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George W. Breslauer...a book that deserves attention...His findings are an important contribution to the historiography of the Soviet Union.
-- New York Times Book Review
In Autopsy of an Empire, Volkogonov presents insightful profiles of the seven leaders who helped shape the history of their nation -- and the world -- for most of the 20th century....
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In Autopsy of an Empire, Volkogonov presents insightful profiles of the seven leaders who helped shape the history of their nation -- and the world -- for most of the 20th century. His narrative reveals exactly what occurred behind the scenes in the Politburo during all of the major events in Soviet history over the past 80 years, including Lenin's masterminding of the October Revolution, Stalin's ill-conceived strategies in World War II, new details about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kremlin's cavalier attitude toward nuclear war, the true fate of the "black box" from the Korean airliner the Sovies shot down in the 1980s, and how the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was not the first of its kind in the Soviet Union.
Much more than a group biography, Autopsy of an Emprire is a sweeping perspective of eight decades of history from a Soviet's point of view -- as well as an indictment of the powerful regime that ruled with an iron fist and cared little for the people it governed.
The First Leader: Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov-Lenin was the founder of the Communist Party, the Soviet state and the Bolshevik system in Russia. Not only like-minded revolutionaries, but also his countless enemies saw in him the leader of a movement which threatened in time to swathe the world in the red flag.
It is surely indisputable that no single leader in the twentieth century exerted as great an influence on the course of world history as Lenin. And he managed to make his mark in a little over six years, from the moment of the October coup in 1917 to his premature death in 1924, at the age of fifty-three. Given that for nearly two of those six years he was seriously ill, and took an increasingly limited and eventually purely symbolic part in the political life of the country, his achievement seems monumental.
The historical role of this unattractive, bald, stocky man, with piercing eyes and the look of an intelligent craftsman, was enormous, if only because the entire world, except Russia herself, benefited from his experiment. Having seen the appalling methods Lenin's government was applying to make the Russian people 'happy', many leaders, thinkers and public figures in other countries recoiled in horror from what they saw.
The movement for a just and classless society in Russia began with unbridled violence, denying millions of people all rights except the right to support Bolshevik policy. Even those who at first sympathized with the revolution soon saw that it would culminate in a monopoly of political power, domination of the public mind by Bolshevik-inspired myths, guaranteed poverty, physical and psychological violence and compulsory atheism, and recoiled from such a prospect. Most of the countries of the world, although not all, managed to avoid their own 'October'.
The role of accident in history is great. A rare combination of military, political, social and personal factors in the Russia of autumn 1917 had created a situation in which it was necessary only to determine the time at which to seize the power that was, in Trotsky's words, lying on the streets of Petrograd. And Lenin fixed the time precisely. Had it not been for his perceptiveness, the coup might never have taken place. This view was advanced by 'the second man of the revolution' himself, Leon Trotsky. After he had been deported from the Soviet Union in 1929, he wrote that if Lenin had not been in Petrograd in October 1917, there would have been no seizure of power. In those pre-October days, Lenin expended superhuman energy and exerted maximum pressure, demanding, inspiring, exhorting, threatening and insisting that his organization take the initiative and seize power. And he got his way.
As Trotsky wrote, things could have gone very differently without Lenin. A new and more capable general than the government's commander-in-chief, Kornilov, might have emerged; Kerensky's Provisional Government might somehow have managed to survive; and if Pavel Malyantovich, Kerensky's Minister of Justice, had succeeded in carrying out the order to arrest Lenin for staging an armed uprising in Petrograd on 3-5 July, the picture would have been very different. According to his son Vladimir, the wretched Malyantovich lamented in the 1930s: 'If I had carried out the Provisional Government's order to arrest Lenin, none of these horrors would have happened.' Instead, in his seventies he was transported and shot.
But the triumphant coup did take place, and its brain, mainspring and guiding force was Ulyanov-Lenin. As a result he became the most powerful politician and revolutionary of the twentieth century. The scar he left on the face of civilization is deep. Even now, after it has become painfully clear that the seventy-year experiment launched by him was a failure, millions still admire him and his teaching. Most Russians today, however, are indifferent to the man who, perhaps motivated by the best of intentions, convinced the people to take his false path.
Lenin was a man of one dimension. He seems to have loved only one thing: power. He hated the autocracy, the bourgeoisie, landowners, Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries, kulaks, the clergy, religion, liberals, the lower middle class, parliaments, reformism, compromise, social democracy, the Russian intelligentsia, the hesitant and confused -- all those who were not on his side, He hated the entire old world, and therefore once the Bolsheviks were in power, it had to be swept away into the dustbin of history, as Trotsky put it. The Leninists proceeded to destroy entire classes and groups of the population, and thousands of churches. They were responsible for the loss of thirteen million lives in the civil war and for two million Russian citizens leaving the country, and, of course, for the extermination of the entire Russian royal family.
Moscow had already given the order for the murder of the Tsar and his family, and the order was being carried out, when Lenin was asked by the Copenhagen newspaper National Tidende on 17 July 1918 to comment on reports that the Tsar was dead. He replied: 'The rumours are not true, the former Tsar is well, all these rumours are lies put out by the capitalist press.' In fact, on the following day the Soviet government debated and fully approved the murders.
Lenin resorted to the assassination of his political enemies on other occasions. Early in 1920, hearing of the arrest of the White leader Admiral Kolchak, he ordered a coded telegram to be sent to the Bolshevik chief in Irkutsk, Smirnov: '... don't publish anything at all, but after we have occupied Irkutsk send a strictly official telegram, explaining that, before our arrival, the local authorities [consisting of Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks] had done such and such under the influence of the ... danger of White plots in Irkutsk.'
The Bolsheviks took Irkutsk, and Kolchak, on 21 January, and Lenin's instructions were carried out to the letter. The Military Revolutionary Committee sentenced Kolchak and the Chairman of the Omsk Government Council of Ministers V.N. Pepelyaev to be shot, and the sentence was carried out within a few hours. Smirnov duly sent a telegram to Pravda:
The Irkutsk revolutionary committee, knowing of plans by officers to launch a counter-revolutionary attack with the aim of overthrowing the authorities and liberating Kolchak, who had been arrested by the Czechs [the Czech Legion then roaming Siberia] and handed over to the revolutionary authorities, and not being able to communicate with the Siberian Revolutionary Committee, thanks to the telegraph lines at Irkutsk being damaged, at its session of 7 February the Revolutionary Committee, intent on averting a clash, ordered the execution of Admiral Kolchak ... The sentence was carried out the same day.'
The 'leader of the world proletariat' was a good mentor to his bloodstained successor.
Despite his illness, Lenin managed to do a great deal in the last few years of his life. He destroyed the old empire and created a new one, eradicated the old social structure and laid the foundations for a completely different order. Having promised the Russian people peace and land, he took away the liberty they had gained in February 1917, without which land and peace were worthless. In any case, he nationalized the land, and quickly turned the First World World into a civil war which cost the country terrible losses.
Speaking at the Bolshoi Theatre on 20 November 1922, at a plenary meeting of the Moscow Soviet -- his last public appearance, as it turned out -- Lenin remarked that, having decided to build a new order, '[there] is a small, minuscule group of people, calling themselves a party, who have set their hands to this task. These Party-people are an insignificant kernel in the entire mass of the workers of Russia. This insignificant kernel set itself the task of actually changing everything and it has done so.'
