VLADIMIR ILYICH ULIANOV was born in 1870. He is a nobleman, the son of a landowner in the Government of Simbirsk. He was educated at the Simbirsk Gymnasium and the Kazan University. He joined a revolutionary party while still a student. Early in his life he was arrested and exiled. Then he went abroad and spent the greater part of his mature life outside of Russia. He wrote, under the pseudonyms of Ilyin, Tulin, and Lenin, almost exclusively in the revolutionary journals published in Geneva. At the time of the revolution of 1905, he was in Petrograd, but had no important part in the events of that period, for the movement then was of purely proletarian character, and the workmen regarded the intelligentsia with mistrust and hostility.
He was one of the first to embrace the Marxian theory, and at the very beginning found himself at the extreme left wing of the movement. When the fatal split occurred in the Social-Democratic party, Lenin became the prophet and the leader of Bolshevism.
He was still a boy when his elder brother was executed for taking part in the assassination of Alexander II. What impression this produced on him it is impossible to tell: there are no biographical data on this subject. But there is no doubt that, even if this incident alone did not color his hatred for the ruling class with a personal hue, it could not but have deepened it.
Concerning his childhood and youth I have two bits of personal testimony.
The first is furnished by the poet, Apollon Korinfsky, who was his classmate at the gymnasium. According to his account, Ulianov was serious and gloomy as a boy; he always kept to himself, never took part in common games. He was always a good student, usually the first in his class. There is one thing about him that the poet remembers clearly, perhaps through personal experience: Ulianov never prompted his neighbor, never permitted any of his classmates to copy his lessons, never helped any of them by an explanation of a difficult lesson. He was not liked, yet no one ever dared to tease him. So be passed through all the eight years of the gymnasium, always alone, awkward in his motions, serious, a wolfish light gleaming under his eyebrows.
The poet and critic Nevyedomsky knew him as a university student. At that time his character had already become quite set: straightforward, cruel, utterly lacking in feeling. Personal friendship and intimacy never attracted him. He shunned all escapades and even innocent sport. At the meetings of student societies, he never pushed forward, never became excited or began to argue. He waited until the rest of the young orators, wearied with their zeal, wound up against the eternal wall of all Russian discussions: ‘You are talking nonsense, comrade!' — ‘Oh, no, it is you, comrade, who are absurd!’ Then he would ask for permission to speak, and would express his opinion with cold logic, tersely and clearly. And although his opinion was always extreme, at times individual, he knew how to win over to his side the decision of the group.
It must be said that logic is not always convincing to a hundred young, hot, liberty-loving heads, and it was not his logic that constituted the secret of Lenin’s success. Nor did that secret lie in personal fascination, for he never aroused in his classmates either sympathy or enmity. His success was due to the fact that even at that time there existed for him nothing sacred and holy, no lofty dream: he was never touched by inspiring though highsounding words, by a beautiful though useless gesture, by a playful though one-sided comparison, by a sudden historic analogy, thought out on the spur of the moment and convincing on the face of it, though lacking in historic accuracy. In his narrow, cold, and clear mind there was no room for that which constitutes the joy and the beauty of youth — for imagination. He always reminded one of a serious, mature mathematician who comes to a group of boys making childish attempts to solve by means of home-made methods the problem of the square of the circle, or of perpetual motion; he smiles at their efforts, takes a paper and pencil, and in a few moments demonstrates the uselessness and the aimlessness of their task; then he goes away, leaving them disappointed, but convinced and contrite.
Yet there is not a monomaniac who, no matter what mastery he has over his will-power, does not at one time or another divulge his inner thought, his sole guiding idea. So it was with young Lenin. He always became excited, enthusiastic, even picturesque in his speech, when he had occasion to speak of the future seizure of governmental authority, at that time by the people, not by the proletariat. According to Nevyedomsky, it was evident that for days at a stretch, perhaps during sleepless nights, alone with himself, he was working out plans for seizing the government — thinking them out, step by step, in every detail; forestudying all possibilities and eventualities.
Passing over a number of years, we see Lenin, in 1901,1907, and 1908, taking part in armed expropriations. Those were his first attempts to pass from vision to actuality, from theory to practice. It was as if a young wolfhound, no longer a pup, but still too young for actual chase, were trying his strength and his cruelty on sheep and other dogs, letting alone the frogs and the chickens that were his concern in his puppyhood. According to men who knew Lenin well at this time of his life, he exhibited unusual resourcefulness, coupled with carefulness and foresight. His personal courage has always been very doubtful. Perhaps he simply took care of himself, as the guiding force, the most delicate part of the revolutionary dynamo!
