“How could this obstinate little man … Lenin have become so important?” the Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig asked in 1927. Yet 90 years later, Russians queue daily at Lenin’s tomb to gaze reverently at an embalmed corpse. The mausoleum was refurbished by Vladimir Putin at vast expense in 2011 to make an obvious point — that Russia needs a “dominant, ruthless, autocratic leader.” Lenin, the Robespierre of Bolshevism, now serves as patron saint of Russian nationalism and Putinist despotism.  This “little man” also foreshadowed a thoroughly “modern political phenomenon,” Sebestyen reminds his readers. He was a demagogue familiar to present-day democracies and dictatorships alike. Contemporary policy wonks will recognise Lenin as the “godfather … of ‘post-truth politics.’” Offer the electorate “simple solutions to complex problems.” Lie shamelessly. Designate scapegoats to explain all misery. Winning is everything, the ends justify the means. In politics, Lenin decreed, “there is only one truth: What profits my opponent hurts me, and vice versa.” Rings a bell, doesn’t it?

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