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Vladimir Ilyich Lenin is among the most enigmatic and influential figures of the twentieth century. While his life and work are crucial to any understanding of modern history and the socialist movement, generations of writers on the left and the right have seen fit to embalm him endlessly with superficial analysis or dreary dogma. Now, after the fall of the Soviet Union an Vladimir Ilyich Lenin is among the most enigmatic and influential figures of the twentieth century. While his life and work are crucial to any understanding of modern history and the socialist movement, generations of writers on the left and the right have seen fit to embalm him endlessly with superficial analysis or dreary dogma. Now, after the fall of the Soviet Union and "actually-existing" socialism, it is possible to consider Lenin afresh, with sober senses trained on his historical context and how it shaped his theoretical and political contributions. Reconstructing Lenin, four decades in the making and now available in English for the first time, is an attempt to do just that. Tam�s Krausz, an esteemed Hungarian scholar writing in the tradition of Gy�rgy Luk�cs, Ferenc Tokei, and Istv�n M�sz�ros, makes a major contribution to a growing field of contemporary Lenin studies. This rich and penetrating account reveals Lenin busy at the work of revolution, his thought shaped by immediate political events but never straying far from a coherent theoretical perspective. Krausz balances detailed descriptions of Lenin's time and place with lucid explications of his intellectual development, covering a range of topics like war and revolution, dictatorship and democracy, socialism and utopianism.Reconstructing Lenin will change the way you look at a man and a movement; it will also introduce the English-speaking world to a profound radical scholar.


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Vladimir Ilyich Lenin is among the most enigmatic and influential figures of the twentieth century. While his life and work are crucial to any understanding of modern history and the socialist movement, generations of writers on the left and the right have seen fit to embalm him endlessly with superficial analysis or dreary dogma. Now, after the fall of the Soviet Union an Vladimir Ilyich Lenin is among the most enigmatic and influential figures of the twentieth century. While his life and work are crucial to any understanding of modern history and the socialist movement, generations of writers on the left and the right have seen fit to embalm him endlessly with superficial analysis or dreary dogma. Now, after the fall of the Soviet Union and "actually-existing" socialism, it is possible to consider Lenin afresh, with sober senses trained on his historical context and how it shaped his theoretical and political contributions. Reconstructing Lenin, four decades in the making and now available in English for the first time, is an attempt to do just that. Tam�s Krausz, an esteemed Hungarian scholar writing in the tradition of Gy�rgy Luk�cs, Ferenc Tokei, and Istv�n M�sz�ros, makes a major contribution to a growing field of contemporary Lenin studies. This rich and penetrating account reveals Lenin busy at the work of revolution, his thought shaped by immediate political events but never straying far from a coherent theoretical perspective. Krausz balances detailed descriptions of Lenin's time and place with lucid explications of his intellectual development, covering a range of topics like war and revolution, dictatorship and democracy, socialism and utopianism.Reconstructing Lenin will change the way you look at a man and a movement; it will also introduce the English-speaking world to a profound radical scholar.

30 review for Reconstructing Lenin: An Intellectual Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    William West

