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

Ozleft home

Inessa Armand

From Strange Communists I Have Known, 1965

By Bertram D. Wolfe

In March, 1963, I published an article in the Slavic Review titled Lenin and Inessa Armand. In February, 1964, the same article was published in the British magazine, Encounter. In both cases, Moscow took no notice. But when Time made reference to it in their issue of April 14, 1964, with a cover drawing of Lenin by Ben Shahn, the Moscow authorities closed the Time bureau and expelled its correspondent. Time, said Izvestia by way of explanation, had "smeared what was dear and sacred to every Soviet person" and "touched with dirty fingers the memory of the founder of the Soviet State". At the same time, a spate of somewhat inaccurate and trivial articles about the almost forgotten Inessa Armand filled the Soviet press on what would have been her ninetieth birthday had she lived, and her daughter, "little Inessa", was the subject of a special childhood profile in Pravda. Here is the story of Lenin and Inessa Armand as I reconstructed it, primarily from Soviet sources.1 From it the reader can judge who has touched her memory or Lenin's with "dirty fingers".

In 1924, immediately after Lenin died, the Central Committee of his party called upon all who had a shred of writing from his hand to deposit it in the party's archives. The holders hastened to comply. All his letters were ostensibly published in three substantial volumes, supplemented by items in a number of Miscellany (Sbornik) volumes. Not one letter to or from Inessa Armand appeared in that flood of Leniniana.

On February 27, 1939, Lenin's wife, Krupskaya, died. Four months after her death, Bolshevik (No. 13, July, 1939) published the first of two letters from Lenin to Inessa on the "woman question". The letters were not so much an expression of Lenin's views as a comment on Inessa Armand's. Planning in the course of her Bolshevik work with "working women" to write a brochure addressed to them, Inessa had dutifully submitted her outline to Lenin. Among her programmatic demands for woman's rights she included "free love."

The Marx-Lenin Institute has not chosen to publish any of her letters to Lenin, although from a French communist, Jean Fréville, who was permitted to consult her letters to Lenin when writing an authorized biography of Inessa, we know that the Institute has them. Something of the nature of her plan, however, we can glean from Lenin's letter concerning it, in which he quotes hers. But first we must consider his letters to Inessa Armand as a whole.2

The first thing that strikes the Russian reader of Lenin's letters to Inessa is the use of the intimate pronoun ty in addressing her, in place of the usual polite second person pronoun vy. To the English-speaking reader it is hard to convey how unusual, and how intimate, it is for an educated Russian to address a woman as ty. Or for that matter to address another man thus, unless they were childhood intimates, companions from youth, members of the same family, or much closer to each other than adult friends and socialist comrades. In all the 600-odd published letters of Lenin, except for his mother, his two sisters, and his wife, Inessa is the only woman to whom he ever wrote ty. Only two men ever received a letter with the intimate personal address. Both were comrades of his youth, one being Martov, for whom, as Krupskaya testifies in her Memories of Lenin, he felt a lifelong attachment.3 Yet there is only one letter extant in which he wrote ty to Martov. After their first political disagreement he never again addressed him except as vy.4 The other was Krzhizhanovsky, who in the nineties lived near him as a fellow exile in distant Siberia along the Yenisei, for weeks on end sharing with him the same cabin. With Krzhizhanovsky, too, after the latter crossed him once in politics, though he afterwards returned to unquestioning discipleship, Lenin never again used anything but vy.5

Neither Krassin, who made Lenin's bombs in 1905 and became his Commissar of Trade in 1918, nor Bogdanov, who was his chief lieutenant after the break with Iskra, nor Zinoviev, who held the same place from 1908 to 1917, nor Bukharin, whom he called the "darling of the party", nor Sverdlov nor Stalin, who each in turn became his chief organization man, ever received a letter that used the intimate pronoun.

Sparing as most educated Russians are in the use of ty with each other, Lenin was even more so than most, always maintaining a subtle distance between himself and the closest and most useful of his disciples. Nor, to mention the women who served him longest and most faithfully and for whose work he was most grateful, did he ever write ty to Stasova, Ludmila Stal, Lilina Zinoviev, Alexandra Kollontay, or Angelica Balabanoff. Any of them would have been astonished had he done so.

In the letters to Inessa Armand, too, there is a sudden change from ty to vy, but not out of cooling friendship or disagreement. In his first published letter to Inessa Armand Lenin uses the intimate form, and he continues to do so until the day war is declared. Then, with wartime censors opening letters on every frontier, he drops the telltale ty for the more formal vy, for Lenin was conspiratorial even in this. Otherwise there is no change in tone.6

Inessa Armand was a dedicated, romantic heroine, who seemed to come out of the pages of Chernyshevsky's What Is To Be Done? — Lenin's favorite revolutionary novel as it was Inessa's. Indeed, Chernyshevsky's novel was the chief instrument of the conversion of Inessa to socialism. The true story of her life has been obscured by the accounts of those who did not know her intimately, and by an understandable reticence on the part of those who did. The sketch of her in the Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediia is meager, omits what is most important in her career, and is mistaken even as to the date of her birth and true name.

The Encyclopedia gives her birth date as 1875, her name as Inessa Fedorovna (i.e., Inessa, daughter of Fedor), and her maiden name as Stephanie. Actually, she was born in Paris in 1874, of a French father and a Scottish mother, both music hall artists, and was christened Elizabeth d'Herbenville. The Inessa by which she came exclusively to be known was the name she assumed in Russia for party work. So much did she become known by it (though she sometimes used the pseudonym Blonina instead) that when she died, the obituary written by Krupskaya for Pravda was headed with the single word: "Inessa." The maiden name Stephanie given her in the Encyclopedia is an obvious misunderstanding of her father's stage name, for in the French theater he was billed as Stephen. The name Petrova or Petrovna, given by some sources, is the pseudonym she used when she appeared in Brussels on Lenin's behalf in July, 1914, to defy the International Socialist Bureau, which was trying to unify the Russian socialist movement. It was as Comrade Petrova that she delivered in French the speech Lenin had written for her; it was as Petrova that the police agent present reported on her. It was an appropriate name, for it is derived from petra, "rock", and signifies that she, as a good Leninist, was "rock hard" and would stand up against all the great men of the International, firm as a rock.

