Lenin: A New Biography

Article excerpt

Lenin: A New Biography

Dmitri Volkogenov

Translated and edited by Harold Shukman

The Free Press, New York, 1994

Dmitri Volkogonov, an historian and a former general in the Soviet Army, is uniquely situated to produce works of the utmost importance. Before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, he was Director of the Soviet Union's Institute for Military History, where, according to the Editor's Preface, he was "the first researcher to gain access to the most secret archives." His biography of Stalin incurred the wrath of Soviet officers in 1988; and now the book under review produces a fresh - and devastating - account of Lenin.

With such work as Volkogonov's appearing, the suffocating blanket of silence and of factual manipulation that prevailed for so many decades has been lifted. By the time Lenin was published in English in 1994, the editor could say that "there are virtually no taboos on historical research left" inside Russia. Volkogonov tells how he was originally a Stalinist, and how when his illusions about Stalin were shattered he fell back onto believing (as so many socialists worldwide have) that Leninism, at least, had been sound even though it was later distorted by Stalin. Eventually even this illusion fell away, with the result that the principal theme of Lenin is that all of the essential ingredients of the totalitarian state were put into place by Lenin himself. "The system created by Lenin would [thus] have found its Stalin in any event." If thoughtful people everywhere come to this realization, a major step will have been taken in the world's ridding itself of socialist illusion.

It was Lenin who initiated the subordination of human life to ideological objectives without regard to the number of lives lost. He, not Stalin, first introduced executions, mass terror, concentration camps, and slave labor. There was a "legalization of terror," with the Cheka shooting thousands in cellars without trial; a suppression of a free press; the subordination of trade unions to the state; the liquidation of "hundreds of thousands of private owners, middle and upper bourgeoisie, and intellectuals"; the crushing of the churches, with the slaughter of the clergy; and a callous acceptance of mass starvation, such as in 1921-22 when 25 million people were starving at the same time that copious funds were sent overseas to help Communist Parties foment what was hoped would be a worldwide revolution. Even such a list barely scratches the surface of what Volkogonov recounts from the archives.

Lenin has, of course, been unmasked before; anti-Communists have long known him for what he was. …