Lenin had begun building the new society within days of the October coup. He signed nearly sixty decrees in order to dispossess the landowners. As if he was afraid everything would one day go into reverse, he wrote to People's Commissar for Justice D. Kursky: 'Is it not time to deal with the question of destroying the tide documents of private property: notarized deeds of land-ownership, factories, buildings, and so on and so forth. Prepare for this in secret, without publicity. Seize [the property] first ... In my view, the documents should be turned into pulp (you should first find out how to do this technically).'
The expeditious Kursky replied at once: 'This is an appropriate measure and can be carried out quickly as the notary archives are in our hands.'
Lenin was satisfied, and settled the matter with another note to Kursky: 'So, you'll get on with this without waiting for a special instruction from the Sovnarkom (and you'll arrange a meeting with the Commissariat of the Interior and others. But in secret.)' Lenin had seized the private property of the country, and was now concerned to ensure that no trace remained of documented ownership. He knew that, whatever else, it was not possible to build a new society on the foundations of the old.
In his eighteen-month career as a lawyer, Lenin had defended only four or five cases of petty thieving, and he lost virtually all of them. But in 1909, when a vicomte knocked him off his bicycle in Paris, he immediately sued, put up a vigorous case and won his action. Lenin regarded himself as a winner, whether in a petty lawsuit or in the great game of world revolution. At the Eighth Party Congress in March 1919 he announced in his greeting to the workers of Budapest: 'Our congress is convinced that the time is not far off when Communism will conquer the entire world.'
Such was Lenin: self-confident and cynical, strong-willed and pitiless, and unique in his single-mindedness. The Socialist Revolutionary leader Victor Chernov wrote of him: 'Lenin does not have a broad mind, but he does have an intensive one, not creative, but versatile and in that sense inventive. Lenin had no respect for the convictions of others, nor was he touched by zeal for liberty.' This was the man who would bring about the most profound social upheavals of the twentieth century.
'The Evil Genius'
What did Alexander Potresov, a Menshevik who had known him well in the early days, see in Lenin that led him to describe him in 1927 as an 'evil genius'? 'Neither Plekhanov, nor Martov, nor anyone else,' Potresov wrote elsewhere, 'possessed the mysterious hypnotic effect on people that emanated from Lenin, what I might call his domination over them. People respected Plekhanov and they loved Martov, but only Lenin did they follow unquestioningly as their sole and indisputable leader. For only Lenin presented himself, especially in Russia, as the rare phenomenon of a man with an iron will and indomitable energy, and who blended fanatical faith in the movement and the cause with a no lesser faith in himself... Behind these virtues, however, lurk equally great defects, negative features which might be more appropriate in some medieval or Asiatic conqueror.'
For his part, Lenin, in the laconic style appropriate to geniuses, wrote to the writer Maxim Gorky: 'What a swine that Potresov is!' Potresov was not alone in describing Lenin as an evil genius. Mark Aldanov, an emigre novelist, wrote that 'in one case Lenin has the character of a genius, and in a hundred others the character of a barbarian.'
In January 1919 Lenin received a letter from an old Social Democrat acquaintance, Nikolai Rozhkov, an economist and publicist. He wrote, among other things: 'Vladimir Ilyich, I am writing you this letter not because I expect to be heard and understood by you, but simply because I cannot remain silent ... I have to make even this hopeless effort.' He went on to say that the food situation in Petrograd was desperate, that half the city was dying of starvation. 'Your entire food policy is based on a false foundation ... Without the collaboration of private trade, neither you nor anyone else can deal with the inevitable disaster.' He urged Lenin to adopt what would later be called the New Economic Policy, NEP. 'You and I have moved too far apart. Perhaps it is truer to say we wouldn't understand each other ... Even this letter of mine seems to me like a bit of silly Don Quixotism. Well, in that case, let it be the first and last.'
Lenin replied: 'Nikolai Alexandrovich, I was very glad to receive your letter, not because of its content, but because I hope for a rapprochement on the generally common ground of Soviet work ... As for freedom of trade, an economist should especially see that we cannot go back to free trade, and that we must go forward to socialism by improving the state monopoly.' Later in his letter Lenin took up Rozhkov's lament for the demise of parliamentarism in Russia, meaning the Constituent Assembly which the Bolsheviks had dispersed by force in January 1918. He mounted his hobby-horse: 'history has shown that this was the universal collapse of bourgeois democracy and bourgeois parliamentarism and that we will get nowhere without civil war.'
Rozhkov had seen the complete futility of Lenin's policy of War Communism as early as January 1919, and had in effect proposed the New (i.e. old-capitalist) Economic Policy. Lenin, the 'prophet', had not seen this. He did not forget about Rozhkov, and he was unforgiving. At the end of the summer of 1922, at his initiative, the question of expelling abroad a large number of members of the Russian intelligentsia was debated. Lenin wrote a disjointed and vicious directive to Stalin, which said in part:
On the matter of deporting Mensheviks, Popular Socialists, Kadets and so on from Russia, I'd like to raise several questions, seeing that this operation, which was started before I went on leave, hasn't been completed even now. Has the decision been taken to 'uproot' all the [Popular Socialists]? Peshekhonov, Myakotin, Gorenfeld, Petrishchev and the others? In my opinion, they should all be expelled. They're worse than any [Socialist Revolutionary], as they're more cunning. Also A.N. Potresov, Izgoev and all the staff at the Ekonomist (Ozerov and many, many others). The Mensheviks Rozanov (he's an enemy, a cunning one), Vigdorchik, Migulo and anyone else of that ilk, Lyubov Nikolaevna Radchenko and her younger daughter (I hear they're sworn enemies of Bolshevism); N.A. Rozhkov (he has to be expelled, he's stubborn); S.L. Frank (the author of Methodology). Mantsev and Messing's commission must draw up lists and several hundred of such gentlemen must be expelled abroad without mercy. We're going to cleanse Russia for a long time to come.
When Lenin heard that Rozhkov was ill, he modified his orders: 'Postpone expelling Rozhkov. Send Rozhkov to Pskov. At the first sign of any hostile activity from him, expel him from the country.' But he did not lose track of the one-time acquaintance who had shown such perspicacity about the economy. Six weeks later he wrote to Zinoviev, the Petrograd Party chief. 'Is Rozhkov in [Petrograd]? He has to be deported.' Lenin's assault on the intelligentsia was directed not against their ideas, but against them personally.
Certainly, there were many good reasons for calling Lenin a genius. He had a powerful and tough intellect, vast willpower, the ability to make sharp changes of policy, and an infinite capacity to focus on the achievement of his goal. After he returned to Russia from Switzerland in April 1917, these qualities quickly put him ahead of all the other politicians. By sheer force of will he could convince his opponents, and crush them if need be. No one was able to beat him in face-to-face argument. But if he sensed that he might be wrong, or that his position was shaky, he would withdraw from the spoken word and resort to print. It is a clear sign of Lenin's leadership that although he was Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, Sovnarkom, he held no office in the Bolshevik Party; yet in the Politburo, which was effectively the supreme political body, he was implicitly regarded as chief. He was recognized as leader, and as a rule he chaired its meetings.
The Politburo was in session on 7 December 1922. Only a few members were present, dealing as usual with a host of problems. Lenin was business-like and to the point. He spoke rarely, but what he said usually counted as the 'collective decision' of the entire body, even when there were serious doubts about it. A.D. Tsyurupa, the People's Commissar for Food Production, was reporting on the export of grain. The country had not yet recovered from the famine that had carried off millions of people, yet Tsyurupa claimed that that year we'll come out of it', NEP would help. There was no real debate. Lenin declared that up to fifty million puds, about a million tonnes, of grain must be exported, and he put Tsyurupa in overall control of its sale.