Her childhood was that of a daughter of people of the theater. Her father, Pécheux d'Herbenville, was a comedian and singer, known on the stage as Stephen. Her mother sang in French and gave singing and piano lessons. As a child Inessa learned to speak both her native French and her mother's English tongue with equal fluency. The world of music and the stage were her home. When her father died and her mother could no longer support three fatherless children by teaching or music hall work, the girl, Elizabeth, was taken to Russia by a French aunt and her English maternal grandmother, both of whom secured positions, as was the fashion of the day, tutoring in French and English respectively the children of a wealthy Russian industrialist of French descent, Evgenii Armand, a textile manufacturer in Pushkino, thirty miles from Moscow. Here the young girl grew up in a family with liberal views. She was accepted on an equal footing with the children of the Armand family.

At fourteen she too was provided with a tutor, who turned out to be a man of advanced, perhaps revolutionary, ideas. These she did not understand, but they excited her imagination. She mastered Russian, was introduced into the Orthodox Church, and shared the interests that prevailed in educated circles in the closing years of nineteenth-century Russia. By now she spoke faultless German and Russian as well as French and English-polyglot. talents that would make her invaluable to Lenin. Her aunt, who had been a teacher of singing and piano, taught her to be a virtuoso at the piano, another talent that Lenin was to prize. At eighteen she married Alexander Evgenevich Armand, the manufacturer's second son, slightly older than she. The couple moved to the nearby estate of the Armands at Eldigino, and later to Moscow. She lived with her husband for many quiet, apparently happy years, bearing him five children, three boys and two girls. But this substantial family, in the words of Krupskaya's memoir, "did not prevent her from going her own path all the same, and becoming a revolutionary Bolshevik."7

It was her husand's older brother, Boris Evgenevich, who by word and example first steered her course towards "advanced ideas." He took the side of the workingmen in his father's factory, tried to organize them, and was questioned by the police when they traced to him the ownership of a mimeograph machine on which his unsigned leaflets were being reproduced. It was most likely he who put into his sister-in-law's hands Chernyshevsky's novel, Chto delat?, on whose utopian heroes and heroine, Vera Pavlovna, Inessa sought to model her own life.8

Like so many idealistic women of her generation, Inessa was not content with the sheltered career of wife and mother. Like her heroine, she too wanted to be "socially useful", to help the less fortunate members of her sex. She tried running the farm on her husband's estate, then teaching and doing works of charity. In time, the problem of prostitution became her obsession. She sought to redeem these unhappy women from their life of degradation, but was shocked to find them suspicious, unashamed, unwilling to be "redeemed." Since one of her sources of inspiration was Leo Tolstoy, she went to this fountainhead of wisdom for counsel. His answer ("Nothing will come of your work. It was so before Moses, it was so after Moses. So it was, so it will be")9 turned her away from Tolstoyanism to a more exclusive dedication to Chernyshevsky. She would imitate Vera Pavlovna and her "uncommon" friends and tutors in their efforts to transform the structure of society. Thus she would put an end, she thought, to the hateful institution which had existed before Moses and which neither the Laws given to Moses nor the coming of Christ had been able to change. It was with "the woman problem in its relation to socialism" that she concerned herself for the rest of her life. She left husband and children, apparently without bitter scenes or rancor (just as Vera Pavlovna left Lopukhov). Later she sent for her two youngest to live with her abroad. But unlike her model, who was eager to earn her own way, Inessa continued to receive support from her husband all her life — until Lenin's seizure of power put an end to the fortune of the Armands in Russia.

In 1904 at the age of thirty, Inessa made her final break with her husband (they sometimes met as friends as occasion permitted thereafter), and went to Sweden to study feminism at the feet of Ellen Key. In Stockholm's Russian colony she got to know of Lenin's What's to be Done?, a title that reverberated in her spirit. In his organizational principles, his doctrine of the elite or vanguard, his hard line, she must have felt an echo of Rakhmetov, the "rigorist" of Chernyshevsky's novel. Thus before she met Lenin, she became his admirer and a Leninist.

An organizing mission for the Bolsheviks sent her back to Russia, where she landed almost immediately in prison, on January 6, 1905. The October Manifesto of the Tsar, promising freedom and a constitution, contained an amnesty provision for politicals which released her. On April 9, 1907, she was arrested a second time for Bolshevik activities in the armed forces. Her husband furnished bail, but she landed in jail once more while awaiting trial, and from jail was deported by administrative order to Archangel Province in Russia's far north for a two-year period. She managed to flee abroad before her term was quite over.

Early in 1910 she went to Paris where she got to know the Ulyanovs. Lenin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev (then the troika) had just moved to Paris in December, 1909. The leading Menshevik exiles were there too, and many Socialist Revolutionaries, so that Paris possessed a big Russian colony, in which Inessa soon assumed a leading position. She came with two of her children, a boy, André, and a girl, Ina. "She was a very ardent Bolshevik," writes Krupskaya, "and soon gathered our Paris crowd around her."

Those who knew her then remember her somewhat strange, nervous, slightly asymmetrical face, unruly, dark chestnut hair, great hypnotic eyes, and inextinguishable ardor of spirit. She had a wider culture than any other woman in Lenin's circle (at least until Kollontay became an adherent of his during the war), a deep love of music, above all of Beethoven, who became Lenin's favorite too. She played the piano like a virtuoso, was fluent in five languages, was enormously serious about Bolshevism and work among women, and possessed personal charm and an intense love of life to which almost all who wrote of her testify.10 When Lenin met her, she had just turned thirty-six.

In the course of his factional war with the Vperyodist Bolsheviks,11 who had set up a party school in Gorky's home in Capri, Lenin rejected their invitation to teach, promoted (unwittingly aided by a police agent) a split in their student body, and opened a rival school in Longjumeau, near Paris. Inessa rented a large building there and set up lodgings and a dining room for the students. The Ulyanovs dined there too. As a rare mark of Lenin's confidence, she was permitted to alternate with him in the course on political economy. The rest of the faculty were Zinoviev and Kamenev. No other Bolshevik woman had ever been so honored.

