Travesties, statues, and laughter

Lenin as person and revolutionary

POLITICS (REVOLUTIONARY politics included) is the art of the possible, and since politics involves the actions and relationships of human beings, political possibilities are often reflected in the interplay of personality and politics. To the extent this is true, it is meaningful to consider the personality of leading political figures in order to gain insights into their political perspectives and practice. This is certainly the case with Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the Russian revolutionary intellectual who led the Russian Revolution of 1917 that has been seen by many as the starting point of modern communism.

These comments are stimulated by a marvelous intellectual romp by Tom Stoppard entitled Travesties. In that play, Lenin is one of three major revolutionaries—the only political one (and political to his very core), the other two, novelist James Joyce and Dadaist pioneer Tristan Tzara, being artistic radicals. As one would expect, the play is permeated with crackling dialogue and delicious humor, as when the rather silly conservative hero, charmed by Lenin’s aversion to modern art, tells us that, “there was nothing wrong with Lenin except his politics.”1

An exuberant and brilliantly executed revival of the play at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre in 2012 (more than three decades after it was first produced) has particular resonance in our own time, a point made by more than one participant in a stimulating panel discussion after one of its final performances. Stoppard is one of the most interesting playwrights of our time, particularly since, with absolutely no pretence of being a revolutionary, he is drawn—over and over and over again—to both literate and entertaining engagements with questions of politics and revolution. He does this not only in Travesties, but also the remarkable trilogy The Coast of Utopia which focuses on  nineteenth century Russia’s revolutionary intellectuals, and Rock ‘n’ Roll (dealing with communism, dissidence, and “the velvet revolution” in his native Czechoslovakia).2

Stoppard clearly has no desire to rally theatergoers around the banner of “Leninism.” Yet it is one of the functions of his plays, just as clearly, to generate thought and discussion of the ideas which collide and confront each other in what he presents to theatergoers. Through him many more people than would otherwise have been the case consider some of Lenin’s ideas.

It is quite striking, however, that of the three revolutionaries in Travesties (and of all the other characters in what is such a vibrantly funny piece of theater), only Lenin is given exclusively humorless lines. Of course, just as Shakespeare’s historical plays present historical figures not as they were but as means for telling his own story, so Stoppard’s Lenin is presented not as he actually was, but as a symbol first of social-political insurgency, and then—more imposingly—as a symbol of the bureaucratic authoritarianism that communism became. Just as Shakespeare’s plays are not diminished as works of art by his artistic license, so Travesties retains its great charm despite limitations in its portrayal of the historical Lenin. The fact remains that the actual personality of Lenin is flattened in this play. That is, arguably, no fault of Stoppard’s. It is the way Lenin has commonly been seen not only by hostile journalists and historians but also, for many decades before 1990, by loyal citizens in communist countries where ponderous statues of Lenin were erected to justify and glorify bureaucratic tyrannies.

Yet the inadequacy of this, for those wishing to understand the actual Lenin, is suggested when we compare the ponderous talking statue in Travesties with other portrayals closer to the historical Lenin. Consider Edmund Wilson’s description (in his 1940 classic To the Finland Station) of how Lenin appears “in an old historical film patched together from old newsreels, From Tsar to Lenin, a short sturdy man with a big bald boxlike brow, leaning forward as if on the edge of his chair, arguing, insisting, smiling, screwing up his eyes in the shrewd Russian way, gesturing to drive his points home: a rapid fire of lips, eyes and hands in which the whole man is concentrated.”3 Such animation seems absent from the Lenin of Travesties.

