Published: First published in Russian in 1973.
English version: Moscow, Progress Publishers 1978.
Translated: From the Russian by Fainna Glagoleva
Transcription\Markup: Sam Berner and David Walters
By Way of Introduction
V. I. Lenin. The Story of His Life
A Summer’s Day
The River Boat
The Meeting at Kazan University
A Road Is Chosen
Beyond Nevskaya Zastava
The First Book
You Can’t Silence Us
Cell No. 193
The Green Lamp
I’ve Come to You for Advice”
The Events of May
At Vaneyev’s Bedside
The Spark Will Kindle a Flame
The Massacre ...
The Red Flag at Sea
A Meeting in Stockholm
Declaring War on War
Home for Good
A Time of Loss
All Power to the Soviets
A Green ,Study
The Stoker of Engine No. 293
A Strange Retreat
Another Secret Address
On the Eve
At the Smolny
The Capture of the Winter Palace
The First Decree
The White-Columned Hall
Thus Did They Live
What We Don’t Know We’ll Learn
A Hard Lesson
The Revolution’s First Steps
In the Villages
Three Deadly Bullets
The Difficult Years
A Day in Sokolniki
“I Am a Son of the Working People...”
“In the Merry Month of May”
Dreams and Deeds
A Year of Great Hardship
The Meaning of NEP
’When the Ice Rang
New Year’s Eve
The Battle Continues
The Autumn of 1923
Love of Life
BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION
I was a teacher in a small village in the twenties. Nearby, on the high bank of the quiet Shakha River, was the village of Gorki. A manufacturer named Ganshin had once had an estate there. The younger Ganshin, a student at the time, was responsible for Lenin’s book What the “Friends of the People” Are and How ‘;They Fight the Social-Democrats being printed here in secret in 1894.
I learned of this from an elderly local teacher who had seen Vladimir Ilyich, then a young man of twenty-four, come to Gorki.
The teacher took me to Gorki and acted as my guide. “Here’s where we walked down this path, and this is the bench on which Vladimir Ilyich and his student friend Ganshin sat. Ganshin was in charge of printing Lenin’s book then.”
This was an exceptional book and especially its conclusion, which read as a prophecy: “…The Russian worker, rising at the head of all the democratic elements, will overthrow absolutism and lead the Russian proletariat (side by side with the proletariat of all countries) along the straight road of open political struggle to the victorious communist revolution.”
This visit made an unforgettable impression on me.
I began a serious study of everything connected with the life and work of Vladimir Ilyich as a young man.
My first book, entitled The Beginning, deals with Lenin’s work in creating the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, an organisation which was to lay the foundation for the party of Russian Social-Democrats and, later, the Russian Communist Party. Naturally, the tsarist government could not stand for Lenin and his comrades-in-arms conducting a struggle against the tsar and the capitalist system under their very noses. That was why Lenin and so many of his comrades were arrested, jailed and exiled to Siberia.
I set out for the village of Shushenskoye near the Yenisei, a great Siberian river. Here Lenin spent nearly three years in exile. Far on the horizon were the white-capped Sayan Mountains. I followed all the roads and paths Lenin had traversed while in exile here. I read all the articles and the books he had written in Shushenskoye. I was stunned by the scope of work Vladimir Ilyich had undertaken and completed in exile. He formed a detailed plan for creating a party. To this, end it was imperative that a secret Social-Democratic working-class newspaper be founded.
I next wrote a book about a year of Lenin’s life in Shushenskoye. I called it A Wonderful Year. Although the events described in it cover only one year of his exile, it was wonderful in the scope and importance of the work done, in plans and changes. This was a very happy year in Lenin’s life, for his betrothed, Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya, came to Shushenskoye and they were married there. She was a fine, intelligent and charming young woman, a revolutionary who had also been exiled.
This exalted world of revolutionary action, thought and emotions in which they lived captured my imagination. I was unable to part with this theme.
That is how Three Weeks of Rest, my next book, came into being. This was the story of Lenin’s journey to Ufa to take’ leave of his wife after his term of exile was up, though hers was not. He would then be going abroad to begin publication of the famous Party newspaper Iskra.
Vladimir Ilyich never sought rest or relaxation. His life was a life of toil for the Party, the people and the revolution. There was never a day’s respite, never a moment’s idleness for him.
Thus it was that I wrote three stories about Vladimir Ilyich as a young man before I undertook my most important book V. I. Lenin. The Story of His Life.
I was beset by doubts. Would I be able to achieve the goal I had set myself, and tell the young reader of this great man?
I am very grateful for the help and advice I received from my colleagues, editors and Party workers. I was always aware of their warm support and, most important, I know that a biography of Lenin, written simply and with love, was needed. This was how I wrote the book.
Skylarks trilled over the quiet town of Simbirsk on the Volga, where the river makes a sharp bend. The river had just cleared of ice. The streets and gardens were filled with the chirping of birds and the birches swayed in the wind. There was the joy of spring in the air.
There was great rejoicing in the Ulyanov home that day. The sun poured in through the windows, and the whistles of the river boats were clearly heard, for the house overlooked the Volga.
As the mother bent over her newborn son’s cradle she wondered, “What will you be when you grow up? What does life hold in store for you?”
The infant’s father, Ilya Nikolayevich, entered. “Hello, dearest,” he said to his wife. The elder children, Anna and Sasha, were ‘with him. Anna had dark eyes and curly hair. She was six years old and Sasha was four. They went up to the cradle, their eyes wide with wonder. “This is your new brother, children,” their father said.
“How small he is,” said Anna.
“He’ll get bigger in time,” her father replied.
“What’s his name?” Sasha asked, rising on tiptoe to get a better look.
“Let’s name him Volodya,” said his mother.
“Yes, Vladimir is a fine name,” her husband agreed.
This was on April 22, 1870. Vladimir Ulyanov, the child who was born in the town of Simbirsk on the Volga that day, grew up to be the great Lenin.
The years passed swiftly. Volodya was now eight. There were three more children in the family. His sister Olya and his brother Mitya were both younger than he.
And now there was the littlest of all, newborn Maria. Three boys and three girls, a fine family.
Anna and Sasha were at school, while Volodya was still being tutored at home in preparation for grammar school. He learned much from his tutor, but still more from his mother, Maria Alexandrovna. She seemed to know about everything, including stories about the tropics and the northern countries, about the intelligent St. Bernard dogs that rescued lost climbers in the Alps, about Napoleon’s war against Russia and the great Battle of Borodino.
There was no end to Mother’s fascinating stories in the long winter evenings as they sat around the table. Volodya loved those evenings. There were the frost-covered windows, his mother’s voice and the soft rustling of pages as they read.
The evenings before Christmas were especially fun. Then the table would be piled high with coloured paper. The children were busy cutting and pasting, making paper baskets and chains for the fir tree.
Ilya Nikolayevich was working in his study. Maria Alexandrovna shut the door tightly, so that the children’s voices would not disturb him.
They were all at work on a glorious paper chain of pink, blue, gold and yellow links. Soon the candles on the tree would be lit.
“Let’s go and see the tree,” Volodya said.
“Let’s!” said Olya.
“Me, too,” said little Mitya.
“Let’s hold hands and form a chain,” said Anna.
It was spooky in the large, dark parlour. The moon filtered in through the icy tracings on the windows, casting white beams on the floor. The tree stood tall and mysterious, giving off a strong scent.
“Let’s explore the whole house,” said Volodya.
They were all a bit tense. The house, unusual in the dark, was still new to them, for they had but recently moved. Here was Mother’s room, with a curtain instead of a wall to separate it from the small hall. A night light burned on the chest of drawers. Maria was asleep in her cradle. The moving chain of children tiptoed round it.
They climbed the narrow stairs to their rooms. The moon was brighter and stronger here.
Still holding hands, the children went through the upstairs rooms and returned down the narrow stairs.
The door to Father’s study opened. “Ah, and here is my troop!” he cried, folding them all in his embrace. He noted that the children seemed more quiet than usual. They were still holding hands. Ilya Nikolayevich did not know that they had been exploring the house as a moving chain. But something about the way they looked made their father say, “My dears, always be as close to each other as you are now.”
A SUMMER’S DAY
Summer’s golden days were upon them. The summers in Simbirsk were hot and dry. Apples ripened in the many orchards.
There was an orchard behind the Ulyanovs’ house, too. Though not very large, it had many fruit and shade trees. There was an avenue of silvery poplars, great elms and acacias that flowered so abundantly that that corner was called the Yellow Bower.
It was seven o’clock in the morning. A sunbeam slipped through the window and onto the pillow. Volodya awoke. He opened his eyes and jumped out of bed. After some quick setting-up exercises he splashed some water on his hands and face and ran out into the orchard. It was great to be the first one out and to pick up the apples that had fallen during the night. Then he could treat the rest of the family to them.
Everyone in the Ulyanov household rose early. Sasha and Volodya had the chore of filling the barrels with water from the well. The sun-warmed water was used to water the flowers. If they hadn’t filled the barrels in the evening, they would fill them the first thing in the morning.
Then the samovar was set out on the breakfast table, Mother reminded them at breakfast that today was their French day. That meant only French was to be spoken at the table. Tomorrow would be their German day.
Naturally, it would have been simpler to speak Russian at all times, but Maria Alexandrovna felt that one should know several languages.
“What will you do after breakfast?” Olya asked Volodya.
“Whatever Sasha does.”
As usual, Sasha sat down to read. He always read serious books, for he was interested in chemistry and the natural sciences. He had made himself a laboratory in a shed and a nature study corner with a hedgehog and squirrel.
Summer was fun. You could take a book, find a shady corner in the orchard and just forget about the rest of the world. The only sounds until lunch were the birds chirping in the trees and the humming of Mother’s sewing machine coming from the open window. Mother was forever sewing for her brood of six. She had taught the girls to sew, too.
After lunch, having spent the morning reading, Olya said to Volodya, “Let’s go out and play.”
When the sun had left the yard they would play croquet on the lawn. Volodya and Ilya Nikolayevich were the ones who argued most heatedly. They laughed the most, too. The games were always fun. Meanwhile, the sun would be rolling towards the west. Evening would soon be upon them.
“To the Sviyaga, troop!” Father would call.
The entire family would then go down to the Sviyaga to bathe. It was a quiet stream, flowing between green banks.
The sky was still pink from the sunset, though the first bright star had already appeared as Volodya and Sasha walked on ahead towards home.
“What are you thinking about?” Volodya asked.
“About many things. See that star? How did it get there? And how did life begin on Earth? And why are we here? What is the meaning of our lives?”
Volodya listened to his brother in silence, his own thoughts rushing on. “Yes, why are we here? What is our purpose? It’s so interesting to be alive, to think, to ask questions and to discover the answers. To do things. Sasha is so very clever. I want to be like him.”
THE RIVER BOAT
A double-deck steamer stood at the pier. The portholes and the polished brass glittered in the sun. The captain was shouting orders through a megaphone as he stood on the bridge.
“We’d better get on board. It might pull away suddenly,” Volodya worried.
Father checked their tickets and baggage. Each one of them carried a basket or bundle. Soon after they had got aboard, the whistle gave off two deep blasts and one high-pitched shriek. The wheels began to turn, churning up the water. They were on their way to Kazan. From there it was forty miles by carriage to the village of Kokushkino where they would spend the summer.
Simbirsk was fading in the distance. Soon all they could see of it was its red roofs. After they reached the bend in the river the town disappeared completely.
A flock of noisy gulls accompanied the steamer. Volodya tossed them some bread and then ran to inspect the engine room. The shiny copper boiler shuddered from the pent-up steam inside. The pistons shot back and forth. Spurts of steam escaped through the valves with a loud hiss. The stoker, naked to the waist, was black with grime. Sweat trickled down his back as he fed coal into the firebox.
Its wheels turning rhythmically, the steamer was chugging up the Volga. The passengers promenaded on deck, enjoying the beautiful view. Ilya Nikolayevich came out of his cabin carrying a chessboard. He had carved each of the attractive wooden chessmen himself, and no two were exactly alike.
“Feel like playing?” he said to Volodya.
His father never gave in to him, even though Volodya was only nine. However, Volodya was no baby, for he would be taking the grammar school entrance examination in August. His carefree days would soon be over.
“My dear sir, what do you say to being checked?”
“My distinguished opponent, I don’t like that at all,” Volodya replied and moved his knight.
“Aha! That was tricky. We’ll move this pawn then.” “But we’ll gallop away from your pawn and….”
The wind ruffled Volodya’s chestnut hair. The sun on the water was blinding.
“You know, it’s beastly hot in the engine room,” he said and frowned. “It smells of oil there. The stoker’s drenched. Can’t anything be done to make it easier on him?”
His father was silent. Sasha, who had just joined them, said, “The owner doesn’t care how hard the stoker works.”
“But that’s not fair!” Volodya exclaimed.
“So many things in life are not fair.”
The boys looked at their father.
“You always stand up for fairness, Father,” said Sasha.
Just then the whistle blew long and loud, greeting a steamer that was coming towards them, and the boat began to rock.
In August 1879 Volodya was to take the first-grade entrance exams. The grammar school, a two-storey brick building, stood in the centre of the town, not far from the Volga. Volodya would spend the next eight years here.
First, however, he would have to pass the exams. The teachers sat at a long table. The boys were called on in turn. Volodya walked confidently up to the blackboard. He had no trouble in answering the questions put to him. He was asked to do a problem on the board and solved it quickly. He received excellent marks in every subject. “Volodya’s been accepted! He’s a schoolboy now!” his brothers and sisters shouted when he returned. They made a great fuss over him. He tried on his new uniform and admired the shiny brass buttons. He would start in the first grade the next day. His mother gazed out the window, thinking that there were two boys at school now, Sasha and Volodya. And Anna was at a girls’ school. How time flew! The children were growing up quickly.
In the evening the hanging lamp with the white shade was lit in the dining room. The children sat around the table, doing their homework. Five-year-old Mitya had no homework to do. He was busy drawing a steamer with a smoking stack and row upon row of high waves. Volodya was soon through with his work, which was simple the first day of school. He then made a paper grasshopper and went off to find some string. Hop, went the grasshopper, right onto Anna’s book.
“Stop it, Volodya. Don’t be naughty.”
He yanked at the string and the paper toy disappeared. A moment later there it was, hopping onto Sasha’s notebook! The children giggled. This would go on until someone caught the grasshopper and broke the string.
“Be still,” Anna said to Volodya.
That was easier said than done. Volodya was full of mischief. “Mitya!” he called softly to his little brother. “See my horns? I’m going to butt you!”
As Volodya’s waggling fingers came closer, Mitya jumped down, shrieking with laughter, and hid under the table.
“Volodya, come into the study,” said his father, appearing in the doorway.
Volodya, still flushed with excitement, followed Ilya Nikolayevich into the study. It contained a large desk and a bookcase set against one wall with an oval table and a sofa against the other.
“Sit down. I want you to sit quietly for a while,” Ilya Nikolayevich said and resumed his work. As far back as he could remember, Volodya had always been impressed by his father’s study. His father, the director of the region’s State schools, had many responsibilities. In the cold and mud of autumn and in the dead of winter he would travel for hundreds of miles to inspect the village schools. There was probably not a single elementary school in the whole of Simbirsk Province to which his father did not journey, helping the teachers wherever he went. At home there were his reports and articles on education to be written and schedules to be drawn up. His father’s working day began early in the morning and ended late at night.
“Well, that will be all for today,” Ilya Nikolayevich said, putting a sheaf of papers into a folder. “As the saying goes: work first, play after. And don’t annoy others,” he added in a stern, yet gentle voice. “Now, tell me about school. How did you like it?”
Volodya proceeded to tell him about his first day at school.
They could hear music coming from the parlour and both headed there softly. It was dim in the room. Mother was playing the piano by candlelight. The music was as bright and cheerful as a summer’s day. They sat down in a corner of the sofa and listened.
When Volodya was in the junior forms his father worried about him. He was a very bright boy, but would he ever learn perseverance and discipline? In time his father saw what a serious student he had become. For one, his parents set him a good example at home, where everyone respected the labour of others.
His brother Sasha had graduated from Grammar school with a gold medal and had entered St. Petersburg University. On the day of his departure he and Volodya had gone to the high bank of the Volga, a favourite spot of theirs. The sky was boundless here and the view magnificent.
“What qualities do you value most?” Volodya had asked.
“Work. Knowledge. And honesty,” Sasha had replied. Then, after a moment’s thought, he had added, “I think Father is a good example of what I mean.”
Sasha’s words came back to him now. Ilya Nikolayevich had left on a trip to the outlying village schools. He should have long since returned, but there was still no word of him.
Volodya was studying in his small upstairs room. Adjoining it was another room just like it. This was Sasha’s room, now empty, for his brother had left for the University nearly three years before. Anna was also in St. Petersburg, studying at the Higher Women’s Courses. Volodya missed them both, but Sasha especially.
“Enough moping,” he said to himself. “There are things to be done.”
Having done his homework, he prepared the books he would need for the next day, a habit he had acquired from the start. Then he spent the evening reading.
Volodya’s teachers did not know that he had been reading the books of such revolutionary democrats as Dobrolyubov, Pisarev, Belinsky, and Herzen, learning things he would never learn at school. These books opened his eyes to the injustices of the existing social system.
Volodya raised his head from his book and looked at the clock. How quickly the hours had passed! He would go down and spend some time with his mother.
She was not alone. Ivan Yakovlev, his father’s friend and colleague, was in the dining room. He was a Chuvash by nationality and was an inspector of the schools for Chuvash children. Yakovlev was a great patriot of his small people, oppressed by the tsarist government.
“Ilya Nikolayevich is a most noble person. He never tries to please his superiors, and he’s really concerned about making things better for the people,” he was saying. “He has done so much for the Chuvash and Mordva peoples. He was responsible for so many schools being opened for our children.”
“I don’t know what’s detained him. I’m so worried,” Maria Alexandrovna murmured.
Music drifted into the room. It was his sister Olya playing a piece by Chaikovsky. They were silent as they listened.
But what was that? The sound of sleighbells? Yes, they were getting closer. Volodya jumped up. His mother rose quickly, an expectant smile on her face.
“Volodya! Children! Father’s back!”
Now they all heard the sleighbells passing under the window, then stopping by the gate. Soon Ilya Nikolayevich entered in a sheepskin coat. There were icicles in his beard.
Everyone helped him off with his coat. The children brought him his jacket and slippers. They set the table and each tried to help him to something. Ilya Nikolayevich was touched. He stroked his beard awkwardly and said, “Ah, it’s good to be home after an icy journey like that!”
When the first rush of greetings was over and the redness caused by the frost had left his father’s cheeks, Volodya thought that his father looked pale and drawn. And sad. Ivan Yakovlev seemed to have noticed this, too.
“Is there any bad news, Ilya Nikolayevich?” he asked.
A deep furrow crossed his father’s high brow. “I’ve just come from a village in the steppe, a most desolate spot. The schoolhouse is in the centre of the village, buffeted by all the winds. There’s tiny room for the teacher. She has neither newspapers nor books to read. And there’s no firewood. Imagine, no wood for the schoolhouse in winter! And all because the teacher didn’t toady to the rich village elder. He’s out for her blood, and there’s no one to defend her.”
“But surely you did!” Volodya exclaimed.
“Yes, I did. And then I rode off, while she remained behind, alone again. The elder has the entire village under his boot. The peasants dare not even speak up. They have very little land of their own, because the landlords own it all. By January the poor families have no grain left.”
Ilya Nikolayevich began pacing up and down. He unbuttoned his collar, for he felt short of breath. His eyes were unhappy.
“Dearest, you’re so tired,” Maria Alexandrovna said. “What you need is a good rest.”
“Not at all, I’m still as strong as an oak,” he said. “And there’s a whole forest of young oaks coming up,” he added, putting his arm around his son. Like his father, Volodya had high cheekbones and a high forehead. He was pleased at his father’s embrace, but shy, and so only smiled in return.
The winter holidays would soon be over and Anna would return to her studies in St. Petersburg. She had come home for the holidays, but Sasha had not, for fare for two was very expensive.
Anna had missed her home and family and now rejoiced at every little thing, even at the potted plants in the dining room and in the parlour and at the sight of the old piano. Now Mother was not the only one who played. Olya was becoming very proficient. Volodya kept close to his elder sister all during her stay. They would sit on the sofa in the parlour and talk in the gloom, without lighting the lamp. Sometimes Olya would join them to listen to Anna’s stories of life in St. Petersburg.
“When will our turn come to study there?” both Volodya and Olya wondered.
That day, January 12, 1886, they were talking in the parlour as usual.
“Children, come and have your tea!” Mother called. They rose and tiptoed past their father’s study, as they had always done since childhood.
Father was very busy. He was writing his annual school report, working on it from dawn to dusk. Every day school inspectors and teachers would call on him to discuss the curricula and progress reports.
Volodya glimpsed his father’s back through the open door. He was sitting at his desk, leaning his cheek on his hand. “Father never spares himself,” Volodya thought.
It was warm and cosy in the dining room. The samovar came to a boil and whistled softly on its tray, dispersing his anxious thoughts. Once again he felt content and happy. Anna resumed their talk. She said that Sasha had all the makings of a fine scientist. In time Volodya would also enter the University, Olya would perhaps grow up to be a pianist, for she had made great progress and was a dedicated and hard-working girl. Mother had taken Father a glass of tea and now sat at the table knitting and listening to their talk. A short while later their father appeared in the doorway of his study. He looked at them intently, then turned and went back in.
“Something’s wrong. He’s not his usual self,” Volodya thought anxiously.
“I’ll go and look in on Father,” Maria Alexandrovna said suddenly. She put down her knitting and hurried into the study.
“Children! Anna! Volodya!” she cried.
Their father was lying on the couch, his eyes clouding over. He was shaken by chills.
They ran for the doctor. Doors slammed. There was worried whispering.
An hour later the children lost their father.
They set his coffin in the parlour. Maria Alexandrovna stood beside it in silence. The girls wept. Volodya struggled to keep back his tears. “Father, dearest Father, how shall we live without you?” each of them lamented.
Many people came to pay their respects. These were teachers, students and friends. Volodya had always known that his father was working hard to bring education to the people, but only now did he fully realise how much he had done for the common good.
Ilya Nikolayevich was buried on a bright, frosty day. The trees, covered with hoarfrost, stood as silent sentinels. Red-breasted bullfinches flew from branch to branch, sending down sprays of silvery snow. Walking in front of the pall-bearers were Ilya Nikolayevich’s pupils. They carried the wreaths.
“Farewell, Father,” Volodya said. “I shall never forget you.”
One day, when his father had still been alive, Ivan Yakovlev had brought a Chuvash youth to see Volodya.
“Would you tutor him?” Yakovlev had said. “The Chuvash people need educated men and women.”
Volodya had agreed to study with Okhotnikov, refusing to accept payment for these lessons. Now, after his father’s death, Volodya put all his efforts into their lessons, as a remembrance of his father, who had done so much to bring education to the Chuvash children.
“He was a great man. He did so much for the people,” Okhotnikov said of Ilya Nikolayevich.
Volodya was beginning to ponder ever more often over the question of how one was to live for the good of one’s people. He was gladly tutoring a peasant’s son, yet more could certainly be done. He was coming to understand that the revolutionaries were the true defenders of the people. However, Volodya did not know exactly what revolutionary work consisted of. He was against the bureaucratic, unjust school rules. He did not believe in God. He thought a great deal about the injustices of life, where the rich were idle and had everything, and the poor worked themselves to death and had nothing. And he did not like the tsar, who was a despot. But how did one fight against all this?
Did Sasha ever think about these things in St. Petersburg, or was he far removed from politics, engrossed only in his studies? Volodya did not know.
The events of March 1, 1887 were like a bolt out of the blue to Volodya, his mother and even to Anna, who had always been so close to Sasha.
Classes had just ended that day. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. However, there was a messenger awaiting Volodya outside the school building. He had been sent by Vera Kashkadamova, a teacher and an old family friend.
“She says you’re to come to her house immediately!”
She was waiting for Volodya, looking pale and nervous as she handed him a letter. It was postmarked St. Petersburg.
A group of students had attempted to assassinate the tsar, Alexander III, on March 1st. The attempt had failed, and all of them had been arrested. His brother Alexander Ulyanov was one of the group.
Volodya was thunderstruck. He thought of Sasha, tall and slim, with his large, dreamy eyes. His talented, intelligent brother Sasha. And his sister Anna. She, too, had been arrested.
A year had not yet elapsed since their father’s death. Their mother was still in mourning. She did not weep when she learned the news. Instead, she left them instructions for running the household in her absence and prepared to leave for St. Petersburg that very day. Volodya’s heart ached to watch her silent movements.
He was now the eldest one at home. His youngest sister Maria was only eight.
“Let’s play, Volodya,” she would say. “Why don’t you ever laugh any more?”
He forced himself to play with her, but his heart wasn’t in it. “Sasha, my dear, dear brother, what will they do to you?” The thought gave him no peace.
The final school examinations began in May. Both Volodya and Olya were graduating that year. They went for their exams in stony silence and waited until they were called upon. The teachers were amazed at their knowledge. Both of the Ulyanov children were at the top of their classes. Meanwhile, the local paper had carried the news of Alexander Ulyanov, son of the recently-deceased director of the State schools, who had dared to… .
Volodya was on his way to his next examination. The street was full of the wild chattering of birds, of spring bustle and joy.
He noticed a group of people standing around a lamp-post. A sheet of paper had been pasted to the post. Everyone was reading it. There was one of his father’s colleagues. At the sight of Volodya the man turned and walked off quickly. The crowd melted away before him. Slowly, Volodya approached the post. He read the public notice and the world turned dark before his eyes. The five students who had taken part in the assassination attempt had been executed. Sasha had been executed.
Notices of the execution had been posted all over town.
A dread silence greeted Volodya as he entered the school auditorium where the examination was to be held. He was the first of his class to solve all the problems in geometry and trigonometry. In silence he handed in his notebook and left.
Volodya headed for the high bank of the Volga. The spring-flooded river was rushing its deep waters to the Caspian Sea. A small tugboat was pulling a barge. All was still and calm. What had they done to Sasha!
A week later Maria Alexandrovna returned home from St. Petersburg. Her hair was completely white.
Nearly all of their Simbirsk acquaintances closed their doors to the Ulyanovs and tried to avoid any chance meeting. When Maria Alexandrovna went out, people in the street would hurriedly cross over to the other side in order not to have to greet the mother of an executed man.
But she walked on proudly, her head held high. She never wept, she never spoke of Sasha. How greatly Volodya admired her for her strength and pride.
Volodya’s graduation day neared. His teachers argued as to whether they had the right to award the brother of an executed man a gold medal. However, he had passed all his exams with flying colours. Finally, they decided to award him the medal he had earned.
“Volodya should go on to study at the University,” his mother said to Ivan Yakovlev, their old family friend. “But they won’t accept him in St. Petersburg now, will they?”
“No, they won’t. There’s no sense in even applying.”
The few true friends they had in Simbirsk were Ivan Yakovlev, Volodya’s pupil Okhotnikov and the school-teacher Vera Kashkadamova. The family’s grief had brought them all closer together.
Shortly after, a small notice appeared in the local paper: “Moving. Will sell house and orchard, grand piano and furniture. Moskovskaya Street, the Ulyanov house.”
Their home soon came to resemble a railway station, with the front doorbell pealing constantly. Prospective buyers stamped through the rooms, knocking on the walls, inspecting the furnishings, staring openly at Maria Ulyanova and whispering to each other. She stood by the door, pale and solemn in her black dress, with a piece of black lace pinned to her white hair. How Volodya wished he could rush up to her and shield her from those hostile, impudent stares. He tried to be as self-controlled and strong as she.
His thoughts revolved constantly around his elder brother. “Sasha, you hated the tsar. You wanted to kill him. You thought that would change things in the country, that it would give the people a better life. Six years ago revolutionaries assassinated Alexander II. Has anything improved since then? Not at all. A new tsar took the former tsar’s place. Are things any better under Alexander III than they were under Alexander II? Not one bit. That means your way of fighting is wrong. There must be another road.”
Meanwhile, the front doorbell never stopped ringing. Buyers came to look and finger, and carry away their new possessions.
There was no buyer for the piano.
Volodya stroked its polished top. “You’re a part of our life and our happy times,” he said to it.
And so the old piano accompanied the family to their new home in the city of Kazan.
THE MEETING AT KAZAN UNIVERSITY
Volodya thought that at Kazan University he would have greater freedom than he had had as a pupil of the Simbirsk grammar school. He was sorely mistaken. The University supervisors were always informed of each student’s actions and words. They were on the watch to see if anyone had spoken out against the tsar, the government or Inspector Potapov. Inspector Potapov was a coarse, hulking man with leaden eyes. The supervisors would report to him on each student. Potapov compiled lists of those of whom the supervisors did not approve. Such students were usually expelled without further ado. This was especially true in the case of the poorer students. It was becoming ever more difficult for a poor student to continue his studies, since the tuition fee had been increased several times.
Life at Kazan University was as bleak and depressing as life in prison. Indeed, at the time all of Russia resembled a huge prison.
On December 4, 1887, the Kazan papers carried the news of student riots in Moscow. A secret appeal was circulated among the students of Kazan University: “Stand up for your rights!”
At noon the call went out: “We’re meeting in the auditorium!”
A crowd of students rushed down the long corridors to the auditorium. Volodya Ulyanov was in the lead. They streamed into the sombre hall.
“Comrades!” the chairman of the impromptu meeting said. “Let us pledge to support each other and fight for our rights. We demand freedom and justice!”
Just then the bearded, top-heavy figure of Inspector Potapov appeared. “In the name of the law, I demand that you disperse immediately!” he bellowed.
“Get out! Down with him!” the students shouted.
Potapov stalked out. Soon the Rector appeared. The noise died down. The Rector was handed a petition. It read, in part: “Life in Russia has become unbearable. The life of the students has become unbearable!”
“Please be calm,” the Rector said, trying to pacify the excited young men.
“Do you refuse to meet our demands?” the students persisted. “Comrades, let’s leave the University as a sign of protest. Hand in your student cards.”
One card was placed on the table, then a second, and a third. The students were flinging down their student cards. There were ninety-nine in all.
Volodya Ulyanov was one of them. That same evening he was expelled from the University.
That night the police came to his house and arrested him. Several days later Vladimir Ulyanov was banished to the village of Kokushkino, where he was to be kept under constant police surveillance.
A ROAD IS CHOSEN
It was a cold and bitter winter in Kokushkino. The small house offered poor protection against the cold. At night the wind howled in the chimney. The snowdrifts reached as high as the windows. It was sad and lonely here.
Volodya spent the better part of each day reading. Chernyshevsky was his favourite author. His revolutionary ideas fired Volodya’s imagination. Chernyshevsky analysed the existing social order in Russia most clearly. The tsar, the high-ranking officials, the factory owners and landlords ruled the country, while the workers and peasants led miserable lives. He revealed these social injustices and proved that struggle and revolution were the only solution. Volodya read and reread his books, each time discovering something new.
He now saw the way ahead more clearly. Volodya’s thoughts were many, as were his plans. What was his goal in life? The revolutionary struggle. He wanted to devote his life to the struggle against the tsar and the rich, to bring freedom and happiness to the people.
Yes, his one goal now was the revolutionary struggle. But he would have to have some means of earning a living. He simply had to complete his education and acquire a profession.
That spring Volodya applied for readmission to the University. His application was refused. Late that summer his mother sent a similar request to the Minister of Education. The minister declined. Then Volodya himself applied to the minister and was again refused.
If such was the case, he would study the entire university course by himself. And so, by studying independently the expelled student Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov completed the four-year course of the Faculty of Law in a year and a half and set out for St. Petersburg to take his bar examination.
The questions he was asked were difficult, indeed. The professors of the examining board listened to his replies intently. When they saw that he had a sound and extensive knowledge of law, their decision to pass him with honours, something none of the other students were granted, was unanimous.
Volodya, who, since he had become an adult, was called Vladimir Ilyich, was in excellent spirits. He had never been in St. Petersburg before and enjoyed spending his free time exploring the city with his sister Olya. She was also in St. Petersburg that year, studying at the Higher Women’s Courses.
Having passed his bar examination that day, he set out for Olya’s lodgings, hurrying to share his joy with her. His years of study had not been spent in vain. Now he would move to St. Petersburg and begin his real life’s work, work for the revolution.
His steps were quick and light. When he entered her room Olya was lying flushed and feverish in her bed. Her lips were parched, her hair dishevelled. She was delirious and kept grasping for something, crying out: “Mamma! Save me, Mamma!”
He took her hand, but she did not recognise him and tried to pull it away. Vladimir Ilyich took his sister to the hospital and then dispatched a telegram to his mother. While Maria Alexandrovna was on her way to St. Petersburg, Olya took a turn for the worse. She died on May 8, 1891, four years to the day after her brother Sasha had been executed.
Vladimir Ilyich and his mother followed Olya’s coffin to the cemetery. Maria Alexandrovna leaned on her son’s arm. Her face was a white mask. Yet, she did not weep.
Olya’s girlfriends covered her grave with flowers.
Having buried Olya, Vladimir Ilyich and his mother returned to Samara, where the rest of the family now lived.
The years he had spent in Samara had been important ones. He had prepared for his bar examination there and had begun his study of the works of Karl Marx.
Karl Marx, the great German scholar and revolutionary, had written a famous book called Capital. Jointly with his comrade-in-arms, Frederick Engels, he had written the Communist Manifesto. Karl Marx showed that the working class would triumph over the capitalists, taking all power into its own hands and setting up a new, communist society on earth. Vladimir Ilyich was stunned when he read this. The truth of Marx’s teachings was obvious. And so, his road had been chosen. He would never deviate from it.
Marx’s followers were called Marxists. Thus, Vladimir Ilyich became a Marxist. He joined a secret Marxist study group in Samara. Naturally, if his activities had become known he would have been arrested immediately.
After passing his bar examination, Vladimir Ilyich went to work as a trial lawyer in Samara. In many of his cases he defended the local peasants and poor people. He worked, continued his political studies and dreamed of leaving Samara for a large industrial city, preferably for one like St. Petersburg. He would have left Samara long before if not for his mother, who grieved so for her daughter Olya. Vladimir Ilyich tried to lessen her pain by his gentle, loving care.
