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Talking Today in History, April 16th

LENIN RETURNS:
April 16, 1917


On April 16, 1917, Vladimir Lenin, leader of the revolutionary Bolshevik Party,
returns to Petrograd after a decade of exile to take the reins of the Russian
Revolution. One month before, Czar Nicholas II had been forced from power when
Russian army troops joined a workers' revolt in Petrograd, the Russian
capital.Born Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov in 1870, Lenin was drawn to the
revolutionary cause after his brother was executed in 1887 for plotting to
assassinate Czar Alexander III. He studied law and took up practice in Petrograd
(now St. Petersburg), where he associated with revolutionary Marxist circles. In
1895, he helped organize Marxist groups in the capital into the "Union for the
Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class," which attempted to enlist
workers to the Marxist cause. In December 1895, Lenin and the other leaders of
the Union were arrested. Lenin was jailed for a year and then exiled to Siberia
for a term of three years.After the end of his exile, in 1900, Lenin went to
Western Europe, where he continued his revolutionary activity. It was during
this time that he adopted the pseudonym Lenin. In 1902, he published a pamphlet
titled What Is to Be Done? which argued that only a disciplined party of
professional revolutionaries could bring socialism to Russia. In 1903, he met
with other Russian Marxists in London and established the Russian
Social-Democratic Workers' Party (RSDWP). However, from the start there was a
split between Lenin's Bolsheviks (Majoritarians), who advocated militarism, and
the Mensheviks (Minoritarians), who advocated a democratic movement toward
socialism. These two groups increasingly opposed each other within the framework
of the RSDWP, and Lenin made the split official at a 1912 conference of the
Bolshevik Party.After the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1905, Lenin
returned to Russia. The revolution, which consisted mainly of strikes throughout
the Russian empire, came to an end when Nicholas II promised reforms, including
the adoption of a Russian constitution and the establishment of an elected
legislature. However, once order was restored, the czar nullified most of these
reforms, and in 1907 Lenin was again forced into exile.Lenin opposed World War
I, which began in 1914, as an imperialistic conflict and called on proletariat
soldiers to turn their guns on the capitalist leaders who sent them down into
the murderous trenches. For Russia, World War I was an unprecedented disaster:
Russian casualties were greater than those sustained by any nation in any
previous war. Meanwhile, the economy was hopelessly disrupted by the costly war
effort, and in March 1917 riots and strikes broke out in Petrograd over the
scarcity of food. Demoralized army troops joined the strikers, and on March 15
Nicholas II was forced to abdicate, ending centuries of czarist rule. In the
aftermath of the February Revolution (known as such because of Russia's use of
the Julian calendar), power was shared between the ineffectual Provincial
Government and the soviets, or "councils," of soldiers' and workers'
committees.After the outbreak of the February Revolution, German authorities
allowed Lenin and his lieutenants to cross Germany en route from Switzerland to
Sweden in a sealed railway car. Berlin hoped (correctly) that the return of the
anti-war Socialists to Russia would undermine the Russian war effort, which was
continuing under the Provincial Government. Lenin called for the overthrow of
the Provincial Government by the soviets, and he was condemned as a "German
agent" by the government's leaders. In July, he was forced to flee to Finland,
but his call for "peace, land, and bread" met with increasing popular support,
and the Bolsheviks won a majority in the Petrograd soviet. In October, Lenin
secretly returned to Petrograd, and on November 7 the Bolshevik-led Red Guards
deposed the Provisional Government and proclaimed soviet rule.Lenin became the
virtual dictator of the world's first Marxist state. His government made peace
with Germany, nationalized industry, and distributed land but, beginning in
1918, had to fight a devastating civil war against czarist forces. In 1920, the
czarists were defeated, and in 1922 the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
(USSR) was established. Upon Lenin's death in early 1924, his body was embalmed
and placed in a mausoleum near the Moscow Kremlin. Petrograd was renamed
Leningrad in his honor. After a struggle of succession, fellow revolutionary
Joseph Stalin succeeded Lenin as leader of the Soviet Union.
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