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The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism, War, Empire, Love, Revolution

On the centenary of the Russian Revolution, Tariq Ali paints an illuminating portrait of Lenin
At the end of his life, Lenin wrote ‘we didn’t know everything’, acknowledging the dilemmas he faced on the road to revolution in 1917 and beyond. In this unusual exploration of the crises that Lenin overcame, the decisions he made, and actions that he took, Tariq Ali reveals an insightful political portrait of this most exemplary leader. From the first stirrings of revolutionary fervour, Lenin sought the right answer to a series of dilemmas that he faced and that still resonate with us today: Is terrorism ever a useful tactic? Can imperial wars ever be supported? What sort of political party do we need? What is the moral justification for seizing power? How does one overcome the burden of history? What role does friendship or love play in revolution? How do you establish a legacy that lasts?

Ali reveals that no other modern thinker than Lenin has better understood, nor more clearly articulated, the need to change the world. But do Lenin’s ideas, as expressed in his actions and his political writings, still have any significance for us? In this centenary year of the Russian Revolution, this book raises important questions related to political representation and the popular institutions necessary to challenge capitalism today.

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  • Nationalism and Imperialism: The Premises of Hobson's Definition

    Giovanni Arrighi's The Geometry of Imperialism was published by New Left Books in 1978, in a translation by Patrick Camiller. "I was disturbed, at the time," Arrighi later told David Harvey, "by the terminological confusions that were swirling around the term ‘imperialism’. My aim was to dissipate some of the confusion by creating a topological space in which the different concepts, which were often all confusingly referred to as ‘imperialism’, could be distinguished from one another."

    In Marxist debate, Arrighi argued, such confusions could be traced to Lenin's classical theory of imperialism, which at times fails to clearly distinguish it from "the monopoly stage of capitalism" or "finance capital." Arrighi's study would then be neither 
    "a simple reproduction of the thought of this or that theoretician" nor the development of a new theory of imperialism, but rather an examination of "the presuppositions of the theory of imperialism in order to explicate, specify, and delimit them." Those presuppositions were to be located not in Lenin's own theory, but in that of J.A. Hobson, which preceded it.

    In the excerpt below, the book's first chapter, Arrighi identifies 
    four primary elements of Hobson's conception of imperialism and isolates them in the form of Weberian ideal types, which them serve as the coordinates for his "topological" reconstruction. 



    It is no easy task to define the concept of imperialism. The same term is customarily used to designate diverse, and in certain respects antithetical, concepts. Indeed, theoretical controversy is often based on nothing more than a failure to grasp what is the object of reference.

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  • The Octobrist Women

    Who were the women behind the bread riots that sparked the Russian Revolution? On International Women's Day in 1917, women textile workers left their factories and took to the streets in Petrograd to demand bread and peace. Their actions triggered food riots and a mass strike, ultimately leading to the fall of Tsar Nicholas and changing the course of history. In the centenary year of the Russian Revolution, we present a preview from Tariq Ali's The Dilemmas of Lenin


    - Alexandra Kollantai (1872–1952): Veteran Bolshevik, only supporter of the April Theses; first woman to be appointed ambassador (to Norway). 

    Women played a major part in both of the revolutions of 1917, and to a much greater extent than they had in 1905. The February uprising was, in fact, triggered by the strike of women in the textile industry in their dual roles as workers and, in many cases, the wives of soldiers at the front. They sent appeals to the metal workers to join them and, by the end of the day, over 50,000 workers were marching in the streets of the capital. They were joined by housewives marching to the Duma demanding bread. It was International Women’s Day (8 March by the Gregorian calendar), that the Bolshevik activist Konkordia Samoilova had made known to Russians in 1913 and that had been celebrated, observed and marked from that year onwards. It was usually a smallish public event in a few cities. Celebrating it with a mass strike led by women workers was unprecedented. There was a special irony involved: Russia’s capitalists had assumed that since women were the most oppressed, docile and socially backward (in the sense that unlike the terrorist women of previous decades, a large majority were illiterate) group in Russian society, they would, according to capitalist logic, make the most obedient and trouble-free members of the workforce. This was a miscalculation. As the First World War continued, so did the need for more labour. The percentage of women in the factories doubled and trebled. The Putilov arms industry was also producing the most militant workers and Bolshevik organisers, female and male.

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  • Tariq Ali: Introduction to The Communist Manifesto

    Today marks the 169th anniversary of the publication of one of the most influential documents in world history: The Communist Manifesto. In this introduction to the new edition, published alongside Lenin's April Theses, Tariq Ali contextualises the period—the eve of the 1848 revolutions—in which Marx and Engels penned their masterpiece and argues that it desperately needs a successor.



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Upcoming Events

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    April 06, 2017

    London, United Kingdom

    Waterstones London - Piccadilly

    Lenin: Then and Now? with Tariq Ali

    Join Tariq Ali for this fascinating discussion to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution and to celebrate the launch of his new book.
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    April 21, 2017

    Leeds, United Kingdom

    Opera North - Howard Assembly Room

    Tariq Ali: The Dilemmas of Lenin

    Broadcaster and author Tariq Ali creates an insightful portrait of a leader grappling with terrorism, war, empire, and love.
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    May 02, 2017

    London, United Kingdom

    London Review Bookshop

    The Russian Revolution: Tariq Ali, China Miéville, Helen Rappaport and Alex von Tunzelmann

    On the centenary of the Russian Revolution, Tariq Ali, China Miéville, Helen Rappaport and chair Alex von Tunzelmann explore the stories and the voices that shaped the seismic events of 1917 – the year that turned the world upside down.

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Other books by Tariq Ali