Maxim Gorky biography see below
To see the photos and other information about Lenin and Maxim Gorky go
to the Lenin Museum
Vladimir Lenin is dead.
Even in the camp of his enemies there are some who honestly admit: in
Lenin the world has lost a personality "who embodied genius more
strikingly than any other great man of his day".
...That which I wrote about him soon after his death was written in a
state of depression, hastily and poorly. There were some things tact would
not allow me to mention; and I hope this will be fully understood. This
man was far-seeing and wise, and "in great wisdom there is also great
He saw far ahead, and when thinking and speaking of people in 1919-1921
he often accurately foretold what they would be like a few years hence.
One did not always want to believe in his prophecies, for they were not
infrequently discouraging, but alas many of them came to fit his sceptical
characterisations. My recollections of him, in addition to being poorly
written, lacked sequence and had some regrettable gaps. I should have
begun with the London Congress, with the days when Vladimir
Ilyich appeared before me clearly illumined by the doubt and mistrust
of some, and the obvious hostility and even hatred of others.
A reference to the Fifth (London)
Congress of the RSDLP (1907), in which Maxim Gorky
took part as a delegate with a vote but no voice.
I can still see the bare walls of the ridiculously shabby wooden church
in the suburbs of London, the lancet windows of a small narrow hall much
like the classroom of a poor school. It was only from the outside that
the building resembled a church. Inside there was a total absence of any
religious attributes and even the low pulpit stood not in the back of
the hall but squarely between the two doors.
I had never met Lenin until that year, nor even read
him as much as I should have done. I was strongly drawn to him, how-ever,
by what I had read of his writings, and particularly by the enthusiastic
accounts of people who were personally acquainted with him. When we were
introduced he gripped my hand firmly, probed me with his penetrating eyes,
and said in the humorous tone of an old friend:
"I'm glad, you came. You like a fight, don't you? Well, there's going
to be a big scrap here."
There is an error in Maxim Gorky
's account here which he subsequently pointed out himself. See the
biographical note on Maxim Gorky for his first meeting with Lenin.
I had pictured him differently. I missed something in him. He had this
articulation with the slurred r's and a way of tucking his thumbs into
the armholes of his waistcoat, which gave him a cocky sort of air. He
was too ordinary, there was nothing of "the leader" in him.
I am a writer and my job is to take note of details. This has become a
habit, sometimes an annoying one.
When I had been presented to G. V. Plekhanov, he stood
eyeing me sternly with folded arms, with the somewhat bored expression
of a weary teacher looking at yet another new disciple. And he said the
most conventional thing: "I'm an admirer of your talent." Apart
from this he said nothing my memory could cling to. Throughout the Congress
neither he nor I had the slightest desire to have a "heart to heart"
Plekhanov, Georgi Valentinovich (1856-1918)-Russian
revolutionary; in 1883, organised in Geneva the first Russian Marxist
group, the Emancipation of Labour Group. In 1900, editor of Iskra,
author of many important works on Marxist theory. Joined the Mensheviks
Now, the bald, r-slurring, strong, thickset man who kept rubbing his
Socratic brow with one hand and pumping my hand with the other began to
talk at once, with a kind twinkle in his amazingly alert eyes, of the
shortcomings of my book Mother which he had, it appeared, read in the
manuscript borrowed from I. P. Ladyzhnikov. I told him I had been in a
hurry to write the book, but before I could explain why, Lenin nodded
and himself gave the reason: it was a good thing that I had hurried because
that was a much needed book. Many workers had joined the revolutionary
movement impulsively, spontaneously, and would now find reading Mother
"A very timely book!" That was all the praise he gave me, but
it was extremely valuable to me. After that he asked in a business-like
tone whether Mother had been translated into any foreign languages and
what damage was done to it by the Russian and American censors. When I
told him that the author was to be put on trial, he frowned, then threw
back his head, closed his eyes, and gave a burst of amazing laughter...
Vladimir Ilyich hurriedly mounted the rostrum. His slurred r's made him
seem a poor speaker, but within a minute I was as completely engrossed
as everyone else. I had never known one could talk of the most intricate
political questions so simply. This speaker was no coiner of fine phrases,
he presented each word on the palm of his hand, as it were, disclosing
its precise meaning with astonishing ease. The extraordinary impression
he created is very hard to describe.
