You are a human being, let me ask you: Do you have some Ultimate Value that gives meaning to your life? Do you think others human beings are the same? Do you think that this essentially spiritual dimension tells more about a person than anything else?
History is often the story of a human being who, by some combination of skill, powerlust and pure luck ends up running whole countries. Lenin had all three.
Now, some people hate Lenin because he was a Commie, and communism is evil and repressive and doesn’t work. Some people defend him because he was a Commie and capitalism is evil and repressive and is destroying the world. Beyond all the propaganda is an actual human being who put his pants on one leg at a time. What made him tick?
Karl Marx’s Das Capital? Surprise! His favorite book, one that he read five times in one summer, was a romantic utopian novel called What is to be Done? He liked this book so much that he wrote his own essay with the same title later on, imitated some of the characters in his own life and quoted from it often. The “radiant future” toward which Russia was working was a phrase straight out of his favorite book.
The great Dostoevsky, Lenin’s fellow countryman, mocked Lenin’s favorite book in his own What is to be Done?, thus incurring Lenin’s wrath: “I have no free time for this rubbish ” and “This is a kind of moralizing vomiting.” Lenin was sort of cranky and often called people who disagreed with him “foul” or “swine.”
In Lenin’s favorite book, an idealistic couple sacrifices to bring justice to an unjust world. The Ultimate Value is symbolized by a Crystal Palace, the future socialist heaven on earth, where there is lots of food and everyone is free to do whatever they want, which amounts to eating, relaxing and enjoying Free Love.
That is the Radiant Future: there is abundance, everything is arranged with scientific precision and all needs are met. All needs except, as Dostoevsky irreverently points out, the need to make one’s own choices and to stick out one’s tongue at the stupid Crystal Palace.
To Lenin, the only thing standing between humankind and the Radiant Future was a lot of hard work and the “bad” social classes. How bad were they? They were so bad that putting a bullet in their bourgeois brains was not only advisable, it was a duty.
Lenin was an intelligent man driven by a messianic urge to save mankind. He was always looking for his chance and when, as Trotsky said, “Power was lying on the streets of St. Petersburg,” Lenin picked that power up.
And the next morning, he put his pants on one leg at a time.