DEFINITION of Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Lenin was the architect of Russia's 1917 Bolshevik revolution and the first leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. A prominent Marxist, Lenin was born in 1870 in Russia with the last name Ulianov. He picked up his radical beliefs during college, where he earned a law degree. After college, he became a professional revolutionary and his activities got him exiled to Siberia for three years, from 1897 to 1900. Afterward, he moved to Europe, where he was a revolutionary journalist, before returning to Russia for the Revolution of 1905 then leaving for Europe again during World War I.

BREAKING DOWN Vladimir Lenin

As communist radical of Russia, Lenin expropriated and redistributed land and nationalized banks and industry. In 1921, he fought for his New Economic Policy, which combined elements of capitalism with socialism, in an attempt to revive the struggling Russian economy. After an attempted assassination in 1918 and a stroke in 1922, Lenin died in 1924.

Lenin's Legacy

Lenin's legacy is mainly one of violence and upheaval that would pave the way for a Communist state that enslaved millions of people and denied basic human rights to much of the population, who endured purges that would lead to the deaths of tens of millions of people. As leader, Lenin did away with the aristocracy, redistributed land to the peasants, nationalized banks and industries.

The Red Terror, a violent campaign administered by the Bolshevik secret police, murdered as many of 200,000 people who were thought to be against the aims of the revolution (so called counter-revolutionaries), or somehow related to those who were in opposition. Untold acts of horror, torture and depravity were performed in the name of the revolution.

At least 5 million people died in the Russian famine of 1921 that was made even more severe by government requisitioning of foodstuffs and the export of massive quantities of Russian grain to raise cash for the government.

Lenin's New Economic Policy permitted some private enterprise in Russia, introduced a wage system, while letting peasants sell produce and other goods on the open market, but having to pay tax on any earnings or in the form of raw goods. State-owned enterprises like steel would operate on a for-profit basis. In addition, various currencies of the time including sovznaks, kerenkas, old imperial money and bonds, were replaced by a new currency, backed by the gold standard. The country experienced hyperinflation, with wheelbarrows full of paper bills being required to buy a loaf of bread.