Vladimir Ilyich Lenin 1870 - 1924 Driven by ideological zeal, Lenin reshaped Russia and made communism into a potent global force.

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Vladimir Ilyich Lenin 1870 - 1924

By Bijan Adatia

Driven by ideological zeal, Lenin reshaped Russia

and made communism into a potent global force.


Not long after the Bolsheviks had seized power in 1917, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin filled out a bureaucratic questionnaire. For occupation, he wrote "man of letters." So it was that a son of the Russian intelligentsia, a radical straight from the pages of Dostoyevsky's novel The Possessed, became the author of mass terror and the first concentration camps ever built on the European Continent.

Lenin was the initiator of the central drama--the tragedy--of our era, the rise of totalitarian states. A bookish man with a scholar's habits and a general's tactical instincts, Lenin introduced to the 20th century the practice of taking an all-embracing ideology and imposing it on an entire society rapidly and mercilessly; he created a regime that erased politics, erased historical memory, erased opposition.

In his short career in power, from 1917 until his death in 1924, Lenin created a model not merely for his successor, Stalin, but for Mao, for Hitler, for Pol Pot.

And while in this way Lenin may be the central actor who begins the 20th century, he is the least knowable of characters. As a boy growing up in Simbirsk, Lenin distinguished himself in Latin and Greek. The signal event of his youth--the event that radicalized him--came in 1887, when his eldest brother Alexander, a student at the University of St. Petersburg, was hanged for conspiring to help assassinate Czar Alexander III. As a lawyer, Lenin became increasingly involved in radical politics, and after completing a three-year term of Siberian exile, he began his rise as the leading communist theorist, tactician and party organizer.

In his personal relations with colleagues, family and friends, Lenin was relatively...