In the autumn of 1893 the Ulyanovs finally left Samara for good. It was time for Mitya to enter the University, and so Maria Alexandrovna took both Mitya and Maria to Moscow.
His eldest sister Anna had married Mark Yelizarov, who had been a close friend of his brother Sasha during his student days in St. Petersburg. Mark and Anna had come to know each other then. Their common grief over Sasha’s death had brought them together. After they married they came to live with the Ulyanovs as part of the family. Now they moved to Moscow together with Maria Alexandrovna and the two younger children. Thus it was that Vladimir Ilyich, full of energy and revolutionary spirit, set out for St. Petersburg alone.
BEYOND NEVSKAYA ZASTAVA
Evening had fallen. The gas lamps shone dully on the streets of St. Petersburg. The few people in the street were hurrying to their homes.
Vladimir Ilyich was riding the horse-car. It rattled and screeched on the rails. The windows were frozen over. It was impossible to see through them. He had a long trip ahead of him, for he was on his way to a workers’ study circle on the outskirts of town, in the Nevskaya Zastava district.
When he had boarded the horse-car a small man in dark glasses had hopped on right after him. Vladimir Ilyich had noticed him on the stop. He had opened his newspaper and appeared to be reading, but Vladimir Ilyich noticed he was watching him. “He’s a police spy,” Vladimir Ilyich decided.
Vladimir Ilyich found a seat by the door. He raised his collar and began thinking of a way to shake off his shadow. He pretended to sleep, while actually he was blowing on the frozen pane, melting a little circle of ice to look out and not miss a certain stop. It was the only one at which he could escape from the police spy. Out of the corner of his eye he watched for it. It was the next one. They pulled up.
“Anyone getting off?” the conductor called.
No one replied.
The horses started up again. At that very moment Vladimir Ilyich got up and jumped off, running as fast as he could towards a courtyard that gave off onto another street. He could hear the loud clanging of the bell. It was the conductor signalling the driver to stop. By the time the horse-car pulled to a stop Vladimir Ilyich had reached the courtyard. He darted inside and turned to look out. The police spy had also jumped off and was looking up and down. However, the street was deserted.
Vladimir Ilyich emerged in an adjoining street and continued on his way to the study circle which was meeting at the home of Ivan Babushkin, a fitter at a mechanical plant.
There were many factories and plants in that part of town. The factory whistles blew at dawn. In the darkness the workers started out for their jobs. It was dark night again when they finally returned home. They led a hard and cheerless life. But people could not go on like that forever!
The workers had gathered at Babushkin’s house to discuss ways of bettering their lives. They had to gather in secret to make sure the police did not find out about their meetings.
That evening they had assembled again. They were expecting a lecturer named Nikolai Petrovich. Actually, this was Vladimir Ilyich.
Vladimir Ilyich had been lecturing at this and at other workers’ circles, because he wanted to teach the workers about Marx’s ideas. He wanted them to realise that they were the force that could change society. If the workers rose up against the factory owners and the tsar, no one would be able to put them down. But that meant they would have to organise. They would have to set themselves a goal and work towards it. There could only be one goal, that of taking all power into their own hands and setting up a state ruled by the working people.
It would be a wonderful state, a truly just society. Marx had called this society of the future a communist society.
THE FIRST BOOK
At the time Vladimir Ilyich lectured at Ivan Babushkin’s house, many other workers’ study circles were meeting in various parts of the city. The first thing Vladimir Ilyich had done upon his arrival in St. Petersburg had been to establish contact with the revolutionary Marxists there. “Comrades,” Vladimir Ilyich had said, “we must carry Marx’s teachings to the masses. We must unite with the workers and begin preparing for the revolution.”
Thus, a revolutionary organisation was formed. It was named the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. Its central group was located in St. Petersburg. Soon there were similar groups in other cities.
Vladimir Ilyich did more than direct the work of the study circles. He spent much time, often working late into the night, writing. The book he was working on taught the workers how best to fight against the power of the capitalists and how best to organise their struggle. Later his comrades-in-arms, his fellow Marxists, had it printed in secret and distributed to every workers’ study circle.
It was late at night. The lights were out in the house opposite. Everything was black beyond the white organdie curtains on Vladimir Ilyich’s window.
He laid down his pen and rose. Three steps took him to the far corner of the small room. Pacing was a habit of his. “There is only one way. The Russian worker will take this straight road of open political struggle to the victorious communist revolution.” Vladimir Ilyich reviewed what he had written. His book called the Russian workers onwards to a communist revolution. No one had ever spoken out so boldly to the Russian workers before.
At the time Vladimir Ilyich was only twenty-four years old. He was still a very young man, but his knowledge was already great. And he firmly believed that the Russian workers would be victorious in their struggle.
There had been trouble at the Semyannikovsky factory. The workers’ pay was delayed before Christmas and there was a riot.
Gendarmes were searching the homes of the rioters and arresting them. They were handcuffed and taken to police stations.
“They’ll surely come for me, too,” said Babushkin.
Late that night there was a tap at the door. It was Vladimir Ilyich. He was covered with snow. There were even icicles on his eyebrows. He took off his coat and began pacing up and down the room, rubbing his hands together to warm them. “Tell me how it all began,” he said. “How did the workers act?”
Babushkin told him about the previous day’s riot. The factory store had been smashed and some workers had set fire to the porch of the manager’s house. Now the police were arresting workers by the dozens.
“A worker who understands the situation will never fight with his fists,” Vladimir Ilyich said. “We’ll write a leaflet about this.”
They sat down at the table, conversing in whispers, discussing the text of the leaflet. It would tell the workers that the time of struggle had come. No one could free them from their slavery if they did not do it themselves. But they had to organise, not fight with their bare hands.
It was very late. As Babushkin watched Vladimir Ilyich’s pen fly swiftly over the paper, his eyes drooped. He sat up with a start.
“You must be dead tired,” Vladimir Ilyich said. “Do go to bed. You have to go to work at dawn.”
Babushkin finally went to bed. Vladimir Ilyich began copying out the leaflet in large block letters, so that it would be legible to all. He made a second copy, then a third and a fourth. Suddenly the factory whistle blew. The piercing sound made the frozen panes rattle.
The working-class district of Nevskaya Zastava had begun another day.
“Time to get up,” Vladimir Ilyich said.
Babushkin opened his eyes. Was that Vladimir Ilyich sitting at the table? He looked at the four sheets of paper covered with block letters and instantly came to his feet.
“These have to be passed around among the workers,” Vladimir Ilyich said. “Too bad I had no time to make any more copies.”
They went out into the street together. The cold stars were still shining. White columns of smoke rose from the chimneys. The street was filled with a moving black mass of working people. The two men melted into the crowd.
Babushkin fingered the leaflets in his pocket. He would soon pass them on to his friends, who would read them and in turn pass them on.
“This is our first fighting leaflet. Good luck, Babushkin!” Vladimir Ilyich said.
On a day in November, when the snow-covered trees in the Alexandrinsky Gardens looked like trees in a fairytale, Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya was walking up and down, glancing at the Public Library opposite. She was an attractive young woman in a short fur lined coat and a fur pillbox that sat jauntily on her head. She was clenching a rolled-up notebook in her small muff. The notebook was filled with facts and figures about the hard conditions of the working people.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna was employed in an office. She was also a teacher at an evening school for workers at Nevskaya Zastava. A factory worker who was one of her pupils had brought her the notebook. It contained much useful information for a leaflet.
A year had passed since that night Vladimir Ilyich and Ivan Babushkin had worked over the first leaflet. Now the St. Petersburg group of the League of Struggle was issuing hundreds of leaflets that were printed in secret on hectograph machines and circulated throughout the city.
And here was Vladimir Ilyich at last! He appeared in the doorway of the Public Library. Having spotted him, Nadezhda Konstantinovna hurried towards Nevsky Prospekt. They met there and walked down towards the Neva River. Vladimir Ilyich took her arm.
“Did you have a good day at the library?” she asked as she transferred the notebook from her muff to the sleeve of his coat.
“Excellent!” he replied, working the notebook higher up into his sleeve. “Has the information been checked?” “Yes.”
She turned to look at him. Her cheeks were rosy from the cold, her eyes shone. Vladimir Ilyich enjoyed her company. She was both sincere and serious. They had become acquainted soon after his arrival in St. Petersburg. Had it been as recently as that? Somehow, he felt he had known her all his life. Vladimir Ilyich liked to share his thoughts and plans with her. Besides, she was a real help to him in his work. They shared the same views and goals, they were both working for the same cause.
Suddenly, Nadezhda Konstantinovna felt him press her arm in warning. A man was following them. He had his collar up and looked very unpleasant.
Vladimir Ilyich began speaking in a louder voice, telling her that he had heard there was a shop on Ligovka that sold fur hats at very reasonable prices. The police spy was close behind them.
“Let’s part,” Vladimir Ilyich whispered.
They said goodbye and he turned off into the very first side street. For several minutes Vladimir Ilyich kept up a fast pace, then suddenly turned down a little lane. The police spy had not counted on this manoeuvre and continued on for a few moments. Vladimir Ilyich found himself outside a stately mansion. He could see the doorman’s empty chair through the glass doors. He darted inside, sat down in the chair and opened a newspaper lying nearby just as the police spy appeared. The man gazed up and down the street in perplexity. His quarry had simply vanished into thin air. Vladimir Ilyich chuckled to himself as he watched the man trudge off. But he would have to hurry, lest the doorman returned and found him there. He felt the notebook nestling comfortably in his sleeve. The danger had passed. He had to get home and down to work as quickly as possible.
YOU CAN’T SILENCE US
On December 8, 1895 the League of Struggle held its regular meeting in the home of Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya. It was decided that the League would put out its own underground newspaper, to be called The Workers’ Cause. They had now gathered to discuss the articles for the first issue. Vladimir Ilyich had written the bold and militant editorial and the lead articles. The paper would be printed in an underground print shop on the outskirts of the city, near the Gulf of Finland.
The articles were entrusted to Anatoly Vaneyev, a student of twenty-three who was dedicated to the revolutionary cause. Vladimir Ilyich always assigned him the most important tasks. Vaneyev was to take the articles to the print shop the following day. Soon the workers would be reading their first newspaper.
It was late when the League members left the house.
Vladimir Ilyich stayed on for a while. He and Nadezhda Konstantinovna never had enough time to talk. They spoke of their comrades. Vladimir Ilyich was a very sociable person. He always found a good word for every comrade. They also spoke of the workers’ thirst for knowledge. There was Babushkin, for instance, an interesting, intelligent and talented man.
“Goodnight, Nadya,” Vladimir Ilyich said finally. “I’ll drop by again tomorrow.”
The streets were deserted. Here and there a street lamp gleamed dully. Vladimir Ilyich took a horse-car as far as the Public Library. The gardens, too, were deserted. The lindens were bent under the weight of the snow. A twig snapped, sending down a shower of powdered snow. Vladimir Ilyich was in excellent spirits.
He returned to the furnished room which he had recently rented. He had to keep changing his lodgings, because the police spies were constantly after him.
Vladimir Ilyich tiptoed in so as not to wake his landlady. He did not feel like sleeping and decided to do some research for his new book. He became immediately engrossed in the articles he was reading. When he looked at his watch it was nearly two a.m.
“Time to go to bed,” he said to himself, but kept on reading.
The bell rang at exactly two o’clock. Vladimir Ilyich wondered who it could be at such an unearthly hour.
Two men in civilian clothes entered. Bringing up the rear was a gendarme. “We have a warrant for your arrest,” he said.
The two men in civilian clothes began searching the room. They leafed through the books, turned over the bedding, looked up the chimney and into the stove.
Vladimir Ilyich stood silently by the wall.
He was thinking of his comrades. Had anything happened to them? Was he the only one to be arrested? And what about Nadya? Would this be the end of the battle? “No,” he said to himself, “you can’t silence us any longer. Hundreds of thousands of workers have joined our ranks. The entire working class of Russia will soon rise up.”
CELL No. 193
The cell had a small barred window high up near the ceiling, a plank bed, an iron table hinged to the wall and an iron chair. There was a pile of books on the floor. Reading was not prohibited. His sisters and Nadya had brought Vladimir Ilyich the many books he had requested. Nadya had not been arrested that night. His mother and sisters had arrived from Moscow as soon as they had learned of his arrest.
Today was Thursday, visiting day. Vladimir Ilyich put down his book and stood up with his back to the door. The warden kept peering through the peephole in the door. Now, with his back to the peephole, Vladimir Ilyich rolled a piece of bread into a hard, doughy lump. Then he made a hollow in it with his thumb. This was his inkwell. He filled it with milk and began writing between the lines of one of the books. As soon as the milk dried the words became invisible. He would return the book to his visitors today. Then Nadya or his sisters would hold the page over a lamp and the heat of the flame would make the writing appear, like a photograph being developed. Vladimir Ilyich was composing the text of a leaflet.
During the night of December 8th one hundred and sixty other members of the League of Struggle had been arrested. Still, the League carried on. The strikes and walkouts continued, led by League members. Vladimir Ilyich sent the strikers leaflets from his prison cell.
Keys jangled outside the door. The lock turned and the warden entered. Vladimir Ilyich picked up his inkwell and swallowed it. The warden came up to him, but could find nothing suspicious and so left, locking the cell door behind him.
Vladimir Ilyich quickly made another inkwell of bread and continued writing.
An hour later the cell door was unlocked again. This time Vladimir Ilyich was taken to the visitors’ room to see his fiancé. Nadezhda Konstantinovna was waiting for him on the far side of the double iron mesh screen. He could not take her hand. He could only nod. She smiled at him, though it was so depressing to see him in prison. However, he seemed to be in good spirits and that was what really counted.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna conveyed his family’s greetings. Everyone sent their love and wanted to know how he was. Then she got down to business, for they had to discuss their revolutionary affairs with the warden walking up and down in the aisle between the metal screens, listening to their every word.
“I’m sending back my sister’s books,” Vladimir Ilyich said. “And Maria’s book, too,” he added and looked at her intently.
Since he had stressed “Maria’s book”, it meant they were to look for the letter or leaflet in her book.
Meanwhile, he continued talking in riddles. “Do you know the number of my cell?”
“Certainly. It’s Number 193.”
Nadezhda Konstantinovna tried to think what the number “193” might mean. Yes, that would probably be the page on which to look.
The warden could listen all he wanted to. It would do him no good. He glanced at the clock on the wall.
How quickly the hour had passed! Neither of them wanted to say goodbye.
“I’ll be back again next Thursday, Volodya. Take care of yourself.”
Vladimir Ilyich was led away. He turned to look back at her. She stood there until he had disappeared behind the door.
The key turned in the lock. He was back in his cell, but still under the spell of their meeting. Nadya would be leaving the prison now. Perhaps she would be heading towards the Alexandrinsky Gardens.
Vladimir Ilyich paced on in the gloomy cell, thinking fondly of her.
THE GREEN LAMP
Vladimir Ilyich had been in the remote Siberian village of Shushenskoye for exactly a year now and had spent fourteen months in prison before being exiled. His term of exile would not be up for nearly another two years.
That day, May 7, 1898, Vladimir Ilyich did not follow his usual routine and did not proceed to work on his current book, The Development of Capitalism in Russia. This was a book about how the capitalists and rich peasants called kulaks were becoming more and more rich and powerful in Russia, while the workers and peasants were becoming poorer and more oppressed.
After dinner that day Sosipatych, a poor peasant from Shushenskoye, knocked at Vladimir Ilyich’s window. He was a thin, spry man in a worn fur hat and a threadbare coat. A shotgun was slung over his shoulder. “Vladimir Ilyich! Let’s go hunting,” he called.
Vladimir Ilyich was restless. Nadezhda Konstantinovna was to have arrived from St. Petersburg, but there was still no word of her. She, too, had been arrested for her revolutionary work and had been imprisoned in St. Petersburg. She was then banished to the city of Ufa, but as Ulyanov’s fiancée, she had been permitted to serve her sentence in Shushenskoye. She was on her way now. What could have delayed her so?
In order to dispel his restlessness, Vladimir Ilyich picked up his shotgun and went off with Sosipatych.
“Them’s a good pair of boots,” his companion remarked.
Indeed, they were perfect for tramping through the woods and marshes. The men were off to Lake Perovo, some ten miles from the village. There were so many ducks on the lake that the banks were white with feathers.
It was a glorious day. The sun was just right, with each leaf and blade of grass a fresh, transparent green. The meadows, too, were a velvety green. On the far horizon, rising white and pure, were the far-off Sayan Mountains, clearly etched against the light-blue sky.
“Now, see you don’t miss, Vladimir Ilyich. It’s bad luck to miss the first shot. So you take care now!”
Vladimir Ilyich raised his gun. It was a fine feeling to be standing there, listening to the sounds of the woods, to the birds singing and the woodpeckers drilling.
There was a rush of wings overhead as a large brown duck rose from the reeds and flew off, not ten paces away. Vladimir Ilyich pulled the trigger. He missed.
“Now, didn’t I warn you!” Sosipatych muttered. However, despite the bad omen, they had a good day’s hunting. Then they made a fire and brewed some tea in a soot-blackened kettle. Sosipatych was now in a better mood and tried to coax Vladimir Ilyich into spending the night by the lake. Though this sounded very tempting, something told Vladimir Ilyich to hurry back to the village.
Twilight had fallen. The herd had been driven home from the meadow. The cows were now being milked. One could hear the sound of streams of milk hitting the pails.
“There’s a light in your room, Vladimir Ilyich,” Sosipatych said.
Vladimir Ilyich had also noticed it. The two windows of his room in the corner house glowed green. A wave of happiness rose to his heart.
There on the porch was Nadezhda Konstantinovna, slim and graceful in her dark dress. She was leaning against the railing. Vladimir Ilyich ran up the steps.
“Nadya!” he cried.
“Volodya,” she said.
“Come and let me have a look at you,” Yelizaveta Vasiliyevna, Nadya’s mother, called from the house. “His bride’s come all this way to find him off gallivanting somewheres. Shooting ducks, if you please!”
A lamp with a green glass shade stood on the table. “The lamp is for you,” Nadezhda Konstantinovna said. “Green is easier on the eyes when you’re working.”
She had carried the fragile glass lamp all the way from Moscow, ten days and nights in the train, then by river boat, and finally over the bumpy roads in a horse-drawn wagon, holding it gingerly, fearful lest it be crushed. And she had brought it to Shushenskoye in one piece!
“I’VE COME TO YOU FOR ADVICE”
After the wedding the new family moved to different lodgings in a larger house on the bank of the Shusha River. Vladimir Ilyich had a study there with a large bookcase and a high lectern. The green lamp was placed on the lectern. The lights went out early in winter in the village houses, but Vladimir Ilyich’s green lamp glowed on far into the night.
He liked to write standing at the lectern. That is how he wrote The Development of Capitalism in Russia. Vladimir Ilyich was working on his book and simultaneously writing articles and doing translations from the English. Nadezhda Konstantinovna was a great help to him in his work. Besides, she had her own work to do, for she was writing a pamphlet about working women. She, for one, knew much about the life of the working people.
They liked to work together, he at the lectern and she at the table. They spent all their free time together, too, walking in the woods or along the bank of the Shusha, or going as far as the great Yenisei River. They were young and in love.
At noon one day Nadezhda Konstantinovna’s mother knocked at the door of the study. They had a caller. Vladimir Ilyich was very busy and did not want to interrupt his work on his manuscript. But since a poor peasant had come to him for advice, everything else had to be put aside. Yelizaveta Vasiliyevna asked the man to come in. Everything about him, his clothes, his very appearance, seemed faded, although he was not an old man.
“Won’t you sit down,” said Vladimir Ilyich.
The man sat down. He placed a jug tied up in a red kerchief at his feet.
“I’ve come to you for advice, Vladimir Ilyich.”
The man was from a distant village. It took him quite a while to explain who he was and where he was from. Finally, he got down to the reason for his visit. Theirs was a very poor family, and that was why his eldest daughter had hired out as a field hand to a rich peasant. He was to pay her twenty rubles for a year’s work. After she had worked there for eleven months her mother had fallen ill. There were so many younger children in the family that she had had to give up her job and come home to care for them. But her master had refused to pay her, saying that she had broken her contract and had not worked a full year.
“Does that mean the girl has slaved for nothing for nearly a year? Should we just leave it at that?”
“By no means!” Vladimir Ilyich said heatedly as he paced up and down. “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll write to the district administrators and ask them to resolve the matter. Meanwhile, tell the kulak you’re taking the matter to court. That’ll put the fear of God in him.” Vladimir Ilyich stopped by the lectern. He took out a sheet of paper and had soon drawn up a complaint. It was very convincing. Vladimir Ilyich then told the peasant where to go, whom to see and what to say.
“The truth is on your side. Never forget that for a moment. And don’t give in. If they don’t honour this first complaint, come back again and we’ll go higher up. We’ll get the law behind us. Don’t forget, you’re in the right.”
The man was worrying his cap, thanking Vladimir Ilyich. Then he picked up the jug in the red kerchief and said to Nadezhda Konstantinovna, “Please take this butter. It’s a token of my appreciation, m’am.”
“By no means!” she said. “I couldn’t even think of accepting it.”
“No, we can’t accept the butter,” Vladimir Ilyich said firmly.
The peasant could not understand why they did not want to be paid. Strange people, these city folk. Hadn’t Vladimir Ilyich written the paper for him? Just for nothing?
The man left, carrying away a kind word in his heart for Vladimir Ulyanov, a political exile. Vladimir Ilyich left many fond memories in the hearts of the local peasants in his years of exile in Shushenskoye.
THE EVENTS OF MAY
The year before Vladimir Ilyich had been alone on May Day. This year Nadezhda Konstantinovna was with him. The exiles of Shushenskoye decided to celebrate May Day in the traditional revolutionary manner.
After breakfast that morning they put on their best clothes. Ivan Prominski, an exiled Pole, came calling. He, too, was dressed in his best: white collar, tie and all.
“May Day greetings!” he said.
Together the three of them set out to call on Oskar Engberg, an exiled Finn.
It was a late spring that year. There were still ice floes on the Shusha, crashing and piling up in their haste to reach the Yenisei. The sound of crunching ice hung over the river. Though the day was chilly, it had a holiday air. Everyone was in a festive mood.
At Engberg’s house they first sang a traditional workers’ May Day song.
In the merry month of May,
Grief, be banished from our way!
Freedom songs our joy convey.
Weshall go on strike today!
Then they sang another. After a while they set out for the meadow. There, out of earshot of the village and with nothing but the blue sky above them, they sang the old revolutionary songs.
The stirring words filled the meadow that May Day. It was a happy day. Vladimir Ilyich and Nadezhda Konstantinovna sat up late into the night talking, dreaming of the future. Would the time ever come when, in a free Russia, the workers and all the people would be able to openly celebrate May Day with red flags?
The next day a column of dust rose on the road as a mounted police patrol thundered into Shushenskoye. Two gendarmes armed with sabres were escorting a police inspector who rode in a carriage. They drew up outside the Ulyanovs’ house.
“We’ve come to search the house!” the short, stocky inspector rasped and headed straight for the study and the bookcase.
There was illegal revolutionary literature as well as letters from revolutionaries and chemicals for invisible writing on the bottom shelf. If the police discovered this the couple’s term of exile would be prolonged. Perhaps by many, many years.
“Here,” Vladimir Ilyich said, carrying a chair over to the bookcase. “Where do you wish to begin?” As he spoke he nodded towards the top shelf. The short inspector was helped up by his men. He began looking through the books on the top shelf. There were hundreds of them and the inspector was going through every one.
Half an hour passed. Then an hour. He became tired and told his men to continue the search, while he sat down. He had become bored by just looking at the jackets of so many books, to say nothing of leafing through each and every one. Time crawled on.
Finally, the gendarmes reached the bottom shelf. The Ulyanovs’ fate hung by a thread.
Just then Nadezhda Konstantinovna said with a smile, “Those are all my schoolbooks. I’m a teacher, you know.”
“Ah, leave them,” the inspector said in disgust. He was hungry, and he needed a drink. The mission was a failure.
Yelizaveta Vasiliyevna entered the moment the police had gone. She had been sitting in the adjoining room, chain-smoking all through the search.
“All clear?” she asked in a whisper.
“All clear,” Vladimir Ilyich replied and laughed. “That was close.”
AT VANEYEV’S BEDSIDE
The postman called twice a week, bringing letters from friends and relatives. Exiled members of the League of Struggle were scattered over an area of from fifty to a hundred miles around Shushenskoye. Some were even farther away, buried alive in the frozen wastes of Siberia.
One day Vladimir Ilyich received a letter from his sister Anna. The barely visible mark on the envelope was a sign that it contained secret information. When he developed the invisible writing he saw it was an article copied from a newspaper. As he read on he began to frown. He did not like what he was reading. The title of the article was “Our Credo”.
His sister wrote that a small but very active group of people had come together to criticise Marxism. They insisted that the workers were not interested in politics, but in receiving higher wages and, therefore, did not need a revolution.
This sort of thinking was called Economism.
“What’s to be done?” Vladimir Ilyich wondered aloud. “They’re trying to convince the workers that they do not need to fight for a revolution.”
Nadezhda Konstantinovna knew his habit of thinking out loud and never interrupted him when he did. He would soon come to a decision. Indeed, after pacing up and down for a while he said, “We’ll call the comrades together and discuss this `Credo’. Then we’ll write our own views on the subject and see that the workers in the factories and mills learn of them.”
They sat down to write to their exiled comrades, asking each of them to think of a reason why he might be given permission to leave his village. They would then meet. But where? Shushenskoye was certainly the most convenient place, yet Vladimir Ilyich chose the village of Yermakovskoye, some sixty miles away. Anatoly Vaneyev, a dear friend and fellow League member, was in exile there. Anatoly had become very ill in prison and was now dying of tuberculosis.
That is why Vladimir Ilyich suggested they all meet in Yermakovskoye.
Vaneyev was propped up on his pillows. His face seemed paler than the sheets. He had become terribly thin and his large eyes had an unhealthy glow. But how happy he was to see them, to be taking part in the common cause! How badly he wanted to live, to go on working and helping his fellowmen.
They began by discussing the text of the “Credo”. Then they wrote their reply and entitled it “Protest by Russian Social-Democrats”. It began with the words: “Comrades, don’t listen to the Economists. Our only way is revolution!” This appeal from far-off Siberia would be sent to workers’ groups in every city.
Vladimir Ilyich stayed on with Vaneyev after the others had left. Anatoly was exhausted. His forehead was damp, his eyes sunken. Vladimir Ilyich sat by his bed, stroking his friend’s transparent hand. Vaneyev was dying as a result of his imprisonment in tsarist jails. Vladimir Ilyich spoke to him of their plans. Soon their term of exile would be over. Then they would organise a workers’ Marxist party. They’d have their own proletarian newspaper and they’d continue the fight against the tsarist regime.
Vaneyev hung on his every word. The August evening was getting ever darker. They could hear the soulful music of an accordion from afar.
“Thank you, Volodya,” Vaneyev whispered. His lips were parched from fever. “You’ve breathed new life into me. I know it will all be so.”
This was to be his last happy day.
Three weeks later Vladimir Ilyich and Nadezhda Konstantinovna journeyed to Yermakovskoye again. They had come to bury Anatoly.
“Farewell, Anatoly,” Vladimir Ilyich said at his comrade’s graveside. “We pledge to carry on the revolutionary struggle.”
The first snow of the year was falling gently on the coffin.
Later Vladimir Ilyich had a bronze plaque made. The inscription on it read: “Anatoly Alexandrovich Vaneyev, political exile. Died September 8, 1899, aged 27. Rest in peace, Comrade.”
Everything was in an uproar. There were suitcases, bundles and stacks of books in every corner.
Blue-eyed Pasha, a village girl who had been Yelizaveta Vasiliyevna’s helper in the house, was weeping bitterly. The Ulyanovs were leaving. Their term of exile had ended.
Before dawn on January 29, 1900, when the windows of Shushenskoye were still dark and no smoke was rising from the chimneys, when the predawn sky touched the earth beyond the last huts, two sleighs pulled up outside the house. Pasha scurried back and forth, wiping her eyes on a corner of her apron. Vladimir Ilyich began loading their belongings and books into the sleighs. Everyone helped.
“Come, let’s sit in silence for a moment before the journey,” Yelizaveta Vasiliyevna said, for that was an old Russian custom.
They all sat down.
“All right, time to go!” Vladimir Ilyich said a few moments later and was the first to rise.
It was a very cold day. He helped the women into two long sheepskin coats. Then he tucked them in and piled hay around them for warmth.
“But there’s no sheepskin coat for you,” Yelizaveta Vasiliyevna said anxiously. “You’ll be frozen!”
“Just thinking of being free will keep me warm. I don’t care how cold it gets.”
“At least take my muff to keep your hands warm.”
Vladimir Ilyich laughed, but took her muff and climbed in. They were off.
They were leaving Shushenskoye, never to see it again. The sky was getting lighter. A cloud turned pink. Slowly, the whole eastern edge of the horizon lit up. Then the sun rose.
Vladimir Ilyich was elated. This was his first morning of freedom. He had become very thin during the past months, waiting for his term to end, worrying about whether the authorities might not decide to prolong it.
Now all his thoughts were centred on resuming the work of the Party. In 1898, while Vladimir Ilyich had still been in exile, the First Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party had been held in the city of Minsk. Nearly all of the Party organisers had been promptly arrested by the police. The Party would now have to be re-established. A Party newspaper would be the first step towards achieving this. It would be an illegal, Marxist paper that would rally and unite all the progressive forces of Russia. Such were Vladimir Ilyich’s thoughts.
Mile after mile they sped on, stopping at the post stations along the way to change horses and have a meal.
It was a long journey to Minusinsk. From there it was over two hundred miles to the railway station of Achinsk. They were on the road day and night. The days were bright and sunny, with blue skies and frost-covered trees and sparkling snow. At night the moon lit their way. It was like a sailing ship in the vast skies, charting its course among the scattered stars. Even the sleighbells jingled more clearly at night.
They reached Achinsk at dawn on the fifth day.
The station bell was ringing. The train would soon be in. Chugging and puffing, the sooty engine pulled into the station. There was a short stop. Then the station bell clanged, and the train pulled out. The long-awaited day had arrived. A new life lay ahead.
THE SPARK WILL KINDLE A FLAME
“The spark will kindle a flame,” a line from a poem by Odoyevsky, a Decembrist poet sentenced to hard labour in Siberia by the tsar, was taken by Vladimir Ilyich as the motto for the first Party newspaper. He decided that Iskra (The Spark) would be a fitting name for their paper.
While in exile in Shushenskoye he had planned the newspaper from the first to the last page. The time had now come to start work on it. Vladimir Ilyich took up lodgings in the city of Pskov, for that was where he was allowed to live. Nadezhda Konstantinovna had been arrested later than he and her term of exile had not yet ended. That is why she was told to live in the town of Ufa until her term was over.
In Pskov Vladimir Ilyich began preparing the ground for the new Party paper. He travelled to various towns and cities, establishing contact with comrades who would write for the paper. They would also need people to distribute it. Iskra would not be sold at news-stands like any other paper. It was to be an illegal political newspaper. This meant that anyone possessing a copy would be arrested. Therefore, the paper had to be distributed in secret. Last but not least, they would need money to finance it. Vladimir Ilyich succeeded in raising the money too.
Now everything was ready. In four months’ time Vladimir Ilyich had moved mountains.
They still had to decide where Iskra was to be printed, for a paper that was against the tsar, the landlords, the factory owners and the police obviously could not be printed in Russia.
It was decided that the paper would be printed abroad. Nevertheless, everything connected with it would still have to be kept in complete secret. There would still be Russian police spies abroad.
Vladimir Ilyich obtained permission to go abroad, supposedly to improve his health. He first went to Ufa to take leave of Nadezhda Konstantinovna, for her term of exile would not be up for another nine months. Then he was on his way. Though he did not know it at the time, he would be abroad for five years.
There were many factories and still more print shops and bookshops in the German city of Leipzig, with its narrow streets and steep-roofed houses and churches. There was a man named Hermann Rau in Leipzig. He was about thirty-five years old and owned a small print-shop in a village nearby. There was only one printing press in the shop. A workers’ sports paper, various advertisements and booklets were printed on this huge, old-fashioned press.
Hermann Rau was a Marxist and a member of the German Social-Democratic Party. One day his friends in Leipzig told him a Russian Marxist had arrived in town. The Russian Marxists were going to put out a revolutionary paper. It was then decided that the first issue of Iskra would be printed in Leipzig.
Vladimir Ilyich was the Russian Marxist who had come to Leipzig. He rented a room on the outskirts of town and threw himself into his work. Then came the big day. He got up before the factory whistles blew. It was chilly in the room. December was damp and cold in Leipzig.
Vladimir Ilyich put the kettle on the spirit stove. He had a tin cup of scalding tea and, as was his wont, set out for Rau’s print shop which was a good six miles away. There was no horse-car here, so he had to walk both ways. Workers on foot and on bicycles were coming into the city. Peasants were bringing in their produce in wagons. The rows of houses soon ended. Ahead was a dark forest beyond a snow-covered field. Then the lights of a neighbouring village came into view. He spotted the windows of Rau’s print shop.
The shop, lighted by a kerosene lamp, consisted of one large room. The cumbersome old press took up half of the room. Sticks of firewood crackled in the iron stove. The flames cast moving shadows on the walls.
“This is a very special day,” Rau said to Vladimir Ilyich.
Vladimir Ilyich nodded. Yes, it was a very special day. Today, at last, the first issue was to be printed.
The typesetter lifted the heavy frame in which the type was set and carried it over to the press. Rau put his hand on the lever. The wheels began to turn. Then a sheet of newsprint rolled off the press. It was still damp. This was the first issue ofIskra .
Vladimir Ilyich picked it up. He had been dreaming of this day for so long. “Now we have our own workers’ revolutionary paper!” he thought. “Fly homeward, awaken the minds and hearts of our people, carry the call for revolution.” He read the name aloud: “Iskra.”
