I just finished Robert Service's biographies of both Lenin and Stalin. His are probably the definitive biographies in that he is the only person to haI just finished Robert Service's biographies of both Lenin and Stalin. His are probably the definitive biographies in that he is the only person to have written with access to Soviet records available since the demise of the USSR. It's interesting to compare both figures.
Both were cruel and dictatorial. While Lenin had no problem ordering people to be shot or sent to the Gulag, his demeanor was more hard hearted and apathetic to his victims. Whereas Stalin actually seemed to enjoy his persecutions.
While other members of Lenin's family helped with the relief efforts during a late 19th century famine, Lenin did not, thinking it was all sentimentality. Lenin came from a strong middle class family with liberal values. Stalin came from a lower class Georgian family and his outlook on life was first shaped by the beatings he got from his father.
While Lenin helped setup the institutions that Stalin would later exploit to create his own despotism, it is interesting to note their differences. Lenin didn't like to be contradicted and had a bombastic style, yet he did not always get his way and tolerated dissent and debate at least within the Bolshevik party. Stalin only encouraged debate so as to fish out people's true opinions, then those on the losing side of the argument were often shot, purged, or sent to a labor camp. Lenin may have been responsible for the death of thousands, Stalin was responsible for the death of millions.
Stalin's death was very revealing. His aides and cohorts were so terrified of him that when he went to bed one evening in 1953 and wasn't heard from the next morning, no one dared wake him for fear of contradicting his orders. When finally he was found suffering from what appeared to be a stroke hours before, they still debated whether they should call a doctor again in fear of taking an action not approved by Stalin (though he couldn't speak to give an order). And when finally a doctor was called, it was hard to find a good one as Stalin had just purged the best doctors earlier that year. They had to consult doctor who were sitting in prison. You have to believe too that his inner circle also stalled in getting help so as to increase the chances that Stalin would die, which he did. They lived in a fear that if could even regain his voice, he would issue an order for some or all of them to be shot. His death led to a great thaw under Khrushchev.
Both were intellectuals, but Stalin was not an original thinker. While Stalin is truly one of the most horrific figures in history, Lenin shares some of the blame for the anti-democratic, anti-humanist direction of socialism in the 20th century....more
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