Lenin Internet Archive

By A. Ulyanova-Yelizarova

Apropos of Lenin’s Letters To Relatives

First Published: 1931[1]
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Volume 37 (pp. 46-63)
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
Online Version: Lenin Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2003
Copyright (c) 2003 V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marxists.org).
Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

A man’s private correspondence is important in the compilation of his biography and in revealing him as an individual because it shows him in his day-to-day life, shows his relations with people and thus throws light on certain aspects of his character that are shown insufficiently or not at all by his scientific or public activities; in any case private correspondence adds new lines to the depiction of his character. Although Vladimir Ilyich’s letters are, as a rule, very brief, condensed, and devoid of any effusiveness, which he never liked, any more than he liked other forms of verbosity; although behind the letters one feels the man of action accustomed to grudge the time he devotes to anything personal, they nevertheless reflect in some degree the character of the writer.

It should not be forgotten that the correspondence was carried on under conditions of tsarist censorship, when one had always to be prepared for the letters to be read by the police, with the result that they had to be particularly brief and condensed. “It is very difficult ... to carry on the correspondence one would like,”[Letter No. 252.—Ed.] Vladimir Ilyich wrote to Maria. Letters in invisible ink allowed of greater freedom; in these, in addition to purely business matters, one came across accounts of the latest Party news, of congresses and conferences,and precise characterisations—in two or three words—of people, parties and trends given by Vladimir Ilyich, the sharp, decisive expressions he used in ordinary, free conversation. Such letters, however, had to be destroyed immediately they had been read, so, of course, not a single one of them has been preserved. They were written between the lines of other letters or, more frequently, between the lines of a book or journal or some reprint or other. And when Vladimir Ilyich acknowledged the receipt of books and wrote that some diary of the Congress of Technicians or reprint from the archives was “very interesting and thank Anyuta very much for it”[Letter No. 42.—Ed.] that meant, of course, that the secret letter had been received. Nor did I keep letters that were written in ordinary ink but were not sent to my own address; among such were, for instance, the letters I received in 1913-14 at the office of the journal Prosveshcheniye under an agreed-upon pseudonym. And it was not always convenient to keep letters sent to my private address—I recall a couple that Vladimir Ilyich himself asked me to destroy.

As far as concerns the letters in this collection, it must be said that although they were written to people close to the writer and consequently contain much that has to do with the family alone and has little general interest, the addressees were people close to Vladimir Ilyich not only by blood but also in their convictions; he was also writing to them on business, so that the legal letters were often supplementary to the others and, therefore, formed a link in the whole chain of correspondence. Vladimir Ilyich, of course, did not write to mother on business matters, but at t~e same time he had nothing to hide from her, knowing that she was fully in sympathy with his revolutionary efforts and all his work. The result was that a letter addressed to one member of the family was, more often than not, intended for all. Requests to us, his sisters, brother and brother-in- law, were often contained in letters to our mother; as a rule they were read by all members of the family and were often forwarded to those living in other towns.

The significance of Vladimir Ilyich’s letters to his relatives naturally becomes all the greater for their having been written in the quarter of a century in which our Party, the party that Vladimir Ilyich did so much to build, emerged and took shape.

The most intensive and substantial correspondence belongs to the 1897-99 and 1908-09 periods, in which two big books by Vladimir Ilyich—The Development of Capitalism in Russia and Materialism and Empirio-criticism—were published, because these letters contained business requests connected with the two publications, with the reading of the proofs, etc. Quite apart from this, the letters of the first of these two periods are fuller and more frequent since they were written when Vladimir Ilyich was in exile in Siberia, a condition that makes even the most restrained people turn to letter-writing because of the involuntary seclusion and the lack of contact with the life of the outside world. The letters written by Vladimir Ilyich in this period, especially the more detailed ones addressed to mother, give us an excellent picture of the conditions under which he lived, his inclinations and habits—in these letters he stands out, if one may put it so, in clearest relief as a person.

