Russia - Lenin And Other Leaders
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
DURING My not short life I have met distinguished people in all parts of the world. In our own country the late King Edward took part in a meeting of a Royal Commission before which I was a witness. At the close of my evidence, together with a number of other people, I talked and lunched with him. I have also interviewed President Wilson, Colonel House, and most of the leading states-men who have been in and out of office in this country during the past dozen years ;I have met Church dignitaries, trade union officials, men and women connected with both large and small businesses, and amongst them all 1 class none on the same footing of far-reaching ability, downright straightforwardness and whole-hearted enthusiasm and devotion to the cause of humanity with Nicolai Lenin or Vladimir Ulianov--which is his real name.
Lenin celebrated his fiftieth birthday this year, on the 10th April—the 23rd by our calendar. Ire was born in Simbirsk in the Volga region. His father was by origin a peasant. His mother came of the same stock. Consequently Lenin is a pure born Russian. His family were always on the side of the revolution, his brother Alexander being executed in 1887 by order of Alexander IL Lenin attended the university of Kazan, but was expelled for taking part in a students' demonstration. In spite of this he took his degree.
In 1890 he was exiled to Siberia and then went to Geneva, where he spent a great deal of time in the libraries studying Marx and the literature of the revolution.
It is often stated that his wife and he live apart. This is one of those falsehoods which it has suited the enemies of socialism to perpetrate against one of the most high-souled men that ever led a popular movement. Nadiezda Krupskaya-Ulianova, wife of Lenin, has always been his most active helper both in the secret and publie organisation of Russian socialism and she is still his most ardent helper and friend.
During the war he was active at Zimmerwald and at the Kienthal Conferences. He has always opposed pure pacifism and has taken the stand that the socialists' reply to war was revolution. ~ met him on the day of my 61st birthday. I found him in a quite plain room in one of the big palaces of the Kremlin : no flunkies announced my arrival, and although soldiers guarded the outer entrances to the palace, his rooms were quite unguarded. There were groups of women clerks working away on typewriting machines, but an absolute lack of ostentation of any sort or kind pervaded the building. I contrasted the sort of study in which I found him with that used by cabinet ministers in this or any other country. Here I was face to face with the man who was centre of the greatest revolution in the history of the world, foremost leader in the reorganisation and rebuilding of the life of a nation comprising over 100 million human beings, beset on all sides by open enemies and false friends, attempting to build up life for a nation as the children of Israel centuries ago attempted to make bricks with-out straw. It was hard to realise that this was the man who was carrying on his shoulders the tremendous burden which a starving, disease stricken nation imposed.
When I saw him he had just recovered from a serious illness, and yet he was cheerful and apparently vigorous ; not for one moment did conversation on his side flag, nor for an instant did he hesitate to answer the most direct, clear-cut questions in a straightforward, honest manner. Cabinet Ministers in other countries would have talked of their troubles, of their difficulties, would have surrounded themselves with a group of officials to prevent the possibility of any mistake in their answering of questions : but Lenin takes the field alone, and this because he is not a diplomat—that is, he does not use language of a double meaning but wants you to understand what he means. He hates compromise. He will not accept the pacifist view of life because he believes that the possessing classes will inevitably compel the workers to fight. Ile emphasised this again and again : " You and the workers may not want to fight but the capitalist class will make you fight : they will never concede to reason what they will be obliged to concede to force." As I watched him I wondered what was the source of his strength, because there was strength written all over him, mental and moral strength came with every word he spoke. He was anxious that T should not call him an agnostic but an atheist ; that I should be quite certain of what his view was of religion. He defended the position by calling attention to the chloroforming influence which organised religion had exercised over the lives of the masses of the workers, not only in Russia but everywhere else.
I believe his strength comes because he is absolutely impersonal. He is the best hated and the best loved man in the world, but T believe he is absolutely indifferent both to love and hatred . I do not mean that he has no feeling, because I am confident that he loves little children, but in the pursuit of the cause of socialism he cannot be thwarted or turned one side or the other by personal considerations of any kind. He would go to the scaffold as calmly as to a meeting of his cabinet. He is not the " boss " of Russia, but he is the inspiring spirit of Russia. If there is such a thing embodied in humanity as the spirit of religion, then Lenin has got it to a larger extent than any other man I have met.
