Quote of the day: on why one was unable to finish a book

It is more pleasant and useful to go through the ‘experience of revolution’ than to write about it.

Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 25, p. 497 – explaining why he was unable to write the last chapter of The State and Revolution: he was interrupted by the October revolution of 1917. (Stalin would come to write the chapter later after a significant experience of socialism in power)

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4 thoughts on “Quote of the day: on why one was unable to finish a book

  1. Hey Roland,

    I’m just wrapping up Emma Goldman’s memoirs (“Living My Life”, which weighs in at 993pp!) and I found her remarks on Lenin and the Russian revolution to be quite interesting (she was deported to Russia in 1920 and the bulk of the second volume of her memoirs is dedicated to her time there). Goldman’s conversations with Kropotkin prior to his death also made me think that K. was one of the first to distinguish between the moment of the revolution (the Event, apocalypse, what-have-you) and what follows after. Kropotkin was onto that long before many others, including Goldman and Berkman.

    Anyway, I don’t know if you’ve read her story but you might find it interesting. I am increasingly convinced that the anarchists (particularly the anarcho-syndicalists) have always been more clear-sighted and liberatory than our socialist and communist friends.

    1. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m deep into Lenin (vol 26, the one that straddles the October revolution). But one thing that has struck me thus far is that Lenin doesn’t quite know what to do about the anarchists: they aren’t veering to bourgeois or petty-bourgeois positions (like the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries). In fact, they may be too left for Lenin, since for him seizing the state is key. Only then, after you’ve busted the bourgies for a while with the dictatorship of the proletariat, can the state ‘wither away’.

      1. Yes, it’s true that Lenin didn’t quite know what to do with the anarchists at first. Originally, the anarchists were welcomed back with open arms and a good number of them — including Goldman and Berkman — were willing to lay aside some of their views on things like the state and the war because they were so captivated by the revolution and even by Lenin himself. Actually, a number of prominent individuals gave up their anarchism altogether.

        But, it is also true, the anarchists were too far to the left for Lenin. Many of them began to strongly object to the centralization of power, the rampant abuses of authority, and especially to the practices of the Cheka, from a very early date (especially after the treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918). Thus, a good many were rounded up, imprisoned, exiled, or shot–also from an early date. However, Lenin liked to keep around the more famous international figures, like Kropotkin, because he could use them to say that he was not as oppressive as others were claiming. Thus, Kropotkin was shuttered off, silenced, and practically starved up until his death (at which point he was glorified with all sorts of pomp and circumstance). However, even at Kropotkin’s funeral, Lenin continued to betray the revolution and the anarchists who were going to call off the funeral if Lenin did not release the anarchists from prison so that they could attend. The event was delayed, Lenin managed to get a few token anarchists out of the prisons (the others selected and invited to leave refused to do so without their comrades), and even those released had to return to the prisons after the funeral was over, otherwise Goldman and Co. would be held responsible (those released did return, to the amazement of the guards who had locked they gates for the night because they never imagined anybody would exhibit this degree of solidarity).

        This was also why Goldman and Berkman decided to flee Russia (their tipping point was witnessing the events in Kronstadt in 1921). They realized they were harming the revolution by remaining and allowing themselves to be used in this way by Lenin (and they chose to flee and educate others on the left, rather than remain, because they felt that remaining would be totally futile).

  2. I can forgive Lenin for thumping the bourgeoisie and capitalists in Russia after the revolution, but never for doing so to those comrades on the left. Lost his crucial power of discernment at some point.

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