The train was crossing Germany to Konigsberg. A young man was dozing in a corner of a third-class carriage. He had been dozing ever since they had left Munich. There was a large suitcase at his feet.
Konigsberg, an ancient town with a large fortress, many churches and red-tiled roofs, was a noisy port city on the Baltic Sea. There were ocean liners docked at the piers. One of the ships was the St. Margareta. The young German from Munich whistled contentedly as he headed for a small beer hall. The cellar was crowded, noisy and full of tobacco smoke. The young man found an empty seat and pushed his suitcase under the table. He ordered a dish of sausages and a glass of beer. He was eating very, very slowly. One might have thought he had all day. He was waiting for a sailor from the St. Margareta. He had come all the way from Munich to meet him, though he had never seen the man before. Whenever a new customer entered the young man would look at him intently and begin smoothing the right side of his hair with his right hand. Naturally, no one paid any attention to him. There was nothing very strange about a man smoothing his hair. However, this was the signal by which they were to recognise each other.
A sailor with a weather-beaten face entered. He looked around at the tables, noticed the man smoothing his hair and headed straight for him. He sat down at the table, felt for the suitcase with his foot and said, “It’s a mean wind blowing.”
“Not if it’s a fair one,” the man from Munich replied. “You’ve guessed, my lad. It is a fair wind.”
This was the password and the response. They were comrades-in-arms, working for the same cause and meeting here in the name of this cause. They spoke for a short while and then rose and left. Now the sailor was carrying the suitcase. No one had noticed the change, for it was of no concern to anyone. The two men parted at the first crossing. The young man from Munich headed back for the railway station and home, while the suitcase continued its journey across the Baltic Sea aboard the St. Margareta to Stockholm, the capital of Sweden.
The wind blew up towards night, raising great waves at sea, rocking the small ship. The waves rolled over the decks. The night was as black as pitch. They were six hours late in arriving in Stockholm. The Finnish ship Suomi was probably well on its way to Helsingfors by now.
“I’ve missed it,” the sailor thought unhappily.
Suddenly, he sighted the Suomi. The Finnish ship was still in port, working up steam. The storm must have held it up.
“Weigh anchor!” the captain of the Suomi ordered. The water churned under the screw.
“Hey! Wait! the sailor shouted, as he lugged the suitcase down the pier towards the ship. “I’ve a present for the first mate from his aunt in Konigsberg!”
The sailor was out of breath from running. The suitcase was very heavy. Meanwhile, the Suomi was slowly moving away from the pier. All their efforts had been in vain.
But wait! What was that? The captain had heard him. “Reverse!” the captain ordered.
“I’ve got some sweaters here from your aunt, Sir!” the sailor shouted to the first mate.
There was laughter in the crowd at the pier. Everyone was pleased to see the Suomi moving backwards for the first mate’s sweaters. The first mate took the suitcase from the sailor, waved to him cheerfully and carried it to his cabin. There he locked it safely away.
The suitcase continued on its journey.
It was raining hard in the Finnish capital city of Helsingfors. Water gushed from every rainspout. Streams of water rushed down the gutters.
The first mate of the Suomi walked quickly towards the car stop. What a downpour! He hoped the contents of the suitcase were dry. It was a regular flood, even for Finland, where it often rained. The first mate was on the lookout for the worker who was to have met him at the stop. But the Suomi had been several hours late in docking, and it was raining sheets. The streets were deserted. Had the worker from St. Petersburg waited in vain and finally left? What a disappointment that would be! There was the horse-car coming into view. The man was nowhere to be seen. Just then a man darted out of an archway across the street. He looked around and approached the first mate. It was the worker from St. Petersburg.
“I’m soaked to the skin,” he muttered. “What kept you so long?”
“We got caught in a storm. When are you leaving.,
“Good. I’ll send off a cable immediately.”
The worker nodded, took the suitcase and climbed aboard the horse-car.
Several hours later the suitcase was on its way again. This time it was travelling to St. Petersburg by train.
The train was speeding past bare fields, rain-drenched villages and boarded-up summer cottages. The man who was taking the suitcase on the last lap of its journey knew the countryside here well and did not look out of the window. He was reading a paper and waiting for his stop, which was Beloostrov Station. That was where the boundary line between Finland and Russia lay. There was always a customs check at the station.
At Beloostrov Station a customs official entered the compartment and said, “Luggage inspection.” The man opened his suitcase slowly.
Inside were a change of linen, an old plaid and a box of chocolates. The customs official rapped on the sides of the suitcase but found nothing suspicious.
Later that day the worker climbed the stairs of a brick house on Vasiliyevsky Island in St. Petersburg. The copper nameplate on the door read: “Dentist.”
The man rang the bell. Two long rings and a short one. That meant: don’t worry, it’s a friend.
The dentist opened the door. “Come in. We’ve been waiting for you,” he said.
This was a secret address, called so because revolutionaries could meet here in secret and in safety.
A young woman was waiting for the man in the dentist’s office.
“At last,” she said. She opened the suitcase and began tossing everything out of it. Then the worker pressed down on the bottom in a certain way and it opened just like a second lid. The suitcase had a double bottom which was packed tightly with issues of Iskra.
This is what had been transported with such difficulty and by so many people from Munich to Konigsberg, to Stockholm, to Helsingfors and, finally, to St. Petersburg!
The young woman transferred the newspapers from the suitcase to a large hatbox and fastened it securely. Then she left.
She would distribute the newspaper among the workers and the workers’ study circles on the outskirts of the city. She was but one of a whole network of Iskra agents. There were secret Iskra agents in all the large cities of Russia.
The newspaper opened the eyes of the workers and peasants to the injustice of their working and living conditions. Iskra taught them to fight against the tsarist regime, the landlords and the factory owners who exploited them.
The newspaper called on them to unite in a political party and prepare for the coming revolution.
A great workers’ revolutionary movement was gathering force in Russia, awakened to life by the workers’ newspaper Iskra.
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, the founder and editor-in-chief of Iskra, headed this mighty force.
Hundreds of ciphered letters came to him from all over Russia, from Russian workers and Iskra agents. Vladimir Ilyich replied to their letters.
Articles were sent in by workers from the factories and mills. These were printed in the newspaper. Besides the articles Vladimir Ilyich wrote for Iskra, he wrote books on politics and the revolutionary struggle. In December 1901 Vladimir Ilyich began signing his writings with the name Lenin. This was a name the entire world would soon come to know.
The beautiful city of Geneva lies on the bank of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. At the time there was a very small two-storey house in the suburb of Secheron, not far from the lake. It had a tiny front garden and a tiled roof like all the other houses in the vicinity. There were blue shutters on the windows.
The “Ilyiches” lived here. That’s how the comrades fondly called Vladimir Ilyich and his wife.
The Ilyiches had lived in Munich at first. However, the Munich police soon got wind of Iskra and they had to leave. They went to London and put out the paper there for a whole year. Then it became dangerous for them to remain in England, too. A new home had to be found for Iskra. Their search brought them to the town of Secheron near Geneva.
“Why, this is excellent!” Vladimir Ilyich exclaimed when he had inspected the tiny house. There was a large kitchen downstairs and a narrow stairway leading to the tiny, cheerful upstairs rooms. “Wonderful. It’s quiet here, and I’ll be able to work in peace.”
Vladimir Ilyich had a tremendous amount of work to do, but the quiet soon ended. The people of the town noticed that the Russians who lived in the little house had many visitors. In July 1903 they began arriving in a steady stream. They would come alone, in twos and in threes. You could see at a glance that they were foreigners. They were dressed differently and they spoke a strange language. The language they spoke was Russian. They admired the sunny blue skies, the pretty shutters on the windows and the flower gardens in front of every house.
The people of Secheron were certainly surprised to see so many foreigners in their little town that summer. Naturally, they had no way of knowing that these were delegates to the Party’s Second Congress who were arriving in secret from all parts of Russia.
The delegates stopped by at Lenin’s house to discuss the questions on the agenda and to exchange opinions, for they knew that he was largely responsible for organising the Second Congress. Lenin had written many important articles in preparation of the Congress. They had been published in Iskra. He had written What Is To Be Done?, a book describing the ways of building a proletarian Marxist Party. He had drafted the Rules of the Party and the militant Party Programme.
“We want to achieve a new and better order of society,” Lenin wrote. “In this new and better society there must be neither rich nor poor; all will have to work.”
Vladimir Ilyich had put much thought into this. He had planned the Party’s Programme while in exile. At the Congress he hoped to discuss the best and quickest means of achieving this new society.
The delegates left Geneva for Brussels, the capital of Belgium, where the Second Congress soon opened in secret in a large, dim flour warehouse.
The warehouse had been aired and swept, a wooden rostrum had been set up and benches placed against the walls. The large window was draped with red bunting. The delegates took their seats. Plekhanov was the first speaker. He had been the very first Russian to become a Marxist. He was a scholar who had written many books, explaining what Marxism was and what it stood for. This had been when Vladimir Ilyich was still a boy. Now Plekhanov inaugurated the Second Party Congress. He delivered a very moving speech.
The delegates listened to him attentively. Vladimir Ilyich experienced a feeling of deep contentment. He had dreamed of this Party Congress and of re-establishing the Party for so long. Now his dream was coming true.
Then the Congress got down to work. Practically from the start a struggle broke out, for there were some delegates who were against Lenin’s militant Party Programme. It seemed too new and bold to them, and they were frightened by this newness. They argued against Lenin’s proposals, but he defended his programme so well that the majority of delegates took his side.
The Congress discussed the Party Rules and Programme. Members of the Central Committee were elected, as was the editorial, board of Iskra. There was a bitter struggle over every point of the agenda. Lenin made a report that was both concise and convincing. There were 37 sessions in all and Lenin took the floor 120 times. Since the majority of delegates supported Lenin, they came to be known as Bolsheviks (”The Majority”). A Bolshevik was a person who stood for a workers’ revolution, for a Leninist programme, and for Lenin. Those who had split away from Lenin at the Congress came to be known as Mensheviks (”The Minority”). The Mensheviks stood for abandoning the revolutionary struggle. The Bolsheviks rallied round Lenin.
The Congress continued its sessions. Meanwhile, suspicious-looking characters were seen outside the warehouse. The Belgian police had got word of Russian revolutionaries having gathered there and had sent in a large number of police spies to keep an eye on things. Danger threatened. The entire Congress had to move to new quarters. It was decided to continue the sittings in London. In the end, Lenin triumphed. The Bolsheviks, his fearless and dedicated comrades-in-arms, were behind him.
It was drizzling that day in London, a rainy city. The streets were crowded with people carrying large umbrellas. The wind from the Channel would scatter the heavy clouds, the sun would come out for an hour or so, and the sky would be blue. Then it would start raining again. The Congress was just over. Lenin said, “Comrades, Karl Marx died here in London twenty years ago. I suggest we visit the great man’s grave.”
They all set out for the cemetery. It was located on a hill overlooking the city of soot-blackened buildings, dark roofs and smoking stacks.
There was a white marble tombstone on Marx’s grave, framed by bright green grass. A rosebush grew at the head. The blossoms were heavy with rain.
“Comrades,” Lenin said softly as he removed his hat, “Karl Marx is our teacher. Let us pledge to be faithful to his teaching. We shall never give up the struggle. Onwards, comrades, only onwards.”
Three workers had been sacked at the Putilov Plant in St. Petersburg. A storm of protest followed. The workers of the plant said, “We demand our rights! Get rid of the foremen! They were the ones who got them sacked, and for no good reason!”
A strike followed. Every last man put down his tools. Then two other factories struck. By the next day 360 factories and mills were at a standstill. St. Petersburg seemed like a deserted city. Everyone was waiting to see what would follow.
On January 9, 1905, a Sunday, thousands of workers and their families came out into the streets. “We’re going to the tsar,” they said. “He’ll stand up for justice. He won’t let us starve.”
The Bolsheviks tried to talk them out of this, saying that the tsar did not care how hard their life was.
But the workers thought that the tsar was not aware of how bad things were, and that the moment he found out, he’d put everything right. The tsar would defend them against the bloodthirsty foremen and factory owners.
The workers had prepared a petition with their requests. That Sunday morning the procession moving towards the Winter Palace filled the streets and squares.
Gilded gonfalons and icons swayed over the heads of the crowd. The men, women and children prayed, for they had faith in the tsar.
But what was that? Troops were lined up at the crossing. There were bayonets affixed to their rifles. Officers in white gloves were out in front.
At the time Russia was fighting a war with Japan in the Far East. The Japanese had attacked Russia nearly a year before, and the Russian generals had been caught unawares. Russian troops were now suffering one defeat after another, with thousands of soldiers being slaughtered.
In St. Petersburg, however, the tsarist officers had brought out the troops against their own countrymen, against unarmed workers and their families. Troops were stationed throughout the city. What for?
“To keep law and order,” said a worker who was carrying an icon of the Virgin. “Because they don’t want a crush.”
The hulking mass of the Winter Palace came into view at the far end of the square, its hundreds of windows staring blindly at the procession. The snow around the palace was untouched. A solid line of soldiers with stony faces guarded the tsar’s residence. As the people approached, an officer raised his white-gloved hand. The soldiers shouldered their guns.
“Don’t point your guns at us, brothers!” the workers shouted. “We’ve come in peace to appeal to the tsar.” “Halt! Not another step farther!” the officer shouted.
“Stay where you are!”
There was confusion in the crowd. Those in the back rows could not see the soldiers and they kept pressing onwards.
“God save the tsar!” the crowd was singing.
“We’ve come in peace! We’ve come to see the tsar!” they shouted as they slowly advanced.
“Fire!” the officer commanded.
There was a dry crack, a strange, muffled sound. About twenty people in the front rows fell to the ground. “Fire!” the officer commanded again.
There was another burst of flame, another dry cracking,
People fled in all directions. They hid in doorways. Many fell to the ground. The snow in front of the Winter Palace was soon covered with dead bodies. Then a cavalry detachment came charging into the square with sabres bared.
“They want to murder us!” the cry rose up.
“There’s your tsar for you!” a young Bolshevik shouted. “There’s the man you believed in! He’s a bloody beast!”
By now the workers realised this. No one but the tsar could have ordered the massacre. This killed the people’s faith in their ruler.
On Bloody Sunday, as January 9, 1905 came to be known, over a thousand workers were killed in St. Petersburg and over five thousand were wounded.
Towards evening of that day the workers began building barricades in the streets. They had risen up against the tsarist regime.
There was a street named Carouge on the outskirts of Geneva near the Arve River. Most of the Russian émigrés in Geneva had their lodgings on this street. Here, too, was the dining hall run by the Lepeshinskys, a couple whom Vladimir Ilyich had known when they had all been in exile in Siberia. All the Russian émigrés knew the place. It was a large hall on the ground floor with two large shop windows. Inside there were rows of long wooden tables and a piano. This was more than a dining hall, it was a meeting place for Bolsheviks. There were lectures and one could play chess or discuss current events here.
When the Geneva papers carried the news of Bloody Sunday, the émigrés flocked to the hall. Very little was said. They sat in silence, their faces drawn. The Bolsheviks realised that something great, something that had never happened before was taking place in Russia.
“We must get back home as soon as possible!” Vladimir Ilyich was thinking.
Then someone began to sing the workers’ funeral march, “A Victim of Dire Bondage”. Everyone rose and joined in.
“A revolution has begun in Russia,” Vladimir Ilyich said fervently.
His words were electrifying. The revolution was now close at hand. That evening Lenin wrote a stirring article for the newspaper Vperyod (Forward). This was the new Bolshevik paper, founded after the Mensheviks had seized control of Iskra.
Lenin wrote: “The uprising has begun. Force against force. Street fighting is raging, barricades are being thrown up, rifles are crackling, guns are roaring. Rivers of blood are flowing, the civil war for freedom is blazing up….
“Long live the revolution!
“Long live the insurgent proletariat!”
THE RED FLAG AT SEA
One day towards the end of summer the bell rang at the Ulyanovs’ house in Geneva.
“There’s someone to see you, Volodya,” Nadezhda Konstantinovna said, letting in a young man.
He had a round, open, boyish face and earnest blue eyes under black brows. “Please come in,” Nadezhda Konstantinovna said. “He seems like such a nice boy,” she thought. “What a kind, good face he has. He must have just arrived.”
There had been an unending wave of strikes in Russia, and Bolsheviks often travelled to Geneva to consult Vladimir Ilyich.
The young man followed her into the room. By the way he came to attention in the doorway one could guess he was a military man.
“Where are you from?” Vladimir Ilyich asked, smiling in welcome.
“Able-bodied Seaman Afanasy Matyushenko of the battleship Potemkin,” the young man reported.
Vladimir Ilyich came over to him swiftly and shook his hand.
“Nadya, this is the leader of the revolutionary crew of the Potemkin! I never expected you to be so young,” he added.
Half an hour later the enamel kettle was boiling on the spirit stove. There was a plate piled high with slices of freshly baked bread and a dish of fresh butter.
“Now, my dear Matyushenko, please tell us all about it,” Vladimir Ilyich said when the young man had appeased his hunger.
Afanasy Matyushenko told them the story of the Potemkin.
The Potemkin was a new ship, the biggest battleship in the Russian Navy. It was stationed at Sevastopol, with a crew of seven hundred and forty.
Russia had been swept by a wave of uprisings. In the villages the peasants were rising up against the landlords. The Russo-Japanese War continued, with the Russian forces sustaining heavy losses. An entire Russian squadron had been sunk in Tsushima Strait. Everything about the tsarist regime was corrupt and inefficient. The people despised their ruler, Nicholas II.
The commander of the battleship, a cruel and wilful man, was afraid that the revolutionary spirit gaining strength on the mainland would “contaminate” the crew of the Potemkin and so took the ship out to sea, supposedly for manoeuvres. He wanted to prevent the sailors from having any contact with the striking workers.
Early one morning the crew was awakened as usual. The men were assigned their duties for the day. A large number of the crew were to swab the decks. Soon the wind carried a foul smell from the upper deck. The men went up to investigate. There, hanging on hooks, were slabs of meat that were crawling with maggots. The men were sickened by the sight.
“So that’s the food we’re supposed to eat!”
“We won’t eat worms! Let the officers eat them!”
“Don’t you know they have their own provisions?”
When the signal for dinner sounded the crew went down to the galley. The cook was about to dish out their soup. There were dead maggots floating in it.
“We won’t eat it,” the sailors said.
A dead and menacing silence fell over the galley. The cook became frightened and went to fetch an officer. The officer fell upon the men. Then, just as suddenly, he became silent. He stared at their tense faces and went up to report the incident to the captain. Soon after the drums rolled, summoning the crew. The men dashed to the top deck and lined up on both sides of the ship. They were far out at sea, with blue water below and blue sky above them. Whitecaps riffled the surface of the sea. A herd of dolphins caroused nearby.
“I’ll teach you to mutiny aboard a warship!” the captain roared. “Who are the ringleaders?”
The men were silent. They stood stiffly at attention. The officers led an armed guard out on deck. The guard was lined up, facing the crew.
“Bring out the canvas!” the captain ordered.
That meant he had chosen the victims to be executed. He would point at a man and say: “You’re a ringleader!” And that would be that.
The canvas was brought up and rolled out on deck. It would be thrown over the victims. Whoever was under it would be shot without benefit of a trial.
The men stood in frozen lines. Death awaited each and every one of them. There was no escape. Standing there with the soft wind caressing their faces, they were staring at death.
Suddenly one of the men broke out from the ranks and shouted, “Brothers! How much longer do we have to take this? To arms, men!” He rushed towards one of the stacks of rifles. The man was Afanasy Matyushenko.
“Down with the captain!” Matyushenko shouted. “Down with the tsar! Long live freedom, comrades!”
The ranks broke as the sailors raced for the rifles.
The first mate hid behind a stack and took aim. His shot felled Vakulinchuk, a brave sailor and Bolshevik, the accepted leader of the crew.
“You’ll pay for that!” shouted Matyushenko and shot the officer.
The crew was enraged. Several of the most hated officers were shot and tossed overboard. The captain hid, but the men found him and tossed him overboard, too.
The Potemkin was free. But now what? Who would take command of the ship? Where were they to head for?
The sailors elected a shipboard committee, headed by Afanasy Matyushenko. They decided to sail for Odessa. The sailors raised their own revolutionary red flag instead of the tsar’s flag. These events took place on June 14, 1905.
The battleship Potemkin was proceeding at full speed under a red flag, heading for the port city of Odessa. The flag fluttered in the wind like a burning flame, like a beacon light, leading the sailors into battle for freedom.
The ship dropped anchor in the harbour. As night fell its searchlights cut through the gloom, skimming over the water and the dark, wakeful streets of Odessa. The ship’s guns were trained on the city, where numerous strikes had broken out. If only the crew of the Potemkin had come to the strikers’ aid by opening fire on the estates of the aristocracy and the rulers! But Vakulinchuk, the Bolshevik leader of the crew, had been killed, and the sailors were all very young and inexperienced.
Meanwhile, the tsar sent the following dispatch to Sevastopol: “The mutiny must be put down immediately!”
The entire squadron at Sevastopol was sent to Odessa to subdue the mutinied crew of the Potemkin.
On the morning of the fourth day the lookout on the Potemkin sighted masts and smoke on the horizon. First one ship came into view, then a second, and a third, with many more following. They were encircling the Potemkin. It was thirteen ships against one.
The alert sounded on the battleship. The sailors ran to their battle stations. What next?
The battleship sailed forth to meet the squadron. At Matyushenko’s order the signalman ran up the signal flags, spelling out the words: “The crew of the Potemkin asks the gunners not to fire.”
Suddenly a shout went up from thousands of men aboard the thirteen ships brought in to put down the mutiny. One of the ships signalled: “We’re joining you,” and headed swiftly towards the battleship.
The squadron commander, afraid lest all the crews mutiny, hastily ordered the ships back to Sevastopol.
Now two insurgent ships were flying the red flag in Odessa harbour. They were at anchor, but they did not try to capture the city. They seemed to be waiting for something. They hesitated. They did not know what to do.
By now there was very little drinking water left on the Potemkin. Their coal was running out. The sailors were restless. They wanted action, but did not know what to do.
The second ship did not hold out for long. Soon the red flag of the revolution was slowly lowered from its flagstaff.
The Potemkin raised anchor and set out for the open sea.
At the time, a messenger from Lenin was speeding on his way from Geneva to the rebel crew of the battleship. Lenin’s instructions were: “Induce the sailors to act swiftly and decisively. The city must be taken.” However, the Potemkin was far out at sea by the time the messenger arrived in Odessa.
Their drinking water was practically gone. They had to find a way out quickly and so sailed for Theodosia, another Black Sea port. They requested water, but the authorities refused them, saying they would not provide supplies for mutineers.
Once again the ship flying the red flag put out to sea, unconquered, but homeless. The men were anxious. What were they to do?
Towards evening of the eleventh day the battleship dropped anchor in a Rumanian port. These were foreign shores, foreign harbour lights, foreign houses.
By now there was no fresh water left, no coal, no bread.
The Rumanian Government said that if the crew surrendered the ship they would be given asylum and would not be deported to Russia.
And so, this was their last night aboard their cruiser. Farewell, you proud ship! For eleven days and nights you put terror in the hearts of the generals, the officers, the tsar and the rich of the land. You were faithful to your revolutionary flag. May your name go down in history!
The Moscow-St. Petersburg Express was leaving Moscow. There were four minutes left till departure time. The passengers took their seats. Groups of people stood around on the platform. Two police spies waited outside the last car.
“Well, he hasn’t shown up,” said the first.
“He might slip in at the last moment. We don’t want to miss him,” said the other.
They kept a careful watch from under their lowered hats. Two more passengers arrived. One was rather stocky and had on blue glasses. He was carrying a suitcase and a brown travelling box, of the kind that were fashionable at the time. The other was a dandy in a loud chequered coat.
The man in the blue glasses was speaking. The police spies could riot hear what he was saying. They were on edge, for the man they were hunting for had not shown up.
Just then the train began to move. The man in the blue glasses hopped onto the step. The dandy remained on the platform. He had come to see his friend off.
“Well, that takes care of that,” said the first police spy. “The chief said he was going to leave for St. Petersburg today. But he didn’t after all. I didn’t see anyone who looked like him.”
He had taken a photograph from his pocket. The man on the picture had high cheekbones, a high forehead and fine eyebrows. His eyes seemed to be laughing.
“This Lenin-Ulyanov’s come from Geneva on account of all these strikes. We’re to bring him in at any cost, so we’ll come back again tomorrow,” he said and stuck the photograph into his pocket.
Meanwhile, the express was thundering through the starry night, belching smoke that caught on the treetops. Silent snow-covered forests stretched endlessly before them. The train sped on. The locomotive’s searchlights pierced the blackness, its wheels clattered on the rails.
Early the next morning in St. Petersburg the man in the blue eyeglasses hailed a cab. He was soon at his home near the centre of town. But was this really his home? It was a small room furnished with an iron bedstead covered by a threadbare blanket, a tiny table by the window and a chair. It was bleak and depressing.
The man removed his glasses and put them in his suitcase. Then he took several sheets of paper from his travelling box and sat down to write at the table.
An hour later there was a soft scraping at the door. A key was turning slowly in the lock. The door opened. Nadezhda Konstantinovna entered. She had on her fur-trimmed winter coat and hat and was carrying a muff.
Vladimir Ilyich jumped up. “Nadya, my dear!” he cried.
“Were they after you in Moscow?” she asked anxiously. “All the time,” he said and smiled.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna tried not to show him how worried she was and began unpacking his suitcase. She came upon the blue glasses.
“That’s my disguise,” Vladimir Ilyich said. “They helped me to slip out from under the very noses of the police spies.”
Vladimir Ilyich and Nadezhda Konstantinovna had returned to Russia from Geneva illegally and were living in separate lodgings in St. Petersburg and using aliases. They had been meeting in secret and had very little time to spend together.
Vladimir Ilyich now hastened to tell her about the latest events in Moscow. He had gone there for the express purpose of discussing these events with his Party comrades.
The events in question had begun in October, when the Moscow railway junction went on strike. Then the Mos.. cow factories struck. No horse-cars or trams were running. The electric current was turned off. The water supply was shut down. All of working-class Moscow was on strike. Strikes had broken out in other towns and cities and had reached the rural areas.
In an attempt to stop the growing revolutionary movement the tsar had issued a manifesto in which he promised the workers more freedom. But this was a ruse. By now they knew they could not trust him. They had not forgotten the massacre outside the Winter Palace on Bloody Sunday.
And so at noon on December 7, 1905, another strike was called in Moscow. Troops were sent in to put down the strikers. That was when detachments of armed workers went into action. Barricades went up in the streets and squares, outsides the factories and mills.
The workers’ main forces were displaced in the working-class district of Presnya, where there were many factories. A Soviet of Workers’ Deputies was formed. The workers were now in power here.
Infantry and cavalry regiments, Cossack detachments and artillery were dispatched to Moscow. Heavy guns opened fire on Presnya. The workers’ wooden shanties and barracks burned like so much tinder.
The Presnya battles raged for ten days and ten nights. The people and the Bolsheviks fought valiantly, but the forces were too unequal and the uprising was finally put down.
Had the workers been right in taking up arms?
“No!” said the Mensheviks. “They should not have taken to arms,” said Plekhanov. Revolutionary battles were raging in Russia, but Plekhanov, the first Russian Marxist, was drifting farther and farther away from the Bolsheviks.
“The workers were right in resorting to arms,” said Lenin. “In this way the working class received its baptism of fire.”
Now, with the door of the little room securely locked, Vladimir Ilyich was telling Nadezhda Konstantinovna all about the Moscow uprising. She was the secretary of the Party’s Central Committee, in charge of arranging secret addresses, Party contacts and Bolshevik meetings. She was also Lenin’s closest assistant.
They remembered their dear comrade Nikolai Bauman, whose recent death was a sad loss to the Party. He had helped Lenin prepare the first issue of Iskra, he had helped smuggle the paper into Russia. The police had hounded him until he had finally been arrested and imprisoned, but he had escaped and continued working selflessly and fearlessly for the revolution. Then he had been imprisoned again.
Bauman had been released from prison in October 1905. During a workers’ demonstration several days later a hired assassin murdered him with a length of lead pipe.
Thousands of workers in Moscow attended the funeral of Nikolai Bauman, Bolshevik, revolutionary and hero. He was a fine, courageous man.
“Our Party’s strength lies in men such as he,” Lenin said. He rose and went over to the window. Nadezhda Konstantinovna came to stand by his side.
“Look, Volodya,” she said.
There was a man in a fur hat and a plaid scarf in the street opposite their house. He looked quite respectable, but it seemed strange for him to be just standing there. A second man was walking up and down impatiently nearby.
“I’ll have to change my lodgings again,” Vladimir Ilyich said. He picked up the article he had just written and handed it to Nadezhda Konstantinovna. She tucked it inside her blouse. Then he pushed his travelling box under the bed.
“I hope you can elude them,” she said anxiously. Her heart ached for him.
Danger threatened Lenin every day, every hour, every minute. He might be arrested, imprisoned and sentenced to exile for life. However, instead of speaking of her fears, she said that the comrades would be expecting him at a certain address and that she had come especially to tell him this. She agreed to his changing his lodgings, for the police were getting too close for comfort.
They left together and strolled off arm-in-arm in a direction opposite to the one they had intended to take.
Vladimir Ilyich was speaking pleasantly of a concert which he thought they might attend that evening. Nadezhda Konstantinovna nodded. Out of the corner of her eye she watched the two police spies. The one in the fur hat was still standing there like a statue, while the other man continued trotting up and down impatiently.
“Cabbie!” Vladimir Ilyich called.
A cab that was driving by pulled up. After they were seated Vladimir Ilyich said, “Sadovaya Street!”, the first street that came to mind. Then, speaking in German, he said in an undertone, “I hope there’s a real frost for those fools today, with a good ripping wind.”
They let the cab go before they reached Sadovaya Street and passed through a connecting yard. If there were still spies on their trail they would have to backtrack and so they rode back and forth. It was an unusually clear and sunny January day. Everything was sparkling white. The frost pinched their cheeks.
“Ah, how I missed this blanket of snow on everything,” Vladimir Ilyich said.
“There’s nothing like our Russian winter,” Nadezhda Konstantinovna agreed.
They were happy to have even this short time together.
Towards evening, having made certain that he was not being followed, Vladimir Ilyich set off to the address Nadezhda Konstantinovna had given him. The Bolsheviks and militant workers of St. Petersburg had gathered there to hear him speak.
The workers’ and peasants’ uprisings in Russia continued for two years. For two years the tsarist government used every means to choke the revolutionary spirit of the people. The reprisals were severe. There were arrests, many people were exiled, but still more were executed.
Vladimir Ilyich was now in Finland, not far from St. Petersburg. Here he edited the illegal Bolshevik newspaper Proletary (The Proletarian). From here he maintained close ties with the Bolshevik organisation of St. Petersburg, while Nadezhda Konstantinovna acted as his courier, travelling back and forth.
One day she returned from St. Petersburg looking very upset. There was a general order out for his immediate arrest.
At the time Finland was part of Russia. The Bolshevik centre decided that Lenin should leave the country and live in comparative safety abroad. It was also decided that Proletary would be published abroad.
“Goodbye, my dearest,” Nadezhda Konstantinovna said in parting. “Till we meet in Sweden.”
He would be leaving alone, as she was to travel to Stockholm at a later date.
It was December 1907. The train from Helsingfors was bound for the Finnish port city of Abo.
Taken up with his thoughts, Vladimir Ilyich did not immediately notice the man standing in the passage. When he finally did, his practised eye told him it was another police spy. That could only mean there were gendarmes waiting for him at Abo. Things looked rather hopeless, for the next station was Abo. He was heading straight into the arms of the police: Vladimir Ilyich glanced through the glass pane into the passage. The spy was gone. He had probably returned to his own compartment, confident that his prey was trapped. Vladimir Ilyich had every chance of finding himself in prison in another hour.
He stood up. His luggage consisted of a small grip. He left the compartment, walked slowly down the passage to the platform and opened the door. An icy wind whipped at his face. The train was moving very fast and the cars rattled and swayed. Vladimir Ilyich stood there hesitating for several minutes, listening to the clatter of the wheels. Was it his imagination, or was the train slowing down a bit at the approaching curve? He had no choice anyway. It was now or never. He jumped.
Catching his breath after his fall, he saw that he had landed in deep snowdrift. There was snow under his collar, in his shoes, on his face, but he was not hurt. The train thundered past. Then the red taillight winked in the distance and disappeared. The rumble died down. Everything became still. The starry night closed in on him.
Vladimir Ilyich climbed out of the drift, shook off the snow and started out along the rails to Abo. It was a long, twelve-mile hike on a cold winter’s night, but he had escaped capture. Imagining the spy’s face when he discovered his loss and raced frantically form car to car in search of his quarry, Vladimir Ilyich chuckled aloud. “Well, my dear fellow, they won’t pat you on the back for this!” he thought.
His plan had been to take the Swedish steamer at Abo. Then he would be out of danger.
However, Vladimir Ilyich missed the boat, and instead of being out of danger, he found himself in the very midst of it. The port and the town were swarming with Russian gendarmes and police spies. He dared not appear there. He learned this when he reached the home of the Finnish comrade whom the Bolshevik centre had entrusted with the task of seeing him safely off to Stockholm. He could not remain in the town at all.
The Finnish comrade took Vladimir Ilyich to a fishing village on the Gulf of Finland. There were hundreds of islands, peninsulas, bays and coves there. The islands and islets stretched far out to sea. Everything in sight was covered with ice and snow.
Two of the local fishermen agreed to take Vladimir Ilyich to one of the islands where Swedish steamers made a short stop. Ice-breakers had broken up the ice to form a channel near the island.
It was a dark, windy night. They had decided to start out at night in order to pass unseen, for anyone who spotted them would wonder why they had ventured forth on ice that was still very thin. There were branching cracks across it and in some places the water seeped onto the ice. The fishermen knew that the Russian they were escorting was a revolutionary, an active fighter against the tsar. The Finns hated the tsar. If this Russian was against the tsar they would do everything they could to help him.
