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The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism, War,…
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The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism, War, Empire, Love, Revolution

by Tariq Ali

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I read this book not long after reading China Miéville's re-telling of the Bolshevik Revolution, 'October'. It was as well that I did, because Ali does not take a formal chronological view of Lenin's life. Rather, he chooses a series of themes, as set out in the subtitle, and then looks at those subjects as reflected in the events of Lenin's life. There is a chronological progression in there, but Ali uses the thematic structure to step out of chronology at various points.

He also digresses into other areas; the political background of the nineteenth century in Russia, against which Lenin grew up; the story of the Civil War and the Russo-Polish War, and Tukachevsky's role in it; other Socialist thinkers from countries outside Russia such as the English Chartist Ernest Jones; the role and position of women in early socialism and Bolshevik women's' organisations; the progress of socialist revolution in Europe in the years after 1917 and the political maneuvering that saw its failure; and the fate of many of Lenin's contemporaries.

The language is most definitely that of the academic Left, though I did not find it hard going. There are also regular diversions into Tariq Ali's own activism; some of this has relevance, some does not. A lot of it has a faint air of self-congratulation about it. There is also some comparison of historical events with contemporary parallels, and some of these are definitely shoehorned in and specifically attempt to reinforce a leftist standpoint on the contemporary issue in question.

However, Ali manages to keep on just the right side of hagiography. He is not afraid to quote Lenin's critics, both contemporary to his time, place and political landscape, and more recent writers such as Churchill, Richard Pipes and Robert Service, though I suspect his quotations from Pipes and Service are quite selective. Ultimately, though, this is undoubtedly a Leftist book, more so than Miéville's; and it should not be a general reader's starting point on learning about Lenin whatever your political stance precisely because it does rely for its interpretation on a lot of knowledge of the arguments amongst, and language of, the broad left. Those who have a command of that language will find this book useful. ( )
2 vote RobertDay | Apr 1, 2018 |
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On the centenary of the Russian Revolution, Tariq Ali paints an illuminating portrait of Lenin. In this unusual exploration of the crises that Lenin overcame, the decisions he made, and actions that he took, Tariq Ali reveals an insightful political portrait of this most exemplary leader.… (more)

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