Man Of The Century, Alas

LENIN'S PATIENCE, NEVER PLENTIFUL, WAS EXHAUST- ed. "Why," he demanded, "should we bother to reply to Kautsky? He would reply to us, and we would have to reply to his reply. There's no end to that. It will be quite enough for us to announce that Kautsky is a traitor to the working class, and everyone will understand everything." So in the name of a favored category of people, the working class, let's have an end to argument, and to Kautsky (a German socialist guilty of deviationism), and, while we are at it, to whole categories of tiresome people.

Today in Bosnia forensic experts are sifting the unquiet earth of mass graves filled with victims of last summer's slaughter of Muslims from what was called the "safe area" of Srebrenica. Saddam Hussein has assaulted a "protected" area established for a category of inconvenient people, the Kurds. So this blood-stained century is sagging to its end true to the tone set for it by its most pioneering political person. And at this propitious moment the Yale University Press is publishing a slender volume of documents that let Lenin's words trace to him the pedigree of two of the 20th century's defining ideas, totalitarianism founded on terror, and genocide as state policy.

"The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive" contains documents that the Soviet government never saw fit to publish in the various editions of Lenin's collected works. The regime's reticence was understandable, given the investment it had in the idea that Lenin was a wise and idealistic fellow. It is hard to square the myth of Lenin's wisdom with his long report of Sept. 20, 1920, in which he insists that Western Europe, including Britain, was ripe for a revolution that would sweep away bourgeois institutions. As for Lenin's idealism, his directive of Aug. 11, 1918, will further complicate for his apologists the already daunting task of absolving him of culpability for Soviet crimes by arguing that viciousness began with Stalin. Lenin wrote: "Hang (hang without fail, so the people see) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers . . . Do it in such a way that for hundreds of [kilometers] around, the people will see, tremble, know, shout: they are strangling and will strangle to death the bloodsucker kulaks."

Lenin's rich repertoire of epithets had an entomological motif--"leeches," "spiders," "insects," "scoundrel fleas," "bedbugs." Harvard's Richard Pipes, in his history of the Russian Revolution, suggests that Lenin might have influenced Hitler, who in "Mein Kampf" referred to Germany's leading Social Democrats, whom Hitler considered mostly Jews, as Ungeziefer, meaning vermin, fit only for extermination. And when Lenin called kulaks bloodsuckers, he was following in the footsteps of a founder of Europe's revolutionary tradition, Robespierre, who said, "If the rich farmers persist in sucking the people's blood... ." But who were the kulaks?

Pipes, the editor of the Yale volume of Lenin documents, notes that whereas Hitler at least had genealogical criteria for determining who was a Jew, Lenin "had no standards to define a kulak." The term had been in use since the 1860s, denoting less an economic category than the personality type that Americans call a "go-getter." Be that as it may, in 1918 Lenin exhorted workers to "merciless war" against the kulak "vampires." "Death to them." One historian says "this was probably the first occasion when the leader of a modern state incited the populace to the social equivalent of genocide."

Pipes, writing of the Bolsheviks' mur- der of Nicholas II and his family in an Ekaterinburg basement the night of July 16-17, 1918, says this marked mankind's entry into "an entirely new moral realm." Since then, state-sponsored atrocities have been so huge and commonplace, and so desensitizing, that readers may have to pause to grasp Pipes's point: "The massacre, by secret order of the government, of a family that for all its Imperial background was remarkably commonplace, guilty of nothing, desiring only to be allowed to live in peace, carried mankind for the first time across the threshold of delib- erate genocide."

One of Lenin's colleagues recalled arguing with Lenin about a particularly indiscriminate police measure authorizing executions without trials of categories of people defined no more precisely than "hooligans" or "speculators" or "counterrevolutionary agitators." The colleague wrote:

"So I called out in exasperation, "Then why do we bother with a Commissariat for Justice? Let's call it frankly the Commissariat for Social Extermination and be done with it!' Lenin's face suddenly brightened and he replied, "Well put... that's exactly what it should be... but we can't say that'."

In the 10th decade of the century, as in the second, there are many things that cannot be said but can be done. The American people, taking a lesson from their current president, have not been paying much attention to the world. And some American leaders, including the president, seem to have skipped school the day 20th-century history was taught. They seem constantly surprised by the quantity and quality of the savagery still practiced, and by the fact that the savages are not brought to heel by appeals to civility. The State Department has been reminding Saddam Hussein of U.N. Resolution 688, wherein the United Nations "demands" this and "insists" that and instructs Hussein not to be nasty to the Kurds. This is supposed to inhibit the man who in 1988 used poison gas for the genocidal destruction of 3,800 villages and scores of thousands of Kurds.

From Baghdad to the remnants of Yugoslavia (where democracy is about to be declared, via almost farcical elections, in a Bosnia beset by war criminals and barely sublimated war), there are a lot of little Lenins out there, practicing in public whatt he preached in secret. If the title is a measure not of morality but of consequentiality, if it belongs to the century's emblematic man, the man of new departures and large echoes, then to Lenin goes the title "Man of the Century."

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