The men walked on in silence, testing the ice in front of them with long sticks, taking one cautious step at a time. The sky was overcast, and the wind was rising. Flying snow stung their faces. They could hear foghorns in the distance where ships were plying through the blizzard.
Vladimir Ilyich did not really know how dangerous, how almost impossible it was to cross the ice on a night like that. He kept on, his eyes on the ice underfoot, looking up every now and then to keep sight of the man in front. Suddenly, the ice under him moved. There was a loud crack. The ice floe tilted and began slowly slipping away from under him. Water spurted up from the crack. Vladimir Ilyich poked his stick ahead of him, but could find nothing solid.
He could never clearly recall how he had jumped to safety. He had grabbed at the hand stretching towards him and leaped.
The fishermen slapped him on the back. They were speaking to him encouragingly in Finnish, but the only word he could recognise was “comrade”. How relieved they were that the Russian comrade had not perished under the ice!
Finally, they reached the island. Vladimir Ilyich boarded the Swedish boat and soon landed safely in Stockholm. There he awaited Nadezhda Konstantinovna. Together they set out for Geneva.
Once again they were to live far from home in enforced exile.
Geneva looked bleak on that December day when Vladimir Ilyich and his faithful comrade, his dearly beloved Nadya, arrived, having left revolutionary Russia behind.
Though it was winter, there was no snow. A harsh wind was blowing, carrying cold dust along the gutters.
The people of the city had sought the shelter of their homes. The streets were deserted. The Ulyanovs felt lonely and homesick in Geneva.
A MEETING IN STOCKHOLM
The year was 1910. Once again Vladimir Ilyich was in Stockholm, but this time he was here on a very special mission.
He walked along quickly, his spirits soaring on this autumn day. He was to speak at the local People’s House. Vladimir Ilyich had been a speaker at countless workers’ and Party meetings in many cities, and yet, this was a very special occasion. He smiled as he looked about at the clean, neat city with its muted sounds and its narrow, crooked streets. He was quite familiar with Stockholm by now. When he came upon a flower girl with a basket of red and pink roses he stopped.
“I’ll have a dozen of these red roses, please,” he said. And so Vladimir Ilyich, carrying a bouquet of red roses, was going to speak at a Party meeting.
The Russian Bolsheviks in exile were gathered in one of the halls of the People’s House.
“Lenin! Lenin!” they cheered when he arrived.
The comrades surrounded him. Each wanted to shake his hand. All of them were political émigrés, all of them knew Lenin from his books and articles, from his work on the Bolshevik newspapers Iskra, Vperyod, Novaya Zhizn and Proletary. Many had met him at Party congresses.
Two women were seated at the far end of the small I hall. One had very fine features and was in her seventies. She was wearing a black dress and had a piece of black lace pinned to her snow-white hair. A smile lit up her face, making it quite youthful when she heard the people exclaiming “Lenin!”
Seated beside her was a young woman with dark eyes and high cheekbones. She, too, beamed at the sight of Vladimir Ilyich. He walked up to them and put the red roses on the elderly woman’s lap.
“My mother and sister have come to see me from Russia,” he explained to those present.
“Thank you for coming,” one of the Bolsheviks said to Maria Alexandrovna. “You can be very proud of a son such as yours.”
Then Lenin took his place behind a small table that served as a lectern and began his speech. It was unusual in that this was the first time his mother had ever heard him speak. He was addressing his words to his comrades-in-arms, to the Bolsheviks gathered there, and to his mother. She had always been a true friend to her children, all of whom had chosen to be revolutionaries. She had visited them in prison. When Vladimir Ilyich was arrested in 1895 his mother had come straight to St. Petersburg. “I recall you smiling at me through the iron mesh, Mother, though your lips were trembling,” he was thinking.
In his speech Vladimir Ilyich discussed the situation within the Party, saying that the Bolsheviks would have to fight against every trend that would lead the workers away from the revolutionary path.
The revolution of 1905 had failed, but that did not mean they should give up the struggle. They must continue to advance just as boldly, for they had but one course to follow. After his speech he was again surrounded and it took him quite a while to break away.
His mother and sister Maria were waiting for him outside.
It was a cool evening, filled with the smells of the sea and the port. Soft lights glowed in the windows of the houses. They could hear music in the distance.
“How happy I am to see you, Mother!” Vladimir Ilyich exclaimed.
He thought back to his childhood. His mother had never done anything in haste. She had always been calm and just. He could not recall a single instance in which he had not agreed with her judgement.
“You know, Volodya,” she said now, “I’ve read many of your books and articles, and I respect your fine mind and the goal you have set yourself. This evening I’ve seen for myself how highly people think of you.”
Maria Alexandrovna and his sister stayed on in Stockholm for ten days. How quickly the time passed!
A Russian steamer was leaving Stockholm early that morning. Autumn had cast heavy grey clouds across the sky. The wind tore the last leaves from the trees and chased small waves across the bay. The water slapped against the bottoms of the small boats tied up along the quay. It was an uneasy, unhappy day.
It wrenched Vladimir Ilyich’s heart to see his mother walk across the gangplank to board the steamer, after having embraced him again and again in parting. She kept turning round to wave her handkerchief at him. Though the ship was not yet ready to sail, Vladimir Ilyich could not board it, since it belonged to a Russian company and the moment he set foot aboard it he ran the risk of being arrested.
A low blast sounded over the bay. A gull cried shrilly. The steamer cast off.
He was never to see her again.
There were thousands of Russian revolutionaries living in emigration in France. Vladimir Ilyich now resided in Paris. In the summer of 1911 he and Nadezhda Konstantinovna moved to Longjumeau Village near Paris. During the night the farmers would drive their carts along the main street, taking their produce to the Paris markets eleven miles away.
The houses of Longjumeau were of soot-blackened stone. The soot came from the smoke stack of the local tannery. Even the leaves and grass here were dull with soot, although the outlying fields were green. However, the Ilyiches were not here for a summer holiday. On the contrary, there was much work to be done.
It was early when Vladimir Ilyich awoke. The room was dark and dank, even on a sunny summer morning. In fact, it was so gloomy inside it was difficult to believe the sun was shining.
Just then Nadezhda Konstantinovna brought in their breakfast.
“Ah, my dear sir, you’ve overslept today. We’ll have to give you a demerit for conduct,” Vladimir Ilyich said to himself as he jumped out of bed. Soon he was helping to set the table.
The sugar bowl slipped out of his hands, but he twisted round quickly and caught it in time.
“How’s that for juggling?” he said.
“Just fair,” Nadezhda Konstantinovna replied.
That summer was an exceptionally hot one in France. The sun beat down unmercifully from the moment it rose in the morning. A shaggy dog was lying in the shade of a fence. Its tongue lolled out of its mouth and its sides were heaving.
“Hot, aren’t you?” Vladimir Ilyich said and bent to pat it. “Good morning,” he said to the tannery worker he rented his rooms from.
It was a Sunday. The man was sitting in the shade of the fence, his gnarled hands resting in his lap. He had a thin, narrow face and seemed completely spent.
A woman holding an open lace parasol and surrounded by her children drove by in a fine carriage. The worker got to his feet hastily and bowed. The woman nodded.
“That’s the owner’s wife,” the man said to Lenin in a respectful tone of voice.
“Those people really know how to enjoy life,” Vladimir Ilyich replied.
The worker was silent. Then he said, “The Lord created some people to be rich and others to be poor. That means it’s how it should be.”
A church bell began to ring across the street. The doors of the church were thrown open for early Mass. “The Lord created the world. It’s not for us to judge His ways,” the man added and headed for the church.
“Are you going to your school, M’sieu?” a neighbour’s boy asked. “Do you hold school on Sunday, too?”
Lenin’s school at the far end of the main street was an unusual kind of school. It didn’t even look like one. The building in front had once been an inn. There was a large barn in the yard. Carriages had put up here on the way to Paris, while the drivers rested and fed their horses. This had been very long ago.
In the spring of 1911 Vladimir Ilyich had rented the barn. It was to serve as a school. The future pupils swept the barn, made a wooden table and borrowed old chairs and stools from the neighbours.
The pupils were Russian workers who had come to France from various cities and towns of Russia. They had left Russia illegally, slipping past the police posts. Their teachers were Vladimir Ilyich, Nadezhda Konstantinovna and several other Bolsheviks.
The pupils were seated round the table when Lenin entered. They rose to greet him, just as if they were schoolchildren greeting their teacher.
They were young and capable. They were eager to learn.
“The Lord created some people to be rich and others to be poor. That means it’s how it should be.” Thus did Lenin begin the lesson that morning. He smiled mischievously and his eyes were laughing. Everyone looked at him in surprise.
“I learned this truth from one of the local tannery workers,” Lenin explained after a short pause.
“Ah! No class-conscious worker would ever say anything like that!”
“Let’s have him here! We’ll teach him a thing or two!”
One of the pupils rose and said, “I’m a tannery worker, too, but I think the Lord’s laws aren’t much use to us. The only thing to do is to get rid of the rich and build a new society.”
“That’s right!” the others agreed.
It was a noisy lesson, but Lenin was pleased with the way it went.
“That means there really don’t have to be rich people and poor people,” he said and brought the discussion round to their current lesson in political economy.
Vladimir Ilyich was teaching the young workers the fundamentals of Marxism, for it was important for them to be educated and knowledgeable. They also had to have a good understanding of politics.
Would a man like the local tannery worker ever fight for his rights if he placed his fate in the hands of the Lord and closed his eyes to all the injustices of the world? There were many such backward workers in Russia, too. Backwardness would be a barrier in the revolutionary struggle.
“The workers need knowledge!” Vladimir Ilyich had said. That was why he had organised a Party school in Longjumeau. After four months of study the pupils went back home, armed with revolutionary knowledge and faith in the workers’ cause.
The French village of Longjumeau, a village like so many others in France, has since become known far and wide because Lenin’s first Party school was organised here.
DECLARING WAR ON WAR
“Goodness, I can hardly believe we managed to escape!” Nadezhda Konstantinovna said as she gazed at Vladimir Ilyich. He was here and not in prison! The danger had passed.
“It’s like a bad dream. Just try to forget about it,” Vladimir Ilyich said. “Look at Berne, Nadya. See how lovely it is in autumn.”
They were now in Berne, the capital of neutral Switzerland. They were free, when only a short while ago Vladimir Ilyich had been imprisoned in Poronin.
Poronin was a town in Poland and was under Austrian rule at the time. The First World War had broken out in August 1914.
Thousands of Russian, German, French, British, Austrian and Hungarian women had wept as they saw their husbands and sons off to war. So many of them would never return. Peasants and workers in the uniform of the Russian Army were being transported to the fronts. Who needed this war? Who would profit from it? The soldiers did not know, but the rulers did.
At the very outbreak of the war the Austrian authorities in Poronin arrested Lenin on a charge of espionage in favour of the tsarist government. He was a Russian. Austria was at war with Russia. He was forever writing and sending written matter to Russia. That meant he was a spy. There was no evidence, but who needed evidence? If the police said he was a spy, that was all the evidence needed. The charge carried the death penalty. Nadezhda Konstantinovna had spent sleepless nights during the two weeks that Lenin’s life was in danger. Meanwhile, prominent public men in Poland and Austria came out in Lenin’s defence, proving the absurdity of the charge against him. The military authorities were forced to release him.
They had left Poronin the day before. Here in Berne life was unchanged, for Switzerland was not at war. No Swiss mothers wept to see their sons taken from them.
As always, they had found lodgings in a street on the outskirts. It was a small, narrow street named Distelweg, which meant “road in the brambles”. Needless to say, it was more than modest.
That first morning they walked down the short street and came to a wood. The leaves were red and golden, for this was September. The wood grew on a hill, which blended into another that was both higher and steeper.
Vladimir Ilyich stopped suddenly. “Is this the place, Nadya?” he asked, recognising the signs at which they were to turn off the path. They crossed a ditch, walked on a ways and then went through some bushes. Ahead lay a small clearing. Some people were sitting on their coats on the grass.
“Hello, comrades!” Vladimir Ilyich called.
A branch cracked behind him. Then a head appeared. It was a man carrying a picnic basket.
Having arrived in Berne the day before,, Lenin had gone to see a Russian Bolshevik whom he knew. The man had then spoken to another Bolshevik, and so word was passed around that they were all to meet in the woods outside Berne the following morning.
The Bolsheviks had gathered in the clearing at the appointed hour. Everyone wanted to hear what Lenin had to say.
“The Russian and other peoples have been plunged into war,” Vladimir Ilyich said. “Who stands to gain from this war? The capitalists. The war is giving them profits in the billions. They are out to grab ever new markets, to make still more profits. They have to trick the soldiers and the workers into believing that they are defending their countries, while actually they are defending the capitalists’ profits. We must bring our knowledge to the workers, the soldiers and the peasants. We must tell them that they are now in possession of arms. We must say to them: soldiers and proletarians of all nations, turn your guns against the rulers and capitalists of your countries. Start revolutions. Down with the unjust war! Declare war on war!”
This is what Lenin spoke of in the woods outside Berne. He wrote articles on this subject which he sent to the Bolsheviks in Russia. They, in turn, saw that his words reached the workers and the soldiers in the trenches.
The soldiers read this message, and it made them think. Perhaps they should indeed turn their guns against the tsar, the factory owners and the landlords. Perhaps they should indeed overthrow the tsar and establish a new way of life.
HOME FOR GOOD
While in Berne, Lenin wrote a book on imperialism in which he explained why the capitalists could not survive without predatory wars. The capitalists gained control of other countries and turned them into colonies, growing ever richer at the expense of the oppressed peoples. There came a time when their greed drove them on to divide the entire world among themselves. Each wanted to grab the biggest slice. As time went on, Lenin predicted, the number of these predatory wars would increase, while the life of the people would become increasingly worse. However, the strength and the class-consciousness of the working class were growing. The time of socialist revolution was close at hand.
One had to have a profound understanding of the history of mankind to write such a book. Lenin never spent a day without reading. Since he needed to do much research for this book, he and Nadezhda Konstantinovna went to Zurich. They had planned on staying a fortnight, but instead remained a year. Vladimir Ilyich stayed on to do research in the excellent library there.
Vladimir Ilyich would spend his days at the library, coming home for a quick lunch in the middle of the day. A narrow, chestnut-lined street led to the library. All year long he would walk under the chestnuts four times a day, past the town hall with its tower, past the ancient church and the old houses.
The ever-changing Lake Zurich was not far away. On a stormy day the waves would rise up and come crashing down on the embankment. On a quiet, sunny day the lake was breathtakingly beautiful. Vladimir Ilyich was very fond of the Swiss countryside, but he sorely missed his homeland. This feeling of homesickness never left him.
One day after lunch, when he was preparing to go back to the library, someone knocked at the door. It was a loud, sharp knocking. A Russian émigré whom they knew well burst into the room.
“Have you heard the news? You haven’t? There’s been a revolution in Russia!”
Vladimir Ilyich grabbed his hat. Nadezhda Konstantinovna put her coat on in the doorway. They rushed towards the lake, where there was an outdoor stand on which newspapers were posted. They read the latest news dispatches quickly. It was February 1917. There had been a revolution in Russia.
“At last!” Vladimir Ilyich exclaimed.
He had maintained close ties with Russia, he was the leader of the growing revolutionary struggle and knew that the country was on the brink of revolution. This news from home was magnificent.
There could be no doubt that great events would now be taking place in Russia. Lenin was all eagerness to return home immediately. The labour of his life had been to prepare Russia for revolution.
But how were they to leave? Vladimir Ilyich became restless. He could not eat, he could not sleep. Finally, with the help of the Swiss comrades, Lenin and a group of thirty Russian Bolsheviks and other émigrés were allowed to return home.
The train was to depart two hours after they had received permission to leave. Two hours in which to pack, return books to the library and settle the bill with the landlord. They managed to attend to everything and were on the train two hours later, heading for Berne. From there they would begin the journey home.
“Thank you for your kindness and hospitality,” Lenin wrote in his farewell letter to his Swiss comrades.
The train was carrying them through Switzerland, past its sparkling lakes and majestic mountains.
They crossed Germany and reached the stormy Baltic Sea. Then they set out across the heavily-mined Baltic on a freighter which took them to Sweden. From there the group proceeded to Finland. It was a long and dangerous journey in wartime. They would soon be in Petrograd, as St. Petersburg was now called.
Through the train windows they saw the woods of scraggly pines and firs. The last snow lay in white clumps, with black water in the bogs.
“We’ll arrive in Petrograd in the middle of the night. The city will be sleeping,” Nadezhda Konstantinovna said. The dim street lights picked out the hulking masses of the stone buildings. They were passing the warehouses and the roundhouse. The train slowed down as it approached the Finland Station. A loud blast from its whistle tore through the silence of the night. Now the train was steaming into the station. But what was that? It was the sound of music. A band was playing the “Marseillaise”.
“Attention!” came a shouted command.
The station was jammed with workers, detachments of Red Guards and revolutionary sailors.
Everything became still as the Red Guards and sailors presented arms.
Lenin appeared on the platform. He was stunned. “Comrades!”
“Long live Lenin! Down with the war! Long live the revolution!” the crowd thundered.
Thousands of voices joined in from the station square outside. There was a veritable sea of people there to greet him. Their red banners waved like bright flames in the glare of searchlights.
An armoured car was waiting outside. Lenin climbed on it. From all sides hands were stretching towards the leader of the Party and the working class. Thousands of people were smiling up at him.
Lenin wished he could embrace them all, his hardworking countrymen who were so tired of war and privation.
“Comrades!” Lenin said. “You have brought about the revolution. You have overthrown the tsar. But the capitalists have seized power and want to rule us. What we need is the power of the working people. An eight-hour working day. Land for the peasants. Bread for the hungry. Peace for the people. What we need is a socialist revolution!”
“Long live Lenin!” the people cheered.
It seemed that this was not the dead of night, but a bright and sunny morning.
The armoured car began moving off slowly. Lenin had come home. He was home for good.
A TIME OF LOSS
Vladimir Ilyich raised his head from the pillow and looked about. He was in a small, cheerful room. There was a desk in it, and newspapers on the desk. There was a flower pot on the windowsill. An armchair covered in maroon embroidered silk stood in a corner. Was this a dream?
No, he was not dreaming. He was in his sister Anna’s house. This is where she and her husband Mark Yelizarov lived in Petrograd.
The events of the previous day rushed back at him. What a happy day of reunion it had been! The armoured car had taken him to the former palace of the ballerina Kshesinskaya. It was now the headquarters of the Central Committee and the City Committee of the Bolshevik Party.
The armoured car had moved slowly. Though it was late at night, the lights were on in many windows in the city. There were crowds in the streets.
“Lenin!” The shouts followed him all along the route. Every now and then the armoured car would stop and he would speak to the people. He tried to speak clearly and simply of the socialist revolution and of what it would mean to the working people. His heart overflowed with fiery words.
Hundreds of people came to the former palace.
“We want to see Lenin! We want to hear what he says!” they shouted.
Lenin came out to speak from the balcony several times that night. If not for the darkness, he would have seen the gilded spire of Peter and Paul Fortress and its great, forbidding stone walls. So many of Russia’s finest sons had been buried alive in its dark dungeons. But it would never be a place of dread torture again!
“The old will never return,” Vladimir Ilyich said. “Onward, comrades! Long live the socialist revolution!”
Bolsheviks from all over Petrograd had gathered in the palace to hear Lenin speak. They simply would not let him go.
It was five o’clock in the morning when he and Nadezhda Konstantinovna finally reached home, utterly exhausted, but more happy than they had ever been. They were back home at last after so many hard years. They had come back to Russia at a time of great change.
Vladimir Ilyich dozed fitfully for an hour or so and then came wide awake again. It was very still in the apartment, which somehow resembled a ship. There was a long centre corridor with rooms leading off it like cabins. The corridor ended in a triangular dining room which gave off onto a small triangular balcony. Surely that was the prow of the ship. There was a piano in the dining room. There had always been a piano in the Ulyanov home, and there had always been music.
Vladimir Ilyich tiptoed into the dining room. He went up to the piano and leafed through the sheets of music. They had belonged to his mother. She had died seven months before and had not lived to see this day. Neither had Nadya’s mother.
Vladimir Ilyich looked sadly around the room. Here his mother had sat reading in the rocker, with her shawl around her shoulders. The chill of old age had been added to a heart heavy with concern for her children. They had been in exile and in prison. “Dearest Mother! How many prisons you had to visit to see your children! There was the prison in St. Petersburg, the one in Moscow, and in Kiev, and in Saratov. Fate had tossed you about so cruelly.”
Vladimir Ilyich laid the music back on the piano and went softly to his room. It had been his mother’s room before. The last place in which she had lived. There was her maroon armchair. She had embroidered the flowers on the silk. If only he could see her for a moment, just to kiss her and hold her gentle, patient, mother’s hands once again.
Soon everyone was up. But this morning the mood was different from the night before. Everyone spoke softly this morning.
They set out for the cemetery together.
Snow still covered the ground. There were drifts between the graves. A pine bough lay across his mother’s grave., Beside it was another grave. His sister Olya had been buried here. The bare branches of an asp drooped sadly overhead.
Lenin removed his hat. He lowered his head and stood there in silence for a long time.
Scenes from his childhood flooded his memory. They were in their house in Simbirsk. The lamp was glowing warmly in the dining room. The children were seated round the table. Mother had opened a book. What wonderful, fascinating adventures awaited them! How well she read. Her voice was so melodious, so expressive.
Then another scene came to mind. A key rattled in the iron door of his prison cell.
“Prisoner Ulyanov, your mother is here to see you.”
He was hurrying down the prison corridor, hating to miss a single moment of the short time allowed them for a visit. He reached the gloomy room with its low ceiling. There was the double barrier. His mother’s dear face was pressed against the far screen. Her eyes shone with love. “Are you well, Volodya? I’ve brought you some milk and some other things. And the books you wanted. . . .”
“Dearest Mother! You did not live to see our victory, our new life. How bitter it is to know you cannot share our joy. But I shall never forget your love and kindness, and your understanding.”
ALL POWER TO THE SOVIETS!
From the cemetery Lenin went to speak at a meeting of Bolsheviks. This was on April 4, 1917. The report he made at that meeting has come to be known as the “April Theses”. He wrote it in the train on the way home from Switzerland, outlining a concrete plan for the Bolsheviks and the people to follow now that the autocracy had been overthrown in Russia.
The Provisional Government was in power. It was made up of landlords and capitalists, all of whom were very wealthy men. And since when had the rich worried about the poor? They were not at all interested in a better life for the workers and the peasants. They were interested in protecting their own wealth. Then why should the Bolsheviks support such a government? Indeed, they should not. The Bolsheviks should support the Soviets. At the time, the Soviets (Councils) of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies had already been formed, but they were not very strong yet. There were many Mensheviks in the Soviets, as well as other people who did not agree with the aims of the Bolsheviks.
“The Soviets should be made strong,” Lenin said. That meant they had to become Bolshevik Soviets. Then, with the aid of the Soviets, the land and the factories would be taken away from the rich and would come into the possession of the people. Besides, the Bolsheviks would put an end to the war.
Such were Lenin’s proposals.
Most of the workers realised that their future lay with the Bolsheviks. However, there were some who did not yet understand this, and not all of the peasants understood this, either. The Mensheviks and the bourgeoisie tried their best to confuse the workers and the peasants. They insisted that Russia fight on in the war till victory was won. They supported the government of the landlords and the capitalists.
The Bolsheviks had their own newspaper. It was called Pravda (Truth). It was put out in three rooms in a large building on the bank of the Moika River in Petrograd. This was a newspaper that really brought the truth to the people.
Lenin began writing for the paper as soon as he returned to Petrograd. He would write one, two and sometimes even three articles a day for Pravda. He spoke at meetings in factories all over the city. He spoke so clearly on the policy of the Bolsheviks for winning a better life for the people that ever more workers and peasants began to understand and support the Bolshevik Party.
Though Lenin had only been in Russia for three months, great changes had taken place in that short time. He had the support of his comrades-in-arms. Together they fought for a new way of life. The soldiers did not want to fight any longer. The workers did not want to slave for the capitalists. The peasants demanded their own land.
On July 4, 1917 the workers and soldiers of Petrograd came out into the streets. The Bolsheviks had not called this demonstration, but on Lenin’s instructions they took on the leadership and tried to see that it was a peaceful demonstration. The workers carried banners reading: “All power to the Soviets!” “Down with the capitalist ministers!”, “Give us bread, peace and freedom!”
It was an organised march and one which demonstrated the mighty force of the working people.
The ministers of the Provisional Government became frightened. Although they called themselves a revolutionary government, they acted exactly as the tsar had on Bloody Sunday of 1905. They called out the troops and ordered them to open fire on the peaceful marchers.
The next day Vladimir Ilyich went to the Pravda offices to look over the proofs and advise the comrades there.
A military car came to a screeching halt outside. There was a sound of pounding feet on the stairway. The door was thrown open and several armed cadets rushed in.
“Where’s Lenin?” they demanded.
Fortunately, he had left a short while before and was nearly home by then. Nadezhda Konstantinovna and his sister Anna were waiting anxiously in the hall.
“Volodya! The Provisional Government has outlawed you.”
The bell pealed. They all started.
“Have they come for you already?” Nadezhda Konstantinovna whispered.
Vladimir Ilyich went swiftly to his room. He must destroy the comrades’ addresses and various papers. They must not fall into the hands of the police.
“It’s me!” came a muffled voice from outside. “It’s Sverdlov!” the women exclaimed.
They were so relieved to see a friend instead of the police.
“Please come in, Yakov Mikhailovich!” they said, beaming at a thin, dark-eyed man in a pince-nez. This was Sverdlov who had, since his youth, devoted his life to the Party cause. The tsarist government had exiled him to the distant Narym Territory of Siberia. He had tried to escape several times, but only succeeded in his fifth attempt. However, he was soon recaptured by the police. His new sentence took him to the frozen wastes of Turukhansk Territory, from which so few had ever returned alive.
Sverdlov had been freed by the revolution. He was an extremely intelligent and capable man and soon became one of Lenin’s most devoted and efficient helpers.
“The cadets have wrecked the Pravda offices. The police are arresting people and searching houses all over the city. They might come here at any minute. How quickly can you leave, Vladimir Ilyich?” Sverdlov asked.
Vladimir Ilyich was silent. He was thinking that once again a hunt was on for revolutionaries. There would be police spies again, imprisonment, exile and executions. Once again revolutionaries would have to go into hiding.
He hesitated. However, the danger was all too real. He had been outlawed, and that meant he might be shot without warning, executed without a trial. The Provisional Government had decided to get rid of him quickly.
“You must leave,” Sverdlov repeated. Then he took off his coat and threw it over Lenin’s shoulders. “They won’t spot you as quickly in my coat. Put the collar up.”
Vladimir Ilyich put up the collar. Then he embraced his sister and his wife. He looked around at his happy home of three months that so reminded him of a ship and went out, not even knowing where he was going.
A GREEN STUDY
There was a large munitions plant in Sestroretsk, not far from Petrograd and the Finnish border. Nikolai Yemelyanov had been working at the plant for nearly thirty years. He lived at Razliv Station, a half-hour’s walk from the plant. The station was named for nearby Lake Razliv.
One day a trusted comrade from the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party came to see Yemelyanov. It had been decided that Lenin, the Party’s leader, must go into hiding to escape persecution by the counterrevolutionary Provisional Government.
“You have been assigned the task,” the comrade from the Central Committee had said to Yemelyanov.
At first Yemelyanov thought the hayloft in his barn would be a good hiding place, but then decided it was not really safe. There were his neighbours and their children who often came to play with his own seven children. He would have to find something more remote and reliable.
Early the next morning Yemelyanov woke Vladimir Ilyich. There was a low mist hanging over the pond behind the house. Yemelyanov led Lenin to his rowboat and they set off quietly. The silent houses of the town floated by as they rowed softly across the pond and on to Lake Razliv. All the world was asleep.
A narrow strip of pink on the far horizon lit up the deserted lake. Yemelyanov wanted to get Lenin across to a spot about four miles away as quickly as possible, before any of his neighbours spotted him out rowing a stranger at this hour and began wondering what was up. The news of the manhunt for Lenin, launched by the Provisional Government, had been in all the papers, and since the world was made up of all sorts of people he would have to hurry.
Vladimir Ilyich sat at the tiller. A breeze was breaking up the fog. The pink glow in the east was quickly spreading.
Vladimir Ilyich was thinking of times past and of his many true friends. He thought of Ivan Babushkin, the worker from St. Petersburg with whom he had composed the League of Struggle’s first leaflet. Young Babushkin matured into a fiery revolutionary, a dedicated Bolshevik, whom the tsarist government executed without trial in 1906.
There was Afanasy Matyushenko, the seaman from the Potemkin who had come to Geneva to see Lenin and tell him about the uprising. He, too, had been executed upon his return to Russia.
There was Ivan Yakutov, a young worker from Ufa. Yakutov had formed a workers’ republic in Ufa during the 1905 Revolution. The revolution had been put down, and Yakutov had been executed in the prison yard. How many thousands of militant workers had sacrificed their lives for the revolution! Their names would never be forgotten.
Lenin knew that Nikolai Yemelyanov was risking much by hiding him from the bourgeois authorities. There would be no mercy for Yemelyanov, the father of seven young children, if he were caught.
“Thank you, Comrade Yemelyanov,” Lenin said. Yemelyanov glanced at him. “Think nothing of it, Vladimir Ilyich. It is an honour to be of help.”
He rowed up to the tree-lined bank. It was not really a forest, but a grove of knobby alders, asps and scraggly birches.
Together they unloaded the boat and carried the provisions and blankets about half a mile into the grove. Vladimir Ilyich had taken along notepaper, a pile of newspapers and a blue notebook. Lenin had spent nearly a year doing research at the library in Zurich taking notes in this blue notebook which had now become priceless to him.
They passed through the grove and came upon a large clearing with a hut in the centre. Outside it two forked sticks were stuck in the ground with a kettle on a cross-pole between them.
“Why, this is excellent!” Vladimir Ilyich exclaimed. “I couldn’t have wished for anything better.”
“Have a look,” Yemelyanov said and nodded towards a scythe that rested against the hut. “I’ve hired you to mow this grass, Vladimir Ilyich. In case any berry-pickers come along, you’re not to say a single word. You’re a Finnish mower and don’t know a word of Russian.” Yemelyanov glanced at Lenin closely again. He had shaved off his beard and trimmed his moustache. Now, wearing a high-collared shirt and an old jacket he truly resembled a workingman. “I’ll be bringing you food at night or at dawn.”
“And please don’t forget the newspapers. A copy of every paper you can get. Oh, yes, your mower has a lot of writing to do. Where would you suggest I have my study?”
“Right here.” Yemelyanov parted the bushes. A small, square clearing had been hacked out of the underbrush a few steps away. There were two sawed-off tree stumps on it, the higher one to serve as a desk, the lower as a chair. “No one will spot you here, and it’s as quiet as can be.”
A short while later, having made Lenin comfortable in his new quarters, Yemelyanov left. Vladimir Ilyich went down to the water’s edge and saw him off, standing there till the boat was out of sight. Then he headed quickly back to his “green study”. He sat down at the desk and opened his blue notebook. Lenin was writing a book on how the workers were to fight for the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat and on how they were to build a state of their own.
THE STOKER OF ENGINE No. 2
The Party’s Central Committee had done wisely in deciding to have Lenin go into hiding, for the day after he had left his lodgings the cadets had come looking for him.
Lenin, meanwhile, was in the hut at Lake Razliv. It would have been a perfect retreat, save for the clouds of mosquitoes.
“I managed to escape the Provisional Government, but I’ve had no such luck in escaping these mosquitoes,” Vladimir Ilyich said to Yemelyanov. Then the rains set in, putting out his fire and keeping him inside the hut. On such days Lenin wasn’t even able to make himself a glass of hot tea. He was not discouraged by these inconveniences, for he had too much work to do, writing articles for the Bolshevik newspaper, working on his book, directing the Sixth Congress of the Bolshevik Party which had met in Petrograd. Party comrades would journey to Razliv in secret to receive Lenin’s instructions and advice on the work of the Congress.
Lenin told them that the Party should begin preparing for an armed uprising which would bring the proletariat and the poorest peasants to power. Such was the great task that Vladimir Ilyich had set before the Party. The Congress delegates voted for Lenin’s proposal.
The Appeal issued by the Congress read, in part: “Our Party is entering this struggle with banners unfurled. The old world’s hour of death has struck.”
The bourgeois Provisional Government feared and hated Lenin. It knew full well that Lenin was boldly leading the Bolshevik Party to a showdown and spared no effort in its attempts to capture him. Hundreds of police spies were on the alert.
Soon it became dangerous for Lenin to remain at Lake Razliv. Besides, the summer was ending, the nights had turned cold, and the rainy season had set in. The wet trees were black and sombre.
So the Central Committee decided to transfer Lenin to a more distant location.
At the crack of dawn one morning Yemelyanov showed up at his plant and headed for the manager’s office. He did not fear being apprehended, because no manager ever came to work at such an early hour. The office was empty. He told the watchman, an old friend, a story he had invented and was let in. Yemelyanov was after a pass which would give the bearer the right to cross the Finnish border. Many of the plant’s workers lived in nearby Finnish villages. The manager issued them passes good for travelling back and forth. There was a stack of passes on his desk. Yemelyanov took the top one, stuck it in his pocket and set out for the lake. That was how Vladimir Ilyich Lenin became Konstantin Petrovich Ivanov. He shaved off his moustache, darkened his eyebrows and put on a wig. A shock of wavy hair protruded from under his cap. No one, not even his family, would have recognised him now.
Late that night four men left the hut at Lake Razliv and headed across the grove to the railway station. Yemelyanov and two Finnish comrades were accompanying Lenin. All was still as they made their way in single file along the dark and narrow path. The overhanging branches whipped at their faces. Soon they were stumbling over hummocks. Then the path disappeared. The trees had thinned out, but the underbrush had become much denser. Suddenly, they smelled smoke. Was it a campfire, or a forest fire? The smoke was getting so dense it was becoming difficult to breathe. Their eyes smarted.
“Let’s turn off here,” Yemelyanov said. “There’s a peat fire in the bog.”
