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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

What listeners say about The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin

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The Rise of a Costly Idea

AT A GLANCE: A valuable summary of a changing idea. CONTENT: This is a brief history on the beginnings of Communism as an ideology and its early implementation, beginning with pre-Marxist social theories and ending with the founding of the USSR. The course is structured chronologically and easy to follow; however, there is a good deal of repetition and overlap between lectures that should have been revised before release. I went into this knowing only the broadstrokes and feel that the content is highly useful for undergraduate-level purposes. It must be said that the structure takes a nosedive in the last few lectures. After Lenin we are given a full-length lecture on Rosa Luxemburg; it seems like a time-filler and is loaded with a level of detail elsewhere given only to Marx. I accept that this series couldn't delve too deeply into the USSR as it will probably be its own follow-up course, but this does not excuse the lackluster ending. We finally receive a treatment of Radek, Serge, Zinoview, Bogdanov, Ho Chi Minh and Stalin only in the last two lectures! This feels extremely rushed, and the course should have been either longer or actually stopped at Lenin. NARRATOR: Prof. Liulevicius is a well-spoken and clear lecturer, if not particularly striking in his style. I would purchase another of his courses. OVERALL: Highly recommended for those unfamiliar with the basics of Communism and its historical beginnings. The accompanying PDF is highly useful and differs enough from the lectures to recommend reading it concurrently or on its own.

11 people found this helpful

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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.

17 people found this helpful

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Good work. Worth the time.

Interesting and informative. The jumps in time line might necessitate re-listening and/or lecture reading, but overall organized and engaging.

2 people found this helpful

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An Objective History from Marx to Lenin

Disregard the bad review from 11/09/19. I liked this overview of the roots and growth of Communism from Marx to Lenin. I read the review of another Audible listener (below) which gave a critical review of the lecture and called it "bad scholarship." It's clear the review author sees anything less than gushing praise for communism as right wing propaganda. As a historian, I found the scholarship to be on Paar with academic practices today. I found the lecture informative and objective and followed a logical course through the end of the 19th century and into the 20th. I would purchase another lecture from this professor.

11 people found this helpful

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Overview, no depth

this was a general overview of Marxism without in depth discussion of what true Marxism means or how it is to be achieved.

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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.

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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!

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Disappointing, simplistic, biased

Unfortunately this was one-sided and propagandistic. To be clear from the start, since a few other reviewers seem 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 (I have listed references at the end, highly recommended for those interested, and also recommended for people motivated by cognitive dissonance to propound on subjects that are clearly not their area of study--for example Darrel from 12-17-19.) Again: referencing and relying on only a small, partisan group of scholars is bad scholarship. You will get defective knowledge, it's that simple. There isn't any controversy here. In this course you will get partisan, defective knowledge characterized by consistent omissions of crucial details and willfully partisan selection and description of details. (Again, please review the historical literature, especially my references at bottom before you react out of cognitive dissonance and make embarrassing comments, as a few have done already). 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 that controvert the simplistic moral message running through the narrative--and not because there is an absence of them. Two examples: 1). 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 (is this supposed to be a comment on Marx's character, or on the agent's character? How do we know the agent is reliable, and not predisposed toward enmity because of his job? Why is this the main citation used to describe Marx, when we have long descriptions by people who actually KNEW HIM for more than the short period the agent was assigned to Marx? This is what I mean by irresponsible and biased--though under the appearance of objectivity.) 2). 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! What isn't mentioned in this "portrait" is that Lenin repeatedly kept space open for dialogue in the bolshevik party, changed his mind when others offered good reasons, frequently worked with people who had otherwise been his past enemies, that Lenin actively dissuaded any cult of personality, that he actively set up institutions through which the new communist government could closely listen to the voice of, and represent the desires of the people (the "sovnarkom"), etc--these are not mentioned at all. 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. In summary: the history is there, but it's propagandized and distorted in 2 ways. First, the reference material is woefully inadequate, outdated, and biased (review my references at bottom before submitting your cringey robotic comments, please). Secondly the rhetoric is similarly just not objective, sometimes to a degree that makes it silly. Better, less biased audible 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 (not on audible) 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. The truth is something you have to work for.

74 people found this helpful

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A Nice Jaunt

A very good, if somewhat brief, walkthrough of socialism in its first half year development. The lecturer alluded to more lectures coming on the Soviet era and I certainly look forward to those. I hope to hear more of eduard bernstein and rise of the western social democrats and western communists, especially in the Nazi period and after. This lecture was especially interesting when it reached the parts about the divergence from Western and Russian socialists after the creation of the Soviet Union, and I hope to see more of that parallel development discussed in the future lectures.

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Early Communism is the model for Democrat Radicals

I found that this clear and unbiased outline of the rise of a Communism was eye opening in joining together the aspects of Democrat radicalism that we hear about daily today. Violence, threats, mobs action, and a vanguard of shallow thinking followers determined to “pull it all down” are near exact replicas of their earlier Communist counterparts. It is a sobering reminder than the events of today are not spontaneous happenstance, but rather the fulfillment of warped minds with a purpose. Your subversion.

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  • Neil Green
  • 05-29-20

Good straight forward history

Narrator was good. covered a lot of detail in a short book giving a good introduction to the rise of communism.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Colin
  • 09-24-20

Just want I wanted

This is a big subject but this was the perfect amount of time. Covered some of the basic Marxist concepts and how the bolshevik's took power. If you want to understand communism this is a great place to start.

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  • brian s.
  • 09-09-20

Great insight

Very well structured and delivered lectures with a great accompanying PDF. Engaging throughout. I enjoyed most the unbiased view on the pivotal characters within this historical study.

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  • Sam Tuke
  • 09-03-20

Brilliant

Fascinating, extremely well written lectures. Focuses on the visions and many visionaries which brought about communism, instead of the crimes and tragedies which occurred later. Highly engaging and accessible. Stranger than fiction.