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17 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, but selective and biased, 21 Jun. 2009
This review is from: Lenin: A Biography (Paperback)
Robert Service in 'Lenin' does not give an account that is satisfyingly representative of the man. Service, despite his obvious learning, seems totally ignorant of established Marxist and Leninist perspectives. There are several examples, but the one which irritated me the most was his dealing with Lenin's magnum opus The State and Revolution. Service seems to suggest that the concept forwarded in this of the 'withering away of the state' was a hollow and fake belief of Lenin's that had no sincerity behind it. This is anachronistic and false. Marx himself had spoken of exactly the same thing, and to suggest that Lenin did not share the belief in the state's eventual destruction is fallacy. Also, the supposed irreverence Lenin held for democracy is hollow. Lenin insists in his works on a CLASS dictatorship to replace the current class dictatorship of the bourgeosie with a proletarian one. Of course it can be argued that this led to a personal dictatorship when Lenin got into power, but simply because his understanding of democracy differed from Service's does not provoke the numerous attacks that Service launches on Lenin's policy.

Although Service provides an acurate account of events, his perspective on Lenin is marred by his unceasing anti-Communism. Anybody can understand why this exists, but the bias creates the impression of a propoganda piece.

This is ultimately not the best use of the previously-censored documents which Service was lucky enough to get hold of. I would recommend this only for its outline of events, but with a few more minutes of searching a superior biography of Lenin could be found. If an alternative perspective on the revolution is what you really want, then try Trotsky's A History of the Russian Revolution.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Feb 2010 14:07:51 GMT
Last edited by the author on 1 Feb 2010 14:11:02 GMT
You accuse Robert Service of bias, and then recommend Trotsky's version of history is as a less biased alternative -- you're having a laugh! There could scarcely be a more biased, not to mention self-serving, source than Trotsky.

As for the question of whether Lenin's leanings were dictatorial or democratic, the answer is clear from Lenin's own writings, as well as his actions. Lenin did not merely have a "different understanding" of democracy; he saw democracy described by Marx, and rejected it. Let us recall that Marx described "dictatorship of the proletariat" by reference to the system of representation by universal suffrage that operated in the Paris Commune, in which all the councillors were workers, paid workers' wages, and subject to instant recall. Lenin decided that this system would not suit Russia, and put forward his own alternative, according to which the proletariat needed to be led by a "vanguard" (by happenstance, self-selected) of professional "revolutionaries" (which, as luck would have it, turned out to be himself and his Bolshevik cronies). So much for Lenin the democrat.

Robert Service is right to be anti-Communist, and his being so does not necessarily make his history biased. Would you say that a biography of Mussolini could only be unbiased if it were written by a Fascist?

Posted on 6 May 2010 13:48:55 BDT
H. Jones says:
Agreed. I read Trotsky's A History of the Russian Revolution and it's hard work but brilliant all the same.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Feb 2011 10:45:30 GMT
Germinal says:
If you think that Lenin had a different understanding of democracy than Marx, then you clearly haven't read The State and Revolution. Nor, I would guess, have you read Trotsky's 'History' if you describe it as self-serving.

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Feb 2011 14:55:12 GMT
Last edited by the author on 15 Feb 2011 14:57:46 GMT
The book isn't biased by virtue of it being written by an anti-communist - it's the content itself! For one that defends anti-communism as unbiased you show remarkable hypocrisy by stating that Trotsky's work must be self-serving considering he is a communist. Your understanding of a 'vanguard' party is also way off the mark - clearly this person has very little idea of what he's talking about and should not be considered an authority on anything.

Posted on 2 Sep 2011 02:54:13 BDT
Miketang says:
Of course Service is inevitably biased - as are most of the other commentators on this post - because he is after all a scion of the bourgeois intelligentsia and lacks the insight to step outside the societal and intellectual norms by which he has been conditioned. As for Trotsky's History, I suspect it is easier for people in the West to see the bias of someone conditioned by a different philosophical system because it contrasts so sharply with the received values of their own system. The trick is to be able to understand each on its own terms while being able to step outside the parameters of both to consider each critically. More difficult to achieve than to formulate on paper.

Posted on 21 Aug 2013 11:22:38 BDT
'Robert Service is right to be anti-Communist, and his being so does not necessarily make his history biased. Would you say that a biography of Mussolini could only be unbiased if it were written by a Fascist? '

What a confused posting.

He is right to be anti-Communist? - its not a question of right or wrong but a question of an hostorian reading the evidence and providing an interpreation that fits all of the facts

'his being so does not necessarily make his history biased' - not necessarily but in Services's case he is biased because he ignores factual evidence that doesn't suite his viewpoint

'Would you say that a biography of Mussolini could only be unbiased if it were written by a Fascist? '

Straw man
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