Lenin Rediscovered

What Is to Be Done? In Context

With this book, Lars T. Lih revolutionizes the conventional interpretation of V. I. Lenin’s classic text, included here in an authoritative new translation.

What Is to Be Done? has long been interpreted as evidence of Lenin’s “elitist” attitude toward workers. Lih uses a wide range of previously unavailable contextual sources to fundamentally overturn this reading of history’s most misunderstood revolutionary text. He argues that Lenin’s polemic must be seen within the context of a rising worker’s movement in Russia, and shows that Lenin’s perspective fit squarely within the mainstream of the socialist movement of his time.

Rather than the manifesto of an authoritarian leader, Lih reveals a guide to action to help cohere and strengthen a promising movement, which still maintains remarkable relevance to today’s world.

Part of the Historical Materialism Book Series.

About the author

Lars T. Lih is the author of Bread and Authority in Russia, 1914-1921 (University of California Press, 1990), and Lenin (Reaktion Books, 2008). He is also the co-editor of Stalin's Letters to Molotov (Yale University Press, 1995), and has written many articles on the history of the Bolshevik Party and the revolutionary experience in Russia. Lih received his Ph.D. from Princeton University (1984), and has taught at Wellesley College and Duke University. He is presently an independent researcher living and working in Montreal, Quebec.

Reviews

“Clearly written, well-reasoned, and effectively documented, it is a work that no scholar seriously examining the life and thought of Lenin will be able to ignore.”
—Paul Le Blanc, author of Marx, Lenin, and the Revolutionary Experience: Studies of Communism and Radicalism in the Age of Globalization

“Lars T. Lih has done historical truth a favor with this monumental exploration of What is to be done? In 840 pages he expounds the historical background against which it was written, the purpose Lenin had in mind, and what it actually said—providing a new translation of the text so as to eliminate mistaken understandings based on mistranslations of certain key concepts.”
—Chris Harman, author, A People’s History of the World

“If we are honestly to assess the lessons of the Russian Revolution, then it is essential that we unpick the real Lenin from this shared Stalinist and liberal myth of ‘Leninism’. It would be difficult to praise too highly Lars Lih’s contribution to such an honest reassessment of Lenin’s thought. At its heart, Lih’s book aims to overthrow, and succeeds in overthrowing, what he calls the ‘textbook interpretation’ of Lenin’s What is to be done? Lih thus adds to and deepens the arguments of those who have sought to recover the real Lenin from the Cold War mythology.”
—Paul Blackledge, author, Historical Materialism and Social Evolution

“Lih takes as his starting point Lenin’s own 1907 statement that ‘the basic mistake made by people who polemicise with What is to be done? at the present time is that they tear this production completely out of a specific historical context, out of a specific and by now long past period in the development of our party.’ From this cue Lih sets about investigating and recreating this ‘specific historical context’ with an intensity and scholarship that is truly staggering. Amongst other things he appears to have read the entire literature of the Russian socialist movement of the period, supporters and opponents of Lenin alike, plus most or much of the German socialist literature of the time. I may be wrong but I very much doubt that any of the previous commentators on Lenin read more than a small fraction of this vast output.”
—John Molyneux, senior lecturer in Historical and Theoretical Studies, University of Portsmouth