With the play’s debut in1974, Stoppard’s “Leninism” symbolized a powerful challenge to artistic freedom. Since communism’s collapse in the 1990s, the power of this “Leninism” has seemingly passed away. Yet in a sense, Lenin lives on—certainly in his writings. As culture critic Fredric Jameson tells us, in reading Lenin we engage with transmissions from a man who is unaware that he is dead. To quote Jameson:

He doesn’t know that the immense social experiment he single-handedly brought into being (and which we call Soviet Communism) has come to an end. He remains full of energy, although dead, and the vituperation expended on him by the living—that he was the originator of Stalinist terror, that he was an aggressive personality full of hatred, an authoritarian in love with power and totalitarianism, even (worst of all) the rediscoverer of the market in his NEP [the New Economic Policy of 1921]—none of those insults manage to confer a death, or even a second death, on him. How is it, how can it be, that he still thinks he is alive?4

The great Russian novelist Maxim Gorky, an intimate friend but sometimes also a fierce critic of Lenin, once commented: “Outwardly he is all wrapped in words, as a fish is covered with scales.” Gorky protested that, “there was another Lenin,” certainly different from Stoppard’s—as Gorky put it, “the splendid comrade, the cheerful person with a live unflagging interest in everything in the world, with an astonishingly kind approach to people.”5

But the words—revolutionary writings, political analyses, polemics—are inseparable from this person, nonetheless. Another one-time intimate turned fierce critic, Angelica Balabanoff, put it this way: “From his youth on, Lenin was convinced that most of human suffering and of moral, legal, and social deficiencies which torment and degrade humanity were caused by class distinctions. He was also convinced that class struggle alone…could put an end to exploiters and exploited and create a society of the free and equal. He gave himself entirely to the attainment of this end and he used every means in his power to achieve it.”6

The 1917 revolution that Lenin led was influenced by the radical-democratic and socialist ideas of Karl Marx. It was carried out by Russia’s small but highly organized working class, and supported by enough of the peasant majority to make it stick. It was opposed, attacked, and undermined in innumerable ways by the world’s most powerful capitalist countries, but it cleared its way past the carnage of the First World War and the Russian Civil War, and a global superpower called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (or Soviet Union) emerged. The word “communism” had originally meant an economy of abundant resources, controlled by all of the people, in which the free development of each would be the condition for the free development of all. Far from being a beacon of freedom and socialist democracy, however, the Soviet Union became known as one of the most repressive dictatorships in human history, particularly under Lenin’s successor, Josef Stalin, who took power in the late 1920s.7

 “People tend to think of Stalinism as being…a perversion of Leninism,” Stoppard commented in 1974. “That is an absurd and foolish untruth, and it is one on which the Left bases itself. Lenin perverted Marxism, and Stalin carried on from there.” This is as common a view as the notion of the humorless Lenin. The engaging cultural-anarchist poet, Andrei Codrescu—a truly splendid, independent-minded social commentator—in like manner challenges the image (passed on by a British journalist in 1919) of Lenin as having “a joyous temperament” prone to laughter. Instead, Codrescu suggests, Lenin was somewhat “boring,” living up to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s portrait as (in Codrescu’s summary) “a dour, overwrought, frowning, anxious micromanager who becomes apoplectic and enraged over small details, and has no time for shared pleasure, unless it is sharing a mean joke with co-conspirators, a joke that moreover advances the cause of the Revolution.” This seems to match Stoppard’s own portrayal of Lenin in Zurich (except there is not even malicious joking). It will be worth taking up the question of Lenin and laughter later, but any inclination to smile freezes when Codrescu, like Stoppard, essentially puts Lenin on the same plane as Stalin, characterizing him as “a mass murdering ideologue.”8

