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The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin

Delve into a political and economic philosophy that changed the world forever with an award-winning historian.
The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 66.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course on history of communism Prof. Liulevicius is one of my favorite lecturers of the Great Courses, I have already taken several by him and was never disappointed. His delivery has the right tempo: not too fast, not too slow and he presents the material in a very entertaining way, it is not a recitation of facts. He is also evenhanded and tries to explain why people and leaders react in a certain way. Although I was familiar with most of the material, Prof. Liulevicius presents the way Marx and Engels develop the theory of communism, how it gains acceptance in the second half of the 19th century and how it culminates with the October revolution of 1917 and the creation of the Soviet Union. He describes in detail the new contributions of people like Lenin, since Marx and Engels did not explain the way the proletariat would take power. Lenin proposes a heavily centralized revolutionary party, and improbably he managed to conduct the Bolsheviks to take over the empire of the Tsars. It was an amazing event that changed human history. All this is perfectly illustrated in this course, as well as variants from other revolutionaries (like Rosa Luxemburg) that had a completely different vision from Lenin. Strongly recommended.
Date published: 2023-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! Refreshing to see in this day & age, of vilifying anything anti-/non-capitalist, an American company can produce an unbiased course like this. Thank U professor Liulevicius. I wish it were longer. Only 12 half-hours is too short. Pls consider doing a much longer course.
Date published: 2023-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Lecturer! One can feel Professor Liulevicius's passion for his work as he explicates the rise of communism with crystal clarity and erudition. His presentation style will keep you engaged from start to finish. There are many terrific lecturers on this indispensable platform, but none I have seen so far surpass Prof. Liulevicius's depth of insight and enthusiasm for the topics he covers.
Date published: 2023-09-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting But Way Too Much All at Once. There was a awful lot of material in 12 lectures, too many years, too many personages crammed into too little time, without sufficient explanation of their individual contributions, in short, a real educational fire hose. This could have easily been 18 or 24 lectures. There was a lot of good information to no real way to connect the dots of history as just when one could put a character into focus, it was on to the next. It was hard to tell who were the key players. In my humble opinion I would have liked to see more on Marx before moving on and a bit more on Stalin before moving on to the next course in the series. A cautious recommendation is warranted here.
Date published: 2023-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another excellent course by Prof. Liulivivious This is another excellent course by Prof. Liulivicious. He is an excellent lecturer and has a vast knowledge of the subject. This course is essential for anyone learning about communism.
Date published: 2022-12-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Marxism and the Bolsheviks Seize Power Since the events of 1989-1991 one might wonder about the relevance of a course on communism, but a failed social experiment can teach us much, and as Professor Liulevicius asserts: “communism did much to shape the ideological discourse of the modern age.” As in his other courses, the Professor capably communicates with his listeners. Some have criticized the “reading appearance” of his presentation, but for me almost every sentence and phrase is carefully crafted and reflects deep historical knowledge. The course is essentially in two parts: (1) Marx and Marxism, and (2) Russia and the Bolshevik seizure of power in that country. This course is almost solely political history, and since Marxism is (was?) a variant of economic determinism, my one misgiving about the content of this course (and why I subtracted one star from its rating) is its virtual omission of the economic analysis underlying Marxism. For example, he totally omits any reference to the Labor Theory of Surplus Value which says workers don’t get fully compensated for the value of what they produce. Lenin called the doctrine of surplus value: “the cornerstone of Marx’s economic theory.” The doctrine of surplus value was the basis for the Marxist notion of capital’s exploitation of labor, and the resulting “class conflict” motivated the political aspirations of left wing Socialist parties. (For what it’s worth, my own notion is that capitalists deserve, as well as require, this surplus profit because, among other factors, they bear the risks and bring organizational talents to assembling the factors of production in the right proportions.) In addition, he pretty much covers the evolutionary socialists, e.g., Eduard Bernstein, in strictly political terms by noting the political effects of their “revisionism,” i.e., the postponement (or elimination) of revolution and engaging in incremental reform. But what motivated this reformism? He omits the economic history that prompted Bernstein’s revisionism, e.g., that workers’ real wages were growing significantly during the 2nd Industrial Revolution (1870 onwards), and that the capitalist class was expanding, and not shrinking, as a number of workers were becoming entrepreneurs. Professor Liulevicius insightfully describes the messianic nature of Marxism and the political parties derived from it. They believed they represented the “vanguard” of history, and that the “end of history” would be achieved when their political power was fully realized. This reminds me of the quote of Bukharin, Lenin’s ideologist, who said: “We communists can see far into the future because only we understand the laws of motion of history.” Note the rendition of history as Newtonian science! Finally, he gives us the paradox of Marxism being achieved in Russia in 1917 not by a spontaneous mass movement as anticipated by Marxist theory, but by a small, disciplined party of mostly intellectuals. But of course, if you can tolerate one more quote, wasn’t it Lenin who said that: “workers would never get beyond a trade union consciousness.”
Date published: 2022-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative The presentation was exceptional. The professor's knowledge was impressive. I only knew the general background of the birth of communism, so it was a pleasure to learn much more about this very important piece of history.
Date published: 2022-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comments from a learner A high quality set of lectures. These are informative yet still fun to watch lectures.
Date published: 2022-09-26
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According to award-winning historian Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, to understand the inner dynamics of communist thought and rule (and why they linger in Cuba, North Korea, and China), you have to go back to the beginnings of communism.


Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

To study the deepest impulses in human nature, we see the lure of wealth and conquest, the deep-seated urge for fame and glory, the quest for higher ends, a basic human determination.


University of Tennessee

Dr. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius is Lindsay Young Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He earned his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Liulevicius served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. Professor Liulevicius has won many awards and honors, including the University of Tennessee's Excellence in Teaching Award and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. At the university he teaches courses on modern German history, Western civilization, European diplomatic history, Nazi Germany, World War I, war and culture, 20th-century Europe, nationalism, and utopian thought. Dr. Liulevicius has published numerous articles and two books: War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I and The German Myth of the East, 1800 to the Present.

Professor Liulevicius participated in The Great Courses Professor Chat series. Read the chat to learn more about diplomacy and war

By This Professor

Turning Points in Modern History
A History of Eastern Europe
The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin
History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration
The Secret World of Espionage
Communism in Power: From Stalin to Mao
The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin


The Locomotive of History

01: The Locomotive of History

Come to see Lenin’s arrival at Petrograd’s Finland Station in April 1917 as one of the most important turning points in modern history: the establishment of a communist regime after decades of theory. Also, preview the themes you’ll explore in these lectures, and get solid definitions of terms such as communism and socialism.

24 min
Marx and Engels: An Intellectual Partnership

02: Marx and Engels: An Intellectual Partnership

The revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels would rock society—and soon affect the lives of millions of people. Here, explore their body of theory (known as “dialectical materialism”) and learn how Marxism offered something different: a tableau of history with starring roles played by the toiling masses and economic forces.

30 min
The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital

03: The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital

First, unpack the meaning of the revolutionary messages in The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. Then, use a basic vocabulary of Marxist concepts to better understand Marx’s model of history and economics. Last, examine how the revolutionary lives of Marx and Engels sought to unify theory with practice.

27 min
The 1871 Paris Commune as a Model of Revolt

04: The 1871 Paris Commune as a Model of Revolt

Investigate the violent upheaval of the Paris Commune in 1871: a political experiment that lasted a mere 10 weeks. The Paris Commune would make Marx one of the most feared and hated men in the world; although it failed, Marx considered it a living example of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

25 min
Marxism after Marx

05: Marxism after Marx

In the decades following the death of Marx in 1883, the socialist movement grew—but also became highly factional over arguments about theory and organizational tactics. In this lecture, learn about the rise of political parties in Germany and America, the establishment of the Second International, and the struggle over “revisionism.”

30 min
Revolutionary Russias

06: Revolutionary Russias

Why did a Marxist regime come to power in Russia of all places—especially when Marx considered it an unpromising place for a proletarian revolution? Professor Liulevicius tackles this question and also probes Russia’s revolutionary tradition and the ideas of Georgi Plekhanov, the figure who did the most to bring Marx’s teachings to Russia.

27 min
The Making of Lenin

07: The Making of Lenin

Take a detailed look at the life of Lenin, whose ideas and actions propelled him to become the first man to bring communist theory into power in 1917. Here, focus on Lenin’s hardness in the face of the 1891¬¬-1892 famine, his manifesto What Is to Be Done?, and the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions.

25 min
World War I as a Revolutionary Opportunity

08: World War I as a Revolutionary Opportunity

With the outbreak of the First World War, Lenin—who called war an “accelerator of history”—had the world crisis he could turn to his advantage. Topics here include Marxist debates over the philosophies of defensism vs. defeatism, the arrival of Leon Trotsky and his theory of “permanent revolution,” and the widening rift between socialists and communists.

26 min
Red October: How the Bolsheviks Seized Power

09: Red October: How the Bolsheviks Seized Power

The Bolsheviks seized power in October 1917, a moment that would be celebrated afterward as Red October, or the Great October Socialist Revolution. Here, examine the formula for success behind the Bolshevik takeover, the mythologizing of Red October in film and music, and the dawn of a new secret police force: the Cheka.

29 min
Rosa Luxemburg: A Revolutionary Martyr

10: Rosa Luxemburg: A Revolutionary Martyr

Spend time with one of the most famous women radicals in history: the Polish-German socialist Rosa Luxemburg. Follow her revolutionary activities throughout Switzerland, Poland, and Germany; her support of spontaneous revolt over centralized conspiracy; her struggles with the ambiguities of revolutionary devotion; and her ultimate martyrdom.

29 min
The Red Bridge to World Revolution

11: The Red Bridge to World Revolution

How does a revolutionary regime build a bridge to world revolution? After a look at the Third International, or “Comintern,” created in 1919 to spread the message of global revolution, explore failed attempts at sovietizing Hungary and Bavaria and the Soviet-Polish War of 1920, which dashed remaining hopes for linking up with Germany.

30 min
Toward a New Communist Civilization

12: Toward a New Communist Civilization

Follow the trajectory of Bolshevik social experiments to inaugurate a new civilization up through the death of Lenin in 1924. You’ll learn about Lenin’s “monumental propaganda” plan, which changed the appearance of Russia; the nationalist program of “putting down roots”; party recruitment drives and purges; and even the mummification of Lenin’s body.

33 min

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