An early drawing of Darth Vader, the main
villain in George Lucas' "Star Wars" trilogy
From "The first and the last; Lenin revealed and buried by Gorbachev" by David Remnick in the November 18, 1996, issue of The New Yorker magazine.
I met with [Mikhail] Gorbachev at his hotel, [New York's] Waldorf-Astoria, and mentioned that in addition to reading his book ["Memoirs" (Doubleday, $35] I'd just finished "The Unknown Lenin" (Yale; $27.50), a compilation of telegrams, letters, and directives which had been kept in secret archives until now.
The papers feature Lenin at his worst: murderous, conspiratorial, contemptuous of all his closest colleagues in the revolution. Lenin is constantly demanding the execution of opponents ("the more the better") and the swiftest deportation of writers and editors considered contrarian. The volume is part of Yale [University's] remarkable archival series Annals of Communism, and is edited by Richard Pipes, a Harvard professor emeritus of history and a member of Ronald Reagan's National Security Council.
"You say it's edited by Pipes?" Gorbachev said, with a knowing smile. "Ah, well no doubt Mr. Pipes selected just the right documents to make Lenin look terrible. He is not a great friend of Lenin's. Or of mine, I suppose."
Although most Russians insist that Gorbachev is utterly irrelevant today, his opinion of Lenin cannot but fascinate, for the two figures bracket the twentieth century. Gorbachev was Lenin's heir and, as it turned out, his destroyer.
As General Secretary, Gorbachev made ritual obeisance to Lenin -- he could not do otherwise -- but at the Waldorf he offered no apologies for the Bolshevik founder. Pipes may have come up with some secret documents, he conceded, but over the years Russian writers like Vladimir Soloukhin and the late Venedikt Yerofeyev also compiled "greatest hits" collections that emphasized what Gorbachev called, without hesitation or euphemism, "Lenin's great cruelty."
"I can only say that cruelty was the main problem with Lenin," Gorbachev added. "Had the Russians continued along the path of the February revolution, had they continued on a path of political pluralism, it would have been a different situation. Russia at the end of the nineteenth century was developing quite dynamically, and had they gone on that way it would have been much better."
What a remarkable admission! Here was a man who had struggled for and finally inherited the top position in the [Communist] Party admitting that, yes, Russia would have been better off had those two signposts of his life and beliefs -- the October revolution and Lenin himself -- never existed. Instead, Russia might have flourished in the leaders if the decidedly bourgeois February revolution had been strong enough to ward off the Bolsheviks and develop more or less in sync with the democratic, capitalist West.
Clearly, this is a position recently adopted by Gorbachev: had he voiced it during his ascent up the Party hierarchy, he would surely have been asked to "resign for reasons of health" and been given a broom, the better to clean nuclear-waste dumps.
"There came a time when rulers and the landowners and the royal court were not able to sustain Russia, and there was a collapse, and so this ruthless power, the Bolsheviks, took charge," Gorbachev went on. "The main mistake of the Bolsheviks was that their violent emergency measures and methods were not temporary at all but were instituted for decades.
"The rather artificial model created by Marx, which was made even more utopian by what the Bolsheviks added to it -- that model was imposed by force, and that model did violence to human conscience, to his beliefs, his initiative, his economic sense. It was diktat, all to industrialize the country. Fine. But was there only one way of doing this? No! We have the record of other countries, who industrialized themselves, too, but with ground rules and democracy. In Russia, it was all bloody experiments."