An independent forum of strategy, tactics and history in the Australian left, green and labour movements
Left links

Bride of the Revolution:
Krupskaya and Lenin

Extracts from Bride of the Revolution: Krupskaya and Lenin, Robert H. McNeal (1973)

p 135

It is highly probable that Inessa was Lenin's mistress for about a year in 1911-1912 and quite possible that they renewed their love affair for a bit more than a year in 1914-1915. In any case, Krupskaya's marriage was subject to considerable stress because of Inessa, although Nadezhda did in time accommodate her life to Inessa's presence. To be sure, all the parties to this episode treated it with considerable discretion, and Soviet archivists and writers have been careful not to publish anything that would establish a Lenin-Inessa love affair. It is possible that Lenin and Inessa were not lovers, physically. Such aberrations as total monogamy or impotence do occur, but in this case they seem pretty unlikely. The French Communist biographer of Inessa, who had access to unpublished papers in Russia, seems to accept that there was an affair. "As for Lenin," he writes, "how could he not be seduced by this exceptional being who combined beauty with intelligence, femininity with energy, practical sense with revolutionary ardor?"

pp 138-143

The early meetings of Lenin and Inessa in the winter of 1910-1911 are a blank, but they must have become quite well acquainted then, because Lenin selected her to join the "faculty" of his summer school for Bolsheviks in Longjumeau in 1911. This was a signal honor for a woman who had no particular experience either as a theoretician or as a practical organizer.

Most of the lectures were by Lenin and his two chief colleagues of the time, Zinoviev and Kamenev. According to one account Krupskaya gave some classes on how to establish an illegal newspaper, which she was certainly qualified to do. At Longjumeau Inessa and her children lived in the building that was used for the classes and meals, and it is quite clear that she was in close association with Lenin (politically, at least) all through the summer.

When Lenin and Krupskaya moved back to their apartment at 4, Rue Marie Rose, in September 1911, he, or Inessa, or both, arranged for her to take a flat at No. 2, the building next door. Until the following July there is no doubt that Inessa and Lenin saw each other constantly and were closely associated in their work. Both of them, and Krupskaya, were leading members of the Paris group of the "Emigrant Organization" of the party, a cell of about thirty-five members at this time.

In fact, Inessa became the secretary of the "Committee of Emigrant Organizations", which was the executive body of all the groups of emigrant Russian Social Democrats that existed in about fourteen different western European cities. Before the Revolution of 1905 Krupskaya had held just this post in the same body, then called the "Foreign League of Russian Revolutionary Social Democrats," and during the First World War she again carried this responsibility. But in the period when Inessa was living next door, it was she whom Lenin chose to handle the correspondence and other administrative work connected with the emigrant branch of the party.13 Krupskaya continued to serve as secretary of Lenin's factional newspaper, now called The Working-Class News (Rabochaia Gazeta), writing her accustomed letters in defense of the Bolshevik cause (with special digs at Trotsky, who was more than usually at odds with Lenin in 1911-1912).

But the more important task was the one entrusted to Inessa, for Lenin's chief tactical objectives at this point were closely involved with the politics of the emigrant community, while the Russian underground was still in the doldrums. The initial shock of Inessa's affair with Lenin must have been very hard on Krupskaya, leaving emotional scars that were still tender years afterwards. In her memoirs of this period, written for mass consumption in 1928, she tries to leave the impression that Inessa established close relations with the family only after 1912, when all of them turned up in Austrian Poland.

"That autumn," (1913) writes Krupskaya, "all of us — our entire Cracow group — were drawn very close to Inessa ... We knew her, of course, in Paris, but the colony there had been a large one, whereas in Cracow we lived together in a small, close and friendly circle." No mention of Rue Marie Rose, complete contradiction of Krupskaya's own writing for a much more select, well-informed public a few years earlier: "We saw each other every day [in Paris]. Inessa became a person close to us. She loved my old mother very much."