There is nothing more treacherous than a peat fire. The flames smoulder under the surface layer of peat, creeping every which way, and then suddenly roar up in a veritable pillar of fire, burning and destroying everything within reach.
“Follow me!” Yemelyanov shouted.
They coughed and choked in the billowing smoke, stumbling onwards, falling and rising again. After a while the smoke thinned. Soon they were out of its range. No longer did they slip on the shaky hummocks. The fire was behind them at last. The four men sat down on the ground to rest.
Late the following night the suburban train from Petrograd pulled into Udelnaya Station. Its destination was inland. Hugo Jalava was a Finnish engineer, a Bolshevik who lived in Petrograd. He liked his trusted locomotive No. 293, with its funnel stack and hot round sides. Hugo stopped the engine at the crossing and looked out. Yes, there was a man smoking a cigarette. Another man stood under the lamppost reading a newspaper. This was all according to plan. It meant all was well. But where was Lenin?
Just then a stocky worker walked quickly up to the engine. A shock of brown hair protruded from under his cap. He grabbed hold of the handrail and pulled himself up.
“How do you do,” he said. “I’m Ivanov, your new stoker.”
“Hello, Comrade stoker,” Hugo replied.
Vladimir Ilyich took off his coat and began stacking sticks of wood near the firebox. The whistle blew and the pistons began to work. Soon they were chugging past a forest.
They reached Beloostrov Station a short while later. This was the border control post. The station was jammed full of policemen and cadets. The train had barely stopped when they swarmed into the coaches, carefully checking on every passenger. Police whistles shrilled. A conductor hurried by, his lantern swinging in the dark.
“I hope they don’t stick their heads in here,” Hugo said. He sounded worried. “Even though you have a pass, it’s best to keep out of sight.” He jumped out of the cab, uncoupled the engine and they steamed off to fill up at the water tower.
The first bell for departure rang. The police still swarmed through the coaches, searching. Then the second bell rang. A split second before the third bell, Hugo backed engine No. 293 to the train. There was the third and final bell. The whistle blew saucily, as if Hugo Jalava were saying, “Better luck next time!” to the policemen.
The train pulled out, thundering into the night. The wind whistled in his ears when Vladimir Ilyich stuck his head out of the cab window. A short while later they were in Finland,
A STRANGE RETREAT
Kustaa Rovio, though barely thirty, was the chief of police in Helsingfors, the capital of Finland. One day the Governor-General, who was a Russian, since Finland was then a part of Russia, summoned Rovio, and said in significant voice, “I’ve just received a secret order from Petrograd.”
“Yes, Sir,” said Rovio.
“Do you know of a man named Lenin?”
Rovio hesitated a moment, then said he did. All the papers had been running the story of the Provisional Government’s search of Lenin, who seemed to have vanished into thin air.
“There’s a suspicion that Lenin might be in hiding here, in Helsingfors,” the Governor said. “You are to take immediate measures to locate him.”
“If you apprehend him. . .” the Governor’s voice trailed off.
“I shall do my best, Sir!”
“Remember, there is a large reward for Lenin’s capture.”
Rovio bowed and retreated. Once outside the door he mopped his brow.
Instead of heading for his office he went straight to the railway station. The mail train from Helsingfors to Petrograd would soon be leaving. The postmaster, a sleepy-eyed man who seemed indifferent to everything, was waiting for him on the platform. They walked on together slowly. Seeing that no one was watching them, Rovio took an envelope from his pocket and handed it to the postmaster. The man stuck it in his jacket with surprising haste.
“It’s from the same man to the same address,” Rovio said.
“Right,” the postmaster replied and, in turn, handed Rovio an envelope which the latter quickly concealed. Then they parted.
From the station Rovio went to a small grocery shop where he bought a dozen eggs, a quarter of a pound of butter and a loaf of bread. Now at last he could head for home. He took the long way round, avoiding the main thoroughfares. If anyone were watching him, his actions might appear strange. But who would watch the chief of police? It was his job to keep law and order in the city.
“So they’ve received a secret order, have they?” he said to himself, recalling his recent conversation with the z Governor as he climbed the stairs to his apartment. At this very moment (if only the Governor could have seen him!) Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was sitting at the desk in Rovio’s room, working on his book ’The State and Revolution. The blue notebook in which he had taken notes in Zurich lay open before him.
Rovio cleared his throat. Vladimir Ilyich looked up and said, “Has the mail arrived?”
“Yes, but I think you’d better have a bite to eat first, Vladimir Ilyich.”
“No, no. I’ll have a look at the mail first.” He waited impatiently while Rovio extracted the envelope from his breast pocket.
“This is in exchange for the one you gave me.”
There were several letters inside. Vladimir Ilyich scanned them quickly. One was in invisible ink. Rovio lit the lamp and Lenin held the sheet of paper over it. Soon the words appeared between the lines of ordinary writing.
“Hm. This is interesting,” Vladimir Ilyich said as he read the message. The news it contained informed him that in Petrograd and Moscow the Bolshevik influence in the Soviets was becoming ever greater. The people had lost faith in the power of the bourgeoisie, while their trust in the Bolshevik Party was growing rapidly. The Soviets were now truly Bolshevik in character. Such was the news from Petrograd.
The chief of police took off his morning coat, reserved for official visits to the Governor-General, rolled up his sleeves and began scrambling eggs in the kitchen. Now, wasn’t it strange for the chief of police to be in alliance with Lenin, and not with the Governor-General?
There was a reason for this. Rovio came from working-class stock. He had begun his life as a lathe operator and had taken an active part in the revolutionary movement since he was eighteen. After the tsar had been dethroned the workers had elected him head of the militia. This had previously been known as the post of chief of police. The Governor-General and many others who did not accept changes easily still referred to Rovio by this title.
When their lunch was ready Rovio called Vladimir Ilyich. Lenin was in excellent spirits from the news he had just received. He would soon return to Russia. The Bolshevik Party would lead the working class in an uprising to overthrow the Provisional Government, bringing the workers to power in Russia. Lenin had written of this in the articles he had sent to Petrograd and in his book.
As they ate Rovio told him of his visit to the Governor. Lenin looked at him slyly and said, “Life does indeed play funny tricks. My host reports directly to the Governor-General, but see who’s living under his roof.”
“Why, a respectable Finnish pastor,” Rovio said without batting an eye.
Both men laughed heartily. Indeed, Lenin had arrived in Helsingfors disguised as a pastor. The Finnish comrades had dispatched a group of amateur actors to the Finnish village in which Lenin had lived for a short while after leaving the hut at Lake Razliv. The actors were Social-Democrats. They had disguised him well in the long coat and tall hat worn by the local clergy. Bushy eyebrows and a wig produced a very convincing pastor.
One day soon after Rovio took Vladimir Ilyich to a barber who had originally come from St. Petersburg. He was also an experienced wig-maker. His former clientele in the Russian capital had included many counts and dukes. He had dyed their hair and beards, to make them appear younger, and had made wigs for their balding heads.
“You look quite young without a wig,” the barber said, wishing to console Vladimir Ilyich.
“But I want to look much older,” Lenin replied.
“It will make me seem more impressive. Something with a good deal of grey in it. To make me look about sixtyish.”
“Sixtyish? And grey? No, never! I can’t imagine myself making a young man old before his time. I have always done my best to recapture my clients’ lost youth.”
“A truly noble task. But let me be the one exception,” Vladimir Ilyich persisted.
The barber clucked like an upset hen. Vladimir Ilyich pleaded with him, trying hard not to laugh, while Rovio wondered how much longer Lenin would have to live in hiding and wear a disguise.
ANOTHER SECRET ADDRESS
An icy wind was blowing through the streets of Vyborg, an old town on the Gulf of Finland. Eino Rahja arrived in town from Petrograd on one of these cold, autumn days. He was a young Finnish worker, tall, jolly and quick-witted. Rahja was also a Bolshevik, one of the three men who had accompanied Lenin from Lake Razliv to the railway station late that summer. Now the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party had assigned him as a courier to Lenin.
Lenin had moved to Vyborg from Helsingfors in order to be closer to Russia. The day of his departure for home had finally dawned.
Though Lenin was excited at the prospect of returning to Russia, Rahja remained calm. “Shall we start out for the station, Vladimir Ilyich?” he asked. Actually, he was just as excited, but he tried to hide his emotions, as did Lenin.
They boarded the train and set out in silence. All the other passengers were Finnish. Since Vladimir Ilyich did not know Finnish, it was best not to speak, to attract as little attention as possible. From time to time Lenin’s hand would steal to his pocket and feel the key inside it. It was the key to a secret apartment in a working-class district on the outskirts of Petrograd.
The train was nearing the station, Rahja rose and walked to the far end of the car. Vladimir Ilyich followed him. When they got off at the station and Vladimir Ilyich saw the suburban train from Petrograd standing on the other track his heart skipped a beat. The locomotive bore the number 293.
Hugo Jalava, the engineer, looked out of the cab. He was frowning, but at the sight of Rahja and his former stoker he smiled broadly. He noticed that his stoker had aged quickly. Thus, Vladimir Ilyich returned to Petrograd from Finland aboard the same engine on which he had left, getting off at the very same station Udelnaya.
It was about five miles across wasteland from the station to the house and the secret apartment. The streets were completely deserted on that cold October evening.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna was waiting for him at the appointed place. Vladimir Ilyich grasped her cold and gloveless hand. She had never been one to take care of herself, for her life belonged to the revolution. She would never spare herself, working tirelessly at any assignment the Party gave her.
A sombre four-storey brick house stood at the corner of Serdobolskaya Street. It loomed high over the surrounding ramshackle wooden buildings.
Vladimir Ilyich turned in at the entrance calmly, as if he had always lived here. Rahja continued on his way, for his assignment had been completed. Vladimir Ilyich and Nadezhda Konstantinovna climbed the stairs to the top floor. He fitted the key to the lock and opened the door. They entered a small foyer. His door was at the end, the fourth on the left. Nadya had told him there was no one in the apartment save the tenant, Margarita Fofanova, a friend of hers.
But what was that? There were voices coming from one of the rooms. The door was open. A hanging lamp burned brightly over the dining room table. Several women were seated round the table.
“It is our task as teachers. . .” one of the women was saying.
Improbable as it was, there was a meeting going on in the apartment. Vladimir Ilyich walked quickly to the end of the hall. He was hunched over, a sprightly grey-haired old man.
“Goodness!” Nadezhda Konstantinovna gasped as the door closed behind them in the room where Lenin would now be living. “How could Margarita have made such a blunder!”
“Indeed,” Vladimir Ilyich remarked. He did not try to console Nadezhda Konstantinovna by saying that it was really nothing and all would be well. Most probably all would be well, but they could not afford to take such risks at a time like this.
“I hope this is the last time I have to be in hiding,” he said and opened the window. The wind rustled in the trees. “The last time, I hope,” he repeated.
“It’s not really safe here,” Nadezhda Konstantinovna A murmured in spite of herself.
Vladimir Ilyich saw how anxious she was. Indeed, it was more dangerous here than in the hut at Lake Razliv or even in Helsingfors. The police spies of the Provisional Government were lurking in every doorway, behind every corner. In fact, this apartment was so open to discovery that not even the members of the Central Committee were informed of the address. The only two people who knew it were Nadezhda Konstantinovna and Eino Rahja.
ON THE EVE
Several days later Rahja came to escort Lenin to a secret meeting. It was late in the evening. The shops were closed. There was a bakery shop not far away, with a gilded pretzel for a sign. The shutters were closed and a lock hung on the door. However, there was a long queue, made up mostly of women, leading away from the locked bakery door. They stood in the chill night air, drawing their shawls closer round them for warmth. There was a similar queue outside the next bakery they passed. Petrograd at night was filled with sombre, silent queues. Bread had been rationed long ago. Some days there was half a pound per person, at others only a quarter of a pound. Everyone wanted to be in time to get their rations, for the bread was sold out quickly and those who were late could not buy bread at any price. And so the women lined up outside the bakeries at night, waiting for them to open in the morning. It was a terribly hard life. Their husbands and sons were fighting at the fronts and dying for nothing, for the First World War dragged on and on.
“It’s not much better on the home front,” Rahja said. “The factory owners are closing down their plants. There’s unemployment everywhere.”
Things were very bad in the country. The trains no longer ran on schedule. They did not deliver coal or raw materials to the factories, nor bread to the cities and towns.
“What’s going to happen?” Rahja asked.
“A Bolshevik should not sit around waiting to see what happens, he should work for the proletarian revolution,” Vladimir Ilyich replied curtly.
Ever since the February revolution Lenin had insisted that no effort be spared in making the Soviets Bolshevik in character. Then the working class could come to power peacefully. But the Mensheviks would not agree to this and interfered in every way.
Now the situation had changed. The only way to take power now was through an armed uprising. There was no time to waste.
The members of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party held a secret meeting that October night. They all knew Lenin would be present and awaited him eagerly, for they had not seen him in a long time. He was unrecognisable in his grey wig, but his voice, his thoughts, his words and his will were unchanged.
Lenin said that they would have to prepare for an armed uprising, swinging the troops over to the side of the workers. The most experienced Bolsheviks would go to the various towns and regions. More arms were needed for the Red Guard units in the factories and mills, with an able commander to head each unit and a definite plan of action for each when the hour for the uprising struck. The Revolutionary Military Committee would direct the uprising.
Such was Lenin’s plan. The Central Committee discussed it and voted in favour of it.
However, two members of the Central Committee who called themselves Bolsheviks were strongly against an armed uprising of the proletariat. They argued against Lenin’s resolution and the Party. These two traitors were Kamenev and Zinoviev.
Now that the time was ripe for an uprising, they lacked the courage to see it through, saying that the working class was not capable of ruling a nation. They both spoke out against the uprising. Moreover, they published an article in a Menshevik newspaper which disclosed the time and place of the Bolshevik uprising, revealing the plans to the Provisional Government.
Thus did they betray the Bolsheviks, whose comrades they had purported to be.
Lenin wrote: “I declare outright that I no longer consider either of them comrades…. Difficult times. A hard task. A grave betrayal.”
However, their treachery would not change matters. The uprising would take place. The Central Committee began preparing for it in earnest.
AT THE SMOLNY
A nunnery stood on the bank of the Neva where the river takes a sharp turn towards Lake Ladoga. A century ago a finishing school for the daughters of the nobility was built nearby. It was known as the Smolny Institute.
After the tsar was overthrown in 1917 the young ladies were sent home, and the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies established its headquarters there, as did the Revolutionary Military Committee. The latter was in contact with all the factories and plants of Petrograd, organising Red Guard units of workers.
Twenty thousand workers of Petrograd were armed and waiting for the signal to start the uprising. The Revolutionary Military Committee sent Bolshevik commissars to the sailors of the Baltic Fleet to tell them the truth about the bourgeois government and their commanding officers. The sailors were eager to join the workers. Meanwhile, entire Army regiments were going over to the side of the Bolsheviks and the Revolutionary Military Committee.
The Provisional Government was in mortal fear of’ the Bolsheviks and the workers. It issued one order after another: “No worker is allowed to carry arms!”, “All members of the Committee are to be arrested!”, “Lenin must be found and arrested!”
Naturally, the Provisional Government went into action, drawing its troops towards Petrograd in a tight circle, in order to force the Bolsheviks and the workers into submission.
Lenin wrote to the comrades in the Central Committee, telling them that the hour for the uprising had struck, and that there could not be a moment’s delay.
On October 24th Lenin wrote another note to the members of the Central Committee and gave it to Margarita Fofanova. She returned with a reply. Lenin was not to leave his place of hiding, since any officer who saw him in the street was empowered to shoot him.
The Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, under Lenin’s guidance, was completing preparations for the decisive battle. However, the exact time for the uprising had not yet been set.
The Second Congress of Soviets was to open in the Smolny the following day, which was October 25th. Delegates had been arriving in Petrograd from all over the country.
“We must begin the uprising today, before the Congress opens,” Vladimir Ilyich thought. “Then, with the Provisional Government overthrown, we can hand all power over to the Soviets tomorrow.”
However, the hours dragged on. Lenin sent another note to the Central Committee. He was restless, being cooped up in this cosy little apartment on Serdobolskaya Street where he could not even pace up and down, since the neighbours would be sure to wonder who was walking around in the next apartment when the tenant was away at work. Margarita Fofanova returned home in the evening.
Vladimir Ilyich greeted her in the doorway and said, “Please take over another note for me. Right now. Please don’t take off your coat. I’ll only be a minute.”
He walked quickly to his room and hastily wrote the following message to the members of the Central Committee:
“I am writing these lines on the evening of the 24th. The situation is critical in the extreme. In fact it is now absolutely clear that to delay the uprising would be fatal.”
“Take it over as quickly as possible!” he urged. Once again he was alone in the apartment. Nothing could be worse than this state of expectancy. He seemed to be listening for some sound. Indeed, a short while later the bell rang. It was Eino Rahja.
“You can’t imagine what’s going on in the city, Vladimir Ilyich!” he exclaimed.
The city seemed alert on that cold, damp evening. A sharp wind was blowing from the Neva and a heavy fog was rolling through the streets. Wet snow had given way to a cold drizzle. Nevertheless, there were groups of people on the street corners and in the doorways. Every now and then a truck carrying armed workers or soldiers would rumble by. There was intermittent shooting. Then all would be still again.
Bonfires burned near the bridges, where the Red Guards stood watch. That day the Provisional Government had ordered all the bridges over the Neva to be raised. The cadets had cleared the bridges of pedestrians and had stopped all traffic. However, they had only been able to raise one bridge before armed Red Guards arrived and took over. Had the cadets carried out the order, each district would have been cut off from the rest. Then the government troops would have been able to put down the workers’ divided forces.
This was the news that Eino Rahja had brought Lenin. Vladimir Ilyich listened intently. He was silent for a
few moments, then he rose quickly and went over to the
chest of drawers. In silence he pulled out his old wig. “Where are you going, Vladimir Ilyich?” Rahja asked
anxiously, for he was responsible for Lenin’s safety. “To the Smolny. Immediately!”
“They’ll shoot you. We’re sure to bump into cadets on the way, and they’ll kill you!”
Vladimir Ilyich did not argue. He was standing in front of the mirror, adjusting his wig. Then he put on an old jacket and his coat. Rahja saw there was no use in arguing and put on his coat, too.
They decided to tie a kerchief round Lenin’s face, as if he had a toothache. That would make him still more difficult to recognise.
A few moments later they left the house and headed for the Smolny.
It was seven miles from Serdobolskaya Street to the Smolny, with not a single tram in sight. The streets were deserted on that dark night. Mud sloshed underfoot. The wind stung at their faces.
Vladimir Ilyich walked on with his head bent into the wind.
“Stop! Wait!” Rahja shouted at the top of his voice when he spotted a tram approaching the stop. The moment it stopped they hopped on. There were only a few other passengers, since the car was headed for the depot. Even so, they now could ride half the way.
Vladimir Ilyich peered into the dark autumn night. A truck carrying armed soldiers passed them. Soon another truck overtook them.
“Last stop. We’re going to the depot,” the conductor said.
Vladimir Ilyich and Rahja were once again walking quickly along the dark, deserted streets. They had to watch out for cadets. Suddenly they heard the clatter of hooves on the cobblestone. Two cadets were approaching. One reined in his horse sharply. It reared up. “Where’s your pass?” the officer demanded, pressing his horse against Rahja.
Neither of the two riders paid any attention to the old man who tottered on, holding his hand to his cheek. He was of no interest to them.
“What pass?” Rahja said, stalling for time until Lenin was out of sight. “I don’t know nothing about any passes,” he continued, playing the fool. “What do I need a pass for? You can see I’m a workingman anyway.”
The officer cursed and raised his whip over Rahja’s head.
“Ah, leave him alone,” the other rider said and the two of them galloped off.
Rahja dashed after Vladimir Ilyich.
“Thank you,” Lenin said warmly.
The huge green field facing the Smolny was cut across by a road and dotted with scraggly trees and scrawny bushes. It was crowded and noisy now. There were bonfires burning here and there, sending bursts of fiery sparks into the sky. Soldiers were grouped round the fires warming themselves. Trucks kept arriving, bringing in armed sailors and soldiers. Everyone headed for the Smolny.
“Fall in!” came the command from the field.
There was a hum over the crowd. The field seemed to be in motion. Big guns were stationed outside the Smolny. Red Guards stood watch over the entrances. The windows in all three storeys of the long building were ablaze. It was a rare sight: the Smolny Institute lit up brightly with a great crowd of determined people out in front.
Vladimir Ilyich’s heart beat loudly. This was the day he had been living for. The two men entered the Smolny.
His coat unbuttoned, his hands in his pockets, having completely forgotten about the grey wig he was wearing, Lenin walked swiftly down the crowded corridor, past crates of ammunition and stacks of rifles. He ran up the stairs to the third floor offices of the Revolutionary Military Committee.
All its members were assembled. They had been in conference for twelve hours, discussing the plan of the uprising. Messengers from Red Guard and military units and from the factories kept arriving for instructions.
Lenin entered the room and took off his cap and wig. He would never wear another wig, for there would be no need for disguise any more.
Nikolai Podvoisky, Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Committee, his face thin and drawn, rushed forward to greet Lenin. Lenin’s arrival gave him added strength and determination.
“If we delay any longer we shall be signing our own death warrant!” Vladimir Ilyich said. “The central telephone exchange, the telegraph office, the railway stations, the bridges and all the government offices must be occupied immediately. Tonight.”
New messengers kept arriving.
“Lenin is here! Lenin has arrived!” The word was quickly passed down the corridors.
The messengers were given their instructions.
“Red Guards, fall in!” the command echoed over the field in front of the Smolny.
The bonfires blazed as trucks carrying armed workers, soldiers and sailors drove off into the darkness.
On the night of October 24, 1917, the armed proletariat and the revolutionary troops seized power in Petrograd, the capital of Russia.
The Great October Socialist Revolution had been accomplished.
THE CAPTURE OF THE WINTER PALACE
The Provisional Government and its defenders were entrenched in the Winter Palace. On one side it faced on the Neva River, on the other it faced on the great Palace Square. There were white columns and statues adorning the facade, giant sculptures and vases on the cornices and a gilded eagle, its wings outspread, looming over the tower. This had been the residence of Russia’s tsars.
“All of Petrograd is in our hands now,” Lenin said to Podvoisky, “but we have not captured the Winter Palace. It must be taken immediately and the ministers of the Provisional Government must be arrested.”
On the morning of October 25th, the first morning of the October Revolution, the people read Lenin’s manifesto, “To the Citizens of Russia”. It announced that the Provisional Government had been deposed and that state power had passed into the hands of the Soviets. The Revolution had triumphed.
Such was the political situation. The Provisional Government had been stripped of all its power, yet its ministers had locked themselves in the Winter Palace.
“This is an impossible situation,” Lenin said to Podvoisky.
“We’ll capture the Winter Palace today,” the Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Committee replied.
Red Guard units and revolutionary regiments were ordered to encircle the Winter Palace. Soon they had occupied all the streets leading to the palace. They were drawing the circle around it tighter and tighter. Wheels rumbled as the heavy guns were set into position. Destroyers sailed slowly up the Neva towards the Winter Palace and dropped anchor opposite it.
The cruiser Aurora trained its guns on the palace. All this took place on the night of October 25, 1917.
The people had not forgotten Bloody Sunday of 1905. Here, on the square in front of the palace, thousands of workers and their families had gathered peacefully to ask the tsar to help them.
Thousands of workers had been killed and wounded in the square outside the Winter Palace on that memorable Sunday.
This was October 1917. The workers had not come carrying icons this time.
The people’s hour had struck. The Winter Palace would never again intimidate them.
Bolshevik commissars and members of the Revolutionary Military Committee inspected the lines.
“There’s not much longer to wait, comrades. We’re drawing up more troops, to be sure of our victory. Comrade Lenin is directing the uprising.”
“Lenin!” The leader’s name was passed down the lines.
At the Smolny Lenin was kept constantly informed of the troops’ movements in encircling the Winter Palace. He noted every change on his operations’ map. Soon units of sailors arrived from Kronstadt. The cruiser Aurora was in readiness.
“The time has come to begin, comrades,” Lenin said.
It was a cold, windy night, with the shuttered house! lying in wait. Bonfires burned in the streets, and the wind carried the acrid smell of smoke.
The soldiers were getting closer and closer to Palace Square.
The Winter Palace was alerted. It, too, was preparing for the attack. Barricades of logs had been put up. All the entrances and exits to the palace had been blocked and machine-guns set between the barricades.
A terrible silence settled over the square.
A messenger on motorcycle arrived from Lenin in the Smolny.
“Begin the assault of the Winter Palace immediately,’ was the message he had brought.
Then in the silent darkness of the night a gun boomed The shot had come from the direction of the Neva River. It was the signal for the assault, fired from the Aurora.
The soldiers and Red Guards went into action. The guns opened fire from the adjoining streets. Soon the air was filled with the rattle of machine-guns. An armoured car roared into the square, firing upon the barricades that blocked the way. Then the cadets threw down their guns and ran for the safety of the palace. The soldiers and Re Guards pursued the enemy.
The revolutionary units stormed into the palace. They were astounded by the sight that met their eyes: everything inside was of marble, crystal and gold. There were endless corridors with halls and rooms leading off in all directions. Hundreds of rooms with crystal chandeliers, oil paintings, marble statues and gilded mirrors and the furniture upholstered in velvet and silks.
One of the men struck a mirror with his bayonet and it shattered.
“Are you mad?” the others cried. “This doesn’t belong to the tsar any more. It belongs to us. It’s the people’s property now.”
The Red Guards and soldiers advanced along the corridors, their guns at the ready, following their commanders, Antonov-Ovseyenko. Yeremeyev and Podvoisky. The palace servants in their blue livery and gold braid backed away in terror. The ministers of the Provisional Government were huddled in one of the halls, with the cadets offering protection.
“All cadets and officers will surrender their arms. The ministers are under arrest.”
Though it was now the middle of the night, all the windows of the Smolny were ablaze. People crowded the stairways, corridors and rooms. There was excitement in the air. Everyone awaited the latest news from Palace square. Everyone wanted to know whether the palace had been taken.
Podvoisky, Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Committee, entered. His face was ruddy from the cold and wind. He saluted and reported, “Comrade Lenin, the Winter Palace has been captured.”
Lenin jumped to his feet and embraced Podvoisky.
THE FIRST DECREE
For two days and two nights the members of the Revolutionary Military Committee, Sverdlov, Stalin, Dzerzhinsky, Bubnov, Podvoisky, Antonov-Ovseyenko and many other Bolsheviks had been working without rest or sleep. For two days and two nights Lenin had worked round the clock. Nadezhda Konstantinovna looked at his happy, tired face and sighed.
“Vladimir Ilyich ought to get some rest, but we have no home of our own and it’s too far to go to our relatives. I simply don’t know where to find him a quiet room,” she said to Bonch-Bruyevich.
Bonch-Bruyevich had been Lenin’s comrade-in-arms since their days in Geneva. He had written articles for Iskra, smuggled Party literature to the workers of Russia and, in 1905, both arms and ammunition as well.
“What’s wrong with my place?” he exclaimed and insisted that she and Vladimir Ilyich accompany him to the automobile that was standing outside.
The moment Vladimir Ilyich got into the back seat he fell asleep. He awoke when they pulled up outside the house.
“All I can offer you is potluck,” Bonch-Bruyevich said. They tiptoed to the kitchen in order not to waken the family and found some milk, a piece of cheese and some bread.
“A magnificent supper,” Lenin said, sounding very pleased.
As they sat round the table they went over the events of the previous days. The workers’ socialist revolution had triumphed. It would forever now be known as the Great October Socialist Revolution. Soon they were speaking of the bright future that lay ahead and again forgot about sleep and rest. Finally, their host exclaimed, “If you don’t go to bed immediately, Vladimir Ilyich, you won’t be able to carry on.” He took Lenin to his study and settled Nadezhda Konstantinovna on a sofa in another room.
Vladimir Ilyich turned off the light, but he simply could not fall asleep. Thoughts crowded his mind. Beginning with tomorrow they would start building a new state The first workers’ and peasants’ state in the world.
It was very still in the house. Even the ever-active Bonch-Bruyevich seemed to have finally surrendered to sleep. Vladimir Ilyich got up, turned on the light and sat down at the desk. The night was black outside the window For a moment or two he just sat there, lost in thought Then he picked up the pen and began writing rapidly.
Lenin wrote that the lands belonging to the landlords, the church, the monasteries and to all the rich would be given over to the peasants. Those who did not work the land themselves could not own any land, and those who worked the land would now own it.
Lenin was putting into words the age-old dream and hope of the peasants. The new way of life in the Soviet state was beginning with a dream come true.
Vladimir Ilyich breathed deeply and contentedly. Night had descended softly on Petrograd after the tension and street fighting of the day. Only one window in the dark street had a light in it. This was as it had been in Shushenskoye, when the solitary green lamp of the exiled Ulyanov had burned late into the night.
Vladimir Ilyich laid down his pen. There was a faint glow on the horizon. Dawn would soon be breaking.
“I can still catch some sleep,” he thought and lay down. He was asleep the moment his head touched the pillow.
A sheet of paper covered with writing lay on the desk. The sky was getting lighter. Then the first sunrays broke through the clouds and flooded the room in which Lenin slept. They touched the sheet of paper and lit up the heading: “DECREE ON LAND”.
THE WHITE-COLUMNED HALL
There had been a time when satin-slippered young ladies had glided over the polished parquet floors here to the strains of the orchestra during the grand balls.
Never in his wildest dreams did the soldier, a poor peasant from Orel Province, imagine that he would enter this white-columned hall. Why, in former times he would never even have been let within shouting distance of the Smolny. But here he was now, a delegate of the Second Congress of Soviets.
The White Hall of the Smolny was crowded with delegates. There were sailors in uniform with hand grenades stuck in their belts and armed Red Guards who had taken part in storming the Winter Palace the day before. There were bearded peasants from far-off villages, delegates of the rural Soviets. There were workers from the factories and mills.
Every chair and bench was occupied. People were sitting on the windowsills, and even on the floor. There were people standing along the walls. Everyone present had a red armband or bow pinned to his jacket. This sprinkling of red in the smoke-filled, noisy hall was refreshing.
The soldier from Orel Province took everything in: the high ceiling of the magnificent hall, the marble columns and the large empty gilt frame on the wall from which the portrait of the tsar had been removed.
“Down with the rich! Long live the Soviets!” people in the crowd shouted.
As the soldier watched them in wonder he waited impatiently for Lenin to appear.
“Lenin! Lenin!” the name ran through the crowd. Many jumped to their feet to have a better view.
First, the members of the presidium appeared and took their seats at the long table. One of them, wearing a pince-nez and a leather jacket, looked like a military man. And yet, there was something very civilian in his manner.
“That’s Sverdlov,” the man next to him said to the soldier. Then he pointed out Felix Dzerzhinsky, the tall, thin, militant Bolshevik, and Nikolai Podvoisky, Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Committee, a man with a frank, open face.
Finally, the chairman announced that the Congress was in session and called on the first speaker, Lenin.
The soldier stood up to get a better look. He found Lenin to be stocky and not too tall. His brows were arched and his eyes seemed to pierce one’s very soul.
Lenin mounted the rostrum quickly. The entire hall rose as one man. Soldiers and sailors tossed their caps into the air.
“Long live Lenin!”
Lenin looked into the hall and saw the happy faces of his countrymen. They were poorly dressed, for these were delegates sent by the workers, peasants and soldiers, the working people of the country. And Lenin felt responsible for the fate and happiness of these people.
He raised his hand for silence. The shouting gradually died down. However, everyone present remained standing while Lenin spoke.
Lenin spoke of peace. He said that neither the workers and peasants nor the Soviet State had any need for war. An end would have to be put to the war, for the people wanted to live in peace. Then he read out the draft Decree on Peace. He had written it that very morning, after coming to the Smolny from Bonch-Bruyevich’s house.
The entire hall hung on his every word. Russia had been at war with Germany for over three years now. It had brought the people nothing but hunger, suffering and death.
“So this is what our Soviet power is like,” the soldier from Orel thought. “It’s a just power, because it has the people’s interests at heart.”
A cheer went up when Lenin finished speaking. The marble columns of the White Hall had never heard such shouting or such loud singing before. Hundreds of people sang “The Internationale”, the proletarian anthem:
Arise, ye prisoners of starvation,
Arise, ye wretched of the earth,
For justice thunders condemnation,
A better world’s in birth.
Then Lenin read the Decree on Land which he had written during the previous night. Once again the delegates, and especially the peasant delegates, cheered his words.
The Second Congress of Soviets, which was convened in the White Hall of the Smolny on October 25 and 26, 1917, has gone down in history. It was then that Lenin announced the establishment of Soviet power.
Lenin read the draft Decrees on Peace and on Land at this Congress and the delegates voted in their favour.
The Congress also formed a government, the Council of People’s Commissars, and elected Vladimir Ilyich Lenin its Chairman.
Thus, the first Soviet Government was established.
The Congress was in session all through the night, completing its work at dawn.
“Comrades, hurry back to your homes and outfits,” Lenin said to the delegates. “Spread the word of our victory. The workers’ revolution has triumphed. Soviet power has been established. You must do your utmost to strengthen Soviet power throughout Russia.”
THUS DID THEY LIVE
Nadezhda Konstantinovna walked down the long, wide corridor of the Smolny. It was evening and she was returning from work. It had been a hard day. She had met with a group of teachers, and then with a group of workers. They would be setting up schools, libraries, children’s homes for orphans and clubs for working people. The entire educational system had to be changed to meet the interests of the working people. Nadezhda Konstantinovna was tired and happy to be on her way home.
