Marxists Internet Archive: Subjects: Marxism and Art: Literature: Children's Literature
Nina Brown Baker
"VOLODYA! Haven't you finished with the lamps yet? Must you dawdle all night, son? There are a hundred things to do, and the guests will soon be here."
Marya Alexandrovna Ulyanova came bustling through the kitchen door, almost upsetting the row of oil lamps on the ground. She sounded cross, but the boy knew that she was merely anxious. When the housewife has only one awkward servant girl, and not a great deal of money, giving a big evening party is a worrisome undertaking.
Volodya, kneeling before his row of lamps, carefully filled the last one from the big oil can. He got to his feet, wiping the foul-smelling oil from his fingers with a grubby handkerchief.
"That's the last of them, Mother. Mitya said he'd help me carry them in."
"Mitya! You'd trust my fine lamps to the baby, would you? Really, Volodya, sometimes I think you don't have sense. Bring the big parlor lamp first and come back for the others. I can't help you. I'm dressed for the party already, and a drop of oil would ruin this silk."
"Don't touch them, I'll bring them all. I like the new dress, Mother dear. It makes you look very grand."
Marya Alexandrovna, in vigorous middle age, was a handsome woman. She was solidly plump, with a rosy round face and thick auburn hair. The new dress, an elaborate creation of plum-colored silk, was looped and swirled over the fashionable bustle of the day. Cascades of creamy lace fell from the high-standing collar. A gold watch chain encircled her neck, and a huge amethyst brooch held the lace in place.
She smiled at the boy's admiration. "Do you like it, Volodya? It was very expensive. But with all the officials' wives coming tonight, and perhaps even the countess--well, I simply couldn't face them in my old green velvet. When you've brought the lamps in, Volodya, I'll want you to run to the baker's."
"The baker's? But why, Mother? You and Anyuta and the girl have been baking all day. Surely we've a houseful of pastries already."
"We haven't enough." She led the way through the dim brick-floored kitchen and through the dining room, where the table was already set. "Your father has asked three more priests. If he had his way he'd have all the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church in our house! These are strangers from Kazan, visiting Father Stepan at St. Feodor's. Six priests will sit down at our table tonight! And you know how priests eat pastry."
In the parlor, she hovered over him until he had set the heavy lamp on its gilt and marble pedestal.
"There! Get the others, son. Two in the dining room, and the small one for the piano. Ilya! What are you at now? No one is going to play chess tonight."
"No?" Her husband looked up inquiringly. He had been arranging a charming teak-and-ivory chess set on a small table near the window. "But Father Stepan is coming. He always likes a game."
"Well, he won't get it," she said impatiently. "Can't I make you understand? This is a party! It's a going-away party for your son Sascha, in case you have forgotten. Your eldest son, who leaves tomorrow for the university in St. Petersburg. Everybody who is anybody in Simbirsk will be here. The postmaster and his wife, the district magistrate, Sascha's masters from the high school, and old Countess Rosa if her gout permits. To say nothing of six priests! Do you think there'll be room for chess? Do you think there'll be quiet for it? Do you think--"
"All right, all right, little woman." He smiled tenderly at his scolding wife and swept the chess pieces back into their box.
Ilya Nikolaievich Ulyanov was a big man, with the heavy shoulders of his peasant ancestors. He had been a farmer's son in the Astrakhan region. In bitter poverty, and by incredible toil, he had put himself through Kazan University, with a degree in education. His first job had been the organizing of rural schools for the government. He had done so well at this that he was made inspector, or what we should call superintendent, of schools in the Simbirsk district.
Ilya Ulyanov had married the pretty daughter of a well-to-do doctor. Marya Alexandrovna brought a bit of landed property to her marriage. The income from her farms, added to the meager inspector's salary, just sufficed to bring up the six children in modest comfort.
In the provincial town of Simbirsk on the Volga, wealth was not a matter of great concern, for no one there was wealthy. What was of the highest importance was social standing. When Ilya Ulyanov was a mere assistant inspector, his family had stood on a low rung of the social ladder. Now that he was chief inspector, they had reached the top. Now they could mingle on terms of equality with the highest government officials and the local landowners. It was quite an achievement for a peasant's son, and Marya Alexandrovna was touchingly proud of it.
"Ilya, you are a trial," she scolded. "The first guests will be here in less than an hour, and look at you. Go at once and put on your collar and your frock coat. What would the countess think if she found you sitting here in your shirt sleeves like a common laborer?"
"Yes, my dear." The big man rose meekly. "I was just going. By the way, where is our hero of the evening ?"
"Sascha? I don't know. I don't know where any of them are," she said fretfully. "I've been so busy in the kitchen --Volodya!" She called the boy, now setting the last lamp on its bracket over the sideboard. "Where are your brothers and sisters?"
He came to the parlor door.
"Sascha is in our room upstairs, sorting out his books. He's going to give me a lot of the ones he won't need at the university. I'm not sure, but I think he's going to give me his chemistry set, too. The girls are dressing, I guess. They've been at it ever since supper. You'd think it was their party, instead of Sascha's."
"Well, naturally your sisters want to look nice. And Mitya ?"
"I sent the little one for some snuff," the father explained. "The clergy are usually partial to it."
"Oh!" Marya Alexandrovna started. "That reminds me. You're to go to the baker's at once, Volodya. Get cheese buns, and two large iced raisin cakes. I've noticed that the clergy are usually partial to raisin cake, too," she added thoughtfully.
Volodya frowned a little as he sped through the summer dusk to the baker's shop. Three strange priests. He was not at all sure that the Kazan visitors would be an addition to the party. In Volodya's private opinion, the social life of Simbirsk suffered from an excess of Russian Orthodox clergy. Wherever you went, there was a blackrobe sitting in the softest chair, nearest the samovar, drinking the tea and gobbling up the richest cakes.
Still, in a city of thirty churches, one to every fifteen hundred citizens, you could hardly expect not to find a lot of priests. Some of them weren't so bad, he concluded charitably. Father Stepan was fat and jolly and always had a funny story when he came to play chess with Father. There was no denying that it gave your home a great name for respectability to have priests visiting it. And respectability, to Marya Alexandrovna and her children, was a very precious thing.
"Six priests will sit down at our table tonight," he told the baker importantly, as the man wrapped the fresh hot pastry for him.
"Six indeed?" The baker looked properly awed. "Ah, it will be a very grand party, young master. Anyone can see that."
Darkness had fallen by the time Volodya reached home. He stopped in the kitchen to leave his pastries with the maid, and hurried into the parlor. The entire family, dressed in their best, were assembled there.
Of the six Ulyanov children, the eldest was Anna, called Anyuta. She was a quiet, intellectual-looking girl, with beautiful dark eyes, and no other beauty.
Next in age came Sascha, the eldest son. He was seventeen on this August day in 1883. His real name was Alexander, but family affection was so strong that the children were called by the diminutives the Russian people love. Sascha was tall, slender, and strikingly handsome. Of all the children, only he and his sister Olga inherited their mother's good looks.
Volodya, at thirteen, was a short, stocky boy, redhaired and gray-eyed. Years later, when eager reporters visited Simbirsk and questioned everyone who had known the Ulyanovs, they found that the second son had left only a faint impression on his townsmen. Handsome, dashing Sascha, who came to so tragic an end, they remembered well. But Vladimir Ilyich, the one his family called Volodya, had been just one of the boys around town. No one had anything against him. He didn't steal fruit or break windows, and he was polite to older people. A nice enough boy. But no one in the old town ever expected that he would set the world afire.
The younger sisters were Olga and Manyasha. Then there was the nine-year-old boy Dmitry, or Mitya. This made up the family.
They all looked, as Volodya had told his mother, very grand. Anyuta wore a blue silk made in the style of her mother's, but the younger girls were in white summer muslin with wide sashes of pink and blue respectively. Sascha, in his new black suit, was fashionably choked in a three-inch starched collar that almost scraped his ears.
Mitya, proudly conscious of his long belted linen blouse and copper-toed boots, pointed a derisive finger at his brother.
"Look at Volodya, Mama! His stocking is down, and his hair is a haystack. He'll disgrace us all."
"Don't stand goggling there," Marya admonished him. "I want you to open the door. The girl is such a fool, she'll never get the names right. Run quickly now and put on your new suit. It's laid out on your bed. But hurry!" In the bedroom that he shared with Sascha, Volodya picked up the new suit with reverent hands. His first long trousers! Really, he should have had them in April, on his thirteenth birthday. But Mother had made him wait until it was time for Sascha to leave home. One young gentleman in the family was enough, she had said in her decisive way.
He was glad now that he had waited. It seemed more fitting, somehow, to make his first appearance in "long ones" before this brilliant assembly.
He washed quickly but thoroughly in the flowered china bowl, with due attention to the neck and the area behind the ears. When he had put on the crackling starched shirt and collar he drew the precious long trousers up over his sturdy legs, standing far away from the mirror to get the full effect.
Waistcoat and jacket then. He came closer to the looking glass and brushed his unruly red hair violently. It was no use. It simply would not lie down.
He tiptoed over to Sascha's dresser and picked up the can of bear's grease. Little boys did not use this dainty toilet aid, but little boys did not wear long ones, either. After all, when Sascha left for Petersburg tomorrow, he, Volodya, would be the young gentleman of the family.
He scooped up a handful of the thick brown grease and smeared it liberally on his hair. Ah, that was better! Now the red locks lay smooth and shining, giving off a powerful smell.
The boy placed his hand over his heart and hewed deeply, his eyes on the image in the mirror
. "Your servant, Countess," he said in a grave gentlemanly voice.
VOLODYA CAME DOWNSTAIRS just as the little maid showed the first guest into the parlor. It was the drawing teacher from Simbirsk High School.
Vera Petrova was a newcomer, recently graduated from the university at St. Petersburg. The good people of Simbirsk had not quite made up their minds about her yet. She was a good teacher, popular with her students. But she dressed in an outlandish fashion, wearing peasant-embroidered blouses and a shawl over her head instead of the sedate silks and bonnets proper to ladies of refinement. Also, she was given to joining in political discussions with the men, a most unwomanly quality.
Altogether, there was a feeling among the local matrons that Vera Petrova might be one of those horrid creatures, an advanced female. They were waiting cautiously to see whether their suspicion would prove correct. She came in now with her usual air of breezy assurance.
"Am I the first?" she asked in a loud, cheerful voice. "Well, better early than late, I always say. How are you, Marya Alexandrovna? Here, I've brought you some flowers. I picked them in the meadow by the mill. Aren't they beautiful?"
Marya Alexandrovna looked helplessly at the armful of goldenrod and asters the teacher held out to her.
The Ulyanov parlor needed no flowers. In every corner of the room, hand-tinted stone jugs held tall clumps of dried gilded cattails. And, if that were not enough, on the black walnut center table, beside the family album, there was an elegant arrangement of wax lilies under a glass dome. Flowers indeed! And such flowers! Common field blooms that peasants cut down for hay. Who but Vera Petrova would dream of bringing such things into the parlor?
Marya Alexandrovna was vexed, but her natural good manners held.
"It was kind of you to bring them, Vera Petrova. I'm afraid we haven't a vase for them here. Volodya, will you take them, dear? Perhaps in the kitchen--"
He found a wide-mouthed jar for them and set them on a shelf beside the dishes. If the thought crossed his mind that they were lovely there, more pleasing somehow than the gilded cattails or the artificial lilies, he loyally suppressed it. Mother knew best.
The guests were arriving now in a steady stream. For nearly an hour Volodya was kept busy, opening the door to them, showing them into the parlor.
Last to come, and crowning triumph for Marya Alexandrovna, was the ancient Countess Rosa.