This equation of Lenin and Stalin has been challenged by insightful observations of more than one knowledgeable anti-communist. In his classic The Great Terror, Robert Conquest tells us: “Lenin’s Terror was the product of the years of war and violence, of the collapse of society and administration, of the desperate acts of rulers precariously riding the flood, and fighting for control and survival.” The situation was quite different under Stalin, “who attained complete control at a time when general conditions were calm.… It was in cold blood, quite deliberately and unprovokedly, that Stalin started a new cycle of suffering.” The qualitative break involved Stalin’s so-called “revolution from above” beginning in 1929. This rapid industrialization and forced collectivization of agriculture rode roughshod over the workers and peasants. It generated millions of deaths, the regimentation of culture, intensified repression, mass arrests, and bloody purges. To declare that, “Stalinism was the outcome of Leninism,” Hannah Arendt has argued, obscures “the sheer criminality of the whole regime” that made bloody purges and the gulag its centerpieces. Whittaker Chambers made a similar point in 1956: “To become the embodiment of the revolutionary idea in history Stalin had to corrupt Communism absolutely…. He sustained this corruption with a blend of cunning and brute force. History knows nothing similar on such a scale.”9 The authoritarian personality that both Stoppard and Codrescu perceive, however, finds corroboration in Stefan Possony’s biography Lenin: The Compulsive Revolutionary, which offers—if anything—an even more severe judgment:

Self-righteous, rude, demanding, ruthless, despotic, formalistic, bureaucratic, disciplined, cunning, intolerant, stubborn, one-sided, suspicious, distant, asocial, cold-blooded, ambitious, purposive, vindictive, spiteful, a grudgeholder, a coward who was able to face danger only when he deemed it unavoidable—Lenin was a complete law unto himself and he was entirely serene about it.10

Often a biographer’s judgments of his subject’s personality, however, are related to political considerations. A dyed-in-the-wool conservative such as Possony is confident in the knowledge that some people, some classes, and some races are superior to others, as he argued in another study, The Geography of Intellect. Revolutions designed to overthrow those of superior intellectual and cultural qualities, in the name of utopian notions of equality and “rule by the people,” he informed his readers, destroy the very fabric of civilization, paving the way for chaos and tyranny. Obviously, from this standpoint, Lenin—committed to overturning the present social order to create a new and radically democratic society of the free and the equal—is a monster.11

This naturally stands in contrast to the view of someone such as Leon Trotsky, a revolutionary comrade, who disagreed with the assertion that Lenin had made great sacrifices for the revolutionary cause. “Lenin did not sacrifice himself,” Trotsky insisted. “On the contrary, he lived a full life, a wonderfully abundant life, developing, expanding his whole personality, serving a cause which he himself freely chose.” One need not be a revolutionary, however, to perceive such positive characteristics in Lenin. A shrewd and knowledgeable anti-communist, US diplomat George F. Kennan, has insightfully suggested the difference between the leadership qualities of Lenin and Stalin, commenting that Lenin “was spared that whole great burden of personal insecurity which rested so heavily on Stalin. He never had to doubt his hold on the respect and admiration of his colleagues. He could rule them through the love they bore him, whereas Stalin was obliged to rule them through their fears.” 12

The personal qualities to which both Trotsky and Kennan allude were noted by many others in a position to know. The highly respected Lenin scholar Carter Elwood (if anything, anti-Leninist in his own orientation) has emphasized in his new collection of penetrating essays, The Non-Geometric Lenin, that political idolaters and many critics who focus exclusively on his revolutionary politics miss “a man with non-revolutionary interests and human foibles,” but that “neither the hagiographic nor the linear Lenin was a very interesting individual.” Elwood notes that “he was at times considerate and friendly, or on other occasions condescending and demeaning, in the same fashion as many other people are when confronted with complex personal problems.” He adds that “a balanced and comprehensive view of Lenin” requires going beyond politics “to study his relations with those around him” and as “a person with normal interests in food, drink, holidays and tramping through the mountains.”13

