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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Lenin and Krupskaya in Paris

An account of Lenin and Krupskaya in exile in Paris (1910-1911) by fellow Bolshevik exile Serafima Hopner.

A Soviet stamp showing one of the places Lenin and Krupskaya lived during their exile in Paris

In the summer of 1910, Bolshevik Serafima Hopner, who worked in underground party groups in Ukraine, had to flee into exile in Paris. Hopner (sometimes also anglicized as Gopner) remained in exile until 1917 and the overthrow of the Czar.

Her time in Paris brought her into contact with Lenin and Krupskaya who were also both in exile there at the time. Hopner died as one of the last of the original Bolsheviks in 1966. She had served as the head of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of the Ukraine for a brief time in 1918 and, among other posts, worked for the Comintern and the Institute of Marxism-Leninism in Moscow.

In 1969 her reminisces of those days in Paris were translated into English by the Soviet press.

They not only recount her experiences as a revolutionary exile, but also talk of visiting Lenin, Krupskaya and Krupskaya's mother in their Paris apartment, of Lenin's concern for his comrades and his fight against opportunism, a lost document he wrote, his speech at the funerals of Laura Marx and Paul Lafargue in 1911 and his steadfast belief -- despite all the evidence -- that revolution was coming to Russia.


IN THE SUMMER OF 1910, after the arrest of many of our party comrades in Odessa and other cities in the Ukraine, I tried to continue underground revolutionary work in my native land, but without success. I therefore had to leave Russia. I outwitted the police, obtained a passport for travel abroad and in September found myself in Paris.

The feeling of being free, out of the clutches of the Russian police, soon gave way to anxiety. I recalled stories I had heard at home about the hardships of emigrant life. I asked myself: "Who needs me here? What can I do? Will I be able to earn a living?"

In those years, after the defeat of the Russian Revolution of 1905-1907, Paris was one of the centers for our political emigrants, revolutionaries who fled trial, prison, penal servitude and exile. Most of them had a very hard time of it.

Vladimir Ilyich, too, was living in Paris then. I hoped to meet him, but I thought he would not find my visit of any interest.

"Tomorrow at Eight . . ."

A comrade who met me in the street the day after my arrival dispelled my doubts. When he learned of my hesitation, he was surprised: "Can't you understand that Lenin simply grabs at every new person from Russia, like a hungry man at food!" Later I myself found this to be true. For Lenin, meetings with people who had just come from Russia were a source of fresh information about the situation at home. Far away from Russia, he was the ideological leader of our underground party at home, read many Russian newspapers and magazines and carried on an active correspondence.

From the comrade I met in the street I also learned the address, day and hour of the next meeting of the Paris group of our party's members, those who sided with Lenin, the Bolsheviks. At this meeting, held in a small room on the top floor of a café, I first saw him. He was sitting in a corner, bent over a chessboard. I recognized him immediately, for I had seen and heard him before, in 1907 in Finland.

Certain current problems were on the agenda. Lenin took the floor and spoke for no more than five to eight minutes. Many years have passed since and, of course, I do not remember that speech. But I do remember that his words made a strong impression on me, a most encouraging impression.

At the end of the meeting Lenin's wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, came over to me. With a touch of friendly reproach she said: "And so you're that person who doesn't want to call on us! Ilyich asked me to be sure to ask you over. Come tomorrow, at eight in the evening."

At the appointed hour I arrived at house No. 4 on Marie-Rose Street. I was led right into his "reception room," a small kitchen with a small, rectangular table standing near a wall opposite the gas stove. The table was covered with oilcloth; this "reception" room also served as dining room. We sat down at the table for evening tea: Lenin, Nadezhda and her kind old mother.

I did not know with what to begin my account. But after Lenin's first words and his first questions, what I had experienced in the past few months back home suddenly appeared in a new light. I myself began to see these things I was telling Lenin about differently and to realize that what I had to say was of some value. The reason for this change was probably the close attention he paid me. With occasional, carefully worded questions he directed my story, unnoticeably even to me, and did not let me muddle it. I became more and more absorbed in my own account and told him of the events of recent years in Odessa. Nikolayev and other Ukrainian cities. I told him about the struggle our comrades were having and how brutally the czarist authorities were treating revolutionaries.

