Source: Lenin Museum;
First Published: 1924;
Online Version: Lenin Museum and Maxim Gorky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002;
Transcription\Markup: David Walters.
Vladimir Lenin is dead.
Even in the camp of his enemies there are some who honestly admit: in Lenin the world has lost a personality “who embodied genius more strikingly than any other great man of his day”.
...That which I wrote about him soon after his death was written in a state of depression, hastily and poorly. There were some things tact would not allow me to mention; and I hope this will be fully understood. This man was far-seeing and wise, and “in great wisdom there is also great sorrow”.
He saw far ahead, and when thinking and speaking of people in 1919-1921 he often accurately foretold what they would be like a few years hence. One did not always want to believe in his prophecies, for they were not infrequently discouraging, but alas many of them came to fit his sceptical characterisations. My recollections of him, in addition to being poorly written, lacked sequence and had some regrettable gaps. I should have begun with the London Congress, with the days when Vladimir Ilyich appeared before me clearly illumined by the doubt and mistrust of some, and the obvious hostility and even hatred of others.
I can still see the bare walls of the ridiculously shabby wooden church in the suburbs of London, the lancet windows of a small narrow hall much like the classroom of a poor school. It was only from the outside that the building resembled a church. Inside there was a total absence of any religious attributes and even the low pulpit stood not in the back of the hall but squarely between the two doors.
I had never met Lenin until that year, nor even read him as much as I should have done. I was strongly drawn to him, how-ever, by what I had read of his writings, and particularly by the enthusiastic accounts of people who were personally acquainted with him. When we were introduced he gripped my hand firmly, probed me with his penetrating eyes, and said in the humorous tone of an old friend:
“I’m glad, you came. You like a fight, don’t you? Well, there’s going to be a big scrap here.”
I had pictured him differently. I missed something in him. He had this articulation with the slurred r’s and a way of tucking his thumbs into the armholes of his waistcoat, which gave him a cocky sort of air. He was too ordinary, there was nothing of “the leader” in him. I am a writer and my job is to take note of details. This has become a habit, sometimes an annoying to me.
When I had been presented to G. V. Plekhanov, he stood eyeing me sternly with folded arms, with the somewhat bored expression of a weary teacher looking at yet another new disciple. And he said the most conventional thing: “I’m an admirer of your talent.” Apart from this he said nothing my memory could cling to. Throughout the Congress neither he nor I had the slightest desire to have a “heart to heart” chat.
Now, the bald, r-slurring, strong, thickset man who kept rubbing his Socratic brow with one hand and pumping my hand with the other began to talk at once, with a kind twinkle in his amazingly alert eyes, of the shortcomings of my book Mother which he had, it appeared, read in the manuscript borrowed from I. P. Ladyzhnikov. I told him I had been in a hurry to write the book, but before I could explain why, Lenin nodded and himself gave the reason: it was a good thing that I had hurried because that was a much needed book. Many workers had joined the revolutionary movement impulsively, spontaneously, and would now find reading Mother very useful.
“A very timely book!” That was all the praise he gave me, but it was extremely valuable to me. After that he asked in a business-like tone whether Mother had been translated into any foreign languages and what damage was done to it by the Russian and American censors. When I told him that the author was to be put on trial, he frowned, then threw back his head, closed his eyes, and gave a burst of amazing laughter...
Vladimir Ilyich hurriedly mounted the rostrum. His slurred r’s made him seem a poor speaker, but within a minute I was as completely engrossed as everyone else. I had never known one could talk of the most intricate political questions so simply. This speaker was no coiner of fine phrases, he presented each word on the palm of his hand, as it were, disclosing its precise meaning with astonishing ease. The extraordinary impression he created is very hard to describe.
With his hand extended and slightly raised, he seemed to be weighing every word, sifting the phrases of his adversaries, and putting forward weighty arguments proving that it was the right and the duty of the working class to travel its own path, not in the rear or even abreast of the liberal bourgeoisie. It was all most extraordinary, and the impression was that he was speaking really at the bidding of history and not just from himself. The compactness, frankness, and force of his speech, everything about him as he stood on the rostrum was a work. of classical art. There was nothing superfluous, no embellishments, and if there were any they could not be seen for his figures of speech were as natural and indispensable as a pair of eyes to a face, or five fingers to a hand.
