Role of Lenin in the Bolshevik Revolution

The role of Lenin in the Bolshevik Revolution

Lenin was born into a wealthy family in 1870. His early years saw him excel at school. In 1887 his elder brother was executed for participating in a plot against Tsar Alexander III and his sister was banished to an isolated village. These events resulted in Lenin becoming a committed revolutionary.

Lenin moved to St. Petersburg in 1893 after several years working as a Lawyer. In St. Petersburg he became involved in revolutionary thinking and he joined a Marxist group. For his membership of this group he was exiled to Siberia. Following his release some 14 months later, he moved through Russia and Europe, developing his thoughts on marxism and quickly becoming recognised as a leading thinker in the Marxist revolutionary movement.

In 1903 Lenin became the leader of the Bolshevik faction following the split within the Social Revolutionaries. This was about the same time as he published a pamphlet ‘What is to be done?’ outlining his beliefs about the way towards a socialist state. Following the failed 1905 revolution Lenin moved into a period of self imposed exile. Whilst living outside of Russia he write many pamphlets and he was an active participant in many meetings of european marxists.


With the outbreak of war in 1914, Lenin moved to neutral Switzerland. He found himself isolated from much of the socialist movement as he, unlike most other socialists of the time, opposed the war. At this time he presided over anti war meetings and wrote an important document that showed how Imperialism could lead to a socialist state.

Despite having lived in exile for over ten years, Lenin was well known in Russia. his works had been widely read by workers and he was still acknowledged as being a leading thinker within the bolshevik movement. When Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate, Lenin realised that there was an opportunity for socialism to take charge of Russia. Through contacts he had made in exile he managed to gain entry back into Russia, courtesy of a ‘sealed train’ provided by the Germans. Upon returning to St Petersburg he had a great deal of influence on the work of the Petrograd Soviet. He fled St Petersburg briefly following the failure of the Soviet to seize control during the ‘July Days’ and wrote ‘State and Revolution’ whilst keeping a close eye on events in Russia. In October 1917, Lenin returned to St Petersburg. he demanded that the Soviets agree in principle to a seizure of power and helped to ensure that the soldiers in and around St. Petersburg were sympathetic to the Bolshevik cause.

Following the Bolshevik’s seizure of power and the capture of the Winter Palace, Lenin was elected Chairperson of the Council of Peoples Commissars. In this role he called elections for the Constituent Assembly and promptly ordered the army to aid him in closing the assembly down on the day of its first meeting. In doing so, he ensured that the Bolsheviks had control of not only the buildings of government, but also that they had the might to enforce their will: the Bolsheviks had not won the election, Lenin’s role here was to ensure that his arty, and not the Social Revolutionaries who had gained more votes, retained power.

Artists impression of lenin addressing Bolsheviks in 1917.

Image: Portrayal of Lenin addressing Bolsheviks in October 1917.

Lenin then led the fledgling Soviet State through the Civil War and in its first difficult years as a Bolshevik State. He introduced War Communism to ensure that the Civil War would be won, and was realist enough to recognise failings in the system which led to the introduction of the New Economic Policy, which continued beyond his death.

The role of Lenin may appear to be limited to a ‘last minute’ involvement in Russian Bolshevik activities at the time of the Revolution. Whilst it is the case that he was physically ‘late’ in appearing in St Petersburg, it needs to be remembered that it was his determination, self belief and drive that led to the Soviets voting in favour of armed revolution and that he had to overcome much opposition to his policies from within the Social Revolutionary movement.

Russian and Soviet HistoryRussian History Homepage
Russia before the First World WarOpposition to Tsarist RuleImpact of the First World War
1917: Abdication of Tsar Nicholas IIBolshevik RevolutionLenin and the Bolshevik Revolution
Leon TrotskyBolshevik Rule 1918-1924Russian Civil War
New Economic PolicyLenin's LegacyDevelopment of Communist Rule
Life in the Soviet UnionFailure of Reform and Decline of the Communist StateStalinism
Collectivisation of Soviet AgricultureWomen in the USSRDe-Stalinisation
Khruschev's Reform ProgrammeDecline of the Soviet UnionCollapse of the Soviet Union
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