This lady was the widow of a landowner who had left a large country estate. It was true that the estate was so riddled with mortgages that the noble countess could not afford to live on it but must content herself with a not-too-luxurious house in town. But her late husband had been a general in the tsar's service, and she herself was of an old aristocratic house. The cranky, gouty old lady reigned as the undisputed queen of Simbirsk society.
She drove up in her carriage, a creaking barouche with her coat of arms painted on it in fading gold. The footman jumped down from the box to escort his mistress to the door. There Volodya greeted her with his well-rehearsed bow. She took his arm and leaned heavily on it, helping herself along with her gold-headed cane.
The assembly rose respectfully as Volodya steered her into the parlor. The postmaster's wife, who had occupied the best armchair, hastily moved aside. Ilya Ulyanov came forward to help his son ease the old lady into it. At a sharp word from his mother, little Mitya hurried up with cushions and a footstool.
After the first greetings, an awkward silence had followed. The old lady, comfortably established, with her gouty foot straight out before her on the padded stool, broke it.
"Well, well, don't all stand there like a lot of dummies," she said briskly. "Where's the young man all this fuss is about? Hasn't he manners enough to speak to me?" Sascha, who had already joined in the chorus of "Good evening, Countess," was standing behind her chair. He moved around to the front without a trace of shyness. Gallantly he bent to kiss the gnarled old hand.
"The honor of your presence so overcomes me that I am speechless, Countess," he said. "But welcome, a thousand times welcome, to our poor home."
"Um." She looked him over critically as he stood, hushed and handsome, before her. "Not bad, young man, not bad. What do you do?"
"Do, Countess? I'm afraid I don't understand you."
"Are you stupid, then? I expect so. Good-looking young men usually are. I mean what do you do? Surely you have some accomplishments to entertain your guests? Do you sing, or play the piano, or recite poetry? You must do something."
"Sascha sings beautifully," Marya Alexandrovna put in. "All my children are musical. Sascha, darling, why don't you sing 'Farewell, my Love,' for the Countess? I'll accompany you."
In his pleasant light tenor, Sascha sang two or three sentimental ballads. The old countess was pleased to compliment him. Then, urged on by their mother, the other Ulyanov children went through their parlor tricks.
Anyuta played, with anxious earnestness, the tinkling show piece called "Moonlight on the Volga." Olga and Manyasha obliged with "The Black-Key Polka," played as a duet. To the thumping, fumbling accompaniment of her sister in the bass, Olga played the difficult first part with brilliant ease. Olga's own solo was "The Maiden's Prayer," the piece de resistance of all amateur pianists of the '80's. She gave to the trivial work a depth and richness that even the countess could not fail to notice.
"She's good, that one," the old lady commented. "Better than the others, Marya Alexandrovna."
"Yes, Olga is our little genius," the mother said fondly. "She hopes to become a professional pianist. We plan to send her to the Moscow Conservatory when she is older. And now, Volodya. Get your violin, dear."
"Oh, Mother!" For a moment he looked rebellious, but under his mother's stern glance he took down the violin. To her accompaniment he scraped his way ingloriously through the "Flower Song." He was as relieved as his audience when he came to the end and could take his seat while little Mitya, counting "One, two, three," aloud, picked out the simple measures of "Mama's Waltz."
The family had done its part to set the ball rolling. With very little urging, the guests responded to appeals to display their talents. The postmaster, in a rumbling bass, sang a rollicking song of the sea. One of the visiting priests gave an elevating description of his missionary labors among the Moslems of Baku. Father Stepan told a number of stories, imitating the peasant dialect so perfectly that he was greeted with roars of laughter.
At last it was the turn of Vera Petrova. She took the floor with an unladylike self-assurance that brought a few lifted eyebrows.
"I can't play the piano, and if I sang you'd think it was the old cow bawling," she said jovially. "But I'll recite for you. I'll give you the 'Ballad of Stenka Razin.' I guess I don't have to tell you who he was."
A little gasp went up from the ladies. They knew the story well enough. It was one considered best forgotten by respectable people.
Over two hundred years before, in the reign of Tsar Alexis, the Cossack rebel Stenka Razin had swept up the Volga, looting and killing. Stenka was no common bandit. For as he came he proclaimed an end to the tsar and the landowners, freedom for the serfs, a Russia ruled by common men. Peasants rallied to him. His band, ever growing in size and ferocity, murdered tax collectors, burned castles, tortured and robbed the rich, and preached rebellion to the poor. They took the governor of Astrakhan and tossed him from his high bell tower.
For a time it seemed that no one could stop him. His mad purpose came within an ace of fulfillment. But the tsar sent out a powerful army and defeated him here in this very town of Simbirsk. He was captured, taken to Moscow, and hanged in the public square. His last words were a prophecy. "One shall come after me who will succeed where I have failed. Ye oppressed of Russia, watch for him!"
Some unknown poet had put the story into wild, fierce verse. This was the poem that the teacher Vera Petrova had chosen to recite to the genteel company assembled in the Ulyanov parlor.
She recited it with gusto, mouthing the words "blood" and "death" with apparent pleasure, illustrating the violent action with violent gestures. One could almost see the cowering governor as her ruthless hands pushed him farther, farther to the edge of the tower. She stamped heavily on the faces of slain landlords, and she cut and thrust with an imaginary saber until battle and sudden death seemed fairly to swirl about her tense figure.
The guests, shocked into silence, listened with increasing discomfort. The old countess was somewhat deaf and had not heard the opening announcement. But as Vera Petrova's voice rose louder and louder, as she leaped and turned with dramatic abandon, the theme of the poem penetrated to the old lady's understanding. She listened a minute more, to be sure her ears had not deceived her. Then she acted.
Vera Petrova had just reached an exciting scene, the battle at Simbirsk. She paused a moment for emphasis. In that pause the countess's voice rose shrill and sharp.
"Stop! This disgusting exhibition must not go on. Stop it at once, I say!" She pounded the floor with her stick and glared ferociously at tile unhappy entertainer.
Vera Petrova stared back at her. "Why, it's just a poem, ma'am. I often recited it at student parties in Petersburg. Don't you like it?"
"Like it!" the old lady snorted. She turned to her hostess. "I didn't come here to be outraged, Marya Alexandrovna. Make that young woman shut up and sit down."
"Certainly, Countess. Of course," Marya Alexandrovna murmured. She turned to the teacher with an anxious smile.
"I'm sure you meant well, Vera Petrova. But perhaps your poem is a little long? We--I--I had planned to serve some refreshments. I think it might be best to have them now." With great relief the guests followed her into the dining room. Vera Petrova, her face flaming with mortification, trailed along in the rear.
Marya Alexandrovna sent Volodya and Sascha to the well-house outside, to bring in the melons which had been left to cool there. The summer night was quiet and refreshing after the noisy, crowded parlor.
Sascha seemed unaccountably excited. "That was a fine poem," he said as soon as they were out of earshot of the house. "We've always been told Stenka Razin was nothing but a bandit. The poem shows him a hero! Vera Petrova made it seem so real, too--I could almost see the blood ran. Do you know, I believe she could be a great actress if she tried?"
"She made herself a great nuisance, without half trying," Volodya said primly. "Poor Mama, I was so embarrassed for her. But except for the teacher, your party is going wonderfully, Sascha. It will be something for you to remember when you're far away in Petersburg."
"Oh, I expect I shall go to lots of parties in Petersburg," Sascha said airily. "After all, the capital is supposed to be very gay. Come along, Volodya. They're already sitting down."
The long table, with its shining damask and silver, was a gracious sight. It was loaded with sturgeon and pickled herring, caviar and cucumbers, and a noble ham. A dozen hand-painted plates held pastry of every possible sort. There was vodka for the men, sweet wine for the ladies, and plenty of tea for everyone.
The oldest Kazan priest asked the blessing. Then Ilya Ulyanov opened the feast with a solemn toast, "To our Little Father, the Tsar!"
They drank it standing. Vera Petrova, her red face redder than ever with humiliation, stood and drank with the rest.
"One shall come after me who will not fail," Stenka Razin had shouted, standing in the Moscow square with the rope around his neck. In this unpretentious house in a stuffy provincial town, at this table surrounded by Simbirsk's cream of respectable officialdom, that one stood and drank to a tsar whose son would be the last tsar Russia was ever to know. The outlaw's dream, of a Russia set free of feudal tyranny, her destiny given into the hands of her toiling masses, was to come true by the will of one person present at Sascha's going-away party.
Who was that person? Not poor foolish Vera Petrova, with her living to earn in the Simbirsk school system. She had posed as a defiant radical among her college friends, but the old countess had given her a lesson in discretion that she did not forget. Not Vera Petrova. And not the good-looking, reckless Sascha, his head still awhirl with the stirring measures of the old ballad.
The tsar's secret police, had they been warned that the Ulyanov house sheltered a dangerous revolutionary that night, might have arrested the drawing teacher. They might, with a little clairvoyance and some degree of reason, have carried off Sascha. They would never have bothered with thirteen-year-old Volodya, eating cream puffs with proper care not to dribble the filling on his first long trousers, with his red hair slickly greased, very pleased and proud that the countess had patted his head when he eased her into her chair.
Volodya, his family called him affectionately. Soon, with his new dignity as the oldest son at home, he would drop the baby name and become Vladimir Ilyich. But the world was to know him better under another name. He called himself Nikolai Lenin when he led the Russian people to the incredible fufillment of Stenka Razin's prophecy.
SASCHA WENT to St. Petersburg University, and did very well there. He was a brilliant student in all subjects, but his special gift was science. In his second year he was given a teaching fellowship. It was generally understood that upon graduation he would be offered an instructor's chair.
The eldest sister, Anyuta, followed Sascha to the university. In that time and place, a college education for women was not the ordinary thing. But the Ulyanovs were not an ordinary family. Marya Alexandrovna, before her marriage, had taken a teacher's certificate. Both father and mother were passionately devoted to education, determined that all their children should have every possible advantage. Anyuta meant to become an elementary-school teacher.
Sascha and Anyuta spent their vacations at home in Simbirsk. Both of them seemed happy at the university, although their lives there were not at all similar.
Anyuta, plain, studious, shy, made a few congenial friends and devoted herself to earnest study. Sascha's life was much gayer. His good looks and pleasant manners made him welcome everywhere. He was in great demand among the various fraternities and secret societies in which the students delighted. Sascha joined three societies. One was devoted to singing, and one to athletics. The third was political. It called itself the university chapter of the People's Will Party.
Russia of the '80's was ruled by a tsar with autocratic powers, strongly supported by a landowning aristocracy and the Orthodox Church. The common people had no voice in their government. Laws were made by the tsar and his ministers, enforced by a ruthless secret police and a powerful army.
For the upper classes it was a very satisfactory arrangement. The imperial court at St. Petersburg was one of the most extravagant in Europe. The tsar dined daily from solid gold plates, drove out in his state carriage with six white Arabian horses, and gave his children ruby-set eggs of pure gold at Easter time. His courtiers maintained handsome palaces in the capital, going occasionally to their country homes for the hunting season.
On the great landed estates the peasants toiled to support all this splendor. Only a few years ago they had been serfs, slaves of their lord. Tsar Alexander II had emancipated them, but the change was no great improvement. They lived in the same windowless one-room huts, wrapping their weary feet in bark sandals, ploughing the land with a bent stick to which the wife must be harnessed if a horse was lacking.
Not all the peasants were farmers, for in the early '80's Russia was taking her first hesitant steps toward industrialization. Men were being shifted from the farms to work in mines or in the factories that were springing up in the cities. The mines and factories were owned by the nobles, sometimes with foreign capital, British and French and Dutch, to back them. The workers accepted long hours and starvation wages unquestioningly, as they had accepted them on the land. Their pastors told them that such was the will of Heaven.