He spoke less than those before him, but the impression was far greater. I was not the only one to feel this, for behind me I heard admiring whispers:
“That was neatly put!”
And so it was, for his every argument developed naturally backed by its own inner strength.
The Mensheviks4 did not hesitate to show that they found Lenin’s speech unpleasant and his person even more so. The more convincingly he proved the Party’s need to rise to the heights of revolutionary theory in order to put practice to a thorough test, the more viciously they interrupted his speech:
“This congress is no place for philosophising!”
“Don’t try to teach us! We’re not schoolboys!”
The worst of these hecklers was a big, bearded fellow with the face of a shopkeeper. Bouncing from his seat he shouted, stutter-ing:
“Cons-s-spirators ... cons-s-spiracy i-is y-your g-game! B-blanquists!”
Rosa Luxemburg nodded approval to Lenin’s words, and at one of the later sessions she told off the Mensheviks:
“You don’t stand on Marxist positions, you sit on them, even loll on them.”
A hot, angry gust of irritation, irony, and hatred swept the hall. Hundreds of eyes were fixed upon Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, seeing him in different lights. The hostile sallies did not seem to perturb him, he spoke hotly, but he was not ruffled. What this outward composure cost him I was to learn a few days later. It was both strange and painful to see that this hostility was prompted by the self-evident truth that it was only from the heights of theory that the Party could clearly see the causes of its differences. I had the growing impression that every day of the Congress gave Vladimir Ilyich more and more strength, injecting vigour and assurance; with every day his speeches gained in firmness, and the entire Bolshevik section of the Congress evidenced a more resolute frame of mind. I was moved almost as much by Rosa Luxemburg’s splendid, trenchant speech against the Mensheviks.
Lenin spent all his free time among the workers, questioning them about the smallest details of their existence.
“What about the women? Is the housework too much of a drudge? Have they time to study or read?”
In Hyde Park several workers who had never seen Lenin before the Congress exchanged their impressions. Characteristically, one of them remarked:
“I don’t know... Perhaps the workers here in Europe do have someone as clever as he—Bebel or someone like that. But I don’t believe there is another whom I’d like as I like this one, at first sight!”
To which another added, smiling:
“He’s one of us!”
“So is Plekhanov!” someone objected.
“Plekhanov is the teacher, the boss, but Lenin is the comrade and leader!” came a smart retort.
“Plekhanov’s frock-coat is a bit embarrassing,” remarked a young chap slyly.
Once, on his way to a restaurant Vladimir Ilyich was approached by a worker Menshevik who wanted to ask him about something. Lenin slowed his step, falling behind the rest of his party, and reached the restaurant some five minutes later.
“It’s strange that such a naive chap should happen to be at the Party Congress!” he said with a frown. “He wanted to know the real reason of our disagreements. ’Well,’ I said, ’your comrades want to sit in parliament, while we think the working class must prepare for battle.’ I think he understood me...”
We were a small group dining as always in the same cheap little restaurant. Vladimir Ilyich, I noticed, ate little: two or three eggs with a slice of bacon, and a mug of thick, dark beer. He obviously did not worry about himself although his solicitude for the workers was amazing. M. F. Andreyeva was responsible for feeding them and he kept asking her:
“Think our comrades have enough to eat? No one going hungry? Hm... Perhaps you’d better make more sandwiches?”
Visiting me at my hotel he began feeling my bed with a worried air.
“What are you doing?”
“Making sure that the sheets are not damp. You’ve got to look after your health.”
In the autumn of 1918 I asked Dmitry Pavlov, a Sormovo worker, what, in his opinion, was Lenin’s outstanding feature.
“Simplicity! He’s as simple as the truth,” he answered without hesitation, as though stating a long-established fact.
