Lenin on the music

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Fri Nov 7 17:17:02 MST 2003

"...Listening to Beethoven's sonatas played by Isai Dobrowein at the home of
Y. P. Peshkova in Moscow one evening, Lenin remarked: "I know of nothing
better than the Appassionata and could listen to it every day. What
astonishing, superhuman music! It always makes me proud, perhaps naively so,
to think that people can work such miracles!". Wrinkling up his eyes, he
smiled rather sadly, adding: "But I can't listen to music very often, it
affects my nerves. I want to say sweet, silly things and pat the heads of
people who, living in a filthy hell, can create such beauty. One can't pat
anyone on the head nowadays, they might bite your hand off. They ought to be
beaten on the head, beaten mercilessly, although ideally we are against
doing any violence to people. Hm-what a hellishly difficult job!"

Though in poor health himself and utterly exhausted, he wrote the following
note to me on August 9, 1921: "I have sent your letter on to L. B. Kamenev.
I am so tired that I am unable to do a thing. Just think, you have been
spitting blood, but refuse to go!! This is truly most shameless and
unreasonable on your part. In a good sanatorium in Europe, you will receive
treatment, and also do three times as much useful work. Really and truly.
Over here you have neither treatment, nor work-nothing but hustle. Plain
empty hustle. Go away and recover. I beg you not to be stubborn! "Yours,

For more than a year, with astonishing persistence, he had kept urging me to
leave Russia, and I could not help wondering how he, so completely engrossed
in his work, could remember t hat someone was sick somewhere and needed a
rest? He wrote letters of the sort just cited to various people, probably
scores of them.

I have already mentioned his exceptional concern for his comrades, his
attention to them, his keen interest in even the unpleasant, petty details
of their lives. I was never able to detect in this concern of his the
self-interested solicitude sometimes displayed by a clever master towards
his capable and honest workers. His was the truly sincere attention of a
real comrade, the affection of an equal for his equals. I know that Vladimir
Lenin had no equal even among the biggest men of his Party, but he did not
seem to be aware of this, or rather-did not want to be. He was sharp with
people when arguing with them, laughing at them, and even holding them up to
biting ridicule. That is all very true.

Yet time and again, when he spoke of the people he had scolded and crucified
the day before, I plainly heard a note of sincere astonishment for their
talent and moral fibre, of respect for their hard, unremitting effort under
the hellish conditions of 1918-1921, when they worked surrounded by the
spies of all countries and all political parties, amid conspiracies that
ripened like suppurating boils on the body of the war-emaciated country.
They had worked without rest, eating little and poor food, living in a state
of constant anxiety.

Lenin himself did not seem to feel the burden of those conditions, the
anxieties of a life shaken to its foundations by the sang-uinary storm of
civil strife. Only once, while talking to M. F. Andreyeva, did anything like
complaint, or what she took for a complaint, burst from him: "But what can
we do, my dear Maria Fyodorovna? We've got to keep fighting. We've got to!
Of course it's hard on us. Do you think I don 't find things hard,
sometimes? Very hard, I can tell you! But look at Dzerzhinsky. See how
haggard he looks! But there's nothing for it. Never mind if it's hard on us,
as long as we win out!"

As for myself, I heard him complain only once: "What a pity," he said, "that
Martov is not with us! What a wonderful comrade he is, what a pure heart!" I
remember how long and heartily he laughed when he read somewhere that Martov
had said: "There are only two Communists in Russia, Lenin and Kollontai."
Recovering from his laughter he added with a sigh: "How clever he is! Oh
well..." After seeing an economic executive to the door of his study, he
said with the same respect and wonder: "Have you known him long? He could
head a cabinet in any European country." Rubbing his hands, he added:
"Europe is poorer in talent than we."

I suggested that he visit the Chief Artillery Headquarters with me to look
at the invention of a former artilleryman, a Bolshevik. It was a device to
correct anti-aircraft fire. "What do I know of such things?" he said, but
went with me just the same. In a darkish room we found seven grim generals,
all of them grey, moustached, and erudite, sitting round the table on which
the device was set up. Lenin's modest civilian figure seemed lost among
them. The inventor proceeded to explain the construction. Listening for a
minute or two, Lenin uttered approvingly "Hm" and began to question the man
as easily as if he were putting him through an examination on political
problems: "How does the aiming mechanism manage a double task? Couldn't the
angle of the gun barrels be synchronised automatically to the findings of
the mechanism? "

Source: Maxim Gorky, "V.I. Lenin", at:

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