If a powerful and unfettered mind are signs of genius, it is difficult to reconcile them with such arbitrary and wayward decisions as those to expel Rozhkov and to export grain from a starving country, and to limit the number of copies of Mayakovsky to be printed. When Politburo member Anatoly Lunacharsky suggested that five thousand copies be printed of Mayakovsky's poem '150,000', Lenin remonstrated: 'Rubbish, stupid, utter stupidity and affectation,' and issued the unequivocal instruction that 'only one in ten of such things should be printed at all and no more than 1500 copies for libraries and cranks.' Lenin thought it proper for him alone to decide what should be written, what should be read and what published. For him power was absolute, and he exercised it to issue verdicts purely on the basis of his own convictions and impressions.
As co-architect with Trotsky of the repugnant policy of hostage-taking during the civil war, Lenin never tired of urging the application of this inhuman principle in everyday revolutionary practice. In a note to Nikolai Sklyansky dictated in the dead of night on 8 June 1919, Lenin demanded that 'bearing in mind the increasing pace of change, the taking of hostages from the bourgeoisie and officers' families should be stepped up. Talk to Dzerzhinsky [head of the Cheka].'
Politics, to be sure, tends to be immoral, but in Lenin immorality was exacerbated by cynicism. Almost every one of his decisions, even when they were guided by level-headed pragmatism and careful calculation, suggests that for him morality was totally subordinated to political realities.
It is commonly argued that Lenin was constrained to act as he did because of the circumstances: having to carry out the revolutionary breakthrough, creating new institutions, bringing new values into play -- 'You can't make a revolution wearing white gloves!' But the fact is that his political cynicism was no less evident before the revolution than it became after it. That was his essence: the achievement of the political goal justified all necessary means and methods.
For instance, in order to protect his favourite, the Bolshevik Roman Malinovsky, later exposed as a police agent, Lenin heaped insults on those who suspected him: 'Martov and Dan are filthy slanderers'; 'We have to teach our own people (who are naive, inexperienced and don't know) how to fight against shits like Martov'; 'Martov and Co. are still making a stink. Go on, stir the shit!!! Let them choke on their own muck, it's the best thing for them'; 'slime and filth'.
The significant point about the Malinovsky case is not Lenin's error of judgement, but his stubborn persistence in it. Malinovsky himself was not of particular interest to Lenin; more important was his value as a means of destroying his political opponents. Malinovsky was not only a favoured member of Lenin's Central Committee, he was also a Bolshevik deputy in the Russian State Duma, and Lenin gave him his unconditional support, without making much effort to investigate the accusations against him. Even in December 1915, over a year after Malinovsky had been substantially exposed, Lenin was prepared to maintain contact with the former police spy, writing to him: 'My dear friend, Roman Vatslavovich, I received your letter and passed your request on to the local committee for some things to be sent to you ... I hope you are well and in good spirits. Write about yourself and pass on greetings to all the friends you must have made, even in your new surroundings. Nadezhda Konstantinovna sends warm greetings. Yours, V. Ulyanov.' The letter, like many others, was sent to Alten-Grabow, a camp for Russian prisoners of war and interned civilians where Malinovsky was active in spreading Bolshevik defeatist propaganda, and exhibiting precisely the sort of personal loyalty Lenin most valued.
It emerged later that Malinovsky had been one of the most effective agents provocateurs in the Okhrana, the tsarist secret service. On police instructions, he had taken a hard line in the Bolshevik Central Committee and the Duma in order to sabotage any attempts by his colleagues at reconciliation with the Mensheviks. He liked to talk about the need for 'the most decisive actions' by Lenin's party. This pleased its leader, and the pair spent more than one evening in long conversation when Malinovsky visited Lenin in Cracow on the eve of the First World War. In 1914 they travelled together to Brussels and Paris, where Malinovsky made a speech described by Lenin as 'a great success'. When the Okhrana archives were opened after the February revolution, the truth finally came out: Malinovsky had been a well-paid agent.
Lenin had to give extended depositions in Malinovsky's trial, which was heard on 26 May 1917. He did not, of course, mention the passion and conviction with which he had formerly defended Malinovsky. But even after everything had come out, he was extremely reserved in his judgement:
Malinovsky was in my opinion outstanding as an active [party] worker ... Malinovsky came to us in all six or seven times, at any rate more often than all the other [Bolshevik] deputies. He wanted to play a leading part among the Central Committee members in Russia, and was evidently unhappy when someone else was given a responsible job by us ... [He] would have liked to be given more audacious illegal work to do and we had frequent conversations about this in Cracow ... Without doubt a commission of clever people stood behind him and guided his every political step.
Lenin had no regrets about his intimacy with Malinovsky, and expressed no chagrin over his prolonged, and at times frenzied, defence of the agent. In 1918, when the Bolsheviks were in power, Malinovsky unexpectedly arrived in Petrograd from Europe, where he had been living comfortably on his police earnings. Being vain and audacious, he must have thought the authorities would respond to his repentance and that, above all, Lenin would intercede for him. The documents relating to this episode have not been found, but it is possible, on the basis of circumstantial evidence, to draw certain conclusions. Malinovsky sought Lenin's help, but he was of no further use to him. His trial was short, as was the sentence: he was to be shot. In a letter to Gorky, Lenin would remark: 'I couldn't get to the bottom of that swine Malinovsky. He was very shady.'
What importance did Lenin place on democratic values? According to him, only what corresponded with his own views on the essence and content of proletarian revolution could be considered democratic. He was capable of calling the dictatorship of the proletariat 'democratic'. Democracy for him was above all a form of violence, and it is precisely here that the combination of 'genius' and 'evil' was rooted. As for the power of the people, Lenin (and his successors) firmly appropriated the right to speak in their name. In conversation with the German Communist Clara Zetkin, he once said: 'Art belongs to the people ... It must be understood and loved by them.' Of course, he never asked 'the people' what they understood when, for instance, he took the decision practically to ban Futurism and other modernist trends. His thinking was simple: if he could not understand such things, how could the masses? Zetkin replied perceptively: 'Comrade Lenin, do not complain so bitterly about illiteracy. To a certain extent it probably made it easier to make the revolution.'
It is impossible to understand Lenin without considering the meaning of Bolshevism. Thanks to the efforts of Lenin's followers in the Party, Bolshevism became synonymous with revolutionary-mindedness, class superiority and an obsession with the proletariat. Bolsheviks believed that to express doubt or hesitation and lack of self-assurance could only be a sign of bourgeois liberalism, conciliation, reformism and intelligentsia-style vacillation. It is appalling to think that, almost by sleight of hand, Lenin managed to make the very word 'intellectual' [intelligent, in Russian] come to mean the opposite of revolutionary-mindedness and radicalism. In February 1908 he wrote in a letter to Gorky, as if of some great achievement: 'The importance of the intelligentsia in our party is declining: we are getting news from everywhere that the intelligentsia is running away from the party. Good riddance to bad rubbish ... This is all wonderful.'
This attitude suggests that Lenin's 'Bolshevism of the soul' in effect amounted to little more than social racism. Only the proletariat, he intimated, were the real revolutionary force. In his most Utopian, and least impressive, book, The State and Revolution -- once regarded by all good Leninists as a jewel of theoretical wisdom -- Lenin gave in concentrated form his views on the classes, the state, and the role of the proletariat in world history. He was indignant that so many socialists dared to see the state as 'an organ for reconciling the classes'. That was monstrous, in his view. How could they forget, he asked, that 'all social civilization is divided into hostile and therefore irreconcilable classes'? That was the point! One had to do everything possible to ensure that the proletariat was not oppressed by the bourgeoisie, only the opposite. Then the dictatorship of the proletariat would arise, the salvation of mankind.
