What compels an individual to make their mark on the world? Is it innate motivation? A desire to achieve? Or is it due to outside influences that fertilize potential that is simply dormant? According to John Locke during the period of the Enlightenment, he "insisted that all ideas are derived from experience . . . human development is therefore determined by education and social institutions, for good or for evil." Events during our lives can send anyone in any direction and the designation of it’s positive or negative impact on society will always be open to debate. Sometimes there is an event that occurs in the life of an individual that influences them no matter how minute or monumental. In the case of a young Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) the hanging of his older brother Alexander according to most historians planted the seeds that Vladimir sowed over time. He harvested a nation unparalleled in government which set the standards for the likes of Pol Pot, Chairman Mao, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, as well as others. The following pages will delve into the life of V.I. Lenin, the father of Communist Russia.
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) was born on the 22nd of April, 1870 in Simbirsk (Ulyanovsk) to Ilya Ulyanov and Maria (Mariya) Alexandrovna. He was third child out of six with two brothers and three sisters. The young Vladimir invariably known in the family as Volodya was a gifted and capable child, qualities enhanced by the comfortable supportive atmosphere of the home, thanks to his father's successful career. Ilya was the inspector of primary schools for the Simbirsk province around the time Vladimir was born. He was to put his energy into making sure the schools ran efficiently and to create future plans or provisions for these schools. It was no easy task for Simbirsk was comparable to a small country, and in 1870 had a population of 1 million 300 thousand people, one-third of who were Chuvash, Mordva or Tatars. In January of 1882, Ilya was awarded the Order of St. Vladimir 3rd class for 'outstandingly diligent service' in education. This was a much sought-after decoration because it gave the recipient the right of hereditary nobility. The Ulyanov household was an environment conducive to learning and it would seem to anyone the children did not engage in anything else but studies. This was not the case but the focal point of importance is centered on their avenues of education through the school system as well as the home front. All the Ulyanov children were encouraged to apply themselves seriously to their studies from an early age. Ilya showed the children how to compose essays. Maria did not attend the university, but nonetheless well educated thanks to the efforts of her aunt, Yekaterina Groschopf. She taught her knowledge of the following languages respectively, German, French, and English. In addition Ilya hired a tutor to come to the house before the children were to go off to class. With their native intelligence, their capacity for hard work and the advantage of having trained teachers within the home, it was natural that the Ulyanov children distinguished themselves at school.
Vladimir Lenin's ethnicity has always been an undertone throughout history. This seems the case with most who are in the political spotlight who show hints of another nationality. It is important to discuss Lenin's background ethnically and socially. There has been many questions and debate what ethnic background Lenin was. Lenin was always reticent about the origins and the background of his family. He always felt what was personal should remain private. There has been great reluctance to discuss the Ulyanov family tree, no doubt because it was felt that the leader of the Russian revolution must be Russian. In addition the fact his ethnic background had been carefully covered up to make sure he was seen to have been, if not of 'proletarian,' at least of 'poor peasant' origin. He was admired by Russians and was the face of Russia. Ethnically speaking, what is the face of Russia? Empirically, Russians are a gumbo of many people who have trekked through the vastness of this great land and it is something that truly can be applied to the world at large. Lenin's background reflected the face of the entire empire. Lenin's antecedents were Russian, Kalmyk (Mongol), Jewish, German and Swedish, and possibly others, symbolizing Russian history, as it were: a Slavic beginning, Asiatic expansion, a Jewish accretion to the national intellect, and German or Western European culture. When dealing with social status, Lenin never attempted to hide the fact landowners were part of his background even though many Soviet biographers hid this fact. A brief look into the Ulyanov lineage will show Vladimir's ethnic background as well as the social standing of the lineage.
There is a 'minor' discrepancy when discussing Ilya‘s side of the family tree. Many historians insist it was Lenin’s grandfather who was the serf but this holds no truth. Lenin’s grandfather, Nikolai Vasilievich was a Russian town-dweller of Astrakhan who earned his living as a tailor. He was the son of a serf, but at an early age had been released to work away from the village, and had never returned home becoming a town dweller as distinct from a peasant, merchant or nobleman by social status. It was Lenin’s great grandfather, Vasili Nikitich Ulyanov who had been a serf . He remained single until he turned fifty, and it was only then, having saved up some money, that he married. His bride was almost twenty years his junior, was Anna Alexeena Smirnova, a baptised Kalmyk. The couple had four children, Ilya, Lenin's father, being the youngest. Vasili was already past sixty and Anna was forty-three when Ilya was born. Upon the passing of Ilya’s father, seventeen year-old Vasili the second oldest son, looked after the family. Vasili rose to the occasion and displayed exemplary enterprise, becoming a salesman for Sapozhinkov Brothers, a large commercial firm in Astrakhan. His willingness to work and his loyalty earned his employers’ trust, and he was able to look after his mother and his younger brother, supporting Ilya through his studies at Kazan University until he became a teacher of mathematics, sending him money ’for settling down’, ’for the wedding’, ’for the move’ and so on.
Lenin's mother, Maria (Mariya) Blank Alexandrova, was the fourth daughter of Alexander Dmitrievich Blank, a doctor and a baptized Jew from Zhitomir. He had taken as his patronymic the name of his godfather at his baptism, Dmitri Baranov, dropped his original patronymic of Moishevich, and adopted the Christian name of Alexander in place of his original name, Srul, the Yiddish form of Israel. Alexander Blank married Anna Johannovna Groschopf, the daughter of a prosperous German father and Swedish mother. In 1847, Alexander attained the civil service rank of State Counsellor, he retired and registered himself as a member of the nobility in Kazan, a major city on the Volga and the centre of Tatar culture in the region. There he bought the estate of Kokushkino. Here, Anna raised five daughters: Anna, Lyubov, Sofia, Maria (Lenin's mother), and Yekaterina. Anna Groschopf died young, and after her death her sister, Yekaterina von Essen, raised the five daughters. She was an educated woman and it was from her that Lenin's mother acquired her ability to play piano, to sing and to speak German, English and French. The seriousness of which these studies were undertaken is indicated by the fact that in 1863, Maria was able to pass the examinations which qualified her as a teacher of Russian, French and German. The manner in which both Ilya and Maria met gives credence to the saying “everything happens for a reason.” The year after his wife died, Alexander Blank took up the post of inspector of a medical board in Perm and moved there with his family. For a short time he acted as the doctor for the Perm high school, where he befriended its Latin teacher Ivan Dmitrievich Veretennikov, who married his eldest daughter Anna. Veretennikov became inspector at Perm Nobles’ Institue. It was on a visit to her married sister’s home in Perm that Maria Blank met the mathematics teacher at the Institute, Ilya Ulyanov, her future husband.