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AUSTRALIAN
MARXIST
REVIEW

Journal of the Communist Party of Australia

ISSUE 67April 2018

Book Review by Lars Ulrik Thomsen

Illegal in the summer of 1917

The Blue Notebook

by Emmanuil Kazakevich
Translated from Russian by Ralph Parker and Valentina Scott

Lenin’s time in Razliv, near Petrograd in the summer of 1917, has inspired at least two works of art – a novel and a symphonic movement.

With the counter-revolution starting in July 1917, the situation changed completely for the Bolsheviks, as they were now illegal.[1]

Lenin had to go underground and the Central Committee organised his exile. He lived for a while with the Russian worker and farmer Yemelyanov and his family, in the district of Razliv outside Petrograd. At first he stayed in their barn but after a few days moved to a hay meadow on the Eastern shore of Sestroretskiy Lake. All this is portrayed in an excellent way by Emmanuil Kazakevich[2] in The Blue Notebook. As a gifted writer, Kazakevich really understood how to describe the events of Razliv in the summer of 1917, even if the book is fiction:

The moon shed a dim light in the pale northern sky. Two boats glided across the lake. Lenin was seated in the stern of the first boat. He kept his eyes strained at the milky twilight of the distant shore. He was thinking that if it should turn out to be quiet and safe over there in the meadows across the lake he would be able to send for his blue notebook and complete an exceptionally important pamphlet that had long lain in his mind. (p 3)

On the surface this was a quiet life in a thatched hut, of the type used by Russian farmers when they could not get home at night. But there followed some months of hectic and intense work, in what Lenin called his “green office”. It consisted of a chopping block as a desk, and a tree stump as a chair. The time in Razliv became a maturation process for Lenin as a human and politician. In addition to numerous articles, he wrote his pamphlet The State and Revolution, which was intended to clarify the Marxist understanding of the state in preparation for the “world proletarian revolution”[3] – although it was not actually published until after the October Revolution.

As well as describing this, Kazakevich depicts the significance Lenin had for Yemelyanov’s family, especially for his wife Nadezdha:

It was clear that whenever he obtained a piece of observation, however petty, about the lives and needs of the people, he weighed it on some special scales, that he thought of applying what he had found out, what he had heard, to a much greater scale. He was wholly with them, with the people he was living amidst, and at the same time he was not there at all, but among a vast number of other people whom he did not know personally. He was like the artist who admires a landscape or who looks at people just as another man does but who at the same time is using his imagination in a way that others don’t, thinking, “I’m going to paint that”, “I could draw that”, or “That might be useful for my idea”. (p 47)

The care and interest that Lenin showed to Nadezdha’s family made an indelible impression on her. She realised that when the Bolsheviks came to power, that would mean a fundamental change in the position of women in society.

Every morning, she sent the eldest boys to town to buy newspapers for Lenin, which were indispensable for his correspondence with the Party and its newspapers.

Having grown accustomed to Lenin, Nadezhda found it hard to believe (for he was so cheerful, lively and kind) that he was on the run, that thousands of people were hunting him and that he was protected from them by nothing more than the thin wall of the shed. And, as she read a newspaper which ran some rabid campaign against him, or overheard talk about Lenin in the shop, she grew terrified by her carelessness. After that she would take the children into a corner and remind them for the hundredth time of their duty to keep their mouths shut and not betray the presence of a stranger in their midst by a word or a glance; they were to forget about the man in the garret.” (p 49)

Lenin was not alone in hiding at Razliv; Zinoviev accompanied him. In view of Zinoviev’s later vacillation, Kazakevich imagines a very sharp dialogue between the two men, in which the core issues of the revolution are depicted. Against Lenin’s argument that they should move on from the bourgeois democratic revolution in February to the Socialist Revolution, Kazakevich depicts Zinoviev as having gotten cold feet, trying to reconcile Lenin with the provisional government. Here Lenin answers Zinoviev as follows:

I’m not juggling with slogans, I’m telling the masses the truth at each new turn of revolution, however sharp it may be. And you, I have the feeling, are afraid to tell the people the truth. You want to conduct proletarian politics with bourgeois methods. Leaders who know the truth “in their circle”, among themselves, and don’t tell that truth to the masses because the masses, as they say, are ignorant and slow-witted, are not proletarian leaders. Speak the truth. If you suffer a defeat don’t try to pass it off as a victory; if you strike a compromise, tell the people that it is a compromise; if you had an easy victory over the enemy, don’t insist that it was difficult, and if it was difficult, don’t boast that it was easy; if you make a mistake, admit your mistake without fear for your own prestige because what undermines your prestige is keeping silent about mistakes; if circumstances oblige you to change course, don’t try to present things as though there had been no change; be truthful to the working class if you believe in its class feeling and revolutionary common sense – and for a Marxist not to believe in that spells shame and ruin. Besides, even to deceive the enemy is extremely complicated, double-edged and permissible only in the most concrete cases of direct military tactics, for our enemies are far from being shut off by an iron wall from our friends, they still have an influence on the people and, with their skill in making fools of the masses, they will try – with success, too – to show up our clever-clever maneuvers as attempts to deceive the masses. To be insincere with the masses for the sake of ‘deceiving the enemy’ is a stupid and ill- calculated policy. The proletariat needs the truth and there is nothing more damaging to its cause than a genteel petty-bourgeois lie.” (p 87f)

Zinoviev staggers and is lost; he fails the revolutionary ideals to Lenin’s great disappointment. This upsets him because Zinoviev had belonged to the Zimmerwald Left, and was one of his closest colleagues in their long-term exile. Again it is important to stress that the dialogue is fiction, but the later events in preparing for the October Revolution confirmed the treason of Zinoviev.

With his personalisation and dialogues, Kazakevich is able to provide a whole new dimension to the events in the summer of 1917. Now we can understand the costs to the Bolsheviks, in psychological and physical exertions, in preparing for the October Revolution.

As an additional dimension, we can complement The Blue Notebook in Dmitri Shostakovich‟s 12th Symphony, The Year 1917. In this exceptional composition, Shostakovich first depicts the February Revolution in Petrograd, then the time in Razliv, thirdly the shot from the cruiser Aurora, and finally “the dawn of humanity” – the very revolution itself. The movement that concerns Razliv alternates between contemplative and hectic and short sections, showing how it felt to be on the run and in hiding. It is a beautiful and gripping piece – an indelible memory of the time, preparing for the formation of the first working class state.

The Blue Notebook by Emmanuil Kazakevich translated from the Russian by Ralph Parker and Valentina Scott [Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1962, hbk, 105 pp; only available used]

[1] V I Lenin, Lessons of the Revolution, in Collected Works, Vol 25, pp 227-243.

[2] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmanuil_Kazakevich.

[3] V I Lenin, Preface to the First Edition of The State and Revolution, in Collected Works, Vol 25, p 387.

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