Furthermore—and this is most important—in his letters from exile Vladimir Ilyich showed that he was not cut off from life, for in them he touched upon questions of Marxist theory and practice that were the most vital questions of the day. We see from the letters—although it occurs in a veiled form, the only possible form—his attitude to members of the Emancipation of Labour group, to Plekhanov and Axelrod, his complete agreement with them and his profound respect for them, his contact with them both through letters and through the talks I conducted with them on his instructions during my trip abroad in 1897. In these letters Vladimir Ilyich stated emphatically that “the isolation from political life” of which Axelrod had given warning must not on any account be permitted. “I believe the author to be wholly and a thousand times right, especially against narrow adherents of ‘economics’”,[Collected Works, Vol. 34. p. 26.—Ed.] meaning Masby and Co., the editors of the newspaper Samarsky Vestnik, who had accused the journal Novoye Slovo, headed by Struve, of liberalism and sympathy for the bourgeoisie. At that time Vladimir Ilyich considered it a matter of current importance not to confine propaganda and agitation to the economic struggle alone. “It is important that the illusion should not be allowed to develop that anything can be achieved by the struggle against the factory-owners alone,” he said to me shortly before his arrest. “From the very outset the political consciousness of the workers must be aroused.” It was for this reason that Vladimir Ilyich, in complete agreement with the Emancipation of Labour group, took the side of Struve in his differences with the Samarsky Vestnik writers, as Fedoseyev and Martov also did, and wrote to Maslov and Co. in Struve’s defence. One of the letters from Vladimir Ilyich (according to Maslov) was written in a militant tone and concluded with the words: “If you want war, let it be war”. In 1899, Vladimir Ilyich on several occasions spoke against the Samarans in his letters.

“As far as the Samarans are concerned, I doubt very much whether they have said anything sensible (I have already had a letter about the accusation of ‘bourgeois sympathies’)”—letter of February 13, 1899.[Letter No. 76.—Ed.] Concerning the review of Gvozdyov’s book he wrote: “I did not enjoy writing the review. I did not like the book—nothing new, generalities, an impossible style in places....” “It would be very useful and very interesting to talk on this subject (on the article about the heritage.—A.Y.) to people who do not limit themselves to Gvozdyov’s theories (have you read his book about kulaks?[1] I think it is very, very weak).”[Letters Nos. 74 and 79.—Ed.]

Vladimir Ilyich continued his struggle against “economism” in agreement with Axelrod and Plekhanov, who in 1895, at the time of Vladimir Ilyich’s first trip abroad, insisted on the need to get away from the disputes between study circles and the Narodniks, to break down the isolation and go over to the organisation of a political party of Social-Democrats; he noted, however, another extreme in Axelrod’s new pamphlet (on the relationship between liberal and socialist democracy in Russia). Vladimir Ilyich showed that the author did not stress the class character of the movement sufficiently, that he was too kindly towards the Frondist agrarians and should have spoken of using them but not of supporting them.

In these letters we find some expression of Vladimir Ilyich’s indignation at the revisionist trend then emerging—Bernstein’s book, articles by German revisionists in Neue Zeit and Bulgakov’s article. In respect of the last-named he wrote, “Bulgakov simply made me mad; such nonsense, such utter nonsense, and such eternal professorial pretentiousness—what the devil is this?!...” “Kautsky he distorts outright.... I am thinking of writing ‘about Kautsky’s book’” (against Bernstein.—A.Y.)—see letter of May 1, 1899.[Letters Nos. 85 and 87.—Ed.]