The Ulyanovs generally held everyone at arm's length, with Krupskaya as self-appointed guardian to see that Lenin's work and privacy were not interfered with. But by 1911 it had become obvious to the little circle of Russian émigrés that Inessa had somehow breached the barrier: "He was often seen with her at a café on the Avenue d'Orleans ..." It struck even so unobservant a person as the French Socialist-Bolshevik, Charles Rappaport. Lenin, he wrote, "avec ses petits yeux mongols épiait toujours cette petite française".12

The Ulyanovs now moved to 4, Rue Marie-Rose, and Inessa and her children to Number 2 of the same street. (The houses are still standing, in good condition, with a plaque outside Number 4 telling the passerby that Lenin once lived there.) "The house grew brighter when Inessa entered it," Krupskaya was to write six years after Inessa's death.13

In 1912 Lenin completed the final split in the Social Democratic Party by designating his Bolshevik conference in Prague an official party congress, and declaring Martov, Axelrod, Plekhanov, Trotsky, and their followers "outside the party" until they submitted to his "Congress." He moved to Krakow, in Austrian Poland, to be nearer St. Petersburg, where the legal daily Pravda now began to appear. To line up the underground inside Russia, he sent Inessa, who had also moved to Krakow, on a clandestine tour of Russia. There were so many police agents in his underground now that almost immediately she landed in prison once more. When she developed signs of tuberculosis in jail, her husband managed to get her out on bail after a year in prison. She immediately rejoined Lenin and his wife in Krakow and in Poronin in the Tatra Mountains.

    We were terribly glad ... at her arrival ... In the autumn [of 1913] all of us became very close to Inessa. In her there was much joy of life and ardor. We had known Inessa in Paris, but there was a large colony there. In Krakow lived a small closely knit circle of comrades. Inessa rented a room in the same family with which Kamenev lived.14

    My mother became closely attached to Inessa. Inessa often went to talk with her, sit with her, have a smoke with her. It became cosier and gayer when Inessa came. Our entire life was filled with party concerns and affairs, more like a student commune than like family life, and we were glad to have Inessa. Something warm radiated from her talk.

    Ilyich, Inessa, and I often went on walks together. Zinoviev and Kamenev dubbed us the "hikers" party. We walked in the meadows on the outskirts of the city. Meadow in Polish is blon, and Inessa from then on took the pseudonym of Blonina. Inessa was a good musician, urged us all to go to Beethoven concerts, and played very well many of Beethoven's pieces. Ilyich especially loved Sonate Pathétique, constantly begging her to play it.

In 1921, when Lenin had taken power and Inessa was dead, one day he said to Gorky:

    I know nothing that is greater than the Appassionata: I am ready to listen to it every day. It is amazing, more than human, music. I want to say gentle stupidities and stroke the heads of people who, living in this dirty hell, can create such beauty. But today you must not stroke the head of anyone-they will bite your hand.

    It is necessary to beat them over the head, beat without mercy, even though in our ideal we are against the use of force against people. Hm-hm, duty is hellishly hard!15

It was this side of Lenin's nature — the side which he strove mightily, and on the whole successfully, to restrain — that Inessa ministered to. The gentleness she evoked in him (the desire to say gentle stupidities and stroke the heads of people) is reflected in his letters to her, despite the censorship to which they have been subjected, reflected even in letters arguing with her when she has disagreed and pressed her point hard.

Life in Krakow proved too cramping for Inessa's overflowing energies. She made a tour of the Bolshevik exile colonies, lecturing on the woman question, and then returned to her native Paris, where the main Bolshevik group abroad was settled. At the beginning of January, 1914, Lenin stopped over in Paris with Duma Deputy (and police agent) Malinovsky, when they were on their way to address a Lettish Congress in Brussels. He returned to Paris alone, spending a month and a half in the French capital. To his mother he wrote on February 21: "I have just been in Paris, not a bad trip. Paris is not a good city to live in with modest means, and quite an exhausting one. But to be there a little while, to visit, to wander about a bit — there's not a better nor a gayer city. It refreshed me greatly."16 No letter of Lenin's ever suggested a happier, more relaxed mood. It was while Inessa was living in Paris and the Ulyanovs were in Krakow that Lenin's first letter to her was written. The published version has been censored and lacks salutation and closing and all personal touches. His last letter to her is dated in his works as "written between the 25th and the 31st of March, 1917, that is, after the February Revolution had begun, and both Inessa and Lenin were getting ready to go to Russia. She was one of the eighteen Bolsheviks who accompanied him across Germany to Russia in the "sealed train" that enabled them to reach Petrograd on April 16, 1917.

During the war Lenin wrote more letters to Inessa Armand than to any other person, whether relative or disciple. As soon as he got out of prison in Austria and reached a safe haven in Berne, Switzerland, he wrote to Inessa, who because of her lung ailment was living in the Swiss Alps at Les Avants. Except for the first two sentences, Lenin writes this time as best he can in English. He tells Inessa of the need to gather materials on the war positions of all parties, then asks about her health, whether she eats better, whether she has books and newspapers, how the weather is in Les Avants, whether she is taking walks, and whether they can see each other soon. The letter must have been written after September 6. "Towards the middle of September," according to her official biographer, Inessa moved to Berne.17 Thereafter there were no letters to Inessa for the rest of the autumn. A passage in Krupskaya's memoirs explains why:

    The memory of that autumn is interwoven in my mind with the autumnal scene in the forest in Berne. The autumn of that year was a glorious one. We lived in Berne on a small, neat, quiet street bordering on the Berne Forest ... Cater-corner across the road lived Inessa [the street was Distelweg] ... We would wander for hours along the forest roads covered with fallen yellow leaves. Generally the three of us went together on these walks, Vladimir Ilyieh, Inessa, and I. Sometimes we would sit for hours on the sunlit, wooded mountainside, while Ilyich jotted down outlines of his speeches and articles ... I would study Italian Inessa would sew a skirt and bask with delight in the autumnal sun.

As soon as Inessa left Berne, Lenin resumed writing to her. In the brief period from November 20, 1916, to the outbreak of the February Revolution in 1917, he wrote fourteen letters to her, two brief notes to his younger sister, one to his older sister's husband, and four to other persons — in short, more to her than to all the rest put together. In his letters to Inessa, as always, preoccupation with politics is uppermost. But tone and depth reveal facets of his nature exhibited in no other letters, whether to members of his family or to other disciples.

