Saturday, July 08, 2006

On Lenin

I suppose a somewhat arcane subject these days. Luckily so. Lenin was inhuman, bloodthirsty psychopath who almost singlehandedly created one of the worst terror systems known to humankind (which is much said). If there was ever someone who was even less entitled than Nicholas II to rule over a great country it was surely him. This said, it beggars belief how efficiently, how fanatically, how brilliantly he seized power being all time the ever underestimated leader of a relatively insignificant minority group that was always outnumbered by its many enemies. He certainly wasn't a man for all seasons: most of his career he was a failure, utterly powerless to affect the society and political process in any meaningful way. But then his season arrived, a most bloody season, and suddenly he was uniquely suited to ride the awful wild wave of hatred and destruction. Where others hesitated and prevaricated, he acted. Any effective combination of moderate socialists and liberals would have finished him off easily, but in that fearful chaos there was no efficiency in their camp, no ruthlessness, no real will to act. That surely is a lesson to any democracy under threat.

Nowadays Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra are remembered with great nostalgia and pity. I have to confess that I feel very little either. They presided over an awful, wasteful system with unimaginitive, criminal rigidity. The hatred and destruction that brought them down was not born in a vacuum - any system that lets such power to such hands is indeed criminal. With the Romanovs on the other side and the irrational, fanatic fringe opposition on the other, the rational centre was marginalized and outplayed in a throughly familiar way. The incompetency and stupidity of Nicholas and his regime is almost uncomprehensible: his every act looks as if designed to invite the monstrous bloody storm that finally did rise in 1917. When he finally did give up the power, the moderates had no experience, no cohesion and no courage to ride the storm. Lenin did, and so tens of millions died. Among them a family in Yekaterinburg, its adult members much less innocent of the bloodshed than most its victims.

17 comments:

helsinkian said...

You forget that it was not Lenin who ousted Czar Nicholas II. The more moderate elements were in power for some months and it's ultimately their failure that the country was swept with the chaos.

Lenin would never even have entered the country had it not been the wish of Imperial Germany to allow him safe passage through their country.

World War I is the main explanation for why the moderate elements failed and it is also the main explanation for why Lenin was allowed to come to Russia.

Germany was at war with Russia. They knew that Lenin would destabilize Russia and if he would successfully grip power, he would make peace with Germany and turn the weapons on his own people. Lenin acted exactly as the Germans hoped he would.

So Imperial Russia was an enemy of Germany and German intelligence saw in Lenin a person who could overthrow that enemy and lead it into civil war and to the brink of disaster. This is exactly the same thing that the CIA during the Carter and Reagan administrations saw in the Arab jihadists who volunteered to fight in Afghanistan, fanatics that are so dangerous they could actually succeed in destroying the enemy.

stockholm slender said...

Sure, but those are just few examples of many how Lenin was able time after time to use his enemies mistakes to his benefit. The provisional government was from the start at the mercy of the Soviet, and this not because the moderates would have naturally been willing to follow its dictates but because their position was so precarious between the front line army and the radicals. The old regime had not given them any time to prepare and mature, and so when the storm came, they were weak and disorganized. The Bolsheviks were also weak but with Lenin they had absolute selfconfidence and a clear, singleminded and ruthless vision of how to proceed. This the SRs and Mensheviks lacked though during most of 1917 and 1918 they were much more popular and numerous than Bolsheviks.

Outsider said...

Didn't Lenin also have some Finnish blood in his veins?

helsinkian said...

Lenin had some Swedish blood in his veins. I don't know if his Swedish ancestors had come directly to Russia from Sweden or if some of the ancestors had actually lived in Finland.

helsinkian said...

One website where Lenin's ancestry is discussed is called asiansofmixedrace.com - there are of course many other sources.

Lenin's paternal grandmother Anna Ulyanova (née Smirnova) was a baptized Kalmyk (a Western Mongolian people; non-Mongols often call them simply Mongols but the main Mongolian people the Khalkha Mongols see them as a separate people related to the Mongols).

Lenin's maternal grandmother Anna Blank (née Groschopf) was a Lutheran Volga German. Her father was of German and mother of Swedish ancestry.

Lenin's paternal grandfather Alexander Blank (born Srul Blank, from Zhitomir, today Zhytomyr, in Western Ukraine) was born Jewish but had converted to Christianity. He took the name of Alexander at his conversion.

Lenin's paternal grandfather, Nikolai Ulyanov, was of Russian ancestry, the son of a serf from Astrakhan (in Southern Russia in the Volga Delta).

In this way one could count Lenin's ancestry 1/4 Russian, 1/4 Kalmyk, 1/4 Jewish, 1/8 German and 1/8 Swedish.

helsinkian said...

Alexander Blank (married to Anna Blank of German/Swedish origin) was of course Lenin's *maternal* grandfather and Nikolai Ulyanov (married to Anna Ulyanova of Kalmyk origin) the *paternal* grandfather.

helsinkian said...

In many sources Anna Blank's (Lenin's German-Swedish grandmother) maiden name is written Groschopf. This can happen to a German name that is first written in Russian form and then converted back to Latin alphabet from the Russian. The name is of two parts (gross + schopf): Grossschopf. She was born in St. Petersburg and her wealthy father was from a Lübeck merchant family. Where her mother's Swedish folks came from is the big question when the origin of Lenin's Nordic ancestry is determined.

Lenin's Petersburg German/Swedish grandmother died in 1840, thirty years before Vladimir was born. Anna's widowed sister Yekaterina von Essen educated Lenin's mother Mariya (her niece) after that.

helsinkian said...

