The thesis of this chapter is that had it not been for the work of one man we should be living in a vastly different world to-day.

There are four stages to the argument. The first is that, next to the First World War, the most momentous occurrence of the twentieth century has been the Russian Revolution of October, 1917. By “most momentous” we mean that it has had a greater influence on the political, social, and economic history of the world since its occurrence than any other single event. The second step in the argument is that the Russian Revolution was not inevitable. The third is that it was triumphant because of the directing leadership of Lenin and that without him it would have been lost. The fourth is that if the Russian Revolution had not taken place the cultural, political, and, in part, the economic life of the world would have been very different.


The Russian Revolution of February, 1917, which destroyed Czarism and moved toward the introduction of democratic political forms on the Western model was unplanned but historically expected. The October Revolution of 1917, which destroyed political democracy and substituted minority party dictatorship in its stead, was planned but historically unexpected.

This seeming paradox is easily explained. Whereas all political groups, except pensioners of the court and other reactionary elements, anticipated the downfall of the autocracy through a “February” Revolution at almost any moment after the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War, no one dreamed of an “October” Revolution as a realistic possibility as late as ten months before its actual occurrence. This goes without saying for those who were later to oppose the October Revolution. But not even the Bolsheviks themselves, who carried out the Revolution and who were committed to a belief in the historical inevitability of proletarian dictatorship, had any inkling that their chance would come so soon. Their belief in proletarian dictatorship was a theoretical and programmatic commitment—part of a doctrine conceived to be universally valid as the goal of an international movement whose ultimate objective was world socialism. The grand political strategy, as distinct from tactical manœuvres, was to be followed not only in Russia but elsewhere as well. Not even the most extreme party doctrinaires regarded the conquest of State power in Russia, a short ten months before they took it, as a serious item on the agenda of history.

If any evidence of this were needed, we could cite the expectation of the Bolshevik leaders that the socialist revolution would occur first in the highly industrialized countries of the West. At best they hoped that a democratic revolution in Russia would set off a socialist revolution in the West which in time would swing Russia, too, into the same orbit. More important still, in an address delivered before a group of young Swiss socialists shortly before he returned to Russia, Lenin himself indicated that he did not anticipate an “October” revolution in his own lifetime. The notion that a socialist state could exist for any length of time in Russia, as an island in a capitalist world, would have been laughed off as a fantasy if anyone had suggested it.

What were the consequences of the Russian Revolution? We shall pass no judgment on their desirability but shall restrict ourselves to uncovering the objective connections between events.

The first result was to prolong somewhat the duration of the First World War by removing Germany’s second front. Although the influence of the Russian example and of revolutionary agitation softened the German home front, the decision of the Imperial High Command to sue for peace was a military one. After the German spring offensive in 1918, made possible by the transfer of troops from the east, had collapsed, victory for German arms was no longer possible.

Not so immediate but perhaps more far-reaching in its effects was the withdrawal of one-sixth of the world’s surface from the international economy. With absolute monopolistic control over foreign trade, introduced almost at once by the Bolsheviks, the competitive market was destroyed. Not only was the importation of commodities prohibited but the policy of the Government and the reluctance of foreign investors to risk their funds because of prior repudiation, both natural under the circumstances, cut off the importation of capital. This tendency, initiated under Lenin to prevent capitalist restoration, became strengthened under Stalin when the construction of “Socialism in one country” became the standing order of the day. The full effects of Russia’s withdrawal from the world market were apparent in the devastating crisis of 1929–32 when huge surpluses of commodities and capital piled up in the chief capitalist countries for lack of outlets while unemployment and want mounted correspondingly. The potential Russian market could have absorbed a vast amount of goods and services. Its closed doors accentuated the severity of the crisis.

When the Bolsheviks took power, they did not expect to hold it without a revolution in the West. Once that revolution took place, they assumed that Russia, because of the primitive state of its productive forces, would lapse once more into its backward role in a socialist world economy. To facilitate the “inevitable” revolution in the West, the Communist International was founded. It was distinguished then and forever afterward from the Soviet régime and the Bolshevik Party only by a different letterhead for its stationery.

The “inevitable,” however, did not occur. The few efforts made to force it in Germany, Hungary, Finland, and China resulted in disaster. The Bolsheviks had to hold on or voluntarily abandon State power. Marx’s doctrine that no ruling class ever voluntarily surrenders its power turned out to be true for the dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party, too. The reversal in the policy of the Communist International was signalled by Stalin, who had succeeded to Lenin’s mantle, despite the latter’s political testament. From then on “the defence of the Soviet Union” became transformed from a slogan, which had rallied the Western workers during the years of Allied intervention, into the guiding principle behind the activities of Communists throughout the world. The history of every national Communist Party is proof of this. For example, the French Communist Party which bitterly opposed the present war changed its line not when its own country was invaded by Hitler but only after Russia was invaded. The same holds true everywhere else.

The defence of the Soviet Union was now identified with the stability of the Bolshevik régime. The stability of the regime was bound up with correct relations with other states, particularly the absence of international conflict. These good relations could easily be imperilled if revolutionary movements, which derived their material resources in part and their ideal inspiration entire from the Bolshevik régime, were to make a bid for power and fail. The ensuing struggle and reaction might unloose the much-dreaded war and intervention which would interrupt the building up of “socialism.” Consequently, the Soviet rulers, because of the needs of national defence and of the expansion of the state economy, developed a vested interest in preserving peace. What is more, they committed themselves to maintaining the domestic status quo in all capitalist countries in so far as its upset might provoke international conflict. Where the Soviet Government believed it had nothing to fear in the way of interventionist designs by a foreign country, or believed it could turn these designs aside by trade or political treaty, it was eager to enter into cordial relations with that country, whether it was totalitarian Italy and Turkey or democratic France and England. If anything, because of the history of the early years, it was more suspicious of the latter than of the former. Even after the advent of Fascism in Germany, despite Hitler’s candid declaration of his policy toward Russia, the Bolshevik régime was punctilious in fulfilling all its treaties, pacts, and trade agreements. In fact, it renewed the old ones and entered into new ones with Hitler, not because it had no fear, of his intentions but in order to avoid a provocation that Hitler’s words and acts showed he would not wait upon.

At the same time that it acquired a vested interest in the perpetuation of the status quo in foreign countries, the Bolshevik régime was compelled to keep national Communist Parties alive within them. It was an axiom of Bolshevik doctrine that the differences between any group of capitalist powers was as nothing compared to the differences between the Soviet Union and all capitalist powers. The palpable contrasts between capitalist democracies and Fascist countries were regarded as superficial. Fascism itself was defined as the final and normal phase of democratic development in the era of finance capitalism. It followed, according to Bolshevik doctrine, that there was an ever-present peril that any or all capitalist countries might attack the Soviet Union instead of one another. To forestall such a dire eventuality, and to secure active, strategically situated allies in case it did occur, the national Communist Parties had to be strengthened as an elementary form of insurance. As the Bolsheviks conceived it, this meant that they had to achieve leadership and domination in the socialist and labour movements of all countries, not to carry out a revolution, but to influence the national and foreign policy of those countries, directly and indirectly, as the interests of the Soviet Union required. To do this they had to eliminate or subordinate to themselves all other socialist, labour, and even democratic liberal groups.