She and Vladimir Ilyich had a room in the Smolny. It was a high-ceilinged, narrow room with one window facing on a courtyard. It had been divided by a low partition to make a small bedroom. There were two iron cots covered with army blankets in the bedroom and a small iron stove.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna hurried through the lavatory with its rows of sinks to their room, which adjoined it. The young ladies of the Smolny had washed here before. “Now all twenty sinks are ours,” Nadezhda Konstantinovna would say with a smile. All their worldly possessions consisted of the simple furnishings of the room: a wardrobe, a small cupboard, a small desk, a sofas two armchairs with cotton slipcovers and a small round table. They ate at this table and sometimes discussed important matters of state here as well.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna took off her coat and went over to warm herself by the stove. Vladimir Ilyich was late again today. He had intentionally asked for living quarters in the Smolny to be closer to his work. Decisions concerning the establishment of a new, socialist way of life were made in the office of the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars. The decrees issued from here proclaimed that never again would there be noble titles or 4 an aristocracy or merchants in Russia, that the railroads, the merchant fleet and the banks had become state property. The factories and mills would also become state property and the working class would be in charge of all production.
Everything was new and unusual. Everything was being established for the first time in history. It was being established in the Land of Soviets.
Meanwhile, the stream of workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors arriving at the Smolny never ceased. All of them had come to see Lenin, to seek his advice on how to build this new nation of workers and peasants.
“I’m sure he won’t have time for supper again tonight,” Nadezhda Konstantinovna said to herself.
Then she heard steps coming closer. Was it he? Yes, she recognised his quick, light step. The door opened and Vladimir Ilyich appeared.
“I decided to take a break,” he said. “I looked out of the window and saw the snow. Let’s go for a walk, Nadya. What do you say to that?”
“I say it’s nine o’clock and time you ended your work for today,” she replied sternly.
“That certainly goes for Comrade Zheltyshov,” Vladimir Ilyich replied, for at that very moment Zheltyshov knocked at the door. “Comrade Zheltyshov, your working day is over as of this minute,” Vladimir Ilyich said.
But his helper had not ended his day yet. He felt honoured to have been given the job of looking after Vladimir Ilyich, of bringing him his supper of porridge, of going to the newsstand for the daily papers, of making the stove and heating the room.
Today he had a surprise for Nadezhda Konstantinovna. He took a small mirror from his pocket and said, “One of the former young ladies must have left this behind. I thought you might want to fix your hair or something and this might come in handy.” He handed his little gift to Nadezhda Konstantinovna and glanced at Vladimir Ilyich to see if he would approve.
Vladimir Ilyich did approve, for he laughed and said, “I should have thought of getting you a pocket mirror myself, Nadya, but I didn’t.”
“That’s one thing you’d never think of,” she replied and smiled.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna and Vladimir Ilyich sat down to their simple supper of porridge. Then he again asked her to go out for a walk with him, for he loved the first days of winter when the snow was fresh and white.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna took out her little mirror and put on her hat. Then she said, “You know, I’m getting old, Volodya.”
“Not a bit!” he protested.
Her lovely straight hair was turning grey and tiny wrinkles had appeared on her forehead. But she would always be young to Vladimir Ilyich, as young as she had been the evening she had arrived in Shushenskoye and had brought him the green lamp which she had carried all the way to Siberia.
“Does your work tire you very much?” he asked, and there was a note of anxiety in his voice.
“Not very.” She hurried him and they went out, for she knew that this was only a short break and that as soon as they returned he would take the lift up to the third floor and resume his work, staying on in his office late into the night. There was no end to his responsibilities as Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars. No end to the thoughts on how best to build their new state, the world’s first nation of workers and peasants.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW WE’LL LEARN
A soldier was standing guard outside the Smolny. He blocked the way with his rifle and said, “Your passes!” to the three workers who had approached. The youngest of the three was named Roman.
“Where do they issue passes here?” one of the elder men asked, moving the rifle aside.
“Take it easy!” the soldier shouted. “The commandant’s office is in charge of the passes.”
Just then Comrade Malkov, a former sailor and the commandant of the Smolny, appeared in the doorway.
He was in uniform.
“Who do you want to see?”
“Lenin. It’s very important,” Roman replied. “It can’t wait,” his comrade added.
“Hm, think of that,” Malkov said as he looked them over. “And where were you during the October uprising?” “Storming the Winter Palace. Where else?”
Fifteen minutes later all three of them entered the waiting room of the Council of People’s Commissars. It was a large room and sparsely furnished. Two wooden high-backed benches served as room dividers. A table in each half of the room and several chairs completed the furnishings. The workers exchanged glances. There were no luxuries here, just a simple, workaday atmosphere.
A secretary opened the door to Lenin’s office and said, “Please come in. Comrade Lenin is expecting you.”
Lenin rose to greet them. His keen eyes examined each in turn as he said, “Hello, comrades. Please be seated.”
He pulled up a chair and sat down next to them instead of receiving them at his desk. He took out a pencil and notebook and began by asking them questions. “What factory are you from? What is your trade? How are things at the factory? Are there enough raw materials? Are the workers’ control groups active? And, finally, what brought you here? Tell me frankly, since we’re all comrades.” He smiled at them warmly.
This smile melted Roman’s shyness. He began by saying that they hadn’t been employed at the factory since the day their comrades had sent them to work at the People’s Commissariat. The tsar’s former ministry staff had run off, not wishing to cooperate with the Bolsheviks, and those who had remained were doing everything possible to confuse matters. That was when the factory had delegated them to become office workers.
“Ah, so you’ve come to help the Soviet Government,” Vladimir Ilyich said. “Well, how are things going?” He waited for Roman to reply. Roman cleared his throat.
“Not so good, Vladimir Ilyich,” he finally said. “Tell them to send us back to the factory. We know our jobs there, but we’re lost working at desks.”
“Do you think I find it easy to run the government?” Vladimir Ilyich replied. “Do you think I’ve had any experience in this kind of thing? I was never Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars before. And none of our commissars were ever commissars before, either.”
“Everything’s new to us,” one of the men said and shook his head.
“Well, we’ve done away with the old, and who’s going to build the new if not us?”
Lenin moved his chair closer to them and began explaining the situation to them. Naturally, they would meet with many difficulties in their new jobs, for they lacked the proper training. But they all possessed a working-man’s sense of what was right and what was wrong. They would be on hand to see that a Party, Soviet policy was pursued in the Commissariats. Who could accomplish this if not the workers? Workers’ control groups and supervision were needed everywhere.
“But what if we make mistakes, Vladimir Ilyich?”
“If we make a mistake we’ll correct it, and what we don’t know we’ll learn. And so, comrades,” Vladimir Ilyich said firmly as he rose, “the Party has sent you to do a job, and it’s up to you to do your duty.” Then he smiled encouragingly and added, “What we don’t know we’ll learn.”
This talk with Lenin gave the men new confidence. They promised to do their best, being determined to learn all the ins and outs of their new jobs. On the way downstairs they agreed that what Lenin had said was right: it was their state of workers and peasants and it was up to them to run it.
A HARD LESSON
The years of war had brought the country to ruin. Famine gripped Petrograd. The rations were down to a quarter of a pound of bread a day. That was not even enough for breakfast. Dinner consisted of soup made of herring. This was the diet of every working-class family. This was the diet in the Council of People’s Commissars. Vladimir Ilyich received the same meagre rations as everyone else.
Each day the commissars met to discuss the many important and pressing matters at hand. The most urgent problem was that of easing the famine. Petrograd was not the only city gripped by hunger. All the cities were on starvation rations. And yet, there was grain in Russia. There was grain in Siberia and in the Volga region. It seemed simple enough: the grain should be collected from the villages and sent to the hungry cities. Actually, this was a most difficult task. The railways were out of commission. That meant they had to be put in working order before anything at all could be accomplished. Besides, there was no coal and no firewood to heat the houses in the cities. Fuel, too, had to be brought in by rail. At this time the country was overrun by saboteurs and profiteers. The profiteers wanted to get rich at the expense of the suffering of the people. The saboteurs wanted to wreck the gains of the revolution, and they had the bourgeoisie to back them up. The bourgeoisie hated the Soviet Government. The rich, the former tsarist officials and profiteers did their best to disrupt the efforts of the Soviet Government. They hoped that the Germans would win the war and occupy Russia. Then they would dispose of the Soviets and resume their former life of luxury. Their one hope lay in a German victory.
Indeed, Lenin had many problems to think about.
The German Army was still strong, while the Russian tsarist army had disintegrated. The officers had deserted their troops. The soldiers were trying desperately to get back to their homes. A terrible danger hung over the country.
What was to be done? The members of the Party’s Central Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars met day and night, discussing the political situation, deciding upon what to do.
“Comrades, we have issued the Decree on Peace and we must end the war with Germany,” Lenin said.
Then the Council of People’s Commissars sent the Germans a peace proposal. The Germans agreed to negotiate, but their terms were that all the land occupied by the German Army was henceforth to belong to Germany.
“We must accept these terms. We have no other alternative,” Lenin said.
And there was no other alternative. The country was exhausted by the war. The people wanted to live and work in peace.
The Central Committee of the Party had often debated the question of signing a peace treaty with Germany. Lenin insisted that the war must be ended immediately, no matter what the terms. They would have to sacrifice a lot in order to save the Soviet Republic. They had to strengthen Soviet power, create a new, workers’ and peasants’ army and restore the economy.
Unfortunately, not all the members of the Central Committee supported Lenin. A bitter dispute followed. Some members argued against a peace treaty, saying that the terms offered were robber’s terms and that they did not want to sign such a treaty. They did not realise what terrible danger threatened Soviet Russia and what would happen if the treaty were not signed.
Lenin, however, realised this only too well. That was why he agreed to the Germans’ terms.
“Comrades! The country is in ruins, it is starving. We have very little strength to rely on. We must bargain for a breathing spell to preserve the Soviet Republic,” he said. He was finally able to convince and win over his opponents.
Once again the Soviet Government sent a delegation to the Germans. The Soviet peace talks delegation was headed by Trotsky. However, Trotsky disobeyed the instructions given by Lenin, the Central Committee of the Party and the Soviet Government. It had been decided that a peace treaty was to be signed, no matter what the German terms would be.
But Trotsky refused to sign the treaty. Instead, he announced that the Russian side was withdrawing from the war. The Russian soldiers left their outfits in the thousands and headed back to their homes. There was no front now.
Then the German generals, meeting no resistance, led their armies into the heart of Russia, moving ever closer to the capital. Soon Petrograd was in danger. Would the capital fall? Was this to be the end of the revolution?
The bourgeoisie, the profiteers and merchants were anxiously awaiting the German forces. They had already drawn up a black list of Bolsheviks and workers to be executed.
Trotsky’s actions had been to the advantage of the imperialists and the bourgeoisie. On many occasions previously he had interfered in creating a militant Communist Party in Russia. He had banded various groups against Lenin and Lenin’s supporters.
Once again the Central Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars were in constant session in the Smolny. There was no firewood to heat the stoves. The men sat around the long table in their overcoats. Their faces were stern. The February winds howled outside the windows,
“This is a bitter and painful lesson,” Lenin said.
The Council of People’s Commissars issued an appeal to the people: “The Socialist Fatherland Is in Danger!”
“Workers, peasants, comrades! Rise up to defend our country!” This was its message.
Thousands of volunteers in the cities, towns, villages and workers’ settlements responded to the appeal. A new army was formed, the Red Army. The Soviet Army. It set out to fight the German invaders and stopped their advance.
This was in February 1918. Ever since then February 23 has been celebrated as the anniversary of the founding of the Soviet Army. Many have been the times since that it defended the Land of Soviets from its enemies. And it shall do so always.
When the Red Army began a counter-offensive the Germans decided to agree to a peace treaty. However, their terms were harsher than before, for they had by then occupied still more of Russia’s territory. They levied a contribution on the Soviet Republic, and the Soviet Government was forced to agree to their terms.
The Seventh Party Congress heard the report “On War and Peace” by the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars and approved of Lenin’s line.
A few months later, in November 1918, a revolution broke out in Germany and this robber’s treaty became invalid.
Once again the people realised how far-sighted Lenin’s policy had been.
It was late evening of a March day. A train, its windows dark, stood at a siding of the Nikolayevskaya Railway. The siding was patrolled by armed guards. These were the Lettish riflemen. A machine-gun was mounted on the tender.
A man of medium height, dressed in a leather jacket and wearing a pince-nez was speaking softly to another man who was dressed in long army greatcoat. “Are you certain the counterrevolutionaries know nothing of today’s departure?” Sverdlov asked Dzerzhinsky.
“They might have got wind of it, but they don’t know where the train will leave from.”
“It was a good idea to choose this quiet siding instead of the main station.”
“They were preparing an armed attack. We’ve been discovering new acts of sabotage every day,” Dzerzhinsky said.
Both men had spent many years in tsarist jails and in exile. Both, together with Lenin and the other members of the Central Committee of the Party, had directed the armed uprising in October 1917. After the Revolution, Vladimir Ilyich had proposed that Dzerzhinsky be appointed Chairman of the All-Russia Extraordinary Committee of combating counterrevolution. Everyone knew that Dzerzhinsky had a very kind heart and that he loved children, but he was merciless towards the enemies of the Revolution. He was certain that the Soviet state would build a happy life for the people and he worked towards this goal, never sparing himself.
Just then a group of people appeared on the platform. Vladimir Ilyich was leading the way, walking with his usual quick step. Nadezhda Konstantinovna hurried along beside him, a plaid shawl folded on her arm.
They all boarded the train. A whistle blew. The Lettish riflemen hopped aboard. A few moments later the darkened train was slowly moving away from the siding.
Vladimir Ilyich sat down at the folding table by the window and took a sheaf of papers from his briefcase.
“Spare yourself, Vladimir Ilyich!” Sverdlov exclaimed. “At least try to get some rest during the journey!”
Lenin smiled in reply and then got down to work. He was editing an article for a newspaper he had written earlier in the day. In this article he predicted that revolutionary Russia would one day become a mighty land of plenty. At the time, Russia was surrounded by enemies.
The counterrevolutionary forces were hatching various plots. Still, Lenin firmly believed that the people would make their socialist land a great nation. The revolutionary forces were growing, and they would triumph.
All the passengers were asleep, all save the Red Lettish riflemen on duty on the platform, the engineer and Vladimir Ilyich, who was completing his article for the next day’s issue, writing by a flickering candle flame.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna was asleep in the lower berth, her head resting on her arm. Vladimir Ilyich covered her gently with the plaid shawl. His mother had given it to them when she and his sister Maria had visited them in Stockholm. It was a remembrance of her.
On the evening of March 11, 1918 the special train carrying the members of the Soviet Government arrived safely in Moscow. The counterrevolutionary plot had failed. Lenin, the members of the All-Russia Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars had moved safely from Petrograd to Moscow, which was now to become the capital of the Soviet Republic.
At first Vladimir Ilyich, Nadezhda Konstantinovna and his sister Maria resided in the National Hotel opposite the Kremlin. Soon after, however, all the members of the Council of People’s Commissars were appointed living and working quarters in the Kremlin. The day after they arrived, Vladimir Ilyich and Nadezhda Konstantinovna decided to have a look at Moscow and the Kremlin. Their old friend Bonch-Bruyevich, Business Manager of the Council of People’s Commissars, accompanied them.
During the October uprising cadets had barricaded themselves in the Kremlin. After days of bitter fighting the revolutionary units forced the White Guards and tsarist supporters out of the ancient Kremlin. However, the Kremlin was left in a state of destruction. Many of its buildings had been shelled and blackened by fire. There were heaps of rubble everywhere.
Vladimir Ilyich and Nadezhda Konstantinovna crossed the square. They passed the famous bronze Tsar Bell. Master craftsmen had cast the magnificent bell several centuries before. There was the Tsar Cannon. There were the ancient Kremlin walls and towers, each like something from a fairy tale. This was truly living history.
Vladimir Ilyich gazed about thoughtfully. Standing on the Kremlin Hill, all of Moscow could be seen below. As he stood there he seemed to be greeting the city.
THE REVOLUTION’S FIRST STEPS
The Seventh Congress of the Party adopted a resolution calling for the signing of a peace treaty with Germany. During the sittings of the Seventh Congress Lenin proposed that the Bolshevik Party be henceforth called the Russian Communist Party, since its aim was to build communism.
Lenin held many conferences in his office. He spoke with workers and members of the Government, deciding on how best to build the new society. The first steps would be both the hardest and the most important.
Sverdlov, Chairman of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee, was one of Lenin’s closest associates. Lenin’s chief aim during this period of respite from the war was to firmly establish a new way of life for the people.
In this he turned for help to the working class.
In his famous article “The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government” Lenin wrote: “What we need is the steady advance of the iron battalions of the proletariat.” The Central Committee of the Party approved of Lenin’s plans for the country. His article was printed in the newspapers Pravda and Izvestia. Great new vistas were opened to the people. The Communists, the workers and the peasants had faith in Lenin and followed him as their chosen leader.
In his Kremlin study Lenin had an armchair with a rush bottom and back. It was his favourite chair, perhaps because it reminded him of a similar set of chairs in their home in Simbirsk when he was a boy. It had been a happy childhood.
Lenin’s aim was to give every worker’s child and every peasant’s child in Soviet Russia a happy childhood. In tsarist times the children of workers and peasants could rarely count on getting through secondary school, to say nothing of a college education. But now all the schools and universities of the country were opened to the children of the working people. All the books in all the libraries were at their disposal.
War had brought devastation and famine to Russia, yet the best food was set aside for the children. Never before in any capitalist country had there been such concern for the children of the working people or for the working people themselves.
In tsarist times the workers had slaved twelve and fifteen hours a day in the factories and mills of the rich manufacturers. As soon as Soviet power triumphed in Russia, Lenin signed a decree establishing an eight-hour working day for all.
Formerly the best arable land belonged to the landowners and the kulaks. Now it belonged to the peasants. The factories, mills, railways, mines, gold and oil fields and the banks had become the property of the state. Everything now belonged to the people, to the Soviet State. There were no more rich landowners or manufacturers. They would have to work like everyone else, for the country’s motto was: “He who does not work neither shall he eat.”
Such were the changes that had taken place. The gains of the revolution were increasing. The country, led by Lenin and the Communist Party, was heading towards a bright future.
IN THE VILLAGES
When Vladimir Ilyich and a large group of revolutionaries had been in forced exile in Geneva before the revolution a young revolutionary named Lydia Fotiyeva had arrived there from Russia. She had immediately become one of Lenin’s staunchest helpers, giving all her time and energy to the great cause. Music was her one passion besides her revolutionary work. On their free evenings the Russian Bolsheviks of Geneva would gather at the Lepeshinskys’ dining hall, which served as their informal club, and Lydia would play the piano for them.
If Vladimir Ilyich were present she would play Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique, a piece he especially enjoyed. When listening to music, Lenin would be lost in thought.
After the revolution Lydia Fotiyeva became secretary of the Council of People’s Commissars. She devoted all her waking hours to her job, living and working in the Kremlin. She knew Lenin’s work schedule and tried to foresee everything he might call for in the course of the day.
There was always an endless stream of callers to see the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars.
“There’s a group of peasant delegates to see you from a distant village, Vladimir Ilyich,” she said one morning.
“Please ask them in.”
The bearded men with sunburned, weather-beaten faces sat around the long conference table, feeling shy and awkward. However, Lenin’s warm welcome encouraged them to speak their minds.
“Comrade Lenin, you’re our leader, and you have enough brains to spare,” one of them finally began.
“Well, I wouldn’t say I have any to spare,” he protested, “and as far as village life goes, I’ve a lot to learn.”
“We’ll tell you exactly how things are in the villages.”
“That’s what I want to hear.”
“First of all, Soviet power has won the hearts of the peasants, because it chased the landowners off the land,” the eldest of the men continued. He had a long beard that covered half of his chest. “Then there’s the kulaks. The kulaks will ruin our new way of life, Vladimir Ilyich. They’re not for the new ways. They’re against the Soviet State. You put your faith in the poor peasants, Vladimir Ilyich.”
Although Lenin knew the situation in the villages to be as the old peasant had said, he listened intently, checking mentally on the information at his disposal. As a result of this and similar talks there would appear a new decree, a new Soviet law.
Thus, in the summer of 1918 Lenin signed a decree of the Council of People’s Commissars setting up Committees of Poor Peasants in the villages. They were to become a bulwark of the Soviet state in fighting the kulaks.
Kulaks have long since been relegated to history in the Land of Soviets. Originally, they were rich peasants. In those times a peasant could never get rich by hard work alone. The kulaks grew rich through profiteering and exploiting hired labour. Then they could buy up more land. The poor peasants of a village would hire out to them as field hands, for the poor families never could stretch their store of food from one harvest to the next. By spring a poor family would be out of grain. The peasant would have to go to the rich kulak and borrow a sack of rye. He had to plough the kulak’s field in return and, when the harvest was in, he had to return two sacks of rye for each one he had borrowed. It was a vicious circle. And so the poor and hungry peasants broke their backs working for the rich kulaks, whose locked granaries were filled to overflowing with wheat and rye. The kulaks bided their time till the prices rose and then sold their grain at a great profit. Their greed and ruthlessness knew no bounds.
Meanwhile, the cities were slowly starving to death. What was to be done? Where was the grain to be found to feed the workers, their families and the Red Army?
And yet, there was grain in the country, but the kulaks would not part with their hoards. They even began burying grain in deep pits. The people in the cities and towns could not be left to starve while thousands of tons of grain were locked away. It was grain sowed and gathered by the poor peasants. By right this grain belonged to the people and not to the kulaks.
Such was the conclusion Lenin came to. He called a meeting of workers and said, “Comrades, you must form food detachments in your factories and mills and go to the villages. There are Committees of Poor Peasants there which support us. The middle peasants also lean to our side. It is up to you to help them strengthen Soviet power in the villages. They, in turn, will help you by telling you where the kulaks have hidden their grain from the starving people.”
Lenin then drafted a decree on the basis of which all surplus grain in the villages was to be handed over to the Committees of Poor Peasants and the workers’ food detachments.
The Council of People’s Commissars passed this decree. Thus Lenin and the Soviet state saved the working people of the country from starvation during the first years after the Revolution.
The small but important port of Murmansk stands on the shore of the Barents Sea, beyond the Arctic Circle.
One day in the spring of 1918, when a grey mist hung over the water, the black shape of a battleship appeared in the harbour at dawn. It was a British man-of-war and its guns were trained on the city. Just as stealthily a French cruiser took shape beside it, and, finally, an American cruiser.
Foreign troops landed on Soviet soil. They had been sent by the Entente, which was the name used for the military alliance of Great Britain, France and the United States. It was an alliance of capitalists and capitalist governments. Their aim was to overthrow the Soviet Government, for they were afraid that the workers of their own countries might follow the example of the workers of Russia and that the result would be a wave of revolutions.
The spring and summer of 1918 were a time of great trial for the Soviet Republic. In the middle of the summer the Entente sent a squadron of battleships to the White Sea.
The turbulent Northern Dvina falls into the White Sea. The city of Arkhangelsk lies some fifty miles from the mouth of the river. Here the Northern Dvina was crowded with rafts and barges. The town, with its wooden sidewalks, wharves, sawmills and lumber yards stretched along the river bank. The vast, moss-covered tundra reached its very outskirts. Arkhangelsk was a trading port and military base.
When the forces of the Entente occupied the city the bourgeoisie met the news with great rejoicing. Their cherished dream was to see the Soviet Republic destroyed. A counterrevolutionary revolt broke out in the city. Hundreds of Soviet workers, Red Army men and sailors lost their lives in the uneven battles which followed.
Then the merchants and capitalists who had been biding their time came out into the open. The officers of the former tsarist army put on their gold-stitched epaulets again.
The counterrevolutionary forces launched offensives in the North, the Far East, Siberia, the Urals and the Volga Region. Enemy ships entered the port of Vladivostok and landed troops in the city.
The kulaks were out for blood in the villages of Siberia, attacking the headquarters of the Committees of Poor Peasants and savagely executing all Communists.
Blood flowed in the towns and villages of the Don and Kuban regions where the White Guards had taken over. German troops had meanwhile occupied the Ukraine.
The enemy forces were drawing a ring tighter and tighter around Soviet Russia.
It was early morning. The sun was not yet up, but there was a faint yellow glow on the horizon.
Vladimir Ilyich left his apartment in the Kremlin. It was but a few steps to his office here, even closer than it had been in the Smolny.
An armed soldier stood guard outside his office. “Good morning!” Vladimir Ilyich said pleasantly. Perhaps this was not strictly according to regulations, but Lenin always greeted the guards.
The soldier came to attention, wondering, “Does Lenin ever sleep?” for only a few hours before the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars had left his office for home. Now here he was, back again and ready for work before the sun was up.
There was a large map of Russia on the wall between two windows in Lenin’s office. He studied it intently for a long time, standing with his hands folded behind his back, his eyes on the front lines. Vladimir Ilyich knew every city and area in which Red Army troops were fighting. He knew a great many of the commanders and commissars personally and tried to learn more of their characters, background and abilities. Many talented commanders had come up from the ranks of the working people when the enemy had invaded the country.
There was Vasily Chapayev, a man from the people, a hero whose military talent and personal courage had already become legend. Kliment Voroshilov had also proved himself an able commander. When Lenin thought of Mikhail Frunze it was with great respect. In December 1905 Frunze, a Bolshevik, had led a detachment of workers from his native Ivanovo-Voznesensk to the aid of the insurgent workers of Moscow. He was now in command of an army at one of the most difficult fronts.
Vladimir Ilyich scanned the map of the Northern, Southern and Eastern fronts and visualised their commanders: Voroshilov, Budyonny, Lazo, Kotovsky, Schors, Tukhachevsky, and Blucher.
Siberia, the Urals and the Volga were all in the east. And Russia’s grain was in the east, too.
The White Guards and the kulaks, backed by the forces of the Entente, had captured the fertile eastern lands. Their aim was to starve the workers’ and peasants’ nation. Vladimir Ilyich felt that the Red Army’s main offensive should be on the Eastern Front, its task being to force the enemy from the Volga Region and Siberia and to break the kulaks’ opposition.
Lenin returned to his desk and reread the previous day’s dispatches from the fronts. He had been in conference with Dzerzhinsky, Sverdlov, Chicherin and several other comrades late into the night, discussing the military situation. They had come to a unanimous decision. He would now write to the various commanders and dispatch orders to the fronts. Vladimir Ilyich was busy at this task until the yellow strip on the horizon paled and melted away and the hot summer sun appeared over the rooftops. Lydia Fotiyeva, his secretary, entered and said that the callers had arrived. He glanced at the clock. They had arrived on time. “You can tell an army man by his punctuality,” Lenin thought. Then he handed the folder with the urgent dispatches he had been working on to his secretary.
Lenin passed his hand over his face, as if wiping away his anxiety and fatigue. He did not want his callers to see how worried he was.
A moment later the Red commanders entered. Lenin knew them well, One had been a general in the tsarist army. Lenin addressed him now, saying, “What is your plan for our offensive?”
It might seem strange that Lenin was consulting a former tsarist general after having signed a decree which proclaimed that military service in the Red Army was an honour to be conferred upon the poor, upon the working people and their sons, while the sons of the nobility and the kulaks were to be barred from service in the Red Army. Moreover, Red Army commanders were to be members of the Communist Party.
However, Lenin had also called upon all honest former tsarist officers who were devoted to the Soviet Republic to help the Red Army, and this general threw his lot in with the Soviet Republic.
The general picked up a pointer and outlined his plan for the offensive, indicating the various locations on the map.
Lenin nodded. During the past few days he and his comrades-in-arms had discussed a similar plan of attack, weighing all the pros and cons. Now he was rechecking their findings against what the general was saying.
“I believe the offensive has a good chance of success,” the general concluded and laid down the pointer.
“Our goal is to win. I would like to hear your opinions, comrades,” Lenin said, addressing the Red commanders. They were in conference for a long time, discussing every detail of the planned offensive.
“The situation is very difficult, but the Red Army must be the victor,” Vladimir Ilyich said in conclusion.
THREE DEADLY BULLETS
Vladimir Ilyich, Nadezhda Konstantinovna and his sister Maria were having breakfast in their apartment in the Kremlin that Friday morning.
It was a rule in Moscow at the time that on Fridays members of the Central Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars spoke at workers’ meetings. Vladimir Ilyich was scheduled to speak at two meetings that day.
The Government telegraph room in the Kremlin operated round the clock, so that when the telegram from Petrograd arrived that morning it was immediately delivered to Lenin.
The dispatch informed him that Comrade Uritsky, Chairman of the Petrograd Extraordinary Committee for combating counterrevolution, had been assassinated. A short while later Lenin received a telephone call from the Moscow Party Committee. “Comrade Lenin, the Party Committee believes it unwise for you to speak at the meetings today. It’s too dangerous. The counterrevolutionaries have become too brazen.”
“My good man, fear has big eyes,” Lenin replied and hurried to his office.
Uritsky had just been assassinated. Volodarsky, another outstanding Bolshevik, had been assassinated a short while before. The enemy was after the members of the Central Committee and the Government.
And yet, how could Vladimir Ilyich let the workers down? They were expecting him. Stepan Gil, the man who always drove Lenin’s car, arrived. Vladimir Ilyich was to speak at two meetings that day. Besides, a meeting of the Council of People’s Commissars had been scheduled for the evening.
“It’s a tight schedule, but I expect I’ll manage,” Lenin said.
“I don’t know how you do it, Vladimir Ilyich,” Gil said and shook his head in wonder. He drove Lenin to the munitions plant where the workers awaited him in one of the shops in a large wooden building. They were standing by their machines and in the aisles and sitting on the windowsills. Their faces were intent, their eyes unwavering as they listened to Lenin speak of the Civil War and the fight against the White Guard bandits. The workers of this shop made hand grenades. Each and every one of them was ready to take up arms if called upon.
Lenin was convinced that these people, these workers would never surrender their factories and their power to the bourgeoisie.
As soon as the meeting was over Vladimir Ilyich headed for the exit. He was surrounded by the workers. Gil turned on the ignition. However, the workers would not let Lenin go. They showered him with questions. Vladimir Ilyich was speaking animatedly when a loud report was heard. Was it a shot? Lenin did not immediately realise what had happened. Something had jolted his left arm. He wavered. The next moment a second shot was fired, tearing at his neck. He began sinking to the ground when the third shot grazed the back of his coat.
“Lenin’s been killed!” people in the crowd began to shout.
A narrow-faced woman with hostile eyes tossed a revolver to the ground and dashed out of the yard. The workers ran after the assassin.
“Vladimir Ilyich! Comrade Lenin!” Gil called.
“Take me home,” Lenin whispered in a barely audible voice.
The workers lifted him into the back seat. A dead silence fell upon the factory yard. It seemed that the only sound now was Lenin’s rasping breathing.
Gil tore through the streets to the Kremlin. “We’ll carry you in, Vladimir Ilyich,” he said when they drew up outside the entrance.
Lenin would not agree to this. Leaning on Gil and one of the workers who had accompanied them for support, his shirt wet with blood, he slowly climbed the stairs to the third floor. It seemed the stairs would never end.
“Volodya! Volodya!” his sister Maria cried in horror as she rushed towards him.
“I’ve been wounded slightly,” he replied with difficulty. “Don’t worry. And don’t frighten Nadya.”
Nadezhda Konstantinovna had not yet returned from work.
Meanwhile, all the members of the Council of People’s Commissars were in attendance, for Lenin had called the meeting for nine o’clock and he always expected punctuality. Now, for the very first time, he himself was late.
The two men led Lenin to his bed, which was covered with the plaid his mother had given him. They helped him to lie down. His strength was ebbing. His face gradually took on a yellowish tint.
The door to the apartment was wide open. People crowded anxiously in the doorway. Soon the doctor arrived.
“Will he be all right? It isn’t serious, is it?” the people said hopefully.
But Lenin had been gravely wounded by poisoned bullets and his life was in danger.
The minutes dragged on. When Nadezhda Konstantinovna returned she could not understand why the front door was open and why so many people were crowding around outside.
Someone stroked her shoulder gently. She understood. “Is he alive?” she asked.
A moan issued from Lenin’s room. She straightened her shoulders and entered, trying her best to appear calm. At the sight of her Vladimir Ilyich managed a smile and said, “It’s nothing, Nadya. Something like this can always happen to a revolutionary. It’s only a trifle. I’ll get over it soon.” Then he closed his eyes. His pulse became very feeble. He was failing.
THE DIFFICULT YEARS
The telegraph machines rattled day and night in one of the corridors of the Kremlin. A telegraph operator dressed in a soldier’s uniform picked up the ticker-tape and read the message intently. He then made a dash for Lenin’s apartment at the far end of the corridor.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna opened the door. She read the message and said, “Hurry, you take it in to Vladimir Ilyich.” The young soldier entered the small bedroom excitedly. There was a desk beside the narrow bed. Vladimir Ilyich was reading at the desk. His left arm was in a sling. He had lost weight and his face was haggard, but otherwise he had not changed. His eyes were as keen as ever, his movements as quick.
The telegram had been sent by the soldiers of the Red Army. It read: “Dear Vladimir Ilyich, we have avenged one of your wounds by taking your home town, and shall take Samara to avenge the other.”
“Good for them!” Lenin exclaimed, touched to the heart. “.. .By taking your home town.. .” he repeated aloud. “Our forces have taken Simbirsk, Comrade,” he said to the telegraph operator. “It’s a wonderful victory, isn’t it, Nadya?” He immediately composed a reply. He congratulated the Red Army men on their victory and thanked them. He said that the capture of Simbirsk was a wonderful tonic, the best treatment for his wounds.
“I’ll certainly get better now,” he said. Indeed, a few days later the newspaper Pravda carried a bulletin reporting on Lenin’s improved state of health. The doctors had finally permitted him to resume his work.
These were very difficult times. The Entente, realising that conquering the Red Army would not be an easy task, began sending in reinforcements. By now the armies of fourteen nations had invaded the Soviet Republic. The Land of Soviets was as a besieged fortress.
“We must organise our life accordingly,” Lenin said. He proposed that universal labour service be introduced. All able-bodied Soviet citizens were to be employed: In the factories and mills, in agriculture, in offices and on the railways; all would be helping the Red Army.
The Red Army had to be armed, it had to be clothed and fed. However, the factories were not able to produce as many greatcoats and boots as necessary, for there was not enough cloth and not enough leather for boots.
The Party and the Government called on the population for warm clothing. People donated sheepskin coats, sweaters, scarves and woollen socks to the Red Army, bringing them to collection centres. The rich, however, did not wish to part with their possessions.
