Thomas Bell

Nikolai Lenin

A Biographical Sketch of a Great Leader

Source: The Communist Review, July 1923, Vol. 4, No. 7.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

ON April 10 (old style), 53 years ago, in the year 1870 to be exact, was born in the province of Simbirsk, Vladimir Ilyitch Oulianov (Lenin). His father, Llia Nikolaevitch Oulianov, came from poor parents and humble origin in Astrakhan. A director of primary schools in the province of Simbirsk, Lenin’s father at the close of his life had the satisfaction of seeing his beloved district possess 434 schools, founded by himself with 20,000 pupils. Honest, laborious and anxious to see peace and harmony amongst the common people, the Lenin family taught the children to love the people, i.e., the workers and peasants and all the oppressed and disinherited. In concert with his brothers, who attended the same school, Lenin was always a good scholar.

In those days the peasants were enslaved to the big landlords and often struck or revolted against the feudal tyranny of these aristocrats. Needless to say, strikes were ruthlessly suppressed by the reigning Czar Alexander III., and the peasants or others who took their part were either thrust into prison or sent into exile. In the vendetta against the peasantry for the death of the Czar Alexander II., Lenin’s brother, Alexander Ilyitch, fell into the hands of the spies of the Czar and was hanged in the year 1887.

This calamity had a profound influence upon the young Vladimir. He began to think on the freedom of the people, not only from the Czars, but from all their oppressors, and with thoughts of deep concern for the future welfare of the people, he entered the University of Kazan to continue his studies.


In his first year, 1887, the young rebel was excluded from the University for participating in a students’ revolt. Exiled to the village of Kolouchkino, in the province of Kazan, his studies were interrupted and it was not before 1891 that he was able to pass his examinations. In 1893 he lived in Samara and this same year he settled in St. Petersburg, where, in 1894, he founded “The Workers’ Central Club.”

About this period there began revolutionary movements everywhere throughout the Empire. The masses were awakening from the stupor imposed on them by the oppression of Czarism. Secret societies were founded by the workers in concert with the rising Social Democrats to destroy the Czarism, the landowners and capitalist and restore the land and capital to the peasants and workers.

Of all the societies founded at this time the strongest was that of “Union of Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class.” The founders were Lenin and his comrades, Starkov, Krjya-novsky, Vaniev, Silvine. Lenin was the foremost militant leader. Working secretly, the spies of the police were very active against the workers and Social-Democrats, and discovered Lenin and his comrades. They were all arrested and sentenced to many years’ imprisonment and deported to Siberia. This was in 1895. Lenin himself was sent to Lena. While in exile he continued his studies and wrote some books in which he explained to the workers the road they must travel to win freedom.

For Lenin, two types of enemies confronted the working class. First, was the open, frank opponents of all the working-class aspirations; the other type was the bourgeois intellectuals of the Liberal-Cadet Party or the Socialist Revolutionary —the subsequent Whites and counter-revolutionaries. These latter were the most dangerous enemies of the people, since, while they mouthed a distorted view of Marxism, they completely failed to appreciate the trend of events. In his books, “The Programme of the Social-Democrats of Russia,” “The Development of Capitalism in Russia,” etc., Lenin has exposed the falsity of the doctrines of these would-be friends of the people.

The errors of the savants were similar to our respectable trade union leaders in this country, who do not combat the Czars or engage in any political struggle. “Be content with higher wages, lee; hours, better houses, etc.” They did not see that the Czar, with his police and army, was bound to assist the capitalists and landlords and suppress the workers’ struggle by violence if necessary, i.e., to force the worker’s to accept less wages, longer hours, worse housing conditions, etc.

Lenin contended that to ameliorate the conditions of the working-class there roust be a struggle all the time against the capitalists and landowners, against the Czar and the police. There were those who later formed the S.R.’s who said the peasants were the strongest force in Russia and that the workers would never be numerous enough to dethrone the Czar. Lenin fought this idea and wrote books to prove how false it was to neglect the large and increasing numbers of the working class in the struggle of the peasantry.

Deported to Siberia in 1897, he subsequently escaped and in 1900 we find him abroad collaborating with the remarkable Plechanoff (in some respects the master of Lenin), with Véra Zasoulitch, Léo Deutch, Potrésof, Martov and Axelrod. In this year (1900) the first number of “The Spark” appeared and became a beacon light for the Russian working class. Not only, it was declared, was the time approaching when the workers and peasants would come to final grips with the Czar, the big landlords and the capitalists, but towards that end an appeal was made for a single organisation uniting all the conscious workers into a Social-Democratic Labour Party. In this connection it was necessary to call a conference where the programme and plan of common action could be worked out.

This was the celebrated congress of 1903 at which the Social-Democratic Labour Party was formed that gave birth at a later stage to the Bolshevik (Communist) Party in 1905.


