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Lenin was born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Russian: Владимир Ильич Ульянов; German: Wladimir Iljitsch Uljanow) on 22 April [O.S. 10 April] 1870 in the town of Simbirsk in the Russian Empire. Simbirsk, a rural town on the River Volga nearly 1,500 miles from the capital Saint Petersburg, would be renamed upon Ulyanov's death fifty-four years later as "Ulyanovsk" in his honour. That same year, SaintPetersburg itself would be renamed Leningrad after Ulyanov's better-known cadre name.
"Volodya", aged three

Lenin's parents were Maria Alexandrovna Ulyanova, a schoolteacher, and Ilya Nikolayevich Ulyanov, a government education official. Lenin was baptised on 28 April [O.S. 16 April] 1870 at the local church of St. Nicholas into the Russian Orthodox Church.[2][3] Lenin came from a diverseancestry. He was of Russian, German, and Swedish descent. Some have argued that his maternal grandfather may have descended from the Blank family of Jews, and he is believed to have also had Kalmyk ancestry on his father's side.[4]

Lenin was born into a comfortable middle-class family. Lenin's father Ilya was elevated into the Russian nobility for his work in the government bureaucracy, and, afterbeing appointed director of Simbirsk's primary schools in 1874, was entitled to wear a blue gold-embroidered uniform and be addressed as "Your Excellency".[5] Although later Soviet biographies tried to disguise his background, Lenin himself never made any effort to hide the fact that he was a nobleman by birth.[4] Lenin argued explicitly in one of his most famous works What Is To Be Done? thatintellectuals from "bourgeois" backgrounds have a vital revolutionary role to play bringing political ideas to the working-class movement: "By their social status the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia."[6]

Athletically, Lenin was a good swimmer and ice skater, who later attended the Simbirsk Men's Gymnasium which was headedby the father of Alexander Kerensky and graduated in 1887 with a gold medal.

Being of the intelligentsia, the Ulyanovs educated their children (all of which except one become revolutionaries[7]) against the ills of their time (violations of human rights, servile psychology, etc.), and instilled a readiness in them to struggle for higher ideals, a free society, and equal rights. Lenin inparticular was impressed by his father’s descriptions of the "darkness" of life in the villages and of the arbitrary treatment of peasants by officials.[8] Lenin, an intelligent and conscientious student who loved playing chess, also became a voracious reader, enjoying the writings of Alexander Pushkin, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, and Nikolay Nekrasov.[8] Additionally, he read the works ofprotorevolutionary writers such as Vissarion Belinsky, Alexander Herzen, Dmitry Pisarev, and Nikolay Dobrolyubov.[8]
Lenin c. 1887
Brother's execution and radicalization

Following his father's January 1886 death from a brain hemorrhage, a number of events contributed to Lenin's radicalization. In May 1887 (when Lenin was 17 years old), his eldest brother Aleksandr Ulyanov was hanged for participating inan assassination attempt against the Tsar, Alexander III (1881–94).[9] His sister, Anna Ulyanova, who was arrested with his brother Aleksandr, was then banished to an Ulyanov family estate at Kokushkino, a village some 40 km (25 mi.) from Kazan. These events helped transform Lenin into a political radical. During this time, Lenin was also influenced by the writings of Georgi Plekhanov, and mostimportantly, Nikolay Chernyshevsky's 1863 novel What is to be Done?.[10]

Complementing these personal, emotional, and political upheavals was his matriculation, in August 1887, to the Kazan University, where he studied law and read the works of Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels.[10] That Marxism-derived political development involved Lenin in a student riot, and consequent arrest, in December 1887;...
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