Essential details on this “non-geometric Lenin” have, in fact, long been available. According to so sharp a political opponent as the prominent Menshevik Raphael Abramovitch, who knew him personally and spent time visiting with him and his companion Nadezhda Krupskaya in their 1916 Swiss exile, “it is difficult to conceive of a simpler, kinder and more unpretentious person than Lenin at home.” Another Menshevik leader, Julius Martov, concurred that there were not “any signs of personal pride in Lenin’s character,” that he sought, “when in the company of others, an opportunity to acquire knowledge rather than show off his own.” These comments were cited in a 1924 study of Lenin by Isaac Don Levine. A Russian-born US journalist who was uncompromisingly critical of Lenin but quite familiar with the details of his life, Levine commented that the communist leader “derived genuine pleasure from associating with children and entertaining them,” and that he had an “effeminate weakness for cats, which he liked to cuddle and play with.” The knowledgeable Levine reported that other enthusiasms included bicycling, amateur photography, chess, skating, swimming, hunting—though Lenin was sometimes not inclined to actually shoot the animals he hunted (“well, he was so beautiful, you know,” he said of a fox whose life he refused to take). According to one acquaintance, British diplomat Bruce Lockhart, he was “the father of modern ‘hiking’…[and] a passionate lover of outdoor life.” And, of course, Lenin loved music. “During his life in Switzerland Lenin immensely enjoyed the home concerts that the political emigrants improvised among themselves,” the journalist reported. “When a player or singer was really gifted, Lenin would throw his head back on the sofa, lock his knees into his arms, and listen with an interest so absorbing that it seemed as if he were experiencing something very deep and mysterious.”14

Other, more explicitly political qualities were naturally also emphasized by the shrewd anti-communist Levine—those of a personality “concise in speech, energetic in action, and matter-of-fact,” with an unshakable faith in Marxism, although “extraordinarily agile and pliant as to methods,” with an “erudition” that could be termed “vast.” His “capacity to back up his contentions [was] brilliant.” While he had an ability “to readily acknowledge tactical mistakes and defeats,” he was never willing to consider “the possible invalidity of his great idea” (revolutionary Marxism). Years later, the US State Department’s most capable “old Russia hand” George F. Kennan—as noted above, in no way a Marxist or socialist—would offer the opinion that Lenin represented “a critical intelligence second to none in the socialist movement.” Levine’s conclusion summarizes: “The extraordinary phenomenon about Lenin is that he combined this unshakable, almost fanatic, faith with a total absence of personal ambition, arrogance or pride. Unselfish and irreproachable in his character, of a retiring disposition, almost ascetic in his habits, extremely modest and gentle in his direct contact with people, although peremptory and derisive in his treatment of political enemies, Lenin could be daring and provocative in his policies.”15

Among the more provocative of Lenin’s political writings, at least in retrospect, was his 1905 article “Party organization and party literature,” from which Stoppard draws for some key Lenin dialogue in the play Travesties—as Stoppard puts it, “there’s a sense in which Lenin keeps convicting himself out of his own mouth.” In his study of Stoppard’s plays, John Fleming emphasizes that the playwright was becoming “personally and artistically involved in condemning Eastern Bloc repression,” especially political restraints imposed on free artistic expression, policies that seem to be advocated in Lenin’s 1905 essay. Stoppard’s understanding of this essay mirrors that of the triumphant Stalinist bureaucracy of the 1930s and 1940s. In his 1934 classic Artists in Uniform, however, Max Eastman—denouncing the Stalinist regimentation of the arts (in contradiction to the relative cultural freedom and creativity of the 1920s)—emphasized that Lenin’s 1905 essay “was written under capitalism and tsarism, and was, even so, devoted solely to the question of whether ‘party literature,’ having been in the previous illegal period free from control of the party, should in the new legal period come under that control.” As Robert C. Tucker commented years later, although “it seems clear from the article that Lenin was speaking primarily of political writings,” Stalin’s bureaucratic regime appropriated the article for its own purposes—claiming “Leninist authority for the established practice of party control and censorship of all cultural expression in Soviet Russia.”16