There may be a kind of truth in this self-contradiction. It is possible that the two women saw each other constantly in Paris, but without cordiality. Only in 1913 did a real friendship between Inessa and Nedezhda grow up. By that time Inessa had left Lenin, returned to Russia, suffered imprisonment and was released. In her memoirs Krupskaya implies that her rival took the initiative in bridging the gap between them: "during this visit [near Cracow] she [Inessa] told me a great deal about her life and her children [three of whom had lived next door to Krupskaya for a year, previously!], and showed me their letters. There was a delightful warmth in her stories. Ilyich and I went for long walks with Inessa.

But in the first year of Lenin's attachment to Inessa, Krupskaya was not ready for long walks with her rival. According to the recollections of Alexandra Kollontai, as reported by her one-time colleague, Marcel Body, Krupskaya offered to leave, but Lenin asked her to stay. This is certainly plausible. Kollontai was not in a position to know much at first hand, never having lived in close proximity to Lenin in emigration, but after the Revolution she became friendly with Inessa Armand.

For her part, Krupskaya no doubt thought that she opposed the "bourgeois" concept of marriage, and was obliged to free her husband when he wished. But it could not have been easy for her. Surely Krupskaya, who secretly kept the wedding ring that she could not wear (because of the inverted prudery of her set), regarded marriage — and especially her own marriage — with a lot more reverence than many non-radical women. She never expressed approval of any alternative to monogamy, and most certainly never followed Inessa Armand and Alexandra Kollontai in advocating "free love". Quite apart from her ideology, Nadezhda Krupskaya was a child of the Victorian middle class when it came to sexual conduct.

Like many women of this background, she was pretty innocent in sexual matters — she once wrote that the Russian Old Believers (dissidents from the official Orthodox Church) did not, as a group, suffer from syphilis because they did not eat out of common bowls, which, she obviously believed, accounted for the spread of syphilis among other Russians. For such a naïve person, the sexual conduct of an Inessa or a Kollontai (who had a series of lovers) would be both frightening and shocking, no matter what Chernyshevsky had said.

Kollontai left a fictionalized version of the Lenin-Inessa-Krupskaya triangle in a novella published in Russia in 1927. Entitled A Great Love, the resemblances between the three real persons and "Scnya" (diminutive of Semen or Simon), Natasha (for Inessa), and Annyuta (for Krupskaya) are unmistakable. He is an emigrant Russian revolutionary leader who has a beard and wears an old cap. His wife has a heart disease and cannot be excited. (Something approximating this soon developed with Krupskaya.) The other woman, Natasha, has known other lovers, and is more exciting than his wife. Natasha also has ample independent financial means (unlike her lover), works as a party secretary, and is an excellent linguist. At the end of the story Natasha leaves Senya to return to underground work in Russia (as Inessa did in 1912). This exit ends Kollontai's story, but it does not exclude the possibility of a sequel, which the lives of the real people did in fact provide. The conclusion of this act in the fictionalized account also concurs with Kollontai's statements to Body about Lenin's decision to remain with Krupskaya.

The novella has it that the initiative in breaking off the affair came from the mistress, who was disappointed that her lover did not esteem her revolutionary activities more highly. At the same time, both felt that their passion was spent and that they should part. This is precisely the kind of conduct that Lenin had found so admirable in Turgenev's Andrei Kolosov. There is some fairly persuasive, if complicated, evidence that Lenin and Inessa reached such a decision in the middle of May 1912, while taking a holiday in the resort town of Arcachon, near Bordeaux. This setting, incidentally, resembles one of the places that Kollontai's fictitious lovers enjoyed together — "a southern landscape."

The point of departure of the real-life evidence is a police report, dated April 30, 1912, which states that Inessa, though normally a resident of Rue Marie Rose, is now taking a vacation at Arcachon. Lenin confirms this in a curious way in a letter to his mother dated March 8 or 9: "E.V. [Krupskaya's mother] thinks of going to Russia, but I do not expect she will. We are thinking of sending her to friends of ours in Arcachon in the south of France." Of course, it is possible, but exceedingly improbable, that Lenin had several friends in this small town. But it seems that he was thinking of sending his mother-in-law to stay with his mistress for a holiday.

