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The Grand Repudiator
Lenin was literary woven of paradoxes. The particularly tragic one was that "the most humane person," as Vladimir Mayakovsky called him, appreciated a humane the least.
Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) took a prominent place in the pantheon of great and rather paradoxical characters playing the major role in the world history. No other person in our country’s chronicle could be comparable with him in scale of influence on Russia and the world.
Up to date, he is probably still one of the most published authors on the planet: by the end of the Soviet period, his works were published in 125 languages with the combined circulation of 653 million copies. No one has ever been published with such circulations, except, perhaps, evangelists and Prophet Muhammad!
Lenin at a rally at the Bolshoi Theater, May 5, 1920
So far the global number of active communist parties established by Lenin has been huge. And as to our country, he is still the most popular person - at least in terms of street names. Currently Russia has 5,167 Lenin streets with total length of 8,631 km - not counting Ulyanov streets, as well as Soviet and October streets, which can be actually also taken into account as "Lenin streets". As a comparison, 2,998 streets have been named after Yuri Gagarin, and only 2,573 bear the name of Alexander Pushkin.
Lenin also outmatches any other person by number of his monuments: there are about 6,000 of them in Russia today. What is more, until quite recently, there were many more of them in the territory of the former USSR. For instance, around 2,000 Lenin monuments have been demolished in Ukraine since 2014. And obviously, he is the only person whose body lies in the tomb in the central square of our country. Well, Lenin was confident in his historical destiny.
Shiny steel shell
He was certainly a smart and hardworking person. However his mind was rather one-sided and worked for the sake of destruction much more than for creation. And hard work often turned into a rage in yet another battle with endless enemies. His fellow-companion Valerian Obolensky (Osinsky) used to compare him with “a polished, shiny steel shell filled with explosives of immense power.” The destructive potential of that person really knew no boundaries, both figuratively and literally.
“The intellect was capacious and in some phases superb,” Winston Churchill wrote. “It was capable of universal comprehension in a degree rarely reached among men. <...> However, Lenin’s mind was controlled by the equally excellent will. Despite the disease, his strong, massive, vigorous body served him well until he reached middle age. When the body's resources were exhausted, the deed was done, and what had happened shall be remembered for a thousand years. <...> He took his place in history. Lenin was responsible for more deaths than any man who had lived, and no Asiatic conqueror, not even Tamerlane or Genghis Khan, could match his fame.”
Having conversations with my grandfather, who had known Lenin for many years, I asked him about "Stalin’s cruelties" and "Lenin’s humanism." Vyacheslav Molotov only laughed, because Joseph Stalin, in his opinion, was “a child as compared to Lenin” in those matters, and Lenin was often upset with Stalin precisely for his feebleness. Actually, the same was the case with Leo Trotsky, and Felix Dzerzhinsky, as well as everyone else.
Lenin was a person able to inspire others to make superhuman efforts. But how many of those efforts were in vain; how many human victims and tragedies they caused!
Vladimir Lenin, 1920.
Contrary to Soviet mythology, Lenin did not play a crucial role in overthrowing the tsarism – it was done by others while he was still in exile. However, Lenin’s role in deposing the Provisional Government and assertion of the Bolshevik regimes was certainly the decisive one. The October Revolution would not have occurred without him. And then his role in determining the country’s trajectory was absolute.
As Boris Pasternak noted, Lenin "controlled the flow of thoughts." He was able to state ideas that infatuated individuals first, then dozens and finally tens of millions of people. Lenin was an excellent strategist and tactician; otherwise he would not have taken and held on to the power. In fact, he came up with an alternative human development model denying entire previous history, made millions believe in it and implemented his plan on a significant part of the globe. But at the same time he gave a great fright to the rest of the planet.
Moreover, Lenin was not a visionary. The world socialist revolution promised by him has not taken place. Communism has not triumphed in all countries of the world. The capitalist system has not sunk into oblivion. And the model invented by Lenin turned out to be unviable: he refused it himself and proposed a new economic policy - NEP. Later, in the days of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, the transformed communist model collapsed.
The state and revolution
Lenin is the creator of the Soviet state model. He gave it legitimacy, and launched its working mechanism. And that state system lasted seven decades, having passed the most horrible stress tests. But at the same time, despite being based on the idea of proletarian dictatorship, it concealed the regime of the party, or rather, of Lenin himself and a handful of his fanatical fellow-associates sharing the same views.
