The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archives

edited by Richard Pipes
Yale University Press, 204 pp., $27.50

Stalin's Letters to Molotov: 1925-1936

edited by Lars T. Lih, edited by Oleg V. Naumov, edited by Oleg V. Khlevniuk
Yale University Press, 308 pp., $16.00 (paper)

The two recent collections of documents in the useful Yale series Annals of Communism give us, in slightly different ways, new insights into the political attitudes of Lenin and, after him, Stalin. The Unknown Lenin draws on some 3,714 documents—letters, policy statements, memos—that were withheld as late as 1990 because, as the official responsible put it, they showed Lenin, or the Soviet cause, in a bad light. The Lenin who appears in the documents taken as a whole thus naturally exhibits, more strikingly than before, the personal traits long noted of him by many: his ruthlessness, his drive to power, his closed mind, his ignorance of the world outside Russia, and his petty meanness.

These characteristics were long unnoticed, or unknown, not only by some in the countries in which a very different image of the man was incessantly projected, but also among supposedly critical intellectuals in the West. We had, for example, Hugh McDiarmid (no mean poet) with his “Hymn to Lenin,” in which Lenin appears as a benign champion of the poor. (Not as bad, you may say, as Pablo Neruda’s “Ode on the Death of Stalin” and similar effusions.) Anyhow my favorite nominations for Lenin-mania are still those of the late, and locally influential, Australian Marxist historian Manning Clark, who said that Lenin was “Christ-like, at least in his compassion,” and that Lenin was “as excited and lovable as a little child.”

Even today Lenin’s body is still in its ritual tomb. St. Petersburg is still in the Leningrad Province. And statues of Lenin are still to be seen in the old USSR—one was re-erected the other day in a provincial town. So the more the light is played on the real man the better.

Pipes’s book presents documents in chronological order, with a brief explanatory commentary, and it contains much useful and fresh material. We get further information on how the Bolsheviks took over the legacy of a rich Social Democratic sympathizer, Nikolai Shmit, getting his daughters to marry Bolsheviks in the years following the 1905 Revolution. We read Lenin’s false statements to the effect that he had been out of touch with the former Bolshevik leader R.V. Malinovski, who was revealed as a tsarist police agent, when in fact he had been writing to him. In a letter of 1914 to his French-born lover Inessa Armand (who died in 1920 of cholera), he makes a rare confession, although its circumstances remain obscure: “I have caused you a great pain, I know it.” The documents also give accounts of how Lenin expelled non-Bolshevik intellectuals from Soviet Russia; of his first draft of the New Economic Policy in 1922, under which forced requisition of food was to be replaced not by the market but by compulsory barter; and much else.

Some readers have made much of the very first document in Pipes’s selection, the enrollment in 1886 of the then sixteen-year-old Lenin in the genealogical register of the hereditary nobility of Simbirsk—his father having entered its…

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