Neither the nobles nor the peasants had any quarrel with the system. The early revolutionaries were intellectuals, or "intelligentsia," to use the Russian word.
The intelligentsia was made up of educated men, doctors, lawyers, writers, teachers, and students. Many of them, coming from humble homes, had educated themselves by heroic effort. Their country held scant opportunity for them. A doctor had little recourse against a nobleman who chose not to pay his bill. The peasants had no money to pay theirs. The courts were so corrupt that all a lawyer's skill might fail to win his case if his opponent had reached the judge first with a good fat bribe.
The People's Will Party, organized under another name in 1870, planned to right all these wrongs by the simple remedy of murder. They reasoned that if they killed the tsar, his important ministers, and the worst-hated nobles and police officials, they would bring about a rule of order and justice.
They had no idea of overthrowing the throne. They knew that another tsar would succeed to it and appoint new officials. But the idea was that, having seen the might of the people's will, the new government would be good. If it were not, the process could be repeated.
It is difficult to see how this childish reasoning could convince intelligent men. We know only that it did convince them. The idea of direct action appealed especially to the young hotheads of the universities. It was a group of students who planned, and successfully carried out, the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881.
This first attempt brought none of the hoped-for benefits. Alexander III, who succeeded his father, proved himself an even greater tyrant.
Many of the plotters were seized and executed. Others were exiled to Siberia or fled to safety abroad. The People's Will Party was crushed and scattered, but remnants of it survived, particularly in the colleges. At St. Petersburg University, its members bound by a melodramatic oath of secrecy, a strong chapter flourished and bided its time.
This was the organization to which Sascha Ulyanov pledged his young talent and his life. He kept his oath so well that his sister at the university did not know of his membership. He never mentioned it on his visits home.
He did talk, to his brother Volodya at least, of the intolerable conditions of tsarist rule and of the need for revolution. It is easy to imagine that Sascha inspired his younger brother to become a revolutionist. This assumption is hard to prove, for Sascha talked even more enthusiastically of the habits of earthworms, which he was studying at first hand, but Volodya did not become a naturalist.
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov was not a boy to be easily influenced by anyone. Following in his brother's footsteps at Simbirsk High School, he was setting his own high record for good scholarship. The principal, one F. Kerensky, especially commended his tremendous will power and great gift of concentration. The good Dr. Kerensky had a small son, Alexander. In 1917, Alexander Kerensky was to have his own experience with that tremendous will power.
The years from 1883 to 1887 were happy ones for young Vladimir Ilyich. He was an excellent swimmer, daring the mighty Volga as soon as the winter ice had broken. He fastened a trapeze to two of the trees in the garden and practised the tricks he had seen in a traveling circus. He read everything he could get hold of. The Russian classics, Goethe and Heine in German, Victor Hugo in French were devoured as they came his way. He mastered foreign languages easily, although he found out later that reading a language is not the same thing as speaking it.
The quiet family life was interrupted in 1886 by the death of the father. Ilya Ulyanov, apparently a superbly healthy man, died suddenly of heart failure.
Marya Alexandrovna, although deeply distressed, bore the unexpected sorrow with great fortitude. She was comforted by the affection of her children, and no doubt by the solicitude of her friends and neighbors.
The town rallied to condole with her, assuring her sorrowfully that Ilya's death was a loss to the entire community. Wreaths and floral pieces filled the house. The funeral was a stately function long remembered in Simbirsk.
The Bishop of Kazan came himself to deliver a eulogy at the grave. All the schools were dismissed in honor of the late superintendent. St. Feodor's Church was jammed for the solemn requiem mass. The procession, slowly winding its way through the dusty streets, was of unprecedented length. The Countess Rosa's creaking barouche followed close on the shuttered carriage where Marya Alexandrovna, draped in black crepe, wept softly on the shoulder of Father Stepan.
The widow could scarcely have failed to be gratified at all these marks of the community's respect. There were more to come. Within a few days she was notified that, in appreciation of her husband's tireless labors, the government was allowing her a pension for life of twelve hundred rubles (six hundred dollars).
Furthermore, until Ilya's successor could be appointed, the minor duties of his office were to be assigned to her. Marya Alexandrovna, trained for teaching, was well qualified to perform them, but to be asked to do so was a great honor. It was one that would scarcely have been given to any other woman in the town.
Anyuta and Sascha, who had been hastily summoned, went back to St. Petersburg. Vladimir Ilyich, in his last semester at the high school, was confidently planning to enter the University of Kazan in the autumn. Except for the loss of the father, the Ulyanov family life was undisturbed in its pleasant channel of middle-class respectability.
Then came the tragic spring of 1887.
ON A MARCH AFTERNOON in 1881, Vladimir Ilyich was sitting in his French class at Simbirsk High School. With the other students, he watched in idle curiosity as Vera Petrova entered the room and spoke briefly with the French teacher.
Both teachers looked toward him. The French teacher beckoned.
"Vera Petrova would like to have a word with you, Ulyanov. Go into the corridor with her."
Wondering, the boy followed the drawing teacher outside. He had no drawing classes this term. He could not imagine why she had summoned him.
In the three and a half years since Sascha's going-away party, Vera Petrova had settled down. She had thrown away her bright peasant blouses and now went decently attired in dark woolens, as a lady should. She had subdued her incautious tongue to conventional chitchat, and no longer shocked society by reciting Cossack ballads. Good teaching jobs were not easily come by. Vera Petrova had prudently mended her ways to make sure of keeping hers.
Once outside the door, she drew a letter from her pocket.
"I don't know if I'm doing right to show you this, Vladimir Ilyich," she said nervously. "It's from a professor friend of mine in St. Petersburg. A most correct gentleman, whose loyalty is unquestioned. I don't want to bring his name into such an affair. Still, his letter is perfectly harmless, anyone can see that. Merely a bit of college gossip. Here, I'll fold the name over. You'll have to promise me, Ilyich, that if I let you read it you won't try to find out who the writer is."
He smiled amusedly at her agitation. As all the school knew, Petrova was greatly given to making a fuss over little things. What possible interest could he have in her personal correspondence, anyway?
"Why do you want me to see it, then?" he asked bluntly.
"Well, it has to do with you--with your family, anyway. It's--oh, Ilyich, I'm so sorry! I didn't know Sascha well, hut he was such a handsome, gentlemanly boy! How he could bring himself to do such a thing! The disgrace, the shame to your family! Oh, this will be a black day for your mother, boy."
Tears stood in her eyes. Her round red face had fallen into distressed creases.
Vladimir Ilyich held out his hand. "May I see the letter, please?"
Hurriedly his eyes followed the beautiful script. The "correct" professor wrote lightly and wittily of the latest student disturbance. A plot, if you can believe it, to blow up the tsar. The young fools had concocted their homemade bomb in the chemistry laboratory, never dreaming that the old janitor was a police spy.
All was known to the authorities from the start, but they gave the little idiots enough rope to hang themselves. Although, the professor concluded brightly, the hanging would undoubtedly be carried out by the imperial executioner with his usual efficiency.
The next paragraph gave the names of the ringleaders. Alexander Ulyanov's was first on the list.
The boy folded the letter and handed it back. "This may be bad for Sascha," he said quietly. "I must go home and prepare my mother."
"Your poor mother! To think that this should happen to the Ulyanovs, who have always held their heads so high!"
Vera Petrova was ready with emotional sympathy, but he was not listening. With what seemed to her a stolid calm he turned and left the school building.
At home he had a bad time with his mother. Marya Alexandrovna, devoted to all her children, had a special niche in her heart for the brilliant eldest son. "He will die, he will die!" she wept. "Oh, Sascha, my son, so young, so brave, so beautiful, I shall never see your face again!" Vladimir Ilyich did his best to reassure her. Certainly Sascha would not die. The attempt had failed. The tsar was unharmed. Oh, of course the boys had been arrested. There would be a trial. Perhaps there might be a short prison sentence to teach them a lesson. At worst, a year or two in Siberia. The conspirators were young. The judges would not be hard on them.
But Marya wept on and would not be comforted. Sascha would die, she repeated. Her mother's instinct told her so.
The younger children, coming in from school, joined in their mother's tears, repeating in shrill frightened voices, "Sascha will die! We'll never see our brother Sascha again!"
Vladimir Ilyich held desperately to his self-control. He was only seventeen, but he was the man of the family now.
"Anyuta is in Petersburg. We'll be hearing from her soon. Let's not despair yet, Mother," he urged. "Perhaps there is some mistake. Vera Petrova's friend may have put down the wrong name. How do we know that this is true?"
"Oh, it's true, it's true. My heart tells me."
The mother checked her weeping and looked up at him with swollen eyes. She tottered to her feet, feeling blindly about her.
"My bonnet, my cloak," she gasped. "I must go to Petersburg at once. Don't stand there, Volodya. There's no time to waste. Don't you see I must go to Sascha?"
"Mother, darling!" He tried hard to dissuade her. What good could she do? Anyuta was in Petersburg, and they had cousins there. All that could be done they would do, Even the journey, in this bleak spring weather, would be a trying ordeal for an elderly woman. To reach the nearest railroad station meant a drive of many miles.
"And," he produced for his final argument, "there are the little ones. What will they do without you?"
"The maid will look after them. Or the neighbors," she said distractedly. "Volodya, do you think the Countess Rosa would lend her carriage? Run and ask her. Tell her I must start at once."
Reluctantly the boy set off up the hill toward the countess's house. He was too absorbed to notice that the people he met turned to stare after him as he passed. Nor did he see the stiff lace curtains waver at many a window, as curious faces peered out.
It was no more than two hours since Vera Petrova had shown him the letter, yet already the town was buzzing with the news. The drawing teacher's hearty voice had carried to one or two classrooms as she and Vladimir Ilyich stood talking in the hall. Perhaps also the door of the principal's office stood ajar. Pupils and teachers alike had hurried home to tell everyone in hearing that the Ulyanovs had fallen from their high pinnacle of respectability into a gutter of shameful disgrace.
Ilyich was kept waiting a long time at the countess's door. The footman who answered his ring at last, gorgeous in peach-satin knee breeches and powdered wig, looked at him with barely concealed insolence. To Ilyich's request to see the countess, the servant answered briefly, "Wait here." He closed and barred the door again, leaving the caller outside.
Presently he returned. "Her ladyship is resting. She cannot be disturbed."
"I won't keep her long. My mother has sent me with a message."
"I will take the message."
"Well--" the boy flushed. "It's a personal matter. I'd rather see the countess myself."
"I Will fake the message," the man repeated stolidly. "Her ladyship cannot be disturbed."
"Oh, all right, then. My mother finds she has to go to St. Petersburg at once, on--on business. She would be obliged if Countess Rosa would lend her carriage for the journey to the railway."
The man nodded ungraciously. Again he closed the door, shooting home the heavy bolt.
To the boy's impatience, the time seemed endless as he waited. When at last the footman came back, he opened the door the merest crack.
"The answer is no," he said flatly. The crack began to dose.
"Here, wait a minute! The countess can't have understood. Since we sold our own carriage after my father died, she has always been very generous with hers. My mother only wants to go to Samara to catch the train. I'll drive her myself, if your coachman objects. Tell the countess it's very important. Tell her she doesn't understand--"
The face under the powdered wig was as wooden as ever, but malice gleamed in the servant's eyes.
"Her ladyship understands everything," he said. "The answer is no!"
The door slammed shut.