About Bernstein he wrote the following: “Nadya and I started reading Bernstein’s book immediately; we have read more than a half and its contents astonish us more and more as we go on. It is unbelievably weak theoretically- mere repetition of someone else’s ideas. There are phrases about criticism but no attempt at serious independent criticism. In effect, it is opportunism ... and cowardly opportunism at that, since Bernstein does not want to attack the programme directly .... Bernstein’s statement that many Russians agree with him ... made us very indignant. We people here must indeed be getting ‘old’ and must be ‘lagging behind the new words’ ... copied from Bernstein. I shall soon be writing to Anynta on this subject in detail.”[2]

Ilyich asked his sister Maria to get him reports of the Han over Party Congress (letter of August 22, 1899) that was to be held in October. The chief issue at the Hanover Congress, of course, was that of Bernstein. When Vladimir Ilyich sent his review of Bulgakov’s article[2] to Novoye Slovo (it was published in Nauchnoye Obozreniye) he wrote, “Of course, polemics among one’s own people are unpleasant and I tried to tone the article down, but to keep quiet about differences is not only unpleasant, it is downright harmful—and, furthermore, one cannot keep quiet about the chief differences between ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘criticism’ that have come to the fore in German and Russian Marxism”.[Letter No. 87.—Ed.]

Tugan-Baranovsky also made Vladimir Ilyich indignant (letter of June 20, 1899). “I have seen Nauchnoye Obozreniye No. 5, and find that Tugan-Baranovsky’s article in it is monstrously foolish and nonsensical; he has simply arbitrarily introduced changes into the rate of surplus value in order to ‘refute’ Marx; he assumes an absurdity—a change in the productivity of labour without a change in the value of the product. I do not know whether every such nonsensical article is worth writing about. Let him first fulfil his promise to develop it in detail. In general, I am becoming a more and more determined opponent of the latest ‘critical stream’ in Marxism and of neo-Kantianism (which has produced, incidentally, the idea of separating sociological from economic laws). The author of Beiträge zur Geschichte des Materialismus[3] is quite right in declaring that neo-Kantianism is a reactionary theory of the reactionary bourgeoisie and in rebelling against Bernstein.”[Letter No. 90.—Ed.]

Vladimir Ilyich’s second article—“Once More on the Theory of Realisation”[Collected Works, Vol. 4, pp. 74-93.—Ed.]--was directed mainly against Struve, whose sympathy for revisionism was becoming more and more obvious. It is true that at this time Vladimir Ilyich’s criticism was still of a friendly nature since he was criticising one of his own side.

“I am now finishing an article in reply to Struve. It seems to me he has got things badly mixed up and his article may cause a good deal of misunderstanding among supporters and malicious glee among opponents” (March 7).[Letter No. 80.—Ed.]

There gradually arose, however, misgivings of a more serious nature that come out more markedly in the letters to Potresov written in the same year (Lenin Miscellany IV). He also wrote that he had begun studying philosophy from the few philosophical books in his possession.

“Volodya is busy reading all kinds of philosophy (that is now his official occupation)—Holbach, Helvétius, etc.,” Nadezhda Krupskaya wrote in a letter to our mother on June 20, 1899.[Krupskaya’s Letter No. 16.—Ed.]

And lastly there was the document known as the Credo, probably the biggest political fact of the period, and the reply[Collected Works, Vol. 4, pp. 167-82.—Ed.] to it compiled by 17 Social-Democrats; this is also mentioned in the letters.

“I shall write to Anyuta soon about the Credo (which interests and exasperates me and everybody else) in detail.”[4] (August 1, 1899.)[Letter No. 92.—Ed.]

“As far as the Credo der Jungen is concerned, I was amazed at the emptiness of the phrases. It is not a Credo but a pitiful collection of words! I intend to write in greater detail about it.” (August 25, 1899.)[Letter No. 97.—Ed.]

I had sent this document to Vladimir Ilyich and quite by chance given it this name. I had not regarded it as being of any particular significance and in a letter in invisible ink I had said as briefly as possible “I am sending you a Credo of the young.”

Later, when the name had come to be accepted and there was talk about an “Anti-Credo”, I was worried about having exaggerated the importance of the document with this incorrect name, and wrote to Vladimir Ilyich about it in invisible ink. It seems this place in the letter remained unread because when he returned from exile I told him the document had not been the “symbol of faith” of any group of the young but came from the pen of two authors, Kuskova and Prokopovich, and that I had given it the name of Credo myself; Vladimir Ilyich was surprised and asked: “You did?” But then, after a short silence, he said in any case it had been necessary to reply to it. And that is how the document went the rounds under that name.