With his hand extended and slightly raised, he seemed to be weighing every
word, sifting the phrases of his adversaries, and putting forward weighty
arguments proving that it was the right and the duty of the working class
to travel its own path, not in the rear or even abreast of the liberal
bourgeoisie. It was all most extraordinary, and the impression was that
he was speaking really at the bidding of history and not just from himself.
The compactness, frankness, and force of his speech, everything about
him as he stood on the rostrum was a work. of classical art. There was
nothing superfluous, no embellishments, and if there were any they could
not be seen for his figures of speech were as natural and indispensable
as a pair of eyes to a face, or five fingers to a hand.
He spoke less than those before him, but the impression was far greater.
I was not the only one to feel this, for behind me I heard admiring whispers:
"That was neatly put!"
And so it was, for his every argument developed naturally backed by its
own inner strength.
The Mensheviks4 did not hesitate to show that they found Lenin's speech
unpleasant and his person even more so. The more convincingly he proved
the Party's need to rise to the heights of revolutionary theory in order
to put practice to a thorough test, the more viciously they interrupted
"This congress is no place for philosophising!"
"Don't try to teach us! We're not schoolboys!"
The worst of these hecklers was a big, bearded fellow with the face of
a shopkeeper. Bouncing from his seat he shouted, stutter-ing:
"Cons-s-spirators ... cons-s-spiracy i-is y-your g-game! B-blanquists!"
Rosa Luxemburg nodded approval to Lenin's words, and at one of the later
sessions she told off the Mensheviks:
"You don't stand on Marxist positions, you sit on them,
even loll on them."
The Mensheviks-the opportunist minority
of the RSDLP formed at the Second Party Congress in 1903 in London;
unlike the Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks rejected the principle of Party
discipline and obligatory participation in the work of the Party organisations;
in 1912 they were expelled from the RSDLP and were camouflaged social-chauvinists
from 1914 on; became overt counter-revolutionaries after the October
A hot, angry gust of irritation, irony, and hatred swept the hall. Hundreds
of eyes were fixed upon Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, seeing him in different
lights. The hostile sallies did not seem to perturb him, he spoke hotly,
but he was not ruffled. What this outward composure cost him I was to
learn a few days later. It was both strange and painful to see that this
hostility was prompted by the self-evident truth that it was only from
the heights of theory that the Party could clearly see the causes of its
differences. I had the growing impression that every day of the Congress
gave Vladimir Ilyich more and more strength, injecting vigour and assurance;
with every day his speeches gained in firmness, and the entire Bolshevik
section of the Congress evidenced a more resolute frame of mind. I was
moved almost as much by Rosa Luxemburg's splendid, trenchant speech against
Lenin spent all his free time among the workers, questioning them about
the smallest details of their existence.
"What about the women? Is the housework too much of a drudge? Have
they time to study or read?"
In Hyde Park several workers who had never seen Lenin before the Congress
exchanged their impressions. Characteristically, one of them remarked:
"I don't know... Perhaps the workers here in Europe do have someone
as clever as he - Bebel or someone like that. But I don't believe there
is another whom I'd like as I like this one, at first sight!"
To which another added, smiling:
"He's one of us!"
"So is Plekhanov!" someone objected.
"Plekhanov is the teacher, the boss, but Lenin is the comrade and
leader!" came a smart retort.
"Plekhanov's frock-coat is a bit embarrassing," remarked a young
Once, on his way to a restaurant Vladimir Ilyich was approached by a worker
Menshevik who wanted to ask him about something. Lenin slowed his step,
falling behind the rest of his party, and reached the restaurant some
five minutes later.
"It's strange that such a naive chap should happen to be at the Party
Congress!" he said with a frown. "He wanted to know the real
reason of our disagreements. 'Well,' I said, 'your comrades want to sit
in parliament, while we think the working class must prepare for battle.'
I think he understood me..."
We were a small group dining as always in the same cheap little restaurant.
Vladimir Ilyich, I noticed, ate little: two or three eggs with a slice
of bacon, and a mug of thick, dark beer. He obviously did not worry about
himself although his solicitude for the workers was amazing. M. F. Andreyeva
was responsible for feeding them and he kept asking her:
"Think our comrades have enough to eat? No one going hungry? Hm...
Perhaps you'd better make more sandwiches?"
Visiting me at my hotel he began feeling my bed with a worried air.
"What are you doing?"
"Making sure that the sheets are not damp. You've got to look after
In the autumn of 1918 I asked Dmitry Pavlov, a Sormovo worker, what, in
his opinion, was Lenin's outstanding feature.