The greatest triumphs enjoyed by the Bolsheviks outside of Russia were not the overthrow of any capitalist State but the destruction of working-class and socialist unity in all countries where affiliated sections of the Communist International could gain a foothold. Sometimes this was accomplished by boring from within and the well-known Trojan-horse tactics; sometimes by open splits and organization of parallel political parties and trade unions: sometimes by both. The net effect was the weakening of powers of resistance to forces of domestic reaction, particularly to the large industrialists and land-owners as well as the dispossessed middle classes subject to growing Fascist influence, who were uncompromisingly hostile to the Soviet Union.

In this connection the cases of Italy and Germany are particularly instructive, for they reflect two stages in the influence of the Bolshevik régime on the working class of the West.

While Lenin was still alive the Bolsheviks hoped to force the “inevitable” birth of proletarian dictatorships in the west. But to force it, they had to take leadership. In doing so they abandoned the remarkable tactical flexibility they showed on their home ground and laid down dogmatic prescriptions for action in all other countries based on their own historical experience. This meant smashing existing socialist movements that had other policies and approaches. In Italy, the powerful and militant Italian Socialist Party was disorganized and split by the Communist International at the very time when Mussolini’s cohorts, although still weak, were girding themselves for a general offensive against labour and the Italian democracy.

Lenin’s strategy, however, both within Russia and without, especially in dealing with other working-class groups in relation to which the Bolsheviks were a minority, all flowed from his conception of the nature of a revolutionary party. He could not have abandoned it without rejecting the cardinal principle of Bolshevism, viz. the dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party over the proletariat as a condition precedent for the dictatorship of the proletariat.[1]

After the succession of revolutionary miscarriages in the West, the Bolsheviks turned toward the construction of socialism in Russia, transforming the Communist International into an instrument to achieve this aim. A revolution now in the capitalist countries would prove an embarrassment, even if it were peacefully achieved under non-Bolshevik auspices, because of the dangers of civil war, counter-revolution, and international conflict which it would provoke. In Germany from 1928 on, the Bolsheviks tricked themselves out with an ultra-revolutionary line but concentrated most of their energies in combatting other working-class parties. They declared that “the chief enemy” of genuine democracy and socialism was the German Socialist Party. They referred to its leaders and members as “Social-Fascists.” On important occasions the German Communist Party co-operated with the Nazis in common action against the Weimar Republic. Even after Hitler’s accession to power and the outlawing of the Communist Party, the Communist International denounced the German Socialist Party as “the chief enemy” of the working class.[2]

This line was changed in 1935 at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International when Hitler’s will to war had become unmistakable even to the Kremlin. The new turn ushered in the period of the Popular Front. The Popular Front was a Peace Front agitating for a collective security that would freeze the existing national boundaries of Europe and invoke sanctions against any country sending troops beyond its borders. The Popular Front was intended to embrace any group, independently of its social programme, which accepted this programme. In all Popular Fronts during this period the Communist Parties of the world were at the extreme right of the Coalition, arguing against any social changes that would imperil national unity. In France they sided with the Radical Socialists, who were conservative, against the Socialist Party. In England they called for a political coalition between the Liberal Party of Lloyd George and the English Labour Party. In Spain they were to the right of the Republicans and contested bitterly the social reforms proposed by the Socialists and Anarchists which would infringe on the rights of private property. The Communists, who yesterday had been ultra-revolutionary, to-day feared that even minor social reforms would create domestic opposition and chaos, strengthen Hitler, and drive democratic England and France into Hitler’s camp. For the same reason, during this period there was an abatement of the struggle for colonial liberation by native Communist Parties in the English and French Empires.

In 1939 the line was switched once more when Stalin thought that, as a result of his pact with Hitler, the latter would go west and stay there. Again the “plutocratic western democracies” became the chief enemy, and war-mongers to boot. Fascism was declared by the Kremlin to be merely a matter of political taste.

In 1941, Stalin perforce had to reverse himself once more since Hitler gave him no alternative. The Bolshevik dogma, that all capitalist countries—and they still considered Germany a capitalist country—had more in common with one another than any one of them had with Russia, proved bankrupt. But at what cost!

It must be borne in mind that the Bolshevik campaign for domination over the international working-class movement and its liberal allies was not a piece of political diabolism on the part of Lenin and Stalin. It followed from the needs and interests of the world revolution and of the Soviet Union as Lenin and Stalin respectively interpreted them—needs and interests of which they considered themselves the sole spokesmen. Lenin reasoned that without the necessary knowledge and leadership, which the Bolsheviks alone possessed, revolutions were doomed. Stalin reasoned that, if the affiliated sections of the Comintern were to have any political weight in swaying the decisions of their government on matters that affected Russia, Bolshevik leadership of the masses in foreign countries was essential. Bolshevik leadership in both periods was disputed in most countries, partly because of the methods of rule or ruin by which it was sought, but mainly because socialists, trade unionists, and democrats refused to accept dictation on domestic issues by agents of a foreign power—one that despite its socialist appellation was unmistakably a dictatorship of a minority party over its proletariat and peasantry. But although the Bolsheviks did not succeed in achieving leadership, they succeeded brilliantly in fragmentizing the opposition to Fascism everywhere except in Austria where the clerical Fascists under Dollfuss and Schuschnigg took over that role.

Despite the fact that the Bolsheviks had abandoned the policy of world revolution for the preservation of peace, large sections of the conservative and propertied groups in Western countries remained fearful of the Soviet power. The memory of the early years of the Russian Revolution had not died out. As the economic crisis deepened, they observed with acute discomfort the slow but definite increase of sentiment friendly to the Soviet Union among some sections of the workers, and even more so among the intellectuals of their own countries. The well-advertised increases in productive potentials during the Five-Year Plans exercised the influence of example upon those who, faced by declining living standards, preferred the promise of security to the bitter and uncertain bread of freedom. At home, restlessness, demonstrations, increasing tensions, and conflicts that became more acute as the curve of production went lower frightened the bankers, the industrialists, the landowners, and their political and ideological pensioners.

