Maxim Gorki remembers the late Soviet leader.
(The following passages are from a series of reminiscences of Lenin published in the Neue Rundschau (Berlin) for August, 1924.)
To me Lenin is not only the wonderfully complete incarnation of a will set upon a goal which no man before had dared to set himself; he is one of those great figures, one of those tremendous, half-legendary men who crop up from time to time in Russian history, always unexpectedly, like Peter the Great, Michael Lomonosoff, Leo Tolstoi, and others. I believe that such men are possible only in Russia–the country whose history and manner of living always remind me of Sodom and Gomorrah.
To me Lenin is the hero of a legend, a man who had torn the burning heart out of his breast in order to light up for mankind the path which shall lead it out of the shameful chaos of the present, out of the rotting bog of stupid current politics. . . .
His hero-character has almost no outward adornment. His heroism is of a type not rare in Russia–the modest, ascetic martyrdom of an honorable, intellectual revolutionary who honestly believes in the possibility of justice on earth; the heroism of a man who has renounced all the pleasures of life to do hard work for the happiness of mankind.
One evening in Moscow when J. Dobrowein was playing Beethoven sonatas in Mme E. Peschkoff’s home, Lenin said: “I know nothing more beautiful than the Appassionata; I could hear it every day. It is wonderful, superhuman music. I always think, perhaps with a naive childish pleasure: what marvels men create!”
And, blinking, with a joyless smile, he added: “But–often I cannot listen to music; it affects my nerves; I want to talk nonsense and pat men on the head because, living in a dirty hell, they create such beauty. Today one does not dare pat men on the head–they would bite one’s hand–one must hit them on the head, strike them without mercy, although ideally we are opposed to all use of force. Hm, hm–a devilishly hard job.”
The task of an honorable leader of his people is superhumanly difficult. One cannot conceive a leader who is not to some degree a tyrant. Probably more men were killed under Lenin than under Wat Tyler, Thomas Munzer, or Garibaldi. But the opposition to the revolution at whose head Lenin stood was also broader and mightier. One must recall too that with the onward march of “civilization” men’s lives have become cheaper; the perfection of the technique of destroying men and the taste for that process in modern Europe prove it beyond a doubt . . . . Ask your conscience: Is the chatter of those “moralists” who talk of the bloodthirstiness of the Russian revolutionaries, after they themselves through four long years of the World War had not only had no sympathy for millions of men who were driven to the shambles, but had actually preached war “to the bitter end”–say, is their chatter fitting here? Is it not rather out of place? All the civilized nations are beaten, exhausted; they are slipping toward savagery, and only human stupidity has conquered-its harsh bonds are choking us still.