No more Mr Nice Guy

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.

Yours Lenin.
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.

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Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

A while since I read it, but I remember enjoying it. I don’t know if there’s a definitive bio of Lenin?

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

“Lenin was Christ-like, at least in his compassion’. Thus Australia’s left icon, Manning Clark, in ‘Meeting Soviet Man’, 1960. (I know I’ve posted this before.) To be fair, the sources on the wholesale murder of the kulaks, jealously guarded by the Soviets for decades, were likely not available to Clark. I wonder if he ever regretted the remark, though.

Yes, the revisionists have already been there, Nicholas.

Nic White
2022 years ago

I remember a documentary that mentioned that assasination plot. Didnt he hide a weapon inside a science textbook?

derrida derider
derrida derider
2022 years ago

Lenin was cold and pitiless, even at a personal level. For such an intelligent man and such a keen student of history, how could he have thought any significant good could come from such massive evil? This is not ‘sentimentality’ – just a lesson that he should have drawn from his studies.

And BTW I agree with your aside about the Skidelsky bio – it is a great masterwork, and people should make time for it.

Guy
Guy
2022 years ago

I read it a while ago, but there have been several political biographies down the hatch since that one. As I quite dimly recall it wasn’t a bad read, but it wasn’t great either.

All in all the revolution was a triumph of the human lust for power over socialist ideals.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

A pity it took the left so long to work that out, though, Guy.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

Lenin, Hitler — same thing, different label.

Guy
Guy
2022 years ago

“All in all the revolution was a triumph of the human lust for power over socialist ideals.”

Although Rob, that’s not to say that lust for power will always triumph over socialist ideals.

EP – that’s a throwaway line and a simplistic view of things. I’m sure there are a number of similarities that you could draw, but there are also quite a large array of differences.

For example, Hitler was never used in promotional campaigns by Bigpond Music.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Yeah, the lust for power tries to triumph over anything in its way, regardless of any prevailing ideology it harnesses or suppresses.

And Lenin’s use of the phrase “pitlessly suppressed” reminds me of another old ruthlessly dogmatic proto-lefty who wants a dissent-free one party state as well.

Hello, Evil Pee.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

The music thing is ironic, as if I recall correctly from Service’s book, Lenin gave up listening to music because he thought it made him too sentimental.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

‘Although Rob, that’s not to say that lust for power will always triumph over socialist ideals.’

True, but I can’t think of any telling examples of where it didn’t. And of course the lust for power can quite successfully masquerade as socialist idealism if you’re a good enough propagandist.

Re music: it didn’t work that way for Hitler. I recall reading that he decided to invade the USSR after listening to a good dose of Wagner. (Or it might have been signing a peace treaty. Or something. Sorry to be annoyingly vague.)

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

Rob, If you’re right about Wagner, then Woody Allen’s joke was eerily accurate. In one of his movies he always says that listening to Wagner makes him want to invade Poland.

Mark, I don’t recall reading that about Lenin and music and it sounds wrong to me as he didn’t seem to strain to avoid sentimentalism. But then again it may have been in there and I skimmed it.

Guy
Guy
2022 years ago

The only vague infatuation I can recall along these lines is Stalin’s love for cinema. The Wagner thing with Hitler and Poland wouldn’t surprise me.

I can only really speak for myself, but isn’t it frustrating that books once read vanish almost completely from memory years (weeks? months?) later?