The essence of Bolshevism was radical thinking and radical action. In its classic form, it found its expression in Lenin's own life. He believed what he wrote. And he wrote some dreadful things:
Accounting and control, that is the main thing that is needed to 'get things going', for the proper functioning of the first phase of the Communist society ... When the majority of the people begin to produce independently ... the monitoring of capitalists (converted into office-workers) and gentlemen intellectuals who haven't lost their capitalist ways, will become genuinely universal, general, nationwide, and it will be impossible to escape from it in any way, there will be nowhere to hide ... The entire society will be one office and one factory with equality of labour and equality of pay.
The point of this approach was that to avoid accounting and control 'will inevitably become so incredibly hard and such a rare occurrence, and will no doubt also be accompanied by such swift and serious punishment (for armed workers are people from practical life, not sentimental little intellectuals, and they're not likely to let anyone mess with them), that the need to observe the simple, basic rules of any human community will very quickly become a habit'.
The image was of a barracks rather than of 'one office and one factory'. Everyone would be watching everyone else to see how much they worked and how much they consumed, and hanging over all of them would be the threat of 'swift and serious punishment', with the 'little intellectuals' most at risk.
Never mind that we Russians believed in all this -- we actually saw with our own eyes how in Stalin's time a peasant would be sent away to the camps for ten years, if not shot, for nothing more than stealing a handful of wheat from the collective farm where he worked; how a worker might be sent straight to prison for arriving at his factory fifteen minutes late; how for failing to fulfil the required number of 'work days' a person could be sent to a 'special settlement'. The control system was perfected, developed and so universalized that the Russian people accepted as normal the ubiquitous presence of norm-setters, stock-takers, inspectors, instructors, 'social controllers', and many other similar Leninist categories.
The development and perfection of 'accounting' was continued by Lenin's loyal pupil, Stalin. In his notorious article 'Dizzy with Success' of 2 March 1930, Stalin wrote: 'On 20 February this year, 50 per cent of peasant households were collectivized throughout the USSR. This means that by 20 February 1930 we had more than twice overfulfilled the five-year plan for collectivization.'
Even Gorbachev, barely having come to power, began with 'control', or perhaps more precisely verification. I attended a meeting of the Central Committee Secretariat at which he made a passionate speech calling for the introduction of a new system of quality-control in factories that would deny managers their bonuses if the number of their products passing new state-imposed standards did not reach a certain threshold. Thousands of new inspectors had to be installed, although, of course, nothing improved. The system, introduced by Lenin, exercised control not only over weights and measures, but also over the conversations and thoughts of the citizens. Bolshevik absolutism was the result.
In the first phase of the Bolshevik regime, Lenin and his supporters attempted to create at least the appearance of an alliance with the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, who had influence among the peasant population. The Bolsheviks themselves had no clear agricultural programme, and in effect borrowed one from the Socialist Revolutionaries. Fearing that the Bolsheviks might not be able to hold on to power on their own, Lenin, with some trepidation, opted for the alliance, though it would not last for long. The Sovnarkom met three times, on 7, 8 and 9 December 1917, under Lenin's chairmanship, to discuss broadening the political base of the new regime by including some Left Socialist Revolutionaries (Left SRs), and finally agreed to include seven of them, five as People's Commissars and two as ministers without portfolio. It was made clear to them that they must perform their duties in accordance with the policies laid down by the Bolsheviks, who would brook no attempts to dilute or alter the absolute power the new regime represented.
The notion that this might have been a step towards political pluralism, or that it might have led to the inclusion of Mensheviks in the government, and that a more social democratic course might have ensued, is, of course, illusory. It was not in the Bolsheviks' nature to want to share power. The monopoly of dictatorship was in their blood.
What made Lenin what he was? Why should this member of the Russian gentry, supported, like his siblings, by his mother's generous government pension, turn out to be such an irreconcilable revolutionary? How did it come about that he could think and talk of nothing but revolution?
Lenin's family background was well ordered, and was influenced by several different cultures: Russian, German, Jewish, Kalmyk and some Swedish. A product of the great Eurasian state, Lenin was a blend of many of the features of his origins: Russian radicalism, European civilization, Jewish intelligence, and Asiatic audacity and cruelty.
Of enormous importance to the life-choices Lenin made was the death of his older brother Alexander, who was hanged in 1887, when Lenin was seventeen, for an attempt on the life of the Tsar. A university student at the time, Alexander's life could have been spared by his intended victim, but as a committed terrorist, he thought it dishonourable to beg for mercy. His brother's execution was devastating for the young Vladimir. It led to a degree of social ostracism for his family, and soon brought him, too, to the attention of the Okhrana.
Lenin was shaken by his brother's death, but also by his courage. He drew the lesson, and was reputed to have said: 'We shall not go by that path.' The testimony for this declaration is dubious -- his then nine-year-old sister. He had no concept at that time of any path of his own, though he was drawn towards radicalism and uncompromising views, and, certainly, in the future he would go by a different route. No one would ever see him as a bomb-maker, or the organizer of direct action on the barricades or of frontal attack. He would become a back-room revolutionary, refining and polishing the ideas of his harsh philosophy.
The thirst for knowledge, cultivated in his family, and redoubled by his growing radicalism, prompted the young Ulyanov to imbibe enormous quantities of literature. But it was literature of a peculiar sort. As well as the standard works to be found on the desk of any educated young Russian of his generation -- Nekrasov, Turgenev, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Uspensky -- Lenin also read Darwin, Buckle, Ricardo, Dobrolyubov and, especially, the radical philosopher Nikolai Chernyshevsky. He read Marx's Capital while he was still at home on the estate at Kokushkino, in the province of Kazan. His outlook on life began to include social and political ideas very early.
At the turn of the century, the Russian intelligentsia was experiencing a great cultural uplift that came to be known as the 'Silver Age' in prose-writing, and in the work of thinkers, historians and political writers. Already nourished by the works of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov, the reading public eagerly consumed the poetry of Fet and Nadson, Balmont, Severyanin and Gippius, and debated the latest philosophical and historical treatises of the Solovyevs, father and son, of Trubetskoy, Berdyaev, Bulgakov, Rozanov, Lossky, Frank, Karsavin and Fedorov. Even a century later, one is still astonished at the bounty of providence and nature that gave Russia such a priceless intellectual heritage at that time. It was perhaps only thanks to this that Soviet Russia, which pitilessly trampled on this unique gift for seventy years, did not become a barren archaeological specimen in the excavations of Slavonic culture. Russian intellectual achievement without doubt reached its highest peak at the turn of the century.
And yet Lenin somehow skirted this peak, and did not attempt to scale even its lower slopes. The ethical maxims of Solovyev, or Berdyaev's reflections on liberty, remained as closed to him as the secrets of the spiritual world explored by Dostoevsky. The cultural poverty of his powerful intellect was expressed in his obsessive single-mindedness, his unequivocal political approach, and his dismissal of universal moral principles. It is enough to recall that he found a substitute for the broad palette of Russian philosophy in the works of Chernyshevsky. For Lenin, Chernyshevsky was 'the only really great Russian writer', simply because he wrote in terms of 'undiluted philosophical materialism'. It was not, however, Chernyshevsky the philosopher that Lenin admired, so much as Chernyshevsky the radical, who could say: 'whoever is afraid to dirty his hands, should not get involved in politics'.
