Gareth Jones

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LENIN’S WIDOW TALKS TO A WELSHMAN

In Search of News Contents 

By

Gareth Jones

FIFTEEN years ago today Lenin shook the world. As leader of the Bolsheviks he seized power over one-sixth of the globe and installed a dictatorship of the working class for the first time in history. 

For many years he had worked out every detail of his scheme. In the Reading Room of the British Museum in London his keen brain had penetrated the secrets of all the revolutions which had taken place. The late Mr. Silyn Roberts remembered having seen him at work there, but he little realised that the Asiatic-looking Russian with the narrow eyes sitting next to him in the Reading Room would one day be master over the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

There are probably many Welsh students who frequented the British Museum who saw him preparing his philosophy and his plans of action which were to lead to the first proletarian revolution, but remained unaware that their fellow-student was one of the great figures of history.

“If only Lenin had lived !” is the cry which one hears on all sides in Russia today, for he aroused the love of the peasants by his practical nature and by his New Economic Policy in 1921, which restored freedom of trade and abandoned Socialism in the villages.

In the towns Lenin is worshipped by millions, who cherish his photograph just as they cherished the icon. Thousands swarm each day in the vast Red Square in Moscow, where in a red marble mausoleum his embalmed body lies for all to see. There the maker of the Russian Revolution fifteen years ago can be seen motionless in a glass coffin guarded by two Red soldiers, who are almost as still as the corpse they defend. Workers, peasants, children with red kerchiefs shuffle past in the semi­darkness, not whispering a word as they concentrate their looks on the dead Lenin.

Almost as striking a personality as the Bolshevik leader himself is his widow, who received me in the Commissariat of Education in Moscow. She bravely accompanied her husband throughout all his exiles, in Siberia, in London, in Switzerland, and elsewhere, and helped him in his studies and in his plans.

She is a typical example of the driving power which wives of great men have inspired in their husbands. Like Lenin, who came from a petty noble stock, she was not a working-class woman, although her whole life was devoted to the workers. They had no children, but Lenin’s widow is devoted to the care of the children of the Soviet Union and she is known as “ Russia’s Mother.”

Since Lenin died, in January, 1924, she has spent most of her time in improving the education in the Soviet Union. She has, however, been associated with the opposition to Stalin, and her real relations with the present dictator are not so cordial as they are stated to be in the official press.

The anecdote is whispered in Moscow that Stalin and she had a quarrel. Suddenly Stalin lost his temper, turned to her and shouted: “Look here, old woman, if you do not behave I’ll appoint another widow to Lenin!”

It would be better, therefore, I thought, as I mounted the stone steps to her room not to talk about politics, but about education. I was brought into a very small, very bare office, whose only decoration was a large photograph of Lenin.

I recognised at the table the woman whose image I had seen reproduced all over Russia. Over 6o years of age, she had greyish white hair, which was brushed tightly back over her head, and she wore a very simple check dress. Her manners indicated a person in whom kindness and courtesy were natural. Her smile was full of sympathy, and she made an impression upon me of complete unselfishness, of hard work, self-sacrifice, and absolute absence of care for worldly comfort. Her facial features were irregular, for she had big overhanging eyelids and her lips were slightly twisted.

For an hour she talked in clear, simple Russian of the educational aims of the Communists. She laid tremendous stress upon production and upon the necessity of increasing production. She mentioned the word “production” in the same tone as a Welsh minister might mention God or religion.

The children must learn everything about production, she stated. They must be able to understand machines, and in the way she said “machines” I saw the worship of technical things which is typical of Russia today. She told me that in order that the children might be able to learn about machines and factories a new system of education, called “poly­technical education,” had been introduced, by which each school was attached to a factory. The pupils were to visit the factory frequently and thus become acquainted with the processes of production.

As she spoke I wondered whether she was not laying too much stress upon the material and the technical in Russia and whether there were not other things, such as liberty and literature and religious freedom, which were infinitely more important.

Lenin’s widow then described the great advances which have been made in education in Russia. There was a wave of enthusiasm among the workers to study, and in some factories, she said, nearly all the workers attended evening class after the day’s work was done. Factory workers would go out to the villages to teach the peasants how to read and write—and illiteracy was disappearing. Some people of 8o years of age were now intent on studying the alphabet. Libraries had been spread right throughout Russia.

She suddenly grew excited as she told me of a letter she had received from a German teacher asking her whether it was true that the Communists wished to take the children away from the parents and place them in children’s towns. No, she exclaimed; this was certainly not true. The child should have relations with its family, because it must learn about life, about factories, about workers.

Her idea was to have large communal houses in which one whole floor would be devoted to the children during the daytime. There they would be under the care of trained psychologists. At night, however, the child would sleep in the apartment of its parents.

Lenin’s widow was enthusiastic about the way women were entering more into the factories and becoming active workers, and praised the mothers of Russia because they were now nearly all at work in some branch of production.

When I left her I felt that I had been face to face with a great personality, but I doubted whether a system of education which had no place for freedom of thought would succeed in raising a generation of truly educated men who would think for themselves.

  November 7th, 1932.

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