Anatoly Lunacharsky, people’s commissar of education in the early-Soviet Republic, pointed out that “Vladimir Ilyich never made guiding principles out of his aesthetical likes and dislikes.” His cultural tastes tended to be relatively conservative. As he explained to the seasoned German communist leader Clara Zetkin (who tended to agree with him): “It is beyond me to consider the products of expressionism, futurism, cubism and other ‘isms’ the highest manifestation of artistic genius. I do not understand them. I experience no joy from them.” But far from seeking to repress them, he said in the next breath: “Yes dear Clara, it can’t be helped. We’re both old fogies. For us it is enough that we remain young and are among the foremost at least in matters concerning the revolution. But we won’t be able to keep pace with the new art; we’ll just have to come trailing behind.” Adding that “our opinion on art is not the important thing,” he emphasized: “Art belongs to the people…. For art to get closer to the people and the people to art we must start by raising general educational and cultural standards.”17

It may be worthwhile returning to the question of laughter—which was observed by more than one stray British journalist. “I have never met anyone who could laugh so infectiously as Vladimir Ilyich,” commented Maxim Gorky. “It was even strange that this grim realist who so poignantly saw and felt the inevitability of great social tragedies, the man who was unbending and implacable in his hatred of the capitalist world, could laugh so naively, could laugh to tears, barely able to catch his breath.” Trotsky agreed: “At some gatherings at which there were not many people, Lenin would sometimes have a fit of laughter, and that happened not only when things went well, but even during hard and difficult moments. He tried to control himself as long as he could, but finally he would burst out with a peal of laughter which infected all the others.” Lunacharsky agreed: “Life bubbles and sparkles within him.” The cousin of Winston Churchill, the sculptor Clare Sheridan, saw the same thing as she labored to mould a likeness of the revolutionary leader. Lenin’s condition for allowing her to do this was that he not be interrupted in his work—for example, when a worker came in to discuss important matters with him. She offered this description: “The Comrade remained a long time, and conversation [with Lenin] was very animated. Never did I see any one make so many faces. Lenin laughed and frowned, and looked thoughtful, sad, and humorous all in turn. His eyebrows twitched, sometimes they went right up, and then they puckered together maliciously.”18

The personal qualities we have been reviewing here had political impact. It is interesting to return to the insightful reflection offered by George Kennan:

Endowed with this temperament, Lenin was able to communicate to his associates an atmosphere of militant optimism, of good cheer and steadfastness and comradely loyalty, which made him the object of their deepest admiration and affection and permitted them to apply their entire energy to the work at hand, confident that if this work was well done they would not lack for support and appreciation at the top of the Party. In these circumstances, while Lenin’s ultimate authority remained unquestioned, it was possible to spread initiative and responsibility much further than was ever the case in the heyday of Stalin’s power.19

Lenin’s leadership style was organically connected not only with his personality, of course, but also with his political orientation. His starting point was the elemental Marxist belief in the necessary interconnection of socialist theory and practice with the working class and labor movement. The working-class majority cannot adequately defend its actual interests and overcome its oppression, in his view, without embracing the goal of socialism—an economic system in which the economy is socially owned and democratically controlled in order to meet the needs of all people. Inseparable from this is a basic understanding of the working class as it is, which involves a grasp of the diversity and unevenness of working-class experience and consciousness. This calls for the development of a practical revolutionary approach seeking to connect, in serious ways, with the various sectors and layers of the working class.

This fundamental orientation is the basis of other key perspectives that one can find in his writings. One involves socialist and working-class support for struggles of all who suffer oppression, and a conception of forging social alliances and united fronts to advance these and other struggles. There is also an approach of integrating reform struggles with revolutionary strategy, a remarkable understanding of the manner in which democratic struggles flow into socialist revolution, as well as the need for working-class supremacy (or hegemony) if such struggles are to triumph. Lenin’s vibrant, revolutionary internationalist approach involves the interconnection of working-class struggles in all countries, also encompassing a profound analysis of both nationalism and imperialism. All of this is drawn together in a coherent conception of organization that is practical, democratic, and revolutionary.20

Ours is a time of social, economic, cultural, and political crises that, in multiple countries, have been generating a variety of insurgencies, occupations, and militant struggles to challenge the globalization policies of the powerful business corporations dominating our planet and to mobilize increasing layers of the 99% to challenge the oppressive and exploitative power of the wealthy 1%.21