Unlike the letters to other intimates of the Ulyanovs, there are in the letters to Inessa no mention of Krupskaya, no regards from her, nor any personal note added by her. Only after Lenin has been writing to Inessa for three years does he once mention Krupskaya: "Nadia is ill: she caught bronchitis and has a fever. It seems she will have to toss about in bed for a while. Today I called a woman doctor."18

Several letters sound a rare note akin to self-pity and search for sympathy: how hard his life is, how unending and ungrateful his factional struggles, how dumb even the best Bolsheviks can be. Thus in the earliest letter from Krakow to Paris in December, 1913, he tells her that he is receiving protests from offended party cells because he does not work through them but picks his own men of confidence for confidential tasks:

    Clowns! They chase after words. Don't think how devilishly complicated and tricky life is which provides altogether new forms.

    People for the most part (99 per cent of the bourgeoisie, 98 per cent of the Liquidators, some 6o to 70 per cent of the Bolsheviks) are unable to think, only able to learn words by heart. They have learned by heart the word "underground." Good. They can repeat it. This they know by rote.

    But how its forms must be changed under new circumstances, how one must learn anew for this, and how to think, that we do not understand.

    I am greatly interested in knowing whether you could explain this to the public. Write me in the greatest detail.19

No doubt in this "dialectical" and "statistical" analysis of the class ability to think there is something intentionally comic, but the complaint is serious all the same, and flattering in its implication that Inessa is one who can not only think but perhaps write a pamphlet that will teach other Bolsheviks how to think. The year 1916 was a bitter, quarrelsome year for Lenin. "Never, I think," wrote Krupskaya, "was Vladimir Ilyich in a more irreconcilable mood than during the last months of 1916 and the early months of 1917. "He had differences of opinion with Rosa Luxemburg, Radek, the Dutch, Bukharin, Piatakov ... and Kollontay" and even with his sister Ann.20 He wrote Inessa several letters full of abusive reproaches of comrades who were closest to him, and apparently she reproved him in reply.

But just at that point, Maxim Gorky, who at his request was trying to arrange the legal publication of Lenin's Imperialism in Petrograd, demanded that he omit some of the epithets directed at Kautsky. This, Lenin wrote Inessa, was "ridiculous and offensive"; then he added: "There you are, that's my fate. One fighting campaign after another — against political stupidities, vileness, opportunism, etc. And this from 1893 on. And the hatred of the philistines because of it. Well, all the same, I would not change my fate for "peace" with the philistines21

This is one of the rare autobiographical reflections we have from his usually extrovert pen.

His big opportunity to use Inessa, as we have already noted, came when he sent her in his place to represent the Bolsheviks at the International Socialist Bureau conference called in Brussels on July 16 and 17, 1914, to unify once more the Russian socialist movement. He was sending her to meet and do battle with such large figures as Kautsky, Vandervelde, Huysmans, Luxemburg, Plekhanov, Trotsky and Martov. He counted on her mastery of all the languages of the International, her literal devotion to him and his views, her steadfastness under fire. Apparently Zinoviev or some other close lieutenant found Lenin's confidence misplaced and thought Inessa too small for the task, so he wrote her:

    I am convinced that you are one of those who develops, grows stronger, becomes more energetic and bolder when alone in a responsible post ... I stubbornly disbelieve the pessimists who say that you — are hardly — nonsense and again nonsense! With a splendid tongue you will smash them all; you will not let Vandervelde interrupt you and yell.22

    You must make the report. You will say that you demand it and that you have precise and practical proposals. What can be more practical and businesslike? We go our way, they theirs — and we'll see what happens. Either a general line is accepted or we say let's report to our congress, we to the congress of our party. (But in fact, it is clear, we will accept exactly nothing.)23

After a great deal more in this vein, Lenin breaks into English, as he delights to do in his letters to this master of five languages:

    I've forgotten the money question. We will pay for letters, telegrams (please wire of tener) & railroad expenses, hotel expenses & so on. Mind it!*

    If you succeed to receive the first rapport for 1-2 hours, it is almost all.*

    Then it remains to "kick back," to fish out their contrepropositions* (on all 14 points) and to declare we do not agree (not one of their proposals will we accept).24

In all the forty pages of instructions and private notes, although the time was nearly three weeks after the assassination of the Archduke at Sarajevo, Lenin has not one word to say about war, except his own war against all the other varieties of Russian socialism. Inessa, Krupskaya writes, was selected because it was necessary to have a firm person who could "resist a storm of indignation. She carried out her task bravely." And the police agent's comment showed that she did so, to the "great disgust" of the International Socialist Bureau representatives and those from the other Russian factions, "as no one had expected the impudence of the Leninists to reach such proportions.

To follow up Lenin's and their advantage, the police instructed all their secret agents in the underground "steadfastly and persistently to defend the idea of the complete impossibility of any organization fusion whatsoever, especially a union of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks." Lenin, who was taking no chances either, determined not to attend the Emergency Session of the I.S.B. on July 29, 1914, the day after Austria shelled Belgrade, for the sole purpose of trying to stop the war from spreading.

We turn now to three letters to Inessa, one written on June 5, 1914, and the other two in December, 1916, which refer directly or indirectly to Inessa's preoccupation with "the woman question", her reading in this field, and her plan for a pamphlet.

The first deals with a novel by Vinenchenko, which Inessa had recommended to Lenin, then sent him to read. The novel was no doubt The Commandments of Our Fathers.

    I have read, my dear friend,25 the new novel by Vinenchenko which you sent. What a nonsensical and stupid story!

    To bring together as many "horrors" as possible of all kinds, to collect and unite both "vice" and "syphilis" and romantic villainy, with extortion of money for a secret (and the transformation of the blackmail victim into a mistress) and the trial of a doctor! All with hysterics, mental contortions, pretensions to a theory of "his own" on the organization of prostitutes.

    Coming singly, there are in life, of course, all the "horrors" which Vinenchenko depicts. But to join them all together.