With burning cheeks, Ilyich stumbled down the steps. He was puzzled as well as angry. "What's gotten into the old crow?" he asked himself disrespectfully. Well, he'd try the postmaster. His carriage would not be as comfortable as the countess's, but it would do.
The postoffice was unusually crowded when he entered it. A startled silence fell as the boy walked through to the postmaster's little office at the back. Then the clack of tongues broke out again.
The postmaster, an old family friend, was ill at ease.
"Yes, yes, I thought your mother might be going to the capital," he said. "It's true, then, this disgraceful mess your brother has involved himself in? I must say I'm disgusted, Vladimir Ilyich. To think that a son of my old friend Ilya Ulyanov should turn out a traitor! I couldn't believe it when they told me. They'll hang him. Mark my words, they'll hang him."
"So my mother fears," the boy said through stiff lips. "She is anxious to go to him. If you will lend us your carriage--"
"Oh, yes, my carriage. Well, now, I'll tell you, boy. I'd like to oblige your mother. A fine woman, or so I always thought. Of course, now that we know she's brought up her son to be an anarchist--well, a man doesn't know what to think. I'm thankful Ilya didn't live to see this day."
"The carriage, if you please," Vladimir Ilyich rested patiently.
The postmaster shook his head. "Too bad, my boy, but I can't do it. Not in my position. As an official of His Imperial Majesty's government, I can't afford to sanction anything treasonable."
Ilyich fixed the official with a scornful glance.
"Since when is it treasonable for a mother to visit a child in trouble?" he demanded.
"Ah, but such trouble! Arrested for conspiring to murder His Majesty the Tsar! No, no, I can't afford to be mixed up in such an affair. You can't touch pitch without being defiled, you know. Your brother should have thought of his family before he turned traitor. You'll suffer for his folly, all of you. And I hope it'll be a lesson to you younger ones. Loyalty, my boy, loyalty to our gracious lord the Tsar, is the most--"
Vladimir Ilyich waited to hear no more. The refusal of the carriage was bad enough. A patriotic lecture on top of it was a little too much.
He strode through the gossiping crowd without a glance. He understood the countess better now. Well, there were other friends in the town. Just because two silly old fools were cowards, there was no reason to be discouraged.
One by one he tried the remaining friends. His mother needed not merely transportation to the railroad town but letters of introduction to Petersburg officials that would smooth her way to Sascha in prison.
He had counted on the postmaster for such a letter, but in his fury at the rejection of his lesser request he had not asked for it. On his way to the magistrate's he decided that he would ask for the letter first. The carriage did not matter so much. At the worst, they could hire saddle horses from the innkeeper.
The magistrate, with no children in school, had not yet heard the news. He received Vladimir Ilyich cordially, insisting that he take a glass of tea with him.
However, as soon as the boy had stated his mother's need, the old gentleman froze into icy disapproval. As an officer of the crown, it would never do for him to involve himself in the affairs of a would-be regicide. The best advice he could give Marya Alexandrovna, he told her son, was to scratch Sascha's name from the family Bible and forget that she had ever borne him.
IT WAS NEARLY MIDNIGHT when, spent and weary, Vladimir Ilyich turned from the last respectable door in Simbirsk. He had appealed to all those warm friends who had turned out in such numbers to Ilya Ulyanov's funeral.
Some of them had been curt, and some had been kind. Without exception, all had been what in his boy's mind he scornfully called cowardly. They had their own positions to consider. It was very sad, a great sorrow for the Ulyanovs. But, after all, a man has his family to think about. He can't afford to risk their standing, perhaps their very livelihood, by getting mixed up in anything questionable. Better, as the magistrate advised, for the Ulyanovs just to ignore the whole business. Maybe, in time, they could live it down.
As he passed St. Feodor's Church, Vladimir Ilyich observed one respectable door he had forgotten. In the cosy little rectory beside the church a lamp burned late.
The Russian Orthodox Church permits its priests to marry, but Father Stepan had no wife. He lived a comfortable bachelor life, attended by a devoted old aunt, who kept his little house shining and set for him what was admittedly the best table in Simbirsk.
Tonight Vladimir Ilyich found the plump priest seated in a deep armchair before his glowing stove, his feet in tasseled crocheted slippers stretched out to the warmth, his bald head propped by soft cushions. A glass of hot spiced wine stood at his elbow. He was leisurely turning the pages of the local newspaper.
Seen through the window, it was a warm, inviting picture. Ilyich knocked at the door. In response to a cordial "come in!" he entered the lamplit room.
From the armchair's depths Father Stepan peered up at him.
"Why, it's young Ulyanov! Draw up that stool to the stove, boy, you look half frozen. What brings you out at this hour of the night? Is someone ill?"
"Not ill in body, Father."
Vladimir Ilyich had not been conscious of the cold as he hurried around the town, but he realized now that his hands and feet were numb. Gratefully he sank down on the stool by the fire.
"It's my mother," he went on. "She's in great trouble. Haven't you heard?"
"I've heard nothing. What is it, Ilyich?"
Rapidly he poured out the story. As he told it, he could see the priest stiffen in his easy chair. The smile faded from the fat, jolly face. The twinkling eyes looked suddenly hard.
"Why do you bring this disgraceful story to me?" he asked harshly. "What can I do about it?"
What indeed? The priest, always able to rely on his parishioners for a lift, kept no carriage. He was a Smirks man, without influence in the capital. It was not for material help that Vladimir Ilyich had come to him.
"I thought you might console my mother," the boy explained. "She is in great distress. It is late, and I hope she's sleeping by now. But if you would come tomorrow and talk to her--" Something in the priest's cold glance answered him. "After all, it's your business to comfort these in trouble, isn't it?" he ended defiantly.
"I do not think," Father Stepan answered, "that it is necessary for me to be taught my business. Particularly by a young whippersnapper who, as I recall it, has not been too attentive to his own religious duties. When did I last see you in church, Vladimir Ilyich?"
The boy looked away. "At my father's funeral," he muttered.
"And before then?"
"Well, I was there on Easter Sunday."
"Ah? But not, I think, on last Easter Sunday. The year before, was it? Or possibly the year before that? It has been so long that I can scarcely remember."
Vladimir Ilyich lifted his eyes. "All right, Father Stepan. I'm not a good churchgoer. We'll concede that. I don't see what my religious views, or lack of them, have to do with this. My mother is a member of your congregation. When my father died, you were very kind. She valued your comfort. Now, when an even greater grief has come to her, I ask you for kindness. To her, not to me. Will you give it, or do you refuse it?"
The priest gasped. "I have never seen such effrontery in all my life! To speak to me, your spiritual father, in such insolent words! Why you--you should be flogged for this! Get out of my house, you godless young ruffian, before I forget myself and lay hands on you."
He heaved himself from his chair, upsetting the glass of wine in his fury. The boy rose also.
"You have not answered my question, Father," he said in a voice that shook a little. "Will you come to my poor mother?"
"No, I will not! A woman is known by her sons. What has your mother brought into the world? A traitor who turns his murderous hand against the ruler set over us by Heaven's will. An irreligious scoundrel who insults his parish priest. Why should I concern myself with the woes of such a woman? They are punishment for her sin, the sin of not bringing her sons up in the fear of the Lord. Hers was the sin. Let her bear her just punishment as best she may. I wash my hands of her."
The boy managed a wry smile. "Not a very original action, Father Stepan. The rest of the town has already done it. Well, good night to you."
At home, he found with relief that Marya Alexanrdrovna had sobbed herself to sleep. The other children were sleeping, too, except for little Dmitry. He was waiting, bright-eyed and fearful, to report the latest disaster. The maid had quit. She had said ugly words to poor Mama, and had packed her things and left the house before dark.
On the next day, sitting sidesaddle on one of the innkeeper's bony horses, Marya Alexandrovna departed on the first stage of her pitiful journey.
Of all the circle of close friends who had been in and out of the hospitable Ulyanov home, only one woman came to wish her godspeed. This kindly neighbor volunteered to look after the household in the mother's absence. In 1919, aged and poor, she came timidly to the Kremlin with some small request to make. Nikolai Lenin, President of the Council of People's Commissars, received her with open arms. He had a long memory for injuries, men say. It may well be that the distrust of the middle classes and of the clergy that he showed in later life dated from Simbirsk's treatment of his mother. But it is certain, at any rate, as the old neighbor came to know, that he did not forget a kindness.
Marya Alexandrovna reached the capital in ample time for her son's trial. Sascha boldly admitted his guilt, regretting only his failure. He was sentenced to death, and was hanged in the prison yard.
Broken in body and spirit, the unhappy mother set out for her home. She collapsed on the way and was carried from the train more dead than alive.
For weeks she lay at the point of death. When at last she recovered, she was only a pathetic shadow of her old busy, efficient self. Gaunt, tragic-eyed, she moved feebly about the house of which she had been so proud. Her table no longer needed to be lengthened for extra guests. No one came to see her. Her name was left off the list when invitations went out for afternoon teas and pancake parties. Her social position, her "respectability," had been very dear to Marya Alexandrovna. Now it was gone, along with all her hopes and dreams for her beloved elder son.
His mother's helpless dependence threw all the weight of family responsibility on Vladimir Ilyich. He consulted with his older sister, Anyuta, and the two of them decided that Simbirsk had become intolerable. Ilyich was to enter Kazan University in the fall. It seemed best to sell the Simbirsk house and move the family to Kazan.
Marya Alexandrovna offered no objection. In the late summer the family looked their last on the town that had cast them off. Many years later the citizens of Simbirsk proudly changed their town's name to Ulyanovsk, in honor of its most illustrious citizen. He acknowledged the compliment in a formal note, but he never visited his birthplace again.
The family belongings were transferred to a comfortable flat in Kazan. Anyuta returned to her studies in St. Petersburg. Ilyich applied for admission to the local university.
Over this he had some difficulty. As the brother of an executed terrorist, he was bound to be looked upon with suspicion. However, Principal Kerensky of the Simbirsk High School gave him a glowing recommendation, and upon the strength of this, and of his father's respected name, he was allowed to enter.
He was enrolled as a student in the school of law on August 25, 1887. On December 17 of the same year he was expelled.
Just what Vladimir Ilyich did to bring about his arrest and expulsion is not very clear. There had been a workers' demonstration in St. Petersburg, addressed by a student, George Plekhanov. This man was later to be known as the father of Russian socialism. As he spoke, for the first time the red flag was unfurled on Russian soil. It waved for only a few minutes. The demonstration was crushed by the severest measures. Plekhanov slid through the police net and escaped to Switzerland.
Echoes of the disturbance reached Kazan, where the police were warned to be especially watchful for subversive activities among college students. All the colleges were honeycombed with police spies. They gave due attention to young Ulyanov, whose brother had attempted to assassinate the tsar.
Ilyich was seen hanging around the corridors in earnest whispered discussions with fellow students. He signed a round-robin petition asking that attendance at divine worship be made optional for undergraduates instead of compulsory. He had been heard to criticize an unpopular professor. In one way or another, he managed to get his name on a list of thirty-nine boys denounced to the police as fomenting sedition.
The police broke into the Ulyanov flat late one night. Marya Alexandrovna suffered the agony of seeing a second son hustled off to prison. As if that were not enough, word came from St. Petersburg that the daughter, Anyuta, bad been arrested on a similar charge.
In the end, nothing serious came of either arrest, except that the education of brother and sister was interrupted.
When the magistrate dismissed him, Vladimir Ilyich asked permission to re-enter the university. This was refused. His mother, using her husband's name to influence the educational authorities, petitioned for her son to be allowed to enter some other Russian university or, failing that, to complete his education abroad. Her petition was denied. Vladimir Ilyich might not attend any college in His Majesty's domain, and he might not leave that domain. At seventeen, his college life was over.
