LENIN IN HISTORY
By M. PHILIPS PRICE, M.P.
And so it is in twentieth-century Russia. Vladimir Ilytch Lenin did more for Russia even than Peter the Great did, but he built up his political system on a theory of economics which postulated the dictatorship of the proletariat, and as a transition stage the dictatorship of a single party in the name of the proletariat. Happi- ness was to come by the surrender to authority, at least for a time. As before, there were in Lenin's entourage doubters and people inclined to compromise. These " social traitors " and " lackeys of the bourgeoisie " had therefore to be dealt with at first 'by purges and later by treason trials, as happened in the reign of Ivan the Terrible to those who opposed his reforms. These phases of Russian history work out true to type from century to century.
And now the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute in Moscow has given us a biography of Lenin,* which, coming from this highest source of information, is an important contribution to our knowledge of one of the greatest men of the century. At the same time; the reader cannot help realising that this high source of information is itself part of the Grand Inquisition which Dostoefsky portrayed as the authority alone giving peace and happiness. It cannot, therefore, be conspicuously objective, impartial or even fair towards people who in Lenin's lifetime disagreed with him, or no more than mildly differed. One puts the book down with a feeling that there is too little history in it and too much propaganda. And this is unfortunate, for the subject of Lenin's life is an absorbing one and deserves more impartial treatment.
The first time I set eyes on Lenin was in the People's House on the Vassily Ostroff in Petrograd early in the Kerensky regime. He had just arrived in Russia from exile. A conference of delegates from various parties to consider the agrarian question in Russia was taking place. The impression left on my mind at the time was that of a strong-minded man holding very definite views on agrarian policy which were sharply at variance with the views of the older revolutionary parties. I was puzzled, but later study of the Russian revolutionary movement gave me the clue. From the first the Marxist movement in Russia, of which Lenin was one of the leaders, was in constant conflict with the older parties like the Narodniks and the Socialist Revolutionaries, who thought that Russia must not be modelled on Western European industrialism, but must work out her own social system on the basis of rural communism and small domestic industries. This book starts by showing how much of Lenin's earlier days was taken up with combating the theories of these agrarian revolutionaries. Actually this conflict was only a modern form of the old one which has appeared throughout Russian history between the Western and the Eastern school of Russian thought, between those who wanted to imitate the West and the isolationists who thought that Russia could go her own way. Lenin and his colleagues were Westerners, like Peter the Great.
The book indicates what seem to have been the motives prompting Lenin to embark on his career. His parents were able and intel- lectual provincial people. The father 'had risen in the public service
*Lenin . A Biography prepared by the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute. (Hutchinson. 6s.) and had become a member of the nobility. His brother, Alexander, had belonged. to one of the groups that arose from the agrarian
revolutionary school, a group that had adopted the tactics of indi- vidual terror ; he was hanged for implication in a plot to- murder Alexander III. This was a terrible shock td Lenin in more ways than one. "No, that is not the road to follow," said young Vladimir Ulianov (which was the family name). That is an im- portant statement, for it shows that the man who became the great leader of Russian Marxism from the outset repudiated individual acts of terror, while ready to use force in the mass.
There follows an interesting account of Lenin's life in exile. He _came to London to work in the British Museum, he worked in Germany, Switzerland and -Austria ; but one sees that all the time
he was a good Russian it heart and longed to return to his native country, where he sensed the revolution was coming. The inter-
minable squabbles between the various revolutionary sects make rather dull reading to those not well up in this particular subject. For instance, the reader will find it hard to understand what is meant by " the theory of the knowledge of dialectical materialism and of a philosophical generalisation from a dialectical materialist point of view of the discoveries of science." This, of course, was the jargon of continental and Russian revolutionaries in exile, but the Mark-Engels-Lenin Institute will no doubt pardon us in the Anglo-Saxon world if we do not go too deeply into this. Incidentally,
it would be a good thing if the Institute, when it next publishes a book for the British public, would give titles to its chapters and a summary of contents.
Throughout Lenin's long period of exile one sees a man of great determination and singleness of purpose, passionately devoted to the idea that Socialism could be established in one country by revolu- tionary methods and could make good there without the need for revolution in other countries. Here he differed from Trotsky and showed his greater realism and common sense. He was utterly intolerant of the Menshevik section of the Russian Marxist move- ment, who thought that Russia must pass through the stage of a middle-class rule of Liberal democracy. His scorn fof them knew no bounds, and events proved him right. He lived to put Russia on the way to becoming a great modern Power with a Socialist economy as her background. When one reads the pages of this book one realises the enormous superiority of Lenin ever all his colleagues. He was, in fact, a typical Russian, who saw a great ideal and' would tolerate no compromise.
To one thesis, however, in this book it is necessary to take exception. Lenin's life was completely bound up with the October Revolution. Any account of it must be in a sense a history of the revolution. Therefore some degree of historical accuracy is neces- sary. One knows that quarrels between revolutionaries are bitter, that revolutions devour their children, -but they need not devour history as well. Throughout this book Trotsky is referred to solely as a " traitor," a " renegade " and a " lackey " ; that may do for the Russian public, but if the Institute want to cut any ice here they had better drop this kind of thing. I happen to have been in Russia during the October Revolution, and can testify that Trotsky
played a very large part in the conduct of affairs for at least eighteen months of the most difficult period. I remember seeing him as chairman of the Petrograd Soviet during the late summer of the Kerensky period, when Lenin had to go into hiding in Finland. He led that movement for capturing the Soviets of North. Russia for the Bolsheviks which made the October Revolution possible. Yet this fact is suppressed in the book. He played an important part in the defeat of the Korniloff revolt. That fact is suppressed. I saw him in the chair at the first meeting of the Petrograd Soviet on the night when the Red Guards seized the Winter Palace. That fact is suppressed, and prominence is given only to Stalin as the man who made the Revolution with Lenin. Actually, Stalin at that time held a position as one of the junior Commissars. His rise to power came later.
Trotsky is referred to as having been in league with the Mensheviks in opposing the October Revolution. In fact, I actually saw Trotsky savagely attacked by Menshevik delegates at the Petrograd Soviet for having sent Red Guards to arrest the Menshevik Ministers of the Kerensky Government. It is true, of course, that Trotsky did not think that the seizure of power in the October days was possible. But many Bolsheviks who now are in the seat of authority in Russia thought the same. It is true also that Trotsky's tactics towards the Germans at Brest-Litovsk proved disastrous. But Trotsky was not the only one among the leaders who thought like that in those days. And it is true, of course, that all through those times it was Lenin's genius and guiding hand that led the Revolution through the worst crises. The Institute is not content with bringing this out, but .goes on to twist historical facts. While, therefore, welcoming this book for the picture it gives us of the life of a remarkable man, I cannot congratulate the authors on their impartiality. But I suppose the authority of the Grand Inquisitor must not be challenged even on history.