N. K. Krupskaya: Reminiscences of Lenin, St. Petersburg 1893-1898

N. K. Krupskaya

Vladimir Ilyich came to St. Petersburg in the autumn of 1893, but I did not get to know him until some time later. Comrades told me that a very erudite Marxist had arrived from the Volga. Afterwards I was given a pretty well-thumbed copy-book "On Markets" to read. The manuscript set forth the views of technologist Herman Krasin, our St. Petersburg Marxist, on the one hand, and those of the newcomer from the Volga on the other. The copy-book was folded down the middle, and on one side H. B. Krasin had set forth his views in a scrawly hand with many crossings out and insertions, while on the other side the newcomer had written his own remarks and objections in a neat hand without any alterations.

The question of markets interested all of us young Marxists very much at the time.

A definite trend had begun to crystallize among St. Petersburg Marxist study-circles at that time. The gist of it was this: the processes of social development appeared to the representatives of this trend as something mechanical and schematic. Such an interpretation of social development dismissed completely the role of the masses, the role of the proletariat. Marxism was stripped of its revolutionary dialectics, and only the bare "phases of development" remained. Today, of course, any Marxist would be able to refute that mechanistic conception, but at that time it was a cause of grave concern to our St. Petersburg Marxist circles. We were still poorly grounded theoretically and all that many of us knew of Marx was the first volume of Capital; as for The Communist Manifesto, we had never even set eyes on it. So it was more by instinct than anything else that we felt this mechanistic view to be the direct opposite of real Marxism.

The question of markets had a close bearing on the general question of the understanding of Marxism.

Exponents of the mechanistic view usually approached the question in a very abstract way.

Since then more than thirty years have passed. Unfortunately, the copy-book has not survived, and I can only speak about the impression which it made on us.

The question of markets was treated with ultra-concreteness by our new Marxist friend. He linked it up with the interests of the masses, and in his whole approach once sensed just that live Marxism which takes phenomena in their concrete surroundings and in their development.

One wanted to make the closer acquaintance of this newcomer, to learn his views at first hand.

I did not meet Vladimir Ilyich until Shrovetide. It was decided to arrange a conference between certain St. Petersburg Marxists and the man from the Volga at the flat of engineer Klasson, a prominent St. Petersburg Marxist with whom I had attended the same study-circle two years before. The conference was disguised as a pancake party. Besides Vladimir Ilyich, there were Klasson, Y. P. Korobko, Serebrovsky, S. I. Radchenko and others. Potresov and Struve were to have been there, too, but I don't think they turned up. I particularly remember one moment. The question came up as to what ways we should take. Somehow general agreement was lacking. Someone (I believe It was Shevlyagin) said that work on the Illiteracy Committee was of great importance Vladimir Ilyich laughed, and his laughter sounded rather harsh (I never heard him laugh that way again).

"Well, if anyone wants to save the country by working In the Illiteracy Committee," he said, "let him go ahead." It should be said that our generation had witnessed in its youth the fight between the Narodovoltsi and tsarism. We had seen how the liberals, at first "sympathetic" about everything, had been scared into sticking their tail between their legs after the suppression of the Narodnaya Volya Party, and had begun to preach the doing of "little things."

Lenin's sarcastic remark was quite understandable. He had come to discuss ways of fighting together, and had had to listen instead to an appeal for the distribution or the Illiteracy Committee's pamphlets.

Later, when we got to know each other better, Vladimir Ilyich told me one day how this liberal "society" had reacted to the arrest of his elder brother Alexander Ulyanov. All acquaintances had shunned the Ulyanov family, and even an old teacher, who until then had come almost every evening to play chess, had left off calling. Simbirsk had no railway at the time, and Vladimir Ilyich's mother had had to travel to Syzran by horse-drawn vehicle in order to catch the train to St. Petersburg, where her son was imprisoned. Vladimir Ilyich was sent to find a way companion for her, but no one wanted to be seen with the mother of an arrested man.

This general cowardice, Vladimir Ilyich told me, had shocked him profoundly at the time.

This youthful experience undoubtedly affected his attitude towards so-called liberal society. He true worth of all liberal rant at an early age.

No agreement was reached at the "pancake party," of course. Vladimir Ilyich spoke little, and was more occupied in studying the company. People who called themselves Marxists felt uncomfortable under his steady gaze.

I remember, as we were returning home from the Okhta District along the banks of the Neva, I first heard the story of Vladimir Ilyich's brother, a member of the Narodnaya Volya, who took part in the attempt on the life of Alexander III in 1887 and died at the hands of the tsarist executioners before he had even came of age.

Vladimir Ilyich had been very fond of his brother. They had had many tastes in common, and both liked to be left alone for long periods of time to be able to concentrate. They usually lived together and at one time shared a separate wing of the house, and when any of the young crowd dropped in (they had numerous cousins, boys and girls), the brothers would greet them with their pet phrase: "Honour us with your absence." They were both hard workers and revolutionary-minded. The difference in their age, though, made itself felt in various ways. There were certain things that Alexander did not tell Vladimir. This is what Vladimir Ilyich told me:

His brother was a naturalist. On his last summer vacation at home he was preparing a dissertation on the Annelida, and was busy all the time with his microscope. To get all the light he could he got up at daybreak and started work at once. "No, my brother won't make a revolutionary, I thought at the time," Vladimir Ilyich related. "A revolutionary can't give so much time to the study of worms. It was not long before he saw his mistake.

The fate of his brother undoubtedly influenced Vladimir Ilyich profoundly. Another important factor was that he had begun to think for himself on many questions and had decided in his own mind the necessity of revolutionary struggle.

Had this not been so, his brother's fate would probably have caused him deep sorrow only, or at most, aroused in him a resolve and striving to follow in his brother's footsteps. As it was, the fate of his brother gave his mind a keener edge, developed in him an extraordinary soberness of thought, an ability to face the truth without letting himself for a minute be carried away by a phrase or an illusion. It developed in him a scrupulously honest approach to all questions. ...

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