Petrograd, Russia. November 8th, 1917.
Pistol drawn, held firm in his right hand. Pointing straight up into the blackened sky.
Sweat dribbles down his wrist.
Without qualm he fires off a shot.
The loud pop interrupts an otherwise still, frosty winter night. For 40,000 Red Guard soldiers, it is a command to begin the attack. They trudge forward through a thin layer of snow. Natures blanket for a bland grey front courtyard of the Winter Palace. Although just a makeshift army of rebels, the soldiers move as a cohesive group.
At helm and the shooter is Vladimir Lenin. Beloved leader of Russia’s socialist uprising. Forty seven years old now, he is a seasoned revolutionary. But for the first time in his life, Lenin stands at the doorstep of taking power in Russia.
Lenin glances around, observing the faces of his army. They are hungry dreamers full of excitement. Hope lights up their youthful eyes as they stand upright and alive, walking with the confidence of Lenin’s fearless attitude. The group is unhindered by fear, unhinged from an evolutionary need to survive.
The Winter Palace in front of them is a marvel. Best described as a walled town of wealth with a decor that exudes power. It is more than 250 meters long with 1,500 rooms. Complete with fine statues and paintings, gold trimmings and marble staircases. It has been the official home to most monarchs since 1732.
Right now it houses the remaining members of government who have not resigned. Their resignation is all that stands between Lenin becoming the leader of Russia.
At defense of these officials are three different groups of guards. They are the Cossaks, military students and a women’s betallion. None are particularly experienced and all are worn out from WWI. As the Red Guard approaches, all at defense choose to surrender or flee. They have no desire to risk their lives for a lost cause.
As the Red Guard prepare to storm the palace, a young soldier yells out. “Come here, comrades.” He stands in front of an open back door. There is no need to break in.
One by one the soldiers file in. With open mouths the teenagers gaze in disbelief. Taken aback by the glamour of prosperity. Most are poor kids from poor families. They’ve never seen such displays of wealth.
Inside, Lenin takes position in the corner of a decadent corridor. He stands restless. It is a moment of ease to cherish, a time to relish in dreams of upcoming green pastures for Russian society. But for a man born with intense focus and an abundant capacity for work, this time is instead spent uneasy waiting. Watching the wheels of monarchy and capitalism churn to a halt as his soldiers search for the officials.
At five foot five Lenin is unassuming. He’s bald with a large head. A persistent scowl marks his face, while a stale glare lights up his icy eyes. In dress, he’s disheveled. His clothes raggedy and too long for his body. And yet in personality he is simple. A clean and organized ascetic who espouses uncluttered desks. Similar is his ability to keep organized. His defining characteristic is an uncanny ability to explain “profound ideas in simple terms.” He is an intellectual. A well educated polyglot who is fluent in Russian, English, French and German.
To understand the man and his role in bringing to life a socialist Russia is to first acknowledge him as one who abhors abuses of government and corporate power. His goal in life, what he perceives as his destiny, is to free Russia from inequality. It is a mindset ahead of it’s time. One that will push Russian society into the forefront of human rights. Where equality for groups such as women and homosexuals, ostracized around the world, will be norm.
Lenin though doesn’t fit a presumed mold of leader for destitute of Russian society. He was born well off into a respected Orthodox Christian family. Which in Russia meant a life of comfort. So he had no expected religious or financial reasons for fighting the system. And yet, he chose to do so.
Now after years of struggle, he is just a few resignations away from becoming the leader of Russia. For much of the country, this moment comes unexpected. For years Lenin has lived in exile in Paris. While his party, the Bolsheviks toiled in the gutter of Russian politics. Cast as outcasts by political elite, branded as vile thugs willing to do anything necessary to come to power.
Whether such characterization of the group is fair is difficult to pass judgement on. The Bolsheviks have been around since 1905. Prior they were part of the Russian Social Democratic Party. An offshoot group of the Marxist movement in Europe. But internal strife caused factions to form and a split to occur. Though all groups were in belief for the need to counter the rise of capitalism, the Bolsheviks were extremists of the left. Staunch advocates for a violent working class led revolution. In the true form for what Marx envisioned as the path to socialism.
From the perspective of the Bolsheviks, such a plan would make sense. The industrial revolution birthed a large working class. One that with each year has continued to grow. These workers are subject to harsh working conditions and poverty. Doing menial robotic tasks which technology has yet to find an automated solution for.
The major flaw in the system is an exploitation of workers. In the industrial revolution, profit is a direct correlation to time spent working. More hours at work means more widgets produced. Which means more money for a capitalist. Capitalists, driven by greed, thus desire as much work time as possible. Forcing workers to toil in factory lines all day and more. Spending time for the gain of a capitalist instead of pursuing their own interests.
Given the plight of workers, it’s hard not to back the socialist groups in their cause. Defending working class Russia is noble. It is the spirit of Lenin.
Years spent fighting have come to fruition in the past few months. This year will go down as the one of change. On February 11th the Russian monarchy fell when Tsar Nicholas II abdicated his throne. His decision ended more than 300 years of rule by his family over Russia.
The crumbling of Nicholas II and his empire did not come unexpected. What Nicholas II failed to fathom was that the uprising was not about a handful of outcasts. It was not a movement of the minority. Many in Russia’s population served to capitalism. In a disgruntled manner, starved out of opportunity for a comfortable life. Nicholas II should have been more attentive to their needs. Laws should have been passed to offer them better rights and more opportunity.
But he chose to handle the discord as his past family members had. With an attempt to force dissenters to behave. Either through executions, imprisonment, or exile. Displaying his weakness as a leader, he outsourced the problems to his ministers. Expecting them to cleanse the country of turmoil. All while he retreated further from governance. Even moving to a palace further into the countryside. Already unable to relate to his people, he drifted further from their deepening frustrations.
Once punctured, the monarchy of Nicholas II was left with only the option to step down. The size of rebellion was too large for him to put down. After his abdication, an interim government of mixed political parties was put in place. At this point, most socialist groups looked to tone down any fervor towards revolution. They made an attempt to work with the interim government.
The Bolsheviks chose not to. Adamant in driving forward with their mission of a complete government overthrow.
“We have found them!” a soldier yells out.
The illiterate soldiers, unable to write the resignation documents, ask that the politicians write up their own forms. A tense Lenin awaits.
The same soldier comes back. “Done!” He hands the paperwork over to Lenin. The defining moment of change has come.
The irony now is most in Russia who are about to be governed by the Bolsheviks only know Lenin as a name from written works and from photos. As was the Tsar, Lenin too is a stranger in his own country. He has fought for a populace he cannot relate to nor understand. He is just as unprepared to lead a nation of poor Russians as the Tsar was.
For Lenin though, a life’s dream has become reality.
Disclaimer: This work is based on real events. Some parts though are fiction.
Note: “profound ideas in simple terms” quote taken from the book, Ten Days That Shook the World.