"Simplicity! He's as simple as the truth," he answered without
hesitation, as though stating a long-established fact.
A man's subordinates are usually his severest critics, but Lenin's chauffer
Ghil, a man who had seen a great deal in his time, had the following to
"Lenin - he's a special kind. There's no one like him. One day I
was driving through heavy traffic on Myasnitskaya, we were barely moving,
and I kept blowing my horn afraid somebody would hit us. I was terribly
nervous. He opened the rear door, got alongside of me on the running-board
at the risk of being knocked off, and talked to me soothingly: 'There,
Ghil, please don't worry,' he said. 'Just keep going like everybody else!'
I'm an old driver, and know that no one else would have done such a thing."
It would be difficult to describe the naturalness and flexibility with
which all Lenin's impressions converged in a single stream of thought.
Like the needle of a compass, his thought was always pointing to the class
interests of the working people. One evening in London when we had nothing
particular to do a group of us went to see a show at a small, democratic
theatre. Vladimir Ilyich laughed heartily at the clowns and the comic
numbers, looked at most of the others with indifference, and keenly watched
the scene where a couple of lumberjacks from British Columbia felled a
tree. The stage depicted a lumber camp, and these two strapping fellows
axed through a treetrunk over a yard thick in a minute.
"That's only for the public, of course. In real life they can't work
that fast," commented Vladimir Ilyich. "It's obvious, though,
that they use axes over there too, reducing a lot of good wood to useless
chips. That's the cultured British for you!"
He talked about the anarchy of production under the capitalist system,
about the enormous percentage of wasted raw materials, and concluded with
an expression of regret that no one had yet thought of writing a book
about it. The idea was not entirely clear to me, but before I could ask
any questions he was off on the subject of "eccentricity" as
a special form of theatrical art.
"It is a satirical or sceptical attitude to the conventional, a desire
to turn it inside out,-to twist it a little, and disclose what is illogical
in the customary. It's intricate-and interesting."
Discussing the Utopian novel with A. A. Bogdanov-Malinovsky in Capri two
years later, he remarked:
"You ought to write a novel for the workers about how the capitalist
predators have ravaged the Earth, squandering all its oil, iron, timber,
and coal. That would be a very useful book, Signor Machist!"
Taking leave of us in London, he assured me that he would come to Capri
for a holiday.
The Machists-followers of Austrian
bourgeois philosopher Ernst Mach (1838-1916), founder of the subjectivist-idealist
philosophical school of "pure experience". The Machists
denied the objective reality of the material world. In their doctrine,
idealism took on a particularly refined and modified form.
In his book Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Lenin completely exposed
Machism as a reactionary philosophy.
But before he came to Capri, I saw him in Paris, in a two-room student's
flat; it was a student's flat only in size, however, and not in the perfect
order in which it was kept. Nadezhda Konstantinovna made some tea for
us and went out, leaving the two of us to talk. The Znaniye Publishing
House was then folding up and I had come to talk to Vladimir Ilyich about
organising a new publishing house that could unite all our writers. I
proposed that Vladimir Ilyich, V. V. Vorovsky, and someone else be the
editors abroad, and that V. A. Desnitsky-Stroyev represent them in Russia.
I believed it was necessary to write a series of books on the history
of Western and Russian literature, and on the history of culture, which
would provide the workers with a wealth of factual material for their
self-education and propaganda.
Vladimir Ilyich quashed that plan, however, in view of the censorship
and the difficulty of organising people; most of them were engaged in
practical Party work, and had no time to write. His main and most convincing
argument was that this was no time for bulky books: the consumer of bulky
books was the intelligentsia which was clearly withdrawing from socialism
and going over to liberalism, and we could not move it from its chosen
path. What we needed was a newspaper, pamphlets. It would be good to resume
publication of the Znaniye series, but in Russia it was
impossible because of the censorship, and here for reasons of transportation.
We had to get hundreds of thousands of leaflets to the people, but such
quantities could not be taken into the country illegally.
A reference to the "Cheap Library"
of the Znaniye Publishing House, which was virtually run by Gorky
from 1902. The library included the works of Marx, Engels, Bebel and
And so we had to postpone the organisation of a publishing house until
With his astonishing liveliness and lucidity Lenin began to talk of the
Duma, of the Constitutional Democrats who shied from
being taken for Octobrists, noting that the "only path before them
led to the right". He then adduced a number of arguments showing
that war was near, and "probably not just one war, but a whole series
of wars". This forecast was soon to be confirmed in the Balkans.