    With this book, the radical Hungarian scholar Tamas Krausz sets himself two seemingly incompatible goals. First of all, he seeks to give an account of Lenin's intellectual and political career that does away with what Krausz calls “presentism”- the tendency by many historians and biographers to evaluate Lenin's actions from the hindsight of the present and what we now know about the subsequent history of what became the Soviet Union. Rather, Krausz seeks to understand Lenin's thought process as With this book, the radical Hungarian scholar Tamas Krausz sets himself two seemingly incompatible goals. First of all, he seeks to give an account of Lenin's intellectual and political career that does away with what Krausz calls “presentism”- the tendency by many historians and biographers to evaluate Lenin's actions from the hindsight of the present and what we now know about the subsequent history of what became the Soviet Union. Rather, Krausz seeks to understand Lenin's thought process as it responded to unfolding developments in the struggle against Russian absolutism and as he coped with the conditions facing early twentieth century Russian revolutionaries. Krausz's second goal is to, in Lukacsian fashion, demonstrate that Lenin's thought was an unfolding, adapting, yet ultimately organic totality. The tension between Krausz's desire to contextualize Lenin's decisions, and to constelate his politics into a philosophy, is palatable throughout the book. The structure of this “intellectual biography” is idiosyncratic. Rather than integrating Lenin's intellectual development with biographical details, Krausz fulfills his traditional biographical duties in the first, short chapter, which is quite poor. Krausz is a political theorist, not an entertainer. The prose in the book in general is rather leaden, which might have something to do with the translation. But in tackling straight-forward biographical storytelling, Krausz's only instinct seems to be to try to make Vladimir Ulyanov cuddly. This is “character study” so adoring and white-washing that I half way expected to read how babies smiled and puppy dogs wagged their tales more when Lenin entered a room. Thankfully, this biographical sketch is quite short and what follows is an exceptionally thoughtful and thorough, if not always entirely persuasive, study. Krausz identifies five major stages of development in Lenin's thinking: the period from his adolescence to the failed uprising of 1905, the period between 1905 and the victories of 1917, the brief power-sharing arrangement with Kerensky in 1917, the years of War Communism from 1918 to '20, and finally the years of the New Economic Policy begun in 1921 and lasting until Lenin's death. Krausz characterizes the pre-1905 period as one in which the young Lenin rejected the Russian exceptionalism of many contemporary radicals- the tendency known as Narodnikism which imagined the collectivism of the Russian peasant village as the seed of a socialist society. Lenin rejected this tradition for the then newish ideology of Marxism, especially as articulated in the late Marx of Das Kapital. The young Lenin subscribed whole heartedly to Marxist internationalism and he thought that capitalist accumulation and industrial efficiency would inevitably lead to a socialist, and ultimately communist society. If the young Lenin was a Marxist inevitablist, he did not, like the German socialist theorist and politician Karl Bernstein, think that socialism could be legally ushered in through parliamentary democracy. His rejection of Bernsteinism led Lenin to write his first “great work”: 1903's What Is To Be Done? How, Lenin, asked of Bernstein and his followers, could workers who lacked all but the most rudimentary education reject the capitalist propaganda to which they were constantly subjected? Their consciousness shaped by the ruling class, workers, left to their own devices, would never demand socialism under a capitalist regime. The “inevitability” of socialist transformation would have to be revealed to the workers by a political avant-garde, or vanguard of radical intellectuals. If the book was a response to Bernstein, it was also a work addressing specifically Russian challenges. How could a progressive organization even operate under the brutish autocracy of Czarism? Only, argued Lenin, a conspiratorial organization composed of intellectuals familiar both with Marxist theory and armed struggle could hope to survive, little lone to topple the feudal regime, in a repressive society such as Russia. If the ultimate, if distant, goal of such an organization would be the implementation of socialism in Russia, its forseeably achievable goal was simply the overthrow of feudalism. Russia would have to go through a stage of capitalist development. Meanwhile, the more advanced countries of western Europe would “graduate” to socialism and show Russia the way forward. George W. Bush once compared What Is To Be Done? to Mein Kemp as an example of an “evil book” that qualified as the blue-print of Stalinism. It is true that, after Lenin's death, Stalin effectively canonized the book and pointed to it as the justification for much of his government's secretive violence. But, Krausz underlines, Lenin wrote it not in any way as a suggestion for how to govern but rather for how to survive and organize under repressive conditions. If What Is To Be Done? privileged the intellectual in relation to the worker, 1904's One Step Forward, Two Steps Back did the opposite. It was in this work that Lenin put forward his famous maxim that being, the nature of one's activity in the world, conditions consciousness, an argument that owed not a little to Aristotle. Under capitalism, the worker achieves nothing left to themselves, but as a group the proletariat was the most productive force in society. Workers, then, are conditioned to sacrifice for the collective good. The intellectual, inversely, composes alone and thus will always work to prioritize the private before the social. Lenin's example of the “grotesque intellectual” was Friedrich Nietzsche, a thinker who Lenin's main rival in the socialist realm at the time, Leon Trotsky, venerated. It was in these early years, as well, that Lenin began to write on the “Jewish question”. He held that Jews in Russia, although they were dispersed and not attached to any geographical homeland like, say, the Georgians, still constituted an oppressed nation within the Russian “prison-house.” Indeed, perhaps because of their integration and atomization in greater Russian society, the Jews had been amongst the most, if not the most, brutally oppressed minority under the Czarist system. Jews were, then, natural allies of the Russian revolutionary cause because they