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Lenin (Reaktion Books - Critical Lives) Paperback – May 15, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“A carefully drawn, subtle yet compelling portrait of a revolutionary. This is probably the best and most reliable treatment we have had on Lenin in many decades, and it will fill a gap for scholars, students, and the general public.”—Ronald Suny, University of Michigan

(Ronald Suny University of Michigan )

“A scholarly, highly accessible book. It uniquely links Lenin to a political project for human liberation . . . the best treatment of Lenin and his ideas I have seen in recent years.” —Immanuel Ness, City University of New York

(Immanuel Ness )

About the Author

Lars T. Lih is an independent scholar who lives in Montreal. His other books include Bread and Authority in Russia, 1914–1921 and Lenin Rediscovered: “What is to be Done?” in Context.


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Product Details

  • Series: Reaktion Books - Critical Lives
  • Paperback: 235 pages
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books (May 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861897936
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861897930
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,076,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Paul LeBlanc on April 24, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (1870-1924) -- who became known globally by his underground pseudonym, Lenin -- is presented in this succinct yet substantial work of scholarship as a genuine revolutionary, in stark contrast to the cold-blooded totalitarian monster that has become all-too-common in accounts from both the Cold War and post-Cold War eras. A student of the fine, honest "sovietologist" Robert C. Tucker (whose two-volume unfinished biography on Stalin has yet to be surpassed -- Stalin as Revolutionary 1879-1929: A Study in History and Personality (Acls History E-Book Project Reprint Series) and Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941), Lars Lih made a major step in shattering myths about Lenin in his massive earlier work, Lenin Rediscovered: What Is to Be Done? In Context (Historical Materialism Book Series). He continues that good work in this readable and informative biography.

Common themes in much anti-Lenin scholarship (ranging from Adam Ulam and Alfred Meyer to Richard Pipes and Robert Service) are: Lenin distrusted the capacity of the working class to be truly revolutionary; he consequently veered away from Marxist orthodoxy in order to develop a "vanguard party" dominated by intellecutals such as himself in order to accomplish the revolutionary task; he was so utterly fanatical that he refused to tolerate any and all disagreement, and even turned away from music because he feared it would make him too "soft.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By CB on January 28, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
To write an objective and neutral biography of Lenin is an impossible task, he was not a neutral figure. Neither his thinking, nor his life, are objectively analyzable, as he was always seeking out one end - the communist revolution - in everything he said and did. And to this degree, the idea that Lenin was an unprincipled pragmatist is demonstrable false, he had one principle to be sure.

Lars Lih is no Leninist, nor probably a socialist. As far as I know he comes from Duke University and used to work for a Democratic House Congressman in the US. So this isn't a book written for Marxists by a Marxist, but unlike all the recent Lenin and Bolshevik works (Ulam, Pipes, Service, etc), Lih does not paint Lenin as a rabid psychopath hellbent on death and destruction. Instead Lih believes Lenin is an almost hopeless (because he's so hopeful) romantic, convinced that the claims of Historical Materialism must come true, and his job is to help the proletariat achieve their historical goal; but it is not to force them to do so. Throughout the book Lih demonstrates that Lenin never doubted the Proletariat, he never wanted to force them or coerce them into anything, and he always thought that the vanguard should walk alongside them, never over and above them.

The only reason I can't give this book 5 stars is due to a few missing details I was looking forward too. One was more discussion of Lenin's break with Plekhanov, which is barely discussed. The other was Lenin's role and legitimacy in the October Revolution (was it a coup? wasn't it? what support did he have, etc)? Also more discussion of, does Leninism lead to Stalinism? Lih says it does not, and he offers a few bits of information as to why it doesn't, but the question doesn't feel consummated.

Overall this is a good bio, and although it's not neutral -because it can't be neutral- it's at least more sympathetic and understanding than anything Service ever wrote.
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I had wanted to read Lih 's new translation of What Is To Be Done?, but it's too expensive and my library didn't have it. But the truth is that the problem with that book is not the translation. It's the fact that that almost everyone reads it with misconceptions, whether from bourgeois sources or from anti-Leninist socialists.

I found this to be an honest, short introduction. I don't read any of the recent biographies of Lenin. I skim them with the "inside this book" feature, and I find lies, more lies, and conjecture. But this doesn't mean there aren't a lot of good books that contribute a understanding Lenin. Trotsky wanted to write a biography of Lenin, but his publisher wanted one of Stalin. Trotsky did however leave us with The Young Lenin and a collection On Lenin: notes towards a biography;]. His History of the Russian Revolution is also essential.

Other essential works are Reminiscences of Lenin by Nadezhada Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, Moscow under Lenin, Leninism Under Lenin, and Lenin's last struggle.
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