In Germany and Italy these were the groups which lifted Fascism into the saddle. For it cannot be too often repeated, neither Mussolini nor Hitler actually won power in open struggle. It was given them by influential conservative circles—“the best people” who saw in Fascism the only alternative to Bolshevism. This sentiment was world-wide and accounted for the support Mussolini received not only in England but even in America. Thomas W. Lamont of the House of Morgan negotiated a loan that saved the Italian Fascist régime when it was tottering. Industrialists praised it: trains ran on time! Irving Babbitt, a leading member of the American professoriate, wrote: “Circumstances may arise when we may esteem ourselves fortunate if we get the American equivalent of a Mussolini; he may be needed to save us from the American equivalent of a Lenin.”[3] It is interesting to observe that these were the only social groups, aside from the outright organizational Fascists, who took seriously the agitational slogans of the Communist International—“either Communism or Fascism.”

Undoubtedly much more influential than the possibility, fearful even if mythical, that the Bolsheviks would overrun the West, were the economic decline of capitalism and its inability to come out of the throes of depression as quickly as it had in other periods. The sheer facts of unemployment and want compelled the existing governments to adopt measures that seemed to threaten the traditional position, prestige, and income of propertied conservative groups. These groups were prepared to let the crisis work itself out “normally,” that is, at the cost of those who suffered most. They resented the taxes, the social welfare legislation, and all the halfway measures of regulated capitalism that sought to redistribute economic burdens without affecting the structure of the profit system.

The vigorous completion of the movement of social regulation which had begun in the Weimar Republic might have led to some variety of democratic socialism, but this was precluded by the increasing opposition of the industrialists and the Junkers, the crippling effects of the Versailles system, confusion of purpose and timidity on the part of the socialists, and the civil war in the labour movement which the Bolsheviks were waging with ever-growing intensity.

Into this situation, compounded of economic catastrophe and political ineptitude, the Fascists entered, bearing gifts and promises to all sections of the community. Harassed by the burden of social services, taxes, strikes, and the spectacle or miniature civil war on the streets of all large cities, the Hugenburgs, Thyssens, and Hindenburgs welcomed the Fascists so they might restore order “once and for all.” After that was done, so they thought who had seen so many Chancellors and go, the Fascists would either be sobered by the responsibility of rule or cashiered by the same mechanism through which they took over. The Army at any rate would keep them within the bounds of sanity after the country had been “saved from Bolshevism.” Once installed, however, the Fascists smashed the mechanism by which they came into power, politicalized the Army, and harnessed the industrialists as well as their plants into an economy organized for total war.

After Hitler became Chancellor and ruler of Germany, matters moved rapidly toward the solution by force of the economic and political problems of Europe. Just as Hitler’s domestic policy was aided by conservative fear of Bolshevism, so his international policy, which aimed at the destruction of Russia as the first big step in the march toward world power, was aided by conservative and reactionary groups the world over. Conflicting national interests, of course, came into play. As a whole, conservatives in the West were friendlier to the Roman variety of totalitarianism than to the Nazi variety. But as a group they swung enough weight to prevent energetic action against Hitler until the hunted became strong enough to become the hunter.

It is often alleged that the calculated policy of the governing classes in France and England was to encourage Germany to march east at the expense of Poland, the Baltic States, and especially Russia. This thesis is offered in extenuation of the Soviet–Nazi Pact of 1939 which freed Hitler of his fear of a second front. It has little to recommend it. French distrust of Germany would never have been allayed by the sight of victorious German armies anywhere. But the decisive disproof of the allegations is the fact that both England and France declared war against Germany as soon as she marched due east to Russian borders. They did not do it, of course, to save Poland and Russia but to save themselves. Why did they wake up so late to the realization that Hitler threatened them and that they had to save themselves? Their false estimation of the nature of Fascism, their reluctance to forestall the rise of Hitler and the rearming of Germany, can be accounted for by the fear, not less influential because ungrounded, that the red flood of Bolshevism was the only possible alternative to the brown flood of Fascism. They were lamed in eye and mind and limb by the fear of Bolshevism, both before and after that unhappy day in January, 1933, when Hindenburg betrayed the Weimar Republic. It was only when Hitler held the knife to the throat of Poland, and to Russia beyond her, that they realized that knife was intended for them, too.

Once Hitler made of Germany a Fascist state, the Second World War was only a matter of time. The world as we know it to-day, which a generation ago would have appeared as a Wellsian fantasy, became a historical reality.

In summary, then, of the first step of the argument: three chains of events radiating from the Russian Revolution converged to contribute strongly to the victory of Hitler:

(a) The withdrawal of Russia from the world economy left a dead spot unable to absorb the flow of goods and services from other countries. This accentuated the economic crisis, which would have occurred anyhow, but in not so violent a form. It enabled Hitler to recruit his mass following from those who felt the impact of the crisis most sharply.

(b) The destruction of the labour movement which, if it had been as unified as it was at the time of the monarchist Kapp Putsch in Germany, could have stopped Fascism in its tracks or, at least, put up so strong a resistance that Germany would have been as exhausted as Spain.

(c) The fear of Bolshevism and of the imposition of the Bolshevik pattern on the West. This led reactionary groups in Germany to call Hitler to power and explains the shortsighted indifference of reactionary groups in other capitalist countries to the rise of Fascism. Without the Russian Revolution, there would have been a Hitler movement anyway but it would not have triumphed. The worst alternative realizable in Germany would have been a period of reaction similar to other conservative swings of the past. But in time, unable to overcome the crisis endemic to capitalism, a conservative régime would have had to make way for German social democracy, instructed and strengthened by previous defeats, or it would have been compelled to pit itself against the overwhelming mass of the German people in open revolt.

2 and 3

However we assess the casual significance of the Russian Revolution for subsequent European development, we must face the position which asserts that the October Revolution was inevitable. The term “inevitable” in this connection is ambiguous. Even those who use it do not mean it literally. What they do mean is that, given its social and economic antecedents, the October Revolution was overwhelmingly the most likely of all the relevant historical possibilities. This is the view of the orthodox Marxists of the Leninist persuasion. It is a view, however, that can be held independently of their political programme and certainly demands consideration.

The denial that the Russian Revolution was inevitable in the light of Russian social and economic development entails the belief that some other factor was of primary importance. On our hypothesis this factor was the presence of an event-making individual—Lenin. Those who uphold the thesis of inevitability admit that Lenin’s presence may have been necessary as far as the calendar date of the Russian Revolution was concerned, but, in conformity with their general philosophy of history, affirm that even without him “it would necessarily have come sooner or later.” Since our denial of the inevitability of the Russian Revolution is made on the grounds that an event-making personality decided the issue, and that in his absence from the scene events would have fallen out quite differently with profoundly different consequences to the world, the second and third steps of our argument will be considered together.