Significantly, Lenin thought Dostoevsky was 'the foulest of writers'. Tolstoy, on whom he wrote several strictly political articles, was useful only because Lenin could describe him as a 'fiery protester' and denouncer of the tsarist order, though even Tolstoy exhibited 'a lack of understanding of the causes of the crisis and the means to get out of it, as might be found in some patriarchal, naive peasant, rather than a writer with a European education'. The Russian liberal view of Tolstoy as the 'great conscience' of the people Lenin called 'an empty phrase' and 'a lie'. He managed to persuade himself that Tolstoy had 'said nothing that had not already been said long before him in both European and Russian literature'.
It was hardly surprising, therefore, that he should find what he called 'various Berdyaevs' capable only of 'philosophic' obscurities, political banalities and 'literary critical yelping and whining'. Or that the Party editors of Lenin's collected works should officially dub Berdyaev 'an apologist of feudalism and medieval scholasticism'.
Many writers idolized by student youth as luminaries of the progressive intelligentsia would forever remain unknown to Lenin, or at best not understood. Berdyaev described Lenin as 'a poor man' in the field of philosophy, and Lenin's book Materialism and Empiriocriticism (1908), defined in the official literature as 'a work of genius' and 'the main philosophical work of the twentieth century', completely ignores the greatest Russian achievements in this sphere. Not a single major Russian thinker -- except for Chernyshevsky, of course -- is even-mentioned in Lenin's 'work of genius'.
As the head of the caste of 'professional revolutionaries' he had himself created, Lenin despised the Russian intelligentsia because they were the bearers of liberalism. With his caste in power, he would have no need of liberty. 'He distrusted intellectuals,' his biographer the American journalist Louis Fischer wrote. 'They doubt. They think. They rebel against orthodoxy. Sovietism, however, is a new orthodoxy.' For their own part, emigre writers gave as good as they got. Speaking in Paris on 16 February 1924 on 'The Mission of the Russian Emigration', Ivan Bunin declared with great bitterness:
Once there was Russia, a house bursting with all kinds of goods and chattels, inhabited by a mighty family, created by the blessed labours of many, many generations, illuminated by worship for God, a memory of the past and by everything that is called religion and culture. What has been done to this house? The overthrow of the head of the house has been paid for by the destruction of literally the entire house and by unprecedented fratricide, by the whole bloody nightmare farce whose monstrous consequences are countless ... This global villain, bearing a banner with the mocking slogan of liberty, fraternity, equality, has climbed onto the neck of the Russian 'savage' and is calling for conscience, shame, love and mercy to be trampled in the mud ... That degenerate, that congenital moral imbecile, Lenin, has revealed to the world in the very heat of his activity something monstrous and devastating: he has ravaged the greatest country in the world and murdered millions of people, yet in broad daylight people are debating the question of whether he is a benefactor of mankind or not.
Lenin would never hear or read those words.
The Bolshevik seeds produced such poisonous shoots that it is hard to say when they will be brought under control. The interruption of Russia's long intellectual tradition by Lenin and Leninism was one of the chief causes of the countless miseries heaped on the people. 'That which saves,' the nineteenth-century Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov wrote, 'saves itself. That is the secret of progress, there is no other nor will there be.' The Bolsheviks did not save Russia and, as history has now shown, they did not save themselves.
The Sin of October
It was the third year of the First World War. Millions of soldiers were dying in the trenches, bombarded and gassed, hanging in grey tatters on the barbed wire. The war had crossed its 'equator'. Few doubted that Germany and its allies would be defeated in the end, especially now that the United States had entered the war on the Allied side. Russia's position was bad, but not desperate. The front had been stabilized. However, socialist agitation was having a serious effect on army morale. Reinforcements were frequently arriving at only half strength. Mass desertion had began. The last President of the Russian State Duma, Mikhail Rodzyanko, later recalled that in 1917 'desertion from the front amounted to one and a half million. About two million soldiers had been captured by the Germans ... The Bolshevik agitators were working on the natural reluctance of the peasants to fight.'
Lenin, meanwhile, in peaceful Switzerland, was engaged in philosophical self-education, writing articles, going for walks in the company of his wife and his friend Inessa Armand, eagerly following the news from the front. He himself had never worn military uniform or squatted in a blood-soaked trench. He had never looked into the dreadful face of war. He realized that the combatants themselves were incapable of ending this ugly, savage war, and he also knew that the war held the key to his own future.
The desire to end the bloodshed was felt by some people in a position to exercise influence. As early as February 1915, King Gustav V of Sweden wrote to Tsar Nicholas II: 'You understand, dear Nicky, how much the horrors of this frightful war upset me. And therefore it is quite natural that my thoughts are preoccupied in seeking the means that could put an end to the dreadful slaughter ... I am prompted by my conscience to tell you that at any moment, sooner or later, whenever you find it convenient, I am willing to serve you in any way in this matter ... What do you think of my offer to help?' Nothing came of this initiative.
Two years later, on 4 February 1917, the Bulgarian envoy to Berlin, Rizov, visited the Russian envoy to Norway, Gulkevich, and requested that a telegram be sent to Petrograd reporting 'Germany's desire to conclude a separate peace with Russia on highly favourable terms'. Petrograd replied to Gulkevich: 'Listen [to the proposal] and be sure to obtain a precise formulation of the terms.' It was all too late. February was pregnant with irreversible events.
From the beginning of the slaughter, Lenin was not, as might have been expected, in favour of its termination, but instead called for its 'socialization'. Writing to one of his agents, Alexander Shlyapnikov, on 7 October 1914, two months after the outbreak of fighting, he roundly condemned the campaign for peace. 'The "peace" slogan is not the right one. The proper slogan must be to turn national war into civil war.' Lenin had already created another plank of the Bolshevik platform on the conflict when Germany declared war on Russia on 1 August 1914. He immediately sat down to write his 'Theses on the War', later published in collected form under the title War and Russian Social Democracy. In it there appear lines that only a rigidly orthodox thinker like Lenin could have written. He described the attempt 'to slaughter the proletarians of all lands by setting the hired slaves of one nation against the hired slaves of another for the benefit for the bourgeoisie' as being 'the only real content and meaning of this war' (emphasis added).
The absurdity of this proposition is obvious, but the foundation stone of socialist propaganda had been laid. He went on to state that: 'From the point of view of the working class and the labouring masses of all the peoples of Russia, the lesser evil would be the defeat of the tsarist monarchy and its forces.' Lenin was calling for nothing less than the defeat of his own government, of his country (which was incidentally not an instigator of the war), and better still for turning the war into a revolution and a civil war. For all their professed internationalism, the position taken by Lenin and the Leninists did nothing to bring the ending of the slaughter any nearer. On the contrary, theirs was a policy of throwing still more fuel on the flames of war:
At the same time, Lenin's line on the war represented a blatant national betrayal derived from profound contempt for both Russia's state interests and those of her allies. He could not have made this clearer than when he stated that 'tsarism is a hundred times worse than kaiserism.' It was possibly this sentiment that led Lenin in time to the idea of a coincidence of interests between the Bolsheviks and Berlin. The Tsar, his government and his armies were an obstacle to Germany's far-reaching plans for expansion, and also to Lenin's for seizing power in Russia. From the moment the war broke out, Germany and the Bolsheviks had a common enemy in tsarist Russia, and from this Lenin drew the conclusion that the Russian army must be made to disintegrate. 'Even where the war is being waged,' he declared, 'we must remain revolutionaries. Even in wartime we must preach class struggle.'
