Comrades, the brotherly greeting I hear I explain by the fact that in these difficult days and hours we all feel as brothers the need of closer union with each other and with our Soviet organization, and the need of standing united under our communistic flag. In these anxious days and hours when our standard-bearer, and with perfect right it can be said, the international standard-bearer of the proletariat, lies on his sick bed fighting with the terrible specter of death, we are closer to each other than in the hours of victory.
The news of the attack on Lenin reached me and many other comrades in Svijashk on the Kasan front. There blows were falling fast, blows from the right, blows from the left, blows on the head. But this new blow was a blow in the back from ambush. Treacherously it has opened a new front, which for the present moment is the most distressing, the most alarming for us: the front where Vladimir Ilyich’s life struggles with death. Whatever defeats may be expected by us on this or that front – I am like you firmly convinced of our imminent victory – the defeat of no single part could be so difficult, so tragic, for the workmen’s class of Russia and the whole world, as would be a fatal issue of the fight at the front that runs through the breast of our leader.
One need only reflect in order to understand the concentrated hate that this figure has called forth and will call forth from all the enemies of the workmen’s class. For nature produced a masterpiece when she created in a single figure an embodiment of the revolutionary thinking and the unbending energy of the workmen’s class. This figure is Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The gallery of leaders of the workmen – of revolutionary fighters – is very rich and varied, and like many other comrades who have been for three decades in revolutionary work, I have met in different lands many varietics of the type of leaders of workmen, of revolutionary representatives of the workmen’s class. But in the person of Comrade Lenin we have a figure created for our epoch of blood and iron.
Behind us lies the epoch of so-called peaceful development of bourgeois society, where contradictions gradually accumulated, where Europe lived through the period of so-called armed peace, and blood flowed almost in the colonies alone, where rapacious capital tore to pieces the more backward peoples. Europe enjoyed the so-called peace of capitalistic militarism. In this epoch were formed and fashioned the most noted leaders of the European workmen movement. Among them we see the brilliant figure of August Bebel, the great dead. He reflected the epoch of the gradual and slow development of the workmen’s class. Along with courage and iron energy, the most extreme caution in all movements, an actual testing of the ground, the strategy of waiting and of preparation were peculiar to him. He reflected the process of the gradual molecular accumulation of the powers of the workmen’s class – his thought went forward step by step, just as the German workmen’s class in the time of international reaction rose slowly from below and freed itself from darkness and prejudices. His mental figure grew, developed, became stronger and greater, but all that on the basis of waiting and preparation. Thus August Bebel in his thoughts and methods was the best figure of an earlier epoch that already belongs to the past.
Our epoch is woven of another material. This epoch where the old accumulated contradictions burst out in a terrible explosion, where they tore asunder the veil of bourgeois society, where all the foundations of international capitalism were shattered to the ground by the terrible murdering of the people, the epoch which revealed all the class oppositions and placed before the people the horrible reality of the destruction of millions in the name of bare profit interests. And for this epoch the history of western Europe has forgotten, neglected, or failed to bring about the creation of the leader – and that not in vain: for all the leaders who on the eve of the war enjoyed the greatest confidence of the European workmen reflected yesterday but not today.
As the new epoch began, the epoch of terrible convulsions and bloody battles, it went beyond the strength of the earlier leaders. It pleased history – and that is no chance – to create a figure at a single casting in Russia, a figure that reflects in itself our entire terrible and great epoch. I repeat that this is no chance. 1847 produced in backward Germany the figure of Marx, the greatest of all fighters in the realm of thought, who pointed out the ways to new history. Germany was then a backward land, but history willed it that Germany’s intelligentsia should go through revolutionary development and that their most important representative, who commanded their entire knowledge, should break with the bourgeois society, place himself on the side of the revolutionary proletariat, and work out the program of the workmen’s movement as the theory of development of the workmen’s class.
What Marx prophesied in that epoch, our epoch is called upon to carry out. But she needs new leaders, who must be the bearers of the great spirit of our epoch in which the workmen’s class has lifted itself to the heights of its historic task and sees clearly the frontier that it must pass if mankind is to live and not fall like carrion on the broad highway of history. For this epoch Russian history created a new leader. Everything that was good in the old revolutionary intelligentsia, their spirit of self-denial, of courage and hatred of oppression, all this was concentrated in this figure, which, however, in its youth had broken irrevocably with the world of the intelligentsia on account of their connections with the bourgeoisie, and embodied in itself the thought and reality of the development of the workmen’s class. Relying on the young revolutionary proletariat of Russia, this figure made use of the rich experience of the international movement of workmen, transformed its ideology into a lever for action and then rose on the political horizon in its entire greatness. It is the figure of Lenin, the greatest man of our revolutionary epoch.
