Sunday, November 14, 2010
The Life and Death of Lenin
NY: Simon & Schuster, 1964
I've never read any other comprehensive biographies of Lenin and I'm not well-versed in Russian history, so don't know how this book compares with others. It was published in 1964 so it is quite possible studies since then have had access to archives that weren't available at the height of the Cold War. I do know it is quite detailed, and it does follow Lenin literally from cradle to grave.
Lenin's early life is particularly interesting, as the author describes Lenin's evolution from apolitical student to revolutionary. His life is a nice example of labeling theory: if you call someone a troublemaker enough times, he or she is sure to become one. His first few run-ins with the Russian secret police are triggered by his name: his older brother had gotten entangled with an inept group of anti-imperialists, so the whole family becomes suspect. Guilt by association.
Unfortunately for the Russians (and perhaps the rest of the world), while Lenin's brother may have been incompetent when it came to plotting and agitating for revolution, Lenin was not. Over the years, I've heard a fair amount of speculation about what might have happened if Lenin hadn't died when he did -- there are conspiracy theories that Stalin had him poisoned. This book doesn't put to rest any of that speculation, but it does make it fairly clear that anyone who thinks Lenin would have been better than Stalin in the long run hasn't paid much attention to Lenin's actual life and writings.
You can have The Life and Death of Lenin for $10 plus shipping ($4 for media mail within the U.S., $9 for priority, and $15 for non-U.S. addresses).