First published in 1925 in Krasnaya Letopis No. 1.
Sent to Petrograd.
Printed from the original.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, , Moscow, Volume 35, pages 410-414.
Translated: Andrew Rothstein
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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July 31, 1919
Dear Alexei Maximych,
The more I read over your letter, and the more I think of the connection between its conclusions and what it sets forth (and what yon described at our meetings), the more I arrive at the conviction that the letter, and your conclusions, and all your impressions, are quite sick.
Petrograd has been one of the sickest places in recent times. This is quite understandable, since its population has suffered most of all, the workers have given up more of their best forces than anyone else, the food shortage is grave, and the military danger too. Obviously your nerves can’t stand it. That is not surprising. Yet you won’t listen when you are told that you ought to change your abode, because to let oneself flog I he nerves to a slate of sickness is very unwise, unwise even from the plain common-sense point of view, not to speak of other points of view.
Just as in your conversations, there is in your letter a sum of sick impressions, leading you to sick conclusions.
You begin with dysentery and cholera, and immediately a kind of sick resentment comes over you: “fraternity, equality”. Unconscious, but the result is something like communism being responsible for the privations, poverty and diseases of a besieged city!!
Then follow some bitter witticisms, which I don’t understand, against “hoarding” literature (which? why connected with Kalinin?). And the conclusion that a “wretched remainder of the intelligent workers” say that they have been “betrayed” into “captivity to the muzhik”.
That, now, has no sense in it at all. Is it Kalinin who is being accused of betraying the workers to the muzhik? That is what it amounts to.
This might be invented by workers who are either quite green, stupid, with a “Left” phrase instead of a brain, or else by those who are overwrought, exhausted, hungry, sick, or else by the “remainder of the aristocracy” who have a splendid ability to distort everything, a splendid gift for picking on every trifle to vent their frenzied hatred of Soviet power. You yourself mention this remainder at the same point in your letter. Their state of mind is having an unhealthy influence on you.
You write that you see “people of the most varied sections of society”. It’s one thing to see them, another thing to feel daily contact with them, in all aspects of one’s life. What you mainly experience is from the “remainder”—if only by virtue of your profession, which obliges you to “receive” dozens of embittered bourgeois intellectuals, and also by virtue of your general circumstances.
As though the “remainder” cherish “something bordering on sympathy for Soviet power”, while “the majority of the workers” produce thieves, “Communists” who have jumped on the band-waggon, etc.! And you talk yourself into the “conclusion” that a revolution cannot be made with the help of thieves, cannot be made without the intelligentsia.
This is a completely sick psychology, acutely aggravated in the environment of embittered bourgeois intellectuals.
Everything is being done to draw the intelligentsia (the non-whiteguard intelligentsia) into the struggle against the thieves. And month by month the Soviet Republic acquires a growing percentage of bourgeois intellectuals who are sincerely helping the workers and peasants, not merely grumbling and spitting fury. This cannot be “seen” in Petrograd, because Petrograd is a city with an exceptionally huge number of bourgeois people (and “ intelligentsia”) who have lost their place in life (and their heads), but for all Russia this is an unquestionable fact.
In Petrograd, or from Petrograd, one can only become convinced of this if one is exceptionally well informed politically and has a specially wide political experience. This you haven’t got. And you are engaged, not in politics and not in observing the work of political construction, but in a particular profession, which surrounds you with embittered bourgeois intellectuals, who have understood nothing, forgotten nothing, learned nothing and at best—a very rare best—have lost their bearings, are in despair, moaning, repeating old prejudices, have been frightened to death or are frightening themselves to death.
If you want to observe, you must observe from below, where it is possible to survey the work of building a new life, in a workers’ settlement in the provinces or in the countryside. There one does not have to make a political summing-up of extremely complex data, there one need only observe. Instead of this, you have put yourself in the position of a professional editor of translations, etc., a position in which it is impossible to observe the new building of a new life, a position in which all your strength is frittered away on the sick grumbling of a sick intelligentsia, on observing the “former” capital in conditions of desperate military peril and fierce privations.
You have put yourself in a position in which you cannot directly observe the new features in the life of the workers and peasants, i.e., nine-tenths of the population of Russia; in which you are compelled to observe the fragments of life of a former capital, from where the flower of the workers has gone to the fronts and to the countryside, and where there remain a disproportionately large number of intellectuals without a place in life and without jobs, who specially “besiege” you. Counsels to go away you stubbornly reject.
Quite understandably, you have reduced yourself to a condition of sickness: you write that you find life not only hard, but also “extremely revolting”!!! I should say so! At such a time to chain oneself to the sickest of places as an editor of translated literature (the most suitable occupation for observing people, for an artist!). As an artist, you cannot see and study anything there that is new—in the army, in the countryside, in the factory. You have deprived yourself of any opportunity of doing what would satisfy the artist: in Petrograd a politician can work, but you arc not a politician. Today it’s windows being broken for no reason at all, tomorrow it’s shots and screams from prison, then snatches of oratory by the most weary of the non-workers who have remained in Petrograd, then millions of impressions from the intelligentsia, the intelligentsia of a capital which is no longer a capital, then hundreds of complaints from those who have been wronged, inability to see any building of the new life in the time you have left after editing (the building goes on in a particular way, and least of all in Petrograd)—how could you fail to reduce yourself to a point when it is extremely revolting to go on living?
The country is living in a feverish struggle against the bourgeoisie of the whole world, which is taking a frenzied revenge for its overthrow. Naturally. For the first Soviet Republic, the first blows from everywhere. Naturally. Here one must live either as an active politician or (if one’s heart does not draw one to politics), as an artist, observe how people are building life anew somewhere that is not, as the capital is, the centre of furious attack, of a furious struggle against conspiracies, of the furious anger of the capital’s intelligentsia—somewhere in the countryside, or in a provincial factory (or at the front). There it is easy, merely by observing, to distinguish the decomposition of the old from the first shoots of the new.
Life has become revolting, the “divergence” from communism “is deepening”. Where the divergence lies, it is impossible to tell. Not a shadow of an indication of a divergence in politics or in ideas. There is a divergence of mood— between people who are engaged in politics or are absorbed in a struggle of the most furious kind, and the mood of a man who has artificially driven himself into a situation where he can’t observe the new life, while his impressions of the decay of a vast bourgeois capital are gelling the better of him.
I have expressed my thoughts to you frankly on the subject of your letter. From my conversations (with you) I have long been approaching the same ideas, but your letter gave shape and conclusion, it rounded off the sum total of the impressions I have gained from these conversations. I don’t want to thrust my advice on you, but I cannot help saying: change your circumstances radically, your environment, your abode, your occupation—otherwise life may disgust you for good.
All the best.
 Petrograd. In March 1918 the capital was transferred to Moscow.—Ed.