I know, and you know too, comrades, that the fate of the workmen does not depend on single personalities; that does not mean that personality in the history of our movement and of the development of the workmen’s class is of minor importance. One person cannot mold the workmen’s class anew after its own pattern and image and point out to the proletariat consciously this or that path of development, but he can help the fulfillment of the workmen’s tasks and lead them more quickly to their goal. The critics have pointed Out that Karl Marx prophesied the revolution would be much nearer than was actually the case. They answered the critics with perfect right that as Marx stood on a high mountain, the distance seemed shorter.
Many have criticized Vladimir Ilyich, too, more than once – and I among them – because he did not notice many less conspicuous causes and accidental circumstances. I must say that this might have been a defect for a political leader in a time of “normal” slow development; but this was the greatest merit of Comrade Lenin as leader of the new epoch. All that is incidental, external, of secondary importance is omitted, and only the basic, irreconcilable antagonism of the classes remains in the fearful form of the bourgeois war. To cast his revolutionary look into the future, to grasp the essential, the fundamental, the important – that was the gift peculiar to Lenin in the highest degree. Any one to whom it was granted, as it was to me in this period, to observe Vladimir Ilyich’s work at close range could not fail to look with enthusiasm – I repeat the word enthusiasm – at this gift of the keen, penetrating mind that rejected all the external, the accidental, the superficial, in order to perceive the main roads and methods of action. The workmen learn to appreciate those leaders who point out the path of progress and follow it without hesitating, even when the prejudices of the proletariat itself temporarily hinder them. With this gift of a powerful mind Vladimir Ilyich also was endowed with an inflexible will. The combination of these characteristics produces the real revolutionary leader, who is molded out of bold, pitiless mind and hard, unyielding will.
What good fortune it is that all that we say, hear, and read in resolutions about Lenin is not in an obituary form. And yet we were near that.
We are convinced that on this near front, here in the Kremlin, life will conquer and Vladimir Ilyich will soon return to our ranks.
When I have said, comrades, that in his courageous mind and his revolutionary will he embodies the workmen’s class, one may say that it is an inner symbol, almost a conscious purpose of history, that our leader in these heavy hours when the Russian working class fights on the outer front with all its strength, against the Czecho-Slovak.a, the white guards, the mercenaries of England and France – that our leader fights with the wounds inflicted on him by the agents of these very white guards, Czecho-Slovaks, the mercenaries of England and France. Here lies an inner connection and a deep historical symbol. And particularly so as we are all convinced that in our struggle with the Czecho-Slovak, Anglo-French and white guard front we grow stronger every day and every hour – I can state that as an eye-witness who has just returned from the seat of war – yes, we grow stronger every day, we shall be stronger to-morrow than we are today, and stronger the day after than we shall be tomorrow; for me there is no doubt that the day is not distant when I can say to you that Kasan, Simbirsk, Samara, Ufa, and the other temporarily occupied cities are returning to our Soviet family – in the same way we hope that the process of recovery of Comrade Lenin will go on in rapid measure.
But even now his image, the inspiring image of the wounded leader, who has left the front for a time, stands clearly before us. We know that not for a moment has he left our ranks, for, even when laid low by the treacherous bullet, be rouses us all, summons us, and drives us onward. I have not seen a single comrade, not a single honest workman, who let his hands drop under the influence of the news of the traitorous attack on Lenin, but I have seen dozens who clenched their fists, whose hands sought their guns; I have seen hundreds and thousands of lips that vowed merciless revenge on the enemies of the proletariat. I do not need to state how the class-conscious fighters at the front reacted, when they learned that Lenin was lying there with two bullets in his body. No one can say of Lenin that his character lacks metal; but now the metal is no longer in his spirit only, but also in his body. Thereby he is even dearer to Russia’s working class.
I do not know if our words and heartbeats reach Lenin’s sickbed, but I have no doubt that he feels it all. I have no doubt that he knows even in his fever how our hearts beat in double, threefold measure. We all recognize now more clearly than ever that we are members of one and the same communistic Soviet family. Never did the life of each of us stand so much in the second or third line as at the moment when the life of the greatest man of our time is in danger of death. Any fool can shoot Lenin’s head to pieces, but to create this head anew would be a difficult problem for Nature herself.
But no, he will soon be up again, to think and to work, to fight in common with us. In return we promise our beloved leader that as long as any mental power remains in us, and our hearts throb warmly, we shall remain true to the flag of the communistic revolution. We shall fight with the enemy of the working class to the last drop of blood, to our last breath.
1. Speech made at a session of the All Russian Central Executive Committee on September and, 1918.