At the end of September 1914 the Russian newspaper Russkoe Slovo (Russian Word) published an appeal from writers, artists and actors condemning German aggression. Among the many illustrious signatories was Maxim Gorky, who for years had been an active supporter of Lenin's organization. Lenin wrote an open letter addressed to Gorky in which he condemned his 'chauvinistical sermonizing'. He remarked in passing that the world-famous operatic bass Fedor Chaliapin, who had also signed the appeal, 'should not be judged too harshly ... He knows nothing about the proletarian cause: today he's a friend of the workers and tomorrow -- the Black Hundreds.' For Lenin, everyone was divided strictly into those who adopted a class (Leninist) position and were therefore allies, and those in the 'chauvinistical' camp who were therefore sworn enemies. Even in his article 'On the National Pride of the Great Russians', which every Soviet citizen was supposed to have read as a profoundly 'patriotic' piece of writing, Lenin asserted that 'the Great Russians should not "defend the fatherland" other than by wishing for the defeat of tsarism. In any war, as the lesser evil for nine-tenths of Great Russia.' The slogans of pacificism and the idea of 'paralysing the war' were mocked by Lenin as 'ways of making fools of the working class', and he thought the notion of a 'democratic peace' without revolution 'profoundly wrong'.
It was typical of Lenin that, while calling for 'decisive action' against the militarists and for 'unleashing class struggle in the army', it did not occur to him to set an example himself. During the 1916 socialist conference in Zimmerwald, Switzerland, he loudly insisted that the delegates return to their native countries and personally organize strike movements against their belligerent governments. The German Social Democrat Karl Ledebour responded: 'But they'll just put me on trial in a court martial.' Lenin persisted, however, at which Ledebour retorted: 'And will you be going back to Russia to organize strikes against the war? Or are you going to stay in Switzerland?' Lenin did not dignify such a 'provocative' question with a reply.'
In February 1915 five Bolshevik Duma deputies, along with a number of other Social Democrats, had been sentenced by a special session of the Petrograd court for being in possession of the manifesto of the Central Committee of the RSDLP, written by Lenin and entitled War and Russian Social Democracy. In it, as we have seen, he called for the defeat of his own country and the conversion of the imperialist war into civil war. All five Bolshevik deputies were exiled for life to Turukhansk in Western Siberia, while the author of the manifesto continued to enjoy a quiet life in Switzerland. Ironically, and more appropriately, on 28 September 1914, during discussion of Plekhanov's paper The Socialists' Attitude to the War', Lenin frankly advised the socialist ministers of belligerent governments to 'go to a neutral country and tell the truth from there'. He regarded it as legitimate revolutionary tactics to utter bold criticism of tsarism, the autocracy and chauvinism -- from a safe distance.
Lenin always avoided physical risks to himself. When on the crowded streets of St Petersburg in 1906 the cry went up, 'Cossacks!' and everyone scattered in all directions, Lenin ran off clumsily, fell into the gutter and lost his bowler hat. The cry turned out to be a false alarm.
Lenin lived abroad not because he was being pursued by the authorities, but because he feared the possibility of being pursued. In fact, nobody was looking for him or breathing down his neck. He could abuse any aspect of Russia he liked without risk to himself. 'Trembling with excitement', he wrote about the revolutionary events of 1905 in the wildest, most savage terms: 'We will give the order to units of our [sic] army to arrest the Black Hundredists ... who are rallying and bribing the ignorant masses' and hand them over to 'an open, all-people's revolutionary court'. More precisely, a lynch mob. As early as the spring of 1906 Lenin was saying that 'there will be no trace left of the institutions of the tsarist regime.' For him, 'whoever is not a revolutionary is a Black Hundredist.'
These fragments of 'revolutionary' delirium were written at the end of 1905, at a time when it was already clear that the Tsar's October Manifesto had lowered the public temperature and given the country a unique opportunity to take the path of constitutional monarchy. But Lenin had at once called for 'the tyrants' to be 'finished off', leaving no room for compromise.
In the People's House in Zurich on 22 January 1917, Lenin gave a long and boring speech to young workers on the anniversary of the 1905 revolution. When I visited the hall in the early 1990s, I found it to be quite small. It was not hard to imagine Lenin's guttural voice: 'Up to 22 January 1905, the revolutionary party of Russia consisted of a small handful of people mockingly called a sect by the reformists ... Feudal, patriarchal, pious and obedient Russia awoke from her bear-like slumber and threw off the old Adam...' The audience in the half-empty hall listened politely to the stocky, bald gentleman with burning eyes as he lamented that 'unfortunately the peasants then destroyed only one-fifteenth of all gentry estates, only one-fifteenth of what they ought to have destroyed.' The speaker was a member of the gentry, whose family had sold their estate and were now living on the interest from their capital. His audience was drifting away when he injected new life into his speech by describing the forcible Russification, as he put it, of 'precisely 57 per cent' of the population. 'In December 1905, in hundreds of schools, Polish children burned all the Russian books and pictures and portraits of the tsars, beat up and chased out their Russian teachers and Russian comrades with cries of "Get the hell out back to Russia!"' Finally, as more and more seats emptied, he declared: 'My time is nearly up and I do not wish to abuse the patience of my audience.' He then spoke for another fifteen minutes on his favourite subject, revolution, and ended by saying: 'We old folk might not live to see the decisive battles of the coming revolution ...'
The Russian government's failings in the war and its weakness at home led to the self-destruction of the autocracy on a wave of discontent. A historical mutation began in 1917 which would lead in a few years to the creation of a new civilization, a new culture, and new political and social institutions which had little in common with Russia's history. Had the democratic February revolution managed to hold, most likely Russia today would be a great democratic state, rather than one that has disintegrated.
Stuck in Zurich, Lenin became increasingly agitated by the thought that the train of the Russian revolution might depart for the future without him. He was saved from that eventuality by secret and unofficial contacts that had been established between certain Leninists and individuals who had the trust of the German authorities. Among these were Alexander Helphand, known as Parvus, an emigre from Russia, German social democrat and successful businessman in Scandinavia and Germany. Parvus was the author of an audacious plan according to which Germany, in order to win the war, would assist the outbreak of revolution in Russia. In declaring that tsarism's defeat 'here and now' would be the best way out of the war, Lenin was publicly, repeatedly and precisely stating his position as a virtual ally of Germany in its fight against his own country and its people.
General Erich von Ludendorff, 'the military brain of the German nation' and First Quartermaster of the army, described the role played by Lenin in Berlin's plans with frankness and extreme cynicism: 'In helping Lenin travel to Russia our government accepted a special responsibility. The enterprise was justified from a military point of view. We had to bring Russia down.' This was also Lenin's aim.
Research into these matters was strictly forbidden in the Soviet Union, but in the West much direct and indirect evidence has been discovered which established beyond doubt that a firm link existed between the Bolsheviks and Berlin. In recent years, documents from Russian archives that had previously been inaccessible have revealed the financial connections between Lenin's agents and Germany. Despite repeated 'purges', the archives preserved 'book-keeping' telegrams, accounts and statements of the amounts made available to the Bolsheviks by a generous German government.
