Item description for Lenin Rediscovered: What Is to Be Done? In Context (Historical Materialism Book Series) by Lars T. Lih...
Lenin's What is to Be Done? (1902) has long been seen as the founding document of a 'party of a new type'. For some, it provided a model of 'vanguard party' that was the essence of Bolshevism, for others it manifested Lenin's litist and manipulatory attitude towards the workers.
This substantial new commentary, based on contemporary Russian- and German-language sources, provides hitherto unavailable contextual information that undermines these views and shows how Lenin's argument rests squarely on an optimistic confidence in the workers' revolutionary inclinations and on his admiration of German Social Democracy in particular. Lenin's outlook cannot be understood, Lih claims here, outside the context of international Social Democracy, the disputes within Russian Social Democracy and the institutions of the revolutionary underground.
The new translation focuses attention on hard-to-translate key terms. This study raises new and unsettling questions about the legacy of Marx, Bolshevism as a historical force, and the course of Soviet history, but, most of all, it will revolutionise the conventional interpretations of Lenin.
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Reviews - What do customers think about Lenin Rediscovered: What Is to Be Done? In Context (Historical Materialism Book Series)?
pathbreaking work on the early Lenin Dec 21, 2006
This fat and expensive book is an amazingly thorough work of scholarship. It overturns what author Lars Lih terms "the textbook version" of the early Lenin.
The standard story of the founder of modern Communism, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, (advanced during the Cold War both by anti-Communist ideologues and by supporters of the Stalin dictatorship) is that Lenin advocated a super-centralized, hyper-disciplined "party of a new type" which would lead the working class in overturning capitalism, then rule in the name of the working class through a one-party dictatorship. This allegedly is what Lenin wrote about in his 1902 classic "What Is To Be Done," and this is what he accomplished through Russia's 1917 revolution and in the years after (until he died in 1923) -- which paved the way for the totalitarian regime of Joseph Stalin.
Through painstaking work with Russian-language sources plus a good deal of other material as well, Lih demolishes this story. One of the reasons this book is so huge is that it includes a completely new English translation of "What Is To Be Done." Lih critically scrutinizes the scholarship of many different scholars associated with "the textbook version" and essentially blows most of them out of the water (often with considerable humor). This is definitely not light reading, nor is it designed for novices in the field Russian history. But the writing is clear and quite interesting, the documentation generally compelling and persuasive, and the points made quite important for an understanding of Marxism, Communism, and Russian history.
Lih argues that Lenin was committed to overthrowing the tsarist autocracy and establishing democracy and freedom in Russia (through a "bourgeois-democratic revolution") as a precondition for organizing a working-class movement that would eventually carry out a revolution to replace capitalism (understood as an economic dictatorship) with socialism (understood as an economic democracy). As Lih shows, this orientation was consistent with the ideas of Karl Marx and of the democratic-socialist orientation of the German Social-Democratic Party of the early 20th century. The split in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in 1903, between Lenin's Bolshevik (majority) faction and the Mensheviks (minority) was NOT over his comrades' opposition to his allegedly undemocratic ideas, but over the refusal of a large cluster to party members to go along with a democratically-made decision over who would be on the organization's editorial board. Lih argues that Lenin was actually more democratic and less elitist than his factional opponenets!
One limitation of the book is that is stops in 1905. A related, and quite serious, limitation is that it doesn't really deal with the question of why a revolutionary like Lenin and an organization such as the Bolshevik party, so committed to democracy, should carry out a revolution which really did result in a terrible dictatorship -- and which under Stalin (who claimed to be doing it all "under the banner of Lenin") certainly became one of the worst dictatorships in the history of the world.
This problem is addressed by one of Lih's teachers, Robert C. Tucker, in a fine two-volume biography of Stalin. I also address this problem in MARX, LENIN, AND THE REVOLUTIONARY EXPERIENCE (New York: Routledge, 2006). It will be interesting to see how Lih himself deals with this in some of his future work.