Sadoul likens him to "St. Ignatius Loyola," founder of the " Society of Jesus," because he has founded the communist order within which men and women must vow to serve only the commonweal, must have no personal ambitions, must live only for the nation—and Lenin himself does this and thus becomes their leader. He is a doer of the word, not a mere talker. While talking with him it was impossible to imagine that such a man would love or care for violence or butchery, torture or any of the other horrors which are laid to his charge. He is too big in his outlook and much too wide in his sympathies to want to kill anyone. The thing, however, that causes his great determination is the fact that he has travelled, not merely in Russia hut throughout the world, and understands theoretically and practically what a cursed thing capitalism can be ; he has suffered with the workers, and to suffer together is the cement of human friendship—he understands these things. Like the saints of old, he has devoted his whole life to the destruction of capitalism, which he believes is the most awful cancer in the life of humanity. Those who would be his friends must be as pure hearted as he ; he has no room for any of us who are half and half, he wants us to be one thing or the other. Ile does not understand patriotic socialism. He does understand the pacifist attitude although he does not agree with it, but he will have nothing to do with those socialists who cry out for the defence of the fatherland, because the fatherland to him is the world. He typifies in my judgment, a living expression of the saying of Ton t Paine : " The world is my country, to do good is my religion, all man-kind are my brethren." Thus he will take no part and expects other Socialists to take no part in the wars waged by capitalism. It is his enthusiasm and his words which have made soldiers in the Red army realise that in fighting, they are fighting not for Russia but for all humanity.
I repent it is strange to me to think of him as having no religion, because his whole life seems to be that of one of the saints of old. Whatever ma happen to him in the days to come he will enshrined in the heart of all Socialists worthy of the name throughout the length and breath of the world ; and this for his own sake, and also because of the tremendous service he has rendered to the common people. It is extraordinary to find that most of his bitter enemies in the Church, and amongst the classes whom his policy has ruined so far as material wealth goes, speak well of this Russian. It is only outside Russia that filth is thrown at him and lying calumnies printed about him. For Lenin has proved him-self a great impersonal soldier and leader in the one cause worth living, and if needs be, dying for—the establishment of the International by the replacement of capitalism by socialism.
Before the revolution the Czars were known as the " little fathers of the Russian people." Today Lenin is symbolic of a new spirit. He is in very deed a father of his people—a father who toils for them, thinks for them, acts for them, suffers with them, and is ready to stand in danger or in safety struggling on their be-half. Tens of thousands of men and women love him and would die for him because he is their comrade, their champion in the cause of social and economic freedom.
A few days later I travelled sixty versts out of Moscow to meet Peter Kropotkin and his wife. They are old friends and I found them in a comfortable house in a rather nice little village, looking to me very picturesque with its quaint wooden houses covered with snow and ice. The house they live in is one which has become vacant because the previous owner has left the country. As everywhere the people in this village were hungry, but not so hungry as the people in Moscow. Kropotkin, his wife and daughter have suffered as much as most people owing to the shortage of food : I think also they miss the company of friends, and from their conversation gathered that they found themselves rather apart from things that are going on.
Kropotkin and Madame Kropotkin are both very scornful and condemnatory of the Soviet Government and all its methods. They think of it as a class government and as tyranny. believe they take no part in the organisation of life at all. Listening to them, it seemed to me a tragedy that after all the years of toil and stress, this brave, confident fighter on behalf of truth should find himself, in the midst of the revolution which he had done so much to help bring about, a comparative stranger, or at least unable to take part in its organising work. ~ am doubtful though if any elected government would have ' really satisfied our comrade. He is a philosophical anarchist and hates authority. He seems quite confident that the Russian, nation will win its salvation, if only the outside world will leave it alone. He has no patience with the policy of intervention ; in fact, he declares it is intervention which has brought his country to the plight in which it now is.
One morning, almost before I was up, I had a visit from Vladimir Chertkoff and his son. People who are interested in the work of the Society of Friends of R ussian Freedom will re-member the long years that Chertkoff lived in this country at Tuekton House near Christ-church. He is a Tolstoyan and I found talking to him, or rather listening to him talking, with his son joining in occasionally, one of the most interesting of the interviews that took place between myself and Russians.
They are typical Tolstoyans in that they believe no evil and try to think good of all men. They are distressed because of the horrors and violence which has accompanied the revolution. They would have preferred that the operative movement had remained a voluntary organisation apart from the Government. They think there is too much discipline, too much organisation, but both are absolutely loyal to the Government. They recognise the difficulties which beset Lenin and his colleagues ~ they understand, too, the terrible difficulties which the revolution has created ; both believe that the present Government and all its machinery of compulsion is only a passing stage.
I asked Chertkoff himself what he would do if he now had power. I also put the same question to Kropotkin. Kropotkin answered that possibly nothing else could be done but was being done ; he did not seem quite sure. But Chertkoff, who is really a disciple of Tolstoy in addition to being his literary executor, never hesitated for a moment : " I would abolish the whole Government ; police, soldiers, and everything else in the form of State organisation, and let the people go back to a simpler and a more natural form of life." I said " Yes, but they would kill one another." He replied : " They may (l0 so, but it will not matter very much compared with present conditions where they are being killed daily, not only here but all over the world." It was a great experience to find a man who was quite willing to face all that may be involved in the complete abolition of government with its machinery and organisation. And this Chertkoff did, and was quite prepared for all that such abolition involved.