    Once I had to spend the night with a sick comrade (delirium tremens). And once I had to try to dissuade a comrade who was attempting suicide. In the end he died a suicide. Both are memories a la Vinenchenko. But in each case these were small fragments of the lives of the two comrades. But this pretentious, arrant fool of a Vinenchenko ... has made this a collection of nothing but horrors. Brrr — dullness, nonsense, unpleasant to have spent time in reading it.26

A glance at the novel will convince the reader that Lenin was the better critic and that Inessa's interest was largely due to the author's "own theory on the organiza-tion of prostitutes".

Unfortunately, Inessa's letter outlining her plan for a pamphlet on the "woman question" has not been published. But from Lenin's letters we can see that she had included among her list of "immediate demands" the "demand for free love". Pedantically, dogmatically, but with an effort to be tactful and gentle, Lenin sought to persuade her to strike it out. "This is really not a proletarian but a bourgeois demand," he writes in his first letter. "What can be understood by it?" Answering his own question, he enumerates ten possible interpretations:

(1) Freedom from material calculations in the matter of love? (2) From material cares also? (3) From re-ligious prejudices? (4) From prohibitions by papa, etc.? (5) From the prejudices of "society"? (6) From a narrow environment (peasant or petit-bourgeois-intellectual)? (7) From the fetters of law, the court-room, and the police? (8) From the serious in love? (9) From childbirth? (10) Freedom of adultery?

Of course, you have in mind not Nos. 8-10 but Nos. 1-7. But for numbers 1-7 you must select another term, for free love does not exactly express this thought. And the public will inevitably understand by "free love" Nos. 8-10, just for the reason that it is not a proletarian but a bourgeois demand ... It is not a matter of what you "want to understand" subjectively by it. It is a matter of the objective logic of class relations in matters of love.27

Something in Lenin's letter — perhaps his remark on "freedom of adultery" — must have hurt Inessa deeply. In reply to her protest, not available to us, he defends his "class analysis" of love:

    Good, let us examine the question once more. You "object": [you say] "I don't understand how it is POSSIBLE to identify (I!??) free love" with No. 10. So it seems that it is I who do the "identifying" and you are getting ready to scold ... me? How? Why?

    Bourgeois women understand by free love pts. 8-10 — that is my thesis. Do you reject that? Then tell me what bourgeois ladies do understand by free love? ... Don't literature and life prove that? You must mark yourself off clearly from them, oppose to theirs the proletarian point of view. Otherwise they will seize upon the corresponding points of your pamphlet, interpret them in their own way, make of your pamphlet water for their mill, pervert your thoughts before the workers, "confuse" the workers (by sowing among them the fear that the ideas you bring may be alien to them). And in their hands are the powerful hosts of the press.

    But, you, completely forgetting the objective and class point of view, pass over to an "attack" on me, as if it were I who "identify" free love with pts 8-10. Strange, verily, verily, strange.

Lenin seems to sense that this pedantic self-exculpation does not touch the core of her feeling, so he tries another approach:

    "Even a temporary passion and love affair" — so you write — is "more poetical and clean" than "kisses without love" of vulgar, and worse than vulgar, spouses. [The words I have rendered with "vulgar and worse than vulgar" are poshlyi (vulgar) and poshlenkii, a pejorative diminutive of the same word. — B.W.] So you write. And so you are getting ready to write in your pamphlet. Splendid.

    Is the contraposition logical? Kisses without love, of vulgar spouses, is dirty. I agree. To this must be counterposed — what? It would seem: kisses with love?

    But you counterpose "temporary (why temporary?) "passion" (why not love?). Logically it turns out as if kisses without love (temporary) are opposed to kisses without love (conjugal) ... Strange. For a popular pamphlet, would it not be better to oppose to middle-class-intellectual-peasant vulgar and dirty marriage without love-proletarian, civil marriage with love (with the addition, IF YOU ABSOLUTELY INSIST, that a temporary affair-passion may also be dirty or clean).

    Truly I do not want to engage in a polemic with you at all. Gladly would I throw this letter away and postpone the matter until we can have a talk together.

    But I did want your pamphlet to be a good one, so that from it no one would be able to rip out a phrase unpleasant for you ... I am sending you this letter only that you may perhaps re-examine your plan in more detail, as a result of letters, than on the occasion of a chat. A plan, you see, is a very important thing.28

The pamphlet was never written!

Inessa continued to play an important part in Lenin's wartime activities. She served on the Bolshevik delegations to Zimmerwald and Kienthal. At the Berne Conference of Bolsheviks, she was one of a committee of three, with Zinoviev and Lenin, that drafted the official resolution on war. (There is no doubt that the real author was Lenin.) She continued to lead the Bolshevik work among women. Despite her age --she was forty in 1914 — she represented Bolshevism at the International Youth Conference. She became one of the founders and a foreign editor of the Petersburg legal Bolshevik journal, The Woman Worker, the other editors being Kollontay (who agreed with her on "free love"), Lilina Zinoviev, Krupskaya, Lydia Stal, and Lenin's sister Anna.

Inessa was on the "sealed train" that took Lenin and his wife, the Zinovievs, and other prominent Bolsheviks back to Russia. Thereafter Lenin's life in the maelstrom of revolution, and hers, scarcely less agitated and active, in woman's work, work among French Communists and sympathizers in Russia, activities as first chairman of the Economic Council of Moscow Province, editor of the Woman's Section of Pravda and Bednota, her struggle against the ubiquitous prostitution during the years of civil war and economic breakdown, her translation work at two congresses of the Comintern — the churning whirlpool of revolution left little time for these two to think of themselves or each other.

The descriptions of her dating from this period agree that she dressed plainly, carelessly, even neglectfully, in worn and shabby garments; that she was ill-fed, often cold and hungry; that her face had begun to show the ravages of overwork and neglect of self. At last, her friends and comrades, frightened by the signs of physical breakdown, persuaded her to go to the Caucasus for a rest. There too was hunger, overcrowding, floods of refugees, civil war, breakdown, disease. She slept in freight cars, was carried from town to town, and nursed the sick on the train. At last she was struck down herself by typhus in the autumn of 1920, dying at the age of forty-six.

