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On the occasion of the birth day of Lenin - 22nd April

M.N.Roy’s First Meeting With Lenin (1920)

22 April 2015

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[(In 1915 M.N.Roy had left India during First World War for procuring arms for Indian revolutionaries to enable them to organize armed revolt against the British. He visited various countries, could not succeed in his mission and evading British and American intelligence, landed in Mexico in 1917. He devoted to the cause of freedom and social justice in his host country, tried to bring together the fragmented and ineffective ‘left’ groups and trade unions into a strong and united organization. He was elected General Secretary of the Mexican socialist Party at a Conference held in December 1918. Soon thereafter Michael Borodin arrived in Mexico city from Moscow as an emissary of the Communist International which had its foundation Congress in Moscow in March 1919. Borodin contacted Roy and both quickly became close friends. The newly founded Communist International had resolved to organize communist parties in all countries of the world. But until the middle of 1919, no communist party had been formed anywhere , except that Bolshevik Party of Russia had converted itself into communist party of Russia. Most of the ruling regimes of the world were not prepared to tolerate birth of the communist parties in their countries. M.N.Roy and Borodin decided that Mexico should take the lead. Soon Socialist Party of Mexico was converted into the Communist Party of Mexico in an extra-ordinary conference held in November, 1919 in the city of Mexico. Carranza, President of Mexico, who was on friendly terms with Roy, approved the event to take place. So the first communist party in the world outside Russia was born. It was in this background that Lenin invited M.N.Roy to attend the second Congress of the Communist International to be held in Moscow in July-August, 1920. Roy landed in Moscow in May 1920 and was given a copy of Lenin’s ‘Preliminary Draft Theses on the National & Colonial Questions’. Roy had certain differences on some fundamental issues with the views of Lenin. Roy’s Supplementary Theses was also adopted by the Comintern alongwith Lenin’s theses. Roy, on behalf of the Communist International, played major part in formulating the policies and implementing the programme of building up communist movements in different countries of Asia, including India, till 1927 whereafter he had to part company on account of ideological differences . He also founded the émigré Communist Party of India on 17th October, 1920 in Tashkent.

      Below is the account of first meeting of Roy with Lenin as described by Roy in his own words which the readers will find interesting. N.D.Pancholi)]

Lenin and others (1920)
before includes Vladimir Lenin (center), Maxim Gorky (behind Lenin), Lev Mikhailovich Karakhan (far left in hat & beard), Karl Radek (with cigarette), Nikolai Bukharin (cigarette in hand), Mikhail Lashevich (in uniform), Maxim Peshkov (behind pillar), Sergei Zorin (hat), Zinoviev (white tie), M.N. Roy (black tie & jacket), Maria Ulyanova (Lenin’s sister) and Abram Belenky (foreground in sunhat)

       THE entrance to the office of the President of the Council of People’s Commissars was guarded by an army of secretaries headed by an oldish woman. Unassuming in behaviour, plain in looks and rather shabbily attired, she was evidently efficient with her unobtrusive authority. Pindrop silence reigned in the large room occupied by Lenin’s personal Secretariat, which was composed of about a dozen people. The grey-haired chief moved silently from one desk to another whenever she wanted to speak to any of her subordinate colleagues. They all spoke in the lowest possible whisper. None but the chief was privileged to enter Lenin’s office. No ordinary person could occupy the position of great trust. The quiet and rather colourless Saint Peter of the Bolshevik heaven was a senior member of the party, a well known figure in Moscow, and respected by all.

The way to Lenin’s Secretariat lay through a well appointed ante-room which was always empty. No expectant visitor was ever kept waiting there. Lenin did not share the proverbial Russian disregard for time, which is a national characteristic the Bolsheviks had inherited. Punctuality seemed to be blacklisted as an abominable petit-bourgeois prejudice. The disregard for time was the greater the more eminent was the leader. It was justified by his manifold duties and engagements. Zinoviev beat all records. There was occasions when he kept sessions of a Congress of the Communist International or meetings of its Executive Committee waiting for hours.

Lenin was the only exception. As regards the attitude towards time, he was most un-Russian. That explained the emptiness of the ante-room of a man who received numerous callers every day. Generally, interviews were brief, often allotted unusual fractions of time, such as nine or thirteen minutes, and the limitation of time was rigidly enforced. A couple of minutes before a particular interview was due to end, Comrade Maria (the head of Secretariat) pressed a button and a small electric bulb flashed on Lenin’s desk. But the latter was not given any chance to risk his reputation for punctuality. Having given the signal, Comrade Maria would usher in the next caller; if there was none to follow immediately, she would herself appear with some paper and lay it in front of Lenin. In the inner circle, it was said in joke that Comrade Maria treated Ilyitch like a school boy.