A man’s subordinates are usually his severest critics, but Lenin’s chauffer Ghil, a man who had seen a great deal in his time, had the following to say:
“Lenin—he’s a special kind. There’s no one like him. One day I was driving through heavy traffic on Myasnitskaya, we were barely moving, and I kept blowing my horn afraid somebody would hit us. I was terribly nervous. He opened the rear door, got alongside of me on the running-board at the risk of being knocked off, and talked to me soothingly: ’There, Ghil, please don’t worry,’ he said. ’Just keep going like everybody else!’ I’m an old driver, and know that no one else would have done such a thing.”
It would be difficult to describe the naturalness and flexibility with which all Lenin’s impressions converged in a single stream of thought.
Like the ne edle of a compass, his thought was always pointing to the class interests of the working people. One evening in London when we had nothing particular to do a group of us went to see a show at a small, democratic theatre. Vladimir Ilyich laughed heartily at the clowns and the comic numbers, looked at most of the others with indifference, and keenly watched the scene where a couple of lumberjacks from British Columbia felled a tree. The stage depicted a lumber camp, and these two strapping fellows axed through a treetrunk over a yard thick in a minute.
“That’s only for the public, of course. In real life they can’t work that fast,” commented Vladimir Ilyich. “It’s obvious, though, that they use axes over there too, reducing a lot of good wood to useless chips. That’s the cultured British for you!”
He talked about the anarchy of production under the capitalist system, about the enormous percentage of wasted raw materials, and concluded with an expression of regret that no one had yet thought of writing a book about it. The idea was not entirely clear to me, but before I could ask any questions he was off on the subject of “eccentricity” as a special form of theatrical art.
“It is a satirical or sceptical attitude to the conventional, a desire to turn it inside out,-to twist it a little, and disclose what is illogical in the customary. It’s intricate-and interesting.”
Discussing the Utopian novel with A. A. Bogdanov-Malinovsky in Capri two years later, he remarked:
“You ought to write a novel for the workers about how the capitalist predators have ravaged the Earth, squandering all its oil, iron, timber, and coal. That would be a very useful book, Signor Machist!”
Taking leave of us in London, he assured me that he would come to Capri for a holiday.
But before he came to Capri, I saw him in Paris, in a two-room student’s flat; it was a student’s flat only in size, however, and not in the perfect order in which it was kept. Nadezhda Konstantinovna made some tea for us and went out, leaving the two of us to talk. The Znaniye Publishing House was then folding up and I had come to talk to Vladimir Ilyich about organising a new publishing house that could unite all our writers. I proposed that Vladimir Ilyich, V. V. Vorovsky, and someone else be the editors abroad, and that V. A. Desnitsky-Stroyev represent them in Russia.
I believed it was necessary to write a series of books on the history of Western and Russian literature, and on the history of culture, which would provide the workers with a wealth of factual material for their self-education and propaganda.
Vladimir Ilyich quashed that plan, however, in view of the censorship and the difficulty of organising people; most of them were engaged in practical Party work, and had no time to write. His main and most convincing argument was that this was no time for bulky books: the consumer of bulky books was the intelligentsia which was clearly withdrawing from socialism and going over to lib eralism, and we could not move it from its chosen path. What we needed was a newspaper, pamphlets. It would be good to resume publication of the Znaniye series, but in Russia it was impossible because of the censorship, and here for reasons of transportation. We had to get hundreds of thousands of leaflets to the people, but such quantities could not be taken into the country illegally.
And so we had to postpone the organisation of a publishing house until better times.
With his astonishing liveliness and lucidity Lenin began to talk of the Duma, of the Constitutional Democrats who shied from being taken for Octobrists, noting that the “only path before them led to the right”. He then adduced a number of arguments showing that war was near, and “probably not just one war, but a whole series of wars”. This forecast was soon to be confirmed in the Balkans.
He stood up, assuming his usual pose, his thumbs thrust into the armholes of his waistcoat, and began slowly p acing the small room, his eyes gleaming through narrowed lids.
