It is a common belief — visible on many online summaries of Soviet Russia and widespread in school curricula — that Lenin liberated the proletariat.

Arts lovers point to the liberating atmosphere of Russia post-Revolution. The Flow of History describes it in part as follows (emphases mine):

Lenin eased up a bit with his New Economic Policy (NEP), which allowed some degree of free enterprise to encourage higher production by the peasants.  While Lenin had little choice but to let free enterprise return, he could also justify NEP in Marxist terms since, according to Marx, Russia would have to evolve through a capitalist phase before it was ready for Socialism.  For several years in the 1920’s, Lenin’s Russia saw widespread experimentation in the arts and social engineering as well as economics.  Cubist and futuristic art flourished.  Avant-garde theater featured acrobats as well as heavy political messages.  The family was also under attack as a bourgeois institution with women as the oppressed working class.  Therefore, women gained equal rights and pay as well as access to easier divorces and legalized abortions.  Some young communists even saw free love and public nudity as revolutionary acts of liberation from bourgeois values.  Older Bolsheviks frowned on such acts, but tolerated them in the spirit of creating a new socialist society.  Lenin made similar concessions in government, giving tsarist bureaucrats and technical experts more authority in running the government and factories since most communists were uneducated and untrained in the technical expertise needed to run a country …

He was a brilliant leader and sincere revolutionary who oftentimes ignored human feelings in pursuit of his Communist revolution.  His harsh measures must be seen in light of the harsh conditions that demanded them if the Revolution were to survive

Nowhere is there a mention of his brutal secret police organisation, the Cheka. For that, you need to read Professor Bryan Caplan’s (George Mason University) articles, especially ‘Lenin and the First Communist Revolutions’.

Simon Sebag Montefiore describes Lenin’s and Stalin’s outlook on the much-vaunted proletariat in his outstanding book Young Stalin (pp. 116-117).

In short, Lenin and Stalin:

– did not want workers to have political power.

– created an oligarchy which would rule in the workers’ name but without their participation.

Stalin feared that allowing real workers to serve on Party committees would bring in too many amateurs (i.e. people asking too many questions) as well as police spies.

Lenin had no love of peasants and didn’t want them anywhere near power. A hereditary nobleman on both sides of his family, he had even sued peasants for damaging his estates (p. 150). Incidentally, Lenin had no qualms about living off the income of these estates.

By contrast, the more moderate socialists, such as the majority of Georgian Social-Democrats, envisaged political change wrought by workers and peasants together. Both would be in the ascendant.

Mensheviks shared that view. Many Mensheviks believed in a peaceful transition over time. However, a small number of Mensheviks favoured an approach based on terror, not unlike many their Bolshevik (Leninist) opponents.

That said, Montefiore notes that not all Mensheviks opposed violence and not all Bolsheviks advocated it.

The clothing later adopted by the Soviet — which means ‘council’, incidentally — hierarchy began evolving in 1917 (p. 343). Keep in mind none of the Bolshevik higher-ups had ever worked for any length of time. Nor did they ever have military careers. Yet, the nobleman Lenin traded his Homburg for a worker’s cap. Stalin also began wearing a worker’s cap which he teamed with a military tunic and, of course, the boots of which he was so fond.