The Constitutional Democrats (the
Cadets)-the party of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie, aimed at
the creation of a constitutional monarchy in Russia.
The Octobrists-the counter-revolutionary party of the big industrial
bourgeoisie and landowners, wholly supported tsarist government policy.
He stood up, assuming his usual pose, his thumbs thrust into the armholes
of his waistcoat, and began slowly pacing the small room, his eyes gleaming
through narrowed lids.
"War is coming. That's inevitable. The capitalist world has reached
a state of putrid ferment, and people are already affected by the poison
of chauvinism and nationalism. I think we shall yet witness an all-European
war. The proletariat? I hardly think the proletariat will find the strength
to prevent a blood-bath. How could it be done? By a general strike throughout
Europe? The workers are not organised well enough for that, nor class-conscious
enough. Such a strike would be the beginning of a civil war, and we, being
realistic politicians, can't bank on such a thing."
Pausing in his pacing, he added moodily: "The proletariat will suffer
terribly, of course, such, alas, is its fate for the time being. But its
enemies will enfeeble one another; that, too, is inevitable."
He came up to me. "Just think of it!" he said with an air of
wonder, quietly yet forcefully. "Think what the satiated are driving
the hungry to slaughter one another for? Can you think of a crime more
idiotic, more revolting? The workers will pay a terrible price for this,
but will win in the end; such is the will of history."
Though he frequently spoke of history I never heard him say anything indicating
that he bowed to its will and power as to a fetish.
Obviously agitated, he sat down at the table, wiped his forehead, took
a sip of his cold tea and suddenly asked:
"Why did they raise all that hullabaloo about you in America? I read
about it in the newspapers, but what did actually happen?"
I gave him a brief account of my adventure.
I have never met anyone who could laugh so infectiously as Vladimir Ilyich.
It was really strange to see that this stern realist who so clearly saw
and felt the inevitability of great social tragedies, a man who was unbending
and implacable in his hatred for the capitalist world, could laugh with
such childish glee till the tears rose to his eyes. What a strong, healthy
and sound spirit a man had to have to laugh like that!
"You're a humorist, aren't you!" he gasped through his laughter.
"That's something I'd never have expected. It's awfully funny..."
Wiping his eyes, he smiled gently and remarked in a serious vein:
"It's good you can see the funny side of your set-backs. A sense
of humour is a splendid, healthy quality. I'm very appreciative of humour,
though I've no talent for it myself. There's probably as much humour in
life as sadness, no less, I'm sure." I was to call on him again two
days later, but the weather changed for the worse and I had a hemoptysis
attack that compelled me to leave town on the next day.
After Paris we met again in Capri. There I was left with the queer impression
that Lenin had been there on two occasions, and in sharply different frames
The Vladimir Ilyich whom I went down to the wharf to meet at once told
me in a most resolute tone:
"I know, Alexei Maximovich, that you're hoping to bring about my
reconciliation with the Machists, though my letter has warned you that
it's impossible. So please don't try!"
On our way to my place and after we arrived there I kept trying to explain
that he was not altogether right, that I had no intention of reconciling
philosophical differences which, by the way, I did not understand any
too well. Apart from this I had been suspicious of all philosophy from
my youth, since it contradicted my "subjective" experience:
the world was just "coming into shape" as far as I was concerned,
and philosophy kept cuffing it with its inept and untimely questions:
"Where are you going? What for? What for? And why?" Some philosophers
indeed curtly commanded: "Halt!"
In addition, I was already aware that, like a woman, philosophy could
be very plain, even ugly, but so cunningly and convincingly dressed up
that it could pass for a beauty. This made Vladimir Ilyich laugh.
"That's humourising," he said. "But the world 'just coming
into shape' - that's good! Give it some serious thought and starting from
there you'll get where you should have got to long ago."
I then remarked that A. A. Bogdanov, A. V. Lunacharsky, and V. A. Bazarov
were big men in. my eyes, men of excellent all- round education. I had
not met their equals in the Party. "Possibly. And what follows from
this?" "In the final analysis I regard them as men with the
same aim, and the same aim, wholeheartedly accepted, ought to eliminate
"Which means you're still hoping for a reconciliation? That's futile!"
he said. "Drive that hope away, that's my friendly advice! Plekhanov,
too, is a man with the same aim, according to you, but - and get this
remain between us - I think he is pursuing an altogether different aim,
for all that he is a materialist and not a metaphysician."