“War is coming. That’s inevitable. The capitalist world has reached a state of putrid ferment, and people are already affected by the poison of chauvinism and nationalism. I think we shall yet witness an all-European war. The proletariat? I hardly think the proletariat will find the strength to prevent a blood-bath. How could it be done? By a general strike throughout Europe? The workers are not organised well enough for that, nor class-conscious enough. Such a strike would be the beginning of a civil war, and we, being realistic politicians, can’t bank on such a thing.”
Pausing in his pacing, he added moodily: “The proletariat will suffer terribly, of course, such, alas, is its fate for the time being. But its enemies will enfeeble one another; that, too, is inevitable.”
He came up to me. “Just think of it!” he said with an air of wonder, quietly yet forcefully. “Think what the satiated are driving the hungry to slaughter one another for? Can you think of a crime more idiotic, more revolting? The workers will pay a terrible price for this, but will win in the end; such is the will of history.”
Though he frequently spoke of history I never heard him say anything indicating that he bowed to its will and power as to a fetish.
Obviously agitated, he sat down at the table, wiped his forehead, took a sip of his cold tea and suddenly asked:
“Why did they raise all that hullabaloo about you in America? I read about it in the newspapers, but what did actually happen?”
I gave him a brief account of my adventure.
I have never met anyone who could laugh so infectiously as Vladimir Ilyich. It was really strange to see that this stern realist who so clearly saw and felt the inev itability of great social tragedies, a man who was unbending and implacable in his hatred for the capitalist world, could laugh with such childish glee till the tears rose to his eyes. What a strong, healthy and sound spirit a man had to have to laugh like that!
“You’re a humorist, aren’t you!” he gasped through his laughter. “That’s something I’d never have expected. It’s awfully funny...” .
Wiping his eyes, he smiled gently and remarked in a serious vein:
“It’s good you can see the funny side of your set-backs. A sense of humour is a splendid, healthy quality. I’m very appreciative of humour, though I’ve no talent for it myself. There’s probably as much humour in life as sadness, no less, I’m sure.” I was to call on him again two days later, but the weather changed for the worse and I had a hemoptysis attack that compelled me to leave town on the next day.
After Paris we met again in Capri. There I was left with the queer impression that Lenin had been there on two occasions, and in sharply different frames of mind.
The Vladimir Ilyich whom I went down to the wharf to meet at once told me in a most resolute tone:
“I know, Alexei Maximovich, that you’re hoping to bring about my reconciliation with the Machists, though my letter has warned you that it’s impossible. So please don’t try!”
On our way to my place and after we arrived there I kept trying to explain that he was not altogether right, that I had no intention of reconciling philosophical differences which, by the way, I did not understand any too well. Apart from this I had been suspicious of all philosophy from my youth, since it contradicted my “subjective” experience: the world was just “coming into shape” as far as I was concerned, and philosophy kept cuffing it with its inept and untimely questions: “Where are you going? What for? What for? And why?” Some philosophers indeed curtly commanded: “Halt!”
In addition, I was already aware that, like a woman, philosophy could be very plain, even ugly, but so cunningly and convincingly dressed up that it could pass for a beauty. This made Vladimir Ilyich laugh.
“That’s humourising,” he said. “But the world ’just coming into shape’—that’s good! Give it some serious thought and starting from there you’ll get where you should have got to long ago.”
I then remarked that A. A. Bogdanov, A. V. Lunacharsky, and V. A. Bazarov were big men in. my eyes, men of excellent all- round education. I had not met their equals in the Party. “Possibly. And what follows from this?" “In the final analysis I regard them as men with the same aim, and the same aim, wholeheartedly accepted, ought to eliminate philosophical differences...”
“Which means you’re still hoping for a reconciliation? That’s futile!” he said. “Drive that hope away, that’s my friendly advice! Plekhanov, too, is a man with the same aim, according to you, but—and get this remain between us—I think he is pursuing an altogether different aim, for all that he is a materialist and not a metaphysician.”
Our talk ended there. It is hardly necessary to add that I have not set it down word for word, not literally, but I can vouch for the sense of it.
I now saw a Vladimir Ilyich Lenin who was even firmer, even more unbending than he had been at the London Congress. But there he had been worried; there had been moments when one could plainly perceive that the split in the Party was affecting him deeply.