The city of Kazan, which had seemed so welcome a refuge, was no home to the Ulyanovs now. Marya Alexandrovna owned a farm at Kokushkino, a little village not far from Kazan. They decided to go there for the present.
Vladimir Ilyich and Anyuta took their books along. College might be denied them, but education need not be.
Anyuta, helping her mother with the housework and the younger children, found progress difficult. But Vladimir Ilyich devoted himself with all his tremendous energy to the job of self-teaching. He followed the law course begun at the university, for he meant to get his degree in spite of everything. And he found time for other reading also. The books he chose were not on the university's recommended list.
SASCHA ULYANOV had not told his family of his connection with the People's Will Party, nor of the plot which was to cost him his life. However, it is clearly established that in his earlier vacations spent at home he had talked with his younger brother about the need for revolution. He had given Ilyich at least one volume of Karl Marx to read.
Whether these talks, and this reading, would inevitably have made a revolutionary of the younger Ulyanov is pure guesswork. Perhaps it required Sascha's death and the mother's broken life to kindle the flame in the boy's heart. Perhaps if he had been allowed to continue his college classes, leading a normal life among young people, the flame might in time have flickered out.
He resented bitterly the government's refusal to allow him to continue his education. It was one more proof to him that the tsarist government, which had killed his brother and broken his mother's heart, was rotten to the core. How or when he took his final resolve we do not know. We do know that by the end of 1888 he had dedicated himself implacably to the destruction of that government.
Vladimir Ilyich did not take his brother's place in the People's Will Party. The party's plan, to bring about reforms by the murder of officials, seemed to him merely silly. "We shall not take that road," his sister Anyuta reports him as saying. "We need not take that road."
Ilyich had an orderly, scientific mind. He set himself to study the science of revolution, as he would have studied any other science. Revolution, as he saw it, was not a matter for wild, reckless action by a few fanatically brave individuals. Rather, it should be carried out by an adequate organization, trained and disciplined, acting on a thoroughly prepared plan. For this view he found support in the teachings of Marx.
Karl Marx, a German economist who died in Ilyich's boyhood, had written voluminously on the theory of revolution. His was a new pattern, very different from the revolutions with which we are most familiar, our own Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789.
These great national uprisings had concerned themselves chiefly with political rights. Marx contended that political rights were valueless without economic rights.
To put it as simply as possible, the Marxian idea was that not only should a citizen have a voice in his government, but that he should also, with his fellow citizens, control the conditions under which he made his living. Marx believed that a king who oppressed his subjects was no more guilty than an employer who exploited his workmen. He would do away with employers, as the earlier revolutionists had done away with kings. The government, which represented all the people, would also employ all the people. There would be no idle propertied class. Everyone would work and everyone would receive a fair return for his labor.
This is the theory of socialism. It is a theory about which there has been endless dispute. There are good arguments for it and against it. We need not go into them here. The undisputed fact is that Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov accepted the Marxian teachings and devoted his life to bringing about their realization. Marx held that revolution must come from the working class, or the proletariat, as he called it. The upper class, the rich and the nobles, could not be expected to support a movement that would deprive them of all they had and put them to work.
Equally, Marx distrusted the middle class, or bourgeoisie, although this class had been the backbone of such movements as the People's Will Party. Marx believed that these people, professional men and merchants, would take advantage of any change to form a new upper class, putting themselves in the place of the old employers who might be dispossessed. He held that the only reliable revolutionists were the toilers, who had "nothing to lose but their chains."
This contention particularly impressed Vladimir Ilyich. He himself was of a middle-class family. But he had not forgotten how his mother's bourgeois friends had turned their backs in her hour of need, concerned only with their own welfare. He had no acquaintance with the proletariat, but he was willing to take Marx's word for it that it was from their ranks that salvation must come.
For three years after his expulsion from Kazan University, Vladimir Ilyich occupied himself exclusively with reading. He read law to such good purpose that he successfully completed the required course of study. He read Karl Marx. And, since he had no other contact with he studied the Russian working class from statistics.
The industrial boom, begun only a few years before, soaring to new heights. Foreign capital was pouring in. Every week saw the opening of new factories, manned by peasants from the villages.
Conditions in these factories were worse than frightful. 'The working day was twelve to fourteen hours, with overtime unpaid and at the employer's whim. Men were housed in filthy barracks in the factory yard, guarded by the police, with no more freedom than pigs in a sty. The pay, which had seemed so good when labor agents visited the villages, was eaten up by high prices for food and clothing at the company store.
The first peasant workers had endured their new miseries without complaint. But as their numbers increased, a spirit of unrest rose among them. It was stimulated from the outside, by revolutionary agitators like George Plekhanov, who had already incited strikes and factory demonstrations in St. Petersburg.
From his Swiss refuge Plekhanov, an enthusiastic follower of Marx, was pouring out a stream of pamphlets that were smuggled into Russia. Some of them came into Ilyich's hands. In cold, hard figures of man-hours and wages they painted the desperate plight of Russia's industrial workers.
At this time Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov had never entered a factory nor spoken to a factory worker. The country village near Kazan, and later the larger town of Samara to which the family moved, lay outside the current of industrialization. By fact and figure, Plekhanov's pamphlets proved to him that under the tsarist government the worker's life was intolerable. Knowing what he already knew of that government, young Ulyanov eagerly accepted the proof.
So, with reading and thinking, with learning new theories and pondering old wrongs, Ilyich worked out his pattern for living. He would not die for the revolution, as his brother Sascha had done. He would live for it, and live to see it accomplished. He chose the career of revolutionist as he chose that of the law. He prepared himself for the one as deliberately and thoroughly as for the other.
In 1891 he went to St. Petersburg and triumphantly passed the examination that gave him his degree and admitted him to the practice of law. The family was then living in Samara. He returned to them and opened a law office there.
Samara is now the busy city of Kuibyshev. It is in the heart of the rich Volga grain and dairy country. In 1891, when Ilyich began his practice, the region lay prostrate under the worst famine that had ever swept the district.
Relief measures, hastily organized by the charitable clergy and nobles, were bungling and inadequate. Peasants in their wretched straw huts died like flies. To Ilyich this was one more proof, if he had needed any, that something was radically wrong with a society that could not care for its members.
One thing the famine impressed upon him. Although farmers were peasants, there were two peasant classes. There were the small landowners, whose stored supplies of grain tided them over the famine and enabled them to sell to the needy at high prices. Then there were the farm laborers, whose position was similar to that of the sharecroppers of our own southern states. These men farmed and they did not own, paying in labor and in produce for the portion of the crops they were allowed to keep.
It seemed to Ilyich that these poor peasants were as truly a part of the oppressed masses as the factory workers. Neither Marx nor Plekhanov had taken them into account. The well-to-do farmers, or kulaks, were classed with the big landlords as employers of labor. The idea of including the lower order of agricultural labor in the revolutionary ranks was Lenin's own. It came to the young lawyer Ilyich when he observed who starved and who survived on the farms around Samara. The new law practice started off well enough. Clients were scarce, but that was to be expected. Living at home with his family, Ilyich was spared the struggle common to most beginners in that difficult profession.
In 1892 a new sorrow came to Marya Alexandrovna, the aging mother whose life was to hold little but sorrow. Her daughter Olga, a young pianist of unusual promise, had been sent to study music in St. Petersburg. Olga was the prettiest and most gifted of the Ulyanov girls. To her the mother had transferred the hopes she had once cherished for the unfortunate Sascha.
Shortly after her arrival in the capital, Olga was stricken with typhoid fever. Her brother Ilyich hurried to her, but it was too late. He had the sad mission of bringing her body home to Samara.
The mother's grief was pitiful. Ilyich, impatient of the stuffy provinciality of Samara, had been planning to leave home for the great world of St. Petersburg. He stayed on in Samara for another year, comforting his mother as best he could.
In the spring of 1893 the younger brother, Mitya, was ready for college. He wanted to go to Moscow to study medicine. It was decided that the family should move there.
By this time Marya Alexandrovna had grown stronger and more cheerful. Reluctantly she agreed when Vladimir Ilyich said that he would not accompany them but would go to St. Petersburg, as he had planned.
To soothe his mother's fears, he spoke of the greater 'opportunities there for the practice of law. He did not tell what by this time was his firm conviction: that only in the capital, stronghold of tsarism, was there place and opportunity for a determined young revolutionist.
VLADIMIR ILYICH arrived in St. Petersburg in the autumn of 1893. He found himself a furnished room and rented desk space in a law office. Every newcomer to the city had to register with the police and state his occupation. By paying a small sum for office rent, Ilyich was able to establish himself as a respectable professional man. Except for the free advice he sometimes gave to workers, there is no record of his practising law then, or ever again. He had other work to do.
In St. Petersburg, with its many factories, Marxian socialism was making progress under the very noses of the tsar's secret police. Plekhanov, before he escaped to Switzerland, had organized a small but determined group calling itself "The Union for the Struggle for Freeing the Working Class."
The Union devoted itself primarily to teaching the literate factory workers to read. Classes were organized, meeting on Sundays when the men were free. The factory owners tolerated these classes, and even approved them. On the surface, nothing could have seemed more harmless.
Ilyich soon found and visited one of these Sunday classes. He was delighted with what he found there. The teaching, mostly done by young men and women from the public-school system, was genuine enough. Grown men, who had had no opportunity to learn the intricate Russian alphabet in their youth, were certainly learning to read. But they were learning to listen, too. For when the lesson was over and the innocent primer put by, a speaker would address them. He talked of their wrongs, and of the power that lay in their hands.
Vladimir Ilyich was welcomed as a speaker. He had a gift for direct, simple exposition, making his meaning clear in homely words that even the dullest could understand. Some of the enthusiastic intellectuals made the mistake of talking over the heads of the workers, but never did. Before the winter ended, he was the most popular of the Sunday-evening lecturers.
He was popular, too, with the teachers, the circle of young radicals who had initiated the movement. They were an interesting group. Inspired by Plekhanov, they studied Marx in classes of their own, and then went to the workers to pass on the doctrine they had absorbed.
They were schoolteachers, professional men, writers and students. At this period all of them were "clean" that is, not suspected of subversive activities. They carried on their underground work in an exciting spirit of melodrama, glorying in secret grips and passwords. They had access to an illegal printing press, where they printed pamphlets and handbills for distribution at factory gates. The distributors adopted elaborate disguises. It was all done in deadly earnestness, but they must have had fun, too.
On the evening of Shrove Tuesday, in 1894, a group of the comrades met at the house of Klasson, an engineer. The occasion was a pancake party, the traditional Russian festivity that ushers in the forty days of Lent. Pancakes there were, and hot tea from the inexhaustible samovar, but the party itself was only one of those blinds in which the circle delighted. This was an executive session, at which grave questions of policy must be decided.
What those questions were, and what decisions were made, do not matter now. Klasson's pancake party is remembered for one thing only. At the party, Ilyich met for the first time a quiet-mannered dark-eyed girl, one of the "Sunday School teachers." Her name was Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya.
Nadezhda, like Ilyich, came from a middle-class family. She was exceptionally well educated for a Russian woman of her day. She had been an ardent socialist from the age of fourteen. The organization of the Sunday classes was largely her work. She was a brilliant scholar, but very modest, preferring always to remain in the background. Her face was strong rather than beautiful. She had never had a sweetheart. Her friends were convinced that she would not marry but would devote her life to the cause.
Nadezhda Krupskaya was to become Ilyich's wife. It would be romantic to think that they fell in love at their first meeting at the pancake party. The unromantic truth is that each impressed the other very strongly--as a valuable worker for the revolution. They quickly became friends and good comrades. Ilyich made other friends among the circle, some of them girls. There is no reason to suppose that Nadezhda meant any more to him than the others.
