What Makes Lenin Tick?

The period leading up to and during the 1917 revolution can be categorized by a series of great rifts that develop throughout Russia stemming from the sheer number of issues that arose and the diverse solutions proposed to solve them. There were so many hot button disputes in Russia during this period that no two individuals could possibly come to an agreement on all of them, even if they both identified with the same party. It is easy to see how there could be so many divides during this tumultuous time in Russia as every leading figure had a different idea on how to handle everything from the war, to land reform, to the democratization of government. However, of the many forces vying for power, it was Lenin and the Bolsheviks who eventually came out on top. Why? How was it that Lenin succeeded where so many others failed? What did he have that separated him from all the other leading figures in Russia during the revolutionary period?

These are no easy questions to which I do not propose to provide any concrete answers in this post; however, in reading through the developments leading up to the October revolution, it seems to me that all of Lenin’s actions highlighted his persistence, his extensive planning, his masterful communication, and above all his unwavering genuine belief that his ideals were the only options that could save Russia. I think that these are the cornerstones of Lenin’s success, especially as represented in the events from the July Days to his seizure of power at the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets.

July Days

Obviously Lenin’s involvement in Russia began long before the July Days, but it is at this point that I will begin. The July Days provided a seemingly perfect opportunity for Lenin and the Bolshevik’s to jump in and lead the already rallied and rightly enraged workers and soldiers in overthrowing the Provisional Government. Indeed, many Bolshevik’s did rise up in an attempt to lead the assembled masses, and in an effort to gain organization, members of the protest were led to Lenin. But instead of grabbing this opportunity and directing these workers and soldiers toward his long talked about revolution, Lenin gave a very vague speech that did little to incite a mass revolution. Why would Lenin allow this opportunity to slip past? Lenin was a planner. His plans to right the declining Russia were like a chess match in which he had already realized his impending checkmate. He knew all the moves he needed to make to win and this spontaneous unrest, although enticing, was not part of his elaborate plan. He communicated just enough to the protesters to keep them just below the boiling point for the time being, yet ready for revolution when it was the fruits of revolution were ripe.(Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution)

Lenin’s next step proved more difficult as the government pinned the July Days uprising on the Bolshevik’s, who only had stepped in after the start of the protest and were not involved to any great extent in its organization. Many key leaders were arrested and Lenin himself was forced to flee after he was said to have committed treason by taking money from Germany to undermine the Russian war effort and create instability among the Russian people. Whether an elaborate plot to discredit a major threat to the Provisional Government or potentially a report with a hint of truth, Lenin made the most of this event in his time away from Russia. He allegedly distributed propaganda on matters such as Ukrainian separation from Russia and sowed discontent among the outskirts of Russia, but his most important efforts while in hiding were his ‘Letters from Afar’. (Browder and Kerensky, The Russian Provisional Government) Lenin urged the Central Committee to seize power in these letters and argued that the time was ripe for the “inevitable Bolshevik victory”. (Freeze, Russia A History) His letters eventually succeeded and the Bolsheviks were able to very efficiently take control by exploiting the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets.

These events outline what it was that enabled Lenin to be successful where many others had failed. He was able to plan out the rise of the Bolsheviks to power very early on which required a great deal of forethought and insight into all levels of Russian society. Using his communication skills, whether through speeches, publications, or ‘Letters from Afar’, Lenin was able to convey these plans to his supporters and eventually bring them into fruition. His persistence and focus on his cause gave him a strong advantage over his rivals who so often wavered and strayed from their central goals, and as a result he was able to thrive where they failed. And when all of these things are united, it is not difficult to see how Lenin was able to take control of a struggling Russia plagued by war and unrest.

Vladimir Lenin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Lenin)
Vladimir Lenin


N. N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution, 1917: A Personal Record (London: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 444-446

Robert Paul Browder and Alexander F. Kerensky, eds., The Russian Provisional Government, 1917: Documents (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1961), pp. 1373-76.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. 3rd ed. Oxford University Press, 2009. 199-233. Print.


2 Replies to “What Makes Lenin Tick?”

  1. Great post on Lenin! This guy was super calculating, and it seemed like he was one step ahead of his opponents even when it seemed as if he wasn’t around. It was important for the Bolsheviks to wait for their takeover because the progression required democracy before socialism. I like how you highlighted how Lenin was able to turn around even situations that could have gone really sour for the Bolsheviks (like the July Days, the money from Germany, etc). This post was really important because it shows how sometimes one man can really impact history.

  2. I agree. Your post offers good insight on Lenin’s approach to tactics by focusing in on the July Days (which were definitely a setback for the Bolsheviks!). How do you compare Lenin’s response to the July Days with the agenda set out in the “April Theses”?

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