February 10, 2009

A conversation between Lenin and Valeriu Marcu


A conversation between Lenin and the young Romanian poet Valeriu Marcu (in a cafe in Zurich, some time around 1917) in which Lenin attempts to convince the poet to 'accept his critique of pacifist opposition to the First World War':


Then Lenin said to me, 'Do you know the real meaning of this war?'

'What is it?' I asked.

'It is obvious,' he replied. 'One slaveholder, Germany, who own one hundred slaves, is fighting another slaveholder, England, who owns two hundred slaves, for a "fairer" distribution of the slaves.'

'How can you expect to foster hatred of this war,' I asked at this point, 'if you are not in principle against all wars? I thought that as a Bolshevik you were really a radical thinker and refused to make any compromise with the idea of war. But by recognizing the validity of some wars, you open the doors for every opportunity. Each group can find some justification of the particular war of which it approves. I see that we young people can only count on ourselves [...]'

Lenin listened attentively, his head bent towards me. He moved his chair closer to mine. He must have wondered whether to continue to talk to this boy or not. I, somewhat awkwardly, remained silent.

'Your determination to rely on yourselves,' Lenin finally replied, is very important. Every man must rely on himself. Yet he should also listen to what informed people have to say. I don't know how radical you are, or how radical I am. I am certainly not radical enough. One can never be radical enough; that is, one must always try to be as radical as reality itself".



Gwendollyn said...

I would love to know, if possible, where you found this conversation between Lenin and Marcu. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I don't know where the original poster found this, but I found it in the 1945 anthology book edited by Klaus Mann, titled "The Best of Modern European Literature," which you can buy used by searching in "bookfinder." The selection is "Lenin in Zurich" by Valeriu Marcu, who wrote the first biography of Lenin, in 1927, english trans. 1928.

Jacob Wren said...

I found it in the book 'As Radical As Reality Itself:
Essays on Marxism and Art for the 21st Century' edited by Matthew Beaumont, Andrew Hemingway, Esther Leslie and John Roberts:


Alex Z said...

So what does the Lenin's final answer mean? Because I didn't get it. Can somebody translate it to me?

Anonymous said...

While this is the first time I have encountered this quote, it seems to me that the final idea is that the situations encountered in reality demand radical understanding and action, more radical than we are perhaps capable of undertaking. [It helps if we understand "radical" to mean going to the root, as in a radish.] Lenin also apparently liked to quote von Goethe in saying, "All theory, dear friend, is gray, but the golden tree of life springs ever green." [If I may, the contradiction of this statement was made evident by the immediate suppression of the most radical elements of society during the Bolshevist seizure of power -- the Anarchists and even Communist Youth who demanded far more radical solutions to the deeply seated problems of society!!]

Bongo Cat said...

Lenin was gently suggesting that Valeriu was not looking at the reality of the situation. Pacifist opposition to war is just that - passive. To overcome one's exploiters, and especially in time of war, the exploited must wage war against their own ruling class. Leninists oppose imperialist war, that is wars between nations carried out on the backs of the working class, and call for the workers of each belligerent country to turn the imperialist war into a civil war, i.e. for the working class to overthrow its own ruling class (as in the slogan, "Turn the guns around!". While Leninists oppose all imperialist wars, we take the side of the oppressed in civil wars and in wars against colonial rule.