The Emancipation of Labor group, as they called themselves for short, were in constant touch with their exiled leader. Ilyich shared their veneration for Plekhanov. Years later he said, "Never in my life have I regarded any man with such respect." When the group decided that it was necessary to send someone to discuss their problems with Plekhanov in person, he gladly volunteered for the task.
He left St. Petersburg in April, 1895, and spent several months abroad. Of his first meeting with Plekhanov we have no record, but others of the refugee colony seem to have liked him. He visited Austria, France, and Germany before his return. Everywhere he found that the socialist movement was growing. He came back to Russia convinced that only a strong organization was needed to prepare his country for the revolution that would sweep the world.
Back in the capital, he threw himself into the work with new vigor. They must have a newspaper, he declared, that would keep the comrades in touch with each other. He had half a dozen articles ready for the first number before he discovered that, although they had a printing press and type, there was no printer's ink.
Someone found some ink. The press was set up in a deserted cellar. One of the group, a dentist, was a police spy. Under his direction, the police watched from across the street. Working together, the comrades set the type and operated the ancient hand press. Workers' Affairs, Issue No. I, was the proud title of the little sheet. As the first copy was pulled from the press, the spy gave the signal.
The police burst in and arrested everyone in sight. The others, after questioning, were sent home. But V. I. Ulyanov, editor, was led away to the city jail.
He was held for a year before being tried. Being in jail is not a particularly pleasant experience, but Ilyich suffered no hardships. He had a large, light room, comfortably furnished with a desk and armchair. His sister Anyuta, now married and living in the city, was allowed to visit him, and his mother came several times from Moscow. They brought him clothing, tea, bed linen, and small comforts to make the cell homelike. In the peace and quiet of prison he wrote his first book, The Development of Capitalism in Russia. He received permission to have reference works brought in. By means of these books, sent in and out of prison, he carried on a secret correspondence with the Emancipation of Labor group.
The method was ingenious. He wrote on the fly leaves of the books, dipping a clean pen in milk. "Inkwells" he made from bread. If a guard came in unexpectedly, he found the prisoner innocently eating bread and milk. One day, he complained to his sister, he had had to eat six "inkwells."
The writing faded to invisibility as the milk dried, but could be restored by holding it over a flame. The answering letters, written in the same way on the fly leaves of incoming books, presented a difficulty, for prisoners had no access to open fires. Ilyich discovered that he could bring out the writing by dipping the pages in scalding hot tea.
This method of communication, which the guards never discovered, had one drawback. It was intolerably slow. Books could only be delivered and taken away by visitors. The only visitors he was allowed were members of his family. Anyuta, who was herself suspected of revolutionary tendencies, was not allowed to come too often.
Ilyich thought it over and evolved a plan. In a letter smuggled out to the circle, he suggested that one of the girls ask permission to visit him as his fiancée. He did not name any particular girl, stipulating only that she be someone whom the police did not suspect.
The comrades held a conference. After some discussion, it was decided that Nadezhda, well-dressed, ladylike, a little prim, was exactly the person to pull the wool over police eyes. She went to the authorities and told them that she was engaged to marry the political prisoner Ulyanov. With no trouble at all she received permission to visit him.
Now that communication was freely established, Ilyich went on calmly and competently directing organization from his prison cell. Nadezhda was of invaluable help to him. She translated and brought to him the pamphlets of foreign socialists, gathered statistics for his book, reported on the work of the circle, carried back his instructions. In the year that Ilyich spent in prison, the movement gained strength and power.
At the end of the year he was brought before the judge. The sentence was three years' exile in southern Siberia. He was allowed a few days' freedom to go to Moscow to see his mother. He was also permitted to travel to Siberia at his own expense, without a guard.
One may wonder why so many privileges were allowed to a dangerous man. The reason probably was that Ilyich did not look dangerous. The tsar's police, like everybody else, conceived of a revolutionist as a wild-eyed anarchist, bewhiskered and defiant, with a bomb under each arm. Vladimir Ilyich's "respectability," so thoroughly drilled into him by his mother, was an asset now. He was always neatly dressed, with clean linen and well-brushed coat. His hair and short Vandyke beard were smoothly trimmed. He looked like a professor or a bank clerk. He spoke quietly and courteously, with a scholar's choice of words. The police officials, priding themselves that they knew the criminal type, saw nothing in him to menace the tsar's peace.
As soon as he was released, Ilyich held a hurried meeting with the comrades. Only one thing marred the pleasure of the reunion. A few days before, Nadezhda had managed to get herself arrested. Her offense had nothing to do with her visits to the prison but was a matter of handing out seditious leaflets at a factory gate. She was still in custody, so that Ilyich had to leave for Siberia without saying goodby to his "fiancee."
TOWARD THE END Of May, 1897, Ilyich arrived at his place of exile, a Siberian village called Shushenskoye.
The village lay on a tributary of the Yenesei River, within sight of the snow-covered Saiyan Mountains. It was far enough south to have a mild climate. The scenery reminded Ilyich of Switzerland. He rented a room in a comfortable log house, where four rubles a month covered lodging, food, laundry, and mending.
The government allowed him eight rubles a month to keep himself. He was not under guard nor subject to forced labor. Once a month he had to report at the local Police station. He was forbidden to leave the district without permission. His time was absolutely his own, to do with as he pleased. He spent it studying and writing, finding his recreation in hunting trips to the surrounding forest.
Ilyich's life in Shushenskoye was very different from the grim picture usually associated with Siberian exile. In the far north, political prisoners labored hopelessly in the salt mines, urged on by the merciless knout. Men died of cold and starvation there, or went mad in their shackles. The description of their sufferings, so vividly painted in Tolstoy's Resurrection, is not exaggerated.
That Ilyich escaped such a fate was partly his good luck and partly, it must be admitted, the working of tsarist justice. That justice was corrupt and faulty, but it did make some sort of distinction between accomplished acts and mere intentions. The northern prisoners were condemned, sometimes wrongfully, for assassinating officials, leading strikes, or publicly denouncing the government.
Compared to these, Ilyich's offense was a minor one. The newspaper he had been preparing to issue was stopped at the press. His articles, cautiously worded and calm in tone, certainly did not incite to immediate violence. The judge must have felt that it was punishment enough to send him to a remote village, where he could do no harm.
His case was not unique. Throughout southern Siberia, "mild" revolutionists were scattered, allowed a fair degree of freedom so long as they did not attempt to return to Russia. There were two other exiles in Shushenskoye. One was a young Finnish workman who had taken part in a strike and made the mistake of swearing at a policeman. The other, Prominski, was a Polish socialist.
Both these men were subjects of the tsar, since Finland and Poland were parts of the Russian empire. But the two states were permitted some degree of self-government, and their national pride remained strong. No Finn or Pole would dream of calling himself a Russian.
Ilyich settled himself comfortably in the village and went on with his book. Since his mail was censored, he devised elaborate ciphers and secret devices to keep ill contact with the St. Petersburg circle. Through them he learned that Nadezhda Krupskaya had also been sentenced to three years' Siberian exile.
Immediately a thought came to him. There was nothing he needed so much as an intelligent secretary. An economic treatise such as he was writing requires endless labor. A secretary could look up references for him, check statistics, translate foreign sources. Nadezhda, with her wide knowledge, splendid mind, and selfless devotion to the cause, would be exactly the right person.
He wrote at once, urging that Nadezhda do everything possible to induce the authorities to name Shushenskoye as her place of exile.
She had been distressed at the thought of a three years interruption of her work. She accepted Ilyich's suggestion immediately and hurried off to present her petition.
She found the judge in a genial mood. Her request to be allowed to join her "fiancee" aroused his sympathy. He could see, he told her, how separation from her beloved was tearing at her heartstrings. Ah, yes, he sighed, he too had been young once and madly in love. He knew how these things were.
Nadezhda blushed and smiled, trying her best to play the part of a lovesick maiden. The judge looked at his papers and hemmed and hawed. There was a difficulty, he explained. The policy was to keep the exiles separated, so they would not get together and hatch new plots. Shushenskoye was a small village. There were three prisoners there already. The judge did not think the regulations would permit his sending a fourth.
Nadezhda's heart sank. The dark eyes she fixed on the judge were brimming with tears. Under their influence, his tender heart relented. There might be a way around the regulations, he admitted.
It was all very simple. As everyone knows, man and wife are one. If she were to marry her Ilyich immediately upon her arrival, the number of prisoners would not be increased. The kindly judge, delighted with his role of Cupid, beamed at her and waited for her thanks.
There was nothing to do but thank him. He made out the papers then and there. She left with an order commanding her, in the tsar's name, to proceed to tile village of Shushenskoye, and there, without delay, to contract holy matrimony with one V. I. Ulyanov.
A great mass of Lenin's correspondence has been preserved. It does not include the letter in which Nadezhda broke the news of their impending marriage, or his reply. In her own book, Memories of Lenin, she tells us nothing. We have only the bare fact that in the spring of 1898, when Ilyich had been in Shushenskoye for a year, Nadezhda and her mother joined him there. They were married as soon as local arrangements could be made.
It was a strange marriage, but a very successful one. For both of them comradely regard deepened into tender devotion as the years went by. Nadezhda, for all her brilliant gifts, lacked the quality of leadership. In Ilyich she had found a leader to follow, to serve with all her mind and heart. She contributed immeasurably to his greatness, and she lived contentedly in his shadow.
The new family moved to half a house, with kitchen garden attached. No household help was available, and Nadezhda was never much of a housekeeper. The little home was made livable by the valiant efforts of Elisaveta Krupskaya, Nadezhda's mother.
Mother Elisaveta was not much of a housekeeper either. But since her daughter and son-in-law were endlessly occupied with their writing, someone had to struggle with the old-fashioned stove, had to cook the soup and dumplings and keep the house clean. Mother Elisaveta made the simple rooms charming with bright hand-woven mats she bought from the peasants, trimming the bare walls with green fir boughs. She planted cucumbers, carrots, and beets in the garden, rejoicing as any city gardener must when vegetables actually appeared.
Elisaveta Krupskaya was a simple, devout woman, with no interest in revolutionary activities. She was fond of her son-in-law, and deeply attached to her daughter. Her one ambition, to become a grandmother, was never achieved, for Nadezhda had no children. But wherever she went, Mother Elisaveta was "granny" to all the children in the neighborhood.
In Shushenskoye she quickly made friends with the village youngsters. She inquired of them where she could get a kitten, for, as she said firmly, "A home is not a home until there's a cat by the stove." Every child, it seemed, had a kitten to spare. Elisaveta chose the handsomest of them, a tiger-striped Tom which shared the family wanderings for many years.
The last two years of Ilyich's exile passed quickly and pleasantly. In February, 1900, the family left the village. Nadezhda had still a year to serve, but she had permission to finish her sentence in Ufa, a large town in the Urals. Ilyich escorted her and her mother there and left them.
He went to St. Petersburg and promptly got himself arrested as a suspicious character. He was soon released, but he knew that his every movement was watched. He decided to go abroad for a time.
He went to Switzerland, to the village of Corsior, near Geneva, where George Plekhanov lived. Ilyich had a plan to discuss with the man he regarded as his leader.
He meant to found a magazine to be called Iskra (The Spark). He had already talked it over with the St. Petersburg group, who thought highly of it. Ilyich had devoted a great deal of thought to the magazine's contents. He had prepared several articles, interpreting Karl Marx to Russian workers.