After a meeting between Lenin and Parvus in May 1915, a close association was formed between a small circle of Lenin's most trusted agents, of whom the most important was Jacob Stanislavovich Ganetsky (Fuerstenberg), and the German side, with Parvus as the link. Ganetsky and Parvus were the mainspring of an ingenious mechanism. With money made available to him by Count Ulrich von und zu Brockdorff-Rantzau, the German ambassador in Copenhagen, and other sources, Parvus established a so-called Institute for the Study of the Social Consequences of the War, where he employed a number of Russian social democrats. Meanwhile, using German funds, Ganetsky established a firm in Stockholm for purchasing pharmaceutical products, such as medicines and contraceptives, for shipment to Petrograd, where they were in great demand. The proceeds from these sales enabled Ganetsky's assistant, Kozlovsky, to transmit large sums of money to accounts in different banks, usually to a woman called Yevgeniya Sumenson. Hundreds of thousands of roubles were thus made available to the Bolsheviks for purposes such as the printing and distribution of newspapers and leaflets, the purchase of arms, and salaries for a large number of 'professional revolutionaries'. Dozens of telegrams testify to the constant flow of funds between Berlin and the Bolsheviks via Ganetsky and Parvus, aided by several intermediaries who knew nothing of this covert support for Lenin's party. Lenin, the consummate conspirator, did not mark these documents with his own instructions or give direct financial orders himself. He stood in the wings, watching the machine work for him and exercising only verbal authority.
Despite some remaining gaps in the evidence, there is no doubt that the October coup was supported by German money. And it continued to flow after the Bolshevik seizure of power, as the Germans tried in every way to prevent the accession of an anti-Bolshevik regime that would make common cause with the Western Allies and revive Russia's war against Germany. Count Wilhelm Mirbach, the German ambassador in Moscow, sent a cipher telegram to Berlin on 3 June 1918, one month before he was assassinated: 'Due to strong Entente competition, 3,000,000 marks per month necessary. In event of early need for change in our political line, a higher sum must be reckoned with.' Two days later, the German Foreign Ministry informed the Treasury that Mirbach had spent large sums to counter Allied efforts in Russia to persuade the Bolsheviks to change their line and accept Allied demands. Since it was the German view that the new regime was hanging by a thread, Mirbach's efforts were regarded as of cardinal importance, and in order to sustain them a fund of 'at least 40 million marks' was required.
In 1921 the leading German Social Democrat Eduard Berstein published a sensational article in the socialist newspaper Vorwarts in which he wrote: 'Lenin and his comrades received vast sums of money from the Kaiser's government for their destructive agitation ... From absolutely reliable sources I have now ascertained that the sum was very large, an almost unbelievable amount, certainly more than fifty million gold marks, a sum about the source of which Lenin and his comrades could be in no doubt. One result of all this was the Brest-Litovsk Treaty.'
In effect, the Bolshevik leadership had been bought by the Germans, and it was therefore not surprising that Lenin should compel the Russian delegation to the peace talks in March 1918 to accept the harsh terms dictated by Germany. The 'indecent peace' was the price Lenin had to pay to acquire and retain power. Having not long before declared that the Bolsheviks would never agree to a separate peace, Lenin in fact accepted a defeat -- after preaching defeatism for three years -- that never was. He accepted defeat from an enemy who was already on his knees before the Allies. He not only accepted defeat, he also agreed to give the Germans a million square kilometres of Russian territory and 245.5 tonnes of gold. In the autumn of 1918, with Germany facing imminent defeat, the curator of the Russian gold reserve, Novitsky, reported to Lenin that another ninety-five tonnes of gold was ready for shipment to Germany.
Having utterly rejected all social democratic principles, soon after returning from exile to Petrograd in April 1917 Lenin embarked on a course of violent seizure of power. He refused to meet the socialist Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky. His slogans, primitive and rabble-rousing, worked without fail. The Bolsheviks promised the war-weary, land-starved and hungry people peace, land and bread, and told them that to achieve this they must first stick their bayonets into the ground, abandon the trenches and go home, where they should seize their allotments. Promised by Lenin's agitators that they would never be sent to the front, the troops of the vast Petrograd garrison threw their support behind the Bolsheviks. The power of Kerensky's Provisional Government melted like ice in the spring thaw. Meanwhile the Bolshevik demagogues promised the gullible and ignorant peasants-in-uniform prosperity, peace, land, bread, hospitals, liberty. At the First All-Russian Congress of Peasants' Deputies in May 1917, Lenin described the idyllic life they would lead: 'This will be a Russia in which free labour will work on free land.' His listeners would not have to wait long to discover whether his predictions were accurate.
In the capital, meanwhile, the political manoeuvring continued. Kerensky, the Don Quixote of the February revolution, tried to rise above the nation, to rally and unite it, and to hang on until the Allies won the war. Russia had little possibility of making a significant contribution to the war effort, but could certainly survive another eight or nine months. But Lenin and the Bolsheviks were rapidly increasing their following in the factories and in army units. The gulf between liberal democracy and the radical wing of the ragged-trousered masses was widening. As always in Russia, there was no influential political middle ground. The Bolsheviks decided to attempt an assault on the amorphous, flabby centre of power and, should it succeed against the background of a huge demonstration -- armed if necessary -- take power themselves.
Lenin naturally distanced himself somewhat from the epicentre of events. Accompanied by his sister Maria and two bodyguards, he left for the border village of Neivola, near Mustamiaki, and stayed in the house of Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich, one of his Bolshevik associates. In the event of the failure of the demonstration, Finnish refuge was near at hand, and Sweden was little more than a stone's throw further. Lenin realized, however, that real control was in the hands of neither the government nor the soviets (councils of workers', soldiers' and peasants' deputies that had sprung up following the collapse of the tsarist state). Indeed, he described Russia at this time as 'the freest country in the world', clearly meaning that power was there for the taking, if one had the courage and audacity to make the attempt.
In the middle of July the Bolsheviks decided to test their strength. Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Petrograd, with army units and sailors among them. Early in the morning of 17 July, Lenin was summoned back to the capital by his comrades. Now he waited. The soldiers and sailors had been well primed by Bolshevik agitators. They had been told that, after their unsuccessful demonstration in June, the Provisional Government was preparing to send garrison troops to fill the breaches at the front. The troops, appalled by the thought of the blood and mud of the flea-ridden trenches, were enraged. The liberal leader Paul Milyukov wrote later: 'On [17 July] Lenin was in place on his famous balcony at the house of Kshesinskaya, greeting the soldiers and giving them their orders. All the military intelligence of the Bolshevik Central Committee was there; military units were coming and going. In a word, here was the military headquarters of the uprising.' Lenin had already stated in public that 'peaceful demonstrations are a thing of the past.'
From his balcony Lenin called for 'All Power to the Soviets!' The original text of his speech has not been found. It was cons idered too dangerous to publish, since Lenin was inciting the crowds to overthrow the government, as the testimonies of numerous witnesses confirm. On the other hand, the most detailed chronicler of the revolution, the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov, recalled that Lenin's speech was rather cautious, and that although he agitated forcefully against the government, he also called for the defence of the revolution and loyalty to the Bolsheviks. The attempt failed, and thereafter the Bolsheviks always presented it as a 'peaceful demonstration'.
The Bolsheviks had hoped that by force of numbers the government would be pressured into capitulating, especially as it seemed they would receive virtually no support from the army. Yet the hundreds of thousands of people who came out onto the streets met growing resistance from forces loyal to Kerensky. Shooting, rioting and unorganized clashes took place. Blood flowed. The outcome looked uncertain. Disquieting reports were coming into the Kshesinskaya palace that the telegraph offices were being well defended, that Cossack reinforcements were arriving, that loyal troops had closed off yet another strategic street.
Finding himself perhaps for the first time in his life within range of danger, Lenin decided that for the sake of the future he should terminate the demonstration. To save face, and to put the government on the defensive, he began accusing the authorities of 'bloody atrocities, and then went into hiding.
