I’ve just finished a biography of Lenin by Robert Service. It wasn’t a great biography, but, if you’ll pardon the expression, it serviceably addressed my own ignorance. * No doubt some Troppodillians are full bottle on revisionist history since the fall of the wall but not, alas, me.
Lenin was not a monster of the proportions of Stalin. But the one party police state which morphed into the nightmare of Stalin’s Russia was his own creation. Lenin thought well of terrorist activists of the 1880s in Russia (his brother had been executed for a plot to assassinate the Tsar). Shortly after taking power Lenin up the Cheka the secret police reporting directly to himself. And he was an ‘ends justifies the means’ man through and through.
His instinct in virtually every situation at least as Service tells the story is towards coercion, intimidation, the centralisation of power and terror.
Here he is instructing Bolsheviks of Penza in August 1918.
Comrades! The insurreciton of five kulak districts should be pitlessly suppressed. The interests of the whole revolution require this because ‘the last decisive battle’ with the kulaks is not under way everywhere. An example must be demonstrated.
1. Hang (and make sure that the hanging takes place in full view of the people) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers.
2. Publish their names.
3. Sieze all their grain from them.
4. Designate hostages in accordance with yesterday’s telegram. Do it in such a fashion that for hundreds of kilometres around the people might see, tremble, know, shout: they are strangling and will strangle to death the bloodsucking kulaks.
Telegraph receipt and implementation.
Find some truly hard people.
(emphasis in the original)
Though tyrannical towards those his new one-party state ruled, he did not devour the comrades in his own party. In doing so Stalin carried Lenin’s state to its historical if not its logical conclusion
Lenin also did what he could to prevent Stalin coming to power, though this was very late in the day. Lenin was dying from causes that we can still only speculate about. Whether his motives were more far sighted and lofty than pique with Stalin over several policy disputes he was having with him is unclear. Stalin was one of the closest of Lenin’s comrades and was the keeper of poison by which Lenin intended to do himself in when his heath had deteriorated beyond a certain point.
Stalin must have been regreting talking Lenin out of taking the poison because at the end Lenin really had it in for comrade Stalin and had he had more breath left in his body would have ruined him.
The poor, poor generation of my grandparents. A string of unparalleled and unimaginable disasters. Two world wars separated by a global depression and two revolutions which reduced two great countries to barbarism.
What a remarkable thing that my parents generation were as positive with their lives and as optimistic as they were.
* As an aside, Skidelski’s biography of Keynes is the best biography I have ever read. How he manages to make so much of the narrative an analysis of Keynes and his times, and yet have this heighten rather than weigh down the narrative is surely a remarkable achievement.