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Russian History: XX century

Russian History: XIX entury

Krupskaya's Reminiscences of Lenin

Ilyich told me of a visit which Mirbach paid him. The sentry outside Ilyich's office usually sat at a little table, reading a book. In those days no one saw anything peculiar in it. When peace with Germany was concluded and the German Ambassador, Count Mirbach, arrived in Russia, he paid the customary visit to the representative of the government in the Kremlinthe Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars Lenin. The sentry outside Ilyich's room was sitting and reading, and when Mirbach approached the door he did not even look up. Mirbach glanced at him in surprise. Afterwards, on coming out, Mirbach stopped next to the seated sentry, took the book he was reading, and asked his interpreter to translate the title for him. The book was a translation of Bebel's Die Frau und der Sozialismus. Mirbach returned it to the sentry without saying a word.

The Red Army men were studying hard. They realized that knowledge was needful for victory.

In passing down the corridor to his office with his hurried step, carrying an armful of newspapers, books and papers, Ilyich always had a friendly greeting for the guards. He was aware of their enthusiasm, of their readiness to die for the Soviets.

At the Seventh Party Congress (March 6-8, 1918) it had been decided to conclude peace with the Germans, albeit it was an onerous and humiliating peace. That decision had been the outcome of a bitter struggle. The speaker on the question of ratifying the peace treaty with Germany, which was examined together with the political report of the Central Committee, was Lenin, with Bukharin on behalf of the group of "Left Communists" as co-reporter. The fight was a sharp one. The congress was attended by 46 delegates with decisive votes representing 300,000 Party members. The Party in those days was not what it is nowit lacked the unity which has since been achieved. Thirty of the 46 delegates voted for the ratification of the Brest-Litovsk peace and 12 against, with 4 abstentions. In other words, about a third of the delegates were against the line of the Central Committee, against Lenin's line. Among them were many prominent Bolsheviks. On February 23 six of them announced their resignation from high posts in the administration and the Party, and reserved full freedom of agitation both within and outside the Party. On February 24 the Moscow Regional Bureau passed a resolution of no confidence in the Central Committee, refused to submit to those of its rulings which "would be connected with the implementation of the terms of the peace treaty with Austro-Germany," and in the explanatory note to its resolution declared that "a Party split in the near future is scarcely avoidable." The Moscow Regional Bureau early in 1918 acted as the organizational centre of the "Left Communists" on an all-Russian scale.

One can understand the vehemence with which Lenin opposed the "Left Communists" and their revolutionary phrasemongering. On February 21, 1918, he wrote in Pravda:

"We must fight against revolutionary phrasemongering, fight at all cost, so that it may not be said of us afterwards in words of bitter truth: 'revolutionary phrasemongering about a revolutionary war killed the revolution.' " (Works, Vol. 27, p. 10.)

Ilyich knew that the masses would back him and not the "Left Communists." The Fourth Extraordinary All-Russian Congress of Soviets was to ratify the peace treaty. The "Left Communists" were even prepared to put up with the loss of the Soviet power. In their declaration of February 24 they said: "In the interests of the international revolution we consider it expedient to consent to the possible loss of the Soviet power, which has now become purely formal." That phrase shocked Ilyich profoundly. Addressing a meeting of the Moscow Soviet of Workers', Peasants' and Red Army Deputies on March 12, he said with more than his usual vehemence and passion:

"The Russian revolution has given that which so sharply distinguishes it from the revolution in Western Europe. (My italics.N.K.) It has given a revolutionary mass, prepared for independent action by 1905; it has given Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants Deputiesbodies immeasurably more democratic than all previous oneswhich have made it possible to educate and raise the downtrodden masses of the workers, soldiers and peasants, and make them fellow our lead." (Ibid., pp. 138-39.) In the same speech Ilyich gave his appraisal of the Provisional Government and the conciliators. Referring to the February Revolution, he said:

"If the power had then passed to the Soviets, if the conciliators, instead of helping Kerensky to drive the army into the cannons' mouth, had then come forward with a proposal for a democratic peace, the army would not have been in such a ruinous state. They should have told it: stand by calmly. It should have held in one hand the torn secret treaty with the imperialists and an offer of democratic peace to all nations, and in the other hand a rifle and gun, and the front should have been fully preserved. That is when the army and the revolution could have been saved." (Ibid., p. 139.)

Now, when our Red Army, equipped according to the latest word of science, stands by calmly, strong and organized, these words of Lenin's sound so near and familiar to every conscious citizen of our great country! But then, at the Fourth Extraordinary All Russian Congress of Soviets, which took place on March 14-16, Ilyich, addressing the representatives of the Soviets with the same deep earnestness and sincerity with which he always addressed the masses, casually let fall a phrase that characterizes him as a revolutionary and fighter:

"They say we are surrendering the Ukraine, which Chernov, Kerensky and Tsereteli are out to ruin; we are told: traitors, you have betrayed the Ukraine! I say: comrades, I have seen a thing or two in the history of the revolution, more than enough to be daunted by the hostile glances and shouts of people who let themselves be carried away by their feelings and are unable to reason." (Ibid., p. 158.) Hostile glances and shouts could not deter Ilyich, not even those of his most intimate comrades. But he was only human, and these clashes with people with whom he had been so closely associated distressed him greatly; he did not sleep at nights, and his nerves were in a bad state. On this occasion, however, a split was avoided. The Fourth All-Russian Congress of Soviets ratified the peace treaty by 724 votes against 276, with 118 abstentions. This congress was attended not only by the Bolsheviks, of course. The Mensheviks, Communist-Anarchists and Right and Left Socialist-Revolutionaries voted against the signing of the peace treaty. Their representatives opposed the acceptance of the German peace terms at the meeting of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee on February 23. With 724 votes cast against 276, this meant a sweeping victory for Lenin's line.

The question of the peace treaty with the Germans having been settled, Ilyich regarded this as a respite which had to be made use of for developing the activities of the Soviet Government within the country to the utmost. He started to write his pamphlet The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government. Sverdlov was a frequent visitor of ours in the Cavalier Chambers. Seeing Ilyich at work, he persuaded him, after much argument, to use a stenographer, and sent him one of the best on the staff. Nothing came of it, though. The presence of the stenographer embarrassed Ilyich, and try as the former would to persuade Ilyich not to take any notice of him, the work made no headway. Ilyich's method of working was to write a couple of pages first, then spend a long time thinking how better to express himself. He could not do this in the presence of a stranger. Not until 1923, when he was seriously ill and could not do his own writing, did he start to dictate his articles, extremely difficult though he found it. He dictated them to Fotieva, Glyaser, Manucharyants and Volodicheva. These women had been working a long time in his secretariat and he was not so shy of them. Even so, one could often hear his embarrassed laugh through the door of his room.

Between the end of March and April 1918 Ilyich worked hard at his article The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government. It was published in Izvestia on April 28 and served as a guide to action for the Bolsheviks for years to come. Nowhere, I believe, did Ilyich deal with the main difficulties of socialist construction in our country in such a simple, vivid and striking manner as he did in that pamphlet. At the time of the October Revolution our country was a land of small-scale peasant farming. The peasant millions were steeped in the psychology of the petty proprietor, where each thought only of himself, of his own household and patch of land, and did not care for anyone else. "Each for himself, and God will take care of the rest," the peasant argued. Ilyich had written about that petty-proprietor mentality and its harmfulness dozens of times, but now that with the dismissal of the Constituent Assembly the question of power had been definitely settled and the peace of Brest made possible a certain respite, the problem of re-educating the masses and cultivating in them a new psychology, a collectivist psychology, loomed large.

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