The Legacy of Vladimir Lenin
New Revelations about Lenin
While the details of Joseph Stalins brutal reign were being uncovered in full view of the reading population, prompted by Gorbachevs denunciation of Stalin in October 1987, the reputation of Lenin remained unblemished in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev contributed to Lenins deification by issuing accolades such as the following:
The works of Lenin and his ideals of socialism remained for us an inexhaustible source of dialectical creative thought, theoretical wealth and political sagacity. His very image is an undying example of lofty moral strength, all-round spiritual culture and selfless devotion to the cause of the people and to socialism. Lenin lives on in the minds and hearts of millions of people (Gorbachev, Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World, Harper and Row, 1988, p.11).
I have met many educators in Russia who still think in these terms. While they are critical of Stalins dictatorship, they consider him to be an aberration, not a true disciple of Lenin. For many of them, Lenin is still the true hero of the Revolution of 1917, a revolution that overthrew an oppressive tsarist government.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the accession to power of Boris Yeltsin in 1991, the view of Lenin articulated by Gorbachev is undergoing major change. Secret documents located in the KGB headquarters in Moscow, carefully marked "to be preserved forever," have now been opened and a clearer picture of Lenin and the early years of the Bolshevik regime is emerging.
Dmitri Volkogonov, an historian and former general in the Soviet Army, was entrusted with the management of these secret archives by Boris Yeltsin. His new biography of Lenin, published in 1994, is a devastating indictment of the man Gorbachev and others still praise.
"Priest of Terror"
Volkogonov documents haw "Lenins orders and exhortations streamed out of the Kremlin, all of their varied contents boiling down to one essential consideration: achieve your aim at any cost, regardless of losses" (p. 201). While in the popular mind, the concentration camp system or GULAG and the purges of the 1930s are commonly associated with the name of Stalin, Volkogonov proves that "the true father of the Bolshevik concentration camps, the executions, the mass terror and the organs which stood above the state, was Lenin" (p. 235).
In the middle of Volkogonovs study of Lenin, the author adds a poignant personal note which summarizes the heart of this new biography. "For twenty-five years after the Twentieth Congress [in which Khrushchev first denounced Stalin] the Russian people asked themselves where Stalin had acquired the cruelty which he inflicted on his fellow-countrymen. None of us the present author included could begin to imagine that the father of domestic Russian terrorism, merciless and totalitarian, was Lenin" (p. 363).
Lenins Attacks on the Intellectuals
The full force of Lenins feelings about Russia and its intellectual leadership are graphically illustrated by the following remarks in a letter to the Russian writer Maxim Gorky: "The intellectual forces of the workers and peasants are growing and getting stronger in the struggle to overthrow the bourgeoisie and their accomplices, the intellectuals, the lackeys of capital, who think theyre the brains of the nation. In fact, theyre not its brains, theyre its shit "(Volkogonov, p. 361).
Building a One-Dimensional Society
Under Lenins leadership, "the immoral become moral, the base became the elevated, catastrophes were proclaimed as great achievements." With his dedicated group of professional revolutionaries, Lenin went about the task of "turning over all of Russia," creating a "one-dimensional society with a one-dimensional personality" (p. 329).
Sober Expectations about Reform in Russia
Dr. John A. Bernbaum