Monday, 21 August 2017

Lenin the Dictator: An Intimate Portrait by Victor Sebestyen (2017)

Years of communism came about because of a wig. That's the conclusion that Victor Sebestyen comes to about Lenin. The Finnish wig-maker, who inadvertently provided Lenin with his disguise, has a lot to answer for. Not that Lenin was happy with the rug, according to Sebestyen. He complained about its quality. But it was good enough to get him past Provisional Government forces at the border and go on to become the first leader in the Soviet Union. Apparently it was really touch-and-go about whether he might seize power. It was the wig what won it.

Wigless and humourless: Lenin about to be unleashed
Lenin's temper tantrum over the wig is all part of a larger temper tantrum that Sebestyen reckons Lenin had all his life. He doesn't seem to have even taken a step back after the November 1917 revolution and celebrated his victory. 

He was just always in a massive strop, apparently. And nasty - he was on the way to being a massive killer in the same way Stalin was, but died early. And a coward - as his comrades ran to a fight, he chickened out, claiming that leadership needed to be protected. All of this is according to Sebestyen. It's difficult disagree.  

Whether you agree with the humbling of Lenin's legacy or not, the constant digs got on my nerves. I like to read between the lines to make up my mind about a tyrant. Simon Sebag Montefiore is really good at this sort of thing in Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar.

But overall, it's a fascinating look at a rather peculiar person who, against all the odds, set up the massive empire;  and which only fell apart 70 years later. If Lenin hadn't been wearing that wig, it might have all been very different. 

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