He found his hero surrounded by an admiring circle. Plekhanov, a man of great knowledge and intelligence, was incurably vain. On all matters connected with socialism he considered himself the supreme authority. For years he had lived in the little Swiss town, sending out his pamphlets and manifestoes, always deferred to and never contradicted. He was well accustomed to receiving visitors who came as pilgrims to a shrine.
Ilyich, burning with enthusiasm to get his project under way, did not approach Plekhanov with the proper degree of reverence. "We have decided to print this or that," he told the great man. Or, even worse, "I have decided."
Plekhanov reacted as might have been expected. He was especially irritated by Ilyich's confident undertaking to interpret Karl Marx. He, Plekhanov, had been interpreting Marx for years. It might even be said that, as far as Russians were concerned, he had discovered Karl Marx. To Plekhanov it can only have seemed that here was a young upstart bent on toppling him from his pedestal.
Vera Zasulich, one of Plekhanov's devoted followers, did her best to patch things up. In the end Plekhanov grudgingly endorsed the plan of the magazine. Ilyich went off to Munich, where some sympathetic socialist printers had agreed to publish it.
Iskra concerned itself with the Russian section of a revolution that was to be continent-wide, embracing the working class of all Europe. This was in accordance with Marx's teachings. Revolution, he wrote, should know no national boundaries. The first task was to build a strong socialist party in every European country, ready to strike on all fronts when the time was ripe.
For the building of the party, small magazines and newspapers were springing up in every language. Germany, Marx's homeland, had dozens of them. Most socialists believed that Germany would be the starting point of the revolution. The Munich comrades who took on the printing of Iskra were, they believed, merely lending a helping hand in common cause.
From the first, Iskra was in great demand. It was smuggled into Russia in a variety of ways. Copies were wrapped around bales of fish sent inland by Finnish fishermen. Cooks on the French and Italian boats to Black Sea ports wrapped bundles of them in oilcloth and dropped them overboard in harbors. A great part of Ilyich's work was the organization of "contacts," persons who would make themselves responsible for receiving and distributing the smuggled periodicals.
At about this period Ilyich's own life went underground. He had left Russia with a legal passport, made out in his own name of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov. He was never officially to use that name again. His Iskra articles are signed "Nikolai Lenin." In Munich he obtained a Bulgarian passport made out to a "Dr. Jordanov." In the next seventeen years he was to use innumerable false names and forged passports.
There were two reasons for this renunciation of his own name. One was his own safety. He had long since resolved that he would live for the revolution, not die for it. The other reason was the safety of his old mother.
His sisters and brother, engaged in revolutionary activities themselves, were frequently arrested. They, like their brother, made use of false names. All the children lived in dread that the tsarist police would take reprisals against the harmless old lady. This was by no means an uncommon practice. Conspirators who maintained a sullen silence could often be made to speak on the threat that some innocent loved one would suffer.
This fear may have been baseless in Marya Alexandrovna's case, for the younger Ulyanovs were not very successful in concealing their identity, and their mother soon became a familiar figure to the police of St. Petersburg and Moscow. When a child of hers was arrested, nothing could stop the dauntless old soul from hurrying off to the jail with extra clothing and blankets. She was insulted and made fun of, but never taken into custody.
Her son Ilyich, better known than his sisters and brother, and rightly regarded as far more dangerous, took no chances. Lenin he became, and Lenin he remained. It is the name under which he is enshrined in his massive red tomb, and in the hearts of his countrymen.
Early in 1901 Nadezhda completed her exile and was allowed to leave Ufa. She took her mother to St. Petersburg, settling her with relatives there. According to the last letter Nadezhda had had, her husband was in Prague. She set off to find him.
At Prague she was told that he had never been there. The address was simply a link in the devious chain of underground communication. They gave her another street and number in Munich.
Nadezhda hurried to the German city. This last address proved to be a beer hall in the workers' section. They had told her to ask for a Herr Rittmeyer. He was the bartender. He called his wife, who guided the weary traveler through the back yard and into a big empty house, bearded up and plastered with "For Sale" signs. Only one darkened room was furnished. There, at last, Nadezhda found her husband.
All these precautions were necessary. The kaiser's police were as alert to revolutionary danger as those of the tsar, and the Germans were rather more efficient. Lenin was expert at throwing the police off his track. The whole technique of underground living, so widely employed by patriots in World War II, was a familiar process to the socialists of the early 1900's.
THE NEXT FEW YEARS Lenin and his wife spent in various European cities, moving from Munich to London to Paris, as necessity dictated.
Nadezhda's mother joined them. In wretched furnished rooms, in cold-water flats or leaky attics Mother Elisaveta did her best to make a home for them. She was handicapped by the need for rigid economy.
Their only income was Lenin's salary as editor of Iskra. This could not have been large in any case, but he himself fixed it by a rule from which he never departed. The head of any enterprise, he declared, should receive no more and no less than the wage paid to the lowest worker. This set his editorial salary at that of the least-skilled printer. When, 86 years later, all the resources of the Russian empire came into his hands, he lived scrupulously and modestly on the pay of a government employee.
His chief concern in this period was the organization of a strong revolutionary party. The copies of Iskra, distributed throughout Russia, were making enthusiastic converts.
Some of these converts were more dangerous than the police, for there was no way of assuring that they would be men of judgment and discretion. Trusted agents inside Russia had the delicate job of sifting out these new comrades, choosing those who seemed reliable and discouraging the others. Mistakes were made, naturally. The party's own agents sometimes cracked under questioning or yielded to bribes.
This process of organization was difficult, nerve-racking, and deadly dull. To Lenin it was of supreme importance. He was not impatient to see the day of revolution dawn. Better to wait five years, ten years, or a lifetime, rather than strike too soon and fail.
Fortunately, this willingness to wait was shared by the other exiles. It was almost the only point of agreement, for on every other issue the board of Iskra squabbled constantly.
Lenin was by no means the acknowledged leader at this time. Plekhanov's name was more widely known, and he had a larger personal following. The group that centered around him fiercely resented what seemed to them an attempt to wrest the leadership from his hands. Lenin's only important supporter was Martov, a St. Petersburg comrade of the Emancipation of Labor group.
In 1902, while Iskra was being published in London, Lenin and Martov were glad to welcome a newcomer on their side. Lev Bronstein, better known as Leon Trotsky, had just escaped from Siberia in a most romantic fashion. He reached London with a breathless story of adventure to tell. He was twenty-three, good-looking, a brilliant orator and writer. He brought a letter from comrades in Samara. It said, "A young eagle will come among you."
Lenin, like everyone else, was impressed by the "young eagle." He had a serious talk with him and was pleased with his grasp of important questions. It was something of a triumph when Trotsky, instead of joining Plekhanov's disciples, aligned himself with Lenin and Martov.
Personal difficulties within the group increased as time went on. Everyone looked forward to the party congress, to be held at Brussels in 1903. There, it was felt, the questions that so divided the exiles could be threshed out before representatives of the entire party. It would be a relief to have, not Plekhanov's opinion or Lenin's opinion, but an official vote on matters of policy.
The congress of the Russian Social Democratic Party assembled in Brussels late in July. There were fifty-seven delegates. Many of them had traveled from Russia in disguise, carrying forged passports. The meeting was highly illegal. The Belgian government, on the friendliest terms with imperial Russia, could not for a moment have countenanced such a gathering.
The best meeting place the committee could obtain was an abandoned warehouse. Nadezhda brought quilts from her bed to hang over the broken windows, lest the feeble light of their candles shine out and betray them. Rats scurried across the crumbling floors. The speaker's desk was an empty flour barrel. There were no chairs.
The first session, held after dark fell, was devoted to examining credentials. When it was over, the members left in groups of two or three, hoping not to attract attention. However, they found the street outside swarming with Belgian detectives. Two of the delegates were arrested and afterward deported to Russia.
Now that the meeting place was known, the congress did not dare continue sessions in the warehouse. It was decided that the delegates should separate, making their way by different routes to London, where they would resume deliberations.
In London they engaged a hall over a tavern, representing themselves as a Russian singing society. The tavernkeeper let them have the hall very cheaply, counting on selling them a great deal of beer to moisten their throats between songs.
In this the landlord was disappointed. The committee had had a hard enough time scraping together the rent for the hall. There was no money for beer.
Nor, as it turned out, was there much singing. It is true that the convention heard for the first time the "Internationale," afterward to become the official anthem of the revolution. An unidentified comrade had brought it from Paris, where the French socialists had already adopted it. Copies were passed around among the delegates, of whom only a few read French and fewer still read music. It is a historic fact that the "Internationale" was sung at the London congress. The less said about the performance the better.
There were graver issues before them. The first one was the question of qualification for party membership. It brought about a split, not between Lenin and Plekhanov, as might have been expected, but between Lenin and his good friends Martov and Trotsky.
Lenin contended that only those persons should be admitted to the party who would pledge themselves to work actively for the revolution--a relatively small group, with everyone assigned a definite task. Plekhanov supported him in this view.
Martov, on the other hand, was for opening the ranks of the party to "well-wishers," "fellow-travelers,'' and everyone who expressed sympathy with its aims. The larger the membership the better, he contended. Trotsky took his stand with Martov. After weeks of discussing the question was put to the vote. Plekhanov threw his strength to Lenin, and the Lenin plan was carried. It was a victory of the majority, for which the Russian word is Bolsheviki. The Mensheviki, or minority, accepted the will of the convention. On the surface, it did not appear that any harm had been done.
The harsh words and bitterness that had marked the settlement of the first question carried over into the next. This was the election of Iskra's editorial board.
Iskra owed its beginning and its subsequent growth to Lenin's unremitting efforts. Naturally enough he felt that his should continue to be the guiding hand. In his newfound harmony with Plekhanov, he was glad when the old leader was renominated. And because, in spite of differences, he still liked and respected Martov, he himself proposed the Menshevik leader as the third editor.
The new board was elected, and the congress broke up. Lenin, Plekhanov, Martov, and a number of others returned to Geneva.
There the quarreling, which had not been too restrained on the floor of the convention, broke out with new fierceness. Martov flatly refused to serve on the board with Lenin. Plekhanov, reverting to his old attitude of suspicion, accused Lenin of trying to snatch supreme power. Unpleasantness grew until Lenin ended the hopeless situation by resigning.
He lingered through the spring in Switzerland, sick at heart. Although he sometimes found Plekhanov's attitude trying, Lenin's deep respect for the old leader had never wavered. Martov, a younger man, had been a dear friend. Lenin had disagreed with him often enough, but always on minor matters, soon forgotten. It was utterly incomprehensible to him that these two comrades should turn against him. He himself, although he had fought for his convictions before the congress, had taken no part in the bitter personal quarrels that raged there. He was quite capable of sternly opposing tile ideas of a friend, without feeling any lessening of friendship. He was never able to understand that this is a rare gift, not shared by many.
The strain of the congress and its consequences affected Lenin's nerves. Under Nadezhda's anxious eyes he lost weight, suffered from sleeplessness, and had no appetite. Cut off from Iskra, which had been his preoccupation for so long, he found that time hung heavily.
The devoted wife remembered days of discouragement in Siberia. She remembered the one cure that had never failed. She got out the old knapsacks and told her husband they were going on a walking tour.
For over a month they wandered on foot among the Swiss lakes and mountains. They kept off the tourist paths, stopping at little inns used by the peasants. Sometimes they slept in the fields under the stars. Nadezhda allowed only one book, a volume of poetry. She refused to let him see a newspaper or to talk politics with anyone they met.
The effect was all that she had hoped. The old light came back to his eyes. With new vigor he began making plans again.
They'd taken Iskra away from him, had they? Very well. There was only one thing to do. A new paper must be started. The men who had stood with him at the congress, the Bolsheviks, would support him.
