William Gallacher

Book Review

An Intimate Appreciation of Lenin

Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. 12, August 1930, No. 8
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Memories of Lenin
By N. K. Krupskaya
(Martin Lawrence, pp. 213. 5s.)

KRUPSKAYA has done a great service to the working-class movement with the writing of Memories of Lenin. There, in the simplest language, can be read the story of how the foundation of October, 1917, was laid. There we can follow Lenin to exile, from exile to emigration, and then back to Russia in the days of 1905. Through it all is the incessant work of building the Party, of organising the distribution and the publication of the Party paper.

The lessons to be learned are many, but outstanding is the fact that the mighty genius of Marx and Engels found living expression through the indomitable revolutionary understanding and driving force of Vladimir Ilyich. Everything of Marx and Engels he read and re-read. And as a true Marxian he realised the character of the class struggle and the rôle of the working class. Thus in the early days of his exile he wrote: “There is nothing I would like so much, there is nothing that I have hoped for so much, as an opportunity to write for the workers.” Always he turned to the workers as the great liberating force that could alone carry the revolution to triumph.

For the “Liberals” he had no time. His early experience had shown him their vacillating and cowardly character. Krupskaya tells of how the “Liberals” shunned the Ulyanov family when Lenin’s elder brother was arrested, and then goes on to say: “Vladimir Ilyich told me that this widespread cowardice made a very profound impression upon him at that time.” This youthful experience undoubtedly did leave its imprint on Lenin’s attitude towards the Liberals. It was early that he learned the value of all “Liberal” chatter. The “pseudo-Lefts” of to-day, the Maxtons, Browns and Brockways are, if anything, a more cowardly and treacherous reproduction of the Liberals of Lenin’s early days. But just as he correctly estimated “the value of all Liberal chatter” (later on in life he suffered two hours of this “chatter” from H. G. Wells) “so also did he recognize the true worth and value of the workers. He talked with them for hours, inquiring about all the petty details of their life in the factories, listening carefully to their casual remarks and to the questions they put.”

And just as he understood the workers, so the workers understood Lenin. “There is nothing I have hoped for so much as an opportunity to write for the workers.” Never was there anyone who could write for, or speak to the workers, as he could. Never at any time attempting to talk “above” them. Never at any time trying to pose as one who would “talk down to their level,” but as one who understood them, as one who was of them, speaking in their own simple language, he impressed them at all times with his own revolutionary conviction.

“On May 9 (1905) Vladimir Ilych spoke in public for the first time since in Russia at a large mass meeting in the Panina House, under the name of Karkov. . . . The chairman called upon Karkov. I was standing among the crowd. Ilyich was very excited. For a minute he stood silent, terribly pale. All the blood had flowed to his heart. One immediately felt how the excitement of the speaker was being communicated to the audience. Suddenly tremendous handclapping commenced—the Party members had recognized Ilyich. . . . At the end of Ilyich’s speech all those present were swept with extraordinary enthusiasm, at that moment everyone was thinking of the coming fight to a finish

There lay the outstanding feature of Lenin’s greatness. His whole mind was devoted to the cause of revolution. The revolution was everything, his own life but a means of giving expression to it. Thus whether he spoke with one or with many the effect was always the same, the revolutionary struggle was the foremost thought in all minds. I had the opportunity of meeting and talking with Lenin on several occasions during the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920, in Commissions, and in the privacy of his own room. Never have I met a more kindly or considerate comrade. With this all who have met him will readily agree, but the most significant thing about talking with Lenin was, when you talked with Lenin you never thought of Lenin.

I have at different times had to endure the experience of meeting with people, many who are generally termed “prominent personalities.” Amongst these are such as Lloyd George and Ramsay MacDonald. The former preens himself like a peacock and refuses to allow you to consider anything else while he is there, and the latter would break down in maudlin tears if his “greatness” were neglected.

I have also had experience of the brilliant Mr. Trotsky, with whom it was impossible to escape the fact that you were in the presence of something of extraordinary importance, something on which the very universe depended for the proper functioning of its many millioned planets. But with Lenin, because he was the true revolutionary, because self was completely subordinated to the great cause of the working-class emancipation, when you talked with him you thought, not of him, but of what he was thinking.

And in these Memories of Lenin you will follow him in his work of building up the party of revolutionary struggle. The long days of arduous work, the sleepless nights, the seeming failures, but all the time the strong confidence in the working class and the certainty that one day their massed power would overcome all the forces of imperialist reaction.

“Vladimir Ilyich had a most profound faith in the class instinct of the proletariat, in its creative forces, in its historic mission. This faith was not born in Vladimir Ilyich in a day, it became moulded in him during the years when he had studied and meditated Marx’s theory of the class struggle, when he had studied the actual conditions of Russian life; when, in combating the conceptions of the old revolutionaries, he had learnt to counterpoise the heroism of individual militants by the power and heroism of the class struggle. It was thus no blind faith in an unknown force, but a profound assurance in the strength of the proletariat, and its tremendous rôle in the cause of emancipating the toilers.”

There is contained here a most timely lesson for those who are in the revolutionary, movement in Britain. In many documents we see reference to Right passivity, which, as is stated, is the main danger which confronts the Communist Party at the present time. Many comrades confuse “passivity” with idleness or laziness, and defend themselves against the charge of “Passivity” by pointing to the work they do. They fail entirely take into account how they do it.

Passivity arises from lack of faith in the workers; from a failure to understand the process of disillusionment and radicalisation that is going on amongst them from a lack of revolutionary conviction. Lacking revolutionary conviction, how is it possible to convince and lead the workers? How is it possible to do other than carry through tasks in a mechanical, “passive” manner. Get “a profound assurance in the strength of the proletariat,” and “passivity” will give place to a real revolutionary drive towards the masses.

Another lesson we must learn is the importance of the Youth. This is especially necessary in Britain to-day in view of the palpable and general neglect of the Youth movement.

Writing to Gussev, Vladimir said “The strength of a revolutionary organisation is in the number of its contacts.” He asked Gussev to put the Bolshevik foreign centre in touch with the Youth. “There exists among us,” he wrote, “a kind of idiotic, philistine, Oblomov-like fear of the youth.”

On another occasion when events of 1905 were moving towards their climax, he wrote to Petersburg: “In an affair of this kind there should be less smooth schemes and discussions and talks about factions on the Fighting Committee, and its rights. It is frantic energy and yet more energy that is required here. I am absolutely horrified that people can go on talking about bombs for more than six months without making a single one. And it is most learned people who are talking.

Go to the Youth, gentlemen. That is the only means of salvation. Otherwise, by God, you’ll be late (I can see that plainly), and you will find yourselves with ‘learned’ notes, plans, drawings, schemes, and excellent recipes, but without an organisation, without a living enterprise.”

But read the book, and then with renewed faith in the workers and their capacity to struggle, go forward along the clearly defined path of Leninism—to the building of the Party, to the defence of the Party’s paper, to the revolutionary overthrow of Imperialism and the emancipation of the oppressed colonial peoples and the exploited working class.

William Gallacher