Trotsky recalled that when he met him after the failure of the July rising, Lenin was frightened: 'Now they can shoot us down. It's the best time for them to do it.' Once he had settled in a safe haven, however, he could focus all his energy on writing articles and sending orders and messages designed to inflame the masses stiff further. By whipping up hatred for the still fragile institutions of the bourgeois democracy, he was making sure that national and social peace should not prevail.
Knowing that the government had issued a warrant for his arrest as the instigator of the July uprising, Lenin changed his hiding place frequently, while maintaining constant contact with his Central Committee. Money was no object, since the Bolsheviks were receiving funds transmitted from abroad by Ganetsky and his associates.
Lenin saw that Russia was facing a choice. Kerensky's Provisional Government represented a painful transition from centuries of autocracy to parliamentarism. Kerensky, however, was morally prevented from seeking a separate peace with Germany: it would be a betrayal of Russia's allies. The government's military commander, General Kornilov, or any other politically minded general, would drown Russia in blood and install an order more harsh than that of Nicholas II had been. Either would continue the war 'to a victorious conclusion'.
Only Lenin had something different to offer the exhausted nation: in exchange for power, he promised them peace, and for the peasants also land. The price was national betrayal, the disintegration of the army, and reneging on Russia's promises to the Allies. Only Lenin realized that the nation would accept the option of betrayal and suffer the shame of it later. He did not appeal to the higher instincts, to patriotism and civic-mindedness, but rather to hatred, fatigue and unfulfilled expectations. He knew how to manipulate the influences of the moment in the public mind, and he knew exactly what he wanted. He was capable of launching a rabble-rousing slogan in the knowledge that he could recant at any time.
Three months earlier, he had declared categorically that he would never seek a separate peace. Now, as he scurried from one hiding place to the next, he asserted that 'there are ninety-nine chances in a hundred that the Germans will at least give us an armistice. And to get an armistice now would mean winning the entire peace.' In September he was even more precise: 'Victory in an uprising is now guaranteed for the Bolsheviks: we can (if we don't "wait for the Soviet congress") strike suddenly from three points: from [Petrograd], from Moscow and from the Baltic Fleet ... it is 99 per cent sure that we will win with fewer losses than we had on [16-18] July, because the soldiers will not go against a government of peace.'
Aware of the Central Committee's hesitation and vacillation, and after taking proper security measures, Lenin returned to the capital on 23 October. He would wait no longer.
Kerensky made desperate last-ditch attempts to alter the course of events: he held meetings with members of the Duma, sent despatches to the front with the aim of preventing its collapse, and enquired whether Lenin had been apprehended. On 1 September he had proclaimed Russia a republic and declared the chief task of the Provisional Government to be the restoration of state order and the fighting ability of the army. Desertions, however, had mounted under the impact of Bolshevik propaganda, while in the rear Lenin's exhortations reached a frenzied pitch. 'After the seizure of the cadet schools, the telegraphs, telephones and so on,' the Bolsheviks' slogan, he wrote, must be: 'We shall all die before we let the enemy pass.' Strategic points must be taken 'at whatever cost'.
At two crucially important meetings of the Bolshevik Central Committee on 23 and 29 October, Lenin insisted a decision be taken to stage an armed uprising. Only twelve of the twenty-one members of the Committee were present on 23 October, and only two of them -- Zinoviev and Kamenev -- stood up to Lenin and voted against the proposal. Showing enviable caution and perceptiveness, they urged the Party to wait for the elections to a Constituent Assembly that the Provisional Government had already set in train, and that would better reflect the political mood of the huge Russian population. Kamenev declared: 'The Party has not been consulted. Such matters are not settled by ten people.' His remark exposed the fall extent of Lenin's political cynicism.
Two weeks later, on the night of 6 November, the Bolshevik Red Guards seized a number of key locations in Petrograd, including the main post office and telephone exchange, stormed the Winter Palace and arrested Provisional Government Ministers. Next day, Trotsky informed the Second Congress of Soviets that the Bolsheviks had seized power in the name of the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, thus ushering in the new era of Soviet rule in Russia. In fact, it was the Bolshevik Party under Lenin and his successors that would govern the country for the next seventy years, even if they continued to uphold the fiction that they were doing so in the name of the Soviets. The clan of professional revolutionaries would henceforth simply pass the sceptre of power from one pair of hands to the next.
For seven decades much would be written about 'Lenin's theory of socialist revolution'. In fact, it was not a consistent, synthesized body of theory. Its salient features were: the maximum manipulation of public opinion; the frenzied cultivation of the image of the class enemy, whether the Tsar, the bourgeoisie, the Mensheviks or the liberals; the disintegration of the army and state machine by means of outright rabble-rousing; pushing the state and the regime towards chaos and dislocation; staging a coup at the precise moment when the government was most weakened and compromised; establishing a harsh dictatorship which took away 'bourgeois liberties and rights'; using terror as a means of keeping millions of people in check; unleashing civil war.
These are only some of the features of Lenin's technique. They were implemented by a disciplined, organized party led by professional revolutionaries like Lenin himself, people capable of issuing an order to reduce rations for those not working on transport and to increase it for those who were: 'Let thousands die, but the country will be saved.' Lenin's logic was that some should be killed so that others should live.
Lenin was able to determine the precise moment at which the government was totally paralysed and defenceless, when if the Bolsheviks did not seize the moment, others would. The American journalist John Reed, who became a hero of the revolution, recorded Lenin saying on 3 November: '6 November will be too soon to act; the eighth too late. We have to act on the seventh, the day the [Second] Congress [of Soviets] opens.'
Yet, until the last minute, Lenin did not believe deep down in the success of the operation. As Richard Pipes has written: 'Lenin did not dare to show himself in public until the cabinet (presumably including Kerensky, of whose escape he was unaware) fell into Bolshevik hands. He spent most of [7 November] bandaged, wigged, and bespectacled. After Dan and Skobelev, passing by, saw through his disguise, he retired to his hideaway, where he took catnaps on the floor, while Trotsky came and went to report the latest news.'
The dying regime managed to issue a distress signal on the radio and in Rabochaya gazeta (Labour Gazette) on 11 November 1917:
To All, To All, To All! The Provisional Council of the Russian Republic, yielding to the force of bayonets, was compelled on [7 November] to disperse and to interrupt its work for the time being. With the words 'liberty and socialism' on their lips, the usurpers are committing violence and mayhem. They have arrested and imprisoned in tsarist casemates members of the Provisional Government, including the socialist ministers ... Blood and anarchy threaten to overwhelm the revolution, to drown liberty and the republic ...
The Russian Revolution preserved the traditional popular link between mystique and practice. Lenin's dogmas became the mystique, and destruction became the practice. 'Everything was destroyed except the tradition, except the plan, the blueprint of hatred and the leader's indomitable will,' wrote E. Bogdanov, an emigre philosopher. 'The people's instincts did the rest; a spicy broth which would with microbiological speed multiply the bacteria of Bolshevism in Russia ... The people spat on the liberty and democracy they were offered [in February 1917] and were content only with their new and harsher slavery.'
Excerpted from Autopsy for an Empire by Dmitri Volkogonov Copyright © 1999 by Dmitri Volkogonov. Excerpted by permission.
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|List of Illustrations|
|Introduction: The Path of Leaders|
|1||The First Leader: Vladimir Lenin||1|
|2||The Second Leader: Joseph Stalin||83|
|3||The Third Leader: Nikita Khrushchev||181|
|4||The Fourth Leader: Leonid Brezhnev||262|
|5||The Fifth Leader: Yuri Andropov||329|
|6||The Sixth Leader: Konstantin Chernenko||383|
|7||The Seventh Leader: Mikhail Gorbachev||432|