The British actor Miles Malleson, a far-Left activist and supporter of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, was within the Studying Room of the British Museum within the Twenties and bought into dialog with a long-serving librarian. Did the librarian bear in mind a Mr Ulyanov, a Russian, who, in 1902, had been an everyday at L13, a desk beneath the room’s magnificent central dome, head down, furiously studying and writing?
The librarian appeared clean for a second, then replied: ‘Oh sure, a really charming gentleman, brief with a pointed beard. Very properly spoken.’
He then requested in all innocence: ‘Are you aware what turned of him?’
What turned of him certainly?
By then, that ‘charming gentleman’ had seized energy in Russia in a daring coup d’etat, fought off all opposition in a vicious civil conflict, ordered the slaughter in chilly blood of the Tsar and his total household, based the USSR, the first-ever communist state in historical past (however not the final), and its navy pressure, the Employees’ and Peasants’ Purple Military, and turned the world the other way up to the purpose the place it will by no means be the identical once more.
His statue stood in each Russian city and his embalmed physique nonetheless lies on show in a mausoleum on the coronary heart of Moscow, the place it’s commemorated by a stream of tourists.
Soviet propaganda poster with textual content studying: ‘Lenin lived, Lenin is alive, Lenin will reside’
Vladimir Lenin, left, with Joseph Stalin in 1922. The reality – nevertheless a lot it might offend those that regard Lenin’s as the suitable face of Communism – is that Stalin was Lenin’s protege and took his lead from him.
For Mr Ulyanov was Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, destined to be the ruthless autocratic ruler of the Soviet Union from 1917 till his dying in 1924.
At this time is the centenary of his dying and a second to mirror on the time he spent in London, dwelling along with his spouse Nadya in down-at-heel rooms in Camden and Clerkenwell, plotting with a rag-tag group of socialist exiles and intellectuals (most of whom he loathed due to their filthy private habits) on methods to foment revolution again residence and, paranoid as ever, ducking the police he imagined had him beneath surveillance as a suspected subversive and terrorist. (In actuality, Particular Department barely registered his presence.)
England was considered one of quite a few European international locations Lenin took shelter in throughout his 16 years of exile from his homeland, a fugitive from the Russian authorities who noticed him, appropriately, as a harmful revolutionary with designs to overthrow the federal government. He had been radicalised as a young person when his older brother was hanged for conspiring to kill the Tsar.
Sarcastically he and Nadya cherished going to Audio system’ Nook in Hyde Park to take heed to the free-flow of opinions being publicly expressed – a far cry from the crackdown on disagreement and dialogue he initiated as soon as he dominated Russia.
He additionally took a sixpenny bus experience to Highgate to face in admiration beside the grave of an earlier political exile in London. Karl Marx, writer of The Communist Manifesto, was Lenin’s inspiration.
Crucially, although, he broke ranks with Marx, choosing a unique approach ahead from the one preached by his mentor, which acknowledged that in a complicated industrial financial system, capitalism would inevitably collapse beneath the load of its personal contradictions, to get replaced by socialism. Lenin agreed in principle, however, impatient for change, wasn’t ready to attend for historical past to do the job. The method might do with a heavy shove – one which he and his Bolsheviks have been eager to offer.
This, too, even supposing Russia was removed from the superior industrialised nation Marx had postulated, however a largely agrarian nation whose peasant financial system did not match Marx’s principle as ripe for revolution.
Russia was a land in chaos, going through defeat by Germany within the First World Warfare, its troopers mutinying of their tens of millions, on its knees economically, disastrously led by the autocratic Tsar Nicholas II till he abdicated to get replaced by an equally unimpressive coterie of social democrats.
Lenin determined if there was ever a time to strike, it was then, no matter Marxist principle dictated.
In October 1917, he risked all to grab energy for himself and his Bolshevik celebration. He then dominated as ruthlessly as any Tsar, his seven years as chief marked by one-party rule, the violent suppression of dissenters, famine that price tens of millions of lives, censorship – the entire distortion of the socialist heaven he claimed he was creating.
There are those that will level to his successor, Stalin, as the actual satan in Russia’s twentieth Century historical past, and there’s no doubt that the repression, the violence, present trials, gulags and butchery of that monster’s 30 years because the dictator of the Soviet Union far exceeded Lenin’s – nastier, extra brutal, insanely contemptuous of human life, completely past rational understanding. In his paranoia, he murdered pal and foe alike.