Martov was the self-proclaimed leader of the Mensheviki, but Plekhanov had supported the Bolsheviki. If a Bolshevik paper were started, Lenin hoped that Plekhanov would not hold aloof. He decided to start it, however, without consulting him. Lenin's eyes had been opened by the petty bickering of men he had believed above pettiness. From this time on he was convinced, rightly or wrongly, that the success of the cause was his own responsibility.
The new periodical, Vperiod, or Forward, was a magazine, somewhat more pretentious than Iskra. The first number was published in Switzerland, on the very eve of the 1905 Revolution, the first Russian revolution of Lenin's time.
NICHOLAS II, last of the Romanov tsars, was no worse than his predecessors, and better than many oi them. He believed implicitly in his divine right to govern. Any attempt to question that right, or even to limit it, he regarded as an offense not only against the throne, but against Heaven, which had ordained it. In this view he was ardently supported by the Russian Orthodox Church.
From childhood Nicholas had been extremely pious. Under the influence of his wife, that piety led him into a bog of mysticism and superstition that is simply incredible to modern minds.
The Tsaritsa Alexandra, born a German princess and educated in England, became a convert to the Russian state church on her marriage. The ceremonies are stately and awe-inspiring. Alexandra was impressed by them, and particularly by the strong belief in present-day miracles stressed in Orthodox doctrine.
As the years of her married life sped by, the poor lady found herself more and more in need of a miracle.
The wife of the tsar took no part in government. She had one obligation, and only one, but it was supremely important in Russian eyes. Hers was the duty of providing an heir to the throne. An heir, not an heiress, for the tsar's daughters were barred from the succession.
The tsaritsa lived in luxurious idleness, loaded with jewels, moving at her whim from one beautiful palace to another. If her maid pulled her hair in combing it, she could have the girl beaten, or imprisoned. She often wore a costly Paris gown only once, and then discarded it. She had a priceless collection of furs. For perfumes alone she spent forty thousand rubles in one year. All she was expected to do, in return for these luxuries and privileges, was to become the mother of a son.
When a royal child was born, the news was communicated to the people of the capital by an artillery salute from the fortress of Saints Peter and Paul. Twenty-one cannon bursts meant that the baby was a girl. For a son a hundred and twenty rounds were fired.
Four times, between 1896 and 1904, the people crowded the square before the palace, breathlessly counting the booms. Four times the guns thundered twenty-one times, and stopped there. Four pale little princesses crept meekly about the palace, knowing themselves unwanted.
Alexandra brooded over her misfortune and took her troubles to her favorite priest. He told her that she must pray more, have more faith. Money gifts to the various shrines would help, too, and pilgrimages to distant shrines.
Eagerly the tsaritsa tried everything he recommended. She and her husband made a pious pilgrimage to the grave of St. Seraphim at Sarov, bringing a silver coffin for the saint's remains. Twelve abbots carried the coffin. Alexandra crept to the grave on her knees, scattering gold pieces to the beggars who followed her.
In the year after the St. Seraphim pilgrimage, her miracle was vouchsafed to her. The tsaritsa gave birth to a son, the Grand Duke Alexis.
Alexandra's frantic rejoicing was shortlived. Soon the court doctors had to tell her the dread news that her little son was a hemophiliac, or "bleeder."
Hemophilia is a fairly common disease for which science has found no cure. The blood does not coagulate, be that it is impossible to stop bleeding from the smallest wound. Hemophiliacs have bled to death from a cut finger or a pin scratch.
The best doctors, summoned from all over Europe, could do nothing for little Alexis. Their only recommendation was that precaution be used to see that he received no wound.
This precaution was carried to fantastic lengths. Not only were no pins allowed in the baby's clothing or that of his nurses, but the nurses were forbidden to use hairpins. Carpets were taken up and relaid over a layer of feathers, so that any fall would be softened. Every sharp edge was padded.
When he grew old enough to leave the nursery, the little boy was carried about in the arms of a giant sailor from the Baltic fleet. European diplomats, seeing a six-year-old child carried like a baby, wrote home that the tsar's son was a cripple. This was not true. The unhappy tsarevich could walk as well as anyone. His mother would not allow him to do it because he might fall and scrape his knee. For Alexis, a scraped knee might mean death.
What little common sense the tsaritsa had ever had deserted her now. Again she was in need of a miracle. In wild desperation, she sought for the magic that would take this affliction from her little one. She again began the round of pilgrimages and prayers. When they did not avail, she turned to a man of mystery who promised everything.
Gregory Rasputin was a Siberian monk, or ex-monk, about whose early life many scandalous tales are told. He turned up in St. Petersburg, proclaiming himself able to perform such miracles as man had never seen. Soon after his arrival he established himself at the court as spiritual adviser to the tsaritsa.
Alexandra's former advisers had been sincerely religious priests, although some of them were bigoted and superstitious. Rasputin had no present connection with the church. The gospel he preached was his own, a weird blend of nonsense and fantasy. He is supposed to have practised hypnotism, and also to have used certain mysterious drugs in the "treatment" of his victims. The ascendancy he gained over the royal family was one of the chief factors in the misfortune that was hastening toward them.
Had Nicholas had but the wit to see it, misfortune was threatening even in the unhappy year of his son's birth. 1904 was the first black year of the Russo-Japanese War, when Russia saw her "invincible" army go down in crushing defeat before the little men of the Rising Sun who had Pretended friendliness until they saw their chance to strike.
The war, damaging to Russia's prestige abroad, had grave consequences at home. Men were called to the colors from the factories. They were taught to use the new magazine rifle, to aim hand grenades. In camp and on the march they had a chance to compare their grievances with brother workers from all over the empire. The meekest of them were not as willing as before to return to their long hours of ill-paid toil.
The vast masses of Russian workers trusted and reverenced the tsar. He was their Little Father, divinely appointed to heal their hurts and right their wrongs. Their employers might be cruel, greedy men with no thought but to sweat the last kopeck of profit from the toil of the poor. The tsar was different. If wrong was done to his children, it could only be because the Little Father did not know. To simple souls, it seemed the logical thing to tell him.
On Sunday, January 9, 1905, a crowd of workmen poured out of the St. Petersburg slums. Many of them were armless or legless veterans. There was not a whole pair of shoes among them. Feet were wrapped in birchbark or in rags, and many were bare in the winter snow. The day was so bitterly cold that a pile of logs was burning in the street before the palace, to warm the furwrapped coachmen of visiting nobles inside.
The workers brought their women and children, that the Little Father might see for himself how thin and sickly a man's family grows on the prevailing wage. They brought the holy pictures and saints' banners from the pariah churches, and they were led by a priest, Father George Gapon. This was no revolutionary demonstration. It was exactly what it appeared to be, a humble pilgrimage of humble men to beg the gracious help of their all-powerful lord.
Holding high their crosses and church banners, chanting one of the lovely old hymns of the Orthodox faith, they came on until they reached the palace gates. Here, without parley and without warning, they were greeted by a burst of gunfire. Mounted Cossack guards charged through the crowd, their horses' hoofs trampling down terrified mothers with wailing babies in their arms. Before the hour ended, two hundred ragged bodies lay sprawled in the snow, never to rise again.
One stumbling block had long lain in the path of Lenin and his fellow revolutionaries. This was the obstinate faith that the ignorant workers had in the tsar. Patiently it bad been pointed out to them that the oppression under which they suffered could not exist without the tsar's approval. The Little Father could not know, they maintained. Once he knew, he would make everything right.
The Bloody Sunday massacre opened the eyes of these loyal subjects. It had occurred directly under the palace windows. Even the stupidest of them could no longer contend that the tsar did not know how his children were treated. Having reached this point, they could only go on to conclude that he did not care.
Here was fertile ground for revolutionary agitation. There were plenty of agitators in St. Petersburg, and they lost no time.
Other uprisings followed. They were neither so harmless nor so easily dealt with as the Sunday demonstration. A wave of strikes swept the country. Workers poured through the factory gates, bringing their tools as weapons. Real weapons, rides and hand grenades, appeared mysteriously in the hands of returned soldiers. Strikes so paralyzed railway and telegraph communications that the capital had no knowledge of what was going on in the provinces. No rumor was too wild to be believed. Count Witte, the prime minister, told the tsar that Russia had gone mad.
Throughout the spring and summer the madness raged. Factories were closed, or manned by unwilling men working sullenly under the menace of red bayonets. The prisons overflowed. In the Far East, where the Russo-Japanese War dragged on, there was rebellious muttering in the ranks. The sailors of the battleship Potemkin mutinied and took the ship into Odessa harbor, to be greeted with wild cheers by the townspeople.
To Lenin's comrades inside Russia it seemed that the revolution was here. They sent out urgent letters to him and to all the other exiles, begging them to return. The people were on the march, they wrote, and calling out for leaders.
Lenin responded to the call and left Geneva for his native land in November, 1905. For nearly two years he crossed and recrossed Russia on secret journeys from one industrial town to another, doing his best to strengthen the revolt and bring it to full accomplishment.
Under his direction guerrilla squads were organized, armed with revolvers, bombs, rags soaked in kerosene for starting fires, nails to disable cavalry horses, spades for digging trenches. Wherever a strike showed signs of collapsing, the guerrillas hurried to the scene. Sometimes they routed the armed police or the regular army forces assigned to drive workers back to their jobs. More often, as the Little Father grimly organized his war upon his children, the partisans died at the factory gates.
The 1905 Revolution was not of Lenin's making. The last thing he wanted was a premature uprising. Not until organization was complete, he had insisted, must the blow be struck. First of all there must be a strong party, disciplined and united, with a clear objective and complete agreement on ways and means.
Such a situation was far from existing in 1905. There were half a dozen revolutionary parties, with widely differing programs. One labor group asked nothing but the right to organize into trade unions. The liberal intellectuals considered the formation of a Duma, or parliament, the supreme aim. Even the factory owners had their own program, based on cutting down taxes. Now that the revolution was on, everyone wanted to gain something by it, without regard to the wishes of anyone else.
To Lenin's clear cool common sense it was soon apparent that this was not the revolution he had hoped for. For it to succeed would have been a miracle; and unlike the luckless tsaritsa, Lenin did not believe in miracles. Nevertheless, since it had begun, he threw himself heart and soul into the struggle. It was not his fault that the 1905 Revolution failed.
There were those who did not see it as a failure, but as a success. The tsar was frightened into permitting the election of a Duma, whereby the people's representatives would have some small part in their government. The right to form trade unions, under rigid supervision, was granted. By imperial decree, wages were increased and working hours shortened. Workers were permitted to have their soviets, or councils, to hear individual complaints and present them to the employers.
By the end of November, 1907, the last concession had been made and order restored. The tsar's police were mopping up now, finding and arresting the last of the "instigators to violence."
Lenin, who had instigated as much violence as any dozen men, slipped over into Finland, there to take steamer for Stockholm. In the Finnish port of Helsinki, he saw the dock patrolled by two detectives who knew him well. He would certainly be arrested as he approached the ship.
A Finnish fisherman came to his rescue, suggesting that he cross over the ice to a small island where the steamer stopped to take on mail. It was an all-night hike, cold and dangerous. Once the thin ice cracked under his feet. "I thought," he wrote afterward," 'So this is how I die. Well, it's a pretty silly way.' "
He did not die. Shivering with cold, defeated, penniless, alone, he plodded on until he reached the ship. The revolution was dead, and with it all the high hopes he had brought from Switzerland. But the unquenchable courage of Lenin lived on. "The day is not yet," he told himself with determined cheerfulness. "But it will come. Oh, certainly, it will come!"