Thus we see that in his letters to his relatives sent from his place of exile, Vladimir Ilyich reacted to all the most urgent questions of the Party life of that time; there are signs in these letters of the main course he was mapping out, the course that was to avoid the narrowness of economism and also the threatening danger of diffusion that lay in offering favours to the liberals, and also the purely intellectualist attraction to revisionism and criticism for criticism’s sake. While still in exile he was already selecting his comrades for the future Party organisation and for “undisguised literature”;[5] he wrote to Potresov about the need for this and naming for it, of all his comrades in exile, only Martov, “the only one who really took all this (the interests of a journal, of the Party) seriously to heart”. He drew up a plan for Iskra.

In Vladimir Ilyich’s letters for the 1908-09 period— the time when his Materialism and Empirio-criticism was being published—there are also statements on general matters, especially on the subject of his book, although such statements are fewer than in the letters sent from Siberia which were, in general, much more detailed. The attempts to revise the philosophical aspect of Marxism (they were headed by Bogdanov and Lunacharsky in Russia) made Vladimir Ilyich no less indignant than Bernstein’s politico-economic revision. We saw that when he was still in Siberia this neo-Kantian trend in Marxism aroused in him the desire to undertake the study of philosophy. In the years of reaction following our first revolution the “god seeker” trend made him take up philosophical studies seriously and write a book analysing this deviation from Marxism.

“My illness has held up my work on philosophy very badly,” he wrote to his sister Maria on July 13, 1908. “I am now almost well again and will most certainly write the book. I have been doing a lot of work on the Machists and I think I have sorted out all their inexpressible vulgarities (and those of ‘empirio-monism’ as well).”[Letter No. 166.—Ed.]

Vladimir Ilyich was terribly indignant at “popovshchina[3], a word he used for all kinds of god-seeking and all other attempts at dragging religious views into Marxism in some form or another. Because of the censorship he pro posed changing the word “popovshchina” into “fideism”, with a footnote explaining it (fideism is a doctrine which substitutes faith for knowledge, or which generally attaches significance to faith).[Collected Works, Vol. 14, p. 19.—Ed.]

That is how it appeared in the book. In the manuscript, the phrase to which this footnote was added read as follows: “Supported by all these supposedly recent doctrines, our destroyers of dialectical materialism proceed fearlessly to downright popovshchina (clearest of all in the case of Lunacharsky, but by no means in his case alone!)”. And Vladimir Ilyich came down very heavily on these “destroyers”; he asked me not to tone down anything concerning them and I had difficulty in getting him to agree to a certain toning down for the sake of the censorship.

“‘Mentally projected god’ will have to be changed to ‘mentally projected for himself—well, to use a mild expression—religious conceptions’ or something of the sort”.[Letter No. 175.—Ed.]

In the manuscript this phrase had the following wording: “People can think and mentally project for themselves any kind of hell, all sorts of devils. Lunacharsky even mentally projected for himself a god.” When there was no question of censorship he wrote to me: “Please do not tone down anything in the places against Bogdanov, Lunacharshy and Co. They must not be toned down. You have deleted the passage about Chernov being a ‘more honest’ opponent than they, which is a great pity. The shade of meaning you have given is not the one I want. There is now no overall consistency in my accusations. The crux of the issue is that our Machists are dishonest, mean-spirited, cowardly enemies of Marxism in philosophy.” Further he said: “Please do not tone down the places against Bogdanov and Lunacharsky’s popovshchina. We have completely broken off relations with them. There is no reason for toning them down, it is not worth the trouble.” (March 9, 1909.)

“Especially—do not throw out Purishkevich,” he wrote on March 21, “and the others in the section on the criticism of Kantianism!”[See Letters Nos. 183, 182, 184.—Ed.]