Here he was serene, cool and mocking, flatly refusing to ta lk on philosophical themes, watchful and wary. A. A. Bogdanov, a most likeable and gentle man, though a little self-opinionated, had to listen to some pointed, cutting remarks from Lenin with whom he was quite infatuated.
“Schopenhauer said: ’He who thinks clearly expounds things clearly.’ That’s the best thing he ever said, I think. But you, Comrade Bogdanov, expound things unclearly. Tell me, in two or three sentences, what your ’substitution’ offers the working class and why Machism is more revolutionary than Marxism?”
Bogdanov tried to explain, but was really too wordy and foggy.
“Drop it!” advised Vladimir Ilyich. “Someone, I think it was
Jaures, once said: ’I’d rather tell the truth than be a Minister’; I would add: ’or a Machist’.”
After which he played a game of chess with Bogdanov and grew angry when he lost, even sulking rather childishly. This was extraordinary: like his surprising laughter, his childish sulking did not impair the monolithic wholeness of his character.
But there was another Lenin, too, in Capri-a splendid comrade, a cheerful person with a live unflagging interest in everything in the world, and an astonishingly kind approach to people.
Late one evening, when everybody had gone off for a walk, he said to M. F. Andreyeva and me in a tone that was sorrowful and deeply regretful:
“They are intelligent, talented people, they have done a great deal for the Party, they could do ten times more, but they won’t go with us! They can’t. Scores and hundreds like them are broken and crippled by this criminal system.”
On another occasion he remarked:
“Lunacharsky will return to the Party; he’s less of an indivi-dualist than those two. He is a man of rare gifts. I ’have a weak-ness’ for him-what stupid words, damn it! ’A weakness for someone’! I’m fond of him, you know, he is an excellent comrade! There is a certain French brilliance in him. His frivolity is also French, the frivolity of his aestheticism.”
He made close enquiries about the lives of the Capri fishermen, he wanted to know what they earned, to what extent they were influenced by the priests; he asked about the schools they sent their children to. I was amazed at the range of his interests. Told that one of the priests was the son of a poor peasant, he immediately wanted to know how often the peasants sent their children to the religious schools, and whether they returned to serve as priests in their native villages.
“Do you see? If this is not mere chance, it must be Vatican policy... A very cunning policy too!”
I cannot think of another man who towered so high over every-one else, but was able to resist the temptations of ambition and retain a vital interests in the “common people”.
He had a magnetic quality that won the hearts and sympathies of the working people. He could not speak Italian, but the fishermen of Capri who had seen Chaliapin and quite a few other prominent Russians intuitively assigned him a special place. There was great charm in his laughter-the hearty laughter of a man who, able though he was to gauge the clumsiness of human stupidity and the cunning capers of the intellect, could take pleasure in the childlike simplicity of an “artless heart”.
“Only an honest man can laugh like that,” commented the old fisherman Giovanni Spadaro.
Rocking in his boat on waves as blue and transparent as the sky, Lenin tried to learn to catch fish “on the finger", that is with a line, but no rod. The fishermen had told him to snatch in the line the instant his finger felt the slightest vibration.
“Cost: drin-drin. Capisci,” they said.
At that moment he hooked a fish, and hauled it in, crying out with the delight of a child and the excitement of a hunter:
The fishermen shouted with laughter, like children too, and nicknamed him Signor Drin-Drin.
Long after Lenin had left, they still kept asking:
“How is Signor Drin-Drin? Are you sure the tsar won’t catch him?”
...In the hungry, difficult year of 1919 Lenin was ashamed to eat the food sent him by his comrades and by soldiers and peasants from the provinces. When parcels were brought to his austere flat he immediately had the flour, sugar and butter distri-buted among those of his comrades who were ill or weak from undernourishment. Inviting me to dinner one day, he said:
“I can treat you to some smoked fish sent from Astrakhan.”
Wrinkling his Socratic brow, and looking aside with his all-seeing eyes, he added:
“They keep sending stuff as if I were their overlord! But how ward this off? If I refused to accept it I’d hurt their feelings. And everybody’s hungry all around.”