The contention that the Russian Revolution was historically inevitable rests upon two main lines of evidence. The first consists in the accumulation of data which indicate that, although Russia was predominately a backward agricultural country, she also possessed a highly developed industry with a class-conscious proletariat. The standing need of the Russian peasants for land, the dislocations in industry produced by the war, the prevalent mood of war-weariness, and the disorganization of the governmental apparatus produced a revolutionary situation which became progressively more acute from February to the eve of October. A revolutionary situation, however, is not yet a revolution. For that a political party is needed. The second line of evidence is then introduced. This consists in showing that the Bolshevik Party, and the Bolshevik Party alone, had the correct programme to meet the needs and demands of the great masses of the Russian people. Taken together, the revolutionary situation and party made the October Revolution the only possible historical solution.

Even if nothing in the above account were disputed, the conclusion is a non sequitur. There have been other periods in history which showed us a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary party with a “correct” programme from its point of view—and the whole summed up to failure—for example, Germany in 1923. Nor is it true that the Bolshevist Party was the only party with the programme which, on this analysis, was called for by the situation. The Bolshevik programme was really adapted from the official programme of the Social Revolutionary Party during this period.[4]

The great difference was that the programme of the Social Revolutionary Party remained a paper resolution, completely disregarded by its representatives in the Provisional Government and Soviets, while the Bolshevik Party carried the programme out.

Given the situation in Russia, the October Revolution must be regarded as the work of the Bolshevik Party which capitalized for its own political purposes the hunger of the Russian masses for peace, land, and bread. The main problem then is the relation of Lenin to the Bolshevik Party—to its programme, strategy, tactics, and will to action. Before we consider it, we should observe that, in fact, the leading role of the Bolshevik Party in the events that culminated in the seizure of power is disputed by none. In question is only the extent to which the Bolshevik Party influenced the restless mood of the Russian masses. Miliukov, typical of the historians of the right, holds their agitation largely responsible for the existence of the mass attitudes which they thereupon skilfully exploited. Trotsky, typical of the historians of the left, maintains that the Bolsheviks from first to last lagged behind the temper of the workers and peasants. Kerensky, speaking for the centre, asserts that “the psychology of absolute distrust for the authorities” was aroused in the masses primarily by the attempted coup d’état of Kornilov, aided by the friends of Miliukov; the Bolsheviks did the rest.[5] But no matter how the mood of the Russian masses was created, it did not make the Russian Revolution. That was the work of the Bolshevik Party.

But without Nicolai Lenin the work of the Bolshevik Party from April to October, 1917, is unthinkable. Anyone who familiarizes himself with its internal history will discover that objectives, policy, slogans, controlling strategy, day-by-day tactics were laid down by Lenin. Sometimes he counselled in the same painstaking way that a tutor coaches a spirited but bewildered pupil; sometimes he commanded like an impatient drill sergeant barking at a raw recruit. But from first to last it was Lenin. Without him there would have been no October Revolution. Here is the evidence.

(a) Until Lenin’s return to Russia on April 3, and his presentation of his thesis of April 4, the Bolshevik Party and its official organ were supporting the Provisional Government of Kerensky. Lenin’s April Theses, which called for the overthrow of this Government by armed insurrection and for all power to the Soviets, came as a bombshell in his own party.

Speaking of the position of the Bolshevik Party in Russia before Lenin arrived, Joseph Stalin wrote on November 19, 1924.

This position was utterly erroneous, for it begot pacifist illusions, poured water on the mill of defensism and hampered the revolutionary education of the masses. In those days I shared this erroneous position with other Party comrades, and completely renounced it only in the middle of April, when I endorsed Lenin’s thesis.[6]

At the beginning Lenin was absolutely alone in Ms stand. His intransigent demand for immediate cessation of the war against Germany, his call “to turn the imperialist war into a civil war,” outraged all political parties. It played into the hands of his enemies who desperately sought to pin on him the false label of “German agent.”[7] Nonetheless, before the month was out, Lenin had converted the executive committee and the most active spirits of his party. Before his arrival the local Bolsheviks were seriously considering organic fusion with the Mensheviks. Lenin changed all that. He drew a sharp line of division between his own party and all the other working-class parties that refused to accept his programme.

The significance of Lenin’s work in arming his party with a new set of objectives may be gauged by the fact that this involved abandoning doctrines the Bolsheviks had firmly held for an entire decade. Until the February Revolution, all Bolsheviks, including Lenin, believed in what they called “the democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants.” The task of this regime would be to carry out in Russia the achievements of the democratic revolutions of the West. In 1917 Lenin changed his position and that of his party. The Russian Revolution was to be the first breach in the world economy of capitalism. It was to be a “dictatorship of the proletariat” that would stimulate similar dictatorships in the West which co-operatively would initiate the transition to world socialism.

His opponents predicted that Lenin’s programme would not appease the hunger of the Russian masses for peace, land, and bread; that world-wide socialist revolutions would not follow upon the dictatorship of the proletariat in Europe; that Russia would be devastated by civil war and chaos; that the autocracy of the Czarist bureaucrats and landlords would be replaced by an even more ruthless autocracy of Bolshevik bureaucrats. Despite all criticism from without as well as within his own party, Lenin won his way without yielding an inch.

(b) Once Lenin had converted his party to the programme of civil war and armed insurrection against the democratic Provisional Government, the main task was dear. It was to choose the proper moment to strike. Until that moment, Lenin was careful to exploit the status of legality in order to carry on his propaganda for overthrow, and to accumulate weapons. After the abrupt turn had been made from critical collaboration to outright opposition, it was not easy to restrain the Bolshevik rank and file, its periphery and sympathizers, from precipitating matters prematurely. If one shoots at a king, one must not miss. And if an insurrection is begun, it is death to fail. Lenin, therefore, was compelled to keep a very close check on the more exuberant of his followers as well as on the mass outbursts that rose periodically as a consequence of delay in meeting the urgent, immediate demands of workers and peasants. He had to forestall an attempt to seize power when the chances were unfavourable for winning it, or holding it after it was won.

During the June days, and much more so during early July, extremist sentiment was rife in influential sections of the Petrograd working class and military garrison. Even some of the Bolshevik leaders were toying with the idea of giving the signal for an all-out attack against the Kerensky Government. It was Lenin who held them back. He warned that they would be unable to finish what they started, that they would be crushed, and that the opportunity to strike for power would be lost, perhaps forever. Even so, a considerable number of workers got out of control and appeared on the streets with rifles in their hands. Although they had tried to call off this demonstration, which was largely the result of their previous agitation, the Bolshevik Party at Lenin’s command placed itself at its head in order to prevent it from going over into open insurrection. The Bolsheviks were successful in this. But because the Party had taken public responsibility for the armed demonstration, their apparatus was forced underground and they suffered a considerable loss of political influence on the masses. They regained their influence and partially emerged from illegality only after Kornilov attempted his coup d’état from the right against the Kerensky Government.