I should think there is no country in the world that has produced thinkers so varied on moral and spiritual things as Russia, and the revolution, instead of wiping this out, has really kept it alive. This comrade lectures all over the country : in addition he is one of the Tribunal which has been set up to deal with conscientious objectors to military service. In putting him, and men like him on such Tribunals, Lenin and his colleagues have shown themselves much more liberal minded than the authorities in England, for as far as I am aware no member of the Society of Friends who was a pacifist was allowed to sit on a Tribunal anywhere in this country.
Chertkoff Junior is one of the leading men in the Co-operative movement and spends a good deal of his time in the work of education and organisation. The little paper which he is responsible for producing is one of the very few influential papers allowed to be printed. I think it appears fortnightly or monthly.
I must add a word here that Chertkoff and his Tolstoyan friends are much more active than ever before. They have freedom now, where-as under the Czar they were not allowed to propagate their ideas. They believe that Tolstoy's views of life will even yet prevail in Russia : they look for a great spiritual renaissance and think that out of Russia a new Messiah will come—not with a new gospel but with the old gospel adapted for modern life. I may as well point out here to those who say Lenin and his colleagues are intolerant of religion, that under the Czar the Salvation Army was hardly tolerated in Russia and all unorthodox sects were rigidly suppressed.
As he stood in my room, I thought of Chertkoff as one of the prophets of old; he was so full of faith, so full of hope and so confident of the truth of the message he has to deliver. It was an inspiration to meet him, and it was fine to know that in Russia, and especially in Moscow, in the centre of what has been called a material revolution, there was yet room for such men and their message to the world.
Captain Sadoul, the French Socialist member of Parliament, who is under sentence of death in his own country for having joined the Bolsheviks and at the sanie time exposing the humbug and hypocrisy of the policy of the Allied Governments towards the Soviet Government, is I should think a man of about thirty-five years of age. When I visited him he was in bed, having met with an accident which had severely damaged his knee-cap. I found him one of the brightest and most genial of the personages I met in Moscow. Although he had suffered a good deal and was not likely to be fit for some days he was full of cheerfulness, and talked away of the future in the most optimistic manner. For him, like so many others, there is only one country and that is the world ; there is but one nation and that is humanity.
I asked him about his relationships with Longuet. He thinks of our French comrade as a good man weakly struggling with saversity. There is no doubt about it, these Bolsheviks want whole-hearted friends : they accept no half-hearted service from anyone. They are entitled to this because they themselves are not half-hearted. They do not believe in giving lip service to a cause, and especially the cause of the International. He would hear nothing of the Second Inter-national or of any other except the Moscow Third International. He told us many stories of his adventures and of the manner in which French and English officers and troops had been used to try and pull down the Soviet Government.
Here again was a man who professed precious little religious belief, but he had a great faith. To him the British Labour Movement was a great force. He rather wavered on the question of the necessity of violence in this country, agreeing that our forms and our developments were different from those of other countries. But all the same, like everyone else I spoke to, he came back to the old point that experience up to the present had shown that the governing classes had not yet given way on any essential matter and it was very doubtful if they would do so without a violent upheaval.
I want to put on record what a lovable personality this man is, the tenderness with which he looks out on life. In this respect the true soldier—that is he looks on killing, not as a profession but as a horrible necessity. When I asked him about atrocities he just poured scorn on the whole thing ; made no sort of exception or apology, because for him atrocities do not exist as far as the Govern-ment and the officials controlled by the Government are concerned.
During my stay he left Moscow for the Polish front, and I expect is now down there helping either to make peace or carry on the war on behalf of Russia. He is but one of the many, many thousands who have gone to Russia, called there by the spirit of the revolution, to take part in the struggle on behalf of internationalism.
I have only space to deal quite briefly with two or three other men that I met. I want to say a word about one whom I just missed—Michael Ivanovitch Kalinin, the President of the Central Executive Committee of the All Russian Soviet Congress. He was born in 1875 and comes of a peasant family and is a pure Russian. From his very earliest days his life was one of hard work. He had to help his father from his very earliest childhood, but like so many other boys In Russia, he taught him-self to read. A neighbouring landowner, when the boy was thirteen, paid the cost of sending him to school. He then went to work on the estate, but very soon migrated to Petrograd and worked as a turner in the Putiloff works. In. 1898 he joined the Social Democratic Party. A year later be was arrested and exiled. Later he was allowed to return to Reval, but he was not there long before he was again arrested and exiled to Siberia. He is married and has a wife and three children and a sixty-year-old mother who lives in the village where he was born, managing a farm.
