Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Real Lenin

Having just finished a 633 page biography of Lenin by the writer Robert Payne, let me summarize this man's life by quoting from pages 630-632:

Lenin had many sins, but the gravest was a supreme contempt for the human race.  Like Marx he possessed an overwhelming contempt for the peasants....But Lenin went beyond Marx.  Not only the peasants, but all classes of society were anathema to him--except the proletariat [workers], with which he had almost no contact.  He surrounded himself with intellectuals and theoreticians, and he despised them as much as he despised the peasants, for he never found one who was his intellectual equal....

Lenin was the great simplifier, but there are no simple solutions.  He wanted to bring about the ideal state--and there is no doubt about the genuineness of his passion for the ideal state--but the ideal eluded him, as it has eluded everyone else.  Toward the end of his life he realized that after the Russian people had suffered and submitted to intolerable sacrifices under his dictatorship, he had led them along the wrong path.  "I am, it seems, strongly guilty before the workers of Russia," he declared; and those words were his genuine epitaph.  There are few rulers in history who have uttered so clear a mea culpa.

That Stalin should have been his successor was a fearful irony.  That course, brutal and paranoid dictator possessed none of Lenin's intellectual gifts and could scarcely write a sentence which was not a mockery of the Russian language.  Under him Communism became a tyranny of such vast proportions that it exceeded all the tyrannies the world had known up to his time.  Lenin, with his harsh intellect, his egotism, his phenomenal vigor, his always flawed yet ever impressive achievement, remained oddly human; Stalin was a monster.  Yet it is important to observe that there could have been no Stalin without Lenin.  Stalin was Lenin's child; and Lenin, who hated and despised and feared him, must bear sole responsibility for bringing Stalin to power.

Once Lenin had decided that all means were permissible to bring about the dictatorship of the proletariat, with himself ruling in the name of the proletariat, he had commited Russia to intolerable deprivations of human freedom.  His power was naked power; his weapon was extermination; his aim the prolongation of his own dictatorship....He could decree the deaths of thousands upon thousands of men, and their deaths were immaterial, because they were only statistics impeding the progress of his theory.  The butchery in the cellars of the Lubyanka [Prison] did not concern him.  He captured the Russian Revolution and then betrayed it, and at that moment he made Stalin inevitable.

The lawlessness of Communist rule was of Lenin's own making.  Ordinary human morality never concerned him; from the beginning he was using words like "extermination" and "merciless" as though they were counters in a game.  Whatever he decreed was law, and whoever opposed his decree was outside the law, and therefore possessing no rights, not even the right to breathe....

The state he brought into being proved to be more unjust and incomparably more tyrannical than the state he overthrew.  He announced that everything would be new, but in fact there was nothing new except the names; for all tyrannies are alike, differing only in their degree of tyranny.  The Cheka was only the tsarist Okhrana under another name:  more unpitying, more terrifying, and effective only when it exterminated opposed groups to the last man.  Under Stalin, the Cheka, more murderous than ever, became the real ruler of the country; and one by one its leaders died in the same manner as the victims.

When the rule of a country is given over to the secret police, then by the very nature of things it loses its humanity, places itself outside the frontiers of civilization, and possesses no history; for the repetition of crimes is not history.  The government which Lenin introduced, believing it to be new, was as old as man, for there is nothing new about tyranny....

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