Vladimir Ilyich compared the Machists to Purishkevich because the latter had once said that he criticised the Cadets more consistently and with greater determination than the Marxists did, and the Machists assured us that they criticised Kant more consistently and with greater determination than the Marxists did. But, Mr. Purishkevich, Vladimir Ilyich said to him, “it must not be forgotten that you criticised the Constitutional-Democrats for being excessively democratic while we criticised them for being insufficiently democratic. The Machists criticise Kant for being too much of a materialist, we criticise him for not being enough of a materialist. The Machists criticise Kant from the right, we from the left.” (Works, Vol. XIII, p. 163.)[Collected Works, Vol. 14, p. 199.—Ed.]

When he later sent a supplement to Chapter Four, Section One, “From What Angle Did N. G. Chernyshevsky Criticise Kantianism?” Vladimir Ilyich wrote: “I regard it as extremely important to counterpose Chernyshevsky to the Machists.”[Letter No. 185.—Ed.] Vladimir Ilyich mentioned the political aspect of the differences known in those days as the differences with the Vperyod group in only a couple of words in his legal letters. “Things are bad here—Spaltung (split.--A.Y.), or rather, there will be one; I hope that in a month or six weeks I shall be able to give you exact information. So far I can do no more than guess” (May 26).[Letter No. 191.—Ed.] Details of this split were given in the “Report on the Extended Editorial Board of Proletary” and in the appended resolutions: 5. The Break-away of Comrade Maximov (Bogdanov) and 4. The Party School Being Set Up Abroad at X—(Capri), for which the extended editorial board declared it could bear no responsibility “in view of the fact that the initiators and organisers of the school are one and all representatives of otzovism, ultimatumism and god-building” (June 1909, Works, Vol. XIV, pp. 89-103).[Collected Works, Vol. 15, pp. 425-51.—Ed.]

Social affairs are touched upon still more scantily in the letters of the following years, which were, in general, fewer.

The first years of the second exile abroad were particularly dull and miserable and were a sad experience for Vladimir Ilyich. I saw that for myself when I visited him in Paris in the autumn of 1911. He seemed to be less vivacious than usual. One day when we were out walking together he said to me: “I wonder if I shall manage to live to the next revolution.” The sad expression on his face reminded me of the photograph of him taken in 1895 by the secret police. The time was one of profound reaction. Only a few signs of a renascence were to be seen—the publication of Zvezda and Mysl, for example.

A note of pleasure resounded in his letter of January 3, 1911. “Yesterday I received Zvezda No. I from Russia and today Mysl No. 1. That is something to cheer me up!... It really is a pleasure!”[Letter No. 215.—Ed.]

His depression was deepened, of course, by the “bitter squabbles”, which had a bad effect on work; Vladimir Ilyich wrote about this in 1910, having in mind the differences that existed between the C.C. Bureau Abroad and the Vperyod group. He referred to “a period so full of squabbles” in his letter of January 3,1911, and apologised to my husband for his unpunctuality in answering letters.

It can be seen from his letters that Vladimir Ilyich’s mood greatly improved after he moved to Krakow in the autumn of 1912. He wrote that he felt better than in Paris, he was resting his nerves, there was more literary work and fewer squabbles. The work for Pravda, the improved situation in working-class circles and in revolutionary work naturally had a beneficial effect on Vladimir Ilyich. There was a noticeable lessening of the squabbles, so much so that Gorky, Vladimir Ilyich wrote, was less unfriendly towards us. It will be remembered that it was shortly after this that Gorky became one of the editors of the Bolshevik journal Prosveshcheniye.

Vladimir Ilyich wrote of the proposal for Pravda to publish pamphlets; he said that he was seeing more people from Russia and seemed to feel closer to Russia; he invited my husband, Mark Yelizarov, to the health resort at Zakopane, saying that trains went there direct from War saw; he also invited me, hinting that people living in the frontier zone could make the journey for thirty kopeks.

In general he was pleased with Krakow and wrote that he was not thinking of moving anywhere “unless the war chases us away, but I do not greatly believe in the war”.[Letter No. 229.—Ed.]