A man of simple habits, a stranger to drinking or smoking, he was busy at his difficult and complicated work from morning till night and though quite unable to see to his own needs he kept a sharp eye on the well-being of his comrades. One day I came to see him and found him busy writing something at his desk.
“Hullo, how are you?” he said, his pen never leaving the sheet of paper. “I’ll be through in a minute. There’s a comrade in the provinces who is fed up, apparently tired. We’ve got to cheer him up. A person’s mood is no trifling thing!”
Once when I dropped in on him in Moscow he aske d:
“Have you had dinner?”
“You’re not making that up?”
“I’ve got witnesses-I had dinner in the Kremlin dining-room.”
“I’ve heard the cooking is rotten there.”
“Not rotten, but it could be better.”
Whereupon he began to question me narrowly: why was the food bad? How could it be improved?
“What’s the matter with them?” he fumed. “Can’t they find a decent cook? People are working themselves to the bone; they’ve got to be given tasty food to make them eat more. I know that there’s not enough and the stuff is poor, and that’s why they need a capable cook.” He then cited some dietician or other on the importance of tasty garnish for digestion.
“How do you find time for such things?” I asked.
“For rational diets?” he countered, his tone indicating that my question was inept.
An old acquaintance of mine, P. A. Skorokhodov, a Sormovo man like me, was a soft-hearted person and once he complained to me about the strain of working in the Cheka. To which I observed:
“That’s not the job for you, I think. You’re not cut out for it.”
“Quite right!” he agreed sadly. “I’m not cut out for it at all.” But reflecting a little, he went on: “Still, when I remember that Ilyich, too, probably has very often to force his heart, I’m ashamed of my weakness.”
I have known quite a few workers who have had to clench their teeth and “force their hearts"- actually putting their “social idealism” under a terrible strain-for the triumph of the cause they were serving.
Did Lenin ever have to “force his heart"?
He was concerned with himself too little to talk to anyone about such thi ngs and no one was better able to keep secret the storms raging in his soul. Only once, while caressing someone’s children in Gorki, he said:
“Their life will be better than ours; much of what was our life, they will not experience. Their lives will be less cruel.”
Looking out at the hills where a village nestled, he added pensively:
“I don’t envy them, though. Our generation has succeeded in doing a job of astounding historical importance. The cruelty of our life, forced upon us by conditions, will be understood and justified. It will all be understood, all of it!”
He patted the children gently, with a light, solicitous touch.
Dropping in on him one day, I saw a volume of War and Peace on his desk.
“That’s right. Tolstoy! I meant to read the scene of the hunt, but then remembered I had to write to a comrade. I have no time at all to read. It was only last night that I read your book on Tolstoy.”
Smiling and squinting his eyes he stretched luxuriously in his armchair and, dropping his voice, went on quickly:
“What a rock, eh? What a giant of a man! That, my friend, is an artist... And-do you know what else amazes me? There was no real muzhik in literature before that Count came along.”
He turned his twinkling eyes on me:
“Who in Europe could rank with him?”
He answered the question himself:
Rubbing his hands he laughed, obviously pleased.
I had often noticed his pride in Russia, in Russians, in Russian art. That feature seemed foreign to Lenin, and even naive, but then I learned to distinguish in it the overtones of his deep-seated joyous love for the working people.
Watching the fishermen in Capri carefully disengaging the nets torn and tangled by a shark, he observed: “Our people are livelier on the job.”
When I expressed my doubts, he said irritably:
“Hm... You’re not forgetting Russia, are you, living on this knoll?”
...Listening to Beethoven’s sonatas played by Isai Dobrowein at the home of Y. P. Peshkova in Moscow one evening, Lenin remarked:
“I know of nothing better than the Appassionata and could listen to it every day. What astonishing, superhuman music! It always makes me proud, perhaps naively so, to think that people can work such miracles!”