had so much to gain and such heavy chains to lose. This was a boldly anti-racist stance in pre-1905 Russia, where anti-semitism was so deeply and violently entrenched. Lenin's writings on Russian Jewry would prove to be influential on Marxists when discussing oppressed nationalities, particularly in the USA when American Marxists discussed the African-American struggle. Krausz critiques the thought of the young Lenin as overly inevitabalist and stagist, much like that of Marx. Perhaps more importantly, Lenin overestimated the maturity of capitalism in the first decade of the twentieth century yet also, as he would perhaps do throughout his life, underestimated capitalism's capacity to adapt. After the near-revolution of 1905, Lenin changed his mind about the potential for socialism in Russia. Perhaps a socialist revolution could take place in his backward country. But the socialist government, once established, could only hope to survive if the Russian revolution spurred the workers of the mature, capitalist European countries to rise up and establish socialist states that could then support their Russian comrades while the country caught up to the west's level of development. The idea of an explicitly “Russian socialism” Lenin thought impossible, but also undesirable. Like Nietzsche, Lenin had a deep distrust of his own nationality, and he feared that a Russian socialism, left isolated and to its own devices, might become quite ugly indeed. The defeats of 1905 were still a victory in that anti-feudal sentiment, and indeed socialist militancy, increased greatly in popularity. Lenin's party, the Bolsheviks, went from being a tiny underground sect to a group with almost 200,000 members. There were many Bolshevik intellectuals who wanted to engage in “God builidng”- the intentional inculcating of “scientific socialism” as a new religion in the minds' of Russian workers. While Lenin had long been clear and frank about his contempt for religion, indeed it was Lenin, not Marx, who coined the phrase “religion is the opiate of the masses”, Lenin opposed any form of God-building or Party declaration of atheism. He accused the God-builders of having absorbed the bourgeoisie's tendency to see the “Divine” as a reification of their own self-regard. Lenin also held his party back from trying to incorporate or control the Soviets, the labor organizations of self-defense and self-government, that arose over the course of the struggles of 1905. Lenin thought that the Soviets were the authentic mouth-pieces of all the workers of Russia and, as such, belonged to no single party. The job of the Soviets was to lead the revolution against feudal oppression. The comparatively humble and distant purpose of the Bolshevik Party was to try to steer the historic changes taking place in Russia towards socialism. Between 1907 and '08, Lenin devoted much of his writings to how to learn from the defeats of the Paris Commune of 1871 and the Russian uprising of 1905. In both cases, the rebels had hoped to influence the “morality” of their dominant class enemies. In both cases, this led to the defeat of the rebellions and in the case of the Commune to the mass slaughter of the revolutionary actors. Rather than a moral contest, Lenin wrote, a successful revolution could only take place if the progressive elements seized control of the state apparatus and used it to “expropriate the expropriators.” The state became more and more central to Lenin's thinking in these years. It could not be changed from within, as the Buchananists dreamed, nor could it be ignored or immediately liquidated as the anarchists, and perhaps some early Marxists, fancied. Every state, argued Lenin, was shaped to suit the economic system that propped it up. For instance, the parliamentary democracy of the western European countries was a perfect vessel for capitalism because it offers the freedom to buy both political and ideological representation. The “freedom of speech” offered by such systems was, as Lenin saw it, only the freedom of capital to buy the means of media dissemination and thereby propagandize to its subjects. The freedom to vote and hold office was the freedom of capital to prop up the lackey politician of its choice. The only major advantage of such “democracy” over feudal absolutism, as Lenin saw it, was the increased capacity for labor to organize and for working-class consciousness to thus evolve. A worker's state would have to be very much a state, utilizing the tools of capital against it. Krausz traces Lenin's development on the question of the feasibility of socialism in Russia both to the empirical evidence of 1905 and to the theoretical influence of Hegel. The reader should, perhaps, take the centrality of Hegel in the author's interpretation of Lenin with a grain of salt. Krausz is, after all, writing in the shadow of Georg Lukacs, a thinker who was determined to marry his political allegiance to Leninism with his messianic Hegelian creed. Krausz never refers to Lukacs in this book without resorting to adjectives such as “magisterial”, so it is clear he is not fully objective in relation to his master's work. It is well established, however, that Lenin read Hegel's Science of Logic between September and December of 1914, as the first world war seemed more and more imminent, and took voluminous notes. It is in these notes where Lenin first proclaimed that philosophy could be a guide to political action, that theory and practice were inherently intertwined. Dialectics illustrated how a microcosm can affect the macrocosm. Each operated upon each other in what Lukacs would describe as a totality. This inspired Lenin to imagine that a revolution in Russia that openly proclaimed socialism as its goal, while it could not survive on its own for long, could inspire the workers of other, more developed countries to rise up. What’s more, a massive inter-imperialist war, which seemed to be in the making, would thrust such misery on the workers of all countries involved that it could highlight for them how the ruling class was making them slaughter each other for their benefit. While Lenin’s thinking was, as Krausz imagines it, dialectical and totalizing, it also privileged subjectivity. If just one person showed up in public with a slogan-bearing sign that illustrated the injustice of the War it had the potential to enlighten the masses of their plight, inspire a localized uprising that might spread into world revolution! Dialectical concepts also inspired Lenin’s writings on the national question. One could theoretically determine how to respond to struggles in different countries and circumstances by relating the microcosmic issue to the greater political totality and trying to understand how their outcome