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Vladimir Lenin

“Lenin suffered his first stroke in May 1922. In September he wrote the ferocious letter to Gorky.* In the intervening July he was drawing up his many lists of intellectuals for arrest and deportation or internal exile. A month earlier Lenin’s doctors had asked him to multiply 12 by 7. Three hours later he solved the problem by addition: 12 + 12 = 24, 24 + 12 = 36. . . . The ex-believer Dmitri Volkogonov comments in his Lenin: A New Biography:

He had covered a twenty-one-page notepad with childish scrawls… The future of an entire generation of the flower of the Russian intelligentsia was being decided by a man who could barely cope with an arithmetical problem for a seven-year-old.

There were further strokes. Later, Lenin’s wife Krupskaya taught him to repeat (and it only worked under direct prompting) the words ‘peasant,’ ‘worker,’ ‘people,’ and ‘revolution’ . . . Adam Ulam has described the nihilism of the Russian revolutionary tradition as ‘at once childish and nightmarish.’ The dying Lenin — and, frequently, the living Lenin, too — was childish and nightmarish. In his last ten months he was reduced to monosyllables. But at least they were political monosyllables: vot-vot (here-here) and sezd-sezd (congress-congress)…

In March 1887 Lenin’s older brother Alexander was arrested for conspiring to murder his namesake, Tsar Alexander III; a plea for clemency would have reduced his sentence to hard labor, but Alexander was possessed of the courage of youth and, two months later, was duly hanged. He was twenty-one. Vladimir Ilyich was seventeen. And their father died the previous year. Clearly the consequences of these events are entitled to be boundless. My sense of it is that Lenin’s moral faculties stopped developing thereafter. Hence his foulmouthed tantrums, his studied amorality, his flirtatious nihilism, his positively giggly response to violence: his nightmarish childishness.”


Excerpted from Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million by Martin Amis.

I highly recommend you pick up your own copy of this dark but illuminating book. On a sunnier (or at least funnier) note, there’s some light verse that’s unavoidable here, penned as it was by Robert Conquest, the renowned historian of the Soviet Union and family friend of Amis:

There once was a bastard called Lenin
Who did one or two million men in.
That’s a lot to have done in
But where he did one in
That old bastard Stalin did ten in.

To take you back into the shade: in introducing his compendious study of the 1929 Soviet terror-famine, The Harvest of Sorrow, Conquest offers the reader the following proem:

“We may perhaps put this in perspective in the present case by saying that in the actions here recorded about twenty human lives were lost for, not every word, but every letter, in this book.”

That single sentence stands for 3,040 lives. His book runs 417 pages.

*“The intellectual strength of workers and peasants grows in the struggle to overturn the bourgeoisie and their acolytes, those second-rate intellectuals and lackeys of capitalism, who think they are the brains of the nation. They are not the brains of the nation. They’re its shit.”

More on Russia:

  • Anne Applebaum describes Putin’s eerie connection to the ancien régime
  • A. N. Wilson lays out just how much the Soviets sacrificed to beat the Nazis
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s incisive Nobel speech about the nature of man

Vladimir Lenin