Courtesy Reuters

Lenin: A Contemporary Portrait

Editor's Note: This article by Victor Chernov, Lenin's fellow revolutionary and political rival, appeared in Foreign Affairs March 15, 1924, following Lenin's death on January 21 of that year. It is reprinted here on the 100th anniversary of Lenin's birth.

Lenin is dead-this time dead physically, for spiritually and politically he has been dead a year at least. We have got in the habit of speaking of him as a thing of the past; and for that very reason it will not be difficult now to write of him dispassionately.

Lenin was a great man. He was not merely the greatest man in his party; he was its uncrowned king, and deservedly. He was its head, its will, I should even say he was its heart were it not that both the man and the party implied in themselves heartlessness as a duty. Lenin's intellect was energetic but cold. It was above all an ironic, sarcastic and cynical intellect. Nothing to him was worse than sentimentality, a name he was ready to apply to all moral and ethical considerations in politics. Such things were to him trifles, hypocrisy, "parson's talk." Politics to him meant strategy, pure and simple. Victory was the only commandment to observe; the will to rule and to carry through a political program without compromise, that was the only virtue; hesitation, that was the only crime.

It has been said that war is a continuation of politics, though employing different means. Lenin would undoubtedly have reversed this dictum and said that politics is the continuation of war under another guise. The essential effect of war on a citizen's conscience is nothing but a legalization and glorification of things that in times of peace constitute crime. In war the turning of a flourishing country into a desert is a mere tactical move; robbery is a "requisition," deceit a strategem, readiness to shed the blood of one's brother military zeal; heartlessness toward one's victims is laudable self-command; pitilessness and inhumanity are one's duty.

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