(c) The most decisive period in Lenin’s career of mastery over the Bolshevik Party was the very eve of the October Revolution. Although in hiding, Lenin kept in close touch with the moods of the discontented soldiery and peasants. He was well informed of the disposition of military forces in and about the capital. The Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, having learned the lesson of the July days, was inclined to go slow. The very farthest thing from their minds was the desire to go over to an open offensive when they received word from Lenin that it was now or never.

At first Lenin was in the minority. He raged and stormed. He threatened to go over their heads to the lower party functionaries and to organize matters without them. He wrote letters to influential party members to get them to bring pressure on the lagging executive committee. After fierce and stubborn debate, he won them to his position. How urgent Lenin considered the period they were in—as the period in which to stake ail on a bid for power—is apparent from his letter of October 21, 1917, to the Central Executive Committee, demanding the organization of an armed insurrection during the next few days: “The success of both the Russian and world revolution depends upon two or three days of struggle.”[8] When he finally won his majority by a vote often to two, the die was cast. The Bolsheviks took state power.

(d) That they kept state power during the subsequent year was again due primarily to Lenin’s guiding policy. One group of the Central Committee desired to continue the war against Hohenzollern Germany while appealing to the German workers to emulate the Bolsheviks. Another group advocated the policy of “neither peace nor war.” Lenin stood firm for a signed treaty of peace which would give the Bolsheviks respite from their foreign enemy for the moment and sufficient time to consolidate themselves against their internal foes. During these days, Lenin was again a hopeless minority at first but hammered away until his colleagues yielded. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed.

If Lenin, had not returned to Russia or had died en route, there is no evidence whatsoever to support the hypothesis that Kamenev, Muranov, and Stalin, then in control of Bolshevik policy, would have reversed helm and taken up war to the end against the democratic provisional Government. If during June and July Lenin had not been present to prevail upon the excited spirits among the Bolsheviks and other Enragés and forestall, an uprising, the whole organization would have been destroyed in blood. If, on the eve of October, the Bolsheviks had marked time despite Lenin’s exhortations, Kerensky would have been able to garrison the capital with reliable troops and easily cope with the Bolsheviks. If Lenin had not stopped the Germans by giving them all they wanted, their army would have taken both Petrograd and Moscow, since military resistance was no longer possible. Lenin and his colleagues would either have met the fate of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg in Germany or would have been dispersed to the four corners of the vast Russian land.

Lenin, of course, was not the Bolshevik Party. But the Bolshevik Party became the instrument it did because of Lenin. It is doubtful whether any man before him ever wielded such power in a political party; certainly not in an organization that professed to be democratic or socialistic.

If Lenin had not been on the scene, not a single revolutionary leader could have substituted for him. Not Stalin, by his own confession. Not Zinoviev, Lenin’s closest follower, who ran out on the October Revolution. Not Kamenev, whose mind Lenin changed at the same time he changed Stalin’s, but who acted like Zinoviev. Not Trotsky. Although the record shows that Trotsky was the only outstanding Russian figure whose theoretical position and practical programme were identical with those of Lenin before April, 1917, he would have failed where Lenin succeeded. For one thing, he arrived in Russia a month after Lenin did. By that time Lenin had completed the re-education of the Bolshevik Party. Trotsky would have had to do this, but he was not a member of the organization. His own party was numerically insignificant and relatively uninfluential. Finally, he owed whatever authority he enjoyed in the Bolshevik Party, which he joined in August, to Lenin’s recognition of his capacities and Lenin’s constant protection against the suspicion and opposition of the second-line Bolshevik leaders. Trotsky, alone, was doomed to failure because, despite his other great gifts, he lacked the organizational genius so necessary for political success. His imperious manner provoked people instead of reconciling them to his capacities. He could win an audience but, unlike Lenin, he could not win over party opponents. And he openly betrayed an impatience with mediocrity which no one forgives in a newcomer.


What would have been the consequences for history if the October Revolution had not occurred or, occurring, had failed? It is easier to say what would not have happened than to say with any great degree of definiteness what would have happened. Here the possibility is always present that events from other series of happenings might erupt into the series we are considering, like comets that crash into a solar system and upset its otherwise calculable behaviour. But we are entitled to make a rough chart of what might have been on the basis of what we already know. If this is disputed in principle, as we have seen, the possibility of all grounded prediction in human and historical affairs must be ruled out.

If the Bolsheviks had lost their golden hour, the left Social Revolutionaries together with some anarchist groups might have attempted to seize power. But it is extremely unlikely that they could have achieved more than a noisy disturbance. They had no organizational discipline and could hardly formulate, much less execute, a centralized plan of control. Even in the unlikely event of victory, their programme would have stopped where that of the Bolsheviks began—with the land in the hands of the peasants.

The Russian military front would have collapsed anyhow. The truth was that, by the end of 1917, there was no military front. The Germans could have advanced at will at any time. An armistice with Germany was unavoidable no matter who constituted the government. The Constituent Assembly, Russia’s parliamentary democracy, which was bayoneted out of existence at its first session by the Bolsheviks, would in all likelihood have converted Russia into a constitutional republic on the model of France and England. The preponderance of Socialist sentiment guaranteed a highly advanced system of social legislation. The banks and some of the basic public services and industries would probably have been socialized, but there would have been no collectivization of industry. The Russian market would have been opened as a vast field for European industry. The catastrophic world crisis which began in 1928 would have probably been delayed, and in any event its effects appreciably mitigated when it did occur. Fascist parties would have existed as political sects, but Fascism as a mass movement would not have developed in the face of a united European working class.

Even without the October Revolution, the danger of war would not have been removed. For conflicts between national economies for the exploitation of the world market would still have continued in the absence of some form of planned economy to undergird a world political union. In the east, developments would have been pretty much the same as they were, particularly as far as Japan is concerned. But in the West, in the absence of Fascism, war might have been avoided although its danger would not have been dispelled. A democratic Russia in the League of Nations from the very beginning would have been a natural ally of the Weimar Republic, and the worst features of the Versailles system would have been obviated. A reconstituted socialist and labour international might perhaps have emerged from the carnage of the first war, mindful of the opportunities it missed in 1914 and powerful enough to prevent the settling of economic issues by the trial of arms.

Some historians admit that the victory of the October Revolution was not determined, in the sense that it was the sole historical possibility in the situation. But they maintain that if there had not been an October, or if it had failed, the only other alternative was the restoration of Czarism: “The alternative to Tsarism was not constitutional monarchy or liberal republicanism, but Bolshevism…. The alternative to Bolshevism, had it failed to survive the ordeal of civil war… would not have been Chernov, elected according to the most modern rules of equal suffrage and proportional representation, but a military dictator, a Kolchak or a Denikin….”[9] This is a very widely entertained view, but we believe it to be mistaken.

