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on 21 September 2013
This classical Communist short book deals mainly with disagreements in the Russian revolutionary camp, of interest only to historians of Communist Russia and Marxist scholastics. But it includes some very important observations on revolutionary leadership, which apply with adjustments o what I call "foundational political leaders" in a period of turmoil, such as outs.
By way of background let me mention, for the benefits of readers not familiar with the biography of Lenin, that he was in many respects the most important future-impacting leader of the 20th century. He was also one of the very few intellectual rulers who tried to base policies and activities on theories, largely developed by him, however mistaken.
These ideas on leadership are repeated throughout the book in different formulations. I pick typical statements illustrating their main thrust:
1. Leadership should be guided by a genuine "theory" (p. 105), instead of "bowing to spontaneity" (p. 46).
2. Long-range perspectives and holistic plans are essential, with "tactics-as-process" (p. 168) to be rejected.
3. Leadership is a kind of "profession" which has to be learned (p. 97) and requires self-training (p. 122). Leaders should get rid of "wretched" (p. 124) "amateurism" (p. 98). They should also learn and teach "how to live and how to die" (p. 88). Lack of such leaders causes crises (p. 119).
4. Leaders should be a "vanguard" and not "readguard" (p. 84), avoiding "tail-ism, in the sense of following publics from behind. Instead, leaders should lead the multitude while enlightening and educating the public.
5. Essential are holistic understanding, aiming to "transform radically the conditions of life of the whole of mankind" (p. 171).
6. While flexibility is necessary (p. 171), "primitivism" (p. 162) and "opportunism, with "subservience to spontaneity" (p. 74) should be avoided.
7. "Forward march of the drab everyday struggle" (p. 150), "actual concern with trivialities" (p. 145) and so on are counterproductive. Instead of such "incrementalism" and simple pragmatism (to use my own terminology), essential is coordinated large-scale action which can bring about massive results.
The following statement of Lenin succinctly sums up the lessons which this book provides for foundational political leaders: It is "the duty of the leaders to gain an ever clearer insights into all theoretic questions, to free themselves more and more from the influence of traditional phrases inherited from the old world outlook" (p. 28). I will quote it in my writings on the novel genre of political leaders urgently needed for assuring the future of humanity.
It is only on the leadership discourse that I give the book a five star rating, not its obsolete polemics.

Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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