The Role of Lenin
To the Editor:
As a biographer of Lenin, I am above all concerned with the fact that Lenin was. But this does not prevent me from being fascinated by the question which Leonard Schapiro poses [“Was Lenin Necessary?” December 1964]. The view I take in The Life of Lenin deviates little if at all from Professor Schapiro’s; I hold that in the circumstances Lenin was necessary to the launching of the Bolshevik revolution. Without him it probably would never have taken place. To support this thesis I adduce many facts and quote the passage from Trotsky which Schapiro mentions.
Mr. Schapiro’s next question reads: “. . . would Russia . . . have been worse off” had there been no Lenin and therefore no Bolshevik revolution? Professor Schapiro does not seem alive to the fact that I answered this . . . in dealing with the polemic in February 1920 between Lenin and Otto Bauer, the Austrian socialist leader. I wrote: “Yet a comparison between the economic status and political power of the Austrian workingman and the Soviet workingman would lead one to wonder who was right: Lenin with his violence or Bauer with his ‘revolution by taxation!’” A biographer, however, should not merely speculate, he should also explain, and I accordingly explained that “Lenin was a prisoner of Russia’s history,” etc. Lenin succeeded because Russia was Russia; he himself stated that a revolution would be more difficult in other countries, not ruled by Nicholases and Rasputins. He, too, gave persons a decisive role in history. But I believe that if there had been no First World War or if Russia had left that war in 1916 or in mid-1917 the Bolshevik revolution would not have occurred. Professor Schapiro seems to concur.
Princeton, New Jersey
To the Editor:
. . . I found Leonard Schapiro’s article . . . rather confusing.
While I agree with Mr. Schapiro that Lenin’s totalitarian frame of mind later led to the terror of Stalin, I doubt that Russia in 1917 . . . would or could have become a peaceful, democratic, highly industrialized country under any regime. Mr. Schapiro makes a series of unsubstantiated assumptions with which I disagree; for example, that without Lenin, Russia . . . would eventually have turned to a democratic constitutional regime in order to solve its problems. . . . It is difficult for me to imagine that the inhabitants of Russia, most of whom were reared in authoritarian family settings, lived in authoritarian villages or workers’ barracks, worshipped in an authoritarian church, and were educated in authoritarian schools (if they went to school at all), would have turned to an anti-authoritarian form of government as means of helping them achieve their aspirations. . . .
I believe that, if the Communists had been unsuccessful in 1917, Russia might well have become the first fascist or Nazi state in Europe. There was much more support for totalitarian than for democratic governments in Russia. While the monarchy and the aristocracy might not have recovered their lost prestige (nor the landlords their confiscated lands), both might well have encouraged a mass political movement which could have claimed, say, that Russia was betrayed by the Jews, the foreigners, and the intellectuals who had brought democracy and other unorthodox ideas into the government. At any rate, a fascist or a Nazi Russia would have been as much a danger to the rest of the world as a Communist Russia has been. . . . A German fascist state might just as well have attempted to obtain its Lebensraum at the expense of a Russian fascist state. The pattern of World War II could have been repeated, with the invasion of Russia following the defeat of France.
I think that Mr. Schapiro ought to let well enough alone. The alternative to a Lenin could have been a Hitler rather than a Masaryk.
Mr. Schapiro writes:
I trust that Louis Fischer, whose book I very much admired, is not under the impression that I was criticizing him for any kind of omission. On the contrary, my article was a general article partly inspired by his book, and, of course, as always, I am much reinforced in my views when I find Louis Fischer agreeing with me.