Wrinkling up his eyes, he smiled rather sadly, adding:
“But I can’t listen to music very often, it affects my nerves. I want to say sweet, silly things and pat the heads of people who, living in a filthy hell, can create such beauty. One can’t pat anyone on the head nowadays, they might bite your hand off. They ought to be beaten on the head, beaten mercilessly, although ideally we are against doing any violence to people. Hm-what a hellishly difficult job!”
Though in poor health himself and utterly exhausted, he wrote the following note to me on August 9, 1921:
“I have sent your letter on to L. B. Kamenev. I am so tired that I am unable to do a thing. Just think, you have been spitting blood, but refuse to go!! This is truly most shameless and unreasonable on your part. In a good sanatorium in Europe, you will receive treatment, and also do three times as much useful work. Really and truly. Over here you have neither treatment, nor work-nothing but hustle. Plain empty hustle. Go away and recover. I beg you not to be stubborn!
For more than a year, with astonishing persistence, he had kept urging me to leave Russia, and I could not help wondering how he, so completely engrossed in his work, could remember t hat someone was sick somewhere and needed a rest?
He wrote letters of the sort just cited to various people, probably scores of them.
I have already mentioned his exceptional concern for his comrades, his attention to them, his keen interest in even the unpleasant, petty details of their lives. I was never able to detect in this concern of his the self-interested solicitude sometimes displayed by a clever master towards his capable and honest workers.
His was the truly sincere attention of a real comrade, the affection of an equal for his equals. I know that Vladimir Lenin had no equal even among the biggest men of his Party, but he did not seem to be aware of this, or rather-did not want to be. He was sharp with people when arguing with them, laughing at them, and even holding them up to biting ridicule. That is all very true.
Yet time and again, when he spoke of the people he had scolded and crucified the day before, I plainly heard a note of sincere astonishment for their talent and moral fibre, of respect for their hard, unremitting effort under the hellish conditions of 1918-1921, when they worked surrounded by the spies of all countries and all political parties, amid conspiracies that ripened like suppurating boils on the body of the war-emaciated country. They had worked without rest, eating little and poor food, living in a state of constant anxiety.
Lenin himself did not seem to feel the burden of those condi-tions, the anxieties of a life shaken to its foundations by the sang-uinary storm of civil strife. Only once, while talking to M. F. Andreyeva, did anything like complaint, or what she took for a complaint, burst from him:
“But what can we do, my dear Maria Fyodorovna? We’ve got to keep fighting. We’ve got to! Of course it’s hard on us. Do you think I don ’t find things hard, sometimes? Very hard, I can tell you! But look at Dzerzhinsky. See how haggard he looks! But there’s nothing for it. Never mind if it’s hard on us, as long as we win out!”
As for myself, I heard him complain only once:
“What a pity,” he said, “that Martov is not with us! What a wonderful comrade he is, what a pure heart!”
I remember how long and heartily he laughed when he read somewhere that Martov had said: “There are only two Communists in Russia, Lenin and Kollontai.”
Recovering from his laughter he added with a sigh:
“How clever he is! Oh well...”
After seeing an economic executive to the door of his study, he said with the same respect and wonder:
“Have you known him long? He could head a cabinet in any European country.”
Rubbing his hands, he added:
“Europe is poorer in talent than we.”
I suggested that he visit the Chief Artillery Headquarters with me to look at the invention of a former artilleryman, a Bolshevik. It was a device to correct anti-aircraft fire.
“What do I know of such things?” he said, but went with me just the same. In a darkish room we found seven grim generals, all of them grey, moustached, and erudite, sitting round the table on which the device was set up. Lenin’s modest civilian figure seemed lost among them. The inventor proceeded to explain the construction. Listening for a minute or two, Lenin uttered approvingly “Hm” and began to question the man as easily as if he were putting him through an examination on political problems:
“How does the aiming mechanism manage a double task? Couldn’t the angle of the gun barrels be synchronised automa-tically to the findings of the mechanism? “
He also asked about the effective strike field and some other things, receiving answers from the inventor and the generals.
