Chapter 13 : Lenin

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Chapter 13

The text is from my copy of Alexander Berkman, The Bolshevik Myth, New York: Boni and Liveright, 1925. Page numbers are in the source code.

CHAPTER XIII

LENIN

      March 9.---Yesterday Lenin sent his auto for me, and I drove to the Kremlin. Times have changed, indeed: the old stronghold of the Romanovs is now the home of "Ilyitch,"* of Trotsky, Lunatcharsky, and other prominent Communists. The place is guarded as in the days of the Czar; armed soldiers at the gates, at every building and entrance, scrutinize those entering and carefully examine their "documents." Externally everything seems as before, yet I felt something different in the atmosphere, something symbolic of the great change that has taken place. I sensed a new spirit in the bearing and looks of the people, a new will and huge energy tumultuously seeking an outlet, yet ineffectively exhausting themselves in a chaotic struggle against multiplying barriers.

      Like the living sentinels about me, thoughts crowded my mind as the machine sped toward the quarters of the great man of Russia. In bold relief stood out my experiences in the country of the Revolution: I saw much that was wrong and evil, the dangerous tendency to bureaucracy, the inequality and injustice. But Russia --- I am convinced --- would outgrow these evils with the return of a more ordered life, if the Allies would cease their interference and lift the blockade. The important thing is, the Revolution has not been merely political, but deeply social and economical. Some private ownership still exists, it is true, but its extent is insignificant. As a system, Capitalism has been uprooted --- that is the great achievement of the Revolution. But Russia must learn to work, to apply her energies, to be effective. She should not wait for miraculous aid from beyond, for revolutions in the West: with her own strength she must organize her resources, increase production, and satisfy the fundamental needs of her people. Above all, opportunity to exercise popular initiative and creativeness will be vitally stimulating.

      Lenin greeted me warmly. He is below medium height and bald; his narrow blue eyes have a steady look, a sly twinkle in their corners. Typically the Great Russian in appearance, he speaks with a peculiar, almost Jewish, accent.

      We talked in Russian, Lenin asserting that he could read but not speak English, though I had heard that he conversed with American delegates without an interpreter. I liked his face --- it is open and honest, and there is not the least pose about him. His manner is free and confident; he gave me the impression of a man so convinced of the justice of his cause that doubt can find no place in his reactions. If there is any trace of Hamlet in him, it is reduced to passivity by logic and cold reasoning.

      Lenin's strength is intellectual, that of the profound conviction of an unimaginative nature. Trotsky is different. I remember our first meeting in America: it was in New York, in the days of the Kerensky régime. He impressed me as a character strong by nature rather than by conviction, one who could remain unbending even if he felt himself in the wrong.

      The dictatorship of the proletariat is vital, Lenin emphasized. It is the sine qua non of the revolutionary period, and must be furthered by all and every means. To my contention that popular initiative and active interest are essential to the success of the Revolution, he replied that only the Communist Party could lead Russia out of the chaos of conflicting tendencies and interests. Liberty, he said, is a luxury not to be permitted at the present stage of development. When the Revolution is out of danger, external and domestic, then free speech might be indulged in. The current conception of liberty is a bourgeois prejudice, to say the least. Petty middle-class ideology confuses revolution with liberty; in reality, the Revolution is a matter of securing the supremacy of the proletariat. Its enemies must be crushed, and all power centralized in the Communist State. In this process the Government is often compelled to resort to unpleasant means; but that is the imperative of the situation, from which there can be no shrinking. In the course of time these methods will be abolished, when they have become unnecessary.

      "The peasant doesn't like us," Lenin chuckled, as if at some pleasantry. "They are backward and strongly imbued with the sense of private ownership. That spirit must be discouraged and eradicated. Besides, the great majority are illiterate, though we have been making educational progress in the village. They don't understand us. When we shall be able to satisfy their demands for farm implements, salt, nails, and other necessaries, then they will be on our side. More work and greater production --- that's our pressing need."

      Referring to the Resolution of the Moscow Anarchists, Lenin said that the Executive Committee had discussed the matter, and would soon take action upon it. "We do not persecute Anarchists of ideas," he emphasized, "but we will not tolerate armed resistance or agitation of that character."

      I suggested the organization of a bureau for the reception, classification, and distribution of political exiles expected from America, and Lenin approved my plan and welcomed my services in the work. Emma Goldman had proposed the founding of a League of Russian Friends of American Freedom to aid the revolutionary movement in America, and thus repay the debt Russia owed to the American Friends of Russian Freedom, which in years past had given great moral and material support to the Russian revolutionary cause. Lenin said that such a society in Russia should work under the auspices of the Third International.

      The total impression I carried away was that of a man of clarity of view and set purpose. Not necessarily a big man, but one of strong mind and unbending will. An unemotional logician, intellectually flexible and courageous enough to mold his methods to the requirements of the moment, but always keeping his final objective in clear sight. "A practical idealist" bent upon the realization of his Communist dream by whatever means, and subordinating to it every ethical and humanitarian consideration. A man sincerely convinced that evil methods may serve a good purpose and be justified by it. A Jesuit of the Revolution who would force mankind to become free in accordance with his interpretation of Marx. In short, a thorough-going revolutionist in the sense of Netchayev, one who would sacrifice the greater part of mankind --- if need be --- to secure the triumph of the Social Revolution.

      A fanatic? Most certainly. What is a fanatic but a man whose faith is impregnable to doubt? It is the faith that moves mountains, the faith that accomplishes. Revolutions are not made by Hamlets. The traditional "great" man, the "big personality" of current conception, may give to the world new thoughts, noble vision, inspiration. But the man that "sees every side" cannot lead, cannot control. He is too conscious of the fallibility of all theories, even of thought itself, to be a fighter in any cause.

      Lenin is a fighter --- revolutionary leaders must be such. In this sense Lenin is great --- in his oneness with himself, in his single-mindedness; in his psychic positiveness that is as self-sacrificial as it is ruthless to others, in the full assurance that only his plan can save mankind.


*Popular patronymic of Lenin.

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Chronology

February 02, 2017 17:18:10 :
Chapter 13 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

September 20, 2017 17:32:12 :
Chapter 13 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.

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