‘Personal Recollections of Lenin’ by Siegfried Bloch from Soviet Russia (New York). Vol. 1 No. 17. September 27, 1919.
WHEN the Central Office for Socialist Literature in Switzerland still had a modest home in Zurich, on Seilergraben, No. 31 (the library since April 1st, of this year has been located at Predigerplatz, No. 35, Zurich 1), it was often visited during the years 1916-17 by men who played an important role in the Socialist International. One of these was Lenin. The leader of the Left Wing of the Russian Social Democracy, Comrade Lenin, who is now the talk of the world, spent a considerable time in Switzerland. He was one of the most distinguished and educated of the emigres. His personal manner was modest; he was importunate with no one. His life belonged to the Party and to it he sacrificed all his powers. When he approached any Socialistic question, he attempted always to examine it from all sides before expressing himself on it. He does not like compromises. He demands the whole loaf for the working-class. He maintained always that the greatest suspicion was in place with regard to the paid agents of financial and industrial capital Lenin hates the bourgeoisie as much as he loves his Socialistic ideal He hated particularly the so-called social patriots who proclaimed a Burgfrieden when the war broke out. According to Lenin, the working class must not only organize well and march to the left, but the armed power of the proletariat must always be ready to oppose the police and the military forces of the bourgeoisie. The growing power of the proletariat must be resolutely and ruthlessly directed against the bourgeois policy of violence, and exploitation which, according to Lenin, does not hesitate to shed proletariat blood for its own private interests, as well as for the interests of foreign bourgeoisies. It will not be possible to avoid actions on a large scale if the proletariat is finally to free itself from its torturers and is to postpone forever the realization of their aims. Purposeful, clearly-judged mass actions will strengthen the power of the proletarian will and action and weaken the capitalist order of society.
As a companion, Lenin is extremely amiable. He writes smoothly; he speaks several languages. His favorite is the literature of the “Internationale,” in which he is versed as very few others are. The Swiss Party Congress held about that time, was more or less of a nuisance to Lenin who followed it closely, because the Congress did not consciously move to the Left. Opportunistic resolutions are an abomination to Lenin. They prevent, retard, and obscure the planful rise of the proletariat on a basis of conscious principle. Lenin wanted Left radical wings to be formed within the unions and parties, in order to resist the bureaucratic character of these organizations. Read for example, Lenin’s essay, which appeared about that time, entitled, “Opportunism and the Collapse of the Second International” (printed in Der Vorbote, No. 1, Unionsdruckerei, Berne, 1916), if you would understand how seriously Lenin took the necessity of proceeding along straight lines.
Lenin spent four hours daily in the reading room of the Central Office for Socialist literature, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. He studied the international literature with interest and took great pains to become initiated in the mental products of the Swiss Socialist movement also. But the only object of these studies was to arrive at a definite attitude with regard to economic or political questions.
At Zurich, Lenin lived under the name of Vladimir Ulynof in Spiegelgasse, No. 14, one flight up, a house with extremely primitive furnishings. Once, when he was about to deliver a lecture, he gave me the manuscript to look through. It was weakly constructed and written in good German. The subject was the historical development of the Russian revolution of 1905 and its teachings. Lenin was on intimate terms with only a few of the members of the Party, but I obtained the impression that his views, which were entirely directed toward the Left, were shared by no one else, at least, as far as the Zurich emigres were concerned. Ryazanov and Bronski for instance, seemed conservative Marxists as compared with Lenin, who laughed at all illusionists. He considered it ridiculous to suppose that the liberation of the working class could be put through without revolution, since the bourgeoisie would not capitulate voluntarily. He considered it contrary to all historical experience to believe that an ancient class would be inclined to yield its privileges without compulsion, and it was one of the chief tasks of the workers’ party to communicate this knowledge to the proletariat, which would have to assume leadership in the social revolution.
With few exceptions, the Swiss Socialist leaders paid little attention to Lenin, since he was not close to them, and little known to them. Most of the leaders of the Swiss workers movement did not recognize the importance of this man when he lived in Zurich, and being entirely preoccupied with the cares of their own little country, paid very little attention to him. The greater number of trade organizations ignored Lenin’s very existence. They might have learned much from him, without necessarily sharing his views in all respects.