This may seem to be a unique idea in the annals of philandering, but it is not quite as improbable as it sounds. As noted above, Krupskaya specifically said that her mother and Inessa were chummy in Paris. So it is not out of the question that Elizaveta Vasilevna was invited to Arcachon by her son-in-law's mistress. The old lady's mind was failing in these years, and it seems likely that she was innocent of the nature of the Lenin-Inessa relationship. But she did not go. Instead, the chronological list of events in Lenin's life (as published in the fifth, most recent and most exhaustive edition of his collected works) states: "Before May 10 — Lenin leaves Paris for several days."

Among the thousands of entries in this reverent list of his every known activity, this one is unique. Where did he go? And why, in this one case, do his latter-day Soviet Boswells not tell us? In other cases, they are happy to explain where he went and why. Possibly they don't know (and it is true that they do not have the archives of the Paris office of the okhrana at their disposal to provide a clue). One can't be sure, but it seems pretty fair to surmise that Lenin joined Inessa Armand at Arcachon. If this were so, the outcome of the visit appears to have been more in Krupskaya's favor than Inessa's. Lenin came back to Krupskaya from wherever he had been and within a few weeks moved, without Inessa but with his wife, from Paris to Cracow.

pp 156-7

Judging from her memoirs, one of the most cheering features of this difficult period was the comradeship of Inessa Armand. She arrived in Berne in September 1914, and lived just across the street from them in the suburb of Distelweg. The three of them were together much of the time. "Sometimes we would sit for hours on a sunny wooded hillside, Ilyich putting down notes for his articles and speeches, and polishing his formulations, I studying Italian with the aid of a Toussaint textbook, Inessa sewing a skirt in the autumn sunshine." In the evenings they would often gather at the Zinovievs' tiny room in the same neighborhood.

There is little detailed information on the character of the triangle at this time. We do know that when Lenin and Krupskaya moved to the Hotel Marienthal in Sorenburg, around the end of May 1915, they were soon joined by Inessa, and that they stayed there together until the fall, when they all returned to Berne. If Lenin and Inessa had an amorous relationship in this period, Krupskaya left no sign that it bothered her, unless there was an implied dig in the passage in her memoirs that described the idyllic mornings at Sorenburg, Lenin and Krupskaya working diligently, while Inessa (a dilettante?) played the piano. Certainly it was widely taken for granted among socialists who knew Lenin that Inessa was his mistress in 1915. In the opening months of the following year Inessa went to Paris as his agent to contact French members of the antiwar Left, travelling on a passport in the name of "Sophie Popoff," supposedly born in Baku in 1881. The French surete kept an eye on her and sent reports to the Russian okhrana, which show that the detectives did not realize that "Popoff" was really Armand, although they did understand that she went by the pseudonym "Inessa" and that she was "la maitresse de Lenine." The impartiality of this police report cannot be doubted. At the time it never occurred to the French detectives that there was anything sensational involved. The "maitresse de Lenine" reference was simply a matter of identification, and no thought of puncturing future Soviet deification of Lenin could have crossed their minds. Why shouldn't this obscure Russian emigrant have a mistress?

Very likely they were correct, except for timing. When Inessa left Lenin in January 1916, to go to France, she left him forever. When she returned from her trip to France, Inessa did not settle in Berne, but instead moved restlessly among several other Swiss towns, seeing Lenin only once more in Switzerland — at a political conference — before joining him on the famous sealed train across Germany in April 1917. Whatever the reason for this renewed separation, Lenin missed Inessa's companionship and wrote a stream of letters to her in Switzerland, fairly often complaining that he had not heard from her. Clearly he wished that she had stayed. "After the flu," he wrote to her in Paris, in January 1916, "my wife [not 'Nadya'] and I went for a walk on that road to Frau-Kappelle for the first time — do you remember? — we three had wonderful walks there once. I remembered it all and was sorry that you weren't there.

Ozleft home

Comments welcome. Ozleft

Since September 24, 2003