I moved to St. Petersburg in the autumn of 1913 where I was employed by the Bolshevik journal Prosveshcheniye, the journal Rabotnitsa and also Pravda. In addition to the letters in invisible ink, I had at that time a considerable correspondence with Vladimir Ilyich on literary matters; they were addressed to the office of Prosveshcheniye in the name of Andrei Nikolayevich. Out of this official correspondence I have so far been able to recover only two letters that had been copied by the police and which are not included in this collection of letters to relatives.

During the war, of course, letters were fewer and many of them were lost. The few that were preserved, even the postcards, touch upon questions that were most painful for Vladimir Ilyich. A postcard dated February 1, 1910 said, “We have been having ‘stormy’ times lately, but they have ended with an attempt at peace with the Mensheviks—yes, yes, strange as it may seem; we have closed down the factional newspaper and are trying harder to promote unity. We shall see whether it can be done....”[Letter No. 204.—Ed.]

The postcard of March 24, 1912 says, “. . .there is more bickering and abuse of each other than there has been for a long time—there has probably never been so much before. All the groups and sub-groups have joined forces against the last conference and those who organised it, so that matters even went as far as fisticuffs at meetings here.”[Letter No. 222.—Ed.]

In his letter of November 14, 1914 he wrote, “It is very sad to watch the growth of chauvinism in a number of countries and to see such treacherous acts as those of the German[6] (and not only the German) Marxists or pseudo-Marxists.... It stands to reason that the liberals are praising Plekhanov again; he has fully deserved that shameful punishment.... I have seen the disgraceful, shameless issue of Sovremenny Mir.... Shame! Shame!”[7]

Official correspondence in invisible ink became more intensive in those years, when all correspondence with the Central Committee was greatly reduced, and in the only postcard from Vladimir Ilyich that has been preserved for the year 1915 he thanked me “very, very, very much for the book, for the most interesting collection of pedagogical publications and for the letter”. The collection of pedagogical publications was “interesting”, of course, on account of what was written between the lines in invisible ink.

In Vladimir Ilyich’s letters to his relatives, therefore, we see his comments on the struggle for the correct under standing of Marxism and for its correct application at the various stages of development of the proletarian movement which he conducted throughout his life.


Now let me try to draw some conclusions on the basis of these letters, to show in brief those aspects of Vladimir Ilyich’s personality, the features of his character, that, in my opinion, stand out in his letters to his relatives.

The first thing we notice (and this has been mentioned in the reviews of the letters published in part in Proletarskaya Revolyutsiya) is the permanence of his attachment, his enduring, unchanging attitude towards the same people in the course of many long years. It is true that these are his immediate relatives, but the permanence of his affection, the steadiness and stability of his character are clearly delineated in these letters. We can also see from the same letters the permanence of his conviction and his faith in his cause; in Vladimir Ilyich’s letters to people who were close to him, such people as one could be most out spoken with, there is not the slightest vacillation or doubt, not the slightest tendency to veer in any other direction.

Nor do we see any traces of whining and despondency in him—such behaviour is, in general, not in keeping with his character—or any complaints about his position, be it in prison, in exile in Siberia or abroad, or even any sour note in his descriptions. Of course, this was also because most of the letters were addressed to mother, who had suffered so much on account of her children, a fact of which Vladimir Ilyich, who deeply loved and respected his mother, was profoundly aware. He felt that his own personal activities were causing his mother a great deal of worry and pain and as far as lay in his power he tried to make things easier for her.

His energy could be felt in letters to other members of the family as well, even to those who were at various times living apart from mother. I remember, for instance, the letters he wrote me between 1900 and 1902, when I was living abroad, and which I naturally had to destroy before I returned to Russia. I remember that his letters were always refreshing and an antidote to all depression and nervousness; they inspired enthusiasm and made one pull oneself together morally. His self-confidence did not, how ever, crush one; it gave one energy and an urge to greater self-fulfilment; his witty jokes filled one with the joy of living and this was the best lubrication for any kind of work. His letters display a great sensitiveness to the mood of the other person and friendly, comradely attention to him—this can be seen in his solicitude for his mother and other members of the family and his solicitude for his comrades—his questions and tales about them when he was in prison, in exile or abroad (see, for example, the letters of March 15 and April 5, 1897).

