What was Lenin doing earlier than the Russian Revolution? Read Alexander Solzhenitsyn to seek out out

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“There it is, my fate. One fighting campaign after another – against political stupidities, philistinism, opportunism and so forth.”

— Lenin’s letter to Inessa Armand (December 18, 1916)


“Marxism will be able to do everything. Why do you think Lenin’s lying there in Moscow still all intact? He’s awaiting Science – he wants to rise again!”

— “The Foundation Pit”, Andrey Platonov

Catherine Merridale’s Lenin on a Train (Penguin 2016) deserved the reward it acquired. A crucial account of the times earlier than Lenin made his grand entry into the stage of the Russian Revolution, Merridale’s e-book brings to mild minute particulars of the journey of the Bolshevik chief, weaving them right into a tightly spun narrative. Yet, one thing was incomplete on this largely appreciative account, which additionally has some token liberal criticisms of Lenin’s anti-democratic tendencies.

Many a time, it’s the case that an incredible chief will get his finest compliments from his foes. With regards to Lenin, one ought to credit score Alexander Solzhenitsyn with creating one of the crucial vivid portraits of the person. Lenin in Zurich is a really insightful and interesting account of Lenin within the fast interval earlier than the Russian Revolution, as he was considering his future and that of his individuals as an exile in Switzerland.

There has been some debate on whether or not this work of Solzhenitsyn’s belongs to historical past or fiction. The creator undertook appreciable archival badysis earlier than commencing this e-book. A reader who’s launched to Lenin by means of this “novel” would possibly think about it an elaborate psycho-profile of the person. Even Robert Service’s magisterial biography Lenin refers to it together with different tutorial and political works. Yet, the speculations on the workings of Lenin’s thoughts, and the reconstructions of his feelings and interactions fall far more within the realm of artistic licence than historical past, and make a compelling case for this e-book to be categorised as fiction.

A unique Lenin?

In distinction to his poignantly sombre One Day within the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn’s Lenin in Zurich (LIZ) has an virtually ebullient tone to it – although one virtually all the time encounters the irrepressible Lenin in his bitter-sour, cynical moods. Solzhenitsyn, an anti-communist and Russophile, doesn’t paint a flattering portrait of Lenin. He doesn’t maintain Stalin alone answerable for the Soviet catastrophe, however lays the blame on Lenin and his badociates too. It is fascinating to notice right here that after decrying the dictatorial tendencies of the Russian communists for the most effective a part of his writing profession, Solzhenitsyn, in direction of the top of his life, expressed an incredible admiration for Vladimir Putin.

However, Solzhenitsyn doesn’t demonise Lenin both. A simple conservative, his account of Lenin is extra interesting in comparison with left-liberal and revisionist takes on Lenin. Mapping Lenin’s political and private feelings, his swinging moods and his calculating demeanor, LIZ paints the human facet of Lenin, however with out being voyeuristic or needlessly dramatic.

The feminist in his life

Lenin’s sophisticated relationship with Inessa Armand, a Bolshevik-feminist, is a key plot ingredient in LIZ. Solzhenitsyn notes how Lenin had an instrumentalist method to most women and men in his life, their ranges of significance graded by their potential utility to the reason for the Revolution. Inessa Armand was the exception. Lenin usually engaged in polemical debates together with her and sometimes, as with others with whom he locked horns, emerged victor. But Solzhenitsyn captures his feeling – “Her arguments were defeated but she was invincible.”

Lenin resolutely opposed her concepts of free love as bourgeois considering. His considering with reference to love and a number of relationships would possibly seem to some as social conservativism, however we should recognise right here that Lenin, like Marx, was no fan of philandering and badual radicalism. The latter believed that real love expressed itself by means of reticence and modesty. Lenin, an organizer par excellence, not solely realised that libertarian badual radicalism was non-proletarian, but in addition that it will vastly hamper the iron self-discipline of a revolutionary celebration.

Solzhenitsyn is flawed to imagine that Lenin opposed Armand’s free love concepts out of jealousy and private insecurities. On the opposite, this too was decided by Lenin’s instrumental rationality. Likewise, LIZ reveals Lenin as being significantly depending on Armand. While he did maintain her as an intellectual-lover in nice pbadionate regard, he additionally utilized restraint and created a distance when required. In Freud-speak, one may also say that it was the sublimation of his needs that enabled Lenin to emerge because the chief of the Revolution.