That evening was the first time I felt how strongly people responded to him. His contemporaries note, in their reminiscences, how attentively he listened and with a few questions encouraged the person he was talking with. Toward the end of our talk I was sure that even here, in emigration, I could be of use to the party. I was especially encouraged when Ilyich suggested that I write everything down in an article for our party newspaper.

At the end of our talk, which lasted an hour and a half, Lenin bade me a friendly good-by and went into his "office." This room, which someone in his reminiscences called by that title, least resembled an office. On the walls were unpainted shelves with books; in the middle of the room was an oblong table, also unpainted, covered with paper and piled high with newspapers; and there were two or three old chairs, the very cheapest kind. That was his "office."

It was years later, when his collected writings were published, that we learned what really great work — theoretical, political, organizational — he was doing in those years.

Concern for His Comrades

And yet he found the time to help his comrades. Once, when I came home late in the evening, I found a note. It said that the evening before at Lenin's home they had discussed the condition of a sick comrade who had to be transferred to another hospital. Would I, on behalf of Lenin, see whether an acquaintance of mine, a well-known French surgeon, could arrange the transfer. The note asked me to let him know when I planned to go and how my talk went. After telephoning the surgeon, I informed Lenin that the appointment was for noon tomorrow. That same evening I received another note which said that Lenin wanted to go with me and that he would call for me at 11 in the morning.

Knowing how punctual he was, I listened for the door-bell at the appointed time. Suddenly I heard a noise on the stairs and hurried to open the door. It was Lenin climbing up to the sixth floor, taking two steps at a time and humming a tune. He was 40 years old then, full of good cheer and energy.

After exchanging a few words about our talk with the surgeon, we took the subway to the other end of Paris. The trip there and back and the visit to the doctor took two hours. Only those who knew him closely realized what the two hours' time meant to him.

Lenin, who was very tactful, attentive and demanding of our comrades, was also most demanding of himself. His example kept the party workers abroad from succumbing to the physical and psychological hardships of emigration. Most of our comrades manfully endured their forced unemployment and extreme financial need. The members of our Bolshevik organization enthusiastically carried out the diverse party assignments, including the most trifling, painstaking technical work. To get money for the publication of our party newspaper, we organized amateur concerts and even staged plays, for which we charged admission. Lenin did not attend these gatherings. but he gave them every encouragement.

No Compromise with Opportunism

I remember particularly one meeting of the Paris organization of our party at which Lenin gave a report He characterized the general situation in the workers' movement of Russia and in our party as critical. Local party organizations. he said, were disintegrating, and even some of the leading workers were showing signs of apathy and depression. What was to be done under such conditions? There were two main thoughts he developed: 1) The only way out of Russia's difficult situation and that of the toiling masses was along revolutionary paths and not along "constitutional" paths as the opportunists, including the Mensheviks. advocated; 2) a new element was the fact that the working class of Russia had begun to produce its own leaders, capable people who could unify the party. Lenin believed that the party crisis could be met by mustering all the truly revolutionary forces. That was a stormy meeting. Two conciliators said that an appeal for revolutionary consistency would only deepen the split. Lenin spoke again. He sharply attacked unprincipled demands for unity that did not take into account the terms on which this unity was to be achieved. A union of revolutionaries and opportunists would produce not a political party of revolution, but a "compromising jumble." The workers of Russia, he said, would understand us: As yet we were few, but we would be many if we defended our Marxist, revolutionary position to the end.

The meeting supported Lenin.

At the time my Paris meetings with Lenin took place, the rupture between the Bolsheviks, who supported him, and the Mensheviks, the opportunist wing of the party, was virtually complete. But among the Bolsheviks there were those who did not reject the Menshevik proposal that the discussion continue. The question was raised at a quickly convened meeting of the Paris group of Bolsheviks. Lenin was opposed to any more discussion. After the advocates of discussion spoke, Lenin reiterated his position and left the meeting.

