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Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Soviet Leader

Lenin became chairman of the Council of People's Commissars and virtual dictator; Trotsky, Stalin, and Rykov were the other chief members. The Bolsheviks (who became the Communist party) asserted that the October Revolution had established a proletarian dictatorship. The new government's first acts were to propose an armistice with Germany and to abolish private ownership of land and distribute it among the peasants. Banks were nationalized, a supreme council was established to revive the dislocated economy, and workers' control over factory production was introduced. Atheism officially replaced doctrinal religion. All opposition was ruthlessly suppressed by the Cheka, or political police, under Dzerzhinsky.

Lenin fulfilled his promise of peace by accepting the humiliating treaty of Brest-Litovsk (Mar., 1918). However, civil war in Russia and a war with Poland prevented peace from coming to Russia until late 1920. In 1919, Lenin established the Third International, or Comintern, to further world revolution. The policy of "war Communism" prevailed until 1921. It brought extensive nationalization, food requisitioning, and control over industry. In 1921, in an attempt to boost the economy, Lenin launched the New Economic Policy (NEP), which allowed some private enterprise.

By 1922, Lenin had eliminated all organized opposition and had silenced hostile factions within the party. In fact, Lenin had set up a dictatorship of the Communist party, which controlled the hierarchy of local, regional, and central soviets. He retained the post of chairman of the Council of People's Commissars and was a member of the ruling Politburo of the Communist party until his death.

The strain of Lenin's labors destroyed his health. He suffered a stroke in 1922; a later stroke (1923) deprived him of speech. In a testament criticizing Stalin, written near the end of his life, he recommended Stalin's removal from the post of general secretary of the party. After his death (Jan. 21, 1924) this testament was suppressed, and Stalin emerged victorious in the contest for succession. Lenin's remains are in a mausoleum on Red Square.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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