Passing through the empty ante-room, I was escorted into the Secretariat. Engrossed in their respective preoccupation, the inmates took no notice of me. But St. Peter of the Bolshevik, heaven was always on the alert. She stood up, looked at the big clock on the wall, and silently came forward to take over the charge from the subordinate colleague who had escorted from the entrance of the palace. She conducted me towards a tall silver and gold door, pushed it open gently, just enough for one to pass, and with a motion of the head bade me enter. I stepped in, and the door silently closed behind me.

It was a vast rectangular room, with a row of tall windows giving on a spacious courtyard surrounded by other wings of the palace, The ceiling was so high as almost to touch the sky. The room was practically bare; only the floor was covered with a thick carpet. My attention was immediately attracted by the bald dome of a head stooping very low on the top of a big desk placed right in the middle of the room. I was nervous and walked towards the desk, not knowing what else to do. By silencing my footsteps, the thick carpet sympathized with my anxiety not to cause the least disturbance. It was quite a distance, from the door to the desk. Before I had covered hardly half of it, the owner of the remarkable head was on his feet and briskly came forward with the right hand extended. I was in the presence of Lenin.

Nearly a head shorter, he tilted his red goatee almost to a horizontal position to look at my face quizzically. I was embarrassed, did not know what to say. He helped me out with a banter: “You are so young! I expected a grey-bearded wise man from the East.” The ice of initial nervousness broken, I found words to protest against the disparagement of my seven and twenty years.

Lenin laughed, obviously to put an awe-struck worshipper at ease. Though much too overwhelmed by the experience of a great event to observe details, I was struck by the impish look which often relieved the severity of the expression of a fanatic. It belied the widely held view that in Lenin’s personality the heart was choked in the iron grip of a hard head; that the great revolutionary was a willful machine without the least touch of humanness. The impish smile did not betray cynicism. Lenin was the most unmitigated optimist. Not only was he convinced unshakably that Marxism was the final truth, but he believed equally firmly in its inevitable triumph. He combined the fervor of the prophet with the devotion of the evangelist. Otherwise, he could not advocate capture of power, single handed, as against the stubborn opposition of all his followers, when there appeared to be very little chance for the Bolsheviks to hold it longer than a few days or weeks. At that juncture, Lenin was guided more by faith than by reason; and it was faith not in the secular Providence of historical determinism, but in man’s unlimited capacity to make history. In the most crucial moment of his life and also of contemporary history, Lenin acted as a romanticist; and that one act of extraordinary audacity raised him to the pinnacle of greatness, and won for him a place amongst the immortals of human history.

Danton and Lenin are the two greatest revolutionaries of modern times, and Danton was also a romanticist. The soul of the Great French Revolution was killed when jealousy of the hypocritical High-Priest of Reason sent Danton to the guillotine. Like his great predecessor, Lenin also had the audacity to call for moderation before the cup was drained to the dregs, before it was too late. He had no rival, though Trotsky might pretend to imitate Robespierre’s fanaticism after Lenin’s death, if he had the chance. Therefore, had not the cruel hand of a natural death removed him prematurely Lenin might have turned the course of the revolution to a more fruitful direction. The New Economic Policy was the signal. Its unfoldment might have headed off the subsequent relapse into terrorism and coercion, which destroyed the utopian ideal of Communism. But Trotsky’s Left opposition compelled Stalin to kill the Dantonist spirit of Lenin. The two contenders for the succession to Lenin together did for the Russian Revolution what Robespierre had done for the French.

These ideas about Lenin’s personality and his place in the history of revolution took shape in my mind gradually, years after I met him for the first time. But their roots can be traced to the initial impression. The man whose ominous shadow was cast athwart the capitalist world, in reality, did not at all live up to his frightful reputation. The crown of dictatorial power sat on his head very lightly. There was nothing of a dictator in his physical bearing or manner of speaking. Nor was his remarkable modesty an affectation — a repulsive demonstration of the consciousness of superiority. He was frank in speech and friendly in behavior. For years he had been the undisputed leader of the Bolshevik Party. More than once, a majority of the Central Committee of the party disagreed with him. But none ever dreamed of replacing him as the leader of the party. He was more than a leader, he was the preceptor — High Priest of Bolshevism. He was friend and philosopher for the old cadre of the party. They loved him.

Since the early years of his political career, Lenin had fought bitter factional fights inside the Russian Social-Democratic Party and the Second International. His polemics against the right-wing leaders were charged with brimstone and fire. He expounded the dangerous theory that the party of the proletariat must be an iron cohort of professional revolutionaries. But his behaviour inside the Bolshevik Party was always democratic. Whenever he failed to persuade the Central Committee to agree with his view, he referred the issue to the rank and file of the party, and in those days, there was no bureaucratic machinery to manipulate the party and manufacture a rank and file endorsement for the opinion of the leader. In July 1917, a majority of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party rejected Lenin’s proposal that it should call for an armed insurrection preparatory to capturing power. He returned to his place of hiding in Finland, and wrote a series of articles in the party organ, Pravda, expounding his thesis. Within a couple of months the All-Russian Soviet of Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Deputies met to issue the slogan “All Power to the Soviets!”