Our talk ended there. It is hardly necessary to add that I have not set
it down word for word, not literally, but I can vouch for the sense of
I now saw a Vladimir Ilyich Lenin who was even firmer, even more unbending
than he had been at the London Congress. But there he had been worried;
there had been moments when one could plainly perceive that the split
in the Party was affecting him deeply.
Here he was serene, cool and mocking, flatly refusing to talk on philosophical
themes, watchful and wary. A. A. Bogdanov, a most likeable and gentle
man, though a little self-opinionated, had to listen to some pointed,
cutting remarks from Lenin with whom he was quite infatuated.
"Schopenhauer said: 'He who thinks clearly expounds things clearly.'
That's the best thing he ever said, I think. But you, Comrade Bogdanov,
expound things unclearly. Tell me, in two or three sentences, what your
'substitution' offers the working class and why Machism is more revolutionary
Bogdanov tried to explain, but was really too wordy and foggy.
"Drop it!" advised Vladimir Ilyich. "Someone, I think it
Jaures, once said: 'I'd rather tell the truth than be a Minister'; I would
add: 'or a Machist'."
After which he played a game of chess with Bogdanov and grew angry when
he lost, even sulking rather childishly. This was extraordinary: like
his surprising laughter, his childish sulking did not impair the monolithic
wholeness of his character.
But there was another Lenin, too, in Capri-a splendid comrade, a cheerful
person with a live unflagging interest in everything in the world, and
an astonishingly kind approach to people.
Late one evening, when everybody had gone off for a walk, he said to M.
F. Andreyeva and me in a tone that was sorrowful and deeply regretful:
"They are intelligent, talented people, they have done a great deal
for the Party, they could do ten times more, but they won't go with us!
They can't. Scores and hundreds like them are broken and crippled by this
On another occasion he remarked:
"Lunacharsky will return to the Party; he's less of an indivi-dualist
than those two. He is a man of rare gifts. I 'have a weak-ness' for him-what
stupid words, damn it! 'A weakness for someone'! I'm fond of him, you
know, he is an excellent comrade! There is a certain French brilliance
in him. His frivolity is also French, the frivolity of his aestheticism."
He made close enquiries about the lives of the Capri fishermen, he wanted
to know what they earned, to what extent they were influenced by the priests;
he asked about the schools they sent their children to. I was amazed at
the range of his interests. Told that one of the priests was the son of
a poor peasant, he immediately wanted to know how often the peasants sent
their children to the religious schools, and whether they returned to
serve as priests in their native villages.
"Do you see? If this is not mere chance, it must be Vatican policy...
A very cunning policy too!"
I cannot think of another man who towered so high over every-one else,
but was able to resist the temptations of ambition and retain a vital
interests in the "common people".
He had a magnetic quality that won the hearts and sympathies of the working
people. He could not speak Italian, but the fishermen of Capri who had
seen Chaliapin and quite a few other prominent Russians intuitively assigned
him a special place. There was great charm in his laughter-the hearty
laughter of a man who, able though he was to gauge the clumsiness of human
stupidity and the cunning capers of the intellect, could take pleasure
in the childlike simplicity of an "artless heart".
"Only an honest man can laugh like that," commented the old
fisherman Giovanni Spadaro.
Rocking in his boat on waves as blue and transparent as the sky, Lenin
tried to learn to catch fish "on the finger", that is with a
line, but no rod. The fishermen had told him to snatch in the line the
instant his finger felt the slightest vibration.
"Cost: drin-drin. Capisci," they said.
At that moment he hooked a fish, and hauled it in, crying out with the
delight of a child and the excitement of a hunter:
The fishermen shouted with laughter, like children too, and nicknamed
him Signor Drin-Drin.
Long after Lenin had left, they still kept asking:
"How is Signor Drin-Drin? Are you sure the tsar won't catch him?"
...In the hungry, difficult year of 1919 Lenin was ashamed to eat the
food sent him by his comrades and by soldiers and peasants from the provinces.
When parcels were brought to his austere flat he immediately had the flour,
sugar and butter distri-buted among those of his comrades who were ill
or weak from undernourishment. Inviting me to dinner one day, he said:
"I can treat you to some smoked fish sent from Astrakhan."
