Henrietta Roland Holst
Source: The Communist Review, June 1922, Vol. 3, No. 2.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Original Publisher: Compagna, Italian Organ of Communist Women
Translator: D. B. M.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
FOR the last fifteen years I have ardently desired to visit Russia, and when, on a warm day of last summer, I crossed the frontier, I felt myself—in spite of my grey hairs—almost young again. Petrograd, since 1905, has appeared to me as the sacred city of the proletarian renascence, but when our train arrived there, I felt no special emotion, beyond a slight annoyance because of my fellow-travellers’ dullness. When the Congress was opened with rejoicings, I remained cold as a stone; and on several other occasions, when I ought to have felt enthusiastic emotion was not aroused. . . . .
But when I first saw you, Krupskaya, wife of Lenin, I could scarcely control my suppressed emotion. Quiet and unobserved you came in, quiet and unobserved you took your seat; then you began to speak in a slightly tremulous voice, m tones that caused my heart to beat as it did m my youth—impetuously, and with waves of emotion. On that day you appeared to me as a quiet, self-effacing woman, with no other ornament than your simplicity, your almost shy temperament, which seemed to make of you an impersonal personality. Your smooth hair covered your head almost like a cap, your fare was pale, your eyes held a painful question as do the eyes of one who is suffering grievously. You were wearing a long faded cloak such as is worn by the women of the people, and which a cold damp morning in November rendered necessary. It was at the Women’s Congress that I thus saw you. You knew few of the delegates, and, at first, when you spoke, few realised who you were, and what you represented. I stood at your right, but had difficulty in understanding till a Russian woman said to me smilingly: “She has given us a lesson in Marxism.” You sought for no applause. Ah! Your speech and applause; it was not the moment for applause. When I saw you thus for the first time I felt in reality that there was incarnate in you whole generations of Russian women revolutionaries. They had lived and had died without any other object than that of serving the revolutionary cause. They had offered themselves, they had struggled when all around them was darkness, and when victory seemed infinitely far off. Their love for humanity never failed; their steadfastness never wavered for a moment. I saw them among the frozen steppes of Siberia, in the Czar’s dungeons, ill-treated by brutal gaolers. I saw their bodies mutilated by blows, I saw them lying black and rigid in death. I watched the revolutionary emigrants departing in hundreds and in thousands, with despair gnawing at their hearts. I thought of their impatience, their misery, their long agony, their endless exile while waiting for the day of justice.
Then I saw them once more in the midst of their work for their country, and I remembered all the strength and goodwill they were bringing to the movement in order to widen and deepen it; I saw them passing on to other nations and across the seas the germinating thought that had been born and brought forth in Russia; I saw them perseveringly and patiently preparing the great revolt of the masses everywhere. I saw you, Krupskaya, by the side of Lenin when you lived, he and you, in the little street in German Switzerland. I saw, as in a vision, the long and painful past, and the great and painful present, united and symbolised in you. I was moved with enthusiasm, not because I knew “this woman has seen this or that; she has undergone this or that suffering,” but because your faithfulness, your self-abnegation, the wonderful unconscious spirituality which pervades you, appears to me to surround and permeate your whole personality.
I saw you at other times at the Congress, and when we sat near one another we spoke of those questions which we had most at heart—the education of the masses, the development of knowledge and of art and beauty among the people.
Twice you took my hands between your two thin dry hands. The expression of your thoughts, either in French or in German, comes to you with difficulty, and demands of you, even for short sentences, a mental effort. I told you that if you spoke to me slowly you might speak in Russian. Ah! how difficult it had been with other comrades—given my very poor knowledge of that language—to understand them! But with you I understood every thing. All that you said was simple and clear like your own life like your own heart. How weak I felt, how full of vanity and of bourgeois individualism, when face to face with your self-abnegation. “You gave me, indeed, a lesson in Marxism, and I am grateful to you.”
You are good and pure and self-forgetting. But I saw emanating from you the revolutionary communist, the purest womanly spirit, the strongest love which aches to give itself, and which pours itself out in life.
Ah! would that you might ever have the sweet certainty of this thought: “We happy ones are marching towards victory; Communism is growing daily under our eyes, and in these latter days we shall see it triumph.” But, alas! things are not quite so advanced! The cause for which you have lived still gropes in twilight. Courage and heroic perseverance are turned back helpless by the pressure of enemy forces. Our hearts are oppressed.
It is then that my thoughts turn to you, Krupskaya, wife of Lenin; to your fine stability, to your strong simplicity in the midst of the terrors of life and of death; and of the many, many, who are like you, and who, like you, believe and serve in absolute self-forgetfulness—then I feel sure that Communism in Russia, notwithstanding all its difficulties, will grow, will live, and will finally triumph.