When Alexandra Kollontay, then serving as ambassador to Norway, died in 1952, Marcel Body, a French communist who had been in Inessa's group in Moscow and then served as aide, intimate friend, and first secretary of Kollontay's embassy, wrote a memoir concerning the first woman ambassador in history. In the memoir he told how Kollontay had spoken to him of Lenin's deep love for Inessa Armand.29 Krupskaya had known of it, she said, and in line both with the principles instilled in her by Chernyshevsky's "uncommon persons" in What's to be Done?, and the principles expressed in another favorite tale of Lenin's, The Story of Kolosov, by Turgenev,30 Krupskaya had bravely faced the thought that her husband would now leave her for Inessa. When he did not go, she offered to leave. More than once, she signified her intention of leaving, but each time Lenin said to her, "No, stay!" Dutifully, she stayed.31

After Body published this memoir, Angelica Balabanoff felt that she too might break the puritanical silence she had hitherto observed concerning Inessa in my many interviews with her on what she knew of Lenin.

    Lenin loved Inessa [Dr. Balabanoff told me]. There was nothing immoral in it, since Lenin told Krupskaya everything [again the same code]. He deeply loved music, and this Krupskaya could not give him. Inessa played beautifully — his beloved Beethoven and other pieces.

    He sent Inessa to the Youth Conference of the Zimmerwald Group — a little old, but she had a credential from the Bolsheviks and we had to accept it. He did not dare to come himself, sat downstairs in a little adjacent café drinking tea, getting reports from her, giving her instructions. I went down for tea and found him there. Did you come na chai, I asked, or na rezoliutsii? (for tea, or for the resolution?) He laughed knowingly, but did not answer. [Inessa fought hard, but the resolution Lenin prepared for her was defeated 13-3.]32

    When Inessa died, he begged me to speak at her funeral. He was utterly broken by her death. She died miserably of typhus in the Caucasus. I did not want to speak because I did not feel close to her nor really know her well. Yet I did not want to refuse.

    Fortunately, at the last moment, Kollontay arrived, and delivered a moving address. I east sidelong glances at Lenin. He was plunged in despair, his cap down over his eyes; small as he was, he seemed to shrink and grow smaller. He looked pitiful and broken in spirit. I never saw him look like that before. It was something more than the loss of a "good Bolshevik" or a good friend. He had lost some one very dear and very close to him and made no effort to conceal it.

    He had had a child by Inessa. She married the German communist, Eberlein, who was purged by Stalin. What happened to Lenin's daughter then I do not know.33

This last belief of Dr. Balabanoff, which I heard also from Germans who had known Hugo Eberlein well, is nevertheless mistaken. When Inessa died, the Ulyanovs adopted her daughter, ma, and took her to live with them. It was at Lenin's home that Eberlein met ma Armand, but she would have been too young to have been at a nubile age then if she had really been a daughter of Lenin and Inessa, whose personal acquaintance dates from 1910. (Eberlein married for the second time in Moscow in 1921.)34

For the rest, Kollontay's account and Balabanoff's confirm each other. The account of Kollontay reads: "When her body was brought from the Caucasus and we accompanied her to the cemetery, Lenin was unrecognizable. He walked with closed eyes; at every moment we thought he would collapse." Always the romantic, Kollontay added: "He was not able to go on living after Inessa Armand. The death of Inessa hastened the development of the sickness which was to destroy him." Be that as it may (he managed to continue active political life for two extremely full years, then died in the same way as his father, whom he so greatly resembled, at almost the same age)35 both accounts make it clear that Lenin deeply loved Inessa and that her death affected him profoundly.

To Krupskaya fell the task of writing the obituary notice for the Woman's Section of Pravda, on October 3, 1920. She tried hard to summon up a sense of loss, but the obituary is formless and colorless. In time, however, this devoted woman learned to accept this aspect of her husband's life, like every other, as parts of a paradigm of perfection. In 1926, Krupskaya edited and wrote the opening article of a symposium brochure, In Memory of Inessa Armand. It is the warmest and most informative essay in the collection. When in 1930-32 she came to write her Memories of Lenin, the personality of Inessa shone through its pages, radiant and joyous, as Lenin saw her. Thus perhaps it was Krupskaya, even more than Inessa and Lenin, who deserved the appellation of "uncommon person" used alike by Chernyshevsky and Turgenev in their discussions of freedom in love. Whatever may have been their reason, it was no longer Krupskaya's personal sensitiveness that motivated the Marx-Lenin Institute in waiting for her death before publishing the letters of Lenin to Inessa Armand. But the officials of the Institute did not know Krupskaya's spirit well enough to be aware of the change.

Perhaps we should add a footnote on the subsequent lives of the family of Inessa Armand. Her husband, after the loss of his fortune, entered "agriculture," working in a kolkhoz until his death in 1943. Her oldest son, Alexander, fought in the Civil War. For some reason which I have not been able to ascertain he was expelled from the Communist Party under Stalin shortly after World War II, thereafter having a difficult time. In 1957 he was reported to be working in the Thermotechnical Institute in Moscow. Fedor, her second son, was a military aviator, then engaged in the organization of athletics, until his death of tuberculosis in 1936. The youngest son, André, became an engineer and tank constructor. He died in battle in 1944. The older daughter, ma, lost her German communist husband in the Stalin blood purges. In 1957 she was working in the Marx-Lenin Institute. The younger daughter, Varvara, is a "decorative artist." At least, such is the account given in the official French communist biography of Inessa Armand. (All except the marriage to Eberlein and his subsequent purge, for unpersons did not then get into official biographies.)


The sources I have used in the present study are the following: the references of Krupskaya (Lenin's wife) to Inessa in her Vospominaniya o Lenine (Memories of Lenin); Krupskaya's reminiscences concerning her, and the reminiscences of others of her friends, in Pamyati messy Armand: Sbornik pod redak-tsiei N.K. Krupskoi (In Memory of Inessa Armand: Symposium under the Editorship of N.K. Krupskaya), Moscow, 1926; the letters of Lenin to Inessa, published in slightly censored form in Vol. XXXV of the Fourth Edition of his works; reminiscences of Angelica Balabanoff, communicated orally to the author; reminiscences of Marcel Body, French communist who recounted what he himself knew when Inessa was the organizer of the French communists in Moscow in 1918, and also what he learned from Alexandra Kollontay, as her confidant and aide in the Embassies of Norway and Sweden; a letter of Body to the writer; Jean Fréville, Inessa Armand: Une Grande Figure de la Revolution Russe, Paris, 1957 (Fréville was permitted to examine her letters and other materials in the archives of the Marx-Lenin Institute, but has refrained from quoting or been forbidden to quote from them); an obituary notice in Pravda written by Krupskaya on the occasion of Inessa's death; an article on her in the Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediia; a discussion on her relations with Lenin in N. Valentinov, Vstrechi's Leninym (Meetings with Lenin), New York, 1953; Gerard Walter, LCnine, Paris, 1950. These varying accounts contain some discrepancies, many reticences, and in some cases, palpable inaccuracies. Thus fre-quently her first name is given as Inessa (a pseudonym) and not Elizabeth. Her maiden name is omitted or wrongly given as Petrova, Petrovna (a pseudonym) or Stephanie (her father's stage name). Her father's stage name and real name are given in Lyonnet's Dictionaire des Comédiens Francais, Vol. II.