Wrinkling his Socratic brow, and looking aside with his all-seeing eyes,
"They keep sending stuff as if I were their overlord! But how ward
this off? If I refused to accept it I'd hurt their feelings. And everybody's
hungry all around."
A man of simple habits, a stranger to drinking or smoking, he was busy
at his difficult and complicated work from morning till night and though
quite unable to see to his own needs he kept a sharp eye on the well-being
of his comrades. One day I came to see him and found him busy writing
something at his desk.
"Hullo, how are you?" he said, his pen never leaving the sheet
of paper. "I'll be through in a minute. There's a comrade in the
provinces who is fed up, apparently tired. We've got to cheer him up.
A person's mood is no trifling thing!"
Once when I dropped in on him in Moscow he asked:
"Have you had dinner?"
"You're not making that up?"
"I've got witnesses-I had dinner in the Kremlin dining-room."
"I've heard the cooking is rotten there."
"Not rotten, but it could be better."
Whereupon he began to question me narrowly: why was the food bad? How
could it be improved?
"What's the matter with them?" he fumed. "Can't they find
a decent cook? People are working themselves to the bone; they've got
to be given tasty food to make them eat more. I know that there's not
enough and the stuff is poor, and that's why they need a capable cook."
He then cited some dietician or other on the importance of tasty garnish
"How do you find time for such things?" I asked.
"For rational diets?" he countered, his tone indicating that
my question was inept.
An old acquaintance of mine, P. A. Skorokhodov, a Sormovo man like me,
was a soft-hearted person and once he complained to me about the strain
of working in the Cheka. To which I observed:
"That's not the job for you, I think. You're not cut out for it."
"Quite right!" he agreed sadly. "I'm not cut out for it
at all." But reflecting a little, he went on: "Still, when I
remember that Ilyich, too, probably has very often to force his heart,
I'm ashamed of my weakness."
I have known quite a few workers who have had to clench their teeth and
"force their hearts"- actually putting their "social idealism"
under a terrible strain-for the triumph of the cause they were serving.
Did Lenin ever have to "force his heart"?
He was concerned with himself too little to talk to anyone about such
things and no one was better able to keep secret the storms raging in
his soul. Only once, while caressing someone's children in Gorki, he said:
"Their life will be better than ours; much of what was our life,
they will not experience. Their lives will be less cruel."
Looking out at the hills where a village nestled, he added pensively:
"I don't envy them, though. Our generation has succeeded in doing
a job of astounding historical importance. The cruelty of our life, forced
upon us by conditions, will be understood and justified. It will all be
understood, all of it!"
He patted the children gently, with a light, solicitous touch.
Dropping in on him one day, I saw a volume of War and Peace on his desk.
"That's right. Tolstoy! I meant to read the scene of the hunt, but
then remembered I had to write to a comrade. I have no time at all to
read. It was only last night that I read your book on Tolstoy."
Smiling and squinting his eyes he stretched luxuriously in his armchair
and, dropping his voice, went on quickly:
"What a rock, eh? What a giant of a man! That, my friend, is an artist...
And-do you know what else amazes me? There was no real muzhik in literature
before that Count came along."
He turned his twinkling eyes on me:
"Who in Europe could rank with him?"
He answered the question himself:
Rubbing his hands he laughed, obviously pleased.
I had often noticed his pride in Russia, in Russians, in Russian art.
That feature seemed foreign to Lenin, and even naive, but then I learned
to distinguish in it the overtones of his deep-seated joyous love for
the working people.
Watching the fishermen in Capri carefully disengaging the nets torn and
tangled by a shark, he observed:
"Our people are livelier on the job."
When I expressed my doubts, he said irritably:
"Hm... You're not forgetting Russia, are you, living on this knoll?"
...Listening to Beethoven's sonatas played by Isai Dobrowein at the home
of Y. P. Peshkova in Moscow one evening, Lenin remarked:
"I know of nothing better than the Appassionata and could listen
to it every day. What astonishing, superhuman music! It always makes me
proud, perhaps naively so, to think that people can work such miracles!"
Wrinkling up his eyes, he smiled rather sadly, adding:
"But I can't listen to music very often, it affects my nerves. I
want to say sweet, silly things and pat the heads of people who, living
in a filthy hell, can create such beauty. One can't pat anyone on the
head nowadays, they might bite your hand off. They ought to be beaten
on the head, beaten mercilessly, although ideally we are against doing
any violence to people. Hm-what a hellishly difficult job!"
