Lenin was and remains a controversial figure. An erudite Marxist scholar, he was orthodox in his interpretation of the great thinker himself -- and yet his work was arguably contrary to the spirit of Marx. Russia at the time had not developed into a fully fledged capitalist state, its economy still heavily reliant on the income brought in by the apolitical peasantry. The material foundations that would sustain socialism in the wake of the revolution had yet to be lain. Nonetheless, Lenin advocated the formation of revolutionary vanguard whose role would be to force action, to motivate the proletariat (and, in turn, the peasantry) to arms. The revolutionary vanguard would become a political elite who would "educate" the masses and oppress the minority for the benefit of the majority until class antagonisms and the very idea of the state withered away. History, however, revealed this to be a failed project, morally and practically. Whether we can hold Marx responsible for the ensuing atrocities is still a question very much open to debate.
Whatever the answer, this collection of Lenin's works clarifies much of the ambiguity and controversy surrounding Lenin. In his writings, he is revealed to be a dynamic, forceful man, one who didn't suffer fools gladly. He writes with passion, often scathing and disdainful of his Marxist rivals. The four works contained within provide a broad scope for understanding Lenin at different points in his life. In "The Development of Capitalism in Russia" (1899) we see an unpolished but intriguing work, wherein Lenin argues that Tsarist Russia is, in its own unique way, compatible with Marxian doctrine. "What Is to Be Done?" (1902), perhaps his most famous work, is a polemical pamphlet advocating the formation of the revolutionary elite, given the apathy of the Russian masses at the time -- it is where his authoritarianism becomes the focal point of his philosophy. "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism" (1916) is expressive of Lenin's opposition to the First World War, and he catalogues the ways in which the imperialist powers seek out new markets in poorer, 'pre-capitalist' economies. And finally, "The State and Revolution" (1917), written on the eve of the October Revolution, gives a thorough, cohesive account of what the fate of the "state" will be, and how communism will develop as a result of socialism. Perhaps his most important work, "The State and Revolution" draws heavily on Marx and Engels, combining large excerpts of their writing with meticulous analysis to falsify the "opportunism" of the Social Democrats, such as Karl Kautsky. The work serves a clarifactory purpose and gives the most insight into the ideal vision of Soviet Russia.
A rich body of work, a great deal of debate to be had; these works are indeed essential in understanding Lenin, and are for this reason indispensable to the Marxist scholar or the historian. Furthermore, it's interesting in and of itself to see how opportunists such as Stalin were able to legitimately capitalise on such works.