Monday, August 21, 2017

First encounters (2)

The place where Lenin and Stalin met for the first time
 in what is now the Lenin Museum in Tampere, Filand

When I was on holiday in Finland recently, one of the things I wanted to do anyway was visiting the Lenin Museum in Tampere (also known as Tammerfors). The museum as such is interesting and also the building is because of its typical style, which is a mixture of the Neo-Renaissance style and Art Nouveau. However, for me it was especially important that it was here that Lenin and Stalin met for the first time, for in those days hundred years ago the building was used by the Tampere Worker’s Society as a meetingplace for workers.
Sometimes first encounters are quite dramatic, as I wrote a few weeks ago in my blog on the first encounter between the Finnish philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright and Ludwig Wittgenstein in Cambridge. But after a bad first encounter between both philosophers, in the end they became friends. Also the first time that Lenin and Stalin met was not really good. Lenin was already the big man of the Russian revolutionary movement and when the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party held a congress in Tampere in the Russian -ruled Finland in December 1905, Stalin was looking forward to it: Now he could meet the man whom he admired a lot. But Stalin left the congress disappointed. “I was hoping to see the mountain eagle of our party”, he wrote later, “a great man, great not only politically, but ... physically, too, for Lenin had taken shape in my mind as a giant, stately and imposing”. But he appeared to be “the most ordinary man, below average height, in no way ... different from ordinary mortals”. Moreover, Lenin was criticized by the other conferees –  also by Stalin – and in the end he had to take back his proposals, defending himself that as an émigré he had lost contact with the Russian reality. Later the relationship between both men would improve and Lenin would become Stalin’s mentor. However, not long before his death – it was in 1923 and he was already ill – Lenin judged that it was better to replace Stalin by Trotsky as the General Secretary of the Communist Party, for Stalin was ill-suited for the position while Trotsky was the most capable man in the General Committee according to him. It didn’t happen, and a few years later Trotsky had to flee and in 1940 he was murdered by a Soviet secret agent in Mexico.
Trotsky’s first encounter with Lenin is also worth mentioning. Usually we see other persons for the first time in public and semi-public places, at parties and meetings and the like. But in a bedroom? It’s quite unlikely that you even met your partner there for the first time. Not so Trotsky and Lenin. Trotsky had an appointment with Lenin in London, where the great communist leader lived then (not far from where Karl Marx had written his Capital). Lenin was already to bed and slept, when Trotsky knocked on the door. Nadezhda Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife, let him in in her nightclothes and brought the visitor to the bedroom.
As you see, first encounters can happen at the most unexpected places, and as said before in a blog, they say so much about the way we live and the kind of person we are.

- Rolf Hellebust, Flesh to metal. Soviet Literature and the Alchemy of Revolution. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2003; p. 92.
- Robert Himmer, “First impressions matter: Stalin's initial encounter with Lenin, Tammerfors 1905”, on
- Stephen Kotkin, Stalin. Paradoxes of Power 1978-1928. London, Penguin Books, 2015.
- Nancy Caldwell Sorel “First encounters: When Lenin met Trotsky”, on
- Wikipedia

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