The story of this schism and division is now well known. The war with Japan created a revolutionary situation which still further widened the breach between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. The defeat of the Russian Army led to internal troubles. Big strikes and demonstrations for economic and political demands were met with bullets and bayonets: The workers in St. Petersburg threw up their Soviets of workers’ deputies, which were the foundation of the future Workers’ and Peasants’ Government in Russia.

Martoff, Plechanoff and the Mensheviks counselled the workers to support the demand for the Duma or constituent assembly, since they thought they saw in the Duma a means of limiting the powers of the old Czar and reforming the old régime. Lenin, on the other hand, declared this alliance with the capitalists and landlords would be death for the workers’ movement and said the only possible alliance was that of the workers with the peasants. His policy is clearly outlined in his book, “The Social-Democratic Tactics in the Democratic Revolution.” But the soldiers and workers could not follow the intricacies of party polemics. They believed it was an evil to have the two parties fighting each other and demanded unity.

In 1906 the Congress for Unity was held at Stockholm and the two parties fused into one. At this congress the Mensheviks were in the majority and passed all their resolutions. They hesitated before confiscation. They talked of solving the land problem by means of the existing regional and provincial administrations on which the nobles and rich bourgeois were predominant. They believed the Duma was a reformation of the State and should be accepted by the working class. Lenin and the Bolsheviks declared for nationalisation of the land and a Workers’ Government. He urged the workers to organise the Soviets as had been done in St. Petersburg, since he was persuaded that the nobles and capitalists would not be persuaded by the phrases of the Mensheviks nor yield without force, and that only the government of workers and peasants could take the land and secure power for the people. Lenin’s predictions were realised with a vengeance. Before the congress ended the Czar had dispersed the Petersburg Soviet, arrested or deported its members to Siberia, the Duma was dissolved, and the workers’ representatives imprisoned wherever they were shown to be in the least popular. Before the minions of the Czar were finished Russia resembled a huge cemetery and everything appeared pacific.

The daily life of Lenin now became more and more difficult and finally he had to go once more into exile. But even in exile he never ceased to aid and instruct the Russian workers and peasants, and there was need for it! The Mensheviks and the S.R.s were leading the workers along a false track. A section of the Mensheviks even affirmed the people were part of the Government and that it was only a question of ameliorating conditions and being pacific. Lenin exposed the treachery of this attitude and incessantly preached struggle. The struggle had already begun. At the opening of 1911 the workers organised strikes and demanded liberty. The Czar and his police responded with shot and arrests. Again Lenin indicated the method to be adopted by the workers. He declared for the necessity of an illegal section under the direction of tried revolutionaries such as Sverdlov and many others active and in touch with the workers’ movement and who occupied important posts in the Soviets of Russia, e.g., Mouranov, Petrovsky, Smirnov, Foma—all members of the Duma; Kalinine, president of the Central Committee, Tomsky, press. dent of the Central Council for Trade Unions of Pan Russia (which represented seven million members), Noguine, Staline, Zinoviev, Dzerijinski and many others whose names are well known.

Then upon the suggestion of Lenin, and his friends, a workers’ paper was started in St. Petersburg—“Zvejda” (“The Star”). This journal was soon confiscated but appeared under another name, “Pravda” (Truth), and, as history knows, was destined to play a tremendously important part in the future struggles of the Russian workers.


The second congress in London showed the Lenin faction a well-organised party and with a majority (hence the now famous term Bolshevik). The Mensheviks still counselled collaboration with the landlords and capitalists. Lenin and the Bolshevik Party urged the consolidation of all the forces; unity with the peasants to overthrow Czarism, the nobles and capitalists. Millions of workers, he declared, were ready for the struggle. A secret organisation was essential for efficiency.

But a means had to be found to explain things clearly to the workers, and this was to hand in “Pravda.” “Pravda” was essentially a workers’ paper, supported by the pennies collected in the factories and workshops by the workers, who also wrote themselves. But the chief collaborator was Lenin. As the press was moved closer to the frontiers of Russia it was easier to establish direct contact between Lenin and the workers and to get the benefit of his counsel.

The massacres in the gold mines of Lena in 1912 showed revolution to be once more in the air. But an event of importance for the world revolution was at hand. The European war broke out. The part played by, the Czar and the landlords and capitalists of Russia, as well as the bourgeoisie of the entire world, has been exposed in the publication of the secret treaties—a complete vindication of the Bolshevik method.


Before the war Lenin bad understood the trend of events and was one of the first to declare the moment had come to refuse to fight for the interests of the rich and to declare universal war against capital. “We will respond to this war by the civil war,” he said. But this was not the opinion of all. Old masters of Lenin, such as Kautsky and Plechanoff, thought otherwise. The story of Kerensky, Plechanoff and Kautsky, as well as the conduct of the many social traitors, is now common knowledge.

