6 December 2007

CONQUEST, Robert - Lenin

Fontana 1972

Read October 2007

This short book is clear and insightful. Though written in an age when the legacy of Lenin was still widely honoured throughout the world, the book seems to have avoided irrelevance in the post 1989 epoch. Lenin’s thought is set against the Russian social and intellectual context of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Conquest also binds in Lenin’s own distinctive personality into the analysis of his success and legacy. In structure, the book deals chronologically with the development of Lenin’s political thought and activities, with clearly defined chapters on specific topics, e.g. the revolutionary party, the state, etc.

Many on the left will be rightly sceptical of Conquest. His history as Communist Party member turned Washington-approved anti-Soviet academic raises suspicions that his motive is more to discredit the left than to evaluate Lenin. While, of course, Conquest’s criticisms of Lenin are nowhere hidden in the book, they are accompanied by articulate evidence from which the reader can draw his or her own judgments. But often, it must be admitted, Conquest’s judgments resonate with those on the left who see in Lenin, not only a tactical genius, but also the man who was primarily responsible for killing the marriage between history’s two good guys: socialism and liberalism.

Only at one point did I feel that Conquest’s exposition had gone beyond the borders of intellectual honesty. His almost flippant rejection of Lenin’s account of imperialism - through the true, but irrelevant, presentation of investment figures - marred what was otherwise an unfavourable but honest assessment of his topic.

Throughout, the book is written in a sharp, crisp literary style, which makes the text both enjoyable and easy to read. Despite the passage of time since its authorship, I recommend this book as a valuable addition to the analysis of twentieth century political thought.

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