The counter-revolutionary movement of Kornilov before October dissolved like snow in a hot sun. What made it possible for Kolchak and Denikin to resume? Foreign support—a foreign support that would have been completely absent if a democratic regime had continued to exist in Russia. The Bolshevik dictatorship was in fact strengthened by foreign intervention. Many who were hostile to the Bolsheviks’ political rule fought side by side with them because they regarded the civil war as a national war against invaders. The Czarists in fact had very little social support in Russia, and what they had was drawn from the large landlords and their dependents. The peasants kept their fists on the land. When they had a choice, they preferred the Bolsheviks, who promised to let them keep it, to the counter-revolutionists, who took the land away from them. There would probably have been no new insurrection from the right if the Constituent Assembly had been permitted to enjoy its legitimate authority. And in the improbable event that it would have occurred, it would have been very brief, for it would have faced a practically unified people.

The reasons usually advanced for the impossibility of Russia’s finding a democratic mean between the autocracy of Czarism and the autocracy of Bolshevism are such that they would also “prove” the English and French Revolutions impossible.

Our main concern, however, is not with the particular historical picture that would have unrolled itself if there had been no October. And at this point we are not at all concerned with its desirability. We believe that whether the world would have been happier or unhappier, better or worse, at any rate it would have been tremendously different; that future historians will consider the October Revolution as a turning point which opened a new era of weal and woe in the history of mankind; and that, on the available evidence, they will attribute to the event-making character of Nicolai Lenin the chief role in the achievement of that revolution. The foregoing analysis of the event-making significance of Lenin in the Russian Revolution is still incomplete. It does not warrant acceptance unless it can be sustained against the thesis of one of the outstanding participants in its crucial struggles who maintains that the Russian Revolution was inevitable. In his remarkable History of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky undertakes to prove, in conformity with Marxist principles, that the October Revolution was the only path possible in the development of Russia after the downfall of Czarism. His work abounds with sentences like: “The October Revolution advanced with a physical necessity.” It has “a deep natural inevitability.” It exemplifies “that mighty development of great revolutions.”[10] Despite its obvious bias, which the author makes no effort to conceal, his study is a historical document of the first importance for an understanding of the period from February to October, 1917. It is the most plausible account the Bolsheviks have given of themselves.

But does it confirm his thesis?

In all of his historical writing two souls struggle within Trotsky’s breasts—the soul of the orthodox Marxist who must interpret history in line with the dogmas of his monistic creed, and the soul of the empirical investigator who must follow the evidence where it leads. Events can never refute the creed of historical materialism: it is necessary only to interpret them properly. The scientific historian, however, must bow before the stubborn fact. We shall show that what his creedal soul proposes is at odds with what his empirical investigation discloses.

Trotsky’s empirical analysis does establish on the basis of incontestable evidence, the powerlessness of the Czarist system to survive any large-scale war. Even without a war, it was rotten ripe for collapse. It would probably have gone under in the next wave of internal disturbance. And by the end of the first year of war, even the nobility was already drawing lots to determine who was to kill Nicholas II. and his entourage. But there is still a long way to go from the doom of Czarism to the inevitability (or overwhelming probability) of the October Revolution. Trotsky attempts to bridge this gap by showing that Russia in 1917, under any régime, was unable to continue fighting and that, without the solution of the land problem, the country, whether at peace or war, could not escape chaos. Here, too, the contentions are amply supported by evidence. Yet it still does not follow from them that the triumph of the Bolshevik Party was historically necessary.

After all, we have already seen that an early peace and the division of the landed estates were a part of the programme of the Social Revolutionary Party. Had the October Revolution failed, the physical inability to continue the war, as well as the necessity of safeguarding the country from possible new uprisings by the followers of Kornilov on the one hand and Lenin on the other, would have compelled the Constituent Assembly to come to terms with Germany. And as for satisfying the peasantry, there was no arrière pensée behind the concern of the Social Revolutionary Party with giving land to the peasants, as there was with the Bolsheviks. Despite its heterogeneous social composition, the Social Revolutionary Party was primarily a peasant party. It refused to countenance seizure of land out of hand because of its desire to regularize division of the estates. It waited for the Constituent Assembly to do this. But the peasants were tired of waiting for land, the soldiers were tired of waiting for peace, and the workers were tired of food shortages and rising prices.

Without challenging a single one of his facts (and some are not above challenge), one may say that all Trotsky has proved is that the objective historical situation made a Bolshevik triumph possible. But the question is: what transformed the possibility into an actuality? Could that possibility have been lost? Why in fact was it not lost?

His answer rises out of every crucial page where he is discussing events and not defending a faith. It was not lost because of the leadership of Lenin. But this answer gives Lenin such stature as an event-making figure in history that it flouts a cherished dogma of Trotsky’s Marxism. In consequence, when Trotsky is compelled by his own narrative to face the question squarely, his reply takes the form of a series of stammering evasions. A “yes” alternates with a “no” in a kind of double talk that defies even the mystical logic of dialectic and peters out lamely in a change of subject. The general upshot of the key passage is a cautious admission that without Lenin the October Revolution might not have occurred. But this is immediately counteracted by subsequent passages in which Trotsky denies the legitimacy of the very question he has asked and tried to answer.

It remains to ask—and this is no unimportant question, although easier to ask than to answer: How would the revolution have developed if Lenin had not reached Russia in April, 1917? If our exposition demonstrates and proves anything at all, we hope it proves that Lenin was not a demiurge of the revolutionary process, that he merely (!) entered into a chain of objective historical forces. But he was a great link in that chain. The dictatorship of the proletariat was to be inferred from the whole situation, but it still had to be established. It could not be established without a party. The party could fulfil its mission only after understanding it. For that Lenin was needed. Until his arrival, not one of the Bolshevik leaders dared to make a diagnosis of the revolution…. Inner struggle in the Bolshevik Party was absolutely unavoidable. Lenin’s arrival merely (!) hastened the process. His personal influence shortened the crisis. Is it possible, however, to say confidently that the party without him would have found its road? We would by no means make bold to say that. The factor of time is decisive hem and it is difficult in retrospect to tell time historically. Dialectic materialism at any rate has nothing in common with fatalism.[11]

If one were to ferret out a meaning from the twists and turns of this passage, it would seem to support the conclusion we previously reached. But that impression is immediately cancelled by Trotsky’s refusal to dissociate Lenin from the situation in which he found himself. He tells us that it is mechanical and one-sided to juxtapose Lenin, on the one hand, “the person, the hero, the genius,” and the objective conditions on the other, “the mass, the party.” In order to keep his doctrinal piety unflecked by the stain of heresy, Trotsky unknowingly reverts to the position of Herbert Spencer. Spencer dismissed the question of the relation between the outstanding individual and his time on the ground that a man and his period had to be considered together and that both were determined by the antecedent state of culture.