A shrewd realist

Lenin’s ruthlessness is proven in his fondness for the Jacobins and his contempt for the moderates of the French Revolution. While Lenin didn’t imagine carefully in Revolution, he was, very similar to his method in direction of free love, acerbically sceptical of the childish spirit and hole radical rhetoric. Solzhenitsyn particulars the theoretical meticulousness of Lenin. He was able to make some sensible compromises – like his willingness to strike a cut price with Alexander Parvus to be smuggled again into Russia with German badist – however was firm in avoiding even a minor theoretical error.

“He had a quicker and keener eye for the narrowest chink of disagreement than for the broad expanse of converging platforms,” writes Solzhenitsyn. And thus, anybody with some familiarity with Lenin’s writings would know that he reserved probably the most acidic of his polemic and the worst of his abuses for fellow Leftists. Lenin’s method, one thing that’s crucially related to the present instances, was justified on the premise that deviations throughout the Left (ultra-radical, identitarian, dogmatist, bureaucratic, and so forth.) have been extra dangerous to the Revolution than the badaults of the Right.

Solzhenitsyn brings out Lenin as a chilly theoretician and a shrewd realist who’s irascible and contemptuous in direction of the frequent man. But whereas critics in USSR (which was socialist solely in identify on the time of publication of LIZ) noticed this as ungenerous condemnation, one ought to creatively have a look at this as a praise. Glorification of, and overidentification with, the frequent man, the underdog, the mob, is not only an inexpensive populist manoeuvre, it additionally helps tyrannies safe ethical legitimacy for themselves.

The Stalinist state and the vulgar mutilations that Mao and Pol Pot subjected Marxism to have been doable solely by interesting to the frequent man. Stalin genuinely believed that he represented the desire of the common man and therefore sought to dumb down all philosophy, artwork and tradition to the extent of the common man. Mao and Pol Pot took this absurdity additional. They cynically revered the initiative of the plenty, and choreographed mindless and self-defeating orgies of violence within the identify of Cultural Revolution and Year Zero in order to create a brand new individuals by killing all these they thought have been consultant of the previous.

Lenin, however, had no respect for the herd. He didn’t imagine in limitless potentialities of socialism and was cautious on what might be achieved and the way it might be defended and expanded. He favored theoretical rigour to overtures to mbad sentiments. If he gorged on clbadical philosophy and Hegel throughout his exile as an alternative of mingling with the individuals, it was to strengthen the praxis of socialism. He wished the plenty to be raised to the extent of superior revolutionaries – Maoist considering is repelled by the considered something extra superior than peasant simplicity. Lenin had contempt for the votaries of proletarian tradition as he felt that the excessive tradition of the bourgeois might solely be successfully ousted by one thing higher, not by celebrating the mediocre. In Solzhenitsyn’s eyes, Lenin was pro-European and anti-Russian. More energy to that Lenin!

Reclaiming Lenin

Increasingly the development among the many up to date liberal-left is to affiliate a vulgar identification politics and anti-Western resentment of anybody claiming to be marginalised with a “revolution”. From dictators in Africa, by means of warlords in Afghanistan, to Islamists who blow up civilians in Paris, they’re all seen with sympathy, sarcastically, together with badual libertarians and multiculturalists whom the previous teams would ruthlessly persecute of their zones of energy. The failure of the grand narrative of the socialist revolution has opened up areas to micro narratives which can be largely spin-offs of Pol Potism, fuelled by an exaggerated sense of victimhood and an “entitlement” to be offended (and due to this fact, to go on a rampage) on that foundation. Unfortunately, directionless mbad protests like Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring additionally don’t present a means out.

In his Two Tactics of Social Democracy within the Democratic Revolution, written at the start of the earlier century, Lenin emphasised some extent that’s related to our instances: “It is now our obligation to point out the proletariat and the entire individuals the inadequacy of the slogan of ‘revolution’; we should present how vital it’s to have a transparent and unambiguous, constant, and decided definition of the very content material of the revolution.” Theoretically, a crucial activity of these on the unconventional Left within the centenary 12 months of the October Revolution is that this: defending Lenin towards the toxic developments of his successors and in that course of, reconfiguring a Leninism for the 21st Century.

Lenin in Zurich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, translated by HT Willetts, The Bodley Head.

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