Lenin was born in 1870 in what was then the Russian Empire. Outraged by the injustices of czarist Russia, as a young intellectual he joined his country’s infant Marxist movement, where he quickly became a leader.
Lenin insisted that without overcoming its amateurism, and establishing a disciplined, professional vanguard party, the movement would be unable to overthrow the capitalist state with its army and police. Lenin and his supporters became known as Bolsheviks.
When World War I broke out the world socialist movement (organized in what was known as the Socialist, or 2nd International) became deeply split. The majority ended up supporting their respective countries, but a minority, including Lenin’s Bolsheviks, refused to support the war and called instead for an international workers’ revolution.
In October 1917 Lenin, together with Leon Trotsky, showed the world what they meant. Following the overthrow of the Czar in February, 1917, the Bolsheviks went on to win a majority of the Soviets (workers’ councils) and convince the workers to go all the way and overthrow capitalism. The Bolshevik Revolution resulted in the formation of the world’s first workers’ state.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks called on workers’ to follow their example, and in 1919 they set up the Community (or 3rd) International to coordinate the workers’ struggles around the world.
Recognizing the threat of the example the Russian workers’ were setting, the capitalists of the world invaded and fomented a bloody civil war. The Russian workers were able to defend their revolution, but at a devastating cost. Adding to the blows Russia had to endure, in January, 1924 Lenin died after a series of strokes. Shortly afterwards, Joseph Stalin, and the bureaucratic caste that supported him, took advantage of the situation to usurp power. Stalin and his policies led to the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the Communist International.
It’s crucial though that we don’t associate Stalinism with the politics and practices of Lenin. Unlike Stalin, Lenin was an internationalist and a believer in workers’ democracy – not bureaucratic dictatorship. Lenin’s politics remain a crucial guide and inspiration to any revolutionary who seeks to seriously answer the question: “What is to be done?”