Vladimir Lenin talking in Purple Sq., on November 7, 1918. From the outset, Lenin had no qualms in utilizing terror as a method of management
And but the reality – nevertheless a lot it might offend those that regard Lenin’s as the suitable face of Communism – is that Stalin was Lenin’s protege and took his lead from him.
From the outset, Lenin had no qualms in utilizing terror as a method of management.
He not solely inspired violence however demanded it, setting a murderous agenda to get rid of his enemies so that his so-called proletarian revolution would succeed.
He sanctioned ‘unrestrained energy and the usage of pressure, not of legislation’, satisfied it was higher that 100 harmless individuals ought to die than that one particular person endangering the revolution ought to stay free.
In line with historian Robert Service in his new ebook Blood On The Snow, the delivery of the malaise that gripped Russia beneath its communist masters for the subsequent 70 years occurred not with Stalin’s despotism however within the first years after October 1917, beneath Lenin.
It may be argued that Lenin solely adopted a sample set by the Tsars, whose ruthlessness and autocratic rule had outlined and despoiled Russia for hundreds of years. But sitting in his seat on the British Museum, Lenin had fancied he might trend a greater, extra peaceable, extra equal Russia – just for the truth of exercising energy in that huge nation and his willpower to pressure a reluctant inhabitants into line, no matter the price, to show him right into a tsar in all however title and each bit as horrible as his predecessors.
And the horror he created did not cease with Russia. ‘The Soviet one-party, one-ideology terror state begat totalitarianism,’ writes Service. ‘Soviet Communism held the patent to a type of rule that might be adopted by each the acute Left and Proper, supplying a fundamental template for energy that the Nazis would use in Germany.’ Lenin has a lot to reply for. His first decree on seizing energy was to shut hostile newspapers – one other irony since, when in exile, he had edited Iskra (The Spark), a radical newspaper smuggled into Russia and secretly distributed to Bolshevik celebration members.
From expertise, he knew the facility of the Press and so instantly suppressed it.
Then he established the Cheka, the Fee for Combating Counter-Revolution, Hypothesis and Sabotage, a secret police pressure of thugs tasked with hounding, to dying if needed, anybody who doubted the legitimacy of the revolution. It was on Lenin’s orders that the USSR started as a police state and stayed that approach for the subsequent seven a long time.
Crucially, Lenin broke ranks with Marx (pictured), choosing a unique approach ahead from the one preached by his mentor, which acknowledged that in a complicated industrial financial system, capitalism would inevitably collapse beneath the load of its personal contradictions, to get replaced by socialism
The countryside felt the worst of his wrath when peasants resisted the collectivisation of land and tried to maintain the grain they grew to promote for themselves. ‘Dangle them,’ was his instruction to officers in a single space. ‘No fewer than 100 kulaks [wealthier peasant farmers], wealthy males and bloodsuckers – and ensure the hanging takes place in full view of the individuals.’
Villages that rose towards Soviet energy have been torched. Households of anybody who opposed the regime have been held as hostages in focus camps. He authorised the usage of poison gasoline towards insurgent bands of peasants.
Requisitioning of grain by the state led to widespread famine, with an estimated two million dying of starvation and determined individuals resorting to cannibalism. There have been horrific tales of moms killing one baby to be able to feed the others within the household. Lenin’s response was to ban the usage of the phrase ‘famine’ within the Press.
A decade later, Stalin could be infamous for the man-made famines of the Thirties through which 5 million died, weaponising hunger as a strategy to carry Ukraine to heel in a genocidal act that also fuels the deep hatred between Moscow and Kyiv. However beneath Lenin, a lot the identical had occurred, although on a smaller scale.
He not often held again when confronted with those that challenged Bolshevik rule. When ‘my troubleshooter’, as he referred to as his sidekick Stalin, rooted out suspected counter-revolutionaries, Lenin inspired him to be ‘cruel’ and ‘ruthless’.
Stalin responded: ‘Be assured our hand is not going to tremble.’
Nor did it. Confronted with a peasant rebellion within the Tambov district, Lenin instructed the Cheka chief: ‘The quickest (and exemplary) liquidation is totally needed.’