At the same time one notices the simplicity and the natural manner of Vladimir Ilyich, his great modesty, the complete absence not only of conceit and boastfulness but of any attempt to play up the services he had rendered or to show off; and this was in his youth, when some sort of showing off is natural in a talented person. For a long time he would not agree to call his big, fundamental monograph The Development of Capitalism in Russia, which, he said, “is too bold, too broad and promises too much ... and should be more modest” (February 13, 1899) and the argument that the book would sell better with that title he “did not like” either (January 10, 1899).[See Letters Nos. 76 and 69.—Ed.]

All the labour that he devoted to the study of material for his book on philosophy and other works while in prison, in exile and later when he was abroad, the writing of legal and illegal pamphlets and articles, many of which were lost—all this labour he regarded as something perfectly natural and normal. Here his tremendous industry, his natural restraint and his tenacity in carrying through what ever he had undertaken are also apparent. The time limits fixed for The Development of Capitalism in Russia or for certain chapters of the book were, as a rule, kept to, as can be seen from the letters printed below.

Since he was exacting to himself he was naturally exacting to others. He always gave many instructions and insisted on their being carried out; he trained everybody who at any time worked with him in the accuracy and thoroughness that was his own. Vladimir Ilyich was always displeased with unpunctuality, with delays in work, in carrying out instructions or in answering letters. In his letters sent from exile he inveighs against Struve for his slackness in answering; in the letters of 1908-09 he expresses his displeasure with Comrade Skvortsov-Stepanov for his careless reading of the proofs of Materialism and Empirio-criticism, which he had undertaken to correct, and so on.

From Vladimir Ilyich’s letters we can also see his great modesty and his complete lack of fastidiousness in life, his ability to be content with little; no matter what conditions fate provided for him he always wrote that he needed nothing and was eating well—whether it was in Siberia where he had to provide everything for himself out of an allowance of eight rubles a month, or when he was living abroad and we were able to check up on him during our rare visits and were always able to prove that he had far from enough to eat. He was always worried by the fact that his circumstances forced him to accept financial aid from mother longer than is usual, instead of helping her. On October 5, 1893, he wrote, “... The expenditure is still excessive—38 rubles in a month. Obviously I have not been living carefully; in one month I have spent a ruble and 36 kopeks on the horse trains, for instance. When I get used to the place I shall probably spend less.”[Letter No. 1.—Ed.] Later, too, he was worried and asked mother not to send him money and not to save money from her pension when he heard that this was what she wanted to do on learning of his straitened circumstances from a letter sent to someone else (letter of January 19, 1911).

He was also embarrassed at having to take money from the Party, when his income from writing was not enough to live on. With some bitterness Vladimir Ilyich related Nadezhda Krupskaya’s joke that he “must have been ‘pensioned off’”, when money came to him from Russia (February 15, 1917).[Letter No. 262.—Ed.]

For reasons of economy Vladimir Ilyich tried wherever possible to use books from libraries. He spent next to nothing on amusements; visits to theatres and concerts were so rare that they could not affect his budget (see letter of February 9, 1901). Vladimir Ilyich, indeed, preferred the open air to social forms of recreation, where there were a lot of people. “Here,” he wrote from Stjernsund (Finland) on his return from the Fifth Party Congress, “you can have a wonderful rest, swimming, walking, no people and no work. No people and no work—that is the best thing for me (June 27, 1907). The walk is a pleasure although I have to walk about 5 versts a day, an hour’s walk, he wrote from Siberia in 1897.[Letters Nos. 155 and 19.—Ed.]