Recalling Fredric Jameson’s notion of a Lenin who is unaware that he is dead, it is possible to conceive of a renewal of the ideas and politics that Lenin actually represented. It is intriguing that precisely at this time there has been the revival of a play having Lenin as a major character. Lenin may symbolize something different now than was the case either twenty or forty years ago. Just as Shakespeare’s plays experience new interpretations and new meanings at different points in history, so might future incarnations of this Tom Stoppard play take on a new meaning—with Lenin as a revolutionary symbol, associated with liberating ideas (and perhaps a bit more humor), taking on new life in our time of troubles.

  1. Tom Stoppard, Travesties (New York: Grove Press, 1975, 1993), 60. One could say that there is another serious political revolutionary in the play—Lenin’s wife and comrade, Nadezhda Krupskaya—though her function in the play is basically to recount what Lenin thought and did.
  2. On the recent revival at Princeton, see, and the post-performance panel discussion On the other plays, see Tom Stoppard, The Coast of Utopia (New York: Grove Press, 2007);; on Tom Stoppard, Rock’n’Roll (New York: Grove Press, 2007);’n’_Roll_(play).
  3. Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station, A Study in the Writing and Acting of History (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972), 458.
  4. Fredric Jameson, “Lenin and Revisionism,” in Lenin Reloaded: Toward a Politics of Truth, Sebastian Budgen, Stathis Kouvelakis, and Slavoj Zizek, eds. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 60.
  5. Maxim Gorky, “V. I. Lenin,” in Lenin and Gorky: Letters, Reminiscences, Articles (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1973), 255, 271 (with a slight modification in translation). For fierce criticism of Lenin and his comrades, see Maxim Gorky, Untimely Thoughts: Essays on Revolution, Culture, and the Bolsheviks, 1917-1918 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995).
  6. Angelica Balabanoff, Impressions of Lenin (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1964), 149. (A slight modification in translation was made here.)
  7. Two recent and excellent accounts of Marx and his ideas can be found in Mary Gabriel, Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution (New York: Little Brown and Co., 2011), and Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011). An early documented account of the Russian Revolution and Civil War, more or less corroborated by later scholarship, can be found in William Henry Chamberlin’s 1935 work The Russian Revolution, 1917–1921, 2 vols. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987). Early journalistic accounts of Stalin’s tyranny, more or less corroborated by later scholarship, can be found in William Chamberlin, Russia’s Iron Age (Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1934) and Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1937).
  8. Paul Delaney, ed., Tom Stoppard in Conversation(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 64; Andrei Codrescu, The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 14, 186, 187, 188; the journalistic comment that Codrescu challenges can be found in Arthur Ransome, Russia in 1919 (New York: B. W. Huebsch, 1919), 122. A challenge to the view that “Lenin perverted Marxism” can be found in Lars Lih, Lenin Rediscovered: ‘What Is To Be Done?’ in Context (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009) and Neil Harding, Lenin’s Political Thought: Theory and Practice in the Democratic and Socialist Revolutions (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009). Challenges to the conceptualization of Lenin as a mass murderer can be found in Moshe Lewin, Russia/USSR/Russia: The Drive and Drift of a Superstate (New York: Pantheon, 1995) and The Soviet Century (London: Verso, 2005). Of course, any head of state in time of war (including Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, etc.) can be characterized as a mass murderer, though it is not clear that this is Codrescu’s meaning.