Very often I have heard men who are opposed to the Bolsheviki, both those who understand what is going on and those who understand nothing at all, express the same stupid notion: —
‘What do they care, all these Lenins, Trotskys, Zinovievs, Gorkys, and the rest? They get lots of money from the Germans and the Jews, and nothing else matters. They have all they want to eat, live in palaces, ride in automobiles. If their cause fails, they will all run away, to some other country. They all have millions in foreign banks, and then they will live in peace and luxury in their own villas, somewhere in the South.’
Such people, and they are the majority among the enemies of the Bolsheviki, remind me of the legend about the Little Russian peasant, who is supposed to have said, —
‘If I were the Tsar, I would eat nothing but bacon, and I would sleep on bacon, and use bacon for a cover. And then I’d steal a hundred roubles and run away.’
And when I hear people talk about these German-Jewish millions, I always want to say to them, —
‘My dear fellows, if your imagination cannot carry you any further than that, then I am sure that you are moved by nothing but envy. I can wager that, if you should read a report about a murder in which the murderer did not get what he expected, you would say, “What a fool! Why, he had only two kopeks in his pocket and a crust of bread in his bag. To kill a man just for that!” And if not “just for that”? Suppose there was a million dollars in the bag? Or suppose he had arranged things so that no traces would be left? Eh? What are you thinking about now, my ferocious anti-Bolshevist and counter-revolutionary?’
I do not speak of Zinoviev. His pampered nature organically requires chicken cutlets and caviar and expensive wines. And Zinoviev is so necessary for giving depth to the revolution. I do not speak of Gorky, Shaliapin, Lunacharsky. They are æsthetes, they are the priests of eternal art; they should be safeguarded from exhausting duties of everyday toil and placed under special conditions.
I speak of Lenin. He wants nothing. He is moderate in his food; he does not drink; he does not care where he lives; he is not particularly fond of women; he is a tolerably good husband; you cannot offer him a thirty-carat diamond of the most exquisite purity as a present without being spurned with the most contemptuous of smiles.
People without imagination cannot conceive or believe that there is another temptation, greater than all the material temptations in the world — the temptation of power. For power, the most fearsome of crimes are committed. It was of power that someone said, that it is like sea-brine — the more you drink, the thirstier you are. Here is a prize worthy of Lenin.
But there is power and power.
The Little Russian peasant, continuing the story we began above, said, —
‘And if I were the Tsar, I would sit in the street and hit in the face everyone who passed by.’
This is the highest manifestation of power, the most central affirmation of the ego.
Alas! even such wise men as Kerensky and Trotsky (I offer my apologies to Mr. Trotsky for bracketing his name with the other) have not escaped this naïve greed of power. From the end of February to the end of April all we heard was, ‘I, Kerensky; I, a lawyer and a Socialist-Revolutionist.; I, the Minister of Justice; I, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief; my address is the Winter Palace.’ Trotsky rules more energetically, in the picturesque Biblical style: he demolishes houses and cities to their foundations and scatters the bricks to the four corners of the earth; he dooms to death unto the third generation; he punishes by fire and water. Yet (it must be instinctive tact) he never says, ‘I,’ but always, ‘We.’ But after his speeches in Petrograd or Moscow, the Communists would carry him out in triumph, and he would sit there, on his moving pedestal, calm and composed, extending his hairy hands to be kissed.
However, an ‘I’ squandered is no longer an ‘I.’ Of all the world’s poets, Pushkin alone caught the essence, the apogee of power, when he created the image of his ‘Miserly Knight.’ To rule, while remaining outwardly powerless; to preserve in one’s dungeon or in one’s soul the potentiality of power, unhandled by the vulgar, unseized by history, as a great inventor dreamed of compressing into a platinum vessel a hit of explosive that could blow up the whole world; to know that I can, and to think proudly, I do not wish — such power is a great delicacy and it is not for the vulgar.
And in Lenin, not the one whom I am trying to picture, but the real, living Lenin, there are gleams of these heroic features. It was so that he made great preparations to elevate to the post of President of the Soviet Republic M. Kalinin, a simple, ordinary man, who would be a will-less marionette in Lenin’s hands. When his fiftieth birthday was celebrated, he was somewhere in the clouds—all the time that Comrade Lunacharsky and Comrade Nogin compared him with Marx, and Comrade Gorky, with tears in his eyes, announced to the world that Peter the Great was just a tiny Lenin, who is more of a genius, more of a figure of universal history, than the barbarous Tsar. And when the agitators’ jaws grew weary with their exertions, Lenin came out, dressed, as always, neatly, modestly, and unpretentiously, smiled at them with his customary slightly contemptuous smile, and said,—
‘Thank you for sparing me the necessity of listening to your speeches. And my advice to you is not to spend so much time in unnecessary talk.’
To rule unseen, to make the whole world dance and ascribe the music to the world proletariat, this must be, indeed, an exciting subject for thought, when you lie alone in bed and are certain that no one will overhear you.
I can understand very readily an incident like the following.