His departure confused us; we did not know what to do. Some of those present left. Those who remained decided to send two comrades to Lenin's home to settle the question.

But Lenin was not in. The comrades were somewhat disturbed. Krupskaya told us that he was probably out walking by himself, his habit when he had something to think over. She suggested that we wait for him. And Lenin soon came into view walking energetically toward his home. He was excited. Glad for the unexpected meeting, he insisted we come inside in spite of the very late hour, and there the discussion began all over again. He repeated his arguments and cleared up all our doubts.

But he did not consider the question settled. He wanted to erase all traces of disagreement with this considerable part of the Paris group of his comrades. With that in mind he wrote a letter to the group with a detailed explanation of his position. The action reflected Lenin's attitude toward the collective and his party comrades. He did not think it right to dismiss the reactions of even a part of the group. He himself drew up the list of comrades to whom his letter should be given for reading. I, too, read it.

Since this document has not yet been found, I will try to recollect some of the points he made. Discussion in emigration, he wrote, as opposed to the discussion workers in Russia were having, was fruitless. There in Russia, especially at the factories and plants, in the smoking rooms and other corners, many nonparty workers listen to the arguments of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. The discussions help them to develop politically, to become revolutionized, to choose their sides. In emigration, as a rule, those people who come to meetings know the arguments by heart and have long since chosen their side. It is impossible to get anyone to change his mind. We should do our discussing of principle in the party press. We should not waste our energy in idle talk. We must save our energy, learn, study the lessons of the past, prepare for a new revolutionary upsurge. The revolution would come; it would require us to be better fighters, not to make the same mistakes.

This letter had its effect. We dropped the question of discussions with the Mensheviks in emigration.

"The Revolution Is Close"

Lenin proved to be right when he predicted a new up-surge of revolutionary struggle. In December 1910, commenting on the demonstrations in Russia when Leo Tolstoy died, he wrote: "The Russian people are awakening to new struggle, advancing toward a new revolution."

In contrast to the skeptics who had buried the hope for a new Russian revolution, Lenin showed that not only would a new revolution come but that it was close. For not a single objective of the workers and peasants in the first revolution (1905-1907) had been achieved: The land still belonged to the landlords, there was no eight-hour working day and no democratic republic. The deep-seated Causes of the first revolution still remained and a new revolution was inevitable. We had to prepare for it.

His certainty that the new Russian revolution was not far off Lenin underscored in a speech at the funeral of Laura Marx and Paul Lafargue. The day before the funeral, the newspaper L'Humanite asked those representatives of parties and organizations who wished to make speeches at the funeral to inform the editors the evening before. Lenin set off for the editorial offices of L'Humanite in the evening, but it was late at night when, with difficulty, he managed to get there and turn in his request. A huge crowd had gathered in the street in front of the newspaper office.

The day of the funeral, December 3, 1911, tens of thousands of French workers, carrying red banners, marched behind the two coffins to Pere Lachaise cemetery. The hall of the crematory was too small, and the funeral service was held in the open.

After several others, Lenin spoke as representative of his party to the International Socialist Bureau. He spoke in French and said in part: "We, Russian Social-Democrats, who have experienced all the oppression of an absolutism impregnated with Asiatic barbarity, and who have had the good fortune, through the writings of Lafargue and his friends, to draw directly on the revolutionary experience and revolutionary thought of the European workers—we can now see with particular clarity how rapidly we are nearing the triumph of the cause to which Lafargue devoted all his life."

Lenin went on to say, referring to the Russian Revolution of 1905-1907: "The Russian revolution ushered in an era of democratic revolutions throughout Asia, and 800 million people are now joining in the democratic movement of the whole civilized world."

No, it was not funeral despondency, but the buoyant anticipation of new revolutionary storms that emanated from this speech of Lenin's.



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