The most authoritative and well-rounded biography of Lenin yet written—and the one that is, in its quiet way, the most horrifying.
Oxford historian Service (A History of Twentieth Century Russia, not reviewed) makes good use of Party and Presidential archives that were previously closed to historians. The portrait that emerges therefore has many elements that were either altogether unknown or have only recently emerged. Lenin’s family was ennobled as a result of his father’s academic achievements—then, just as swiftly, ostracized when the eldest son, Alexander, was executed for his role in a plot to kill the Tsar. Lenin himself obtained top honors in an examination taken during the week of his brother’s execution, showed no compassion when thousands died in the famine of 1890–91, and insisted that his tenants pay their rents on time. As a restless intellectual, living most of his life in exile, he argued passionately over minor points of Marxist dogma but foresaw neither WWI nor the Revolution. His marriage to Nadezda Krupskaya was one of revolutionary conviction rather than love, although it was interrupted by a briefly passionate affair with fellow revolutionary Inessa Armand (which Lenin broke off when it threatened to interfere with his work). This was altogether typical: Lenin’s was a life from which almost every diversion was banished when it diverted him from his mission. As to that mission itself, Service shows just how essential Lenin was: at two points at least (the coup d’etat of October 1917 and the introduction of the New Economic Policy), the Revolution would not have occurred or would have perished without Lenin’s almost manic determination. But it was a determination forever tainted by the contempt for democracy, the total intolerance, and the vindictive cruelty that Lenin brought to Communist rule: “Hang (and make sure that the hanging takes place in full view of the people) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers. . . . Telegraph receipt and implementation.”
An important study that goes far in tracing the roots of the dire legacy Communism bequeathed to the third of mankind unfortunate enough to have suffered its rule.