Lenin discredited tsarism, which was based on autocratic sovereign power, on its possession and disposal of all primary resources, on the absolute right to demand its subjects to perform any service, and on state control of information. But what about the Soviet regime? “Communism in Russia took the form of extreme statism, holding life of a huge country within the iron grip, and unfortunately it is in full agreement with the old traditions of Russian statehood,” noted Nikolai Berdyaev.
Lenin broke the old state bureaucratic machine and was the first critic of Soviet bureaucracy. But he also became the architect of Soviet bureaucratic machine with size and inefficiency greatly surpassing the apparatus of the Russian Empire, which his destructive impulse had been directed at.
Slogans of the Revolution
Let us not forget that it was Lenin who became the father of the Red Terror. Yes, that was largely the response to the White Terror. And one can always disagree which Terror was the first and more horrible one - Red or White. But the fact that they both were the result of Lenin’s revolution and Lenin’s policy of overall property requisition, destruction of faith and provoking the Civil War, is beyond controversy.
Our much-suffering Homeland lost millions of lives by Lenin’s will. Cruel and bloody rulers are not uncommon in the history of East and West; however, I find it difficult to name another ruler who would scientifically rationalized (the doctrine of proletarian dictatorship) mass extermination of a huge part of population of their own country based on ideological and social principles. Total terror against the "exploiters" and "enemies of working people" was invented by Lenin. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot are so much epigones in this respect.
Decline and build-up
Ideas of industrialization, cultural revolution, universal literacy were the strongest in Lenin's political arsenal. Lenin opened unprecedented social elevators for millions of people with humble background. He gave many of the downtrodden hope if not a better life. However, before approaching that, he attained deindustrialization, as well as cultural and moral decay, destroyed or expelled a significant part of the intellectual and cultural elite.
Abolition of property caused instant bankruptcy of all those who had not managed to transfer money abroad. At the same time, most owners - especially those in the countryside - simply had no physical option to secure their property and savings. It was difficult to estimate capital outflow from the country. There was a sharp decline in number of working class, as well as in its standard of living. Lenin gave peasants land plots or made theirs bigger. However, most of things that grew or grazed on them were taken away. And Lenin’s successors would take the land away.
Through the lens of pure statistics, the Lenin's years were the most devastating in the history of Russia: a five-fold reduction in the economy and a ten-fold reduction in industrial manufacturing, which had never been seen before. It is difficult to figure out the correlation of factors related to the Civil War and to the Bolsheviks policy in the failure of the economy. However, we shall note that the Civil War was a product of the Bolsheviks policy to a great extent. Nevertheless, even during the most dreadful and larger-scale war, the one with Nazi Germany, the worst condition was when the economy halved. All economic innovations by Lenin had disastrous consequences and were later discredited by life and Lenin himself.
Lenin admitted his views dating back to beginning of the 20th century, when he had come to power, to be wrong. He admitted that policy of the Soviet regime in the first years was wrong and declared the transition to NEP. “Lenin was the Grand Repudiator,” Churchill noted on this subject. “He repudiated God, King, Country, morals, treaties, debts, rents, interest, the laws and customs of centuries, all contracts written or implied, the whole structure – such as it is of human society. And finally, he repudiated himself."
In October 1921, Lenin said: "There was no any single task performed by us, which would not require making a subsequent decision to deal with it again." He did not get chance to discredit NEP fuelled by survival imperative, rather than by Marxist theory. However NEP was discredited by his successors in the country leadership.
As a matter of fact, he became the author of the modern concept of total war with a country as a military camp, absolute unity of the contact and rear zones to win at all costs. The Bolsheviks would not have held to the power if it was not for Lenin. Without him, they could have lost the Civil War. But didn’t seizing power by Lenin and his policies cause the Civil War?!
It was not right away, but Lenin attempted to combine his goals of building the world socialist empire and Russia’s geopolitical interests, restoring the latter in the form of the Soviet Union. However, he also acted as a destroyer having proposed the formula for the Union (where anyone wishing to leave the alliance had right to do it), which ultimately blew the USSR up.
