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Lenin: A Biography (2000)

av Robert Service

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
456439,646 (3.95)1
Lenin's politics continue to reverberate around the world even after the end of the USSR. His name elicits revulsion and reverence, yet Lenin the man remains largely a mystery. This biography shows us Lenin as we have never seen him, in his full complexity as revolutionary, political leader, thinker, and private person. Born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov in 1870, the son of a schools inspector and a doctor's daughter, Lenin was to become the greatest single force in the Soviet revolution--and perhaps the most influential politician of the twentieth century. Drawing on sources only recently discovered, Robert Service explores the social, cultural, and political catalysts for Lenin's explosion into global prominence. His book gives us the vast panorama of Russia in that awesome vortex of change from tsarism's collapse to the establishment of the communist one-party state. Through the prism of Lenin's career, Service focuses on dictatorship, the Marxist revolutionary dream, civil war, and interwar European politics. And we are shown how Lenin, despite the hardships he inflicted, was widely mourned upon his death in 1924. Service's Lenin is a political colossus but also a believable human being. This biography stresses the importance of his supportive family and of its ethnic and cultural background. The author examines his education, upbringing, and the troubles of his early life to explain the emergence of a rebel whose devotion to destruction proved greater than his love for the "proletariat" he supposedly served. We see how his intellectual preoccupations and inner rage underwent volatile interaction and propelled his career from young Marxist activist to founder of the communist party and the Soviet state--and how he bequeathed to Russia a legacy of political oppression and social intimidation that has yet to be expunged.… (mer)
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As with Service's biography of Stalin, this biography of Lenin is well-researched and reads very well, covering in detail his youth, rise to power, rule, death and legacy in Russian society today. Very interesting as with Service's other political biographies. ( )
1 rösta xuebi | May 30, 2014 |
Dense and meandering biography on Lenin, who remains an impenetrable figure. Good focus on his early life, but it starts to lose focus after an endless recounting of meetings and conferences and denunciations. ( )
1 rösta HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
What to say about this quite extraordinary man whose actions had such profound effects on the history of the 20th century? As Service says at the end of this excellent biography: “To a considerable extent the history of inter-war Europe was a struggle over the consequences of 25 October 1917. The situation did not disappear after the Second World War.” And the success of the Russian revolution that led to the creation of the USSR was very much the success of Valdimir Ilich Ulyanov. Without his single-minded focus and energy and drive and instincts and capacities, the seizure of power would not have occurred, nor would the Bolsheviks have held onto power in the turmoil post-revolution stretching into the civil war and beyond.

One of the strengths of this biography is that Service draws upon previously secret personal memoirs and reports of Party and government discussions and decisions to produce a more complete picture of Lenin, not just as the revolutionary leader, but as a man, as a person. Service describes Lenin as, “…this short, intolerant, bookish, neat, valetudinarian, intelligent, confident politician…The brilliant student who became a gawky Marxist activist and factional leader made the most of what History pushed his way.”

On the human side, Service describes well the influences of Lenin’s family and its history, and his not well-documented but undoubted affair with Inessa Armand and the impact of that on his marriage with Nadezhda Krupskaya, a marriage that grew into support and caring but was at the beginning, and always, sacrificed to the demands of Lenin’s political life and travels. It is surprising to be reminded how much Lenin travelled and lived outside of Russia before the Revolution during what Service calls the “carousel of European emigration”, 1900-1917. Lenin was very familiar with London, Geneva, Munich, Paris, Zurich, Bern. He came from a family of minor-nobility and although he qualified as a lawyer, his only work was his total and all consuming dedication to politics and revolution in Russia. He was supported by his mother, by income from writing and translating, by sympathizers, and later, by the Party as it evolved.

A noticeable feature of Lenin’s life was the continuous factionalism that characterized his political life from the very beginning, and how this was almost always a result of his own intransigence and intolerance of any difference from his interpretations of Marxism and the best ways forward in Russia. His life was littered with people whom he once revered (Plekhanov) or with whom he worked closely (Martov), but if any failed to embrace unquestionably Lenin’s sense of direction or actions required or his interpretations of theory and historical developments, they were not just ostracized but vilified. And it wasn’t always easy to keep up with Lenin because, despite the theoretical framework of (his) Marxism, his single focus was on seizing power and in he would often shift positions (with no inconsistencies in his mind) if it served to further that objective. This of course also played out in the internecine struggles amongst socialists of all stripes individually and through numerous congresses and conferences, decades prior to, and after, the October revolution on how best to move to ‘socialism’ in Russia and more broadly in Europe. Even after the Revolution it is striking how much Lenin had to deal with factions to get support for his views and tactics; it was not until the final consolidation under Stalin that control of any and all utterances and actions was total.

