Born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov on 22 April 1870 in the Volga town of Sibirsk, Lenin was the grandson of a liberated serf. His father was a staunch supporter of the Tsarist rule, and a successful government official. In 1887, Lenin's elder brother was arrested and hanged by the okhrana (secret police) for plotting to assassinate the Tsar Alexander III. Lenin enrolled in the Kazan' University the same year but was soon expelled as an excessive troublemaker and exiled to the village of Kokushkino where his grandfather's estate was located.

Whilst in kokushkino, Lenin became interested the classics of Euorpean revolutionary thought, particularly Karl Marx's Das Kapital. After a year of exile Lenin considered himself a Marxist, and in 1891 passed his law examinations and was admitted to the bar. Before moving to Saint Petersburg in 1893, Lenin worked as a lawyer for the poor in the town of Samara, on the Volga.

History as a Bolshevik In 1900 Lenin, along with Plekhanov and Martov, founded an illegal newspaper, Iskra ("The Spark"), which they smuggled into Russia. The core of the Russian Social Democratic party, formed in 1903, was made up of the network of agents this publication employed. Almost immediately there was disagreement over the degree of discipline and professionalism to be demanded by party members, and so the group split into two factions, the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. Lenin led the Bolsheviks, who stressed that the only way to have any chance of surviving against the Tsarist police agents was to build the party around a disciplined core of professionals.

The Populist group that assassinated Alexander II, Narodnaya Volga was Lenin's basis for the the organisation of the party, though he did not agree with their ideals or tactics of terror. He also argued that relations within the party should be governed by the principle of "democratic centralism", a view with which the Mensheviks agreed. Eventually, however, both Plekhanov and Martov found Lenin too dictorial and sided with the Mensheviks, and what was originally considered a temporary rift within the Russian Social Democratic Party became permanent. Over the years Lenin built the Bolshevik Party into a large and complex organisation, which believed in the proletariats (working classes) opposing both the bourgeoisie (middle classes) and chinovniks (landowners).

Opposition to the Tsar
For most of his life under Tsarist rule, Lenin was in exile. From a young age he promoted opposition towards the Tsar, evident from his illegal anti-Tsar newspaper. He also wrote the masterpiece organisational theory, What Is To Be Done? Through his very disciplined approach to party operation Lenin succeeded in making the Bolshevik Party very popular and successful. A natural leader, Lenin united the proletariats against the other classes and eventually founded the first Russian socialist government.