Trotsky, too, disallows any comparison between Lenin and the conditions of his time, including the masses and party, because they are all explained by something else. He assures us that Lenin was not an accidental element in the historical development of Russia and that both Lenin and his party were “a product of the whole past of Russian history.” Naturally! Of what else could they be a historical product? But what bearing has this tautology on the question: would the Bolshevik Party have found its way to October without Lenin? No matter what historical events had happened from February to October, we would still be able to say, with as much reason as Trotsky, that it was a product of the whole past of Russian history. Since such a phrase could “explain” both the success of the Bolsheviks with Lenin and their failure without him, it is completely irrelevant to the question. To relapse into outright mysticism, all Trotsky need do is to assert that the existence of a Lenin in Russia in 1917 was assured by the whole past of Russian history. Providence sends us the Man of God, and the Mephistophelean dialectic, der Geist der stets verneint, sends us the Man of the People.

The phrase “product of the whole past of Russian history” can be given a definite meaning. In this sense, anything is a “product” of past Russian history, if, before its occurrence, it can be, or could have been predicted on the available historical evidence as the only likely alternative of future development. In this use of the phrase we are justified in concluding that the best evidence, including the evidence presented by Trotsky, shows that the Russian Revolution of October, 1917, was not so much a product of the whole past of Russian history as a product of one of the most event-making figures of all time. What manner of man was Lenin who filled this event-making role in history? Under the circumstances, our curiosity is entirely legitimate, because it is the character of the individual which chiefly distinguishes the eventful man from the event-making man. What we are particularly interested in is discovering the combination of characteristics which gave Lenin political pre-eminence over a galaxy of individuals who as thinkers, writers, and mass orators displayed greater talents than he possessed. Analysis of this, as of any form of genius, is difficult to make. Particularly in politics, a medium in which virtues and vices, reason and stupidity, have an entirely different specific gravity than in the clear waters of personal relations and scientific activity, is it difficult to evaluate genius. No bare enumeration of character traits can do justice to the power of insight which flashes to the surface when these traits operate together in the context of problems, dangers, ideal goals.

One of the most conspicuous expressions of political insight is the sense of timing. Without it, great intelligence can be ineffective. Coupled with strong will, it can carry a mediocre mind to the heights. No one who knew, say, Plechanov and Stalin before February expected that one would fade out of the historical picture so soon and that the other would gradually emerge as the strong man of the strongest party. But it was Lenin’s superb sense of political timing, nourished by an intelligence more practical than Plechanov’s and a will more inflexible than Stalin’s, that won an empire for the Bolsheviks.

Every adequate analysis of Lenin, the political man, must note his stubborn tenacity of purpose and unsurpassable confidence in himself. If he ever harboured a doubt about the ultimate success of his cause, the rightness of his tactical decisions, the high price of victory paid out in human suffering and injustice, he never expressed it to anyone. He was beyond the corruptions of pleasure and immune to the impractical delights of thought. His basic allegiance was to certain simple ideal socialist goals which were at the same time so vague that, given the consciousness of his own absolute integrity, he could always justify to himself what he did despite appearances.

Lenin could influence human beings only within the framework of organization. He had no power as an individual with the masses. Although unpretentious, he lacked the common touch which wins the masses by a radiant sympathy; and although he always had something to tell them, he could not strike the sparks of fire to inflame them into action.

Lenin was a party man. The life of the party was spiritual meat and substance to him. Just as some men’s personalities are sustained by a Church, and others are enriched by the passions and crises and problems of love, family, and knowledge, so Lenin’s personality was sustained by, and developed within, the party. He was never far from the centre of any organization of which he was a member. In his own mind, wherever he was, there was the party. His passions, his problems, his judgments all reflect this intense concentration on the party—a concentration which was all the more selfless because subconsciously he was the party. Whether he considered problems of State or art or philosophy, there was not a disinterested nerve in his body. In fact, all problems were for him problems of politics, even the listening to music and the playing of chess.

Lenin was not merely a party man. He raised the party to the level of a political principle. This is the source of all his deviations from the essentially democratic views of Marx. For Marx, a political party was conceived as a kind of cross between an international educational institution for the working class and a pressure group, as something that would come and go and be reconstituted in the forge of historical events. But for Lenin the political party was an army of professional revolutionists. The organization of professional revolutionists was of supreme importance in capturing State power. Ironclad control of organization was essential to victory. This ideal organization must, like Lenin himself, be acutely sensitive to the moods of the masses. It must have a perfect sense of timing. And above all it must be imbued with the unshakable conviction that it knew what the true interests of the masses were, better than they did themselves. In the light of this knowledge, it was justified in promising them anything to get them to move, and in manipulating them into actions which, even if they were foredoomed to failure, would educate them up to a level of Bolshevik understanding. The professional revolutionist by definition was one who wanted nothing for himself, and in fact cared so little for material goods that he could sincerely believe that he was free from the temptations and corruptions of absolute power.

Lenin was a Marxist who interchanged the “dictatorship of the proletariat”—which for Marx was a broader democracy of the working class counterposed to the narrower democracy of capitalist society—with the outright dictatorship of a minority Communist Party over the proletariat. Lenin believed that the hope of mankind lay in the struggle of the working class to abolish capitalism and therewith all economic classes. But he was even more convinced that this struggle could be successful only when led by his own party no matter what its name. He did not flinch from the inexorable conclusion that, therefore, any individual or group who opposed the Party was objectively “an enemy of mankind.”

At one stroke all other parties of the working class were thrust on the other side of the barricades. Lenin not only used the method of “amalgam” against them, he believed it. The method of amalgam was to link up a Kronstadt sailor fighting for Soviet democracy against party dictatorship with the Black Hundreds of Czarism, to identify a socialist critic of Bolshevism, who had languished for years in pre-revolutionary prisons, with partisans of Denikin and Kolchak. Before Lenin died, anyone who called for Soviet democracy as opposed to party dictatorship was forthwith denounced as a counter-revolutionist. This seems ironical because Lenin’s chief slogan against Kerensky had been “All Power to the Soviets.” But Lenin would have failed to see any irony whatever in such a situation. Slogans, like people, had to be used in a functional or, to use his own expression, in a “concrete” way, that is, to carry forward the political task of the moment. The goal in behalf of which political tasks were to be solved was power for the Bolsheviks. Thus, when it seemed necessary for the victory of the party, Lenin proclaimed “All Power to the Soviets.” In July, when it seemed that the Bolsheviks could not capture the Soviets, Lenin denounced the slogan and looked around for other agencies through which power could be won. Later, when the situation once more made the prospect of Bolshevik capture of the Soviets favourable, Lenin returned to the old slogan. But after power was won in October, Soviet democracy meant the possibility that the Bolsheviks might lose power. To Lenin this was plain counter-revolution.

