You are here:   Civilisation >  Books > A Sponger's Ticket To The Finland Station
Sebestyen argues that Lenin “was not a monster”. It’s true he wasn’t Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot or the Emperor Bokassa, but that’s not a huge endorsement. I’d maintain he was a monster, but he didn’t have that much time to get on with the liquidating, and he had staff to do that for him (Dzerzhinsky and Trotsky). I suppose all biographers develop some warmth towards their subjects.

If Lenin has become passé, that doesn’t mean Sebestyen’s biography isn’t worth reading. The story of the Bolshevik revolution is fascinating in several ways, and Sebestyen does a good job of telling it. I would, however, like to propose a law that limits biographies to no more than 350 pages, so that we can skip the stuff about paternal grandfathers and school reports, or that it be relegated to an appendix. Sebestyen is disciplined compared to academics who feel obliged to include every scrap of information about their target, but there’s still a bit of drudgery and repetition. Lenin’s love of nature gets heavy rotation as well as the fact that he relied on women all his life, or poncing as it’s commonly called.

Yes. Mummy paid the bills for Vladimir Illich while he plotted the downfall of the Tsars. Lenin worked very briefly and unsuccessfully as a lawyer, before moving on to full-time sponging. The irony about Lenin, and one that Sebestyen dwells on again and again, is that he was profoundly bourgeois. Exile in Siberia? Lenin spent his time hunting, shooting and fishing, and working on his book. About to get in a sealed train to seize power in Russia? Lenin made sure his library books were returned.

With a century of distance, much of the history becomes hilarious: the incessant bickering and backstabbing of the Russian revolutionaries, the intellectuals of St Petersburg almost shagging themselves to death in the closing stages of the war, the pre-eminent thickness of the Russian aristocracy.

Lenin was long revered as the most professional of professional revolutionaries, but Sebestyen demonstrates it was practically a miracle that he came to power, and only because the body politic in Russia had been destroyed by war, not through any cunning Bolshevik plan. Lenin could very well have ended up gibbering in some run-down suburb, like another freeloader, the leader of the Brixton cult, Aravindan Balakrishnan.

Most of Lenin’s shortcomings were known at the time (as were Stalin’s and Mao’s) and were later exposed by figures such as Robert Conquest and Solzhenitsyn, but the fashionable world wasn’t paying attention. My favourite detail in Sebestyen’s entertaining book? The almost-dead Lenin begging Stalin for poison so he could commit euthanasia, and Stalin saying no.

View Full Article
Mel Profit
February 23rd, 2017
6:02 PM
Mr. Fischer is understandably dismissive of Lenin, and he is probably correct that Communism is dead other than in a thousand or so faculty clubs. But the legacy of Lenin and his friends is anything but gone, as anyone who has spent five minutes in the US, or watched its zany, fifty-year implosion, can attest. Today's toxic mashup of socialism, anarchism, communism, surrealism, feminism, Dadaism, nihilism, moral exhibitionism, and moral botulism that passes for progressivism obviously has many fathers, but none more key than Vlad and Co.

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.