top of page
  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Three reminiscences of Lenin

Remembrances of Lenin's return from exile in 1900, his Subbotnik work in 1920 and his love of music, written by his sister, the maid he had recovering after being shot in 1918 and his brother.

Lenin with the Fishermen

Recently we looked at Lenin's nephew's memories of his famous uncle in Remembering Uncle Lenin ( Here are three other remembrances of Lenin also published in English by the Soviet press in 1958.

Lenin Returns from Exile by his sister Anna Ulyanova-Elizarova recounts how she and Lenin's family eagerly awaited his return from exile in Siberia in 1900.

Lenin and the Subbotnik amusingly recounts Lenin's participation in the May Day 1920 Subbotnik cleaning of Moscow's Red Square. It was written by Alexandra Sysoyeva who worked as a maid for Lenin to help him after he was shot during an assassination attempt in 1918.

Lenin Loved Music tells of how Lenin was quite good at music but gave it up as a boy in school. It also recounts how he and his sister Olga first played the Internationale together in the summer of 1889. Lenin was very close to the brilliant and talented Olga who died tragically young in May, 1891 of typhoid fever. It was written by his younger brother Dmitri who died in 1943.

The stories are accompanied by a number of sketches and illustrations.

Lenin Returns from Exile:

By Anna Ulyanova-Elizarova

MY BROTHER Vladimir was due back from exile in Siberia in February of WOO. We were looking forward to the day as though it were a holiday, all of us, especially, Mother. We had not seen him for three years. But we could not persuade ourselves that he would really be freed, that his term might not have been extended because of some mishap. A conflict with the local authorities or the ill-will of some petty official could mean a longer sentence.

Nor did Vladimir himself feel any certainty about his release. although he lived quietly and carefully avoided breaking any one of the rules. The closer the day of his freedom, the more disquiet he felt.

We lived then on the outskirts of Moscow, in Baklimetyetskaya Street. near the Kamer-Kolezhsky Val. We all ran out to the street when we saw the cab pulling up. The first thing Mother said—she was the first one who could speak—was, "How could you write that you put on weight? You're so thin!"

"I had put on some weight," Vladimir said, "but I lost most of it the last few weeks before I left."

Nadezhda Krupskaya, Vladimir's wife, told us later that he had lost weight because he had worried about whether he would actually be released at the end of his term.

The moment the first greetings were over Vladimir asked, "Has Yuly returned? Did he send a letter or a telegram?"

Yuly Tsederbaum —he was better known by his pen name. Martov — had been exiled to Turukhansk. Siberia. at the same time, for the same reason. and with the same sentence.

His extreme concern was something of a surprise to me. Before his exile, Vladimir had not been as close to Martov, who had joined the revolutionary circle later than some of the other members, as he had been to Krzhizhanovsky or Starkov,, for example.

His anxiety about news from Martov was explained for me in talks we had subsequently. He looked on Martov as his closest comrade for future work, especially for beginning an all-Russia newspaper. He admired Yuly's revolutionary spirit and could not rest until he received word that Yuly was on his way from Turukhansk.

Anna Ulyanova (1864-1935) was Lenin's sister and a revolutionary who went on to serve as Soviet Russia's first People's Commissar for Transport. Lenin was sentenced to exile in Siberia for three years in 1897 by the Czarist courts for his revolutionary activities.

A young Lenin reading a revolutionary leaflet

LENIN and the Subbotnik*

By Alexandra Sysoyeva

I MET Lenin for the first time when I came to work as housemaid for the family. When he was wounded in 1918 and went to the village of Gorki, near Moscow, to recover, I went along to look after him. We spent three weeks in Gorki and then came back to Moscow.

I remember the subbotnik on May Day in 1920. Vladimir Ilyich told me he wanted to go to it and help in the work. We had supper earlier than usual so he could go to bed earlier.

During supper his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, and his sister, Maria Ulyanova, made fun of Lenin's wanting to go to work during the subbotnik. They thought he really didn't mean it. They said he had enough to do in his own office if he wanted to work on May Day. But he said plainly that he wanted to go to the subbotnik like everybody else and help clear the square of rubbish. It was all littered up with logs. pieces of iron and big stones.