With their rucksacks on their backs, he and his wife would wander over the mountain slopes and passes of Switzerland. He climbed in the Alps and when he lived near Krakow he went climbing in the Tatras. It was not only such outstanding beauties of nature that attracted him; he rode or walked round the environs of big cities such as London or Munich. “We are the only people among the comrades here who are exploring every bit of the surrounding country. We discover various ‘rural’ paths, we know all the places nearby and intend to go further afield.”[Letter No. 448.—Ed.] “We find the road to out-of-the-way places to which none of the exiles ever go.” He was interested in sport—shooting, skating, cycling and chess, and engaged in these amusements with all the ingenuousness of a youth or even a boy.

He describes some of his mountain trips very vividly, if briefly—the trip to Saliéve near Geneva, for instance, or his Shu-shu-shu in Siberia.

In the letters there is also evidence of Vladimir Ilyich’s ability to make the most of the present moment; in prison, in exile and in the worst times abroad he delved into scientific and theoretical problems, erected and strengthened, so to speak, the scientific buttresses of the cause to which he devoted his life—work for the proletarian revolution—at times when fate decreed that he must remain more or less aloof from direct participation. And when life brought him into greater contact with people—in the country, travelling, in trains—he showed his ability to take in reality, to understand the masses, to rise to generalisations from minor facts and to determine and consolidate the line that leads from theory and the general ideals of life to life as it really is and back again. He showed his ability to gather impressions from everywhere, from all conversations, from letters. We see how Vladimir Ilyich hungered after ordinary letters that simply drew a picture of the life around one with out setting out to achieve any general aims, how hungry he was for them and asked for them to be sent more often.

And, lastly, we see in these letters Vladimir Ilyich’s ability to maintain his composure and equilibrium both in prison and after (see the letter with his advice to our sister Maria, May 19, 1901), how, after imprisonment or various social and political disturbances that had undermined this equilibrium, he would make determined efforts to return to normal. He realised that this equilibrium was essential for the mental or political work that was the aim of his life. For the same reason he spent the whole three years of his exile in Shushenskoye, never asking for a transfer to a town in the way most exiles did. He wrote that temporary visits to the town were better than permanent residence there. Speaking of the suicide of Fedoseyev he wrote, “For people in exile, these ‘exile scandals’ are the worst thing of all.” “No, don’t wish me comrades from among the intellectuals in Shushenskoye—I’d rather not!” (January 24, 1898).[Letters Nos. 53 and 38.—Ed.]

In bringing to a close this brief indication of the traits and peculiarities in the character of Vladimir Ilyich which, in my opinion, are shown by the letters to his relatives published below, I hope that they will help the reader to gain a clearer picture and a closer understanding of Vladimir Ilyich as a person.

A. Ulyanova-Yelizarova


[1] Gvozdyov, R.. Kulachestvo-rostovshcldchestvo, yego obshchest venno-ekonomtcheskoye znacheniye. St. Petersburg. 1899.

[2] i.e., in invisible ink (see Letter No. 98.—Ed.).

[3] Plekhanov

[4] i.e., in invisible ink.

[5] L. Kamenev’s interpretation of these words in the Preface to Lenin’s letters and in Note No. 41 (Lenin Miscellany IV, p. 19) is obviously incorrect. “Disguised literature” is of course to be under stood, not to mean liberal literature wearing the cloak of Social-Democracy, but our own Social-Democratic literature that is compelled by the censor to take on legal form, i.e., there must be illegal as well as legal Social-Democratic literature. This passage gives no indication of a need to differentiate between us and “disguised liberals”. There is no other way of understanding it.

[6] The voting of the German Social-Democrats for war credits on August 4, 1914.

[7] Containing an article by Iordansky, “Let There Be Victory!” (See Letter No. 253.—Ed)


[1] This article was written by Lenin’s sister Anna Ilyinichna Ulyanova-Yelizarova for the collection of Letters to Relatives published in 1931 and 1934.—Ed.

[2] Lenin’s article “Capitalism in Agriculture (Kautsky’s Book and Mr. Bulgakov’s Article)” (Collected Works, Vol. 4, pp. 105-159) was sent to the journal Nachalo but was printed in Zhizn for January-February 1900.—Ed.

[3] From the colloquial Russian “pop”, meaning “priest”.--Ed.