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Lenin the Man | The Nation

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Lenin the Man

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Everett CollectionPremier Vladimir Lenin, addressing crowd on Sverdlov Square, Moscow, Russian, May 5, 1920.

About the Author

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.

In the hungry year of 1919 Lenin was ashamed to use the food which comrades, soldiers, and peasants sent him from the provinces. When these love-gifts were brought to his uncomfortable home he frowned, was distressed, and hastened to distribute the flour, sugar, and butter to sick and undernourished comrades. Once he invited me to dinner, and remarked: "I will give you smoked fish-they sent it to me from Astrakhan." He rumpled his Socratic brow, looked aside with his all-seeing eyes, and said: "They send it to me, as to a great man. How can one stop them? If one refuses the gift it offends them. And all about people are hungry. It is stupid. . . . "

He himself was very modest in his demands, took neither wine nor tobacco, and was burdened with heavy work from morning till evening; he did not know how to look out for himself, although he carefully watched the life of his comrades. His interest for them was a tender care, such as is usual only in women. Every free moment he gave to others, without seeking rest for himself.

One evening he was sitting at his desk, writing hurriedly, and, without lifting his pen from the paper, he said: "Good day, how are you? I'll be ready in a moment . . . . There's a comrade in the province who is getting discouraged. He's tired. We've got to cheer him up. Morale is important."

On the desk lay a copy of Tolstoi's "War and Peace." "Yes, Tolstoi! I wanted to reread the hunting scene, but then I remembered that I had to write the comrade. I never get around to reading. I never read your book on Tolstoi until last night. . . ."

Smiling, wrinkling his eyes, he stretched out in his armchair and added in a softer voice: "What a colossus, wasn't he? What an old giant! Yes, friend, there's an artist for you! And do you know what is wonderful about him? His peasant voice, his peasant mind--there was a real peasant in him. Until that count began writing there was no real peasant in literature--not a one." Then be looked at me with his little Asiatic eyes and asked: "Who is there in Europe to compare with him?" and himself answered "None!" And, like a cat in the sun, he rubbed his hands and laughed contentedly.

I often noticed in him that pride in Russia, in the Russians, in Russian art. Often this trait seemed strange and even naive, but later I recognized in it the echo of a deep, joyful love of his people. . . .

I know no other man who, like Lenin, the superior of other men, could so resist the temptations of pride and had so warm an interest in "little people."

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