Over the years, some have argued that had Lenin lived longer, the Soviet regime would not have evolved into the despotism and terror that it did under Stalin. Service shows, with many references, that this is simply not true. From a very early stage, Lenin argued for mass terror and once in power he was ruthless, dogmatic, unforgiving, and cruel in his unrelenting demands for it; utterances and writings that were kept secret for decades in the USSR. During the civil war, Lenin called for public hangings with, as Service describes it, “a vicious relish…He reverted the practices of twentieth-century European war to the Middle Ages. No moral threshold was sacred.” Nor was his animus directed only at the “expected” enemies of the Revolution; he had no patience with a summertime feast day of St.Nicholas and demanded, “We must get all the Chekas up on their feet and shoot people who don’t turn up for work because of the ‘Nicola’ festival.” This was not just inflammatory rhetoric. For Lenin, terror was integral to state policy. During the civil war Lenin demanded that, “The speed and force of the repressions” should be intensified. He stated, “The greater the number of the representatives of reactionary clergy and reactionary bourgeoisie we succeed in shooting on this premise [i.e. show trials], the better. It is precisely now that we ought to deliver a lesson to this public so that they won’t dare even think about resistance for several decades.” Stalin didn’t invent anything in terms of terror and repression, he simply expanded and deepened its application to the point of executing several of Lenin’s oldest Bolshevik comrades.

Lenin liked children and often played well and boisterously with some in his extended family. But on the political side, there was nothing soft, nothing forgiving, nothing empathetic about him, and he was a man with a long memory who held grudges.

Historical circumstances provided the opportunity for the October Revolution, but it was by no means a foregone conclusion in either its immediate success or in the more prolonged struggle to consolidate power through the aftermath of WWI, the civil war, foreign intervention, famine, industrial turmoil, economic devastation, peasant and worker unrest, and political opposition within and outside the Party. Lenin’s iron will was the driving force that held the success of the Revolution together through all these trials. In so doing, he founded a despotism that helped to define international and national politics throughout the 20th century and around the world.
1 rösta John | Jan 7, 2013 |
It took me over 2 years to read this 500 page book. It's difficult, it really is.
However, I was very motivated to read it. In my youth the people around me (except my own family) were very pro America and anti Russia and no one ever managed to explain why. Also, I learned that Lenin is still quite popular in Russia and I was completely unaware of what the man had done. If you're in a similar situation, get this book.

It's quite a read, but well worth it. It's a treasure of information and gives you the complete background (both private and political) of Lenin. I found it to be very well researched and it seems a complete story. You just need to be very very focused to get through it. ( )
1 rösta nicky_too | Dec 2, 2010 |
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Lenin's politics continue to reverberate around the world even after the end of the USSR. His name elicits revulsion and reverence, yet Lenin the man remains largely a mystery. This biography shows us Lenin as we have never seen him, in his full complexity as revolutionary, political leader, thinker, and private person. Born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov in 1870, the son of a schools inspector and a doctor's daughter, Lenin was to become the greatest single force in the Soviet revolution--and perhaps the most influential politician of the twentieth century. Drawing on sources only recently discovered, Robert Service explores the social, cultural, and political catalysts for Lenin's explosion into global prominence. His book gives us the vast panorama of Russia in that awesome vortex of change from tsarism's collapse to the establishment of the communist one-party state. Through the prism of Lenin's career, Service focuses on dictatorship, the Marxist revolutionary dream, civil war, and interwar European politics. And we are shown how Lenin, despite the hardships he inflicted, was widely mourned upon his death in 1924. Service's Lenin is a political colossus but also a believable human being. This biography stresses the importance of his supportive family and of its ethnic and cultural background. The author examines his education, upbringing, and the troubles of his early life to explain the emergence of a rebel whose devotion to destruction proved greater than his love for the "proletariat" he supposedly served. We see how his intellectual preoccupations and inner rage underwent volatile interaction and propelled his career from young Marxist activist to founder of the communist party and the Soviet state--and how he bequeathed to Russia a legacy of political oppression and social intimidation that has yet to be expunged.

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