Lenin never ceased his activity against the war, and the Bolsheviks passed through very severe trials. “Pravda” was suppressed, the workers, Mouranov, Petrovsky and other members of the Duma were accused of high treason and deported to Siberia. Lenin appeared to be preaching in the wilderness. But this was only in appearance. He applied all his mind and energy to the task before him and was in close contact with the immortal Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. It was this group that convened the congress at Zimmerwald and then at Kienthal, where the slogan was given out to the workers of the world to cease fighting for the wealthy imperialists and to begin a war against the capitalists, landlords and monarchs.

Everyone knows how the war ended; the insurrection of the soldiers and workers of St. Petersburg and the passing of power out of the hands of Czarism to the workers and peasants. The story has also been told many times of how the S.R.s, Tchernov, Avksentiev, Kerensky, and the Mensheviks, Tsérételli, Martov, Dan, etc., fell into the camp of the bourgeoisie and the part they played in the counter-revolution.

Out of their experience in 1905 the workers soon formed their Soviets, but as yet these were mainly in the hands of the Mensheviks Lenin was in exile. Trotsky, in attempting to pass through England, was arrested and sent to Halifax, Canada. Other comrades were scattered all over the world. It is curious to think of the affection the workers had for Lenin at this time. Secret whisperings were heard, “Lenin is coming!” “Lenin is coming!” At length, after an adventurous journey in a sealed wagon through Germany, Lenin arrived! His first meetings with the workers were explanations of his activity abroad, why he had come to Russia and what was to be done.


In founding the workers’ councils and deposing the Czar the workers, said Lenin, had accomplished a veritable miracle. But there was yet the bigger and more difficult task to overtake. The deposition of the Czar was comparatively an easy thing. Not so the abolition of the capitalists and landlords. Yet this must be done. The workers must take all power to themselves. The land and factories and workshops must be handed over to the peasants and workers. And the workers approved.

The old struggle with the Mensheviks and S.R.s was intensified. Lenin was slandered by the bourgeois Press as a German spy and traitor in the pay of the Kaiser’s junkers. To dupe the workers Government portfolios were lavishly handed out to the Mensheviks. But the workers and peasants had neither freedom nor land. This period is graphically told in John Read’s “Ten Days that Shook the World” and also Philip Price’s “Russian Revolution.”

The power passed into the hands of the workers and then began the real struggle, led and directed by Lenin, which cost very. dearly in bloodshed but which has finally terminated in complete victory for the proletariat. All the world knows to-day how Lenin’s predictions have been verified.

He had declared that the power must be taken out of the hands of the landlords and capitalists by the workers and held by the mass of the workers and peasants, not only of Russia, but of the world. The Russian workers understood that without the Soviets and without taking the power by force there would be neither land nor liberty. The revolution of October, 1917, has confirmed all this. Since then the Bolshevik Party has changed its name to the Communist Party.

Lenin from the first knew full well the mercenary part the White generals and their tools would play. That is why all the time his voice kept ringing the slogan, “Form your Red Army of workers and peasants; sacrifice everything. If you will guard your liberty and land you must be prepared to pay the price with your blood if necessary.” And this politic has guided Lenin since 1917 and throughout his active career. It was this ability to pay the price that triumphed at Brest-Litovsk, the harbinger of the German revolution and the fall of the Kaiser. The same spirit moves behind the whole politic of Soviet Russia to-day with its modifications in, economic, industrial, or social life, and directs the great Communist International—the fighting machine of the world’s militants against imperialism.


With an abiding faith in the ultimate triumph of the working-class, interested as much in the life of the miners in South Wales, the engineers on the Clyde, the cotton workers of Lancashire, as in the oppressed peoples in the Orient, South America, or his beloved Russia, Lenin stands out head and shoulders above the big figures of the present age—the great humanist.

The powerful Press of Great Britain may seek to spread lies and make base insinuations against Comrade Lenin. His name remains sacred to thousands of British workers. Indeed, there is scarcely a town and village in Great Britain but which contains in the home of some worker a picture of the greatest proletarian leader in modern times.

Bullets, poison, lies, and all the instruments of bourgeois. democracy may seek to destroy the mighty influence of Lenin upon the working masses of the world. His spirit will still survive to succour, guide, and direct the millions of the oppressed peoples, towards the goal of their emancipation—the liberation of the toilers from class rule and exploitation.

T. B.

* In contrast with the bourgeois associations of November with Armistice Day, throughout the world millions of proletarians will always associate November with the name of Lenin. The materials for this very brief sketch have been taken from V. L. Nevsky’s booklet and Zinoviev’s Life of Lenin.—T.B.