In Defence of Lenin: a treasure trove of ideas

For those who want to understand the person of Lenin it is imperative to read him for themselves. However, with 45 volumes of Collected Works (in English), this is a significant challenge and really the work of a lifetime. Therefore, Wellred Books’ upcoming biography of Lenin, In Defence of Lenin, is as close to an accessible work you are going to get which presents his ideas and their relevance for today in a relatively concise and concentrated form.

The beauty of the book is that it is suitable for both the beginner and more advanced student of the history of Bolshevism. Someone completely fresh on their journey into Marxism has in their hands an extensive overview of the figure of Lenin and his ideas, which have been subjected to so much distortion and calumny. But even for comrades familiar with books such as Lenin and Trotsky: What They Really Stood For or who have already listened to the Bolshevism audiobook on their commute to work, there are lots of new insights available.

The first few chapters, for example, are of a more personal nature and contain facts about Lenin’s upbringing few of us would have been familiar with. These are not just ‘nice to know’ but are crucial for setting the scene for the later chapters on Lenin’s political development and radicalisation.

Consisting of two volumes spanning over a thousand pages, the book is obviously on the larger side, but in this way is able to set the necessary context for various key events like the launch of Iskra, the various squabbles in the early Russian workers’ movement, the split in 1903, and the 1905 revolution, in Lenin's words the “dress rehearsal” for the October Revolution in 1917.

Events such as the period of reaction before the First World War and the war itself aptly illustrate the importance Lenin attached to defending the banner of Marxism against all kinds of revisionists. This was a period where Lenin was extremely isolated, and often in a minority in his own party.

Chapter 20 on ‘Lenin’s Response from Exile’, with extensive quotations from his Letters from Afar, is a particularly effective transition to the fresh winds of revolution which have now started blowing. Without Lenin's ideological rearming of the party, which at times was bending to the pressures and swept along helplessly by events, there would have been no October Revolution.

Indeed, volume one clearly shows that the road to creating the Bolshevik Party did not proceed in a straight line. It was a hard road, full of difficulties, setbacks and frustrations. Volume two, which deals with the October Revolution itself and its aftermath, continues this theme. From the very start this was a full on fight for survival. The authors deal with the various achievements of the Revolution but don't shy away from the very real difficulties posed by the material and cultural backwardness of the early Soviet state, not to mention the brutal civil war and famine.

This sort of honesty is merely a continuation of the thoroughly honest approach Lenin himself time and again adopted – say what is. In fact, here is another aspect that permeates In Defence of Lenin, i.e. how thoroughly human he was. Lenin had a real sense of humour and personal warmth. As the authors say in the introduction, all those who ever met Lenin were struck, not only by his intellect but also by his great sense of humour, an aspect which his detractors wish to eradicate or ignore. “They make no mention of this for the simple reason that a sense of humour doesn’t quite fit with the ‘narrative’ of a bloodthirsty dictator.”

The appendix ‘Krupskaya on Lenin’ only reinforces this human side. Here, Lenin’s lifelong partner and comrade-in-arms amongst other things delves into Lenin’s meticulous methods, how he wrote for the masses, his literary tastes, the influence the old revolutionary Chernyshevsky had on Lenin’s development, and last but not least, how Lenin studied Marx.

Above all, however, In Defence of Lenin is a treasure trove of ideas which revolutionaries today can dig into. Like the first four congresses of the Communist International, dealt with in a separate chapter, this should serve as a veritable school of communism. Don't hesitate and pre-order your copy now!

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