I remember how I got breakfast ready for seven that morning and went to call Vladimir Ilyich. He was already up and said, "Yes, yes, I am up. I'm coming."

He had a quick breakfast and then hurried out to the square. They told me later that he didn't go there straight, but took a round-about way so he wouldn't be noticed.

When Lenin was recognized, the other people there were worried about his doing such hard work. They wanted him to stop. But he wouldn't listen to them and went right on working.

I was curious to see the subbotnik, so I went there and saw Vladimir llyich helping to haul the logs away. Four persons took one of the big logs on their shoulders and carried it to a spot where they were stacked up.

Vladimir Ilyich worked from 8 that morning until noon. When he came home he was drenched with perspiration and one of his shoe soles was torn off.

Nadezhda Krupskaya looked at it and laughed. "We can't let you do that kind of heavy work. Where would we get enough shoes for you?"

*The word subbotnik is derived from subbota (Saturday in Russian) and means volunteer community work done on a holiday. - Ed.

Lenin at the Subbotnik


Lenin Loved Music

by Dmitri Ulyanov

MOTHER was always pleased with my brother Vladimir's aptitude for music. When he was eight he played children's piano pieces or four-hand pieces with grownups quite easily. But in spite of that he gave up the piano when he went to school.

It was not because music stood in the way of his studies. Vladimir was a gifted student and he had no difficulty with school work at all. More likely, he stopped playing the piano because in those days it was not looked upon as the kind of thing boys did. But all the rest of his life Lenin had a profound love and a keen appreciation and understanding of music.

In the winter of 1888 we both went to the opera in the city of Kazan. I have a vivid recollection of the evening we spent. We had seats high up in the gallery. I still remember our walk home. Everybody was asleep by the time we got back. As we sat eating our bread and milk supper, Vladimir was still under the spell of the music we had heard and kept humming the arias he liked best.

Our mother loved the piano. She played and sang many of the old songs. She was especially fond of the opera Askold's Grave, and often played selections from it, reading from a worn and faded score. We all enjoyed her singing and playing. Vladimir often hummed passages from Askold's Grave.

He also liked singing with Olga, our sister. She was younger than Vladimir, but they were very close during childhood and youth, not only brother and sister but close friends and companions. Olga was as advanced for her age in her reading and thinking as Vladimir. At eighteen she was able to speak fluent German, French, English and Swedish. I can vouch for the accuracy of the comment people made about her all the time that the only time she did not work was when she was asleep. Vladimir respected and admired her talents and her will to work. She died in May 1891, of typhoid fever.

They used to sing duets -- Yazykov's Swimmer, Dargomyzhsky's Our Sea Is a Desert, and The Wedding. There was a lyric song by Heine that Vladimir liked to sing. It had the line, "I am expiring, my darling..." which had to be taken on a very high note. After the line. Vladimir would chuckle and say, "I've really expired. I really have."

I can hardly remember a time when there was a sad note in Vladimir's singing. It was always buoyant, cheerful, confident. These lines from his favorite aria in Faust "Almighty God, God of Love" seemed to reflect his spirit. Perhaps that is why he liked them so much:

"In the life-end-death battle,

I swear to be in the forefront."

Whenever I hear Gounod's music I am reminded of those far-off days when Vladimir sang those lines from Valentine's aria.

It was the summer of 1889 when I heard the Internationale for the first time. It was then almost unknown in Russia. We were in Alakayevka, a hamlet in the Samara region. Olga played it on the piano and followed with the Marseillaise. I begged her to play it again.

Then Vladimir walked into the room unexpectedly. It was morning, the time of day he was usually busy studying. He wanted to hear it again, too. First he and Olga played the melody on the piano and then we sang the words quietly in French.

Dmitri Ulyanov (1874-1943) was Lenin's younger brother and also a revolutionary as well as a physician. After the revolution he held several different official and medical posts.


Lenin with Maxim Gorky

Lenin playing chess.


bottom of page