Though in poor health himself and utterly exhausted, he wrote the following
note to me on August 9, 1921:
"I have sent your letter on to L. B. Kamenev. I am so tired that
I am unable to do a thing. Just think, you have been spitting blood, but
refuse to go!! This is truly most shameless and unreasonable on your part.
In a good sanatorium in Europe, you will receive treatment, and also do
three times as much useful work. Really and truly. Over here you have
neither treatment, nor work-nothing but hustle. Plain empty hustle. Go
away and recover. I beg you not to be stubborn!
For more than a year, with astonishing persistence, he had kept urging
me to leave Russia, and I could not help wondering how he, so completely
engrossed in his work, could remember that someone was sick somewhere
and needed a rest?
He wrote letters of the sort just cited to various people, probably scores
I have already mentioned his exceptional concern for his comrades, his
attention to them, his keen interest in even the unpleasant, petty details
of their lives. I was never able to detect in this concern of his the
self-interested solicitude sometimes displayed by a clever master towards
his capable and honest workers.
His was the truly sincere attention of a real comrade, the affection of
an equal for his equals. I know that Vladimir Lenin had no equal even
among the biggest men of his Party, but he did not seem to be aware of
this, or rather-did not want to be. He was sharp with people when arguing
with them, laughing at them, and even holding them up to biting ridicule.
That is all very true.
Yet time and again, when he spoke of the people he had scolded and crucified
the day before, I plainly heard a note of sincere astonishment for their
talent and moral fibre, of respect for their hard, unremitting effort
under the hellish conditions of 1918-1921, when they worked surrounded
by the spies of all countries and all political parties, amid conspiracies
that ripened like suppurating boils on the body of the war-emaciated country.
They had worked without rest, eating little and poor food, living in a
state of constant anxiety.
Lenin himself did not seem to feel the burden of those condi-tions, the
anxieties of a life shaken to its foundations by the sang-uinary storm
of civil strife. Only once, while talking to M. F. Andreyeva, did anything
like complaint, or what she took for a complaint, burst from him:
"But what can we do, my dear Maria Fyodorovna? We've got to keep
fighting. We've got to! Of course it's hard on us. Do you think I don't
find things hard, sometimes? Very hard, I can tell you! But look at Dzerzhinsky.
See how haggard he looks! But there's nothing for it. Never mind if it's
hard on us, as long as we win out!"
As for myself, I heard him complain only once:
"What a pity," he said, "that Martov is not with us! What
a wonderful comrade he is, what a pure heart!"
I remember how long and heartily he laughed when he read somewhere that
Martov had said: "There are only two Communists in Russia, Lenin
Recovering from his laughter he added with a sigh:
"How clever he is! Oh well..."
After seeing an economic executive to the door of his study, he said with
the same respect and wonder:
"Have you known him long? He could head a cabinet in any European
Rubbing his hands, he added:
"Europe is poorer in talent than we."
I suggested that he visit the Chief Artillery Headquarters with me to
look at the invention of a former artilleryman, a Bolshevik. It was a
device to correct anti-aircraft fire.
"What do I know of such things?" he said, but went with me
just the same. In a darkish room we found seven grim generals, all of
them grey, moustached, and erudite, sitting round the table on which the
device was set up. Lenin's modest civilian figure seemed lost among them.
The inventor proceeded to explain the construction. Listening for a minute
or two, Lenin uttered approvingly "Hm" and began to question
the man as easily as if he were putting him through an examination on
"How does the aiming mechanism manage a double task? Couldn't the
angle of the gun barrels be synchronised automa-tically to the findings
of the mechanism?"
He also asked about the effective strike field and some other things,
receiving answers from the inventor and the generals.
"I had told my generals that you were coming with a comrade, but
did not tell them who that comrade was," the inventor told me afterwards.
"They did not recognise Ilyich, and probably they could not imagine
him turning up so quietly, without ceremony and without a guard. 'Is he
a technician, a professor?' they asked. 'Lenin!' They were speechless.
'And how did he happen to know our particular field so well? The questions
he asked gave the impression of technical competence.' They were mystified.
I don't think they really believe he was Lenin..."
On his way back from the Artillery Headquarters, Lenin kept laughing,
saying of the inventor:
"How wrong one can be in sizing up a man! I knew he was a good old
comrade, but hardly brilliant. And that's exactly what he's turned out
to be good for. Excellent chap! Did you see those generals bristle when
I expressed doubt about the practical value of the device? I did it on
purpose-to see what they really thought of that clever gadget of his."
