On 4th December, we welcomed Dr James Ryan, who came to deliver a lecture about Lenin. Lecturer in Modern European (Russian) History at Cardiff University, his published work focuses mainly on the area of political violence and the intellectual history of Russia, looking at why the USSR proved to be the most violent and destructive state system in modern European history during peacetime.
Prior to the lecture, he very kindly delivered a short session on studying History at University to the Sixth Form Historians. He also elucidated on the joys of studying History, how it is a subject that has such breadth and diversity, as well as discussing the excitement of going to Russia to read sources in the archives there - in Russian no less!
The lecture on Lenin showed Dr Ryan’s amazing, in-depth knowledge of the man himself as well as the period of the Russian Revolution. Despite the complexity of the topic, James was able to break down and explain the different aspects of his lecture so they were understandable. At the same time, the content and delivery of his work was illuminating for even those whose expertise is in Russian History - including me!
I was fascinated by how Dr Ryan drew our focus on the words and thoughts of Lenin in relation to the events, highlighting how his views changed over time as a result of the First World War. It is also the first time that anyone has successfully demonstrated to me how growing imperialism, demonstrated in the First World War, could be viewed as capitalism accelerated by violence according to Lenin’s interpretation of Marxism - thus demonstrating why Lenin’s ideas on revolution changed.
Interestingly, the lecture really helped to reassess Lenin in a more balanced light. I hesitate to use the phrase ‘sympathetic’ as this connotes the idea of absolving him of the chaos his rule caused, and the bloody nature of the Soviet State. However, it convincingly demonstrated to me that our Western perspective, coloured by later events and the Cold War, too often dismisses him as lacking in principle and simply out for his own gain. Instead, it is a more complex interplay between his own fervent ideology and the demands forced on him by events, and this is a better starting point to understand Lenin and his ideas.
Mrs Samantha Handy, Head of History and Politics