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The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin

Length: 5 hrs and 31 mins
Categories: History, European
4.5 out of 5 stars (28 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

How did communism become such a pervasive economic and political philosophy? Why did it first take root in early 20th-century Russia? These and other questions are part of a fascinating story whose drama has few equals in terms of sheer scale, scope, or human suffering and belief. 

These 12 lectures invite you to go inside communism’s journey from a collection of political and economic theories to a revolutionary movement that rocked the world. Rich with historical insights, they zero in on the “how” and “why” of the Bolsheviks' rise to power and how communist ideas worked in theory and practice - and how they didn’t. 

First, you’ll examine the utopian movements that influenced Marx and Engels, and how these leaders came to develop their revolutionary philosophies. From there, you’ll discover how Lenin became the first person to put Marxist ideas into action by violently seizing power in Russia during the chaos of the First World War. Throughout, you’ll meet thinkers and revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky, unpack the meaning of texts like Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto, and experience the shock and awe of events including the Paris Commune and the October Revolution. 

An uncompromising look at one of the dominant political ideologies of the 20th century, this is a fascinating, and sobering, study of how theories rise to power in a bid to create a new civilization - whatever the human cost. 

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio. 

©2019 The Great Courses (P)2019 The Teaching Company, LLC

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Scholarly, Detailed and Objective

In the second lecture of this series, Professor Liulevicius does indeed quote a Prussian spy who described Marx’ eyes as “demonic.” Is this evidence of bias? Perhaps not, for in the same breath Liulevicius acknowledges Marx’ “genius,” “energy” and irresistible “intellectual superiority,” again quoting the Prussian agent.

For listeners not steeped in the scholarship of early Communism, this is a very well-crafted primer/refresher. Professor Liulevicius is a great storyteller and his skillful use of primary sources often allows the historical figures involved to speak for themselves.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Good stuff

Really enjoyed this, and learned a lot. This is a fairly straight history, which starts with Marx and ends with the death of Lenin. Another reviewer took issue with "balance" or some such nonsense. This is not a hagiography, and it's not explicitly pro or anti Socialism / Communism. But you know what? Marx and Lenin and many of their comrades were not nice people, and their fantasies led directly to misery, starvation, death and enslavement for uncounted millions. If you're a modern leftist seeking validation this is not for you. But perhaps you should listen anyway.

15 of 25 people found this review helpful

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Disappointing, simplistic, biased

One-sided, propagandistic rhetoric. To be clear from the start, since another reviewer seems to think that balance and objectivity is a nonsense expectation, the problem with this course is that it ignores huge sectors of scholarship that do not conveniently align with right-wing perspectives. Again: referencing and relying on only a small, partisan group of scholars is bad scholarship. You will get defective knowledge, it's that simple. In this course you will get partisan, defective knowledge characterized by consistent omissions of crucial details and willfully partisan selection and description of details. (I have listed references at the end, highly recommended for those who are interested).

Furthermore the rhetoric is again simply willfully biased. The lecturer goes out of his way to consistently frame events and historical personages in nefarious terms, omitting any historical details controvert the simplistic moral message running through the narrative. For example: the main citation the author relies on to describe Karl Marx as a person is through the German agent that was supposed to monitor him, making sure to include a ridiculous and irresponsible comment about the "demonic glint" in Marx's eyes. The only details used to describe Lenin's character are ones that construe him as controlling and violent. There is a complete omission of the historically documented, passionate commitment to democracy, justice, and individual development that was essential to everything either wrote or did. Woops! Objectivity and unbiased, scholarly presentation is repeatedly sacrificed for the sake of ideological prejudice. If this fact causes you to experience cognitive dissonance, and to double down and publicly say embarrassing things like the standard of objectivity is nonsense, then the references at the end of this review are especially for you.

Author references mostly right wing selection of historians. To the lecturer's credit, he briefly includes a reference to Leszek Kolakowski's "Main currents of Marxism", and "The Red Flag" is listed in the bibliography. He has a more positive appraisal of Rosa Luxemburg, surprisingly.

In summary: the history is there, but it's propagandized and distorted. This is fairy tale history, heavily crafted for people who want comfortable affirmation of prejudices.

Better, less biased audiobooks on this topic (or related): The Red Flag, Marx and Marxism, Russia in Revolution, Socialism 101. The Penguin edition of the Communist Manifesto also has a fantastic introduction that can serve as an insightful introduction to socialist and Marxist thought on its own.

Some scholars who have done excellent research, and who are conspicuously absent from this course (presumably because they present a strongly well-researched counter-narrative): Soma Marik, August H. Nimtz, Alexander Rabinowich, Neil Harding, Lars T. Lih,Christopher Read, S.A. Smith, Marcel Leibman, Tamas Krausz, Lara Douds. See especially Marik and Nimtz for Marxism/Leninism and democracy..

28 of 61 people found this review helpful

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Another superb course by VGL!

I've listened to all his courses on TGC, and they just keep getting better and better. How refreshing to hear a course that does not reflect any bias by the lecturer -- particularly one on Marxism!

0 of 2 people found this review helpful