1. See Appendix page 164.

2. In 1952, twenty-four of his letters to her — manifestly somewhat cut and usually deprived of their salutation and complimentary closing — were published in Vol. XXXV of Lenin's Works.

3. This is testified to by every mention of Martov in the two volumes of Krupskaya's Vospominaniya and by M. Gorky, V.I. Lenin (Moscow, 1931). Krupskaya relates that when Lenin felt his end was near, one of his last utterances was a mournful query: "They say that Martov is dying, too!"

4. Lenin, XXXIV, 117-18 (the ty letter), and p. 146 (the first vy letter). Between the two letters, seven months apart, had come the fateful disagreement on the definition of a member and on the composition of the Iskra editorial board.

5. Lenin, XXXIV, 113-14, 127, 186-88; XXXV, 370-71, 375-76, 397, 399, 400, 405, 406-7, 409-10, 414, 415, 422, 423-34, 431, 4~6, 472. All the letters in Vol. XXXV.

6. The last letter using ty is dated July 15, 1914. The first wartime letter is dated by the Marx-Lenin Institute as "written in September 1914. One cannot tell whether Lenin thinks of her as ty or vy because, for the first time in his life, Lenin tries to write the whole letter, except two impersonal sentences, in English. It remained unpublished until 196o, when a Russian translation (with no original) was published in Voprosy Istorii KPSS, No. 4, 1960, pp. 3-4. Then there were no letters until the war was five months old because Inessa joined Lenin and Krupskaya in Berne as soon as they got to Switzerland. But when they separated and there was occasion to write her once more, on January 17, 1915, Lenin wrote vy.

7. Inessa, by N. Krupskaya, in Pravda, Oct. 3, 1920.

8. A common bond between Lenin and Inessa Armand on their first meeting was their shared admiration for Chernyshevsky's novel. This novel, which took the Russian intelligentsia by storm with its image of the "new men", also contained a "new woman", Vera Pavlovna. The American anarchist Benjamin Tucker, who translated it into English, wrote of the novel: "The fundamental idea is that woman is a human being and not an animal created for man's benefit, and its chief purpose is to show the superiority of free unions between men and women over the indissoluble marriage sanctioned by the Church and State." Preface to the fourth edition (New York, 1909), p.3. If Lenin was attracted by the vision of the "uncommon men" and their "rigorist" leader concerning utopia, Inessa was attracted by the deeds and views of the novel's heroine. In the work entitled In Memory of Inessa Armand, Krupskaya wrote:

    Inessa was moved to socialism by the image of woman's rights and freedom in What Is To Be Done? Like the heroine, she broke her ties with one man to live with another, concerned herself with good deeds to redeem the poor female and the prostitute, tried to solve the problems of woman's too servile place in society. Indeed, whole generations of Russian radicals were influenced by Chemyshevsky's many-sided utopian novel and were moved to imitate its "uncommon men and women". Just as Marx could be the spiritual ancestor of people as various as Bernstein, Kautsky, Bebel, and Luxemburg, so Chernyshevsky was a formative influence for the two men who in their persons incarnated the two opposing poles of socialism in 1917: Tsereteli and Lenin. If Inessa found in the novel her image of woman's rights and freedom in love, and Lenin the prototypes of his vanguard and his leadership, Tsereteli found there his ideal of service to the people. Men who are big enough to have spiritual progeny are likely to be thus many-sided and complicated, while each "descendant" finds in his "ancestor" that which enlarges and reinforces what already exists in him.

9. In Memory of Inessa Armand, p.7.

10. The one exception is Angelica Balabanoff, who got to know her five years later through their joint work in the Zimmerwald and Kienthal wartime conferences, and the International Woman's and Youth's meetings. Dr Balabanoff told me: "I did not warm to Inessa. She was pedantic, a one hundred per cent Bolshevik in the way she dressed (always in the same severe style), in the way she thought, and spoke. She spoke a number of languages fluently, and in all of them repeated Lenin verbatim."

11. For this controversy, see my Three Who Made a Revolution.

12. Valentinov, op. cit., p. 99.

13. The quotations from Krupskaya, here and throughout the article, are either from her account in In Memory of Inessa Armand or from Vol. II of her Memories of Lenin. In the English-language edition, Memories of Lenin (New York, International Publishers, 1930), they are quoted from pp. 58, 66, 67, 73, 84, 90, 121, 123, 124, 125, 126, 128, 130 and ff. Where the translation seemed poor, I have retranslated from the corresponding pages of the 1957 Russian edition.

14. The Kamenevs lived on an upper floor in the same building as the Ulyanovs.

15. Lenin i Gorkii: Pisma, (Moscow, 1958), pp. 251-52. An English translation is in Maxim Gorky, Days with Lenin (New York, 1932), p. 52.

16. Lenin, Works XXXVII, 430.

17. Friville. Inessa Armand. p. 90.

18. Lenin, XXXV, 232.

19. Ibid., p. 96.

20. Krupskaya, op. cit., English edition, pp. i88 and ff; Russian, pp. 264-65 and 271. Lenin XXXV, 167.

21. Lenin, XXXV, 209.

22. This did not prevent Lenin from writing out for her every word she was to say, and supplementing this with four sets of zametki privées (private notes). The report and instructions he wrote for her take up forty pages in Vol. XX of his Sochineniw.

