History
Author, Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime

Nina Tumarkin
Wellesley College
Author, Lenin Lives: The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia


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