Had he been consistent, Lenin would have also drawn the conclusion that anyone within his party who opposed his policies was also objectively an enemy of mankind. But he showed his genius by following not the logic of his position but the needs of successful organization. He displayed great aptitude in using and winning for his purposes those in his own ranks who disagreed with him. He could work with people who without him could not work with each other. It was left to Stalin to draw the logical conclusion, and to convict any opponent on any matter of being an enemy of humanity. But that was when Lenin’s party did not have to make a revolution.

In contrast to the entire field of his rivals in the period from February to October, Lenin knew what he wanted—power. In contrast to them, he knew how important a political army was and how it could best be deployed to achieve power. And in contrast to them once more, he dared all on his programme and on himself. Like the good dialectical materialist he was, his faith was nothing short of cosmic. Compared to Lenin with his deep belief in himself as an instrument of historic necessity, Cromwell who inwardly trembled lest his soul be lost, appears like an character out of a pre-revolutionary Russian novel.

Karl Kautsky once characterised Lenin as the Russian Bismarck. In calling attention to the masterly game of revolutionary Real-Politik Lenin played, the comparison is apt. But Junker that he was, Bismarck was a divided character. He had no more religion than Napoleon and fancied himself as a kind of Norse hero wresting an empire from the designs of a malignant Fate. Lenin was all of a piece. He created an empire as if it were on order and pretended sincerely that he was merely following out a recipe laid down by Marx and Engels, his holy authorities. A story circulated among the Bolsheviks after his death would have pleased his pious heart. Lenin appeared before the Gates of St. Peter and knocked for admission. “Who are you?” asked St. Peter. To which, instead of giving his name, Lenin modestly replied: “I am the interest on Marx’s Capital.”[12]

The sense of his historic mission freed Lenin from any shame, embarrassment, and regret in revising his course or in zigzagging from one position to another. He accepted practical responsibility, but in his own mind history absolved him from all moral responsibility. What would have been utter hypocrisy in a man of little faith appeared in him as flexible intelligence wrestling with the exigencies attendant upon implementing high principle. It is characteristic that those who struggled with him most bitterly in the arena of revolutionary struggle—where no blows or holds are barred—acknowledge his absolute sincerity and his moral force on others. They were fascinated by him even when they most detested him. He wanted nothing for himself—except to determine the destiny of mankind. His judgment could not be swayed by women, friends, or comforts, or tempered by mercy or pity. When Berkman and Goldman pleaded with him to release imprisoned anarchists who had criticized the Bolsheviks, he replied in effect: “Genuine, thinking anarchists agree with us: only bandits posing as anarchists are in jail.”[13] This was monstrously false—but undoubtedly Lenin believed it. When he advised foreign Communists, introducing Trojan horses into democratic organizations, to lie about their beliefs and membership, he was firmly convinced that this would be loyalty to a “higher” truth. When Otto Bauer interpreted the New Economic Policy introduced by Lenin as a partial return to capitalism, Lenin complained, and with honest indignation: “And the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries, all of whom preach this sort of thing, are astonished when we say that we will shoot those who say such things.”[14] What is significant here, as elsewhere, is the way Lenin takes it for granted that the rights of opposition he claimed for himself when he was out of power are completely without validity when claimed by others when he is in power.

Few pen portraits or biographies of Lenin of any worth have until now been written. What we have are primarily contributions to the fierce factional disputes that raged after Lenin’s death. It is to the relatively scant characterizations of Lenin written while he was still alive that we must go for a reliable account of the way he impressed the men who worked with him. That is why the following lines by A. V. Lunacharsky, a keen observer and co-worker of Lenin, are so telling. “Lenin does his work imperiously, not because power is sweet to him, but because he is sure he is right, and cannot endure to have anybody spoil his work. His love of power grows out of his tremendous sureness and the correctness of his principles, and if you please, out of an inability (very useful in a political leader) to see from the point of view of his opponents.”[15]

Pit a man of this “tremendous sureness,” imperious will and drive, organizational genius, and sensitiveness to the psychology of the crowd against the golden opportunity of national demoralization following an exhausting war—and the issue of who will rule whom will never remain long in doubt. Henri Poincaré, a great French physicist, discussing chance and history, tells us that; “The greatest bit of chance is the birth of a great man.” This is true in a two-fold sense. The biological potentialities of the hero cannot be derived from the laws of social behaviour. Nor can they be derived from the laws of heredity, since the latter are general and statistical in form while it is this particular conjunction of germinal cells that gives us the individual hero. But once the potentially great man is born, and so long as he remains on the scene, his influence on affairs is not a matter of chance. Under certain circumstances this influence may be broadly calculable although not necessary just as we may be able to anticipate the effects of foolishness or wisdom in military, industrial, and political leadership. Once the hero is on the scene, to what extent should we and can we control him? This question is particularly pertinent for the intelligent democrat.

  1. For an elaboration of this, see Chapters Seven and Eight in my Reason, Social Myths, and Democracy, New York, 1940.
  2. Declaration of May 1, 1933.
  3. Democracy and Leadership, p. 312, New York, 1924.
  4. See, for documentation, Chernov, The Great Russian Revolution, English translation, 1936, Yale University Press, especially Chapter XIX., pp. 392–402. The left wing of this party, it should be recalled here, joined the Bolsheviks in October.
  5. Kerensky’s Prelude to Bolshevism, English translation, p. 277, New York, 1919.
  6. Stalin, The October Revolution, p. 76. English translation by Co-operative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in the U. S. S. R., Moscow, 1934. Also issued in New York, 1934.
  7. After all, so the main charge ran, Ludendorff had given him passage through Germany from Switzerland to Russia in the famous sealed train! Where the will to believe is present, and it always is in politics, a great deal can be made of Lenin’s act, although it was undertaken before the eyes of the whole world. It would probably have been sufficient evidence to convict Lenin of treason in the Moscow Trials of 1956–7 had he been alive then.
  8. Collected Works, English translation, vol. 21, p. 99, New York, 1932.
  9. William Henry Chamberlin, The Russian Revolution, vol. I., p. 371, New York, 1935. In many respects this book is the most objective account of the period so far written.
  10. Op. cit., vol. I., p. 460; vol. III., p. 260.
  11. Op. cit., vol. I., pp. 329–30. See also vol. III., p. 154.
  12. I give for whatever it is worth an emendation of this story that circulated among the democratic socialists of the West. To St. Peter’s question, Lenin replies: “I am the interest on Marx’s Capital. Marx is below, and has slammed the gates of Hell in my face.”
  13. Emma Goldman, Living My Life, p. 764, New York, 1931.
  14. Selected Works, vol. IX., p. 342.
  15. Revolutionary Silhouettes, Moscow, 1923, quoted by Max Eastman in his introduction to the English translation of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, vol. I., p. xv.