23. Lenin, XXXV, 508-10; XX, 463-502.

24. All passages in italics are underlined by Lenin in the original; an asterisk after them indicates that they are in English or French or some other language than Russian. The first two paragraphs are in what Lenin believes to be English, the third in Russian except for the word contrepropositions.

25. English in the original. Where the editors have not omitted the salutation and closing, Lenin generally writes Dorogoi Drug (Dear Friend) and closes with "firmly [or firmly, firmly] I press your hand". In one letter he tries to put this into English as "Friendly shake hands!"

26. Lenin, XXXV, 107.

27. Ibid., pp. 137-38. This is the letter which closes with the English "Friendly shake hands!"

28. Ibid., pp. 139-41.

29. Marcel Body, Alexander Kollontai, in Preuves (Paris), April, 1952, pp. 12-24. Body was a French workingman, a printer in Limoges, Mobilized in 1914, he was sent to Russia with a French military mission to the Russian army. Like a number of other men of that mission (Captain Jacques Sadoul, hitherto a Right Socialist, for example), he sympathized with the February and October Revolutions. Remaining in Russia, he joined first lnessa's group of French communists in Moscow, then the Russian party, and served the Soviet government in various capacities. When Kollontay arrived in Oslo as the world's first woman ambassador in 1922, a kind of honorific exile by Lenin for her activity in the Workers Opposition, she found Body there as secretary to Ambassador Suritz. His friendship with her and his service under her began then and lasted until her death. Sickened, as she was too, by Stalin's purges, he did not return to Russia and now lives in Paris.

30. "Kolosov" is the hero of a short tale by Turgenev, which Lenin cherished as a discussion of the proper attitude of the "uncommon person toward love. Krupskaya told Valentinov that when they were in Siberia, she and her husband translated several pages of the tale into German. (This was Lenin's method of improving his German and at the same time becoming more deeply acquainted with some of his favorite pages from literature.) Kolosov, the narrator of the tale says, fell in love with a girl, lost his love for her and left her. In this there was nothing "unusual." Unusual was the resoluteness with which he broke with her and with his whole past as tied up with her: "Which of us would have been able to break in good time with his past? Who, say, who does not fear reproaches — not, I say, the reproaches of the woman but the reproaches of the first stupid bystander? Which of us would not yield to the desire to play the magnanimous, or egotistically to play with another devoted heart? Finally, which of us has the strength to oppose petty selfishness, petty proper feelings: pity and remorse? Oh, gentlemen, a person who breaks with a woman once loved, at that bitter and great moment when he involuntarily realizes that his heart is no longer entirely filled by her, that person, believe me, better and more deeply understands the sacredness of love than do those faint-hearted people who from tedium, from weakness, continue to play on the half-broken strings of their flabby and sentimental hearts. We all called Andrei Kolosov an uncommon man ... In certain years, to be natural means to be uncommon." (Cited by Valentinov, op. cit., pp. 92-94.

31. Body, op. cit., p. 17.

32. O.H. Gankin and H.H. Fisher, The Bolsheviks and the World War (Stanford, 1940), pp. 301-8, gives an account of this conference.

33. The writer interviewed Angelica Balabanoff many times concerning Lenin during her years in America, but she never hinted at the Inessa affair until I said to her in Rome that I had learned of it from Marcel Body. Then she told me the above, permitting me to take notes as she talked.

34. Singularly, most of the Ulyanov family of Lenin's generation, his sisters Anna and Maria, and Lenin himself, remained childless.

35. On this see Ypsilon, Pattern for World Revolution (Chicago and New York, 1947), p. 68. The writer interviewed both of the anonymous authors of Ypsilon on Eberlein's marriage and Inessa Armand.

Comment on a New York Times story about
the daughter of Lenin's friend Inessa Armand

By Bertram D. Wolfe

July 19, 1971

To: The Editor, New York Times

I get the Times out here by mail and it takes me a little time to catch up with your current news. I hope this will not prevent you from finding space for a brief comment on your Moscow correspondent's article in the New York Times of July 9 dealing with the death of "little Inessa", the daughter of Lenin's intimate friend and disciple, Inessa Armand. Your correspondent has brought in my name in the following. "Bertram D. Wolfe, an American expert on the Soviet Union, in an article about Inessa Armand, has suggested that she was Lenin's mistress. But this has received no backing here from Soviet historians, who have simply noted that she was a close friend." This would imply a repudiation of my documented research on this question, which was published both in the Slavic Review in the United States and in Encounter in England. What is surprising is that Soviet historians should have said anything about "little Inessa" when she died now at the age of 73. The Soviet government in various ways has recognized the accuracy of my contention, namely:

1. I did my literary detective work basing myself on 10 letters from Lenin to Inessa published in the fourth edition of Lenin's Collected Works. As soon as I broke the secret, the Soviet government published 40 letters of Lenin to Inessa during the same period, which appear in the fifth edition of his Collected Works.

2. They published several articles by Inessa's daughter, whom Lenin and Krupskaya [Lenin's wife] adopted; by Madame Stasova, then in her nineties; and some booklets on Inessa Armand.

3. When Israel Shenker, in charge of the Time bureau in Moscow, wrote a profile of Lenin for Time in which he gave a two-and-a-half sentence decent and discreet summary of my article, they closed the Time bureau for six months and deported Israel Shenker. I do not feel repentant at his fate since he has been doing such splendid and so much more important reporting for the New York Times in a series of interviews with American intellectuals and the coverage of important scholarly conferences. Some people have said that the deportation of Israel Shenker was my Lenin Prize.

May I add that I published this article in a scholarly journal rather than in a mass circulation journal because I wanted to reach scholars, I wanted to document with adequate footnotes, and I did not want to contemplate an advertisement headed "Read About Lenin's Mistress". Lenin's private life is none of my business as a historian, but since Inessa Armand had the courage to differ with the leader she worshipped and since he was compelled to answer her not with the usual abuse of epithets such as "counterrevolutionist", "agent of the bourgeoisie", and the like but had to explain patiently his real position to her in these letters, I wanted to call the attention of the scholarly world to the special importance of his 10 letters to Inessa, which enable scholars to see more deeply into what Lenin really believed. The addition of 40 letters added to this precious deeper insight into his views.

Ozleft home

Comments welcome

Since September 23, 2003