  9. Robert Conquest, The Great Terror, A Reassessment (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 251; Hannah Arendt quoted in Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982), 411; Whittaker Chambers, “The end of a dark age ushers in new dangers,” Life, April 30, 1956, reprinted in Terry Teachout, ed., Ghosts on the Roof, Selected Essays, (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1996), 280. Similar points emerge in a classic anthology of informed anti-communist writings, Julien Steinberg, ed., Verdict of Three Decades: From the Literature of Individual Revolt Against Soviet Communism, 1917-1950 (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1950), and in the study by George F. Kennan, scholarly and acute US ambassador to Soviet Russia in the time of Stalin, Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin (New York: New American Library, 1962). For much information relevant to these questions, see the magisterial study by Arno J. Mayer, The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000). Indispensible are two volumes by Robert C. Tucker—Stalin as Revolutionary: 1879–1929 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992) and Stalin in Power: The Revolution From Above, 1928-1941 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992). Also see Paul Le Blanc, Marx, Lenin and the Revolutionary Experience: Studies of Communism and Radicalism in the Age of Globalization (New York: Routledge, 2006) from which some of the material in this discussion is drawn.
  10. Stefan T. Possony, Lenin: The Compulsive Revolutionary (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1964), vii, 392. A more recent study consistent with this is Helen Rappaport, Conspirator: Lenin in Exile (New York: Basic Books, 2010), interweaving considerable research with political hostility and personal denigration—presenting a “narrow, authoritarian” Lenin who frothed at the mouth when speaking, whose “mobile, malicious little eyes” revealed “something ruthless and predatory,” and who “probably” got syphilis from visiting prostitutes (this last assertion involving a set of speculations which many historians find unconvincing). For what strike me as more reliable biographies, see Ronald W. Clark, Lenin, A Biography (New York: Harper and Row, 1988) and Lars T. Lih, Lenin (London: Reaktion, 2011).
  11. A classic articulation of the conservative outlook can be found in Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1960). On Possony’s elitism and racism, see Nathaniel Weyl and Stefan Possony, The Geography of Intellect (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1963), 144, 147, 266, 267, 268, 271, 288, 289.
  12. Leon Trotsky, On Lenin (London: George G. Harrap and Co., 1971), 166–67; Kennan, 243.
  13. Carter Elwood, The Non-Geometric Lenin: Essays on the Development of the Bolshevik Party 1910–1914 (London: Anthem Press, 2011), xiv, xvii, xviii.
  14. Isaac Don Levine, The Man Lenin (New York: Thomas Seltzer, 1924), 13, 36, 157, 160, 176.
  15. Ibid, 179, 192, 193. For more on Lenin’s personal life, see Tamara Deutscher, Not By Politics Alone: The Other Lenin (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1973).
  16. John Fleming, Stoppard’s Theatre: Finding Order Amid Chaos (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001), 118, 119; Max Eastman, Artists in Uniform: A Study of Literature and Bureaucratism (New York: Octagon Press, 1972), 146; Robert C. Tucker, ed., The Lenin Anthology (New York: W. W. Norton, 1975), 148.
  17. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, On Culture and Cultural Revolution (Honolulu, Hawaii: University Press of the Pacific, 2001), 247, 233, 234.
  18. Gorky, 268; Trotsky, 165; Anatoly Lunacharsky, Revolutionary Silhouettes (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967), 41; Clare Sheridan, Mayfair to Moscow; Clare Sheridan’s Diary (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1921), 120.
  19. Kennan, 244.
  20. For more on Lenin’s perspectives, see V. I. Lenin, Revolution, Democracy, Socialism: Selected Writings, Paul Le Blanc, ed. (London: Pluto Press, 2008), and Paul Le Blanc, Lenin and the Revolutionary Party (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1993). Also see the slideshow on Lenin (along with slideshows on Marxism, Leon Trotsky, and Rosa Luxemburg):
  21. See for example, the reportage and reflections of BBC journalist Paul Mason, Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions (London: Verso, 2012).


Issue #96

Spring 2015

Race, surveillance, and empire

Issue contents

Top story



  • Expanding the LGBTQ agenda

    Keegan O'Brien reviews Queer (In)justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States by Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie and Kay Whitlock
  • Subliminal racism repackaged

    Paul Pryse reviews Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class by Ian Haney López
  • Crimes of war

    Bill Roberts reviews Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam by Nick Turse