Christian Rakovsky

An Old Comrade’s Memories


First published in The New Leader, 1924.
Republished in Christian Rakovsky, Selected Writings on Opposition in the USSR 1923–30 (editor: Gus Fagan), Allison & Busby, London & New York, 1980.
Copyright © 1980 Allison & Busby and Gus Fagan. Reproduced here with the kind permission of Gus Fagan.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

It would be difficult to convey the impression which Lenin’s death will produce in Russia. It will be the feeling of an immense national catastrophe. Lenin was not only the personification of the great October revolution, and of the victorious fight which the Russian workers and peasants conducted for the existence of their country, but owing to his personal qualities he was the most beloved and most popular man in the whole Union of Soviet Republics. In town and in country, old and young, men and women, all knew Lenin, and all called him by his first name – Ilych.

Events never took him by surprise. Therefore, when the period in the history of the Soviet government known under the name of military communism came to an end, and we were faced with the task of reconstructing our country and our economic life, Lenin explained to us the so-called “new economic policy”, which is an adaptation of the party and of the Soviet state to Russia and international conditions. Thus, fortunately, before his illness, Lenin determined the path of the further development of the Soviet state.

If one considers Lenin’s political strategy, one finds it extraordinarily simple. Lenin based his whole fighting tactics upon the principle of the class struggle. But this was for him not an abstraction, but a principle of tactics logically carried out in life. One of the greatest services of Lenin’s is that long ago he understood that if in Russia the revolutionary initiative and leadership were to be in the hands of the working class, which constituted a comparatively small part of the population, it was necessary that the peasantry should be its natural ally. Only by observing this alliance between the working class and the peasants was it possible to bring about the October revolution and to consolidate its conquests. The so-called “new economic policy”, in which many see an artificial bait to attract foreign capital, has, in the internal relations of Russia, a cause a thousand times more serious. It is a concession by the proletariat striving for collective organization, to the individualistic peasants.

The second important aspect of Lenin’s revolutionary tactics is the importance which he attaches to questions of nationality. He was the most ardent adherent to the real equality of nations not only during his pre-revolutionary activities, but also during his work as head of the Soviet government. It is due to his firm leadership that the old Russian empire, which was previously strangling scores of nationalities, has now been transformed into the Union of independent autonomous republics. Many of his articles, written at the beginning of last year, were devoted to this question of nationalities. They constitute for us the best political legacy.

The enemies of the Soviet Union analysing Lenin’s activities see, of course, in the first place, all those aspects of Soviet power which are not inherent in it (and which are not inherent in the working classes), but which were imposed upon it by internal circumstances and the necessity of safeguarding its existence, and which will gradually disappear as the Soviet state is strengthened and consolidated. Our enemies fail to understand that it was impossible to lead a population of 150,000,000 from an Asiatic, feudal, tsarist, bureaucratic regime into the regime of the democracy of toiling workers and peasants – impossible to make a revolution which would influence the history of the whole of mankind – without the greatest upheaval. One must not miss the house for the scaffolding.

Lenin was born in 1870 in Simbirsk. He was educated at a college (gymnasium), the director of which was the father of Kerensky. Lenin told us that when he finished college, as head scholar, Kerensky’s father hesitated to give him the gold medal for good progress, and communicated on this matter with Petrograd. At that time Lenin had not yet displayed his revolutionary tendencies, but Kerensky’s father’s suspicion was evidently due to the fact that he was the brother of Alexander Ilyich Ulyanov, who was hanged in 1897 for the attempt on the life of Alexander III.

Lenin received his first revolutionary education from his brother Alexander, who gave him, among other books, Marx’s Capital, although Alexander himself was not a marxist, but what is known in Russia as a “narodnik”.

At the beginning of the nineties Lenin’s political stand as a social democrat had already been defined. He was arrested and exiled to Siberia for the organisation of the “Union for the Deliverance of Workers”; from Siberia he was transferred, at the end of the nineties, to Russia, after which he went abroad, where, from the first moment, he became, with Plekhanov, the leader of the Russian Social Democratic Movement.

A few more words about Lenin’s character.

Vladimir Ilych was, in his personal life, a man of great simplicity and modesty. In the Kremlin he continued the modest life of a recluse which he had led while a professional revolutionary, receiving little.

Lenin was very amiable and often even affectionate in his personal relations not only with comrades and friends, but also with all with whom he came in contact: while in his public life and writings he was and remains one of the most implacable opponents and controversialists. He could not sacrifice the interests of the cause to the interests of courtesy.

Political events have estranged him from many of his old comrades: but, nevertheless, he continued to have for them the warmest feelings. Such feelings he had towards Martov, with whom he was closely associated in the nineties, and who became subsequently the leader of the Mensheviks. During the summer, when Ilych began to recuperate and the doctors told him of various events, one of them accidentally uttered a word, from which Lenin understood that Martov had died. (The doctors had been told not to mention this event to him.) Lenin’s face clouded, and he was sad during the whole day.

He was a man of exceptional courage, self-control and calmness – qualities which he retained in the most difficult surroundings, and which did not, however, prevent him from being exceedingly sensitive to other people’s sufferings. During the most difficult periods in the life of the republic, when it was fighting for its very existence, he would communicate to his comrades cases of poverty which had reached him from all corners of the country. This was at the time when the Soviet power considered it ideal to have even 200,000,000 poods of bread to satisfy the hunger of the workers and citizens.

Lenin’s eloquence is as well-known as himself. It was something quite new and unprecedented. To explain such a complicated position as the social revolution in such a country as Russia, with her rapidly changing relations, an art was required which could translate into simple language the complicated internal and external state of affairs. Persons not acquainted with this art could, judging by Lenin’s speeches, take him for a doctrinaire, and “a man of system”. There is no man living who could take into account all events, who could be such a great realist as Lenin. Lenin’s oratorical power, although it did not contain any pathetic elements, so caught the spirit of his audiences that they would remain for many hours enraptured.

What will become of the Union of Soviets and the Communist Party without Lenin? I declare in a most categorical way that there will be no cardinal change. One could entertain fears for the fate of the Soviet republic, as for the party, if Lenin had disappeared from us in those historical moments during the development of Soviet power, when it needed a new lead. But, as I have already mentioned, the lead has already been given by Lenin. We have already emerged from the critical stage, when a mistaken yielding of power would lead to the fall of the Russian revolution. The party disputes about democracy, which are now taking place, are a result of its growth, and under no circumstances of its weakness. By the way, it is already one and a half years since we began to govern the country without Lenin’s leadership. Lenin has created the powerful weapons – the Communist Party and the Soviet state – the basis of which contain the conditions of their further development. No one could better organize the collective will then Lenin could. He has organized schools, he has organized peoples, he has created traditions – thus safeguarding the further development of the great work of the deliverance of the toiling masses.

Last updated on 16.10.2011