“I had told my generals that you were coming with a comrade, but did not tell them who that comrade was,” the inventor told me afterwards. “They did not recognise Ilyich, and probably they could not imagine him turning up so quietly, without ceremony and without a guard. ’Is he a technician, a professor?’ they asked. ’Lenin!’ They were speechless. ’And how did he happen to know our particular field so well? The questions he asked gave the impression of technical competence.’ They were mystified. I don’t think they really believe he was Lenin...”
On his way back from the Artillery Headquarters, Lenin kept laughing, saying of the inventor:
“How wrong one can be in sizing up a man! I knew he was a good old comrade, but hardly brilliant. And that’s exactly what he’s turned out to be good for. Excellent chap! Did you see those generals bristle when I expressed doubt about the practical value of the device? I did it on purpose-to see what they really thought of that clever gadget of his.”
He laughed again, and asked:
“You say he has another invention? Why isn’t something done about it? He ought to be busy with nothing else. Ah, if only we could give all those technicians ideal working conditions! Russia would be the most advanced country in the world in twenty-five years!”
I often heard him praise people. He was able to talk in this manner even about those whom it was said he did not like, paying the tribute to their energy.
...His attitude to me was that of a strict mentor and kind “soli-citous friend”.
“You’re an enigma,” he once said to me with a chuckle. “You seem to be a good realist in literature, but a romanticist where people are concerned. You think everybody is a victim of history, don’t you? We know history and we say to the sacrificial victims:
’Overthrow the altars, shatter the temples, and drive the gods out!’ Yet you would like to convince me that a militant party of the working class is obliged to make the intellectuals comfortable, first and foremost.”
I may be mistaken, but I felt that Vladimir Ilyich liked discussing things with me, and nearly always asked me to phone him when I came.
On another occasion he remarked:
“Discussing things with you is always interesting with your wider and greater range of impressions.”
He asked me about the sentiments of the intellectuals with special stress on the scientists: A. B. Khalatov and I at that time were working with the Scientists’ Welfare Commission. And he was also interested in proletarian literature.
“Do you expect anything from it?”
I said I expected a great deal, but felt it was essential to orga-nise a literary college with branches of philology, Occidental and Oriental languages, folklore, the history of world literature, and a separate department for the history of Russian literature.
“Hm,” he muttered, squinting and chuckling. “That’s very ambitious and dazzling! I don’t mind it being ambitious, but will it be dazzling? We haven’t any professors of our own in this sphere. As for the bourgeois professors, you can imagine what sort of history they’ll give us... No, that’s more than we can tackle now... We’ll have to wait another three or may be five years.”
He went on plaintively:
“I’ve no time at all to read! ...Don’t you find that an awful lot of verses are being written nowadays? There are whole pages of them in the magazines, and new collections keep appearing every day.”
I said that the young people’s yearning for song was natural in such times, and that mediocre verses, to my mind, were easier to write than good prose. Verses took less time to write, I observed, and besides we had many good teachers of prosody.
“Oh no, I can’t believe that poems are easier to write than prose! I can’t imagine such a thing. I couldn’t write two lines of poetry, even if you threatened to skin me.” He continued with a frown. “The whole of the old revolutionary literature, as much of it as we have and as there is in Europe, must be available to the masses.”
He was a Russian who had lived away from Russia for a long time and was examining his country attentively-it had appeared more picturesque and colourful from afar. He correctly appraised its potential force-that is, the exceptional giftedness of the people, as yet feebly expressed, unawakened by history, heavy and dreary; but there was talent everywhere, standing out in bright golden stars against the sombre background of fantastic Russian life.
Vladimir Lenin, a big, real man of this world, has passed away. His death is a painful blow to all who knew him, a very painful blow!
But the black line of death shall only underscore his impor-tance in the eyes of all the world-the importance of the leader of the world’s working people.
If the clouds of hatred for him, the clouds of lies and slander woven round him were even denser it would not matter, for there is no such force as could dim the torch he has raised in the stifling darkness of the world gone mad.
Never has there been a man who deserves more to be remem-bered forever by the whole world.
Vladimir Lenin is dead. But those to whom he bequeathed his wi sdom and his will are living. They are alive and working more successfully than anyone on Earth has ever worked before.