The ‘White Russian’ forces, a motley, disorganised band who tried to oust the Bolsheviks (and might need succeeded if it had not been for their very own incompetence and infighting) have been savagely handled in defeat, with tens of 1000’s massacred, many hung from lampposts to ram residence the purpose to an more and more terrified and compliant inhabitants.
It’s with good purpose that historian Antony Beevor declares: ‘For ruthless inhumanity, the Bolsheviks have been unbeatable.’ As his grip tightened, Lenin, the atheist who dismissed faith as ‘opium for the individuals’, turned his avenging eye on the Orthodox Church. It had been a powerhouse beneath the Tsars; he dis-established it, seizing its land and its huge riches.
Joseph Stalin addresses voters of the Stalin election district in Moscow, on the night of the election through which Russians voted for the primary time beneath the brand new structure
Thirty bishops and greater than 1,000 monks have been killed, an archbishop’s eyes gouged out and his ears reduce off earlier than he was shot, one other bishop being tied to a rock and thrown right into a river.
Over the next 15 years, 97 per cent of church buildings (plus synagogues and mosques) have been closed down. And right here is the ultimate irony of Lenin’s regime – as a result of by then he was a sainted determine in dying, embalmed, revered – Russia beneath the Bolsheviks merely changed the outdated faith with a brand new one – Leninism.
His time, although, was operating out. In 1918, he was fortunate to outlive an assassination try when a lone gun-woman fired three bullets into him, considered one of which missed his aorta by millimetres.
Lenin rapidly recovered (whereas on his behalf the Cheka took revenge not solely on the gunwoman, executed with out trial, however 1000’s of different dissidents) and was quickly again at his desk. However he not often slowed down or took break day; he ate badly, slept badly, had little or no train and the toll on his well being was unrelenting.
By the beginning of 1921, he was a sick man – in need of breath, struggling pains in his legs, tormented by complications, drained. Docs blamed lead poisoning attributable to the bullets nonetheless inside him from the assassination try – an unlikely prognosis however nonetheless he was operated on to take away one lodged in his shoulder.
He appeared to get better however a month later he collapsed, felled by a stroke that paralysed him and impaired his speech… and his thoughts – when requested to multiply 12 by 7, he could not.
His writing was an illegible scrawl however he struggled on – his deteriorating situation stored a secret from all however an internal circle.
There have been extra strokes, leaving him unable to talk, his consciousness ‘cloudy’, confined to a wheelchair, his face contorted right into a babyish smile. He begged Stalin to place him out of his distress with poison however Stalin refused. He had moments of aid. On January 18, 1924, he spent a day propped up on pillows on a horse-drawn sleigh for a rural outing however three days later he fell right into a coma and died, his spouse Nadya at his facet.
A number of days earlier, delegates at a mass assembly of Soviet leaders, wrongly assured that he was on the mend, had stood and cheered, ‘Lengthy reside the chief of the world proletariat, Comrade Lenin.’
Together with his dying got here a aware choice not solely to maintain his title alive however to raise his standing into the stratosphere.
Dzherzhinsky leads the pallbearers carrying Lenin’s coffin from Paveletsky Station to the Labor Temple, with Sopranov behind him and Kamanev on the left
His physique was to not be cremated, as per regular, but it surely was mummified for show, just like the relics of a saint. A wood tomb – upgraded to marble and stone – was constructed beside the Kremlin wall to be a shrine for the cult of Lenin.
As the last word tribute, his title was formally linked to the thinker who had impressed him, and Marxism re-designated as Marxism-Leninism.
100 years on, how ought to we assess him?
His biographer Victor Sebestyen catches the nuances of Lenin’s contribution to historical past when he writes: ‘He was not a monster, a sadist or vicious. He was not merciless: in contrast to Stalin he by no means requested in regards to the particulars of his victims’ deaths, savouring the second. He by no means donned military-style tunics as different dictators favoured.
‘However he constructed a system based mostly on the concept political terror towards opponents was justified for a better finish.
It was then perfected by Stalin, however the concepts have been Lenin’s. The worst of his evils was to have left a person like Stalin able to guide Russia after him. That was a historic crime.’
In The Communist Manifesto, Marx’s enchantment to the employees of the world had been: ‘Unite – you don’t have anything to lose however your chains.’ Lenin’s legacy was to betray them by binding them extra tightly than ever.