would affect the macrocosm. At the same time as he began to write about nationalism, Lenin also started articulating his theory of imperialism. Once capitalism had become fully developed in western Europe, the once-liberating power of capitalist development had ceased to be democratizing. Rather, capital now moved towards national monopolies in which there was no more room in the domestic markets for profits to expand. Monopoly capital had to find new, international markets to dominate. Economics and politics were not, then, identical. A country could be politically independent while still having its economy and development completely dominated by foreign finance capital. While global trade had necessitated that nations were no longer as isolated, national markets had become more conscious of themselves as such. One of the laws of global capitalism identified by Lenin was that of unequal development. There were now three different types of nations: the advanced capitalist countries of western Europe, which had become imperialist, those nations still undergoing the transition to capitalism, such as Russia and the eastern European nations, and the colonized nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America which had yet been allowed to begin any kind of transition due to the underdevelopment imposed on them by the imperialists. The nationalist resistance to foreign domination of one’s markets was, Lenin held, only reasonable, and, more importantly, it served as a check on the domination of monopoly capital on the world. The exception to this rule would be when an independent, nationalist movement in a oppressed country was led by historically reactionary forces. For instance, a revolutionary must oppose a nationalist movement led by feudal elements. Nationalism on the part of imperialist countries, however, was necessarily to be opposed even when it was a response to the aggression of another imperialist nation. Although Russia was only semi-capitalist, Lenin strongly opposed any form of Russian patriotism as the first World War began. In “The National Pride of the Great Russians”, written in December 1914, Lenin defined Russian socialism as, in fact, being rooted in a kind of Russian identity- that forged by the long struggle of the people against Czarist absolutism and the wars it had dragged the people into through the ages. However, the Russian working class had to be called out for its silent participation in the oppression of the minorities inside the Russian prison-house of nations. The Russian workers had voluntarily, if sub-consciously, lapped up absolutism’s propaganda about the Great Russian people. Any promotion of the “greatness” of the Russian working-class would only draw the workers into the war effort and to the defense of their own oppressors. It was in the months before 1917 that Lenin wrote two of his most important works: “State and Revolution” and “Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism.” These pamphlets were the summation of all of Lenin’s thought on the state and imperialism during these years. As already discussed, Lenin thought a revolutionary state could lead society towards communism and statelessness, something which even nascent globalization was slowly moving toward. Krausz claims, fairly undeniably, that Lenin overemphasized and exaggerated the degree to which early twentieth century capitalism was inadvertently creating a socialized and socializing means of production. His sense of how changes in the means of exchange and production shaped human consciousness was also far too mechanistic and determinating. After the February Revolution, Lenin and the Bolsheviks entered into a power sharing arrangement with the Kerensky government and the other socialist parties. Now faced with the task of governing, Lenin’s writings became much less voluminous. Lenin’s fiercest anti-communist critics often point to what they see as the discrepancy between the liberational yearnings of Lenin’s classic texts with his supposedly authoritarian, or even “totalitarian” style of governing. Krausz not only does not recognize this discrepancy, but sees in Lenin’s political leadership a direct extension of his work as a political theoretician and philosopher. At the onset of the power-sharing deal Lenin had, according to Krausz, envisioned a period of very limited socialism growing and “competing” with capitalist production, which would have to fully mature in Russia before the socialization of industry and worker-control could commence in any substantial way. What Lenin felt had to be maintained was the existence and significance of the Soviets. They gave voice to the working class and began the political education of the Russian proletariat who would, hopefully fairly soon, be asked to lead from below. As Krausz, and Leninists in general have long framed it, the Kerensky-led government refused to fully disengage in WWI and, perhaps more heinously, refused to challenge the privileges of Russia’s wealthy land-owners and capitalists. This is what led, according to Lenin-supporters such as Krausz, to massive food-shortages and famine. Many of his Bolsheik advisors were warning Lenin that a right wing dictator would emerge to “return the country to order” if order was not forcefully restored to the revolutionary society. This led Lenin to issue the April Thesis. The industrialized proletariat would one day rule in Russia, but until the more advanced capitalist nations of the west revolted and came to the aid of their Russian comrades, they were too small and weak to control the nation. Until the revolutions in the West, Russia would have to half-skip the stage of capitalist development. The capitalist-class could not feasibly rule post-revolutionary Russia, even transitionally. This had led to a potentially devastating famine. Rather, the Bolshevik Party would have to govern in the name of the workers, by working directly (and in a guiding and supervising role) with the Soviets. (Krausz does not say so, but Lenin was, in all but name, endorsing Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution, a stance he had, until April 1917, viewed as utopian.) As soon as the following month, the Bolsheviks were by far the most powerful political force in the country, Russia had disengaged from the War, and the Party was controlling distribution in an attempt to alleviate the famine. Food requisition and distribution was quasi-militaristic in character, which prepared the country for the militarization it would have to undergo when the White Guard invaded from the west and the Civil War began. A policy of War Communism was instituted by the end of the summer of 1918.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Barry Smirnoff