The rally at the Lenin monument
Lenin established a global network of communist parties that not only undermined foundations of all opposing states, but also supported policies of the Soviet Union. However, he made normal partnership with those states impossible.
Leninism in power was a compound and eclectic product, nurtured by objective conditions of Russian reality, resultant international isolation, as well as attempts by the devoutly fanatical party to implement the Russified Marxist principles with traditional domestic methods. Leninism became a form of Russia’s barbaric breakthrough into industrial civilization.
Aleksandr Voronsky, a Bolshevik, wrote: “And if now we observe that new Soviet Russia is growing and reaching out of all the cracks, which is Russia of people in leather, those wearing stars and red helmets, having strong and excellent built, Russia of workers’ schools and Sverdlovians, whose steppe field suntan is overlaid by stubborn shadows and chins got stubbornly steep, just like those of combatant cavalrymen in artistic and vivid descriptions by Leo Tolstoy, and whose sylvan, blue, cornflower-blue eyes sparkle with cold and firmness of steel, if this Russia is getting stronger and deeper day by day, if virgin lands of Russian black soil have been plowing wider, how can the one keep stating that Lenin is an ascetic and schematist, who does not know soil and genuine Russia? "
At the same time, Lenin’s face and name made impact on entire era of our history, which includes the main symbols of Russians’ national pride - Victory in the Great Patriotic War and the breakthrough into space. His image - retouched and lacquered - was an important educational factor for the generation of winners and pioneers of the Universe. The Soviet Union became a superpower with Lenin’s name on the banner.
His deed is dead
My attitude to Lenin is not fueled by any personal circumstances. My grandfather and I were different it was always that way. And he was 66 years older than me. It's huge. For grandfather, of course, Lenin was the genius of all time. Vyacheslav Molotov was a Leninist - perhaps the last Leninist of the Soviet Union.
Actually, his disagreements with Nikita Khrushchev arose due to the fact that Molotov defended Leninism, and Khrushchev, from his point of view, was a hard-line repudiator of Leninism and its fundamental ideas.
Proletarian internationalism as a concept was simply sold for scrap. It was replaced with the supposedly Leninist concept of peaceful coexistence of two systems, which Lenin could not have come up with. That’s where the core Leninist idea of the world communist revolution was given up on. Now, communism could also be built in a capitalist environment, which Lenin, of course, had not even been able to imagine. Proletarian dictatorship – which Lenin had considered to be the most important aspect in Marxism - disappeared from all party documents. It was replaced with “state of the whole people”, which Lenin had repeatedly ridiculed as the main fraud of bourgeois governments. Nobody remembered another core concept — annihilation of classes — having agreed to justice and appropriateness of coexistence of workers and peasants as classes and the stratum of working intelligentsia.
Mikhail Gorbachev was the last leader of the country who swore allegiance to Lenin’s precepts. The last program of the CPSU was Toward Humanistic, Democratic Socialism. Lenin was certainly neither a humanist nor a democrat. Gorbachev’s idea of universal values would make Lenin laugh very much (or enrage him), because he always acknowledged only class values. And Gorbachev took the path of bourgeois parliamentarianism utterly rejected by Lenin.
I do not say that all those changes were wrong. It is impossible to judge, at least because Leninism did not contain many right things. But those changes caused death of Leninism in the ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union by the end of the 1980s. You will not find Lenin’s basic ideas (thank God!) in the arsenal of the modern CPRF. So the Lenin’s case was put on the shelf a long time ago.
Lenin's Mausoleum in Red Square, Moscow
However, Lenin constantly reminds us that he is "very much alive." Consequences of his policy have been dealt with and overcome by people not only in Russia, but also abroad.
And his body is still in the Mausoleum. According to recent surveys, two-thirds of Russians believe that it should be removed from there, and a third of citizens say that it should stay. I think that if we want to renounce Leninism, we must recognize the rights of the minority. If a third of the population thinks that Lenin should be there, let him be. You cannot neglect it. There are many people who believe that Lenin is one of the symbols of our country. And he really is. Whether we want it or not.
Vyacheslav Nikonov, Doctor of Historical Sciences, grandson of Vyacheslav Molotov, member of the RSDLP since 1906.
Sourse: Historian Magazine