He reckons that his chief work as President of the Executive Committee is to awaken the peasants and especially the middle class peasantry. He wants to bring the villages and towns into closer contact and establish better relationships between the one and the other. He considers his election as President, of the Executive Committee proves that the Bolsheviks are anxious to unite the peasants and workers in one solid organisation. When asked one day " What do you expect from the future? " his reply was : " I am an incorrigible optimist ; T am sure we will overcome all misfortunes. T am going a tour of the villages and small towns and T am sure that we shall come to an understanding with each other." He has a special train in which he travels from one part of the country to another. Tie speaks quite simply, sometimes to a crowd of children and on other occasions to huge crowds of workmen.
He takes his position as President, not as an ornamental one, but as one involving down-right hard work on behalf of the people. It is said that when his train arrives at a village, the peasants, men, women, and children pour out to meet him. They tell him their grievances, ask for his assistance, and invariably get the reply, not that " I will see to it," but the Soviet Government must deal with these things. Kalinin is showing us what a true leader of people should be like. He is both servant, inspirer and peace-maker.
Amongst the others that I met was Tchitcherin, the Foreign Minister, whom many people in this country know quite well. He comes of a family of nobles who have served for years in the Moscow Foreign Office. I saw him very often because I sent out a wireless message every night and it was important to see him in connection with this. He is as hard-working as ever, but curiously enough only works at night—from four in the afternoon to eight o'clock in the morning. Like all the rest of the chiefs in Moscow he works in an overcoat and muffler, because there is no fuel with which to beat his room.
Talking to him of foreign relationships is so different from talking to the Ministers of other nations ; the one idea of Tehitcherin is for peace and disarmament. One thing he said to me which I shall always remember is this " What is the use of frontiers ? Why do we want to bother about strategic points? We have no quarrel with the Fins or the Letts or with the Poles. All we want is to live at peace with all nations. We must do business with them and they with us, we do not need armaments unless we want to rob each other, and Soviet Russia wishes to rob nobody but only to live out her own life."
Lunacharsky, the Education Minister, is well known throughout the world as one of the leading educationalists. Given the chance, Russia, I am sure, is going to show us how to educate and train children, but it will take many years to get her system going. Our comrade has evolved his new system from nothing. Most of the educationalists who served under the Czar ran away or stayed to sabotage. He is definitely showing that it is possible to create an organlsation, even in the midst of war and revolution, and in spite of the hostility of those who should teach. During my interview he was surrounded by his children. ~ ought to add he is not only Education Minister ; he is also in charge of all historic buildings, churches and palaces in Russia, and it is to him we owe the fact that all these are to be preserved and kept up by the nation. He is no " iconoclast " ~ he thinks the past has lots to teach us and that we must hand on knowledge unimpaired and amplified to our children.
Zinovieff, who is head of the Petrograd Soviet and also Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Third International, is probably the most influential man in Russia, outside Lenin and Trotsky. I should think he was broader and more tolerant than some of his colleagues ; also he appears to me to be the youngest of them all. On one thing he is very definite and that is the Third Inter-national. Talking to him, there seems little chance of compromise, but I did not gather from him or from any of the others, that a person like myself, who is opposed to the use of violence, would be excluded from membership.
The organisation of social life in Petrograd appears to me to be better done than in Moscow. Certainly the trams were running and the organisation of food supplies seemed to be better. This is not surprising, Petrograd is a more modern town and has a more modern and industrial population. I simply do not believe any of the stories of wholesale destruction of art treasures and machinery ; no doubt there was some destruction and vandalism when the revolution broke out, but to nothing like the extent the enemies of Socialism would have us believe.
Secretary of the Moscow Soviet is a woman.
It was my very bad luck to miss Trotsky. He left Moscow the day before I arrived. My colleague Griffin Barry interviewed him a few weeks previously. If Lenin is the soul of the revolution Trotsky is the living embodiment of the revolution at work. He is the organiser of victory in the field and he will be the organiser of victory in field, factory and workshop. It is his iron will and determination which will never acknowledge defeat either on the bloody or bloodless front. When he and Lenin speak at a congress or demonstration they are listened to as representing two necessary sides of the revolution, enthusiasm and constructive work. He is the one outstanding Jew in the world to-day in Russia ; he is as Carnot was to the French revolution, organiser of victory over enemies at home and abroad, but, unlike Carnot, he is now organising a triumph In the sphere of Labour, and it is this which will stamp a hint as one of the greatest leaders of men.