M.A. Ulyanova (née Blank, Lenin's mother, 1835-1916) was five when her German/Swedish mother died. She was homeschooled by her aunt Yekaterina von Essen who taught her German, French and English as well as to play the piano. Russian and Western literature was also included in the curriculum of Lenin's mother.

helsinkian said...

Ok, now I've found the Swedish family name of Lenin's great-grandmother: it's Östedt. I also found that in a Swedish magazine Släkt och hävd 1995:1 there is an article by Christina Backman on Lenin's Swedish roots. Lenin's grandmother Anna Blank (née Grossschopf) had a Swedish mother whose maiden name was Östedt. The families that Lenin was related in this part of his genealogy are Blank, Östedt, Grossschopf, Borg, Nyman, Novelius, Dahlpihl, Arnberg, Höök and Borghult. The Swedish parishes that have records of Lenin's Swedish ancestors are Stockholm Maria, Uppsala Domkyrko, Arboga, Västerås, Torshälla, Bettna, Åkerö and Vimmerby. This is about the family of the mother of the mother of Lenin's mother.

The idea that Lenin had Finnish ancestry has probably to do with the Russian Ulyanov family (in previous generations Ulyanin) of his paternal descent. This family's ancestry has been traced to a Mordvin village, if the website of the Tampere Lenin museum is accurate on this one. The Mordvins are a Finno-Ugric people who speak a Finno-Volgaic language. I have no idea of whether Lenin's Russian ancestors were all Russians who had settled on old Finno-Ugric territory or whether the Russian (Ulyanov) branch of the Lenin family tree really had Mordvin roots. After all, if the Mordvin reference is to the territory rather than to the family genealogy, it may be that there are no such well-known records of Lenin's possible Finno-Ugric (but not Finnish) ancestors as there are of his forebears from Sweden.

helsinkian said...

Lenin's great-grandmother Anna Beata Grossschopf (née Östedt) was a Swede from St. Petersburg. Her both parents had emigrated to St. Petersburg from Uppsala. The father was a goldsmith named Carl Fredrik Östedt (his father had made gloves and father-in-law, another of Lenin's direct Swedish ancestors, hats). C.F. Östedt, Swedish immigrant in St. Petersburg and father of Lenin's great-grandmother, died in that imperial city in 1826. So the riddle seems solved, the folks of Lenin's great-grandmother came directly to St. Petersburg from Sweden. St. Petersburg, the city that used to be called Leningrad, is also where Lenin's mother died in 1916 (a year before her son would come to power) and she (M.A. Ulyanova) is buried at the Volkov Cemetery there.

helsinkian said...

If Lenin's Swedish ancestors were successful and bourgeois, his wealthy German great-grandfather was the director of the firm Ch. R. Schade. Johann Gottlieb Grossschopf was born in Lübeck in 1766 and emigrated to St. Petersburg in 1790. He had a large library and a violin collection.

Of course, none of these details were of interest to Soviet historians. Lenin's mother had a bourgeois ancestry; the father was a Ukrainian-Jewish doctor who had married to this wealthy German-Swedish Lutheran family that consisted of immigrants in St. Petersburg. All of this (Lübeck, Sweden, Ukraine, Lutheran, Jewish, business, money, property, estate) family tree of Lenin's mother was simply surpassed with saying that she was a Volga German (and all of her ancestors were assumed to be Volga Germans) who raised her children to be revolutionaries.

In one sense Lenin's mother was a Volga German, a part of her life (not least at the time of her son Vladimir's birth) she did live in the Volga area and the German ethnic origin was probably the one that her folks identified with the most.

Outsider said...

Helsinkian, you can take a break now. You must be exhausted because of all the digging you've done. Thanks! :)

stockholm slender said...

Remarkable work really! I am enjoying rural holiday in Southern Ostrobothnia with rare access to the net, so have been unable to comment. I gather that Lenin's early years are sparsely documented (except for the later hagiographies) - it would be most interesting to view that psychological process that formed his fanatism and iron will. I do see him as a criminal mass murderer, but still definitely more "likeable" than Stalin. (Though of course Stalin was a pure and logical creation of Leninism.)

Persson said...

I don't know that much about Lenin, but my image of him is that on one hand he was an idealist who thought communism could actually work. On the other hand, looking at things like the NEP, he seems like a pragmatic.

stockholm slender said...

Well, I believe he certainly was tactically flexible, but those tactics were in the service of a very hateful ideology. With Stalin you get more directly a sense of actual insanity, but even there was a connection with the ideology. I would be very interested to see an in-depth psychological study of both but I suppose there simply isn't enough material for such a thing. Their formative years are not reachable.

Anonymous said...

This is all very interesting however this information is a bit misleading. When the Volga German identity is approach from the outside looking in and assembling criteria to make a determination like here in this discussion the interpreter doesn't realize that Volga German isn't actually correct in applying this to Lenin's mother. The Germanics of the Volga were a group of solicited emigrants by Ekaterina II who would find themselves punished by the government if discovered they were preparing to leave the Hessen and Schwabian region infavor of a new Russian settlement taking place on the Lower Volga. This is where the population and the term Volga German applies to. There were 106 original colonies established there from 1765 until 1767. this is approximate, there was another movement later. Lenin's mother's family appears to be of the elite establishment which settled primarily in the Urban regions of Moscow and Saint Petersburg. There are exceptions although it is established she was most likely not born in one of the crown Lower Volga Colonies of the 1760's. This being said this assumption of her being a Volga German is false and distorts the origination thus stigmatizing the colonizers and their descendants of the Lower Volga group. If Lenin's mother was part of this group please someone provide the birth location document which will clarify this dispute.

stockholm slender said...

I am constantly surprised how many people seem to be interested in Lenin's ancestry - that is absolutely one of the most popular searches for this blog. Strange.