He laughed again, and asked:
"You say he has another invention? Why isn't something done about
it? He ought to be busy with nothing else. Ah, if only we could give all
those technicians ideal working conditions! Russia would be the most advanced
country in the world in twenty-five years!"
I often heard him praise people. He was able to talk in this manner even
about those whom it was said he did not like, paying the tribute to their
...His attitude to me was that of a strict mentor and kind "soli-citous
"You're an enigma," he once said to me with a chuckle. "You
seem to be a good realist in literature, but a romanticist where people
are concerned. You think everybody is a victim of history, don't you?
We know history and we say to the sacrificial victims:
'Overthrow the altars, shatter the temples, and drive the gods out!' Yet
you would like to convince me that a militant party of the working class
is obliged to make the intellectuals comfortable, first and foremost."
I may be mistaken, but I felt that Vladimir Ilyich liked discussing things
with me, and nearly always asked me to phone him when I came.
On another occasion he remarked:
"Discussing things with you is always interesting with your wider
and greater range of impressions."
He asked me about the sentiments of the intellectuals with special stress
on the scientists: A. B. Khalatov and I at that time were working with
the Scientists' Welfare Commission. And he was also interested in proletarian
"Do you expect anything from it?"
I said I expected a great deal, but felt it was essential to orga-nise
a literary college with branches of philology, Occidental and Oriental
languages, folklore, the history of world literature, and a separate department
for the history of Russian literature.
"Hm," he muttered, squinting and chuckling. "That's very
ambitious and dazzling! I don't mind it being ambitious, but will it be
dazzling? We haven't any professors of our own in this sphere. As for
the bourgeois professors, you can imagine what sort of history they'll
give us... No, that's more than we can tackle now... We'll have to wait
another three or may be five years."
He went on plaintively:
"I've no time at all to read! ...Don't you find that an awful lot
of verses are being written nowadays? There are whole pages of them in
the magazines, and new collections keep appearing every day."
I said that the young people's yearning for song was natural in such times,
and that mediocre verses, to my mind, were easier to write than good prose.
Verses took less time to write, I observed, and besides we had many good
teachers of prosody.
"Oh no, I can't believe that poems are easier to write than prose!
I can't imagine such a thing. I couldn't write two lines of poetry, even
if you threatened to skin me." He continued with a frown. "The
whole of the old revolutionary literature, as much of it as we have and
as there is in Europe, must be available to the masses."
He was a Russian who had lived away from Russia for a long time and was
examining his country attentively-it had appeared more picturesque and
colourful from afar. He correctly appraised its potential force-that is,
the exceptional giftedness of the people, as yet feebly expressed, unawakened
by history, heavy and dreary; but there was talent everywhere, standing
out in bright golden stars against the sombre background of fantastic
Vladimir Lenin, a big, real man of this world, has passed away. His death
is a painful blow to all who knew him, a very painful blow!
But the black line of death shall only underscore his impor-tance in the
eyes of all the world-the importance of the leader of the world's working
If the clouds of hatred for him, the clouds of lies and slander woven
round him were even denser it would not matter, for there is no such force
as could dim the torch he has raised in the stifling darkness of the world
Never has there been a man who deserves more to be remem-bered forever
by the whole world.
Vladimir Lenin is dead. But those to whom he bequeathed his wisdom and
his will are living. They are alive and working more successfully than
anyone on Earth has ever worked before.
Maxim Gorky (1868-1936)-a founder of Soviet literature and the author
of world-famous works such as Mother, Childhood, My Apprenticeship,
My Universities, The Life of Klim Samgin and many plays, stories and
In 1905, the first meeting between Lenin, leader of the Russian Revolution,
and the great proletarian writer took place in St. Petersburg. Maxim
Gorky came to know Lenin more closely in 1907 at the London Party Congress,
of which he gives us a detailed description in the essay published in
this volume. These two men were linked by true friendship and profound
mutual respect. Lenin highly appreciated Maxim Gorky 's work. "There
can be no doubt," he wrote in 1917, "that Maxim
Gorky's is an enormous artistic talent which has been, and will
be, of great benefit to the world proletarian movement."
Gorky's essay is printed here in abridged form.
To see the photos and other information about Lenin
and Maxim Gorky go to the Lenin