In discussions inside the party, Lenin used to drive his point home with picturesque arguments. He backed up his view that the new-born Soviet Government should sign the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with the argument that the soldiers had voted for peace with their feet. How? By running away from the fronts. While defending the New Economic Policy in the All-Russian Congress of Soviet, he pleaded: “We must now learn the housekeeping of the Revolution.” Expounding in the Second World Congress his thesis that the movement for the liberation of the colonial peoples was a revolutionary force, he warned: “But don’t paint Nationalism red.”

Having helped me out of the initial embarrassment and nervousness, Lenin returned to his seat at the desk and asked me to take a chair across it. As he turned back to walk to his seat, I had good glance at the man. I had by then recovered my wits and poise. The height of the room accentuated the shortness of the man, so much so that he looked almost like a dwarf. His big head was quite appropriate to the deceptive picture. The picture was deceptive because Lenin was not a dwarf, being well above five feet. He was 5 ft. 4 inches, I believe. Another habit made him look shorter than he really was. He walked with a stoop, without turning the head either in the left or to the right; nor did he raise his eyes to see that was ahead. The posture suggested that he was engrossed in thought even when walking; and the quickness of his steps seemed to synchronise with the swift rhythm of his mind. He seemed to be always in a great hurry as if keenly conscious of the magnitude of his mission and the inadequacy of time at his disposal. One may wonder if he had a premonition of early death. He was so very impatient to get things done quickly that he restricted the freedom of the tongues of the members of the all-powerful Politbureau. In his time, it had only seven members. In its weekly meetings, none was allowed to speak more than twice, fifteen minutes for the first time and five for the second. Though he thought quickly, his speech was deliberate and sometimes even slow. Except when addressing the masses, he spoke like a teacher lecturing in the class room or an advocate arguing a case in the law court.

Having resumed his seat, Lenin leaned forward on the desk and fixed his almond-shaped twinkling eyes on my face. The impish smile lit up his face, I felt completely at ease, as if I was accustomed to sitting by the desk, not in the presence of a great man, a powerful dictator, but in the pleasant company of an old friend. Indeed it might be that of a benevolent father smiling benignly on a son who has made good and promises to do better. The remembrance of Balabanova’s congratulation made me somewhat dizzy, but her motherly admonition was also fresh in my memory.

Lenin’s voice disturbed my introspection. Borodin had reported my activities in Mexico. I must give a more detailed account. It was a highly interesting experiment in revolutionary strategy. Surely I was reluctant to leave the work so well begun. But there were more urgent revolutionary tasks which must have priority. It would be long before revolutions could succeed in the New World. Conditions might mature in Mexico and other Latin American countries in the near future. But American Imperialism was on the alert to intervene as it had done in the past. We must for the present concentrate on the old world; and the oppressed and exploited masses of Asia have to be mobilized in a gigantic revolutionary movement. My experience in Mexico was extremely valuable for the purpose. In practice, I had anticipated the theory of revolutionary strategy in colonial and semi-colonial countries outlined in the draft theses for the Second World Congress. Had I read them? No, I apologized. Because the documents was given to me just before I was to see its author; but I would study it as soon as I had the time. Then we must meet again to discuss it. Lenin added, and proceeded to plead his ignorance of the conditions in the colonial countries. Therefore he needed my cooperation in the preparation of a document which was destined to be a landmark in the history of the revolutionary movement. My understanding of Marxism was sure to throw a new light on the history and the present conditions of the colonial countries.

The little electric bulb gave the signal — Lenin sat back and remarked that the interview must end on Maria’s order. The impish smile returned in his eyes. I got up to say good-bye, and found Lenin by my side. Taking me by the arm, he conducted me towards the door which opened to let in a man with a shock of black hair, a sensitive face and a little paunch. He was dressed in baggy trousers and a soft white shirt, its collar held together with a black silk string instead of a necktie. He was carrying a bulging leather portfolio under one arm. Lenin introduced me to the newcomer. It was Comrade Zinoviev, who took my hand in a limp grip. His was small and soft like a woman’s. He spoke a few words in a high pitched voice and desired me to see him soon.

Outside in the Secretariat, a young man was standing guard on three big suitcases, each of which contained, as I learned later, important papers pertaining to one of the three high offices held by Zinoviev.

  ( Published in the 8th June 1952 issue of ‘The Radical Humanist’).