“We must take all the extra warm clothing there is from the rich,” Lenin said to Dzerzhinsky. “One winter coat apiece is quite sufficient. The working people are donating all they have. Let the rich share their riches, too.”
Dzerzhinsky sent his men to the homes of the rich to collect shoes and clothing. They were then distributed free of charge to the ill-clothed and ill-shod workers and their families and to the men of the Red Army.
However, hunger was the greatest enemy. Food in the cities had long since been rationed and the rations were very meagre.
The Soviet Government issued a new law introducing a surplus-requisitioning system. This meant that the peasants had to deliver all their surplus grain, flour, meat, butter and potatoes to the state to feed the Red Army and the workers. The country could not have held out otherwise.
War Communism was the name Lenin gave the years during which the surplus-requisitioning system and universal labour service were enforced, when the entire population worked for the front, when food and clothing were rationed, when the remnants of the railway system were completely given over to transporting heavy guns and troops to the front lines and when one could only travel by rail if one was issued a pass.
How fortunate it was for Soviet Russia that Lenin headed the country during that most difficult time.
A DAY IN SOKOLNIKI
All during Lenin’s grave illness, and especially during the days when he hovered between life and death, Nadezhda Konstantinovna had concealed her fears and anxiety, remaining outwardly calm and composed.
However, no sooner had Vladimir Ilyich recovered than she fell gravely ill herself. The doctors said she needed a rest and fresh air. There were no sanatoriums in Soviet Russia at the time, but there was a special Forest School for frail children in a pine wood in Sokolniki on the outskirts of Moscow. The air there was truly magnificent, and Nadezhda Konstantinovna was persuaded to go there for a while.
Although Lenin’s time was completely taken up with affairs of state and he worked on late into the night, he would make a break in the evening and say to Gil, “Let’s drive out and visit Nadezhda Konstantinovna.”
When winter came the carters of Moscow were unable to cart away all the snow that kept falling. Soon the streets of the city were lined with snow banks, some of them reaching up to the second-storey windows.
On a frosty day in January 1919 there was to be a New Year’s party at the Forest School. Vladimir Ilyich had promised to be there. He and his sister Maria took a small container of milk for Nadezhda Konstantinovna and set out in the car. Comrade Chebanov, one of the Kremlin guards, went along with them.
It was a Sunday and the streets were crowded. In some places the snow banks were so huge that only a narrow trench was open in the middle of the road for traffic. Gil was an experienced driver and manoeuvred skilfully around the pedestrians and snow banks.
When they approached a deserted stretch of road near the railway bridge at Sokolniki three men blocked the way. “Stop or we’ll shoot!” one of them shouted.
Gil wanted to step on the gas but Vladimir Ilyich told him to stop, thinking the three were militiamen. This was a time of war, and the militia had a right to know who was leaving the city limits by automobile. As to the men being dressed in civilian clothes, the militia did not have uniforms at the time.
Gil stepped on the brake. Three burly men opened the car doors and levelled their revolvers on the passengers. “Get out! All of you!”
“I’m Lenin,” Vladimir Ilyich said mildly. He still believed them to be militia men. The very next moment two of the men had pressed the steel barrels of their guns to his temples. The third, a man with a pale, insolent face, frisked him. He took Lenin’s Kremlin pass and his small revolver. Then the three bandits jumped into the car and roared off. All this happened so quickly that the four of them stood in the road in stunned silence. Finally, Lenin said, “It’s disgraceful! We let them steal the car in broad daylight!”
“They only reason I didn’t shoot was because I was afraid they’d kill you, Vladimir Ilyich!” Gil protested.
“Perhaps you’re right. The forces were too uneven,” Vladimir Ilyich conceded. Then he glanced at Chebanov and burst out laughing. His laughter was always catching, and a moment later both his sister and Gil were laughing, too. Chebanov stood there dazedly, holding the small container of milk.
“That’s all we managed to salvage!” Vladimir Ilyich exclaimed and burst out laughing again. At length, still chuckling over their flabbergasted guard who was holding the ill-fated container of milk in one hand and had finally fished his gun from his pocket with the other, they set off for the local District Soviet. There a car was found for Vladimir Ilyich and he and his sister were driven to the Forest School. Dzerzhinsky was immediately informed of what had happened. A short while later his men set out to find the bandits. The three men were soon apprehended.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna wandered restlessly from one window to the next, peering into the dark snow-covered orchard, wondering why Vladimir Ilyich was so late.
Her restlessness communicated itself to the children. Time dragged on and on.
Suddenly someone shouted, “They’re here!”
Vladimir Ilyich hurried in. His coat was unbuttoned, his cheeks were rosy from the cold and there was hoar-frost on his beard and moustache.
“It’s Grandfather Frost!” the children cried and crowded round him.
Vladimir Ilyich finally made his way through the shouting children to Nadezhda Konstantinovna’s side. He had not intended to tell her about the hold-up, but her eyes were so anxious and searching that he could see she felt something was wrong. “It’s really nothing, Nadya, believe me,” he said.
When he finally told her what had happened, she turned pale and whispered, “Thank goodness you’re alive.”
Then the party began. The beautiful fir tree was covered with home-made ornaments. There were coloured flags, a large gold star and paper toys. The large room was filled with the fresh smell of resin. The children took hands and danced around the tree, singing. Vladimir Ilyich joined the circle, singing along with them. Then they played cat-and-mouse, blind man’s bluff and hide-and-seek. They played until they were exhausted. What a wonderful party it was!
Nadezhda Konstantinovna, who knew that only two short hours before Vladimir Ilyich had faced death, gazed at him with love and pride, thinking, “You’re a truly fearless man, and that is why you’re so full of fun and life.”
Vladimir Ilyich and his sister Anna were on the train coming from Petrograd to Moscow. It was a March night in 1919. A small oil lamp flickered feebly as the car rattled along to the mournful clatter of its wheels.
Anna sat hunched over in a corner. They were returning home from Petrograd where they had buried her husband, Mark Yelizarov.
A new calamity had descended upon the country: typhus. It struck people down in the cities and the towns, in the villages and at the railway stations. People were dying like flies, for there were very few hospitals, very few doctors and hardly any medicaments in Soviet Russia at the time.
Mark Yelizarov had gone to Petrograd on an official mission. He had come down with typhus and had died a few days later. Now a third grave rose beside the other two under a white birch tree at Volkovo Cemetery.
So many fond memories remained of happy days and hard times shared with Mark. In his youth he had been Alexander’s closest friend. After Alexander had been executed, Mark had married his sister Anna and had become one of the family. He was a devoted, intelligent man and had at once found a way into the hearts of his new family.
The train thundered on through the night, past the naked trees and the thatched villages. Factory stacks loomed starkly against the sky. There was no smoke coming from the stacks, for less and less factories and mills were working. There was an acute shortage of raw materials and so the factories were closing down. The country was in ruins.
A new calamity awaited them in Moscow. Sverdlov, Chairman of the Central Executive Committee, had come down with influenza. A great epidemic had swept over Europe and reached Russia. It was carrying off thousands of lives now, coming right on the heels of typhus. Typhus and influenza compounded with hunger and Civil War had exhausted the country. The foreign press was happy to note that the end of Soviet Russia seemed close at hand.
Vladimir Ilyich pressed his hands to his temples. If only Sverdlov pulled through! How well they had worked together. Lenin would say, “I think we should do this or that. . .” and before he’d complete the sentence, Sverdlov would reply, “Already.”
“It’s already been done.”
“When did you manage? We hardly spoke of it.” “Indeed,” Sverdlov would agree and chuckle.
He and Sverdlov had always understood each other. Lenin valued his efficiency, his revolutionary spirit, his statesman’s mind.
The doctors would not allow him to visit Sverdlov, for influenza is very catching. Lenin disregarded their warnings and went to see his comrade. When he saw the pale, wan man with the sunken eyes and cheeks lying back against the pillows he was aghast. Could this be Sverdlov? His ashen face was aged, unfamiliar.
Vladimir Ilyich pulled a chair up to the bed and sat down. “Try to hang on, my dear comrade,” he pleaded silently. He always thought of Sverdlov as a young and healthy man. Indeed, he was still only thirty-three years old. Vladimir Ilyich could not imagine a single situation in which this bold, energetic and cheerful man could have expressed fear, no matter how great the danger. Sverdlov had always been an excellent orator, one who could fire the minds of thousands, calling upon them to join the revolutionary struggle.
Sverdlov’s lashes fluttered. He opened his eyes. As if from some great distance he looked at Lenin and recognised him. A painful, pathetic smile touched his lips. Vladimir Ilyich took his comrade’s fleshless hand and a great lump rose to his throat. Then he left the sickroom, his head bowed.
A short while later Sverdlov died. It was as if he had regained consciousness for a few moments before he died just to see Lenin once again and to take his soundless leave of him.
Vladimir Ilyich would never forget his tireless comrade-in-arms, his helper in those very first, most difficult months of building a new way of life.
But life went on. The Soviet Republic had to be defended and strengthened. Lenin proposed that Mikhail Ivanovich Kalinin be elected to Sverdlov’s post as Chairman of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee.
Kalinin, the son of a peasant from Tver Gubernia, had been a factory worker in Petrograd. He was a staunch Communist and a fine, intelligent man. The people knew and respected him.
“I AM A SON OF THE WORKING PEOPLE…”
Over a million well-armed White Guards and foreign troops were closing in on Moscow. Six enemy fronts formed an iron circle around the Soviet Republic. Never before had the situation been as grave as it was now.
On a bright day in May there was an unusual commotion in the streets of Moscow. Women were crowding expectantly outside the gates of the factories and mills, their children clinging to their skirts. These were the children of Moscow’s working-class districts. Their faces were thin and pale, their eyes had a hungry look.
Then the factory gates were thrown open. The workers, dressed in whatever they had, greatcoats or padded jackets, were getting ready to leave the factory yard. Each man was armed with a rifle and carried a knapsack.
The Red Army men lined up. They had just completed a crash military training course and their lines were not too straight. But each man had learned to shoot. They marched in columns towards Red Square. Units from all over the city were heading there.
Women in kerchiefs and carrying small bundles of food accompanied them. They hurried along, searching the faces, handing their men their small bundles. Every now and then a woman’s wail would rise over the crowd.
Barefooted boys darted in and out among the marching units. One shouted excitedly: “Our dad’s got the biggest rifle!”
“My dad has a cartridge belt! Wait till he starts shooting the White Guards!”
“See my dad? He’s got a whole row of hand grenades! He’ll show those White Guards!”
“I am a son of the working people, a citizen of the Soviet Republic. I hereby accept the rank of soldier in the workers’ and peasants’ army….”
What proud and noble words those were! They made hearts beat stronger, as Lenin’s had done but a year before when he, as Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, had taken the same pledge of allegiance to the Soviet State. Together with the young workers of a munitions plant; men of the Red Guard units, he had repeated the words of the oath: “I pledge to defend the Soviet Republic at the very first call of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government.”
Vladimir Ilyich walked along thoughtfully. He and a group of his comrades-in-arms were heading towards Red Square. The square was crowded. There was a hum of many voices in the air and a forest of steel bayonets glinting in the sun. Many of the men embraced their wives and children who stood beside them.
These were Red Army units and units of the Vsevobuch. The year before Lenin had signed a decree which stated that all workers and working people must complete a military training course. The country was in mortal danger, and every able-bodied man would have to do his share towards defending it.
There was no speaker’s platform on the square. Instead, there was an old, mud-spattered truck. One of its sides was covered with red cloth. Inside the truck a long board had been nailed to a pole, and a slogan had been painted on the board. It read: “We’ll rout the White-guards!”
First Vladimir Ilyich and the Red Army commanders inspected the troops. Then he climbed a small ladder into the truck. He was now facing a veritable sea of faces.
Each of the thousands of armed workers had his own home and family, yet each man had left everything at the first call of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government and was now going off to the front lines to fight the White Guards.
Vladimir Ilyich began to speak. Everything became very still. Lenin said that formerly the soldiers of Russia had been taught to defend the tsar and the capitalists, but now they were defending their children, their homes and their Republic from the capitalists and landowners. Lenin spoke simply and sincerely of things that were of great importance to the thousands of Red Army men and their wives who were gathered in Red Square that day.
After the meeting was over the troops headed straight for the railway stations where trains were waiting to take them to the front lines.
The Council of People’s Commissars was not large, which meant that each staff member was always busy. Each employee liked his job and did his best.
Lenin was five minutes early for the meeting of the Council of People’s Commissars. It was his habit to arrive early. He sat down in the Chairman’s seat and as the Council members filed in and took their seats around the long conference table, he began looking through the pile of dispatches and telegrams, putting some of them aside and signing several others. Lenin then called the meeting to order.
“Shall we start?” he said.
One of the comrades, a member of the Food Committee, reported on the food situation. The Committee had an exact accounting of every pound of food available and its representative now told the Council members how much bread, butter and salt the workers would be allotted in the coming month. The rations were meagre. There would be a little extra for the children, but still far from enough.
“Don’t forget about the elderly single people,” Vladimir Ilyich remarked.
The food situation was indeed grave, for the speaker said nothing in reply to the Chairman’s remark.
“We can’t overlook the elderly single people,” Lenin repeated more firmly. “Who’ll care for them if not the Soviet State? Yes, I know, we are very poor, but you’ll have to find a way out.” Vladimir Ilyich looked at the speaker expectantly.
Lenin had known Alexander Tsyurupa, the Commissar for Food, ever since he had returned from exile in Siberia. Vladimir Ilyich had taken an immediate liking to the jolly, blue-eyed, curly-haired young man. Tsyurupa was a fine revolutionary, a selfless worker, an excellent Commissar. It was easy to work with men like him.
Lenin gazed at him keenly and frowned. How thin Tsyurupa had become. His face seemed bloodless. “Why, he’s starving!” The thought suddenly struck Vladimir Ilyich. He pulled a sheet of paper from his notebook and, still listening to the speaker, wrote Tsyurupa a note of warning, saying that he was duty bound to take good care of state property, and that it was unwise to let it go uncared for.
Tsyurupa read the note and smiled. Vladimir Ilyich referred to the health of people who worked especially hard for the government as state property.
Tsyurupa wanted to reply that he was not the only one who was hungry, that everyone was on meagre rations, but that the day would soon come when things would take a turn for the better and everyone would be able to eat his fill.
Soon the speaker had finished his report. Tsyurupa did not write a reply to Lenin’s note. Instead, he raised his hand, asking for the floor. The question being discussed was so very important that the Commissar for Food had to express his opinion and present his suggestions. He rose, lurched forward and fell unconscious to the floor.
Lenin jumped to his feet. He rushed to Tsyurupa’s side.
Tsyurupa lay on his back, his hands thrown wide, his face a deathly mask. His comrades surrounded him. Someone phoned for a doctor. “Water! Get some water!” Then someone splashed some water on Tsyurupa’s face. He stirred and took a deep breath. They helped him to a chair. Tsyurupa wiped his face with his handkerchief and looked around sheepishly. “I’ve disrupted the meeting,” he said apologetically.
“The Commissar for Food has fainted from hunger,” Vladimir Ilyich said and shook his head. “These are hard times, indeed. Still, state property must be cared for. Comrades, this bit of state property is in very poor condition. I suggest that we send it off for capital repairs immediately.”
“IN THE MERRY MONTH OF MAY”
Vladimir Ilyich awoke early. He rose softly in order not to wake anyone and tiptoed into the kitchen. He had on an old suit and an old pair of shoes and was not wearing a tie.
The kettle was boiling. A pot of boiled potatoes sent up a cloud of steam next to it. Sanya, a cousin of Ivan Babushkin, who had been executed by tsarist gendarmes in 1906, was the Ulyanovs’ housekeeper in their Kremlin apartment.
“Are you really going, Vladimir Ilyich?” she asked, unable to conceal her surprise.
“Ah, what is this I see?” he said by way of reply, pointing at the kettle and the pot of potatoes. “I wonder why somebody has prepared an early breakfast for me this morning. Thank you, Sanya. Come and have breakfast with me.” He began to eat.
As Sanya poured him a glass of strong tea she said, “It’s not a job for you, Vladimir Ilyich. Your job is to work with your brains.”
“What if the country also needs us to work with our hands?” he replied with a mischievous smile.
A few moments later he was on his way down the stairs. It was a clear, brisk morning. A breeze ruffled the young green leaves on the trees. White puffs of clouds drifted across the bright blue sky.
There was an unusual commotion on the Kremlin grounds. Trainees of the Kremlin military school who lived and studied in the Kremlin were lining up. There were groups of people from the Council of People’s Commissars and the All-Russia Central Executive Committee.
The day was May 1st, and the Party had appealed to the people to contribute a day’s work instead of holding the customary May Day demonstration.
A year before the railway men of the Kazan line in Moscow had stayed on to work in their shops after their Saturday shift had ended. They had repaired four locomotives and sixteen railway cars without pay. Lenin wrote of this volunteer work without pay for the benefit of the state in his article “A Great Beginning”, calling it the actual beginning of a communist attitude to labour. Since the men had worked on a Saturday, such volunteer work became known as subbotniks.
An All-Russia Subbotnik had been scheduled for this national holiday, May 1, 1920. All over the country working people were on their way to lend a hand in doing a common, important job, be it in cleaning up the streets or working in the factory shops.
The Kremlin military trainees were lined up outside their barracks and near the Tsar Cannon. A pyramid of iron cannon balls was stacked nearby. No shot had ever been fired from the Tsar Cannon. The master gunsmiths of old had cast it to amaze the world and set fear into the hearts of Russia’s enemies. It had been permanently mounted on an iron pedestal on the Kremlin grounds.
When the military trainees had lined up their commander told them that their task for the day would be to clear the grounds of logs and rubble.
Just then Vladimir Ilyich came up to them. He was walking quickly, as was his wont, and was dressed in an old jacket and cap. He looked very intent and was in high spirits.
“I’m at your service,” Vladimir Ilyich said to the commander, coming to attention before him. “Please take me into account when you distribute the jobs.”
“Take your place on the right flank,” the commander said.
The clock on the Kremlin tower chimed. A brass band began to play.
The young men got down to work in grand spirits. The sun was shining, there was music in the air and Lenin was working alongside them.
The logs were very heavy. It took six men to lift and carry one of them. Soon the trainees noticed that Lenin somehow managed to get under the heaviest part of the log each time.
“Comrade Lenin,” one of them said, “we can’t have you carrying such a weight!”
“You’re carrying it, aren’t you?”
“We can manage alone. Why don’t you rest a while?” “Now, now, I won’t have you sending me off.”
“But you’re fifty, Vladimir Ilyich!” As soon as the words were out of his mouth the young man felt ashamed of himself. Here he was, talking to Lenin as if he were one of the fellows.
Vladimir Ilyich turned and shook his finger at him. “Since I’m older than you, young man, it’s all the more reason for you not to argue with me.”
Lenin recalled another May Day, when he and Nadezhda Konstantinovna had been in exile in Shushenskoye. They had made a small red flag in secret and had gathered on the meadow that day. One of the songs they had sung had been:
In the merry month of May, grief, be banished from our way! Freedom songs our joy convey. We shall go on strike today!
And they had dreamed of the future. Now the future had become the present. The people were free, they were their own masters. The Red Army had begun a general counteroffensive. Soon the interventionists and counterrevolutionaries would be banished from the country.
When Vladimir Ilyich came back home after the subbotnik his shirt was wet from perspiration. One of the soles of his old shoes had come loose.
“You’re awfully hard on your shoes,” Nadezhda Konstantinovna said and went off to get him a fresh change of linen. He was tired but satisfied as he splashed under the tap.
Some time after Nadezhda Konstantinovna pinned a red ribbon to his jacket and he went to Teatralnaya Square on which the cornerstone for a monument to Karl Marx was to be laid that day. Lenin spoke at the ceremony. Later in the day he spoke at the Liberated Labour corner-stone laying. In the evening Lenin spoke at mass meetings in three different districts. Finally, he headed for the new Workers’ Community centre that was opened in Moscow on May 1, 1920.
Vladimir Ilyich experienced a feeling of deep contentment at the people’s united efforts on the day of the first All-Russia Subbotnik, at the sight of the future monuments and at the first tangible signs of a new, socialist culture.
Everyone knew that the members of the Young Communist League (Komsomol) were brave and selfless. Whenever the Party had a dangerous assignment which called for true courage, the members of the YCL were always ready to volunteer. When new trails had to be blazed they were the first to come forward. In times of war they never faltered.
Komsomol members accomplished thousands of heroic feats during the Civil War years. Thousands of these young heroes wet e buried in Siberia, the Ukraine, the Crimea, the Volga Region, near Kursk and Petrograd.
Vladimir Ilyich laid down his pencil. The sheet of paper before him was covered with fine writing. He was jotting down notes for his speech.
Lenin was to speak at the Third Congress of the YCL. The Young Communist League of Russia had only been founded two years before. Its members were the children of the working class and the poor peasants. The men and women of Lenin’s generation had made the revolution a reality, but they would hardly live to complete the task of building a communist society. It would be up to the younger generation and the Komsomol, first and foremost, to realise this goal.
October 2, 1920 was a cold, windy day. The sky was overcast. A sudden gust of wind tore the yellow leaves from the trees, whirling them around until they finally settled in a rustling heap.
The brisk air was invigorating. There had been another subbotnik that day. All through the morning they had been unloading freight cars, stacking firewood in lumber yards, cleaning up the streets, beautifying the city. Now they were heading towards the Congress Hall, straight from the subbotnik, elated after their work together and at the thought of seeing Lenin at the Congress.
There was no stage inside the hall, just a hastily made wooden platform with a long table covered with red cloth and a rostrum. The walls were hung with posters and slogans.
“Have you volunteered for the Red Army?” a Red Army man pointing at the viewer asked sternly as he looked down on the gathering from one of the posters.
As a matter of fact, many of the young delegates had arrived straight from the front lines. They had come from the towns and villages of Russia. Some were literate, while others had never owned a book in their lives. Yet, all of them had fought valiantly against the counterrevolutionary forces; none had faltered when they had gone after the kulaks’ hidden hoards of grain, and all were ready to fight to the last for their Soviet Republic.
Their hearts beat faster as the time for Lenin’s appearance drew near. Soon, so very soon, they would hear him speak.
Thus awaiting his arrival, they sat in close rows on the benches, some in army greatcoats smelling of gunpowder, some in leather jackets.
Each and every one wondered what Lenin would say in his speech. They knew he would speak of the war, calling on them to be fearless and brave in battle. At the time the Red Army was driving the White Guard forces back, but the Civil War had not yet ended.
Someone started a revolutionary song and everyone joined in.
Then a hush settled over the auditorium as a presidium for the meeting was elected. The elected comrades took their seats behind the long table. Two portraits hung on the wall in back of the platform. From them Marx and Engels gazed at the assembled youth.
A sudden cry went up: “Lenin!” Everyone rose. They greeted Lenin with an ovation, for they all loved him.
Lenin took off his coat with its small velvet collar and folded it over the back of a chair. He shook hands with the comrades in the presidium. Everything he did was so natural and unaffected that it endeared him to the young people even more.
Lenin walked over the edge of the platform, took a watch from his vest pocket and held it up, as if to say: that’s enough clapping, let’s get down to work.
This charmed the young people. If, at that moment, Lenin had said, “My friends, you must all leave for the front lines immediately”, not one of them would have hesitated.
However, when he began to speak his words caught them unawares. His audience was stunned.
Lenin walked up and down on the platform as he spoke. The hall was so crowded that some of the younger delegates of the presidium were sitting on the edge of the platform and Lenin picked his way among them.
His message was that the task of the Komsomol members now was to study.
Vladimir Ilyich saw the confusion and amazement on their faces. He tried to make his words as clear as possible.
He said that the Civil War would soon be over and the enemy forces would be banished from Soviet soil. What then? They would have to begin to build factories, mills, tractors, airplanes and machinery. The country would have to be electrified. Did they know what electricity was? They would have to know all about it and many other things as well.
Vladimir Ilyich argued that they had to acquire knowledge in order to build a communist society. This knowledge had to be combined with productive labour. “Only by working side by side with the workers and peasants can one become a genuine Communist,” he said. Vladimir Ilyich told them that learning communism meant attuning each step of their lives with the struggle of the proletariat against the old society and building a new, communist society.
DREAMS AND DEEDS
Vladimir Ilyich was having an interview with H. G. Wells, the famous English writer, the author of The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and The Invisible Man. Wells’ science-fiction stories were known throughout the world. He had criticised life in capitalist society, he was extremely interested in science and technology, and Lenin wished to meet him.
Now Vladimir Ilyich studied the large, broad-shouldered Englishman. His hair was neatly parted and he had a short, trimmed moustache. Wells was dressed in an excellently tailored suit. The high collar of his white shirt reached his round, clean-shaven chin. It was apparent that the famous writer did not know the meaning of want.
At the time, the Soviet people lived under very difficult conditions. There was not enough fuel to heat the houses and not enough food, to say nothing of the possibility of buying a good suit or a white shirt. The shelves of the shops were bare.
Wells was telling Lenin of his impressions. He had arrived from London two weeks before and had spent his time getting to know Petrograd and Moscow, visiting factories and mills. Over half of them had been shut down. Wells had visited the schools. He had seen the school lunches, which had consisted of a small piece of bread for each child. There was a shortage of school-books, and three or four children had to share each book.
Wells asked many questions and listened intently to the answers. He was stunned. He had never imagined the difficulties that faced the Land of Soviets. The country was in ruins, it was gripped by hunger, it lacked fuel and electricity. Russia was plunged in darkness, in gloom.
H. G. Wells told all this to Lenin. The smile on Vladimir Ilyich’s face faded. No, he was not angry. Lenin always appreciated frankness, and Wells was speaking the truth. Russia was indeed in ruins. Wells had been just in his analysis of the situation: it was not the Bolsheviks but the tsarist government, the Russian and foreign capitalists who had brought Russia to this terrible state. They were the ones who had plunged the country into war. However, Wells did not believe that the Bolsheviks would ever be able to rebuild the country, to pull it out of the mire of poverty and war.
At this point in the conversation Lenin leaned across the table and said with a twinkle in his eye, “Have you any idea of what the Bolsheviks are doing to put Russia back on its feet? Would you like to know?”
Wells was both a scholar and a man of great imagination, and that was why Lenin decided to tell him of the Bolsheviks’ great and truly staggering plan for the future.
Vladimir Ilyich and Gleb Krzhizhanovsky, a Communist and leading engineer, had been close friends since their youth. Krzhizhanovsky was also a poet. In tsarist times he had translated many Polish revolutionary songs into Russian. The Bolsheviks had sung them before. Now the entire country was singing them.
Lenin had spent many a long evening discussing his plan with Krzhizhanovsky. He later summoned two hundred of the country’s leading scientists and engineers to discuss it in detail.
Lenin spoke English fluently, amazing Wells not only by his command of the language, but by the thoughts he was expressing. They were bold indeed, and more imaginative than any science-fiction plot. Lenin’s plan to cover Russia with a network of electric power stations was truly staggering. The Russia Wells knew of was a land of forests and plains, of village huts lit by burning splinters of wood, of towns come to ruin, of dead factory stacks, of commerce at a standstill and of railways in a state of disrepair.
“Do you mean to say that you plan to turn on electricity all over the country amidst such appalling ruin?”
“Yes, we are going to build power stations to run our factories and railways.”
“A most amazing man,” Wells thought as he listened to Lenin’s words. “But … he’s just a dreamer.”
The Eighth All-Russia Congress of Soviets opened two months later. It was held in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in December 1920.
The red plush chairs were occupied by working people dressed in shabby clothes. Their faces were determined, for they represented Soviet power and they had gathered here to draw up new laws, to plan the economy and the new way of life. A great map of the electrification of Russia was set up on the stage. Vladimir Ilyich had taken a special interest in the map. He had phoned Krzhizhanovsky about it time and again, he had hurried the artist and the electricians, making sure that everything would be ready on schedule. Lenin wanted the Congress delegates to see the plan of electrification for themselves, to see the great changes that were going to take place in Russia. H. G. Wells, too, would see these changes if he were to return in another ten years.
Krzhizhanovsky stood in the middle of the stage. He was a small, energetic, dark-eyed man, but was unusually still now, probably because he was so nervous.
Yesterday, on this very stage, Lenin had said, “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.” Today Krzhizhanovsky the engineer, had to tell the deputies how this plan was to be put into practice. He picked up a wooden pointer. The lights in the Bolshoi Theatre dimmed. The tip of the pointer touched a spot on the map and a tiny light flashed on. First one, then another and a third. Krzhizhanovsky spoke of how and where the electric power stations would be built, and of how greatly electricity would aid industry and agriculture. The tiny lights kept flashing on across the map, denoting the sites of the future power stations, making the map blossom magically.
Vladimir Ilyich watched his comrade’s inspired face. He saw the rapt attention of the deputies and watched the lights go on all over the map, heralding the future. He knew that this plan into which he had put his heart and soul would now become the dream and task of all the deputies, the dream and task of the entire people. Lenin was not alone. The Soviet people and his comrades were with him.
A YEAR OF GREAT HARDSHIP
In December 1920 the last dispatch of the Revolutionary Military Committee finally appeared in Pravda. It read: “All is quiet on the fronts.” The Red Army had banished the interventionists and smashed the White Guard forces.
The war had ended in most of the country. The policy of War Communism no longer met the needs of everyday life. Lenin was working on a new policy, one that was applicable to peaceful construction.
Meanwhile, a terrible calamity was about to descend upon the country. There had hardly been any snow during the winter, and the severe cold had frozen the naked earth. The spring shoots were sickly. In vain did they thirst for water. All through the spring and summer the scorching sun rose in the East and set in the West without a single cloud appearing on the horizon. Hot winds killed the last signs of life in the tender shoots. The earth cracked and turned to stone from the heat. First the crops perished in the Volga region. Then the drought reached the Crimea and the Southern Urals.
Starvation came knocking on the doors of millions.
Vladimir Ilyich chaired the meetings of the Council of People’s Commissars. Aid to the starving was the chief question of the day. Lenin directed the commissars’ work. Immediate action, immediate decisive measures had to be taken, as in wartime.
The Soviet Government appealed to the people, sending the following dispatch to all towns and regions: “Comrades, share what you can!”
Dzerzhinsky, Chairman of the All-Russia Extraordinary Commission, left for Siberia to head a campaign for collecting grain for the Volga region.
There had been a good crop in the Ukraine, and Lenin wrote a letter to the people of the Ukraine. It read, in part: “Speedy aid is needed. Generous aid is needed.”
Lenin also wrote a letter of appeal to the workers of other countries.
The Soviet Government organised the Commission for Aid to the Famine-Stricken, headed by M. I. Kalinin. Lenin had great faith in Kalinin’s peasant background and common sense, in his proletarian intuition. Soon after Kalinin set off for the Volga region.
“Special care should be taken of the children,” Vladimir Ilyich said in parting. “Very special care,” he repeated. There was great urgency and sorrow in his voice.
Kalinin cleared his throat, tugged at his beard and said, “We’ll do our best. We’ll do everything possible.”
“Even more than is possible!”
It was late at night. Lenin was at his desk in his office. He moved aside a pile of papers he had already read and signed. His head was splitting, but he had no time to be ill, no right to be ill. Now, when no one could see him, he rested his aching head on his hand. The one thought that burned into his brain was the famine. “Even more than is possible must be done!” he said to himself.
The Soviet Government was doing more than was possible. There was very little gold in the Soviet banks, but Lenin signed an order for twelve million rubles in gold to be spent abroad on seed for the scorched fields of Russia.
A flood of letters from the workers of Russia all contained the same message: “Comrade Lenin, there are hundreds of thousands of churches in our land, with gold crosses and utensils in every one. Wouldn’t it be wiser to use them for buying food for the starving people?”
Lenin realised the importance of this suggestion. He could always rely on the working class.
The telephone rang. It was Kalinin, phoning from the Volga region.
“How are things?” Lenin asked anxiously.
“Very bad, Vladimir Ilyich,” Kalinin replied.
The fields were barren. The villages were engulfed in a smoky haze. There was no sound of cattle. The animals had either been slaughtered for food or had starved to death. There had not even been any berries or mushrooms in the woods that accursed summer. The people were eating a brew of leaves and grass, they were weak from hunger. Whole families were dying out, as in a time of plague.
Lenin sat back motionlessly. This was so unlike him. How right the Commission had been in evacuating the children from the starving areas. And how frightening had the sight of the silent railway cars been. Railway cars packed full of silent children.
These trains from the famine-stricken regions were headed for various towns and cities. Moscow had taken in the children from Chuvashia. Children’s homes were opened in the fine houses and mansions that had once belonged to the rich.
Late at night Vladimir Ilyich entered the house softly. Every one was asleep. But no, his sister Maria had been sitting up in the kitchen, waiting for him. She called to him, “You’re killing yourself, Volodya. Come, have a glass of tea. Nadya was exhausted when she got home from work and I made her lie down.”
Vladimir Ilyich noticed a parcel on the table. The letter accompanying it was from the peasants of Tambov Region. They wrote that they were sending him a ham and a side of bacon. “It’s all country-fresh, Vladimir Ilyich, and it will give you strength,” they concluded.
“Volodya, I know you’ve never once accepted a gift, and both Nadya and I agree with you wholeheartedly. But Volodya, you’re so run-down….”
Vladimir Ilyich smiled at his sister. He loved Maria very much. She had been a baby in 1887 when their brother Alexander had been executed. The townspeople had turned their backs on the Ulyanovs then. But Ivan Yakovlev, their father’s colleague and a Chuvash by nationality, had remained a staunch friend of the family. Young Okhotnikov, another Chuvash, had also stood by their side.
“Do you know what we’re going to do with this parcel? We’ll send it to the children’s home where they’ve just settled the Chuvash children. What do you say?”
Maria gazed at her brother. How pale he was, and how tired. It wrenched her heart to see him like this.
“We’ll ask them to share it among the weakest children,” Vladimir Ilyich was saying.
She could only nod.
His headache persisted, but his spirits had risen. Lenin realised that the ham and the bacon were like two drops in the ocean, but he was cheered by the thought that some of the children would receive a pink slice of country ham for dinner the next day.
