Lenin (Ленин, revolutionary pseudonym of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, Влади́мир Ильи́ч Улья́нов) was a Russian revolutionary, first leader (prime minister) of the Soviet Union and namesake of the Marxist movement of Leninism. Why didn't Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov stick with his own name? Why the pseudonym "Lenin"? Possible explanations about the use of this name are the following three:
Different theories for the pseudonym "Lenin"
Tolstoy on 23 May 1908 at Yasnaya Polyana, Lithograph print by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky – the first color photo portrait in Russia. Source: Wikipedia.
Leo Tolstoy's "Olenin"
Some say Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov was a big fan of Leo Tolstoy's novel "Казаки" (The Cossacks) published in 1863. The story is believed to be autobiographical in some way and partly based on Tolstoy's experiences in the Caucasus during the last stages of the Caucasian War (1817 till May 1864). The Caucasian War was an invasion of the Caucasus by the Russian Empire, resulting in annexation of the North Caucasus and ethnic cleansing of Circassians. The protagonist in Leo Tolstoy's novel was called "Olenin". War and cossacks... Now where could this lead us to?
Cossack on duty (portrayal of 16th–17th century), painting by Józef Brandt. Source: Wikipedia.
A different approach to "Lenin" could be this one: a friend of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov gave him a passport with a changed name of birth, so Vladimir Ulyanov could leave the country. Before leaving the country Vladimir Ulyanov even used it to sign his essays. The name on the passport was "N. Lenin".
The name "Lenin" was given to a 17th century Cossack for his accomplishments in the conquest of Siberia, living on the banks of the river Lena in wintertime. The river Lena? This brings us to the third theory...
Stamp depicting the river Lena. Source: Wikipedia (Butko)
The rivers, Volga and Lena
Let's look into Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov. This was a founder of the social-democratic movement in Russia and was one of the first Russians to identify himself as "Marxist". Although Plekhanov supported the Bolshevik faction he soon rejected the idea of democratic centralism, and became one of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov and Leon Trotsky's principal antagonists. Plekhanov used the pseudonym "Волгин", "Volgin", after the famous Russian river Volga.
Some say Vladimir Ulyanov adopted the name "Lenin" as a stand against Plekhanov, because the river Lena flows opposite to the Volga and is also of greater length.
Who was right?
We don't know for sure what Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov brought to using the pseudonym "Lenin", even historians aren't completely sure. Well, some are sure about the first, second or third theory, but who is right?
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov's biography (opens in new window) on the website of the Central Museum of V.I. Lenin tells us the second theory of the above might be the most plausible. Vladimir Ulyanov was given a passport from someone with the name Lenin.
Lenin was everywhere
We do know "Lenin" was and in some case still is everywhere. Streets and squares were named after Vladimir Lenin, statues were placed and later torn down, pictures and paintings were made, pins and certificates depicting his portrait were produced and gifted to everyone in the former Soviet republics.
We've collected some of these items for you to enjoy. See below.
The Jubilee Medal "In Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin" (Юбилейная медаль В ознаменование 100-летия со дня рождения Владимира Ильича Ленина).
Wall bas-relief, copper / brass plaque, Lenin from Zaporizhzhia.
Original pennant, "Winner in the socialist competition", from the USSR, in Russian.
And the last one here is a certificate. Please look at the rich details. From a graphic design point of view these are beautiful.
Detail of an award certificate depicting Lenins portrait. The award was handed out "For additional performance in social competition for The Day of the Builder". Printed in 1962.
Please also have a look at the Oblomov Art "Lenin-collection".