    An analysis of Lenin's thought and its application to 21 st century anti-capitalist movements and activists. It is a bit difficult in sections, where the author presupposes a knowledge of Eastern European scholarship and especially Hungarian writers. It does answer the question that Lenin, especially the Hegelian influenced, dialectical Lenin, is very important in reassessing the Marxian legacy for the European Left. The influence of Gramsci and Lukacs are also felt throughout the book. I found An analysis of Lenin's thought and its application to 21 st century anti-capitalist movements and activists. It is a bit difficult in sections, where the author presupposes a knowledge of Eastern European scholarship and especially Hungarian writers. It does answer the question that Lenin, especially the Hegelian influenced, dialectical Lenin, is very important in reassessing the Marxian legacy for the European Left. The influence of Gramsci and Lukacs are also felt throughout the book. I found the book to be very insightful and certainly a balanced approach that we in the West must reevaluate the links between Lenin and Stalin, and the responsibility of Lenin for the State Socialism that later developed in the Soviet Union. We have consigned Lenin to the dustbin of history in the wake of the Cold War. Maybe it is time to reassess his usefulness as a critic of capitalism and as a theorist of the transformation of capitalism into the next social system, whether that be Socialism, or something else.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Prithvi Shams

    I don't know enough about Soviet history to critique the historiography of this book, but the author's bias towards Lenin stands out. The chapter on Lenin's biography was so adulatory, the reader would save their precious time skipping ahead. I was hoping to see how the author responds to Anglo-American historiography of Lenin's legacy, but he doesn't often address them except for a few jibes against Richard Pipes. The book is a bit dense and fast-moving for a neophyte to Soviet history, but it c I don't know enough about Soviet history to critique the historiography of this book, but the author's bias towards Lenin stands out. The chapter on Lenin's biography was so adulatory, the reader would save their precious time skipping ahead. I was hoping to see how the author responds to Anglo-American historiography of Lenin's legacy, but he doesn't often address them except for a few jibes against Richard Pipes. The book is a bit dense and fast-moving for a neophyte to Soviet history, but it certainly sparked my interest.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Анна

  5. 4 out of 5

    democritusjrjr

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jakob

  7. 5 out of 5

    Pedro Corrêa

  8. 4 out of 5

    Steve

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ina Cawl

  10. 5 out of 5

    Elliot Mears

  11. 4 out of 5

    TEELOCK Mithilesh

  12. 5 out of 5

    Craig

  13. 4 out of 5

    Enkidu_

  14. 4 out of 5

    Pedro Abilio

  15. 5 out of 5

    Martin Empson

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elliott

  17. 4 out of 5

    Claire Snyder-Hall

  18. 4 out of 5

    Fabrizio Ribeiro

  19. 5 out of 5

    Diogo Eduardo

  20. 5 out of 5

    I

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sreyas

  22. 4 out of 5

    Travis

  23. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hector L

  25. 5 out of 5

    Cintia

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bill Crane

  27. 4 out of 5

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  28. 4 out of 5

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  29. 5 out of 5

    Ian Wraga

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jozsef Borocz

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