THE MEANING OF NEP
Workers came to see Lenin and talk about their jobs and living conditions. Red Army commanders came to discuss military affairs with him. Scientists also came to see him. Lenin listened attentively to each and every caller.
Later, during the meetings of the Council of People’s Commissars, the various questions raised by the people would be discussed, and the Government would then pass laws needed by the Soviet land.
During the first months of Soviet power the peasants who came to see Lenin were chiefly interested in how the land which had formerly belonged to the landowners and kulaks should be divided up among the poor and middle peasants and in how to put it to the best of use.
When Civil War broke out in Russia soon after, the Soviet Government introduced a surplus-requisitioning system for the peasants. This is how the system worked. After the harvest was in, a peasant would set aside enough seed grain for the next year’s crop; he would also set aside just barely enough to feed his family. He then had to give the state every bit of whatever was left. That was the only way out, the only way the Soviet Republic could survive, for who else would feed the Red Army and the workers?
Those were difficult times for the peasants. They were difficult times for the entire country.
When the war ended peasant delegates began converging on Moscow from all over Russia. They came to see Lenin in a never-ending stream. These were bearded, mature men with years of hard toil behind them. Lenin was always glad to receive them and to hear their plans for the future.
The peasants were unanimous in saying that the surplus-requisitioning system should be replaced by a tax in kind.
That meant that instead of giving the state every bit of surplus grain the peasant would give the state a certain amount of his crop as a tax. If he harvested a bigger crop, he would have more left for himself. That would make the peasants more interested in sowing more and cultivating the land better, for they could then sell whatever they had left after taxes. With the money they received the peasants could buy manufactured goods in town, things like soap, kerosene and cloth, and scythes, ploughs and harrows for their fields. These were things the peasants could not produce themselves. That meant the factories and mills had to be put into full scale operation to manufacture enough goods for the population.
The capitalists and White Guard armies had been banished, the working people were now the masters of their own country. Certainly, they should be able to build a life without want, a life of plenty.
After talks with the peasants, conferences with his comrades and much thought, a plan was formed in Lenin’s mind. Lenin called this plan the New Economic Policy.
The Soviet Government would permit private trade on a small scale. This represented no danger to the Soviet system, for all power was in the hands of the workers and peasants. Industry, the land, the railways and river and marine transport were all the property of the state.
Everything Lenin did, everything he strove for was done for the good of the people, for their happiness. Now that the war had ended, Lenin was directing all efforts towards developing the economy, trade, commerce, electrification, machine-building and to establishing close ties of friendship between the people in the villages and the people in the cities.
The New Economic Policy was to aid this large-scale construction programme. The Tenth Congress of the Party adopted Lenin’s plan.
It was not easy for Lenin to achieve unity in building a new way of life. There were many bitter arguments, though it would seem that the way ahead was clear. And yet, Trotsky, for one, put forth his own destructive plans. He had been against the Brest peace talks and had caused the Soviet people much harm.
He was against Lenin and the Party now, too, and tried to win those members who hesitated over to his own side, forming various groups to oppose Lenin.
Life in peacetime had to be a life of concord and good-will. Such was Lenin’s dream. He wanted the Party to always be a strong, united force.
However, there were some who interfered with the new way of life that was being established. Lenin battled ruthlessly against these people. The majority of the Party members supported him. They triumphed and led the Party and the Soviet people onwards along the road to Communism.
WHEN THE ICE RANG
“Come on!” Nadezhda Konstantinovna called.
“Please, Volodya!” Maria added, fearing that he might refuse after all.
But Vladimir Ilyich did not argue, though he had counted on using the quiet Sunday morning to finish an article and write several important letters.
The brisk October day beckoned. How nice it would be to drive out to the country and forget all his cares and worries for a day! After all, it was Sunday. Stepan Gil was at the wheel, as always. They got in and headed for Gorki.
After they had left the city limits Vladimir Ilyich breathed in deeply. The air was cold and fresh, the pink sky of morning was magnificent. Soon the sun began to rise, casting a warm glow over the countryside. The road had frozen over, and the car bumped over the ruts. Gil drove slowly and carefully.
“You drive as if you’re curtseying to every chicken,” Vladimir Ilyich said to Gil.
Gil always liked Lenin’s jests. Nevertheless, he did not step on the gas. He would rather curtsey to every village chicken than rattle his passengers.
Gorki was an old estate. The mansion with its white-columned portico and two unattached wings was surrounded by a magnificent park with avenues of great lindens and oaks interspersed with small clearings. There were hillocks from which one could see far and wide, even as far as the town of Podolsk.
Lenin liked to gaze into the distance, conjuring up the town beyond the woods and the sparkling Pakhra River. Vladimir Ilyich had gone to Podolsk after returning from exile in Shushenskoye in 1900. At the time his mother and younger brother Mitya, who had been banished from Moscow, were living there. His sisters had also lived there when he had visited the family before going to Switzerland. At the time Vladimir Ilyich had been organising the publication of Iskra, the revolutionary workers’ newspaper.
They drove through the park and up the drive to the north wing. Vladimir Ilyich had never favoured the Main House. He preferred the north wing where the rooms and windows were small and the ceilings low. When the former masters had lived here this had probably been the servants’ quarters. After the October Revolution the rich owners had run away to foreign parts and the mansion had been turned into a rest home. The doctors had prescribed rest and fresh air for Lenin after he had been wounded, and he had gone to Gorki.
Whenever Vladimir Ilyich had a chance to break away from the stuffy conference rooms and the commotion of Moscow life he would rest up at Gorki. Here his headaches almost ceased to bother him.
“Just a few breaths of country air make your cheeks pink,” Nadezhda Konstantinovna remarked contentedly.
“My dear ladies, we are about to embark on a distant journey,” Vladimir Ilyich said.
It was a dry day with a snap in the air. The frozen earth rang beneath their feet. The leaves had fallen from the trees. They could see right through the park. Here a lilac bush stood sadly clothed in faded dark-green leaves, there the heavy clusters of orange berries on a mountain ash would suddenly flare up.
A flock of yellow-breasted finches flew noisily from bush to bush.
When the Ulyanovs had been in forced exile abroad they had spent their free time mountain climbing or bicycling along unfamiliar roads. The denser a wood, the higher a cliff, the more it had appealed to Vladimir Ilyich.
The mountains and lakes of Switzerland were majestic and breathtaking, but the softer shades of the Russian countryside were closer to their hearts.
“Look! There’s the Small Pond!” Vladimir Ilyich exclaimed.
“What a charming spot!” Maria said.
The pond was covered with a thin layer of grey-blue, transparent ice. It seemed as if a sheet of glass had been placed over it. The naked trees were reflected upside-down in it, as were the tangled bushes that lined the banks. They could see dark weeds floating under the ice.
Suddenly, a ringing sound rose up from the pond. It was as if someone had plucked a string of a strange instrument. The sound now trembled in the stillness.
A pebble tossed onto the ice had slid across the pond, making the ice ring.
“It’s amazing,” Vladimir Ilyich breathed.
Then they noticed the two children standing behind the bushes. The boy and girl were about eight years old. The boy had tossed the pebble.
“Listen to it sing! You can hear it clear across the pond,” the girl said.
“You have to pick a day when it’s just frozen over,” the boy explained. “When the ice gets thicker, or if there’s snow on it, it won’t never sing,”
“Throw another one.”
Another pebble slipped across the pond, making it ring clearly again.
“Oh!” the girl cried, noticing the strangers.
The boy doffed his cap and said, “Hello.”
“Hello,” Vladimir Ilyich replied, coming closer. “Where are you from?”
“From Gorki. Over there,” the boy said, waving towards the village of Gorki nearby. “I bet you’re from Moscow.”
“You’re right. I like the way you made the ice ring.”
“You got to know just when it’s right, and heaps of fellows don’t,” the boy bragged. “I bet you’re important people. Are you?”
“We’ve got light now,” the girl said.
“It’s called `lectricity’. It’s as good as in Moscow. As soon as it gets dark the whole village lights up,” the boy continued.
“You seem to be pleased with it,” Lenin said half in jest.
“Sure, why not? And I bet things’ll get still better.” The children exchanged glances. Then the boy pulled off his cap again and said, “Goodbye.” A moment later they had vanished from sight.
Vladimir Ilyich and the two women went farther and farther into the park, for he had told them they were going on a distant journey and the Small Pond was really just a short way from the house.
The anthem resounded through the Great Hall of the Kremlin Palace:
Arise, ye prisoners of starvation, Arise, ye wretched of the earth….
The several hundred men and women in the hall had risen and were singing in fifty languages, in French, German, Italian, Turkish, Japanese, English, Norwegian, Finnish, Estonian, Latvian and, naturally, Russian, among others.
Lenin was also singing. He had always been inspired by the international workers’ anthem. Now, when hundreds of Communists from so many countries had come to Moscow to attend the Fourth Congress of the Comintern and were singing “The Internationale” in the tsar’s former palace, Lenin’s heart was filled with joy.
’Tis the final battle,
Let each stand in his place, The Internationale
Shall lead the human race.
Vladimir Ilyich had known many foreign revolutionaries when he had lived abroad. Men such as the talented French Socialist Jean Jaures, who had founded France’s famed revolutionary newspaper Humanité.
Then there were the German Marxists: Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Vladimir Ilyich knew many of the Finnish revolutionary workers. There was Rovio, Chief of Police of Helsingfors who had concealed Lenin in his home, hiding him from the tsarist police spies. There was the Swiss Socialist Fritz Platten, who had helped Lenin and his comrades to return home to Russia when the revolution had begun. There had been so many foreign revolutionaries whom Lenin had got to know as friends and comrades-in-arms.
Now, when the October Revolution had triumphed in Russia, the Marxist revolutionaries had also founded Communist parties in their own countries.
“Let us unite in a single union,” Vladimir Ilyich had said.
The Communist parties had united and had named their union the Communist International, or the Comintern.
Vladimir Ilyich mounted the rostrum. Hundreds of eyes followed him. He could see the expectancy in the faces of the Communists from so many lands. Lenin was to speak to them about the new way of life in a Soviet society.
He began by telling the delegates of the progress that had been made in the Land of Soviets during the first five years of its existence and of those tasks which still lay ahead. The country had come out of the war victorious and had put an end to hunger and starvation. The economy was being reconstructed. The peasants were better off now, and the living conditions of the workers had improved. The Soviets were learning to trade. As yet, the machine-building industry was putting out too few machines and even those were of poor quality. Much more and better machinery had to be produced, for without modern machines Communism could never be achieved. Lenin told the delegates that the country’s goal was a Communist society.
Vladimir Ilyich spoke in German, since very few foreigners knew Russian at the time. When Lenin concluded his speech the delegates rose as one man and gave him a standing ovation.
“Long live Lenin!” they cheered.
Vladimir Ilyich could not but be moved by this thunderous expression of friendship and respect, and yet, he was always embarrassed by ovations. He tried to leave unobtrusively, but this proved to be out of the question. People crowded round him, each delegate wanted to speak to him or just to greet him personally.
“Hello, Comrade Lenin,” a dark-haired man said in French.
Lenin smiled and asked him what part of France he was from.
“I’m from Italy. But you don’t speak Italian, so I’m speaking French.”
“I do speak a little Italian,” Lenin replied in Italian.
There followed a burst of exclamations in Italian, German, French and English, calling Lenin a true comrade and leader of the Communist parties.
A foreign miner, his face flecked with dark specks of ingrained coal dust, put his hands to his mouth like a megaphone and shouted: “The Land of Soviets is our beacon!”
NEW YEAR’S EVE
Vladimir Ilyich fell gravely ill. Those who thought his illness was sudden were mistaken. The silent enemy ,had been creeping up on him for a long time. Sometimes his insomnia was so bad he would be unable to catch a moment’s sleep throughout the endless night. He had constant headaches. Finally, Lenin became too ill to carry on. He took to his bed in the small bedroom in his Kremlin apartment.
“The pressure has been too great, Vladimir Ilyich. You have been working much too hard for much too long,” the doctors said. “You need a complete rest.”
However, Lenin knew he was seriously ill and did not have much time left. He simply could not idle away the hours. He had to put all his thoughts down for his comrades.
Vladimir Ilyich lay in bed, his hands lying motionlessly at his sides, a cold compress on his burning forehead.
It was evening. A small night light glowed softly on the table. He was supposed to rest after dinner, but he was not asleep.
The First All-Union Congress of Soviets had been convened in Moscow. The day before, on December 30, 1922, the Congress had passed a resolution on the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Vladimir Ilyich had worked very hard to make that day a reality. In the beginning, many did not understand why it was of such importance to have the Soviet Union and why Lenin had been so persistent in his efforts to realise this plan.
Lenin insisted that the USSR should be an entirely new state, one that had nothing in common with tsarist Russia. Under tsarism there had been a country known as Russia. It was as if the Ukraine, Byelorussia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia did not exist, but were simply a part of Russia. These different peoples were given no independence. Their children were not allowed to study in their native tongues. Many of the peoples that inhabited Russia did not even have a written language of their own. The smaller peoples were not given a chance to develop. They were kept down and oppressed. Lenin could never accept this state of inequality.
He was deep in thought when Nadezhda Konstantinovna looked in on him, wondering whether he had finally dozed off.
“I’m not sleeping, Nadya. I’m getting into shape for my work.”
She entered softly, turned off the night light and turned on the lamp. The room became brighter, with Lenin’s pale face clearly etched against the pillow.
The wall clock in the dining room struck six. At the stroke of six Lenin’s stenographer, Maria Volodicheva, a frail, intelligent woman of thirty, entered. She sat down at the small table by the bed, her pencil poised.
“And so,” Lenin said. The doctor had permitted him to dictate for forty minutes that day, and forty minutes was really a tremendous amount of time, especially since he had already composed the article in his mind.
Had Vladimir Ilyich been able to speak at the Congress, he would have said the words he was now dictating. It was a behest to his comrades. Later, they would follow his advice on how best to build and strengthen the USSR. The smaller peoples must not be overlooked in any way, for all the Soviet Republics were equal. They must live in friendship. Then the USSR would become a mighty and just nation, awakening the peoples of the world who were oppressed by imperialism.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna sat in the adjoining room, listening to the dear voice. She rested her chin on her interlaced fingers. Her face, which had become so pinched, was anxious.
Soon the forty minutes were over and the stenographer left. Nadezhda Konstantinovna now sat by Lenin’s bedside. Her smile was calm and warm. Vladimir Ilyich saw neither grief nor fear in her eyes, and her assurance comforted him.
“Do you know what I’ve been thinking about, Nadya?” he said. “I remember how much it took out of my father to persuade the authorities to open schools for the Chuvash, Mordva and Tatar children in Simbirsk Province.”
“He was a wonderful man,” she said, “but he had so few resources. The Revolution has made so many things possible now.”
She could see that Vladimir Ilyich was pleased with the way his work had progressed that day. The old fire had returned to his eyes. And he had removed the compress from his head, which meant it didn’t ache so. Perhaps he would be back on his feet again soon. She caught herself on the word “perhaps”. “No,” she said to herself, “not perhaps, but definitely! He had a similar attack six months ago and was back at work after a good rest. It’ll be the same again now.” She tucked the covers round him snugly. “You know, it’s New Year’s Eve tonight, Volodya,” she suddenly recalled. “That’s why you’re feeling so good. Happy New Year, my dear,” she added as she bent over and kissed him.
THE BATTLE CONTINUES
The doctors began to fear that the daily period of dictation might do Vladimir Ilyich harm. They pleaded with him to lay aside all his worries about state affairs and forget about the articles he was writing in order to give his mind a complete rest.
He would not even hear of it. However, since it was not easy to argue with his doctors, Vladimir Ilyich decided to outwit them. “I won’t dictate any more articles,” he said to them. “I’ll be dictating my diary instead.”
They finally agreed, even though they realised that he would hardly be describing the weather in his diary. It was simply impossible to prevent Lenin from being concerned about the future of the state he had created. He would become so restless he could not sleep on the days on which he was not allowed to dictate. And so the doctors had to give in. However, they were very cautious. They would agree to half an hour or forty minutes of dictation a day, but no more.
Lenin’s stenographer would arrive at the appointed hour. The pages of her notebooks soon became filled with plans for the further development of the country. Vladimir Ilyich criticised the existing shortcomings, he offered suggestions on how best to organise the state apparatus, on how to preserve the unity of the Party. One of the things he feared most was disunity among the Party ranks.
Lying in bed, gravely ill as he was, Vladimir Ilyich spent long hours formulating each sentence and each word of his articles in his mind.
Lenin’s articles were printed in Pravda. The working people read them and discussed them, for Lenin understood the very essence of their lives and he saw ahead to the future as they as yet did not. The people were encouraged when they saw Lenin’s articles in the papers, concluding that since he was at work his health was improving.
Then, all of a sudden, he had a relapse. The spring sun was shining brightly. Sparrows chirped in every tree. Streams of snow-water gushed in the gutters. All of nature rejoiced, for the long winter was over. When the people opened their newspapers on the morning of March 14th, 1923, their faces clouded over. Small groups gathered round the newsstands. There, in large, bold type, were the words: “SPECIAL STATE BULLETIN”. A State Bulletin meant it was something very important. Had some disaster occurred?
“A special bulletin on the state of Vladimir Ilyich’s health.
“During the past few days Vladimir Ilyich’s health has taken a sharp turn for the worse….”
The black print screamed the terrible words: “A sharp turn for the worse.” It was terrifying to read them. The small groups dissolved. As the people walked off, their steps were heavy.
A dull silence hung over the factories and mills that day.
Lenin had suffered a stroke. He was unable to speak, and it was difficult to imagine a condition more trying for him. Now his lively, rapid flow of words had ceased.
The doctors were in attendance round the clock. Their knowledge, experience and skill were battling for this wonderful man’s life. The entire country followed the course of his illness, never losing hope. People rushed to the newsstands each morning to read the latest bulletin on the state of Lenin’s health.
The evening breeze made the red flag flutter over the building which housed the Council of People’s Commissars. How were things in Lenin’s apartment inside?
The day’s work was over. Thousands of hearts ached, wondering how things were behind the curtained windows.
It was very still in Lenin’s room. So still that one could clearly hear the wall clock ticking in the dining room. The nurse on duty was there now. Nadezhda Konstantinovna sat by the bedside.
Vladimir Ilyich raised his heavy lids. He seemed to be saying, “Are you here, Nadya?”
Nadezhda Konstantinovna understood whatever he wanted to say. She spoke to him as if she could clearly
hear his replies. “You’re feeling better today,” she said confidently, and Vladimir Ilyich thought that he was, indeed, feeling a bit better. His eyes answered, “I am.”
“You’ll be well again soon. The doctors say that you have to muster all your strength and willpower. Try to, Volodya.”
“I will,” his eyes replied.
“You’ve fought for the people’s happiness all your life. Now it’s time for you to fight for yourself. You owe it to the people and to the revolution. You’ve got to muster all your strength now, Volodya!”
And once again Vladimir Ilyich replied in a way that she alone understood, “I will.”
A wave of grief suddenly engulfed her, raising a lump in her throat. For a moment she thought she would give way to her tears, but she forced herself to swallow the lump and then said gently, “Try to fall asleep. Sleep will give you strength. Everything will be all right. Go to sleep. I’ll be right here. I won’t leave you.”
THE AUTUMN OF 19
The Twelfth Congress of the Party was held in April 1923. The Congress sent Lenin a letter of greetings. It read, in part, “The Party, the proletariat and all working people send their warmest greetings and love to Ilyich, their leader, the genius of proletarian thought and revolutionary action… .
“Now, more than ever before, the Party realises its responsibility to the proletariat and to history. Now, more than ever before, it strives to be and shall be worthy of its banner and its leader….”
Nadezhda Konstantinovna read the letter aloud. Vladimir Ilyich expressed his gratitude with his eyes.
Lenin would not succumb to his illness. In the middle of May the doctors allowed him to move to Gorki. He was taken to the Main House this time, but chose the smallest room for himself. It was a corner room with tall windows and a view of the orchard.
The trees were bright green. They were filled with the chirping and trilling of the busy birds. Rooks cawed loudly. The air was alive with bustle and joy. Nightingales sang on through the nights. Stars gazed in through the windows.
Vladimir Ilyich breathed in the fresh country air. His health gradually began to improve. He slept better. The fresh air gave him an appetite, and his strength began to return.
However, his recovery was very slow. Vladimir Ilyich began taking short walks, leaning on a cane for support. He began learning how to write with his left hand, and practised speaking.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna was his teacher. She would shut the door of his room so that no one might interrupt them during their lesson.
Things became a bit more cheerful in the Main House. It was a rare treat to hear Vladimir Ilyich’s laughter. He was a very lively person by nature and liked to jest. Now, when his health was beginning to return, he enjoyed every joke and witty word, visits from friends in Moscow, every new book, and even the russet leaves in the orchard. Autumn had come. It was the autumn of 1923.
One day in October Vladimir Ilyich walked up to the small garage and indicated that he wanted to go to the city. Nadezhda Konstantinovna and his sister Maria became very upset.
“How can he go to Moscow now?” his sister exclaimed. “It’s out of the question!” Nadezhda Konstantinovna said.
The doctors would not even hear of it.
However, Vladimir Ilyich was a very persistent man. Once he had come to a decision, he would not go back on it.
They drove through the park, over the red and golden leaves that covered the road. They drove along slowly, avoiding every bump. After a while Moscow’s skyline came into view, with its golden cupolas, white stone buildings and the smoke rising from its many factory stacks. Vladimir Ilyich was eager to get back to the Kremlin again.
Lenin’s heart beat loudly as he looked into the conference room of the Council of People’s Commissars. Everything here was dear to him: the long green-topped conference table and the wicker armchair at the head of the table. Every day spent here had left its memory.
When his glance fell on the tiled stove in the corner he laughed, recalling how the smokers had hidden behind it. They would exhale the smoke up the chimney, for Lenin was very firm about the no-smoking rule at the Council meetings. One or another of the smokers would begin to get fidgety and then slip behind the stove for a smoke until the rapping of the Chairman’s pencil on the table would call him to order.
At the recollection a wave of fondness for his comrades enveloped him. Vladimir Ilyich stood at the threshold for a few moments more and then headed for his office. He looked at the maps on the walls, the portrait of Karl Marx, the desk phones and the bookshelves and was again overcome by recollections. No, he was not taking leave of this part of his life. On the contrary, he wanted to live and to return to work.
Lenin stood there for a while and then went over to the potted palm near the window. Its tropical, umbrella-like leaves seemed exotic in these surroundings. The palm tree was carefully tended, for Vladimir Ilyich had especially requested this favour.
There had been many plants and flowers in pots in his childhood home in Simbirsk and a potted palm of the very same variety had stood in their dining room.
Then the three of them went for a drive through Moscow. They drove past the Agricultural-Industrial Exhibition. This was the very first Soviet exhibition, and Lenin was determined to see it.
The exhibition had been set up in a park on the bank of the Moskva River. At one time this had been a rubbish dump. The territory had been cleared and flower beds had been planted. Then rows of attractive wooden pavilions had been built. They resembled something out of a fairy-tale.
The long years of war, suffering and hunger were still fresh in the minds of the people. That is why the carved and painted pavilions were such a cheerful sight.
The stands inside were an even greater treat. There were great heaps of golden wheat and rye, pyramids of huge cabbages, mounds of large potatoes, melons and all the great variety of nature’s bounty.
Here was proof that the countryside was coming to life again.
The factories and mills had contributed their products, too. One could see that the cities were recovering from the years of poverty and destruction.
Vladimir Ilyich was tired but in wonderful spirits as they headed back to Gorki that day. Nadezhda Konstantinovna recalled his last public appearance before he had been taken ill. It had been on November 20, 1922. He had spoken at a meeting of the Moscow Soviet, which had been held in the Bolshoi Theatre, and he had told the deputies that “NEP Russia will become socialist Russia”.
LOVE OF LIFE
The sleigh flew across the snow, its runners creaking in the slippery grooves in the road. Sharp bits of packed snow flew out from under the horse’s hooves. The sun had
j ust set and the horizon was crimson. The winter twilight was descending rapidly, sending large blue shadows across the snow-covered field, blocking the far woods. Then the first star came out, shining coldly and calmly.
Vladimir Ilyich was returning from a hunting trip. He was not yet able to carry a gun and had merely been an onlooker, but even that had given him pleasure. He liked to hunt and liked everything about hunting: tramping through the forest, listening to its many sounds, taking in its beauty, observing its life.
Many were the times that another hunter would have taken a shot, yet Vladimir Ilyich chose not to. He recalled the time a fox had come straight at him from between two fir trees. Vladimir Ilyich had frozen in his tracks. The fox was magnificent. Its long, bushy tail and golden-red fur burned brightly against the white snow. It was heading straight for him, coming closer and closer, but he had not fired. The animal was beautiful. That day had been as wonderful as this, with the snow sparkling just as brightly in the sun.
Vladimir Ilyich smiled as he recalled the incident. The runners creaked merrily. Evening was approaching. A bright crescent moon had risen over the woods and was outlined against the fading sunset.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna, looking out of the window of the Main House, also saw the crescent moon and said to Maria, “Today seems such a special day. Look, even the moon is different.”
“I think we’re both feeling better because Volodya is better. Imagine, he’s gone hunting.”
“Remember the way he laughed at the New Year’s party? It was just like old times again.”
They began reminiscing about the New Year’s party for the children of the state farm workers. It had been held in the Main House. Vladimir Ilyich had joined the children by the big fir tree, laughing with them and enjoying their company. Then his sister had played the piano for them and he had listened with deep contentment.
That evening they dwelled on pleasant memories.
When Vladimir Ilyich returned from the day’s outing his cheeks were rosy from the cold. His eyes shone. The tangy air, the hunt and the sleigh ride had refreshed him and given him new strength. However, his schedule still called for rest. The doctors kept a close watch over him, and so he had no choice but to lie down for an hour.
While he rested the two women in the other room did not even venture to speak in whispers lest they waken him. They cherished the faint, fleeting joy of the day and looked hopefully to the future.
The doctors were optimistic. One of them had but recently said, “We’ll certainly have him up and well again by spring.”
That evening Nadezhda Konstantinovna read aloud to Vladimir Ilyich. As soon as he had shown improvement she had begun reading aloud each day from the newspaper Pravda. She was now reading him a short story by Jack London.
Vladimir Ilyich sat in an armchair gazing out of the window thoughtfully. The old trees of the park stood deep in snow. The windowpanes were frosted over with weird leaves of ice, magical flowers and ferns that brought back memories of his childhood.
The story by Jack London was entitled “Love of Life”. It was the story of a man who was dying of hunger. He was so weak he could not even walk and so had to crawl across the snowy waste. A sick and dying wolf was crawling beside him. A struggle between the two followed. It seemed the wolf would win, but in the end the man was the victor. His great lust for life had poured new strength into him. He had a goal: he was determined to reach the ship that had appeared at the edge of the icy wasteland. The ship meant life. And so he forced himself onward.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna felt that Vladimir Ilyich had been moved by the story of a man’s courage, perseverance and will to live, by his refusal to give himself up to fate.
Lenin had never for a moment given up the fight for recovery. Nadezhda Konstantinovna understood the thoughts and emotions that had come over him during her reading of the story. They were thoughts of returning to an active life and to work.
Could she have dreamed on that January evening that Vladimir Ilyich had so little time left to live?
Then a new and sudden attack felled Vladimir Ilyich. Lenin died on January 21, 1924 at six o’clock in the evening in Gorki.
During the Civil War many Red Army men and partisans came to know engine U-127. All through the war this locomotive had taken troops and guns to the front lines and evacuated the wounded. The locomotive was on the go day and night. White Guard bullets and shells had pock-marked and dented its sides. Towards the end of the war the locomotive was smashed so badly it came into disuse.
It was remembered when the Soviet people began reconstructing the country. A group of workers came upon it in the locomotive graveyard and decided to repair it. Soon engine U-127 was running again. Though the railwaymen were not Party members, they presented the engine they had repaired in their free time to the Communists. They then appointed Vladimir Ilyich its honorary engineer and issued him an identification card.
When Lenin died the locomotive was chosen to take the funeral train with his body from Gorki to Moscow.
All through the night and all day long, and all through the following night peasants from near and far villages streamed towards Gorki to take leave of their leader.
The cold was fierce, the strong winds were biting. In the park in Gorki the ice-covered branches of the trees tinkled as they brushed against each other. Black and red bunting encircled the white columns of the Main House. Fir branches covered the roadway. Flowers lay sadly on the snow.
Workers, peasants, Communist Party members, Lenin’s comrades and members of the government took turns carrying the coffin the four miles to the station. Then the funeral train set out for Moscow.
Matvei Luchin, an old and experienced engineer, was at the controls of engine U-127. There were no stops along the way, for he had to bring the funeral train to Moscow by 1 p. m.
Peasants and their families lined the railway embankment all along the way. The locomotive advanced slowly, its whistle sounding anxiously, for people were standing shoulder to shoulder in dead silence on the tracks. The train could not proceed. It puffed loudly and stopped. Luchin came out of the cab and stood on the top step of the ladder. “Comrades!” he said, “Vladimir Ilyich was the honorary engineer of this locomotive. I gave him my word never to be late. I’ve been ordered to bring the train into Moscow at exactly 1 p. m. Help me to keep my word. I gave Lenin my word.” At this he began to weep. The people, too, began to weep. Then they parted, clearing the tracks for the train.
When the train pulled into Moscow the coffin with Lenin’s body was carried from the station through the streets of the city towards the House of Trade Unions, past the silent thousands that lined the way.
All of a sudden a dull roar was heard overhead. Several airplanes were flying very low. A shower of white leaflets fell from the planes like flocks of white doves. The people caught the leaflets and read the message. It was about Lenin.
Wooden billboards were set up in the squares. They carried posters with Lenin’s biography. Lenin had always been a very modest man and had never permitted anything about himself to be published.
Now, when he was no longer living, the people crowded round the billboards, reading the short story of Lenin’s great life.
The coffin stood amidst a sea of flowers in the House of Trade Unions. Music played softly as the people passed the bier.
It was freezing cold. Bonfires burned on the streets of Moscow. All through the day and all through the night an endless stream of people moved slowly towards the House of Trade Unions. People would warm themselves by the fires and then join the stream again. At times they would stamp their feet to drive off the cold, waiting for the line to move up another step.
The human stream was made up of people from Moscow and from all over the Soviet Union. There were Russians, Ukrainians, Armenians, Kazakhs, Byelorussians, Georgians, and foreign Communists and workers here.
Vladimir Ilyich was interred on Sunday, January 27, 1924.
A mausoleum was built on Red Square to house his body. It had been built in three days and three nights in bitter cold. The frozen ground had been chopped, blown up and thawed by bonfires so that the foundation pit might be dug. On the third day the simple wooden structure was ready. It was later replaced by the Mausoleum of red granite and marble which now stands in Red Square.
On the morning of January 27, delegations from the factories and mills, from various cities, Soviet Republics and foreign Communist parties began gathering in Red Square. Early that morning Lenin’s flag-covered coffin had been set on a high platform under the cold January sky.
The honour guard came to attention. Red Square became very still. Then a cavalry unit galloped by the coffin of the commander of the world’s first socialist revolution. Artillery units passed in formation.
Then the columns of workers began advancing slowly, their black-edged flags dipping to the ground as they passed the bier.
At 4 p. m. the following words were broadcasted over the land:
“Rise, comrades! Lenin is being lowered into his grave.”
The factories stopped. Traffic stopped. Men and women stood in silence, their heads bowed. Workers in foreign countries stopped their work. For five long minutes there was complete silence, as the factory whistles blew. All trains had stopped, and their whistles blew, too. All ships at sea flying the Soviet flag had stopped. The mournful whistles sounded a long, inconsolable cry which carried over the fields, the cities and the villages of the Soviet Union.
An icy wind tore through Red Square, whipping the funeral banners and red flags. It turned the people’s tears to ice.
A final salvo was sounded.
The coffin bearing Lenin’s body was lowered into the Mausoleum.
Twilight had fallen, but the columns kept passing in an endless stream as the people paid their last respects to Lenin.
Soon it was spring again. The first rooks were back in the old park in Gorki. They had returned >from distant lands and were busily restoring their nests, filling the air with their loud, joyous cawing. The skylarks were back again. Their trilling drifted down to the earth from high in the vast blue sky. Fleet-winged dragon-flies darted over the sunny surface of the Small Pond.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna stood by the pond for a while. She knew all of Vladimir Ilyich’s favourite spots and paths in the park. However, there was one spot he had never seen, and she liked to come here. She was here again now, sitting on the bench, her tired, wrinkled hands folded in her lap.
The cherry trees were in blossom. They were very young trees with flexible, mahogany-red branches. This was the first time they had come into bloom, and Vladimir Ilyich was no longer here to see them.
During the last autumn of his life a group of workers from the Glukhovo Mill had come to visit him. They had brought him a letter written by the workers of their mill and some young cherry trees from the mill orchard. Vladimir Ilyich had been very touched.
In parting, a middle-aged worker had said, “I’m a forge worker, Vladimir Ilyich, and we’ll forge everything just as you planned it.” Then he had embraced Lenin. The two men had stood thus for a moment. It was as if Vladimir Ilyich were sending his warmest greetings to the entire working class.
Nadezhda Konstantinovna remembered the worker’s pledge now as she sat listening to the bees buzzing in the blossoms.
Many springs have passed since then and many years.
The cherry trees in the park in Gorki have grown big and tall. The state Lenin created has grown mighty and rich. The Party he created has grown strong.
There were hard times and difficult years, but the Land of Soviets has weathered every trial. The Soviet Union is growing ever stronger, ever more beautiful. Electric lights have gone on in the farthest corners of the country. There are electric power stations, factories, mills, collective and state farms, new cities, schools, theatres and community centres everywhere.
If only Lenin could have seen them!
But he probably would have said, “Do not stop at this. There is still much to be done, for our goal is Communism.”
Communism stands for justice and truth. It is common labour for the good of all. It is fearless trail-blazing in search of the new. It is our dream of happiness and a fine and wonderful life for all.
Lenin showed us the way to this life.