The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror
Victor Sebestyen has done a massive amount of up to date research on Lenin, and has written a fascinating, readable, and balanced book about the life of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, a man who had a monumental impact on Russia and subsequently, the world.
Lenin, whose birth name was Vladimir Ulyanov, was born April 10, 1870. His family were upper middle class and money was never an issue. As a child he did not show any special talent toward leadership, indeed, he kept to himself, was quiet and had few friends other than those who were, like him, mad about chess. Lenin was studious and always earned grades which placed him at the top of his class. While still a young boy, his older brother, Sasha, became involved in an underground terrorist group dedicated to overthrowing the Tsar. He was jailed and summarily executed. This act changed the course of Lenin’s life. In his young adult years Lenin studied law and practiced for a short while. Emulating his beloved brother, Lenin soon joined radical underground groups in the St. Petersburg area, and it was here that his talent for organizing and leadership evolved.
Lenin was well-known to the Tsarist Secret Police, and before long was arrested and spent a year in jail and three years in Siberia. By 1900 when he was released, he was a marked man and fled to Western Europe where he moved about living in Paris, London, Geneva, Munich and Finland, organizing uprisings and strikes again the government of Russia. He did not return home until 1917 when the revolution he masterminded was at last underway.
The adult Lenin possessed the same attributes as most strong totalitarian leaders. He was unable to compromise, believed in himself, was singularly determined and had a strong will. He thought of himself as an idealist, but held that the ends justified the means. That meant lies, manipulation,repression, and condemning large populations to starvation and death were all justifiable in order to establish the communist state. Lenin only ruled Russia less than seven years, yet he completely changed the government and course of Russian history. Lenin was a great orator and was able to sway crowds, inspiring in them optimism and hope. He offered simple solutions to complex problems.
In opposition to his public persona, Lenin led a quiet domestic life. He adored the outdoors and was happiest when hiking through the mountains, walking and swimming. He was forever writing and formulating political tomes. He married Nadya Krupskaya, and they remained a devoted couple even though he carried on a lifetime affair with Inessa Armand. They all apparently lived in harmony frequently sharing outings and holidays. Inessa and Nadya were as devoted to each other as they were to Lenin. Inessa had several children with a former husband and these children remained close to Lenin and Nadya until their deaths. (a little factoid: Lenin’s cook at one time was a man named Spiridon Putin: Sound familiar? He was Vladimir Putin’s grandfather.)
The cult of Lenin in Russia began after an unsuccessful assassination attempt on him. Lenin was eventually brought down by a series of strokes which left him incapacitated and unable to make decisions. This is where Stalin steps onto the stage, but that is a story for another time. Lenin died in 1924 and his body was preserved, his mausoleum visited by millions from all over the world. Winston Churchill famously said, “For Russians, their worst misfortune was Lenin”s birth; their next worst, his death."
I enjoyed this book immensely and could go on for pages. I highly recommend it to all readers. It is beautifully written and it is a period of history we would all benefit from knowing more about, especially given the state of our world today.