Lenin comes out of his modest quarters in the Commandant’s wing of the Kremlin Palace, into the hall where a conference is in progress. The crowd is obsequious before him. There are no bows, only sweaty hand-shakes and smiles of dog-like loyalty. The words ‘Comrade Lenin’ have an inflection of greater abjectness than the words ‘ Your Majesty’ ever had.
‘Comrade Lenin, strictly speaking, only two men now decide the fate of the world — you and Wilson.’
And Lenin hurries past, dropping carelessly, as if absentmindedly,—
‘Yes, but what has Wilson to do with it?’
But there is an ultimate form of power over the world, the greatest, the mightiest of all: it is the translation of a word, a naked idea, a precept or fantastic vision, into actuality, its incarnation in flesh and blood, in artistic images. Such power comes either from God or from the devil, and its possessors either create or destroy. Those who create work in the image of the Greatest Creator: everything they do is instinct with goodness and beauty. But at times the Black One dons white robes; and it is in his ability to do this, perhaps, that lies his greatest power and greatest menace. Was it not in the name of Christ that we had the inquisitions, the night of St. Bartholomew, the religious persecutions, the bloody monstrosities of sectarianism?
Lenin is not a genius; he is only moderately able, lie is not a prophet; only an ugly evening shadow of a prophet. He is not a great leader: he lacks fire, the legendary fascination of a hero; he is cold, and prosaic, and simple, like a geometrical figure. With his whole being he is a theoretician, a passionless chess-player. Following in the footsteps of Marx, he carries out that cruel, stone-like teaching to its absurd results, and constantly tries to overstep even that limit. In his personal and intimate character there is not a single outstanding feature: they have all disappeared in political struggles and polemics; in the one-sidedness of his thought. But in his ideology he is a Russian sectarian. Only those amazing Russian seekers after God and truth, those savage interpreters of the dead letter, could have translated separate expressions in the Gospel into their monstrous and absurd ceremonies and rites: into castration, self-burning, and their other atrocious practices. Marx is supreme for Lenin. There is not a speech of Lenin’s in which he does not represent his Messiah as the immovable centre of the universe. But there is no doubt that, if Marx could have looked from there upon Lenin and his sectarian Asiatic Bolshevism, he would have repeated again his now famous phrase, ‘Pardon, monsieur, je ne suis pas Marxiste.’
Beauty and art do not exist for Lenin. He has never been interested in the question why some people are moved to ecstatic joy by Beethoven’s Sonata, or a Rembrandt painting, or the Venus of Milo, or Dante’s poetry. Listening to such effusions, he would say with the condescending smile of a grown-up man speaking to children, ‘Men sometimes waste their time on trifles. All these works of art that you speak of — what relation do they bear to the class-struggle and the future power of the proletariat?’
He is equally indifferent to separate human acts. The most despicable of crimes and the loftiest flights of the spirit are just simple, irrelevant facts. For him there is nothing either beautiful or repulsive. There is only the useful and the necessary. Human personality is nothing; the clash of classinterests and the struggle between classes is everything.
One night, five youths, almost boys, were brought to him in his room at the Smolny. Their crime consisted in the fact that an officer’s epaulette had been found in their possession during a search. Neither at the Soviet, nor at the Tribunal could they decide what to do with them. Some insisted that they should be let go; others wanted them shot; still others wanted them detained till the morning. What would Comrade Lenin say?
Without interrupting his writing, Lenin moved his head slightly toward them and said, —
‘Why do you bother me with such trifles? I am busy. Do anything you think necessary with them.’
This is simplicity — almost innocence. But this innocence is more terrifying than all the gruesome massacres of Trotsky and Dzerzhinsky. This is the quiet, innocence of ‘Moral Idiocy.’
Every Socialistic precept must contain a grain of love and respect for man. Lenin jeers at such sentimentalism. ‘Only hatred, self-interest, fear, and hunger move the great, masses,’he says to himself. But only to himself, for he knows when to be silent.
Red newspapermen sometimes try to create an image of Lenin as the father of the people, a kindly, good-natured, bald-headed ‘Ilyich.’ But these attempts always fail. The bald-headed Ilyich loves no one and needs no one’s friendship. The task he has set before himself calls for the power of the proletariat, achieved through hatred, death, and destruction. He does not care how many ‘comrades’ may perish ia the bloody welter. And even if half of the proletariat, perish, breaking their heads against that mighty rock up the slope of which billions of men have been laboriously and sacrificially climbing for hundreds of years, while the other half finds itself in the grip of slavery such as had never been dreamed of before, he, this cross between Caligula and Arakcheyev, will calmly wipe his surgeon’s knife on his apron, and say, ‘The diagnosis was correct, the operation was performed faultlessly, but the autopsy showed it to be premature. Let us wait another three hundred years.’
- Translated from the Russian by Leo Pasvolsky.↩